Follow by Email

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Life's Chapters

"Death solves all problems. No man, no problem."
~Joseph Stalin


"The greatest and most important problems of life are all fundamentally insoluble. They can never be solved but only outgrown."
~Carl Jung




I am a firm believer that everything is either cyclical or occurs in periods. Life is periodical, as weird as it sounds. As always, I can only speak for myself, and my life has neatly broken down into a few major periods, or even chapters, if you will. I suspect I am not the first or even the 10 millionth person to say this or think of it. It fits, so I will roll with it, however cliche.

For me, life's phases are often defined and punctuated by the kind or quality of struggle to get through the phase, or the degree of difficulty each phase presents. I have had phases of extreme difficulty and phases where life was literally one bike ride, one run, one swim at a time. Maybe this makes me a "glass is half empty" type of person; after all, could I not be also describing these phases by how EASY they were to get through, rather than how HARD? I like to think of it as realism. The glass is too damn big.

Currently I am struggling, struggling big time. I am struggling in my current chapter of life to endure even those things which used to be what I would consider defining characteristics of life's "easy" chapters. Now, even those are difficult, even those things result in untoward stress and trepidation. Work, my beloved work, is ridiculously overwhelming and a major struggle every day. Training is even a struggle. My marriage is probably the biggest struggle of all of them.

It is not lost on me that in life nothing is experienced in isolation; at least I am (somewhat surprisingly to myself) unable to compartmentalise these considerations into uniqe and isolated pockets of resistance. Nope. Its all fucked. Big time. And therefore the blood that spills forth from one battle can not be contained in its "life bucket" and spills into its neighbor. All of my buckets are beginning to resemble each other, as a murky mixture of all of the other problems. Marriage problems spill into dealing with everything else. Work requires so much more effort that I can not keep it from fucking up my training. And if my training, the one thing I hold sacred as my own, personal respite, is not going well... Forget it.

The glass is too damn big--but only if it's holding water. That analogy breaks down when you have to describe the epic tons of horseshit that the glass is trying to hold during this particular chapter of my life. In this case, the glass keeps increasing in size to accomodate more and more crap.

Ironman is 153 days and 15 hours away. And right now, sheer determination is getting me through. How long can it last?






Thursday, February 23, 2012

On the Utility of Heart Rates


Any form of exercise that raises your heart rate and leaves you slightly breathless, if done on a regular basis, is extremely beneficial.

~ Mark Richardson






I have a routine that I have followed more often than not for the last 13 years as I go to bed.

I put on my cheapest, most simple heart rate monitor, and lay down. Then, I watch my heart rate decrease to to the lowest level possible without being asleep.

In the 13 years it has become the most reliable barometer of wellness I have ever had. Days before I ever actually experience symptoms from being sick my resting heart rate will only decrease to a level 10 beats per minute above normal. When I am in shape, my resting heart rate is approx 37 BPM laying down. When I am sick, it will not drop below 50 usually.

When I am overtrained, my heart rate tells me.

When I am stressed about work, and about to have a terrible night of (no) sleep, my heart rate confirms this.

Our cardiac output, the simple rythmic beating of our heart, is the function of biochemical processes embedded deep inside our cellular make-up. Our physical selves are composed of a fantastically complicated and intricate network of responses and feedback loops that inhibit and stimulate and constantly "sense" the environment in order to best suit us for what might happen next.

This is, at its essence, Survival.

However, we as humans do not depend upon these series of sensations and responses any longer for survival. Our psyche has, and continues to, uncouple from our physical selves. We think our way through every day knowing full well (most of us) that we are not in peril, that we are not threatened by starvation, and that water is plentiful and safe. We (largely) do not have to spend energy on the worry about being fit to reproduce and pass on our genes for the lineage's survival. Our physical biochemical response is dulled and unresponsive.

So what, then, have we become?

As I lay down with my heart rate monitor and watch the numbers change, my mind races. I think about a demanding meeting at work occuring the next day and the number sky rockets, often two-fold. Tension, perspiration, my breathing increases.

Deep breath. The thought evaporates. I remember the warm, soothing feel of the sun on my face as I sit on the dock at the lake, listening to the water, the dock moving slightly, and my heart rate plummets. My respiratory rate decreases. My breathing is intimately linked to my heart rate. Oxygen and carbon dioxide are powerful drivers of cardiac function. Thoughts are powerful.


"Picture yourself vividly as winning, and that alone will contribute immeasurably to success."

~Harry Emerson Fosdick





With thoughts I can induce changes in the theater of biochemistry occuring inside me. There is still some link to my primal sense of survival, after all. Do people who visualize their physical efforts actually, in essence, train "virtually" by causing a biochemical reaction? If you picture success, does the biochemistry inside of you follow suit and "wire" you for victory?

I lay there, watching the numbers fall. I find it meditative to focus on these numbers and clear my mind. In all honestly, it is one of my favorite moments of the day. One of the few times outside of training when I feel free of the bonds of thought.

And, naturally, my heart rate drops.


Sunday, January 15, 2012

How to Track Me


In case you are interested, many of the workouts between now and August 26th will be tracked with my Garmin Forerunner 305.





Garmin Connect Site

I purposefully do not wear it on every workout, so it is not exhaustive. But you will be able to see my progress, as well as see some of the races I do in the mean time. And no, I won't wear this in the pool or in the weight room or on the trainer.



Enjoy.


Aaron

Friday, January 6, 2012

Achieving the Unachievable


"You have to learn the rules of the game. And then you have to play better than anyone else."
~Albert Einstein

"Winners compare their achievements with their goals, while losers compare their achievements with those of other people."
~Nido Qubein







I set out to win every race I enter. I tell myself this is not realistic, but I never start any race thinking I am racing for 2nd.

I want to create the best treatment for cancer, a treatment that saves lives and does not ruin the patient's life in the process. Hell, I want to be the person who cures cancer. I tell myself this is not realistic, but every day I get to go to work is a new opportunity to try. And I do.


You are too ambitious.

Why do you train so hard? You can't win.

Your expectations are unrealistic.

You are setting yourself up for failure.

Your enthusiasm is only because you are new to the field.

You work too hard, it's just a job.


These are the things I hear almost every day of my life, meant to stifle me down into the ever thickening vignette of mediocrity at the bottom of the picture of success. Most people would probably never believe that these are the types of things I used to say to myself. I punished myself with these thoughts constantly until my twenties, when the switch flipped during a 6 month stint of therapy. Back then the world was more than happy to sing the song of doom along with me. Come--join everyone else in the fulfillment of low expectations, and collect your award.

Begin digression.

I was laying in the gurney, and the back of the ambulance opened. The jarring motion of being lifted out of the ambulance and onto the ground. My family around me, now, looking panicked and scared. Everything hurts, the world is a bit distorted. I saw them, and I understood the reason behind the fear in their eyes, but something in me remained calm. I knew it was going to be okay, for some reason. Maybe, in retrospect, it was ignorance that kept me calm. At 18 years and 11 months, we do not often understand the nature of our experiences as we have them, hence so many young people kill themselves doing what appears to more mature individuals as "stupid shit".

I had tried to insert a waterski into the back of my head and instead crushed a 3 inch crater of my skull into about 6 fragments, some of which were pushed into my brain. Later I would discover I had bruised my brain, and was about 3 mm from paralysis or death. Everyone stood around, nervously, listening to the neurosurgeon. The next day I emerged victorious (albeit in extraordinary pain) from surgery, and here I am, 15 years later, alive and well.

Why do I bring up this story?

That event could have stopped me cold in my tracks. It could have killed me. It could have prevented me, physically, from being able to do the acivities I enjoy. Or, it might have scared me into a shell of fear where from the ambitions of life I could hide. And, probably, few people would have really questioned this. After all, I had a blind spot in the center of my vision as a result of the trauma to my brain which forced me to read (words and music) differently. I had every excuse to live a much easier, simpler life.

The bar I set for myself is unmistakably, unequivocally ridiculous. How many humans are happy with what I consider to be "just getting by"? How did I become this way? I don't think I am better than anyone. Not at all. What is it, then? These days, I feel sorry for those people, big and small, red, white blue and black, who fail to recognize their own potential for greatness. And believe me, greatness has nothing at all to do with being a pharmacokineticist or a musician or a fly fisherman or a triathlete. It has nothing to do with what other people see in you, however, when you realize your potential engaging in your chosen endeavor, your luminescence is clearly visible.

How do you know when you have realized your potential?
You can see greatness because of the sudden, complete stratification of your peers. There is precipitation into one of three clusters:

1) Envy - "Meh. It's not so great." The most common reaction to success, I believe, is negativity.

2) Agnosticism - "What success?" It is easier to close ones eyes than to see and acknowledge the successes of others. In many ways it is similar to 1 above.

3) Pride - It is a rare individual who can share in the successes, as well as the failures, of others. The people who stand with you in victory are often great, as well.


And so here I go, with yet another unrealistic expectation: Qualify at Ironman Canada, this August, for the Ironman World Championship. The vocal opposition is loud and clear. I hear you, but I don't care.

After, on August 27th, many people will say "I told you so."

Some will say "That's too bad."


As for Me?
I will say "I did it."



Sunday, November 20, 2011

Running from Running


"Hope is nature's veil for hiding truth's nakedness."
~Alfred Nobel


"Even if you hide yourself from the world, don’t lose sight of your real nature."
~ Japanese Proverb






Look at that picture for a moment. That was October of 2010 in Victoria. The last few hundred feet of that fateful marathon which I will never forget. I look pretty good, I have to say. You would never know how much pain I was enduring and had endured, right? I was about to crumple under the weight of a PR that was 36 seconds too slow. Fall to my knees and wonder if I was dying or experiencing life to the fullest. Pain sets in, and the world slips away. You know what would have made that run even worse?

Cold.

The cold air has become my increasingly grouchy companion. The cold air makes a bad running day worse. In the summer it is sheer joy to throw on a pair of shorts and shoes (and literally that is it) and head out for 5 to 10 miles nearly every single day. The days get shorter in a hurry. The cool air from the ocean flows inland in much larger volumes and the evenings carry with them the need for more blankets. In the morning, I am stiff and sore, feeling delicate.

I am due for a run and I sit contemplating longer than normal. Sure, I am running less than I would be during the summer, but that is not unusual. I feel guilt for waiting, for hesitating. Now its not just physical, its psychological. I remind myself of the record: This is only the second year since 2004 that I am not running the Seattle Marathon. The dangerous spiral continues: I wonder if I will ever look as good as that picture above (read the previous blog entry, now). Inertia. It is hard to get something moving that hasn't moved much each week. I have been running two days a week. Not much. It is hard to make aging muscles and bones go willingly into the cold and exert themselves. It is hard for most people even in the warm, summer days to do this, imagine the gravity they must be experiencing?

Collect myself, remember that getting myself out NOW, in the cold against my will and inertia, will only make it easier when I have rough mornings in the reasonably warm days of summer. At least that is what I tell myself. The harsh conditions separate us into those that aren't willing to make the sacrifice and those that are and my own experience tells me that those willing to make it out on the cold, rainy days will be better prepared when it really counts. And I have faith in the dividends that will pay for me. It is true for anything where devotion to a craft is involved, where the time spent just "doing" is as valuable as time spent perfecting and fine-tuning.

And so, off into the cold wind. It is clear, crisp, and a good day to go running. My shoes feel hard, my body tight, and my mind unsure; which means all is right where it is supposed to be.

Monday, November 14, 2011

From what do you flee?


"I know well what I am fleeing from but not what I am in search of."
~Michel de Montaigne







There are a few times, or I guess more accurately, activities, when I am utterly sure of myself. During these, I enjoy lengthy periods of clarity in as much as my brain turns off, the questions desist, and I truly focus.

Running.

Playing music.

Doing an experiment in the lab.

The rest of the time the hole in my head is an unruly auditorium of unhappy citizens clamoring for a lynching. It is a mob scene. Though I have somehow prevented it from, well, preventing ME, it has been my lifelong companion. I sort of consider it as a crazy relative whom I just kind of ignore for the large majority of the year but must face at christmas or on summer vacation--only when forced to.

Do you ever look back at times in your life when you were really, really good at something, and wonder "will I ever be that good again?" I just scrolled down through my blog and saw my previous post about the Victoria Marathon, where I ran a 3:12 and change. And I thought "Wow, that was smokin' fast. I will never do that again." I look at that picture--however defeated I may seem--and realize how freakishly fit I was to be able to run that with as little training as I enjoyed.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized as I got ready for that race that I looked at myself during Ironman 2009 and thought the same thing when I looked back at 2007. And I crushed my 2007 time, and felt stronger.

I suppose the point of this rambling is that no matter what the event or subject matter or activity, some of us are born to question ourselves. We question our value, our abilities, our worth, our fitness. And we always will. The real question becomes, do we listen to those questions and let them slow us down? Or do we live with them and persist and use them as a tool to get better? I think it varies, even within each of us, from day to day. Somedays it seems impossible to be good enough just for me, let alone anyone else. Other days I feel like I need everyone else to give me a freakin' break.

Every time I run I worry that I will never get back to where I was. Honestly. This is a fact I do not admit often, to many. It is true. Every single time I run I worry that my best is behind me, and that scares me to death. It absolutely terrifies me that someday my decline will begin and I will no longer be able to improve. And that is inevitable, I know. It is a fact of life, an inescapable truth.

So how do I deal with it? I guess time will tell, because right now, I choose to run from it.


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Failure to Connect


“You only live twice:
Once when you're born and once when you look death in the face.”
~Ian Fleming, You Only Live Twice

"For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love."
~Carl Sagan







Tonight, while working on a scientific manuscript leftover from my thesis work, I suddenly had the urge to pause. I looked up, in front of me, at a painting that my late mother-in-law created. I stared at it. I stared more. I have looked at this painting a million times, while working just like this. But for some reason, this time, I saw how she blended the shades of green in the leaves, how she must have thought about the light, how the contrast of the shadows would need to be just right as to provide clarity yet not overcrowd the delicate nature of the ashy petals.

At that moment I was appreciating this work so much more because I see, for probably the first time, that in her painting she was seeing the world much the way her daughter is now seeing the world--but instead of with a brush, it is through the lens of her camera. I had finally made the greatest connection with Gail I could ever make. About 6.5 years too late.

And I started crying. I cried hard, the kind that make your abdomen seize. And no, it didn't feel good to "get it out" because it just left me with more to think about.

I dont cry very often; years often go by. I am not proud of this, it is not a statistic I wear on my lapel. It just is. Like the dust behind the couch. It is easy to see if you go looking for it.

I looked at the painting and saw her last moments of life again. Her second life. I remember how she told me, the winter before she finally let go of this painful world, to take care of Jan. Her Jan. Her angel. My angel. And I cried thinking about how, like countless other things since then, I feel like I have failed in that. I realized how I have changed so dramatically in the last 6 years.

And is it for the better? At least I can look at the painting now and understand.

I fool myself so often into thinking I am a success, but am I? What have I figured out, anyway? Will I ever?

I remember sitting with my grandfather by his ever-smoldering fireplace early in the morning a few times when I was a sophomore in high school. I was a paper-boy, and we were waiting for my newspapers to get dropped off so we could assemble them and I would go out into the neighborhood. Grampa would get up to help me when there was 5 feet of snow on the ground and I had to be at early morning Jazz Band practice. He sat, peacefully, staring at the fire, absolutely confident in his quiet composure. I remember thinking, even then, "he has it figured out. This is what he wants to do, and he isn't rationalizing it to anyone." I remember being a bit nervous around him, even then; not because I feared him, but because I wanted him to be proud of me. And I know, now, he was/is. I didn't "get" him then. At least I made that connection before it was too late.

What I wouldn't give now to sit with him again by that fire just one more time and feel that pressure. I would smile, though, now. In my complete imperfection, he probably got a huge kick seeing me squirm. And I would too, were the shoe on the other foot.

There are shockingly few connections left. I find myself feeling so often as though most people aren't interested in being genuine. The glancing blows I have made all feel fleeting and shallow. Acquaintances. "Friends" who I can't tell any of the things in this blog post. Why? That is a good question. I don't know why. It might be my unwillingness to accept a lot of what I see on first glance. I feel I must be one of the hardest people to be close with on the planet. Even the closest friends don't feel close anymore. Perhaps it's all me.

My dad and I connect on a lot of levels, we always have. Being who I am, and that is an awful lot like him, it is not a surprise that it hasn't always been easy. But through it all the connection has remained and for that I am eternally grateful. It is days like today when I feel remarkably alone and wonder: when the bell tolls for the last time, what will it have all been for? There is comfort in knowing my Pa is out there, probably tying up a Transformation, being as hard on himself as I am on myself.

So its me and Gail's painting, sitting here in the night, the quiet and dark. She stood in front of that on more than one day and stared at it much like I am now. I wonder if when she was doing that, she questioned herself as I am questioning myself. All those years I thought she was so hard to get along with, and it turns out we had a lot in common after all.













Monday, September 5, 2011

The Next 140.6 miles



A year seems like a long time...




...but it runs by in a blur.

That's what I was thinking as I drove away from Penticton, British Columbia, Canada last Tuesday. Having just signed up for Ironman Canada 2012, my third Ironman but first at Penticton, I caught myself having the "plenty of time until that rolls around" thoughts. Nice try, rookie. I knew better.

Sure, a year is 365 days, 52 weeks, 8760 hours. It IS a long time.

But then it happens. Suddenly it's 6 months away. Then 3 months. Then 3 weeks.

Then it's tomorrow.

Then I am standing on the beach wondering what happened to that year since I stood outside of a dirty white tent next to a serene Lake Okanogan thinking this was a good idea.

Here we go.





Saturday, January 1, 2011

Timing

"Achilles: If you sailed any slower the war would be over."
"Odysseus: I'll miss the start as long as I'm here at the end."







I am a math guy. So here is what I think.

Wisdom = (time * experience)*(honesty)

Experience alone won't teach you. Time alone won't teach you. It takes both. And then it is multiplied by the fraction of honesty WITH OURSELVES, with the value of 1 being maximum honesty, and everything less being a fraction of 1.

The more dishonest we are with ourselves, the more we reduce the overall wisdom we gain from time and experience.

End of lesson 1.

What matters.

Where matters, also.

WHEN can make all the difference in the world. Ask any honest fly-fisherman. They will smile wryly and glibly describe to you how they watched the caddis coming off as thick as fog while they rigged up, trout literally ejecting themselves skyward after them. Then, by the time they achieved river's edge, silence.

Life imitates fishing, I always say.

"Things" happen for a reason, I hear a lot of folks wisefully state. Things include life changing events, I assume. Things include less profound events. But a lot of those "things" that I consider profound are only profound because of the timing and context of my experience at that particular moment.

The crossroads of experiences at every given moment can be so overwhleming and complex that I, for one, do not (can not, often by choice) even pay attention to it. Historically, in my little pathetic existence, only in the instance of the intersection of large magnitude "things" do I really take notice. I have aged I think wisely-- at least I am told I am a wise-ass a lot. I like to make myself feel good by allowing myself to take note of what appears to be less profound events more often, and then catalog those until later time for some good, old fashioned cogitation. Drawing lines between seemingly unrelated events at particular intersections of time. And what I have learned from this is that--holy shit--so much more exquisite relationship between seemingly non-related events, punctate throughout every day. The connections are staggering, from years ago to this moment.

I realized a long time ago the value of maintaining certain friendships that at the time did not seem viable. I did not truly understand the impact of time on everything.

Standing on the beach at the beginning of an Ironman, the impact of timing is clear.

Staring at yourself in the mirror in the morning, asking "where did I go wrong?" the impact isn't always so clear.

"I don't know how to separate the now from what used to be."

~Avett Brothers, "My Last Song to Jenny"







Thursday, November 18, 2010

Exercising my Good Fortune

I guess this means I should cut back.
Published with Blogger-droid v1.6.5

Thursday, November 4, 2010

A good friend.


“Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.”

~Roger Caras






its about 12:30 AM, or a bit past mid-night. I am working on my thesis, the last major document that shall be used against me... at least for a while. It causes me a great deal of stress, which I funnel into massive amounts of time sitting here at this machine, staring blankly at the monitor during the hours most people are sleeping (at least in my time-zone). It could seem like a lonely time, but I have a great friend. Her name is Cappie (or a zillion other things depending on when you are nearby), and she is an Aussie-Shepherd/Lab/Dalmation mutt. She is beautiful and smart and fun. Everything a... DOG... should be.

She follows me everywhere, and I joke that she is my dog-shaped shadow. She hates it when I leave, she loves it when I come home. Granted, you could say that about most people and this dog. She loves to love people. But she and I have a very special bond. It started when Jan and I were just dating, and dog needed a place to live, so I took her home with me every day and let her live in my apartment. The bond intensified when I took her with me for 6 months to far eastern Colorado to do oil and gas work. There she took on the role as "running partner dog". It is where we sorted out who was boss (clearly not me). I took her running on the country roads that stretched out for as far as I could see. Here, she was let free from the leash and would run through the corn fields with reckless abandon. I sometimes wouldn't see her for 10 to 15 minutes, but then, out of nowhere, a dark streak would come tear-assing down the road, right at me, tongue lolling about in sheer delight.

I started running marathons and Cappie become marathon-training dog. She would get tired and fall back to the very end of the leash and look at me, pleadingly, to stop so she could sniff every individual blade of grass--again.

At the lake she is lake swimming-dog. She sometimes gets into the water on warm days and just swims because she can. It is the most delightfully graceful and relaxing motion I have ever watched. Except when she inhales some water.

At the dog-park she is Icky-dog. She likes to be confrontational, but I don't know where she gets that...

She is getting older, and although a lot of the time you can't tell, and Jan would kill me for putting it into the "permanence" of writing, she has lost a few steps. She is 9 years old in human years. Her attitude is still puppy-like, but her body can't keep up, albeit not for lack of trying.

She can sleep 18 of the 24 hours in a day without a second shake. And a lot of this time is spent downstairs at the desk with me, while I write my thesis. Hours and hours and hours, she sleeps at my feet, occasionally giving my arm a very labrador-induced flip with the snout that means "scratch my butt". Heck, its the least I could do for a creature that spends every moment I am home at my side. Who I can leave for hours in a garage every day, and still loves me when I come back.

She is now "Thesis-Writing dog" and I will put her in my acknowledgements.




“A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself.”

~Josh Billings

Sunday, October 31, 2010

A question of Priorities


“Action expresses priorities.”

~Mahatma Gandhi






Another version of a manuscript done.

Its the 5th revision. I happily and triumphantly hit "send" on the email, unleashing yet another bit of scientific garble into the ether, an electronic dart aimed squarely at my advisor. But he is crafty.

I immediately get an email back, informing me that this revision "will not be looked at until I send the accompanying revision of the cover letter to the editor of the journal to which we are submitting, which I clearly stated below."

Oh, well, excuse me.

Consider my priority:

GRADUATE.

I digress:

When I run, the best runs, the runs after which I feel absolutely the best, are those that at some point during which I ask myself "Why do I make time for this?"

I make discomfort a priority. I always have. I choose to run in the midst of banging my scientific powers of reason against a piece of data that defies all reason I have. I love it. But I hate it. So I get up and go for a run, some sort of run that burns quickly like a white-hot fire or one that burns slowly over hours, like the invisible hot coals the morning after a beach fire. Either works, mostly it depends on time.

And then I sit down to commence scientific head-banging with a clear mind.

I choose to do these things... this week, I have little time to run. And it is killing me! I haven't even arrived at the part where I have to make the choices, but I already know that the time will arrive where I have time to do one thing: thesis writing. Not running. Running, while clearing the mind of rubble, is a necessary diversion. However, when time is so precious, how can I rationalize abandoning the priorities I have, essentially, dug myself into???

I tell myself that it is almost over. Things will change when... and then, I think of all the time I haven't gone fishing with dad. I think of all the time I haven't (insert important thing here) because I couldn't prioritize that thing at the moment, but I could later. Will there be a later?

I have friends who have come and gone, because I always figured there would be a "later." I have recognized that and have worked hard to keep some sort of connection alive, no matter how slim, through space and time, in order to one day have that potential again. But I find it hard to always rationalize my priorities... will it pay off? Will I really do these things and people justice and make time?

I go for a run and the need to prioritize disappears, like so much data, into the ether. It is just me, the mechanics of my running, and the (pardon the contriteness) zen-like state of singularity. I don't have to do anything but run. The vastness of my unconscious mind startles me, at times, when empty... for normally it is a crowded subway, weaving through a tunnel on autopilot.

Someday the pilot will wake up to consciousness and grab the steering wheel, and prioritize his own way. At least that's what I am betting on.



Monday, October 4, 2010

An Almost Royal Welcome...


"A fall from the third floor hurts as much as a fall from the hundredth. If I have to fall, may it be from a high place."

~Paulo Coelho
By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept.







A lot can happen in 37 seconds.

In 37 seconds the space shuttle goes from 0 - Mach 1.
In 37 seconds a bridge can collapse from an earthquake.

In 37 seconds I can run 250 meters.

Or not.

Incidentally... The Royal Victoria Marathon is now known as "The GoodLife Fitness Victoria Marathon".

The fact is, along the way, we all make little choices about our race. I made poor choices the entire race, and it cost me a Boston Qualification by 37 seconds. Let me explain the poor choices, and they really are all subsets of the same thing: I didn't run MY RACE.

--I ran with someone and we fed off of each other, and consequently ran 10-20 seconds per mile too fast.
--Made the choice to run from the groups I was with up to the next groups for wind blocking purposes, instead of just maintaining the same pace.
--I lost the negotiation with my body late in the race, and made the choice to walk instead of just survival shuffle.

All of these things cost me 37 seconds which, at the end, were what made the difference.

Every race upon which I look back with some sort of reverence has a very defining moment. In Victoria, that moment was 2 kilometers from the end. I was walking. It was warm in the sun, and I was experiencing The Hurt. The Hurt is the stage of a race where my mind begins to lose the epic battle with my body; the pain becomes unbearable to the point of agony, and my physical control begins to be compromised. It is a frightening place that I have only visited a couple of times previous to this.

At 2 kilometers left during the GoodLife Fitness Victoria Marathon, The Hurt was redefined and my experiences in the past paled in comparison. Large trees lined the beginning of the 26th mile of my day, and people were running by me in a way I am not used to seeing. But it didn't matter who ran by, I was powerless to do anything. Or was I?

This is the problem/benefit with being a competitor. The drive I feel to succeed, to win, is so powerful that as long as I am walking, why can't I be running? This is why I never let myself walk more than 100 yards at a time, this is why, with 2 kilometers left I looked at my watch.

2 kilometers is roughly 1.24 miles.

The time on my watch was roughly 3:02. Theoretically, I could run a 7:30 mile and make it.

Theoretically.

But that is usually all I need--the possibility.

I hurt so bad everywhere in my body that tears were coming out of my eyes. I was making painful expressions on my face, but I was running as fast as I possibly could. I was passing all the people who just shuffled by. It was a blur, a parade of still images seamed together in my minds eye, seeing them all a moment in my memory after I look away. Around and around and around the seemingly endless corners as the crowd is beginning to thicken. Maybe I will see Jan. Maybe I wouldn't recognize her.

I wanted to quit. I wanted to throw up and cry and be conquered, in surrender.

I also could not stand the thought that I let the last mile kill me, and so finally, once and for all, I won the battle with my body. At this point, ultimately, qualifying for Boston didn't matter; all that mattered was the march forward, trying.

Well, I didn't make it. I gave it my best shot, and because of the choices I made, I failed to reach that goal. It happens, sometimes. Not often do I fail to reach my goals, but considering what I was asking of myself this day, I think it is fair to say I did not set myself up to be very successful. This, in retrospect, was another test of guts.

And in that case, I won.





Run your own race...




Friday, September 24, 2010

Mechanics


"It is in the repetition, of movement, of feeling, of sensation, from where I gain the deepest satisfaction, and it is here where I will always go to find the most resonant solace which is really the ultimate drug."

~My Dad







Dad was talking about fly-fishing, when he wrote that masterful quote which begins this entry. Of course, I absolutely know, and love, and crave, that feeling of which he is speaking. How many trips have we taken, together, standing downstream from one another, casting, in our own rhythm and envelope of focus? Time seemingly stands still. Until the sound of silence, above the rushing water pushing against my legs, is broken by the tightening of one of our fly-lines to a perfect machine of aquatic excellence and survival: the trout.


Yeah, standing in a river while metronomically levitating a fly-line mere feet above cold water streaming by, using the weight of the line on your rod tip as a sensor; it's not too difficult to envision just how deep in trance one can be. It almost begs for submission of the conscious self to a sort of ethereal nature.

Singularity.

It probably sounds like a stretch, but he unwittingly described, for me, why I love to run. The repetitive mechanics and immediate environment of running, for me, form the same solitary moments of concentration and yet complete relaxation that I feel as I strain to sense the weight of the fly-line behind me, lingering against my fly-rod.

My brain is incapable while I run of not narrowing itself upon the repetitive series of motions and fine muscular details necessary to carry out each motion the way I intend, which embodies with it a string of overwhelming sensory inputs. And from each sensory input I further refine each movement. And the hundreds, thousands, of movements I may sense are but a speck of the complete picture of stimuli initiated by each step. And this is yet another reason I adore running in my Vibrams, so much. The sensory input with normal running shoes is all but non-existant for my feet, aside from some more general feelings of the inside of the shoe. Vibrams add the ever changing dynamic of the perfectly evolved site of impact, the foot, interfacing with the imperfect surfaces upon which we land, over and over and over.

This is partially why I can't run with music, and never have been able to. It distracts me from being perfectly present in my running.

And this is when the miles begin to pass by so rapidly and without notice; I am lost in something that spans time and energy as I am aware of them.

I further realize that the reason I want so badly to help other runners improve is so that they may feel this when they run, as well. It is why I smile when I run, no matter how difficult it seems. It is why I can run through the pain for hours and hours.

It is perfect.

It is why I run.



Monday, September 20, 2010

The Bellingham Traverse


"We are a plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures.”

~ J.R.R. Tolkien (From "The Lord of the Rings")








The race I did with my neighbor, the cycling Legend, was called the Bellingham Traverse. Our team name was "Eye's of the Tiger."

Don't ask.

We did well, finishing 10th out of 183 teams. 3rd in our category.

I am totally happy with the result.

RESULTS

I cant believe I ran the first 6 miles in 36 minutes!!!!! Holy smack!!!

AND I have to mention that we were actually WINNING the thing for a while!!! THAT was cool, except poor Rick had a bathtub of kayak...

Coming Down



"Even if you are on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there."

~Will Rogers







Now that the crazy mileage running week is over, I have to figure out what to do with myself.

I have to figure out how to use those lessons I learned, as well as the physical training, in the future. And to what end will I use them?

Do I want to train for an ultra, or concentrate on qualifying for Boston?

What are all of the options?



Man, my legs feel weird. I have never recovered from so much running before; this is a learning experience in its own right. I even felt guilty riding the bus today! Once you do something so difficult, it is hard to convince yourself its OK to take an easier road. The fulfillment of having run to and from UW every day is more powerful than I thought it would be, and I am fighting my urges to train.

Rest is part of training. The most important part. I think I said that to someone, recently...

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Last Day, Last Run.



“Our limitations and success will be based, most often, on your own expectations for ourselves. What the mind dwells upon, the body acts upon.”

~Denis Waitley
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


My trusty headlamp, which guided me in the morning, by which I could see my breath, the rain and the spiderwebs:




And the shoes that carried me. 9 months old. Perfectly worn to flatness:





There is something about reaching the "end" of a long, hard process. It changes everything.

If you didn't know you were at the "end", or near completion, it would just be 13 miles. It would feel like the same 13 miles you had been running 9 previous times in the previous 4.5 days. And, it would hurt; it would be hard at times and RIDICULOUSLY hard at others, maybe less hard a teensy bit of the time. But the fact is, just knowing that completion is sooner than not makes us perform better.

Have you ever watched the end of a running race or a triathlon? People who were almost to the point of walking find a way to sprint home, going speeds they don't touch 364 other days a year, if only because the Finish Line is in sight.




To me, this ability means we have more in the tank than we realize---it just takes a special motivation to be accessed. Maybe it would be more applicable to say it means there is something about being at the end that allows us to access that which we did not know we had, just miles before.

As a result, I believe, the ability to dip into that tank is what separates good athletes from great athletes, because it means inflicting more pain, willingly, upon yourself. And, for a lot of us, enjoying that pain. That goes against everything we are taught, everything we know, and everything instinctually built in for survival. Yet, deep down in that primordial flux, it stirs in every one of us. Every single one of us can access that will, that determination, to push onward and harder into a sort of pain we never ever want to experience in any other forum. Given the right motivation, and the right circumstance, there is "more" in all of us than we dream possible. This fact could itself be the topic of much discussion, however it leads me to a different point altogether that is more applicable here:

What are Our Limitations?

A few of us, and I think we tend to clump together as friends because of like-minded "craziness", strive continually to learn what more we are capable of. In my late teens and early twenties I wound up in the hospital with gruesome injuries to the head as a result of my desire to see what I was "made of".

After climbing and summiting Mt Rainier 3 times and not feeling very challenged by the particular routes, in late June, 2003, I decided to join my friends from the American Alpine Institute for a more difficult journey. I decided to embark on a much more difficult route for me: LIberty Ridge. Liberty Ridge is in the middle of the picture, and it's that clear ridge right up the middle of the WIllis Wall on he North face of Rainier. This was far beyond my comfort level and experience level, and although I was well trained and climbing with some of the best there are to climb with, I almost didn't make it several times along the way. That is an example of doing something with the goal of exploring limitations, physically, mentally and emotionally.

Limit achieved.
I haven't climbed since.

I did a half-ironman the following weekend, and went too hard on the bike, and too fast early in the run, and blacked out.
Limit achieved, in some sense.

This week was my way of finding out what "more" was in me, but in terms of something more reasonable: Running.

Ironman pushed my limitations. Doing Ironman faster pushed them more.
The marathon on top of Kilauea didn't push them as much as I hoped.
I didn't ever considering running farther than a 50k but, like everyone else, I read the dumb book "Born to Run" and it got to me-- I figured it was time to run an ultra. I know enough at the ripe old age of 33 to not just go and sign up for a 50 or 100 mile run. I really thought about it a long time, privately, and realized I have never actually run as far as I can. Have you ever seen Forrest Gump? I know it sounds stupid, but, well, stupid is as stupid does. I needed to know. How far can I run?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
In the lab, everyone was familiar with what I was doing. My routine was to go and change then come back to my desk in my running attire (which at the end of each day was carrying several interesting aromas) and pack my hydration pack to go. Here are the two packs I used. The first, on the right, is the Camelback, which did not have enough cargo space and did not have two front straps therefore rendering it less stable. I used it only the first day. The second, on the left, is the Novarra which was a smashing success with its large pocket, multiple zippered pockets, double front torso straps and uber reflective nature.




I set out on that last 13 miles knowing how badly it was going to hurt. The previous two runs had impressed upon me just what kind of pain can emanate from muscles--even healthy ones. I ate better and drank more, but it still hurt. I knew it was going to, regardless of how much I lamented it. So I took off as fast as I could hold for 6 miles, which ended up being about 7:10 per mile. The pain went away, and soon it was just me, running, like always. I felt free, in a way I don't know how to put into words, exactly. At my halfway stop, I took my time. I enjoyed the feeling of having completed 124 of 130 miles. I had 4 gels with me, and I ate two the first six miles, saving the others for the last half. I was going to be meeting Jan somewhere near the end, but I didn't know exactly where or when. What I did know, however, is that I was running about 2.5 minutes per mile faster than I should have been in order to meet her on the trail. I decided to slow down.

My dad guessed that inertia was my biggest enemy right now, and boy, he was right. As long as I was running, everything was fine. Stopping hurt, but as long as I stayed stopped it was fine. Starting running again was excruciatingly painful this time, taking off for the last half of the last 13 miler. Thank goodness I am not doing this again. (No, tomorrow I would just be racing 9 miles.) Eventually the pain wore away, or I just got used to it, I don't know, and I loped along at around 8:30 per mile. At mile 4.5 I stopped and ate my next to last Hammer Gel and stretched for 5 to 10 minutes, waiting for Jan to show up. I decided to not wait any longer and started running, when who should appear but the Girl.

We jogged at her pace the rest of the way home, which was quite painful for me. I had to go into my "eye of the tiger" mode several times, shutting out the world around me, staring at the pavement 5 feet out, and just placing one foot in front of the other. One more time. One more time. One more time...

We crossed Bothell Way and I felt like I could walk the 200 yards home from there. As I entered the courtyard in our town-home complex, I looked at the sky and put my arms in the air and said the magic words "I did it."

But... Limitation Achieved?

“Any person who selects a goal in life which can be fully achieved, has already defined his own limitations”

~Cavett Robert

I dont think so.

Until next time.

Friday, September 17, 2010

LAST DAY (part 1)



"Victory belongs to the most persevering."

~Napoleon








Even standing in front of the finish line, the signs might be misleading.

That was the case yesterday morning, and until I left for my run home. At that point, a major breakthrough happened, and now, I am almost finished.

I realized that I have not been taking in enough calories during my runs this week. This may not have been an issue for the first couple of days, but then the mornings of the 4th day, my muscles finally were empty. The solution was eating plenty of Hammer Gel during my run home last night, and hydrating like crazy all day long. The result? Probably the best I have felt since Monday.

I carried that philosophy through to this morning. I woke up, well aware that today is the final leg of this self-imposed foolishness (thanks for the comment, Amber, it was well said), feeling like I can really do anything. I broke through the pain last night and figured out what it took to survive. My knees have no pain, my muscles have no pain, I am not sore, sick, or tired. I feel like I can run. The one irritation? My little toe, on my left foot. That poor little guy is getting mashed by the toe next to it... and thats the only thing bothering me now.

I have one 13 mile run left.

This morning was so easy I can't even describe it. I woke up with a little teensie bit of stiffness in my hamstrings, which went away as soon as I went down the stairs. I left the house in the dark into the humid, warm air of Kenmore, my headlamp guiding my way. When I got to the Burke Gilman trail, I smiled, and made a deal with myself to, above all, enjoy today.

It was as if I was on a jogging tour of Western Lake Washington, enjoying the scenery as I went. When I felt like walking, I walked (which was a couple of times for maybe a minute each). I ate my gels religiously, and drank an entire hydration pack's worth of Sustain Grapefruit flavor. It wasn't raining but the ground was freshly wet.

I was a bit sad that its coming to an end, soon, but elated that I could really do this.

I wished I had someone to run with. I have run all this distance, save but 2 miles when Jan rode the bike with me, alone, and now I want to share my triumph with someone. Maybe its fitting that I can enjoy this final 26 miles by myself, however I want, in my thoughts.

That is how I tend to do things, after all.

Day 4 (part 2)



"I ain't heard no fat lady."

~Will Smith, Independence Day









Lab meeting went until 4:50 PM, at which time I poked my head around the corner of the department entrance to see the weather outside. Pouring rain. Big, fat, hard rain. It was already looking dark, too; it looked like winter. I remembered the pain in my legs, the pain from the morning, and shuddered. Can I do this? I thought to myself, over and over and over. It was more daunting than standing on the beach before Ironman--I was well prepared for that challenge. This, this is new territory.

I spent the day hydrating and eating. I always had some fluid going in, right up through lab meeting, even. Water, tea, juice or sports drink were my constant companions this day. I should have been hydrating to this extent all week. It is not to say I did not hydrate well, but I have a feeling hat I am depleting much more than I imagined, and that probably took a toll in the mornings BONK.

It was grim as I walked out of the building, into the driving wetness that seemed to penetrate every pore of my skin. Instantly, my world was one of water. Somehow, though, my feet stayed relatively dry. The benefit of being in constant motion, I guess. I walked out and up the stairs and to the ramp over Pacific street, on the north side of the Health Sciences complex. I stopped at the Burke Gilman trail, and took a deep breath. It was shaky. I was really nervous.

As predicted, as soon as I started to run, the pain returned. This time, I decided to see what happened if I kept running. The pain was a tightness, as if the muscles in my legs were covered in super air-tight saran wrap. Tight and pinching, that was this feeling. I kept running, and pretty soon, I was 4 miles in, and I it had started to feel like normal. I was drinking constantly, and at mile 5 I really had to pee. I stopped and walked into Matthews beach, which was empty except for one homeless guy taking shelter in the men's bathrom from the pouring rain. I came in and he was slightly surprised to see me, but welcomed me with "It's much dryer in here, man!"
"Except for the pee all over the floor, yeah." I replied.
"You runnin' a long way?"
"I guess so. Long enough that I am completely soaked. And tired." I wasn't in much of a talking mood. But he was nice enough.
On my way out, he asked how far I was running.
"26 miles, every day, for 5 days." I said. I hate how pompous it sounds, and immediately wished I had made something up.
"HOLY SHIT, dude! Well, better you than me!" The guy said.

I walked to the drinking fountain and ate 2 Hammer gels. Espresso with caffeine, and a chocolate. I drank a good gulp of water and walked out of the park. I felt pretty good. I was getting dumped on with rain, but didn't even notice anymore.

I took my first few steps and the familiar pain, the "saran wrap" pain, returned, but only for 5 or 6 steps. And, as I kept running, I began to feel better and better. In fact, I started to laugh I felt so good. I was running and I swear to all, I felt normal.

I smiled the rest of the way home. I ran my last three miles at an 8 minute/mile pace, which maybe is foolish, but after this week? Who cares?? I was FLYING along Bothell way, in the rain, in the dark, and I had no pain or discomfort. Everything seemed as if I went on a 4 mile run, for the heck of it.

One more day.


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Day 4 (part 1)



“Age wrinkles the body. Quitting wrinkles the soul.”

~Douglas MacArthur








Last night after my run, shower and dinner I gave myself a "treat". As I was getting read for bed, I smeared "Pain-a-trate" in massive quantities all over my legs. It is the Melaleuca version of "Icy-Hot" and it smells like wintergreen Altoids. It could be worse. It feels WONDERFUL as it heats up, like a massage. It was a great way to celebrate being more than halfway complete.

I woke up this morning and my legs felt different. They felt distinctly different from other mornings. My quads weren't all rubbery like before, they almost felt, dare I say, normal. Heavy and tired, but normal. My calves were almost sore, as if they were recovering from a race. The other mornings, my legs were just dead, like they weren't even CONSIDERING recovering. But this morning, there was a hint of recovery in the air.

Or so I thought. It is hard to say.

All I know is, I walked down to the light hoping it would change. It didn't. I stood around and waited until finally, it changed. There are a ton of cars waiting, so I always feel obligated to cross quickly so they can make their left turn, and so when the light flipped I started jogging across the street. Oh man, it felt TERRIBLE. It felt like I had NO BUSINESS running. Sensations were coming out of nowhere telling me to do ANYTHING but run, lights and alarms in my head were going off, the control room was mayhem. Houston, we have a problem.

This would not normally be a problem, because my legs feel kinda trashed anyway and I know it will get better as I work into my run. But this morning, THIS morning, my legs felt so good before the run, I expected better things when I started. And now, after a few steps, my heart sank because it felt awful.

I walked a hundred yards. I stopped and shook everything out, and stretched easy. I took a deep breath, set my eyes on the trail, and just went.

I can't describe to you just how I feel when I am working so hard at ignoring discomfort. I have never ever experienced anything like this in any other setting other than long-distance running. If you stop, you don't go anywhere, so you have to keep moving. And I hate walking, so I choose to run. But it did not feel good. It didn't hurt, really, but it did. It wasn't pain, but it hurt.

I probably sound pompous saying this, but I do not know anyone, I don't think, who would have kept running if they felt like I felt this morning. And, oddly enough, this thought buoyed me a little. I went DEEP into the playbook and pulled out a game I play with myself to help pass the really hard miles: I work on my mile pacing. Pretty complex, I know.

My first mile was in 10:00. Its hard to believe I was actually RUNNING. I decided to see how closely I could take off 15 seconds per mile until I could only take off 5 seconds per mile and then I would just hold.

10:00.
9:47 (DAMN IT)
9:31 (BETTER, BUT NOT PERFECT!!!!)
9:15 (AH YEAH)
...

I made it to 9:00. I could not go faster. I decided to just run 9:00 per mile the rest of the way until SOMETHING told me to do different. Whatever that something might be, I do not know.

It was going well until mile 11. It wasn't raining, I was warm, I felt okay. Then the oddest thing happened, and this is the very first time I have ever experienced this. My leg muscles, the big quad muscles and hamstrings, just started throbbing. Like deep muscle pain. I stopped running, the pain stopped. My legs felt good again, and I could hold a brisk walk just fine. I start running, the pain is back instantly. Oh crap.

I decided to just "survival shuffle" as far as I could. It got to be so painful at mile 12 I started walking again. My knees and toes and joints were fine, but my muscles were really hurting. I walked the next half mile, then ran the last half mile to the end just because I did NOT want to be out here any longer.

What happened? I was doing so well, and now it feels like the bottom has just dropped out. And the really strange thing is, my legs feel great, again, now that I am finished. Nothing hurts. They are tired, for sure, but everything feels awesome.

So, now I am really scared. I don't want to walk 13 miles. I don't want to walk 5 miles. Heck, I don't want to walk any of it!!!

I still finished in 2:00, but maybe I should just be happy I finished. I have 3 more 13 mile runs to go, and I am terrified of starting the next one. I have lab meeting until 5 pm today, too, so I wont even start running until after that. How quickly things change.

My goal is to hydrate as much as possible and get plenty of potassium. I am a bit nervous about my electrolyte balance and calcium, but I do not have anyway to know for sure without a blood test and by the time I get results, I will be done, I guess.

Well, stay tuned.