June 30, 2010

Quote of the day

A Facebook post from my cousin Andy:
"2 things I learned from this past weekend. 1. Always follow through 2. Don't plan on doing well with 3 hours of sleep."
Sounds like marathon morning.

June 29, 2010

The trip home

Oh man, what a week.

I was in Seattle for nine days, and of course it wasn't nearly enough. Trying to fit in visits with as many family and friends as possible made the week fly by. I had just a few firm plans set up before I arrived, but the days (and nights) filled up rather quickly. I wasn't able to fit in visits with everyone, but that just means I need to visit more often.

The one difficult appointment was Monday's divorce hearing. It was a day I was dreading, and I am glad I was able to set it up early in the week. It was no easier than I imagined, but I do have the beginnings of closure now that it is over. Rather than head straight for the bar to drown my sorrows, I went for a five mile run along Alki Beach. The ocean always seems to help wash away some of my troubling thoughts, and it felt good to just be moving forward rather than sitting still.

I was also able to talk through the hearing and the last six months of limbo with some close friends, and that helped greatly. I still have difficulty understanding and explaining it all, but just saying aloud what is in my head seems to point me in the right direction. I am blessed to have the continued support of family and friends.

Impromptu plans filled the week, and it was so wonderful to see everyone face to face. You can keep more or less up to date through blogs, e-mail, Facebook and the occasional phone call, but nothing can replace the hugs and random threads of conversation of being there in person. I had wonderful dinners with several friends during the week, and even squeezed in a run around Greenlake with Tami on Wednesday.

Saturday was the half marathon spent with the "Angels" (I'm Charlie), and we all gathered later that afternoon for a BBQ. Friends who weren't able to meet during the week were there, and Amy and family even came back into town for the day just to be there. The clouds we were so happy to see during the run that morning, parted so we could spend the afternoon in the sun. It was a great way to wrap up the day and the week at home.

I come home more tired than when I left. There was plenty of wine and too little sleep mixed in with all the visits. But I return with my mind a little more at rest, and with a soul soothed by the warmth of family and friends. And as great as my time in San Diego has been so far, and the wonderful friends I am surrounded with down here, Washington is still "home".

June 28, 2010

Seattle Rock n Roll Half Marathon - Lucky #7?

Now it was just minutes from the start. I didn't bring any music, and since no one was feeling very chatty, I spent the last moments stretching and thinking about whether I was ready to tackle this time goal. I was not fully trained, but I felt like I had enough miles on the road in the past couple of months to give myself a shot. But a week at home with friends and family made me feel five to ten pounds heavier. And I wasn't too sure how well the wine and a short night sleep were going to sit on my system.

My current best time at a half marathon was 1:55:36 recorded at the Bellingham Bay Marathon in October of 2008. I ran another half a couple months later in Seattle, and was only 30 seconds slower. I have been running on a semi-regular basis since then, and have improved both my 5k and marathon times, so I thought I could meet or improve my PR. The pace group I chose was for a 1:52 finish time, which I though was about perfect - an improvement, but not a huge leap I hadn't put in the training for.

After the Star Spangled Banner (always gets me), the gun went off around 7:00am. Each corral of runners were sent off separately with about a minute of space in between. This is a great way to do things as it eliminates much of the log jams at the start and enables runners to get into their pace relatively quickly. Since I was following a pacer, I didn't have to concern myself with speed and just had to play follow the leader.

At about mile 1, there was an inflatable guitar player sponsored by Brooks. Brooks has teamed up with the Rock n Roll series, and the long-legged archway was on the San Diego course as well.

One of the bloggers I follow has also teamed up with Brooks running, and she was at the expo on Friday. I stopped by, but missed seeing her there, but I did catch a glimpse of her at the side of the road just before we crossed under the guitar player. Frayed Laces (as she is called on her blog) recently qualified for the Ironman Championships in Kona, Hawaii this year. Whenever I think "I don't have time to train", I read how much she fits in and I remember that I can make it happen.

I would check my watch every so often to see if we were maintaining the desired pace, and Tim was like a metronome, never more than a few seconds plus or minus from the desired pace. The course is relatively flat in the beginning, so hitting the pace immediately was not too difficult. I ran in Tim's shadow for much of the way, but would speed up a bit when we reached the water stops. I still prefer to walk for about 15 seconds in order to drink without choking. Tim and others have the drink-on-the-go skill, so I would play catch up after each stop.

The day was about perfect for the run, overcast and much cooler than the heat of last year's marathon. Even so, I made sure to pour a little water on my head at each water stop. They also hand out a performance drink (Cytomax) at the water stations, but after one sip, I decided to skip it. It just didn't taste very good, and I didn't think it would sit well on my stomach. After my difficulties in San Diego, I decided to stick to water, a salt packet, and a gel for fuel.

The road tipped upward around mile 4, and Tim held a steady pace. It probably wasn't quite goal pace, but it was close. It pushed me a bit harder than I probably would have otherwise, but it wasn't too bad. The thing I noticed the most was that his pace felt slow once we reached the top. I think I typically speed up on the flats after a hill, keeping up the increased effort instead of easing off to rest. By maintaining pace, it felt easier than normal, and I probably kept a little bit more in the tank for later.

Miles 6-9 are right along the shores of Lake Washington. The street is tree lined as well, so it is an inspiring place to run. There wasn't a bald eagle this year, but I did see a blue heron gliding above the road. Our pace group seemed to grow as we went along, so if I was running in Tim's shadow it was actually a bit crowded. There were actually two groups running together, as our pace was the same as the full marathoners shooting for a 3:45 finish. After one of the water stops, I pressed ahead just a bit and it was much more wide open. I know he was just on my heals because several spectators would comment, "the 1:52 (or 3:45) pace group is just behind you".

The road climbed again around mile nine and I pulled back into the pace group. There was a short, but very steep section to get us up to I-90 and the tunnel into downtown. There was a DJ playing music in the tunnel, but like last year it was blasting so loud it was hard to find the song within the noise. Once I reached the light at the other end, and with most of the climbing behind us, I decided to pick up the pace at mile 10 and see what I had left in the tank.

I was feeling pretty good at that point, not great, but in control. The course heads into downtown with great views of both Safeco and Qwest fields. The marathoners had rejoined the course after their out-and-back on the floating bridge, and the 3:15 pace group passed by at a good clip. But I seemed to be passing a good number of the half marathoners on my side of the road. Once we hit downtown, there were more spectators lining the streets, and with the finish line within reach (for the half marathoners), the energy level kicked up a couple of notches. There was one last climb onto the Viaduct, and though I was feeling pretty good, I was really glad I wasn't heading north with the full marathoners this year.

Off the Viaduct and back on the streets, we made one last turn for home. The road to the finish is in front of Qwest Field, and it was jammed with folks cheering us on to the finish. I still had something in the tank, so I picked it up for the sprint to the finish line.

I crossed in 1:50:35, cutting five minutes off my previous best. It was one of the more enjoyable races I have run, one of the few where I really felt in control, but pushing myself just enough. I probably could have gone a little faster, simply because I didn't feel completely smoked at the end, but the half marathon felt about perfect.

I had no reason to expect a PR, especially with the way I have been endulging and not sleeping this week. I am sure I have the pacer to thank for giving me a smooth start to launch off from. I can definitely see using a pace team again in the future.

And starting tomorrow, I start to take things more seriously. It feels great to have a good race when you aren't expecting it, but it also makes me excited to show up on race day prepared to do my best. I am training for the Long Beach Marathon in October, and have hopes of participating in a Half Ironman next spring. This will take not only more specific training, but also taking better care of myself away from training. I am definitely due for a detox.

Getting to another start line

The day started much too early, as it always does on race day, but it was a bit tougher than average this time around (mostly for self-inflicted reasons). In trying to fit in visits with as many friends as possible while I was in Washington, Tami and I went out to Diane's Friday night before the race. Diane was part of our great book club, and a few of us wanted to gather again to swap stories and catch up. And like most clubs, there was some wine involved.

We had a great time catching up, but even at three hours or so, it was much to short. But we had a race to run the next day, and a spaghetti dinner back at Tami's to carbo-load with. I ended up staying the night there so we could drive in together. We stayed up longer than we should have, and consumed a glass or two too much wine. But I was on vacation!

I was awake an hour early (2:30am!) and couldn't get back to sleep. This is not too unusual for race day, but this time it was the wine rather than pre-race jitters. The shuttle busses from Seattle to the start line were running from 4 to 6 in the morning, and I think we hopped on our school bus around 4:45. This put us at the start line with almost two hours to kill before the gun went off, but there have been enough horror stories of runners missing the start that we didn't want to take any chances.

Cherie and Wendy joined us about 20 minutes later, and we began the pre-race rituals of - checking in our stuff, stretching, visiting the porta-potties multiple times, and making any last minute adjustments before setting out. There is also lots of chatting with other runners, mostly explaining our team name and race day shirts. They are usually good for a laugh and a great converstation starter.

There was a VIP area sponsored by Brooks that included flush toilets, and more importantly, very short lines. You could get a "backstage pass" for VIP access by buying some Brooks shoes and apparel a couple of weeks before the race.

I was really tempted, especially since I run in Brooks shoes, but since I was running with several friends, it seemed wrong to be separated in my own gated community. But next time, I may need to do it. Even a couple of hours can seem too short a time when the bathroom lines are as long as they are.

There were approximately 27,000 runners toeing the line on Saturday, and 39 corrals in all. As I mentioned, I was planning on running with a pace group, and this put me in corral number 6. I was listening to John "The Penguin" Bingham speak at the expo, and he mentioned that people have much more fun the further back they are from the start line. I think there is some truth to that. In other races where I have been more mid-pack, the atmosphere is more like a party, with lots of smiles and excited chatter. Most everyone around me in corral 6 were all business. Very little chatter and determined looks rather than smiles.

The pacer (sponsored by Chuckit Racing) was named Tim and he welcomed each of us into his little group. There was nothing identifying us, so I'm not sure how many were in our pace group, but I would guess we started out with about fifteen runners. Each runner introduced themselves to Tim, who said he was pretty chatty, but would almost certainly not remember all our names.

Almost time to start...

June 25, 2010

Half the effort, twice the enjoyment

Tomorrow morning is the Seattle Rock n Roll Marathon and Half Marathon. I will be running the half with three of my original running friends. We have been to many races together from 5ks, to marathons, to spending 30 hours in a van together running a 189 mile relay race. These are the people who held true to those late night promises that "we should start running", and we have continued to push each other to greater distances and larger experiences.

We all ran the inaugural event last year, two of us running the half and two running the full marathon. We are all running the half this year, so it will be more about fun than pushing our limits. We aren't at the point where we can just roll out of bed and run a half marathon, so it will still be a challenge, but the half marathon is a completely different animal. It is less about survival, so it is much easier to stay in the moment and enjoy the day. The first part of the Seattle course is also much more scenic, running along the edge of Lake Washington before heading downtown, and there is sun in the forecast. Should be a beautiful day.

I would like to knock a few seconds or minutes off of my best time, but I really don't know what the day will bring. My training for the marathon three weeks ago was half-hearted, but it may be enough to be reasonably prepared for tomorrow. But I also don't feel completely recovered, and a week at home with friends and family have definitely increased the intake of good food and spirits.

I am going to try running with a pace group tomorrow. A pace-group leader tries to run a consistent pace through the race to arrive at the finish line by a certain goal time. The leaders carry a small sign aloft with the goal finish time, almost like a tour guide trying to keep the flock together. Most marathons have pace groups these days, and there are several groups to match goal times for both half and full marathoners. Though I have sometimes kept them in sight along the way, I have never tried starting and finishing with a pace group. Since I have a desired goal, but it is pretty speculative, I thought it might be fun to experiment this time around. If I can stick with them the whole way, I could knock about three minutes off my PR. Should be interesting.

Though we run different paces and have different goals, my friends and I will join together at 0'dark thirty tomorrow morning to support each other as we cross another start line (and of course cheer each other on to the finish). It is said that the real work is the months of training, and that race day is the reward, the celebration. But of course the celebration is that much better with friends by your side every step of the way.

Random Washington goodness

Taken during one of my walks this week. Click to enlarge.

The ocean has its pull, but a summer walk through the pines 
does something good for the soul too.

June 24, 2010

My not-so-smart phone

I started carrying around a cell phone when I was in construction. Since I was out in the field each day and would need to get in touch with my crew and boss, it made sense to get one. Of course once you get a cell phone, it is hard to imagine life without one. We have become used to instant access to friends and family, and it sure makes meeting up much simpler. Gone are the days of "I will meet you at the glove by Safeco Field at 3:30". Now it is "I'll call you when I get close." Of course it has probably made it easier for people to be late since they can get in touch at will.

When I changed to working in real estate and mortgage lending, I upgraded to a smart phone. For the first year or so, I carried around a simpler phone, a PDA to keep track of my calendar and contacts, as well as an electronic key to get into homes for sale. By upgrading to a smart phone, the three devices could be reduced to one. But what finally pushed me to "simplify" was being stood up when meeting a new client at a house for sale. I waited for about a half an hour before giving up. When I made it back to the office, I found an e-mail from him saying that he wouldn't be able to make it. The time stamp on the e-mail was the same as the time we were supposed to meet.

It became apparent how dependent on e-mail most people have become for their primary form of communication. The client had my cell number (though I did not have his), but instead of calling me to tell me he had to cancel, he sent an e-mail. Of course I was already waiting at the meeting place when he sent it out. The bonus of e-mail access in the field (in addition to the one device vs three devices) finally pushed me to upgrade to a smart phone. And then of course, it became hard to imagine life without it.

Many of us have moved rather quickly from "needing" cell phones, to needing mobile e-mail, to needing internet access in all places, and I am no different. My smart phone was nothing like the current Apple and Google phones with their endless apps. It was a much simpler Windows Mobile phone, but I had the ability to get online to check e-mail, traffic, ball scores, and Google for the random questions that pop up from time to time.

But the phone stopped holding a charge, and even the new battery I bought only lasted six months. I had a simple back-up phone that I would carry when running or biking, or any other situation where I thought I might drop the phone, and this is what I have been using for the last six months or so. I definitely miss the additional internet and e-mail bells and whistles, but the simple phone does have limited internet access on board that I can use in a pinch. What I really miss is having my calendar and the ability to take easy notes.

So most people know that the new iPhone hits the stores today. It sounds like there won't be many available right away, so there was no temptation to go stand in line. But I am tempted by the phone. The iPhone has become the one to chase, and the new version sounds like a good update. But Google is coming up fast with their own "so much more than a phone" device, and even Windows is launching a new system in November that looks pretty good.

The other thing that makes me hesitate is (for now) the iPhone is only sold at AT&T. I have been with AT&T for a little over four years, and I am still locked into them until November. I have not been too happy with their coverage, and it doesn't look like they are doing much to improve it. They seem happy to spend money on Luke Wilson to promote their red herring campaign. "Verizon has us totally beat with 3G coverage, so we will just show you the map of our slower, older service and hope you don't notice."

With millions of new iPhones clamoring for bandwidth to stream video, etc., the already weaker system may get overwhelmed. AT&T has also jacked up the early contract termination fee from $175 to $325, so it makes it even less tempting to risk whether the iPhone will be able to do all it says it can (though Verizon has made a similar fee increase).

So for now, I will probably sit on the sidelines and let the early adopters check out the new iPhone. I am sure there will be a flood of user reports over the next couple of months to let me know how the phone and the network perform. In the meantime, my phone won't be quite as smart, so I am going to have to dust off those brain cells that used to keep track of dates and appointments. And carry a pen and paper to capture those occasional "brilliant" thoughts.

June 23, 2010

Sacked out

My parents are dog sitting for my older brother this week, so they are back up to a two dog household again. My brother's dog (well, really his daughters' dog) is a Schnoodle, a cross between a Schnauzer and a Poodle. This small, zippy dog is quite the contrast against my parents' large, loping lab. I am not generally very fond of small, designer "purse" dogs, but my nieces' dog is actually pretty cute and reasonably well behaved. She does not have small dog complex and feel the need to bark constantly like other cat-sized dogs.

We were watching the Mariner's game on tv the other night, and the Schnoodle decided to hop up and join us. She almost immediately sacked out, worn out after busy day of zipping around the house.

This is a shot from above her. She is flat on her back, paws up in the air with her hind legs propped up on the back of the couch. Rotated, it looks like she is sitting up watching the game with us.

Ahh, the dog's life.

June 22, 2010

Sun worship

Summer arrived a day late here in Seattle, and not a moment too soon. An article in the Times this morning indicated that Sunday was the darkest June day in at least 15 years, and it has been 271 days (and counting) since the temperature has cracked the 75 degree mark, breaking the previous record of 254 days. It doesn't look like it will get over the 75 degree mark today, but it is a warm, sunny day. Not quite summer heat, but at least it feels like spring.

I went for a run at Alki Beach out in West Seattle yesterday afternoon. There is a nice path along Puget Sound with sweeping views of the ocean as well as downtown Seattle. It is typically filled with runners, bikers, rollerbladers, kids and dogs, especially as the rain gives way to the sun.

It was a bit quiet for the first day of summer, but there were still a number of people able to get outside in the middle of the afternoon. It was generally overcast, but the sun broke free for about a half an hour during my run. A run along the ocean was just the tonic I needed, but I wasn't having nearly as much fun as this pooch in the video I caught on my iPod.

He didn't seem to care that it wasn't yet swimming weather.

Another article that showed up in my inbox around the first day of summer was appropriately about sunscreen. An excerpt:

For the second time this month, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is sounding alarms about sunscreen. Last Friday, the senator stood with parents and a scientist from the nonprofit Consumers Union and called upon the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to regulate sunscreens more tightly, after reviewing evidence that a common sunscreen ingredient could be a culprit in promoting, rather than protecting against, certain types of skin cancer.
The ingredient at issue is retinyl palmitate, a derivative of vitamin A added to a wide variety of sunscreens and other personal-care products to enhance your skin's appearance. But its use in sunscreens concerns Schumer and other public health advocates, who cite numerous studies finding that it breaks down in the presence of UV rays to form DNA-damaging free radicals, which can promote the development of certain types of cancer. 
The article goes on to discuss the differences between UVA and UVB rays, and how the SPF ratings of sunscreen relate to protection against burning vs protection from skin cancer. Consumers should look for the words "broad-spectrum" to find sunscreen that protect against both UVA and UVB rays, but there are also certain ingredients that are safer than others.

The article also points to a site where you can look up the best sunscreens, as well as find out how your regular brand rates. I am Irish-white, with skin that does not tan so much as it burns. Since I am outside on a regular basis for both work and exercise, I am very good about slathering on SPF 30 or 50 before I head out.  I looked up the two brands I have been using lately, and they each fell in the middle of the scale. At a rating of 4, they were below the "recommended" range, but above the "avoid" category.

One of the concerns with my typical brands is that they both contain the chemical oxybenzone. Not only does oxybenzone break down in sunlight to form free radicals, but according to the site, it is also a synthetic estrogen that absorbs through the skin. No wonder I've been so emotional lately.

June 21, 2010

The end of Day

The sun has finally slipped below the horizon
no matter how hard I willed it not to.

The divorce became final today.

But the world continues to spin
and a new dawn
will eventually chase away
the darkness.

June 20, 2010

The friendly skies

I have moved to flying Southwest Airlines lately. Their prices are generally very competitive, and since they don't charge for checking luggage, there are less hidden charges to think about when pricing a flight. The fact that they don't charge for checked luggage doesn't prevent passengers from trying to cram a suitcase into the overhead bin, but I'm betting it is even worse on other airlines.

And Southwest has an understood culture of having a little fun on the job. There are generally a few jokes during the announcements, probably to prevent you from tuning them out. One of the standard announcements is to put on your oxygen mask before helping another (so you have the ability to help). The Southwest joke is to put on your mask before picking your favorite child to help next.

The crew on the first leg of my trip was just like any other airline, but the second leg had more fun at their job. The gal doing the exits/seatbelt/oxygen mask presentation fastened the 1970's style seatbelt around her head like a headband, and the oxygen mask became a hat. I am sure this not only helps keep her job light and fun, but she can tell who is paying attention by their reaction. Later she walked down the aisle sporting a glue-on black mustache. Even when she was in the jumpseat chatting with another flight attendant, she was all smiles. I have to say, it is great to be around folks who have fun at their jobs (or are at least great at faking it).

Southwest is general admission, with no assigned seats. The earlier you check in, the closer you are to the front of the line to have your pick of seats. I can imagine the folks stepping on the plane when it is partially full, scan the seats for an appropriate seat mate, trying to deduce in seconds whether they want to sit next to this person for a couple of hours. Are they chatty, fidgety, an armrest hog, angry or happy travelers? I was on the flights early, so I was the subject of scrutiny.

Not that I look forward to flying, but I don't really dread it. It is a quiet time of no cell phone or internet access. A time to catch up on reading or writing. I am not a chatty flier, and I ended up drawing similarly quiet seat mates on my two flights. The woman across the aisle was very chatty, and I can only hope the woman in the center seat was interested in passing the time hearing stories about random family members. (I would not have been).

I make a point of being polite and friendly to most everyone in the service industry. They often take the brunt of the public's frustration, sometimes quite unfairly. I greeted the TSA agent checking ID with a smile and a hearty "good morning". She returned the favor by looking at my ID and saying "looks like you've lost weight". Nice way to start the morning and my vacation.

On a flight in December, a passenger started popping off to one of the flight attendants. You could tell he was the type to treat service people as his personal punching bag, dismissing the flight attendant with a wave of his hand. The flight attendant was not willing to take it, but gave the passenger one chance to back off/calm down. When he did not, the flight attendant disappeared for a moment before returning to escort the passenger off the flight. The passenger backpedaled and immediately became conciliatory. The flight attendant kept at him, making sure there would be no further disturbances, before agreeing to let him stay on the plane. The captain actually stopped by five minutes later to make sure there would be no more trouble.

I have to say, it was nice to see them stand up against the rude treatment. The customer is not always right. You have to pretend they are 95% of the time, but there is no reason to accept personal abuse.

Airline flights are getting tougher to enjoy with diminishing leg room, disappearing perks, and added fees, but it certainly could be a lot worse. There was talk a little while ago of allowing cell phones to be active during flights. I hope this never comes to pass. It is one thing to have a seat mate engage you in conversation when you are not interested, but quite another to listen to half a conversation, inches from your ear, with no ability to get away from it.

And there is even talk about charging for carry-on bags and bathroom visits. Please, just give me the price up front, and get me there on time with minimal hassle. I promise to be quiet and behave.

June 19, 2010

Going home

So I am headed to Seattle for a little over a week. It is my first visit back home since the move to San Diego. The choice of week was pretty much a no-brainer with the U2 concert scheduled for tomorrow, and the Rock n Roll Half Marathon a week from today. Unfortunately, Bono has injured his back and the U2 concert has been postponed indefinitely. But the week will be full nontheless.

My froomies Matt and Holly have been through this many times. They have lived for extended periods of time in both Seattle and San Diego, and have developed many friendships in both locales. When visiting, they find it impossible to fit in visits with all the friends and family they'd like to see. My dancecard is already filling up, but I am hoping to have a little time just to relax and drink in some of scenes and scents of my Northwest home.

I hadn't thought about it previously, but when describing the move to San Diego, I've come to realize that I have never lived outside of a 20 mile radius of Seattle. I have been fortunate to travel quite a bit, but have never pulled up stakes to settle anywhere else. I have no idea how long I will be in San Diego, but Seattle will always be home.

I never count off the days to an approaching trip. I'm not sure why this is, but it doesn't become real to me until I hit the road or step on a plane. I am currently on the first leg of the flight home, and I can't wait to get there.

June 17, 2010

Quote of the day

"The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places."
~ Ernest Hemingway

June 15, 2010

A picture is worth...well, your camera

So I saw this story in the paper this morning, The Odyssey: Camera survives ocean trip to Florida.  A teaser:

Paul Shultz was walking along the pier of a Key West marina when he saw what looked like a rotting tomato pounding against the rocks.
The Coast Guard investigator waded ankle-deep into the water to fish out the ocean rubbish: a bright red Nikon camera, small enough to fit in the palm of his hand. Its waterproof plastic case was covered with six months' worth of crusty sea growth, but the camera itself was almost pristine when he found it May 16.
However, clues to tracking down its owner were few. So Shultz decided to test his investigative skills.
Mr. Shultz used some of the pictures, with the online community's help, to deduce that the camera was likely lost in Aruba, 1,100 miles away. But he still didn't know who owned it. But once he had the location, and he posted some pictures from the camera online, the owner was tracked down. Kind of an interesting, message in a bottle story with some investigative reporting thrown in.

I recently bought a new camera, because the old one was producing pictures like this:

Every few photos would be grainy and whited out. At least with digital cameras, you know this right away and usually have a chance to get the shot again, but not always. With the trip to Lake Powell approaching and other summer fun to document, I decided to replace it.

As always, I wasn't looking to spend too much money, and I am not that great of a photographer that I need lots of bells and whistles. Just something to point and shoot really. The main thing I was looking for was a compact size, something I could easily slip in a pocket. I am not great about setting out to take pictures, but my last camera was so small I could have it on hand when a good shot presented itself.

The other main feature I was looking for was ease of use. When I picked up the Samsung TL105, the menus and buttons were intuitive enough that I could navigate easily right away. Just with the passage of time, the camera is nicer than the one it is replacing. It takes 12 megapixel pictures instead of 6, and the new one shoots HD video as well. At $119, it seemed like a good deal.

After a week in Lake Powell and carrying it along on the marathon, I have to say I am pretty happy with it. I honestly have been using the 8 megapixel setting just to keep the file sizes down, but the pictures have turned out great.

This morning's story about a lost camera reminded me of a story I saw a few weeks back. This guy has a pretty clever way to identify his camera in case it ever gets lost. I may have to do it myself since one disadvantage of being able to stash your camera in a pocket or other small space, is that it tends to get easily misplaced. Or dropped it in the ocean.

June 13, 2010

All American afternoon

I haven't been following my hometown Mariners very closely, but I catch the box scores in the paper each day. I know enough that they aren't doing very well. I realized late last night that they were in town to play the the San Diego Padres, so I jumped online and grabbed a ticket to today's game.

To avoid hassles of traffic and parking, I took the trolley in from Lemon Grove. It runs about every 30 minutes on Sundays, and it drops you off within sight of the stadium. So great.

It was a beautiful afternoon, so I headed in early to walk around the stadium. Petco Park reminds me a bit of Safeco back in Seattle. Where I think Safeco has a bit more character, it is hard to beat the park-like atmosphere of Petco. There is a grassy hill beyond center field where you can lay out a blanket and picnic within sight of the field. There is even a mini baseball diamond where kids can play a T-ball game while waiting for the big-league version to start.

Sundays are apparently both pet adoption days (Petco is the name on the stadium after all), as well as military appreciation day. Military personnel that arrive in uniform get half-price tickets, and I believe they sponsor a particular unit each Sunday. Just before the Padres took the field (in desert fatigue looking uniforms), there was a soldier standing at attention at each position. The players ran to their respective position and "relieved" the soldier. It was pretty cool.

The tickets I bought were in the upper deck, but were right behind home plate. They turned out to be in the front row as well, so this was my view.

The Mariners have been playing pretty poorly, and their hitting has been almost non-existent. But today's game was a good one. Felix Hernandez pitched an almost complete game (being relieved with only one out to go in the ninth), and shut down the Padres for much of the game. There was a somewhat rare, two run, inside-the-park home run in the third inning when Franklin Gutierrez let a line drive hit get under his glove. But the Mariners responded in the next inning with an almost as rare (for them) two run home run by Milton Bradley. They went ahead in the eighth and added an insurance run in the ninth to win 4-2.

It was a wonderful, impromptu afternoon in the sun.

June 12, 2010

When you're at a loss for words

While we were on the Lake Powell trip, one of the Dads was on the beach with his daughter. At some point he presented her with two options. I don't remember exactly what they were, but it was something like, "Do you want to stay and build sandcastles, or do you want to play in the water, because you need to put on your life jacket if you do." Overwhelmed by the options, she answered, "Meow" in her best cat voice.

I can see pulling this out the next time I don't know what the right answer is. 


June 11, 2010

More marathon thoughts

* While we were in Lake Powell, there was a family staying at the house, and they were there the afternoon after the marathon as well. One of the kids, who clearly had been paying attention to the adult chatter, asked me if I ran 13.1 or 26.2 miles. I was impressed by his informed question, and I told him I did the whole 26.2 miles. Then he asked that question that I have never been asked, but that I've heard repeated jokes about. He asked, "Did you win?"

* I don't know if my race strategy is changing, or if it was the week on a boat with kids, but I passed up the guy handing out beer on the course, but thankfully stopped for the kids handing out Otter Pops.

* Not many of the pictures I took came out very well, but I did capture one of the roof top deck where our Seattle group celebrated after running the 2007 marathon. We had a BBQ, ordered some pizza, and celebrated our long run in the sun. It was great.

* So, on a scale of one to "damn that hurt", the marathon was five stars. It was the toughest one since the Surf City Marathon where I was fighting knee pain at mile 6. In both events, the second half of the marathon was much slower than the first half.

So I don't know if this is really insulting to the effort it took to finish the second half, or a commentary on the half-assed way I showed up, but this is the shirt I received at the end.

Since I missed the expo, I didn't get my shirt until the finish (so I wouldn't have to carry it I suppose). When I finished and found the information booth, they said they were out of the smaller sizes and only had large or extra large. (The fact that they were out of smaller sizes probably had something to do with the more-fit people finishing in front of me). I grabbed a large and stuffed it in my bag. I didn't look at it since I knew what it looked like from seeing so many on the course. Only after getting home did I realize I had a half, rather than full marathon shirt. Matt said "congratulations" with air quotes. Maybe I'll just duct tape over the "1/2"

* This was my fourth Rock n Roll Marathon event, and I have another half marathon version in two weeks in Seattle. The Rock n Roll fanchise puts on a good event - very well organized, good bands, lots of fun and energy. But Seattle may be my last time with them. The price for both the San Diego and Las Vegas events are now $50 higher for no other reason (as far as I can see) than they've become extremely popular. Competitor (the company behind all this) clearly thinks the market will bear this 60% increase in price for their reputation alone. Kind of a bummer, but there are plenty of other roads to run.

Which reminds me, its time to start training again. 128 days 'til next time.

June 7, 2010

I'll be quiet now

The blog is feeling a little manic-depressive. Nothing for six days and then four posts in one day. Sorry 'bout that.     It was a busy week off the grid.

The San Diego Rock n Roll Marathon

So, after three days of escape, hurdles knocked down by the race promoter, and a long road to the start line - here I was standing in Balboa Park again waiting for the gun to go off. I had no idea how the day would go, but I will say that this is the first time since my first marathon that I brought along money for cab fare or a trolley ride home in case I didn't finish. It was also the first marathon I have run without a friend. In seven marathons and six half marathons, only my first half marathon was run with out a friend participating as well. It was kind of a different feel at the start line. Still exciting, just different.

My first stop was to the "solutions tent" to grab my bib. I had brought along my receipt, confirmation, and the e-mail telling me it was OK to do this, but it turns out there were several people just like me picking up their bib at the last minute. It is obviously discouraged with over 25,000 runners, but I was glad that they make exceptions when necessary. They couldn't find my bib number, so they moved me to another line. There they gave me a different bib number and made a note to transfer it to my name. It made me a bit nervous that my time wouldn't be recorded, but it was done so quickly that Tami was able to follow my progress during the race.

Runners are lined up according to their predicted finish time. The faster the runner, the closer to the start line, and the bib numbers are handed out to match your starting position. My original bib number in the eight thousands put me in corral eight, and my new one put me in corral three. I had no intention of starting that far up, but I thought to myself "Man, it is going to be embarrassing to be wearing this elite bib number if I end up walking later." With the bib switch, I also didn't have the one I had personalized. If you sign up early enough, they will often print a line of text on your bib - your name, a catch phrase, etc. My original bib said "Lucky #7". Probably just as well I wasn't wearing that one either.

The weather was warm but overcast. It was in the low 60's at the start, which is still warm for me, but at least it wasn't predicted to get over 70 during the day. I intended to give it my best, but to enjoy the day as much as I could knowing that it would likely be a slower finish time. I brought along the iPod with a marathon music playlist queued up, as well as my new camera to take some pictures along the way.

The first few miles went well, though sweat was pouring down my face almost immediately. I made sure to take in my surroundings, encourage and thank the spectators and volunteers, and high-five the cheer squads along the way. I snapped photos of Balboa Park, Petco Park, the USS Midway, as well as the roof-top deck where we celebrated the 2007 marathon. At every water station I poured about as much water over my head as I drank.

The major climb of the route is along highway 163 at from miles 8 to 11. The other issue is the banked roadway which did in my IT bands last time I ran this route. But this time I was still feeling pretty good after the climb. I had passed the 4:00 pacer at around mile 2 and was trying to keep him in my rear-view-mirror. I wasn't watching my time too closely, but I knew I was setting a pretty good pace. I found out later that passed the half marathon marker at about 1:56, within 3 seconds of my first half time in Seattle where I set a PR.

The day was going so well, I entertained thoughts of breaking four hours if not making a new PR. I was all ready to write a best-selling book about the virtues of eating and drinking on a boat as a taper plan. The sun broke through the clouds around mile 11 but I maintained a decent pace until around mile 16. I started to slow down and run out of gas just a bit, and ended up walking up a hill between mile 16 and 17.

I have movie and tv audio clips intermixed with songs on my marathon playlist. By some strange coincidence, this clip started playing as I was walking and ended just at the top of the hill. It got me moving again, and with only one more short hill a half mile later, I was thinking I could actually take marathon home along the flatter paths of Mission Bay. As I crossed the I-5 overpass, I saw the finish line off in the distance. Of course it was still nine miles away, and there were several twists and turns to go, but it was encouraging.

I made the turn at the bottom of the hill and there was another cheer squad over on the right side of the shoulder. I went over to get some more high-fives, and started whooping it up to encourage both them and myself. And while I was focusing on shouting and slapping palms, I turned my ankle on some uneven patch of road. The same ankle I twisted less that 24 hours earlier. I hobbled off onto the grass and tried to walk it off. It seemed about as bad as the day before and it only slowed me down for a mile or so. But it was the start of a long slide.

Shortly after the ankle sprain, I felt tightness across my lower rib cage. It started on my right side, but soon spread to the left.  I stopped at the mile 18 water station and took a moment to catch my breath, take in a gel, some more fluids, and a Tylenol for the ankle. I carried on, but it didn't get any better. It felt like someone had put a ratcheting tie-down around my chest, and with each partial mile they ratcheted it one click tighter. It made it hard to get a deep breath, and taking in food or fluids became unappealing.

I started doing the walk/run thing, but the running became progressively slower and the walk breaks more frequent. My pace dropped from somewhere under nine minutes a mile, to ten and half, then eleven and a half minute miles. Thoughts of a four hour finish were fading, though I hadn't seen the four hour pacer go by. I knew that if he passed me, I didn't have anything left to chase him, so I pressed it as much as I could. Then I started to do some math in my head and I realized I was well off that pace, and he must have passed me when I wasn't looking.

The four and a half mile loop around Fiesta Island seemed endless. One highlight was that I ran into Todd, someone I knew from Washington. He was there with his wife waiting on the sandy roadside for some other runner to come by. I was more than happy to stop and chat briefly at that point. So random.

I carried on, trying to just run through the duration of a single song. We were at the walking-wounded stage of the race, and those in slightly better shape were trying to encourage us along. "Hitting the wall", where your body runs out of simple carbs to burn, usually happens somewhere around mile 20. Coaches often say that energy waxes and wanes, and encourage runners to hang in there until your body switches gears. I tried to be patient, but when I tried to dig deeper I found nothing.

I continued my shuffle toward home. About a half mile from the finish my knee started to hurt from a tight IT band, but I was close enough that it didn't slow me down much more than I was already going. In previous marathons, I have been able to crank up the pace at the end, if only along the short finishing chute, but not this day. It wasn't for lack of support, as there was a wall of people cheering us on. I just had nothing in the tank.

Matt and Holly surprised me by meeting me later at the finish line festival. They had friends in town that were leaving the next day, so I encouraged them to skip out on marathon day. But they endured hassles and traffic to be there to congratulate me. We did get to see Big, Bad Voodoo Daddy at the post-race concert, which was cool. Holly knows a few of the band members and was able to get their attention while they were on stage, but we missed them on the way out so we didn't have a chance to meet them.

I finished in 4:14:35, which in hindsight is not a bad time considering what I brought (or didn't bring) race morning. I was just lulled into faster dreams by the first 2/3rds of the race. I am glad I ran the marathon, and look forward to next time where I will not only enjoy the day, but come prepared to do the best I can. I guess I did set a course PR, improving my 2007 time by about 25 minutes. And like my first marathon, I didn't need cab fare to get to the finish

Getting to the start line

So now it was possible (though difficult) to run the marathon and go on vacation. Even after deciding to go on the houseboat trip, I continued to get in my long runs "just in case". I also have a half marathon later in the month, so I knew the training wouldn't go to waste.

Before we left town for Lake Powell, I tried to do all the last minute prep work for the marathon because I knew there would be little time in between. For anyone who has done one of these races, it is an odd sensation to take care of the last minute details five days before the race, instead of during the antsy moments the night before.

I went out for a quick run around the campground with Sean on Wednesday morning before the boat arrived. I had thoughts of another run, but the rest of the week's exercise was limited to some swimming and one brief ski run. And of course, the food and drink temptations were plentiful. During a normal taper period, you back off the amount of training, but try to keep the intensity up. There was very little intensity involved in lounging on the houseboat.

Being on vacation with fellow runners, most of the opinions were that I should run the marathon. You know the type, "You should totally do it. I would.", said with a beer in hand. But these guys actually meant it, and I was pretty sure I would say the same thing.

So we docked later than planned on Saturday. Every minute that ticked by was one less that I would get in sleep the night before the marathon. It had taken us 11 1/2 hours with stops to make the drive up, and when we didn't drive away until 2:30pm, I wasn't even sure there would be any sleep. On one of the last trips off the boat as we were unloading our gear, I twisted my ankle. I'm not sure if I clipped a cleat or what happened, but soon I was on the ground clutching my ankle thinking "Oh boy, here we go." It definitely hurt, but it wasn't too bad of a sprain. I walked on it but iced it regularly.

Just before we pulled away, Sean's sister offered her house in Vegas if we didn't want to make the trip back all in one shot. It was pretty tempting, but that would mean no marathon. We left non-committal, but when we were back in the car and deciding which way to turn, I chose the route home with no Vegas temptation along the way.

We took turns driving, but I didn't get any sleep when Matt was at the wheel. It is difficult for me to sleep in cars or planes, and Saturday was no exception. We made fewer stops and had our meals on the road from sandwiches Holly had prepared, so we pulled up to the house at around 12:45am. After a bit of last-last-minute prep, my head hit the pillow around 1:15am. Although the days on Lake Powell were very relaxing, I didn't bank up much sleep. Matt was kind enough to drive me to the start line, which meant I didn't have to drive to the shuttle, so it gave me an extra 45 minutes of sleep. But I still had to get up at around 4:00am to make it to the start line, so my sleep tank was going to be nearly empty.

So, under-trained, almost no sleep, and a twisted ankle. This should go well.

So, about that marathon...

So I had plans to run the San Diego Marathon on Sunday. As I have previously mentioned, my training has been a bit half-assed, largely due to a daily five-hour commute for several weeks. I was still getting in the long runs on the weekends, but I was definitely going to be under-prepared.

About a week after I signed up for the marathon, I was invited on the houseboat trip to Lake Powell. I struggled (a bit foolishly) with the decision about whether to run or go on the trip. I was looking forward to running through my new adopted town, and I hate to back out of a commitment. Plus, the money was already spent. In the end, I wisely chose to go on the trip with everyone.

Then I received an e-mail from Lynne that we would be docking on Saturday afternoon. The marathon was on Sunday, so conceivably I could still run. The main hurdle in the way was the fact that I would be out of town during the expo, which is the place you pick up your race bib and timing chip.  In large bolded type on the race website, it states, "You may only pick up your own race packet and number at the Expo- NO EXCEPTIONS! Photo ID required." 

So I couldn't have someone else pick it up for me, and the expo would close at least six hours before we arrived home. I sent a pleading e-mail to see if I could pick up the race packet early since I would be out of state at the time of the expo. A small part of me hoped that they would say "tough luck". Then the decision to run would be out of my hands and I could simply relax on vacation and not have to rush back. It was a small part, but this marathon already had a few things going against it.

I received an e-mail back that if it was absolutely impossible for me to make it to the expo, that there is a "solutions tent" at the start line where I could pick up my bib and chip. Now it was all on me.


Lake Powell

It has been an incredible week. Our friends Jonathan and Lynne rented a houseboat on Lake Powell for the week, and invited us up to spend a few days with them. Lake Powell is this massive lake on the Colorado River that is created by the Glenn Canyon Dam. There are countless canyon offshoots along the lake, and there is over 2,000 miles of coastline in all. The canyon walls are several hundred feet high and are mixture of sandstone and rock. They are stunning, especially when the sun hits them at sunrise and sunset. It is hard to understand the scale of them until you see a boat beached up at the base of them. No picture could capture the beauty, but that did not stop us from trying.

It is a 10 - 12 hour drive to get to Lake Powell, and in the interest of maximizing our time on the lake, we drove straight through. We camped with Sean and Marci Tuesday night, and met Jonathan and Lynne late Wednesday morning. It was a very nice campsite, but nothing in comparison to how we would be spending the next three days.

We set out from the dock and wandered down the lake for a couple of hours, and in that time we saw such a small percentage of the lake that it is hardly worth mentioning. We picked a canyon off of Padre bay, and found a nice sandy beach to set up "camp". There was talk of pulling up stakes each night and finding a new cove, but we ended up staying in one place. Houseboats move pretty slowly, so several people also had conventional boats in tow to do their exploring.

The three days went by all too quickly. There was lots of sun, swimming and indulging in fine meals and spirits. We also purchased fishing licenses before we set out, and most mornings there were a couple of people fishing off the second deck or in a quiet cove. But of course the main activity was just spending time with friends.

My birthday was on Thursday, and it was a wonderful day. It was in the upper 90's all week, so I spent as much time in the water as possible, either swimming or standing thigh-deep casting out a line. I even managed to catch a fair-sized fish that day. We had a wonderful dinner and Lynne even made a cake topped with a '4' and a '3' candle. Sadly it is not because I am 34. The highlight of the day was an original song composed by Sean to the tune of The Star Spangled Banner, made up on the spot. We were so busy laughing, no one thought to catch it on video. I slept on the top deck of the boat each night, and drifted off to sleep underneath a perfectly starry sky. Best birthday in recent memory.

Along with myself and the three couples, there were five children ranging in age from eight months to four years old. There was lots of time building sandcastles and throwing rocks into the lake. There were two TVs on board, but they never were turned on (even for a distracting video). There was also no cell or internet service, so the adults were also distraction free. It was a great trip for Annabelle because she loves being outside, feeling the wind in her face, and definitely has her Dad's water gene. Annabelle LOVED splashing around in the water.

On Friday, Sean's sister and brother-in-law met up with us. They have visited Lake Powell several times and were happy to join in on the fun. They have a 23' boat, and took everyone out for some skiing and intertubing. The winds really kicked up that afternoon, so they headed back and we spents some time trying to resecure the houseboat. Along with the high winds, the lake level rose a couple of feet while we were there. When the winds kicked up, Sean brought out a couple of kites for the kids (though I think the adults had more fun with them).

We docked on Saturday afternoon, and then made the long drive home, arriving home sometime near one in the morning on Sunday. It was a tough haul, but absolutely worth it for the time we had on the lake. But maybe next time we'll take an extra day or two so we can enjoy it even more.

It was just a wonderful few days, and I have no idea how I have stumbled upon such wonderful friends. But I continue to enjoy every minute of it.

June 1, 2010

Waiting for the next swell

I've been having a tough time the last few weeks. The 90 days has run its course, and thoughts of divorce, children, etc. have been filling my mind. The thoughts will always be there, and the severity will rise and fall, but I have been lingering in a trough this month.

We went to church on Sunday, and things started pushing to the surface again. The theme of class was forgiveness, and there was a dedication ceremony, but I don't know that there was any one thing that tripped the switch. Just an overall feeling of family pervaded the day, and it made me linger on what could have been. I had trouble keeping it together and made a hasty exit after the service was over.

I went for a run afterwards. My last long run before marathon weekend (that might yet happen). I ran up near Sunset Cliffs again. It is a little hillier route, but I was only going 10 miles and I wanted to be near the ocean. The 1.25 mile stretch is breathtaking, and I run up there as often as I can. Every time I run this route, there are other runners, surfers and tourists drinking in the scenery.

And almost always, there are people just staring at the ocean. Some pull up a lawn chair, but others just sit on the guardrail and stare west. I am reminded of the movie "Running Scared" with Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines. Two New York cops take a week down on some Caribbean isle to escape from the job. They come upon a large group of people staring off at the ocean. Being cops, they assume there is trouble and they ask, "what is going on, is something wrong?" A woman answers "No, we are just watching the sunset. We do this every day." Their initial reaction is "Seriously?", but after spending a week near the beach they understand it, and begin plotting how to move down there permanently.

Each time I run along Sunset Cliffs I think, "I should come back and watch the sun go down." Sunday was finally someday. I thought the tonic of the sea would help, and I could just let loose of all the feelings I was keeping inside. I pulled up a chair about a half hour before sunset, a cup of coffee and book in hand. There were a bunch of people along the cliff and out on the rocks to take in the nightly show. I watched the people and the waves as the sun slowly sank toward the horizon.

I wasn't expecting answers. I just wanted a moment to let loose my pain and have it wash away into something bigger. But the dam containing my feelings from the morning did not burst, or really even crack. It was one of those rare moments when I was totally present and my mind was quiet. I still didn't find any answers, but the ocean and the sunset was just the tonic I needed.

Like that lone surfer Sunday evening, I'm waiting in a trough for the next big wave to carry me forward. In the meantime, I will try to stay in the moment and enjoy the brilliant scenery. And of course when that wave comes, I need to paddle really hard.