Saturday, November 27, 2010

"Green and Blue" Friday

Ever since I've lived away from my home in New England, I have returned for the few days allowed by the Thanksgiving holiday. But not this year. With a tight work schedule, and at the mercy of the airlines, I decided to remain in California for the break.
"There's a world out there, and you've got to look at both sides of the mountain in your lifetime."
-Bill Janklow
And if I'm going to do something different - it might as well be really, really different. While other took to the box stores in honor of Saint Black and his holiday, I traded the usual snow-covered lawns and mercury-plummeting temperatures for some milder weather and oceanic sights (oceans, mountains and valleys).

The blackberry cameras (mine and Brett's) could not capture the aura of the landscape along our 11.5 mile La Jolla/Sycamore Canyon hike. But nevertheless, here are some snaps from the day.

First part of the hike was through the flat basin. Very pretty trees. Lots of colors.

At the end of this section there was a fork in the road. We went left. The mountain bikers we met at the base of a hill we approached called it "Hell Hill". They told us it was about a tenth of a mile. They lied. It was almost half a mile and just under 1000 ft.

La Jolla Canyon trail marker and view of the valley from the top ridge

Rewarding views of Boney Mountain and the rest of the Santa Monica Mountains

We started to see the ocean to the West. So we went that way.

Made it to the ocean view

We descended a winding trail and ended up about a mile and a half north of our start point. The stretch of PCH we walked back to the trail head.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Thanks-Giving Post

We’re on that page of the calendar where we are reminded to be thankful for what we have…and perhaps what we don’t have. Family, friends, food and fortune all constants on what should be an ever-growing list of gratitude.
"We run, not because we think it is doing us good, but because we enjoy it and cannot help ourselves"
- Sir Roger Bannister, first runner to break the 4min/mile barrier
It goes without saying, though I will type it anyway to set the stage for this post, that I am thankful to be able to run, and thankful for all that I have in my life that has come to me through running. Running itself, the movement and motion, I love. The friends I have gained through this shared passion are priceless. The places I’ve been (Hawaii and Alaska especially) that I have seen on foot are memories branded in my mind. The moments I’ve shared with people – from casual post-work jogs to final marathon miles – I would not trade away. And the sense of satisfaction I experience when I complete a workout that I doubted I could … that, too, gives me purpose.

I am thankful, and I am curious, too. I have been wondering lately: What if I couldn’t run? What if someone took away running from me? What would I miss? Well, the above recollections are just that, moments that have passed. Moments that no one can take away from me. But what of the future? What if you were told today to hang those shoes up by their laces and, essentially, sit your life still?

Some views, like this one from a team run in Palos Verde, CA, would not be imbued with the magic it is when seen on foot.

Some food, like the Egg eating the eggs on our Halloween Run, would not taste as good.

I might not speak as frankly as I do to others.

I would not get others to believe that they are capable of amazing things. And then we both lose out.

But maybe I would devote my life to something more … something better. I could volunteer more, write me, work more, and create a different kind of change. It’s an interesting idea to entertain in an alternate, surreal reality; to ask, who would I be if I did not run? And then deduce from that, who has running made me? And what have I made running? More than just the motion, assuredly.

Thoughts to chew on in between mouthfuls of stuffing.

Happy Thanksgiving, my first in Los Angeles. Pictures from tomorrow’s Topanga Turkey Trot 15K later on.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Unconventional Preparation

As a sophomore in college, I had to complete a natural science class requirement. I’ve never been really passionate about sciences and math, so I took one of those fancy-pants humanities-type math classes called, “Introduction to Mathematical Thinking”. It’s the kind of class that should start with a hug and end with you looking in a mirror and saying, “Yes, I am special. Yes, I can do math.”

Okay, not really. But it was a soft class in my otherwise rigorous academic schedule. We learned about the history of cryptology, codes and World War II. We discussed math-as-philosophy and math-as-religion. And I even got to write a paper about math, which was a pun-filled punch piece called, “Seven Ate Nine.” My best friend and roommate, Darcy, loves it and, to this day, I send it to her on her birthday.

Why do I tell you this? It all comes down to the final exam of that semester. I don’t remember what we were being asked to answer. All I knew was that I didn’t want to study for it. I’d rather spend time living amongst my English-Film-Philosophy-History class notes than staring at numbers and graphs and funny symbols (no offense to People Who like Numbers).

So instead of studying, I took an unconventional approach to my exam preparation: I didn’t. I just didn’t study. At all.

And on the day of the test, I put on my giant, red hoodie – the kind of clothing that is socially acceptable only on college campuses and only before 11am – and jeans. I walked across campus with my iPod in my ears, and I played R. Kelly’s “Worlds Greatest” on repeat. Lyrical gems from that song include:
It's the world's greatest, Yo.
It's the world's greatest. Come on.
World's Greatest, Ever.

-R Kelly
I bobbed and weaved my head along to the song, built up my confidence with Mr. Kelly’s melodic motivation, and took the test.

And I got an A.

Okay, so that’s not how it is supposed to happen. You aren’t supposed to mock a test and still get rewarded. As a (older, maybe-wiser) runner I now know that I can’t just show up to a start line, bob-and-weave to my music and expect to be a champion. There’s a lot more to a race – a test – than confidence built upon a 3-minute song.

But that’s not the point of this recollection. What I take from this tiny memory is that there isn’t always a singular way to success. I’ve training for marathons for years. I’ve trained for ultras, triathlons and century rides for a while as well. And frankly, the day-to-day and week-to-week has grown to be a bit formulaic and stale.

Right now, I have the Goofy Challenge on my schedule for the second week in January. I’ll run the half with my mom and the full with my friends. This will be my second Goofy. My first Goofy (2009) was a practice in disciplined training. I put in my workouts. I stayed strict to the schedule. And I had a wonderful time.

This time around, I’m playing it a little more fast and loose. I don’t have any time goals, and I refuse to put pressure on myself to get in “X” amount of training miles. Granted, I know I can run 26.2 tonight if I had to. But physical conditioning aside, I am at a point in my training life where I am loosening up the limits, the reins, the hard lines in the sand, if you will. I’ve spent a couple years pushing myself with the stiff stick of discipline. For the next two months, I am letting that rod bend. I am taking a chance and bettering myself by relaxing.

I will train, I know I will. I will get the time on my feet and put in the miles and make it happen. But I am not going to do so with any pressure. This is my “World’s Greatest” approach. This is the perspective I need at the moment, so that down the line, come ultra time, I can hone my focus back in.

Today I went out for an 80-minute run and came back with just under 10 miles on my legs. And part of those 10 miles were run to the tune of “The World’s Greatest” which, in turn, inspired this post and inspired me to embrace this philosophy through race day.

So here’s to unconventional preparation, and the road it will take me down through January. It’s an experiment in training and in life. And my goal is to just enjoy the nonchalance of fun running along the way. I’m sure I will report back the results of this approach, and I am crossing my fingers and hoodie-ing myself up with the hopes that I will get an “A”. But until then, I’ll just keep running and humming:
I'm that star up in the sky
I'm that mountain peak up high
Hey, I made it.
I'm the worlds greatest
And I'm that little bit of hope
When my backs against the ropes
I can feel it, mmm.
I'm the world's greatest

-R Kelly

Saturday, November 13, 2010



When I was a freshman in high school, I had a horribly difficult experience in Spanish class. I was placed in a sophomore advance class (yes, yes, overachiever...) but was ill-prepared too take on the challenge. My professor, Mr. Tom Gray, dubbed himself "El Tigre" and prowled around the room practicing his Socratic teaching style. Each morning he would ask, in a threatening and comical tone, "Do you have any last English…before we begin?"
It was a painful school year, but I learned more in that one class than I had in six year I'd been in Spanish classes.

For my college essay, I wrote piece that described how, despite my daily fears of being singled out and failing to answer the question correctly (oh, the horror!), I learned to choose trust over fright, and try to find my way.
“Just when it looked as though the world was about to implode, Mr. Gray gave a comical smile and remarked in our familiar dialect, I know it’s hard to learn a new language. But trust me, one day my drilling will pay off.” Out of half hearted faith and sheer terror, I trusted the lanky man. As the year progressed, I started noticing that he was sticking to his end of the deal. I began to catch some of his bulleted phrases, shooting some of my own answers back at him." - - excerpt from the essay

I was lying in bed the night before Ironman Coeur d'Alene, and I was paralyzed with fear. Chris had dropped me off at my hotel, and I knew the next time I'd see him, we'd be driving to the start line. All I had left to do was to wait out 9pm to 3am in fear. I could not fathom the distance. I could not grasp that my 6-hr brick training had prepared me for workout that could last between 12-17 hours. The longest race, to that date, was my ultramarathon - and that was just under 10 hrs. Where was I going to find the strength the give that much more?
Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear. - Ambrose Redmoon
As athletes, we put ourselves into situations that pit us against "Overwhelming Obstacle X" frequently. Call it your first marathon, your first Ironman, your first 5K or your first bike ride. Call it an open water swim, or the open water swim washing machine. The mountain. The sharp descent on the bike. The tiny voice in the back of your head that tells you that you shouldn't be there. Everyone else belongs, but you.

After a couple of minutes lying in that hotel bed staring at motivational quotes and messages from my friends, I became very lucid. I realized that I was living a moment of facing my fear. I was feeling the fear, and I had the recognition to talk it down. Many times, I think, we don't realize that we have overcome something great until we are gifted hindsight. I was lucky enough to have an in-the-moment this-is-scary realization. It's awe-some ... I was in awe. And then, I slept.

And in the morning, I smiled. I swam, ran, biked, and smiled more. I enjoyed the 140.6 miles of defeating that doubt. And, as Redmoon so eloquently says, courage is not the absence of fear - we are never going to be without the fear of SOMETHING. There will always be monsters in the closet in the back of your mind. Sometimes they are in your face. But the recognition and realization that there are things - confidence, support, a mission, a dream, the potential for greatness - that are so very much more than the fear itself, is the victory. That is what courage is. That is what success is.

May your road wind you away from facing many of your fears ... but not too many. The Spanish language is beautiful. The views of Hayden Lake, Idaho are magic. The storm before the sunset is what gives the sky its color. Your list of what-if's and if-only's will be accomplished if you choose it see them through, but they will be all the more brilliant if they are shaded and toned with a touch of fear.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

I Have Not....

Running, biking and swimming are powerful actions, in that the rush of confidence and focus that provide during the workout and upon completion helps us, athletes, channel a level of greatness in the rest of our lives. Admit it: after a long run, a strong swim, or a killer bike ride, you feel like you can take on the world. Sometimes that world is "work life" or "family commitments" or "friendships". I think, at the core, that is one of the common threads among us endurance junkies: The proof that we can endure anything.

But there are these other things - goals, or what you will - that we have NOT done. We have NOT completed. We have NOT met...yet. Because much of the journey is in the experience and not the result, that is OKAY. It is OKAY to not know everything, have completed everything, achieved everything. Funny thing, the companyI work for just released a film the address what happens when someone gets what they want. Okay, so it is a "family film" ... but it is nevertheless an interesting notion.

So for you, dear reader and friend, and those who occupy both spaces, I give to you a list of my yet-to-do's in hopes that you can relate. And in the hope that you accept that just because you have not completed "X" yet does not mean it is not in your immediate or distance future.
Not Yet Achieved...

Completed an Ultraman

Qualified for the Boston Marathon

Written a book

Run a sub-20 min. 5K

Coached a Boston-qualifier

Run a sub-45 min. 10K

Had an office space (not cubicle) at work

Completed the Comrades Ultramarathon

Competed or completed in a 70.3 IM event

Won the affection of a man that wants to marry me

Broken the 12-hr Ironman finish

Started or completed a 100-mile run

...and these are in no particular order. And they are not my flaws. Each is a ray that makes up a sunrise of a horizon in my future.

Having an exciting destination is like setting a needle in your compass. From then on, the compass knows only one point-its ideal. And it will faithfully guide you there through the darkest nights and fiercest storms.
-Daniel Boone

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A Quick Note to Friends

NOTE: Updated with more photos!

Today’s short post has nothing to do with distance or speed or accomplishment. It has to do with the in-between. The moments and steps we share with others that propel us to personal records, amazing moments and perspective-altering experiences.
“What is uttered from the heart alone, will win the hearts of others to your own.” - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
I have lived in California for, officially-as-of-August, 4 years. Funny, in the first 10 months or so, you would not believe I would have lasted in such a foreign country. There were too many non-protected left-hand-turns on the road, too many stilettos at lunch, and too many pairs of sunglasses hiding eyes...

But I am an endurance athlete. And endurance person. I endured. I learned that two cars go on the yellow and make the turn. That sneakers are okay for lunch...dinner and breakfast too. And that if you can get someone to take off their sunglasses, you already know them that much better.

I am better for it. I can unequivocally say, “I belong here.”

And I am better for it because of the friends I have made. I can only hope you, Dear Reader, can empathize. There are a few people in my circle who provide perspective, who make me feel comfortable on the West Coast, who know and love for me for who I am, as a runner, athlete, coworker … human. It has taken months, maybe years. But I very much love and appreciate them, too. I will not call them by name. It is not necessary. They know who they are. For you, Reader, for taking the time to read my words, and for you, Friend, who takes the time to share my life: Thank You.

I have no further insight. Just gratitude

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Weekend Worked Out

Santa Monica Pier

7 hours of quality training in this week. Quality for both mind and body. Nothing forced, nothing pushed, nothing cut short. Got done exactly as much as I wanted to, not a step more or less. This is something I can say rarely, because many times I do push too much or I sell my motivation short and cut out a workout (at least, recently I have). But this weekend the schedule seemed to come together comfortably. And as an athlete, that is all that I can ask for. Give me the opportunity, or let me create the opportunity, and I will aim to follow through.

Saturday consisted of a 3-hr bike at a zone 1 pace, which put me just over 50 miles in that time frame. About 2,500 feet of climbing, but my legs didn't really feel it. I followed it up with a 1-hr run at a 8:20/mile pace. Also light, but more of a zone 2-3 run because my body was worn from time in the saddle. Felt very good after this brick - felt like I was focused and in training again. I don't start up AR50 or IMCDA training for another 8 weeks or so, but putting in some longer workouts makes me think, at least a little bit, that I am laying a foundation for some serious focus and miles. Plus, always good to get used to time-in-the-saddle.

Sight of Sunday's Practice Start

Sunday's workout at 6:30am was with the team - I can't believe we are 16 weeks into the season. There were three options: 8, 16, and 20 miles to tackle, depending on which race participants are signed up for. Though I had the legs for the 20, I pulled back and stuck with a couple of participants going 16, and I'm glad I did. No need to overdo anything. My hips are a bit sore tonight from all workouts.

Where We Practice

The run was a slow pace for me, and my feet and legs are barking at me for the 3-hr left-right-left. But it was very important to me to see everyone who had never run 16 miles before finish this workout. These are folks who started the season not having run more than 3, 4, or 5 miles. It is a testament to their dedication. And I admire that.

Oddly enough, I've been snapping a lot of landscape pictures while out on my runs. Something about the sunsets is fascinating. So included for you are some SoCal sunrises and sets, and a couple of shots from along the route today.

It is not by muscle, speed, or physical dexterity that great things are achieved, but by reflection, force of character, and judgment - Marcus Tullius Cicero