Friday, July 17, 2015

fighting words

"What is it I really want to achieve? What direction will I go? What really excites me? What would I fight for?"

~ anna frost, 2015 winner, hardrock 100

"imma have a little nap right here..."
what do you think scott jurek did when he woke up on day 47?

that'd be the day after his record-setting, 2,189-mile journey on the appalachian trail.

scott (flailing covers): shit, we overslept! what time is it? gotta go gotta go gotta go...!
jenny: scott, it's okay! you finished! you're all done, baby.
scott (groggily): finished...
jenny: all done.
scott: i don't hafta do 50 miles today?
jenny: babe, you don't have to do any miles today.
scott (wipes tears): omigod...all done.
jenny: all done.
scott (pauses): wull...what do i do now?

jurek beat the previous record, set by jennifer pharr davis, by about three hours. three hours, over a span of 46 days, is a teeny-tiny slice of time.

but it's still quite a bit more than six seconds. which is the margin by which gunhild swanson completed the 2015 western states endurance race before the 30-hour cutoff. six seconds, over the course of 100 miles. if she lingers one second longer at six aid stations...she doesn't make it (intensely awesome video here).

and of course six seconds is more than one second. which is the margin by which bogie dumitrescu finished the 2015 hardrock 100 before the 48-hour cutoff. that's...well, that's just ridiculous. (heart-pumping video here).
anna frost won at hardrock, an amazing pinnacle at an event most runners never dream of, let alone reach. 

and while the others didn't "win" anything in their respective adventures, they still achieved something spectacular. they answered frost's elemental question, "what would I fight for?" and the rest was simply action becoming its own reward.

the kind of reward that is visceral and lasting and (the best part) accessible to anyone. 

"What would I fight for?"

it's a great, defining question, no matter how you apply it to your life. 

a couple friends of mine, for example, are inexhaustibly determined to run western states. their planning and training and resolve are constant and inspired. other friends are gearing up for different 100-mile races. a couple more are ironman triathletes, devoting enormous time and energy to the demands of those events.

i find myself awed by and slightly envious of these folks because, standing here right this second, i can't identify any personal goal i would fight for with that kind of passion. as you might imagine, this realization is somewhat, um, disturbing.

"the whole reason I do these things is to find that inner strength when I least expected I had it."
~ scott jurek

well, that's a reason. i would've thought scott had found that inner strength so many times by now that he'd need to make up some other reasons. ANY other reasons. 

but that's coming from me, the guy who can't think of that "one thing" that he'd go all-in for. who proceeded to get himself all sideways and inside-out because surely there must be something and if there's not then that's just laziness or some other failing to be remedied right quick.

and just when the inner choir was really getting warmed up ("unacceptable! unacceptable! hallelujah! hallelujah! un-ax-sept-ah-bullll!!"), my friend laura posted this: 

"we shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time."

~ t.s. eliot

never underestimate the power of one quiet line at the right time. taking a deep breath, reading it again, the turmoil dissipated, and i laughed at me. eliot's quote reminded me of something i already knew, a lesson i had already learned, one that is apparently all too easy to forget.

in the same way we all learn at different speeds...we discover the things we'd fight for at different times. they may come and go, and change over time...but you get yours when you're ready.

the journey, the act of moving along the arc, is what prepares us for those moments.  

in the meantime, the exploration is its own reward.

gear up.

"cherish the experience. and hold the record lightly.”
~ jennifer pharr davis' message to scott jurek

Saturday, June 27, 2015

the killing will continue

"institutional racism no longer exists in this country."

~ lots of white people

"guns are not the problem in this country."


"the scariest animals on the planet are white americans with guns."

~ me

after nine black parishioners were shot dead by a white racist in an historic black church in charleston, south carolina, gop presidential hopefuls reacted:

"i don't know" if the self-proclaimed racist shooter was motivated by racism. ~ jeb bush

“i just think he was one of these whacked out kids. i don’t think it’s anything broader than that.” ~ lindsay graham

"this is the M.O. of this administration anytime there is a accident like this. you know, the president's clear. he doesn't like for americans to have guns." ~ rick perry

"this type of conduct is something that only our display of our own love and good faith that’s in our heart can change. laws can’t change this." ~ chris christie

from the pro-gun, christians-are-persecuted "news" channel, this:

“we’re urging people wait for the facts, don’t jump to conclusions, because there does seem to be a rising hostility against christians across this country because of our biblical views."

~ e.w. jackson, fox and friends

and from the paper by and for privileged white people...

"the system and philosophy of institutionalized racism identified by dr. king no longer exists."  ~ the wall street journal

“our country has changed.”
~ chief supreme court justice john roberts in shelby county v. holder

one might be forgiven for thinking that roberts, in his cloistered, privileged, lily-white world has no earthly idea what he's talking about.

he'll certainly have a hard time convincing the countless families of african americans killed by police every year.

interesting fact: no one knows how many people are killed by police in america every year. think about that for awhile. being killed by police is a pretty specific cause of death. and, being public servants and all, cops are required to write reports on just about everything they do.

but somehow, at a time when the NSA digitally records everything americans do 'round the clock...we don't know how many people are killed by cops in a given year, "...because of the way agencies count and report data." 
what we do know, however, is that black folks are "about four times as likely to die in custody or while being arrested than whites." and we know this

", a simple website that records mainstream media accounts of shootings as they occur, assembles them in a barebones database.
"The website started counting police shootings in 2013, and has a complete list for 2014. There’s a good chance that the website has missed some deaths, but for our purposes it’s better that the totals are too low than too high.
"KilledByPolice also notes when a news story includes information about gender and race of a victim. Not all news stories have that information, so again, the actual number of black victims is probably higher.
"But based on a count of news stories collected at KilledByPolice, there were at least 238 deaths of black Americans by police in 2014."
to sum up, lots of people being killed in america, disproportionately more black folks than white. lots of them being killed by cops, which sounds lot like institutional racism.

but according to the cream of the conservative white people crop, we shouldn't jump to conclusions because we're not sure any of this stuff is actually happening.

in the meantime, the killing will continue.

Thursday, June 25, 2015


medical science is not advancing as quickly as I thought.

it's been nine years since pancreatic cancer took my mother-in-law from us. 

and now it's got my brother-in-law as well.

it's still a death sentence.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

en currit veritas: the deception pass marathon

"kids, did you know this is the most-visited state
park in washington?"
"how are you doing?"
"pretty good. how are you feeling?"
"not bad. doing okay."

~ passing jonathan dughi on an out-and-back at the deception pass marathon. ed. note: we were both lying.

i only fell down once at the deception pass marathon, the best candice burt course i've ever run.

this is a win, because usually her courses are designed to turn runners upside down and inside out. candice, see, has a wicked sense of humor.

in the spirit of full disclosure, there were a couple times in the last couple miles when i was thisclose to serious bodily harm, tripping over rocky, rooty singletrack on a short, steep downhill. pupils fully dilated, i somehow managed to avoid the ruinous faceplant, and continued on. thanks, trail gods.

yes, this bridge.
moving on...deception pass is also the best marathon course i've ever run. set on miles of washington coastline, some barely above the water, some on cliffs high above, it's the most dramatic venue for a race i've had the good fortune to stumble across, or over, or through.

it's very runnable, with just enough climbing, just enough singletrack, just enough time running through deeply verdant woods. and of course there's the breathtaking deception pass bridge, which you get to cross twice, no extra charge.

as a general matter, it's hard not to feel great in these surroundings, but somehow, mile 16-ish, i managed. for still-unknown reasons my body started to feel all sun-mountain-y, which is to say, not good. hydration? nutrition? training? i'm gonna say no, no, and no...but it's definitely something. i need to get a handle on it, stat, because really there's no excuse.
"out of the way, dude, we're trying to enjoy the scenery!"
(photo by glenn tachiyama.) 

unlike sun mountain, however, this time everything turned around. somewhere between mile 16 and mile 18 i bounced all the way back ~ my legs had renewed spring in them, i was running smoothly, and there was a zip-a-dee-do-dah smile on my face the rest of the way. go figure.

i'm pretty sure i ran a negative split over the last 10k...i can confirm or deny this as soon as i actually figure out how to use my new suunto ambit3 GPS gizmo. the data is uploaded, it just needs to be algorithmically parsed. hello, my name is michael, and i'm a luddite.

sidebar: maybe it's because we live all the way up in the left corner of the country, but this race should be a lot more popular than it is. i mean, there's a race, there's endless natural beauty, there's a great after-party, and there's a band. what's not to love? i have to think if deception pass state park were slightly more accessible, this event would have a wait list every year. but apparently an hour and a half drive from seattle is just inconvenient enough to keep some runners away.

their loss. i will definitely plan to run it again.

many thanks to candice, the bellingham trail running crew, and all the volunteers for their extraordinary efforts. except for the part where mike reopelle wrecked himself four miles in (and still finished third!), this day was perfect.

2015 deception pass marathon
19/54 (overall)
3/6 (m 50-59)
shoes: pearl izumi trail n2

Thursday, May 28, 2015

they should call it "urban time travel"

(actual photograph, inside
the sensory deprivation tank.)
" are suspended effortlessly in a super saturated solution of epsom salt and water within a light and sound controlled environment that reduces sensory stimulation and effectively suspends the effects of gravity on the central nervous system."

~ urban float

my preconceived notion about a sensory deprivation tank experience was that it would be a transitory, transcendent event. i was sort of right. 

the tank is actually a time machine.

floating in complete darkness, i couldn't hear a thing...but i could feel my heartbeat. relaxing into the weightlessnessmy mind quickly went to "the zone," where i became aware of being aware:
"feed me, seymore."

"my hair is touching the top of the tank."
"my foot is touching the side of the tank."
"i'm doing play-by-play of touching the tank. stop it."
"i'm giving myself in-tank instructions."
"this zone is just like the running zone. without the exertion."
"{random scenes from running at sun mountain and discovery park}"
"i'm composing a blog post inside my head inside the tank."
"time's up? what? that can't be right. i've been in here, like, 10 minutes."

which brings us to the point, such as it is. my brain's chronometer said ten minutes. the actual clock, unimpressed, said an hour.

inescapable conclusion: time travel.

administrative note: i was awake and aware throughout. i wasn't dreaming ~ this zone was something more and different. whether it was caused by temporary freedom from gravity, disconnecting from external senses, or a combination of other somethings, i accelerated into a meditative calm i've only achieved previously through activity like running or yoga.

in that state, time does weird things.

random, idle observation: the premise of "sensory deprivation" contradicts the necessity of depending on our senses to stay alive. an animal deprived of its senses tends to become a meal. quickly. like fast food, but with messy predation instead of a drive-through.

thankfully, urban float is not a jungle. at no time did i feel a threat from higher up the food chain. then again, who knows what was roaming the halls while i was entanked? with time travel, anything is possible.

i wonder, now, how long in the tank it would take to really get epiphanous. to reach out and touch the cosmos with the mind. two hours? four? a week? i'd be up for finding out, but that would cost about a zillion dollars. for that, we could buy our own tank and get completely zen. i'm sure our children and dogs and cats wouldn't mind us disappearing for days at a time.

then again...that money would buy a lot of running shoes.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

testing my sunny disposition

("it looks like a sunflower, but it is, 
in fact, a massive solar flare.")
"you won't keep feeling this bad."

"you won't keep feeling this bad."


that's what i told myself, many times, during my go at the 2015 sun mountain 50k.

other things i told myself:

"boy, am i tired."
"it's, like, 100 degrees here."
"why are my water bottles empty?"
"how far to the next aid station?"
"why are my water bottles empty again?"
"why is my knee locking up on this steep downhill?"
"after this race, i am never running again."

these are not helpful thoughts in the middle of a hot 50k. but none of them were as troubling as this one:

"i'm going to drop."

yeah, that one was bad. for the first time in a race, i actually considered DNF-ing. 

maybe that just means i haven't pushed myself far enough or hard enough. that i need to sign up for an event that will beat me down and keep me down so i can "see what that's like." part of this trail running thing, after all, is to test our limits and see what's possible (or temporarily impossible), verdad?

on the other hand, f*ck that. i have a loving wife and kids and dogs and a job, all of which require me to be mostly coherent and on my feet.

so, i'm torn.

"you won't keep feeling this bad."
"i'm going to drop."
"why is my skin turning yellow?! oh, sh*t, i'm having liver failure!"
"no, you're not. it's the sunscreen. see? it washes off. idiot."

(come to think of it, i thought i was getting some weird looks from the volunteers on the course...bless them. now i know why.)

this is, of course, what happens when you debate with demons. they tell you the worst things imaginable, and as we know, the bad stuff is easier to believe. our friends, on the other hand, tell us things that can change everything for the better. that's what happened at around mile 17, where i saw bill sepeda waiting for his wife alley to run by.

"i'm tired," is all i remember saying as bill offered water and sunscreen and a calm smile. looping past him again mile 23-ish, we talked about the hilarity of faux jaundice, about resting in the shade, and i don't know what all else. i'm sure i used short words, and not many of them.

i don't remember feeling any better after these exchanges, but i do know they put different words in my head. "i'm going to drop" was not among them. instead, there was...

"it's not going to get any worse."
"you'll feel better ten minutes after you finish."
"keep moving forward."

thank you, bill.

a sign at the last aid station says, "5.8 miles to the finish," or words to that effect.

"less than 6 miles. how hard can that be?"
steep descent starts now.

ha ha. having run here in 2014, i already knew: plenty hard. because in between lies a bitter climb up patterson peak and its false summit, which reveals still more steep climbing. followed by a steep descent. not coincidently.

i don't remember thinking at all after that, except...

"don't trip."

i didn't trip. and a while later i found myself giving race director james varner a high five 
at the finish line. and then a double high five. and then kind of a side-hug. that got a little awkward. but i was really happy to be done.

sorry, james.

i finished 16 minutes off my goal time. less than 30 seconds per mile. less hiking, more running would've gotten it done.

and yet somehow i managed to finish first in my age/gender group.*  i don't know how that's even possible. i truly believe those people could've walked backwards and finished ahead of me.
"annnnnd...we're done."
(photo courtesy of daisy clark)

* important caveat: i got chicked big time by 50 y.o. joanne wild, from vancouver, BC. she came in at just under 5:18:00, to which i say, "wow." and "bravo." she finished 22nd overall. 

"these miles aren't going to run themselves."

2015 sun mountain 50k
55/150 (overall)
1/10 (m 50-59)
shoes: altra superior 2.0

i can't say often enough how awesome the people at rainshadow running are. so i'll say it again. they're awesome. they put on consistently great events, which gather some of my favorite people in the whole wide world. the friendships and memories we make are lasting and profound. i am so grateful for all y'all. 

let's do this again, soon.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

random paths

molly, at home.
she and our daughter would've been friends, i think.

they were so similar in so many ways.

instead, the girl across the street died by random gunfire, leaving behind an infinite number of paths not taken.

probably the least of which is simply being our neighbor. just across the street.

molly conley's mom is still there, almost two years gone by. we hug her every chance we get, which isn't often. we saw her even less than usual during the recent trial, conviction, and sentencing of molly's killer.

what's she to do, after all? come bounding over with talk of great weather and flowers in her garden and "oh-my-gosh we should get together for a glass of wine on the patio"?

we want to reach out, but aren't wise enough to know how. we know this because, surprised to see her out walking her dogs last week, we waved and blurted a cheerful, "hello!"

because we like her, and were happy to see her.

the hello hung in the air, briefly, before she kindly looked up, smiled a small smile, and kept walking.

the unspeakable patiently waits and watches and listens. spoken or not, it will be part of the conversation, soon enough.

our daughter is smart and athletic and confident. she's just, you know, someone who makes you smile, someone you want to be around. which is the same way molly's mom described her daughter in one of our first conversations.

i believe we surround ourselves with people who reflect who we are and who we want to be. and because i believe this...i think our girls would've been friends.

one of countless paths it might've been nice to watch them follow.

kiss a lover, dance a measure
find your name and buried treasure
face your life, its pain, its pleasure
leave no path untaken

~ neil gaiman

the no-way scenario

“California’s in the midst of a 4-year-old drought. They tell us there’s a year’s supply of water left. What do you do about it?”

“I’m starting a Kickstarter campaign. I want $30 billion … to build a pipeline like the Alaska pipeline. Say, from Seattle — a place where there’s a lot of water. There’s too much water. How bad would it be to get a large, 4-foot pipeline, keep it aboveground — because if it leaks, you’re irrigating!”

And where would this water pipeline go?

“Bring it down here and fill one of our lakes! Lake Mead!”

it's not happening, bill.

not because washingtonians aren't sharing, caring people. we are. but let's be clear ~ you're not getting our water.

"Last year Washington saw more craft breweries open than any other state: 83 new breweries opened in Washington during 2014. Followed by New York 67, California 59, Colorado 55, and Florida. BOOM!"

there's a credibility gap here. if california's drought problem is so bad, what are they doing opening breweries? and why should we fill up their lakes, when everyone knows they're just going to use the water to irrigate the desert landscaping of the rich and famous?

"The Desert Water Agency, which provides water to Palm Springs and nearby areas, reported consumption of 221 gallons per person per day for February of this year, above the state average of 77 gallons, according to numbers released by the State Water Resources Control Board."

221 gallons per person! per day! that's a lot of lost beer-opportunity cost!

so, bill, you're saying with california facing its worst drought in 12 centuries, you want to keep the taps flowing...with washington's water?

no. i mean, sorry and all...but no.

we have beer to make.