There is a precarious social line of perception between pride and bragging. Texans, I’ve noticed, do pride really well. Sometimes, people look at them and go “enough already with the flag and the lone star and the boots and the hats”, but mostly all that is just the expression of their pride and that is who Texans, generally are.
Runner pride is also mistaken for bragging (although, I will say, if you tell me how many seconds you knocked off your PR, my delighted look will be feigned). That being said, during the month of February, I managed to run 100 miles and between February 21 and 27, I completed 50 miles. I haven’t had a hundred mile month in a few years, due mostly to the fact that I just don’t like running that much (by much, I mean both “that many miles” and “that frequently“). I’ve never run a 50 mile week before, and I never want to again. For me, these achievements are relatively big deals, mostly because I am coming back from injury. There are runners who routinely run these distances with ease, for example, this guy:
I would like to tell you that in January, I had written out these specific, measurable, time-bound goals and developed a plan to achieve them. The truth is that I ran the Mission Gorge trail 15K run on Sunday February 1 and I had a really good long run the following Saturday and was 26 miles in before this 100 mile thing became an idea.
I ran only about 25 miles in January, so a hundred miles was going to be a huge step up, one that I would never advise to anyone to make. I knew injury was a risk. I set out a plan to capture the 75 miles in the remaining 21 days, or 3.6 miles per day. I set a ground rule of no running back-to-back days unless absolutely necessary, which meant I had to cover, on average 7.2 miles per two days. That was bit more daunting. Being a busy human, I just made peace with the fact I would be waking up on some Saturdays with as much as 10 miles in arrears.
Despite some chest congestion, the second week went off according to plan and I reaching mile 50 with no problems. Week 3 involved travel both personal and for work as well as a calf spasm on the morning when a long run was planned. The 100 mile goal came into jeopardy as I didn’t run any of the first 6 days of that week. On that seventh day, I was in Vegas for my daughter’s cheer competition. It was a beautiful morning and I brought my marathon shoes with the full intention of running 15 miles. I felt good and ended up running 21.
With that run out-of-the-way, I had completed 71 miles at the end of the third week which still left me a good 29 miles to run in the final 7 days of the month.
The thought of running the last 29 in a week seemed too much on legs tired from the 21 miler. I eventually had to shift my mental metrics to running in hours rather than miles as the smaller number seemed more manageable. I liken running day after day to pushing a leaky wheelbarrow with water. The longer the run the more water that is put in. The more days between runs, the more time the water has to leak out. My preferred M.O. is to run lots of miles on the weekend and then let the water mostly drain out during the week. This fourth week, 50 miles worth of water was going in and there wasn’t going to be much time for it to drain out and this wheelbarrow, like my legs was going to get heavy.
The Tuesdays after the 21, I ran the easiest and fasted 13.1 miles I run in years. Thursday, I put what felt like 9+ slow miles in between two later afternoon conference calls and then on Friday (violating the no consecutive days rule), I ground out 7 slow brutal miles completed only by repeatedly running to the start of the next song. By this last run, I had used up all my gels and had to break into some well expired gel-blocks that tasted like rubber bands.
At the end of it all, there was 50.96 miles for the last 7 running days and 100.96 miles for the month. I do not feel the need to go out and run an additional 0.04 miles to round off the miles, I’m not THAT kind of OCD. Until the last few days, I felt generally good the entire month. I didn’t have the rungries (extreme hunger resulting from running long distances) that I used to. I think that has to do with the eating plan I put myself on in January. Also, I usually had a nutrition plan both pre and post run.
March is going to involve more work travel. With 64 days until my next big race, I am going to have to resume things like speed training, bike riding, tennis, weight lifting and 5 mile walks with the dog. All of those things were set down during this month. Jill Will Run, just did a blog post on running as a parent. It speaks to running as our life responsibilities become more heavier. Kristen Lamb also just posted on the Doctrine of Doers, describing the attributes of those who get things done. Both posts resonate with me. When making a committing to a difficult course of actions, be it athletic or artistic in nature, it’s easy to have life be thrown out of balance. It is however, good to remember who and what are truly important.
A quick note of thanks to those who have been there and been supportive of this endeavor this month. This includes all those who blog about running in snow and those who post their selfies running in the snow. They make it really hard for me to complain about how cold it is in Southern California.
The original plan for today was to get up about 5ish, go out for a run, shower, dress, have breakfast with my manager and then head out for an all day meeting. Then after much denial, it hit me that today was Ash Wednesday, a day of meditation, fasting and abstaining from eating meat. Things were going to have to shift subtly as they always do during Lent. I think that’s the whole idea behind Lent, to invoke a shift in the way we perceive our relationship with ourselves, the world around us and with God.
I had to pass on the run as I knew this was going to be a vigorous enough day without fasting. I sat and thought a while about the day, the meaning of Lent to me and my family and possible significance of traveling on two consecutive Ash Wednesdays.
On the topic of fasting, I believe that a Lenten fast should be kept to ones self, as described in Matthew: “When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden“. As such, I joke that the first rule of fast club is that one does not talk about fast club. One can blog though as long as it’s not about self-aggrandizement. I have written blog posts ever year about Lent and the meaning it has for me. Most of the time, I never publish those posts because they always feel a bit showy.
This breakfast meeting was a serving of eggs and two pieces of pineapple. Later at our lunch meeting, around the table, not wanting to draw attention to the fact that I wasn’t eating, I had a serving of vegetables and skipped the pasta, the chicken and the beautiful desserts. That was my two meals for the day.
After our meetings my colleges and I headed for the airport. We sat in the bar and they drank beer and ate chicken wings and potato wedges with bacon. I had water. Although I much prefer Guinness made in Ireland, no pint never looks quite as good as when it’s not was not on my one’s personal choice of nourishment for the day. That’ a common lesson of every Lent, for me anyway.
The flight home was a short but beautiful one. The 2014 flight home started in the predawn hours and I watched the sunrise over Northern England. This flight had the sun setting over the Pacific.
I got home after dark and the girls were at cheer practice. They would not be home for a while. I broke my fast with some cereal and a bagel. I was hungry and lonely. I wasn’t happy with the fact that I didn’t maintain the fast. I felt like one of those who couldn’t stay awake with Jesus in his final hours. Do I wish I had done better that evening? Yes. But that is also one of the lessons of Lent, that we are flesh and will return to dust. We aren’t perfect, but we should every once in a while, try to raise the bar for ourselves to better understand that we cannot fly on our own.
If you are beginning a Lenten journey today, may this season be meaningful.
I am standing in front of the Emirates Towers in Dubai finishing a cup of Starbucks before getting on the Metro. My work in this city is done and it’s about 11 hours until my flight takes off. Why my flight leaves at 2am, I do not know.
I counted the Rolls Royces passing down Sheikh Zayed Road, a street as ostentatious as the words, “I am standing in front of the Emirates Towers in Dubai finishing a cup of Starbucks“. I found myself visualizing my tiny spot on the Earth at this moment. I am in a time zone +4 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time, or crudely half-way between favorite hangouts, Shanghai and London. I am 9 times zones away from New York another favorite hangout. Finally, I am 12 time zones or half-way around the world, from my wife and daughter, who I am looking forward to seeing in 40+ hours.
At the age of 10, I started traveling unaccompanied to London to visit family. I remember following the crowd through Heathrow Airport to passport control and then on to see my grandmother on the other side of security. Over my life, I’ve lost track of the visits to Europe. Heck, in the past 5 years I’ve lost track of my trips to Europe. I have become blasé about travel, both domestic and international.
But in this moment, I am humbled to be standing so far from away from home.The words Vive La Différence come to mind. I think I had to be so much further away than normal and so far out of my comfort zone to have the appreciation of the opportunities that I have been given me (or earned as the case could be). I see places and things that this little boy from Long Beach, New York never would have dreamed he would. I also get to share them, to a certain extent with friends back home, through pictures and stories.
Maybe it’s because this morning I showered in water that probably came from the Persian Gulf? Maybe it’s idea of being in the middle of the desert, so close to Iraq? Who knows, but for today, I am feeling appreciative, blessed…. and jet lagged.
Most beloved among the songs of the holiday season is Silent Night. We know for sure that the original words to “Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht”, were penned by Father Joseph Mohr in 1816 and arranged for guitar by Franz Gruber on Christmas Eve in 1818. The song was performed later that evening by the two men at midnight mass at St. Nicolas Church in Obendorf Austria.
Joseph Mohr spent the next 30 years of his life in the clergy and died penniless with all his earnings donated to the care and education of children in the town where he lived. Gruber was the schoolteacher, organist and church caretaker in Arnsdorf. He also had the responsibilities of organist and choirmaster at St Nicholas Church in the neighboring village of Oberndorf bei Salzburg which is how he came to work with Joseph Mohr. In 1835, Gruber moved his family when he accepted a position as choir director, singer and organist for the parish church of Hallein. Among his responsibilities there was to manage the man church trust funds. Gruber passed at the age of 76 on June 6, 1863 leaving four children, one of whom, Felix Gruber, took over his responsibilities as choirmaster.
Most of the facts leading up to night where the song was arranged are lost to history. There are tall tales that the song was arranged in a rush that night because mice damaged the organ. There are also absurd claims involving railroad barons and priestly politics culminating in the first performance. What is more interesting, I hope is the tall tale I want to present to you here tonight describing what happened over the next 170 years.
Following the first performance, the song went as viral as a Christmas song could in the 1819. It is believed that organ repair man, Carl Mauracher, obtained a copy of the song and shared it during his travel. The song found its way throughout Europe in the 1920s. The version of the song most recognized today was published in 1859 by an Episcopal priest, John Young of the Trinity Church in New York.
What most people don’t know (mostly because I am about to make it up as I go along) was that Gruber was determined not to die penniless as Mohr did. Gruber learned quite a bit about finance in dealing with the Church trusts. All the internet money earned by the Gruber family from CD sales were funneled into German bearer bonds. The problem with bearer bonds is that one has to have possession of the actual bonds to claim the dividends. Unfortunately the Germans confiscated those bonds from Gruber’s great-grandson and they were used to support the Axis Powers during World War II (these bonds had a really long term, just go with it). Most of those specific bonds were used to pay then Japanese ship-builder, the Nakatomi company.
Ultimately, the great-great-grandsons of Franz Gruber, brothers Simon and Hans Gruber were able to trace the bonds to the headquarters of the Nakatomi building in Los Angeles in 1988. Hans lead a team of well-trained monks to take back possession of the family bonds. Unfortunately, Hans’ team was defeated by meddling New York Police Detective John McClane (who coincidentally worshiped at the Trinity Church in New York where the modern version of the song was coincidentally penned ). McClaine brutally murdered Hans by dropping him to his death.
In 1995, McClaine hunted and directly orchestrated the helicopter crash of Hans’ brother Simon Gruber. This execution took place Canada, where McClaine had no jurisdiction.
So next Christmas when you and the family get together to watch that classic family Christmas movie, Dïe Hard, remember to question the interpretation of events as they may have been skewed to making you believe a history that may or may not be true. You know what they say, you can’t believe everything you see in the newspaper, the news, or your friendly neighborhood blog post.
Of the 2,402 Americans killed during the 3 hour attack at Pearl Harbor, half were aboard the USS Arizona.
I really cannot write anything more poignant that what is presented in image below of the crew of the Carl Vinson arriving in Pearl Harbor back in 1999 as they were about to salute the crew of the Arizona.
God Bless the soldiers of our military. Whether you agree with their politics or not, pray for the men who direct them.
“I think there are two types of people in this world:
People who run marathons, and people who do not.
I do not think you actually have to run or have run a marathon to be the type of person to run a marathon. You simply have to be the type who believes in the possibility of going the distance. You must have stamina; endurance; a belief in things greater than yourself. You must have faith.”
Me of Little Faith
Prior to the Big Sur Marathon, a series of injuries left me with little faith in my abilities to run 26.2 miles. I tested my body a few weeks before the race and my body unambiguously demonstrated its lack of readiness. The smart thing to do would have been to skip the race. The problem with giving up before you start, “in the name of being smart” is that it creates a slippery slope wherein one can become so smart as to never do anything ever again. Better to fail than be too smart to start; far better to fail than live afraid of failing.
“Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.” ― Jack Kerouac
I can’t write words to describe the beauty and majesty of the Big Sur Marathon. Very simply, there are 5 miles of running through redwood forests and then about 19 miles of this:
As beautiful as God made this race course, he also made it brutally difficult with a series of small hills that go on and on and on. There were a total of 2200 feet of climb throughout the 26.2 mile course. That’s about 1 foot of climb for every word in this blog post. About 500 feet of that climb came in a single unrelenting 2 mile stretch.
The man sitting next to me on the flight up the California coast was going to Monterey to golf. As we chatted, I explained that most of the flight was filled with svelte athletes who had run the Boston Marathon just days before as part of a coast to coast challenge. When the guy realized I was running the race as well, he looked me the eye and said, “You’re a runner? You don’t look like a runner. THEY look like runners“. I smiled and kept my response to myself.
Within 30 minutes of touching down, I claimed my bib and was walking the streets of Monterey shopping for food and fluid stocks to get me through the next 24 hours. I sat in an empty English pub for a while watching the owner cut what seemed to be a hundred limes for serve with days drinks. I ate, and nursed a Smithwicks while reading Kerouac and taking a physical and emotional self inventory. I flashed back to the Santa Barbara marathon 5 months prior when I injured my knee. Self-doubt not only took up residence in my mind, but it refurnished the place and spray painted the walls with the words:
“You don’t look like a runner. THEY look like runners“
I hailed a cab to my hotel and held up there until it was time for bed. At the appointed hour of 2:45 in the blessed am, my sister called me from England to find me already up and hydrating. I sat in a hot bath for about 30 minutes as I had all week in hopes of getting my calves loose. By 3:45am I was on a shuttle bus to Big Sur.
The race staging area was dark, chilly and crowded. It was all rustic without basic creature comforts like cell service. I socialized with the other runners but after a while, I pulled out my copy of Kerouac and started to read, if only for the bohemian novelty of reading Big Sur in Big Sur. I looked up at the early morning sky and tried to filter out all the noise of the generators and the runners in hopes of just feeling the native energy of these dark woods. I got nothing. Either they weren’t transmitting or the noise inside me was too loud. Eventually, I packed everything away, checked my bag and made my way out onto the starting line on California’s Highway 1.
I stood near the back of the crowd of 4,000 runners, filled with both anticipation and dread. Six weeks prior, I couldn’t complete 4 miles and now there were 26.2 in front of me. This race could end very quickly for me. Before I knew it we were underway running through Redwoods.
The Big Sur Marathon reminded of a trail race, not only because of the hills, but because of the immersion in nature. Through most of the race there was dirt strip off each side of the road. My wife describes the benefit of running on trail is that the earth absorbs the impact. Although it’s more work, running on dirt is much easier for me mentally than is running on asphalt. Marathon running is in fact, as mental much as it is physical, even more so when one is injured.
The other way this race reminded me of a trail run was that there were no spectators for most of the course. Highway 1 was shut down while this race was underway making this the antithesis of the famed First Avenue of the New York Marathon. There were no spectators, no signs, no cowbells, no cheering, only runners, horses, cows, the ocean, the occasional bridge, breathtaking views and God. Lots and lots of God.
At mile 4, I pulled over to slow down and walk a bit. My right calf quivered, spasmed momentarily and started barking at me like a crazed neighbor in a tenement, “HEY! I will seized up! Don’t slow down! MOVE! “; on the plus side, I had a really fast (for me) first 9 miles.
The Mile 5 marker signified the end of the protection of the redwoods. Beyond the sign, the world changes from redwood forest to exposed Pacific coastline. On a bad day that could mean a miserable headwind. This was a good day with overcast skies, cool temperatures and no cows blowing by.
The Big Sur Marathon is accurately marketed as a race “on the Ragged Edge of the Western World”. When the redwoods gave way to the sea, things shifted for me. I was grateful to have made it that far. I started to feel like my old running self again. The worry passed and I started to enjoy myself. I started to believe there was a chance I could do this. My knee hurt a bit, my calf hurt a bit, but I was bee bopping along pretty well (bee bopping, that’s a highly technical runner term).
I was moving in a crowded cohort of runners. There was an older Irish lady with a sign indicating she was running her 99th marathon. We kept passing each other as I was generally faster, but she was more consistent (think rabbit and the hare). There was also that young couple in the maroon Minnesota Golden Gopher shirts. Evey time I would come up behind them, I had to say “Go Gophers” in my best Minnesota accent. The very last time I saw them he was standing guard as she was taking a bathroom break behind a big bush. I couldn’t resist yelling out, “Going Gophers!”. He laughed.
A GPS can tell you the distance you’ve traveled but looking back shows you the beauty of where you’ve been in a whole new way. This race is beautiful both forward and backward looking. You miss half the views if you don’t look back.
Miles 5 to 10 went joyfully for me. Then came the 2 mile climb to Hurricane point at 15% grade (that’s serious). The memorable thing about that transition to the long hill was that the song Sweet Caroline came on my running music right at the start. I had asked one of my Scotland tweeps, Barbara to recommend a song to add to the playlist. Her contribution interrupted the usual order of my marathon music and I found myself singing Neil Diamond as I started my climb. I sounded like an idiot, at the Sweet Caroline crescendo, but I just didn’t care. I was taking the hill….until I wasn’t.
I ran as much as I could up that 2 mile hill and then I walked and then my calf tightened and then my knee tightened. Things turned ugly really quick. The next 3 miles took me 45 minutes to complete. I used this time to eat the nuts and chocolate I carried with me. I normally wait until later in the race, but I was moving so slowly that this seemed the perfect time. When I finally got over the hill, my leg was too tight to run and I had to walk down the hill. I was angry, but I had the Bixby bridge, half-way point in my sites and to me, that was like water in the desert.
The Bixby Bridge
Most marathons have a sign that show you when you have reached the halfway point. This race offers the unusual highlight of a serenade by Monterey’s own composer/pianist, Michael Martinez. Michael’s music marathon greets all the runners from first to last as they cross the bridge. He was playing Paul Simon as I approached the line for a picture with him. After I got my photo, I wanted to wait and listen and take the scene in. I struggled, because I was in the middle of a timed race and taking videos of the ocean with Michael playing in the background was not conducive to a personal best race time or in my case, finishing before the course closed. I make peace with the delay, but I wasn’t sure if I was going to finish this race, so I might as well enjoy this moment of my life. I wondered if the people in first and second place stopped to enjoy the music and take a picture. I wondered if they got any good selifies as they pushed each other along. Did they just zoom by the piano and did Michael play the William Tell Overture? Who knows? I am just glad that wasn’t my experience. I was just out for a long run, with a time limit. Next time though, I will ask him if he knows any Grateful Dead.
“Big Sur Marathon Part II
After the intermission on the Bixby bridge, I was moving slowly, but moving. It struck me that I had no idea what waited in store the rest of the race. I am a planner, I usually have my long races well scouted and researched. Not this time. I had been so focused on getting to the half-way point, that I didn’t have a plan for the rest of the race and the rest of the race was all hill after hill after hill after hill after hill. I withdrew deep into myself and kept going. For the rest of the race, I only interacted with runners I saw needing of encouragement. As I ran I thought. I realized that all four of the marathons I had participated all touched the Pacific Ocean, none so much as this one.
I had set my GPS to display only distance and total pace. I didn’t want to be distracted by the time, but I needed to be aware of my pacing in order to stay ahead of the course closures. About Mile 17, my head started doing the math and I realized that had enough time banked that I could walk at a 18 minute/mile pace for the next 9 miles and still finish before the race closed. I didn’t like entertaining this idea, because it gave me an excuse not to try my very best. That being said, I was having trouble maintaining any kind of sustained run either up or down the small hills. By mile 19, I redid the math and gave in and started power walking/limping the rest of the race. Walking went against what I believed I should be doing, but I was just going to frustrate myself trying to continue running, as had no kick left. Eventually, I settled on the idea that as long as I finished, walking the rest of the marathon was just an alternative way to succeed. Acceptance was the answer to all my problems at that moment.
I have been fooling myself all my life thinking there was a next thing to do to keep the show going and actually I’m just a sick clown and so is everybody else…” ― Jack Kerouac, Big Sur
Death on the Race
About mile 21, I came across a scene. Paramedics were working on the side of the road on someone. The runners were diverted to a narrow single lane and our view of what was going on was blocked. A blocked view is never a good thing; I’ve been around enough races to know that this was out of the ordinary and I’ve been in enough Emergency Rooms to recognize that blessing and a prayer was in order. As it turns out, though a nurse and doctor were immediately on scene one of the volunteer race marshals collapsed and died at that spot.
O why is God torturing me, that’s it, be a loner, travel, talk to waiters, walk around, no more self-imposed agony…it’s time to think and watch and keep concentrated on the fact that after all this whole surface of the world as we know it now will be covered with the silt of a billion years in time…― Jack Kerouac, Big Sur
I had heard about the strawberries on the Big Sur Marathon. I had heard that they were fresh and delicious. Given that I have strawberry fields around my home, I didn’t take much note of it. I had passed on the orange stations during the LA Marathon in observance of the rule that one should never eat on a marathon what one hasn’t eaten during training. As I was at mile 23 and they were there, I indulged and I am so very happy I did. These were great strawberries. The flavor exploded in mouth. I wanted to only have two and I ended up finishing a good half-dozen before leaving the station. It was a highlight.
“In Strawberries, take note of best producing runners—cut down the others.”- Jack Kerouac in a 1953 letter to Carolyn Cassady (Note: by Strawberries, he means marijuana)
I crossed the finish line in a marathon personal worst 6 hours and 3 minutes. To be fair, this was the hardest of the four marathons that I have run, San Francisco included. I also started in the worst shape of any marathon with no training runs exceeding 15 miles and virtually no running in the final weeks. I was happy to have found a way to finish. I was tired, limping and I had strained my abdominal muscles and a quad muscle power walking, but I finished. In truth I was disappointed, not so much in the performance, but in the shape my body started the race in.
The course officially closed about 15 minutes after I finished. I sat, stretched, ate and called as the volunteers began to take down the tents. The show was definitely over. I made my way out to the shuttle bus area and waited in a small group. A lady recognized me from the race and jokingly commented to the small group how at the start of the race I was chatty and happy and at the end of the race I was laser focused and dead serious. I smiled and in my mind, thanked her for the feedback.
There were only two of us on the full length bus back to my hotel. The bus driver was released for the day now that we the stragglers were done. I showered, soaked my legs in the cold pool, and went for lunch. I hung out in the hotel the rest of the day because I had another early wakeup call the next day. The travel home was another full adventure.
Although I deeply enjoyed the experience, I spent about six months being disappointed in my performance at this race hearing those words again, “You don’t look like a runner. THEY look like runners“. This past week I finally decided to check out my certificate of completion. I finished 222nd out of 433 people in my age division. That’s a whole lot better than I would have guessed (I suspect they count those that did not finish). Overall, I finished in the bottom 26% of the race participants, that was better than the bottom 3% I would have thought. I guess to be a marathon runner, stubbornness will suffice in lieu of faith. It also helps if one sanity checks with the actual statistics.
“Live, travel, adventure, bless, and don’t be sorry.”
― Jack Kerouac