December 31, 2011

Year in Review - resolutions

I don't normally make a lot of resolutions for January 1st. Sure, there are some goals that I shoot for year round, but I haven't been too tied to the calendar to start things off. But this year was a little different. It was all about the calendar.

Back in January, I decided to have a new goal every month. As I wrote then:
I was out on a run December 30th when I decided to take on the Dry January goal I had read about a couple days earlier. As I ran, I decided that I would keep this monthly theme throughout the year. Each month I will take on a new challenge. By focusing on one thing at a time, I think I will have a better chance at success. Also, there is a built in ending point so I think it will be easier to wrap my head around the commitment.
I didn't have the whole year plotted out at that point, just the first three months really. The monthly resolutions came into focus as the year went on. Some were things I wanted to improve, some were suggestions from friends, and others were challenges I wasn't sure I could complete. There is a list in the sidebar, but for review the resolutions were.

Jan - no alcohol
Feb - workout every day
Mar - write an hour every day
Apr - no fast food
May - no coffee
June - no tv
July - better food choices/lose 10#
Aug - meat only once a week
Sep - 30 minutes or less online
Oct - become a morning person
Nov - NaNoWriMo

Each month was challenging in its own way, but I was surprised to find that many were easier than I had built them up to be. Giving up coffee was not enjoyable, but there was little withdrawal and I wasn't a zombie without it. No tv and no fast food were more logistical challenges than anything else.

Eating meat only once a week was not a real sacrifice, and July's goal of making better food choices was a nice lead in. I did not lose the ten pounds that month, but I was ten pounds lighter when showed up at the marathon start line a couple months later. 

The more difficult challenges were toward the end of the year. Spending less than thirty minutes online wasn't exactly a struggle, but it was enlightening. I waste more time than I use when connected to the internet, and the thirty minute limit really made me focus. October's goal of becoming a morning person was probably the hardest on me. The act of rolling out of bed by 5:30 wasn't that difficult, but as the month wore on, the missing hours of sleep took their toll. November's goal was the one that was clearly not accomplished, but I am still happy with the effort and the discipline it took to get as far as I did.

Of course, I was hoping to have some of these thirty day challenges carry over. I drink a little less alcohol, I definitely watch less tv, I spend less time online, I am making better choices with food, and this morning I weighed in twelve pounds lighter than I was at this time last year.

Having this rotating goal set up was an interesting experience. I haven't decided if I will do the monthly goal thing next year, but I would highly recommend it if it interests you at all. By attacking things in bite sized chunks, they were easier to take them all on. I certainly wouldn't have written down twelve goals for the year on January 1st, but now I can look back on a nice list of accomplishments,

December's goal was sort of a secret. I wasn't sure if I was going to accomplish it, but it looks like I will just make it in under the wire. More on that in the next post.

December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas

I hope you have a wonderful day full of peace, love, togetherness and joy. May the spirit of the season warm your heart and bring you closer to the one's you love. Merry Christmas one and all!

Santa hiding the pooch's pooch.

A very good present!

And for the MTV generation, a couple of classics. The first is one of the first Christmas songs I listen to each year. "Walking in a Winter Wonderland" by Annie Lennox.

And the second is a fun one from Billy Squier - "Christmas is the Time to Say I Love You." Check out all the old MTV VJs, Paul Simon and other random carolers from thirty years ago.

Christmas is the time to say "I love you"
Share the joys of laughter and good cheer
Christmas is the time to say "I love you"
And a feeling that will last all through the year

So when spirits grow lighter
and hopes are shinin' brighter
then you know that Christmas time is here

December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve

Went out for a 20 mile run this afternoon, and it was beautiful. Well, not the running per se...

I parked my car at Marymoor Park, a 640 acre field of goodness at the north end of Lake Sammamish. The park sits between the cities of Bellevue and Redmond, and also connects two sets of trails. My car would be home base, and I would run a ten mile out-and-back in either direction.

I first headed north along the Sammamish River Trail. I have run and biked this path a hundred times, but of course it had been a year since I last set foot on it. There were several people out, getting in their exercise before tomorrow's indulgence. It was in the high 30's when I set out, but the rains had passed.

As the name implies, the trail parallels the river as it moves slowly through the valley. Though Redmond continues to expand, the valley is still relatively open and undeveloped. The bare maple trees scratched the cloudy sky, and fog clung to the evergreens on the hillside. A few brave dogs chased balls into the river, and people seemed to wave and smile just a little more on the day before Christmas.

I turned around just short of the Red Hook Brewery. On many bike rides, the brewery was the marker that we were only five miles from the finish. On many occasions, we stopped for a pint or two before finishing the day. I really should have parked there so that could have been my finish line.

Heading back south, the sun started to peek through the clouds. It was at its highest point for the day, but this time of year that is pretty low. Sunglasses on. Back at the car I refilled my water bottles and grabbed some other fuel. The day had warmed so I stripped off my hat, vest and gloves. I should have picked up my camera  as well, but didn't really want to carry it for ten miles. But that was a mistake.

I ran across the park to join up with the East Lake Sammamish Trail. This one is another rails to trails conversion and sticks close to the lake edge. It runs past a number of nice lake-front houses, but much of the land is still open.

The lake was completely calm and no one seemed to be out enjoying it other than some herons sitting on old pilings. The sun was even lower in the sky, and passed easily through the bare trees. Across the way, the trees by the lake looked so bare and brown that they seemed to have been burned in a fire. The low sun lit them up once more, and they stood out starkly against the evergreen backdrop. There were many spots where I kicked myself for not grabbing the camera. All I could do was run a little slower and try to take them in for myself.

The last few miles were difficult as always, but I managed to pick it up a little bit over the last mile. The marathon is now less than a month away, so as much as I would have liked to have skipped out on running during vacation, finals are approaching. But I couldn't have asked for much of a better day, so I am glad I headed out.

Our family doesn't really celebrate Christmas Eve, but my brother is finally back in town and is coming over for dinner. We are heading into the holiday at a nice slow pace this year, and this afternoon's run was a peaceful soul cleanser. Since I was too lazy to grab the camera, you'll just have to take my word for it.

December 23, 2011

A walk down a shifting memory lane

Each time I come home, things look a little different.

I have made a point to get back to Seattle about every six months since my move south. Visiting this frequently does not allow much time for change, but it happens anyway. Just driving in from the airport, on ramps have changed, buildings have been knocked down and replaced, Quest Field is now Century Link Field, etc.

Recalling another native that returned after moving south, a friend asked if I had a strong reaction to coming home. That other friend grew misty crossing Lake Washington with Mount Rainier in the background after years in the desert. Since I have been visiting with some frequency, the reactions aren't as dramatic, but I have been gone long enough to have forgotten the particular mixture of gray and green here in the wintertime.

In many ways, it is like I never left. I joked on Facebook that I was "Sleeping in my parents' house, borrowing their car, eating their food, watching Rockford Files on tv, and I have a pimple on my nose. Time travel IS possible." 

I am lucky to be able to pick up with friends after a long absence and there is no weird tension or distance. For some it has been only six months, but I caught up with a great friend that I hadn't seen in almost two years. Much had changed in our lives since then, but conversation flowed as if I had seen him just last week.

Of course progress and chaos still have their hand in things. Just across the street from my friend's house, my old elementary school had been razed and rebuilt. Gone were the sprawling, one story buildings, replaced with a three story structure with interior hallways out of the rain. My high school across the street had also had a face lift, though it was at least recognizable.

Unfortunately, a couple of my friends' marriages are also being torn down, and they are still in the rubble stage. It is depressing, disheartening, and I don't wish that on anyone. Whatever is rebuilt in their place will be very different and may not be recognizable, but I can only hope that it is something strong and beautiful in its own way.

Rather unintentionally, I have ended up visiting several of my previous homes. After visiting Buzz and seeing the new elementary school, it was just another few minutes to the house I grew up in. It was strangely similar even after having gone through a period when it was used as a retirement home. While visiting another friend up north, I stopped by my house from when I was married. The bright red coat of paint still looked great, and only the car in the driveway gave away that it had changed hands.

Today I went for a walk around Green Lake with Tami. We talked about all that had changed and the struggles we were all having. Though the subjects have changed, the walk was familiar, as were several things around the neighborhood. The same woman was sitting at the end of the off ramp waving and asking for change, and there is still a block-sized crater just off the lake where a builder ran out of money years ago. Struggles continue.

As I was driving away, it dawned on me that I was only a few blocks from a house I had rented a decade ago. I lived there for a year or two, taking the place over after Matt and Holly moved back to San Diego. We all live together these days, but the Green Lake house was passed off like a baton on their way out of town. That house was my first rental with a backyard, and allowed me to adopt my pooch Sierra.

I stopped by to take a photo of the house both for myself and to send to Matt and Holly. When I pulled up, there was a family out front, letting their toddler and dog run around the yard. Not wanting to freak them out by taking a photo of their house, I introduced myself and mentioned that I had lived there previously. We got to talking, and it turns out they had moved up from San Diego only months before. We swapped stories about the house and my current town. The baton had been passed once more.

Nothing is completely stable, change is constant, the past is consistently being rewritten. But there are certain anchors that keep us tethered. My address has changed, and there are two places I call home, but family and friends are my anchors, and they keep me from drifting too far away.

December 19, 2011

The chaos and quiet of the season

Vacatons always feel busier than my normal life, and this one is no different.

The first part of vacation has been largely about seeing friends, and it feels like I haven't even had a chance to unpack or get any sleep. We were up past three in the morning at the sleepover party this weekend, getting in as much fun as possible, and for one night denying our age. There were a few surprise guests, and it was a great way to kick off the Christmas trip.

Speaking of packing, that has changed significantly over the years. I always over pack and that part hasn't changed, but what comes along sure has. I brought two bags for this trip, and one was almost entirely devoted to running. My duffel bag was stuffed with shoes, clothing, warmer clothing, gadgets, water bottles and food.

And all the cords, cords, cords (in my best Grinch voice). Cords to charge and cords to sync. Phone, camera, laptop, GPS, iPod, Kindle - they all need their juice and I am forever looking for an open outlet. I definitely do not unplug on vacation.

As a side note, one bonus of reading on the Kindle is that I can bring as many books as I like and not worry about space or that my suitcase will be overweight. The disadvantage is not being able to read on the plane during takeoff and landing when all electronic devices have to be shut off.

But there have been some unplugged moments as well. I have been out for a few runs in the mizzle, and I am headed up to the mountains to play a round of golf in a few minutes. I managed to forget my sunglasses, but so far that hasn't been an issue. I had forgotten how gray the winters here can get, but at least it looks like there won't be any snow this year.

While the first part of the week has been a rush to see as many people as possible, the second part should be a bit more relaxed as the focus switches to time with the family. It really is a fine mix of chaos and quiet, and it is almost as neatly separated as my luggage.

December 16, 2011

Home for the holidays

In reverse migration, I headed north for the winter.

I am up in Seattle to spend Christmas with my extended family, and see as many friends as the schedule allows.  Like I said last year, it is odd to leave where you live halfway through the season, but it is more difficult this year.

Unfortunately, Kristy was not able to make the trip, so we will be spending Christmas apart. We spent the preceding weekends decorating, shopping and enjoying the lights of Balboa Park, but I will miss spending the next week and Christmas Day with her.

As a special treat, Matt and Holly prepared a lovely going away/early Christmas dinner the day before I left. Kristy and I were able to spend a mini Christmas together with great friends. And they even sent me off with a gift that will be a hit at another gathering of friends up here.

Each Christmas season for more years than I can remember, many of my Washington friends have gathered for a sleepover party. It is an awesome combination of the warmth of the season, and the festive feeling of a New Year's celebration. The party goes late into the night, and most spend the night curled up in a sleeping bag wherever they can find floor space. The party has taken on new significance now that I live a thousand miles away. It am looking forward to seeing everyone and spending a long evening together.

I am fortunate to have so many good friends in two different places, but it of course makes it difficult to see everyone as often as I like. The large gatherings around Christmas time makes it that much easier to get it all in. I will see several friends at the sleepover, and I will get to see most of my extended family Christmas evening.

I didn't think I was going to be able to make it to Seattle for the holidays this year, but a special Santa came through for me. It was a wonderful gift, and I can't ask for much more than to be able to spend the holidays with family and friends.

Except of course to have San Diego and Seattle be an hour's drive away from each other.

December 13, 2011

Quote of the day

You can never change the past, but you can see it.
You can never see the future, but you can change it.

~ Charles Laquidara, former morning DJ on WBCN in Boston. Quote passed along by Phedippidations.

December 11, 2011

Maybe I'll look smarter

Time marches on.

I have grown a beard for the winter again. I do this most years as some sort of nod to the season. For a few years, I dyed it and my hair white for my Christmas Eve shift at work to get in the Santa spirit. I haven't worn a beard in a few years, and unfortunately I have discovered that there is less need to dye it white these days. It is still more red than not, but there is noticeably more gray this time around.

There is still plenty of hair up top, and I could lose a year or two by shaving off the beard, but I have marked another milestone to age this week.

I need glasses.

I have managed to avoid this for 44 years, but it is time. I think I am the last to wear glasses in my extended family, so I had a pretty good run against genetics. Similarly, I won't expect much sympathy from anyone, and I am sure I will hear "It's about time" more than once.

I have struggled with night vision for a number of years, so driving at night was always a little taxing. And the last few years, staring at a computer screen for more than an hour would leave my eyes strained and tired. But the thing that tipped me over was reading. I swear that print is getting smaller in magazines in an effort to save paper, but I can't deny that things have been getting blurrier.

I went in to get my eyes checked on Thursday. When they had me fill out the patient information, one of the questions was when I had my eyes checked last. Outside of getting my driver's license (which I passed only a year ago), it has probably been since high school. I was overdue.

The verdict - I have an astigmatism in each eye in need of four levels of correction, and my up close/reading vision is needs six levels of correction. And it turns out that my distance vision is also in need of some correction. Like I said, I was overdue.

So since I have multiple problems (understatement), I would need one set of glasses for reading and another for driving, and both would probably have to manage the astigmatism somehow. Or I jump right past regular glasses and head straight for progressives.

From what Kristy and Holly have been telling me (both work in the eyewear industry), adults who have never worn glasses have the most difficult time adapting - set in our ways, prone to whining, etc. Add to that the additional challenge of needing to look through different parts of the lenses in order to see...well I am in for an adjustment.

I am both dreading it and excited to get glasses. I need them most to read, but I really interested to see what it does for my long distance vision. It doesn't feel like I have much of an issue, as I can still see individual leaves rather than trees being big green blobs, but I may not know what I am missing. I am most looking forward to getting rid of the eye fatigue.

Now I just need to settle on a set of frames. This is no small task, but I am fortunate to have a couple of professionals ready to tell me what works/looks good. More to follow...

December 7, 2011

Quote of the day

“I have forced myself to contradict myself,
in order to avoid conforming to my own taste.”
~ Marcel Duchamp

December 4, 2011

The runner's high

"People talk about the runner's high. The only runner's high that I've really felt is when I stop running."
~ Jerry Meyers in "Spirit of the Marathon"
The elusive runner's high. I am not sure I have experienced as other's have. It is generally described as a rush of endorphins that occurs when you have pushed your body to the limit. The body reacts, and the release of endorphins not only help negate the pain you are feeling, but can also give you a sense of happiness and well being.

I have pushed my body to the limit on more than one occasion. I have crossed finish lines in physical disarray where I was unsure I would be able to walk upright for much longer. But the runner's high has not shown up in these moments. And boy could I have used it a few months ago.

I have had experiences that feel like a runner's high, and it is often when I am out running, but it is almost exclusively triggered by my mind and not my body. There are times when I am plugging away and I imagine rounding a corner to see the finish line or a loved one, and a wave of happiness and well-being passes through me. I can feel it spread across my skin in a tingling sensation like sunlight on a cold day.

Though it is certainly more likely to happen when I am exercising, it is the thought, the vision, the imagined scene that seems to set it off rather than the effort. Most often the thought is triggered by music.

Yesterday I was out on a long run in preparation for my next marathon. I generally listen to podcasts, but lately I have been mixing in music. My pace always seems to pick up slightly when people stop talking and they start singing.

I don't spend a lot of time setting up playlists for each run, and have just been going through my song library alphabetically (backwards) plugging in four or five songs as musical breaks. Near mile 16 of my 17 mile run, "Closer to Fine" by the Indigo Girls came on. This is a longtime favorite and it picked me up. It was immediately followed by "City of Blinding Lights" by U2. And the high kicked in.

I have watched the coverage of the Ironman Championships for the last few years. You can not help but be inspired by watching these people go beyond what they thought was possible. There is a time limit to the race, and it is said that the last hour is when you see the most courageous people. Many of the pros who finished hours before, come back to watch the last competitors cross the line.

On NBC's 2006 Ironman presentation, "City of Blinding Lights" was played over a montage of weary finishers exaltedly completing the challenge, spent and forever changed. When I hear the song, I can not help but think of the joy and elation these people felt. And when I heard the song yesterday, a sense of joy passed through me in a wave of warmth and goosebumps, inspiring me to push onto the finish.

An additional connection that I did not make until now was that I was at mile 16 of 17, and those finishers are between the 16th and 17th hour to beat the cutoff. Hard to imagine.

But I found last week that I don't need to be pushed to the red to have that music triggered feeling happen. I was between mile one and two of the Turkey Trot when I passed by some speakers blasting the theme from Rocky. And damned if it didn't get to me, as cheesy as that sounds.

I have heard running compared to hitting yourself with a hammer - the only time if feels good is when you stop. Not true. Of course it feels great to finish, and it is much more difficult in the moment, but there are times when you can feel elation during the struggle. It is all in the power of the mind.

December 1, 2011

Quote of the day

Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.
~ Winston Churchill

November 30, 2011


I have given up (for now).

I am not going to make it to 50,000 words by the end of the day. I am not going to even get close. My word count sits at 30,194 at this point. I may add another thousand by day's end, but it was clear more than a week ago that it just wasn't going to happen this year.

 - Begin excuse portion - 

I don't have any valid excuses, but here is what seems to have happened. Some of the excitement was gone this year. You can never recapture that first-time rush, that panic, pain and ecstasy. Since I was successful last year, I knew I could do it again this time. And somehow, knowing that I could succeed took some of the motivation away. I wasn't working without a net.

In fact there were too many nets. I wanted to make this one different. There had to be more characters, more stories intertwining. I wanted the story to be more distant from my own experience. I wanted a book I could actually describe in a synopsis and make it sound interesting.

I don't know if you could call it a sophomore slump when your first effort wasn't a hit, but it felt like a slump nonetheless. I hit a personal rough patch mid-month, and lost all motivation. Nothing dramatic happened - no family crisis, no health problems, no accident that broadsides you on a random Tuesday - it was just a confluence of things that sent me spiraling.

This time around, I had more of an idea of where the story was going. This should have made it easier, but it did take away from some of the excitement of discovery. There are still many things that came to me in the moment, but somehow the scenes that I had planned a bit ahead of time were harder to start. There is sort of a fear that I won't be able to pull them off.

But of course I can't pull anything off that I don't start.

 - End of excuse portion - 

I may have failed to reach the 50,000 mark within the 30 day challenge, but I will finish this book. Though I haven't read it yet, I think there is something there, there. The pressure of a deadline forces me to sit down and write whether I feel creative or not, but I need to be able to do that on my own any month of the year if I want to continue to have this be a part of who I am.

I am digging my way out of the slump I fell into. Though I am disappointed I did not pull off the NaNoWriMo challenge this year, I do not consider 30,000 words a failure. Beating myself up over it (as tempting as that is for me) will not make me any more motivated.

I will get inspired again. I will sit my butt in the chair and write. I will finish what I started.

Just not today.

November 28, 2011


George Carlin once said, "...A leftover. What a sad word that is. Leftover. How would you like to be...a leftover? Well, it wouldn't be bad if they were taking people out to be shot!"
Well the four day eating marathon is over, but the food is not nearly gone. There were many hits, and only one miss.

As mentioned earlier, after going out for dinner on Thanksgiving, Kristy and I made a turkey dinner for two on Friday. Turkey, cornbread stuffing, homemade cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes with horseradish, and pie for desert. Everything was wonderful, though I sort of missed the store-bought cranberry sauce in the shape of a can for nostalgia sake.

She bought the smallest turkey available, but even so there were plenty of leftovers. But of course this was part of the plan. Oh the turkey sandwiches! Saturday's selection was turkey, cranberry sauce and melted gouda on soft ciabatta bread. Sunday we had grilled turkey paninis with thick pickles and horseradish butter.

The only miss was when we tried to make Wassail. We forgot it on the stove, and it turned into this creepy oozing mass of black goo. It was bubbling and collapsing in on itself like something out of Harry Potter. I think the remains are permanently burned into the pan.

I think we have only put a small dent in the supply of turkey, but the leftovers keep coming. We had dinner with Matt and Holly on Sunday, and we did a full ham dinner with all new side dishes. I think we made it through most of the yams and veggie casserole (and the mulled wine), but there was so much ham leftover that each house now has a big Tupperware full.
George Carlin again - "Leftovers make you feel good twice. First, when you put it away, you feel thrifty and intelligent: ‘I’m saving food!’ 
Then a month later when blue hair is growing out of the ham, and you throw it away, you feel really intelligent: ‘I’m saving my life!’"

Somehow through all of this, I managed to not gain a pound. Inconceivable!

November 27, 2011

Introduction to Vonnegut

Amazon has been doing a Daily Deal with a very inexpensive Kindle book each day. Today's offer was for Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut. I don't think I have ever read anything by Vonnegut, but Sean H had brought his name up recently so he was top of mind.

At 99 cents, the deal is already hard to pass up, but what really got me was the opening paragraph of the introduction they posted on Facebook.
"This is the only story of mine whose moral I know. I don't think it's a marvelous moral; I simply happen to know what it is: We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be."

November 25, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011


We have a new Thanksgiving tradition to "Move your feet before you eat." Sean and Marci have been running the Oceanside Turkey Trot 5k since it began five years ago, and I joined them last year. We all signed up again, and we brought along four more to the fold.

While they were cheering us on at the marathon back in October, Marci began working on Kristy to encourage her to step across the line from supporter to participant. By the time the race was over, she was semi-convinced to do the Turkey Trot. Marci said she would be walking it since she would be seven months pregnant, so it seemed harmless. Even so, I think Kristy bargained that she would walk it if Holly would.

Marci is not only a good salesman, but an enthusiastic advocate for running. Soon she had talked Holly and Matt into the 5k, so there was no backing out.

While we were driving up, Kristy made some construction paper Indian headdresses and Pilgrim hats. When we met up with Sean and Marci, they were wearing foam turkey hats. Several other people ran in full costume as turkeys, Indian princesses, and one pair ran as a gorilla chasing a banana. It was the first running event for Matt, Holly and Kristy, and this one is a great mix of people celebrating Thanksgiving in an fun, festive and active way.

I ended up running by myself as I had signed up for a challenge to see if I could beat my previous 5k PR. The ladies planned to walk while pushing the kids, but Matt had been getting back on the road after several bouts with injury, so he wanted to do some running. He and Sean ran the whole race together.

Although she said she had planned to walk, soon Marci was encouraging Holly and Kristy to run a bit. Taking on a coach/drill sergeant persona, soon she was saying they should alternate one minute of running with one minute of walking. Kristy was glad she had worn her sneakers instead of the warmer boots she had planned on.

I think the person that loved it the most was Annabelle. She LOVES to be outside, and whenever the ladies were running and there was more wind in her face, Annabelle was giggling. From what Kristy and Holly were saying, knowing that Annabelle was having a ball, it made it easier when it came time to run.

I surprised myself with a new PB of 21:20, about a 45 second improvement. After I finished, I backtracked and ran in with Sean and Matt. Then I went back to meet up with the ladies and get some more pictures. It was a really great morning. Since it was their first 5k, and event of any distance, Matt, Holly and Kristy came away with personal bests as well.

We went back to Sean and Marci's to hang out for a bit, before going our separate ways. The rest of the crew was headed to LA to spend Thanksgiving with Sean's family. Kristy and I couldn't make it since we both have pooches that need medical attention at this point. We debated whether to go out for dinner, or make our own Thanksgiving at home. We kind of split the difference.

We went out for dinner for Thanksgiving and had a lovely meal at the Prado in Balboa Park. The restaurant had a special menu for Thanksgiving, and we both enjoyed every single thing we picked out, right down to the fancy drinks. We were seated on the terrace and were surrounded by trees and twinkling lights. After dinner we walked around Balboa Park talking in the beautiful lights.

Today we (and when I say we, I mean 99% Kristy) are making a more traditional Thanksgiving feast for dinner tonight. We are also planning on a ham dinner with Matt and Holly on Sunday, so we are going to stretch Thanksgiving into four days.

Almost every year I have been with my family on Thanksgiving. Last year, we had a smaller gathering of friends over at Matt and Holly's, but though I worked for a decade in a restaurant that hosted Thanksgiving, I had never dined out on the day. Dinner at the Prado was excellent, and I am looking forward to the extended weekend of Thanksgiving goodness.

One tradition maintained, another updated. This was a different sort Thanksgiving, but wonderful.

November 22, 2011

Quote of the day

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” 
~ John F. Kennedy

November 20, 2011

Power of pink

Went for a run yesterday.

My running, like my writing, has been more sporadic than usual. I am running a 5k in a few days, and the marathon is a little more than two months away. I should be logging lots of miles for the marathon, with some speed work sessions to improve my 5k time.

Not so much.

My runs during the first couple of weeks after the Long Beach Marathon felt great. I was surprised at how well I recovered after feeling so terrible at the finish. But November seems to be the month of slumps. I have only been getting out twice a week lately, and I seem to be getting slower. I have been achy and unmotivated and it seems that much harder to get out the door before work.

But the weekend runs have continued, and I went out for a fifteen mile run yesterday. And I found a little inspiration.

Unplanned, I ended up smack in the middle of the Susan G Komen 3 Day Walk for the Cure. During this event, participants walk a total of 60 miles over the course of three days to raise money for breast cancer research. According to their website, they have raised over $1.9 billion dollars since 1982, when Nancy G. Brinker promised her dying sister, Susan G. Komen, she would do everything in her power to end breast cancer forever.

I have a friend that is breast cancer survivor, and we ran a couple of events in her honor when she was sidelined with chemo treatments. We printed up badges with her face on it, and pink was the color of the day. But the 3 Day event was a whole different experience.

I ran along the river path like a salmon swimming upstream through a sea of pink. Thousands and thousands of people dressed in crazy outfits, with silly and suggestive team names walked by. They walked with survivor names and those they had lost emblazoned on their backs. They walked and walked and walked. They just kept coming, and I would run past them for miles.

Hundreds of supporters lined the path handing out refreshments and shouts of encouragement. Pink ribbons and temporary tattoos were passed out like Halloween candy, and a wall of people wore gloves on one hand because they were giving out so many high-fives. It was like a marathon course but more inspiring in a way. The walkers were moving slower, so they could enjoy each supporter individually.

Many marathoners run to raise money for various charities. Team in Training is a staple at most every event, and you can pick them out of the crowd with their purple shirts. They even have their own set of supporters cheering them on. But here at the 3Day, every one of the walkers was there to support their loved ones and raise money for countless other strangers. Every walker was there for someone else.

I was running through, alongside, or within sight of the pink brigade for probably 11 of my 15 miles. I was reminded over and over of the fight that so many are going through, and the strength and power of people gathering for one focus.

My run was a bit of a struggle for my sore bones, but yesterday I had no excuse to quit.

November 12, 2011

Degrees of separation

Like a million little doorways
All the choices we made
All the stages we passed through
All the roles we played
For so many different directions
Our separate paths might have turned
With every door that we opened
Every bridge that we burned
~ "Ghost of a Chance" by Rush

Woke up to a rainy morning, more typical of Seattle than San Diego.

I will catch myself once in a while, slightly dumb-founded that I live in California. For the first 42 years of my life, I lived within a 25 mile circle. My family did not move around when I was younger, I went to college near home, I did not get a job that required me to pull up stakes. I stayed home.

These days I drive fifty miles to work, along highways carved through rocky hillsides dotted with avocado trees. I carry my 70 pound dog up and down concrete steps so she can pee near a palm tree. I run along the ocean past tourists who traveled miles and time zones to get here. Rain is an aberration and I wear shorts year round.

It was a thousand decisions, great and small, in my control and not that lead me here. Of course this is true of everyone's life. You never know what would have happened if you turned left instead of right that day. There are obvious ones that lead me to San Diego, but I have been thinking farther back recently.

In the summer of 1992, I had just returned from a trip of a lifetime after graduating from college. My brother and I spent more than a month on a whirlwind trip across Europe. It was an incredible adventure that I don't imagine I will ever repeat.

When I returned, I did not have a job or a place to live. I moved in with my folks for a couple of months while I looked for work and saved up some money.

I applied for work in a few local restaurants. Two called back. The Keg called first, and though I gave a stupid answer when they asked during the interview why I chose the Keg (because it was close), they hired me. I met many great people, and most all of my friends can be traced back there by one or two degrees of separation.

When you think of a phone call that changed your life, this is not what you would picture. But if Billy McHale's had called first, I never would have met all these people or had the same adventures. I would not have met my former wife or the woman I am with today. I would not have met the couple I live with, nor the man I work beside, had I not worked at the Keg.

I try not to obsess over the endless 'what-ifs' of it all, but I have been known to ruminate over regret. I am doing much better these days, but every so often I slip back into bad habits, and through a confluence of factors, that is what happened this week. I spiraled, I self-berated, I carried it under the surface and was a jerk at work on Thursday.

Kristy is out of town, and I am house sitting and taking care of the old dogs. I have had a place to myself for the first time in a while. I was looking forward to some solitude and getting lots of writing done, but I have felt more like a hermit. I've barely been running, and the writing hasn't been much better. I have dug myself into another hole this year, and I need to claw my way back out.

I posted on Facebook a shot of a sunset from the back deck along with the quotes from Seneca,

‎"Begin at once to live, and count each separate day as a separate life."

"Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end."

This week I regressed, but tomorrow is a new day, next week is a new week. Maybe I needed to go through this valley to remind myself how miserable I used to be when I shut myself off and hid away like a hermit. To remember all I need to be thankful for in this season of Thanksgiving.

I am thankful for my family and friends, here and a thousand miles away. I wish I could bring these two places together somehow, especially during the holiday season. I am thankful for a temporary job that lasted a decade and introduced me to all of you. And I am thankful that Billy McHale's didn't call first .

November 7, 2011

Quote of the day

"We need people who can actually do things. We have too many bosses and too few workers. More college graduates ought to become plumbers or electricians, then go home at night and read Shakespeare."

~ from an Andy Rooney esssay on finding a good job, March 21, 2010

Andy Rooney passed away this weekend at the age of 92, shortly after retiring from 60 Minutes

November 1, 2011

Programming notes

A couple of things...

National Novel Writing Month begins today! This will be my second attempt at writing 50,000 words in 30 days, on the way to a second novel. I am about as stressed out as last time, maybe a little bit more. Somehow the second time around is harder. The first time, you know it is going to be difficult, but you don't know something until you have gone through it. The first time, there is that ignorance is bliss, beginners luck thing you have going for you. The second time, you know how hard it was, but you signed up again anyway. Kind of like a marathon.

Speaking of which, I have another one on the calendar. I will be running the Carlsbad Marathon on January 22nd, a scant 82 days away. I was planning on taking some time off, but Sean H made a convincing argument that I should join him on his last marathon for the foreseeable future (he has a third child on the way). Of course he really didn't have to twist my arm that hard. I am anxious to see if I can figure out how to finish while still being able to walk a straight line and speak coherently.

In other news, has made an agreement with the state of California to begin collecting taxes sometime next year.  As I wrote back in July, I think this levels the playing field for local stores, and restores revenue for states that are having to slash much needed programs. This agreement also means that the affiliate program has been reinstated for California residents.

You will notice that there is an search bar in the sidebar to the right. I also have an affiliate store set up with products I use, like and recommend. Many of us do our shopping online (especially around the holidays), and you can find nearly everything you want at Amazon.

If you stop by my blog and start your shopping with my search bar, I would really appreciate it. This one extra click will net me a small percentage of the purchase price for the referral, without increasing what you pay. Any money received will go toward paying off Sierra's vet bills.

With the month of panicked writing at NaNoWriMo ahead, I am not sure how often I will be posting in the coming weeks. I may disappear for a while, or I may be coming here to procrastinate and write about the bug I saw at work.

Happy November!

October 31, 2011

Slow road to normal

Sierra made more tentative steps toward her normal self over the weekend. She has some difficulty getting up, but she is walking a bit better each day. She still wears the harness so she has a sort of handle on top that helps me guide her. She veers to the right as she walks, so I have to guide her through narrow passages until we get outside.

The past few nights have been ones of interrupted sleep. Though I have surrounded her bed with blankets and other dog beds, she still manages to scoot her way off of them onto the hardwood floor where she struggles to get up. A few times during the night, I have to pick her up and get her back onto her bed. But I was only up twice last night, and we have graduated to a nightlight instead of the lamp being on all night, so sleep was a little easier.

She tackled her first set of stairs yesterday. She decided to go out back at Kristy's place for some reason, even though she had just been out. I didn't see it, but it sounded like it wasn't too graceful. After taking care of business, she waited at the bottom to be carried up.

Her vision is still below normal, but also improving. She has that vacant look in her eye until you get up close. For this reason, we are blocking off the two steps into the living room while we are gone so she doesn't tumble down them accidentally.

According to the information on Idiopathic Vestibular Disease, much of the progress is made in the first 72 hours. Improvement slows at that point, and it can take a few weeks to get back to close to normal. She of course can't tell me how she feels or where it hurts, so I can only look to the symptoms to make sure she is getting better.

She is eating normally, and has moments of happy panting when she is comfortable, but her tail is down more often than it is up. But she had a nice visit from an out of town friend yesterday, and being showered with love and scrubs behind the ear is the best medicine at this point.

I think we have made it through the toughest part. On to the slow road to normal. Thank you all for your concern, thoughts and prayers. We both appreciate it.

Everyone needs something to lean on from time to time.
And a sheepskin pillow.

October 27, 2011


She is home.

I received an update yesterday morning indicating that she was making slow progress. She had eaten on her own that morning, and the jerky eye movement was a little less prevalent. She was still unable to stand on her own, but they said that if she didn't get worse that I should be able to pick her up in the evening.

They questioned what the home situation was, because she would need to be looked after. I told her that someone was going to be home during the day, so we could keep an eye on her. From everything I had heard, there is little we can do to help her other than keep her safe and let the thing run its course. As long as she was stable, an amateur was about as good as a professional. I wanted her home where she would feel more comfortable, and quite frankly I couldn't afford the continuing charges at the emergency vet.

The evening call revealed that she was still making slow progress. They had taken her outside after she had messed her cage. The doctor said she was able to walk with help, but was not walking "purposefully". I guess that means she wasn't taking the lead and was confused as to why she was out there.

I arrived at about 6:45pm and was handed a stack of paperwork detailing all that had gone on. I have only been through half of it, but there isn't much new information so far. I was given a CD with her chest X-rays, though. After some more time and questions with the tech, they wheeled Sierra out on a gurney. Though she had been able to walk earlier, she was having trouble with the slick tile floors. It was a little disheartening to see her still on a gurney, but I just wanted to take her home.

Kristy and I sat with her in the back of the van for a while to try to calm and reassure her. She still seemed to be lost and wasn't tracking us very well, but she was definitely better than the day before when she was downright panicked.

When I arrived home, I sat with her again as the vet had mentioned that the movement of the car ride would disorient her further. Matt helped me get her out of the car and get her harness on. The harness will act as a handle on her back so we can guide her along. We walked around the yard, and after about ten minutes she seemed to be ready to head inside. Exhausted, she fell asleep in the living room.

She was restless and panting through the night. I had surrounded her with dog beds and carpets in case she decided to get up, and I slept with the light on so we could both have our bearings. At 4:00am she had some water and we went outside, both of which seemed to help. She has eaten and taken care of business this morning. She still needs to be helped up and have a hand on her back to guide her along, but once outside she is walking with purpose.

We are in the wait and see mode. As long as she continues to improve, the diagnosis was likely correct. If she does not get noticeably better over the next few days, more test will need to be run to see if something worse is happening.

But it is good to have her home.

October 26, 2011


Yesterday was scary.

I got a call from my roomie Matt that there was something wrong with my dog. He found her in my room howling and rolling continuously against the wall. She was completely disoriented, and had peed and pooped all over the room. She was panting heavily, couldn't stand, and didn't seem to be able to see him.

By the time I made it home from the jobsite, he had given her some agave syrup, thinking that she was going through a hypoglycemic crash from her diabetes. He had been able to get her up, but she was unstable and was walking in circles. He had put her out on the deck with her bed while he cleaned up the mess in my room.

She was still panting heavily when I arrived, and appeared disoriented and freaked out. Her head lolled to one side, and when she could stand, she leaned heavily to the right, propping herself up against the sliding glass door. She was not very responsive, and could not be calmed by voice or petting.

I carried her out to the truck, but she would not sit in the back seat, essentially throwing herself to the right and onto the floor. Matt let me borrow his minivan, and we got her in the back with her bed. While I drove her to the vet, she lay panting, braced against the back hatch.

Our regular vet sent us on to the emergency hospital without even seeing her. When I arrived at our second stop and described Sierra's condition, they rolled out a gurney. I didn't want to open the hatch for fear that she would just tumble out. I climbed over the back seat and grabbed her harness while the tech opened the hatch. It took considerable effort to hold her back as she pressed hard to roll out to her right.

They took her in and gave me some paperwork to fill out. I was halfway through when Kristy walked in (Matt had called). I was properly freaked out, and as some terrible coincidence had seen a dead dog at the side of the highway as I was driving. I had mostly kept it together to that point, but once I saw Kristy, the tears came.  I don't know why that happens exactly. I guess once there is someone there who cares and can help, the fear you were keeping at bay rushes in and you can feel vulnerable for a moment. I sat in the lobby with Sierra's collar in my hand, waiting for the vet.

The initial diagnosis is Idiopathic Vestibular Disease. According to the vet and this site,
The vestibular system is what gives people, and dogs, their balance, coordination and equilibrium. When dogs develop IVD, their equilibrium becomes disrupted suddenly, dramatically and without warning. The profound symptoms of this disorder can incapacitate the dogs and are frightening for owners, as well.
The vet mentioned that rolling over is common to dogs trying to find their equilibrium, as is rapid irregular eye movements (nystagmus) as they try to track the world that is spinning around them. Unfortunately, “Idiopathic” means of unknown origin, and though the symptoms line up very well, it is generally diagnosed by eliminating other problems. Sierra has already had a chest x-ray (which came back fine) and the blood work is due in this morning.

They don't know what causes IVB, and there is little they can do to speed the recovery. The good news at this point is that if it is IVB, dogs generally recover on their own over a few weeks. There may be lingering symptoms like a head tilt. Sierra stayed overnight and is still there while we wait it out. They have her on antibiotics in case an ear infection set this off, and on anti-nausea meds for the spinning. She is on IV fluids as she was still panting heavily and would not drink. She would not eat initially, but they were able to hand feed her late last night.

She doesn't appear to be in pain, but is understandably confused and freaked out. Matt said the howling was unsettling, and I am sure was a result of Sierra being so scared. It is hard to watch helplessly as anyone suffers. I am worried about my little girl and still a little freaked out. I will let you know when I hear anything more.

First update

Second update

October 25, 2011

...early to rise

5:30 in the morning. A beautiful time to feel so ugly.

I am in the home stretch of the current monthly challenge. I have been getting up at 5:30am weekdays, and 7:00am on the weekends. It hasn't been any easier or more difficult to hear the alarm go off so early, but it is wearing me down physically.

As I suspected, I have had difficulty getting to sleep early enough to get a full night's rest. My body doesn't seem to shut down before 10 or 11, though the backlog of exhaustion has reduced the time between my head hitting the pillow and my eyes closing.

But there have been bright spots in the darkness. The house is so quiet and peaceful this early in the morning, and I am up an hour and a half before the sun. While I think the lack of light could be depressing in the long haul, it feels like that time is mine to use before the day begins.

I have been working on what I hope will be the final edit of the novel each morning, and after a final run-through looking for typos, I think it is ready to be put to bed. On several mornings, I have written for an hour, run for an hour, and still been able to get out the door by 8:00am if necessary. It is a great feeling to get things accomplished before the day really gets going.

I have found the appeal of being a morning person this month. but it is not what my body is built for. I am missing the all important "Early to bed" part that might make me "healthy, wealthy and wise." Through repetition, I could browbeat it into partial submission, but it is ultimately a losing battle and I think my health would eventually suffer.

5:30am is a time all to yourself, and there is beauty there, but staying snuggled up in bed on the weekends is sounding pretty good right now.

October 20, 2011

Picture of the day

So, I am seeing more unusual creatures these days, hanging around with Kristy and Project Wildlife. But look who showed up at work to say hello.

A praying mantis! His head would swivel and track me as I worked on the patio cover, always keeping a compound eye on me.

I had never seen one outside of a zoo or Pixar film. It was pretty cool. And a little creepy.

October 16, 2011

I made a difference to that one

While walking along a beach, an elderly gentleman saw someone in the distance leaning down, picking something up and throwing it into the ocean.
As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, picking up starfish one by one and tossing each one gently back into the water.
He came closer still and called out, “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”
The young man paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean.”
The old man smiled, and said, “I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?”
To this, the young man replied, "I'm throwing these starfish back into the ocean. You see, it's low tide and they've all been washed up onto the shore. If I don't throw them back into the sea they'll die from lack of oxygen."
Upon hearing this, the elderly observer commented, "But there must be thousands of starfish on this beach, you can't possibly get to all of them. There are simply too many. And what about all the other starfish on the other beaches? You can't possibly make a difference!"
The young man listened politely. Then he bent down, picked up another starfish, threw it into the back into the ocean past the breaking waves and said, “It made a difference for that one.”

The first time I heard the Starfish Story (author unknown), it was on the podcast, Common Sense with Dan Carlin. Dan (a political independent) was using the Starfish Story to describe how people of different backgrounds and political leanings view "Lost Causes". Some look at a problem and feel that it is too big to solve, and that their time and effort is better spent on things that can be completely fixed. Others idealistically plunge ahead believing that if they can just change one life, than it was worth the cost and effort. The Starfish Story was a tidy metaphor.

The second time I heard it, it was more literal and less metaphor. I heard it in connection with Project Wildlife, a non-profit devoted to animal rescue and rehabilitation. Each year, Project Wildlife takes in nearly 10,000 birds and mammals representing 320 species. Wild animals that have been injured, orphaned, or come out of their habitat and into contact with humans. The animals are most often brought in by the public to one of two centers in San Diego County.

Through the spring and summer, a large influx of babies must be nurtured, raised and hand fed by volunteers. The adult animals are brought back to health and released whenever possible. Over 500 people volunteer their time, and over a hundred of those (Kristy included) are rehabilitators who provide pre-release care at their own homes.

Some animals are too injured to fend for themselves, while others have had too much human contact to have the wariness necessary for survival. These are non-releasable and are kept as education animals. They visit schools and other community events to raise public awareness.

Project Wildlife is funded by individual donations, grants and community foundations. Kristy and I attended their big fundraiser two weekends ago. People bought tickets to enjoy an afternoon of wine tastings and food donated by a chef who is also a friend of Project Wildlife. There were silent and live auctions of donated goods with all the proceeds going to support the fight. Some people skipped the auction and gave money for much needed equipment for nothing in return. And the education animals were out to say hello and thank you.

Project Wildlife is one of the largest non-profit wildlife rehabilitation organizations in the United States. They also boast a release rate that is eight percentage points higher than the national average. Hundreds of volunteers spend thousands of hours, and wonderfully supportive patrons spend thousands of dollars to enable this successful effort.

But even though they lead the country, they only succeed 60% of the time. They will never save all the animals that reach their doorstep. They kick ass to save more than half. But every time they go into the woods to release a opossum, or stand on the beach to let a bird fly free, they know, "I made a difference to that one."

For more information, check out their website.

October 11, 2011

The other Sean

I'm not sure which one of us is the Bizarro Sean, but Sean H and I seem to be carbon copies some times, mirror images at other. I just can't lose the guy, not that I am trying.

I ran my tenth marathon on Sunday, and I have finished five of them with Sean. He was the experienced one I could turn to with stupid questions as I prepared for my first in D.C. back in 2006. We had only seen each other a couple of times before then, but we became fast friends. We all set out together, and I finished hand in hand with his wife Marci, who I have run three full marathon with as well.

He is more outgoing and enthusiastic, and loves running more than I do. His passion has carried me to sign up for a number of great events. He and Marci actually went so far as to pay for my registration for the Las Vegas Marathon a couple of years ago. Creating that goal helped me get back out onto the roads and moving forward.

I am slowly catching up in experience, but still count on him for council. We have become each other's sounding board for running and writing over the past year. I can geek out with him about the minutiae, and debate for hours the benefits of one strategy over another. We both benefit from a different point of view, and it spares other friends from listening to us blather on. Mostly.

I suppose our running styles mirror our personalities. He is the rabbit to my tortoise. He plunges ahead, prepared, but pushing the envelope. I am his slow and steady counterpart, but unlike the fable, this rabbit wins 99% of the time. He is encouraging me to push past boundaries I have set up in my mind. I can't know they are there unless I test them.

We both ran the marathon on Sunday. We didn't run side by side because we were running very different races. He went out and set the first half of the race on fire before slowing in the later miles. He finished a solid 8 minutes ahead of me, giving me something else to chase. Not that we are competing, but it somehow helps to see someone you know achieve what you are aiming for. And he quite literally propped me up when I stumbled my way to the finish.

When I am back in Washington, I quickly fall in step with my old running crew. We share encouragements and victories in a flurry of texts in between the face to face meetings. For many of the miles, running is a solitary endeavor, and I enjoy the moments to myself. But there is nothing quite like toeing the line together and sharing the victory.

We both think the matching shirts are a little dorky. We don't always dress alike. Just when we run. Or when we work together. Aw crap.

October 10, 2011

Long Beach Marathon 2011

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

Kristy and I stayed overnight with Sean and Marci. We had a lovely dinner with all of the night-before jitters and excitement. Like Christmas Eve, it is all part of the celebration. Unfortunately, Kristy and I had a pretty terrible night's sleep. Not that unusual for the night before, but Kristy felt like she didn't sleep at all.

Up at 4:15am and out the door by 5:00am to get to the start line in Long Beach. Arrived at 6:30am without any traffic hassles, and the ladies dropped us off near the start line before heading off to find a spot on the course. Sean and I stood in the Porta Pottie line for about 20 minutes, only to find no toilet paper. Half our business taken care of, we dashed to the start line in time for the Star Spangled Banner. We split into our separate corrals and wished each other luck.

It was a beautiful morning. I had run the course last year, but was still surprised at how scenic the course was. I wanted to stop to take photos of the water, the Queen Mary, the fire boat shooting a fountain of water, but we were here to run. As I said at the Carlsbad Marathon, there is nothing quite like palm trees at sunrise.

I loosely followed the 3:45 pacer through the winding streets. He was going a little faster than target pace, but it was not uncomfortable. They aim to get you to the finish line with two minutes to spare, and he had a one minute cushion in the first four miles.

At around mile 4, someone ran up next to me and said, "Hey Vegas" (I was wearing my Las Vegas Marathon shirt). It was the guy who was standing behind me in the Porta Pottie line that I had chatted with earlier. One of those crazy coincidental sightings in a crowd of 14,000 runners. Frank and I would chat off and on over the next 10 miles, and I saw him again in the crowd at the finish.

Kristy, Marci and the kids were a great support team. I saw them for the first time just before mile 7. Marci had a tambourine, the kids a cowbell, Kristy was on camera duty, and all were cheering loudly. I had just reached for my Shot Bloks, only to realize they had slipped out of my pocket somewhere. I asked Marci to grab the spare one I had in the car, and she passed it off like a baton at mile 11. They successfully navigated the closed streets to see us at three different points and still made it to the finish line before we did. I know it is hard supporting on race day, even without the 4:30am wake up call, and it makes all the difference. My running buddy Frank was a little jealous.

The course winds on or near the beach until mile 10 before heading inland. The half marathoners split off at mile 11, and the crowd thins significantly. We crossed the halfway mark a minute ahead of schedule for a 3:45 finish. The rolling hills start at around mile 14. They aren't on the map, but they are there. Much of the next ten miles is an out and back course, so you see runners headed toward the finish on the other side of the road.

At mile 17, the course heads onto the campus of California State University at Long Beach. The toughest hill of the course is on the campus, but so is the loudest crowd support. After climbing the first part of the hill, the road turns left and levels out for a stretch before turning back uphill. Even before you round the corner, you can hear the cheers. The students line the street on both sides, funneling the runners through a chute no more than ten feet wide. It is a wall of sound and energy that you can feel, and in a spot where you need it the most.

After leaving the campus, you head back on the road you came in on. The same unmentioned rolling hills are there, but somehow feel bigger on the way back out. This really broke me mentally last year, but knowing they were coming helped tremendously. For a period.

My stomach had started cramping back at mile 14, and my legs shortly thereafter. It became difficult to continue drinking, and I couldn't force myself to eat anything after mile 19. The cramping led to nausea, and the lack of food led to an energy crash. I began to lose the 3:45 pacer, but kept him in sight for a few miles. He was my rabbit to chase, but I would lose ground at each water station when I slowed to drink in what little fluids I could. I lost him completely around mile 24, and then it got ugly.

My legs were as tight as piano strings ready to snap, and it felt like the front of my stomach desperately wanted to push its way out the back. Last year I started slowing earlier, but this year I pressed harder. At mile 24 I was right on pace to finish at 3:45, but I could hold it no longer. I slowed and then walked for the first time at mile 25. A spectator focused in on me and told me to hang on, that I was almost there. I knew he meant well, but I was delirious, smoked, over the line.

When I walked by him he said, "Sean, I am giving you ten seconds to walk, and then you are going to run." I thought, "Ya buddy, not likely." Six or seven seconds later he yelled, "Sean, Run!" And somehow I did.

Well, shuffled probably. It was a death march, but I pressed as hard as I could. According to the web gizmo, 17 people passed me over the last two miles, but I passed 19. I walked once or twice over the next couple of miles, and mustered what I could for the finish. I saw the clock at the finish and tried to give it that extra .5%. It wasn't much, but it was all I had.

Last year was the worst I felt physically after a marathon finish. This year was even worse. I had felt like throwing up for miles, and wanted nothing more than to relieve the pressure. But my body would not unclench and I stumbled around weak and light headed. I later heard there was a medical tent nearby, but I walked by without seeing it. I grabbed a bottle of water and wandered into the finish area.

Sean found me just as I entered the public area, and I nearly fell against him. We made our way to the food area, and I bought a Coke. It had saved my bacon last year, a shot of sugar to a depleted system. I took a few sips but still felt on the edge of losing it. I wandered behind the food service van so I didn't throw up in the public area. I knelt on the ground, hand on the bumper, head down waiting for the wave to pass.

The gal who sold me the Coke saw me and brought over a glass of ice. The ice helped, but I stayed by the bumper for a while longer until I thought it was safe. I made it back to Sean after a few minutes, and the Coke lady took further pity on me and brought an ice cold cloth to put on my neck.

Marci and Kristy found us a few minutes later, and apparently I was still white as a sheet. I haven't seen pictures yet, but maybe I don't want to. They brought a cooler of drinks and food, and I tried to eat something with my second Coke. When I put a pretzel in my mouth, it felt like it sucked all the moisture out of my mouth. I just had to wait it out.

Which we did for a while, swapping stories of our days. The kids had some ice cream while the world stopped spinning in the wrong direction. I started to feel better, and walked around to get the blood flowing to my face again. Sean and I eventually made it to the beer garden for our free beer. The cold, carby liquid seemed to help.

I crossed the finish line in 3:47:44, a new personal best by about four and a half minutes. It was the hardest finish so far, but I feel proud of the way I pressed on through miles 14 to 24 when my body was rebelling. I had run focused, but still took the time to look around at the beautiful scenery and chat with other runners.

Kristy asked me on the drive home, "If you knew you would feel that bad at the finish, would you run the marathon again." A very good question.

I have lots of things to figure out over the next few days and months - what went wrong, what I can do to make sure it doesn't happen again. But the best answer I could give was that I had proven this time that I can push past those nagging voices that tell you to slow down or quit. I have proven that I can take it as far as my body will allow, and maybe a little farther. I don't need to prove anything, and next time I won't push it past that line again. Unless I was seconds away from a Boston Qualifier time, but that is still pretty far down the road at this point.

It was a beautiful day on a scenic course. I felt focused and in the moment. I ran strong but not with tunnel vision. I was blessed with angelic support by people I know and complete strangers. I had some of my strongest and weakest moments in the space of a few hours, and walked away with a new personal best.

Would I do it again? Yes. I plan to rewrite the ending, though.

October 9, 2011

Quote of the day - marathon morning edition

Now if you are going to win any battle you have to do one thing. You have to make the mind run the body. Never let the body tell the mind what to do.
The body will always give up. It is always tired morning, noon, and night. But the body is never tired if the mind is not tired. When you were younger the mind could make you dance all night, and the body was never tired...You've always got to make the mind take over and keep going.
~ General George Patton

October 8, 2011

Marathon eve

I will be running my tenth marathon tomorrow, and this is my second time running in Long Beach. Last year, I incorporated speed work and more focused training paces following the FIRST program. I found the structure to be helpful, and the speed work did improve my pace.

But I showed up at the start line worn out and possibly sick. I had intended to double down this time around to see what I was capable of, but ended up taking it easier instead. It was frustrating to prepare so hard last year, only to show up ill(prepared). After a couple of weeks of training, I decided to run more by feel like I used to. I still paid attention to my time, but did not rigidly follow the pacing set out in the program.

The weekend long runs were the same, but I reduced some of the mid-week mileage. I just checked my training calendar from last year, and it looks like I ran about 15% fewer miles this time around. Same number of runs, just fewer miles.

One of the additional things that seemed to fail me last year was my fueling. I crashed hard at the finish line, desperately low on energy. The past few weeks, I have switched what I eat during runs. I am swapping in Shot Bloks for gels, and the more solid food seems to sit a little better on my stomach. Against the oft quoted "never try anything new on marathon morning" advice, I am going to try something I picked up at the expo yesterday for breakfast. The PR* Bar is supposed to level your blood sugar and let you tap in more easily to body fat as a fuel source. Marci tried it earlier this year, and thought it helped. And PR stands for "Personal Record", though I don't like the unexplained asterisk that follows.

This marathon will be a test of a few theories. Of course there are so many factors that affect your performance on a particular day, so there won't be any clear answers. But I am running pretty well, and a little faster over all. I am also five pounds lighter than I was at the start line last year, so there is less to drag for 26.2 miles. I am hoping that by running by feel and listening more closely to my body, I will get to the start line feeling more rested.

If you are up early tomorrow and want to follow along, you should be able to track me here. It should plot my progress on a map, and show my average pace. My best pace at a marathon was 8:52 per mile back in January. I am hoping to beat it, and ideally come in at around an 8:35 pace.

The gun goes off at 7:05am. We will see what the day brings. I plan to enjoy it no matter what.

October 5, 2011

Life is a Marathon

The magic of marathon day, support when you need it the most.

Everyone should experience a cheering crowd.

October 3, 2011

Good morning Merry Sunshine

Morning people. Who can understand them. Bouncing around before the sunrises, chipper to a point of needing to be punched. I certainly can't.

Friends and longtime readers know that I am not a morning person. I have great difficulty falling asleep before 11:00 or midnight, and my deepest sleep is the hour or two before the alarm goes off. As a teen, my alarm clock was something of an air raid siren, but most mornings I did not hear it going off inches from my head. My mother would hear it from the other end of the house, and after it was ignored for too long, come to my room to wake me.

I am not as bad these days. My alarm is really just a radio at low volume. Most mornings, the pooch wakes me with the click, click, click of her nails before it goes off anyway. But I am still coming out of my deepest sleep, and it is painful to rise.

The jobs I have had for much of my life have not required me to be up very early. There were exceptions, like  the year I had the morning shift at McDonald's. When I worked as a deck builder, I was up pretty early to get to the jobsite by 8:00am. But I would stay in bed as late as possible, leaving the house ten or fifteen minutes after waking up. Even after six or seven years, the morning routine did not stick. I would stay up late most nights and sleep in on weekends to try and catch up.

I could probably sleep in until 8:30 or 9:00 these days and still make it in to work on time, but the pooch generally wakes me up at 7:00. It still feel like crap every morning, but after a year and a half she has forced the routine. I have time to have breakfast and read the paper, and I have come to appreciate the chance to wake slowly instead of greeting the world at a dead run. On the rare occasion that I am up before dawn, usually race morning, I love the quiet hush of twilight, voices at a whisper so as to not chase it away.

When I was a child, my Mom used to wake me with a whisper of "Good Morning Merry Sunshine". These days it would be said ironically to my half-asleep, grumpy face. I am not morning person, but I am going to act like one for the month of October. The alarm will go off at 5:30am during the week, and I will still be up by 7:00am on the weekends. I plan to use the quiet hours primarily to write, but I have a few other projects that need focused attention. NaNoWriMo looms in just 28 days, and I hope to have ingrained the habit of early morning writing by then.

It will be difficult to hear the alarm go off so early, but the real challenge will be in getting to bed at a reasonable hour. The mind and body do not shut down easily, even when exhausted.

The first people I told about the challenge were Kristy, Holly and Matt. The women are night owls like me, and can't understand why I will be getting up this early. It just seems crazy, stupid almost. Matt however clapped his hands in solidarity as he is up at 5:30am most mornings. He is one of those freaky morning people I am trying to understand.

He did however make the rule of no talking before 6:00am. Even early risers need a moment before facing the world. And we need to whisper to avoid chasing away stillness.

October 2, 2011

Focus in chunks of 30

The theme of the year might become, "It isn't as hard as you think."

Resolution nine is done! The plan was to spend less than 30 minutes online for the month of September. Every morning I would fire up Outlook and Chrome, and set a 15 minute timer. I couldn't literally hear the ticking of the clock, but seconds were clicking off in the back of my brain.

Much of the email I get these days are newsletters filled with links. With the timer rolling, I would have to evaluate whether the article or story sounded interesting enough to click. On the few I clicked, a browser window would open, but I wouldn't read the story until I was done with all the email.

When I moved on from Outlook, I would check the blogs to see if there were any new posts. I read those first before moving onto the article I had opened before. I would usually have enough time to get through it all, but if not, I left the article open in case I had some extra time later in the evening. Facebook was last in line.

As the month wore on, I found it easier to come in under 15 minutes. I have a few email accounts, and one is where all the memberships, newsletters and spam end up. After a few days, I would look through the inbox and delete several emails before opening anything. With the time limit, it forced me to focus on what was important these days, and I didn't even want to waste the few seconds it took to open and skim over.

As always, I want these 30 day goals to create longer lasting changes. I plan to keep that timer clicking in the back of my mind, and keep the bar high on what is worth my time. In order to reduce the clutter and noise, this morning I am unsubscribing from the newsletters that regularly did not make the cut during September. I have also cleaned up my Facebook feed to get rid of the clutter that is getting in the way of updates from actual friends.

The internet isn't evil. It opens all of us to the world like no other tool has before. But it can easily become a distraction. Many of us flip on the tv without knowing if anything is on, simply out of habit. For me, the same goes for opening up the laptop. I know I will find something to hold my interest, but if I stopped and thought about it, isn't there something I would rather be doing?

Over the last 30 days, I only fired up the laptop if I had something specific to do. I had more time to spend reading, writing and running. There are fewer books in the stack by my bedside, I ran 106 miles, and I am nearly done with the corrections, editing and rewrite of my novel.

By cutting back tv and internet time, I have found time I already had. But I am always looking for more, and that is what October's challenge is all about.

September 27, 2011

Running in circles

It is taper time. The two or three weeks before a marathon when you dial back the number of miles you run to rest up for the main event. It is also the period when you have much more time to obsess and talk about running. So here we are.

I ran my second 20 miler a little over a week ago. Not that I need to tell you this, but 20 miles is a long way. At times I have entertained the thought of just running out my door, running for 20 miles, and seeing where I'd end up. When I saw how far I was from home, it would probably feel even farther. Seeing it in this perspective, it would be tough to imagine going another 6.2 miles on any day. And course I would need to get a ride home.

More practically, I end up running a series of loops. This not only allows me to finish where I started, but I can also stop by my car and refill my water bottles. Of course every time I pass by the car, there is the temptation to stop and call it a day. The multiple loop plan does give me ample chance to practice not quitting.

But running the same circles over and over can get a little boring, even in beautiful San Diego. After so many repetitions, you tend to zone out and the details fade.

The last few weeks I have been running the loops in the opposite direction, and it is amazing all the new things I have seen. Even running on the other side of the street seems to make a difference, but running counter when you normally run clockwise, you get to see things from another perspective. Even though I am looking at the same scenery, everything looks a little different from the opposite point of view.

There is a metaphor in there somewhere. Maybe members of Congress should go for a run together.

September 26, 2011

Banned Book Week, 2011

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.
It is Banned Book Week again. Recent additions to the list include Harry Potter, Twilight and Hunger Games, but I think a better way to celebrate is to read books that are also on Radcliffe's list of the top 100 novels of the 20th century. May I recommend:

1. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
3. The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
4. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
8. The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
9. 1984, by George Orwell
12. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
15. Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
17. Animal Farm, by George Orwell
40. The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien

But not
2. The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger