August 31, 2010

Grand Canyon morning

I heard several times that I had to see Grand Canyon at both sunrise and sunset. The look of the canyon can change dramatically depending on the angle of the sun, and the cliff walls really come to life when the sun is low on the horizon. I had already been at rim's edge as the day came to a close, and the plan was to get up before the sun breached the horizon the next day.

When considering where to stay, I had originally planned on staying in nearby Tusayan. The town is only about five miles from the park, and I had even toyed with riding my bike to and through the park. But the more I thought about it, I figured since I was only going to be there for around 24 hours, I might as well spend the extra $30 to stay within the park. It would mean less hassle, more time in the park, and of course a few extra minutes of sleep before meeting the sunrise.

I am really fortunate that I made that choice. Road construction near the entrance caused delays of up to 45 minutes, which would have been frustrating as I drove in and out of the park at the start and end of the day.

I was scheduled to run six miles on Thursday, and I thought running through Grand Canyon National Park at sunrise would be pretty spectacular. There is a paved and gravel trail along the rim of the canyon, connecting the village to many of the viewpoints and overlooks. It was about three quarters of a mile from my hotel to the rim trail. The alarm went off sometime around 5:00am after another short night of sleep, and I set out about a half hour before sunrise.

Before I even started, I threw out any thoughts of maintaining any training pace. Not only would I be stopping regularly to take in the view, but the park sits at about 7000 feet of elevation. I had previously biked at around 6500 feet, so I knew that living at sea level and exercising at 7000 feet would not be very comfortable. No, the goal of the day would be taking my time to savor the moment.

Here is a picture of the route I ran (click to enlarge):

The first bit was a decent path through the park and the trees, but the show really began once I turned onto the rim trail. As you can see from the picture, for much of the time, the path is within tripping distance of the edge. The center of the picture where it says 'Grand Canyon' is where the restaurants and nicer hotels are. I was unsure how many people I would see along the path, so I lingered a while early on the rim trail before I reached 'civilization'.

When I reached the village, I found a number of people out to greet the sunrise, but it was in no way crowded. The sun was still below the horizon, but it was already light out. I paused in a number of spots, trying to decide on the best place to be at sunrise. I decided to run past the village and out toward the Hermit's Rest route I had traveled by bus the day before. I had intentionally skipped the first couple of viewpoints, figuring I would run to them in the morning.

In the above picture, the Hermit's Rest route begins where my red running route makes a right turn toward the top of the picture. I saw a sign as I entered this portion of the path that said something about a "worship center" 300 yards ahead. I hadn't heard mention of it before, and I didn't know what to expect, but I have to assume that this is what they were talking about.

I also didn't have a picture in my head of the 'ideal' spot to watch the sunrise, but once I saw this, I knew I had found what I was looking for. There was no one else around, so this little platform would be my own private meditation spot. With a little timer assisted photography to capture the moment, this corner of the park was all my own as the new day began.

After watching the sunrise, I pressed on to Maricopa Point and the Trail Overlook viewpoints. Maricopa Point was my turnaround point, and the trail branched off to a lookout point that seemed suspended over the canyon. I met another runner there, and we both leaned on the rail and took in the dawn without a word spoken. I stopped by the Trail Overlook on the way back, and met another runner. He was more chatty and we talked about the Bright Angel Trail that snaked into the canyon below us.

You stare at a thing of beauty for too long, and it can become less spectacular. Spending several hours at various viewpoints the day before, my eyes began to glaze over and the incredible details began to fade a bit. I don't know if it was just stepping away for the evening, or if being out there nearly-alone on foot had something to do with it, but the canyon seemed new again, and I think I enjoyed it even more the second day.

I ran back to the hotel, getting in the required six miles marked on my training calendar. With the altitude, steep trail, and multiple stops to enjoy the view, it took about two hours to complete. But moving any faster through this glorious morning would have been a mistake.

I showered, grabbed a quick breakfast, checked out of the hotel and hit the road once again around 10:00am. I decided to leave the park from the east exit, and stopped at a couple more viewpoints along the way. Once again, it was beautiful, but the magic was beginning to slip away (again). This part of the canyon was different and beautiful in its own way, but I didn't linger quite as long. It was time to move on.

Below are some of the photos from the second day, both during the run and on the drive out.

Now it was on to the Phoenix area, and some time spent with friends I hadn't seen in a year. Out of the woods and back to civilization.

August 30, 2010

The Grand Canyon

"No language can fully describe, no artist paint the beauty, grandeur, immensity and sublimity of this most wonderful production of Nature's great architect. [The Grand Canyon] must be seen to be appreciated."
~ C.O. Hall, Grand Canyon visitor, 1895
After fueling up on gasoline and caffeine in Williams Wednesday morning, I headed north to the park. The road is a pretty straight shot through barely populated land. Much of the area was covered in low trees, short and round like all they had to do was dry out to become tumbleweeds. There was some road construction, so it took a bit longer than planned, but I still made it into the park by 9:30am.

I headed straight to the nearest viewpoint, and it...was...stunning. It would be the first of probably ten different viewpoints I would visit, and I would end up taking some 250 pictures trying (futilely) to capture the spectacle. I knew no picture would ever tell the story, but I couldn't help trying.

Grand Canyon National Park has several shuttles that will take you around the village and to all the different viewpoints (all included for the price of admission). It is a great system and eliminates all the crazy traffic that would otherwise exist.

After dropping off the truck, I spent a couple of hours along the Hermit's Rest route. A recorded voice would announce the next viewpoint as we drove along the route. I had planned on going straight to the end and working my way back, but I could not resist getting off the bus when I heard "now approaching The Abyss" (so named for the sheer drop off). Of course you are largely looking at the same canyon, but each viewpoint offered a slightly different perspective.

After grabbing some lunch, I listened to an interesting lecture on the California Condor. The endangered bird has been brought back from the edge of extinction, and there are a number of these huge birds that now call Grand Canyon their home.

After belatedly stopping by the visitor center, I checked into the hotel. It was not one near the rim, but it was still great to be staying in the park. It was a more traditional place with a tv and fridge, but it still felt a little rustic since this was the view from the room.

After getting settled, I headed back to the village. I wanted to see the sun go down over the canyon before grabbing some dinner. It was a beautiful night, and there were many people along the rim taking in the nightly show. Once again, pictures could not capture the beauty of the light playing off the rock walls, but we all kept trying just the same. And we would put the cameras down for long moments, trying to savor the images in real time.

Below is a small sample of the pictures I took the first day. The next morning, the Grand Canyon experience was somehow, even better. More on that tomorrow.

August 29, 2010

Williams, Arizona - gateway to the Grand Canyon

The rough schedule was to spend a day or so at the Grand Canyon on my way out to see friends in Phoenix. It is about a nine hour drive from San Diego to the Grand Canyon. I decided to stop off in Williams for the night as it is only an hour short of the canyon, and the hotels were about 60 % cheaper. The next morning I would drive the 60 miles into the park and start the day fresh.

Williams of course survives on people doing the exact same thing as I was doing. When I looked online, there were around 25 hotel options in the small town. I ended up choosing the least expensive lodging, and it ended up being a pretty cool choice.

The appropriately named, Grand Canyon Hotel claims to be the oldest hotel in all of Arizona. It opened in 1891 and once the railway to the canyon opened in 1901, the city and hotel became the launching point for people around the nation to visit our own 'wonder of the world'.

The historic route 66 runs right down main street of Williams, so the hotel and city also benefited from people passing through on "America's Highway". However, once I-40 pulled travelers off of route 66, fewer people traveled directly through Williams, and the hotel stood empty for about 35 years.

A couple bought, restored and reopened the hotel in 2004. The hotel has been restored, rather than remodeled. The wood floors look original, the rooms are small, and for many, the bathroom is down the hall. It is definitely a period piece, and they proudly advertise "25 beautiful individually decorated television free rooms." Williams still has that small town feel, and they have capitalized on the route 66 kitsch. The hotel fits right in, and it was great.

And I found a appropriately kitschy restaurant to complete the experience. I sat out on the patio for dinner, and there was a local guitar player doing covers and singing some of his own stuff. He was actually pretty good. I lingered for a while after dinner, relaxing after the long drive, and looking forward to the next day.

On to the Grand Canyon!

August 26, 2010

Happy National Dog Day!

Miss my pooch. There are a few dogs here in the park, and if your day could be made happier at the Grand Canyon, it would be with your smiling companion nearby.

The pooch sometimes drags my shoes or clothing out to the front room when I am away. We were recently gone overnight for a child's birthday party. When we came home, this is what was waiting by the front door.

Can't wait to see the pile when I get home after a week away. 

August 24, 2010

The road trip

The call of the open road. It is probably an American ideal especially, what with our expansive country, relatively cheap gas, and intricate freeway system. With a single tank of gas, we might be able to cross state lines, yet even with three months on the road it would be difficult to see it all.

The road trip, or even the Sunday drive used to be a thing in and of itself. There was plenty to see along the way. That like life, it was as much about the journey as the destination. Today the journey seems to be a hassle on the way to our destination. Airplanes can't get us there fast enough, and our frustration pushes flight attendants to the emergency slide.

As a teenager it was completely different. Like most men I imagine, cars were an important part of growing up, and we would look for any excuse to go for a drive. A couple friends of mine would ditch class to drive to eastern Washington just to go to the U-Tote-Em Drive In for lunch. We had plans at one point to drive to California - each of us in our own cars, because we all wanted to drive.

I of course don't get as excited about driving these days, but the road still speaks to me. As I prepared for the trip out to Arizona, the drive wasn't just a hurdle to cross in order to get to where I was going. The drive was going to be part of the experience.  I dug through the CDs and grabbed a large handful for the drive. I charged up the iPod as well, but I was really looking forward to listening to some music I hadn't heard in ages. Before long, I was belting out some 80's classics as I drove down the interstate. (There are some definite advantages to driving alone).

The first car I owned was a '67 Ford Mustang. I bought it for $1,300 (it clearly wasn't in "classic" shape) and had the car for over 15 years. It was my daily driver for most of those years, and I was thinking about that car as I climbed some mountain passes today.

My Mustang had power nothing, and certainly no air conditioning. My friend always called it "2-55 A/C" - 2 windows down driving 55 mph. But it was worse than that. Whenever I headed over the pass to eastern Washington, not only was there no A/C, but I would crank the heat in hopes of preventing the engine from over-heating. As I climbed the passes, I would be physically sweating as I watched the engine temperature tickle the red zone. Once I was done climbing and on the downslope, I would shift into neutral (it was a stick shift) and turn off the car completely. As I coasted down the road with the engine off, I would watch the temperature gauge fall back down to normal. Good times.

Today, I was crossing over the moonscape that is eastern California, and the temperatures were above 110. My truck is now 11 years old, so to be safe I turned off the A/C on the uphills. That seemed to be enough to keep it out of the red zone, so at least I didn't have to turn the heat on.

My route today took me north on I-15 to I-40 east. I-40 is the interstate that killed old route 66. Route 66 was dubbed "The Mother Road" and was the first to connect Chicago to Los Angles in a reasonable fashion. Many small towns along Route 66 blossomed as so many Americans took to their cars to see the country. The year after I-40 was finished, Route 66 was decommissioned. Several of those small towns withered, but several others (including Williams,AZ where I stayed this evening) have latched onto the kitsch of 66, and remain as business loops off of I-40.

The interstate highway system does an amazing job of connecting this great nation of ours, the size of which boggles the mind when you stop to think about it. When I turned onto I-40, there was a sign that said, "Wilmington N.C. 2554 miles". It is pretty amazing to think that I can drive that far on a single road (assuming I would want to drive to North Carolina).

But there is something lost with the increase of speed and the skipping by of small town America. As Charles Kuralt said when I-40 was completed in the 1980's, "Thanks to the interstate highway system, it is now possible to travel from coast to coast without seeing anything."

I can't claim that I took the long way here today, but I am really glad I stopped at Williams for the night. It is a great little town semi-preserved in time from the heyday of Route 66. The journey is pretty good so far, and the Grand Canyon is only an hour away.

More about that tomorrow(ish).

August 23, 2010

A brief departure

When it is all stripped away, what would you do if there was nothing holding you back?

As a follow up to yesterday's post, I have been thinking about what I could/should/might do with this life of mine. In the past year or so, several things have been stripped away from my own ledger. No spouse, no house, and smaller expenses. I still have my own obligations and debt that must be tended to, and I am mostly treading water at this point, but the load is lighter than it once was. Not that this is where I wanted to be, but this could be looked upon as a golden opportunity. With a lighter obligation side of the ledger, and with my decisions mostly affecting only myself, I could get busy pursuing my bliss.

But were the obligations really holding me back? Many of us strain against these real and imagined chains that hold us back from pursuing our bliss. "If only I could cut my bills in half, get a different job, buy a smaller place, had more time, I could get on with LIVING!" But so many of us when given the time, we don't know what to do with it. We might be suddenly unemployed, and have an extra 40 hours a week that we didn't have before, but rarely do we use that time to chase after our bliss. Suddenly those chains that we thought were holding us back fall away, and we realize that we still aren't moving forward.

We cannot wait for those perfect circumstances to arrive before we pursue our life goals and follow our bliss. We must start along the road before it is entirely open. So many success stories start with something like, "I got up at 4:30am every day before the world was awake so I could write/study/create." Once we start carving out spare minutes and moving forward, we begin to evaluate and adjust how we spend our time to prioritize what is important.

For my own part, I never really felt like I was being held back. I had it pretty good, with enough time that I could waste it. No, it wasn't for lack of time or the chains of obligation, it was from lack of a clear idea of what bliss might mean. Now, I have all the time I need to stare at the ocean for answers, but still none have bubbled up from the foam.

But we all have some vague thoughts of what we would like to do, if we could. What were my dreams if I could turn my back on my life for a while? One recurring image is Thoreau-like. To go off to a cabin in the woods to strip away all the excess, live simply, and see if beneath all the clutter there wasn't something I had been missing. I somehow believed in this little fantasy that I would suddenly begin to write like I had always wanted to. But like those imagined chains, I don't need to make drastic changes to be able to write. I have all the time I need right now, but I so often stare at the blank page (when I bother to sit down in front of it).

One of the other visions I have had looks a little like this:

I have long had the desire to take a few months and see this great country of ours. To hit the road with only the vaguest of plans, gathering adventures, stories, and yes a few souvenir stickers along the way. The original plan was by motorcycle, but these days a Honda Element is more the imagined vehicle. Of course my car would have a bike rack instead of a canoe rack. And biking across America remains a dream as well.

It is still possible, and who knows, I may just make it happen. I know the pooch would not enjoy the journey, so that is of course something to consider. But there are always solutions, and I don't need to imagine any more barriers than already exist.

I actually briefly considered the Jet Blue "All You Can Jet Pass". The pass allowed you to fly anywhere Jet Blue flies, for a month. It was tempting, but I decided it wasn't what I was looking for (they sold out almost immediately anyway). For now, I am headed out on a little one-week adventure. I was already planning on visiting a friend in Arizona for a long weekend, and now work has slowed enough that I can extend it to a week. I have decided to visit the Grand Canyon on the way. I haven't seen it in almost, *cough*, 35 years, so why not!? It is a natural wonder of the world for crying out loud, just a day's drive away. And I have the time.

I don't have to run off to the woods to clear away the clutter - sometimes just being on the road for a while will do. And maybe the expansive canyon will hold more answers than the ocean has proposed so far. At any rate, I hope to get some writing done. I may disappear for a few days, depending on wifi access, but I will resurface, hopefully with a story worth telling.

August 22, 2010

Working toward bliss

There was a discussion recently about finding your bliss, how that ties into what you do for a living, and how your obligations may hold you back from your pursuit of bliss. We started with a white board with a vertical line down the center (No bad ideas people!). On one side of the ledger were your talents, gifts, and desires (bliss). On the other side were your obligations - house payments, car payments, food, bills, spouse, children, buying and maintaining all your stuff.

The discussion opened with differentiating your gifts vs talents. You may be good at something (a talent) but it may not bring you fulfillment like making use of your gift. The discussion moved on to the question of how our obligations might hold us back from going after our "perfect job". Some of us would work for less if we could get a job related to our pursuit of bliss. But then we bump up against those obligations. We start looking at the expense side of the ledger, it seems to limit our freedom to make these choices.

There are of course things you can do to make that obligation side of the ledger a little lighter. No you can't get rid of your children and shouldn't get rid of your spouse. But many folks are trying to do with less - spending less on luxuries, keeping their car instead of replacing it every few years, eating in instead of out, and curbing the endless pursuit of stuff. Through necessity or a new focus, many people are ending their habit of piling up debt to increase their pile of stuff. That pile of stuff takes a lot of time, energy and mental space to maintain. Time and energy that should be used in finding and pursuing their bliss.

It was an interesting discussion, and what I came away with was this - So very few of us get paid to follow our bliss (maybe 1%) or even work in its general neighborhood. If you are lucky, you enjoy your job well enough, even if it isn't what you'd call "pursuing your bliss". For the rest of us, our jobs are a means to an end, and we should be pursuing our bliss outside of what we do for a living. And it is possible that you will make unexpected connections and find new pathways in that unblissful job.

Some of us who are unemployed or underemployed are reevaluating what we should be doing with our lives. We (myself included) are thinking "This is my chance to start over. What would be my ideal job, and how can I get it." I don't want to discourage people from this line of thinking, because finding a dream job is a noble pursuit. But I think trying to find your bliss in what you do for a living might be a long shot (especially in this economy), and it limits you unnecessarily. A more realistic option would be to find something that you at least enjoy, that pays the bills, and keep pursuing your bliss wherever you can - inside and outside of work.

More on a related topic tomorrow...

August 21, 2010

Sweet memories

I went for another bike ride today. While bike riding is just cross-training at this point, I should do it more often. Of course it is great exercise, but more importantly at this point, it is good for the soul.

It is funny, these days it is somehow easier to go for a run than go for a bike ride, even though the bike ride is much more fun. Part of it I suppose is that I "have" to go for a run three times a week. It is on the calendar, so it must be done. And the deadline in 56 days is all about running. The swimming and biking are part of the training of course, but not the focus, so it is easier to let them slide. And the other factor is that I am out of bike shape, so biking is tougher than running these days.

But I'm trying. I've been trying to find some enticing local routes to make it more tempting to get out there. It actually looks like San Diego is relatively bike friendly from what I've seen so far. There is a nicely detailed bike map put out by the county, and a number of signed bike routes around the city. Today's route was around Mission Bay and up the coast to Seal Beach.

The weather was warm, but more pleasant by the coast. There was some wind to cool things down, as well as fight against the last few miles. It was a great ride. Seeing the city by bike is completely different. The route of course had some great water views, but just rolling through La Jolla and Mission Beach at bike speed was enjoyable.

As has become tradition lately, I went out for breakfast after my weekend workout. I tried a new place in Ocean Beach, and I found a breakfast I have only had one other time in my life. Banana Bread French Toast! Coincidentally, the one other time I had it was on another bike ride.

This was a great "Second Breakfast" stop on our way to Glacier National Park back in 2007. Each morning we would have bagels and coffee before leaving camp, but would often stop along the way for a more substantial meal. Our group basically took over this small diner, overwhelming the patient waitress. But we were in no hurry, and we even pitched in to brew and serve coffee. 

It was one of the best days of riding, and the breakfast and company were both wonderful. Today's breakfast brought back fond memories, but in no way compared with the original.

August 20, 2010

Hooray, pizza day!

Friday is pizza day at the house. Pizza is an easy meal at the end of the week, and quite frankly, pizza is something to look forward to. Pizza day is a happy day.

There is even a song about it. The Pheddipidations podcast features a song each week by an independent artist, and one week it was "Pizza Day" by Jonathan Coulton. He wrote in honor of the (best) school lunch. As he says, "In my school, it was Friday. The pizza wasn’t any good at all, but you can’t really argue with pizza at school can you?".

You can hear it here. I picked it up at iTunes, but it looks like you can get it for free on his blog if you are interested.

Did you notice something?
Did the world seem different since the moment you woke up today?
Everyone’s excited
Everyone feels happy in a way they can’t explain today

Doesn’t matter who you are
How your week has been so far
Cause you know when lunch time comes, that everything will be OK

Hooray, pizza day
Hooray, pizza day

Some of us are lucky
Some of us have lots of friends, our tables will be full today
Some of us are lonely
Some of us have no one but it doesn’t matter much today

Even if we don’t belong
We know another week is gone
And we know before too long, the whole damned thing will go away

Hooray, pizza day
Hooray, pizza day

August 18, 2010

Beating the heat with a summer read

This ebook thing may have finally grabbed a foothold/reached a tipping point/exploded onto the market (or whatever buzz-phrase you want to use).

There was a story last month that ebooks are now outselling hardcover books at Amazon. And not just barely, but by 50% to 80%. I am sure there are many reasons why the ebook is finally being accepted on a larger scale by the reading public, but a big part of it is price. Typical prices of the electronic versions of books run about $10, whereas the hardcover version is usually around $25.

But the biggest barrier has always been the price of the reading device itself. The Kindle originally sold for around $360, a price a casual reader was unwilling to pay. The Kindle started as a niche product sold to readers that spend more on books than on cable tv, and to people that travel on a regular basis since you can carry hundreds (now thousands) of books in a small package. No matter how well the electronic reader simulated or enhanced the experience of reading a hardcover book, only a small part of the market was willing to spend that kind of money on a new gadget.

But the price of the Kindle has been dropping over the past year or two, first to around $260 and more recently to about $190 as more electronic readers entered the market. Amazon saw a dramatic increase in sales once they priced it below $200, even though the iPad was released around the same time.

Amazon has recently released the third version of the Kindle, which will begin shipping early next month. It is smaller, faster, holds more books, has a better screen and longer lasting battery. The $189 version now has both 3G cell service and WiFi to download books, and there is also a $139 version if you only need WiFi to shop for books. Now that an improved version is selling for almost two-thirds less than the original, it will be interesting to see if there is an even larger leap forward in the adoption of electronic readers and books.

Some are predicting the demise of the paper version of books in the not too distant future, but I think this is pretty unlikely. Some folks will always prefer the paper version, and there are still benefits over the electronic version, like being able to lend a book to a friend. I still read more paper books than Kindle versions at this point. Part of it is a backlog of books I have already bought, and the desire to save money by picking up books at the library. I currently have three books ready for me at the library, so I need to get cracking.

However, right now I wished I had a Kindle book to read. One of the unadvertised benefits to a Kindle book was discovered recently by my roomie. You can slip the Kindle into a ziplock bag and read it while being cooled by the water misters we bought to beat the heat. Try that with a paperback.

It is currently 90 degrees, and that is inside the house.

August 17, 2010


There are warnings on a number of packages, including the galvanized nails and treated wood I used when deck building in Washington. The warnings go something like this:
WARNING! This product contains a chemical known to the state of California to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm.
Of course I never had to worry about these - I mean, the chemicals only cause cancer in California, right?, crap!

August 15, 2010

Characters that leap off the page

There was a recent podcast of Nancy Pearl's Book Review with the theme, "What fictional character would you like to meet?" It was an interesting discussion, and the callers came up with quite a few interesting characters they'd like to meet in person, and maybe find out what happened after the book ended. Some suggested "bad" characters that they didn't exactly want over for dinner, but they still wanted to get to know them better.

One caller had a nice turn of phrase to describe characters you become invested in. She had just completed the seventh book in a series, and the last book in the series so far. In describing her attachment to the characters, and the disappointment in finishing the last book (so far), she said, "I feel like I have friends who aren't talking to me anymore."

August 14, 2010

Quote of the day

"To doubt everything or to believe everything are two equally convenient solutions; both dispense with the necessity of reflection." 
~ Jules Henri Poincare

August 13, 2010

My virtual running partner

I have enlisted a new running partner to help me as I prepare for the marathon this time.

Garmin Forerunner 310XT GPS Enabled Sports Watch with Heart Rate Monitor

A running gadget won't necessarily make you run any faster, but I have to say that it can sure make the necessary training a lot easier. The Forerunner 310xt is one of the latest GPS sports watches from Garmin. I had been using a Polar watch that had a footpod to estimate my running distance. It worked well enough, but the desktop software stopped working so I couldn't upload any of the data, and the heart rate monitor was also becoming very faulty.

There are a few different Garmin GPS watches with varying features, but I decided on the 310xt primarily for the battery life. The other watches would typically last 8 or 10 hours, but the 310xt is advertised to last up to 20 hours. Not terribly important for running, but I can imagine being out on the bike all day, and it would be disappointing if it pooped out before I did.

I have been using if for about a month and a half, and it has been really useful for training. Having any sort of watch that measures distance helps tremendously. You don't have to plot out things ahead of time, and you can try out new routes on the fly and it will keep tallying up the miles. I chose to get the version with the heart rate strap because I find that to be helpful feedback on training and effort.

The watch comes with a USB sensor that you plug into your computer to communicate with the watch. It works well, and as soon as the watch is within a few feet of your computer, your workout data is sent to the desktop and/or online program for review. There is plenty of data for a numbers geek like me - time, distance, pace, heart rate, elevation gain, lap splits, and even a map of your route. My old Polar watch used infrared communication, and the technology seems to have largely died along with the watch.

The Garmin has been particularly helpful during my interval training. At times, the workout for the day can be pretty complicated, and I would otherwise need to be writing down my repeats on my hand.

You can set up the interval workouts ahead of time, and the watch tells you what to do when you are out on the road. It keeps track of the intervals, goal pace, number of repeats, and beeps to tell you when the next interval or rest period begins. If you like, it will even give an audible signal to tell you if you are running too quickly or slowly. It has made these workouts so much easier to do (except for the actual running).

There is also a screen on the watch that has a "virtual partner". Your virtual partner is set to run a specific speed, either a general pace you specify, or one that is programmed into your workout. When you are out on a workout, the screen compares how you are doing against the virtual partner, showing for example that you are 3 seconds or 50 feet ahead. I didn't think I would ever use this, but I find myself checking the screen to see how close I am to hitting my interval pace. It is an easy visual to know whether I need to pick up the pace or I can ease off.

One major disappointment was the ability to send workouts to the watch. The desktop software allows you to set up workouts easily enough. The hassle comes in when you try to set the desired pace. There are ten stock speed zones in the software and the watch. The software allows you to customize the zones, and I spent some time setting up paces for my intervals, tempo and long workouts. But for some reason, the customized speed zones do not transfer to the watch, and the stock ones are used in any workout you set up. The stock zones are so broad that they are worthless, and range from slower than walking speed to faster than world record time.

I emailed Garmin product support to see why this was happening, and apparently it is a design flaw in the software. It seems a rather major flaw to me - why have the ability to customize the speed zones if they can't be used on the watch? I was able to find a work around after some internet research, a fix that Garmin support seems clueless about. It is less convenient, but it does work.

I found the Garmin 310xt for 20% off, and there was also a $50 rebate when I bought it. It was still a bit of an investment, but I think it is worthwhile as I try to take my training to another level. I have to say that I am very pleased with it overall, and I hope to put a lot of miles on it over the next few years.

August 12, 2010


The little asterisk has become a pretty powerful bit of punctuation lately. You see it all the time at the end of a sentence, telling you to look to the end of the page to find more information. Of course, these days it is usually a fine-print disclaimer. Things like, "The FDA has not evaluated this claim" following some proposed health benefit, or "Side effects may include:" followed by a list of things often less appealing than what you are trying to avoid in the first place.

Lately, I have seen sentences followed by an asterisk with no accompanying explanation, fine-print or otherwise. It seems the asterisk is now self-contained and has come to mean, "The proceeding claim is incomplete, misleading, or an outright fabrication. Please disregard, and keep reading at your own risk."

Maybe politicians and "news" outlets should be more upfront by saying "asterisk" once in a while.

August 11, 2010

Fueling mid-flight

By the time I show up at the start line of the marathon in October, I will have put in almost 400 miles of running. This will require about 40,000 calories to complete. How do you stay properly fueled for this? You look for sales and buy in bulk:

Training update

So I am six weeks into marathon training under the new program. So how is it going you might ask? You might not ask, so I will ask for you.

The new program is much more structured, has a bit higher mileage and definitely more speed work than plans I have done in the past. So far, I have completed all of my running workouts (three a week), and have hit most all the interval paces. I have also made it to the pool once a week, and I am up to about a half a mile a session. The biking has unfortunately been pretty spotty. In the past, I would normally bike on Sundays, but that hasn't worked out very well so far this time around.

It is quite the change of pace (ha!) to have such a detailed plan for my mid-week runs. In some ways, it has made it that much more interesting to head out the door with a specific plan of attack for the day. Particularly on my interval runs each Tuesday, I have to remain pretty focused and present to maintain form and pace. I have mentioned in the past that having a long term goal on the calendar helps me get out the door for a run. These challenging mid-week workouts have raised the interest level a notch, which makes it a little easier to get out of bed early to run before work (but only a little).

At the same time, the increased structure of the mid-week runs has made me almost look forward to the weekend long runs. Here is where I can just run how I feel, without constantly checking to see if I am running at the correct pace. My mind is allowed to wander a bit more and I can look at the scenery more than my watch. It is still a challenge to get the extra miles in, but I seem to be approaching them with a more relaxed mind.

So, how do I feel? A bit faster, a bit fitter, and a bit run down. The weekly interval sessions are getting a bit more manageable, and I have had more success hitting and maintaining my pace as the weeks go by. I have also noticed that my heart rate is averaging about 5 to 15 beats lower on my long runs than it was last year. I assume that the interval work is helping my body to work a little more efficiently, and I am taking that as a sign of progress.

But I am also feeling pretty worn down this week. Working and running in the heat, coupled with my sleep issues has me feeling smoked both physically and mentally. I was planning on getting in a bike ride this afternoon, but I think it would be best if I just take it easy. I think a few extra hours of sleep will do me much more good than a few extra miles on the road.

So overall, I am feeling pretty good about my prep for the marathon. 66 days to go!

August 7, 2010

Happy Birthday Annabelle

Knocking a screw loose

Sometimes it takes a smack upside the head before you will make a change. Sometimes that smack upside the head is an all too literal one.

I have worn an earring for about 15 years. My girlfriend at the time and I went to the mall the day after Christmas one year, and I left with my ear tagged. Turns out I ended up going to the same mall chain that Harrison Ford went to when he got his earring. Really butches it up, don't you think.

After whatever the healing period was, I replaced the silver stud with a silver hoop. It was a small hoop with a couple darker cross hatches. It was pretty simple, and some people didn't even notice I had one for a couple years. I didn't think too much about it, and would often forget about it myself.

And I never changed it. The same earring for more than 15 years. The only time it would come out was when I was getting X-rays at the dentist. Until last week.

I was at work and we were putting up an aluminum header for a cool, peaked roof cover. I was up on one of the top steps of the ladder, and I guess I shifted my weight the wrong way and suddenly the ladder shot out from underneath me. As I was falling, I managed to catch myself by grabbing one of the lower beams, so I ended up dangling just a couple feet off the ground rather than hitting it hard. But I smacked the left side of my face on the way down. As I was falling, I let go of the header I was holding above my head. It landed on the same lower beam, and that is probably what I hit on the way down.

I didn't notice it until I was home, but when I smacked my ear I knocked the earring out. I looked around the jobsite the following Monday, but I wasn't able to find it. So it was finally time to replace my 15 year old earring. I went down to Old Town and wandered around the shops, but of course most all of the earrings were shiny, dangly ones. I ended up finding some simpler ones at the Five and Dime shop of all places. I bought another hoop and will probably get a simple silver stud for those black tie events I never get invited to.

Since they were only about eight bucks a piece, I got a couple of fun ones. This is the current one.

August 5, 2010

Quote of the day

"Be who you are and say what you feel,
because those who mind don't matter,
and those who matter don't mind."

~ Dr. Seuss

August 4, 2010

Weighing in

Weight has been a hot topic in the household lately. My housemates have a bit of a competition going to see who can be the first to lose a certain amount of weight. We have also been watching "Biggest Loser" and "Losing it with Jillian" on Tuesday nights for inspiration. The focus on exercise and eating better has been pretty successful. One of us has fit in a dress that has not been worn in a long time. I'm not saying which of us that is.

I have always been overweight, or "husky" as it was called when I was growing up. There was a brief period (about 9 months or so) when I was "thin", but that was fifteen years ago. I was down below 140 pounds, and I still keep that drivers license in my wallet. The thing that started me on my way to weight loss was a relationship breakup. My stomach was in knots, and food just didn't sound appealing. After some pounds fell away, I decided to start eating a little better.

Matt recently posted a shot of him 20 years ago, and what he looks like these days. Here is my own little version:

This is the picture on that 1995 drivers license still tucked in my wallet:

Me on the 2008 version:

And a picture taken at the end of June this year:

That 2008 photo was hardly my peak (low point?) for my weight. Looking back, I was only about eight pounds heavier than in the 2010 photo. Must be the terrible DMV cameras (or more likely my body fat percentage).

No, I think my highest weight was one Christmas a number of years ago when my wife gave me a digital scale as a present. The scale also measures your body fat percentage, and when a few of us stepped on to be measured, the results were pretty depressing. I don't remember specific numbers, but I was definitely over 190 pounds and 30% body fat.

I dropped a few pounds, but plateaued. Once I started biking, and then running, I was more concerned with what my body could do, than what it looked like. The next round of weight loss didn't happen until the end of 2008. The spark was two-fold this time. We had just started marriage counseling, so once again my stomach was in knots. The other piece of the puzzle was working for UPS for a couple of months, which meant I was running six days a week. I dropped 15 pounds and have been able to keep it off since then.

But I am on another plateau. I am so much more active now than when I was at my 1995 weight, but still 30 pounds heavier. It looks like it was all about what I was eating - diet vs exercise. But I wasn't doing anything all that special back then. The pattern I fell into was generally to have two "good" meals, and one not-so-good meal each day. I was working double/triple shifts at a restaurant at the time, so breakfast would often entail grazing at the salad bar as it was being set up, and dinner would usually be something sensible. Lunch was usually my splurge meal.

I am starting to think about looking into the possibility of making a decision about researching a strategy to create a plan...

Ah, I should just start eating better. Less late night snacking and empty calories. I'm not getting any younger, and I know if I fueled my body better my workouts would be more productive. That, and it is perpetual swimsuit season down here.

August 3, 2010

Number not found

I'm a numbers guy. I can't remember names, but numbers seem to stick for some reason. But skills and memory are definitely use-it-or-lose-it sorts of things. I used to be pretty good at doing math in my head, but I'm getting slower these days. I used to have everyone's phone number in my head too. Now the only number I can remember for sure is the phone number of the house I grew up in.

With the advent of the cell phone, I rarely dial anyone's number anymore. All I need to do is scroll to their name and hit a button. I've forgotten the numbers of old friends through lack of use, and numbers of people I've met in the past five years I have never had to remember. Once it is punched into the phone, it is "set it and forget it".

Is this a problem? Well, it can be. A friend recently locked her keys (and phone) in her car. She was able to borrow a friend's phone to call around for help. If that happened to me, I would be completely stumped. I'd borrow the phone and then stare blankly at it. Without my phone to get a number, I would have no one to call.

This came across my mind when I was on a very painful run a few months ago. It hurt to walk, and I was seriously contemplating calling for a ride. But of course, even if I could find a phone, who would I call? Even if I called information, most of my friend's numbers would not be listed since they have ditched their land lines. I was stuck walking back.

So I've gone back to paper and ink. I've printed up a phone list to stuff in my wallet to make up for my failing memory. It is printed in 8 point font so I could fit in more numbers. It should work, at least until my eyes start to fail me.

August 1, 2010

You're welcome

This has been the coolest July in San Diego since 1933. I won't say coldest since the average temperature was around 66 degrees after all. This in spite of the fact that we had that series of days where it was almost 100 degrees only a few miles inland.

Glad I could bring a little taste of summer in Seattle down with me.