January 28, 2012

Hello old friend

You've sat with your head in the corner like you were being punished, gathering dust when you yearned to be outside. The only trips you have had lately were when you were dragged out for photos like some classic car that never gets driven. You sat quietly while I ignored you, resisting the urge to say, "you know the number would be smaller if you took me out" whenever I reached beneath you to drag out the scale.

It was my fault, not yours. I apologize.

We went out for our first ride in nearly a year. The bike performed beautifully, and all the muscle memory came back to me quickly. Soon we were zipping downhill with the wind in our faces.

Too soon after, I was trudging up a hill, looking for a lower gear. We rode an ambitiously hilly route for our first time out, and the muscles were now remembering how different biking is from running. I was properly humbled for the year of neglect, and I could swear that I heard some quiet, mechanical laughter behind the spinning gears.

Can't blame you.

I promise it won't be as long as it was last time, for your sake and mine.

January 23, 2012

This one went to eleven

This was marathon number eleven, and I have to say, I took it to eleven.

As I mentioned in my earlier post, I have been nursing a strained hamstring for a few weeks. I was concerned that it would give me trouble with all the hills on the Carlsbad course. But like so many times before, what I was worried about was replaced by something I didn't expect.

The rain in the forecast slid back a day and we had perfect running weather - 45 degrees with a slight cloud cover, warming up to probably 55 degrees by the end. We took off in the dark at 6:00am. Sean and I ran together for the first mile before he sped up to try and capture his goal. The sky slowly brightened, and soon the high cloud layer was radiant in hues of orange and purple.

My training was just okay this time around. I had a goal, but no real expectations. As it was dark at the start, I couldn't see my watch to check my pace, so I just ran by feel. I eventually caught up with one of the pacers, but it was still too dark to read his sign to know what his goal pace was. I just trotted alongside until the sun came up. I eventually saw that it was the 3:40 group, which was faster than I wanted. I was hoping for a 3:45 if all went well, so I tried to relax the pace a bit.

We turned inland after mile five, and that is when the real climbing began. And the pain. It wasn't the left hamstring I had been worried about, but my right Achilles tendon that was tight and painful. I have never had any issues with this, so it was a little disheartening so early in the race. I headed uphill, trying not to push off too hard on my right foot.

At the eight mile mark, two thirds of the way up the hill, I checked the clock for the first time. I was about 30 seconds ahead of pace, nearly perfect so far. I saw our awesome supporters just a few steps later. Kristy, Marci and the kids got out of bed at the crack of dawn again to cheer us on. It is hard to explain what a boost it is to see a familiar face along the way. They were out in the cold instead of snuggled up in bed, even though Kristy is still a little dubious about this running thing, and Marci is days away from giving birth.

I stripped off my gloves, hat and arm warmers and after a quick kiss, headed uphill again. I saw Sean on the other side of the street already headed back out, and we exchanged encouraging shouts and a hand slap. After the turn-around at mile nine, gravity helped me pick up the pace and rest my Achilles tendon. The ladies had crossed the street and cheered us on again as we zipped downhill.

The course returned to sea level at mile 13. After another short out and back (and another Sean sighting), I pulled over to try to stretch and massage my Achilles. It was stiff and painful, but nothing I did seemed to help. I felt a stab a few steps after starting up again, so I tried to run a little easier. I also took a half dose of Tylenol at the next water stop.

The course heads out and back along the coast for the next ten miles. The half marathoners joined us at that point so the road was much more crowded, but the sounds of shoes slapping the pavement were drowned out by crashing waves. The road has a number of rolling hills so it was difficult to maintain a pace, and every uphill brought on more pain.

There is a short but sharp uphill at mile 18. It took the wind out of us last year, and my Achilles was dreading it again this year. The pain was too great to run up it, so I stopped to walk. The pain immediately stopped, but I couldn't force myself to keep walking. I had been checking the clock every two miles and I was holding pretty steady at a minute under pace. So I ran backwards. It looked silly, and maybe like I was showing off, but I was able to climb the hill without Achilles pain.

Kristy and Marci cheered us on at miles 17 and 19, before and after the hill. I was in pain, but still feeling like I had things in control. The high fives, smiles, cheers and tambourine gave me an extra boost.

Of course the last six miles is where the test begins. At mile 20 I was still 45 seconds ahead, but at mile 22 I had lost the time cushion completely. I stopped looking at the clock.

Over the proceeding marathons, I have managed to forestall the crash just a bit more each time. But it always comes. Last time in Long Beach, I crashed hard in the last few miles and stumbled across the finish delirious. I had promised I would not go there again. Last year at Carlsbad, I was feeling pretty good at mile 23, but I was walking by mile 24. This time I found something I hadn't before. An extra click on the dial, an ability to go to eleven.

My IT bands slowly tightened over the last few miles, bringing with it the related knee pain. I could feel the despairing thoughts coming on and the voice in my head that wanted me to walk. But this time I felt stronger mentally, more in control than before. Of course I was tired on top of the pain, but where in the past it felt as if someone yanked out my power cord, this time it seemed like more of a steady dimming of the lights. No amount of mental toughness could have carried me through last time, so I had somehow managed my energy better this time.

Maybe it was the rest this past week, maybe it was the Achilles forcing me to run more steadily, or maybe it was simply the cool weather. I can come up with multiple reasons why things went wrong in the past, but it is hard to pinpoint what I did right this time. Whatever it was, I felt focused and (nearly) in control from start to finish. As I rounded the last corner, I saw the clock ticking at the finish line. I saw it approaching the 3:45 mark and tried to pick it up for a push to the finish. I watched it go past 3:45 but I kept pushing, not knowing how far behind gun time I (and my timing chip) crossed the start line. The official clock read 3:45:12 as I broke the imaginary tape.

I was out of breath, spent, and my head was a little swimmy, but at the same time I felt great. No staggering, no threat of passing out, exhausted but in control. Sean found me a few minutes later in the finish area. He had a tough race fighting through his own knee pain, and had crashed hard like I had in Long Beach. He looked wobbly and glazed, and I knew he had pushed himself as hard as he could.

While standing in the endless line to get my gear that I had checked, I found my official time online. I had snuck in under my target to finish in 3:44:57, a new personal best by almost three minutes, and seven minutes faster than last year. Sean had finished four minutes earlier in 3:40:51

It seems a little redundant when I netted my best time to say that this felt like my best race so far. But this was only the second time in eleven marathons where I felt like I had managed my pace, pain and fueling just about perfectly. The other time was in Las Vegas in 2009, and I was aided by a gradual downhill over the last six miles. Even in marathons where I ran new personal best, I have felt like I screwed something up and didn't do my best. This time I think I did.

After the race, we went back to casa de Sean and Marci, enjoyed the spoils of victory (pizza and beer) and swapped stories in the sun. For the first time in a while, I don't have another marathon on the calendar. I will probably run one in the fall, but for now I am going to spend my weekends either biking or hiking. It will be a nice change of pace, and it was nice to go out with a victory.


If you would like to read about the other Sean's experience, you can find it here. It is wonderfully written.

January 20, 2012

Falling apart

I am.

Before the shouts of "you're getting Old!" start flowing in, I know. But I still feel like things are falling apart at an increasing speed, geometric as opposed to the linear progression I was expecting.

My vision has obviously been deteriorating for some time, but it feels like in the last few weeks it has fallen off a cliff. The computer screen wears on me that much quicker, and the print of a book seems just a little swimmier. A customer at work asked if I needed glasses. I was in the middle of something, so I didn't really hear the question, but I must have been holding something at arm's length to read it.

There seems to be a pressure at the top of my eyeballs at all times now. It is probably just the fact that I have been diagnosed and glasses are probably only a few days away. Just like everything else, now that I am thinking about it, the problem has moved from the back to the front of my brain. It has me looking forward to glasses rather than dreading them (though I am sure there will be complaints nonetheless).

And Oy my back! My lower back, glutes, and hamstrings have been tweaked for weeks. Always a little sore after a long run, the strain has not gone away since my 21 miler a couple weeks ago. I wake up sore and tight, and the muscles never seem to loosen up. I haven't run since Tuesday, hoping that I can rest the weary muscles for the marathon on Sunday, but work had different ideas. There was the normal hundred times up and down a ladder to strain the legs, but throw in a jackhammer, concrete and brick work and I am feeling a little beat up.

I guess what bothers me is that I am not doing anything more physical than I was a few months ago (probably less to be honest), but my body is worse for it. Time is having its way no matter how I strain to deny it.

The marathon starts in some 35 hours, and I feel like I am limping to the start line. It will be cold, and this strained hamstring may determine how the day goes. There is a four mile hill early on, and it is possible that I might be done in by mile 10. But there is something about race day that pushes the pain back to the background, and it may just carry me through.

I want to show up healthy, but most importantly, walk away healthy. I would like to tell you that I will show up at the start line accepting of my limitations, but I would be lying if I said I wasn't going to look at my watch. Time marches on whether I accept it or not, but I will try to mark time in moments and memories, instead of minutes and maladies.

If you would like to follow along, you can jump on the marathon website for live tracking of the runners. The direct link is this one I believe, but you can also find a link on the marathon website. My bib number is 421, and the other Sean's is 683.

And I am getting older, not Old.

January 17, 2012

Quote of the day

Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice, which make philanthropy necessary. 
~ Martin Luther King Jr.

January 16, 2012

Sharing guilty pleasures


What leaps to mind? Amazing online resource that keeps you connected, or platform for narcissistic over-sharing of every detail in your life. The answer is different for everyone. There are a few people in my feed that share even the most banal detail of their day, while others I don't "hear" from for months. Some link to endless articles, while others use Facebook primarily for sharing photos. 

I have found myself occasionally defending Facebook. It is a bit of a time suck, but it keeps me in closer contact with distant friends. Things get posted there that aren't big enough events to warrant a phone call or email, but that would probably be mentioned if I was over for dinner. Since those small events sometimes make for the greatest stories, Facebook helps keep me close. No one would have called or emailed about the snow storm in Seattle this week, but I I loved seeing all the photos of their kids playing in the winter wonderland. 

Through Facebook, Twitter and blogs, our society has (voluntarily) shifted its idea of what should be kept private, but Facebook has been getting its tendrils deeper and deeper into our business. Many sites encourage (and some require) that you use a Facebook sign-in to use their site. Suddenly what you read, watch and listen to is in the Facebook database, and may just pop up in your feed.

If someone thinks a article or song is worth sharing, it is easy enough for them to do. But I am increasingly seeing things like "John Smith just read this article on XYZ". It appears that Facebook and the news website are looking over your shoulder with a megaphone in hand. Do I really want Spotify to let everyone know that I chose to listen to Vanilla Ice today?

Which brings me to what I listened to on Friday - I am choosing to share my guilty pleasure. Podcasts have been pushing music off my car stereo for a couple of years now, but the Friday night drive home from work has been reserved for music. No playlists, just whole albums so I can listen to those deeper cuts I haven't heard in forever.

I don't remember why this album popped into my head on Friday, but it was one of the first that I ever bought. I came a little late to music. I can remember some introductory presentation in seventh grade that asked what my favorite band was. I didn't have one. I said the Rolling Stones, and then someone asked if I was going to the concert in a couple of months. I mumbled my way out of the corner, but I felt like a huge nerd. 

Probably the first album I listened to was the one left in the car by my older brother. It was "Love Drive" by the Scorpions. I played it over and over as I drove in my first set of (borrowed) wheels. And music finally grabbed me. A short time later, thanks to BMG records and their "13 albums for a penny" marketing strategy, I finally had some more music. I don't remember all the cassette tapes (showing my age) that came in that first batch, but I know the album I listened to on Friday was one of them. 

The album was "Standing Hampton" by Sammy Hagar. I hadn't listened to it in years, but I knew most every word to all ten songs. The lyrics are stored in that teenage portion of the brain that doesn't ever seem to be overwritten. There are some good ol' rockers including "Only One Way to Rock" and "Heavy Metal" that garnered airplay, as well as "Can't Get Loose" that grabbed at my teenage psyche. The album finishes with a good cover of "Piece of my Heart" that Janis Joplin made famous. 

The album didn't qualify as a guilty pleasure back then, but the fact that I have followed Sammy Hagar through Van Halen, good and bad solo records, and now to Chickenfoot probably does. But Friday night with the volume cranked, I didn't much care who saw me singing along. Whatever music you listened to as a teen still grabs you like nothing else can.

When I got home, I mentioned to Matt a different song that had been stuck in my head for a few days. Soon we were both belting out the chorus to "East Bound and Down" from Smokey and the Bandit. Okay, that was a little embarrassing. I may have over-shared.

January 13, 2012

Finding a rhythm again

Running and writing are such rhythm things for me, and I have fallen off the wagon a bit of late.

I am running a marathon in nine days, and I am feeling under-prepared (no surprise). After Long Beach a few months ago where felt the worst I ever had at the finish, I wanted to do something different this time around. Even though I had completed the 26.2 miles faster than ever before, I felt I needed to change some things up so I didn't feel delirious a the end. But I really didn't do much differently. Just like last year.

I ran this pair of races last year as well, and there is a pattern developing. I bettered my PR by about four minutes at both Long Beach Marathons, and I felt unusually weak at both finishes. I signed up to run the Carlsbad Marathon three months later, and didn't train as intensely as I had for Long Beach. And here I am again.

The Other Sean is running Carlsbad as well, but we are not setting out together like we did last year. We ran together for the first 23 miles last time, and we had a great day in the sun. We chatted, joked, and pushed each other along as we ran by the ocean. Even though it is a more difficult course than Long Beach, and I didn't push as hard at the end, I still managed to clip a minute of my personal best.

Though of course I have certain expectations about how I will do in nine days, I am going to try to just enjoy the day again and see what happens. After this marathon, I am planning on dusting off the bike and spending my Saturday mornings touring the city on two wheels rather than on two feet. I will continue to run a bit, but I won't be specifically training for anything for a while. This is also the last marathon for the Other Sean for a while. He and Marci have a third child on the way, due in just a few weeks.

As I said, writing is also a rhythm thing for me, and I need to get back at it. I have plenty of things swirling around in my head, but I have not been getting them down on paper. After stopping for any length of time, it is even more difficult to get that first word down. It feels like the first post/chapter should be something special after such a long layoff, and that hamstrings me further. I just need to write my way back into things.

The Other Sean has started a new blog. It is called The Million Word Blog. There is an idea popularized lately that you need to spend 10,000 hours at a skill to master it. Similarly, it is said that you need to write a million words before you truly find your voice. Of course it is an arbitrary number, but it reinforces the dedication required.

So he is taking on the challenge of writing a million words. To get back in the habit, to polish his voice, to find a rhythm. I happen to like his writing voice already, and I can only imagine what it will be like after a million words.

This morning I got up a little early, and wrote before heading to work. When I was in school, I was a night-owl and did all my homework late into the night, but writing in the morning works best for me now. So that is habit I am trying to restart. My experiment in becoming a morning person produced mixed results, but even an extra half hour in the morning could make all the difference.

I plan to run for enjoyment at Carlsbad, and maybe that change in focus will pay off again. By rededicating myself to biking and writing, I am hoping to recapture the joy I used to feel when seeing the world from that perspective. New challenges, new habits, old rhythms.

I think a million words is still off in the distance, but this post is a tidy 697 words. How hard was that?

January 11, 2012

Quote of the day

To write something, you have to risk making a fool of yourself.
~ Anne Rice

It appears I haven't made a fool of myself in days. Working on getting myself unstuck.

January 6, 2012

Share the Road quick update

Share the Road is now available as an Ebook for the Barnes & Noble Nook. Just like the Kindle version, it is $2.99 and can be purchased through the link in the right sidebar. Or you can just search for Share the Road on the Barnes & Noble site. Or I could just point you there.

Also, I have started a new website at SeanDay.net. It is primarily a website and blog about my writing at this point, but it may expand in the future. I of course will continue to share major news and progress here, but I will reserve most of my "writing about writing" to that site.

So if you are interested in how the book was written, edited, and published, and/or you want to keep up on my progress on the next one, head on over. If not, it is safely tucked away in a different corner of the internet.

January 4, 2012

Year in Review - running, and not much else

Each year as the calendar flips over from December to January, two things happen for most of us. We look back on the past year, and plan on doing better in the new one. For the last few years, this has included totaling up all the exercise miles for me.

All this running and biking started some nine years ago. It began with the enthusiasm of a friend, and as I said then, it has taken me to some great places physically and mentally, and I have met some wonderful people as well. As a side benefit, it has improved my fitness when time is trying to do the opposite.

The past few years I have totaled up the mileage in running, biking and swimming. Swimming was added when I had plans to do a triathlon. I still have plans, but they have been put on the back burner for now. I quit the gym back in May and haven't done any swimming since. And that is fine for now.

This adventure in fitness all started with biking. I have been focusing more running over the past few years, so the time and miles have been moving from one bucket to another. Long runs in preparation for marathons have been taking up my weekends, so there was less time to pedal.

But I am embarrassed to say that in 2011 I rode my bike only once. Once. Sixteen miles. The only real outside time my bicycle had this year was during the photo shoots for the book cover. Ridiculous.

On the positive side of things, my running went pretty well last year. I ended up running 885 miles in 2011. This is about forty-five miles less than the year before, but still a good total for me. I ran in five events, and set five new personal bests. During the year I shaved:

1:20 off my 5k time,
8:49 off my half marathon time, and
5:38 off my marathon time.

I am approaching that point where my times will stop improving, but for now I am still climbing that hill. It helps to have started later in life. I have another marathon in two and a half weeks. I have no idea how it will go. Training has been okay but uninspired.

After the marathon, I am going to start putting the miles and minutes back in the biking bucket. I miss it and I have no excuses not to ride. I want to get back to exercising for enjoyment instead of simply preparing for a race. To get outside and find a little inspiration.

January 1, 2012

Share the Road


My December goal was to get my first novel published by the end of the year, and I got it in just under the wire.

I finished off the latest edit back in October, and I sent off a copy of it to one of my beta readers to check for typos and grammar errors. While I was waiting to hear back, I read it again. And edited it again. This really could go on forever.

The book still needed a new cover before I put it up for sale. Back in May when I printed out a few copies, I put together a quick cover to experiment with some image software, and to see how the finished product would look. I used a nice shot I had taken at the Grand Canyon, but it had nothing to do with the story. I had some vague ideas what I wanted the new cover to look like, but I had done nothing for the past six months.

I took my vague ideas and a camera down the coast. I didn't find what I was picturing, but I ended up stopping at one of the beaches just to get something on film. Armed with a self-timer, I used benches, garbage cans, and the bike rack on my truck as makeshift tripods. I took several shots, dashing back and forth, trying out multiple looks, and trying to ignore the odd stares I was getting. I ended up with some good initial shots, and just seeing these first attempts gave me some more ideas.

I went out for another round a day later, and took home more good pictures, but nothing that really grabbed me. I showed the photos to a few people, and walked away with some good feedback and a better idea of what I wanted. Then I was in Seattle for eleven days.

I got my typo report back, fixed the, worked on the website and other background stuff while I was away, but I couldn't do anything about the cover until I got back in town. I returned the night of the 26th and headed out on the 27th for another photo shoot. After lots of dashing back and forth with the self-timer, I had thirty more photos. I couldn't really see how the photos turned out with the sunlight bouncing off of the camera screen, so I went home hoping I had something good. I ended up using the last photo I took, so I am glad I kept trying.

I updated the cover with the new photo, and was ready to submit it for file approval. And I was still messing with the text. I had to get this thing out of my hands. I uploaded it to CreateSpace and waited for them to make sure there weren't any formatting problems. I received their approval on the 29th and immediately ordered a proof. Now I had to wait for the hard copy to show up so I could make sure everything looked okay in print.

The anticipated ship date was sometime around January 6th, so I wasn't going to make my year-end deadline. But I was so close I was willing to call it a victory. Then, somehow, during the post-Christmas chaos of shopping and shipping, CreateSpace and the Post Office had the proof in my hands on the afternoon of December 31st.

I filled out all the last minute synopsis, author bio and pricing information and hit "Approve" at around 5:00pm. I was published. More or less. The book could have been purchased on the CreateSpace site that day, but it didn't show up on Amazon until January 1st. The listing still isn't completely ready as the web machines haven't attached the synopsis and preview, but it is available for sale!

So after much last minute scrambling, my debut novel is live.

I am still working on a website, and the Kindle version isn't live yet (Amazon appears to still be working off its New Year's hangover). There will be a Nook version as well, but the paperback version is now available for $7.99 at Amazon.com. Buy it through this handy Share the Road link, and I make an extra thirty cents on the deal.

My first novel. WooHoo!