October 31, 2010

Grabbing a cold one

I do not normally reach for a beer at the end of a hard day or week. If I reach for something, I am more tempted by a cocktail or a glass of wine. But some days, a beer just hits the spot.

Sean and I went to Oceanside Ale Works after work on Friday. OAW is technically a tasting room, and is only open for four hours on Friday evenings and Saturday afternoons. If we are working nearby, and get done at a decent hour, we'll stop in for one of the beers brewed onsite. Even though we work together all day, it is great to pause for an hour to hang out and talk.

The tasting room is located in a warehouse complex, and their location is not much fancier than a storage unit. One side of the room is dominated by the stainless steel casks, and the other by the beer cooler and taps. The only nod to customers are the bathrooms and the three wooden barrels used as a place to set your beer down. Everyone just mills about on the concrete floors, and if the weather is nice you might stand near the roll up door to the alley.

And the place has been packed the two or three times I have been there.

Last Friday was the grand opening of their new tasting room, which is just a slightly larger version of the warehouse motif. The two brewmasters are a local teacher and a firefighter, and they have been brewing for about five years. Their craft beers are featured at about 40 different restaurants around the area, so they seem to be doing well. I would imagine more than a few patrons have stood around the oak barrels, beer in hand, thinking "we should open a brewery!" I will admit that Sean and I talked about doing some home brewing last Friday.

I normally lean toward ambers, porters and microbrews, but every now and then a simple American beer is what hits the spot. I was recently working at a job site where the homeowner was sitting in a lawn chair watching me work. Normally this is pretty annoying, but he wasn't asking me a thousand questions as I worked. He would come and go, and we'd chat about things other than the cover I was building. It turns out he lived in Washington for a while, so we swapped stories about my home town.

It was a very hot day, and the homeowner was nice enough to make sure I had plenty of water to drink. And during last couple of hours of the work day, the offer switched from water to beer. While I appreciate the offer, I usually say no, but the offer was repeated and he seemed genuinely interested in having a beer with me. I waited until I was done for the day and all the tools were put away before taking him up on it.

He asked if I wanted a Miller Lite or a Bud Light, and I said just bring me whatever you have most of. And I thought to myself, "does it really matter" since most big, American brews are pretty much the same. He brought me a Bud Light, and I have to say, a beer hasn't tasted so good in a long while. It was just so hot out, and the beer was so cold, that it was better than any craft beer at that moment.

I was reminded of this when I was listening to one of my regular podcasts. The Runners Round Table is a semi-weekly show where rotating hosts get on a multi-party phone call to discuss a particular running topic. One of the hosts mentioned he had poured himself a glass of wine, and another responded with this:
"I am enjoying the King of Beers this evening...I hate to say this, and I know people give this brand a hard name, but I love the Budweiser. It has to be in a can, it has to be ice cold, and it has to be hot as hell....I love a decent, dark, tasty, chewy beer...but when it is 90 degrees and you are sweating...crack the can open and it is all there. Its crisp, its cold, its to the point, it is consistent, and it is easy. And you don't feel like you're being taught a lesson." 
I'll raise a glass (or can) to that.

October 28, 2010


"Set me a task!"  
~ This is an early line in Tidewater Tales. The husband is a writer who's thoughts are drifting and he asks his wife to bring him into focus.

I am a procrastinator. On my resume, it is spun as being "deadline oriented", but this is not a total fabrication. Give me a task and a deadline, and I will do everything to make sure it gets done. But left to my own devices...

I have several projects that need to be taken care of. I've had the last couple of days off, and I was able to avoid those projects almost entirely.

Procrastination may be in my blood. Long ago, when my brother plugged in his contact information into my Palm Pilot (remember those?), he put as his job title "Chief Procrastinator" and he has managed to retain that title through several Outlook upgrades.

When we lived together in college, about the only time I cleaned the bathroom was when I was avoiding homework or studying for a test. Today when I should have been working on those projects, I brushed out and bathed the pooch, and then pinned her down so I could clip her nails. I washed the truck, swept the driveway, picked up the yard, cleaned the kitchen and did laundry.

And of course the internet is the ultimate procrastination tool. One link leads to another and before you know it, you have been surfing for hours, feeling vaguely productive but getting little done. While watching tv last night (a distraction in itself), I researched cell phones for a couple of hours even though I am locked into a contract for another month or so.

The last few weeks I have been spending so much time staring at the screen that my eyes are starting to go swimmy, but I'm trying to do better. I am now keeping a to-do list nearby for things I actually "need" to do on the computer. Once they're done, I need to log off.

This afternoon I stepped away entirely and headed toward the beach with only a pen and paper. And I actually got some work done.

October 25, 2010

So what went wrong?

"You can learn more from failure than success. In failure you're forced to find out what part did not work. But in success you can believe everything you did was great, when in fact some parts may not have worked at all. Failure forces you to face reality." 
~ Fred Brooks

It has been a week now, and I have been mulling over what I either did wrong, or what I could have done better. It felt like I had put more work into training than was reflected in a four minute improvement over a flatter course. At some point shortly after my marathon finish, I wondered, "have I simply reached what my body is capable of? Have I reached my peak?"  But I don't think that is true. I think I still have room for improvement, it is just that the gains are going to be smaller, and will take more effort to achieve.

I'll start first by saying I am happy with my effort on marathon morning. I enjoyed much of the day and walked away with a PR. Some additional positives - I ran at the pace I planned for the first 18 miles, so I don't think I went out too fast. Additionally, the difference (drop off) between the first and second half of the race was my smallest ever (about two and a half minutes). And according to the results page, over the last eight miles I passed 80 people, while being passed by only 19 (it sure didn't feel that way).

But of course I was hoping to do better, and I always want to learn from my mistakes. After a week of recovery and post-game analysis, I have a few educated guesses.

I was feeling pretty run down during my two week taper, when instead I should have been regaining some strength. The shorter runs weren't any easier, and there was certainly no spring in my step. My 20 mile training runs leading up to the taper were run at near marathon pace, and that may have been a mistake. I may have burned myself out a little bit, or as someone said, "used my race day effort two weeks too early".

I had considered skipping my last interval session before the marathon, but I followed the schedule rather than trusting how my body felt. The schedule isn't written in stone, and I need to trust how I feel. Since I am training with more speed and distance these days, I may want to go back to a three week taper as well. My higher than average heart rate on marathon morning, and the fact that I have been sick since the marathon are other indications of burn out.

It feels like my fueling was off, but I just don't have an easy thing to point to. I was completely out of gas at the finish, and the fact that the Coke made such a difference seems to reinforce that I was low on sugar. I had a light breakfast two hours before the marathon, which I don't do in training, so it would seem I started out better fueled. I took in the same number of gels as I did in training, but drank less of the sports drink. I didn't care much for the taste of the Powerade, but maybe I should have been taking more in anyway. I drank plenty of water, but there are electrolytes in the gels, so I don't think I was overly dehydrated or hyponatremic.

In looking things over, it feels like most of the mistakes were made before I even reached the start line. Preparation rather than execution problems. Try as I might to pinpoint the solution, it looks like it will continue to be trial and error.

October 23, 2010

Sacred time

"I've been told that the insomnia I've struggled with on and off for most of my life comes from drinking too much caffeine, or eating too much sugar. Or sleeping on a bed that's to soft, or too hard, or too flat. That I don't exercise enough, or that I exercise too much, or that I exercise the right amount but at the wrong time of day. Or that its the result of watching tv or using a computer right before I go to bed. But isn't that when everyone pokes around on the computer or watches tv?"
~ from the "Fear of Sleep" episode of This American Life.

I intentionally did not listen to the "Fear of Sleep" episode of This American Life until after the marathon. I have enough sleep issues on my own without listening to other people's struggles. I finally listened to the episode on the way back from Huntington Beach this afternoon. My brother was in L.A. for work, and we met somewhere in the middle for lunch and a walk on the pier. It was great seeing him, if only briefly.

Although This American Life is one of my favorite podcasts, it can be hit and miss as it covers such a wide variety of topics. Even within an episode, the strength of the different 'acts' can vary quite a bit. And that was true of this episode, but as a whole it did a good job of describing the fears, frustrations and damage connected with interrupted sleep. The first act is a great bit by Mike Birbiglia about sleepwalking. The third act was somewhat uneven, but it opens with the above snippet that helps characterize the frustrations with treating insomnia.

And all this talk of sleep got me thinking. Sleep is one of the few things we cannot live without, and even though it has been studied for hundreds of years, we still seem to have only the smallest understanding of it. It embraces us, nurtures us, comforts us, repairs us, and allows us to explore without consequence. It feels like the ultimate reward after the struggles and frustration of each day. It is the time when we are the most vulnerable, and we typically only share this safe harbor with the one we most trust.

And the more I thought about it, the more sleep began to feel like faith. And maybe a little slice of heaven here on earth. When you can get some sleep.

October 22, 2010

Protect your pack mates

I have been sick since the marathon. I'm not sure if I was sick before, and the marathon brought it to the forefront, or if my fatigued body was a welcome mat to any virus walking by.

Anyhoo...I've got some sort of cold/flu thing. During the day it manifests as fatigue, weakness and loopiness. And for some reason, as soon as my head hits the pillow at night, I get this hacking cough. Actually, that is pretty typical when I am feeling ill. I either can't get to sleep, or cough myself awake several times a night.

In the past, this meant leaving the bedroom and staying on the couch so my coughing didn't keep J awake. And this time around, it is pretty fortunate that the roomies are out of town. I can get up at all hours to grab a cough drop, make tea, gargle, and basically hack up a lung without worrying about disturbing anyone. Well almost anyone.

Last night I woke up coughing several times. I rarely get out of bed right away. Especially after a week of little sleep, I always hope that I can just get back to sleep without calling in extraordinary measures. As I lay there coughing and hoping for it to subside, I heard the metallic 'clink, clink' of dog tags. It sounded like my roomies dawg had left his room and was up pacing through the house.

After a while, I gave up on falling back to sleep and went to get up. And I found my roomies dawg curled up on the rug next to my bed. I think he was worried about me, his stand-in human.

October 21, 2010

Quote of the day

Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.
~ Albert Einstein

October 20, 2010

Inspirations from the road

A couple of highlights from the marathon:

I noticed an Ironman tattoo on the calf of a guy who was running near or with our pace group. Below the tattoo were five tick marks. A gal and I started chatting him up and asking questions. Since he was running my pace and was about my size, it makes it easier to imagine doing the Ironman myself. As far as race day effort, I had heard that a half Ironman is comparable to running the full marathon. I asked him what he thought. He said that he couldn't tell me since he had never done a half Ironman. He just went straight to the Big Kahuna. Can't tell if that is inspiring or humbling.

I passed a guy in a racing wheelchair around mile five as we were headed uphill over an overpass. On the back of his yellow shirt, he had written in black marker, "Please do not give me a push". Of course nobody did, but most everyone gave him a "you the man" shout of encouragement. I also passed by a man pushing another adult in a full size wheelchair. By all appearances they were a younger version of Team Hoyt. If you don't know the story of Team Hoyt, here is a YouTube video, and also their own website. No question that I was both humbled and inspired by these folks.

As I was struggling through the last couple of miles, I caught up with the half marathon walkers. There was a man and a woman walking a few strides apart, and they had the same laminated sign pinned to their back. It read, "I have already lost 100 pounds, and I am participating in my first half marathon." I patted both of them on the back and told them "Great job".

Even though our pacer fell apart and finished some 35 minutes behind schedule, I found out the woman who was trying to qualify for Boston made it by a single second. And it turns out it was a very good idea for her to take the next day off. Registration for Boston opened on Monday the 18th, and filled up within eight hours. With this kind of demand, I sure hope they don't raise the standards on me.


I found a picture of the younger version of Team Hoyt

October 19, 2010

Long Beach Marathon 2010

I still have a lot to figure out.

In the seven marathons I had previously run, I would say I was trained and prepared to do well in four of them. I just told you how ill prepared I was for the Marine Corps Marathon in 2006, and in my last two marathons (Las Vegas and San Diego), work and scheduling got in the way of training.

Out of the four I was fully trained for, I was able to improve my time in three of them. This time around, my training was pretty focused in improving my speed, and I had put in more mileage than usual. The course I was running also had less hills to climb, so I figured I was primed to set a new PR.

At the last minute, my friend Matt was going to be in town to support me during the marathon. The Facebook widget that I mentioned in an earlier post did not work, so he not only helped me, but he kept friends updated as well. And it was just great having him there.

Marathon morning started at 4:45 am. Unfortunately (once again) I had difficulty falling asleep the night before. After an hour and a half of reading or staring at the ceiling, I took a half dose of Tylenol PM. It made for a groggy morning. Matt and I made it to the start line at around 6:00, with plenty of time to check gear, stretch out, and hit the Porta-Pottie. As I exited the bathroom, Matt started clapping and shouting "That's my boy. Great job Sean. Way to focus and stay on pace." His 'supportive' gesture had the crowd of runners cracking up.

The gun went off at 7:05am, and our pacing group headed out together. I don't know how many were actually in the group, but it seemed large. The day was overcast and in the low 60's, but it was relatively humid so I was sweating pretty quickly. My heart rate also seemed higher than normal.

The first few miles were pretty relaxed, and I chatted with both our pace leader and other runners. I talked to a five-time Ironman, a first time marathoner, and a woman trying to qualify for Boston (at her second marathon). The route runs close to the water for much of the first ten miles, and the concrete path actually winds through the sand for a couple miles. We split from the half marathoners around mile 11, and the crowd thinned as we headed inland.

Our pace leader brought us to the halfway point a little ahead of pace. I was feeling OK at that point - not great, not bad. There were some smaller climbs over the next couple miles with the biggest hill around mile 17 as we did a loop through Cal State Long Beach. The group basically disintegrated on the hill as we took it at our own pace. There were several students out, and near the top of the hill there was loud, long line cheering us on. I was tired, and my heart rate was through the roof, but the students gave me a boost.

As I crested the hill, I found out that I was now a little behind pace, but there was no sign of the pace leader. He apparently had fallen behind on the hill, and I would not see him for the rest of the day. The only person I saw from our group was the woman shooting for Boston, who was ahead of me at that point. I tried to slowly reel her in on the downhill while getting my heart rate to come back down. I saw Matt toward the bottom of the hill, and that gave me another boost.

I caught up to the Boston gal, and we ran together for the next couple of miles. We were back on pace around mile 19, but it was clear she was running stronger than I was. I lost her at the water station at mile 21 and my pace started to slow. I would occasionally see her in the distance, but could no longer reel her in. I had hit the wall, and didn't have the energy to stay on pace.

The last few miles were a real struggle. I was out of gas, and I knew I wasn't going to hit my goal, but I pressed as hard as I could to limit the damage. Beyond the increasing fatigue and sore muscles, I felt a weight and tightness in my chest that grew with every mile. By the time I reached the finish line, I was dizzy, nauseous, and thought I was going to throw up. I'm not sure I want to see my finish line photo. I stumbled my way through the finish area trying to find something to lean against. I was really happy to find Matt.

I found a patch of grass to sit down on and Matt went to grab me a Coke. By the time he got back, I was shaking and shivering. I had clearly gone beyond what my body was prepared to do. The Coke helped tremendously, and I was eventually able to get up and walk around.

My finish time was 3:53:22, which is a little over a four minute improvement on my previous best. Even though it is the fastest I have ever run, I am still a little disappointed. The training program was aimed at a 3:50 finish, and I thought that the flatter course and overcast day might allow me to shave off a couple of additional minutes. But I am not disappointed in the effort I put forth on Sunday. I gave it everything I had on race day.

So now it is time for the post game analysis. I have a few theories about what went wrong, but of course it is only educated guess work. But I get a chance to test them out in a few months.

October 17, 2010

Quote of the day

There are limits to what the human body can endure.
Go find them.

~ New Balance shoe ad

October 15, 2010

2006 Marine Corps Marathon

Thoroughly unprepared, we landed in Washington D.C. Friday night, and Saturday was spent on my feet. We spent a few hours at the expo (including an hour in line just to get in), and then did a little sightseeing afterwards. From everything I'd read, it seemed like a bad idea to do all this walking, but I was with three experienced marathoners and they didn't bat an eye. We had a great pasta dinner at the condo we rented, and the excited chatter, support crew planning, and wine drinking went late into the night.

Marathon morning started before sunrise as we walked the quiet streets to the subway. Every stop along the way, more bundled runners boarded the train. We arrived at the start line with at least an hour to stretch, take pictures, freak out, and stare blankly at some inner horizon.

Unfortunately, there were only four of us running. Matt, who suggested this marathon, was sporting two stress fractures and could not run. Sean, Marci, Jonathan and I crossed the start line together along with 23,000 other runners. The sheer size of the crowd and moment were incredible.

The four of us ran together for the first mile or so, and then Sean and Jonathan sped off. Marci was doing the run/walk method, and I thought that this would be the best way to get me to the finish. In reality, Marci is the one who got me to the finish.

The knee pain started around mile 4, but it wasn't too bad initially. I had brought along a couple of Tylenol pills and took my first around mile 8. We were doing a 5 minute run/1 minute walk interval, so a break was never too far away. That helped mentally.

The route hit the National Mall around mile 10. We saw our support crew near the Lincoln Memorial and again at around mile 16. It is an incredible boost to see a friendly face when you are struggling.

We continued along the Mall past the Washington Monument, the Capitol, and the Smithsonian, before heading south toward the Jefferson Memorial. It really is a wonderful route, but the next few miles were some of the toughest.

The route heads around Hain's Point, and after the crowds of supporters along the Mall, it was very quiet. It was also miles 17 through 20 of the marathon, so there are voices in your head that you would just as soon drown out.

Right around mile 17, Marci and I passed a runner who had collapsed and was receiving CPR. We later found out that he had died. Understandably, this freaked me right out. Over the next couple of miles, I could not get my heart rate to go down, no matter how slowly I ran.

I told Marci I needed to walk, and encouraged her to go on without me. She stuck with me, and after five minutes of walking, we started running again (with the understanding I was going to walk any remaining hills). We crossed the river again and ran an out and back through Crystal City. There was a great tunnel of music to run through, and there was even someone handing out dixie cups of beer. It was great to have the crowd support again, but I still couldn't pick up the pace.

But around mile 23 when the route finally turned toward the finish, I realized I was going to make it. No matter how long I had been running, or how badly I felt, three miles seemed somehow manageable. There was one final steep hill just before the finish and at the bottom was the 26 mile marker. I started to lose it. Tears were flowing and I had a tough time catching my breath. The hill was steep enough that I probably couldn't have run it anyway.

When we had walked to the top, we picked up the pace for a final push to the finish line. I grabbed Marci's hand and we crossed the finish line together. I don't know what that day would have been without her encouraging me to keep going.

The finish area was a madhouse, but we pushed through the crowds and eventually found our friends. Jonathan had such a tight schedule that he had already headed to the airport by the time I finished. We were eventually able to find a small patch of grass to relax on, and we started swapping the war stories of the day. And then it sunk in. I had completed a marathon.

Couldn't have done it without you.

October 14, 2010

You never forget your first (finish)

Unless something goes wrong, Sunday will mark my eighth marathon finish. I've previously mentioned my first attempt at a marathon, which ended at mile 18, but I don't think I have ever written about my first marathon finish. My marathon quest started here, but the reason I ended up at this particular start line was someone else's inspiration.

Several of my California friends are runners, and they have been running marathons for years. My friend Matt was a skeptic about the "joys" of marathoning, and like many others considered them crazy. But when you are surrounded by something, especially something positive, bits of it begin to seep in, if only through osmosis.

A bit out of left field, before he had even begun running, Matt told his friends, "I'd run the marathon in Washington D.C." Eventually he had four other runners (including me) signed up to run the Marine Corps Marathon in October of 2006.

A brief recap of my running history :
  • started running in February 2005.
  • 5k's, 10k's, then my first half marathon in November of 2005.
  • Began training for the full marathon a month later.
  • Attempted my first marathon in June of 2006, Did not finish..
The second half of 2006 ended up being very busy. I can't remember which I signed up for first, but I would be participating in a fund-raising bicycle ride from Seattle to San Francisco for two weeks in September, and then running the marathon a month or so later. Terrible scheduling, but I couldn't pass up on either experience. The bike ride was one of those "life time opportunities", and running around our nations capital with four friends was to enticing to pass up.

After the DNF in the June marathon, I spent the summer on my bike to get ready for the two-week ride. The ride would be almost 1000 miles over 13 days, with about 45,000 feet of climbing. In order to be ready for this challenge, running was almost completely replaced with bike riding. From July to September, I ran all of five times. The bicycle trip was a great success, and one of the best times of my life.

When I returned from the bike ride, I had five weeks to get ready for the marathon. The first weekend, I attempted to run a 10k. It went badly. I had the same IT band/knee pain I had experienced before, and had to shuffle my way to the finish. For the next two weeks, my only exercise was swimming. The fourth week, I ran three times, maxing out at six miles, and then the week before the marathon, I got sick and didn't run at all.

So... I had no business running a marathon. I was certainly in decent shape from all of the bike riding, but my body was not prepared to run. I had run all of nine times over the previous four months, and the longest distance was six miles. And I still hadn't solved the IT band/knee issues. So, of course I ran it anyway.

(to be continued)

October 12, 2010

Pace yourself, haiku edition

The rabbit learns soon
The joy of meeting strangers
Passing from behind

I am planning on running with a pacing group for the marathon. I ran with one at my last half marathon, and it worked out well, but I haven't tried it yet for the full marathon. My "if everything goes just right" goal falls between pacing groups, so I've been waffling. Do I go with the faster group in hopes of building up a time cushion, or do I play it safe in hopes of avoiding an implosion?

At this point I am planning on the slower group. If all goes well and I am feeling good, I will try to pick up the pace around mile 18. If I can't speed up and I can just stick with the pace group, I will still set a new PR. If things go sideways, at least I'll have some company along the way.

Start a little slow
Keep steady pace in middle
The clock will thank you

October 11, 2010


I just discovered these spots on the roof of my car.

The paint is breaking down, I can only assume from the additional sunshine in San Diego vs Seattle.

And I've seen what the future holds. This is the roof of my roomie's car.

I should wear a hat more often at work. And always wear sunscreen.

October 9, 2010

Electronic connections

Running should be simple - just a pair of shoes and you can head out the door. But of course most of us make it more complicated. Wicking fabrics, monitored heart rates, entire music collections in your pocket, tracking runs with GPS, posting results online, and endless blog posts about it. When it takes you 20 minutes to get ready to head out the door, you start to wonder what happened.

Does all this technology ruin things? There is the temptation to leave the electronic obsession behind, stop talking about it so much, and just go out and run just for the sheer enjoyment. I plan to leave music behind more often, and stop tracking the details so rigidly when I'm not in training. But even though you don't run for the electronic reasons, they can still expand the experience.

Just this weekend, a girl I follow is running in the Ironman championships in Hawaii, a guy I listen to is running the Chicago Marathon, and 691 people are running together in a world wide event. The Ironman is still something beyond my comprehension, so I have been following that one with particular interest. I'll be getting Twitter updates from her father during the race, and will try to catch the online video as she crosses the finish line. I'm not really there, but the technology makes me feel a little closer somehow.

Another technological twist has been rolled out for my marathon next week. A company will upload my progress to Facebook while I am running. There are mats along the course that record when you cross, both to make sure that people don't cut the course, and for geeks like me to analyze the split times afterwards. There will be updates as I cross the 6, 13, 18 and 24 mile mark, as well as the finish line.

So if we are connected on Facebook, you can track my progress semi-live. If not, I will bore you with the details here afterwards.

October 8, 2010

Quote of the day

I am looking for a dare-to-be-great situation.
~ Lloyd Dobler in "Say Anything"

October 7, 2010

Someone has adjusted a little too well

It has been raining off-and-on for a few days now (though it is perfectly sunny right now). This is the first rain we have seen in San Diego in months. There was even some misty rain (mizzle) the other day that reminded me of Seattle. The rain certainly isn't a big deal, but to be honest, it was a little odd to see it coming down and thinking "I might want to grab a jacket".

The pooch has clearly adjusted to the dry weather, if not the heat. When it was time to head outside to take care of business, she walked rather hesitantly around the perimeter of the lawn, like she didn't want to get her feet wet.

Seriously!? What happened to my Seattle Dog? Embarrassing.

October 6, 2010

A real loser

I don't watch much reality tv, but The Biggest Loser is one I try to catch each week. I find it inspiring to watch people tackle and succeed in a fight they have lost at all their lives. Even though the contestants are trying to win a contest, it is more about changing their lives for the better.

Of course they have the help of professionals, live in a gym, and there aren't many fatty temptations stocked in the fridge. They fight to stay on the show each week not only to try to win, but because it will be tougher to lose the weight outside this bubble.

But they are still doing the work (and lots of it) whether they are on the ranch or if they have been sent home. Not only the workouts, but changing their habits and way of life. These changes are difficult, even though they have sabotaged their health and happiness up until now.

I was at the gym Monday to get in a swim. I am in the two week taper period before my marathon - the time where you are working out less, and freaking out more. You question if you have done enough to prepare, so it can be tough to back off. I was planning on a leisurely swim, just to keep my body moving, but ended up pushing it anyway.

When I finished, a guy in the next lane commented that I was really 'tearing it up', and asked if I was on a swim team. Have to say it made me feel pretty good, and we got to chatting. His name is Tim, and he told me his story. He needs surgery on both of his knees, but his doctor won't do the operation until he loses 100 pounds. There is no reason to fix the knees if the additional weight is just going to damage them again.

He confided that he needs to go from 282 to 180 before the surgery. He is determined to lose the weight, and has even made $20 "bets" with friends and family that he will succeed. He said that he is already up to $500, and will throw a huge party for all his supporters when he succeeds.

He joined the gym 28 days ago - and has been to the gym 28 days in a row. And he has already lost 23 pounds. He was in the pool before I started, and was there when I left. You see these people on tv and YouTube videos changing their lives, and the stories are wonderful. But to be there in person, see the determination in Tim's eyes, and see how far he has already come, it makes it that much more real. And inspiring.

October 4, 2010


I have tried, mostly in vain, to explain the feeling of race day morning. To explain to non-runners why we continue to train for months in order to run 26.2 miles. Why after conquering the distance, we come back again (and again) to face the challenge. To explain the sense of community you feel with the other runners standing at the start line with you.

The best explanation I have seen is a quote I posted here a few years ago. It is the first paragraph in 26.2 Marathon Stories by Katherine Switzer and Roger Robinson.
THE PRELUDE TO A MARATHON is one of life’s strangest yet most vivid times. It is a time of intensity yet relaxation, apprehension yet resolve; a time of deeply introspective solitude in the midst of the biggest jostling throng most of us will ever join. So many people, intent on a separate inward commitment, but united in one common physical endeavor. Our motive is private, the context public. We are strangers who are instant comrades, competitors bonded by the shared knowledge that we are all about to undertake one of the hardest tasks in our lives. Ahead lie strenuous effort, weariness, and pain, but we will endure it voluntarily, for the sheer enjoyment of trying.
"Strangers who are instant comrades". The person standing next to you at the start line understands what you are up against, and what you have been through just to get here. They understand because they have been through a similar journey themselves. There is this bond even if you have little else in common.

I was reminded of this sense of community last night when I was over at Sean and Marci's. They had both run the St. George Marathon the day before, and they told me all about the race over dinner and a glass of wine - the bonfires at the start line, all the great volunteers, every hill and turn on the course, the heat of the day, the times they struggled and the walls they pushed through.

And I was as excited to hear about their race, as I would have been to have run it myself. The connection of the running community extends far beyond race day morning. We love to hear stories about successes, and even failures, as another finish line is crossed.

There is a movie called Spirit of the Marathon" that I have seen a number of times. It follows six runners as they train for the Chicago Marathon. Along the way, it talks about the history of the marathon and includes interviews with a number of professional marathoners.

In the opening sequence, there are small snipits of these interviews, with historical footage of races playing in the background. In the last scene, a marathoner is shown winning a marathon, falling to his knees as his hands cover his face in joy and relief. The voice-over is another professional saying, "when you cross that finish line, it will change your life forever".

The sequence gets me every time. It seems melodramatic, but it is true on some level. That feeling of pushing through emotional and physical exhaustion to achieve something incredible. You can't bottle or adequately explain that feeling. It has to be experienced. And even watching someone else finish can bring back that feeling.

It sounds a little simplistic and maybe arrogant to say "you have to be there to understand", but maybe you do. But that is the thing - everyone should be there, at least once. Running is one of those rare sports where your "competitors" are rooting for you the whole way. And it is probably the only sport where you can participate with professional elites, on the same course on the same day, following in their footsteps no matter your skill level. How cool is that?

It is a very positive, welcoming community, and one of the easiest clubs to join. Just lace up your shoes.

October 1, 2010

Banned books week

Banned Books Week (BBW) is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment.  Held during the last week of September, Banned Books Week highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States.
~ from the American Library Association site

According to the American Library Association site, the top ten most frequently challenged books of 2009 are:
  1. ttyl; ttfn; l8r, g8r (series), by Lauren Myracle. Reasons: drugs, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  2. And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson.  Reasons: homosexuality 
  3. The Perks of Being A Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky.  Reasons: anti-family, drugs, homosexuality, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, suicide, unsuited to age group
  4. To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee.  Reasons: offensive language, racism, unsuited to age group 
  5. Twilight (series) by Stephenie Meyer.  Reasons: religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group 
  6. Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger. Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group 
  7. My Sister’s Keeper, by Jodi Picoult.  Reasons: homosexuality, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexism, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence
  8. The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things, by Carolyn Mackler. Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group 
  9. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker.  Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  10. The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier.  Reasons: nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group 
Now, in all honesty, I have only read two of these books (Catcher in the Rye & To Kill a Mockingbird), and only heard of an additional three (Twilight, My Sister's Keeper & The Color Purple). I will say, I am tempted to read #8 from the funny title alone.

Of the two I have read, I would be happy if no one read Catcher in the Rye, simply because I think it isn't worth reading. To me, it seems that the only reason it is popular is for the shock value for the time it was written. I don't think the book has much value in and of itself.

I feel the same about the movie The Graduate. It probably pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable at the time, but without the shock value, I found it a pretty ordinary/boring movie that didn't age well. I would steer people away from both because they aren't worth your time, but I certainly wouldn't stop you if you insisted.

But To Kill a Mockingbird is a fantastic book. It would probably sit near the top ten if I ever tried to make a list of great books I have read. I saw the movie a year or so later, and it also ranks high on the lifetime list.

But of course the book deals with some difficult subjects, and I did read it as an adult. So I guess this is where the fuzzy line comes in for me. My knee-jerk reaction at banning books (especially something as good as To Kill a Mockingbird) is to rail against the 'small-minded fools' that would keep such a classic out of a reader's hands. But maybe the themes of the book would be better appreciated by someone older. I can't say for sure since I didn't read it until I was in my 40's. Would I have enjoyed it as much when I was at that 'impressionable age'?

Of course there will always be subjects that you don't discuss with children because it is not age appropriate. But by high school, I think most topics are on the table. Other than the language of the time, I don't think anything in the book would offend the sensibilities of a high school reader. To pretend that you can 'protect' them inside a bubble of innocence is both unrealistic and hardly helpful in raising mature adults. And I think if parents and teens read To Kill a Mockingbird together, it would lead to some very worthwhile discussions.

And as always, check things out for yourself. Don't take for granted that anyone's opinion of literature matches your own.