Tuesday, April 08, 2014

april flowers

here's a photo of lush-looking ferns and foliage.
i don't like to talk about the weather here, but seattle had 9 inches of rain in march.

so, i'm gonna talk a little about weather.

even in rainy seattle, nine inches of rain is a lot of rain. it easily broke the previous record for march, at least for as long as people have been keeping track of such things around here. we have no idea what the actual record may have been before that, but my official guess is "12 feet during the cretaceous period."

weather's a tricky topic. nobody wants to hear about it unless it's extreme, and things are either flooding or bursting into flames.

this fact is not lost on the weather channel, which recently started assigning scary names to major winter storms.

weather channel marketer: "people love big storms, epic storms, storms that have names! it's a shame there aren't more hurricanes every year."
weather channel intern: "well, we could start naming WINTER storms. boreas, kronos, maximus..."
weather channel marketer: "that's huge!! go get me some coffee."

here's a photo of me
running in the rain.
with all the rain, there's probably a big ol' bolus of ferns and flowers and other foliage in our future. i think this may already be true, in fact, because for the first time in years i have allergies. or a weird, achy-dizzy cold. or an invasive pulmonary moss.

despite the weather, i spent a good bit of time outdoors in march. 112 miles worth, according to my handy-dandy garmin, plus an unknown number of miles walking the dogs. they got wet, too, but so far have exhibited no signs of moss.


it's april now, and viola! like somebody turned off the faucet. and just yesterday we had a 70F day. it was glorious, and i celebrated by doing nothing. game called on account of flu-like symptoms. wait, i did have a lunchtime nap in my car, does that count?

if things go according to plan, april 2014 will be remembered not for a mysterious ailments, but for a spring break trip to hawaii and many miles piled up in preparation for a 50k trail race in may. the past few days, however, the miles have not been piling up because the symptoms have been piling on.

i find this worrisome because a 50k trail race is no joke, and i'd really prefer to be prepared for this one, as it's my first. i don't have time to be sick. so after today, i won't be. that is all.


saturday is a travel day, and then instead of putting on extra layers we'll be putting on sunscreen. "barefoot running" won't entail minimalist footwear, it'll mean running while actually barefoot. and for the first time in a while, staying hydrated via osmosis won't be possible. we will counter with hydration vests, handheld bottles, and a cooler full of coronas at the beach.

here's a photo of weather at kailua beach, oahu.
the 10-day forecast for kailua beach calls for highs in the upper 70s with a chance of showers. it's the kind of weather ~ boring, predictable, perfect ~ that no one wants to hear about.

unless they're enjoying it themselves.

despite this, and with your kind permission, there's a near-100% chance i will talk about weather here in the coming days...

Thursday, March 13, 2014

guerrilla flotilla

hillbilly? i'll have you know i have a
masters degree in primeval zoology.
guerilla running and gorilla running are not the same thing.

except for the uninhibited romping through arboreal wilderness, one might suppose.


the good folks at guerrilla running racing club say the hillbilly half is "the hardest half marathon in washington state." 

that's a bit of hyperbole, but still, the course is a good test of up and down hillage, single-track rockery, and shoe-sucking trail ponds. the other element it had going in 2014 was rain, and lots of it.

the forecast on saturday called for no precipitation until afternoon...and i believed it. i am so dumb. first rule of outdoor activity in the PNW: never believe the forecast. rule number two: go ahead and believe the forecast, but prepare for not-the-forecast.

i broke both rules, so of course the rain started early and never let up. it did, however, get heavier at times. my three tech layers put up little resistance, and four days later my shoes are finally drying out. 

not complaining, mind you. if you're going to run trails here, you get what you get, and you don't get upset. otherwise, yonder is the treadmill.

one caveat to this general rule is when it's raining bullets. then you can get upset, so long as being upset doesn't keep you from moving away from the vicinity as quickly as possible.

apparently there's a shooting range in close proximity to the course. which is fine, if you're into that sort of thing ~ unless you demonstrate that you can't be trusted with the second amendment:

"...beyond the heart-pounding hills of the course itself, several runners reported stray bullets whizzing through the treetops over their heads.
"One runner posted later on the event’s Facebook page: “I thought it was all Hillbilly authenticity. Wow! Officially the craziest race I’ve done … glad nobody was hurt.” The race directors responded, “We are fans of controlled crazy … the wackjob in the woods, not our kind of crazy.”
~ jade belzberg, trail runner magazine

so, yeah. that happened.

earworm du jour: defying gravity, from the "wicked" soundtrack. this one was apt, and even worked in my favor this race. i've done worse, earworm-wise, that's for sure...

As someone told me lately
"Everyone deserves the chance to fly"
And if I'm flying solo
At least I'm flying free
To those who'd ground me
Take a message back from me
Tell them how I am
Defying gravity
I'm flying high
Defying gravity...

for the record, at no time did i fly around this course. as noted above, however, i did kind of romp through it. the rain and the rocks and the mud wove themselves into a pleasant brocade that went by in a blur, right through the finish line.

and sure, maybe that was because i had to get up at oh-dark-thirty for the drive from seattle to olympia...or maybe it's because it was one of those times when you just get into the zone early and stay there for the entire race.

i don't know about anyone else, but that's how i experience the "runner's high," when everything feels good and you're just breathing and moving and not thinking about anything in particular, all set to a little mental soundtrack that stays in the background and doesn't make you want to bang your head into a tree.

i digress.

the point is, the 2014 hillbilly half was both memorable and nubilous; demanding but not debilitating.

and nobody got shot.

win. win.


hillbilly half marathon
time:      2:07:00
48/212   Overall
2/14       M 50-59

Thursday, February 27, 2014

no go

Spend a week in the sun for $40/night!

i just got an email from the nice folks at vacation home rentals. 
they want me to spend a week in the sun in fabulous florida or amazing arizona.
note to the nice folks at vacation home rentals: are you kidding me?
why would i want to spend my money in those two hell-holes?
florida is basically a huge shooting range where anyone can die at any time for no reason. in other words, NRA utopia.
arizona has the guns, along with a broad streak of homophobia running down its spine. if you're white and wearing garish golf pants, you're probably safe. everyone else? duck and cover.
the nice folks at vacation home rentals.com would like everyone to believe they're all about the "family-to-family rentals."
additional note to the nice folks at vacation home rentals: uh, no thanks. my family isn't really into the gun violence or the discrimination.
we have a little bit of money to spend on vacation travel...but it won't be spent in effed-up-florida. or anti-gay arizona.
thanks, anyway. 

Friday, February 21, 2014

storming the fort

no jacket required. still, better to have it and
not need it than to need it and say,
"omigod i wish i had a jacket. what kind of idiot
doesn't bring a jacket to a winter trail race?!"
Fort Ebey Kettle Run

"i finished first in my age group! i'm going to disney world!"

~ me

(fine print: there were only two people in my age group.)


dramatic hill (1 ea.). if the wind blows out
here instead of in, you're swimming.

fort ebey state park, on the west coast of whidbey island in washington state, should be on your list.

whatever kind of list you keep ~ bucket, to-do, grocery, whatever ~ this place should be on it.

the scenery is spectacular. the trails are like carpet. the woods are tranquil. and the peace of mind that settles over you while you're there is real and lasting. 

which is to say, it lasts until you're driving home and you wade into traffic and other drivers steal it from you and drive off recklessly, laughing.

i digress.

fort ebey state park. splendid place for a nap or a hike or a breathtaking trail race.

running here is sneaky-tough. the trails are not too technical. the weather is not too adverse. the hills are (mostly) not too dramatic. and yet somehow over the course of 20 miles you gain over 4000 feet of elevation.

your brain doesn't necessarily register the cumulative climbing, but your legs surely do.

when you're done, your tech layers are soaking wet, even though the promised rain never really showed up. waiting for the shuttle, you notice you're shivering, even though you put on dry layers and a winter coat and a stocking cap. right about then you think, "huh, it's colder than i thought." and, "i'm pretty darn tired." and, "where is the f*cking shuttle??"

the point being, 20 miles at fort ebey is good for the body, as well as for the soul. you get your exercise, your meditation, and your lesson in first-world privation, all in one tidy package.

if you're very lucky, you get to have a warm and pleasant conversation with john morelock, author of "run gently out there," who is blessed to call these trails home.

you get to meet local trail kahunas ultrapedestrian ras, kathy vaughan, and van phan.

and you get to watch trey bailey line up for the 10K race on three hours' sleep, still processing the jet fuel he sampled the night before...and finish 3rd overall.

these things, too, should be on some list, somewhere...because they're the makings of a very good and memorable and smile-inducing day.


where did all these kettles come from...and more importantly, what's a kettle?

geology lesson here.

Friday, January 31, 2014

quad quake...

(...or, how i ran the orcas island 25K and limped to tell about it.)
"dude. beer me."


ow ow ow...

my legs hurt.

going up the stairs is tolerable, but going down, there's an explosion in every step.

level ground. that works best.


james varner, by all accounts, is a nice guy.

the race director for rainshadow running events stands there in the pre-race briefing, smiling, joking, looking a bit like jerry seinfeld. at the end of his races he waits at the finish line, smiling, laughing, high-fiving the finishers as they pass.

and then there's the after-party. food, beer, and music galore.

by almost any definition and perspective, it's impossible not to like james varner.

until you're in the middle of one of his beastly, diabolical courses.

at which point it's possible to believe that maybe ~ just maybe ~ james has a dark side.


the start to the 2014 orcas island 25k was innocuous enough. so much so, in fact, i didn't even know it was happening. one moment we were standing there chatting, the next we were all, "hey, we've started!" cue frantic button-pushing on the garmin and walk-shuffle into a run.

for the first five and a half miles or so, we were treated to a nice little jaunt through the woods. the sun was shining, birds were chirping, zipity-do-dah, what a wonderful day. 

right about then someone hit the UP button on the elevator and sh*t got real.

the powerline trail, it's called, and it goes straight up the side of mount constitution. no meandering, no cute little switchbacks...just up. and then up some more. just when you think maybe you've reached the summit, (and someone asks, "is this the summit?"), you give back some elevation then head up some more. beastly.

i kept moving at what i thought was a respectable pace, and by that i mean i was walking up with purpose, rather than sliding back down the mountain.

the whole time i was thinking, "it's good that the trail is dry." add water and one could easily imagine people sliding down the powerline trail like michael douglas in 'romancing the stone.' or arnold schwarzenegger in 'predator.' hell of a ride, but at the end the summit is still waiting, saying "well? i'm not going to climb myself, here, people."

photo courtesy of glenn tachiyama
at mile 10.8 you reach the summit. coming out of the filtered light and relative darkness of the trees, suddenly you're blasted with the brightest sunlight and most spectacular view ever. the shock to the senses is overwhelming, and i found myself staring out at it, completely unconcerned that i was in the middle of a race. i wandered past the aid station, reaching for my camera. i was at the top, and it was gorgeous, and i was going to instagram it, by god. "at the top!" the caption read, and i could've added a few more exclamation points without shame.

i don't know how long i stood there, soaking it up, but i know i could have stood there much longer. it was a race, though, so eventually it occurred to me that it was time to go. 

right about then, somebody hit the DOWN button.

logically, going down the mountain should be the easy part, because gravity. but the fact is, unless you're prepared to release the brakes (and risk a long, ugly faceplant to the bottom of the trail), going down is where the damage happens. legs that worked so hard going up now are asked to move you along quickly but with at least a smidge of control.

for four miles there was a blur of down. my sense was that we were passing some of the most beautiful parts of the trail...but i never felt safe enough to look up and look around. in my mind there's a strong correlation between looking up and faceplanting. and while my face is no work of art, i prefer to keep its pieces where they belong. 

yes, i could've stopped to look around. but i didn't. i was actually enjoying the trip down...it was going quickly and i was in a good rhythm, moving well. the woman ahead of me (hi, Jess from bozeman!) was struggling a bit with the control part. i mean, yes she was ahead of me, but she was right on the hairy edge around every turn, every switchback, every bit of loose trail. "this is it, she's gonna bite it," i thought several times. but several times she pinwheeled her arms, made an adjustment on the fly, and stayed upright.

until the time she didn't. down she went, boom, right in front of me. thankfully, no faceplant, but she hit hard and rolled. my first and only thought was to help her up, ("no one gets left behind on my watch!"), and in the process i nearly fell over top of her. 

we got her to her feet, shaken not stirred, and continued on. the bottom was approaching, and we assumed at that point we'd be done. we weren't.

the finish line is not immediately at the bottom (looks up, screams "varner!!"). instead, it's about a mile further up the road. rolling single-track trail that's a relief from the steady up or nonstop down, but challenging nonetheless. "there's still a ways to go," said a veteran of this rodeo. "stay patient!"

i was staying patient, because it was right about then that the cramp hit me in the left thigh. it was actually running up the inside of the leg from the knee, and i'd never experienced such a thing before. "it'll pass," i insisted. "it'll pass it'll pass it'll pass..." eventually it passed...but i could still feel it days later.

the rest was uneventful, unless you count high-fiving james at the finish line. which i totally do. 

thanks, james. and right back atcha.


orcas island 25 k (actually 15.8 miles)

5/43 (50-59)
54/269 (overall)

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

threat assessment

america is the land of the gun and home of the school shooting.

as a result, i may have PTSD.

i just picked up an email from the principal at my daughter's school, telling parents there was a "shelter in place" alert at the school this morning.

a few words into the message, i was suppressing a panic attack. no exaggeration.

fuck this.


the rest of the story: there was a reported bank robbery in the neighborhood. shelter in place at the school is standard procedure in such situations. all clear was declared at 11:40 a.m.


i just re-read the email. same reaction.

Friday, January 10, 2014

the large impact of the small surprise

Edward: It's just that...very few people surprise me.
Vivian: Yeah, well, you're lucky. Most of 'em shock the hell outta me.

~ from pretty woman


this is no big deal, and i'm not sure why it's stuck with me the past several days.

the first week of december, seattle had a streak of cold weather. highs in the upper teens, lows in the low double digits. for the local homeless, it was a tougher time than usual to be living on the street.

on the way to dropping the boy off at his bus stop, we routinely pass one of these folks, "homeless, anything helps" sign in his hands.

coincidently, in the trunk of my car i had a couple of old sweaters that i intended to drop off at goodwill or one of the clothing donation boxes you see in shopping center parking lots. instead, stopped at the light, i hustled to my trunk, grabbed one of the sweaters, and handed it over to a cold and grateful man. 

i jumped back into the car, the light changed, we drove on.

that's it. end of story. i didn't give it any more thought than that.

until earlier this week. same stop light, same guy. i rolled down my window to hand him five bucks.

him: thanks. much appreciated.
me: you bet...

i was prepared for that to be it, but there was more.

him: i still have that sweater you gave me. thanks.
me: ...
him: ...
me: you're welcome...i hope it helps. stay warm...as warm as possible.
him: doing the best i can.

he lifted a tattered-gloved hand and gave a small wave. i waved, the light changed, and i drove on.


what i was, was shocked. i'm pretty sure i believed, without really thinking about it, that exhausted, desperate people barely hanging on to survival have no excess capacity to recall who gave them what, and when.

maybe exactly the reverse is true: maybe we drive by so many homeless people every day that we stop seeing them as people and just refer to them as visual landmarks. any reminder that these are fellow human beings is an actual jolt.


this is a tired epiphany. i read it over and think, "congratulations on articulating the painfully obvious. what are you, 12 years old? idiot."

it's fucking embarrassing.

and if i really think these are "exhausted, desperate people barely hanging on to survival," then i should be doing more. if he were a dog sitting there shivering on the corner, i'd get out and try to help...why on earth do we do less for people?

i feel ill.


stopped at the same light this morning, the same guy was sitting with his sign at the corner. i grabbed a clif bar and a banana, put my car in park, and ran up to him.

me: good morning. how 'bout a little breakfast?
him: thank you, sir.
me: you're welcome...

reflexively, i almost told him to have a good day. yeah, he's not going to have a good day.

i ran back to my car and jumped in just as the light changed.

he gave the same small wave as i passed by. i waved, and drove on.


up above i said, "this is no big deal..."