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Running smack into autumn

Autumn has arrived, overnight and with a vengence. We’ve had rain seven out of the last eight days. We’ve had high winds. We’ve had a thunderstorm (highly unusual in this part of the world). And the mountains have had their first snow.

It was just a dusting the other day, but the forecast calls for 4-8 inches, down to 3000 feet, over the next couple of days. It looks like those long high-altitude hikes that I’d planned will have to wait until next summer. The lower trails should still be good for several more weeks before winter really sets in, and I do hope to get out there before ALL the leaves are down.

But I’m still feeling tired and a little sore after the Victoria half marathon. I’ve realized that two half marathons in two weeks is a REALLY big deal for a middle-aged body, and that I’m going to need some time to fully recover. I’m not injured… just tired and sore. The setting-in of autumn is the perfect time to slow down and rest a bit.

I went out to run the other day for the first time since Victoria. Right out of the parking lot I ran smack into autumn! Leaves were down on the trail, a couple of inches thick in some places. Running through the wet, slippery leaves forced me to slow down and alter my stride. My short, choppy steps weren’t feeling fluid or graceful at all, and I quickly realized that I wasn’t having much fun running. Therefore I prudently decided to stop and take some photos instead. I think I made a good choice!

I know that the fire in my belly for running will return. Meanwhile, I’m thinking about another long, slow bike ride or a hike in low country to enjoy the last of the autumn leaves. Something easy on the knees and soothing for the mind.

At this moment, however, until I’m fully in sync with the change of seasons, I’m happy to let the autumn winds swirl around outside while I put my feet up and read a book.

How about you? Has autumn arrived in your part of the world? When it does, do you find yourself needing to pause and hit the “reset” button?

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Weird weather

As I write this on a Friday afternoon, thunder is rolling around me. It’s been doing this now for more than 15 hours.

What’s the big deal, you ask? What’s so special about a thunderstorm on a summer day?

Well, we just don’t get weather like that around here. In the past 15 hours western Washington has seen and heard more thunder and lightning than we’ve had in many years (some reports have claimed 30+ years), and some of the most intense thunderstorm activity I’ve ever seen in my life.

Situated as we are, perched between several thousand miles of cold north Pacific water and steep mountains, we seldom get warm enough for long enough periods of time to develop strong thunderstorms. Hence the famous Pacific Northwest drizzle — lots of moisture but little energy.

While the rest of the US and many parts of the world have had record high temperatures and severe weather events over the past several months, the Pacific Northwest has remained stubbornly cool, even below our normal temperatures. Yesterday’s high of 79 was the highest of the year so far, whereas in a typical year we’d have had several days in the 80s or even higher by now. This string of thunderstorms is due to a highly unusual, strong, persistent, low-altitude low pressure system that has decided to park and hang out for a while.

Last night I saw several lightning strikes within two blocks of my house. I have large windows and a skylight, which provided a front-row view and actually caused me to duck a few times!

I had big plans for a trail run today through a remote area that is mostly clearcut with just a few big trees remaining (a friend was going to accompany me on bicycle). That does not seem like a very good idea right now.

It’s just one more kink in my training schedule. Try as I might, I can’t seem to get those long trail runs done. My typical “long” run is about 6-7 miles right now, and when I run on trails I have to run shorter. My knees have been just a little cranky and I’ve had to decide that shorter, less frequent runs will do for now. Still, I’m enjoying the running that I am doing, and on a good day it’s been delightful to run along the waterfront and take in the summertime views.

When I’m not running, I’m hiking. Due to our cool, wet spring the snow is lingering late in the mountains. My hikes continue to be stymied by four-foot deep snowbanks that seem to come every few yards, one after another so that one is always climbing up, clambering across, and climbing down. The payoff, however, is between the snowbanks. Sprouting right under the snow and literally blooming as soon as they are snow-free, there are thousands of avalanche lilies.

They will only bloom for a couple of weeks in a given location, and then they’ll be gone until next year. When I see avalanche lilies, I stop worrying or thinking about anything else. I just stop and be with them. This is my life, and it is a good one.

I shall be slow and happy wherever I go, but especially so in places like this one.

I’ll do that trail run tomorrow… maybe. These storms are forecast to continue through the weekend! 🙂

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.

Sometimes things don’t go according to plan

I’m learning to take my “training plans” with a grain of salt and consider them approximate goals, because life does get in the way once or twice or more during the course of a 3 to 4 month plan, doesn’t it?

After my great short runs last Wednesday and Friday, I was all psyched up to go out and run 9 miles or so this morning. What happened instead was that yesterday I woke up with a bit of a headache… not too bad yet but threatening to become bad. I walked to breakfast and back (about a mile total), hoping to relax and loosen up my neck and shoulders in the sunshine. It seemed to work, and I was feeling pretty good by noon or so.

Then at about 1:30 the forecasted high winds showed up with a mighty blast. Within minutes there was blowing sand along with miscellaneous flying objects all headed at my car (which, unfortunately, is not garaged here) and my west-facing floor to ceiling windows. I watched branches snap off my two patio trees and crash to the ground. Watching all that was good for an instant, severe headache. I took pain pills, went to bed, and cowered all afternoon as I heard things crashing and bouncing across the flat roof.

I really don’t like wind. I think I’d prefer the heavy snow they got back in my home town this past week to that kind of wind.

I got up in the evening with my head still pounding. I turned on the TV (an extremely rare thing) and watched the local news. Winds at the airport had gusted to 66, but there were reports all over the valley of gusts to 90. A carport had collapsed, crushing about a dozen cars. Roads were closed due to blowing sand with visibility down to 10 feet (the police directing traffic had to wear goggles). Thousands of households were without power; hundreds of trees were down. While the winds were expected to die down overnight, I was groggy from pain pills and knew there was no way I would be going running this morning.

When I woke up this morning I felt a lot better, and it was indeed calm outside. I asked myself, if this were race day, would you feel good enough to drag yourself out there and run? The best I could muster was “maybe.” But today, with the race still three weeks away, I didn’t have it in me to go out and run merely to log the miles.

So I got up around 10:00, drank lots of coffee, and ate a light breakfast. Then I dragged a large branch (maybe 1.5″ diameter at the break point) out of the patio on the downwind side of the condo (I have no idea where it flew in from and how it landed there so neatly) and added it to a pile of other debris. I ventured out to inspect my car, which was very dirty but seemed basically intact. My head was feeling 90% better but I still had the residual neck and shoulder pain so I figured walking might help as it had done yesterday.

I ended up walking 7 miles, with a break at the halfway point for lunch. Along the way I saw many fallen branches, some as thick as 8-10 inches, and a good number of completely uprooted mid-sized trees. Surprisingly, I did not see a single fallen palm tree. I’d heard that their narrow profile allows them to withstand high winds; now I’ve seen evidence to support this. What does happen, however, is that they drop all their dead fronds. In the middle of downtown they’d already done a lot of cleanup, and these fallen palm fronds were stacked several feet high at various corners. Here is an example:

I did not see any structural damage other than some torn restaurant canopies, fallen stop signs, and a bit of minor roof damage here and there. However, the park where the half marathon will start and finish looked like a tornado had come through, cutting a wide swath of fallen trees from northwest to southeast. It was too big a sight to capture with my phone, so I have no photos worth sharing.

The good news, in terms of my grand running plan, is that the 7 mile walk today did help loosen my shoulders a bit more, and I’m feeling almost human tonight. So perhaps I’ll try to squeeze in an extra run this coming week to at least partially make up for my missed long run today… or perhaps I simply won’t worry about it, and I’ll go out there on race day with no plans or goals except to have fun.