Friday, May 25, 2018

having your ultracake: a sun mountain race report

just desserts for me, thanks.
"you get the run you deserve."
~the running gods

this bit of ancient wisdom is mostly (but not entirely) true.

i mean, pheidippides probably didn't deserve to literally die after running his first marathon. 

but you could make a case that he got the run he trained for, warranting a metaphorical death.

ehh, maybe the wisdom is more applicable to less momentous events.
coming off an injury and slowly rebuilding my fitness base, i was pretty well prepared for the sun mountain 25k. 

trouble is, i was signed up for the sun mountain 50k.

the upside of being undertrained for this (or any) race is not being burdened with unrealistic expectations (like finishing).

the last couple weeks before sun mountain my biggest concern was the forecast, which called for temperatures to approach those on the surface of the sun.

"what do i own that i can wear for a broiling-hot day on an exposed course? nothing! i mean, i guess maybe this paddling hat, and this billowy white tech t-shirt, and these sunglasses (obsessively re-checks forecast) and these bottles of sunscreen..."
race day dawned cool and cloudy (thank you, running gods). the forecast for bright sun and relentless heat moderated in the days before race weekend, which made packing much easier.

the starting area at patterson lake cabins was filled with friends and smiles and hugs and handshakes. it almost seemed a shame to break up the festivities by starting the race, but james is gonna james, which means he's gonna start races. (he did give us a few extra seconds beyond the scheduled 8 a.m. start, which was nice of him.)

"this way, gents!"
this year's course was a reversal of previous years~~climbs up patterson mountain and to sun mountain lodge were front loaded, rather than late in the race, which i appreciated.

after conquering those burly climbs, the rest of the day would be a piece of cake! (the kind of cake that's physically draining and emotionally debilitating. a multi-tiered ultracake.)

somewhere between mile 4-5 i took a good, hard fall on a completely innocuous section of trail. one moment i was cruising along enjoying my morning, the next i was on the ground, head downhill from my feet, doing internal diagnostics to see if i was injured.

i wasn't. but i did spend the next couple miles minding every step and marveling at how often falls happen where there's least reason to fall...
watch your step, please.
the scenery this day was spectacular. low clouds laced the gaps between ridges and valleys, wildflowers bloomed gaudily, and hillsides were cloaked in green. even the mosquitos came out to see the sights and encourage runners to hurry along.

historic note: i've run and volunteered at sun mountain several times, and have never been so warmly welcomed by so many mosquitos. summers in minnesota could take mosquito lessons from this day in the methow valley.

entomology note: eating lots of garlic the night before a race does not deter ravening mosquitos. apparently they like it as much as we do.
where was i? oh, the race.

coming out of the lodge aid station i ran within shouting distance of my friend kay for a long stretch of miles. i'd run ahead for a while, stop to take photos, she'd pass and run ahead for a bit.

the pace was comfortable and the miles rolled by until just before the thompson valley aid station (mile 22.5). that's when kay casually suggested she'd likely drop there.

two weeks removed from a finish at the miwok 100k, her knee was giving her trouble. the flats and downhills were not a problem, but the uphills were clearly painful.

with a lot of year and a lot of miles ahead, it was a good tactical bail.

which immediately made me think of doing the same.

"i exceeded my training five miles ago," i thought. "do i really want to walk it in for the next nine miles?"

i did not.

textbook example of how quickly and quietly one can decide to drop.

at thompson valley the volunteers were scrambling to tend to runners while fending off the involuntary blood donation swarm.

i was ready to be done, but for some reason i stood there refilling my bottles and stuffing my face with peanut m&ms. 

"i'm thinking of dropping, as well," i said to kay.

"don't do that," she said.

a couple minutes and another handful of m&ms later i said, "i need to get out of here, or i'm going to drop." 

"yeah, don't do that," kay said again.

i nodded, turned, and headed out.

"see you at the finish."
"yup, see you at the finish."

and that's how quickly and quietly one can decide not to drop.

the road out of thompson valley is a two-mile incline that i walked at best-possible speed. leaving the aid station i really did believe i'd be walking it in, but at the top i discovered i could run again. go figure.

over the last 10k of the course i ran the downhills and the flats, and hiked-with-purpose on the uphills.

it wasn't a formula for speed, but it was a formula for a finish, which by now was the only thing left to do.

he: "i need a shower and a nap."
she: "yes, yes you do."
the last two and a half miles or so the sun came out, and i joined a small group of runners on a gorgeous trail along patterson lake. keeping up with them became my near-term goal, which helped expedite a high-five with james and a double high-five with liz at the finish-line.

in the aftermath, with a couple days rest and having eaten all the food, my legs feel surprisingly good. i expected my quads to be trashed from the many downhills, but that never happened.

in sum, i didn't get the run i deserved...i got much, much better.
thanks, as always, to my friends at rainshadow running. near or far, your events feel like a home away from home with good friends and family. cheers.
sun mountain 50k


156/244 (overall)

12/19 (M 50-59)

hoka challenger atr 4

song stuck in my head the entire time: "harlem shuffle" ~ rolling stones

Saturday, April 28, 2018

striving for success in morbidity and mortality!

"a rainbow in every box!"
Hello Michael,

Break out of the box with Reynolds American, Inc!
Reynolds American Incorporated is transforming the tobacco industry in the most positive way and we strive for success in everything we do! The future inspires us because our people are igniting the breakthroughs that are redefining the ways adult tobacco consumers enjoy tobacco in the 21st century.

Do you thrive in an ever-changing environment?

Are you a self-starter who enjoys growing brands through the building of strong relationships?

We have exciting opportunities for Territory Managers in the Pacific Northwest! Working in Trade Marketing for RAI is ideal for those strong ambassadors who are skilled at brand development strategies, as well as the desire and ability to lead others.

If you’re looking to better yourself in 2018, consider a career with RAI! Follow one of the links below to learn more about our Territory Manager position, and apply!
i'm considering a career change.

after years of working on the side of health and wellness, the other side has come calling. (we'll call them the "death and disease" side, or D&D for short.)

rather than dismiss the D&D team out of hand, i decided to give their invitation a serious parsing, just to be sure i'm not missing out on "the next big thing."

as you can see above, reynolds american says it is "transforming the tobacco industry in the most positive way!" it doesn't say what the most positive way is, but i assume it has to be some breakthrough uses for the tobacco plant itself.

as an alternative energy source, perhaps, or a novel application of phytocompounds in treating disease.

"...our people are igniting the breakthroughs that are redefining the ways adult tobacco consumers enjoy tobacco in the 21st century."

oh. that sounds a lot setting it on fire and sucking it into your face. which doesn't seem even a little transformative or positive.

"Are you a self-starter who enjoys growing brands through the building of strong relationships?"

i am! i mean...i think i am. but i have concerns about this business model.

it's difficult to build strong relationships around products that eventually kill the customer. not to mention that the pre-death diseases curtail the customers' ability to earn money to keep buying the product.

which means we have to keep filling the customer pipeline with children and low-information adults who, by definition, lack judgment or access to education about the effects of the products.

i don't mean to be contrary here, but taking advantage of these folks seems like the opposite of building strong relationships. in fact, it seems kind of wrong.

it makes me wonder if by 
"...ideal for those strong ambassadors who are skilled at brand development strategies, as well as the desire and ability to lead others"
you mean people who are really good liars who don't care who they hurt.

or have i misinterpreted your intentions?


i don't think i'm ready to "break out of the box" with reynolds american.

or any company still using phrases akin to "outside the box," which is so far inside the box it's not even aware there is an outside.

which is where i think i'll head right now.

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

running of the beavers ~ a mooving race report

not a beaver.
my mom and her brother grew up on a farm.

they were raised, i surmise, by parents who had neither time nor tolerance for whiny children.

i say this because when i was a kid, any time i would show insufficient courage over a scraped knee, or a raccoon on the farmhouse roof, or getting bucked off an actual calf, one of them would call me a "big calf."

"it's a long way from your heart, ya big calf."

"it's not going to hurt you, you big calf."

"you know what you sound like? a big calf."

and so forth.

i'm sure they thought they were helping me.
fast forward a few decades, i'm now four-plus weeks into a running-related calf injury. every time i go out to run, in addition to an underlying concern about re-injury, i can still hear that old farm philosophy (OFP): it's a long way from your heart, ya big calf.

while true, physiologically, this observation is not particularly helpful, running-wise.

rather than defer to charming OFP stoicism, i engaged in some new-farm pragmatism: when in doubt, google it.

an overview of the medical literature tells me that regardless of their proximity to the heart, calf injuries can adversely affect running! 

i also learned that "old man's calf" is a thing, and it's sometimes related to the plantaris muscle/tendon, which i didn't even know existed!

(unaddressed in any of these studies is the negative effect on sanity experienced by 
not-running runners. i ran just 16 days in march, including a stretch of eight consecutive zero-days. insanity level: bananas.)

semi-related: for the second time in four years i was unable to run the chuckanut 50k. this is dismaying for several reasons, not the least of which is the $95 down the drain.

tangentially related: i'm signed up for the sun mountain 50k in may, the backcountry rise 50k in early september, and a very theoretical 100-miler in late september. none of these events will be run (by me) without lots of base-building on a healthy calf.

ergo, about a week ago i decided my calf was healed. don't @ me.

after a few days of cautious, mostly comfortable short runs, i ran a slow 10 miles last wednesday, an even slower 6 miles thursday, and a sloth-like 3-mile hike with the dogs on friday.

saturday i ran long. and ran a 5k race.

(disclaimer: as training plans go, this one is endorsed by no one credible.)

the running of the beavers 5k is a fundraiser for ballard high school, held at a lovely waterfront park a little less than 5 miles from our house.

my thought was to do a slow warm-up run to the start, very conservatively run the race, then run home at a leisurely pace

this would total up to a safe and sensible 12+ miles on the day.

safe. sensible.

(shakes head, sighs.)

i failed. 

i raced the race. 

i didn't mean just happened.

starting as planned, i ran with a friend i hadn't seen in months. he was also coming back from an injury, and what better way to while away a slow 5k than with a fellow injury-rehabber?

(pauses uncomfortably...)

i dropped him after a quarter mile, because i'm some kind of monster. 

after that i rabidly began looking for people to catch and pass, because i'm an idiot.

in the moment, it was glorious. the course was completely flat, the calf didn't hurt, and i was picking people off right and left.

in retrospect it was not great, because it was so very dumb. risking days or weeks of additional pain for the sake of a fleeting 5k over my much-bigger goals for the year?

(makes a disappointed, embarrassed face.)
update: it was during an easy recovery run two days after racing at wallace falls that a week-old calf injury turned into a weeks-long issue.

yesterday was day two post-running of the beavers, and with well-deserved worry i set out to test my luck leg. though unwarranted, apparently i've gotten away with my poor running judgment.

this time. 
on reflection, it's clear that my overarching problem is not being insufficiently recovered ~ it's being insufficiently smart.

and, after many years and many miles, i'm still a big calf.
running of the beavers 5k


30/292 (overall)

3/22 (M 50-59)

hoka clifton 4

song stuck in my head the entire time: "don't look back" ~ boston

Thursday, March 15, 2018

rise up

in the darkest hour
in the dead of night
as the storm clouds gather
and the lightning strikes
and the thunder rolls
and the cold rain blows
the future it holds
what god only knows
and i will rise up
i will rise up

~ lyle lovett

that's how many american children have died by gun violence since sandy hook.

it's equivalent to wiping out everyone at our daughter's high school four times over.

i thought about that today as i watched hundreds of her fellow students walk out of school, gathering to honor kids killed in US schools, and demanding change in gun laws.

before the walkout got underway, i ambled about taking photos of the school sign, the principal setting up a loudspeaker, other parents congregating on the sidewalk...and i noticed a young woman standing alone, unmoving. as i neared her i saw her eyes were red and full of tears. in that moment i went from "interested observer" to "father trying not to sob in public."

"thoughts and prayers are great
but we want action."
i kept walking past, not wanting to intrude on her grief ~ and to get a handle on my own, percolating closer to the surface than i realized.

within minutes the southwest corner of the school grounds was filled with students carrying signs, chanting, cheering. cars going through the busy intersection honked and waved, while police cruisers sat silently at a discreet distance.

as student leaders took their turns on the PA, a man wearing an earpiece looked on from just a few feet away. he was inconspicuous, motionless except for his eyes, which sharply scanned the crowd. behind him and to his right, washington governor jay inslee waited for his time at the microphone.

perhaps it's because of our deteriorating political climate, or the immediate reason for the gathering itself...but it occurred to me that there are people out there ~ extreme in their distress or in their beliefs ~ who might take a shot (or 50) at an assemblage like this.

i thought about the 17 kids killed at marjory stoneman douglas high school, and tried to imagine 17 kids in this crowd disappearing randomly and forever. in that moment it was hard to breathe.

there was a time when i would've felt paranoid for thinking such a thing. 

that time, of course, is over.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

marquis glissade ~ a wallace falls race report

i don't glissade often.

but when i do, i like it to be on a snow-slick sluice heading steeply into trees on either side of a single-track trail.

i like it to be on legs wearied from miles of running in a furrow just wide enough to place both feet side-by-side.

on one calf held together with a compression sleeve and one knee freshly driven into hardpack in a predictable yet somehow hilariously surprising fall.

yeah, that's when the glissading gets good.
the 2018 wallace falls trail race was good. very good.

it was cheerfully difficult and wildly beautiful and occasionally painful and completely exhilarating... everything trail running (like life itself) aspires to be.

the course was made up of three distinct sections ~ the climb, the snow, and the descent ~ each with its own wicked charm.

falling slowly...
part one: the climb.

a week and a half before this race i suffered a rude left calf strain. which is to say it just showed up one day, unannounced, and stayed for several more, undeterred by my yawns and other obvious hints that it was time for it to leave.


despite diligent rehab efforts, two days before the race there was still plenty of doubt whether the calf was healed enough to hold up for 22.4 trail miles.

i decided to go find out, because compartmentalization is real and so is a steadfast belief that good things can randomly happen to people who make dumb decisions. besides, chuckanut was in a couple weeks and i was way behind on training miles. let's run this thing!

where was i? oh, the climb! and the advisability of scaling steep terrain on a potentially unreliable calf.

maybe it was the compression sleeve, or maybe it was the distraction of wallace falls and upper wallace falls (which were breathtaking). but while the muscle was sore at the outset, it held up throughout a 1,600-foot ascent in the first four-ish miles.

in fact, the farther we got into the course, the better it felt. who knew the cure for a running injury was more running??
stay between the lines.
part two: the snow.

disclaimer: i've run in snow before, many times...but never this far in this much snow.

disclosure: it was really hard and amazingly fun. kind of like running barefoot on the beach. if, you know, the beach were cold, forested, and covered in frozen precip. 

the carpitla (snow glazed with ice) started on the trip up the woody trail, just past the upper falls. literally every step was an opportunity to slip and stumble back down the hill ~ like a winter version of the princess bride.

at the top, the course spilled onto the upper grade logging road, which on this day was less a road and more a sunny, snowy slot car track. the path ~ narrow, uneven and fraught with ankle-peril ~ led to to a very welcome and welcoming aid station at wallace lake.

further on, jay lake appeared, signaling the turnaround toward the greg ball trail and a rendezvous with the glissade.
part three: the descent.

it was all going so well.

every step was an adventure in slush and the laws of physics, but i was winning! 

right up to the point where i hit the hard-packed snow like a beginner in his first snowboard lesson. whack!

pain points: left shoulder, left forearm, right knee, confidence in proprioception.

i stayed down for a few moments, on my back, head below feet, telling myself i was okay. "luckily i landed in some snow," i said to no one in particular.

"here we go," i went on, just ahead of a failed attempt to recover.

"here we go!" i said again, and this time time it actually worked. onto hands and knees, then back onto feet.

gravity was working in my favor as i shambled down the hill, more momentum than intention. simultaneously, i began a self-diagnostic on the parts that hurt.

shoulder: check.
forearm: ow. stand by...
forearm? okay, fingers still functional, we're good to go.
knee: it's fine, we're fine...wait. ow!
knee? not fine, repeat, we are not fine!
knee: check that, control, we're good here...
knee: ow, holy hell. not good, not okay!
what's happening, knee? you know, we were surgically reconstructed a few years ago.
knee: fine! not fine! fine! not fine!

(photo courtesy of charles r. lie,
gold bar, WA)
narrator: it was fine.
denouement: wallace falls is a great place to run. brian nelson and the folks at wander bigger running did an excellent job putting together this inaugural race benefitting snohomish county volunteer search and rescue.

the park is only an hour or so from seattle, which means i'll be running here again as often as possible.

when that will be is very TBD because, surprise! two days post-race i re-injured my calf during an easy, innocuous recovery run.

{not finé}
wallace falls 22.4m


11/20 (overall)

1/2 (M 50-59)

hoka challenger atr 4

song stuck in my head the entire time: "mountains" ~ lion bear fox

oh girl you hear the sounds
of big black boots stomping onto the ground
gonna crush all this pavement into some dirt
all the girls and all the boys
strung out messing with their toys
they're all dressed to kill sweet mother earth
that's why I say
let me take you to the mountains
take you to the mountains
take you to them hills

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

doom nation

america is a death cult.

it's always been that way.

from the time europeans set foot on the continent, the story has been one of relentless slaughter.

native americans were killed en masse to more efficiently steal their land. africans were forcibly brought here by the millions to be enslaved, tortured, and killed.

without irony, the very symbols of the nation were pushed to the brink of extinction. eagles were shot for sport and for their feathers. coyotes and wolves were hunted and poisoned. buffalo were slaughtered, their bodies left to rot on the plains.

our government backed murderous regimes and peddled weapons of mass destruction to anyone who could afford them.

wars were started and countless civilians killed because "america is exceptional."

america is exceptional at one thing: dealing out death. 

we've gotten so good at it, we're numb to the tens of thousands of our own citizens killed by guns every year.

we're even apathetic about children getting shot.

throughout history, show me a culture, a nation, or an empire that indifferently looked on while its populace randomly massacred each other, and i'll show you one that would not survive.

america. land of the ar-15. home of the damned.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Sweeping Orcas (or Cleanup On Isle 100)

waterfalls look different at 3 a.m.
at midnight friday, feb. 9, my friend kay and i left the warmth and comfort of the camp moran aid station to do a safety sweep of the orcas island 100-mile course.

our task was to circle the 25.2-mile loop to make sure runners were right-side-up, moving the right direction, and generally not in any more physical danger than you might expect during a 100-mile race fraught with muddy cliffs, seething waterfalls, and packs of ravening mountain lions.*

this is not an easy course. with 7,600 feet of climbing per loop (featuring the famously toilsome Powerline ascent), subfreezing overnight temperatures, and constant mountain lion* danger, getting around four times takes a special breed of cat.

there were several times along the way when kay and i agreed doing the course just once was plenty, and twice might be feasible. but four times? damn. go, runners.

at one point during the night i noticed i had snow in my jacket pocket.

as far as i know, there was no snow anywhere on the island but in my pocket. but there it was, in sufficient quantity to make a small snowball. it took me a minute to figure out why...turns out the lid on the water bottle in my hydration pack wasn't on properly. so for several miles it was leaking down my right side, soaking my clothes, and turning to slush in my pocket.

this reminded us that conditions were fine (and we would stay warm), as long as we kept moving. stop for a few minutes, though, and we'd be popsicles on the side of the trail.

the aid stations and volunteers on the course are the best. 

  • the miso soup at mountain lake was amazing ~ pure genius
  • the tomato/red pepper soup at mount pickett was the kind that comes from a box...and it was delicious
  • there was more box soup at cascade lake, curry-lentil this time ~ fantastic
  • at the top of mt. constitution the team 7 hills crew was serving up more tomato/red pepper (and chicken noodle), but by then my stomach was no longer accepting food 
  • back at camp moran, there was a smorgasbord going on, none of which my stomach found remotely interesting ~ but then somebody brought out pancakes, which were exquisite (and i never eat pancakes)

two years ago, during our sweep of the inaugural orcas 100, kay and i encountered several struggling, straggling runners in the wee hours. we saw only two or three who fit that description this year. of the 91 who started the race, 69 finished; far more than either of the event's first two years (49 and 45, respectively).

among the images that stand out in my mind this year:

  • a crystal-clear night sky over the island ~ the stars were dazzlingly clear and bright
  • the orange glow and welcome heat of the fireplace at the mt. pickett aid station
  • an icy wind foiling the fire pits outside the mt. constitution aid station
  • glimmering purple and pink morning light above the cascade mountains
  • tired but vigilant volunteers at every stop
  • hand warmers in my gloves

once again, i am grateful to kay, who prompted me to do this for the second time in three years. at a time when i'm content to be warm and comfortable and most importantly ASLEEP in the middle of the night, it's good to have a friend who says, "let's head out and be the opposite of all those things for several hours! woohoo!"
* not really. ravening mountain lions are not known to exist on orcas island.
that's right, ha ha.
probably not.