Hot Chocolate 15k: Race Review

The mind is like a car battery — it recharges by running.

-Bill Watterson

One of the coolest moments in my racing history happened a few weekends ago.  On a cold and drizzly Seattle morning, in the early Sunday fog, we were off through downtown prepared for a hilly, challenging Hot Chocolate 15k.  I expected many things from this race.  I knew I would be wet, cold, and wobbly- legged from the hills.

What I didn’t except was the eerie, elated feeling of turning up a steep hill to see the course turn dark and serpentine into the Battery Street tunnel.  Sheltered from the rain for almost a mile, the light at the end of this particular tunnel was bittersweet.  Inside, we were dry.  Thousands of running footsteps echoed off the walls, cheery voices welcoming the shelter from the rain, lanes completely empty except for us – runners.  Hundreds of us, making our own traffic noises, all blending together as we curved along to see the opening back into the daylight.

I can’t say enough good things about this race. I tried in my post for RunOregon.  My crowd-averse self normally registers events like this as a bit of a chore, but RAM Series‘ Hot Chocolate single-handedly revived my interest in, and enjoyment of races.  I’ll take hill tired all day, every day when the trade-off is stoked on racing again.

Running through the battery street tunnel

Seattle’s Battery Street tunnel

That Time I Signed up for the Portland Marathon

Well guys, it’s a big day here in “mostly just dreaming about running rather than actually running” land.

I finally handed over the cash for the Portland Marathon and am pretty darn excited.  [Sidebar: Can we just all take a minute and acknowledge how expensive races are getting?  I’m having mixed feelings about the ROI on this particular $140 investment.  Also, don’t get me started on their website, or their registration form.  It made my web-working head want to explode a little bit, and I swear a part of me died every time I had to resubmit said lengthy form due to internal errors. ANYWAYS.   Moving on.]

Is that the right word? Am I excited?*

It’s a very loaded excitement, bound in all the baggage from my last marathon, simultaneously carrying probably too much hope that the process will be dramatically better than it was before.  There’s still an abiding sense that I don’t know how to do this.

An amazing amount of things have been done by people who didn’t know how. Don’t  let that stop you. The danger is more in doing nothing than in not “knowing how.”

– anon.

So I’m doing it, and this time, I’ve got what feels like a pretty solid strength training routine.  I’m committed to pool work outs and time in the bike saddle for my first triathlon, and I also have physical therapists on speed dial (Thanks so much to my sister and the great crew at Acceleration PT for years and years of moral and biomechanical support ) a best friend for a training buddy, and the experience of having done it once before.  That’s got to count for something? Right?

Let’s do this thing.

Motivation courtesy of The Features:

On the Fly

I dream about running. Does anyone else do this?

On the plane to a business meeting, I close my eyes and in minutes, the thing I hear is the thing I’m craving most: gravel under foot. Just imagining that steady crunching sound, I start to feel my shallow, frenzied breath even out.

In the cramped, recycled-air cabin that smells like human- I could not be farther away. In a place that smells instead like dirt, pine needles, and cold. My head is running me down one of my favorite trails, a lonely dirt road through forest and farmland and fresh, freezing air.

The hum of the engine rumbles, fading away underneath the new sounds of morning, quick, deep drinks of mountain air, the birds on the breeze. I am waking up somewhere else, but it’s not the place my plane is headed. By the time we land, I’m grinning, calm. I’ve been out of the game for a little over a week, benched by another cold that wouldn’t let go.

But I’m coming for that run.

Maybe it knows I’ll be back, and it’s working into waking dreams now too, to keep me sane, to keep me ready. I like to think so. Blink anymore these days and I’m there, sweat on my temples and thundering heart in my chest. It feels good to feel better, but feeling tired after a good, long run is probably the best medicine I could give myself. Until then, I’ll be self-medicating in shut eye.

20140205-164350.jpg

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

Running down the busy street, its a bustling Friday afternoon that doggy and I have set out into.  The hum of traffic is muffled by my earbuds, our cadence cools down, and we are both glad to be out of the house despite the quickly gathering dark.

Closing on the intersection, it’s as if the world cracks on its axis by the sound that shatters out from a car nearby.  In that instant, everything is on its side. Was that a gunshot? My chest so tight I can barely manage breath, I vaguely register that the lower portion of my legs are burning and doggy is loosing his highest-register yowl.  Shaking at the end of his leash it’s not a bark, just a stifled, heart-breaking whimper. My feet have stopped moving, slowly figuring out there’ve been no bullets, but probably a blown tire.

I reach down to comfort and inspect Bo, now understanding that my burning shins are the result of projectile road debris from the tire explosion. I spot the car, struggling to move down the road.  As more of my brain pieces this together, I’m immediately terrified for my dog, who is eye-level where my legs are scratched and bleeding. Still in total disbelief that a tire blowing can produce this level of heart-stopping noise, let alone send gravel straight into my skin, I watch the car lurch through the intersection, rubber flap-flap-flapping in tow.

Headlights streak past, bursts of light to brush off the gravel and dirt by. There’s a persistent wondering over what in the holy hell has just happened, standing blankly on the sidewalk, and feeling rather shell shocked over a strangely eventful split second.  Thankfully, Bo seems unharmed, but I can tell the skittishness will linger as he groans and leans into my legs, rubbing his head against my thigh over and over.  Me too, buddy. Me too. 

I pet him and pet him, shushing sounds wheezing out of my mouth. It’s Okay. It’s Okay.  

It is. In this brief moment we are reminded, unapologetically, of the important things, and though shaken we are, in fact, okay.

Sometimes you don’t get the run you planned on, you get the run you need.

It’s a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.

– JRR Tolkien

Always Wait, or Exhale. Maybe Both.

Just try not to wax nostalgic this time of year, I’ve already given up.  Holidays are everywhere, and perhaps I should be occupied with gifts and tinsel and all.  And I am, partly.  But I’m also always aware that this time of year marks another anniversary of returning from one of the great adventures in my life: an ill-conceived, if well-intentioned, jaunt to life in Lima, Peru.

Many very long stories short, I accompanied a friend on quest for aboriginal healing and transformation of partial parapledgia through traditional medicine.  Yes, it was a gamble, and yes it only partly worked, if we’re measuring physical results.  True to form, and because I’ve never been one to not write things down, I recorded a good chunk of our journey here, if you’re feeling like a glutton for prosaic punishment.

So what does all this have to do with Christmas?  I think its not uncommon for us to take stock sometimes, reflect over the past years of our lives and those of our loved ones. And so, as I’m taking stock, thinking back, to the sticky way the air felt on my morning runs through Miraflores many years ago now, I am grateful.  And damn if that doesn’t feel more like the holidays than anything I’ve yet come across.  Being grateful for the folks who made our trip possible, the ones who wrote us letters of encouragement, the ones we met along the way, the ones who were on the other end of frenzied phone calls and Skype sessions, the ones who took pity on us, and the ones who saved us.

We were fortunate enough to come by a trustworthy cabbie early on in our time there, which now in the scheme of things doesn’t begin to cover what Diego was for us.  So much more than a reliable means of conveyance through a strange and sometimes scary city, he taught us about Lima, Spanish, patience, gratitude, the value of mirth in the face of trial, and -very important- how to actually get and retain a cab in the city.  “Siempre, espirar.” He would tell me, so that I would be able to tell other cabbies not to drive off without one of us, or the wheelchair (as happened on more than one occasion).

In my head at the time, I translated it to “Always wait,” meaning always tell the driver to wait until you’re ready.  It stuck, cemented to the folds of my cerebellum somehow, “Siempre, espirar.” I come to understand now, although my Spanish was, and remains, barely conversational, it can also mean, “always exhale.” Maybe I misheard him, a lot was lost in translation.  Good advice I think, either way.

More than waiting, more than resonant lessons in exhaling and letting go, maybe most of all, Diego taught me about faith.  Fe. I can still hear him say it. Not a kind of faith attributable to one particular deity or other per se (though there was no shortage of that, Lima being Lima and all), but faith in the deep-down decency of other folks, and faith in our abilities to do things, and believe in things, we’re not really sure we can.  And if that’s not Christmas, I don’t know what is.

Now, here to say Happy Holidays from me is a shot from a run:

run happy

Win All the Holidays – Awesome Gifts Runners Will Love

Christmas came early! Just kidding, but kind of, since it’s St. Nicholas Day, my pals at RunOregon and I wanted to give you this.

Basically, we did all the work for you and researched the most awesome, genius holiday gift ideas for runners.  Happy shopping and a very happy St. Nick’s Day!

Terrible Ideas & Other Things I Tried This Week

I just wrote a race review for RunOregon and thought it was time to start thinking about the rest of my plans for racing, and running, and all sorts of other things. All at once. This is what happens when I try to not think about things so much, the rubber band always snaps back and I end up like this:

running meme

Brought to you by the awesome Allie Brosh and her brilliant blog: http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/

Things are stirring.  Fall must bring out a sort of claustrophobia, because I’m weirdly, acutely aware of a slow suffocation from the struggle to be something better. Between the daylight slipping away so suddenly, and the closeness of rounding out another year, things are stirring. Moving deep beneath the surface.  You can almost feel it in the air and the strands of bottled up rain wrung clean from clouds.

Plans are in motion.  Big, intimidating, amazing plans.  Portland marathon plans, NaNoWriMo book writing plans, and triathlon plans.  Blame it on re-reading What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, or the renewed sense of purpose that comes from setting goals and signing up for things i’m not sure yet whether I can do, but its what November seems to need from me so far- creating an plan of attack for making 2014 a year of writing and running, and swimming and biking, and then more running. And maybe some more, lots more, writing.

Best Laid Plans

So, there will be a handful of half-marathons in the spring, overlapped by a summer of pool (and hopefully lake) laps and bike training, leading up to a Tri (sprint, of course) toward the end of August, and then – deep breath- stacking up the miles and miles of training runs leading to the Oct. 5th Portland Marathon.

Part of me feels pretty nuts just to be thinking about it.  The other part can’t wait to get started training. RUN SWIM EVERYTHING FOREVER!! Then I remember I couldn’t make it through 12 weeks of marathon training without injury the last time, and land right back at being sure I’m crazy to be considering both my first triathalon and a marathon in the same year.

I can’t help it. Things are moving.

Should I maybe, possibly, to quote Ron Swanson, be whole-assing just one thing?

RonSwansonMeme

Caution: gratuitous meme-ing.

Am I actually crazy?

Portland Marathon Proud

Runners aren’t usually shy about doing hard things. Many of us get up and do hard things in the lonely dark before most folks have even begun brewing coffee. I’m thinking of one particular runner, though, who is maybe better at doing hard things than any other person I know. So unflinching in the face of hard things is she, that she’s running the Portland Marathon on Sunday.

The hard part isn’t even the 26.2 miles, which will be punishing enough in their own way.  The hard part is that this is her second time running Portland, only it’s a completely different race than the one she ran before.

I’ve been sitting on this post because every time I think I want to publish it, it just doesn’t seem to do her justice. With only one day before the race, even though there is no way in which it will be good enough, I want to share her story, because in my eyes she is an actual phoenix.  A living, breathing, running version of one of those mythical creatures that is tried in the fires of life and rises from the ashes of it, resplendent and completely, unbelievably awesome.  Here goes….

This is my friend, Erin.

erin

I’m introducing her to you because she’s the single most inspiring person I know (and I know some pretty great people). When I’m not running out my own selfish frustrations and personal hang-ups, I’m running for her. And in many cases, running with her, since we’re on a new morning run routine (which is exactly as amazing as I could hope it would be.  Start your day with four miles and a good friend? Every single day if I could.)

But I digress.

Last year, Erin lost not one, but two parents, and a grandparent to cancer. That’s not all.  In the same 12 months, she went through a world-rending marriage/divorce combo job that would have ripped the rims off anyone else’s life, and left them a smoldering shell of a soul in the bottom of a ditch somewhere.  At least that’s what I imagine would happen to me in similar or- let’s be honest -much less tragic circumstances.  “You’re kidding!” you say.  I wish. I wish with everything I am, that I were. Yet I watched her handle those 12 months with dignity to spare and a determination that never ceases to amaze me. She faced the fear of all that with both eyes forward, and the bare will to be brave enough to remain who she is, despite it all.

Flash forward, and here she is now, motivating me for morning runs, smothering my dog with kisses and pumping me up for another dark, early morning spin around the neighborhood.  A year later she is as supportive a friend and vibrant a human as ever there was.  So much life  threw itself at her in such a short time, and even so, through the eye of such a complete and total shit storm, she is gracefully moving through it, shinier and brighter than anything I’ve seen.

She’s running around-literally- giving gingers everywhere an incredibly good name. She works as an occupational therapist in far-flung rural Washington towns, spending sometimes 3+ hrs a day in commute time to give rural schools resources they wouldn’t otherwise have, on top of which, she’s training to run the Portland Marathon for the second time.  The first time she ran it, both her parents were waiting at the finish line.  This time, I have no doubt they’ll be there, just maybe less visible to everyone but her.

There’s more to this story, as you probably can guess.  It’s filled with heroism, friendship, and the kind of bravery we’re used to reading about, but rarely ever see in person. I’m humbled to be trying- stress TRYING- to help her tell it.  I love to write, she has an incredible story to tell, and we are eager to the task, but it’s daunting, none the less.  It’s full of nervousness and doubt, this endeavor, but it’s a story I’d read cover to cover, over and over again, and tell to my children, and their kids.  That tells me it deserves to exist.  This tells me other people might want to hear it, too.  That tells me we have long nights ahead with steep learning curves, and so I ask your help- if you have any experience with writing/publishing/editing etc. please get in touch. It may just take a village. Our most grateful thanks to you ahead of time for any assistance you can offer.

This is my friend, Erin.

runningerin

She’s the very essence of awesome, resilience, and just plain rad on two legs.  If you run into her on the course tomorrow, – you’ll know her by her t-shirt:

portland marathon t-shirt

give her a great big shout out to let her know you’re pulling for her.  I will be.