Monthly Archives: April 2012

Another day, another new adventure

These days, if it’s happening outside and does not involve standing on my head, scaling cliffs, free-falling, or immersing myself in ice cold water, I’m willing to give it a go. The more I do, the more fun I have and the more confidence I gain.

Since my last post five days ago, I’ve logged 12.5+ miles running, 10 miles biking, and 7.5+ miles hiking. It’s all been great!

I’m still patting myself on the back for an awesome 8.1 mile run on MAJOR HILLS yesterday. I ran most of the hilly portion of the course for my local half marathon, which is coming up on June 3. I ran the hills in both directions, giving me more miles of hill practice than I’ll have to run on race day. I’m still not sure how I did it, but I ran those 8 hilly miles at a 10:53 pace, which is about 45 seconds per mile faster than I’ve ever run hills like those before. I planned this run so that I would finish the 8.1 miles exactly 5 miles from the finish line of the half marathon. As I ran down the hill back to where I’d parked my car, I was asking my body how it might feel about running the other 5 miles to complete 13.1 miles at (or close to) the pace I’d set.

I think I would have had to slow down for those last 5 miles. My knees are feeling rather tired today, and I was glad that my self-made training plan gives me a rest day on Mondays. I’ll be ready to run again tomorrow, and if things continue to go this well I’ll be ready to reach for another PR in June. But now is not the time to overdo it! It would be a real shame to push too hard and injure myself now.

The 10 mile bike ride was interesting, because I rode the exact same 10 miles as I’d run the weekend before. The view is different from a bike, and I suppose it’s less strenuous than running, although I’m still having trouble navigating narrow spaces. This makes crossing bridges difficult! This particular route involves crossing four bridges twice each. They are beautiful narrow bridges over small streams. I love running over them and I never think twice about the fact that they are only a few feet wide. However, my bicycle wheels seem to be irrestibly drawn toward bridge rails! I have trouble getting through a bike ride without panicking and slamming on my brakes at least once. Even so, the non-bridge portions are fun, and I do feel a bit like a 12-year old as I sail along with the wind in my hair.

The 7.5 mile hike over the weekend was a relatively flat but brisk ramble along the shore of Lake Crescent, within Olympic National Park. One section of the trail features a narrow bridge (similar in style to but narrower than the ones giving me trouble on the bike) across a small, deep cove. As you approach the bridge, it looks like it goes straight off into the lake, but in fact the trail curves around the rock wall to the right. It’s a very beautiful place that I had never seen before now.

Along the trail I spotted the first of this year’s calypso orchids. These delicate, elegant flowers are just over an inch across.

I love this section of the trail, lined on both sides with mossy boulders.

Did I mention that this hike was brisk? Although my friend and I did take time to enjoy and photograph the views, we hiked at a pace approaching “forced march,” because we had volunteered to work at a downhill mountain bike race later that afternoon.

I had never seen a downhill mountain bike race before and had only a vague idea of what to expect. It turns out that these are single-purpose bikes, with monster suspensions and little in the way of gearing — they are designed to do nothing else but go downhill fast. The local track is muddy but firm and is loved by practitioners of this rather arcane sport. I’m told it’s considered one of the best downhill mountain bike tracks in the country. In any case, more than 450 people including about 175 professionals from all over the US and Canada turned out for this event.

I wish I could have taken photos, but I was far too busy to think about anything but my task. I was responsible for lining up the racers in a predesignated order and staging them at the starting line, while my friend (who actually knows something about the sport) did the countdown and released the racers at 30 second intervals. I’m amazed that they entrusted me, a rank newbie, with my job — but hey, it was only the qualifying round. The 50 or so male amateurs on my shift were cooperative and generally followed my occasionally confused instructions, while the 20 female pros were polite and helpful.  The 150+ male pros were a little more challenging. I had to shout a few times to get them to stop taunting one another and pay attention to me, but I got everyone to the starting line on time and in the correct order. It was a really fun afternoon and I’m glad I stumbled into the opportunity to do something completely new.

New friends bring new adventures! It seems I may be in for a very active and adventurous summer.

Hills, miles, rain: Smiles!

I’m feeling stronger every day. The more I push myself beyond what I have taken to be my limits, the more I find that I can do.

Last Saturday I did a steep uphill hike, followed by three and a half hours of heavy work in the community garden. We were laying out large pieces of used landscaping fabric obtained from a local nursery, removing railroad spike-sized staples, assessing the condition of each piece of fabric, refolding, and placing them in graded piles for future re-use in the walkways between each plot. My hands were sore the next day, but other than that I felt great!

Sunday I went out and nailed a 10 mile run at a pace I could only dream of just a couple of months ago. At the beginning I wasn’t sure what might be a reasonable pace for that distance, so I just started running and let my body decide. Near the end of the first mile, 10:35 was feeling comfortable. I was glancing at my watch only about three times per mile, but for each of the first eight miles my pace varied by no more than 13 seconds either way. Mile 9 was slower at 10:54, but I ran mile 10 in a very satisfying 10:06. I finished on a 10:32 average pace, feeling strong, happy, and not all that slow. I must have actually looked like I knew what I was doing, as I got more than the usual number of nods, smiles, and thumbs up from the other runners, walkers, and bikers that I met along the way.

Monday I didn’t do any exercise at all, but by Tuesday I was raring to go again. I started the day with 4.2 miles in the rain. Miles 1 and 2 were relatively flat while mile 3 was a steep uphill and mile 4 returned down that same hill. Miles 1, 2, and 4 were all sub-10 minutes. I walked a bit of mile 3 but still managed to do that one in 11:26, which gave me an overall pace of 10:15.

But I wasn’t done. On last Saturday’s uphill hike, my hiking friend and I were stopped just short of our goal by four inches of packed, icy snow on a wobbly log bridge over a small stream. I just didn’t feel steady enough to get across that bridge. Between then and yesterday we’d had some warm weather (as high as 68 degrees! Woot! It’s finally spring here!). So off we went in a warm, gentle rain to tackle that same trail again. Sure enough, the snow had melted just a little, and there were places on the bridge where it was quite possible to get a secure foothold. We were able to cross the bridge and go the last 100 feet or so to an area where, I am told, there are primitive campsites for those who are continuing up this trail to the high back country.

I took some photos, but my iPhone camera is not really up to the task of capturing a rain forest. Perhaps I should carry my good camera next time.

It’s an exercise in multi-scalar appreciation. The trees are massive, but they are draped in tiny mosses and lichens that look like miniature forests. There are blown-down trees everywhere, and each of them is a nursery for the next generation of trees. There are miniature waterfalls that invite visions of wee fairies dancing in their spray. It is a wonderland… and it is practically in my back yard. This particular trailhead is less than 15 minutes from my house.

I love this place.

I love the magic of it, and I also love that I am able to participate in it. I can go out and run hills in the morning and then hike really steep hills in the afternoon. I can get up the next morning eager to do it again. I used to need three days to recover from a run, and wouldn’t have considered hiking between hard runs. Now I’m finding that I just do it, and every time I do I feel stronger and more ready for the next time. Maybe it’s the compression tights (which I wore not just for the runs but for the hiking and gardening as well), or maybe it’s the cumulative effect of all those hours and miles I have put in over the past few years. Whatever it is, I like it!

This is momentous. This is awesome. This is sort of addictive!

So I’m not THAT tough

Almost immediately after I hit the “publish” button on yesterday’s post, in which I patted myself on the back for being a tough Pacific Northwesterner and running/biking/hiking in the rain, the skies opened and it began to pour. Undaunted, I reminded myself that I would too go downtown for the weekly beer run.

I decided that staying as dry as possible was a higher priority than ease of movement or maintaining a comfortable body temperature. I therefore dressed in multiple layers on the theory that this would give me more time before getting soaked all the way through to the skin. Walking from my car to the brewpub, I could already tell that my theory was going to be sorely tested. When I arrived, I was surprised to see that no other runners were there. Surely I was not going to be the only one crazy enough to run in this downpour!

Sure enough, after a few minutes one runner arrived. This is a woman whom I admire for her speed and toughness — she is a local role model for me. She looked straight at me and said, “No way am I running in this! I hate running in the rain!” I laughed and suggested that we just skip the running part and go straight to the beer. So we each had a pint, we swapped a couple of running stories, and then we both headed off to do other things.

So I’m not that tough. I had the most noble of intentions — but there was no point in my being the only person in town nutty enough to go out and run under those conditions. Maybe part of being tough is knowing that it’s okay sometimes to cut yourself some slack?

This morning was partly cloudy and beautiful, although a bit windy. I drove out to my favorite starting place and ran 4.5 quick miles along the waterfront. I noticed that the alders are leafing out at last. The whole world suddenly seemed to be a shimmering riot of green and blue.

Driving back home, completely wrung out but feeling strong and… tough… I found myself looking at people, buildings, birds, mountains, water, and sky — and simply loving my wonderful little town.

Everything looks more beautiful when you are in the midst of a runner’s high, don’t you think?

It’s spring! The cruise ships are arriving!

Every year about this time the cruise lines start moving their ships from their winter ports to their summer ports. This is the season of Panama Canal cruises and coastal cruises, as there is no point in moving empty ships from the Caribbean to Seattle! For those of us overlooking the waters of western Washington, the first sight of a cruise ship moving through the strait is a sure sign that spring has finally arrived.

My small town has a beautiful deep harbor. Every year or so one or more of these transitional cruises will include a stop here. Passengers have the opportunity to disembark, stroll through downtown, and enjoy the shops and restaurants. For the more adventurous, there is the option of taking an excursion tour to our mountains, rain forests, and rocky beaches.

Yesterday Holland America’s ms Oosterdam came to town. As it happens, this is an identical sister ship to the Westerdam, on which I’ll be cruising to Alaska at the end of July as a participant in the Great Alaskan Marathon. This is a staged marathon, meaning that we’ll run four races adding up to 26.2 miles during the week of the cruise. I’m excited about the opportunity to see Alaska, run on spectactular trails and through quaint (and steep) downtown streets, and mingle with a bunch of other runners for a whole week.

Yesterday, actually seeing a ship just like the one I’ll be on really ramped up my enthusiasm! I headed downtown for as close a look as possible. Security was rather tight at the dock, so I drove out to the hook (the natural sand spit that frames the harbor) for a panoramic view of the ship and the downtown area. It dwarfed my downtown!

The smaller ship you see on the far left is the ferry that takes cars and people from here to Victoria BC. That ferry is 341 feet long and carries 110 vehicles plus 1,000 passengers. The Oosterdam is 936 feet long and carries 1,916 passengers, 817 crew members, and all the restaurants, theatres, casinos, sport courts, swimming pools, and other assorted accoutrements that make up the cruising experience.

The large tan building just to the right of the Oosterdam belongs to a company that builds “super-yachts.” The largest model, built here in my town, is 163 feet and generally includes a heliport. Picture a 163-foot yacht emerging from that building — it’s huge! But it would look like a dingy next to the Oosterdam.

Back at my house later I could just see the Oosterdam from my bedroom window, but I had a panoramic view of it when it departed at 11:00 PM and glided out of the harbor, all lit up like a multi-layer birthday cake. Cruising season has begun! Later this summer, finally, I won’t be one of those watching from shore when my ship moves through the strait en route to Alaska.

Meanwhile, I continue to keep moving, adding bike rides and hikes to my 3-day-a-week running schedule. I’m getting some form of real-world exercise just about every day, which is why I’m blogging less even though I theoretically have more time in my post-corporate day. I’m still wobbly on the bicycle, but on my hikes (encouraged and accompanied by new friends) I’ve successfully met the challenges of steep hills and small stream crossings. I’m going to have to invest in rain gear, however, as I don’t much enjoy getting wet and cold.

In past years I would have retreated to my treadmill on anything less than a “perfect” sunny day, but I’m finally learning that life is too short to wait for a “perfect” day. So tonight is beer running night, and whatever the weather, I’ll meet running friends for a short run along the waterfront followed by wonderful locally-brewed beer.

Rain? Wind? Mud? Bring it on! I am a Pacific Northwesterner by choice, and this is my home.

Finally! The elusive sub-30 minute 5K

Way back on January 20 I wrote about my big hairy audacious lifetime-probably-impossible running goals for 5K, 10K, and half marathon. Of the three, a sub-30 minute 5K seemed the most doable, and I’ve been actively chasing that goal for a few months now. I’d gotten tantalizingly close with a 30:13 on April 4. I think I may have done it on April 6, but I forgot to check my watch at 3.1 miles so I can’t count it.

Today I did it, fair and square.

Although I’ve been home for two weeks, I somehow haven’t made it downtown for a Thursday evening beer run until tonight. The first week I was still too tired from four days of driving plus packing and unpacking, and I didn’t go. Last Thursday I didn’t go but I can’t recall why… perhaps it was raining.

This morning, even though it was raining, I woke up already looking forward to a brisk waterfront run followed by a wonderful locally-brewed beer.

I figured I’d run 3-4 miles tonight. The rain had stopped and it was a bit breezy but not too cold. Only three other people showed up,  but it was nice to be welcomed by running acquaintances whom I hadn’t seen in four months. The usual discussion of pace and distance ensued. They all said they ran “slowly,” in the 9 to 10 minute per mile range, and that they planned to run 3-4 miles. I shrugged and said that I’d be well behind them, while thinking to myself, “I can do that, and I can let them set the pace for me.”

They took off running, and I stayed with them. We were running along at about a 9:45 pace. Approaching the end of the first mile, they sped up. I did too, but I couldn’t keep up with them and had to let them go. I kept them in sight, however, and I kept pushing. I did the second mile (which included my turnaround point) in about 9:40. Then I did the third mile in 9:04. The last tenth of a mile was a waltz! I hit the stop button on my Garmin at 29:30 and walked the rest of the way back to the brewpub.

Mission accomplished! Big hairy audacious lifetime-probably-impossible goal smashed! I know, it was unoffical but I get to count it!

I celebrated with a lovely local porter — dark, sweet, and creamy.

Now I’ll have to set myself a new lifetime-probably-impossible 5K goal. Or maybe I’ll focus on the most doable of my remaining two original goals. Perhaps not on the hilly course of my hometown half marathon… but I think maybe, just maybe, a sub-2:30 half marathon is realistically attainable. Maybe at the lovely, flat Victoria race in October???

One step at a time.

By the numbers

I love spreadsheets — don’t you?

I’ve mentioned my running log here before. Lots of runners have running logs, in which they keep track of planned miles, miles actually run, hh:mm:ss run, average pace, and so on and on and on… Yes, I have one of those. I also have a spreadsheet in which I loosely track time spent doing various physical activities, from running to house cleaning to “power walks” through Costco (bobbing and weaving around the slower shoppers).

The other day I created a new spreadsheet called “Bike Rides.xlsx”. That’s right, I made good on my promise to myself, got the bicycle out of the garage, and did a slowwww 8.7 mile ride along the waterfront and out along the natural sand spit that surrounds the harbor. I rode with a friend, and met up with other friends (who were walking) along the way. It was a glorious, sunny, mild spring day. My knees only complained a little, and I felt strong and happy afterwards. But somehow the experience wasn’t complete until I’d come home, created the spreadsheet, and logged the data for my first ride.

I have a whole series of weather spreadsheets. I’m not sure I’ve mentioned this here before, but I’ve been an amateur weather watcher since the day 20+ years ago when I was surprised by an early snow storm that messed up my commute home (at the time I was living in the mountains of southern California and commuting many miles down to “the flat land” for work). After that experience I decided I needed to be aware of weather patterns and learn to be my own forecaster, so I installed the first of several automated weather stations and — you guessed it — logged each day’s data in a spreadsheet. Because I’ve moved about every two and a half years I don’t have many years of data from any one place, but I do have many spreadsheets with data from all those many places. Now that I’ve been in my current house for over four years (not counting those seasonal jaunts down south that I won’t have to do anymore), I’m actually beginning to develop a useful database for this location. During all the time I was gone, my weather station dutifully logged the details for each day, which I was able to retrieve when I returned home. So I can tell you that we’ve had 11.13″ of rain since January 1, and that this is just about normal for this time of year. We’ve had a relatively mild winter (the low temperature was 24 degrees) despite all the warnings that this would be a cold, snowy Pacific Northwest “La Nina” winter.

Yet even though I was armed with all this data including the fact that the thermometer read 55 degrees, when I went out for my long run last Sunday my brain insisted, “Bundle up!” I went out in my winter-weight, full-length compression tights and a long-sleeved shirt over a tank top. I planned to run 7-8 miles, and I ended up running 7.55 miles. I tried to back off the brisk pace of my last few shorter runs, but still ended up surprising myself by running nearly a minute per mile faster than I’ve ever been able to sustain for a longer distance. I do believe my compression running tights are magical… but it could also be that all this hiking and now biking is building muscle strength that keeps me going longer and stronger.

While I relished the pace (which was still slow enough to allow me to enjoy the eagles, loons, and harlequin ducks along the way), I didn’t relish how warm I got. I couldn’t do anything about the tights, but before the end of the run I had pulled off that long-sleeved shirt and I was loving that tank top. Pacific Northwest weather? If it could always be like this, there would be millions more people living here!

But don’t get all excited and move up here — sure enough, today it was in the high 40s and drizzly all day. I had planned to run but I looked out the window and decided to curl up with a good book on my iPad and an iPod playlist that was heavy on British invasion classic rock.

Besides the numbers that I keep in spreadsheets, other numbers have been heavy on my mind this week. Yesterday I bagged up Kurt’s clothes to take them to a local charity. There were eight large bags by the time I was done. Kurt was one of those people whose weight was a constant yo-yo. He could gain or lose 50 pounds easily. He had multiple wardrobes that ranged over several sizes. There were clothes spread across four different closets. I got through all of them. I also tackled some of his papers and personal items, but there are still many more to sift through. It may take me months to years to go through the collections and Porsche-related stuff.

I only had two really rough moments with the things I went through yesterday. I had an unexpected enounter with his wedding ring… I carefully put it away again. The other thing was going through the few clothing items that he was using just before he died. Those clothes were hanging in the downstairs closet where I’d put them when he could no longer climb stairs. Those clothes still smelled like him as I was folding and bagging them. That was difficult… but when I was done, I felt the lightening sensation of relief.

One foot in front of the other.

There is one other set of numbers that I am dealing with this week. Monday was ten months since Kurt died. This Friday would have been his 65th birthday. Saturday will be 19 years since my mother died, coincidentally also of lung cancer at age 64.

Friday night I am planning to go out with friends. While I must and will look back and wish him a silent, sad “happy birthday,” I also need to move forward. I have new friends, new interests, new directions in my life. I know that he expected and wanted me to enjoy life and feel happiness again. I am trying very hard to do just that. It’s just that, sometimes, the numbers can feel overwhelming when they pile all over me like this. Sometimes, no matter how hard I try to make them all add up neatly… they just don’t.

One step at a time.

Compression tights, fallen trees, and eagles (oh my!)

I’ve been home for over a week now and I still wake up wondering, “Why is it so quiet? What’s happened to the hum of traffic?” Then I remember that I’m home and I smile… no matter how gloomy the sky outside may look. I’m home!

I alternate my time between sifting and organizing stuff (or at least thinking about it) and finding new ways to be active. I’ve done a couple of low-elevation, muddy hikes through thick forests. The snow is still lying low on the foothills, so it will be a while before I venture up into the mountains, but I enjoy catching glimpses of them when the clouds cooperate. At the moment it’s partly cloudy and 49; I can’t see the mountains but I have a clear view across the strait. It’s a glorious day.

I’ve taken to running in compression tights again, initially because they are warmer than conventional long pants (and they make me LOOK like a runner), but now because they are working well for my knees and legs. I’m running faster than I ever thought possible. A sub-10 minute mile is no longer a ridiculous dream; I can even string together multiple sub-10 minute miles.

I can even string together multiple sub-10 minute miles when I encounter unexpected obstacles! Today I ran 4.2 miles on a section of the trail that I hadn’t yet done since I got home. The trail in this area runs along the waterfront at the base of the bluff. There were several sections that had recently been cleared of mudslides, but overall the trail was in pretty good shape. Then I came to a freshly-fallen tree lying completely across the trail. I probably lost 30 seconds figuring out how to scramble over and through it — and I still ran that mile in under 10 minutes.

Immediately after the fallen tree I had a closer than usual encounter with two immature bald eagles, each sitting in low branches directly overhead, probably 10 yards above me and 30 yards apart. They watched me closely as I went by, and I returned the favor.

As I was doing an out-and-back run, I got to see the eagles twice and also scrambled through the tree twice. I was a little quicker getting through the tree the second time. Maybe I could get used to running obstacle courses!

I finished my 4.2 miles in just over 41 minutes, feeling strong and very happy. I just love it when everything works so well.

I took my bicycle down to the bike shop where I bought it several years ago and had it tuned up. I had probably put less than 20 miles on it when I parked it, and I’ve hardly looked at it since. Tomorrow I may ride it… or maybe I’ll take another hike… or maybe I’ll do both. On Sunday I’m planning a longer, slower run… maybe 7 or 8 miles.

Then maybe I’ll get back to sifting, organizing, and reducing my stuff. I’m not feeling any great urgency about that. It’s emotionally and physically demanding work, so I’m perfectly comfortable doing a little bit at a time. I have lots of time.

“How did I ever have time to work?”

Well, it’s happened. I know I’m truly post-corporate now because I’m looking back and asking myself how I ever found the time to work. The last three weeks have been so jam-packed with activities that there is no way I could have done it all if I were still working.

I’m home at last!

Because I didn’t have to worry about carefully shepherding my vacation days, I was able to take the long way up the coast, adding a hundred miles or so and an extra day to my trip. The luxury of time enabled me to avoid the stress of “will the mountain passes be snowed in?” by simply driving around the passes. It also allowed me to mosey… to drive up to and savor the view from Marin Highlands just north of the Golden Gate… to stop to watch a herd of elk in far northern California… to take my time fully wringing myself out after pumping gas in a wind-driven downpour in Crescent City… to visit with family members along the way. It was a good trip; two out of my three cats would agree (cat #3 complained the entire way).

I arrived home to find all those boxes of stuff that I’d shipped, neatly stacked at my front door. I have been gradually opening and dealing with each one. To make room for the stuff from the condo, I’ve had to get rid of other stuff. I bagged up nearly a third of my clothes and threw away other items until I filled my trash can. Now I’ve had to stop throwing things away until after trash pickup day next week.

Tomorrow I plan to start bagging Kurt’s clothing. I think I am ready to do that task now, but it will take me a bit longer before I can tackle his papers and other personal items.

One step at a time.

I’m having a little trouble so far re-adapting to the cool, damp weather in this part of the world. I bundle up hugely when I go out. I planned to go for a quick 2-mile run Friday afternoon, but I drove through a snow shower on the way to the trailhead. I sat in my car for a while trying to gauge the storm’s intentions, then ventured out when the snow turned back to rain. It was 37 degrees but did not feel too chilly until I got down to the waterfront and hit a headwind; I turned around grateful that I’d only intended to run two miles. The trail did feel great under my feet, however, and I felt happy to be running again. The trees are beginning to leaf out, the skunk cabbage is blooming, and there are robins everywhere. Spring is returning to the Pacific Northwest. I am happy to be here and I know that I am home.

This morning I headed out for a planned 6-mile run. It was a balmy 46 degrees and partly cloudy when I reached that same trailhead. I decided to try running some hills, so I went east into the woods instead of north and west to/along the waterfront. I ran 3.1 miles out and 3.1 miles back; this gave me a 10k run that included two steep down-and-up creek crossings (a nearly 25% grade according to my GPS watch) and some rolling hills. I surprised myself by handling the hills pretty well. I did need to take walk breaks, but my overall pace was about 15 seconds per mile faster than I’d hoped for.

I’m relieved to learn that I haven’t lost any strength or speed over my long break from running. My focus over the coming weeks will be on regaining my stamina and keeping a slow and steady pace over longer distances.

Slow and happy, that’s me. And getting better at both of those things… a little better every day.