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.

Skywatch Friday – beans and sky (and a bonus)

October 3rd, 2014

beans and sky

About two weeks ago at our woods at Roundrock in the Missouri Ozarks. The day was perfect. The sky was perfect. An unbroken vault of blue over our heads.

We’re looking to the north here, at my neighbor’s field. This year she has soybeans growing. In past years she’s had corn, wheat, and even horses thriving here.

And because I did so well at my most recent run, here’s a picture of Pablo himself:

Regalia Run 2014

That was the UMKC Regalia Run (a 5K) and I set a personal best record there. (I wasn’t even trying!) Another perfect day. I saw the photographer before he saw me, so I sucked it up and tried to look composed and in control, but I was really fighting the desperate wish to collapse and gasp and maybe just give up.

Not really. It was only three miles. I was doing well. However, on Sunday I’m running a much, much longer distance, and I don’t think the photos of me (if there are any) will be as flattering.

No one is more amazed than I that I have become a runner given the person I was just a few years ago.

fallen giant

October 1st, 2014

fallen

On a recent walk through our forest, on the wetter, north-facing slope, we came across this fallen giant. It seems that the storms that brought the water to recharge the lake (a little) also brought strong winds that brought down this old oak.

You can see that it had leaves at the time of its end; they’ve browned since the fall. So it was a living tree, not an old snag just waiting to come down. But the trunk was hollow, which is common enuf with large trees, and it appears that it may have been a den for some critter since there were far more packed leaves in the hollow part of the trunk than I think could have dropped in there since it came down. So along with a mighty crash in the forest (did it make a sound?), a critter’s home was disrupted and destroyed.

I suppose the critter will find another place to stay — perhaps with relatives or friends — and the tree will now begin transferring all of the solar energy it collected in its many decades into the ground to make soil. And maybe during that time a pair of forest walkers will take rest on the log for a while.

almost roadkill

September 30th, 2014

snake

We saw this good looking fellow just as we were leaving Roundrock on our last visit. We were nearly to the paved road (2+ miles from the cabin) when I saw what might have been a stick across the road. I suspected it was something else though.

I put the truck in park (always a good thing when you’re going to get out) and got out. The closer I got, the more sure I was that it was a snake. It had stretched itself across the road, and my tires would have likely got one end or the other of it if I had tried to straddle it and drive on. But I’m not that kind of guy, so I decided to shoo the snake into the grass on the side of the road, assuming it would let me and that it wasn’t, say, a rattlesnake.

I’m pretty sure it’s a speckled kingsnake, but this is not my strength. The snake cooperated, though it seemed a bit reluctant. It was a sunny, warm day, and I suspect it was happy to have been soaking up some heat and didn’t appreciate getting hustled away.

But hustle it did, and then so did we.

We don’t see a lot of snakes in our woods. I’m sure they are there and we simply aren’t alert enuf to see them. Curiously, we did see a scorpion on our last visit. That’s only the second time I’ve seen one of those at Roundrock.

UMKC Regalia Run 5K 2014 recap

September 29th, 2014

Regalia kit

The UMKC Regalia Run was the third 5K I had on my dance card, which I’d mentioned in my earlier posts. I had said I didn’t think a 5K was my distance, and then I found myself signed up for three. Now they are run and done.

I had done the Regalia Run last year, and I regaled you patient readers about it in this post. That was the first year the run was held, and now I’ve been to the second running as well, so I feel like a legacy. I guess I’m going to have to keep doing this every year.

I was surprisingly nervous about this run in the days leading up to it. I’m not really sure why. I can do the distance. I knew the course (even if this year’s course was different from last year’s). I was rested and fueled. I’d been turning in faster times on races all summer. The weather was just about perfect for a run. My new shoes were broken in. The stars were in alignment. And yet I was fretful for some reason. I suspect it had to do in part with a desire to do better this year than last and in part with the knowledge of how hilly the course this year was. It might also have been some transferred anxiety about a long run I’m hoping to do this coming weekend.

Whatever the reason, I slept fitfully on Saturday night and woke before the alarm on Sunday. I moved about the house. Let Queequeg out (and checked the weather — which was much warmer than last year). I drank some tea, ate a banana, and swallowed a vitamin (in part because I don’t eat much of what most people would call a balanced diet but also because the vitamins seem to ward off the cramps I otherwise get in my hands, feet, and legs). I surfed online for a while. Checked and re-checked the race web page for updates (none). Brushed and flossed. And then slowly began slipping into the kit you see in the photo above. (Note: KC Running Company is a local store that sells the usual gear but also runs and sometimes sponsor’s races. They were running this year’s Regalia, so I thought I would wear their shirt.)

Libby and I got to the University about an hour before gun time (and before most of the other runners) and got ourselves over to the start. I felt chilled in my skimpy plastic clothes, so we found an open door in one of the buildings and let ourselves in to sit in comfy chairs and wait. (Also, indoor bathrooms.) The sun had finally crested the hills to the east and was falling on the campus grounds. About a half hour before the start, we headed up the slight hill to the start and wandered about there. I had my blood pressure and pulse checked at one of the booths operated by the nursing students (137/73, 54 bpm). We speculated whether that really was Steven Spielberg sitting on the stone wall. (If so, he ran under an assumed named since he doesn’t show up in the results, but it sure looked like him.) I ate a free energy bar. We wandered about. I looked for other runners I knew but didn’t see any. There were only about 250 runners signed up this year, but that beats the 200 they had last year. Still, it would have been nice to see a familiar face.

Last year the start had us running down a short, nice hill. This year they had us start halfway up a hill, continuing up that hill once we crossed the mats and were underway. (At first that seemed a little unkind to me, but on reflection, maybe not. Starting out too fast is a common problem for many runners, so starting out going uphill might prevent them from doing that. Or it might tire them right away. I don’t know.)

About five minutes before the official start, they asked us to assemble behind the arch and get ready to run. There was some speechifying that was mostly inaudible, and then the countdown began. I had told my watch to find some satellites, and it had, so I hoped it would hold the signal until I pressed the GO button. When the University chancellor blew the horn, we were off. Uphill. People were passing me, of course, but many more passed me as we rounded the first corner and began heading downhill.

It was a brief downhill stretch before we turned another corner and headed uphill once again. It was too early in the run (not even a half mile) to think about taking a walking break, and, really, I shouldn’t need that on such a short run. Right? So I ignored the voices in my head suggesting a brief walk (as many others were already doing) and just kept grinding up the hill. At the top, we turned again and began a delicious, long downhill run. I’d say it was almost a half mile. It was along here that I first began passing other runners. I’m still new enuf at this game to be surprised that I can actually do that, and I took it as a sign that I’ve made some decent progress as a runner in the last (nearly) three years.

The delicious downhill soon came to an end though and we runners reached our first intersection where the traffic was not detoured. The police were there blocking the cars that wanted to cross our path, but when there was a big enuf gap in the runners, they let a few cars through. I could see that I might be at the head of one of those gaps, so I picked up my pace to get myself closer to the few runners ahead of me. Once I was through the intersection I didn’t care what happened behind me.

But once I was through that intersection, the flat grade at the bottom of the hill was pretty much over. We began another very long ascent of more than a half mile (according to the map the computer created when I plugged in my watch later). I kept grinding, telling myself I wasn’t even half way through the run and that I couldn’t embarrass myself by walking so soon. I was passing some walkers, but I had no desire to pass any runners. (By this time, the faster runners were far ahead and I was in a pack of those who ran at about my pace. It’s good to know there are many others at my ability level.) I deployed my usual technique for dealing with long hills; I simply put my head down and concentrated on the three feet in front of my two feet. The hill seems flatter that way. And if I stick with it, by the time I do look up, I find myself most of the way up the long hill.

At the top we turned a corner in front of the art museum and had a nice level stretch before us. There was a water station at the end of this and I grabbed a cup, threw the water down my throat, and then obliged the hard working man who was running up to each of us with a trash bag to catch the empty paper cups we would otherwise throw to the ground. (The few hundred feet after a water station is generally peppered with thousands of paper cups that somehow don’t make it into the trash cans set out for them. The saying is that runners make terrible basketball players.) After this, we faced another wonderful downhill stretch that was longer than the uphill we had just completed. We would re-enter the campus on its west side, which is lower ground than in the center where we started. This gave us nearly a mile of downhill or flat running. Life was good.

But we weren’t done. There was still about a half mile to go before we reached that arch on the side of the hill where we had started and where we would finish. Once inside the campus, we began a series of ascents that were merciless. I don’t know who thinks having an uphill finish is a clever idea. Really, a race should be just like college. In your last semester, aren’t you allowed to coast? But, no, we had a long hill to climb before the last turn and then the two-block run up another hill to the finish arch. I was beat, of course, but I was also feeling strong. I tried to throw in a little kick, but the hill was taking it away as fast as I was delivering it. I saw Libby on the sideline taking a picture (actually a video I learned later), and I saw the arch getting closer, and I kept pumping my legs. I heard my name announced over the speaker system (always wear your bib on the front). And I was across the mats.

But I wasn’t finished.

A 5K is 3.1 miles long. My running watch had recorded only 3.02 miles. And I hadn’t been cutting any corners. In fact, I was running wide in some cases just to high five the police or course monitors out on the edges. (The high fives give a hard-to-define boost to my run in the low spots.) If anything, I ran farther than most of the other people on the course. I’ve had this same thing happen on several races lately. That horrible half marathon I did at the Air Force base came up as only 12.87 miles instead of the 13.1 it was supposed to be. That’s nearly a quarter mile discrepancy. Assuming our first line of defense doesn’t get these things wrong, I began considering that it was my watch that might be at fault. Since this continues to happen (sometimes, not always), and since when I’m running with others their watches report different distances and paces than mine does (again, sometimes, not always), I suspect the problem is on my wrist. Maybe at the turn of the year I’ll want to step up to a better watch.

So, the run came up short on my watch. I had the timing chip removed from my shoe, accepted the bottle of water, and then accepted the medal given to all of the finishers. (That’s a blue and gold kangaroo on the medal — our school mascot. His bib has a 14 on it for 2014. Last year it had an 80 on it for the 80th anniversary of the university.)

Regalia bling

And then I started running again. I needed less than a tenth of a mile to get my watch to consider my run a 5K, so I ran down the block a ways, turned around, and ran back. That was enuf. I had 3.11 on the watch and my run completed for the morning.

Libby found me and we wandered over to the booths where the freebies were. I stopped again with the student nurses and had my numbers checked. My BP was 126/62 and my pulse was roaring at 120. The nurse assured me that this was the way it should be. The heart was pumping more efficiently so the blood pressure was lower, and I had just run 3 miles, so it was pumping faster to service the body. (I wonder what an instant pulse measurement would be right at the end of the run rather than five minutes of cool down later.)

I found the chocolate milk (which I recall they did not have last year) and while there were still no bagels, there were also no donuts to tempt me as they had last year. I ate another energy bar. And then we decided to leave.

It was a good run. I came in eighth in my age group of 15 runners, which is fantastic compared to last in my age group, which was a position I defended throughout 2013. I’d also beaten my time from last year’s run by more than 5 minutes, but that’s not quite a fair comparison since the course was different. But in any case, I had just run my fastest 5K ever by 35 seconds! I had not even intended to set a personal record. I plan to do a really long run this coming weekend, and I need to take it easy. In fact, I’m done running until next weekend. But I still need to fuel up. So I have that going for me.

Skywatch Friday ~ September sky

September 26th, 2014

sky

 

There was a small chance for rain when we were last down at Roundrock, but the clouds never got organized enuf to make that happen. Instead we got these pretty views. This is from below the dam, looking to the northwest. The weather was perfect.

a good and frustrating solution

September 24th, 2014

fence stay

This, I hope, is the solution to my critter problem in the overflow drum on the dam. Some of you may recognize what this is right away. Others, like me, may need to get educated about the item.

As I noted in past posts, critters sometimes crawl up the exit pipe from the overflow drain on the dam and jump into the drum there only to find that they cannot then jump back up to the pipe and leave. This most recently happened to an opossum. I felt guilty about that, having created the “attractive nuisance” in the first place. I thought that I could squeeze a long, narrow stick through the grating on the top of the drum, and the stick could serve as a kind of ladder that most critters could then use to reach the pipe and get out. The problem with the stick, of course, is that it could break or rot away or otherwise just fail. So I gave some thought to a different solution and came up with the item you see above.

It’s called a fence stay. These are most commonly used on barbed wire fences, in the lengths between the posts, to align and support the strands, serving as a kind of mini post itself. It helps the strands support each other.

fence stay close up

The stay is screwed down onto the strands, resulting in them being kept spaced evenly and transferring strength among them. The stay I got was 48 inches long, but they come in other lengths.

My plan was to screw the stay onto/through the grating on the top of the drum, placing it close to the drain pipe in the back (though not in front of it), so that any hapless critter would have a grip-able, permanent pole to climb near the exit. And so I executed my plan.

And it seems to have worked (at least in installation).

fence stay installed

This photo shows much. There is the grating on the drum, the stay screwed onto the grating and reaching down more than three feet to the bottom, the black drain pipe that is an handy entrance but vexing exit for some critters, and the bones of the opossum down in the bottom of the drum. (I don’t know how the opossum’s bones managed to get scattered as they are. I guess some other critter got in there to feast and then managed to get out?)

The good and also frustrating thing about this solution is that if it works, I’ll never know that it does. Any critter that would otherwise be trapped in the drum would be able to escape, so I won’t see it trapped, and I likely won’t see it escaping. I’ll tell myself that it works and sleep better at night. (But if I do find another dead critter in the drum, well, I’ll know it didn’t work.)

washed and worn

September 23rd, 2014

washed

I had an early sign that the lake might be fuller on our last trip to Roundrock when I came down the road through the trees and saw leaves washed out of the roadside ditch. This doesn’t happen often, and it’s a sign of a heavy rain, heavy enuf to float the leaves and push them to higher ground.

I also suspect it’s a sign of a sudden heavy rain. A kind of surprise attack for the leaves that have been resting peacefully in the ditch for months, slowly moldering into soil.

This ditch is on the northwest side of the road. Where it gets near the cabin, most of the way down the hill, the road forks. Straight ahead it leads onto the dam. But it also veers to the east and ends in the pecan plantation below the dam. The ditch follows the eastbound road, so the draining water heads to the pecans. Or is supposed to.

The turn to the east is sharp, and the ditch there, though vastly improved by mighty efforts on my part with a pickaxe, is not quite sufficient to handle the kind of volume that must have passed through recently.

In the past the water simply didn’t make the turn and crossed the road, heading down to the lake, carrying a lot of gravel with it to wash into the lake. So I improved the ditch, using the dirt and gravel I dug from it to raise the bed of the road as much as I could at the turn. For the most part it worked, but when big rains like this last one come, my mighty efforts are overcome.

In any case, it all lead to a fuller lake, and I’m good with that.