It’s been a good year…

Ok, ok, it’s been a long, long time since I’ve written anything. What can I say but life is incredibly strange, very busy and I’ve been going through a really weird time lately, call it a mid-life crisis without the Corvette. During this time, I’ve been evaluating absolutely everything about my life, including this blog. And, for reasons that I can’t really explain let alone understand, lately I’ve been having trouble moving forward in any area of my life beyond the basics. After a lot of processing though, I have come up with a few things that I refuse to give up on. And, as much as I hate lists, the non-negotiables are my faith, my family, my running, my music and my writing but anything beyond that is fair game. So, where I go from here is anyone’s guess but I’m sure that anyone who reads this will hear about it as things come to light.

One thing that is an incredibly big deal to me though is today, May 17, 2011. And, before you go there, no, I didn’t join the “50-something” crowd — I ain’t that old! The reason why it’s a big day is because exactly one year ago today, I started my most recent attempt at running. And, while this may not seem like such a big deal to most runners, understand that I’ve been trying to once again become a runner for the better part of 16 years but, with each and every attempt, injuries have sidelined me at fairly early stages. This time was different though. Instead of buying books, shoes and taking advice from unshaven, overweight and typically drunk ex-athletes, I came to the party prepared with the greatest weapon that mankind has ever known: the internet. After all, who needs a degree in PhysEd when wifi’s so readily available? So yes, I’m a really, really happy guy today.

As I’ve tweaking with my running schedule lately, my body was a bit sore and stiff this morning and anyone with even a hint of wisdom would probably opted to take a rest day. Last time I checked though, my hint of wisdom wasn’t anywhere to be seen. So, I headed out on a slightly hilly 6 mile run.

As I ran, my mind cycled through all of my running experiences over the last year. I thought about some of the injuries — shin splints being the big one. I’ve also run through Runner’s Knee and a weird pain that migrated from my shin to the back of my knee, down my calf and onto my heel, back up my calf and back to my shin before going away — possibly the weirdest injury (?) that I’ve ever experienced.

I also thought about the different places where I’ve been able to run and the lessons that I’ve learned from the varied geographies. I was reminded of what it’s like for we who live on sea-level to run in higher elevations such as the Sierras. I’ve also had the opportunity to run along the foggy coast of Mendocino and seen more vultures that I’ve ever seen in one gathering which, more than anything else, reminded me of my mortality big time. Kauai taught me exactly what runners in humid climates such as Florida and Georgia have to deal with for months at a time and brought forward an appreciation of the climate in my stomping grounds. Southern California and Disneyland was crazy — 5.5 miles of either incredibly crowded sidewalks or inner city concrete and asphalt, take your pick.

For me, it’s truly been a good year for running. And, though I’m frustrated that my speed hasn’t come back as quickly as I’d hoped and that I’m not yet below 160lbs, if someone would’ve told me a year ago that, one year later, I’d be averaging 30 miles per week while being 20lbs lighter, there’s no way that I would have believed it.

So, I’ve got some goals for the next year. And hopefully, you’ll hear about them over the next few days. Keep running and stay tuned….

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The fourth time’s a charm!

I started running again on May 17 of 2010. I had been trying on and off for the better part of the last 16 years to get back into running but injuries had sidelined me early on in the process time and time again — until this time. This time, I took things very, very slowly. I started with the Couch to 5k program, even though I wasn’t “on the couch” and I put in a freakish amount of effort into managing and working through the injuries that have popped up over the last year.

I started running on a 3-day per week schedule and I didn’t allow myself to add a 4th day until a few months ago and, even when I did, I had to bump myself back down to a 3-day schedule twice. As running 4 days each week demands two consecutive days of running at some point in the week, my body wasn’t quite ready for the additional punishment so it took two or three months for my body to adapt. It seems though that, once my body did finally make the adjustment, the result was better than I had hoped.

Two weeks ago, as I’d like to fit a half in before too long, I decided to move up to a 5-day schedule, which requires at least 3 consecutive running days. My body handled it with ease — no problems, no pain. This week, I decided to go 4 days in a row, the last one of the 4 being today. And, no problems, no pain!

There are quite a few other reasons why I wanted to move to a 5-day schedule but it’s past midnight right now and I have absolutely no idea how to position my reasoning without sounding like an obsessive compulsive hypochondriac. So, those reasons will have to wait for another entry when I’m a bit more awake. Until then, stay tuned and keep running.

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Darn right, I’m a runner!

On Saturday night, I came home from 10 days in Kauai. Unfortunately, it seems that I forgot to bring my brain home with me — my mind has been replaying the tapes of my experiences on the Garden Island nonstop. One thing in particular was something that happened on one of my 5 mile runs.

I had headed out on my run around 9:00 AM, a bit later than I had wanted to as, after 9:00, the walkers, stroller pushers and cars, which ironically, seem to move at a slightly slower pace than the stroller pushers, come out in force. My run took me past an attraction called Spouting Horn — think Old Faithful but not really — and to the end of a road that provided some pretty spectacular views of the Pacific and of Kauai’s southern coastline. To get those views though, there is a bit of an uphill that needs to be tackled. In reality though, the uphill isn’t much of an uphill, it lets you know it’s there and little else.

So I’m running with my typical gazelle like stride, or anteater like plod, you be the judge, up the steepest portion when I saw three mid 50’ish people walking up the same hill. The road was a bit wider than a one car dirt road but these people had decided that they did in fact own the whole darn road. So, as I approached, I said “On your right…” to remind them of their obligation to share the road. The woman on the far right, roughly 18.73″ away from the plant life (and Cane Spiders) that line the road, jumped in an abrupt, startled fashion and looked back at me like I was some deranged crazy man on the prowl for white legged tourists donning socks and sandals. Upon further inspection, they decided that I was most likely harmless and let me pass.

As I passed the woman on the left commented about me to the man in the middle and the woman on the right, who obviously had a really bad case of tourette’s, “I feel like I’m about to die just from walking, how is it that he’s running!”. In a moment of inspiration that could have only been inspired by the the wisdom of Solomon, the man replied, “He’s a runner. This stuff is easy for them!”. Never have I wanted to punch someone in the face so badly. And, before you judge me too harshly, keep in mind that I was running in the morning (translation: before morning caffeine) and, when the adrenaline kicks in, it’s anyone’s guess as to what words will come out of my mouth. But here I am, out of my element, running up a hill in 138% humidity and the thermostat spiking at 157 degrees F, and he’s saying that, just because I happen to run in a climate that is much more hospitable, running in conditions rarely experienced outside of a sauna is a piece of cake?

Honestly, I wasn’t in bad shape at all but the comment kind of irritated me. And, out of all of the comments that went through my head, the one I chose to voice was something like “Ya, this stuff’s a piece of cake!”. I refrained from adding, “Why don’t you join me and it can be easy for you too!”.

As I put some distance between myself and them, I obsessed on the comment for a bit — yes, I’m that weird — and I started to realize that the perception of us, we who chose to plod along mile after mile, though flawed, isn’t really that negative. So, to the guy in the middle of the two women, “Darn right, I’m a runner and running in those conditions was easy for me.” Ok, it wasn’t exactly easy, but I ain’t tellin’ him that!

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The “same old, same old…”

Sadly, we’re back on the mainland. It was a fantastic vacation — ten days of fresh Apple Bananas, fun with the kids and morning breakfast and coffee on our lanai. But, like all good things — the NFL season, Christmas, Thanksgiving and Charlie Sheen’s “Violent Torpedo of Truth” tour — it had to come to an end. As I look back on the last week and a half, one thing that is in the forefront of my mind is the opportunity that I had to run in such an incredible place. Anywhere I ran, there was a kind of beauty that I don’t think that I can ever get too much of — red dirt everywhere covered with an amazing variety of flowers and lush green plant life. And, though there were several times when the humidity nearly brought me to a walk, I’d welcome any chance to run on Kauai without hesitation. I know, I know, that’s one of those “Well, duh!” statements but, for a bit of perspective on what it’s like out there, some of the locals informed me that, at the Kauai Marathon last September, two Nigerians, who were expected to take first and second in the race, dropped out after 22 miles because of the heat and humidity.

But now, it’s back to reality. Tomorrow, I’ll be doing my standard 10mi run and honestly, the prospect of doing it is kind of a let down. Normally, I look forward to the weekend runs in my hood but tomorrow, I’m just kind of “meh”. The more I think about it though, the more I think I need to change my perspective of the same old, same old. After all, were it not for my standard routes on the fringes of Silicon Valley, I wouldn’t be able to experience the magic of places like Kauai.

I think of the 2 mile long inclines that I just ran and how I never would have been able to run them were it not for all of the irritating hills and false flats around my home town of Los Gatos. I also think of all of the base miles on my standard routes and how they’ve enabled me to run on roads and paths lined with common houseplants growing wild in their natural environment. I also think of my runs in Mendocino — listening to the simultaneous barks of Elephant Seals on one side of the road and mooing of cows on the other as I ran through the fog, unable to see the sources of either sound.

It’s an amazing world out there, with an incredible variety of cultures, scenery and experiences and I’d love to witness as much as it has to offer. Somehow, running positions me, better than anything else, to fully grasp what each geography has to offer. So yes, though my run tomorrow will be on the same old roads and through the same old communities, I’ll remember my runs in Kauai and Mendocino; I’ll remember the runs of my younger days through on the trails of the Santa Cruz Mountains and know that, were it not for my “same old, same old” of today, I wouldn’t be able to experience the “same old, same old” that others experience on a daily basis.

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The TriKauai Triathlon

As I was standing in the checkout line of a small health food store here on Kauai, I noticed a rather large event calendar on the wall. And, as I browsed through the dates, I saw that there was a triathlon in Poipu happening on Sunday the 10th. As I love volunteering at these things, I quickly cleared it with the wife and sent an email to offer my services. Literally within a minute of sending the email, I received a call on the phone and, two days later, I was standing on the course at 5:45AM

The event itself was pretty small, having only about 25 to 30 participants. Conversely, there were something like 50 volunteers. The body shapes and abilities of the participants varied greatly, ranging from tall, slender athletic types to those who look like they’d be better suited volunteering. The level of enthusiasm was amazing though.

The race started and finished pretty much without a hitch, unless you consider sending the first 7 racers running 4km longer than they should have a hitch. And, as the race wound down and we were waiting to close the course, 3 out of the last 5 racers ran by the last checkpoint, which was the one that I was manning. The race organizer then drove by in his truck and said “It’s gonna be a while, the last two are pretty far back.” As we had been standing out there for quite a while, we were pretty anxious to get in so the news was met with a rather impatient acknowledgment. A few minutes later, my wife and two daughters came walking up the road for a visit, which provided a welcome break but, after spending a few minutes talking, she took my youngest daughter and continued on their walk, leaving my 12 year old with me.

After a few minutes, I noticed a few runners about a half mile away. I turned to my daughter and said “Hey Cass, wanna run ’em in?”. Without waiting for an answer, I took off jogging to meet them. As I turned around to make sure my daughter was following, I caught her standard “Oh great, what’s dad going to get me into *this* time.” look as she started to run.

In not too long, we were within earshot of the racers and I asked them if they wouldn’t mind some company for the final run in. They seemed glad to have us join them and the four of us continued together on a very slow jogging pace. The couple was a mid-30’s looking husband and wife from Alaska on vacation and the husband looked like he was holding up fairly well. The wife? Though she was smiling, it was fairly obvious that she was at the end of what she felt she could do.

I got them talking, trying to distract her from her fatigue and it seemed to take immediate effect. As we came within about a quarter mile of the finish, I urged them to pick up the pace a bit and finish strong. She immediately responded, her already huge smile growing even more. I kept talking and, within about 100 yards of the finish, the wife started to really slow down and, at that point, my daughter took over: “C’mon, you’re almost there, you can do it!”. Taking my daughter’s lead, she picked up the pace, both her husband and me encouraging her along. She held her faster pace and, about 10 yards from the finish, I held my daughter back and yelled, “You’re there, grab each other’s hands and hold them high!”. Unfortunately, the camera guys had already gone home but the image of them crossing that line will remain in my head forever.

My daughter and I walked up to them and the husband immediately threw up his hand for a high-five. The wife was completely gassed but the smile on her face was as bright as ever. She stumbled towards me, gave me a huge, sweaty hug and just said, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” My daughter joined in and I pulled back, looked at the wife and said, “You know what? You just finished your first Tri!” She was crying, nodding and beaming. It was an amazing moment.

Not wanting to crowd them, I took off pretty quickly with my daughter and, as we were walking, she said “Dad, you rock. That was so cool, I’m going to remember that forever!” Helping others along when things get tough is one things that I really love to do in life, being able to share that experience with my daughter made that experience even better. And, watching her “get it” — observing her as she encouraged the wife made the morning that much more special. The day had barely reached 12:00, and it was off to a fantastic start.

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Running on Kauai

Whenever we go on vacations, one thing that I always look forward to doing is running in an area that isn’t Silicon Valley. Don’t get me wrong, my home town is a great place for running — it’s got plenty of route and terrain options and the weather typically provides near optimal running conditions. But, give me an opportunity to run with different scenery and in different climates and I’ll likely be all over it. And, as fate would have it, we’re hangin’ in Poipu, which is in the southern portion of Kauai.

Since we’ve spent quite a bit of time on Kauai, I thought that I already had a fairly good working knowledge of the roads, elevations and weather patterns. But, since I’d never run here before, there were a number of things that I didn’t know I didn’t know. Firstly, many of the roads on Kauai don’t have actual shoulders and/or sidewalks as they do in much of the rest of the civilized world. So, if you plan on being out on the roads any time after, say 8:30 AM, you have get really good at the game of “Dodge the Distracted Tourist”. Up to this point, I’ve been winning but they seem to be honing their skills. And, as much of a temptation as it is to wear brighter, more visible clothing, I fear that would do little but make me a more obvious target.

Another thing that I didn’t count on was the weather. Again, I’ve been here before so I didn’t think that it’d be much of a problem. Unfortunately though, I was mistaken and have since receivedĀ  a rather abrupt lesson on what people who live in warm places with high humidity go through all of the time. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this concept, imagine running on a beautiful 70 degree day. Have that image locked in your mind? Great. Now, raise the temperature about 40 degrees, place an umbrella made of a magnifying glass above you and take away the air’s ability to remove even a hint of sweat off of your body and you’ve pretty much locked onto what it’s like. The really fun part comes when you try to remove your sweat drenched tech shirt post-run though — I imagine that I look like an incredibly uncoordinated computer nerd trying to disco dance to a constantly changing rhythm and meter. Some would simply shorten it to “dancing like a white guy” but that may hit a bit too close to home.

All in all though, I love running out here, even though these days have contained some of the most fatiguing runs that I’ve ever experienced. I find that, the earlier that I get out, the more enjoyable the run — lacing up and getting out earlier than I otherwise would allows me to meet fewer cars and pedestrians and the cool of the morning helps to mitigate the heat and humidity. We’re already talking about Maui in February of 2012. And, since we’ve been there four or five times, I have a pretty good idea of the lay of the land. Think I’ll try a few afternoon marathons while we’re there.

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A New Kind of Minimalist Running?

I know, I know, I said that I was going to write an iPhone GPS app shootout on Friday. Unfortunately, I got unexpectedly busy so I couldn’t get to it. So why am I not writing it now? Because doing compare/contrast things takes a lot of brain-work and time and I seem to be short on both lately. And, my brain got a bit tweaked by something I read the other day.

There’s an online running coach, Jason Fitzgerald, (he goes by “Fitz”) who writes a blog called Strength Running. Somehow, I found myself on his site and I ran across an article that he wrote, “Minimalist Running: Ditch the Technology and Run Free“. Thinking that it was yet another writeup on barefoot running or touting the evils that are cushioned soles and motion control shoes, I proceeded to read with interest. Turns out the article had little to do with shoes. Rather, it was about losing the GPS watches, phones, iPods and all of the other high-tech gear that are designed to help us become better runners and make our sport more enjoyable.

In his article, he redefines “minimalist running” as running without the benefits of what the computer age has brought us. For example, instead of sticking a set of white ear phones in your ears and listening to the latest Bruno Mars or Katy Perry, Fitz urges us to listen to “the symphony of footsteps, breathing, birds, wind, and running water that you will experience on a forest trail.”

I actually spent a bit of time thinking about the article, especially in the recent light of the some of the testing that I’ve been doing with GPS running apps. I thought about whether or not these apps have enhanced my enjoyment of the sport or if they’ve drawn my focus away from running and more towards my performance. I think about when I took my first few runs back in middle school, I’d routinely go out in a pair of gym shorts, a cotton tee-shirt, a pair of Nike waffle-soled shoes and that’s about it. I remember running the trails of hills above San Jose sans-watch and how I never seemed to care about how fast I ran. I didn’t worry about pace, splits, elevation profiles or any of that — I was running worry and concern free and I was addicted to it.

So, as I’ve headed out on my last three runs, I’ve chosen to leave the watch at home and the GPS tracker off. And, on the first run, I admit that it felt a little strange. Keep in mind that, in the area in which I live, the flattest terrain that is offered to me comes in the form of a false flat. So, my GPS experiments have shown me where on my courses I tend to slow down and where I have opportunities to make up some serious time. This time out though, instead of trying to make up time on one stretch or push hard through another, I just ran — I ran at a pace that my body felt appropriate and it felt great. I’ve done three runs now without any sort of timing or tracking device and have had similar experiences. This is not to say that there’s no value in the various available training tools, they definitely have their place during training but, for every day runs, I find that I’m able to focus more on experience of the run and less about my performance. Were I an elite runner who is trying to break the two-hour marathon mark then perhaps I’d feel differently but, for now, I find that I’m really enjoying getting back to basics.

BTW, yes, a shootout is still coming and I’ll definitely evaluate a few more apps. IMO, technology is too cool to be avoided. And I don’t care what Fitz says, I’m not ready to give up my Asics 2150’s just yet. šŸ˜‰

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