Skywatch Friday ~ October blue

October 24th, 2014

blue sky

October blue is a statement of both color and awe where I come from. The blue sky seems bluest in October. I’m told that it’s a function of the lower humidity in the air. I prefer less prosaic explanations for these kinds of things.

When we were out at our Ozark woods last weekend this was the sky that greeted us. That’s my lake, recharged with recent rains so it’s deep enuf for the fish to survive the winter. My beloved little cabin is nestled in the turning trees across the lake.

We were out on a hike with the dogs, pushing our way through the tall grass and scrub, when I turned and saw this then pointed my little camera and took the shot. It came out very nice.

what is it?

October 22nd, 2014

disc

Any idea what this might be?

When we were making our hasty retreat from our southeast corner at Roundrock last weekend we followed the eastern fence line for a ways and came upon this curious little thing.

It’s a plastic disc, about two inches in diameter, perforated, and hanging from the fence by a safety pin. It seemed to have two parts, two discs. The side you can’t see is more like a rim than a disc, and it was loose.

My guess is that it held some substance that was allowed to dissolve or evaporate. If so, the substance was long gone. Perhaps some pesticide?

fallen on fence foolishness

October 21st, 2014

fallen one

The day was glorious. We had no agenda. Chores could be ignored. And the dogs wanted to go. So we did.

We hiked across the dam, peering into the overflow drain to confirm that my fence stay fix was still in place (it was), and continuing up the north-facing slope to our southern property line. We try to hike the perimeter of our 80+ acres each year, usually in February when the bugs and scrub are on vacation, so it wasn’t time to do that, but I thought we could venture over to our southeast corner since it’s the one we visit the least.

When we got there, we found what you see above. A huge limb from an even huge-er oak had fallen across the fence, pulling the strands down. (They go from upper left to lower right in the photo.)

We really have no direct use for the fence that goes around about two-thirds of our property. We have no livestock to keep in (Queequeg is especially disdainful of the fence and passes underneath it as his whims command). Only our neighbor to the east has cattle to contain, so he maintains that bit of fence. This southeast corner is part of his concern, so I knew he wouldn’t want the fence fallen. (His cattle have gotten into our land a few times. It’s not a big deal to us, but I don’t suppose he likes them getting out.)

So I got the foolish notion into my foolish head that I could clear this huge fallen limb from the fence. It turned out to be a dead limb, so it was brittle enuf for me to break many of the smaller branches (on the left in the photo above, but you can’t see them because — I broke them off). Then, I foolishly thought, I could lift the remainder of the huge limb from the fence and roll it onto the neighbor’s property.

Foolish.

I was able to snap off most of the smaller branches on my side of the fence. But when I tried to lift and roll the remaining limb, I couldn’t. There was still all of the huge limb on my neighbor’s side of the fence, and it was weighty. There was no way I, with my puny upper body strength (the legs are dandy, though), was going to move that huge limb off the fence. I would have to cut it beyond the fence so that the part on my side no longer rested on the strands.

Alas, we had ventured from the cabin without my daypack full of handsaws and other quite useful tools. I did have the loppers, but they were no good against the huge limb.

So instead of resolving the problem, we continued on our hike, stumbling along the eastern fence line and clearing what we could as we went. (There were no fallen trees or limbs here.) Eventually our feet steered us back to the cabin where we found the comfy chairs awaiting us, and we fell into them with satisfaction.

A short time passed and we began to think about having lunch (cold cut sandwiches, a fruit cup each, and a cookie). But the huge limb on the fence was nagging at the back of my little brain, and I proposed that we return to the southeast corner with saws this time to address the problem, at least on our side of the fence.

And that’s what we did.

But we were not alone.

As he hiked up the north-facing slope a second time, we heard the sounds of heavy machinery and the munching of trees off to the west. It sounded as though my neighbor to the south (and east) was using some serious equipment to clean up the open avenue he keeps just beyond our southern (and eastern) fence. We hiked to the east to get to our southeastern corner, but the sounds of his equipment came to us from the west, and came to us closer as the time passed. He was eating up the fallen forest from what we could tell, and if he continued, he would reach the huge limb and munch on that as well, saving us the trouble.

Well, that was no good.

I want to be a conscientious neighbor. I do what I can with hand tools and main force to keep my encroachments on my neighbor’s property clear. I cut the limbs from my trees that grow across the fence, and I try to be very obvious about it so my neighbor can see that I’m doing what I can and paying attention to our mutual property line.

Thus I was presented with this great opportunity to show my neighbor that I was being conscientious, paying attention, and had some hand tools. I could cut the limb free of its fence encroachment only moments before he would arrive on the scene to do the very same thing. Why, he could get there and see the work already done, with the cut still warm from my saw!

And that’s what we did. Libby and I took turns with the hand saw, reaching across the fence in an awkward way to cut it far enuf that it could fall free of the fence. All the while his tree-munching machinery was getting closer to us. We cut. The limb sagged so that our saw pinched. We lifted. We continued. We sawed. We used colorful language. And then the limb snapped, as you can see below.

fallen tw0Free of the fence. I tossed the cut part of the limb onto the pile of the smaller branches I had snapped off on our first visit. Then I packed the daypack and hoisted it onto my shoulders before we made our hasty retreat into the forest lest we have to meet our fast approaching neighbor and make small talk about this and that, which neither Libby nor I is good at.

We escaped successfully and got ourselves back to the cabin to have our lunch. We listened as our neighbor and whatever his tree-munching machine was progress along the southern fence line and then up the eastern fence line. We talked in a general and non-comital way about returning to the southeastern corner to see what our neighbor had done, but there was no enthusiasm for that kind of foolishness, and when our post-lunch (post-lunch-stupor) feet started moving again, we hiked to the north.

Also, GO ROYALS!

 

big times in Kansas City

October 20th, 2014

cookie

These are big times in Kansas City. Even I, not much of a team sports fan at all, have been paying attention to the major league baseball team we have.

My brother was in town last weekend from Chicago and was going to meet us at a downtown restaurant. He called to say he was passing the fountain with the water colored deep blue. That didn’t help us get a fix on his location since nearly every fountain in Kansas City is now spraying blue water.

I was banished from the office one day last week and told not to return until I had a Royals shirt on. I drove to a nearby big box store and found one that would do then paid far more for a tee shirt than I thought reasonable so that I could return to work. I now wear it to work on every day the Royals have a game.

Many, many runners in the Kansas City Marathon on Saturday were wearing Royals shirts or caps. (I was on the sidelines, cheering some friends. My legs are still a little weary from the endeavor I undertook in Portland.) One sign a fan held said “If the Royals can make it to the World Series, you can run this marathon!”

My son and his wife are flying from Portland to San Francisco for Game 4 of the World Series, justifying the considerable expense by noting that it’s really not that costly in context of their medical school student loan balances.

Even the local bagelry is in the spirit, serving these cookies. We stopped by on the way to Roundrock yesterday morning to get our breakfast bagels, and Libby couldn’t pass up the cookies. (Not to worry; we cancelled the extra calories with a cup of fruit.)

It should be an exciting couple of weeks coming up. The Royals haven’t been in the World Series since 1985, when they beat St. Louis. I was living in St. Louis then and was rooting for the Cards. Times change, don’t they?

name that tree

October 15th, 2014

leaves

Libby and I had a little debate about what kind of tree this is. I asserted that it’s a mulberry. The leaves look right — you can even see some lobed leaves up there. And the bark on the slender trunk matched that of a young mulberry I had taken down on the south-facing slope. (This tree was atop the ridge of the south-facing slope.)

She couldn’t say what kind of tree it was, but she doubted that it was a mulberry. So the question remains unanswered.

I’m pretty sure mulberries are not native to Missouri, and so I would want to cut it out of my forest. But I suppose I’ll give it some time first. It didn’t have any fruits on it to confirm my suspicion, and I can wait until then before I take action.

rockintreetoo

October 14th, 2014

rock in tree

I’ve written about this bit of inosculation before. What you may be able to make out in the photo above is the round rock (about the size of a baseball) that I had wedged between the trunks of a tree when we first started coming to Roundrock (nearly 15 years ago!). I wanted to see if the tree would grow around the rock, and it certainly has.

Below is a photo of the same rock a year or two after I had first placed it. The tree was already beginning to surround it then.

in-2

When I had first placed it, I would revisit it on subsequent trips and find that it had fallen loose and was on the ground below. So I would dutifully replace it and check on it at my next time in that part of the woods. Eventually, the stone stuck, as you can see in the photo at the top.

And so I had to continue the experiment. On my last visit to Roundrock I had to place another round rock in the same crotch of the tree.

rock in tree too

I expect to find that rock loose and on the ground at my next visit. And if so, I’ll replace it then. And I’ll keep replacing it until it sticks too.

brittle

October 13th, 2014

jug

I said in a recent post that I needed to get rid of the half dozen former milk jugs that I’d kept by the fire ring for years and years. I had stockpiled them to use when I wanted to quench the fires. But I haven’t had many fires this year, and many of those that I have had, I dared to let smolder through the night. (Still not altogether comfortable with that.) So I wasn’t using the jugs I had so dutifully collected, and they were becoming an eyesore, and I really want to keep the area around the cabin neat and tidy (the only place in the whole of Roundrock that I have even the slimmest chance of controlling).

So on my last visit, I did the deed. And just as I speculated in this post, the jugs came apart in my hands when I lifted them by their handles, as you can see above.

I had grand ambitions of recycling the empty jugs, but they were so brittle that they were mostly in pieces by the time I was done emptying them. I threw them in the same trash bag as the beer cans (!) and the cardboard boxes (from oatmeal that we consolidated). All fine recyclables.

When I got home, however, the jugs just seemed like junk, so I picked through them for the cans and cardboard that I could recycle and then threw the brittle jug pieces into the trash.

Going forward, if I know that we will be spending the night at the Cabin at the End of the Road and will be having a campfire, I’ll fill an empty milk jug (if one is available — it’s not like the old days when we went through a gallon of milk a day in the house full of teenagers) to use ad hoc. And everything will stay neat and tidy around the cabin. I’m sure of it.

Portland Marathon 2014 ~ the aftermath

October 9th, 2014

“Can you even walk 26 miles?” Libby once reasonably asked when I confessed that I dreamed of running a marathon some day.

I’ve said before that math is not my strength (hence I fall back — hard — on words), and I’ve also found that during long runs, I lose the ability to do simple calculations at all. (This is apparently a phenomenon among runners.) But I’m going to attempt some simple calculations about the post-marathon days. Math after the fact: aftermath.

I still have all of my toenails. I did not chafe in a personal place even though one of the two bandaids I had applied did not cross the finish line with me. I never hit the dreaded wall (I think due to my GU fueling plan.) My knees barely hurt at all now. My left foot cramped horribly the evening after the run, but that hasn’t come back since. My thigh muscles only tingle when I sleep. I’m pretty good on stairs again though occasionally I get a surprising stab of pain in one knee or the other. I do not want to get out of bed in the mornings. I’m sure my body needs more sleep time to get some massive repair work done. (I’ve also learned that when you provide an emergency contact phone number it should probably not be your home phone number since your contact won’t be there.)

I saw several of my friends in the latter part of the marathon. They weren’t there, and I realized it at the time, but for moments I saw them nonetheless.

I now have a new sticker in the rear window of the Prolechariot: 26.2. I feel like a badass. I feel like a runner. When non-runner friends say I’m a marathoner, I no longer have to correct them.

My beard and mustache of 30 years are now gone. Shaving those off, freeing myself from them, was a gift I’d promised myself if I completed the marathon. I’m getting used to a smooth face, the same one I see staring back at me from my wedding photos. Funny, I’m more fit now than I was as that boy on his wedding day. (I was worried about getting through airport security on the trip home from Portland since my face no longer matches the one on my driver’s license. No one raised a concern though.) I’ve learned that you can wear facial hair for 30 years, and yet when you shave it off, most people don’t notice the difference.

Parts of me are still astonished that I’ve actually done this. More parts of me are eager to do it again. My latest medal hangs on the wall before me, almost lost among the many others there. This also astonishes to me.

I know I didn’t train well enuf. I cheated myself in that regard. I would have had a better run, a better finish time, and a whole lot less pain if I had trained properly. The writer Haruki Murakami, who is also a runner, has said that in running, pain is inevitable but suffering is optional. I thought about that a lot after about mile 18. The pain was present, and I sure felt like I was suffering, but even the single-minded, blind-with-sweat, in-constant-pain-with-the-finish-seemingly-never-to-come machine that I had to become in the latter half of the marathon understood that Murakami was talking about attitude. I could face the reality of the pain and I could choose my response to it. I chose to keep going. I realize this sounds corny, but in the long miles, I’ve found that I’ll take whatever edge I can get.

And now I’ve returned to the mundane world, where I’m finding that everything is still the same.

Except that nothing is the same anymore.

Portland Marathon ~ Part the Second

October 7th, 2014

marathon kit

I did not sleep well on Saturday night. I tried to go to bed early, but the rest of the household was still up (including two under two — guests, not family), so sounds drifted up the stairs. It probably wouldn’t have mattered regardless because I was fraught with anxiety and so tossed and turned. I had set the alarm for 3:00 again, and I rose before it, again. What else could I do? So I puttered around the quiet house. I found a banana and later a bagel with peanut butter. I drank some iced tea (unsweetened, of course). I got online and surfed around a bit. I checked the page for the marathon for any updates (none). I dressed partly in the kit above but waited to suit up completely. I stepped outside to gauge the temperature — and decided it was warm enuf to start without my throwaway jacket.

Gun time was at 7:00, but we wanted to get there by 6:00 (to use the Porta Potties and find our wave and generally walk around to dispel the nervousness). Slowly the household woke. I finished dressing, including pinning eight packs of GU to my waistband. I packed the bag Libby would carry when she met me on at several points on the course. (extra GU, lip balm, extra socks, M&Ms, Tylenol, a bottle of Gatorade) We got ourselves together, and Adam’s wife drove us to the start. It was dark when we arrived, but the start area downtown was already packed with people. Adam and I milled around. I made a few lame posts to Facebook to pass the time. We eventually found our way to my starting corral. (Adam’s pace secured him a spot in an earlier corral, but he stepped down to be in mine.) We waited in line to use the Porta Potties (again) and mostly just waited.

Eventually the announcer began talking up the crowd, the National Anthem was sung, and waves were herded to the starting line. As I said, gun time was at 7:00, but by the time my wave was herded to the start, twenty minutes had passed. This wasn’t really a problem since we were chip timed, so when we crossed the starting mats, our individual clocks started.

With a lot of miles to manage, we chose to head out slow, which meant hundreds of people were passing us. I’ve gotten comfortable with that. The course wove us around some downtown blocks and then toward a major north/south street, taking us south and, at around four miles, just a couple of blocks away from Adam’s townhouse. Libby, Adam’s wife, and several friends were waiting for us when we passed. It might have been nice to stop and visit, but we were on a sweet downhill stretch, and it didn’t seem like a good place to halt the momentum. (Mile 4 turned out to be my fastest mile.) Soon we were back on that north/south street, heading north. There were still plenty of runners going south, which meant there were plenty of runners behind us in this little endeavor. (And I understand there were hundreds of people who intended to walk the entire 26.2 miles.)

Something happened around mile 4 that I wish hadn’t happened. My left IT band began hurting. It was a minor pain on the side of my knee, and I hoped I could just run through it and it would go away. I kept running, walking through the water stations to grab some rest on the move, and I felt good otherwise. My lungs were in the game (usually my most reluctant parts). I wasn’t feeling any more fatigued than I should at that point. My double-faced tape solution to my insole problem seemed to be working. Adam kept up the chatter. And we kept moving.

We were to stay on this north/south road for another six miles and then turn around and run south on it again to the breakaway point where the half marathoners would keep going straight and we full marathoners would turn to the west to begin a really long climb to the highest point of the whole 26.2 miles. But first we had to run that six miles north then turn around and run much of it back to the breakaway point. This stretch was through a heavy industrial section of Portland. It wasn’t very scenic, but there was some live music, a couple of water stations, and pirates. Apparently there is a local pirate club that dresses up in costume, waves swords, and says “Arrrr” a lot. Why not?

Sometime along here, my right IT band started hurting too. My left had never let up with the ouch, and now the other one was joining the chorus. This was not a good thing; we weren’t even half way through the marathon and I was having major mechanical issues.

The pain never let up. I was eating my GU every three miles, drinking water and Ultima at all of the aid stations, managing my pace and doing everything I knew to do it all right. But the pain never let up. I swallowed some Tylenol (that I carried in the tiny back pocket of my skimpy running shorts). And I kept hoping that I could run through the problem.

I couldn’t.

At the breakaway point, I was still believing that the “90% mental” part of this effort would be enuf, that I could overpower the pain in my knees — and soon in my hips because my stride was being affected. The rest of me was in pretty good shape. But every swing of my legs forward hurt. It wasn’t a searing, crippling pain, but it was sharp and very present, and I could expect to experience it another ten thousand times before I was done. To get a break from it, and to give it a chance to abate just a little, I started walking for short distances. Going from a run to a walk made the pain much worse for the first few steps, but then it hurt much less — though never not at all. I walked until my disappointment overpowered my pain and started running again. And, again, the pain of the transition was terrible for the first few strides. Adam urged me to run to some spot ahead (generally a music tent or the next water station) and I did my best.

The route after the breakaway point took us on the approach to the St. John’s Bridge, which was the highest point of the run at mile 17. We trotted through a residential area where Libby and Adam’s wife were waiting for us with cameras in hand to document our misery (well, my misery). Libby had my support bag, but I didn’t really need anything from it so I just waved as I kept going. The residential stretch didn’t last long before we were headed down a steep hill and spilled onto a busy street. This stretch was through more industrial area, and we runners were on the shoulder and one lane of the road (decent pavement), with oncoming traffic just a few feet off to our right. Never once did I feel in danger — Portland seems to be a runner-friendly town — and many of the drivers honked and waved but the exhaust from the big trucks that constantly passed can’t have been good for a runner’s lungs.

A long hill lead up to the St. John’s Bridge, and at the base was what they called Checkpoint Charlie. It was manned with actual uniformed soldiers who looked for official bibs on all of the runners. Those without bibs were not allowed to pass this point. I’ve never seen this in a race, though I had never run a marathon before. Their job was to prevent anyone who was not officially entered and wearing a bib from going on any farther. I’m not sure why that was necessary or why they needed to wait until mile 16 to do this. I saw many people running with us up to that point who did not have a bib but who were accompanying friends as support. (And I saw this again after we had crossed the bridge and were running in a nice residential section of Portland.) I suppose there is a reason for it. Adam and I were passed without slowing down, but slow down we did because we came to that long, steep hill that lead to the bridge. We walked up this hill as did nearly everyone else. My knees were grateful for this respite, and I even walked backward for a while to use different muscles. That actually felt very good. Many people were stopped at points up this hill to stretch muscles. Aside from my knees, my legs were doing surprisingly well. I had brought seven Tylenol with me (don’t know how I’d gotten an odd number) and I still had three left at this point (I think — math was never my strong point, and on a long run I lose the ability altogether). Adam had cautioned me against taking Advil in a potentially dehydrated state, and he would soon begin cautioning me against taking more than the daily recommended dose of Tylenol, but my knees would override his good advice.

The St. John’s Bridge rises to a peak in the center, and, sadly, I needed to walk to that peak. But after this I was running again. I did this in part because I knew there would likely be a photographer ahead and in part because Adam’s wife had texted him that she and Libby were waiting on the far side of the bridge for us. We had to look good for these witnesses. Running down gentle hills like the far side of the bridge is great. My knees were still stabbing me with knives, of course, but otherwise is was pretty glorious to have gone the longest distance of my humble running career and still be mostly upright. (My longest training run had been only 17 miles, which, let me tell you, ain’t sufficient for this kind of endeavor.) From the top of the St. John’s Bridge we could see Mt. Hood in the hazy south, Mt. Adams over the horizon to the east, and grumbly Mt. St. Helens to the north. We spotted the photographer and improved our strides, I wiping the death mask from my face, and then we spotted our wives ahead of us at the bottom of the bridge. They had their cameras out again, documenting our progress. Adam may have stopped for a kiss. I don’t recall. I just kept going, wearing my brave face. A few turns later, though, we faced a steep downhill, which is hard on the knees even under good conditions. With my knees in violent revolution then, I didn’t attempt to run down that steep hill at all. I slowed to a walk, again feeling the worst of the pain during the transition. Adam was with me. And then we were ambushed.

Adam’s wife had run after us — with camera in hand — to continue documenting our progress as we walked. Whatever she caught on camera, however, would show nearly every runner around us also walking. Nonetheless, we picked up our pace and continued — uphill at this point — until she was out of sight, whereupon we walked again. Having driven this course the day before, we knew this hill was here, and we had planned then to walk it. I think we were at mile 18 by this point, and I took the comparatively slower pace as a chance to post to Facebook that I wanted to die. (I had signed up for automated posts to Facebook that would be triggered when I passed sensors on the course that would read the chip on my shoe. This worked pretty well, though Libby reported that they showed up both before and after I was at these points. I’m not sure how that is possible, but delirium had pretty much taken over and reason was left behind.)

Aside from the hill just after the bridge, the rest of the course, a mere EIGHT MILES, was all flat or downhill (except a brief ascent to the bridge back into downtown Portland). I really hoped that I could run most of this, but the knees. The KNEES! I was in constant pain. I had only one Tylenol left at this point, and while those little white pills seemed to help, it never lasted. Adam kept up his encouragement and his challenges to get to the next random landmark, and sometimes I could run that far. Just as often, I could not. I fell back to my hill-climbing technique of holding my head down (actually not a good running stance) and concentrating on the three feet in front of my two feet. That seemed to help. I seemed to be able to go a little longer that way. I can remember being gruff and apologizing a lot of ruining Adam’s run, but he confessed that he was in some pain as well. At mile 21 I posted that I was pretty sure I was already dead.

We ran. We walked. We hit all of the water stations. I ate my GU on schedule. I took Gummi Bears when offered. And pretzels. (At one station they had run out of pretzels and were offering greasy potato chips. No thanks at that point in my misery. I wasn’t having any dehydration problems. Even with the sun out, Portland was comparatively mild. I wasn’t sweating excessively, and I was dutifully drinking at the aid stations. So the added salt of some potato chips did not seem worth the risk of violent vomiting from the grease on my stomach during my trauma.)

I had no time goal for my first marathon. All I wanted was to finish upright. But there was one clock I wanted to beat. The good people of Portland seem to respect the running community, but asking them to tolerate closed major streets for too long is a lot. At about mile 22 there was to be another breakaway point. If the runners had not reached this point within six hours, they were going to be shunted off the main course and on to sidewalks of an alternate course to bring them to the finish. I wanted to get to that breakaway point before the six hour mark. I really wanted to run the official course. And I did beat that clock. I got to that point with something like two hours to spare. That was gratifying, and maybe it put a little more spring in my step. It didn’t take away any of the pain in both of my knees with each springy step, but I think it lifted my heart a little.

These last miles are mostly lost in delirium. I remember moments. I remember a long, long, gentle downhill stretch, and I think I managed to run most of it. I remember seeing a woman collapsed on the side of the course. Her friend was with her as were two course officials. She was talking, but she looked all in. I had worried that this might happen and that Adam would have to stop to help her (he being a doctor), but she had official help with her, so we pushed on. I remember seeing signs promising beer ahead. By the time we got to that point, though, all that was left was the smell of beer. I’m pretty sure it was an unofficial aid station and that they had run out of that sweet beverage then packed up and left. There was a wet patch on the pavement, and I think that was what I was smelling. Just as well. A beer about then would have probably had the same effect as greasy potato chips. I remember ugly stretches under bridges and past grain elevators and warehouses. And I remember pain.

We were coming back into the central part of Portland at this point, having completed our long journey to the hinterlands, the St. John’s Bridge being the farthest point. Adam pointed out the bridge we would soon be crossing to finish the last mile and a half. I was astonished, not because the bridge looked so very far away but because I was within a couple of miles of having run an actual marathon! I had truly not believe this would ever be possible for me two and a half years before when I had begun trotting around the dog park with Flike. When the idea of even a simple 5K looked beyond conception. And there I was, within striking distance of a marathon. A marathon! Me!

But there were still miles to run. And pain to manage. The knees never let up their assault (though I’m sure they felt it was the other way around). I ran. I walked. I watched for photographers so I could try to look semi-alive for them. We passed people. People passed us. We kept on.

The bridge back across the Willamette River was peaked, and I walked to the peak then began a long run with gritted teeth and determination I dredged up from somewhere deep inside me. I think we still had a mile and a half to go at this point, but I was determined to run most of it. And I was determined to run across the finish line. We pushed. Adam stuck with me the entire way. We came back into the downtown area, running again on some of the same streets we had covered at the start, which seemed like a lifetime ago. We covered the distance. And with the last few blocks visible ahead, I chose to walk one final time so I could have something in the tank for the end run.

When we rounded the corner for the last few blocks, I started running again. Libby and Adam’s wife were on the sidelines cheering us. (I later saw the video they had shot, and I looked deceptively alive in it. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t though.) There were crowds cheering all of the runners. The sun was shining. I may have been smiling. There was one turn left before the last two hundred feet to the finish arch. This was going to happen!

But there was one surprise left.

As I rounded that last corner, digging deep to find a last kick of energy, my right thigh muscles seized in a terrible, terrible cramp. Forget the knees. Suddenly I became no more than cramping thigh muscles. One big muscle of pain. It was blinding. Unexpected. Hateful and horrible in this last bit of the most amazing thing I had ever done. Evil.

And I ran through it. I just kept going. I don’t know what my stride looked like. Some part of me was bigger than that part of me, and I just ran for the finish. Adam, of course, stayed with me. As we approached the finish, the announcer called out our names, and I grabbed Adam’s hand, raising ours over our heads to cross the mats in something like euphoria. That got the announcer’s attention and he commented on it. It also got the photographers’ attention, and I could see them pointing their cameras at the father and son finish. (I hope they got some good shots.)

I crossed the finish mats, and then my knees and that twisted thigh reminded me that they had crossed with me. I was frozen. I could not take another step forward. I must have looked terrible because a couple of workers hurried over to me and put my arms over their shoulders. I felt silly. But I also felt grateful because there wasn’t the slightest hesitation on their parts to assist me. I told them I was fine and that I felt embarrassed, and I freed my arms then tried to step forward. And I seized up again. I think I was worse off than I realized. But I could see my medal being offered just a few feet ahead of me, and I was determined to hang that on my neck. So I tried again. The knees seemed to cooperate. And the thigh screamed at me but let me stagger those few feet.

I took that beautiful, beautiful medal and draped it around my neck. Then I staggered a few more feet for the one-time-wear finisher’s jacket I had just earned. (Generally, runners on these epics are handed a “space” blanket to keep warm after they finish and their bodies are vulnerable. But the Portland organizers had found that something like 80 percent of these are discarded right away. So they gave us jackets made out of something a little bit more substantial than paper that we could wear during our recovery, but they wouldn’t hold up for repeated wearings, and I’m sure they would dissolve in the wash.)

Portland Marathon

I loved the chute after the finish at this run. We had four or five blocks that were dedicated to us runners. No crowds of family and friends in our way. No dogs on leashes. No strollers. No well wishers. Just runners and a block-long lay of fruit and CHOCOLATE MILK (I drank two) and salty snacks and candy bars (I ate two) and water and replenishing drinks. And roses. All finishers were given a rose, Portland being the Rose City, don’t you know. We rounded a corner and collected our finisher shirts, which are nice, long-sleeved tech shirts that I can run proudly in. After this we were given our tree. Each finisher also got a tree seedling, which I think is a Western Red Cedar Norfolk pine. I intend to plant it at Roundrock (even though it is not a native). Then we stepped up to the official photography station and had a joint photo taken of us. Kind of cheesy, but maybe it will turn out nice.

We still had two blocks to stagger to get to the family reunion area, and my right thigh was still tight, so I stopped at the First Aid station and asked if they could do anything for me. I must not have looked too bad because all they offered was a squirt of balm that I rubbed onto my leg. The medic said I would feel the heat from the unguent but I never did, and he half confessed that the real benefit was from the rubbing itself, which would stimulate blood flow to the area. I managed to rise from the chair unassisted, and Adam and I continued the rest of the way to the reunion area where our wives were waiting. And there they were, cameras still in hand. We presented them with our roses and kissed through the fencing then stepped to the exit gates. Once we stepped through those, our official participation in the Portland Marathon 2014 would be finished.

We did.

There was supposed to be a beer festival nearby, but we couldn’t spot it, and all we really wanted to was to get back home and get our of our plastic clothing and into a hot shower. So we walked (slowly) the few blocks to the car. I managed to get in without cramping (this has happened in the past after big runs) and we drove home, using some of the same streets I had run that lifetime ago when the race was still new and my knees didn’t know what was coming.

There were 32 steps waiting for me at Adam’s place. 32 steps between me and a hot shower. I took them one step at a time and managed the ascent.

Surprisingly, after a shower and real clothes, I felt pretty good. We folded ourselves in the car again and headed back downtown for a late lunch at Kenny and Zukes, where you just remove the word “cholesterol” from your vocabulary. It was actually difficult to finish a whole sandwich, but like running with angry knees, I braved my way through it. As we sat there, we speculated that there might still be people out on the course, still finishing the 26.2 miles.

So I finished the biggest personal challenge of my life. I hurt in places I didn’t know were places. But I still have all of my toenails. And I have a new reservoir of self respect.

And I’m going to run more marathons in the future. I figure one a year is reasonable. And I’m going to do better. I’m going to learn the exercises and techniques for controlling my IT band issues. I’m going to train better. I’m going to do better.

And I’m going to relax at my little cabin in the woods too.

Portland Marathon 2014 ~ Part the First

October 6th, 2014

PM poster

Well, this was the big one. I had promised myself I would attempt a full marathon in 2014, just two and a half years after I had taken up running seriously (taken up running at all).

My promise to myself in 2013 was to run a half marathon, and I did. (See here and here.) I’ve since run three more of those (with another on the schedule for next month). But a full marathon, well, that’s a much bigger challenge. Those half marathons were not easy, and this would be double that distance, that effort, that pain, that endurance and doubt and self talk. And the training. I don’t feel as though I had trained well enuf for a full marathon. I kept meaning to do better, but something else always seemed to get in the way. That’s not acceptable, of course, and the consequence might show up on the course. (Really, it’s more than double the effort to go twice as far.)

And so it came time to deliver on my full marathon promise. I had actually registered for the Portland Marathon last fall, the day the registration window opened. That explains why my bib number, in a field of around 13,000 runners, was 322. I picked Portland for two reasons. My son lives there, and he has become a runner in the last year. He and I ran the Vancouver USA Half Marathon together on Father’s Day this year. So I had a running partner already lined up for this full marathon (and I had free lodging in his spacious and nicely appointed townhouse). The second reason was because the Portland Marathon has been voted one of the top three marathons to run as your first. There is plenty of entertainment (alas, wasted on me as I plod doggedly on), and frequent aid stations (about every two miles) including several with Gummi Bears. (Not my first choice for on-course energy replacement since I’m a mouth breather when I run, and chewing anything can interfere with that.)

In the week before the run I was resting and carb loading (pasta for dinner several nights!) and slamming bottles of Gatorade (to goose my electrolyte levels — at least in theory). I’d also been accepting many words of encouragement from my running friends, which I’ve learned really can make a difference. I had taken an extra day off of work before we left just so I could have a whole day to myself, to pack and repack and check and recheck and pace and fret. I got my hair cut (to be streamlined and to lighten the load) and trimmed my toenails (realizing that it’s possible I will lose one or two regardless). I checked the Portland weather almost hourly. I weighed whether I should bring my white running cap or my black one. (I brought both.) Debated how many back-up pairs of shorts and shirts I needed to pack (one extra pair of shorts, two extra shirts). Checked (and then supplemented) my supply of GU. Doubled down on my supply of safety pins (to affix the GU to the waistband of my running shorts). I did all of the obsessive things I could to feel prepared and keep my mind busy.

At the end of the day on Thursday I tried to fall asleep but mostly tossed and turned and then woke on Friday before the 3:00 a.m alarm. We had a 6:00 a.m. flight to catch, and with nearly an hour’s drive to the airport, we were on the road shortly after 4:00. And then, I felt, the part of all of this that was still in my control was over.

We arrived in Portland just before noon of Friday. My son, Adam, was waiting for us at the airport. We were whisked from there to his place where he left us to attend a meeting at work. I trudged our bags up the 32 steps from his garage to our bedroom and then waited. Adam was home soon enuf, and with an afternoon to fill, we decided to head over to the race expo rather than wait until Saturday to do so.

The expo was held at a downtown hotel and for some reason it was held on two different floors (I guess because it was so big). I’ve seen both extremes at expos. Generally they are packed with vendors and displays and even lectures. But occasionally they are little more than a few card tables set up in a corner of some random venue. (I even went to one in a bar.) The Portland Marathon expo was one of the former. We picked up our bibs and timing chips in the deep basement of the hotel and then proceeded to the upper level where there were vendors of all sorts (beer and wine and college recruiters and Army recruiters physical therapy and massage therapy and socks and shoes and gear) with everyone offering some kind of freebie to drop in our goodie bags. I took the chance to talk to the rep for the shoes I run in. (I’m having a little problem with the insoles not staying in place as I run. I was a little alarmed that he’d seen this problem with these shoes before. His suggested solution: double-faced tape. I’m not too keen on trying this for the first time on a full marathon, but I also don’t want to get blisters from wayward insoles.)

With that little worry behind us, we returned to Adam’s house to spend a quiet evening. Plans changed, though, and we went out for pizza and beer and conversation with some of his friends who were also running on Sunday. That was cathartic, and when we got home later, I was ready to go to bed. That left only the entire day of Saturday to fill before the main event.

Saturday was low-grade terror for me. We rose early and decided to drive the course just to get a mental map of our trek and to begin our calculus about where we would meet our demons. It happens that the early part of the course (within the first four miles) runs only about two blocks from Adam’s townhouse, so Libby and Adam’s wife and assorted friends and camp followers would be able to walk to the course and cheer us as we come blistering past. It took us an hour and a half to drive the course (which included a couple of wrong turns and a stop at a grocery store for some dinner fixings). It happened that we saw several other cars matching our twists and turns and tentative stops at intersections. Driving the course does two things for me. It helps me get familiar and comfortable with the challenge before me. And it terrifies me because I see the enormity of what lies ahead.

During the day we managed to snag some double-faced tape and I tried affixing it to the insoles of my retired running shoes (same brand and model). The solution seemed to work, so with much hesitation I then doctored my dedicated running shoes the same way and crossed my fingers. The insole (only on my right foot for some reason) slides back and then up behind my heel. That part isn’t really a problem, but it leaves my toes touching the edge of the front of the insole, and I expect that to lead to blisters. I can feel this when it happens, so I intended to be mindful of it during the race (as long as I still had a mind, that is) and stop as necessary to make adjustments.

Saturday ended with a tasty Persian dinner (a little more than I intended and a little later than I intended) and then early to bed. All that was left was to try to sleep before the main event.