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A year of Slow Happy Runner

Exactly one year ago today I started this blog.

It’s difficult for me to articulate how far I have traveled in that year, but since this is at least nominally a blog about running, perhaps I could begin by expressing it in terms of miles. Thanks to my penchant for spreadsheets, I actually have this information readily at hand.

Since August 28, 2011 I have run 607.78 miles. I ran those miles in Washington, California, Arizona, Oregon, Alaska, and British Columbia. I completed half marathon races in Washington, California, and British Columbia, and I ran a staged marathon in Alaska. I ran barefoot on the beach, and I ran on rocky mountainsides. Given that my per-week mileage is continually increasing, I figure I’ll run another 300 miles before the end of 2012.

Since I started hiking in February 2012 I have hiked 131.59 miles. So far the hiking has all been in Washington and California.

My bicycling career is still in its wobbly infancy, but I have ridden my bike 44.50 miles so far.

All together, my non-motorized miles add up to 783.87. That’s over two miles a day for a year!

Finally, I have driven my car approximately (I can’t be precise here without going out to check my odometer, but I don’t really need to be that precise, do I?) 16,200 miles. I’ve driven in Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, and Arizona. I drove most of those miles alone (except for my three cats).

That’s a total of approximately 16,985 miles. That’s a long, long way to travel.

Oh yeah, I flew a couple thousand miles and rode a cruise ship approximately 2,105 nautical miles (2,473 land miles) too…

During that same year I sadly “celebrated” what would have been Kurt’s and my 25th anniversary. I got through my first birthday and my first holiday season as a widow. I decided to sell the condo in Palm Springs. I quit my job because it was holding me back from doing the healing and growing that I needed to do. The condo in Palm Springs finally sold. I came home to new friends, new interests, and a new love.

Meanwhile, you came here to read and follow my blog. I’ve written 111 posts (this is number 112) and had 6,175 page views as of this moment. There have been 782 posted comments by my 63 followers and others. WordPress’s very effective spam blocker has correctly identified and blocked 1,215 spam comments! I have used 18% of my allotted free photo storage space from WordPress.

I’m no longer as slow as I was when I named this blog a year ago, but I am very much happier.

“Slow Happy” has become a formula for how I am trying to live my life. One step at a time. One foot in front of the other. Amazing things start to happen when you dare to begin.

John Bingham said it better than I can: “The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.”

Thank you all for running, walking, crying, crawling, hiking, biking, driving, flying, and boating all those miles with me. What a year we’ve had! I can’t wait to see what lies beyond the next bend.

Another postcard, with photos this time

I’m back in a place with secure internet access, so I thought I’d share a few thoughts about and photos of recent events. My first major Porsche Club event without Kurt brought me some wonderful moments (so good to see old friends again) and some awful ones (the final words at the closing banquet when I suddenly realized that an entire PCA Escape had come and gone and Kurt wasn’t there, not once, not at all). I remember having similar flashes of shock after my mom died 18 years ago from the same horrible disease… time simply stopped for her, but for me it was a day, a week, a month, and finally years when events continued to happen without her.

Now I am here at “Kurt’s Folly,” the condo that he wanted so badly, that I named. He accepted the name good-naturedly, the same way he went along with all my little foibles.

This is a very sad and lonely place. Maybe it will feel less lonely when I return for a longer period with my three cats. I am really missing my cats tonight.

But enough of this sadness. I promised a postcard with photos!

Here is my car at the Hackberry General Store, bascially a Route 66 museum where people take lots of photos and sometimes buy things (I didn’t):

The first thing I did the morning after I arrived was go for a run. I did indeed feel the 6900-foot altitude; I only managed 2 miles, and I was nearly two minutes per mile off my usual sea-level pace.

Then I spent an hour doing a quarter-assed car wash before the “fun car show.” I only did a quarter-assed job because I knew it was going to rain later. Here it is ready to go:

Here is my car in a prime location at the car show (first time ever “off road”):

Here are a bunch of cars including mine in the background… in the rain:

That was the end of the rain for the week. Early Friday morning I joined about 30 other Porsche drivers for a tour to the Grand Canyon. I haven’t been there since I was very young. The crowds at the prime tourist spots distressed me so I walked 2+ miles on a trail along the rim and enjoyed nearly the same views with fewer people and no guard rail. I kept thinking that Kurt (with his great fear of heights) would have been screaming at me to get back from the cliff, but I really enjoyed it. Yes, those rocks in the foreground of this photo are right at the edge:

The trip back was wild and wooly. As people had scattered to various places, the pack diminished to about half its initial size. I started near the back and then watched the 3-4 cars behind me disappear as we drove briskly. I decided to just go with the flow — even knowing that being in a large yellow vehicle at the back, I’d be the one that the highway patrol would stop. Fortunately I saw no highway patrol cars, but I did see some extended triple-digit speedometer readings. It was fun, but not something I plan to do again any time soon.

Friday night I went out to dinner downtown with a bunch of friends old and new, and kept another promise to Kurt by raising my glass and toasting his memory.

On Saturday my friend Colleen drove up from Las Vegas with her husband. Colleen has a keen interest in and considerable knowledge of southwest native American archeology. We went to Wupatki National Monument, which was stunningly beautiful and almost completely tourist-free. We visited several sites within the park, and she pointed out subtleties of architectural and cultural significance that I would otherwise have missed. As impressive as the ruins were, what really amazed me were the brief but frequent moments of utter silence… no human voices, no cars or airplanes, not even a breath of wind. Just silence. If I believed in magic, I’d say it was a magical place. There is a sense of timelessness here that makes 3 1/2 months, or even 18 years, seem like a mere moment.

Here are a few photos that attempt to capture the solitary grandeur of this place:


Saturday night was the closing banquet, at which I sported a new turquoise-and-black poncho (soon to be seen at a Port Angeles “art walk” night) and my lovely blue Vibram Five Fingers shoes. Even though my car didn’t win one of the people’s choice awards, I did fine until collapsing into the aforementioned puddle of tears at the end.

Sunday morning, while others were packing up and heading out early, I went for another run. Still slow, but I did 4 miles at 20 seconds per mile faster than my Thursday pace, and finished feeling reasonably strong. I guess I acclimated somewhat to the altitude. I came back, showered, packed, ate breakfast, and didn’t leave town until 11:00. Six and a half hours and 400+ miles later, I arrived here at Kurt’s Folly.

So here I am, for a few days before I resume my traveling adventures. It’s stifling hot in this desert. I woke up with a headache and didn’t get much done today, but I’m hoping to recover enough overnight so I can go out at the crack of dawn and run for a few miles. One foot in front of the other.

Go slow to go fast

Way back when Kurt and I were newly-hooked Porsche people, we tried every competitive event that the Porsche Club offered — gimmick rallies, time/speed/distance rallies, quiz tours, gymkhanas, autocrosses, time trials, concours, and technical quizzes. Tonight I want to talk about the qualifying period that you have to go through before you’re allowed to go out solo on a high-speed road course and do an actual time trial. This period is called “driver training,” and it’s a humbling experience, especially for the guys who’ve been driving fast ever since they got their license and think they know all about cars. But I found it educational as well.

First, I never dreamed that a car could start or stop so fast when you really stomp on the appropriate pedal. I’d simply never driven that way before, and I found the full start-stop action of a Porsche exhilarating but a bit scary. Second, I had no idea that the cars could go through corners so fast, seemingly defying all the laws of physics and making terrible tire-squealing sounds while doing so. I’d been taught that cars weren’t supposed to make sounds like that.

But all of those things were about learning how to go fast, something I’d never tried to do before. I had to learn those things just to catch up with what the guys already knew. The real learning, for me as well as Kurt, was that actually going “fast” isn’t the fastest way around a road course. We learned to “go slow to go fast.”

If you’re always going hard on the accelerator, then you have to go hard on the brakes to get through those corners. Going hard on the brakes means that it takes a little longer for the car to settle down and go smoothly through the turn. Going too fast means the driver is less likely to stay on the “line,” the imaginary series of as-straight-as-possible lines that are actually the shortest way around a winding road course. So you have to learn to slow down just a bit and focus on being smooth, precise, and consistent. That’s how you get faster — by practicing going slow, steady, and smooth. In fact the tortoise did know something that the hare didn’t.

I never got to be very good at time trialing, as I never really stopped seeing imminent death at every corner — I never learned to stop thinking and just let the car do what it was capable of doing so very well. But I did remember the lesson of “go slow to go fast.”

When I started running I had no illusions that I’d ever be fast. I had weird feet, a few too many pounds, and I hadn’t done any exercise except yoga (the ultimate “go slow” exercise) in way too many years. But it did feel great to go out there, and just be slow and enjoy the trees, water, sky, and wildlife along the trail.

Being the highly rational and learningful person that I am, I soon discovered there is a lot of science and philosophy around this whole running thing. I’ve learned about Yasso 800s and fartleks (don’t ask), both of which involve going fast for short periods. I don’t really enjoy those things. A single 10-minute mile is still a dream for me. I might be able to do one but then I’d be done for the day. I’m simply not built to go fast. But after long, slow, steady practice I can now run 4+ miles before my first walk break. I can run 5 miles in less than an hour, I can run each of those 5 miles at a fairly steady pace, and I usually finish feeling like I could do more. That’s slow happy running, and it’s steady progress.

It also leaves me time to enjoy the wildlife. Today I saw a female red-breasted merganser in the water just offshore, keeping a close eye on four very cute half-grown baby mergansers that were huddled on a rock just above the high tide level. I stopped to try to take their photo so I could show you how cute they were, but all four dived simultanously off the rock and skedaddled to mom’s side. I guess I didn’t approach them slowly enough…