March 22, 2015

You Gotta Be Ready For Magic

I didn't have high hopes for the Oakland Running Festival.

After the Kaiser SF half, I figured I needed to re-assess my fitness and be realistic for Oakland.

I fit in 6 weeks averaging 28.05 miles per week. This sounds reasonable.  Until you realize it includes quite a bit of walking.  When I can't fit in a run and a shower, I'll opt for a just-below super-sweat-paced walk, figuring 20-30 minutes walking between clients or even on the phone with them if I don't need access to documents (slower and rare, but appreciated) is better than nothing.  So, if I'm honest, close to 25% of my mileage and possibly more has been walking.

These six weeks also included a trip to the Canadian Tundra where work was demanding and the only running availability was on treadmills.  Plus, at the end of the "training cycle" there were three strenuous day-hikes and 10-12 miles very easy jogging with some strength intervals in the heat and humidity of Hawaii.  I wasn't sure how to treat that mileage, as the heat and humidity (and climbing on the hikes) made everything harder than normal.  I just tried to go by effort, count the mileage, and did my best not to cringe at the slow paces.

In terms of long runs, between work, travel, and the occasional effort at having a social life, I struggled to fit them in at all.  So, I made the classic BT compromise of "just get it done" -- the collection of long "runs" wasn't pretty:

Week -6: 7 miles (11ish/mile avg)
Week -5: 9 miles (13:18/mile avg -- but in town, including stoplights, water stops, and on a Wednesday AM carved out from all client demands, so despite the horrid pace, I was proud I found a way to fit it in before the week's travel, where I knew it wouldn't happen).
Week -4: 6.4 miles (12:51/mile avg)
Week -3: 8.1 miles (12:51/mile avg)
Week -2: 7.68 (14:14/mile avg)
Week -1: 10 (12:28/mile avg)

During this time, I ran some intervals in the 8s and 9s and maybe 10 percent of my miles in the 10s, but the rest was slow.  In short, this training cycle was mainly both low volume and low-quality.

And yet, somehow, magic happened.

Saturday around noon, I headed out for my standard day-before-race test run:  0.5 mile w/u.  1 mile at the pace I think I can sustain for the race (paying close attention to my breathing and heart rate -- if you're struggling at mile 1, it's *too* fast for a half).  0.5 mile c/d.  Much to my surprise, the 1 mile was comfortable at 9:55/mile in 78 degrees F and direct sun.

I figured Hawaii was partially to blame for this (thanks heat/humidity acclimatization!).  But I also started to do some last-minute re-thinking of my plan for Oakland.  Originally, I'd decided just to try to better Kaiser (2:35ish) and have 2:30 as a high end goal.

Walking home from that run, I remembered an interview I'd seen with Lauren Fleshman about being open to luck and possibilities and being your best own true authentic self that has inspired me every time I've watched it.  I decided to be open to the race day.  I know I'm not as fit as I could be.  I know I'm not genetically built to be fast.  And I know my life lately has put running onto a serious back-burner.  In fact, I wasn't really ready for a true "race" in the traditional sense at all.  But, I've got a good long-term aerobic base and things just seemed to be working out in a way that it seemed silly for me *not* to be optimistic and open to the best the Universe may have in store for me.

Much to our joy, friends who are getting ready to hike the Pacific Crest Trail (the *entire* PCT! that's 35 support boxes of food that have to be mailed and roughly 6 months of hiking an average of 20 miles a day!) were able to pull away from support box packing to come join us for pre-race noodle soup dinner at Kim Huong - the only Pho Joint in Oakland open past 7 PM.  We listened to their tales of planning and preparation and logistics and fit in many last this-is-a-big-deal hugs before they leave.  Their trek is so impressive and guaranteed to be full of adventure that I was even more inspired for race day heading to bed.  Talk about being open to luck and possibilities!

I slept fitfully, primarily because I was so well hydrated, but also because I'd had a wacky eye allergic reaction that freaked me out a bit. (Seriously, swollen eyeballs are gross.  If you aren't allergic to everything, be thankful.)  In keeping with the luck theme, my eye was merely acceptably red when I woke and my breakfast of coffee/juice plus AM detail execution went completely according to plan.  And then, it was 60F at the 9:15 AM start (this is one of the big risks of Oakland, with the late start, you can end up with direct sun and high temps on the half marathon).  I'd opted into a tank top and shorts and I was a little cold.  This was a good sign!  (I am *very* heat sensitive.)

The crowd was great (as always) and I headed out mid-pack by effort, hitting mile 1 at 9:56 and wondering briefly if I was going to blow up again.  I decided to enjoy the overcast skies and cool air as long as possible, but also to be smart.  I'd brought a large long hand-held gatorade to the start and I sipped it before and during the first 7 miles.  This helped me avoid the aid station slow-downs.

I'd noted Angela's recent success with "run low race high" and I figured, why not?  I'd run all those super slow long "runs" essentially fuel free.  Why not take advantage of the fact that my family can consume and keep down calories like nobody's business?  So, in addition to the large Gatorade, I took a walking Gu break at the water station at 4.2 miles, the water station somewhere after mile 8, and again at the aid station around 11.5 miles or so.

The weather, the fuel, the noodles, and life conspired to give me a much better day than I thought possible.

I hit mile 3 at 30:28.  I felt good.  Easy.  Like the effort wasn't that high.  So I just kept on that pace, more or less except for walk breaks (and except for the last few miles when the cloud cover burnt off and I let myself slow down to keep it in the medium-easy zone).  

I finished in 2:22:08, medium-solid effort and *very* pleased with the outcome.  Garmin claims it was 13.39 miles for an average pace of 10:39/mile (which includes all the walking gu breaks) -- I believe this is true because I suck at tangents and the Oakland course is full of right angles.

And what do you know?  Despite my doubt about how non-standard my training was, those six weeks actually *did* result in some serious fitness improvements.

Magic!  (Oh, and you know what else is magical?  Post-race TrueBurger.  True.)

The Magic is -- I never hurt.  Never felt like I was pushing too hard.  Just felt so happy to be running, consistently, in a fun race.

I also had a blast meeting up with Jen, Cat, Jess, KP, and Paulette and sincerely enjoyed cheering on all the youngsters running for Run For A Better Oakland -- Jen had volunteered with them a few years ago and helped train a young high school student and mentored him.  He's now in college and thanks her openly for her input on her Big Basin RBO Fundraising Page.  So, if you are looking for a good cause, I really couldn't recommend this one more.  I saw those kids out there today, and it's clear that this charity is helping middle-schoolers and high-schoolers in the Oakland community run farther and accomplish more than they ever thought possible.

March 18, 2015

Unread Books

Back in 2008 I participated in a book meme -- the top 106 books marked as *unread* at Library Thing were pushed around the internet with instructions.

Those of us engaging in the meme republished the list, but bolded the books we'd read  (underlined those we read for school -- I skipped this step) and italicized those we'd started but hadn't finished.

I stumbled upon this old meme when reviewing the timing of some reading I'd done in my blog posts, and thought it would be interesting to revisit.  Unsurprisingly, the top 106 books marked as "unread" in the Library Project had changed a bit since 2008.

In addition to the original old bold/italics rules, I've also added yellow highlighting to indicate new books that took the place of other books that were in the top 106 on the 2008 list.  At least half of the movement onto the current list is older books that cannot claim that they were only recently published as the reason they made the cut -- fascinating!  Also interesting (to me), there's not much movement off the list in the last 7 years over the current top third of the list -- it looks relatively static. But the middle 3rd has about 1/3 new entrants, and the last 3rd of the list is made up of roughly 50% new entrants in the last 7 years, so quite dynamic.

Here's my updated list (which, conveniently, serves as a nice list of potential books to add to my reading or audiobook wish list):


Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke (262 times)
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (254 times)
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky (227 times)
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (222 times)
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (193 times)
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (190 times)
The Silmarillion by J. R. R. Tolkien (183 times)
Ulysses by James Joyce (181 times)
War and Peace by Léon Tolstoï (178 times)
The Brothers Karamazov by Fedor Mikhaïlovitch Dostoïevski (173 times)
The Odyssey by Homer (168 times)
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (162 times)
Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (159 times)
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (157 times)
The Iliad by Homer (157 times)
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (154 times) – in high school, very little memory
Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray (147 times)
Life of Pi by Yann Martel (146 times)
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (146 times) – In French
Love in The Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez (145 times)
Moby Dick by Herman Melville (143 times)
Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond (136 times)
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (135 times)
Dracula by Bram Stoker (133 times)
Emma by Jane Austen (133 times)
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (129 times)
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (129 times)
The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer (126 times)
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (126 times)
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen (125 times) -- revisit
Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco (125 times)
The picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (125 times)
The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (121 times)
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (121 times)
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (121 times) – in high school, very little memory
Middlemarch by George Eliot (120 times)
Mansfield Park by Jane Austen (120 times)
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (120 times)
The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood (120 times)
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut (119 times)
Dune by Frank Herbert (118 times)
Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (118 times) – started as an audiobook and couldn’t finish it.  So. Many. Details.  No Plot.
The Inferno by Dante Alighieri (117 times)
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (117 times)
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers (117 times) – revisit
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (116 times)
Les Misérables by Victor Hugo (115 times)
Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi (115 times) – this month’s book club selection, plan to finish
Atonement by Ian McEwan (115 times)
The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas (114 times)
Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift (114 times) – revisit
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon (113 times)
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce (112 times)
Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens (112 times) – revisit
Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell (112 times) – revisit
Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy (111 times)
Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden (111 times)
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (110 times)
Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman (109 times)
The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie (109 times)
The Once and Future King by T. H. White (109 times)
American Gods by Neil Gaiman (107 times)
The Aeneid by Virgil (107 times)
The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen (106 times) – audiobook
Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson (105 times)
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (105 times)
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (105 times)
The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner (105 times)
Persuasion by Jane Austen (105 times)
Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire (105 times)
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf (105 times)
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare by William Shakespeare (104 times) – also, who does this?  The COMPLETE WORKS? Pick some works!
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (104 times) – revisit
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand (103 times)
The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli (102 times)
Dubliners by James Joyce (102 times)
A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole (101 times)
Beowulf by Beowulf Poet (101 times)
Beloved by Toni Morrison (101 times)
On the Road by Jack Kerouac (99 times)
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson (99 times)
The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe (98 times)
The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells (98 times)
Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson (98 times)
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (98 times)
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (98 times)
Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen (97 times)
Possession by A. S. Byatt (97 times)
Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon (96 times)
Ivanhoe by Walter Scott (95 times)
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (95 times)
Watership Down by Richard Adams (95 times)
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood (95 times)
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (93 times)
Lady Chatterley's Lover by D. H. Lawrence (93 times)
The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley (93 times)
The Two Towers by J. R. R. Tolkien (92 times)
The Road by Cormac McCarthy (92 times) – on my bedside table, to be read soon
Underworld by Don DeLillo (92 times)
Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace (92 times)
Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt (91 times)
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas père (90 times)
A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (90 times)
Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond (89 times)
The Idiot by Fedor Mikhaïlovitch Dostoïevski (89 times)
The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera (89 times)

March 15, 2015

Hawaii!

Starting with the college trip on Suntrips (a California-based Hawaiian travel coordinator that appears to have gone out of business), Hawaii has always been a fun escape for me.  That initial trip (which was hilariously full of  The Real World (rememeber that?) teppanyaki, beaches, hanauma bay snorkeling, karaoke, and getting lost in a neighborhood where roommate's Japanese was required to get us un-lost) set the tone.  This place is full of adventure, is breathtakingly gorgeous, has amazing food, is a cultural experience every time and yet it's still very American, so it's not really very stressful and most stuff works the way I expect.

Waikiki Beach never fails to relax me.

The young woman I was returned from the Suntrips trip and proclaimed, "It's lazy tourism.  It's expensive.  There are so many better places you can go to and experience for less money."  And she was right.  But you pay for those trips with time.  Of which she had plenty.

And me, today, not so much.  In fact, my access to time has essentially decreased geometrically since then.  Oh, the halcyon days of free time and youth...

So, since that first trip, I've returned to the 50th State in the Union 7 more times  including this one.

I so desperately needed some true downtime.  But, par for the course, I also needed to work.  Not a ton, but a bit.  I needed WiFi.  I needed to not have to spend an inordinate amount of time dealing with customs and linguistics and infrastructural realities.

And, voila, here I am, again.  In Hawaii!

Best Jail Ever!
E & I had planned this trip with 4 goals.

1:  minimal disruption to our normal work-life routine, and, sadly, maintained ability to work like normal if necessary.  Success.  This is why I love resorts run by business hotel chains.  Enough said.

2:  4 nights away, most likely with 2 half-working days, so attempt to minimize the time change and after-effects, but still feel far enough away that when we choose to disconnect, it *feels* like vacation.  Done.

3:  Food.  I'd read that Honolulu was quite the food city.  So, we decided to try to do a Japanese/Hawaiian food trip with a goal of hitting up as many awesome Honolulu treats as possible.  We completely succeeded.  The first night's random mall sushi was phenomenal.  Seriously.  2 blocks from our hotel and some of the best sushi we'd ever enjoyed (and we love us some sushi!).

The second day's lunch was Onigiri from ABC and dinner at Nanzan Giro Giro was super celebratory and fancy but functionally serviceable food in a way that made E very happy.  Even better, our server recommended Agu Ramen when we asked about noodles.

We went on a Saturday at 2:30 to Agu, waited for a short 15 minutes to be seated and enjoyed hands down the best ramen either of us had ever had.  Mind you, we love ramen and have sampled quite a bit all over the world.

Mmmm... Agu Ramen.


Last night, we opted into teppanyaki.  It was over the top and full of fire and did not disappoint.

Tanaka of Tokyo is apparently a chain that has nothing to do with Tokyo...

But, they make great teppanyaki!

Of course, one of the best things about Hawaii is Poke.  So we also had Poke from a grocery store (Foodland!) deli counter for our final dinner while watching the sunset to close out the trip.




4: Hiking.  We decided that in terms of activities, other than eating, beaching, pool-reading, and hot-tubbing, all we really wanted to do was fit in a hike on every day we didn't fly.

First, we did The Makapu'u Lighthouse Trail hike -- SO MANY WHALES.  It was amazing to see their blowhole expirations and jumps and just general migrations (always in small groups).   Migrating whales will bring a smile to your face.  I don't care who you are. It's very cool to see.


One of the views from the Makapu'u Point Lighthouse Hike.
The next day, E and I walked four miles to the Diamond Head State Park entrance and then clamored with the crowds up and down all the stairs and through the tunnels.  Sure it's a tourist nest of madness (like Yosemite) but it's also that for a reason.  It's so cool!

We caught the tunnel through the volcanic ridge when no hikers were in it.

Off the side of the top bunker at Diamond Head.
Our final hiking day we headed out to Wa-ahila Ridge Trail.  It had been recommended by a friend we trust, so we knew it would be good.  What we couldn't figure out, however was what to expect.  Some of the reviews claimed it was extremely technical and difficult with people turning back before the summit.  Others said it was moderate.  Most of the estimates claimed 2 hours for less than 3.5 miles round trip.  This seemed a bit crazy if it actually was as moderate as some folks said it was.

It started with a decent incline on deep red clay.  I could see how if it had been raining, it could have been very difficult, but thankfully, it was dry for our hike. 
Powerline cut into a valley town between this ridge and another
Once we reached the ridgeline, it was definitely a true ridge.  The trail was about 3-4 feet wide, with vegetation on both sides and the ground went steeply down on both sides from the trail.  So, this explained some of the comments about how this was not a hike for those who are scared of heights.  There was quite a bit of loose dirt and you did need to be careful with foot placement, but it didn't feel unsafe.

Eventually, we hit the section of the trail where folks had warned that there were *many* challenging roots.

Turns out, there was some bouldering required as well.

Some of these roots required that I use my hands

Finally, at 1h20 minutes and just shy of 1.7 miles, the summit delivered the promised 180 degree views of Honolulu, the ocean, the next ridge, and the airport.



Selfies with a view never work!
The ridge we followed on the left, views ahead

Overall, this was E's and my favorite hike of the trip.  But it was much more physically demanding than we expected (several very steep climbs and much more arm use than I'm used to, E had a serious height advantage and didn't have to pull himself up as much as I did).  Total time round-trip including stops for views and water? 2 hours 5 minutes.  Guess those estimates were not wrong.  Short restatement of the reviews now that I've been there and done that?  If it hasn't rained and you weren't scared of heights, if you are short this is moderate hard (due to arm climbs/supports), if you are tall, it's moderate.  If you've got a kid in a pack, it's probably quite difficult.  I would *not* recommend this hike if it had been raining on the days prior. 

I took the liberty of counting all of the hiking mileage in my total for the week.  31.91.  Not great, but not terrible.  Today, I did a slow aerobic climb and descent 5 mile loop easy run around diamond head as my farewell to the beautiful state.  I clearly chose the wrong direction as I spent it being motioned to the side by large running groups.  C'est la vie.

With all of this, I'll finalize the night before the actual half marathon to confirm, but I think I've decided I'll count next Sunday as a good day if I finish sub 2h30 (which, given that I finished 3 miles around 2h05 on yesterday's hike is an impressive goal. No?).