Sunday, April 28, 2013

Pretty Awesome of My Teammates

On that fateful Monday when the Boston Marathon was attacked (I'm seriously still bothered by that, no one messes with the Boston Marathon), I was apparently bummed out to the point that I was visually displaying it at work.  A handful of my teammates asked if I was OK, and one even floated the idea of taking the afternoon off.  I thought it was pretty cool that my teammates not only know me well enough to realize how much I care about the sanctity of the Boston Marathon, but also genuinely care about me.

The next day, out for my usual morning run, I started coming up with an idea: what if my teammates could participate in a marathon with me, or at least experience one?  I really wanted them to fully know what the marathon is all about, and see the good side of it, the way it challenges us, brings out the best in us, and how marathoners respond to challenges with persistence and determination.  Not only that, but joining in on a marathon would be the perfect message and response in the wake of someone attacking Boston: no matter what happens, very much in the marathon spirit, keep running!

So for our next team meeting, the very next day, I put together a short presentation that was essentially a combination of my "For Boston" post and the two paragraphs you just read.  Then mentioned that the San Francisco Marathon's registration is still open, and they have a marathon, half-marathon, 5K, and progressive marathon as options.  Of course, I had to explain what a progressive marathon is, but I sold that hard, mentioning that just about anyone can jog or walk 23.1 miles in the span of two months, and just about anyone can jog or walk a 5K on race day.  Do that, and you get a finisher's T-shirt and medal just like everyone else, and you get to be a part of the San Francisco Marathon.

I concluded the presentation with what I presented as our team mantra:
"For Boston, I will."

What surprised me was how receptive everyone was.  They friggin' applauded!! (that rarely happens for anything in our weekly meetings).  A couple signed up for the half marathon, but a ton of people seemed interested in the progressive marathon.  Others said they'd come out and volunteer or cheer us on.  The whole team just had the brightest looks walking out of that meeting.  I was, well, I was touched.  It meant something to me to see it mean something to them.

So now we're gonna have a handful of Googlers running in the San Francisco Marathon with me.  Awesome.

For Boston, I will.

Fighting the Doldrums

Last Monday I went for a normal morning run.  Half a mile into it, I stopped for no apparent reason.  I started up again after a minute or so.  A quarter mile later, I stopped again.
"My head just isn't in it today, huh?" I thought to myself.  I jogged another quarter mile back to my building, got a breakfast taco, showered, and went to work.

It wasn't even a good breakfast taco, either.

To some degree, I think I'm losing a little bit of a mental edge.  I really need something to keep me going upstairs.  I may have found it today, something of a new mantra.  Will post later if it sticks and starts working.

As much as I'm having a hard time with consistently sticking to my training schedule, I'm doing just as bad, if not worse, when it comes to eating.  I really need to lay off the sweets and stop picking the heavier, meat-oriented items at the cafeterias at work.  And I need to eat a little less in general.  Well, if I run as much as I should, maybe I don't need to eat that much less.  I dunno.  The point is I'm currently eating more than I need to, and not making the best choices.  That needs to change.

I wound up doing brick training today (a bike ride followed immediately by a run).  Haven't done that in a long time.  Wound up feeling pretty good; maybe I should do that more often.  Not a whole lot, mind you, but after my long rides on weekends, follow that up with a couple miles on foot.  Think that'll re-establish a little bit of toughness, both in my legs and in the mental arena, in a "you're never done" kinda way.

One More Post For Boston

"Invictus" by William Earnest Henley has always been something of a mantra of mine, the poetic equivalent of a spirit animal, if you will.  In fact, "Invictus" was what I named the bike I rode to Anchorage as part of Texas 4,000.  Read it again, with Boston in mind:

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeoning of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

For Boston, I will.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Extra Baggage

I went out on a long run the other day, and I noticed Shoreline Park was heavily populated, especially with overweight people wearing matching shirts and carrying water bottles, some with race belts.  At least half of them were walking.  Then I saw an aid station.  Curious, I asked what was going on, maybe there was a race in the park that I was unaware of.

It turned out to be some organization trying to help people run their first half-marathon (good for them!), and they were doing a training run today.  A mile later, I saw another aid station.  And mind you, they didn't just have water, they had a full spread of snacks.  This was not for an actual race or an official half-marathon, but just for a training run, presumably significantly shorter than 13 miles.  Meanwhile, here I am, on a 19.5-mile training run, carrying no food or water.

I know I'm in better shape than most people, and good for them for doing something to get in shape, but you don't need so much stuff!!!!  Honestly, you're not going to starve to death in the course of an hour or two.  Nor will you die of thirst.  I understand going through maybe a bottle of water every hour or so, but c'mon!!!!  You'll be a better runner if you get into a more self-sufficient mentality, where you can take on anything with or without any help.

I think this lesson applies outside of running too.  You don't need all those things you think you need.  It will really be OK if you're not 100% comfortable all the time.  Not every single convenience is necessary.  Turn the A/C down.  Turn your phone off.  Don't waste money on that bottle of water, wait until you get home.  It'll just make you have to stop and pee again anyway.  Don't carry something around "just in case" if you haven't used it in the last month.

Think again before buying something that's going to complicate your life rather than simplify it.  You'll probably be better off without it.

And don't carry so much stuff.  It just slows you down.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

For Boston

The third Monday of April has become something of a personal holiday for myself. The Boston Marathon has a deep meaning to me, and to thousands, if not millions more, representing an ultimate goal, a personal challenge, an achievement for a lifetime. A chance to run with the greatest, hell, to BE among the greatest, running along a hallowed course, your footsteps echoing through history.

I know the attack probably has nothing to do with the Boston Marathon and more to do with a big crowd and a worldwide audience, but this feels personal. There is nothing remotely offensive about the Boston Marathon, in fact, it represents the good and the miraculous in all of us. It shows us that ordinary people can accomplish great things. And for these athletes to have tragedy strike as they're simultaneously in the middle of both the accomplishment and the experience of a lifetime, well, that just sucks.

While we're at it, it's a shame that hardly a single news outlet was saying a derned thing about the Boston Marathon until people started dying.  Not even in the sports section.  Next time around, it'd be nice if we celebrated the triumph of 26,000 as strongly as we mourn the tragedy of 100.  I wish we as humans were drawn to good news as much as bad news, if not more.

So congratulations to those that finished the Boston Marathon yesterday.  Your accomplishment is not lost on me, even in the face of a horrible act by some jerk.

Yesterday I cut my morning run short when I started feeling lightheaded (I trained a lot over the weekend and didn't eat enough).  Then when I heard what happened, somehow the only thing I could think of doing was go for a run.  So I posted something on a listserve at work and managed to get two other Googlers to join in on an after-work run "for Boston".  Then I went out for a Boston lager.

It's early, but I'm thinking I'll run Boston next year.  Like hell someone takes our marathon away.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Marathon Monday!

To all 26,000 athletes running the Boston Marathon today...

First of all, congratulations!  You have earned a spot in the most prestigious footrace on Earth.  Most people will go their entire lives without ever having completed a marathon.  Of those that do, many never will without walking.  A majority will never even come within an hour of their Boston qualifying time.  The fact that you are in Boston at all puts you among running's elite.

Every time you didn't hit snooze after only four hours of sleep, every time you looked out the window, saw rain, and laced up your shoes anyway, every time you passed on a late-night party in order to wake up early for training the next morning, I hope you already feel like it was worth it.  In a way, those are your real accomplishments.

I'm not running Boston this year, and due to the travel expense, it's possible I never will again.  And that's OK.  Boston was an experience I'll never forget.  As much as I've fallen in love with trail running, Boston remains my single favorite marathon experience.  The 1 million fans, the history, the prestige, the Wellesley Scream Tunnel.  Heartbreak Hill.  Fenway Park.  And the buzz that seems to captivate the entire city on race weekend (not to mention it's incredibly well-organized, even without considering its considerable size.  I'm looking right at you, LA).  Every good runner should run Boston once, if they earn the chance.  And I'd love it if more runners achieved that honor.

Most of all, good luck, run hard, and enjoy it!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Valley Forge

After a couple weeks of not taking training very seriously, and even missing out on a marathon, it's time to get back in business.

My next marathon isn't until May 11th, basically a month from now.  That gives me four weekends in a row without a race.  Four consecutive weeks where I don't have to taper on Thursday or Friday.  Four consecutive Saturdays and Sundays just begging for long training runs and bike rides.  I consider it imperative that I take full advantage of this training opportunity.

On top of that, I really need to start eating better again.  I've been falling victim to sweets too often lately.  And I need to stay on top of my strength exercises too.  I haven't been taking those seriously since last fall.

So I need to run more, bike more, and do more push-ups, pull-ups, and core work.  And eat less.  And let me tell ya, getting stronger while losing weight is one of the hardest things you can do.  You're in caloric depletion at all times and have to dig down for energy to do anything.  And in that state, you're trying to get better, run faster, work harder, stay tougher longer, even on less fuel than normal.  Not easy.  This month will be difficult, but if I stick to it, the payoff will be significant.

And here I'm whining about trying to lose five pounds and get a few seconds faster.  To those that are trying to lose 20-30 pounds and get in good shape after no exercise for decades, I don't know how you do it.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Missing Out and Catching Up

I managed to miss the Grizzly Peak Trail Marathon.  How?  I waited until the last minute to register, and by the time I finally did, it had sold out.  Idiotic, I know.  I had been holding out since there was a chance I was going to go for a long hike the day before with a girl that I fancy, and I felt like running a marathon the next day would be a bad idea since I wouldn't have my fastest time.  By the time I came to my senses and realized, "So what?" it was too late.

And I wound up not getting invited on that hike anyway.

But if I were going to miss any marathon, I guess this would've been the best one, if only because I hadn't been taking it too seriously in the weeks building up.  I'd been slacking off on training and hadn't been eating right either.  Oh, sure, I went vegetarian and sober like always, but I was getting dessert more often than not.  In general, my heart just wasn't in it, and I didn't have that edge, or hunger, or grit, or whatever you wanna call it.  After four marathons in a span of six weeks, maybe taking a break wasn't such a bad idea.  Only thing is there's over a month between this last marathon and the next one, so if I'd just gotten through this one, I was due for a break anyhow.

OK, enough with dwelling on what didn't happen, or what should've happened instead.  As a wise man once said, "What should've happened did happen."

My weekend had suddenly gone from packed full of activity to a fresh slate with all kinds of possibilities.  And since I was a little burned out on running to begin with, I thought it was a good time to become re-acquainted with an old friend of mine: Bikes.

I hadn't been on a real mountain bike ride in months, and trail running had reminded me of how much I love getting out in the world.  Maybe it was time to get out the still-unnamed mountain bike and give it another shot.  I planned out a ridiculously long route entirely on trails I'd never ridden before.  93 miles in the wilderness.

Realizing that mountain bikes are slow going and I might need every minute of daylight I could get, I struck out early in the morning.  An hour and a half later, I had gone eight miles.
"That's it?!?"  I could hardly believe it.  I run faster.  A lot faster.  The plans were gonna have to change.

Turns out Fremont Older is a really hilly little park.  The thing I don't like about mountain biking, or at least what I don't like about the places you can do it in California, is that you're constantly either pedaling up a ridiculously steep hill or applying the brakes on the way down a ridiculously steep hill.  There's no cruising.  You never get in a groove.  And you can't even get the most out of the downhills you earn.  It's a frustrating experience, and it's hard for me to keep going for a long period of time.  That being said, apparently I'm good at it, because I was passing other mountain bikers left and right.

On my way out of the park, I was descending a long fire road, with plenty of twists and turns, but wide enough that you could still maintain some speed.  Coming around a corner, I came face-to-face with four deer.  They looked at me, alarmed, but not scared.  I looked at them.  They looked at each other.  I took a picture.  They finally got out of the way.  I coasted only a few more feet and looked up the hill.  They had barely moved off the trail and just watched me some more as they ate leaves.  I guess they're used to seeing mountain bikes.

Oh, and I saw a salamander too (or something).

I wound up doing only 18 miles within the park.  Not only was the lack of continuity already irritating me, but it's also clear that I'm not particularly skilled on a mountain bike yet.  It would probably be a good idea to get to know each of these parks on shorter rides first, before I string them together on a long epic ride, increasing the chances I'll make a mistake and hurt myself as I get more tired throughout the day.

As a side note, if that's as far as a guy like me can go before quitting, how far do the slower guys go?  Seems like buying a decent mountain bike, filling up a Camelbak, and taking the time to drive out to a county park is a lot of work for doing only a few miles.

By the time I got home, I wanted to log some more miles.  As hard as those uphills are, since you can only do it for so long before frustration sets in, I'm almost incapable of wearing myself out on a mountain bike.  After lunch, I took off for another 30 miles on some gravel trails along the bay near my work.  Nice views here and there.  Would be better without all the power lines, but what are ya gonna do.  Lots of wildflowers, one of the reasons spring is my favorite season, but I still haven't seen anything out here that compares to Texas bluebonnets.

And then on Sunday, I went for a long ride on Invictus.  While my "normal" weekend rides on Invicutus involve a long enough climb that my ears pop and the temperature changes, this was clearly the most drastic weather change due entirely to geography that I've ever seen.

As I started, it was a warm, sunny, clear day in Silicon Valley, hardly a cloud in the sky.  Once I got to the base of the hills, it was cloudy, but you could still see spots of blue between them every now and then.  Heading up the hill, it kept getting greyer, colder, and darker, until finally at the top of the hill, it started raining.  I was only sprinkled on for a little while, but the whole time I rode along Skyline (a road that follows a ridgeline), it stayed cold and dark, steadily getting foggier as well, until I started worrying about my safety.  I hadn't bothered bringing lights, but was fortunately wearing a bright red jersey.

Less than ten seconds after taking a right turn and starting down the hill, the fog lifted and you could see any distance in front of you, clear as day.  Five minutes down the hill, the sun was out.  Another five minutes later, and there wasn't a cloud in the sky.  Wow.  My geography professors would've loved to see that.

So my weekend had nothing in common with what I'd planned.  No marathon.  No hike.  No short cute tango-dancing redhead.  I find it best to think of those situations as opportunities to try something else.  Much better than doing nothing at all.