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Thanks for reading!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Exercise Bike

I got my wife an exercise bike.  It has since occurred to me that it is possibly the least altruistic thing I have ever done for her. (Also in proof reading this, it has also occurred to me that "got" is a useless and terminally unimaginative way of denoting procurement.  Yet I allow it to remain because that's what I did; I got it.)
First, I am a cyclist and she is not.  This bike will very conveniently double as a winter trainer for me.
Second, it was free.  While surfing Craig's List looking for a good deal on a new bike (Which I have recently begun the process of lusting after) I came across a free exercise bike.  The seller noted that the pedal needed some work.  I reasoned that with the bike being free and having a problem so insignificant as a pedal (who needs 2 right?), driving to San Francisco on a Sunday afternoon was a safe gamble.  Turns out the seller was right; the pedal needed help, and even on exercise bikes the second pedal comes in handy.  The good news is that my limited supply of bike repair tools happened to have just what I needed to facilitate the repair.  In total the bike cost me nearly nothing, and within only a few hours my wife was pumping away, toning and firming those muscles and burning calories.
So this brings me to the third reason that this purchase was less than altruistic...  Yeah.

Another great thing about the bike is that it has given me something to write about on a rainy Sunday afternoon.  It seems like every winter we athletes who blog, write about the same things: Getting in workouts around the rain, working out in the dark, complaining about the rain and the dark, etc.  I have avoided those types of posts this year by - not posting much at all.  And that's the other thing we write about - the fact that we have so little to write about.  It would be natural to think that if there is nothing to write about, then don't write.  And if you think that way, then you have obviously never kept a blog.  Our readers are hungry with anticipation - right readers?  I can hear your literary stomachs growling - yes?

But stating that we have nothing to write about is pitiful, as is resorting to coercion or begging to get people to read your blog.  So as my ever-cuter wife whirs away those extra Christmas goodies, I will be reminded to write wise and witty things to my faithful audience of - Mom.

Oh yeah, I guess this should be my Christmas blog post, so unless I'm moved by the elusive "muse of fire" in the next day or so- this is Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Madame Marathon

I was recently emailed the following question...

"Okay Scott,
I am really enjoying running. I am enjoying it so much that I would really like to push myself. I plan to do a half marathon in February. However, I am having an itching to go beyond that and attempt a marathon... I have found two at the end of the summer that look doable for a 1st timer like me....anyway- any thoughts? I was thinking of a sprint triathalon in June. but would forgo it to work on this...this seems more challenging physically, but logistically easier (one type of training). So-am I too old? Is this nuts?"

The Lady that wrote this is in her early 40's, and with her husband, has recently embarked on a notably transformative journey toward a higher level of fitness.  In answering the question, I realized that I was articulating some important lessons I've learned over the past few years.  I share them here...

First of all, congratulations on breaking through.

Regarding the half and full marathon…
Bear in mind that 13.1 and 26.2 are arbitrary at best.  While they represent notable milestones of achievement, your body doesn’t have any clue that they are at all meaningful.  Your body is going to respond to the stimulus of increased training by constantly transforming to become more efficient at doing what you are training it to do.

If you train for a full marathon, then inevitably you will pass the half marathon point somewhere along the way.  So, training for a full marathon will include training for a half.  If your body wants a break along the way, then it will tell you.  That may not coincide with the arbitrary 13.1 milestone.  You may reach 10 miles in your training and hit a wall.  Or, you may never hit a wall and push right through to the Western States 100.  There are many things to consider that basically don’t address those specific distances at all…


Time – it takes a long time to train efficiently for long distance running. I’m not talking about the fact that you need to start training 8 months in advance.  I’m saying that training requires running long distances, which takes a long time.  I’m holding steady right now – not getting faster or further, but I still have to run 3-4 hours per week to maintain.  As I’m sure you know, running 3-4 hours involves at least 2-3 hours of prep and recovery.  In other words just to maintain my current ability, I’m spending 5-7 hours per week on something other than daily life.

Injury – your body is going to react to the training uniquely from anyone else.  If you can ramp up your training indefinitely without injury, then there is no reason to quit (in my opinion).  However, you need to be honest with your body, and back off if (probably “when”) the injuries occur.  It is unfortunately a natural part of long distance running, and if you read running literature, there is an amazing amount of print devoted to injury – for good reason.
Rest is an integral part of injury prevention.  Don’t let any goal get in the way of adequate rest periods.  Again there is ample literature on injury and rest, and it should be very familiar to you if you are going to embark on this quest.

Cost – Running becomes a little more expensive.  You will learn what to eat and what not to eat – and what to eat costs more money.  You will go through shoes every few months – and if you don’t, then read the paragraph above again.  You will buy more running gear, and do a lot of laundry.  But it could be worse - you could have fallen in love with auto racing or Rodeo.

Desire – This is a huge force.  If you want to run, then you will be unhappy if you don’t.  Yes, I know life is full of disappointments.  However, running is such a natural and innately good thing, that spending time running is hard to argue against.  If running means less time doing other inane or unnecessary activities, then fulfill the desire and let the endorphins flow.  I don’t watch any TV.  But the same people that can’t figure out how I can find time to run 10 hours per week while training for a race, also think me odd for not watching TV.  It’s all about desire.  I’m personally unwilling to diminish a healthy desire, when many frivolous desires are nefariously clamoring for that space

Objective – What is your objective, really?  If your objective is to reach a milestone, then drag it out as long as possible.  No sense getting there too soon and then leaving it and the benefits behind.  If your objective is a lifestyle, then there is still no real hurry.   You will get there when your body is ready.  If you need the clearly defined goal of a specific race on a specific day to maintain the greater objective, well then, there you have it.

...So I conclude with this final thought.  Marathons are great.  I've begun a habit of running one solo every few months.  However, I have not allowed them to become an end in and of themselves.  Madame Marathon, is simply invited to the dance on occasion to test and measure my skills.  My first marathon was a milestone to be sure, but the mud wasn't even dry before, I was certain that the music would continue to play and that the dance was just beginning.  
What distance or what test you measure yourself by is going to be uniquely personal, however, I feel strongly that we should all establish some criteria by which we judge our life, and are periodically driven to self-enforce.  For my fitness, it's the marathon.  

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


I'm sitting here with my hands hovering over the keyboard trying to come up with a way to say that I crashed again.  I crashed again, 3 days after my last crash.  I hate being in the same room with ridiculous, but alas, here I am sitting in its seat with ice on my elbow.  Until last week, I could say that since January of 2010, I had ridden over 7,000 miles on a bicycle - without a single wobble - no less a crash.

I still haven't heard from the owner of the red SUV that I careened into last Thursday.  I can only imagine that the bill for body work on her vehicle will set my "new bike" fund back a bit.

But that has faded into near insignificance since I crashed again on Saturday.

In the foreground is the bump that tossed me, and in the distance is me and some new friends discussing why I should, and why I was not going to, ride in an ambulance.  Photo Credit - Chris

This is the "G" rated version of my injuries.  Let's just say that my shorts and jersey had to be cut off by my wife.  Where the picture ends, so do my shorts, and a lot of skin.
The story is fairly straightforward.  I joined the HOP group ride Saturday morning to "get right back in the saddle" after my accident on Thursday.  This, by all accounts, was the right thing to do.  We had completed 48 miles of the 50 mile ride and were flat flying down Sycamore Valley Rd. in a tight pace line - at least 8 of us.  The last time I looked at our speed, we were going over 30mph.  Pedaling hard to stay within a few inches of the bike ahead of me, I heard the very distinct sound of that bike hitting something in the road, and then nearly the same instant, my bike seemed to disappear from under me.

I remember my helmet hitting the asphalt, and then thinking "stop, stop, stop" as I slid 20 - 30 yards along the bike lane.  I now know that I can go from 30 - 0 in about 3 seconds without the use of brakes. An off duty cop watched it happen and was one of the first to come up.  Chris's face appeared above me almost immediately, and in the haze of recollection, seemed to be running the show.  He's a veteran cyclist and has experience in these things.

Within 20 minutes I was allowed to sit up, having brought the firemen and police officers up to date on current events and wiggled all the requisite body parts for them.  The very nice lady with warm hands that had so patiently held my neck for most of that time was somehow adamant that they consider the fact that I had only answered 3 of the 4 "current events" questions correctly.  Granted, where I went to school that would have given my a D-, but in my defense, I can't be expected to come up with my age and the month even under ideal conditions without a little more time to think. They kept the back board and neck brace hovering nearby, but once I was seated on the curb, It was clear (to me at least) that I was going home and not to the hospital.

They showed me my bike, which had weathered the storm remarkably well, as they were about to place it in the back of a police car.  The plan was to chauffeur me to Chris's house where I would wait for my wife.  He had chatted with her on the phone and had given her the basics while we were waiting for the EMT's to arrive.  He had returned to tell me that "she wasn't panicking."  I just grinned and thought - yeah - that's why I married her.  When I saw that the wheels still spun and the brakes worked, my machismo returned in full.  I rode the bike to Chris's house 1/4 mile away.  The breeze in my new wounds was just a hint of what was to become a rather painful afternoon.

That painful afternoon, I have realized, was only the beginning.  Funny how when I think of "road rash" now, blow torches seem to come to mind.  I don't intend to spend time complaining, but frankly there have only been a few times that I have felt utterly miserable.  The Poison Oak incident was one of those times, and I'm afraid I'll look back on this as another.

Without waxing too philosophical, I am forced to consider my current condition.  I've injured my foot as a result of too much ladder work plus a long run that I never should have let get out the door.  I've ramped up my cycling in order to stay in shape while I can't run.  I've now injured every limb of my body plus the majority of the joints tying them together as a result of 2 consecutive bike crashes on 2 consecutive rides.

Chris has texted me and told me I need to get back in the saddle as soon as possible.  My wife seems to be just waiting for me to unlock the bike so she can sell it.  My daughters aren't real sure what to think, and my mother has disowned me - I believe.  And me...?

I actually miss the bike already.  The very thought of giving up cycling is repugnant.  I will stick to the mountain bike for a while, but I suspect HOP will see me again (wearing a new helmet).   The good news is that my foot feels remarkably well. I should be able to hit the trails again running in the next week or so - slowly of course.

And here I add what is so very evident to me - now.  I am blessed.  In 3 days, I have been spared from death twice.  Thursday could have easily ended with me wearing a toe tag, and likewise Saturday could have easily left me paralyzed or worse.  As Chris took me to my truck, we chatted and he told me of his friend who is severely disabled from a minor collision on her bike.  In spite of my pain, I know I am blessed.  I sit here and type easily with both hands and no neck brace.  I don't even dare ask why.  I know that God is good, and His ways are past finding out.  And yes, He would still be good even if I had been disabled or killed.  I don't ask why - I am just thankful.

Is God trying to tell me something?  Aha!!  Now there is the question.  I think I'll go out and take a ride on the bike to think that one over...

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

So What's More Dangerous?

I'm inclined to count the days injured cycling and compare them to my days injured running.  And while I'm at it, I should compare them to the total days in a year...  Can you tell I'm getting weary of being injured?

Well I nearly started the clock over again today.  I've been cycling pretty regularly to get my fitness level ready for full recovery and a return to running.  I have high hopes of placing well in the Mt. Diablo Trails Challenge this spring and to do so will require a lot of running over the next few months.  Well, I'm not running at all right now, and some days it even hurts to walk.  So, until I can get in for an X-ray I sit, worry, and cycle.  But today I nearly put the entire shebang on hold.

Descending Pine St. toward Alhambra on my road bike, I was approaching the last hard right corner at around 25 mph when a small car darted out into the road and sped off down the hill in front of me.  It pulled away from me as it entered the corner, but the next instant it was standing still.  I found myself faced with one of those "make the best of a bad situation" moments.  I was leaning into the hard right turn in the middle of the lane.  A pull to the right would have only placed me on the right hand side of the small black trunk, probably spitting safety glass through broken teeth.  Inertia was in favor of a pull to the left, but all rules of the road prohibited such a move.  Rules became unimportant as I chose a few more moments intact over a breach of the California Driving Code.

It occurred to me in that spectacularly lucid eternity which parses the milliseconds of pending disaster, that the stoppage was the result a second vehicle - ahead of that small black car I had just passed on the left. That particular vehicle - a red Nissan SUV - was waiting to turn left, indicating that another oncoming car was imminent.  All of these thoughts, plus the fact that I had not shaved my legs yet, and would likely be wishing I had, sauntered through my consciousness as I rocketed past stopped cars.
Struggling to maintain control of my bike, and avoid allowing the ever capricious friend and fiend, inertia, to pull me into oncoming traffic, I rolled between the double-yellow like on rails, feathering my brakes to keep friction and my tires in an amicable relationship.  Too much on the brakes and I would be sliding under the oncoming traffic instead of flying over their hoods.  Oh, the decisions we aren't truly given the requisite time to make...

And then bad got suddenly worse.  Traffic cleared.

The red Nissan finding a gap in the oncoming traffic, pulled left.


The large dent near the rear must have been my right shoulder, and the dent ahead of the gas door must have been my right brake hood.

I lay in nearly the exact middle of the intersection for a second as all of the witnesses witnessed from the safety of their cars - and then drove away.  The poor gal in her red Nissan felt so bad that I eventually had to put my hand on her shoulder and tell her I would be ok.  Because I am.  Basically.  

The bike came through remarkably well with only minor scuffs and about 1 year's worth of wear removed from the rear tire.  I scrubbed some skin off my right elbow, and have a bizarre streak of road rash right down the middle of my right shin.

My right shoulder and neck are already making mutinous rumblings in spite of 800 mg of ibuprofen, so I suspect that when I wake up in the morning they will have conspired to effect a full revolt.

I finished my ride, but I took it easy.  I took the corners a little slower, and looked just a little harder around the corners to see what might be lurking.  Cars were definitely the enemy for about 25 miles and that ominous crunch kept replaying in my mind.

The good news - I think I can keep my plans to ride on Saturday.  The physical injuries seem to be superficial, but the psychological ones will keep me tentative in the corners again for a few months.  And, I suspect I'll be getting a phone call from her insurance company tomorrow.  Fun.  Wish I could find that little black car with no brake lights...

Sunday, October 28, 2012

October Snow

Our original destination of Relief Reservoir and Emigrant Lake was strongly discouraged by the park ranger. "Your trails will be impossible to find, they're under two feet of snow," he said, "and unless you're extremely good with a map, compass, and snow shoes, I don't recommend it."  

His further recommendation was to head south and enter the Emigrant Wilderness at Cherry Lake.  The elevations there are approx. 2000 feet lower and the assumption was that the snow would be less of a factor.  After some last minute research, I called in our wilderness permit for a 2 day 1 night trip to Styx Pass - out and back from Cherry lake.

Tim and I had both missed our annual group backpacking trip earlier in the summer, so we were cramming this one in between an autumn storm and our busy fall schedules.  

 We have agreed that this ranks among our best backpacking trips ever.  In spite of its brevity, this mini adventure was a perfect respite from the chaos of California Bay Area  life.  The temporary re-calibration of priorities from "profit and loss" to "eat or get eaten" is good for the body and therapy for the mind.

 We had hoped to see snow but held no expectations other than that it would be cold and possibly wet.  Cherry Lake at 4600' had no snow, but in less than an hour of climbing we were already spotting small patches of snow in the shadows.

 Climbing through 6000' the snow gradually increased to where all that was not covered were protruding rocks and the well trodden trail.  After 6500' even the trail was covered with snow and I was beginning to wonder how those whose footprints we were following had located the trail.


 Within two miles of the pass, we were on our own.  Alongside a small half frozen lake the foot prints we had been following made an obvious circle in the snow and headed back down the hill.  This provided us with a unique understanding.  We were absolutely and verifiably alone.  No other trails came up that slope, and there was no sign of any human activity from here to the pass.  We would soon find that no tracks headed up from the far side of the pass, and thus we concluded that since the last snow fall - two days prior - we were the sole humans to occupy this crystalline expanse.  Ordinarily one cannot know if others may be nearby until you happen upon them.  Here on this trail we could be certain - we were alone.

 Arriving at Styx Pass (7500'), which is also the boundary between the Emigrant Wilderness and Yosemite National Park, we were faced with a decision.  Our original plan sent us two miles down the other side of the pass to Cherry Creek where we would camp for the night.  Ordinarily a water source is requisite for a suitable campsite, and Cherry Creek would serve as that source.  Atop the pass, surrounded by acres of pure water, Cherry Creek diminished in importance.  Abetting our pending decision was the fact that the trail completely disappeared on the frosted open rock face of the pass.  I suspect that some serious recognizance would have eventually revealed our route - but taken by the striking beauty of the spot - we opted to search out a suitable campsite there.
 It was Tim who suggested the igloo.  Neither of us are architects or Eskimos, but the concept seemed pretty basic and a great means of occupying ourselves in lieu of a hike down the north side of the pass.

Let's just say that by the time we were done, we had figured out how we should have begun.  However, the finished product was not only self supporting, it was also functional.

As darkness approached, we stopped construction long enough to collect firewood and establish a fire ring.  (Don't tell anyone that we created a new fire ring in the wilderness.)  As Tim prepared a fire, I put the finishing touches on our shelter.

 In a final moment of brilliance Tim offered his rain-fly as a door, and it was staked to the face of the fortress to ward off the icy blast that had risen with the moon.  His collapsed tent and my ground cloth were spread on the packed snow as some meager insulation against the chill.

Dinner was typical backpacking fare and delicious as all well-earned meals are.  The wind swirled over the pass.  We burned the fire high as we pulled on layer after layer.  When we ran out of layers we ducked into our shelter and crawled into snug sleeping bags to wait out the night.  We both slept soundly.  I woke only briefly every few hours, and heard the constant pattering of the rain-fly against the hard packed snow.  I woke very early and noted with some confusion that I could see starlight.  I'm no Eskimo, but I'm fairly certain that igloos do not have stars.  The small hole we had left in the center of the roof had enlarged, and the windward side of our shelter was pocked by holes growing larger by the hour.  The wind was wearing away at our protection.  I emerged from my dreams long enough to recognize the potential for alarm, but in a half coherent conversation with Tim, we decided that the gains (staying snugly inside our sleeping bags for another hour or two) far outweighed the risks involved in a total collapse of our structure.

At 5:55 am I awoke to a new sound.  Silence.  The wind was gone and the forest was completely still.  Extracting myself from my North Face cocoon, I crawled under our now motionless door onto an icy moonscape. In a moment as black and cold and still as any in the day, I stood outside our beleaguered cave and felt more than saw the immensity of our mountain.

I restarted our fire from coals and quietly watched a competing flame spread across the ridges far to the east.

Birds we had not noticed the previous day now heralded this great awakening.  I put on water for tea.

Sunday, October 21, 2012


The 2 bridges - Carquinez and Benicia, which I crossed in turn, on my solo "Bridge to Bridge" Marathon.

We categorize people - face it.  There are the cyclists (guys) who shave their legs, and then there are the ones who don't.  (This may be true for women also, but I personally have not been confronted by nor looked for it.) Shaver and non-shaver, each falls into his own category.

There are the runners who have beards, and there are the ones who don't.  They each have a category.

Ok, so let's step away from the subject a few yards and address this on an even more basic level - there are those who run and cycle and any enjoy any number of other endurance sports, and there are those who simply do not.  Both, catagorized.

Like it or not, open minded as we may claim to be, we are similar in surprisingly few ways but love to lump each other into vast genres of humanity based on those limited similarities.  Often the most poignant discriminations come about based on the criteria of "those who are 'like' us" and "those who are not."  Alas, along with that comes the inevitable determination that those unlike us are more (fill in the blank with something negative) than we are.

Only a few days ago I inadvertently found myself in a sub category probably disdained even by non-athletes. But first let's get the record straight on what categories I belong to.  First, I'm in the bearded runner category.  This category is renowned for embracing the best long distance trail runners in the world, and in juvenile fashion, I feel that the best way to achieve similar results is to do my best to look like them.   Also, follicly challenged as I am, I'm a believer that I may be able to make up for the absence of  head hair by allowing it free range in other areas.

Thus, I am also in the "non leg shaving cyclist" category.  Yeah, I get it - It's a stretch to think that hairy legs are any sort of substitute for thick wavy locks - but vanity is desperate, and often misguided.  So unfortunately, while the beard puts me in company with some of the greatest runners in the world, the whole leg shaving thing puts me squarely in the cycling nerd category.  I'm outnumbered 20:1 on my weekend group rides.  When my friend Matt shows up we basically double our numbers.  There are a few others, but really the best riders shave their legs - and faces too for that matter.  One notable exception is the guy I met on this past ride who's electric shaver must have bogged down somewhere around his knees.  From the knee to the hem of his shorts was a dark forest.  I've never seen this before, and I suspect I will have to chisel out a little category just for him.

But my point is not that strategic hair placement is the basis for all categorization.  While hair certainly has always played a role in positioning a person in the sociological strata, we unfortunately create many other criteria which disqualify us from acceptance into any number of categories.

Blue jeans are one of those disqualifying attributes.  You cannot run as an athlete in blue jeans. Period.  As I understand it, even hiking in blue jeans is grounds for excommunication from the Sierra Club.  So this past Wednesday I gave the 3 Sierra Club candidates I met on the trail ample opportunity for ridicule.  Each of them gave me a sidelong glance being careful to avoid engagement, and wide berth to prevent contamination.  I powered past them in the foothills of Mt. Diablo on a short 2 mile loop.  By all criteria this run should have disqualified me from everything.

And it was my wife's fault.  No matter that we often share laundry duties - I blamed her for my being out of my customary work T-shirts, and begrudgingly pulled on the first white one I came across in the drawer - a sleeveless one.  So yeah, let's back up...

I just purchased a pair of hiking boots for my approaching Emigrant Wilderness Hike - an overnight 30+ mile jaunt in the Sierras.  Word of snow finalized my decision to purchase my first pair of hiking boots in at least 20 years.  I've been content with trail running shoes for backpacking - but the thought of slogging through snow and slush in running shoes was, shall we say, chilling.  So I've been wearing the boots to work in an attempt to find a truce between them and my toes  before the long hike.  Wednesday, my travels brought me in close proximity to one of my favorite trail heads on the north side of Mt. Diablo.  I briefly considered going off the grid for a few minutes and giving my boots a real workout - but my collared shirt, heavy belt, and worst of all - blue jeans - held the idea at bay.  After checking in with my carpenters on the job, I was again confronted with that random thought.  Hike in blue jeans?

Then it dawned on me - I was wearing a sleeveless T-shirt.  Somehow that singular thought brought resolution.  I would not hike.  I would run.  So without the requisite running cap, running shoes, or even shorts I set off up the trail at a jog - in blue jeans - and hiking boots - and my sleeveless cotton T-shirt.  As I passed the Sierra Club group (see, they've got their own category) I was just beginning to realize why blue jeans are a bad idea.  However, I was now on a mission powered by a purpose not too far distant from the purpose that likely motivated the hippies, not long enough ago.  I was doing something radical, I wasn't hurting anyone else in the process, and I was getting some attention.  So there I was clomping my way around the Diablo foothills.

Now, there are reasons why we don't customarily run in jeans and hiking boots - which should be self evident.  But it occurred to me as I ran, that no one observing me could have any idea what category I belonged in.  I basically looked like an idiot.  Just 2 weeks ago I finished a 3:32 solo marathon (Bridge to Bridge) with nearly 2000' of elevation gain.  But with my belt cinched up snug around my waist to keep the ever increasing weight of my jeans from dragging it all down around my ankles, my boots turning a practiced stride into a lumbering trot, and my pace somewhere south of spectacular, any causal observer would scoff or at best look sympathetically at the well intentioned poser.  "He's not fooling anyone," might be the comment.

And indeed - I was not trying to fool anyone.  I own several great pairs of running shoes.  I own running shorts in a rainbow of colors.  I can run up and down those hills all day without tromping.  But on that day I was having a great time breaking in my hiking boots.  I was in a category formerly undefined.  And what did it matter?

It mattered not at all.  I was proving again that fitting in is highly overrated.  I was content to be running, plodding, tromping, or whatever it was I was doing.  When nearing the end of my run, I spotted a kid in baggy shorts a sweatshirt and basketball shoes running toward me - I did drop him into his category.  But somehow it was huge.  His category included all of us - out enjoying God's spectacular creation that beautiful Wednesday afternoon.

Some photos from most recent Sunday Morning Run.

Fall has come to the Bay Area

New artwork at the John Muir tunnel.

After crossing under Highway 4 through the tunnel and then up the day's hardest hill, this is the reward...

And this is the view on the descent - with the Benicia Bridge in the background.

Sunday, September 30, 2012


With a modicum of timidity I launched toward the start of HOP yesterday morning.  I have been spending precious little time on the bike and my mid week ride around the Crocket Loop was a discouraging 63 minutes.  I have an unattained goal of 45 minutes with my fastest times in the mid 50 minute range.  The 63 wasn't easy.

So heading out to ride with 20 other race conditioned guys on a 54 mile circuit was psychologically daunting.  But they were mercifully moderate. The word "Tempo" kept popping up during the ride, and I relaxed just a little more each time I heard it. Riding 54 miles averaging 20 mph probably can't be considered exactly easy, but hiding away in the middle of a 20 soul peloton certainly makes it easier.

The promise of spectacularly clear skies and idyllic 70 degree temperatures brought out a fine group of well mannered cyclists.  For the first time in some time, the group really worked together, with us amateurs taking our short turns at the front and the real thoroughbreds pulling with remarkable restraint.  When the powerhouse cyclists decide to open the ball, it turns into a chaotic scramble for a convenient slipstream and the so called "slinky" effect easily rockets the less vigilant out the back of the group.  I've had my turn at success and failure on that slinky in the past, but our leaders omitted the chaos on this ride and offered sustained intensity instead.

A few weeks back I watched a cyclist cross wheels just ahead of me and leave a fair sample of DNA on the asphalt.  He rode away from the incident, sans half his shorts, but the rider directly behind him was left changing his tube and nervously riding on a tire scrubbed clear to the threads where he had locked it up to avoid dissecting our comrade.  That day the group chemistry was slanted toward chaos and chaos claimed a victim.  Those days stand in contrast to the more peaceful rides where we all work together and avoid the continual acceleration and deceleration of the slinky.

And all of that stands in stark contrast to last weekend.  Last Sunday morning my alarm roused me at 3:45am and I switched on the coffee pot at about 10 minutes before 4.  With water bottles filled on Saturday night, and lights, running shoes, and hat laid out by the door, I was pounding pavement by 4:15.  I knew I'd have the roads to myself, but wore my blindingly reflective illumiNite jersey nonetheless.  I carried a small flashlight which, once out of town, augmented the small light attached to the bill of my cap.

I then ran far out of town.  Nervous about attacking the remote trails with over 2 hours of darkness ahead of me, I pursued a 23 mile course which would take me primarily on roads. Once on the far side of Briones Regional I would briefly abandon pavement for packed earth - but only after the sun had illumined enough sky to distinguish a trail.  However, when my rural strip of asphalt winds through skyless forested canyons and I encounter the same deer, skunks, and turkeys as I might have seen in the park - it becomes dubious as to whether my choice to substitute the mountain lion risk with the drowsy motorist risk was truly a substitution or an addition.  I certainly pondered this as my pace was often accelerated by the snapping of twigs and the scattering of leaves.

I passed a small clearing where, frozen by a jostling spotlight, half a dozen eyes unblinkingly monitored my passing.  This proved to be a wary family of deer nested along a palisade of pines.  The light began to fail around mile 7 or 8 and I was reduced to momentary bursts aimed at an unidentified mass or unexpected noise.  The light on my cap was weakening too until I could clearly see only the area 5-6 feet ahead of me.  By this time I was running squarely down the middle of the road.  It seemed less than prudent to run alongside bushes and trees that all strangely resembled mountain lions and gargoyles. The cacophony and brilliance of a passing car so contrasted with the solitude that I feared surprise by motorist far less than surprise by wild beast.

I was not eaten or accosted by any beast.  And nearly as wonderful - it proved to be a tempo run.  With just under 3000' of elevation gain, the hills didn't dictate my pace, pain didn't dominate my thoughts, and I was thus able to enjoy the pace for the 3 hour and 23 minute duration..

It was by all measures one of my better runs.  I must admit however, that I later complained to my wife that I felt an irrational uneasiness about the run.  Such negative thoughts about a great run are not normal.  She played the part of shrink for a few minutes and explored my feeble psyche.  Some insightful probing finally established that I was concerned about having set an unrealistic expectation for future runs.  She promptly told me to get over it and went back to making dinner.

This morning I urged my recovering quadriceps up nearly 1800' of ascent during a quick half marathon before church.  They remembered yesterday's tempo.  And my unease did not go unfounded.  I had rather high expectations for this run, and frankly didn't meet them.  But then who (besides me) is keeping track of my expectations?  I rode 54 miles on my bike yesterday and then ran 13.1 miles at a sub 9 minute mile pace today.

Life could be worse.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Project

One quick run was all there was time for.  Sunday morning I met my long-time friend Ben for a 6:30am run.  We sweated in the warm damp air for 6 miles together – which I extended to 11 before ending up back at my parent’s home. 

Everyone here in California kept calling my family’s trip to South Carolina a vacation, and I just couldn’t seem to get them to understand that it would be anything but a vacation.  It was a good time – but it was no vacation. 

My parent’s new house had a carport laundry room incompatible with Mom’s developing Parkinson’s, so several months ago we began laying out plans to move a wall, raise the floor, and thereby incorporate the laundry room into the rest of the house. 

In a word, the project was a success.  My brother-in-law Rich, 2 friends from my formative years: Josh and Ben, my dad, and even Ben’s sister Sarah put in countless hours over the 8 days we worked on the project.  Mom even got in on the action the day before we left by installing cover plates on the plugs and switches.  We decided that it was physical therapy for her  – which had perilous probability of transitioning to shock therapy. 

No single work day was less than 10 hours long, with the average closer to 12 hours, culminating in a 15 hour marathon on our last day.  Ben and I jetted out in the dark on that last evening to pick up lumber for the entry deck and get away from Lowes before they closed.  I suspect the neighbors were on the phone with the sheriff as Rich, Dad, and I finally cut the last pieces around 11:30pm.  Eat dinner, pack the tools, shower, and set the alarm for 4:45am in order to make our flight home from Charlotte. 

A notable exception was Sunday, which was my “rest” day.  I woke at 5:30, pulled on running shoes after a cup of coffee, and plunged out into the damp blackness wishing it would rain.  The rain would have pushed the humidity up from 95% to 100%, but at least it would be refreshing instead of the stagnant cling that my scant clothing assumed within minutes.  I met Ben at mile 3, and we reminisced down vaguely familiar cycling routes from many years ago.  After 6 miles of rolling hills, I left him to get his family ready for church, and I finished the loop back to my parent’s house.  I showered and joined the Sunday morning rush for church.
Sunday afternoon was highlighted by southern BBQ at a local haunt, finishing drywall, and a “candid” family picture event.  I’m no fan of family pictures, but this was pretty close to worst case possible scenario.  We had 8 adults, 6 children under 10 years old – each with abbreviated naps, 1 very patient photographer, and a half billion mosquitos.  If our photographer managed to frame a single shot through the haze of bug repellent without at least one person swatting mosquitos or screaming (The screaming was mostly done by adults) it was a miracle.  My wife and oldest daughter are spectacularly affected by the South Carolina state Vector, and were both dressed to hide the optimum number of welts, irrespective of coordinating colors.  My wife was sporting 2 bites on her jaw – disconcertingly suggestive of a domestic violence incident.  By the time we were done, domestic counseling wouldn’t have been out of the question.  Monday was back to work.

And, no construction project can be complete without a few hours in a spider infested crawlspace.  Our plans of installing the HVAC “down the road” came to a screeching halt when the inspector quizzed us Thursday morning about our intentions for the heating and air on his first visit.  Whereas I had intended to just “rough in” a vent that they could open up at a later date, I was now crawling around under the house choosing which duct to tie into.  The laundry is conveniently located at the furthest point from the crawlspace access – a short 2 minute slithering crawl through dead arthropods, 5o years-worth of fireplace ashes filtered down through the floor, and ubiquitous fiberglass insulation.  A typical late afternoon run to Lowes accumulated for us the necessary supplies, and I dove under the house again to finish the task just before dinner. I cut into a 6” branch line and wrestled my “T” into place.  “Hey, send down one end of the flex duct,” I called out from my lair.  Silence.  I was either being ignored, or had not been heard.  I repeated my request, but as the words were still vapor in my larynx, a dawning was occurring in my understanding.  They couldn’t find the duct that we had picked up at Lowes.  I vainly grasped at recollection which didn’t exist.  My mind’s eye could see my brother-in-law hauling the box through the plumbing department, and I vaguely recalled it again somewhere in the vicinity of lumber, but somehow not in the back of Ben’s truck. 

With our rough inspections occurring the next morning, dad made trip 34 of 378 to Lowes for that wayward flexible duct.  Back under the house, I lay on a blue tarp with my head resting on a scrap of 2x4 realizing that the now sagging duct would never pass inspection.  The only good option was to crawl back out and find some sort of strap.  In turning around I rested my hand on a rat’s nest of old tie wire.  Hello. That will do the trick.  So I tied up the duct and thrust the live end under the new addition.  Now, to haul myself and all my stuff out.  With my hands full I eyed Ben’s tarp and considered it a reasonable sacrifice in order to avoid a return trip.  Again twisting around to head for the exit my foot met resistance and I found it securely duct taped to a corner of the tarp.  Hello.  That’ll work.  So I crawled out into the starlight with a large blue tarp hot on my trail. God in his beautiful heaven knew I needed a break.  The next morning we passed all of our rough inspections and were given the green light to get it done. 

And for all intents and purposes we did:  The bright orange paint, the cabinets, the mop sink that nearly cost me my sanity on that last marathon evening, and finally the wooden deck and steps.
Mom and Dad’s appreciation was palpable, and I understand the sentiment.  But truly I wouldn’t have had it any other way.  My sisters who live local are a solace to me as Mom bravely confronts Parkinson’s.  So, I was honored to do this small thing for my parents who continue to be our heroes.

Thanks to Ben, Josh, Rich, Sarah, and all those who donated tools and labor, and most of all -  the cooks who kept us fueled and functioning.  

The adults weren't the only ones exhausted after a long week.  G made it  to Dallas -  and then crashed.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Top of Mt. Wanda - We found out near the top that Chevron's refinery was on fire.
Made for  a sunset reminiscent of Tolkien's Mordor.

Life in my little universe has been crowded and somewhat erratic.  The orbits of planets Work, Family, Church, and Sleep have been so volatile that planets Cycling and Running have sat cautiously in high orbit awaiting an invitation into the melee. Not that they don't get sucked into the mix on occasion; as a matter of fact I've had some of my better adventures in those brief close encounters.  So fortunately, where consistency has lacked - random excitement has filled in.

Running picture of cow silhouetted by rising sun in Carquinez Highlands.

3 weeks ago I arbitrarily decided to revisit one of my 50k training runs.  The route starts in downtown Martinez at the Rankin Park Pool and immediately climbs to the top of the ridge overlooking the Carquinez Strait. Starting at 5:00 am, it was a slightly spooky twisting climb through the trees.  Summiting onto the ridge, I flashlighted a skunk, and chose to catch my breath as he hopped and trotted across my trail. Back on task, I crossed the highlands and descended to cross under Hwy 4, and then climb and descend Mt. Wanda, Mott Peak, Briones peak, and then return back up over the Carquinez highlands.  A few unexpected detours (Got lost on familiar trails) lengthened the route by almost 2 miles.  I ended up with a 24 mile run and over 4,000' of climbing - in better form and faster pace than the previous trek.  I was stoked.

Most of my recent bike rides have either been a quick 50 mile loop with HOP (House of Pain) Medium, or a 5am Sunday morning ride with Matt up into the Moraga / Berkely hills.  My latest HOP ride was unique.  I bolted out of bed at 8:00am having overslept my alarm by an hour.  Bec kindly rolled into action flipping the switch on the coffee maker and starting toast, as I scrambled around pulling gear together and putting the bike on the back of the Pilot.  25 minutes later I was racing down the highway to meet the group before they left at 8:55.

In my rush to get on the bike I forgot to start my GPS.  When I finally remembered, I was going 20 mph shoulder to shoulder in a double pace line and decided to skip it.  The roads were generously littered with ubiquitous gravel and debris due to... well we couldn't quite tell.  I flatted 5 miles into the ride - and watched the pack diminish toward the horizon.  I wouldn't be seeing them again till next weekend.

I patched my tube and was just getting back on the road 10 minutes later when a gal rolled up and asked which way to Livermore.  Turns out she missed the HOP Light and HOP Medium start and was trying remember the route from a previous excursion with them.  I had been considering waiting for House of Pain (the last and fastest group), but they are frankly out of my league, so I told her to follow me, and we rode the next 45 miles together.  The psychological boost was good, and I did get a few minutes break drafting periodically, but for the most part I worked hard trying to stay ahead of the racers while towing her around Livermore and back.  19 mph average speed without the help of a peleton was satisfying though exhausting.

Her boyfriend and the rest of House of Pain finally did catch us as we were leaving Livermore, but we only rode with them a half mile, then skipped the customary water stop and got a head start up Collier Canyon.  Having now been caught once, my objective was to ride ahead of that freight train at least to the top of the last climb into Danville.  Success.  More than success, we never saw them again.  We got back to Peets Coffee without a glimpse of the train on our tail.  I left her there filling water bottles and thanked her for the help.

The excitement hasn't been limited to running and cycling though.  Tuesday Bec and I took the girls up to Briones Peak to watch the sun set.  I managed to get 2 of the three of them car sick on the winding drive up to the parking area, and thus our pace for the 2 mile climb was a bit relaxed.  We topped out with only 2 or 3 minutes to spare.

And then on the way back down we encountered 2 rattlesnakes.  One was hiding in the grass along the side of the trail.  He rattled as we walked by giving us quite a start.  Piqued, we were on full alert as we walked 4 more steps where we found a second, looking frighteningly like a large branch lying in the trail.  Ella spied him first and pulled up short causing a brief train wreck as the rest of us, each occupied investigating the grassy shoulders of the trail, slid to a stop.  Upon seeing us, the reptile began his warning.  But instead of slithering off to safety, he decided to stand his ground coiled up in the center of the trail.

You have got to be kidding me...  Not trusting the grassy meadow, and not able to pass on the trail outside of his strike range, we contemplated the most dangerous threat in the east bay parks through the diminishing light.  A hand-full of gravel was all I could garner, and the direct hits I managed to score brought nothing more than determined threats.  With the light fading fast and our nemesis apparently content to hold vigil all night, I resigned to jog back up the trail for some heavier ammunition.  I'm no pitcher, but I did finally convinced him of my intentions to bury him alive, and after some animated and vicious protestations, he skated up into the rocks.

You can imagine the completion of our hike down the hill in ever deepening shadows.  I guess there is still some mischievous little boy in me, since I couldn't resist covertly tossing a rock down the hill beside our little company.  Yes, scaring your daughter and wife is about as fun as doing the same to your sisters...  But it was Bec that brought up the lion movie - not me.

And the randomness continues.  A couple mountain bike rides here and there, a 5am half marathon, and another quick Sunday morning ride before church, pretty much brings me up to date.  No substantive change appears to be on the horizon, but that's ok.  Even though it's not the most efficient training method, I think I enjoy the variety more.