July 31, 2011

Practice NOT quitting

Sometimes the moments that challenge us the most,
define us.
~ Deena Kastor, 2004 Olympic Marathon Bronze Medalist.

I am getting back to the thick of marathon training, and the long runs on the weekend are up to 15 miles. I will eventually run a couple of 20 milers before race day, but when the training distance gets past 13 miles, it feels like things are getting serious.

This will be my 10th marathon. This running thing started six years ago, more or less with a dare. But I have carried on for some reason, and the marathon continues to beckon me. Many people have asked why I run these long distances, usually with a shake of the head indicating that they think I am a little crazy.

It is a valid question, and I don't have a pat answer. I don't LOVE running. I don't roll out of bed wishing to hit the streets. To be fair, I don't roll out of bed wanting to anything but roll back in. But I do enjoy running, in the moment, and all that it does for me. It keeps me in better shape, and it helps clear my cluttered brain like little else can.

And I enjoy the challenge it brings. Though our bodies were built to run, they are not tasked to run anymore. That is unless we chose to. And I chose to. I want to keep that inborn ability polished, even if I am not required to run down my dinner. I want to keep this body of mine fit and moving forward into old age. I want to slow down by choice, not because I have to.

And even after five years, running is still a challenge. I believe it was Greg LaMond who said about biking (though it is the same for running), "It never gets easier, you just go faster." The first mile is still difficult, and it has only become easier from habit. Each successive mile takes the same effort it used to, I am just moving faster these days.

But why marathons? I could get the mental and fitness benefits by running much shorter distances. I have enjoyed running 5ks again, and running for pure speed has been great, but there is something about the marathon that continues to draw me in.

As Dick Beardsley says in The Spirit of the Marathon "When you cross that finish line, no matter how slow, no matter how fast, it will change...your life...forever." I have seen many finish lines, and I can vouch for the transformation you feel once you cross it. Running 26.2 miles is an amazing accomplishment, and once you conquer it, you feel like you can do anything.

But why go back time and again? Once you have conquered the distance, you know you can do it, and the high will never be the same as it was the first time.Why train for months, with the increasing miles and time commitment it takes? I will say that I am starting to question it myself. But I heard a phrase recently that helps explain it.

A big part of training is preparing your body to endure the 26.2 miles, but there is a mental side to it as well. Three, four, five hours or more is a long time to be out on the road, endlessly putting one foot in front of the other. The months of miles leading up to race day conditions your brain to move back and forth between focus and distraction.

During the race, your body will tell you to quit. At times it will flat out scream at you to pull over and stop. But  something in your brain knows there is something more to give. Some untapped resource hidden away in a dark corner. But you don't know for sure that it is there unless you press on to find it. And that is part of what all this training does. It gives you practice at NOT quitting when the going gets tough.

And keeping the act of not quitting polished, well that serves you again and again. And that is one of the reasons I run.

July 29, 2011

A box full of memories

My grandmother was a wonderful woman.

Her name was Gladys, but I can count on one hand the number of times I heard someone call her that. She was 'Nannie', and not just to family. And she was never Grandma, always Nannie. It seemed a much more powerful endearment. Friends and coworkers called her Nannie all the time. I am sure that this was not true when she was a bit younger, but even so, when was the last time you heard a coworker called essentially 'grandma' at any age.

She passed away a couple decades ago, but her presence is still there at family gatherings. When I was up at Crescent Bar earlier this month, my Mom brought along a box of things she had discovered in a closet. It was a box of assorted things from Nannie's basement. She brought it along so all the cousins and grand kids could go through it and maybe take home a memento or two.

As we went through the box together, we reminisced and did a mental walk-through her old place. Her house was over in Seattle, not far from the University district. It was an older house, and the rooms were small and the floors a little creaky. There was a radio console with a slide out record player and a hidden little game cupboard behind the rocking chair. There was a formal dining room just inside the front door. We kids rarely sat at the main table, but often stole butter mints from the candy dish.

But the place we talked about the most was the basement. A set of very steep stairs led down to a rather dank basement. The laundry area was down there, but it felt like the walls were soaked with moisture from the ground outside as well. Though the upstairs was kept rather neat, the basement was a maze of stacked boxes and  old items she just couldn't part with. The concrete floor was slightly buckled, adding to the feeling that the world outside was constantly pressing to get in.

Inside the box my Mom brought to Crescent Bar were programs from football games, high school productions, and several music pamphlets. It was interesting reading through the relatively trivial from nearly a hundred years ago, but there was also a printed pamphlet of an address by President Wilson on April 2, 1917. There was a metal hard hat from the Civil Defense organization. Apparently Nannie was a member of the neighborhood watch during the war, and wore the helmet as she went around getting lights turned out to darken the city.

There was a box of some 30 photos from when she was a high school junior or senior. None of the pictures were of her, but rather of her classmates, some with personal notes. It appeared that these formal pictures were exchanged at the end of the year in place of the high school annuals we have today.

There were also things from my grandfather as well. I never knew him, as he passed away when my Mom was only 15. In the box was a straight razor and a sharpening stone, the kind you only see in barber shops these days. There was also a set of pipes and a cigar holder. They looked barely used, though from what my Mom said he primarily used the cigarette holder, which was missing.

When I opened the carrying case, I smelled something familiar that I couldn't quite place. It wasn't tobacco, as the bowls of the pipes were clean. After some rooting around in my subconscious, I realized it was the same musty smell that was in the felt-lined case of the trumpet I played in grade school. The trumpet and case were a hand-me-down from my other grandfather, my Dad's Dad.

I let most everyone pick and chose before I took anything from the box. One of the younger cousins took the box of high school pictures, but I grabbed two from the stack before she left. I also picked up the Presidential address that no one seemed interested in. And I was glad that no one but a too-young cousin was interested in the pipes.

I don't smoke, and unfortunately never knew my maternal grandfather, but I cherish this small connection just the same. And whenever I open the box, the musty smell will remind me of my other grandfather as well. There are more meaningful things that came out of that basement, but it is interesting the significance we all found in one random box.

July 25, 2011

Another one bites the dust

Borders book store has filed for bankruptcy, and the sell off has begun. It actually started on Friday and I was initially surprised at how much stuff was left today. A few months ago when they were trying to stay alive, they shut down some of their less productive stores. When I stopped by one of the earlier closures, it looked like a carcass picked nearly clean. Most of the floor space was empty, and the remaining shelves held only a few neglected books.

The store today was filled with shoppers and barely looked different from a normally stocked store. Aside from all the signs dangling from the ceiling that is.

I suppose it is early in the going-out-of-business sellathon, but the deals were not that great. Most books were 10% -20% off, which isn't much better than typical. I didn't really have any money in the budget for books, but I wanted to stop by for some reason. Maybe to note the passing of another brick and mortar store. I did pick up a magazine for 40% off though.

I hadn't been in a Borders in a while, and I suppose that is part of the problem. Many people buy online, or have moved to e-readers. Borders was late to adjust to the new market and suffered the consequences. Their initial online presence was actually built and run by Amazon.com, one of the companies that put them out of business. Barnes and Noble seems to be struggling but surviving, having jumped online early and created their own Nook e-reading device.

The big box stores chased out the small bookstores, and now they have been pushed out by online stores. I think there is still a place for a brick and mortar bookstore, but it may be back at the smaller level. For all the "If you bought this, you might be interested in this" recommendations spit out by online algorithms, there is nothing like a recommendation from a knowledgeable reader and bookseller. There was a great little store where I used to live, and I always enjoyed stopping there for a new read.

To save money, I haven't been buying many books anywhere lately. I had a small stack of unread books, but most of the books I read these days come from the library. But I hope bookstores can survive in this new climate. There really is nothing like wandering the stacks with a cup of coffee, letting a cover or glowing recommendation lead you to a new author, and a whole new world.

July 21, 2011

Quote of the day

Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.
~ Albert Einstein

July 20, 2011

Carmageddon 2011. Ride a bike instead.

(The) 405 closed in the LA area for a long weekend. The media and CALTRANS predicted mayhem, mass hysteria, cats and dogs living together.

As a bit of marketing genius, Jet Blue offered $4 flights from Burbank to Long Beach to get around the traffic jam. A writer and blogger with a couple of books out about traffic behavior sent out a tweet of:
Given airport travel time, security, runway delay, etc., I'd bet a good cyclist could travel BUR to LGB faster than Jet Blue. #carmageddon
Like many random things to flash across the internet, it took on a life of its own. A bicycling group in LA took up the challenge, and Jet Blue secured two seats on a otherwise full flight for two competitors. From the first Slate story, Carmageddon Challenge,
Cyclists will depart from a residence near the intersection of Cahuenga and Chandler Blvd. in North Hollywood at 10:55 AM PT (Saturday, July 16) Flight Departs 12:20pm and we're basing the cyclists' departure time on the airline's recommended passenger arrival time of 1.50 hours before departure. (we're doing a little less to be fair)Cyclists will be required to follow all traffic laws.The finish line is the light house at the Shoreline Aquatic Park in Long Beach...Ezra and I will take a cab from LGB to the finish line courtesy of GaryRidesBikes FIRST TO ARRIVE AT THE LIGHT HOUSE WINS!
From the follow up story, others decided to race against the flight. In addition to the bikes, someone used only public transportation and walking. There was also someone racing on Rollerblades. The unofficial results:
Bike: 1:34
Metro/Walk: 1:44
Rollerblades: 2:40
Plane/Lost Cabdriver: 2:54
As the author points out, "On the face of it, one shouldn't make too much of the Tour de Carmageddon. There was a certain mix of ludicrousness and PR genius in Jet Blue's move to airlift people over the 405-closure madness... it's not as if anyone saw the flight as a reasonable long-term option."

But it does point out that biking is an option for trips longer to just to the corner store. And as a great side story, it was pretty surprising the efficiency of using public transportation between the two points. LA is not known for its public transportation system.

July 19, 2011

Family time

I was back up in Washington again, for over a week this time. Since my move to San Diego, I have tried to get up there about every six months, but was fortunate through airline miles and generosity to make two trips in the past month. I couldn't afford the time away from work, but felt I couldn't miss this trip.

When I was a kid, my mother's side of the family seemed to get together every month. With nine cousins to go with uncles, aunts and grandparents, there was always a birthday or other holiday to celebrate. As we got older, lives became more complicated, our generation started having kids, and the group reached some sort of critical mass where it was difficult to get us together under one roof. Our visits went from monthly to maybe twice a year.

But through the years, there was always a week in the summer that was sacred. My extended family has been gathering each summer for some 30 years to spend a week together.

It began at Sun Lakes in eastern Washington. The cabins were old and run down, but they were an air-conditioned spot near the lake. Nearly everyone learned to water ski there. Older cousins taught younger ones, who then went on to teach the next generation. They'd float next to you in the water holding your skis, a stabilizing and calming presence before the boat would jerk you out of the water with a shout of "Hit It!"

About 15 years ago, we moved our annual summer week to Crescent Bar on the Columbia River. The old cabins were exchanged for nicer condos, the small lake for a wide, slow moving (and colder) river. There are more toys and even more people. You'd need six or seven hands to count them all. Boyfriends and girlfriends have become husbands and wives, and more children are bringing new friends. The annual trip has the same heart, just in a different place. There is a little less excitement as an adult, but no less joy.

I hadn't been in three years. Last year I just couldn't make it happen, and in 2009 I just couldn't handle it. I was in the thick of the divorce and I just wasn't ready to face my family. But this year it was back to restorative waters and family, especially since it might be the last time.

The condominiums are built on land leased from the Public Utility District. The condos were built during a 50 year lease term, and owners were given every indication that the lease would be renewed when it expired in 2012. Some locals have argued that the public land should be made into a park with additional campgrounds, with the condos being knocked down to build a parking lot.

The non-renewal of the lease seems to be out of spite rather than to benefit the county. A renewed lease at market rate would likely bring in more revenue than a campground, especially considering the current one is often not full. The condos are primarily rentals, so they already bring in tourist dollars to nearby Quincy.

I also don't imagine any level of government has the money to invest to convert the island to a new use. There is already a public beach on the island, and it is not expanded in the new plan. The rest of the island will likely sit dormant for quite some time, not available for public or private use, and not producing much-needed revenue for the county.

So since this trip might be the last to Crescent Bar, I wanted to be there just in case. The weather wasn't as nice as normal, and there was a figurative cloud hanging over as well. My uncle and cousin also spent some time in the hospital, so it was a rougher week all over.

But it was still a wonderful week. I am blessed in the family and friend department. We all enjoy time with friends, but not all of us want to spend extended periods with siblings, cousins and uncles as adults. I am pretty lucky to have a group that still enjoys hanging out after all these years.

If Crescent Bar does come to an end, there is talk about starting over again somewhere else. It won't have the same feel, and we will be one more step removed from where we started. But the trip is more about time with the family than where we are sitting. Wherever we go, it will have the same heart, just in a different place.

July 16, 2011

I am alive...

I have just been delightfully off the grid for a week (see picture at right). Be back soon.

July 7, 2011

Make this life your own, and be a positive force

Over at the3six.posterous.com, back to back posts had nice final paragraphs along the same theme.

July 6th - Ben Hughes
...We fill our lives with work because we have to fill them with something, and work is plentiful and cheap. It expands to fill the space like caulk. But in our rush to vanquish the emptiness, we often miss the fact that the emptiness is itself the point. There is no meaning of life, at least not in the sense people usually mean. Life is a vessel to be filled with our own meaning.  
Ultimately, it is our responsibility to figure out a way to be happy. That is the true work of our lives. 


July 5th - Adam Obendorf
...Sitting at my desk with tears in my eyes at first was completely embarrassing, and for some reason I just started laughing. As intense as life can be sometime, you really can’t take it too seriously. We’re all going to die sooner or later, so high five a stranger, give your friend a bear hug, and tell your parents you love them.
Remember what matters in life. It’s not about money. It’s not about status. It boils down to one thing: how did you affect people? Positively or negatively? I hope it’s the former…

July 6, 2011

Quote of the day

Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.
~ Maria Robinson

July 5, 2011


I and thousands of other people received this email from Amazon last week.
For well over a decade, the Amazon Associates Program has worked with thousands of California residents. Unfortunately, a potential new law that may be signed by Governor Brown compels us to terminate this program for California-based participants. It specifically imposes the collection of taxes from consumers on sales by online retailers - including but not limited to those referred by California-based marketing affiliates like you - even if those retailers have no physical presence in the state. 
We oppose this bill because it is unconstitutional and counterproductive. It is supported by big-box retailers, most of which are based outside California, that seek to harm the affiliate advertising programs of their competitors. Similar legislation in other states has led to job and income losses, and little, if any, new tax revenue. We deeply regret that we must take this action.
I have had an affiliate account with Amazon for a while now. I set up a store with items I mentioned on the blog. If readers bought anything that I recommended, or even just used the Amazon search bar, I received a small percentage for the referral without increasing the sale price to the purchaser.

Nothing really came from it. I didn't promote it much, and it was rarely used. I was considering a few things to encourage it, but now it is a moot point. Getting rid of the search box was a good excuse to rearrange the side bar. I will not be losing any income from this change, but the reasoning behind it still bothers me.

Amazon and other internet retailers have been fighting against collecting sales tax for years. Part of their continuing argument is the burden and complexity of collecting sales tax in 50 different states. But I am guessing that the automation of the process would be pretty simple these days. Yes it would be more complicated than it is now, but that does not seem to be a particularly valid reason.

As a construction company, we had to have a business license in every city we worked in. Didn't matter if we did one or a hundred jobs in that city, we had to pay the licensing fee. We also had to keep track of our total sales in each city as it affected the amount of tax we paid. It was just the cost of doing business in that city.  Collecting sales tax should be the same.

Internet companies already (presumably) have less overhead by not having outlets everywhere, but the sales tax issue gives them an additional competitive advantage over the brick and mortar store. Even if their retail price is exactly the same, their prices are automatically 8 to 10 percent cheaper (to the consumer) by not collecting sales tax. With the explosion of internet commerce, local shops (and the jobs that go with them) are losing out and disappearing.

I suppose I can't fault Amazon and others for fighting the change. They like any other company are looking for any savings and competitive advantage. But it is time this loophole was closed, both to level the playing field and to restore revenue to cities and states. I am not sure how requiring them to behave like any other local store is "unconstitutional and counterproductive".

July 2, 2011

Specific goals and vague details

From an article on Active.com titled How to Become an Athlete:
If your definition of an athlete is “someone who participates in competitive sports,” then you’ve probably made the jump from casual exerciser to athlete. But what does it really mean to be an athlete? My coaching definition goes a bit deeper.
An athlete is an individual who understands the principles of athletic training and proceeds systematically.
This distinction is important in order to understand an individual’s commitment level, which will help guide you (and your coach) in training. Sound too stuffy? Relax. According to the first definition, you’re still an athlete. 
The goal is always to improve performance. And while genetics plays a big role in an individual’s physiological ceiling, lifestyle choices, commitments, economic and social limits, desire and even luck prevent many athletes from achieving their full potential.
I am a marathoner. As I mentioned here previously, I do not hold to the theory that you must be so fast, so fit, so whatever to be called a marathoner. In several articles and other self-righteous diatribes, people are complaining that the boom of marathon running is messing it up for the purists. All the people who do it to check it off a bucket list, run/walk it, or raise money for charity are not marathoners. One blogger I follow feels that it cheapens her hard effort that someone who crosses in five hours said they "ran" a marathon.


If I had to make any sort of fine point, I suppose if you did it once, you say "I have run a marathon". If it hooks you, and you are training for another, you are a "marathoner".

But like I said, whatever. Whatever inspires you to take good care of yourself, to explore what is possible, and to make best use of this wonderful body you have been given - more power to you.

I want to qualify for Boston. I don't know if I ever will, but the pursuit is still on. Over the nine marathons I have run, I have cut an hour and twenty-two minutes off of my finishing time (helps to not train properly for your first). I am pretty happy to have accomplished as much as I have in running and biking in the years I have been at it. And to toot my own horn,  in the last eight races at various distances, I have set personal bests in seven of them.

Yet I still feel that I have reached a plateau, at least at the marathon distance. Even after training "better" for the last couple, the gains are getting pretty small. I know I can up the training more, but I think to make any sort of breakthrough (and to get close enough to even talk about Boston), something else needs to change. I need to take better care of myself overall.

So that will be July's resolution. I have already started training for the next marathon in October, and I want to take my best shot. In order to do that, I need to eat better, drink less, get more sleep, and lose some weight. "Taking better care of myself" is harder to quantify for these monthly resolutions, but there will be less food on the go, more fruits and vegetables, less liquid calories, and less food overall.

Not that weight is a clear indicator of health, but there is certainly a correlation. And if there is less of me to carry over 26 miles, it will be easier to get there quicker. So the resolution is to make some lifestyle choices to take better care of my body, but the measuring stick will be on the scale.

I am hoping to be at 160 pounds by the end of the month. I have hovered around 170 for the past couple of years. I have weight to lose, but I think it will take some noticeable changes to break through the plateau. I don't know if 10 pounds in a month is realistic, especially with a week of vacation surrounded by treats and home cooking, but I will try my best. This is more of a long-term commitment than a monthly goal, but having a tough thing to shoot for has always helped motivate me.

I don't know that I will ever call myself an "athlete", but it certainly won't be before I take things as seriously off the road as I do on. I need to stop counteracting the training I do with what I put in my body. I need to stop sabotaging myself.