September 22, 2019

Lake Meridian Olympic Triathlon, part two

After crossing the finish line I wandered over to Ann to say hello and briefly debrief on the race. I hung out for a few minutes until Angie crossed the finish line and then made my exit so she could have the finish to herself. Smile on my face, I wandered through the crowd making my way back to my station to get rid of some things and grab my phone for some pictures.

After gathering my breath and letting the day sink in, I found my way over to where the volunteers were dishing out baked potatoes. It didn't sound all that tempting, but I knew I needed to eat. I only ended up finishing about half of it before tossing it out. My stomach is always a bit messed up after any long event. Even though I never seem to take in enough calories while on the road, I never feel much like eating when I finish.

I found some open grass among the crowd and listened as the event organizers went through the awards and raffles. There were actually three events/distances on the day, a Sprint, Super Sprint and Olympic triathlon. They also broke up the age groups in five year increments so the award ceremonies went on for a long time. Every so often they would raffle off some prizes to keep people around and interested.

Many people had left by this point, so when they called out a bib number and no one responded, they would toss that number aside and draw another. They mentioned that even if you won one of the smaller things, your name would still go back into the hat for the grand prize. Part way through Ann sent me a text and then waved me over to join her and a couple of her athletes/trainees. We swapped stories about how the day went, enjoying the day again in the retelling.

As they made their way through the various events and age categories, I kept looking at the clock. I had left the house sometime around 4:30 or 5:00 in the morning and it was already going to be eight plus hours that Izzy would be cooped up in her crate. I kept debating ducking out, but I was enjoying the sorta-after-party, and hey you never know.

When they finally got to the Olympic distance, and then to my age group I was surprised to find that I had finished fifth. At that point I didn't know how many were actually in my age group, but I was hoping it was at least six. I later found out it was twelve, so not too shabby for my second tri and first time at the distance.

To speed things up a bit, they announced both the men and women in each age group and had them go up to the stage together to get their prize. Angie had placed third in her age group, and the way they had the stage set up we were standing side by side to get our pint glasses. Weird coincidence.

I made my way back up the hill to Ann and her group and shared my amazement that I had placed. It was not a couple of minutes later than one of Ann's friend's name was called. as she placed in her age division as well. Smiles all around. 

Once the awards were finished it was time for the grand drawing. They added back the previous winners, but left all the non-responses sitting on the grass where they had been tossed aside. To add a bit of suspense, the announcer called out the winning bib number one digit at a time. When he started with a 2, I knew I was out. He called out 2, 1, 5...  No response. The person who had won had already left, so that number floated down to the grassy dead pile. 

They dug into the hat again and slowly read off the next number - 3 (me)...9 (also me!)...4 (holy shit, that's me!!). I tossed up my phone in surprise and leapt up raising my hands in the air to make sure they saw me before drawing another number. I jogged down to the front as people clapped and probably started gathering up their things. I showed them my bib to verify I had not misheard, and they waved me up on to the make-shift stage. There waiting for me was Brad from the local bike shop. Also waiting for me was a very nice Cannondale road bike. 

While they were snapping some photos, Brad and I chatted. I noted that the bike was a size too large for me, but obviously this was sort of a placeholder. After chatting for a bit longer, he asked something along the lines of "do you even need a bike?" I guess he has given away a bike at several previous events, and sometimes the winner already has several bikes. Not this guy. 

I mentioned that I already had a road bike that although it wasn't as nice as this one, I didn't feel that it was exactly holding me back. I mentioned that I was just getting into triathlons, but I was hoping to get a triathlon specific bike at some point. He said he couldn't provide a tri bike at the price point of this one, but I could apply the credit to get me partway there. 


I hadn't planned on getting a tri bike until at least next year, and even then I would be likely shopping for a used bike. But damn, sometimes you get lucky. 

It was a doubly, triply successful day. I drove home still a bit worried about Izzy, but it turns out she was just fine. When I let her out she just sat down on the lawn and stared out at the lake, very zen-like and apparently not needing to pee. Glad I stayed for the drawing. 

Next, bike shopping. This tri thing is starting to get serious. 

September 17, 2019

Lake Meridian Olympic Triathlon, part one

Immediately after the Seafair sprint triathlon, I signed up to do the Olympic distance four weeks later. The Olympic distance is roughly twice the distance of the sprint with a 1.5k swim, 40k bike ride and 10k run (roughly .9 mile swim, 25 mile bike and a 6.2 mile run). Though I did pretty well at Seafair, I wasn't overly confident I could double the distance in less than a month.

In the weeks in between races I began to feel a bit better swimming in open water. I started swimming at Lake Sammamish State Park where the swim area is wide enough to get some long laps just swimming along the ropes. My new friend Ann who has done many triathlons, including now 10 Ironmans, joined me one Saturday. She has been a bit of a Godsend, with endless encouragement and advice. The day she joined me we swam roughly the Olympic distance and then hopped on our bikes to ride around the lake we just swam in. I almost always train alone, so having a friend along for the ride was a treat.

A week before the race I went on my (nearly) annual backpacking trip. We have done it each year since I moved back, but couldn't get our schedules to line up last year. I was really looking forward to the trip, but of course it meant one less week to train. It was a great trip, escaping to the woods to disconnect and reconnect, and of course there was a bit of exercise along the way. Unfortunately, I also came home with a strained calf, so that was not the best thing leading into the race.

It was another early morning on race day to get to the start. Parking was available near the start, but they suggested it would fill up by 6:15. I arrived around 6:00 and there was already a long backup to get in, so I moved onto one of the offsite parking areas at the local fire station. I walked my bike to the start, slowly warming up sleepy muscles.

Along with avoiding last minute stress, getting to the start line early allows you to have a better pick of where you get to set up your station. I picked a good spot and wandered around a bit to check out the area. I met Kathleen who had run the volunteer spot at Ramrod a few weeks earlier. She was volunteering here as well and helped me get checked in. She would later help feed us by manning the food station at the finish. Volunteers really do make these events possible.

Another familiar face was Angie. I had found out a few days earlier that she was participating in the same race. We ran into each other as I was wading into the lake for the start and exchanged an awkward wave.

Speaking of waves, unlike Seafair where there were multiple start waves broken up by age and gender, the Lake Meridian Tri only had two waves per event, one for the men and one for the women. It was a much more crowded start, so as soon as the gun went off there was lots of bumping into each other and jostling for space.

Watching Ironman events on TV, and hearing all the stories of people thrashing against each other at the swim start, I had always had this trepidation about the swim. Many describe it as being in a washing machine as soon as the gun goes off. This wasn't anything like that, but where at Seafair the swimmers spread out eventually, there always seemed to be several people around me throughout the race.

I did a bit better job of sighting the buoys we were to swim around, so didn't add too much distance to the swim this time. I also didn't have any panicky feelings, though I did fall in and out of rhythm on a regular basis while pulling up to avoid running (swimming) into other people. The women started only three minutes after the men, so it didn't take too long for the speedier ladies to catch up to me. As I exited the water, I thought that I saw Angie just in front of me, but it turns out it is easy to mistake people hidden behind wetsuits and swim caps. I did a speed walk to the transition area and swapped out gear and headed out for the bike.

My stomach was again feeling pretty poor for the first bit of the ride, so it was difficult to get any fluids much less any food down. I tried to spin up to speed slowly and wait for my body to come back online. The first several miles were a bit of passing and being passed until we all sort of settled into our paces.

The bike course is basically a set of three out and backs so once you made the first right turn there were faster bikers already coming back from the first leg. Again at Seafair there were so many start waves that there were going to be people well ahead of you regardless of your speed, but here it was clear that the people headed the other way were just on another level of fitness and talent. I did not find this discouraging, and just enjoyed having something to look at while pedaling.

Having felt like I pushed it a little too hard on the bike at Seafair, I tried to ease off a bit to save something for the run. Even so, my average speed was similar to last time, so pacing is something I still need to work on.

About sixteen miles into the ride I stood up out of the seat to take a break and stretch my back and legs. A few seconds after returning to pedaling, my right calf seized, knotting with a painful cramp. I actually cried out in pain and veered over to the shoulder of the road. My right foot is the one I always clip out of the pedal first, and with it locked up in a cramp I almost didn't get it out in time. The revenge of backpacking.

Once safely stopped, I hung my head over the handlebars and tried to will the muscle to relax. After a minute or two it did, so I started to slowly pedal again, pressing on without pressing too hard. If I am not going to learn to pace myself, my body is going to painfully intervene until I do.

I finished the bike without further incident and headed back into transition. I changed shoes, grabbed the belt that holds my race bib and headed out over the grassy hill to find the run course. Again it felt like I was shuffling, but I did feel better starting out than at Seafair. I had a bit over six miles to go, so I was happy to slowly ramp up.

The run course was mostly on a paved park path with some small ups and downs in terrain. There was one longer downhill near the start, and I told myself that I would walk it on the way back in. There was a guy dressed in a Tyrannosaurus costume running up and down the hill cheering people on. It is such a wonderful thing to have people dedicate their mornings, dressed up in a silly costume, just to encourage complete strangers. Getting to experience these random bright spots of humanity are one of the many reasons I do these events.

The run course was a completely out and back course, so you ran about three miles in one direction, turned around, and ran the three miles back on the same path. Not the best set up for variety of scenery, but again you were running past other people on your way out and in. There were smiles, some vacant stares, but lots of nod and waves of acknowledgement and encouragement. When I was headed back I saw Angie coming the other way, and we gave each other a much less awkward greeting and some atta boys/atta girls.

When I reached that hill, I walked just as I planned. The Tyrannosaurus guy was still there and cheered me on to get running again, but I smiled and told him this was my promise to myself. It was less than a mile to the finish, so I tried to pick up the pace a bit when I was back running again. I don't know if I went any faster, but the increased swing of my arms made me feel like I was digging in.

Around the grassy hill the finish line appeared. My neighbor had talked about possibly coming down to see me at the finish, and asked me what time I thought I might run. Having only just done the one tri and never this distance, it was a bit of a wild ass guess, but I thought somewhere between three hours and three hours twenty. When the finish line came in sight, I saw the clock and one more smile crossed my face. I finished in 2:52:49.

I am really happy with how the day went. The swim was a much better experience than last time, other than the calf cramp the bike went well over a more hilly course, and I didn't blow up on the run, running a pace I would be happy with without all the swimming and biking preceding it. All in all a great day.

But it would get better... Details in the next post

September 8, 2019

Seafair Sprint Triathlon

Swim, run, bike. I had done the last two pieces for years, but the fist one was a relative unknown.

As I mentioned in the previous post, I did a bit of swimming in 2009 but it had been a solid decade since I had been in a pool. I found my way back for some swimming during tax season and then again in June/July once I had put my marker down on an event. The swim stroke is a bit like the golf swing - many tiny things to consider, and you don't really get good at it until you can stop thinking about all those little things.

I signed up for the July 21st Seafair Triathlon which is one of the few triathlons in the Seattle area. It takes place at Seward Park where I had done several runs, and the bike route was along Lake Washington where I had ridden many times. It was nice to have a familiar setting for this new adventure. Packet pickup was the day before the race, and they marked up my arms and legs with my race number and age.

I suppose that doing this the day before saves some time on race day, but some of the black Sharpie ended up rubbing off on my bedsheets.

It was an early night since my alarm would be going off at 4:40 the next morning. When I turned out the lights, the sun was still up, and a beam came through an opening in the curtains. It focused as a spotlight on this photo of Sierra and me, so I took that as a good sign.

I arrived at the start line early, like I always like to do. I like to avoid the last minute stress of running around, and I also like to take in the energy of the start line. This gave me some extra time to re-rack my bike after I figured out I was in the wrong spot, and to hit the restroom several times (those wetsuits really squeeze the bladder). I ended up with extra time as the start was delayed 20 minutes, and I was also in one of the later starting waves due to my "seniority" of age.

It was finally time to start.

My group of 50 year old guys waded into the lake and waited for the horn. I set myself up in the back right to avoid the mayhem of the start. Figuring I would be one of the slower swimmers, I just wanted to stay out of the way.

The swim ended up being a bit of a struggle. I did a terrible job of sighting, so added some extra distance to the planned half mile swim. I also panicked a bit, ended up out of breath and had to do some slow strokes just to gather myself. It felt like I was out there forever, but it ended up only being a bit under seventeen minutes.

The last third of the swim I found a bit of a rhythm and started thinking about all the steps to take in transition. Once I reached the shore I walked/jogged my way to my bike. I managed to get my wetsuit off without too much trouble, then socks, shoes, helmet, bike and I was off to the next leg. I felt nauseous from the swim, but I was moving forward.

As I rode I began to feel better. I rode briskly, trying to press a bit without using up all my energy since there was still a run waiting. I began to pass other riders, but one of the bonuses of those Sharpie markings on our legs was being able to know who I was passing. I saw very few of my age group out on the ride, and was mostly passing people from the earlier waves. The route along the lake is a beautiful one and soon we were at the turnaround point. I continued to press, feeling a bit better as the miles ticked by. Soon I was back in transition, ready to swap my wheels for running shoes.

After racking my bike and switching out shoes, I made my way out of transition for the second time. My legs were feeling pretty spent and jelly-like. It felt more like shuffling than running, but even so I was starting to pass a couple of people. I just tried to keep moving forward, easing up to that line of what I had left in the tank and trying not to go over.

The route around Seward Park is only about two and a half miles, so in order to do a proper 5k we had to head inland and uphill. Parts of it were steep enough that I had to walk, but I wasn't going much slower than the people trying to run it. Power walking for the win.

Then it was downhill and onto the flats again. When I saw the finish line I didn't have anything in me to sprint, but I finished relatively strong. And that finish line felt really sweet.

When I was in the middle of the swim, mildly panicking and veering off course, I had serious doubts about the Olympic Triathlon I had planned a month later, much less anything longer. But after crossing that finish line, I knew I was hooked.

September 3, 2019

My long road to triathlon

I have wanted to (run?) a triathlon for a very long time, at least as far back as 2006. I actually did do a sprint triathlon that year, but had not done one since.

I really enjoyed that first experience, even though I messed up on the swim and had a flat tire on the bike. Sometimes when we fail the first time, it inspires us to try, try again. That was certainly the experience with my first bike event (which I did not finish) and with my first marathon attempt (which I also did not finish). Yet for some reason the triathlon dream/plan lay mostly dormant.

I did plan on attempting another tri in 2009. By that point I had been biking and running for a few years, so I started going to the pool to train since this would be my weakest link. But 2009 would be the year of unraveling, so it did not happen.

No real excuse for the intervening ten years, though.

Still, the dream was there in the background. I have the 2006 and 2007 Ironman Championships on DVD and I regularly watch them whenever I needed inspiration for an upcoming event. Over the years I have run nineteen marathons, twelve half marathons and ridden in several biking events that surpassed one or two hundred miles, but for some reason the triathlon remained a back of my mind/someday sort of thing.

A couple of things finally pushed it from "someday" to the desire to make it finally happen.

The first was when I went down to St George Utah to run the marathon with Sean, Marci, Jonathan and BG in October of 2016. That event and long weekend was a wonderful reunion of great, long-running friends. Sean had found this great place to rent when he had run the event a few years earlier, so as a part of the weekend we all got to hang out on the patio for several nights to catch up on all things great and small since we now lived a couple of states away from each other.

Some months previously Sean shared that he and BG had participated in their first sprint triathlon. They both had a great time and could see themselves doing it again. There on the patio in St. George, Sean let me know that they had both signed up for the Oceanside Half-Ironman Triathlon the following April. I was both rather blown away that Sean was taking on this distance, and bummed when I logged on to find that it was sold out.

We chatted excitedly about the Half-Ironman on their horizon. I can't even remember if this was before or after we ran the marathon that weekend, but the enthusiasm for this future endeavor almost grabbed attention away from the present challenge/accomplishment. I've had this goal percolating in the background for at least a decade, and here I had someone I had run many (many) miles with set to take on the challenge. It made it more real, somehow more realistic. If Sean could do it, maybe Sean could do it.

The second thing that finally pushed "someday" to "this year" was when I was dating Angie. She had done several Half-Ironman and full Ironman events. When we were still in the excited, planning stage of things, she let me know that she was going to do the Half-Ironman in Coeur d'Alene in June of this year. I had tax season and the marathon in Big Sur in April, but I believed I could half-ass my way into training to at least complete the thing. That was the final spark I needed.

Although Angie, and by extension Coeur d'Alene, did not work out, the seed long planted was set to bloom. 2019 would be the year. After the marathon in April, I had no other major running/biking events on the calendar. It wasn't really now or never, but damn it, just shut up and make it happen.

More to follow..

August 31, 2019

The gift of music and friendship

I was in the last mile of my ten mile training run and this song came on. I had not heard the song in years, but I was instantly transported back some 20 years to the first time I heard it

My dear friend Holly had told me to listen to this song, but after a few weeks of me not getting around to it, she intervened. We were in my car, in a parking lot, and she had me sit with the song and the lyrics, while she sang along in the passenger seat. It was such a gift.

This morning I ran along with those lyrics and memories, that wonderful tingling wave of a runner's high washing over me. All of the feels. All of it such a gift once again.

May 1, 2019

2019 Big Sur Marathon

The alarm clock went off at 2:30am. The day was finally here and it was going to have an early start.

The marathon route is held entirely on Highway 1 which is mostly shut down for the runners. The only way to the start line is to ride the school buses south. I had selected the hotel I was staying at for its proximity to the race expo and so I could walk to the bus pick up. One less logistic.

The string of yellow buses extended for several blocks, as did the line of runners waiting to get on. When I got to the head of the line there were just a few spots left on the current bus, I almost said I would wait for the next one to ensure I would get a seat up front (motion sickness) but decided not to. After climbing the stairs, a seat up front was waiting. Things were clicking into place.

As I mentioned before, I was not particularly well trained for this race. I did what I could in the days leading up to the race to try and get the best out of what I had. Flying down a day early to provide extra time, lots of fluids and electrolytes the day before to top off the tank, and I shut the lights off at 8:00 the night before to try and get a halfway decent night's sleep. You run with what you have, and I tried not to screw up anything at the last minute.

The buses traveled for ten minutes just to get to the finish line, and then headed south twenty six miles on the very route we would be running on. It was before sunrise so you couldn't see much, but you couldn't miss how often the road climbed and descended. Though I always study the elevation profile to see what is in store, I don't view the actual course ahead of time if I can help it. It can be discouraging to see how long it takes to drive twenty six miles, and that doesn't boost your confidence when it comes time to run it.

This time however I found it helpful. The elevation profile can show only so much detail, and as we drove on through the dark I discovered there were more hills at the end than expected. Better save something in the tank for the finish.

Click to enlarge

We were at the start almost two hours before the gun would go off. We each tried to find a spot of grass or a curb to sit on, but many just spread out on the pavement. The time passed surprisingly quickly, except when you were waiting in the porta-pottie lines.

Almost ready to start.
The sun rose around 6:15 and the first wave of runners went out at 6:45. No headphones again for this race so the morning quiet was soon filled with the slap of shoes hitting pavement, and runners chatting to friends and strangers alike. The first five miles were generally downhill and in among the trees. Since the highway is shut down, and the route does not pass through any real towns, there would be few spectators, but we would occasionally come upon a local who thoughtfully gave up sleeping in on a Sunday just to cheer us on.

After mile five the trees disappeared and we were running through more open, pastoral countryside. The sun still had not broken through however. Colors were somewhat muted and fog hugged the hillsides. One runner commented that the green hills and pastures made it feel like we were running through Ireland. We were warned that this four mile stretch would be where the headwinds would hit in most years, but there wasn't even a breath of wind today. The road climbed slowly and the runners began to spread out.

I had no specific time goal this time around. The training was just too spotty and the course too hilly to make much of a prediction. My sincere goal was just to finish and enjoy the day as much as possible. All I had to do was to finish in under six hours to beat the sweeper bus. As I sat on the start line, I thought if I finished in under five hours, I would be happy with that.

I didn't look at my watch much and just ran by feel, but the pacing groups with their little time flags let me know roughly where I was. In the first few miles I passed the five hour pacers, then the 4:45 pacers, and then stayed in the general vicinity of the 4:30 group. I would lose them when I stopped for a drink or more often a photo, but then would catch up to them again. The hills hadn't really begun yet, so it was all sort of meaningless, but the thoughts about time were planted.

After the forest and green pastures, we reached the coast around mile nine. After a steep downhill we were onto the longest climb of the day, Hurricane Point. It was a two mile climb with about 500 feet of elevation gain, the road twisting and turning providing false hope with each false summit. Time to just settle in and get it done.

The first mile of the climb was the steepest. At the halfway point we were not only rewarded by the easing of the slope, but by the Taiko drummers pounding out some motivating beats. Truly a great visual and audio boost. It felt like I stopped for much longer in than this video indicates.

During the course of the two mile hill I bridged the gap between the 4:30 and 4:20 pace groups. This meant I was probably taking the hill on a bit too ambitiously but I was still feeling pretty good when we reached the summit. The shorter hills on the rest of the course would end up being more difficult, so I probably should have taken it easier. I lost the 4:20 group as soon as I stopped for the next picture and did not see them again for the rest of the day.

After a steep mile downhill we were at the halfway point and the iconic symbol of the race, Bixby Bridge. I had seen many photos of it before but it really is something to see it in person. It was already going to be a special halfway-there marker, but there is the added tradition of a a man playing piano at the end of the bridge. I don't know how often he played this song during the day, but he was playing Chariots of Fire when I walked up.

After shooting another short video and taking some more pictures from this side of the bridge, it was time to take on the second half of the course. I said out loud as I rejoined the race, "I love this day!"

In the race packet description of the course it mentioned that the hill at mile 15 was sort of a barometer of how the rest of your day would go. It was not nearly as long as the climb up to Hurricane Point, but your legs are tired from that previous climb and reality swaps in for excitement around this point. They said if you struggle on this hill, you may be in for a long afternoon. I made it to the top without pause, but only just. I would walk some portion of every hill after that one.

The sun had still not burned through the cloud cover but it was beginning to feel a bit warm and muggy. It always feels like I fail when it comes to nutrition and hydration during races, but I did my best to keep the fires stoked. The elevation profile indicated that it was relatively flat between miles 16 and 21, but it felt like we were always climbing or descending small rolling hills.

Rather than succumbing to the "run til it hurts too much, then walk" pattern that I normally employ, I walked earlier and a bit more often. It felt like I was more in control, this more of a strategy than desperation. I was here to enjoy my experience as much as possible, and I was not going to bury myself in order to save a few minutes or seconds.


As much as I ran for experience over time, I started to wonder what my finish time would be. Just can't help it I suppose. At mile eighteen I started doing a little math, and if I was figuring things correctly I could slow to a brisk walk and still make it in under five hours. I still had a long way to go, but this was encouraging. Each time I slowed to a walk on a hill, I expected the 4:30 pace group to pass by but I managed to hold them off until somewhere around mile 24.

At mile 25 there is this inflatable finish-line-banner-looking-thing put up by one of the sponsors. It is at the base of the last hill before the finish and called the "Time to Fly Zone." There was a DJ blasting out music and a couple people cheering us on.

As I approached, a Def Leppard song was finishing up and the next thing out of the speakers was "Everybody Dance Now!" scream/sung by the woman in the band C&C Music Factory. The woman runner next to me said, "this is the perfect song right now" and it was. The singers voice, the energy, the volume - I got that runners high that only seems to be brought on my music or when my mind is truly in the magnitude of the moment. A tingling wave rushed across my skin and it felt like there was a smile on my soul as well as my face. I would like to say that the song carried me up the hill at a dead run, but my heart felt like it was going to explode so I was soon walking to get it to calm down.

I made it to the top of the hill and a race volunteer told us it was the last one. I seemed to remember from the morning drive in that that there was a climb at the end so I half jokingly asked, "You wouldn't lie to us now would you?" Too many times well meaning spectators tell you that you are "almost there" when the reality is quite different, but the volunteer said it was the truth. Thankfully it was.

Just shy of the finish there was a runner on the pavement getting medical attention. He seemed to be conscious and had the help he needed, but it was a sobering reminder to the rest of us what a challenge to the human body and spirit these marathons are.

Soon the finishing chute was in sight. Suddenly there were hundreds of people cheering us on when we had been mostly alone on the course. There was a particular man that I saw leaning over the railing and clapping his hands. I ran toward him, hand outstretched for a high/low five. He smiled and reached out his hand in response. There is something in the meeting of hands in that moment that crosses all barriers, and once again it felt like my heart was too full and my lungs too empty. I hyperventilated and wept my way across the finish line.

As has been the case in my last several marathons my calves and hamstrings were tight to the point of straining, and my left heel had been hurting for much of the race. That said, I did not bury myself physically as I have in the past. It felt like I ran this race well, and with purpose. Sure I could have shaved some seconds or minutes here or there, but that was not what success meant this time. My body was depleted but not broken, and it was my heart that was properly rinsed from this day.

Still, the clock is always ticking, so once I had regained my composure, I had to check.


My heart is full, if strained.

And I loved this day.

April 27, 2019

2018 Carlsbad Marathon

Before I run the Big Sur Marathon tomorrow, I thought I would look back at the last one - The Carlsbad Marathon run in January of 2018


Do you listen to your head, your heart, or your doctor? The answer is almost always your doctor, but...

As I mentioned in previous posts, I didn't take care of myself very well physically in 2017. With few events on the calendar to set a deadline, I couldn't get my butt off of the couch.

Then a gauntlet was thrown.

The other Sean/San Diego Sean/Bizarro Sean sent out an email on October 18th. It was a copy of his verification that he had signed up for the January 14th Carlsbad Marathon with the simple message:
See you there! :)
PS: Price increase tomorrow.
With no real fitness base and less than three months to the marathon I had no business picking up the gauntlet. I could throw out my back just reaching for it. But I had somehow mustered a solid half marathon on a few weeks of training a month earlier, and as I am fond of saying, "I've done stupider things." I signed up on the spot. Now I had a deadline to meet, and it was a great excuse to get down to San Diego to see friends and bask in the sunshine before tax season kept me shut away.

I compressed the first two months of a typical training calendar into one and was soon caught up. The training was harder than it used to be, but at least it was happening. Some hurdles presented themselves - torrential downpours on my 16 miler, having to cut my 18 miler short when I found out on the day of the deadline that I suddenly wasn't going to have health insurance the next month and had to rush home to a computer. You know, the usual.

Then I got sick on Christmas Eve. I rallied for a day or two, but the flu slapped back and would not be ignored. No final 20 miler and no running for the three weeks leading up to the marathon. Most of the ill feelings went away in the last week but there was still crap in my lungs that I couldn't shake.

The Wednesday before the marathon I went to the doctor. Pneumonia was ruled out, but the doctor still said a marathon was not the brightest idea, though I could tell from his eyes he sort of knew I was going to try anyway. I promised both him and a friend of mine I wouldn't do anything stupid. Well nothing really stupid.

Marathon morning had Sean, Marci, their friend BG and me standing on the start line together. I planned to run with Marci and left the headphones at home. I will say that though I was ill-prepared, I was not particularly stressed about it. I did none of the meticulous planning that I used to do before these events. Part of it was the low expectations, part of it was that this would be the third time I had run this marathon, but another larger part was a mindset that I would need to lean on later in the day.

It was a beautiful morning, as most southern California ones are. We set off before sunrise, but stopped for some pictures at mile two to try and capture the gorgeous hues before us.

I ran with Marci for the first half of the race. I had run side by side with her at my first marathon finish, and we ran with Sean as a group of three at the Santa Clarita Marathon just a couple of weeks before I moved back to Seattle. She practices the run/walk strategy and I thought that might be the best plan to get me to the finish that day.

We ran and chatted as the miles ticked by, but by the twelve mile mark it was clear that I was not going to be able to keep up. You never want to leave someone behind, but we have run enough of these things to know the difference between someone who doesn't have it that day vs. just going through a rough patch that could clear with some encouragement. I waived her on and set about to run my own race for the next fourteen miles. It was the best decision for both of us as Marci would go on to set her personal best that day.

My IT bands were tightening badly, and my lungs were still a bit junked up. I started the infamous "run til it hurts too much and then walk for a bit" strategy. Along the way I met two women who were working medical support and they sprayed my legs down with BioFreeze. I wanted to give them each a big sweaty hug for this miracle potion. Back to run/shuffling.

My pace was obviously slower but not terrible. On a normal day I probably would have just gone to that place of suffered effort to get through to the end, but as I mentioned earlier I had made a promise to not to do anything (too) stupid. So at mile twenty I made a decision.

I would walk. The last six miles.

And I was surprisingly OK with it.

I had listened to a podcast by Two Gomers Run For Their Lives a few days earlier. In it they talk about their One Words for the new year. Sort of a crystallization of their goals in bit they stole from Oprah. Steven's word was "Love". Though he felt a bit cringy about selecting such a broad and overused word, he went on to talk about how he wanted to refocus on why he runs and does the other things in his life. To find the positive reasons instead of acting out of duty or guilt. I settled into the walk and thought about all the great things running has brought me, not the least of which are the friends I had set out with on this adventure. It didn't hurt that it was a sunny day, and I was walking near the ocean with palm trees dotting the horizon.

But it was still a long way to walk.

I cheered on other runners as a walked with a smile on my soul. I met the medic ladies once again and took another BioFreeze bath. After walking for some time, I thought about picking it back up to a run, but quickly set aside that thought and stayed in my previous decision. I took my time and I took some pictures.

The time goals started falling away. 4:30 was long gone and soon after that 4:45. Then I started doing more math in my head. If I kept my current walking pace, I might exceed 5:15 and it would be my slowest marathon ever, slower than that first finish in D.C. eleven years earlier. I did a little power-walking.

I still remember a year later walking around a corner about a mile from the finish and hearing music blaring up ahead. A Bon Jovi song I can't remember was ending and the song "Call Me Maybe" started up. I don't know why, but that fluffy bouncy song blasted at eleven put a goofy smile on my face.

Soon the finish line was just one more corner away. Runners run-shuffled past me to cross their first, fourteenth or fortieth finish line. Each one is something special and it gives you a boost to allow you to find one last bit of energy to speed up. I clapped as each one passed. I had come this far walking and resisted the urge to break into a final run myself. It took me long enough to get down the finishing chute that the announcer called my name twice, which made me smile one more time.

I crossed in 5:12:36, just sneaking in under my D.C. time of  5:14:46. It was strange to finish so relaxed, still in pain but strangely refreshed. I found my friends in the finish area. Sean had had a rough day himself, but more typically pushed through it and was still trying to recover. I found out that not only Marci had run her best marathon, but BG had as well. I had been looking for him but did not see him go by. We later figured out it must have been about a mile from the finish as he recalled hearing "Call Me Maybe" at full volume as well.

If the marathon had been a local one, without a trip to see friends built around it, I don't know if I would have run. The way the day turned out, initially disappointing and then strangely rewarding, I am so glad I decided to run. It is an experience I will never forget, and I hope to find that peaceful mindset the next time I am struggling.

Quite possibly tomorrow.

April 23, 2019

On invisible forces and rabbits

This is a continuation to part one, so it might make more sense to start there first.

On my drive into work a podcast was coincidentally queued up to make sure I didn't tuck this incident away and ignore it. The podcast in question was an episode of "The Anthropocene Reviewed". The premise of the show is "John Green reviews facets of the human-centered planet on a five-star scale."

Each episode has two parts. I had already listened to the bit on velociraptors and the confusion Michael Crichton created with the Jurassic Park movies, so the second half about the movie "Harvey" was waiting for me. I had actually heard John perform this episode live at PodCon in January, but now it was up in the feed for me to experience again.

In the Harvey segment John talks about when he was in his twenties and worked for Booklist in Chicago, and he was having a crushing episode of depression. Alone in his apartment, feeling unable to even feed himself properly, much less pull himself out of the tailspin, he reached out to his parents. Thankfully they were at his doorstep twelve hours later, and he would return with them to Florida to get the help he needed.

But first he had to go into work and quit. After breaking down in tears in front of his boss, the boss was quiet for a moment before telling John to consider this a leave of absence. His job would be there when he felt better.

Later in the day as he was packing up his desk he found a note his boss had dropped off after their discussion. Along with the well wishes and confidence that he would be back, he told John "now more than ever, watch Harvey."

After discussing the movie and its part in his recovery, John said something to the effect of "I hope you never find yourself on the floor of your kitchen, I hope you never cry in front of your boss desperate with pain, but I hope that if you do, you find those in your life are understanding and will give you the help you need."

Just a few hours later, I was crying in front of my boss.

He had come into my office to discuss the workload, which files to focus on, etc. At the end of this he must of recognized something, because he asked if I was doing OK. I couldn't get a word out before I was sobbing uncontrollably once again. He was kind about it, offering what he could, mostly just listening and staying with me until I had pulled the pieces back together.

I shared the story of this March day with a few people in person shortly after it happened, partly to be more open, partly to try and understand my story in the telling. They were all very kind, offering their time and support. I made it through the next month and a half of crazy work hours and now find myself with more time and energy to think. I told my boss in the moment that I didn't think counseling was the answer. It really did feel different that day, something beyond words to fix, but now I don't know. The episode was obviously primed by fatigue, recent sadness, and a few things outside myself bringing depression to the top of my mind. Was it just the dam breaking and unleashing a torrent, or was it something more chemical.

Next post we'll be back to running for a bit, but there is more to think about, more to talk about.

If you want to listen to the episode of The Anthropocene Reviewed, there is a little web player below.

Oh, and I have been waiting in line since PodCon in January to borrow Harvey from the library. I guess the movie is too old to show up on Netflix or Amazon Prime.

I get to pick it up tomorrow.

April 22, 2019

Treading water

I have had some form of depression for much of my adult life. It manifests at different levels, and in different ways at different times, but it is always there running in the background.

It has overall been less powerful over the last decade, primarily a result of the counseling I went through as a part of my divorce. Though you cannot rationalize your way out, talking about it nonetheless helped (and helps) tremendously. Just having someone on the outside, looking at it with you, can alter your perspective.

Two other things came out of the counseling that have helped in the intervening years. One was the realization of the effect my depression has on others. This thing I thought lived only in my head, and only made my own life miserable, had toxic effects on those around me. I know this should have been obvious, but in the thick of it, it wasn't. I was surprised to see how this misery I thought I was internalizing, brought others down with me despite my best efforts to spare them. There were many contributors to my divorce, most of which I can only speculate on, but I have no doubt that my depression was a big factor.

The other somewhat related lesson was that trying to internalize everything, to try and go it on your own is a short-sighted response. Depression can make you feel isolated and unworthy, but you are cheapening your connections and relationships by not trusting those that love you. They believe in you, even when you cannot. Where a decade ago I would not think to share my internal spiraling thoughts, I now let people know when I am struggling. Not always, but certainly more than before. I have not been to a counselor in almost a decade, but now I am more honest with my friends and share a larger part of my head and heart with them. I do this in person and also here online.

In sharing stories here someone recently reached out to me to talk about depression. That same night, YouTube coincidentally suggested a couple of videos about depression. The following morning I was crying uncontrollably in the shower.

Depression has hit me in waves before, often feeling like a physical weight on my chest, but I have never felt so out of control as I did that morning about a month ago. I know for many, depression is a chemical thing. Though I had read this and believed it to be true, I had never experienced it a way that made that knowledge felt, made it real. There were thoughts running through my head as the wave crashed, but it didn't feel like they were the quake that set off the tsunami. This felt very different, something apart from thought. And I felt helpless.

One thing that made the helpless feeling a bit stronger was I felt that I had lost one of one of my ways to respond to it. This breakdown in the shower was about a week after throwing out my back, and I could not turn to running as an outlet. There would be no solace on the road where I could try to sort things out. The feeling of being physically broken as well only added to the height of the wave. Also adding to it were the long hours of work in the month and a half ahead. How was I going to get through them feeling this broken.

The tide eventually washed out and I pulled myself together enough to continue getting ready for work.

How the rest of that March day went will follow in the next post.

April 18, 2019

Gadgets, silly challenges, and lucks of the draw

I have been reasonably active for the past fifteen years, ever since my friend Cherie got me into biking and running. It peaked in 2012 and 2013 with some accomplishments that when I look back on them, rather amaze me. Three marathons in November of 2012, two of them on back to back days. and in the summer of 2013 a one-day STP followed a week and a half later with the Ride Around Mount Rainier (Ramrod).

But since then...

Sure there have been a few marathons, another STP and another Ramrod (fortunately in different years this time around) in the meantime, but the last couple of years have felt decidedly lazy. As I have mentioned before, I really need an event to aim for to get my body out on the road. This even when I know how much good it does me. When I don't have this outlet, my mental and emotional states suffer, and things can spiral (another post).

Anyway, I needed something to change so I bought a new toy and set myself a silly challenge.

The new toy was an upgraded GPS watch. Though my previous version was three generations old, it still worked fine, and I rarely replace something that still works even partially. I still use this 25 year-old broken mirror when I cut my hair, and I still have the backpack that I bought for college in the late 80's (though it has been downgraded to carrying running gear and/or work files during snowstorms).

But this time I bought the thing that I wanted, if not exactly needed. I bought it because I knew it would make me happy, and it would make me go out on a run to play with it. Along with a better GPS receiver, it has more bells and whistles and you can even download custom watch faces. I found one that lets you put an event countdown timer front and center. Gotta keep that motivating event in front of you.

And I love it.

To kick start my running again, and maybe justify the purchase a little bit, I set myself the challenge to run every day from Thanksgiving to Christmas. This would reinforce the habit, create a bit of a fitness base for the marathon training on the horizon, and maybe stave off a few pounds during the holiday season. The only requirement was that I run at least a mile each day.

It started with a Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving and ended with a three mile run around my parent's neighborhood Christmas morning. Thirty four days on the calendar, thirty four days of me running with questioning it, and I felt better than I had in a while. Marathon training started just a few days later. I had low expectations this time around since training would be entirely during tax season, but at least I was starting off on the right foot.

January went well, but sickness and snow took me out for a week and a half in February. Then in early March I threw out my back and missed another two weeks. In the time since I have had to ease my way back, pitting getting the training in against the possibility of making my back worse. The hours at work were ramping up as well, so that was another balancing act, and plantar fasciitis has been a pretty constant companion through it all.

I was very lucky to get this lottery slot into Big Sur, a marathon that has been near the top of my bucket list since I started running. A few breaks went the other way during training, but this marathon was always going to be a bit different. This one was about the experience - more about moments than minutes. I will be stopping to take pictures along the coast and doing my best to remain present, running the mile that I am in. My last marathon went rather sideways, but it made for an experience I have never had before. As I did on that day more than a year ago, I hope to embrace the day, whatever it brings.

Only a few more days to go.