Dispatches…from…Africa…at…128…kbps…

Where it was once called The Dark Continent, I would now characterize Africa as The Slow Continent. And I’m in South Africa, the shining beacon of modernity here. Internet connectivity means plugging a cellular doohickey into the USB port and pouring a nice big cup of tea for every page you hope to load.

No matter, though. I didn’t come here to sit in front of a computer. I’ve spent most of my time either outside running and walking, or inside eating and drinking. Copious amounts of sleeping have figured into this schedule as well.

Here’s a quick rundown of activities thus far. It took us roughly 36 hours over two flights (and lots of ass time in Heathrow) to get from JFK to Cape Town, but thanks to modern chemistry we were able to sleep on the plane and get time adjusted along the way. Our destination was Greyton, a tiny town of around 800 nestled in the Overberg mountains, around 1.5 hours SW of Cape Town. It’s a combination gay/retiree mecca, which means lots of quality restaurants and watering holes, a good wine shop and many organized activities during the day.

We were only here for one night before departing 45 minutes away to the coast to run our half marathon in Hermanus, a big whale watching destination. We stayed in a wonderful B&B, just a five minute walk from the race start and finish. The race itself was actually very funny in some ways, and one I’m proud of. Funny because we awoke a few hours before our 4:30AM alarm to howling winds. They only got worse and by the 7AM start there was a steady wind of 30mph with gusts of (I’m guessing) 50. Enough to knock over heavy garden planters and turn restaurant sandwich boards into potentially lethal projectiles.

My quasi mother- and father-in-law (it’s complicated*), Margaret and Geoff, had generously scoped out the course beforehand, noting that the entire second half was straight uphill, some on loose gravel. So we knew going in that this would not be a PR course. The wind, however, introduced a whole new level of absurdity. I can honestly say that this was the toughest course I’ve ever run. The wind was just relentless. There was one section in the middle of the race, an uphill, when we had a strong tailwind, and my split shows it. The rest of the time, though, it was mostly headwind with an occasional shift to sidewind for some temporary relief.

The course was beautiful, starting in a high school rugby field, a little bit of cross-country course in the beginning, then winding through the town and down along the very wild waterfront. Then up again through the hoity toity area in which we were staying, and back to the school for the finish amongst the stands of spectators.

Knowing the challenges of the last half of the course and figuring in the headwind, my strategy was to run on effort and not worry about pace. I wanted to pass people in the second half and really be able to race those big hills. So I ran the first half at around 88-90% effort (a little lower than I’d typically do for a half), then picked it up in to the low 90%s and finished up in the mid-90%s. I passed a bunch of people and ended 11th woman overall. I have no clue what my masters standing was. Jonathan came in 5th overall and was first masters male. But after much confusion it emerged that this was a club race and, being interlopers and mere holders of “temporary licenses” (don’t ask), we were not eligible for any awards.

As usual, I forgot to turn off my watch, but I think I just broke 1:46 (update: official time was 1:45:52). A good 12 minutes off my best time for the half. Hee hee. Lousy times and awards ineligibility notwithstanding, I’m happy with my execution and ability to perform well in abysmal conditions. I felt great throughout the race and don’t think I could have run it better than I did.

The other highlight of the trip has been the little girl next door who has a massive crush on me. In this case, she’s a Doberman-Alsatian mix. I passed her on a solo run around the neighborhood yesterday, sitting in the drive two doors down from our rental, and she happily tagged along. On the way, she made sure I knew she was the boss of the cows and the guinea fowl. Although she did cower behind me when we were threatened by barking dogs behind fences.

She was the perfect running partner, spending most of her time just off my thigh, her ear brushing me, never half-stepping. Sometimes she’d run off to explore, but never for more than a minute or two. Every mile or so she’d look up as if to say, “How far are we going exactly?” But she never stopped running.

This morning, as we headed out for a group hike, there she was again, waiting for me. We tried to shake her, but she’d have no part of it. Even putting me in a car to drive away from her only resulted in her tearing down the road after us even as we accelerated to 40 km. So she joined us on the hike, again just off my leg. Now she was becoming a problem, as we had to alter the route to take the “no dogs” path. Then she followed us to the pub. So I walked her back to her home, but no one was there. I opened the gate and led her in, only to discover that she is capable of leaping right over it. So, on a lark, I tried a command. “Stay,” I said sternly. And she stayed. So now I know the trick. Fortunately, her owners speak English rather than Afrikaans.

I have more stories to tell, but I’m due at my quasi-inlaws for dinner, so I’m off…

*As Jonathan and I are not married, I’m never sure what to call his mother in relation to myself. Further complicating things is the fact that Geoff is Margaret’s third husband. Did I mention Jonathan’s half-brother, Robbie (different Dad) and his husband, Phil? After a few drinks, it’s challenging to communicate to strangers what we all are to each other.

Fall Training: Week 2

09fall-training-02Like last week, this week had its ups and downs. The ups were two fabulous runs on Wednesday and Thursday. I was still quite tired from Sunday’s 10 mile race heading into the week, so I was grateful for the low mileage.

Wednesday’s run (which I’m thinking of as a “recovereasy run”) is new for this training cycle (as is Thursday’s). In the previous cycle, my tempo miles were tacked onto the end of the midweek midlength run. For many of those runs, I struggled to do the tempo miles at the end. So this time around we’ve separated the two workouts.

The midlength run is now to be done at aerobic effort, but on the lower end of that scale since I need to save some energy for the next day’s tempo running. We may eventually bring back midlenth+tempo runs, but not until I adapt somewhat.

I enjoyed the run on Wednesday, in which I hopped up to White Plains and back at an average of 73% MHR in a decent time of two hours.

For Thursday, I did five warmup miles on the roads at low effort (mid-to-upper 60%s MHR), then hit the track for the four faster miles. Those went well, with the bonus that I had a full floor show for the half hour that I was there. Then finished off with more slow miles back home.

And that’s where the fabulousness ended. I never really recovered this week. The Friday runs were tiring, as I expected them to be. But I was still tired on Saturday, with my legs feeling trashed, like I’d run a race the day before. I felt fine otherwise. I skipped the planned strides because doing them was out of the question. My hamstrings and quads were complaining too much.

Sunday I woke up and my legs felt a bit better, but they were still only about 90%. The run was fine until about mile 10 when I would have been delighted to end it then and there. But I was in White Plains again and had to get home under my own steam.

This was the last Bicycle Sunday, when they close traffic to cars on the Bronx River Parkway for four hours for cyclists, runners and rollerbladers. Since the route is the same one I’ll be running in a few weeks in the Westchester Half, I thought I’d reacquaint myself with the course by running home along the parkway. I’m glad I did for two reasons: first, I was reminded of how hilly the course is, which I never notice so much in the car; second, I had opportunity to do a lot of the miles on the grassy shoulder, which helped save my legs.

Both Jonathan and I were crestfallen to find, at the end of our respective Sunday slogs, that there was no ice cream truck at the finish. Only a hot dog truck. So after a 45 minute nap we walked into Bronxville for ice cream cones. My legs felt better afterward and I’m thinking this therapeutic post-long-run ice cream stroll should become a regular thing. At least until the snow starts falling.

The next couple of weeks will feature a half marathon and lots of disruption as I attempt to train in South Africa while visiting family and friends. I have a few key workouts I’d like to do and I’m hoping that if I rise early enough (or duck out for an hour in the evening) I’ll be able to get most of the planned miles in. But I’m not going to be a lunatic about it.

Post Mortem: Newport Marathon

An appropriately titled post, since roughly two thirds of the way into this race I wanted to crawl into a hole and die.

It’s been exactly a month since my debacle in Oregon. In the intervening weeks I’ve had time to review my training log and diary, and discuss theories with Coach Kevin.

I’ve also had bloodwork to rule out anything there. And, although I suspect I could potentially feel better with higher iron-related numbers (and may start supplementing as an experiment), I don’t feel that the root cause is to be found there. No, I think it was simply a matter of too much for too long.

A couple of days after the race, I sat in my room in the Crater Lake Lodge (during a rare evening of relative sobriety) and penned (okay, typed) a document that I entitled “Training Theories.” Here it is verbatim, with some helpful links:

What went wrong?

Peaked too early?
I was running my best in mid-April. The workouts were going very well. I had that “magical run” on April 21 when I couldn’t hold back from running fast and had wished that were a race day. A few days later I flew around the track for those sub-6:20 mile repeats. I’m convinced that if I’d simply tapered for two weeks after around April 12 and run a marathon around April 26 I would have had a great run.

Couldn’t hold fitness?
I suspect that not only was it impossible to hold that peak for the following seven weeks, but I probably managed to degrade that fitness by foolishly pushing too hard through some exhausting runs. The ones that stand out are the two very hot runs in late April (20 miles in Central Park in 91 degree heat on April 26 and that awful track session two days later). Then I ran the NJ Half on May 3, which I thought would serve as a good training run (if a lousy race), but now I think it probably dug me in further in terms of creating a deficit in recovery.

“Up and down” schedule around tuneup half?
Then the next few weeks were so up and down due to the “interruption” of that race that I suspect the result may have been a staleness that settled in slowly. This was evident, although very subtle, in the remaining key workouts. I chalked up any issues with those to weather factors or just the regular ups and downs of not being quite recovered from day to day.

The run the day before the race should have been a red flag. I chose not to wear my HRM (although now I wish I had). But at one point I decided to run a fast quarter mile. I managed to get down to 7:00 pace but I was working very hard to do so. I decided it was just nerves and didn’t give it another thought.

Possible modifications
If left to my own devices, here’s what I would do differently next time around:

  • Shorten the total training+taper cycle by about seven weeks.
  • Shorten the taper, assuming the buildup has been invigorating rather than exhausting. Maybe two weeks rather than three?
  • Introduce Mpace miles much earlier in the cycle, with a gradual buildup. More on this below.
  • If I’m going to race during training, choose the races only so much as they support the specific marathon event (similar terrain, etc.), and allow adequate recovery from them. If that means fewer races (or none), so be it.
  • Include a little bit of fast running early in the taper. I do wonder if those solid two weeks of recovery running somehow contributed to the extreme slowdown on race day.
  • Do more Mpace running on the roads rather than the track.

As for Mpace running, I think I need to do more of it and a lot earlier. I never quite clicked with that pace in terms of matching pace to appropriate effort level. Although I can race a full at 88-89% MHR, I’d be a lot more comfortable getting to a point where I’m at more like 86-87%.

What we could try is having me do a few Mpace miles every week (or every other, if we started this during basebuilding), starting with just a few miles thrown into a longer run and working up to lengthy Mpace efforts toward the end. This method worked very well for me for my Spring 08 race, when I basically took one of Pete’s plans and modified it by adding in a few more of those faster miles every week. By the time I got to the 12 mile and 10 mile Mpace efforts during this cycle, I think I was already cooked. I’m not completely sure that I even needed those two workouts, and they may have further exhausted me.

So there you have — the best I can do with the data (and gut feelings) that I have.

I know I learned a lot from this experience, as has Kevin. When we were talking a few days after the race he said, “I have to remember that you’re a mortal.” By that he meant that between the 9 week basebuilding period (during which I got faster) and the following 22 weeks of training, it seemed like I had the capacity to absorb any amount of work and continue to flourish. That durability and work ethic, when coupled with a capacity for self-denial and dare I say irrational optimism, added up to  our both missing some subtle yet insistent signs.

Looking back, I think the cracks were beginning to show at the tail end of April in that I was really struggling to hit times in workouts (and the NJ half wasn’t even close). It was easy to attribute those problems to other forces, but I’ll be a lot more attentive going forward to, as well as more communicative about, the qualitative aspects of the work. Heart rate data is valuable. But seeing and acknowledging that you’re working way too hard, regardless of what the stupid watch says, is more important than any data.

Hot weather training presents its own challenges, of course, but the plan I’m getting will allow for it. The timing looks to work out to around a 14 week training schedule, including the taper (which we discussed shortening). I’m hopeful that between a shorter training cycle and having learned some important lessons, I can look forward to a happier experience in Sacramento come December. (knock wood)

Three weeks of recovery

If by “recovery” you mean light running combined with heavy drinking.

I’m still working on my race debacle post-mortem (which may get thrown out the window after I get my blood tested next week). I still have one area (the nine week basebuilding period) to pore over before putting that together. For now, here’s what I did in the three weeks post-race.

This is more for me than for anyone else. Just so I’ve got a record somewhere that I can get to easily. Feel free to stop reading now if you have something more interesting to do such as, say, flossing.

June 1-7

Overall mileage for the week: 25 miles

Notes: I don’t know why I ran the first two after the Newport race so hard. I think I was testing myself to see if was still running weirdly slow as I was on race day. It was hard to tell given that I was running at elevation and up and down significant hills in Ashland.

The remaining runs were a little faster that I’d normally do for recovery runs. But I was running with Jonathan, who runs faster than I do, so we compromised on pace. They were also more or less flat, so I haven’t noted elevation change.

June 2: Ashland, OR. 5.5 miles at 9:09 pace. HR 75%.
This was a run from Iowa St. down to Lithia Park and back up again. Climb: +426/-452.  1,900 above sea level.

June 3: Ashland, OR. 5.2 miles at 8:15 pace. HR 77%.
Pretty much identical to previous day’s run, but done in the opposite direction so I could finish with the downhill portion (I’m no dummy).

June 4: Bend, OR. 3.4 miles at 9:33 pace. HR 71%.
Crap run in Bend, probably because I was at 3,600 feet above sea level. Bend’s maps could use some work too, as they reflect future plans more than today’s reality.

June 6: Eugene, OR. 4.2 miles at 9:20. HR 71%.
Ran a loop along Pre’s Trail, which is very pretty and chock full of other runners, many speedy and/or practically nekkid. Enjoyed this run a lot, even if it was a bit windy (and I a bit winded).

June 7: Corvallis, OR. 6.7 miles at 9:15. HR 70%.
Lovely run taking us out along cow and sheep pastures and then through the campus of OSU. I liked this town. Weather was perfect.

June 8-14

Overall mileage for the week: 15 miles

Notes: Just two runs this week, although I should note that I did a grueling seven hour hike on Wednesday which featured a climb up 5,000, then down 5,000 over a total distance of around eight miles. So my legs were destroyed for the following few days.

June 8: Troutdale, OR. 5.8 miles at 9:26. HR 71%.
One of the most unpleasant places to run I’ve ever encountered. I’m never going back to Troutdale.

June 14: Portland, OR. 9.2 miles at 9:19. HR unknown (forgot the strap).
This was a tough run in Forest Park, an enormous park that runs northwest along the NW and SW areas of town. Like the Ashland runs, this was a significant up and down course: Climb: +887/-928.

June 15-21

Overall mileage for the week: 35 miles

Notes: Back home again, so no locations are noted. Monday was a long travel day followed by a Tuesday of catching up on shopping, unpacking, laundry and work. I was tired and jetlagged anyway.

June 17: 4.7 miles at 10:09. HR 72%.
First run in the summer heat (unless you count the horrible freak heat wave in late April). Felt terrible and slow. Was also coming off of several days of intense travel and not enough sleep, so I didn’t expect to do well.I know this will pass as I get acclimated.

June 18: 5.0 miles at 9:55. HR 67%.
Pouring rain sent me inside to the treadmill. Felt better on this run, having caught up on sleep.

June 19: 4.7 miles at 9:15. HR 81%.
I’m experimenting with running hard on these “comeback” runs. Can I speed the process of acclimating to the heat and humidity by pushing myself in those conditions? We shall see.

June 20: 8.1 miles at 9:42. HR 76%.
Forecast for Sunday was steady rain so I decided to do a slightly longer run today in case I had to do Sunday’s on the treadmill. Probably ran too hard, but I couldn’t stand crawling along to keep my HR closer to 70%.

June 21: 12.2 miles at 9:25. HR 79%.
At this point 12 miles is a “long run” so I did it at long run effort. It was quite humid out in addition to being warm. I sweated out around 20 ounces of water. This is just a taste of what’s to come.

Boring vacation photos: Corvallis, Hood River, Astoria (and northern coast)

Last installment, I promise.

While downloading photos from my camera I was not surprised to find that I’d taken zero pictures in Bend. Bend was, to me, like nonfat plain yogurt: something you buy because you think you should. Then, because it lacks any obvious appeal, you let it lay moldering in the back of your refrigerator and eventually throw it away. Bend left the same impression. First it was nondescript. Then it evolved into an irritating place: semi-desert (I don’t like the desert), weird downtown, sterile neighborhoods and a terrible place to run. Let’s move on.

Edited: I just realized that I’ve already forgotten the sequence of places we visited. Bend was, in fact, before Eugene (covered in an earlier post). I guess Bend annoyed me so much that I had to take yet another swipe at it.

The next stop after Eugene was Corvallis, a place we had no preconceptions about and no expectations of. What a pleasant surprise Corvallis turned out to be! Lovely weather and scenery (it’s in the Willamette Valley, in the heart of the wine country, and rural), cute town, exceedingly friendly people, nice downtown to wander around, and pretty good running. We did a run that started out just a few blocks from downtown and within about 10 minutes we were running with an audience of cows. It reminded me a lot of running in Iowa.

Heading toward Corvallis

Heading toward Corvallis

Corvallis is distinguished as having one of the most concentrated collections of highly educated people in the country among its citizenry. Oregon State University students make up nearly half the population (20,000 out of about 50,000), and obviously university professors, adjuncts and other academic types make up a large part of the population as well. The people who ran our B&B (Harrison House — excellent place to stay) were both former academics. Yet it (and its people) were approachable and exuding a warm, relaxed vibe. We really liked Corvallis and were sorry to leave. But leave we did, to make our way to Mt. Hood.

But not before a stay overnight in Troutdale. About the only thing to recommend Troutdale is the fact that there is a McMenamins Hotel there. The rest of it is a dump. We attempted to run there (actually, we did run, but suffered through every step). It was horrible. We spent most of the time running in a bike lane or on concrete sidewalks, with heavy 40-50mph traffic roaring by us mere feet away. It was also hot, humid and windy. And, to top things off, our lungs were burning from the plane exhaust, as Troutdale is in the flightpath of not one but two airports. I imagine that if you run there for more than a few months you’ll probably suffer from hearing loss and respiratory health problems.

For those not unfamiliar with McMenamins, they are a chain of hotels around Oregon (and I think they may be in WA too, but I’m too lazy to look). They are also a brewery. Their hotels are more like mini resorts, little compounds typically consisting of a set of refurbished buildings that once had some other use. In the case of the Troutdale location (McMenamins Edgefield), it used to be a “poor farm” (presumably from the days when being in debt was grounds for imprisonment, as the old “rules” posted refer to “inmates”), then later it was a nursing home.

Their hotels typically feature a movie theater, a restaurant or two, a spa and a handful of places to get drunk either on beer, wine, cocktails — or all of them. This one distinguished itself by being the single best meal we had on this trip, out of at least 15 eaten out. The food was outstanding, as was their wine list. Alas, their martinis fell short. But nobody’s perfect.

McMenamins is also known for its whimsical decor, the heart of which are elaborate (and ubiquitous) painted murals.

troutdale

Water pipe in our shower at McMenamins Edgefield

After a night in Troutdale, it was on to Hood River. But not before a drive south to Mt. Hood. As we learned in Crater Lake, early June isn’t the time to visit Oregon if you want to see anything above about 5,000. We had a couple of great hikes picked out to do around the base of Mt. Hood, but the local ranger’s office gave us the bad news: everything was still under many feet of snow. But they did offer us the Ramona Falls hike. It wasn’t the challenge we wanted, but it did provide a decent payoff.

This is the last waterfall picture I'll inflict on you

This is the last waterfall picture I'll inflict on you

With Mt. Hood hiking a disappointment (and lesson for the future), we headed north to Hood River, where we’d booked a crappy little efficiency with what turned out to be a spectacular view of the Columbia River. Interesting fact: Hood River is a mecca of sorts for wind surfers in the late spring and early summer. A constant winds blows eastward up the river and is apparently at its strongest around Hood River. Wind surfers come from all over the world to take advantage of perfect conditions. No matter how early we got up, if it was daylight, there were mad surfers out there.

mthood-surfers

What you don't see were the outrageous stunts these people were doing in high winds -- full somersaults, taking flight or just screaming along the surface at top speed.

Hood River was where we found our hiking nirvana. Jonathan felt reasonably recovered from the marathon 11 days before and I wanted to make some good use of my marathon training since my race was such a bust. So we looked at our hiking books and found not one but two hikes graded “difficult.” In doing some online research we further learned one (Mt. Defiance) was considered the toughest hike in Oregon, with the other (Starvation Ridge) a close second. We were in!

Starvation Ridge runs up the side of Mt. Defiance, so we decided to take that up, then try to ascend to the peak of Defiance, then go down the Mt. Defiance trail. The combined hike was predicted to be 10-11 hours. We did it in under 7. Booyah! Camp over night for an 8 mile hike? That’s for pussies! The reviews of these hikes were not joking. They were tough. Going up, Starvation Ridge started out as challenging (elevation gain via switchbacks) and then became very difficult, climbing nearly 3,800 feet in under 3 miles. That’s steep.

A relentless uphill climb along Starvation Ridge

A relentless uphill climb along Starvation Ridge

A trail with a view: looking westward along the Columbia River

A trail with a view: looking westward along the Columbia River

We couldn’t go all the way to the top of Mt. Defiance because we lost the trail in the snow. But we were probably about .2 miles from the top. The way down was in some ways worse than the way up. It was steeper and shorter. We trashed our legs and, with the exception of the Steamtown race, my thighs were as destroyed as they’ve been after any marathon. We needed two days to recover until we could think about running again.

This was fine, as we were next headed down the Columbia River to Astoria, the westernmost point on the Oregon coast and where river meets ocean. Astoria was another place we visited because we thought we should and, like Corvallis, immediately took to it. It’s a port town and a bit sprawling. There’s a broken-down quality to it, but full of charm. The place feels thrown together, which this picture illustrates. Check out the mix of houses and buildings: you’ve got Victorians, Craftsmen…and those weird 60s multicolored box houses. But somehow it works.

The hills of Astoria

The hills of Astoria

We took a drive over the Astoria-Megler Bridge to Washington State, up the coast a bit to see where the river opens out into ocean. As with most of the stunning things to see on this trip, there was hardly anyone else around.

Looking west from the coast of Washington State

Looking west from the coast of Washington State

Before taking off for Cannon Beach and the rest of the northern coast, we paid a visit to Fort Clatsop, where Lewis and Clark concluded their famous expedition and where there is a recreation of the soggy, dark and cramped log structure they shared with Sacagawea and family and about 12 men.

But first, this photo:

I wonder what the ACLU did to rouse Clem's ire so

I wonder what the ACLU did to rouse Clem's ire so

Last, but not least, some snaps of Cannon Beach even though there are much better ones out there by professional photographers. Cannon Beach goes on for miles, as do many of the beaches along the coast. But it’s also a pretty town, as is its smaller sister to the south, Manzanita. Oh, to wake up every morning and go running on this beach.

* sigh *

* sigh *

Like Bend, I took no photos of Portland. We were pretty exhausted by the time we got there and spent one day staggering around the Japanese Garden in a sleep-deprived state. The second day was spent driving all around Portland and its suburbs to check out the neighborhoods. I forgot I even had a camera. We did manage one fairly grueling run in Forest Park: a 9 mile run with 900 feet of elevation over rocky terrain. (We even spotted an Ethiopian runner.) Just when our legs were almost recovered from the Hood River hike, we whaled on them again in Portland. It was fine, though; the trip was over and it felt good to go out with a bang.

Wham!

I’m back at work today after a 15 hour travel odyssey that involved screaming toddlers, cranky fellow passengers, glacially paced baggage handling and a lost taxi driver further impeded by inexplicable police action at Newark Airport. Then up half the night being batted about the head by a needy cat. And now the past three weeks of non-workdom are rearing their ugly little heads. 200+ emails? Save me.

Go running this evening? Hah! I have bills to pay, groceries to buy and laundry to do (although with my 5 lb. weight gain, there’s very little that I can actually wear). But I hope to go for a spin tomorrow and catch up on the blogging soon, which will include more boring vacation photos and a full post-mortem of the possible why’s behind my disastrous marathon.

For those who just can’t get enough of runners talking about running, Coach Kevin is in Boulder, CO on a whirlwind tour of interviews of runners and coaches, including more than one of my idols, for a book project. You can follow his daily reports here.

I will say for now that Oregon is an interesting, beautiful and fun place. And despite the May 30 meltdown, I’m looking forward to working toward the next big one in Sacramento in December.

Boring vacation photos: Crater Lake, Eugene and environs (featuring bonus Prefontaine Classic coverage)

After the relative calm of Ashland, it was on to some high drama at Crater Lake. Or not. We did learn one fact fairly quickly: the snow sticks around at Crater Lake for quite awhile. The lodge had only been open for about two weeks when we arrived and there was not only nowhere to go hiking, there was nowhere to walk either. Snow was still piled up 12+ feet around the parking lot. So about all we could do at Crater Lake was gawk and drink. And that was fine.

The Crater Lake Lodge

The Crater Lake Lodge

The view from our room

The view from our room

So, here’s the deal on the Lodge. It’s a weird place. Not really an old lodge, but more a rebuilt approximation of someone’s idea of an old lodge. Apparently, the original lodge that was built around the turn of the century was put together by monkeys using knives and forks. Between shoddy construction and a lack of insulation, the place had a terrible reputation and eventually fell into such a state of disrepair (and structural risk) that it was slated for leveling.

Then it went through a refurbishing around 1990. There were no original plans, so the owners (then the Parks Dept) redid the place to have an original “look and feel,” which, unfortunately, means tiny bathrooms, and hideous furniture and bedding, apparently.  The net effect is that one feels no desire to spend time in one’s room, and, since everything outside is covered in snow, the only other option is to head downstairs to the lounge and dining room.

Fortunately, the lounge features a decent selection of beers, wine and cocktails. And dinner at the lodge makes up for the crappy room. I had duck; Jonathan had venison. Both were outstanding. Score one for the lodge restaurant.

Cinder cone atop Lava Butte

Cinder cone atop Lava Butte

Oregon has a rich volcanic history. That sentence alone sends me into such a profound state of torpor that I won’t pursue that thought any further.

Koosah Falls, between Crater Lake and Eugene. The water is really that color of blue.

Koosah Falls, between Crater Lake and Bend. The water is really that color of blue.

Our next overnight stop after Crater Lake was Bend. I have no idea how to describe Bend, since I couldn’t find a distinct identity for it while we  were there. The B&B proprietor was a bit uptight, which wasn’t a great start. Then we attempted a run and discovered that “map” in Bend is more of a representation of future urban planning than current geographic status. We attempted to go to the Deschutes Brewery, but it was as noisy as any Manhattan pub, so we instead opted for a Thai restaurant, which was good, although they mixed up the order and gave us an order of Drunken Noodles that was so hot that it may have been spiked with hydrochloric acid.

So, Bend was no great shakes and we were glad to leave after a night.

The next stop was Eugene, for two nights. Eugene is a college town, and we were staying in a rented bungalow in College Hill (close to Washington Park), which was actually pretty charming. While there, we visited the Raptor Center (a home for raptors who can’t survive in the wild for one reason or another), did a hike, and then spent Sunday morning at Hayward Field watching the 2009 Prefontaine Classic.

Looking down on Eugene from some random viewpoint

Looking down on Eugene from some random viewpoint

A hapless bald eagle at the Raptor Center. This was a wonderful place, and we ended up hanging around the birds for close to three hours.

A hapless bald eagle at the Raptor Center. This was a wonderful place, and we ended up hanging around the birds for close to three hours.

I won’t go into exhaustive details as far as the Prefontaine Classic is concerned. I’m sure there are plenty of excellent recaps out there in the usual places, such as LetsRun and Flotrack. But I do have some shots worth sharing.

Hayward Field is interesting. It’s set up for world-class track meet activity, with this taking the form of huge “warm up” areas. They have a special warmup tracks (both a loop and a straightaway), as well as a giant warmup “field” including open space and areas for privacy tents and massage tables. The back of the stands overlooks this area and it’s a bit like going to the track zoo. You can stand over the warm up area and gaze upon the track stars doing their little pre-race routines.

I have to admit that I felt a little sorry for the meet participants, having to suffer the indignity of being scrutinized by loser douchebags like ourselves. But it was fascinating to be on the observing douchebag side of things.

Here's Kristin Wurth-Thomas doing some dynamic stretches.

Here's Christin Wurth-Thomas doing some dynamic stretches.

Shalane Flanagan and Erin Donahue. Both would go on to run badly. Flanagan looked tense and unhappy warming up (we wondered if she was injured). Donahue just looked nervous.

Shalane Flanagan and Erin Donohue warming up. Both would go on to run badly. Flanagan looked tense and unhappy (we wondered if she was injured). Donohue just looked serious.

The meet featured some great performances and races. For me, the highlight was the women’s 1500m race, which was loaded with great names. I was rooting for Jenny Barringer, the college phenom who I think will continue to do great things during her professional career. She did not disappoint in this race. Here’s a shot of her late in the race, hanging back in ninth place, right behing her 3000m steeplechase rival Anna Willard.

Barringer bides her time on lap number three.

Barringer bides her time on lap number three.

And here she is during the last few seconds of the race, during which she rocketed forward in an attempt to nip the winner, Ethiopian Gelete Burka, at the line. She missed by just .01 of a second. But in the process ran the third fastest time ever for an American woman at that distance, breaking 4:00 and slashing 8 seconds off her PR and nearly 6.5 seconds off the college record. Go, Jenny, go.

Just .01 seconds shy of the win for Jenny B.

Just .01 seconds shy of the win for Jenny B.

That’s all for now. Next up: Corvallis and the Hood River area.

Boring vacation photos: Oregon Coast, Ashland and on to Central Oregon

There’s nothing like a little beautiful scenery to take the edge off one’s post-DNF despair.

After Newport, we skipped down the coast to Coos Bay, where we spent a night in the horrible Red Lion Inn and had a surprisingly good meal at the Blue Heron Bistro. The Blue Heron is the most schizoid place I’ve ever eaten in. While the name evokes, well, a bistro, it is in fact a German restaurant with pizza and seafood thrown in. It also featured what was probably the most valuable collection of WW1 memorabilia I’ve seen assembled in one place outside of a museum. I hope that stuff is insured! I went for the beef stroganoff and Jonathan had der weiner schnitzel. Washed down with an Abbey Brown Ale from Belgium, both were excellent.

That’s about the only good thing I have to say about Coos Bay. The place is a total tip and we couldn’t get out of there fast enough. Sorry, no pictures of Coos Bay. But here are some of the sights along the way.

Seal Rock, near Waldport. Great place for tidepools and kite flying.

Seal Rock, near Waldport. Great place for tidepools and kite flying.

Another shot of the beach at Seal Rock, Waldport.

Another shot of the beach at Seal Rock, Waldport.

Then is was on to Cape Perpetua and the Sea Lion Caves. Lordy, what a ripoff that was. Eleven bucks each to take an elevator down a few hundred feet into a dank cave to gawk at a bunch of stroppy sea lions. At least the views of Heceta Head were good.

Cape Perpetua, near Yachats (yah-HOTS).

Cape Perpetua, near Yachats (yah-HOTS).

Heceta Head lighthouse. Million dollar view? Or $22? You decide.

Heceta Head lighthouse. Million dollar view? Or $22? You decide.

The highlight of the day was Florence, which features sand dunes. Not just any sand dune. Huge fucking sand dunes that are 300 ft. high and go on for miles. It was like something out of … “Dune.”

But first: Here are two of Florence’s fine retail establishments.

"BJ's" isn't just one unfortunate retail naming mistake. It's a chain of franchises!

"BJ's" isn't just one unfortunate retail naming mistake. It's a chain of franchises!

"Dog Style." Are people really this naive?

"Dog Style." Are people really this naive?

Okay, here are the dunes.

It's two miles from the beach to the ocean.

It's two miles from the beach to the ocean.

No. Seriously. It is two miles to the ocean from here. See?

No. Seriously. It is two miles to the ocean from here. See?

That tiny figure is Jonathan. Tinier than usual.

That tiny figure is Jonathan. Tinier than usual.

"You take a picture of me."

"You take a picture of me."

"Now I'll take a picture of you."

"Now I'll take a picture of you."

After our Germanic night in Coos Bay, followed by a fry up at the Pancake Mill, it was on to Ashland. (On the way, I got hollered at by a gas station attendant for attempting to pump my own gas. Just checking!) But not before taking a six hour detour north and east to sample the Umpqua-Rogue scenic byway. And scenic it was. Look!

Along the way to Susan Creek falls

Along the way to Susan Creek Falls

Your hostess. I still look sort of depressed, don't I?

Your hostess. I still look sort of depressed, don't I?

Falls gone wild. Featuring hot "falls on falls" action.

Falls gone wild. Featuring hot "falls on falls" action.

Mt. Bailey, along the Umpqua Highway, Central Oregon

Mt. Bailey, along the Umpqua Highway, Central Oregon

Finally, after nine solid hours of driving and oohing and aahing, we arrived in Ashland. This was one of our self-catering rentals, a lovely little 1BR/1BA craftsman high on a hill and just minutes from a trail leading down to Lithia Park. I did two runs here, both around 5.5 miles, and both very pretty (although hilly and with the added challenge of 1900′ altitude, which my sea level lungs didn’t like).

We spent a few hours with Annie McIntyre, a friend from childhood whom I haven’t seen since high school, which means roughly 25 years. We didn’t know each other that well growing up (although we did play together as very young children, then drifted into different circles after about third grade). But it felt, as Annie put it, very natural to see each other again. Annie and her husband, Jeff, gave us the insider’s view of life in Ashland, both good and bad, as well as an extensive tour of the place.  They also turned us on to Chozu, a bath and tea garden where we wiled away the evening in various saunas and pools, under a beautiful sky and completely mosquito free.

We were too busy to take many photos of Ashland. Here’s the only one.

Backyard vermin in Ashland

Backyard vermin in Ashland

Having properly recovered from our scenic drive opus, is was time for the next leg: Crater Lake. That drive took us through Klamath Falls, which I also took no pictures of. But let me say this: If you ever want to disappear from the face of the earth, go to Klamath Falls. There is nothing there, and the streets are teeming with what we’ve come to call “Oregon guys.” These are men who have cultivated the Unabomber look: scraggly beard, emaciated figure, rags and bad limp. We saw loads of them in Springfield as well, darting across traffic (which might explain the limps). From a distance they look like extras from a zombie film.

I had a great espresso in Klamath Falls. That’s about all I can find to say about the place.

Next post: Crater Lake.

Boring vacation photos: Siletz Bay, OR

Some snaps from Siletz Bay, near Lincoln City on the Oregon coast.

090528-siletz-2

The 137 billionth photo of this jut of land ever taken.

090528-siletz-1

Which is more horrifying: a 50 foot high wave or this illustration of a 50 foot high wave?


More pre-race ponderings

[Composed at 39,000 feet]

We’re about four hours into the flight and I can tell we’re getting close. The terrain 39,000 below has turned from urban to suburban to rural and now progressively more and more hilly. I expect to spot Mount Hood in an hour or so. Then I’ll know we’re almost there.

As a side note, I just love this little “netbook.” It’s a Samsung NC10. It’s very elegant: matte white, light (under 3 lbs) and like a little toy. It boots up in about 15 seconds (which was helpful going through security) and it’s very zippy with 2 Gigs of RAM. The keyboard is almost full-size to, so it’s very easy to type quickly on.

Today was a good day for distraction. In the morning I had a six mile run to do, followed by loose ends to tie up at work before disappearing for three weeks. Then I had to finish packing, which involved checking and rechecking my numerous lists. I wanted to make sure that if I forgot something, it wouldn’t be an important thing to forget. Or, as Jonathan put it a bit more succinctly, “It had its chance to be remembered.”

Now I find myself sitting on the plane, trying to ignore the several hours of mild turbulence we’ve been suffering (and the mild nausea it’s brought on, thanks to my penchant for motion sickness) and with eyes tired from reading. My mind drifts to Saturday’s race. I’ve spent time reminding myself of all the obvious lessons I’ve learned:

  • Don’t get pulled out too fast by the crowd or your own excitement

  • Run what feels like too slow a pace in the beginning; the first 10 miles should feel easy

  • Drink water early and often

  • Take a gel at least 15 minutes before you think you’ll need it

  • Try to zone out mentally for the first 15 miles; reserve mental energy for later

  • Don’t obsess over missed mile splits and don’t try to “make up” lost seconds in subsequent miles

  • Seconds lost in the first few miles equal minutes gained in the last few

  • Don’t let anyone else set your pace

  • Focus on running each individual mile, not on how many are left

  • Pass people decisively; don’t look back

  • If it’s windy, find a big guy to run behind, or try to run in the middle of a pack

  • Never walk

  • Never quit – unless you are injured, unconscious or dead

And here are a few new tips I got from Kevin yesterday:

  • Feeling bad for the first few miles happens sometimes; mile four is too early to start telling yourself you’re having a bad day

  • Following from that, you often can’t know what sort of day you’re having until about 6-8 miles in, so remain calm

  • Don’t try to fight a headwind, because you’ll always lose; accept it and adjust your pace to the appropriate effort level

I’ve had such bad luck with weather for training and racing that it’s been hard to remain confident in what pace I can actually maintain. But I do have several things going for me.

For one, settling into something right around a 7:05 pace has happened fairly naturally in all conditions. I’ve had to work harder for that pace on some (most?) days than others. But it’s a pace I know I can run even in the worst of circumstances and it’s an easy one for me to “find” and lock into. So if I luck out and end up with good race conditions, I have a good shot at running that pace for the duration at the appropriate effort level.

I know I can run at a very high level very late in the race. I’ve run marathons at a consistent 88-89% effort for the first 20 miles and ended up in the low 90%s at the end. Unless I succumb to exhaustion (like I did at Steamtown, due to muscle damage from the early downhills), I can run strong to the finish.

I’ve also run four marathons and, if the list above is anything to go by, I’ve learned a great deal about racing that distance. I’ve had the benefit of running just one good marathon (which, while sad, is certainly not unusual), and that one good race is the one that I’ve been sitting here thinking about. Why did it go so well? How can I repeat it?

The key to racing a marathon well is simple, although not easy. It is not about “running with heart” or pushing through the wall or any of that Hollywood garbage. It’s not about wanting something badly enough, or overcoming some inherent weakness through sheer force of will. Where people want magic, there is only this dull fact: marathon racing is a purely physiological endeavor. If you are not trained to run 7:05 over 26.2 miles, you cannot run 7:05 over 26.2 miles.

Moreover, to make an even duller point, from what I’ve observed and experienced, racing a marathon well all comes down to one essential act: practicing effective energy management. This is true for people running 10:45 pace as much as it is for people running 4:45 pace.

It’s this rather dry requirement that I will bear in mind over the next few days. I will burn it into my brain so that as soon as I start running, that mantra is all I will know, all I will think and all I will do.

The reason that putting this truism into practice is not easy is that you can’t ever know how much energy you have on a given day. You may have done everything right in terms of training over the preceding months, tapering over the preceding weeks, and eating and sleeping over the preceding days. Your workouts and shorter races may have all pointed to sure success. You may even find yourself standing on the starting line feeling fantastic. But for some reason, all things being seemingly equal, the outcome is never predictable. Sometimes it’s downright disastrous. One day you run out of gas at mile 18. Another day, six months later, it’s mile 25. And perhaps on another day, you have a magical day when your energy stores seem limitless, because you’ve somehow managed to perfectly nail the rate of energy expenditure and replenishment.

I suppose that’s one of the biggest reasons why I love the marathon, both as a racer and as a fan. It’s such an unforgiving distance. Yet so satisfying to experience and witness when things come together.

To be honest, I feel strangely unconcerned about the outcome of Saturday’s race, considering the enormous effort I’ve put into getting ready for it. Whatever happens, it will be okay. Barring injury or some other catastrophe, I should easily best my last time of 3:19.

I tend toward thinking of this race as a stepping stone, a necessary stopover on the way down to the 3:00 mark. Perhaps I should give this race more weight, meaning focus on the task at hand rather than looking six months down the road to the next goal of breaking three hours. But I’m hoping that my lack of worry doesn’t stem from overconfidence as much as it does from the certainty that I’ve done everything I can to succeed.

I know I’ve done the requisite training and I know how to run the race. If for some reason I don’t do as well as I’d like to, I’ll learn something from it for next time as I’ve had to do several times before. But I’ve no doubt I’ll continue to improve over the long run.

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