June 29, 2014

Almost Serious

I'm hiding from work.  I have barely opened my email all weekend, and now, I'm in a hotel (post late-night waffle house!), avoiding it still.  

Tomorrow is the close of the quarter, which should bring some relief one way or another (either the deals will close or they won't...).

Then, I should be able to stop blaming work for getting in the way of running for a little while.

This week, between work, my niece, and a trip up to my mom's and back in one day (6 hours of driving), several of my scheduled workouts took a hit.

But, it wasn't that bad.  I still hit 28.44 miles total with 13% sub 10 min/mile.

Yesterday, I did a speedy 2 miles with E at approximate half marathon target pace, and followed it up with another 5+ run-walking in the heat.

Today's workout was definitely the best one of the week.  I drove out to meet the local running club only to realize that I'd only brought *1* of the car keys (the one I drove).  Since I'd decided to support F on 6 miles of her 16, I really needed both keys -- not just the one to drive the car to the start, but *also* the one that would start the car at the place I'd left it to peel off and drive home.

Thankfully, after they headed out, I had enough time to drive home, get the key, and drive back out to a different part of the trail, where I me up with F (just before L turned around to leave her, conveniently) and managed to add in some of her out and back at the end for a very pleasant and good 6 miles at an average pace of 10:25.  A bit slower than I was hoping for, but a solid steady effort is always something to appreciate.

This coming week is guaranteed to be a mix of non-standard efforts in heat, hills, and humidity due to travel obligations in the south.  So, I'm hopeful that it's fair to say that week -13 (week after next) is when I will likely actually get serious about the Chicago Marathon.

This is a good thing, as I just re-realized that I have a half marathon four weeks from today...

Wish me luck...

June 22, 2014

Niece Week

Every year, E and I host my niece for a week in the summer.

Rockets on the launch pad for Niece's second launch.
Last year, in addition to some pure family time with us, she was also a commuter at a local soccer camp.  She informed me that she wanted to come back this year and stay in the dorms.  Apparently, staying with your aunt who's even older than your father is violently uncool compared to staying on a college campus where the adult supervision is college kids and 20-something professional athletes and coaches.

So, this means that she was only actually with us for 3-4 days, and now she's on her own in the dorms, with a roommate who shares her initials, her new best friend for the week.  I commute to watch her games at the end of each day if I can fit it in and, if I'm lucky, I get to say hello.

She's such a pleasure to be around these days.  She cracks hilarious and stunning adult-level humor jokes, but she's simultaneously childlike in ways that I find refreshing and, at times, educational.  I'm sad that she wasn't able to spend more time with us, but I also understand how fun and important it is for her to go and do things outside the protective cocoon of the family with other kids her age.

On the running front, this week was good in terms of increased distance.  I put in a total of 34.02 miles on my feet.  But... because Niece was here, I substituted a couple of the runs for walking together.  Friday, I opted out of my run, but we walked to and from a client meeting at a local Starbucks and we walked downtown to meet E for her selected dinner of Sushi.

Thursday, while I worked, she sorted all my leftover foreign currency from the year's travels.  What?  I needed to keep her busy while I worked, so I gave her Chinese, Japanese, and Hong Kong currency (the harder stuff) as well as New Zealand, Australian, and some Euros -- she did a great job looking through all the currency and grouping them accordingly, matching up the various monies to the countries (impressively getting 100% matching the bills and coins to characters I wrote for her to designate China and Japan).   When she was done, we looked up conversion rates and then I sent her off to do the calculations into USD. (Again, people, I needed to work.)  Finally, we walked downtown to the bank and back (where she was thrilled to exchange it all for her own funky bluish-tinged brand new $100 bill with all sorts of wacky additional color security features).  FYI, it took a $3 infusion from me to cover the roughly 3% difference between online currency conversion and the local branch conversion rates, but I felt it was only fair.  In the end, I gave up my run for a walk, but she's $100 richer *and* it was obvious that we were the most fun that bank teller had all day.  Bonus, I feel like I didn't fail completely on the auntie entertainment scale, and now E and I don't have to deal with the pile of small bills of foreign currency.  Everybody wins! (Well, almost everybody.  They didn't take the coins...)

Started circulation in October 2013 (http://www.newmoney.gov/)

New back of the Benjamin.

Due to swapping walks for runs, the percentage mileage under 10:00/mile was only 4%.  But, today was a nice lead-in to the season of increasing long runs with good solid easy 5 solo, followed by a walk to stay warm until I could start the 3X10:00 easy w/2:00 RI with G -- Total: 8.44 miles, slightly more than what my training plan required for the long run this week.

This is definitely the least work-focused weekend I've spent in a *long* time.  Since Niece is here, she took up most of my weekend attention, so my working hours and work focus took a huge hit (this is not necessarily a bad thing).  Friday night, after walking downtown, a dinner of sushi, and laundry to prep for her camp, we headed next door for a Karaoke party hosted by neighbors, where I confirmed that she's her father's and grandmother's daughter with quite a fabulous voice.  Saturday, I woke to make her breakfast, fit in a short run while she showered, went to a rocket launch where she had 2 successful launches, enjoyed a big ramen lunch with friends, then supervised packing and took her to camp and got her settled.  A couple of hours later, I returned to watch her first soccer game, followed by a late appearance at a second local (but different people) Karaoke party.  Today, I did the aforementioned long run, enjoyed an Italian lunch with E, and then headed to the east bay for joint college roommate and husband drinks at the awesomely hip Grand Tavern followed by a rooftop beers and burgers party overlooking the lake where we watched the exciting see-saw of the US-Portugal world cup game.

Did you notice that *nothing* in the previous paragraph was about work?  I can't remember the last time I was this relaxed about work on a Sunday.  Niece week is such a great gift.

June 15, 2014


So, a week or two ago, I finally admitted that we weren't getting any more lettuce from our spring garden:

The most bolted lettuce I've ever had in the garden

When the lettuce is exposed to too much heat and sun, it grows tall and bitter in its efforts to send up seed pods.  I can tell you from personal experience that you don't want to eat any of the leaves after this happens.  It's a sure-fire way to turn someone who is on the fence about leafy greens into dead-set opposition, they (both the leaves and the skeptical greens-eater) truly do become quite bitter.

Despite my Summer blog post, I'm actually very well aware of the current seasonal limbo.  We keep going from days of extreme heat back down to highs in the reasonable 70s like today, where we met up with friends for a run at 10 AM (something that would have been crazy 2 weeks ago when the highs were over 90F).

For me, the epitome of Summer is tomato harvest.

And right now, while we've got a good start, there's quite a ways to go (note the complete and utter lack of any color other than green on the tomato plants).

Same story with my running.  I'm aware that I'm actually training for and running two fall marathons.  But, truly, it's so far away, that nothing feels real yet.  I've got 17 weeks 'til Chicago.  In the meantime, I've got a visit from my niece and brother, a trip to Raleigh and 10K in ATL, a trip to NYC for family, a trip to Napa with family, a getaway weekend in Half Moon Bay, and a Ragnar Relay from SF to Napa.  There will be many long, long runs in there.  But right now after today's 6+ mile long run, it seems so unreal.  4 (Four!) X as long as today?  Really?  Best not to think about it.

This week, I made my way through 28.82+ miles on my feet, with much walking.  But, I hit a localized low point on the scale, which was a nice development (as I really do need to drop several pounds to have pleasant marathon experiences).

June is a rough month for work due to the end of the traditional fiscal quarter, so I haven't made it back to track club since before my last half marathon.  Instead, I did some tempo interval work and managed to fit in 14% of my miles this week sub 10 min/mile, including at least a mile total somewhere in the 8s, which feels good.

Today's run felt like a turning point, in terms of effort.  I started with 3.72 easy on my own, running in high 10s/mile on super low effort, and then I joined our recent every-weekend run and brunch group (E, C, G and me) and pulled off 2.9 miles of harder intervals 4:00/1:00 walking R/I with G, running the last one solo at a reasonable approximation of target marathon pace.  Nothing huge in terms of distance or speed, but a solid effort and one that left me hungry for next week, and curious about where my fitness actually is, which is a good sign.

In personal literary news, I ordered entirely too many books from the local independent bookstore and left with a very heavy bag on Saturday.  I think I have to cut myself off.  I haven't really counted, but between Harry Potter book I'm co-reading with my niece, Arvay's last shipment, E2's recent donations, a book or two from E, the required books for next book club (Dracula and The Hound of the Baskervilles) and my recent additions from the support-your-local-bookstore binge, I probably have 15 physical books in my current queue, not to mention the audio books in my wishlist.

And, on the linguistic front,  DuoLingo owns me.  I am fully engaged in their "game-oriented" learning approach.  I did sit down to work on the *real* textbook this weekend (as promised).  But, I've been a bit shocked to realize just how much effort I will make to play the silly games.  Given that it's just improving my grammar, vocabulary, and formal Spanish knowledge, I'm not complaining at all.

So there you have it, garden, running, reading, and language.  Add that E2 and I are doing well, I seem to be keeping the practice of law confined to 55-65 hours per week, we had some fun nights out with friends last week, BBQ season is in full swing, and we're looking forward to hosting the niece this week and that's my current life in a nutshell.  

June 8, 2014

Confessions Of a Pattern Matcher: Spanish

It looks like, yet again, my life is being arranged such that I may be able to speak some Spanish in a native speaker environment before the end of the year.

Every time I go to a Spanish-speaking country, I tell myself, "One Day.  One Day I will *actually* speak this language."

But, other than one semester of conversational Spanish that E and I took back in 2005 and making my way from beginning pimsleur Spanish through intermediate/advanced, I've never formally studied the language.

I formally studied French and Italian, so I get many of the Spanish complexities for free, but really,  I'm a big cheater, and it shows when I speak with fluent adults.

Essentially, I can pattern-match my way through any and all necessary Spanish conversations, and I do so.  Ideally, I would buckle down and lock in a proper understanding of the language so I'm not mimicking every Hispanophone I encounter in my desire to be understood.  But, I've never been disciplined enough to do the heavy grammar lifting.  Pimsleur is *amazing* for advancing your spoken language and comprehension in day-to-day interactions and I highly recommend it if your goal is to be able to communicate.  But my Spanish has been at the point where I can communicate and understand what's going on just fine for far too long, so Pimsleur isn't going to help me.


My Spanish accent and patterns of speech are a BT-unique disaster.

I started with a subtle French and Italian lilt even when speaking Spanish words (and I don't hesitate to try bastardized versions of the French or Italian word if I find I don't know the Spanish one).

While I spent some time in Mexico (Mazatlan) in 2000 and probably picked up a few bad habits there, I didn't get serious about my own personal version of Spanish until I studied conversational Spanish at our local community college in 2005 with E.

After this class, we headed to Puerto Rico for vacation, where they speak a form of Spanish that is all their own due to the melting pot of history and trade.  At times, it was closer to French as sometimes they swallow many of their consonants.  At other times, it was like learning a new language (or, as my brain likes to think of it, *extending* my Spanish), so I learned the local dialect words that aren't used in other Spanish speaking environments (but I don't let that stop me from adding them to my internal "Spanish" dictionary and deploying them when I think they may be useful).

I boldly and loudly took my odd Franco-Italo-Boricua version of Spanish to Mexico twice in 2006, once in 2007, and again in 2008 and added some Mexican influences.  Yet, still, I was regularly asked, "Where are you from? Are you Argentinian?"

Not to run the risk of undoing the damage, in 2010, we spent two weeks in Argentina and Uruguay and I picked up the habit of using the "Vos" (not properly, I assure you) and strengthened my so-called Argentinian accent (to my brain, Argentinian Spanish has much more of the Italian-style sing-song than other Spanishes, and it's easier for me to follow and speak).

In 2011, we did a long trip through Spain where I regularly encountered confused stares in response to my use of the "Vos".  I didn't get completely rid of the vos, but I did leave Madrid with a MadrilleƱo lisp (in fairness, I did manage to drop the "ll/y" --> "zh/j" patterns from Argentina almost immediately).

On the same trip, we finished up in Barcelona where I learned I could actually understand and passably speak Catalan.  The only problem?  I thought it was Spanish.  My lack of formal training in the language means that I survive on the basis of minute-to-minute pattern matching and word roots.  When you have studied Latin, speak French and Italian and can sometimes understand Portuguese but don't have any real serious formal training in Spanish, your Spanish turns into Catalan quick-fast, I promise.

Then, in 2013, we returned to Barcelona, and by the end of the trip I was regularly being *complimented* on how refreshing it was that a foreigner spoke Catalan (all the while, my brain thought I was speaking "Spanish").

In other news, I'm on the fence about whether to join OpenLanguage for my new commitment to formal Spanish studies -- I took their placement exam and they claim I'm B1 on the CEF.  I'm sure their lessons would be very helpful, but given my historic preference for linguistic cheating, I'm wondering if I'd be better off focusing elsewhere, at least until I can test into a C-level CEF proficiency.

All of this is the lead-up to say that I'm committed to actually completing the full Spanish textbook and workbook I have (18 chapters), as well as daily lessons every day on DuoLingo this year before we go somewhere where Spanish is spoken natively.  I think this level of commitment is likely to push me over the edge and *finally* I *WILL* actually speak Spanish.

Here's to hoping...      

A Very Slow Start (But a Start Nonetheless)

So, technically, this week was the first week of my Hanson's training plan for the Chicago Marathon.  18 weeks from today, if all goes according to plan, I will be lining up in Chicago and setting out to run 26.2 miles.  (This seems ridiculous right now.)

But, this week was also doing double duty as a good recovery week from the Windermere Half, and, if I'm being totally honest, a big "welcome to the glorious decadence of Summer -- enjoy it while you can" week.

So, I was very social.  In lieu of a scheduled run, if there was an opportunity to talk on the phone and walk, I did so.  There were two opportunities to run-walk with friends and chat, and I took advantage of both, opting to count total mileage and not worry about total time running.    Friends of mine who are moms had time to go out to dinner now that their kids' school schedules had changed and I took advantage of that too (I didn't get home 'til 11:45 PM!).  And, this Thursday, in a surprise after last week's soft opening BBQ, we hosted a *huge* barbeque full of perhaps the most eclectic cross-section of our friends that has ever graced our home and I didn't get to bed 'til 12:30 AM.

I walked every day this week.  But, I didn't run very much.  And I didn't run faster than 10 min/mile at all.

However, I managed 32.62 miles total, approximately 10 miles of actually running, and I feel ready to head into next week's running mileage.

My favorite run, by far, was today's 4.2 miles of run-walking with E2 in the early morning calm of Santa Cruz fog and surf.  Years ago, E2 was my go-to run buddy.  But she's been battling injuries and stress-related pain for several years.  Recently, she's gotten her pain under better control and has started running a bit, so today, after they graciously hosted us for a Saturday night evening, we left their home and headed out for a beautiful fog-covered run along the harbor, out to the lighthouse, along the beach, through neighborhoods and back to their home as the fog burned off in a wonderfully awesome return to something I've missed so very much.  There are few things better than a good run and chat with a good friend.  Oh, unless that's followed up by some much needed rolling and stretching and a perfect bloody mary and brunch overlooking the harbor under the bright blue sky.

June 1, 2014

Spokane -- Windermere Half Marathon

This weekend, E and I headed to Spokane to have a family meet up with my sis, her husband, my adorable nephew and niece, and my mom and step-dad.  Yay, family weekend!

Saturday, we spent the day celebrating the nephew's birthday at a local kids' science play museum, which was oddly exhasuting.  After walking there, half an hour of set up, 2 hours of toddler wrangling (including at least an hour of infant niece holding -- she's still at the age where she does best if she's in someone's arms, and bonus, my voice is so similar to my sister's that I don't completely register as a stranger even though I haven't seen her for the last 50% of her life or so), a half hour of take down, another half hour of just getting all the gear and stuff loaded in the appropriate vehicles, and then another half hour of picking up our race bibs at the expo, I was exhausted and needed a nap.  So, for the second race in a row, I took a pre-race nap the afternoon before.  I think the day-before race nap is going into my bag of required tricks for an ideal race.  (Mom and sis simultaneously napped too, so I feel good about that, like we were doing family bonding on the sleep plane.)

After the nap, we hung out with sis & bro-in-law and the niece and nephew for a bit and then met with grandma (aka my mom) and grandpa and walked along the river, looked at the falls, walked across several footbridges and just enjoyed being outdoors in gorgeous nature and weather with family.

It was very strange for these Californians to see so much water.
To close out the day, we carb-loaded with a leisurely family dinner overlooking the river, walked back to the cars, and headed to the hotel.  Upon arriving home, I realized I'd been out and about, on my feet from 5 PM - 8:30 PM -- not exactly my ideal pre-race routine, but then again, I'd rather hang out with my family than race a minute or two faster on a just-enjoy-it race.

Sunday AM, my sis and her husband picked me up at our hotel and we drove to the start of the half while mom & step-dad hung out at their house to watch the kids (How adorable are they to get up at 5 AM to drive to sister's house to do kid duty so sis & her hubby could race?).

We arrived at the race at 6:20, which was good, because upon arriving, I realized I'd forgotten to pin on my bib (in other words, it was back at the hotel).  Seriously?  This was, according to my records, my 41st half marathon, and more than my 60th race since 2005.  I *forgot* my bib?  I've never done this before.  WTF? 

Thankfully, this is a small town in the pacific northwest and the race organizers laughed at me, mock threatened, "No.  You can't run!" and then gave me a new bib and promised it would be corrected in the system before I finished.  Awesome! 

You know that cold temperature PR I was looking for?  Yeah, Spokane was in the middle of celebrating unseasonably hot (but beautiful) weather...It hit 70+ before the finish and most of the race was in full sun.  Oh, well, at least I'd trained in the heat.

Despite the heat, it was a gorgeous, fun course, and very well run after the start (we didn't get under way until 30 minutes after the scheduled start...).  Impressively, there were about 10 aid stations on the half.  Almost all had sports drink *and* water, plus there were two gel stations, and, bonus--many of the stations had little mini cups of gummi bears, plus all aid stations had 2 potajohns.  This race is definitely in contention for one of the best aid supported runs I've ever ran.

The first seven miles ticked along exactly as I'd planned, roughly 9:55 pace average, faster on the downhills, slower on the uphills, walking through the aid stations, but maintaining nice and easy effort and breath.

Mile 8, unfortunately, did not go so well...mid 10s were a bit of a struggle and it became clear that I had GI issues... Annoying!

I pushed through the last long(ish) uphill in Mile 9 for a mile split of 10:25, watching my time goal of 2:10 slip away.  But, the one good thing about the GI pain is that I didn't have much brain space to be disappointed about my decreasing speed.  The joy of seeing the aid station with portajohns at mile 9.23 almost made up for the decreased pace. (Almost)

1 minute and 42 seconds later, my belly felt much better.  But my legs had tightened up...And, the rest of the race was a slog.

0.7 miles at a frustratingly high effort 10:27/mile pace.
1 mile @ 10:50.
0.34 miles @ 11:06/mile pace. (???)
14 seconds walking through an aid station
0.59 miles @ 10:51/mile pace
1 mile @ 10:27
0.14 miles @ 9:19/mile pace to the finish.

So, I finished.  But it wasn't pretty.  Around mile 10 or so, I decided that my much modified goal would be to finish faster than SLO if I subtracted the portajohn stop.  Mind you, my original A goal had been to finish at 2:10 or below, and I (mistakenly) had thought it was a very conservative goal due to the cool temps (that didn't materialize) and the net downhill course.  Today's reality said otherwise...(2:15:53 says the Garmin).

Somewhere in those last miles, I slowly did (and redid with late stage race brain that has trouble) the math and figured that 1:42 + SLO's 2:14:XX meant that I should try to shoot for 2:16 or lower on the clock when I crossed the line.  I did what I thought I needed to do to make that happen.  Finally, I turned on to the Howard Street bridge and saw the finishing clock reading 2:18:XX -- WHAT??? I was supremely disappointed and the sadness definitely killed my ability to finish strong.  I smiled at E when I saw him waiting there, but there was no last minute push.  It was only after I crossed the finish line and pushed stop on my watch that I realized the clock was set for the marathoners, who had started a few minutes before the half.  So, technically, I actually met my late stage make-up goal, but barely.

Overall, I felt *meh* about the race, but *YAY* about the weekend.  Anytime you're healthy enough to finish a half marathon, it's good.  But I had been looking forward to seeing some obvious fitness improvements, and it didn't happen.  However, my sis ran sub 1:50 to PR by quite a bit (not surprising given some of her recent stroller running exploits) and my bro-in-law ran a healthy sub 1:28, so it was a good day in the family for running, and any day you can go run a race with family, finish healthy, and enjoy a hearty breakfast afterwards with your parents, niece and nephew, everything is awesome.

Weekly total mileage: 28.31.  Below 10/mile: 33%.  And, just like that, I'm officially in my first week of training for the Chicago Marathon.  Wish me luck!