Tuesday, December 10, 2019

I Have Additional Thoughts...

In the blink of an eye, the end of the year—and the end of the decade—is upon us.

These milestones quietly reverberate through our house; imperceptible, constant tectonics building toward events we can't predict. A cursory review of 2019 (instagram.com/mcm_pnw/) reminds us how jolting those changes can be.

We lost people this year. Scrolling through their photos proves there's no expiration date on hurt powerful enough to bring tears months later.

There were highs as well, most often defined by the life-affirming things we got out and got done. A 25k race in January, an insane seven-week training block in March and April leading to a 100k gut-punch in May.

After that, and by design, the outdoor activities became easier, more restorative. They coincided with children leaving home on journeys of their own, redefining our family in ways we may never fully find the edges of.

It's quieter now. There's more breathing room for music while I make dinner; for a few pages of a book in the evening; for writing instead of watching a screen.

There's no logic to wanting any year to end, any more than there is to believing the next one will be better. As always, time unspools and events transpire, unmoved by our need to put them in boxes.

Sunday, December 08, 2019

The temptation of change

"There is no statute of limitations on starting over. Re-invent yourself every day. Be the girl who walks barefoot and listens to the blues. Tomorrow, wear a trench coat and speak fierce truths. Be a phoenix. Be ashes. Burn down. Resurrect. Let go of the idea that you must always be who you have always been."

Can I keep up with this girl? Unlikely.
But I'm willing to try. 
I was texting back and forth with our daughter recently, talking about her workouts as part of an elite college cheer squad.

On that day the team was doing trap bar deadlifts, she said, building legs and overall body strength. 

I said dad things, like "Mind your form" and "Don't get hurt." She said athlete-in-training things, like "I did 205 lb. today!" and "It's strong girl season."

Seemingly non sequitur segue: today was Western States 100 lottery day, and I...

...didn't get in.

I wasn't reeeeallly expecting to (because math), but for the first time in my WS lottery journey, I'm actually disappointed.

What better way to channel that disappointment than to come up with ANOTHER PLAN??

After due consideration and diligence (all 20 minutes-worth) plan B is the Cascade Crest 100-miler, in August 2020. Caveat: this is a lottery event as well, so there may be a plan C in the not-too distant future. BUT FOR NOW...

...it's Cascade Crest or bust.

Liner notes: the start line for Cascade Crest is about an hour and a half from our house. It dishes up 23,000 feet of climbing and (getting way ahead of myself here) would be my qualifier for Western States 2021.

If I don't hit THAT lottery (totally possible), plan C would be Mountain Lakes 100 in September.

Fun note: Mountain Lakes IS ALSO A LOTTERY!

Will I be cranky if plans A through C fall apart? Yes, yes I will.

But if necessary, I WILL HAVE A PLAN D. At some point.
Personal note: getting this fired up about doing something I've never done, something likely to crush me physically and emotionally for months afterward is, uh, not typical.

But, as noted previously, my window for this kind of adventure is not getting any wider. I'll be, like, a hundred years old in 2020. Research shows very few centenarians successfully take on a 100-mile race.

With that in mind—if not now, when?
Pursuant to the elegant quote at the top and to tie this all together: we don't have to be the person we've always been. We can be resilient and reinvent ourselves and do trap bar deadlifts if we want to. If we're feeling especially obstinate, we can sign up for a hundred-miler.

I endorse all of this because, to quote a very smart young woman, it's strong girl season.

It's always strong girl season.
"You never step in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and you're not the same person."
~Heraclitus (more or less)

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Short Thoughts Too Long to Tweet

Writing-wise, my brain is so full, it's empty.

The past few weeks have been an unbroken stretch of anticipation, change, setbacks, and stress—all BEFORE the holidays even begin.


So, my wife didn't get the West Coast-based gig she wanted (and deserves) with her current company. This is problematic on several fronts—not the least of which is the real prospect our ballyhoo'd move to the Big Island will be indefinitely delayed. #boohooballyhoo

It also means company-paid trips to San Diego (and side-visits with our college-attending daughter) won't happen. It further means the missus will likely have to continue business travel to the East Coast, DESPITE THE FACT THAT WE LIVE IN SEATTLE. #corporatelogic

Our son, meanwhile, has moved to Ellensburg, WA, to attend Central Washington University. This transition was not without its own stressors. The to-do list literally went on for days: find an apartment, secure renter's insurance, reserve a U-Haul, pick up U-Haul, load U-Haul with enough furniture to sustain a college student for at least a couple years, move said furniture (INCLUDING A WAY TOO-HEAVY LEATHER COUCH) up two flights of apartment stairs, drive U-Haul back to Seattle on I-90 in pouring rain and often heavy traffic.*

(*Ed. Note: U-Hauls are stress on wheels. The last time we rented one, I bumped it into the corner of a building, causing a $1,000 worth of damage to building and vehicle. I find this stressful, if you can imagine such a thing.) #bumpedabuilding

Our golden-years golden retriever, Kate, is unwell. Her ears are a swamp of infection, inflammation, and ulceration. In a concurrence of cross-contamination, one of her back paws has also become a hot mess. No matter how many meds we throw at these problems, they stubbornly refuse to improve. Kate is relentlessly stoic; we are incessantly worried. #backtothevet

Stress dreams are a regular thing now. Last night, for example, I dreamed I was being led to execution (though I was unaware of committing any capital crime). I tried to call my wife to let her know what was happening, but the phone in my hand was an old Windows-based device that I'd forgotten how to use. #generallyWTF

In an effort to balance the effects of these (and other) life events, I've altered/increased my exercise routine. After a 10-year hiatus, I've resumed strength training. I quit the weight room after surgeries on my ACL and my neck, and never felt the need to go back, because... #thread

The subsequent exercise obsession, running, has been so much better for my body and my little brain. The ultra running part, tho, is hard. If I want to keep that up (and I do), it's obvious that cross-training will be required... #ultrarunningishard #vertisreal

On the upside, there's been noticeable improvement on the climbs. On the downside, my body is tired and sore in ways it hasn't been in a long time. #weightliftingprobs

Today, tho, is good. Our daughter is home from school, and she just kicked my butt putting me through one of her weight room workouts. It included things I'm either not comfortable with (hi, weighted lunges!), rarely do (kettle bell and other plyometrics), or never do (core, core, and more core). #gonnafeelthatlater

Now she's making chocolate chip cookies, and my job is chief cookie dough taster. Turns out, I'm pretty good at it. #runningfuel #gottarun

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

A study in contrasts: Baker Lake 50k

"Ha ha, the joke's on you!"
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

~ Charles Dickens, clearly writing about ultra running
Halfway through the race, the Baker Lake 50K was shaping up to be one of my best 50Ks ever. 

Until it wasn't.
I'd heard mixed reviews about this event, ranging from faint praise to "Pacific Northwest classic!" [Spoiler alert: it is excellent.]

The trails around Baker Lake are a celebration of PNW terrainrolling, runnable, occasionally technical, and ferally fun. The views are nonstop—mountain, river, lake, and fall colors laced with cobwebby clouds.

It was the perfect stage for a day of tomfoolery on the trails—running with a good friend, jabbering endlessly about life and work and politics and the future. The first 15+ miles flowed by like, "Hey, feel free to do this all day if you want."

Hahaha! Those miles lied. 

The NEXT 15+ miles quickly and unexpectedly turned petulant, like a two year old up way past his bedtime. My stomach, ingrate that it is, abruptly scorned my efforts to keep it happy. Even the ritual chewing of the S-Caps was met with disdain. This behavior continued through the rest of the race, just because. 

In the meantime, I rammed my knee into a fallen tree. This can happen during a trail run, and honestly I didn't mind picking the sharp little tree-shard out of my flesh. But the immediate swelling and stiffness? That was uncalled-for.

"Why do you run through
these woods? Nothing good
will come of it!"
I'd be fibbing if I said these little setbacks weren't beclouding my sunny demeanor. By mile 27 I was not having the best of times. On a day that was as near-perfect as October PNW running can be, this was a shame and a travesty. Inexcusable, really. And yet, there I was, shambling about like a bridge troll, just wanting to be done.

Tsk. Pitiful.
Full disclosure: it wasn't all bad. I encouraged other runners who were having struggles of their own. I shared some naproxen with a woman whose hips were giving her fits. I stopped to take photos of some amazing scenery and picked up litter when I saw it. It helped.

The miles, still stubborn, eventually gave way, and soon I was crossing the Upper Baker Dam, less than a mile from the finish.

And while I had hoped to roll in under six hours, my finish, race-wise, wasn't as disappointing as I convinced myself it would be.
"And yet I have had the weakness, and have still the weakness, to wish you to know with what a sudden mastery you kindled me, heap of ashes that I am, into fire."

~ Dickens, again on running, probably
Baker Lake 50k


56/140 (overall)

4/16 (M 50-59)

Hoka Speedgoat 3

Song stuck in my head part of the time: 

"We got the beat" ~ The Go-Go's

Thursday, October 03, 2019

Still rolling 7s

It didn't seem like a seismic event at the time.

But seven years later, I realize how completely and permanently a new running store in our neighborhood changed my life.

Seven Hills Running Shop opened Oct.2, 2012. I was there that dayand then at the shop's first group run, and then on more days than I can count.

Because of this little shop, and the community it's inspired, I'm the beneficiary of more lasting friendships than I could've imaginedand hopefully been a better human in return.

Because of this little shop, I've met and run with and shared beers with some of the most amazing athletes on the planet, people accomplishing extraordinary things on and off the trails.

Because of this little shop, I've: 

* Run literally thousands of miles
* Run farther in a day than I ever thought possible
* Run in states from Hawaii to Florida (and a few other countries as well)
* Seen, up close, stunning natural beauty I would've experienced only via photographs
All because one day seven years ago I fell in with a bad crowd at a local running shop.

I may never be able to fully pay forward this good fortune. 

But I am going to try.

Happy birthday, Team 7 Phils.

Cheers to many more.

Friday, July 12, 2019

What I'm afraid of...

As noted previously, the girl is going off to college.

We're at T-minus five days here, and then she'll be gone.

I mean 'gone' in ways literal and figurative, in that she'll 1) no longer be a constant presence in our house and 2) the girl who comes back will increasingly be a stranger.

People change enormously from their 20s to their 30s. The girl who lived here for the last 18 years will be reshaped by experiences we have nothing to do with and know nothing about. The day-to-day events that connect us like a live wire will ebb and eventually fade into sepia-toned memory. 

Meanwhile, we'll be changing as well, in ways we can't begin to predict.

This arc of our shared humanity is completely normal, I know, and inevitable. We don't bring children into the world as stationary props in our little stage play. 

What now feels strange and wistful will gradually become a new, more comfortable normal. We will proceed down these divergent paths as families of all species do. 

We'll try to remain current and relevant in each other's lives, and hope for the best. We'll do what we can, with what we have, where we are.

We will adapt.

Right now, though...I'm grieving.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Acutely hipster

Worth it.
Four weeks post-Miwok, my hips are hurting.

I suppose I know why.

It's not because I suffered an injury during the race, or even during the miles I've run since then.

It's because I jammed all the training for a 100k event into a seven-week block.

If you search the internet for "7-week 100k training plan" you'll find...nothing. Because it's not something people do. Unless they're desperate or under duress. 

I was both, so, yay.

And now I have residual hip pain, likely the cumulative effect of too much distance and elevation in too little time. 

It might also be the result of not banking enough total miles to take on a 100k day.

Again, probably both. Yay.

I'm not complaining. My short-term goal was to get to the starting line with a chance finish...and that's exactly what I got.

Lesson learned? Most likely nothing. I did what I wanted to do, rather than what I probably should have done, and it worked out. If the same situation were to happen again (please, no), I would very likely do the same thing all over again.

Because I'm stubborn. Or stupid. Probably both.


Tuesday, June 04, 2019

The Aztec Experience

Impressive Aztec headgear.
The Aztec Empire once covered most of northern Mesoamerica, spanning from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean.

Aztec art, architecture, and cultural influence* spread widely and across centuries—until the arrival of Spanish conquistadores, who were not there to deliver tidings of peace and goodwill. 

(The Spaniards were, in fact, there to extract as many of the local resources as possible, without regard to the actual locals.)

Euphemistic note: at this historical juncture, the Aztec civilization did not continue to thrive.
Somewhat less impressive
Aztec headgear.
Since the passing of several hundred years apparently allows us to relate such events with persiflage...

The Aztec Experience lives on at San Diego State University!

Not literally, one hopes.

Since our daughter will be attending SDSU very soon.
Coach Nieto on the left.
SDSU cheerleader on the right.
Short story shorter: Avery was accepted at SDSU and the University of San Diego. Over spring break she and a teammate on the Ballard High School competitive cheer squad went to tour both campuses...AND to try out for the SDSU competitive cheer program. In a very unlikely turn of events, both made the team.

Elaboration: the SDSU women's cheer team is an elite program, on par with, oh-I-don't-know, Alabama football or Duke University basketball.  The competition for the handful of open spots on the team is enthusiastic: more than a hundred young women tried out this year. And both our home girls made it? Extraordinary.
SDSU is not kind to out-of-state students, cost-wise. Apparently they have to pay for the pyramids and temples and huge stone monuments.
Whoops. Not the SDSU campus.

On the upside, though, I did get a nice SDSU hat as a gift with purchase. Avery's mom got an SDSU t-shirt. So it almost evens out.
Cheer practice starts July 20, so Avery and her mom are flying down July 17 to get acclimated. They'll both attend an orientation session, one for students, one for parents.

After a month or so, AG comes home for a week, then heads back down to campus.
Actual SDSU campus.

Fall classes begin Aug. 26.

It will surprise no one to learn...I'm not ready.
* If by "cultural influence" you mean wars of aggression, ritualistic human sacrifice, and vast slave-holding, then yes.
 Pick your own favorite elite examples, I have no preference.

Thursday, May 09, 2019

Riches to rags to Randall: a Miwok 100k race report

"No horses? Perhaps you could
spare some S!Caps, then??"
“A horse, a horse! My kingdom for a horse!”

~ King Richard III, Act V, Scene IV, Richard III.
"Chew the S!Caps."

~ Chuck Wilson, Randall Aid Station Captain, Miwok 100k
Advice about ingesting sodium/potassium capsules lacks dramatic heft.

In the context of a 100k trail race, tho, those three words were the difference between an inglorious DNF and an unlikely finish to a long day in the Marin Headlands.

In three acts, (or to recap, as it were) here's how my day went:

"I'm gonna PR!"

"I'm gonna DNF!"
Tsk. This guy.
He has no idea
what he's in for.

"I'm gonna finish!"


The actual running of Miwok 2019 seemed easier than in 2017 (which I described as "one of my best running days ever"). The weather was cooler, I knew the course, and (I thought) I had a fair idea how the day would unfurl.

Ha ha ha, nope.

The theory did hold for a little while. After the annual slow, conga-line climb up the Dipsea Trail, everything felt quicker. I spent less time taking photos, less time in the aid stations, and less time in between. After the first 50k, I was on pace to sneak in under 14 hours, which would've been about a 40-minute PR.

That's IF the stomach issues hadn’t happened.


Not for the first time, my stomach situation started to go sideways at about 55k. This despite the fact that I conscientiously ate before I got hungry, drank before I was thirsty, and swallowed an S!Cap every hour, just for laughs and redundancy.

"All the world's a stage, and all
the men and women merely players."
As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII
Noticing the first hints of GI trouble the second time through the Muir Beach aid station (mile 30), I started eating saltines, because someone at some point may have told me saltines magically settle upset stomachs.

I don't know who it was, but I'll get them, someday.

And though I was still moving well and passing lots of people on the climbs, my stomach was deteriorating rapidly. Now fully in a dither, I rolled into Cardiac (mile 35) like, "I'll have all the saltines, please." Because sometimes to make the magic work you have to say "abracadabra" more than once.

Seven miles later, at the Bolinas aid station, I realized saltines are something your mom gives you when you're a kid, and the magic is that they came from your mom.

My mom was definitely not at the Bolinas aid station. I checked.


Over the 6.7 miles between Bolinas and Randall, my body was in full rebellion. The stomach pain was relentless, I couldn't take on any fluids or calories, and my joints felt like grinding gears. It got so bad I couldn't even run the 1.6 mile descent into Randall.

My PR was out the window, of course, and any finish at all seemed doubtful. I took my drop bag from a kind volunteer, plopped myself into a camp chair, and for the next 45 minutes I waited for a necromancer. Or a coroner, I really didn't care which.

Instead, I got Chuck Wilson, aid station captain extraordinaire, and the ultramarathon advice of a lifetime:

"Chew the S!Caps."

"Swallowing them whole does no good when your stomach is shut down," he said. "Chewing them gets them into your system and immediately sends signals to your extremities. Your stomach will feel better, you’ll feel your joints loosen up again, and you should be good to go."*

Chewing up an S!Cap, which is basically a mouthful of salt, sounded as awful as I felt. And honestly, I doubted the whole proposition. But, as has been demonstrated countless times throughout human history, desperation makes people do desperate things: I chewed the S!Caps.

In the most ridiculously unlikely turn of events...this magic was real. Within five minutes everything Chuck said would happen, happened. I got up and slowly walked around the aid station a few times and felt better still.
"Glenn! Got any S!Caps??"
(Photo by Glenn Tachiyama.)

I sat back down, changed my socks and shoes, then got up and looked for Chuck so I could thank him. He was nowhere in sight. Still, I'm pretty sure he was real, too.

After about 5 miles (and a lot of climbing) I was flagging a bit...SO I CHEWED UP ANOTHER S!CAP! And almost puked. Within a couple minutes, though, I felt better!

The more time that passed and the farther I ran, the better I felt. Defying all logic, my time over the last 6 miles was nearly identical to 2017. 

And the last, most technical descent of the course before the finish? I PR'd it.

Best of all, I finished feeling human, rather than like a zombie.
A few days later, I’m still trying to understand why my day went so upside-down. Aside from the fact that anything can happen to anyone, any time, that is.

"I'll not budge an inch."
Taming of the Shrew,
Introduction, Scene I.
I did everything I knew to do to keep myself right-side up during a long event, and it made *zero* difference. And the thing that saved the day was a hail Mary I had no reason or right to expect.

I sit here shaking my head, realizing (yet again) that any finish, any day, is a gift.

And grateful that there's still a little magic left in this world.
(* Not an exact quote, but as near as I can recall from my debilitated state.)
Miwok 100k


222/254 (overall)

31/40 (M 50-59)

Hoka Speedgoat 3 (mile 0-49)

Altra Timp 1.5 (mile 49-62)

Song(s) stuck in my head the entire time: 

"Heart and Soul" ~ Hoagy Carmichael/Frank Loesser
"That's Amore" ~ Harry Warren/Jack Brooks
"Material Girl" ~ Peter Brown/ Robert Rans

Western States Qualifier: snagged.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Wave hello

"Dude! Did you miss me??"

That was a big one.

I just got hit by this year's first wave of Miwok Anxiety. 

It's like boogie boarding in choppy surf—one moment you're riding the wave, the next moment the wave is riding you...right down into the sand.

Boom! Welcome to the party, pal!

In 2017 the nerves started a full two weeks ahead of race day. Today, we're just nine days out.

This is progress, maybe.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

"Who are those guys?" (a Yakima Skyline Rim 25K race report)

Deja view.

"Boy, you know every time I see Hole-in-the-Wall again, it's like seeing it fresh for the first time. And every time that happens, I keep asking myself the same question: how could I be so damn stupid to keep coming back here?"

~ Paul Newman in 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid'
I had never been there before, but there was something familiar about the setting for the Yakima Skyline Rim 25K.

The high cliffs overlooking the river, the trains across the water from our campground, a relentless pursuit over rocky crags, leading inexorably to a desperate leap...
"No, we'll jump."
"Like hell we will."

What could it be?

Today, after a little rest and a lot of food, I figured it out.
The YSR 25k is a simple, but great course. 

It doesn't seduce you with the buttery, forested single track typical of the Pacific Northwest. 

Rather, it hits you in the ribs with two hulking climbs and descents, linked together by a rocky, technical ridge line. It lays it all out in front of you without acrimony and says, "This is what I have...what do you have?"

Well, I'll tell you what I have, YSR course—I have two very ruined big toenails, thank you very little—both wrecked on your freakish descents. I'll think of you when I'm limping around the Marin headlands in a couple of weeks.

That said, I also have a bit more confidence heading into Miwok 100k, since the biggest ups and downs on that course don't compare to a Sunday on the trails in the Yakima River Canyon.
The first climb at YSR is about two and a half miles long, with grades of up to 45%. Along the way are four or five false summits that might make the climb seem less than it is.

But they don't. It still seems like one of the toughest uphills I've encountered on any race course, including Squamish and Backcountry Rise. 

And that was before I got to the second climb.

About four and a half miles long, at the back half of the course, this ascent indifferently stares you in the face nearly the entire time. Looking up at it was visually intimidating, if I'm honest, so I just kept my head down and focused on the next several steps in front of me.

This worked out better than curling up in a ball and rolling back down the hill.

Framed by the climbs on both sides, the in-between trail along the ridge line is no stroll in the park. The terrain is fraught with semi-treacherous rocks most of the way—but it is a welcome, mostly runnable break from the ascents.

As is often the case, the last descent is as hard as (if not harder than) any of the climbing. If you're an elite mountain runner you might be able to cut loose and fly down a slope like this, but [Spoiler Alert] I'm not an elite mountain runner. I'm a guy with a family and a mortgage and a couple of zombie toenails. 

A guy with a healthy appreciation for not being broken into unfixable pieces.

So the last descent took a while. And it hurt my toes.

"Don't they get tired? Don't they get hungry?
Why don't they slow up? Hell, they could even
go faster, at least that'd be a change!"
(Photo courtesy of Brandon Williams.)
The last three-quarters of a mile at YSR takes you back over the seasickness-inducing pedestrian bridge you crossed earlier in the day, across some pavement, up a little rise, and before you know it, viola! You're high-fiving RD James Varner and dunking your feet in the icy-cold Yakima River.

Denouement: nope, that's it. Like the course, there was no dramatic plot twist, no ambush in a Bolivian village. 

Just...the end.

I think I'll keep coming back here.
Many thanks to the cast and crew at Rainshadow Running for a reliably rollicking good time. Even more thank-yous to the volunteers, who really don't have to be out there on a random-if-beautiful Sunday (let alone Easter Sunday), but are out there dispensing joy, nonetheless.
"Kid, next time I say, 'Let's go somewhere like Bolivia,' let's GO somewhere like Bolivia."
~ Butch Cassidy
Yakima Skyline 25k


76/234 (overall)

1/16 (M 50-59)

Hoka Speedgoat 3

Song stuck in my head the entire time: 
"Panama" ~ Van Halen