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 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 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..."