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

September 24, 2011

One more place to find a good read

Kindle ebooks are now available to be checked out at 11,000 libraries across the U.S. Though there are definitely some differences between checking out paper books, the process is pretty similar.

Since it is just data bits that are being sent out, it would seem there would be an endless supply of available ebooks. But of course authors and publishers still need to make a living. Just as a library purchases a certain number of hardbacks and paperbacks from publishers to loan out, with ebooks they purchase a certain number of licences.

The first Kindle book I tried to check out from the library was Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. The library has 33 "copies", and I am 103rd on the waiting list at this point. In this respect, it is just like paper books - there is a long waiting list on newer, popular books. I checked out a less popular Dean Koontz book in the meantime to test things out, and I was reading within a couple of minutes.

One advantage, as mentioned in the article on Mashable, is the ability to make notes:
The ebook rentals also gives readers the chance to do something libraries normally frown upon: marking up books...normally, making margin notes in library books is a big no-no. But we’re fixing this by extending our Whispersync technology to library books, so your notes, highlights and bookmarks are always backed up and available the next time you check out the book or if you decide to buy the book.
There are other advantages as well. Obviously there is no need to physically store the books. Even the book data comes straight from Amazon, so the library doesn't need more server space. Physical books are also moved between libraries to allow people to pick them up close by, so as ebook use increases, they can save a little gas. And I will save some as well since I don't need to pick up or return my books. The Kindle book is sent directly to me, and expires in 21 days, or whatever the normal checkout period is.

And as this CNN article points out, this is one more place where late fees are being eliminated. Just as Netflix has created a system that prevented late fees for DVDs, libraries don't need to worry about collecting late fees on ebooks, since there are no late returns. No books go missing, and the wait list doesn't get stalled by people who don't return books on time. They just disappear from the Kindle when the loan period is up, and are ready to go out to the next patron immediately.

I love walking through bookstores, and wish I could afford to buy all the books I wanted to read, but libraries are where I look these days. As much as I like my Kindle, I still prefer reading a paper book. I love looking at bookshelves and seeing what books people are reading on the bus, and that really isn't possible with ebooks. And there is something physical in the connection with a paper book that can't be captured on a screen.

But the Kindle experience is getting better and better.

September 22, 2011

Connections, virtual and real in the running community

This was originally a guest post on the World Wide Festival of Races site.


It is now less than three weeks until The Worldwide Festival of Races (WWFOR). I will be running for the third time this year, taking on the marathon event in its inaugural running. The WWFOR is a virtual running event in its 6th year, bringing runners from around the world to run “together”. It reminds us of our connection to each other and our love of the sport.

I ran my first WWFOR half marathon back in 2008, shortly after finding the Pheddipidations podcast. I ran it again in October of 2009 at a time when I needed everything it supports. I was going through my divorce, selling the house I could no longer afford, and I had pretty much stopped running. I needed inspiration. I needed connection. I needed a swift kick in the butt.

When I ran the Worldwide Half Marathon, I ran by myself, but not alone. I not only ran with the 1160 worldwide participants that had signed up for the WWFOR, but also with my friend Sean who was running the Long Beach Marathon two states away. We ran along the same ocean, and shared messages of encouragement and photos of victory. The event not only kick-started my return to running, but it also helped me to find the strength to keep moving forward when I wanted to be standing still.

I was out on a 12 mile run a couple of weeks later, and was listening to the latest Pheddipidations podcast. I had written an e-mail to Steve Runner the night before the race, thanking him for his podcast, this event, and what it meant to me this time around. As I ran along the path, I was surprised to hear him read my letter on the podcast. It was pretty weird to hear my words, spoken by someone else, come through the headphones. My words about why I was running, while I was running. Virtual and real were intersecting.

As the miles ramped up for marathon training this year, and running low on podcasts to listen to, I have gone back to some of the episodes produced before I became a regular listener. On my 20 miler this weekend, I listened to episode #69, Steve's experience at the 2006 Marine Corps Marathon. It turns out we were running together earlier than I thought.

The 2006 MCM was my first marathon finish. It is possible that Steve and I ran next to each other at some point as he narrated his path around our nation’s capitol, inspiring more to follow in his footsteps. It was incredible to listen to the race again as I pushed through my 20 miler five years later. The joy of crossing that finish line for the first time was made real once again.

When I run the WWFOR again this year, I will be running it at the Long Beach Marathon on October 9th. I will again be running virtually with runners from around the world, and I will also be running alongside my friend Sean, in the place he ran “with” me two years ago.

Connections are made, relationships are formed, virtual becomes real. We all run together.

Enjoy the taper, and have a great run.

September 18, 2011

Honoring two Seattle legends

Saturday was the final public appearance for J.P. Patches.

The J.P. Patches Show ran from 1958 to 1981 in the Seattle market. Although it was a kids show, the humor was aimed at their parents as well, with jokes flying over the young heads with lots of double entendre thrown in. The show was live and largely unrehearsed. I don't know that this sort of local programming exists for kids anymore, replaced by SpongeBob and the like. But anyone growing up during those two decades has a soft spot in their heart for J.P. and his cast of characters.

There is a statue of J.P. and Gertrude in Fremont. The statue is called "Late for the Interurban" and is just a couple hundred feet east of the original "Waiting for the Interurban" sculpture. My brother Kevin bought a commemorative paver to support the making of the statue, engraved with the names of the three "Patches Pals" in our family.

J.P. continued to make appearances at fairs and events long after his show went off the air, and kids who are now parents would attend and put on clown noses while they watched J.P. entertain the next generation. But Chris Wedes, the man behind the clown makeup, is now 83, and has been battling cancer for the last four years. As much as he wants to continue, he just doesn't have the strength to do the thing he loves anymore.

So thank you J.P.  And thank you Chris Wedes.

The other legend that was honored this weekend was Dave Neihaus. Dave was the play by play announcer for the Seattle Mariners for 34 years, until his death from a heart attack last November. He was there from the very start, and called a beautiful game, even when the Mariners were terrible (which has been for much of their existence). Like all great announcers, he had a way of describing a game on the radio that drew a picture. More than once I turned down the sound on the tv and listened to him call the game I was watching.

The bronze statue is on the 100 level of the stadium, somewhere near right-center field. It depicts him calling a game, headphones on with a scorecard filled out in front of him. As a nice touch, the scorecard is from the 1995 playoff game where the Mariners beat the Yankees to win the series. A game won by "The Double" by Edgar Martinez, and called by Dave with excitement I can still hear.

Behind the statue, several of his favorite phrases are also immortalized. Every time a Mariner hit a home run, it was "Swung on and belted!" If the bases were loaded at the time, it was "Get out the rye bread and mustard, Grandma, it's grand salami time!"

Dave Neihaus was the Mariner's biggest fan. He was an institution. Dave Neihaus was the Mariners. Listening to the game just isn't the same without him.

My Oh My.

September 12, 2011

Little surfer girl

This weekend, I was a spectator at an amazing event. Matt and Holly will be writing all about it soon, but I thought I would offer my outsider experience.

Annabelle had her first surfing lesson! For those of you who don't know Annabelle, she is the three year old little miracle child I live with, the daughter of great friends. She she is the niece to my 'Unca Day'. She was born with Spina Bifida, and on land she zips along in a wheelchair with flashing wheels and a glow in the dark frame. She loves the water and with the help of a great organization, she got to take out a surfboard for the first time.

A group called Life Rolls On puts on these surfing events nine times a year, with three in California. They take people who are normally restricted to wheelchairs and take them out to tackle the surf. From their website:
Life Rolls On, a subsidiary of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, is dedicated to improving the quality of life for young people affected by spinal cord injury and utilizes action sports as a platform to inspire infinite possibilities despite paralysis.
Life Rolls On was founded by Jesse Billauer. Also from their website:
On March 25, 1996, Jesse Billauer was surfing at his local break at Zuma Beach in California as he was pushed headfirst into the shallow sandbar, fracturing his neck and severing his spinal cord, leaving him a quadriplegic. Jesse left the hospital, and immediately knew two things: he had to surf again and he had to help others be inspired to follow their passions. 
After my morning run, I scooted up to La Jolla to see Annabelle surf. I was running a little late, and arrived on the beach at her 11:30 scheduled start time. Annie was enjoying a nap at that point, so they bumped her to 1:30. It allowed me a couple of hours to learn more about Life Rolls On and see them in action.

There were four teams of volunteers taking out surfers for a half hour of fun. I first watched from a distance, the ocean filled with color-coded teams watching and supporting their surfer. Then I watched one team and one individual. This lady right here.

The volunteers wheeled her out into the surf, lifted her on the surfboard, and ferried her out into the breakers. Her team spread into a rough chute between the surf and the shore, while one volunteer lay behind her on the board. They would bob along until they saw a good wave coming, and then they would push and kick the board forward and ride it on in. The team ran and swam alongside, ready to catch her if she fell. There were laughs, smiles and cheers, but every volunteer was on task and ready to jump in.

I can't begin to imagine what it was like for her surfing that day. I can only attempt to equate it to what I know from my own life. Standing knee deep in the surf, watching all these amazing athletes, it felt like I was standing at the finish line of a marathon.

Just like at every start line, there are amazing individual stories to tell. What people have struggled through just to get there. Lives, deaths, sicknesses, sacrifices and everyday speed bumps. As special as it is to look in everyone's eyes as they contemplate what is ahead, and what they put behind, it only informs the triumph you see at the finish line. It is palpable.

And the surfer's course was lined with volunteers just like a race course. These special people dancing in the waves were even more powerful, not only providing mental energy and encouragement, but literal life support. I got choked up watching this woman conquer the waves and everything else, just like I do at the finish lines of marathons. And I can't describe it much better than my favorite race course sign - "I am totally proud of you, random stranger!"

And then I saw Annabelle take her turn. She is probably still a little young to understand all that was going on, but her parents are not. Matt took the rudder of the surfboard for her last run into the beach and Holly captured some great photos. They saw old friends and met new amazing people. People who understand.

I will let them describe what it was like for Annie on her first day of surfing, but as an 'Unca' standing on the beach, it was pretty incredible watching the three of them break through another barrier.

Matt's post is now up, with lots of great photos.

September 10, 2011

Lyrics of the day

I wish I was a neutron bomb, for once I could go off
I wish I was a sacrifice but somehow still lived on
I wish I was a sentimental ornament you hung on
The Christmas tree, I wish I was the star that went on top
I wish I was the evidence, I wish I was the grounds
For 50 million hands upraised and open toward the sky
I wish I was a sailor with someone who waited for me
I wish I was as fortunate, as fortunate as me
I wish I was a messenger and all the news was good
I wish I was the full moon shining off a Camaro's hood
I wish I was an alien at home behind the sun
I wish I was the souvenir you kept your house key on
I wish I was the pedal brake that you depended on
I wish I was the verb 'to trust' and never let you down
I wish I was a radio song, the one that you turned up
I wish...
I wish... 
~ "Wishlist" by Pearl Jam

September 9, 2011

Lights out

As you may have heard, San Diego county went dark yesterday. 1.4 million households and business went dark at 3:40 in the afternoon, affecting some 5 million people.

Sean and I were at work in the Rancho Bernardo area. We were installing a much needed shade structure in 100 degree heat. We had just finished making a cut with the miter saw when the homeowner came out and asked if we had lost power. The whole house was out, so it wasn't a tripped breaker. When the homeowner went to ask if his neighbor had power, we realized the radio was out (which is odd since it is battery powered). Then we realized it wasn't the radio, but the radio station that was down. Uh oh.

There had been a small fire on a nearby hillside earlier in the day, but it looked out so it was probably unrelated. Sean had just been talking about recent solar flares a minute before the power went out, so maybe that was what knocked transformers out. Then three military jets flew overhead. I didn't imagine terrorist attack, but with the 10th anniversary of 9/11 just around the corner, it was lurking in the back of my mind.

We eventually found an operating radio station and realized how widespread the outage was. It went north to Orange County, south into Mexico, and east into Arizona, and it sounds like everyone went dark at once.  The airport shut down, trolleys stopped working, offices and schools emptied. Traffic signals went dark and gridlock ensued.

We had made our final cut with the miter saw seconds before the power went out, and the rest of the tools we needed operated on battery power, so we kept working. Stories on the radio about people trapped in elevators kept any concerns about dark homes and melting food in perspective. Phone lines were jammed, but a couple of texts were able to get through. We knew that Kristy and Marci were OK, so stayed to finish the job, and hoped that traffic would die down by the time we hit the road.

We left around 6:00, and my phone stopped working. My car had started to overheat on the way in to work, so I had stopped off for antifreeze. I topped it off again, and hoped that I wouldn't get stuck in gridlock. The gas stations I passed were jammed with cars, but with no electricity, no gas was flowing. People were parked there waiting for the power to come back on. The best guess was that it would not be on until the morning or later, so they were in for a long wait. I was really, really glad that my tank was half full.

Once on the freeway, traffic was not much worse than normal. Several cars were stopped on the shoulder, most likely out of gas. I saw one person parked under an overpass, sitting in a lawn chair, reading the paper waiting for some sort of help to arrive.

I made it home without incident. The sun hadn't set, so there was light to find candles, headlamps and flashlights for later. Matt had stopped at Albertsons to pick up food for the evening so we could leave the fridge closed to keep in the cold. Then he barricaded the door to make sure we didn't open it out of habit. We were set to hunker down for the night, but my phone still wasn't working, so I did feel a little cut off. Holly's phone was able to get a brief signal, so I was able to check in with Kristy. I was sure she was fine, but it was still nice to hear her voice.

The stove and water heater are gas powered, so we could cook and take showers. It was over 90 degrees in the house, so we ate and chatted on the deck until it was time to turn in. No tv, no distractions, flickering candlelight - not much to complain about. The only bummer was not having a fan going in the bedroom. It was another hot and sticky night, and Sierra had tough time of it.

Power and cell service came back on during the night, so most everything is back to normal this morning. There are logjams at the airport that will take a long time to work out, and I am wondering whether food at the store was properly chilled or thrown out. But schools are closed and kids have the day off. A San Diego "snow day" after 100 degree heat.

After of course September is "National Preparedness Month". Kristy had mentioned this earlier, but of course I didn't do anything to get 'ready'. Time to go over the checklist.

September 8, 2011

Quote of the day

The man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.
~ Muhammad Ali

September 6, 2011

A long hot weekend

I started off the long weekend with a long run.

The marathon is just over a month away, and my run on Saturday was 20 miles long. In some ways, a 20 miler on a random weekend takes more motivation than 26.2 on marathon morning. No cheering crowds, no helpful volunteers handing out water and fuel, no two week taper to build up your strength. That said, those last six miles of the marathon are like no other miles.

The run went reasonably well. I ended up running at a pace that was only a second slower than my last marathon PR. This is too fast for a long training run. This has been my mistake in the past, running too hard in the weeks leading up to the race, and showing up at the start line tired. Training has been less rigid and more by feel this time around, but I need to pay better attention and take it easy when I run another 20 two weeks from now.

Sunday started in a much more relaxing way. Kristy and I took the pooches out for a walk around Mission Bay Park, coffee in hand chasing away the cobwebs from the night before. The beaches would eventually fill with Labor Day families, but early in the morning the park was a more subdued mix of dog-wallkers and runners.

Where Sunday was relatively lazy, Monday was busy. Well, busy relaxing. Two parties, lots of friends, but with the uninvited guest of rain. The first day of rain in months, and it lands on a holiday where everyone is trying to soak up the last day of summer vacation. Shouldn't have washed the car Monday morning.

Though there were no tans to be had, we still had a great time. Bike rides, bocce ball on the beach, great food, kitchen conversations, beautiful sunsets, wonderful friends.

It was raining again this morning, and then the swampy heat rolled in. Temperatures cracked 100 degrees and the humidity made it feel even more oppressive. The pooch had a cold bath, pillow cases are in the freezer, but there may not be much sleep tonight.

September 3, 2011

Time's up

The year is two-thirds over. Incredible. I can't believe it is already September. The time has flown by, but this year I can mark it off in 30 day increments. There are eight resolutions in the can, and I am three days into resolution number nine. I am planning to live less online for the month of September. It seems a little silly to make this decloration on an online blog, but there you go.

I am not raging against technology, and have no desire to go back to 'the good old days'. And although my memory is deteriorating, I am not shunning the Internet because of how the Google effect is rewiring my brain.  I am just wasting time that should be better spent.

I find myself surfing the web far too much these days.  After reading email and blogs, I follow link after link to articles, stories and videos, or spend time dithering on Facebook. Some of the stuff I read is valuable, but it is such a time suck! One link leads to another, and then another, and then hours disappear with little to show for it.

I even have the computer on as I watch tv, attempting to remain 'productive' as I relax. Our brains do not multi-task well, so I shouldn't be dividing my time between two screens. I am giving a fraction of my attention to the things I try to juggle, so nothing is done well.

Giving it up entirely is not terribly realistic. Too much of the world has moved online. And again the Internet is not the problem, just how I am using it. September's resolution will be to be online for only 30 minutes a day, probably split into two 15 minute chunks. I will prioritize emails from people I know, and the newsletters filled with links will likely be ignored. Blogs will also be a priority, as they are a connection to people and some fine writing, but Facebook will be ignored unless there are a few minutes left before the timer goes off. Unless it is for legitimate research, no getting online outside of the 30 minutes.

I have already unsubscribed to many of the emails and newsletters that fill up my inbox, and I will clean up the Facebook feed to get rid of the clutter that isn't keeping me in contact with my actual friends. As with all of these 30 day resolutions, I want to keep the benefits I discover as a part of my life after the month is over. October 1st, I want to have eliminated distractions and time wasters.

When I gave up tv for a month, I found a bunch of time already at my disposal. By limiting my time online, I hope to find even more time to spend doing the important things. I want to be able to say at the end of each day that I made time for the people I love, the writing I enjoy, and the reading that expands my horizons. To stop staring at so many screens, and pay attention to all the wonder of the world around me.

September 1, 2011

Few animals were harmed in the production of this post

Last month I gave up meat six days out of seven. I did not think it would be overly difficult, but I've never tried before so you never know.

But it turned out to be pretty easy. Breakfasts were no big deal, lunch was PB & J, and dinners were veggies in a rotating variety of sauces. Lots of pasta and rice, and beans and peanut butter for protein.

The only times I really bumped up against anything were the few times I was grabbing lunch on the run. Burgers and sandwiches were basically out, but I found that the veggie burrito at Chipotle was very tasty, and the veggie patty at Subway was also quite good.

I reserved Saturdays as my day with meat to make sure I had enough protein to rebuild the muscles I was tearing down on my long runs. On other days of the week, I didn't notice any real difference in energy or strength levels. As an added bonus, I lost a couple more pounds and shaved off another fat percentage point.

I am not going vegetarian, but going forward there will be less meat on the menu. It is cheaper and better for all the reasons I mentioned at the start of the month. Meatless Mondays (or Tuesdays) will be a snap.

On to September's challenge.