Friday, May 31, 2013

Half a Life Ago, I was Faster

Today: 2
Present: 141
Count: 21

17 years ago (almost exactly one half a life ago) I ran a 4:48 mile. It's actually a funny story. A friend and teammate on my high school track team wanted to run a sub-five minute mile. I ran the 800, so offered to rabbit for him, since no one else on the team could run a mile that fast.

So at our next meet, away at our rival Woodside High, we lined up to run the mile. I put him on my hip and ran what at the time was a mellow half mile, making sure he was on pace to finish the rest and hit his goal. But midway through the second lap, I said to myself, why not just keep going? So I did.

And when I hit the third lap, and it looked like sub-five was in reach I said hell, why not finish. So I did. John and I sprinted the last 200 and, because I was a competitive bastard, I edged him out in 4:48. He was thrilled, and so was I.

The funny story continues.

Doubled over, I heard that the 4x400 relay, which I was set to anchor, would be run in reverse order: Varsity Boys which usually ran last would be running first. So my team started lining up. The gun went off and I was still wheezing.

Fortunately, Woodside was no match for our team. By good friend Nick's third leg, we had a half lap lead. I smiled, knowing I could basically jog and we'd still win. Good thing, since that was about all I had.

But about 1/4 of the way through Nick's lap, he started to limp. By midway, he was barely moving faster than a walk. Earlier in the meet Nick had tweaked his knee, but hadn't told anyone. Now he could hardly run. And Woodside was gaining. I watched in horror, as the Woodside runner made up ground and on the final turn blasted past Nick and took the lead.

I looked at Nick, and he looked at me. Hobbling, he lunged and put the baton into my hand. "Go man, go!" he urged, helpless, apologizing eyes. He had watched me run that mile and knew how little time I had to recover. I set off and by the time I hit the first turn, my legs went dead.

17 years later, I remember this one lap perhaps more vividly than any other race in my track "career." I watched Woodside's anchor stretch his lead. And I got pissed.

I am generally very mild mannered. It takes a lot to set me off. But when I am running, if you're not standing on the sidelines to cheer me on, your very presence is a personal affront and I am there to crush you.

Something clicked. My legs woke up. And I bore down on this poor kid. On the back stretch, I started reeling him in. As we started the turn for home, I knew I had him.

That was my thing. I had this kick. This kick that never lost. This kick that was always enough. This kick that let me split lanky black kids a head taller than me, who gawked as this scrawny white kid come blazing through. This kick that let me pass on the outside, hit lane five and win. Every time.

And that's exactly what I did. I hit that final turn, leaned in and kicked.

It was over before it started. The guy had no chance. He glanced over as I went past and I remember seeing this look. It said, "huh?" Pure, teenage disbelief.

That mile time is still my PR. I ran some great 800s. I even puked a couple times. But I am more proud of that 4x400 leg than I am of any race I ever ran. Even more proud than diving across the finish line to win the relay in our league championship, when we already had the meet locked up.

Oh, I ran a mile today. Company relay, first ever. I ran 5:02. I was shooting for sub-five.

I needed a rabbit.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Wife is Back

Today: 2
Present: 139
Count: 20

Two years ago, my wife Maura convinced me to train for the San Francisco Marathon with her. I had never "wanted" to run a marathon, but I figured I'd give it a shot and support her. After battling through a tight Achilles tendon for most of the summer, I hobbled through the marathon with heavy race support from my good friend Ibuprofen in 3:20. Not a shabby time, but I didn't exactly finish strong.

I've heard that one of the most important characteristics of a good life partner is to what extent that person helps you become a better person and exposes you to new experiences.

Maura is just coming off an 8-month whirlwind of CPA studying and, pending results coming in next week, may be done. We are both running the NYC Marathon this November and I can't wait to have my training partner back.

This morning, we hit Bernal Hill for a couple laps. The wife is back!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Testing the Short Shorts

Today: 8
Present: 137
Count: 19

When I started running again, I bought the shortest pair of shorts I had ever owned. It was terrifying, and they weren't even that short. But man were they fast.

Four years later, I finally own a pair of proper running shorts. And now I feel REALLY fast. Although perhaps equally self conscious of my blazing white thighs in all their glory for the world to see. The timing couldn't have been better for their maiden voyage.

Last night, my brother-in law Dave emailed my brother and I to see if either of us wanted to use his bib for the SF Marathon coming up on June 16th. He had signed up, but is sidelined with a back injury. My brother is already running, so it fell to me. Of course I wanted to run the race, but racing gets expensive and I have a few races I'd rather do at the end of the year.

So here I go. Earlier than I expected, and not really sure what to gun for. My heart tells me I can go under 3, but that's also a full 20 minutes off my PR. Sure, that was back in 2011 when my Achilles was all sorts of jacked up. Sure I didn't really know what I was doing back then. But rumor has it 3 hours is pretty fast.

3 hours is a 6:52 pace, and as best I can tell, my current lactate threshold pace is right around 6:45. So theoretically its possible, but I think a far better goal is 3:05, Boston qualifying and just over 7:00 pace. 7:00 is smooth and comfortable, and if I stay focused, I can run that pace very efficiently.

And after all, Dave is from New England so when "he" qualifies for Boston, it will mean a lot more for him to run it, than me. Anything below that would be pure gravy.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Tagging Along in Woodsie

Today: 11
Present: 129
Count: 18

I run almost exclusively alone. Aside from training runs with my wife or my brother, I don't run with friends. It just never occurs to me, and not many of my friends share my love of suffering, so end up out there mostly by myself.

It's not that I run to get away from people per se, but as any good introvert will tell you, we get our energy from being alone. I think better alone. I reason through problems better alone. And while there is no substitute for a good training partner to push you, carry you and bring out more than you thought you had inside, for me there is no substitute for these therapeutic hours by myself.

This morning, I met two friends down in Woodside to join their weekly run. One is out there for 5-6 hours, the other acting as the "first shift" to join her for the first couple hours before she picks up the second shift. Non-runners may find it weird, but chatting on the trails is surprisingly easy. Labored breathing mid-story is totally accepted, and we patiently wait as a 5-minute story stretches into 10 during a climb. There's plenty of time.

These two have been running this 10-mile loop for more than a decade, every weekend. The consistency is remarkable, as is the depth of their friendship. Which now extends far beyond running.

And that ultimately is the beauty of this sport. Specifically, running for a very long time. It is both solitary and communal, intensely individual yet collective. Because two hours on the trail is about as good way to start as Sunday as there is, whether lost in your own mind or sharing the triumphs of your friends.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Abundant Nature, Abundant Epiphanies

Today: 11
Present: 117
Count: 17

Sometimes, you end up places. And you're supposed to be there.

I slept in my car last night, curled up under a sport coat, no blanket to speak of. It was cold, in the 40s, making a low quality sleeping experience that much lower. But I can't complain, since I was fully conscious of my decision to pull off a perfectly good highway that was leading me to a perfectly go town with perfectly good hotels.

Because sometimes, sleeping in your car on pulled off a dirt road at the base of some full-moon-lit foothills is just the right thing to do.

And so is taking it easy sometimes. Just going out for a jog, easing up and down the trails, soaking it in. You have to pay attention trail running, lest you clip a rock or root and end up smearing your face in the dirt (or worse). Its easy to forget to take in the scenery.

I kept it mellow today, let my mind wander. Epiphanies rolled in.

I must have spooked 30 deer on a 2-hour run. Amazing amount of wildlife. Lake San Antonio should have been packed on the first day of Memorial Day Weekend, but it wasn't. There were some boats out, but the trails were empty. I saw a grand total of zero other runners, and zero hikers.

It's a shame, people spend more time complaining about the wilderness we're losing than they do enjoying what we have.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Big Blocks, Surprise Wind

Today: 8
Present: 106
Count: 16

Sometimes, great runs come out of nowhere. Like when you voluntarily wake up with a 5-handle on the last day of your vacation. When the first mile is brutal, your legs just won't go and you convince yourself that four miles is just about enough. When 8-minute miles feel too fast.

But then your legs start to shake out. You loosen up. Your view snaps into focus. Your pace comes down. Your breathing steadies. 7:30. 7:00. Before you know it, 6:30 is smooth and you feel like you're running again. And you figure what the hell. It's cool (for the desert), it's your last day so why not run hard.

And then with a mile left, after a one-block, two mile option tacked onto the middle of the run, you're dashing sub six across lawns and driveways, dancing by lethargic bus stop waiters, wondering why you're pushing it so hard. And it all evens out.

Eight miles at seven-minute pace equals 56 minutes exactly. And when you finish, you realize you actually had quite a bit left in your tank. And you smile, because you're faster than you give yourself credit for. Maybe all these miles are paying off. And you know that next time, you can push it even harder.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

A Desert Rise

Today: 3
Present: 98
Count: 15

"Rocks. Piles of them. Into the fingers of emptiness, spirits seep. The void of life rushes in, the non-voices, echoing into the caverns. Wind, rustling leaves, covers no tracks and footprints from months gone by lead down winding paths that peter into the fingers of emptiness."

It's been a long time since I have been to the desert -- I mean really been to the desert. Scrambled up rocks piles, leapt like a kid. And gotten the fear. The fear of getting lost, the desert closing in. Peaceful sounds become foreboding, a harsh reminder of just how desolate it is out there and how distinctly nature isn't on your side. It can all go terribly wrong in an instant.

But the desert holds a majesty, a beauty, that is unlike any other terrain I have visited. And perhaps its the emptiness that creates a breeding ground for the spirits that give the desert its power.

I saw a mountain. I saw a trail along a ridge. And I kind of had to run it. A quick 3-mile out and back, 1,000 feet up and at some elevation, but the weather was mild, the wind gentle and after a mile of huffing, I settled into a brisk pace and forgot that I was climbing. When up becomes flat, you can really fly.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Poking Desert Trails -- Mini Back-to-Back

Today: 4
Present: 95
Count: 14

I'm not sure what it says when you wake up before 6am on vacation, without an alarm. I'd like to think I'm just that excited to go run, but maybe it's just the early morning desert sun pushing through the blinds.

Either way, I was on the trail before 7am. I can count on one hand the number of times I've started a non-race run this early. Rising above the roadway din, I caught a glimpse of why they call it Palm Springs. A sea of green against a backdrop of foreboding browns.

The trail wound through the hills, at times steep, then flattening out. Plenty wide, not too rocky but just technical enough to keep it interesting. If it weren't approaching 80 degrees and infinitely dry it would have been positively enjoyable.

My legs ached from yesterday's 16 mile scamper, and it felt good to crank again. It's almost like in just 24 short hours, I had forgotten the misery and sweltering from the day before.

I turned around at two miles, where four trails converged and someone had formed rocks into a 10-foot human form. A great place to start getting lost. Maybe tomorrow.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Desert Teen Surprise

Today: 16
Present: 91
Count: 13

Its the little things that make your timeshare vacation special. Like the watered down dish soap and sign the bathroom telling you exactly how much you'll be charged if you lift the towels ($10 each). And the elderly couple sauntering by outside, he spedo-clad, she OK with it.

The flip side is that you get all the comforts of home without the burden of being there. It's usually warmer, too. In this case, perhaps too warm.

I set off this morning, earlier to miss the heat. I figured a 7am departure should do it. But I didn't expect to run 16 miles, a sweltering meander along the Palm Springs bike path system. I just kept going. Long blocks blew by, the oasis waking to a warm May morning.

90 minutes always clicks. Sometimes, eerily so. I hit it with five miles left, already over the heat and the thermometer rising.I told myself that these five are all that matter. That the first 11 were easy, that I came to the desert to train, not jog.

I ran through sprinklers, refilled at fountains serving water up lukewarm. It tasted amazing. I really faded in the last mile. In my mind I was already done. I had already sunk into the pool, enveloped in cool. I was on my second glass of ice cold lemonade. Those images kill. The closest you can get while you're out there is to stop. And stopping is the only thing that will ensure they never come true.

Sunday, May 19, 2013


Today: 6
Present: 75
Count: 12

There's a cool front in town - it will only hit 100 today.  And even at 8:30am, the sun is up and baking the streets.

I set off on the same course as yesterday, a rough path in mind that will lead me past some trails I may explore tomorrow. But running isn't about sticking to your plan, it's about moving in the flow of the wind of the roads. Midway into the run, after realizing that the trick to running on sand is to push off flat and light, I saw signs to a bike path. So much for the plan.

I ended up weaving my way through golf courses and water parks, behind strip malls and self-storage centers. I found a water utility and RV park. The path wasn't pristine, and there weren't any other runners out. A couple walkers and bikers, the wise ones likely done already.

Even six miles in this heat is a struggle, and when you stop, the sweat comes. And it is good.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Back in the Sun

Today: 3
Present: 69
Count: 11

Desert heat is a tough way to get back on the horse after three days off. I am reminded how for whatever reason, running in Palm Springs is tough. It can't be the elevation (440ft) or the hills (none, unless you hit the mountain trails). The heat is obvious, but even out of the burning sun it's just hard to run here.

I remember KJ and I used go on runs when we were visiting my grandma, and he could never get it together. I never felt great, but he was worse.

On this run, it was Maura who was worse for wear. Her dark hair sucks in the heat, but since she doesn't sweat much it has nowhere to go. And when her husband drags her out and we end up running halfway on sand, it makes for a lousy few miles.

But we were moving, and sweating. So what's not to like.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Bernal Spaghetti for Breakfast (Yellow, 40)

Today: 4
Present: 66
Count: 10

Have I mentioned that I'm spoiled? That right out my front door is one of San Francisco's best kept trail running secrets?

The best thing about the trails at Bernal are how technical they are. Forget single track, these are half tracks. Super narrow, steep, slanted, rocky, overgrown, windy, dogs to dodge -- a perfect proving ground. I get out onto a proper trail and feel like I'm running down the highway with a tailwind.

This morning, I set out to run for 40 minutes, trying to keep it in the yellow the whole time. And on trails like this, it's no easy task. My quads felt it from my ride last night, which wasn't grueling per se, but its the first time I've gone that far on my bike in a while.

Not to mention, rolling into work at 11:30 is a lot easier when you work for yourself.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Bernal in the Morning Mist

Today: 3
Present: 62
Count: 9

There mere thought of moving, and all I can think about is not living on Bernal Hill. I can roll out of bed, drag myself up some stairs and dance in the mist.

This morning, I couldn't see the rooftops below, the entire city shrouded in a gentle mist. It wasn't quite fog, a Bernal version of the Sutro Soup. Quick run, get the heart rate up and off to see the day.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Race Report: Cinderella 10k, Oakland Hills

Today: 6
Present: 59
Count: 8

If my goal today was to run the perfect tactical race and take second place, I ran the perfect race.

I haven't run at Joaquin Miller in a couple years, but I remember the gist of the course. Up, rollers, down, up, rollers, steep down, gradual up to the finish.

I arrived early, nice to get in my extended hour-long warm up. But the best part about getting to a trail run early is missing the always long line for the bathroom. Something about the pre-race jitters that gets the bowels working over time.

Running the shortest distance of the day always stings a little. Like when the smiley middle aged couple asked me what race I was running, I almost felt bad responding "Ah, just the 10k." I didn't add I was trying to win.

My strategy going out was pretty simple. Don't try to win it on the first hill, settle into a good pace on the rollers and keep contact with the leaders. Charge the down and catch up, push it up the hill then fly down Cinderella Trail. With a little luck, I would either be ahead or close to the front for the final stretch, which plays to my grinding strength.

The "gun" went off and from the start it was pretty clear there were really only four of us in contention. I settled into fourth, trying to stay out of the red on the way up. I hit the flat sooner than expected, and quickly passed Mike Lopez to move into third. You won't find a fitter (and more upbeat) 55-year old on the trails. On the switchbacks I could see first and second place, so settled into a rhythm and worked on getting my breathing back into the yellow.

At this point, I probably could have pushed it and caught third place, but I was content to hang back and run my race. Discipline is one thing, but I spent the next four miles focusing on the ideal time to move into second, rather than making sure I knew where first was. I am a good lion, and in hindsight should have pushed into second and set my sights on first, rather than hoping by the time I got around to moving into second, first would be within striking distance.

We hit the aid station, I grabbed some water and ran out into the sun. My shirt came off and the trail got crowded. As we descended into the lollipop, we started catching the pack of runners doing the longer distances. I am used to navigating crowds like this, but the timing of all this passing was definitely suboptimal. We were on a very technical and steep downhill section, with roots and rocks knifing out of a narrow single track. I did my best to be polite and respectful, but some people are just more aware than others.

I try to have nothing but love for other runners on the course, but running with headphones on single track just isn't smart. You are totally unaware, and you become a danger to other runners. And to yourself. As I went to pass a woman, I warned "On your left!" in my kindest tone. But her earbuds blocked my voice. As I moved to pass, she startled and tripped. Faceplant. "Oh shit." I stopped to make sure she was OK. She was, and got up to start running again.

I don't know what else I could have done. I felt bad about it, but at the same time if you are running out there, you have to know its a race and be aware of what's around you. The entire thing transpired in about six seconds. From there until the bottom, I resigned to hang back in third and look for my opening once the trail cleared out.

As we started the climb, I had a mind to push it and make my pass. But passing on steep climbs takes a lot out of you. So I was content to just keep my distance and make my move at the top.

I didn't want to go a whole lot faster on the climb, but in hindsight I should have realized that I hadn't seen first in a while, and with only two miles left I had a lot of ground to make up and time was running out.

The top came sooner than expected, again. All these long climbs I have been doing make these 300ft-ers seem like bumps in the road. Steep bumps, but bumps nonetheless.

At the top, I took it easy for a 100 yards to get my breathing down, then started setting up for the pass. My legs hadn't felt springy the whole race, a combination of a hilly back-to-back last weekend, two hard boxing workouts Wednesday and Thursday and me starting to transition from distance to speed training. I let it get to me mentally, convincing myself I had to save my legs for later in the race.

And here was later. I skipped the aid station, knowing I only had 15 minutes or so left and most of that was downhill. On a small rise after the aid station, I saw second laboring and I turned it on. He acknowledged it with a "nice move" as I blew past, doing my best to look strong and put distance between us. And what I realized as I charged the small rise was that I actually had a lot more left in my legs than I thought. I just hadn't been pushing it hard enough.

I raced down Cinderella, hoping beyond hope that I'd see first around a bend and have a real race to the finish. Talk about a fun, but technical downhill sprint.

I hit the bottom alone, and didn't see first until I could see the finish line. He was already done. Not that far ahead, but already done.

I cruised in at 50:30, a touch above my goal of 50, but still respectable at just over 8 minute miles. First beat me by a minute. I minute I know I could have made up if I had been chasing him, instead of second.

But overall I'm happy with the race. Another tactical lesson and ultimately if I am not happy with a second place finish, I am really not out here for the right reasons. That said, second doesn't feel anywhere close to first.

Pre-Race Shake out

Today: 3
Present: 53
Count: 7

I'm still not really sure what to do the day before a race. There is a part of me that feels like rest is the best thing, just stay off your feet. But I usually jog 2-3 miles just to shake out the legs and think about tomorrow's race.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Mini Mission Mission

Today: 5
Present: 50
Count: 6

In the past year, I've learned a lot about suffering. And having dipped my toe into the world of ultra marathoning, I've met people far more familiar with the concept than me.

Suffering isn't just about feeling terrible. And it's more than having the fortitude to endure pain, to push past the point where most people would stop. To run well, and long, you have to embrace the suffering, to welcome it like an old friend.

In a strange way, it's why we run. Because in pushing ourselves, in enduring the tired legs and aching body, the heaving lungs and blistering feet, we reach deep into ourselves and find out what's truly inside.

And more to the point of this blog, when you run present, you can go forever. You can always take one more step. It's only when you step back and look at the entire path that fatigue sets in.

Sometimes you go running because you're feeling bleh. Because you're hungover, or just don't have it. Some training runs are for your mind, even if its just five miles around the Mission.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Morning Ascension

Today: 4
Present: 45
Count: 5

I am pretty spoiled. Right outside my door is an urban staircase to Bernal Heights Park atop Bernal Hill. In a city with some pretty spectacular views, Bernal Hill has some of the best.

Not only is there a great 1-mile loop around the hill with some solid elevation gain, but there are trails -- real trails! -- on the hill. They are great for technical trail running practice. They are steep, narrow, slanted and scantily-maintained. Single track feels like a fire road after running at Bernal.

On those rare days I actually wake up and run my home course, it's amazing how much better my day is.

Monday, May 6, 2013

How Good Does Your Water Taste?

Today: 11
Present: 41
Count: 4

When you're running long distances, self check-ins help you keep it together. I usually start from my feet and move up. In addition to passing the time, monitoring the parts of your body that are liable to fall apart makes you better equipped to self-medicate and make good decisions at upcoming aid stations.

But on a metaphysical level, these check-ins deepen the connection between body and mind. Of the many aspects of trail running I enjoy, it is the deep bond within the body that brings me closer to myself. 

One of my check-in mantras is "How good does my water taste?" The better my water tastes, the more dehydrated I probably am. I'll check to see how much water I have left, when the next aid station is, and adjust my rationing strategy accordingly.

Sweeping the trails at Armstrong Redwoods, I was on my own in the sweltering heat. Arriving back at the bottom of the hill, aid station cleaned and gone, concerned the next one would be too, water rationing took on a new meaning. Ascending that hill, again, my water tasted really, really good.

Friday, May 3, 2013

In Which I Learn Running Uphill on Snow is Harder than Running Downhill on Snow

Today: 14
Present: 30
Count: 3

I used to do this thing called "sober thoughts on a birthday," which was ironic because I wasn't usually sober. I'd write what amounted to a State of My Life - how were things going, where were things going and what did I think about it. The ritual was born at Kate Sessions Park in San Diego, probably with a Santana's burrito by my side.

As my time spent (not) sober has dwindled as I have gotten older, the tradition waned, although I have always retained my birthday as a day of reflection and meditation. Without a doubt, the worst part of my birthday is fielding calls from friends and families sending me good wishes. Selfish, I know, so I muddle through and endure the love.

I don't have a ton of regrets in life. Those that nag at me tend to be specific decisions at specific points in time rather than "I wish I did [fill in the blank] more (or less) than I do." I wish I hadn't picked up trail running when I was pushing 30, with no appreciation that after 10 years of atrophy, my old running muscles may be a bit rusty and a bit more rickety than expected.

The flip side, of course, is that I am glad I discovered it at 30 rather than 60. Perhaps the new tradition will become "sober runs on a birthday." Today's was sobering, in any event, and made me really wish I had those studded trail running shoes I have so long coveted.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Reach Granada

In a sort of anticlimactic way, I am now officially signed up to run the New York City Marathon. A friend introduced me to Reach Granada, one of the marathon's official charities. So over the coming months, I'll be asking friends to donate to this great cause and support my run.

I have always cringed at the idea of asking people to pay my way into a race, even if the money went to a worthy group. But after Boston, and reflecting on the twisted irony of victims losing legs at a marathon, a wave of gratefulness came over me. I have my health. I can run.

In many ways, the thankfulness of my physical condition reflects Reach Granada's mission, to improve the lives of abused and abandoned Granadian children.

I was fortunate to be born into a loving family with the means and desire to support me. I had the opportunity to truly do anything I could dream of. So to in a small way help those who didn't win the lottery of birth I did, and to do it via something I love to do, I said why not.

And oh by the way, I want to run a sub 3-hour marathon (current PR: 3:20). So here we go.

Good Morning Bernal

Today: 5
Present: 16
Count: 2

I am totally spoiled living at the base of Bernal Hill. Not only does the Bernal Loop give you the best views in the city, but there are trails up there. Real trails.

Four laps this warm morning, shaking out the legs from my harder than expected run Monday. 40 minutes of the best way to start a day.

I joined Strava's May challenge for miles logged. 4.5 down, lots to go.