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.

Still...

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.

4:34:52.

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! :)
-Sean
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 walked. 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 crack 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

The 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.

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. He would return to Florida with them 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. 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 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.

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. 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.


March 23, 2019

Spring


This barrel was here when I moved in. In four years I have done nothing to it but watch it fall apart.

Yet every spring, the flowers appear. Planted by someone else, they return each year, reborn.

You never know all the beauty you leave in your wake, or who it may help when you've long forgotten the small seeds you dropped.

March 3, 2019

Relationship rewind

I have been meaning to get back here. Meaning to talk about a silly running challenge I set for myself over the holidays. Meaning to talk about what the new year looked like as it was approaching. Meaning to just write for crying out loud.

Then I met somebody.

Our first date was at the end of November and December was a whirlwind. Getting to know each other, learning each other's stories, reminding ourselves what it is like to have someone else in our lives Along with our other dates, we also went to several gatherings with friends and family throughout the Christmas season. It may have seemed odd to introduce someone to your friends and family within the first few weeks of dating, but it really didn't feel odd at all. I have never started out a relationship where we so immediately connected and freely shared our beauty and baggage. It was refreshing how open we were. Maybe it is a stage of life where you just put your cards on the table and say "this is who I am", and it felt great.

We kept joking that January would be so boring after such a busy December, but I felt no let down. Of course our schedules were back to the normal work hours with some late nights, but we managed to fit in seeing each other as a priority. We went on a wonderful Mount Rainier adventure together over the new year, and made several plans for the months ahead. Plane tickets were purchased, event fees were paid, etc.

I meant to come back here to write about this exciting turn of events. Maybe part of the reason I put it off was that I knew she read this blog, so it added a bit of pressure to what I would say. Too much, too little? As a side note, it is an interesting experience to date someone where they have access to twelve years of your life to read about online, as well as to a book you wrote that is also deeply personal. Like I said, cards on the table.

Another reason I didn't return to the blog is that I often turn to writing to sort through my feelings and I guess I just didn't feel like I needed it at that point. Mainly I think I didn't write because I was just busy being happy.

Unfortunately, she broke up with me last weekend. No real explanation, just that it was over.

To say that I was surprised would be an understatement. Again, I felt we really connected, and my friends and family loved her too. I hadn't seen any red flags, hardly any even in washed out shades of pink. But now I am rewinding through the past three months, reviewing things that I may have missed in the moment that now take on a different meaning. Was it this or that small moment where things took a turn. When we kissed goodnight after our Valentine's dinner a week earlier, did she know then that it would be our last? I won't write about any guesses here because they are just that, guesses.

It is strange now to look at the last post I wrote here, all about the damage it did to my recovery to not know why my marriage ended, and to now have this post backed up against it about another breakup where I feel clueless. Before she left last Saturday I asked her that even if she couldn't tell me right now the "why", I  hoped that she would sometime soon, and she agreed to try. The not-telling may feel like you are sparing someone's feelings, but at least for me it means spiraling thoughts of doubt and endless questions. If it is something that I am unable or unwilling to change, then that would be something, understandable. Beyond the not knowing, I guess it just pains me that she couldn't trust me to have a conversation about what was on her mind.

I went out on a ten mile run last weekend an hour or so after the breakup happened. I have to say that the run did me a lot of good in starting to sort things out. It gave me a chance to be alone and in motion, feel a little less helpless, swap a little emotional pain with the physical. In the intervening week, friends have been very supportive, sitting in the moment while I take my time working through this. I remain lucky.

I don't know what the future holds for either of us. Will our paths remain separate or intertwine again in some way in the future. What will be the thing(s) that I learn this time around. Is it a good or bad thing that a three month relationship means so much. Will I fall back on the bad habit of trying to protect my heart, or will I risk it by remaining open. When will there be fewer questions.


December 3, 2018

The pain of deferred maintenance

I was at the dentist three times last week.

Two of the appointments were to scrape away years of build up, and one was to replace a filling that was partially failing. As I sat in the chair, I let my mind wander. Because of conversations I had with someone recently, and for the mind's ability for free-association and metaphor, I thought about my marriage and the counseling we attended as it unraveled, while the technician dug in and occasionally touched a nerve.

We went to a marriage counselor for four months. The counselor was legitimately terrible, at one point saying "we are not here to save your marriage." Even so, there was some benefit into digging into the issues and neglect in our relationship. I have never been so raw and exposed as I was then. I can credit that time for changing who I am and how I approach relationships, romantic or otherwise. I can still be a somewhat private person, but I am leaps and bounds more open about my fears, feelings, failings and fractures.

I saved this some time ago. Sometimes you see a meme or quote that speaks to you and expresses something you've been feeling but couldn't quite distill. You see it and and think "yeah, that is it".



Then you read it the next day and think, "well it isn't that simple but this totally explains part of it."

Even after months of counseling and painful digging into the neglected parts of our hearts and feelings, I never got an answer as to why she felt our marriage was not salvageable. Because of this, and my propensity to self-analyze/blame, I tore into the wounds opened in counseling before they could scab over. I desperately wanted a 'why' and I could only examine myself at that point. On the one hand, the lack of an answer made me question everything about myself, and there was some growth as a result. On the other, it definitely delayed my recovery.

I was asked the other day if I missed that relationship. I didn't have a particularly satisfying answer.  As I have written before, I do not know if that was my one or best chance or not, but contrary to the meme I do not think, "I am not over her." I suppose I miss the promise that it held, and mourn the way I/we let it fail. That said, I recognize that relationship is long gone, we are both very different people now, and I do not think on its loss much anymore.

At one time I imagined that my ex and I would sit down over coffee or wine some day and speak freely about the 'why' once sufficient time had passed. I am actually seeing her in person for the first time in nine years in just a day or two. I do not know what to expect, except that this meeting is just perfunctory. There will be little time to do anything but awkwardly chat, and no revelations will be forthcoming.

With the time that has passed, I feel less and less that I need a 'why' in order to fully heal and close that chapter. I so desperately needed it back then, but I don't know that it would help me as much now.

But damned if I am not still curious.

Much like my dental care, my mental health care cannot be a once-a-decade check in. Massive healing can happen if you choose to sit in the chair with professionals after avoiding them for so long, but a lot less blood is shed with regular maintenance and upkeep.

As I look to the possibility of new relationships, I must maintain my desire to improve, and trust that healing is the result of all the work that was done.

And don't forget to floss.


November 19, 2018

IRL

Scrolling...

Scrolling...

Scrolling...

At home, at work, online when standing in line. Always checking to see the latest update whenever there is a slight pause in life. Memory and attention continues to fracture, and we keep clicking it away willingly, myself included. 

I first logged into Facebook sometime in 2008 so I guess we are celebrating our aluminum anniversary this year. Can of beer it is. What began as something recommended to help my real estate/mortgage lending connections has now grown to occupy more time than I thought I had at my disposal. 

When I moved to San Diego, I came to really appreciate the online connection with my Washington friends. I would get to see the things great and small that would have certainly been forgotten when we saw each other on my semi-annual visits. More often these days though, the feed is jammed with endless links and stories, and it takes a great deal of sifting through the dirt to find the occasional nugget of gold.

It is time to scale back on all that gets shoved into the feed, but every so often something will pop up that makes me hesitate to clear out all the non-friend things. Because I had "liked" the Big Sur Marathon, and because I check my feed so often, I found out about the last minute chance to get an entry to one of the few races on my bucket list. Still, I doubt these rare finds make up for all extra time scrolling.

When I was down in Utah for the St George Marathon two years ago, the other Sean mentioned he had quit Facebook and was now on Instagram. If I wanted to keep up him and his family (in the somewhat lazy online way), I need to sign up. I hesitated to add another site to scroll through, but he convinced me it was a better place to hang out online.

Instagram is all about the pictures. There are still some sponsored things that show up in your feed to pay the advertising bills, but there isn't an endless set of links that are shared back and forth. It is just pictures, and maybe a quote or thought to go along with it. It isn't totally disconnected with the issues of the day, but the things that appear in my feed are about saving the National Parks, cleaning up the trails, and what effect Instagram (and the endless pursuit of the perfect photo) is having on our wilder areas. These issues are more prevalent in my feed since I follow a lot of hikers. Your experience may vary.

One difference between Instagram and Facebook is that more strangers seem to come in contact with each other on Instagram. While a number of people I follow (or who follow me) are people I know, many more are people I found only online and have never met. Of course there are people I follow on Facebook that I will never meet, but they are most likely to be people in bands I like, speakers and authors I enjoy, etc. The strangers on Instagram are mostly just random people who had a picture that caught my eye, which led me to check out their other work and adventures.

Then I ran into one of the people I follow IRL (in real life).

Izzy and I were on a hike to Rattlesnake Ledge last weekend. It is a popular and busy hike, but it is my default these days since it is reasonably close, has some climbing but is not punishing, and there is a nice view at the end. We were not up early enough to beat the crowds, but at least early enough to get a parking space. I loaded up the backpack (forgetting water for either of us) and headed over to take a few pictures at the lake before starting.




The hike starts at the end of a gated access road that is about a quarter of a mile long. Just as we reached the end of the road and were turning onto the trail head, I ran into one of the hikers I follow on Instagram. She was with a group of four people and they were already finished with their hike (earlier risers). She had stopped to meet a little dog and I stopped as well, it taking a second or two to place how I knew her.  It felt like she understood the slightly confused/recognition look on my face, and we exchanged a smile and a small wave.

It was cool and sort of weird to run into someone you have only seen in pictures. She is not traditionally famous, but with the number of people who follow her she may get recognized semi-regularly. I am not positive I would have recognized her if we passed on the streets, but crossing paths on a trail provided eventual context. If we weren't headed in opposite directions it would have been nice to chat and tell her how much I like her photos, and appreciate that she does not tell anyone where they are taken. Several hikers do this in hopes of not having the places overrun.

The last three days have been filled with meeting up with friends in real life, and with the Thanksgiving week ahead there are more plans to gather, catch up and be present. I plan to dial back the online time, and keep the phone in the pocket more often (unless there is a photo to capture), but scrolling through the online life still brings a surprise now and then.






November 6, 2018

Time change

It is still dark when I open my eyes. I hear an eagle chittering in some neighboring tree, and the pup is walking around in the living room, dog tags lightly clinking together. It is the second day I have woken up before my alarm, and the second day I could not simply roll over and fall back asleep. The switch in and out of Daylight Saving Time does not usually affect me, but it looks like I am still adjusting.

I do not look at the clock. Growing up I would look at the time when I woke up mid-sleep, relishing it if I had even 30 minutes before my alarm. If it was only three in the morning, I was strangely psyched. More sleep! More sleep! These days, if it is within an hour or two of time to get up, my brain fires up and follows rabbits down holes, so I no longer check the time.

I drift in and out without really going all the way out. Soon I hear the ticking noise of the baseboard heat firing up, so I know it is close. The alarm finally goes off and the pup rushes in, so excited to start the day (read, get fed). When I swing my feet to the floor, my right ankle screams at me. I can barely stand, and the pup keeps circling, telling me to hurry. 

I had packed my running gear the night before so I could run at lunch the following day.  I have been slowly trying to get back out there, but this morning it feels like my ankle is telling me, "forget your plans, just keep being lazy." I stumble my way to the back door, let the dog out, and try to release whatever tension has built up in my muscles. 

After breakfast, still limping a bit, I take the dog for her morning walk. With the fall back of the clock, it is now fully light again when we hit the driveway. Our driveway is steep so I don't fault the dog for pulling on her leash this particular morning. The length of the morning walk ends up being determined by how many times she stops to sniff and mark. Today we weren't going to travel very far.

For some reason she especially loves to mark pine branches, and with the winds of the last few days the streets are filled with them. My place is small enough that I have not had room to put up a Christmas tree since moving here, and now I can add "dog peeing on tree" as a reason for it not to happen. We make our way through the neighborhood and pine boughs, not traveling fast, not getting very far. 

I make it to work later than usual. With the decreased work load, this is not much of an issue, but I am sort of leaning into it, adding a few minutes each day to my arrival time. I do manage to get out for a run, chalking up a bit over two miles but they continue to be painful. Ankle stiffness joined Plantar Fasciitis, but it was my lungs that bothered me the most. I don't know if it is all due to lack of fitness, or if some sickness is coming on, but either way it feels like something is gumming up the works. You are encouraged to listen to your body, but I think I need to ignore it for the first few weeks when all it keeps doing is telling me to stop. 

My workload that started out light is filled with little projects and small fires and soon it is time to go. When the day started I had one more issue to research before dropping off my ballot, but that is done and I am off to the library. Washington is all mail-in ballots these days, but I still like dropping it off in one of the ballot boxes. I guess it just feels more official that way. 

I park a couple blocks away knowing that there will likely be a line of cars waiting their turn. As I walked up to the library, there was also a line of people inside. It turns out there was an Accessible Polling Station there where people could fill out their ballot in person. The line of people snaked around the lobby, and it didn't seem to be moving. Stories from around the country are already telling of people waiting for hours in line to vote. I admire the determination of the people who waited, while wondering why more states don't use the mail-in and early voting system we have here. I am anxious for our country right now. It feels like we are on a precipice, and I am no longer confident that this is just swings of a pendulum, that we will step back from the void.

With the time change it is dark when I get home, and it is also raining. Two more excuses to add to the pain in my feet for not taking the dog on a walk tonight. But after we each have our dinner and I sit here for a bit to share my day, we rally, grab a light, and make our way out into the darkness. 


November 2, 2018

Flying solo

I'm in the habit of being alone
I try hard to break it I can't on my own
I'm glad no one's here just me by the sea
I'm glad no one's here to mess it up for me
I'm glad no one's here just me by the sea
But man, I wish I had a hand to hold
~ "Me by the Sea" by Edie Brickell & New Bohemians
After packing up the car with all the various planned activities, rain gear, dog stuff and other random things that would fit, I made sure the iPod was fully charged so I could catch up on the backlog of podcasts waiting to be heard. With a four hour drive each way, and lots of planned roaming on the beach, I figured I could at least start to catch up. The list of podcasts seems to grow as quickly as the stack of unread books these days. C'mon Day, turn off that damn TV!

Just before heading out, I decided to grab a couple of CDs. In the era before Spotify playlists or even mp3s, I would create my own mix tapes, even as far back as when they were still tapes. I grabbed a couple of road trip CDs I made for a drive to Santa Barbara more than ten years ago. I purposely did not look at what songs were on them, wanting to have a little surprise as one song lead to the next.

I listened to podcasts until I hit the Astoria Bridge and then popped in the first CD. I crossed into Oregon listening to "Blister in the Sun" and "Who Needs Sleep" and some songs I hadn't heard in a long time. It was fun to hear the weird mashup of songs I decided sounded good together so long ago.

Once headed home, I popped the second CD into the player after hitting the quieter roads between Ocean Shores and Olympia. The horns and twangy bass of "Short Skirt, Long Jacket" was a peppy start to the soundtrack that would carry me through the the last rural bits before returning to civilization. Unfortunately, the CD started skipping by song five and stopped playing altogether after that. Back to the iPod.

But it was still time for music. Switchfoot's album "Where the Light Shines Through" was already queued up and that suited me just fine. They are a recent favorite and made me OK with missing out on the mystery songs on the CD.

When the fifth song, "If the House Burns Down Tonight" came on, we were rolling through an open bit of country south of Raymond. It is a great song about focusing on what is important, and was inspired by the singer and his family having to flee their home when wildfires were encroaching.
I see the smoke piling up in the rear view mirror
Yeah but I ain't ever seen it any clearer
If the house burns down tonight
I got everything I need when I got you by my side
And let the rest burn
As I turned to see my dog sitting in the seat beside me, the lyrics landed a little harder than normal. This is not who should be riding shotgun.

This was not my first trip alone. It was not even my first trip to the Oregon Coast alone. For many years now I have traveled alone, dined alone, gone to movies and concerts alone, and of course lived alone. I have another trip planned in April to travel to Big Sur to run a marathon, and again I will be flying solo. If I ever get a permit to hike The Wonderland Trail, I will probably be hiking alone.

On one hand, I am good about not waiting around for someone else before going out and doing the things I want to do. I get to choose the time, place and pace of the trip. No worrying about the other person being bored if I just want to hike around looking at viewpoints. I also have this strange fear of disappointing someone if a trip/meal/movie that I choose doesn't live up to expectation. When flying solo, if things go sideways, it is just me who has to be disappointed. Stupid, I know.

At this point, I am a little too good at being alone though. Inertia, fear and comfort zone are building up barriers, and they are only getting stronger with age. It has been a number of years since I have dated anyone. Habits ingrain, and it just becomes easier/safer not to challenge them.

I went out on a couple of dates earlier in the year, and I thought they went pretty well. It was nice to meet someone new, and the conversations flowed easily, making me feel a bit less socially awkward  than I always feel. Unfortunately, she stopped responding when I reached out, "ghosting" me as they say.

My first try at online dating was not great*, but it may be time to try again. With my lack of real dating experience, ease at being alone, and tendency to stay firmly planted in the comfort zone, I am not adept at putting myself out there, but that needs to change. My excuse lately has been that I haven't been feeling that great about myself, would like to lose some weight, generally get my shit together, etc. I reasoned that I might not be my best self, but I am just overthinking it at this point. Bad habit. Makes inaction easy.

Tonight I am headed out to see a band (flying solo). Tomorrow will be about finding some flattering pictures and coming up with a catchy profile.

Must love dogs, but don't let the pup call shotgun.


*Side note, I just checked prior posts and my try at online dating was over two years ago. Damn.


November 1, 2018

A quick revisit, and maybe some changes

"The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea."
   ~ Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen)

My work comes in waves, as predictable as the seasons. Like many, it is deadline oriented, but with the knowledge that the deadlines (almost) never change from year to year. As such, November and December are when things go from frantic activity, to trying to fill your day with work. Naturally, this is when it is easiest to take time off.

Even knowing it was coming, I didn't plan a vacation. Then last week when I found out the two partners at work were taking much of November off, it became clear that it was now or wait and take two weeks in December.

Last November I just stayed at home, "staycation" mixed with chores ignored during the busy season. This year I figured I would take a couple of days at home, but I was a bit twitchy to get out of town for at least part of the week. In a few hours I cycled through some possibilities within driving distance: State park yurt or cabin...Orcas Island...Mount Rainier...Crescent Lake... All sounded tempting, but with weather and dog considerations, none quite fit.

This time instead of the mountains calling, it was the ocean.

I am not sure if it is the endless horizon, the timeless waves, the symbolic washing away of cares, but the ocean has always drawn me in. The Oregon Coast in particular holds a special place in my heart. I have been there as a kid with family, made trips with girlfriends, spent time there alone, and of course rode my bike down its length some ten years ago. I looked at the map, paged through memories, and settled in on Cannon Beach.

Cannon Beach offered the perfect blend of seclusion with a nearby crowd. There is a town filled with little shops, but you could spend all your time walking the beach and hiking in nearby parks. Though it was an impromptu, unscheduled trip, I was soon packing my car with lots of possibilities: Running gear, hiking gear, books to read, ukulele to play, and a shinny new laptop since I was out of excuses to write. Mostly though, I was looking for a little Vacation Bubble to step away, reset, take a look at things anew. 

I had a dog in tow this time so there would be lots of walking and less time looking in shops or going out for a nice meal. I did find a few dog-friendly patios, but the options would definitely been more plentiful with nicer weather (he says already making excuses to go back).

Sort of at the last minute I threw my own book in with the luggage. It had been a few years since I had read it, and I reasoned that since I would be driving the roads and hanging out in the backdrop of the story, it might be fun to revisit.

And I brought a pen.



I do not plan to re-write the story, but I did mark some things up this time through. If I wrote it today, it would be different, but I am still happy with it and proud to have put it out there. Still, there are a couple of typos I would like to fix, some repeated words too close to each other, and a part of one scene I would like to change.

Most history can't be rewritten, but with print-on-demand, my book can. There is no stack of books ready to be sold, so if I upload a new master file, any new copies sold would be missing those things I circled in my copy. I think with the Kindle versions, people who previously bought the book could actually get an updated copy for free (in case they ran out of other books and wanted to re-read it).

Of course I should be writing something new and not trying to rewrite what is in the past, especially since NaNoWriMo kicked off today, but I am going to take some baby steps to get back at writing.

The running gear was not used, the ukulele stayed in its case, but there was lots of beach combing, viewpoint scouting, coffee and beer sipping on patios, and a book and more read during the brief getaway.

Not planned, not perfect, but pretty nice.




















October 31, 2018

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today...



It was the day before Christmas last year and I was over at my friend's house. His daughter, also my great friend, had gotten engaged just days before, to someone who is also a great friend (so many interconnected friends). These three have all brought me in like family, and this was one of several times they have included me in holiday celebrations. 

We were toasting the newly engaged and listening to the proposal story. After a bit, the couple pulled me aside in the kitchen to talk. They said they had something to ask, but then hesitated a bit, looking at each other. The soon-to-be-bride had some tears welling up and told the groom-to-be to do the asking. I had been in weddings before so I thought maybe they were going to ask me to be one of the groomsmen. 

They surprised me by asking me to perform the ceremony.

I was stunned, confused, honored, touched, and even mildly freaking out, all in the span of a couple of seconds. They continued by saying that when they had previously talked about hypothetically getting married, that for at least a couple of years they had known they wanted me to perform the ceremony. At hearing this, I was beyond moved. After some hugs and excited chatter, I half joked that I would need to have a stiff drink before the ceremony to be able to speak in front of a crowd. Whenever I have had to do a speech or make a presentation, I have spoken too fast and stumbled over words in a rush to get off stage. But that was the problem for ten months-from-now-Sean. 

Over the next several months, I would jot down thoughts as they came to me - "Shower Thoughts" as one of the bridesmaids called them.  I would copy down good turns of phrase from videos or books, save pictures from Instagram that had thoughts about love and relationships, and bookmark web pages with good wedding poems. Themes appeared but it was nothing close to coherent writing, much less a wedding ceremony. 

A month or two before the wedding, Matt, Jenica and I went away for a weekend. We took the dogs and stayed in a family cabin on Vashon Island. There was good food, drink and conversation. We talked about the ceremony in general terms, but what I would say was pretty much up to me. They did not want to hear it ahead of time. They trusted me, which was awesome, but again a little scary being the only one who would shape it. 

We also took a trip to Bellingham a few weeks out to check out some vendors and so I could see the venue. Like previous road trips with these two it was a fun adventure, but like the cabin trip before, it was just so wonderful to be part of the process. I had been to a wedding back in April. It was a wonderful ceremony and a joy to be there to witness the excitement and possibility of this new beginning for a friend. Matt and Jenica's wedding was always going to be different though.

Of course both the bride and groom were very important to me, but I had forgotten how different the experience is when you are a member of the wedding party. You are sort of in the inner circle, getting to help with all the behind the scene details, witness the small moments, and maybe lend a voice or ear when needed. As honored as I was to be asked, the actual experience of being a part of it was that much better. 

Now the wedding was a week away and for all the note taking, I had yet to put pen to paper on the actual ceremony. Part of it was my normal procrastination habit, but I think an even greater part was the feeling that I can never quite adequately translate the thoughts in my head to the word on the page. There is always a disconnect. While the thoughts remain only in my head, they are perfect, so I hesitated to shatter that illusion. 

But you can't re-write a blank page.

I combed through the snippets and phrases. Certain ones worked, others felt important but I couldn't get them to fit. Once I got going though I re-discovered a bit of love for writing. The past year or so has been one of malaise and stagnation, but in this wedding and writing the ceremony I found excitement again. It was the first thing I had written in years that I cared so much about getting right. Not since finishing my book really, and at one point I realized that what I was writing for the wedding would probably be heard by more people than had read my book. 

I revised each day, cutting and pasting, winnowing and sharpening. Many versions were saved. A few days out, I was randomly scrolling through my Instagram saves and found a forgotten piece that helped tie together part of what I was trying to say. The day before and the day of there were multiple trips to coffee shops to write, and to Fed Ex/Kinkos to print out the latest version. Even an hour before the ceremony when I was sitting in my car rehearsing, things were being crossed out and moved. Given the chance I would endlessly keep re-writing, but it is never really done, you just run into a deadline. 

But what a beautiful deadline. 

Though I was still re-writing an hour before the ceremony, I was pretty happy with what I had written. It was heartfelt, at times personal but it also touched on love and connection in general. I felt reasonably comfortable up in front of everyone and did my best to speak slowly and be in the moment. Mostly I focused on the happy couple and pretended it was just them I was talking to. 

People were very kind after the ceremony, complementing me on what I had written and several were surprised this was my first time. I don't know if I will ever perform another ceremony, but you never know.

At any rate, with this being my first, and for my connection to the couple, this one would be a tough one to top.