Monday, December 30, 2013

Chilly East Austin Recon

Today: 20
Present: 855
Count: 117

Cold. It was damn cold when I set off this morning on what would be my longest run in Texas. I dropped down the hill towards the river, doing my best to warm up in the chilly morning air.

With a loose course in mind, I wove into some urban wilderness before meandering through my little East Austin neighborhood of dreams. I ran up and down the streets, ogling at the houses and vacant lots, new construction and rundown shacks. And I started to wonder if all my time in real estate had led up to this moment, to this little slice of Texas.

Perhaps its been on the cusp for years, but it strikes me that with the river on one side, 6th Street on the other and downtown just a few blocks away, fast forward a decade and the neighborhood would be almost unrecognizable from what it is today.

10 miles I ran here, following the grid in my mind, exploring the nooks and crannies of this diverse, suburban hamlet of hipsterdom meets working class Latino. Such is the story in so many cities around the country struggling with the G word.

Nature calling, I glanced back towards the bathroom and found a bathroom. Relief, but after washing my hands and hitting the river trail, my fingers froze and it was all I could do to keep warm, gliding along the banks. I passed some Chinese fisherman with quite a haul. It was strangely out of place, like Chinese river fisherman now grow in every corner of the globe.

Warmed up, I focused on my run. In my mind I figured I'd hit about 20 -- ostensibly my goal for the morning -- and having meandered most of the first part of the run, I started pushing it. I wanted to get my average pace down below 7:30, ideally closer to 7. Which would mean I ran these next 7 or 8 miles pretty fast.

I started passing people before I hit the bridge, as the crowds swelled  and the air warmed up. The gentle path seemed downhill the whole way. I ran smooth and easy, but fast. The crowds thinned again around the other side as the trail petered out and I was once again back on the city streets. I carved the route away from the river and back through urban Austin, a weird mix of commercial, industrial and large-scale residential, mixes we just don't have here in the Bay Area: Not enough land.

I felt strong. Really strong like I could have kept going for miles and miles. I had barely touched my water and had brought limited food, just a few mini-candy bars which, while tough to open with frozen fingers, were amazing little boosts of energy -- something to remember for future runs.

I coasted home and drifted to a stop, breathing hard but feeling great. It was barely 11am with 20 miles in the bag. Not a bad morning.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Austin River Loop

Today: 10
Present: 835
Count: 116

So much to say about Austin, much of it not belonging on this running blog. Suffice to say, it would shock me if I don't end up running this loop again in 2014.

Maura, Luchi and I hit the loop and after a quick misadventure under a bridge were on track and cruising around the lake with hundreds of other joggers, walkers and people out enjoying a cool but sunny Saturday morning.

My legs still felt tight after my last run at the lake so was really looking forward to the easy pace and gentle trails. Indeed, the next day my legs felt like new.

Maura drifted slowly behind us, not having running that much in the past month or two. Luchi and I chatted briefly, me giving him a couple tips on form and him complaining about shooting pains in his hands. Fair enough.

We made the turn and the trail quieted opposite downtown. It got simply empty then abruptly ended in a parking lot, signs promising the completion of the boardwalk in the not too distant future. And with the breakneck pace of Austin's development right now, I believe them.

Winding back on city streets with a mini-climb at mile eight, I resolved to hit the loop again before I left. We found the car and headed home, thoughts and smells of bacon rattling around in my mind.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Travis County Horseshoe

Today: 14
Present: 825
Count: 115

Opting out of the afternoon's activities, I knew I had to make the run count. Texas is big, we were in the boonies and all the routes I found were way too long. But I managed to find one that seemed about right, 18 miles that would get me home just before dark.

Out on the highway, tiny shoulder, cars whizzing by me like I was the first runner they'd ever seen on this road (I may have been), I began to question the wisdom of the run. But I was out there and I would finish.

Rolling through the Texas hill country, my legs felt strong. I have come to the conclusion that 2014 will be there year I figure out how to run up hills. And by figure out, I mean everything from form and technique to strength and conditioning and even tactics. KJ says just lose 10 pounds. Sounds like the easy way out -- but maybe not.

I finally hit my turn and found myself off the highway but onto a road with an even tinier shoulder. No shoulder actually, and I danced along the white line keeping my fingers crossed that cars would offer me a wide berth. They did, thankfully.

Another turn and I mentally checked my map and actually checked my watch, knowing that I'd have to hustle around this loop and back up again to make it back by dark.

Now I was really in the sticks. Fancy houses by the lake are all fine and good, but get off the shoreline and you were just in rural Texas, nothing more, nothing less. I kept my eyes and ears peeled for shotgun blasts, the city slicker out of his element.

The road ended abruptly into a large gate that could have either been the entrance to a house or to a swanky neighborhood. Only at seven miles, I knew that turning around would mean not hitting my 18. But discretion turned out to be the better part of valor, and I quickly modified my expectations, decided not to test the No Tresspassing signs, flipped around and picked up the pace.

I'd get home early, relax and maybe even beat the family home. Having forgotten any gels or blocks, I snacked on Grape Nuts and honey, which turned out to be a delicious mid-run snack. Netting some down on the way home, I pushed it down the rollers and back up the other side. My legs felt tight, probably a combination of the chilly air and my lackluster stretching.

When I pulled into the house, I was wiped. Not a lot of flat so while my pace wasn't terribly impressive,but  I ran hard and felt satisfied. Missing out on laser tag, rock climbing and the like turned out to be worth it, after all.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Off-Trail Trekking, River Crossings Galore

Today: 6
Present: 811
Count: 114

Determined to find the trail promised to go "all the way back into the canyon," my feet were soaked within a quarter mile. Maura on my back, I crossed the river and hit the sand running.

But the trail didn't last, it petered out and all that was left was Texas thicket and the tail edge of a paintball range. And water. Alone, perhaps I would have charged ahead to see if the trail reemerged around the bend, but looking back at my wife and her two brothers, I thought better of it.

We backtracked to the trail we knew, past the house across the crossing and out towards the main part of the lake. The trail ended again and this time Maura turned back. It wasn't wise, the risk reward just wasn't there. So Miguel, Luchi and I pushed on, a rare moment when all three of us could just be guys, out in the open air testing each other and pushing the others ever so slightly.

I held back of course, we were out for a run not racing, and I've learned enough times that if you want people to enjoy running with you, you can't leave them in the dust. Ego anyone?

And we had a blast. A week ago I did my first snow run, and today I did my first true cross country, off-trail trek replete with river crossings, cliff shimmying and dying light. We crisscrossed the sad dry lake bed, doubling back numerous times when the "trail" we were following disappeared into the brush or over a cliff.

I longed for my worn Salomons but my Sauconys performed admirably and forced me to dance through the weeds and plants, dodging rocks with prudence.

Turning around at the resort, we struck a new path back cliffside, scurrying down rocks that were anything but stable. When we hit the path, legs scraped and adrenaline pumping, our wet shoes felt light in the evening air.

We picked up the pace a bit, a quick gait home. Miguel and I led Luchi back, and I think we all thought forward to May when the three of us would be running in Bear Mountain, 50 long Ks in upstate New York.

Coasting across the final meadow and scampering up the steep steps to the house, I couldn't help but feel like I had just finished one of those runs you'll never forget. The terrain, the company and the place -- just a special hour. Oh, and Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Lake Travis Recon

Today: 3
Present: 809
Count: 114

Fresh off the plane in Austin and on the shores of what used to be Lake Travis (drought), I looked out the window of the house we rented and was delighted to see a wide trail cutting a line along the banks of creek that was once a lake.

Maura, Luchi, Jessica and I grabbed our shoes and were out the door. Light dwindled and we drove down the road to the town park to pick up what we were told was a trail that would lead us to an easy spot to cross the river and continue along the river back towards the house. It was too late for fording and we just wanted to get out there.

The dirt was soft, just what you'd expect basically running at the bottom of a lake. Short, but sweet, we took the trail to its natural conclusion as light gave way to night.

I knew I'd be back tomorrow for further exploration -- and indeed I was right. Not bad for a backyard.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

First Snow Run (Mostly Lost)

Today: 11
Present: 806
Count: 113

Salomon's "Spikecross" studded trail running show
The snow was hard-packed, not exactly ideal running conditions but as stable as I could have expected. One could even argue that my feet jostling over the uneven ground was a good thing -- ankle training if you will. And for the the first time in my running career -- and indeed my life -- I badly wanted studded trail running shoes.

For the first mile or so, I had to contend with ice on the roads more than anything else, so was grateful for the change in terrain when I hit the trail and began tromping over the snow.

Up up up towards Page Meadows, a path I can barely cut in the summer given that I've only run it a handful of times and until you hit the Rim Trail markings are few and far between. But I found the meadows and was rewarded with bluebird, crisp morning air and wide open virgin meadows all to myself.

I picked my way along paths previously trampled down by cross country skiiers, hikers and the occasional snow-shoer, seeking out the most well-worn trails to stay on top of the snow. My feet sank in more than a few times and I kept having to stop to flick snow off my ankles to try and keep my socks dry. Gaiters, perhaps more than Spikecross, would be a worthwhile investment.

I wanted to just keep running. I had the quiet forest to myself, the early morning wife drop off at SFO four hours earlier seemed days away. I wanted to run to Alpine. To Squaw. And beyond. I knew I couldn't, that I didn't have enough water or food or even know where I was going. But damn I wanted to go.

I meandered around the meadows and popped back onto the main trail, heading generally away from home for as long as the trail held. It sloped down and ended a bit before I had hoped. I had to turn around, and after a slippery slog back up quickly found myself back in the meadows but the trail leading back down the hill provided elusive. I wasn't worried per se, but trudging back up the hill in the snow wore me out and I was starting to get ready to be back in the warm house.

Backtracking, I managed to pick out the right trail. I was found again but tremendously sad that my run would be coming to an end. Two hours of bliss, my first snow run ever. And not my last.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

P'Hill Loop Plus Wife

Today: 3
Present: 795
Count: 112

Great little mellow run with Maura this morning. We don't do it often enough, but when we do run together our lack of consistency actually makes it all the better. We appreciate and enjoy the time, quiet stretches intermixed with catching up on things that normally get pushed aside by the pressing matters of the day.

I've had this idea in my head that after my race at Rodeo I would take a month off. Let my body rest, let my mind rest. But now that the race is done, the last thing I can imagine is taking a break. I feel strong, both body and mind and my life these days seems to be one big waiting game between runs. I love it.

I'm running well, am in a good rhythm and have a couple races I want to perform well in early next year. So, why rest?

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Shake 'em Out Then Off to Oaktown

Today: 4
Present: 792
Count: 111

Fresh off an awesome run in Marin over the weekend, I just wanted to get back on my feet. I friend was hosting a drinking event at a recently finished project in Oakland and I wanted to get over there, but prioritized myself and went on a run before heading over.

It felt fantastic to be out there, a little creaky from Saturday but overall I can't complain. I didn't run fast, or particularly hard, but the late-afternoon run reminded me why I work for myself and why just those four short miles can make all the different in your state of mind.

I was sharp, engaged and on point at the event, then kicked it with my friend Mike who I don't spend enough time with. Not that the evening would have been a flop without the run, but I set myself up for success -- all I had to do was swing.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Mid-Week Maintenance

Today: 6
Present: 769
Count: 109

There was a time in my life I only ran at night. Back when running didn't really matter, except as a release from whatever post-adolescent angst happened to be gnawing at me.

In college, I used to run wind sprints barefoot on the soccer fields outside my dorm. Back and forth, back and forth, the cool mud squishing between my tensed toes as they dug into the earth. In hindsight, nothing really was wrong, but to my 18-year old self, the entire world seemed to be crashing down around me.

Running can still be a released, but those phantom demons are long since chased away and my running is a far more productive, organized and consistent force for good in my life. To wit, I even have a snap-on reflector harness that I borrowed from my brother and haven't given back.

So I set off this evening not trying to exercise any demons, per se, but just going out on a run, at night. I still get that rush, flowing through the quiet air, my legs wanting to move faster. I toned them down though, knowing that my last race of the season was just a few days out.

I felt fresh, relaxed, like I could run forever. I've had some great runs lately, and couldn't be more excited for Saturday.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Crisp Bernal Morning

Today: 4
Present: 765
Count: 108

With my last race of the season coming up in a couple weeks, I'm doing a modified tapering for the next couple weeks. Its a 30k trail run in Marin at my "home course" at Rodeo Beach. And while I haven't really been specifically training for it, I want to perform the best I can and a series of short, brisk runs this week should fit the bill to get my legs ready for the blissful brutality of the course.

The run to Bernal is anything but an easy four miles, but I took it light and enjoyed the crisp morning air. Its unseasonably cold for San Francisco right now, even in winter, so just getting out there and on my feet is a bit of an accomplishment. Its amazing how soft you can get living in this idyllic, temperate climate.

I never tire of the view from up there, and I ran consistently up and up and up to the top, hit the fence and cruised back down. I wasn't in a rush and didn't have anything specific to get back to, but I didn't want my morning rushed and was content with the short run.

Just three days running in a row now and I already feel world's better. I've been struggling to be consistently healthy after the marathon but feel like I'm finally back on the right track ... for today anyway.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Blustery Lunch on Grandpa Jim's Birthday

Today: 5
Present: 761
Count: 107

110 years ago today, my grandpa Jim was born. He was the kind of grandpa that every kid dreams about having - great stories, a big laugh and a mystique about him that you're just old enough to comprehend, marveling at that something special you hope to someday have.

People say I remind them of my grandpa, and nothing could come as a deeper compliment. Perhaps it was our propensity towards danger early in life -- but I like to think of it as a zeal for purity, a quest for experience.

I always remember December 3rd, its an easy day to keep in mind since my birthday also falls on the 3rd day of the month (May). And when I recall the day, I take a moment to reflect on my grandpa, who passed away now almost 20 years ago.

I think about my life, and what he would have thought of it. What advice he would give me. Sometimes I think about him for a fleeting moment, other times for longer.

Today, as I mulled whether to rush in a run before an important afternoon meeting, I thought WWJD? He'd go on that run, and make the most of it. He wasn't a runner, but was an athlete in his own right and performed at a high level in all endeavors long past when most people call it quits. He had this unlimited supply of energy and the idea of getting old wasn't one to which he subscribed.

So I charged out into the wind. I didn't set any records, but I ran strong and fast. I got back in time for the meeting, was almost on time but the run had put me in a clear-headed, positive frame of mind.

Happy Birthday Grandpa Jim.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Morning Abort

Today: 2
Present: 756
Count: 106

Maura and I haven't been running together much -- different schedules and different goals have made our time on our feet together scarce. But this Monday morning we made it out the door and headed off on a short, brisk run out to the water and back.

Midway down the hill towards the flats, Maura realized that she had an early meeting and had to head back. We doubled back and clocked in at two miles when we hit the front door.

She checked her schedule to confirm and, low and behold, the meeting wasn't until that afternoon. Too bad we missed the full run, but it was great to just get out there together. Two miles is always better than zero.