June 30, 2011

So many minutes

So the month is over, and so is resolution number six.

Last month's resolution was to eliminate mindless tv. The hope was to gain back a few hours each night and do something more productive. The first part of the resolution was successful. I did not watch any network tv during the month. I did watch two movies and another hour of NetFlix entertainment. There were no moments where I flipped on the tv just to have something on or something to do, so I am calling that a success.

I did not however come away a completely changed man. I did get much (much) more reading done during the month. I also connected with some friends I had let fall away over the months and years. Emails and calls to friends and family were a little more frequent, a little more lengthy. But I didn't check hundreds of items off my to-do list or spend enough time getting rid of other clutter in my life.

But overall, it was good change in behavior. One that I think will stick around for some time. I have pretty much broken the habit of saying, "I didn't have time to do..." over the past couple of years. There have been plenty of hours out there to use, and after a month with no tv, I have found even more.

I don't need to fill every waking moment productively, and I think the reading I have done will pay off somewhere down the line, but I need to make every minute worthwhile.

Six months, and six resolutions. I am halfway home, and pretty happy with the experiment so far. Tomorrow, July's resolution.

Quote of the day

Tell me and I'll forget;
show me and I may remember;
involve me and I'll understand.
~ Chinese proverb

June 27, 2011

Seattle Rock n Roll Half Marathon

Even though this was the third time on this course, every one of these events is different. And you never know what version of you will show up on race day.

You spend four or more months getting ready, but there is no guarantee that something won't derail you at the last minute. Something unexpected, or something you yourself caused. It has been a long time since I showed up to a start line feeling confident, and I was feeling pretty iffy again this time around.

The half marathon was one of the main reasons for the visit to Seattle, but of course there were a ton of people I wanted to see over the long weekend. Friday was filled with visits, and I ended up sacrificing sleep in order to spend more time with people. I ended up getting about 3 hours of sleep the night before the race. The bottle of wine didn't help either.

Our crew showed up very early at the start line in order to avoid the crush of runners waiting to get on the shuttle buses. Tami had arranged for some passes to the Brooks VIPee lounge. With the secret sticker, we had access to flush toilets and could avoid the porta-pottie lines. However, lots of other people had the stickers as well, and the line was still 25 minutes long right before the start. The gun went off while I was jogging to the start line, and I just caught my corral before they took off.

I decided to run with a pace group again. If I could keep up with them, I would cut 5 minutes off of my PR. A finish time of 1:45 was sort of symbolic for me as well. It equated to an 8:00 minute per mile pace, and that is what I would have had to run for a full marathon to qualify for Boston. That is before they made the standards harder for everyone by 6 minutes.

The weather was near perfect for a long run. The sky was overcast, a little cool and no rain. I reached the start line with about 45 seconds to spare. I took a couple of breaths, and then remembered that I had to fire up the electronic gizmos. I downloaded the iMapMyRun app for my phone, and it was supposed to broadcast my run live for anyone who wanted to watch. I have no idea if anyone was following along vicariously, but it added a little pressure somehow.

I started some distance behind the pacer, and I took a half mile or so to reel him in. He kept us right at an 8 minute pace and I could just follow along and check out the scenery. There is a long slow climb from mile 3 to 5, and we maintained pace. When the road tipped downhill to meet Lake Washington Blvd, gravity carried me ahead of the pacer.

I decided at that point to push a fraction harder. I figured the pacer was right behind me and would catch up at the next water stop. But when I slowed to take a drink, he did not go running by. Still feeling good and running within myself, I pressed on.

The boulevard was beautiful once again, and then at mile 7 I saw the trees, the blue signs and American flags. I probably slowed down a bit as I took it all in, but then the beautiful moments fueled me to press on another fraction harder.

After another climb at mile 9, the route heads through the sweatbox of the I-90 tunnel. After a wall of sound and heat, we emerged into the open air and into downtown. Last year this is where I picked up all my time, and I tried to pick up as many seconds as possible again this year. I felt like I was pushing just hard enough without going too far into the red.

A quick climb to the Viaduct, and then two more turns and we were in the finishing chute. I picked it up just a little more, but didn't have enough in the tank to sprint it out. It reinforced the feeling that I had paced it out perfectly, and I finished with a smile.

Final time - 1:41:46. I beat my goal by more than three minutes, and set a personal best by almost nine minutes. It was one of those rare days where everything seemed to go right, even though I had tried to sabotage myself the night before.  Couldn't have asked for much of a better run.

And the mental bonus - if I could have somehow sustained that pace for another 13.1 miles, that time would get me into Boston under the new standards. A marathon is much more than twice as difficult as a half, but it still gives me a glimmer of hope that Boston is within the realm of possibility.

Everyone in our group ran faster than last year, and three people set personal bests, so there was success all around. And in the three years I have run this course, I have set a new personal best for the distance each time. The Seattle course may be my lucky charm. That and the friends and overcast skies.

June 26, 2011

Honoring those who make it possible

The half marathon went well. But before we get to the race report, a powerful scene from the road.

The most memorable stretch of the route is along Lake Washington Blvd. After winding through an industrial area and some neighborhoods, the course runs along the edge of the lake for 3+ miles, and it is one of the few stretches with regular spectators. The scenery is wonderful, and nothing helps you along like a cheering, smiling face. It is the part of the course that keeps us coming back.

But this year it was extra special. The sky was overcast, so there was a weight to the air. No sun sparkled off the water, so I found myself looking up rather than out. Trees line much of the boulevard, and I found myself drinking in the calm green that hovered overhead. The only time I get anything resembling a runner's high occurs in these kinds of moments. A tingling wave of warmth, connection and presence washes over me, and I am happy to be alive and outside.

After running along in my own little revery, I rounded the corner and saw something that grabbed my heart in an entirely different way.

Along the road were a series of pictures. They were of fallen soldiers. I had heard about the sponsoring group, "wear blue: run to remember" in a Seattle Times article the day before. The group was started by some Ft. Lewis wives who lost their husbands to the war. They have found running to be a powerful healing and coping device, and meet regularly to run together. The group has grown to 250, and many would run the race. They started as a group in corral 17 (to honor the 1-17th Infantry), and the names of 43 soldiers were read at the start line.

The group posted the images and names of the soldiers along the course at around mile 7. And just beyond the blue placards there were 43 full sized American flags with a black ribbon listing the soldier's name. It was an incredibly powerful moment for me, my friends and all of the other runners. I can't imagine what it was like when the family of the soldiers ran by.

As we ran by, many of us saluted the pictures and people, and at one point I reached out to touch one of the flags. The pain of running is nothing in comparison.


Check out their website, read about their mission, and see some incredible pictures from the race. www.wearblueruntoremember.org

June 24, 2011

Getting the band back together

Well, the Seattle Rock n Roll Half Marathon is tomorrow. This is the third annual event, and I have run it each time. The first year I ran the full marathon, but the second half of the course is kind of an ugly slog along the viaduct, so I am sticking to the half again this year. The event is a great excuse to come up to Seattle, and another opportunity to run with my original running mates.

All this running and biking started with some sunburned knees back in 2002. Since then there have been countless miles across several states, and plenty of pictures and medals to mark the path. There have been 5k fun runs, dips into Lake Washington on New Year's Day, a 30 hour relay run, nine full marathons, and I am nineteen-odd hours from my eighth half marathon.

Over the years a team of four developed. There have been many others that have run and biked alongside us, but four of us were regularly at the start lines together. We pushed and cajoled each other to take on larger challenges, and we became Team Drunken Promise. Although we run much fewer events these days, and there is now a thousand miles between us, we still have that core of support for each other.

We will be towing the line together tomorrow morning, in what has become an annual tradition. All four of us have run the event since it started, and it will be a real treat to have the gang back together for another challenge on the roads.

June 23, 2011

A quick visit

I am heading back to Seattle for a long weekend. Of course the time will fly by, and the weekend won't feel long at all.

Not that I need much excuse to head north, but the reason for this particular weekend is to both run a half marathon, as well as attend a wedding reception. Two friends were married in Puerto Vallarta last weekend, and they are having a local Seattle reception before moving to Australia for a couple of years.

I will also try to cram in as many visits with friends while I am up there, so the half marathon is not the only thing I will be doing at a dead run. There are a few faces I am hoping to see that I haven't seen since I moved to San Diego a year and a half ago. The time seems to have flown by like it always does (unless you are standing in line at the airport), but it also seems like forever since I have seen some dear friends.

Life is good here in San Diego, but my heart will continue to be torn between the two places. I will also be back up in July to spend the week with my extended family. I am fortunate to have had a couple of free airfares (one earned, another donated) to make these trips possible. Texts, emails and phone calls have become more important these days, but they can not replace a hug in person. I hope I can continue to make these trips possible somehow.

San Diego became a second home rather quickly. It is a beautiful area, and I am surrounded by wonderful friends. And being with Kristy has made it feel even more like home lately. But there are a few things I still haven't become used to yet.

The heat is the most pronounced thing. The ocean provides some moderation, but you don't have to go too far inland before the temperatures climb dramatically. We were working in the 92 degree heat yesterday, and it was frying my still rainy blood and Irish-white skin. 90 degree temps will sound lovely to Seattlelites still trying to shake off winter, but there was no pool or umbrella drinks, only work with no shade.

On the freeways, I have still not become accustomed to the motorcycles riding between the lanes. The logic is that if traffic is stalled, they will overheat, so they must keep moving. But most riders weave in between cars when traffic is moving right along. I am surprised that there are not more accidents, but natives must have better eyes than I do.

The other thing that continues to seem odd is seeing children in bars. In Washington, you must be of drinking age to be in a lounge or bar. The law is taken literally, so even infants are not allowed across the yellow line. But kids are in most every bar here, and it still catches me off guard a bit. It isn't wrong necessarily, just odd. I am sure parents love it, unless they are trying to have one moment away.

Sean and I were at a brewery the other day, and there were a couple of kids there. This kid seemed to tie a nice bow on how completely different it is. Not only was the kid crawling around among the steel kegs and wooden barrels, but he was making chalk drawings on the concrete floor.

It is like he is just decorating the sidewalk out in front of his house while his parents catch up with the neighbors over a beer. Not such a bad thing I suppose.

Change is still good.

June 21, 2011

The fair isn't what it used to be

The lists of "firsts" continues to grow, as does questionable eating habits.

Kristy and I went to the Del Mar Fair this weekend. I had not been to this one, and it had been probably a decade since I had been to any fair. Growing up, my family went to the Puyallup Fair each year. It is the biggest in Washington and among the ten largest in the world. It has been around forever, and even snagged the website thefair.com. So it is officially "the" fair.

Of course as a kid, it was mostly about the rides and the animals. As I grew older, the booths with the cool gadgets and artwork were where I spent most of my time. But no matter the year, one thing was a draw each year. The scones.

As the bag indicates, the Fisher scones have been at the fair since 1915. It has been years since I have had one, but the the buttery flakiness and raspberry jam are burned into my taste-bud memory.

Fair food has moved onto bigger (though I am not sure better) things since then. Now it is all about deep fat frying, and each year I hear about something crazier on the menu. But this is the first time I had actually experienced it.

After watching some entertaining battles on the demolition derby track...

...we got down to deep fried business. First were the deep fried pickles, and they were definitely the best of the bunch.

Then we stood in a long, slow line at Chicken Charlies. Reasoning that we didn't want to get in line again, we bought four different things as a group - deep fried Twinkies, deep fried Klondike Bars, a sandwich of fried chicken with a split jelly Krispy Kreme donut for the bun, and somehow, deep fried Kool-Aid.

It was an overwhelming gut bomb, even split among the crowd. The Twinkie was unimproved, the Kool-Aid was surprisingly good, and the Klondike and Krispy Kreme concoctions were good, but more sugar than anyone should handle on their own. Rides were out of the question with all the junk in our stomachs, and we felt pretty crummy the next day. I think I need to stick to fruits and vegetables for the next week just to bring my body back to life. 

If I make it to the fair again, I will stick to only one thing from Chicken Charlies fry shack. But if I could find Fisher scones there, I might risk eating myself sick again.

June 17, 2011

Go Annabelle!

Today is the day to pray for accuracy. Keep them in your thoughts this morning.


June 15, 2011

I don't remember who spoke at my commencement

The Conan O'Brien commencement speech has been posted in several different places, and I finally sat down to listen to it tonight. It is funny, but poignant as well.

He handled his firing at NBC last year with grace, and I quoted him here when he said,
“I hate cynicism. It’s my least favorite quality and it doesn’t lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.” 

During the commencement speech he talks about achieving his dream, quickly losing it all, and what he did during the aftermath. The whole thing is worth watching, but some of the high points toward the end are:
There are few things more liberating in this life, than having your worst fear realized...
It is our failure to become our perceived ideal, that ultimately defines us, and makes us unique. It's not easy, but if you accept your misfortune, and handle it right, your perceived failure can become a catalyst for profound reinvention...
In 2000, I told graduates to not to be afraid to fail, and I still believe that. But today I tell you that whether you fear it or not, disappointment will come. The beauty is that through disappointment you can gain clarity, and with clarity comes conviction and true originality...
There is no greater cliche in a commencement address than "follow your dream". Well I am here to tell you, that whatever you think your dream is now, it will probably change. And that's OK. Four years ago many of you had specific vision of what your college experience was going to be, and who you were going to become. And I bet today that most of you would admit that your time here was very different from what you imagined... 
But through the good, and especially the bad, the person you are now is someone you could have never conjured in the fall of 2007...
I'd like to end my address by braking a taboo, and quoting myself from 17 months ago. At the end of my final program with NBC, just before signing off, I said "work hard, be kind, and amazing things will happen". Today, receiving this honor, and speaking to the Dartmouth class of 2011 from behind a tree trunk, I have never believed that more. Thank you very much and congratulations.
The video is worth your 24 minutes.

June 13, 2011

Time stops for no man

Once you are out of your 20's, moments begin to happen that make you think, "I am not as hip as I used to be." (Well actually, when you start using the word 'hip', you're pretty much done.) Moments where you recognize that the world has moved on while you weren't looking. Moments like when you look at the Billboard top 10 and think, "I wouldn't buy any of this", which is quickly replaced with, "I don't recognize any of these artists."

I had a moment somewhat like that this weekend. Fortunately, it wasn't one of those brutal moments that slaps you upside your head and says, "you're old!" though.

We were hanging out with some people in their 20's, and they were quoting a YouTube video. I actually knew the video, so I didn't feel all that out of it. But I recognized that where we used to quote Seinfeld episodes and the like, people now quote stuff from the internet. Videos and other memes are what pass for common culture now.

Not that quoting crap on the internet is any worse than quoting crap on tv, it is just different. And a sign that the world is moving on, with or without me.

June 12, 2011

Bumper sticker wisdom

If you haven't changed your mind lately,
how can you be sure you still have one.

June 8, 2011

Resolution number six

A new month, and new monthly resolution.

Last month's no-coffee resolution was successful. 31 days, zero cups of coffee. It turned out to be easier than expected physically. I had a couple of headaches early on, but they did not linger past the first few days. I had only attempted to give up coffee once before, and it felt like I couldn't think straight. I didn't notice any cognitive problems this time around, and it wasn't all that more difficult to get going in the mornings. As I mentioned before, I really missed it though. Even if I didn't need it, I still wanted it.

Of course part of the reason for these monthly goals is the hope that the behaviors will carry over on some level going forward. Since I normally had only a couple of cups a day, there isn't much to cut back on now that I am drinking it again. But two or three mornings this month, I have skipped coffee in the morning, and having a cup is more of a conscious decision now.

So, on to June's resolution - no mindless tv. I like many Americans watch entirely too much tv. It is not that there aren't programs of value, it is just the mindless habit of turning on the set without a particular program in mind that I need to break. The tv often goes on at dinner time, and stays on until I head for bed. I am often doing things on the computer at the same time, and as studies have shown, no one truly multi-tasks. I am not concentrating on either the tv or what I am doing on the computer, and hours slip away into nothing. It has to stop.

So, the goal is no mindless tv, and I plan to shoot for no tv at all. I have left myself a caveat that if there is a movie that I really (really) want to see, DVDs are allowed. But the bar is set pretty high. Matt and Holly have a changing stack of Netflix movies, and I haven't been tempted so far. Kristy and I did watch a movie over the weekend, but that is the only screen time in the last eight days.

I will now have a few extra hours each day to get stuff done. More reading, more writing, more catching up with friends via e-mail and otherwise. This is definitely one of those resolutions that I hope carries on after the month is over. Not that I won't watch tv again, but I hope to keep the bar high as to what is worth my time. Make tv less mindless, and shrink the amount of time I spend in front of it. And shrink TV into tv.

June 7, 2011

A weekend of firsts

Still full from the indulgence of the day before, I started the day by skipping breakfast. Feeling a tad bit guilty that I had gone to Dog Beach without her, the pooch and I took a slow walk around the neighborhood. She is getting slower each time we head out, and pauses at nearly every bush to sniff out its history.

After the warm-up walk, I headed to Sunset Beach for my weekend 'long' run. Because of gas prices, it was the first time I had run there in a month or two. While part of the beauty of running is that you can do it nearly anywhere, it is hard to beat the feeling of running along the ocean. There wasn't a cloud in the sky and the temperature was only a few degrees north of perfect.

At one point I slowed to watch a flock of pelicans fly by. The giant birds passed within 20 feet of me, and were impressive up close. While I was watching the birds approach, two people in front of me were staring off in the opposite direction. As the birds were gliding in from the north, two of those large twin-rotor transport helicopters were approaching from the south. They flew only a few hundred feet off the cliff side, though their size and sound made them seem much closer. I just stood and watched as these two sets of huge birds passed by in opposite directions. 

I met up with Kristy after work, and it was on to some more 'firsts'. With chores and to-do lists cast aside, she suggested we do something she semi-regularly did on weekends before I came along. We went to get a pedicure. I had never had one before, and I wasn't interested in any toe painting, but the promise of the included foot massage tipped the scales. After getting our feet massaged, clipped, buffed and sanded, we went to a nearby Jamba Juice. 

Along with the refreshing fruit juice, I had my first taste of wheatgrass. The grass is snipped fresh from a little garden behind the counter (like a little Chia Pet farm) and placed into a juicer that looks a little like a small meat grinder. Several handfuls of the grass are squeezed to produce an ounce shot of the green juice. And it is taken like a shot, complete with an orange slice chaser. All that was missing was the salt shaker. It did not look very appealing, but the taste was surprisingly pleasant, and I did not need to chew on the orange to mask the taste like I would for tequila.

Sunday morning we went for a long morning walk and met up with the Rock n Roll Marathon course. We met the runners at around mile 18, just before they crossed the freeway to run along Mission Bay. The runners were looking pretty worn by that point, and many were shuffling from the long miles and time in the sun. It is always inspiring to see people push beyond what they think are capable, and to press on when their mind is telling them to stop. 

In the afternoon, we headed to a Sunday farmer's market up in Hillcrest. Along with a variety of fresh produce, there are several craft booths and plenty of food vendors. I had my first Scottish Egg as a late breakfast. A Scottish Egg is a hard-boiled egg, wrapped in sausage, coated with bread crumbs, which is then deep-fried. It may not sound or look appealing, but it was tasty. 

I also sampled a cucumber juice concoction which was pretty good, and had my first taste of coconut water, straight from the coconut. 

The vendors shave the skin off of young coconuts, wrap them in cellophane and throw them in a cooler. When you order one, they hammer a large nail into the coconut, put a straw into it and you are ready to drink. It was one of the few misses for me this weekend. It wasn't bad, but the taste and texture were just a little odd. Kristy says it is an acquired taste.

After indulging in the oddities and goodies of the market, we picked up some fresh produce so Kristy could make some Cowboy Caviar for our final stop of the relaxing weekend. We spent the evening with some friends at a beach on Coronado Island. The couple are camping out (well, RVing) for the week, and we spent the evening walking the beach and chatting by the fire. 

It was a wonderfully relaxing weekend, the first in a long time where we got absolutely nothing done. And it was everything I thought it could be.*

June 6, 2011

A wonderfully lazy start to another year

Friday was my birthday, and it was the beginning of a lovely weekend.

Kristy got up extra early so we could meet for breakfast before she had to head off to work. We went to Cafe on Park, and had pancakes bigger than a dinner plate. Their menu features some odd flavor combinations - Kristy had the Captain Crunch and Blueberry, and I had the Frosted Flakes and Banana. The food, endless coffee and the company made for a great start to the day.

Stuffed to the gills, I went for a walk around Balboa Park. The walk helped to settle my stomach, and the sunshine and beautiful scenery kept the feelings of wonder alive. I found a little walled-off area that honors the Park founders and developers, and sat in the sun for more than an hour reading. 

Even the trees were feeling the love.

I started the day off slow, and planned to take it easy from there.  After a great lunch at Five Guys, I talked with my brother for about a half hour. It had been too long, and it was nice to catch up. Then it was to Starbucks for free cup of coffee and computer time. There was a lovely outpouring of well-wishes on Facebook throughout the day, and I wanted to respond to each one, like sending off a thank-you note for their gifts of friendship.

The lazy-time continued as I headed off to Dog Beach. Even though I didn't have my own pooch with me, it is still one of the happiest places on Earth. I walked around in the surf for a half hour, enjoying the cool waters and romping dogs. I still had time before dinner, so I stopped by a nearby restaurant and had a drink on the patio overlooking the beach while reading my book.

I met up with Kristy, the Lindens and the Hawkins for dinner in Hillcrest. We had a great time at a local Mexican restaurant. The food was great, and the company even better. The only thing that could be possibly be called "missing" in this beautiful day was a little post-party goodness in the quiet of the evening. As Holly puts it on her blog,
Have you ever noticed that's it's often after the party is over that the really good stuff happens? A smaller, more intimate gathering, with the better bottle of wine poured because it can actually serve everyone now. The vibe is of the truest and most relaxed kind. The conversation is more candid and has more depth. The jokes are funnier, and the laughs are bigger and last longer.
I did get to wind down the evening with a special porter that Sean had brewed just for my birthday. It is a tasty brew with a great label co-designed by Sean and Holly.

It was a wonderfully, lazy birthday, made special by dear friends. And the rest of the weekend turned out to be a lovely post-party after all. A relaxing weekend with Kristy, filled with a few firsts to start off my 45th year. 

June 3, 2011

Quote of the day

Mitch Robbins: Have you ever had that feeling that this is the best I'm ever gonna do, this is the best I'm ever gonna feel... and it ain't that great?
Station Manager: Happy Birthday.
~ From City Slickers

Haven't peaked yet...it is still getting better.