Kansas thoughts

For a while now I’ve been marking periods of time by the races I run.  I’m not sure if that’s a good thing; maybe it puts too much emphasis on races.  I typically feel a sense of loss, maybe a kind of sadness, when a race ends.  It feels like the end of something.  That time isn’t coming back.

This race, in Kansas, I’m not feeling that sense of loss or sadness.  The feeling is more like “good riddance.”  I’m glad to have this period behind me.

I arrived in Overland Park, Kansas on Thursday.  I spent a few days here, running some miles and writing a ton of words on the novel.  The most vivid memories I’ll take from Overland Park:

  • Wind (yikes)
  • Concrete
  • Brick and stone houses, ranch houses (tornadoes anyone?)
  • Strip malls and stores as far as the eye can see

Overland Park reminds me of San Jose.  It’s a town that grew up in the shadow of a major city.  It’s full of office parks, planned residential communities and chain stores.  Almost every major chain store is within 3 miles of my hotel.

Since I wasn’t planning to race hard, I decided to extend my run—I ran the 2.5+ miles from my hotel the race start and then back again.  All tolled, I covered 31+ miles today.  And 50+ miles over 3 days in Overland Park.

The race itself, well there were some lessons.  Most of the lessons are just reminders of stuff I already knew.  Like if I don’t train well for a race, I can’t race well.  And I really shouldn’t go out too fast in a race, especially when I plan to run what amounts to a 50K.  That decision to run to/from the start?  Would have been great if I made it some time before race morning.

The first half went ok; the second half was a nightmare.  Starting around mile 9 I knew something bad was coming, but I wasn’t sure exactly what it would be.  I was thinking “crap, I am not even halfway there and I already feel bad.”  Around mile 21 or 22 I started to feel light headed, so I started walking.  Only I couldn’t walk straight.  At mile 23 I loaded up on Gatorade and Gu.  In a few minutes I felt better.  Much better actually.  Ended up finishing in 3:50 something, but the last couple miles were my fastest since mile 7.  I guess I can take that positive out of the race.

The course was good and the crowd was supportive.  I was initially surprised to hear so many cowbells.  Then I thought…”well, we are in Kansas.”

When I step off the plane on Monday, I will have put this race behind me.  I won’t forget it; I hope to use it as motivation and a reminder of what happens when you lose some respect for the distance.  No excuses—I didn’t do the work; I didn’t earn a better result.  I saw some guy wearing a shirt with a slogan that really resonated with me … “everything earned, nothing given” or something like that.  You can’t fake it in running.

I was really happy with the day-to-day rhythm I found while I was out here.  In bed early, up early, working in bursts, being active and not lazy.  I hope to continue that when I get home.  That’s the way I’ll earn better results.

I was out a bit earlier tonight and I counted about 6 cars in the hotel parking lot.  I thought it was odd at first, but on second thought it makes sense.  Who would come to Overland Park on vacation?  I bet a bunch of business travelers come here, but they probably show up on Monday and leave Thursday.

Better days are coming.



One week in to NaNoWriMo

11 miles yesterday.  Today was strength building in the form of yard work.  Moving heavy rocks and big tree limbs.  Enough to tire me out.

Plus, I’ve been backing off the workouts so I can write my “novel” (quotes used because while it will be a novel, it won’t be a good one).

A week into NaNoWriMo and I’m hanging in there.  I’m behind my target pace but within striking distance.  It’s been fascinating to experience the process.  Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • It feels like I’m not really thinking up what I’m writing.  Instead, it feels like I’m just unearthing it from somewhere and capturing it on paper.  I just try to create the conditions for the novel to come out and try to get it down.
  • When I’m writing, the characters seem real.  I can see them, hear them, watch them move around.
  • Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s nearly impossible.
  • I really enjoy the process…it’s hard but it’s almost like stepping into another world.

I don’t know exactly where the thing is going.  That’s part of the fun—I want to keep going to see what happens next.

As of now I’ve got 8,000 words.  I need to hit 50,000 words by November 30th at 11:59 pm.  So I’m about 15% of the way through.  I just realized that I’m still in the early phases, still setting up the background and context for the story.

My ace in the hole is the November race.  I’ll be out of town for the better part of 5 days towards the end of November.  If I’m behind, I can use the time to catch up.  If I’m on track, I can make a final push to finish.  I’d like to get to 50,000 words early so I can either add more or make the story better.

But right now it’s about getting the work in every day.  I have to show up.

I guess for a runner, everything can be related to running in some way.  This writing thing is no different.


The fallacy of tomorrow

One sure sign that I’m fooling myself is when I promise to start (or stop) something…tomorrow.

If it’s that important, or that great, why not start today?


New York City Marathon thoughts

I only ran the NYC Marathon once, but it was memorable.  It was in 2001.

I nursed a back injury through the summer of 2001.  Although I was entered in the NYC Marathon, there was a chance I wouldn’t be able to run.  I remember being at the chiropractor’s office when I first heard that a plane had hit the World Trade Center.

Obviously, that day changed everything for New York City and people like me who lived there.  I made a promise that day to run the race in November.  Like most everyone, I wanted to do anything I could to prove that I was getting back to life.

I remember starting the 2001 NYC Marathon…running over the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.  Looking to my left, I could see the smoking rubble.  I’ll never forget that picture.  I remember race organizers telling us to only take aid from authorized aid stations.  That was the mentality.  I remember thousands of American flags.

If you took the NYC Marathon course and plopped it anywhere else in America, it wouldn’t be all that interesting.  It’s a fair course—not too hilly, lots of turns.  They actually made it easier several years ago.  They bypassed a relatively big hill entering Central Park.

Stating the obvious here…it’s the city that makes the NYC Marathon.  For a runner, there is no experience like it in the world.

Each borough leaves its own distinct impression, even when you are trying to focus on the race.  I remember the cultural diversity and raucous atmosphere in Brooklyn.  I remember the quiet pragmatism of Queens.  I remember a specific section of Queens—a Hasidic Jewish neighborhood.  The residents were lining the streets, but they were completely silent.  Periodically, a child would break the silence by clapping (which didn’t make the parents happy).  Shortly after that neighborhood, we crossed over into Manhattan and a scene that was very very different.  Throngs of screaming people.  I remember feeling alone in the Bronx until I ran into the gospel choirs.  Heavenly.  I remember finishing in Manhattan to a beautiful scene in Central Park.  I ran so many miles in Central Park, I knew the finish by heart.  It was great to be able to walk home after the race.

The NYC Marathon is a crowded, complicated race.  To get to the start, you need to get on a bus about 5 hours early.  It’s not for everyone.  I lived in NYC for 10 years and only did the marathon once.  I don’t know if I’ll do it again.  But I’ll always remember 2001.

Good luck to all the NYC Marathon runners!  Stay safe and run well.

Random thoughts November 3rd

Easy 11 miler today.

Lately I’ve been experiencing something that doesn’t seem to make sense.  When I run after a taking a day or two off, I feel bad.  It feels like my legs have forgotten how to work.  It feels like I have to focus to get them moving properly.  On the other hand, I feel much better on the second or third straight day of running.  Today was a great example.  I felt better today than I did yesterday.  And yesterday I felt better than I did the day before (which was my first run after a few days off).  I guess there’s some logic behind that.  I just don’t know what it is.

Right now I’m enjoying the easy paced, longer runs.  Will keep doing them until they get boring or I start itching for something faster.

Beautiful days since the crazy snowstorm.  Most of the snow has melted.  The only remnants of the storm now are the snow piles left by plows or snowblowers.  And the down trees.  I still hear the drone of generators as I pass by some areas.

Two businesses the storm may have helped?

  • Starbucks:  The only place in town that offered the two modern day human needs—hot coffee and wifi.
  • Gas companies:  Most generators run on gas.  Lines at gas stations have been ridiculous, and I saw people buying multiple huge gas cans as late as yesterday.

The NBA Network has resorted to showing Hoosiers tonight.  Great movie, but I’m sure the big wigs would rather be showing live basketball.

I abandoned the nutrition experiment a few days ago.

Then I read this.

Aftermath of the October snow

Here are some pictures from the October snow we recently experienced.

Above:  a view from our front porch. That tree on the upper left is a river birch…it should be straight.

Above is a view of our driveway during the storm.  Below is the driveway after the storm.  Notice the one tree below with no snow?  That’s the one I kept having to knock the snow off.  It’s not there any more; I cut it down already.

Below…morning in the land of the bent trees.

The back of the house, during and after the storm.  In the “After” picture, you can see that the sun has already started melting the snow at the treetops.  There is no snow at the tops of the trees, but still a ton below.

Still some strange things happening.  School is still closed.  Roads are still closed.  About 2,000 people don’t have power yet.  Four “snow” days used already this year, and November just started.  Yesterday I heard someone say that was the full allotment of snow days for the year.  The kids will be going to school in July.

I’ve got to say I’m confused and a bit frustrated.

I know these storms supposedly don’t come along very often, but we had one 3 years ago almost exactly to the day.  The power was out for a week just like this time.  This time may have even been worse.  Same with Irene a couple months ago.  It’s impossible to understand how something like this could impact us so heavily.

I don’t know who to call to the carpet on this.  Probably everyone.

Government.  For spending billions of dollars of “stimulus” money to repair the “infrastructure” without fixing problems like this.  If power and phone aren’t infrastructure, then what is?  I’ve seen the same highway re-paved every single summer.  When will government figure out how to spend money on the right stuff?  I don’t pretend to know how it all works.  I just wish we could have a better, more transparent way of figuring out what to spend the money on.

Power company.  Has a virtual monopoly in our area.  Why would they spend money to upgrade their system or prevent these things from happening?  They have no incentive.  They can’t even gather accurate information regarding who has power and who doesn’t.

Me.  Didn’t take enough action at the local level.  It’s easy to sit on the sidelines and say that I can’t have influence.  And nationally I think that’s probably true.  But I can have an influence on the local level.  I can get out to township committee meetings where they decide what projects to do and how to spend our tax money.  I can demand some sort of transparency and accounting for the response.  I can at least make my voice heard.

Here are a few scenes that are repeated countless times even today, 4 days after the storm.  I understand that there are priorities, but why is a tree company cutting branches on my street where the power lines are fine as opposed to here, where there is a much more urgent need?  My guess is that the people running the operation don’t have all the information they need.

Things like preparedness for and response to emergencies like this are complicated problems.  The power grid is complicated.  I get it.

I’m just really tired of seeing storms like this hit our area with absolutely no improvement in how we handle them.  We’re not any more prepared.  We’re not any better at responding.   I don’t think the finger can be pointed anywhere specifically—we’re all accountable.

Perhaps a starting point is just seeing if we can get more transparency into the process.  What happened, what information was known and not known, what are the priorities to fix so this doesn’t keep happening.

And the powers that be could stand to be a bit more creative too, like enlisting some locals to help in some way, shape or form.  With all kinds of social media available and mobile access (the only thing that worked reliably the past few days), we should be able to gather better information and deal with these kinds of issues more swiftly.  We should also be allowing locals to cut trees that are down in areas where there is no risk.  They would love to have the wood and it would get things up and running much more quickly.

I think a better dialogue between the people, the town and the power company would really help.

That’s it for now.

October into November 2011…finding consistency

Fewer workouts this month.  Most of them longer.  I took more days off this month.  Not super-motivated.  I think the relatively high average distance reflects a desire on my part to just get out for some longer, slower workouts and adjusting my priorities a bit.

This month’s workout totals:

  • Running:  177 miles on 12 runs (average just under 15 miles per)
  • Riding:  158 miles on 3 rides (average 52 miles per)

Sometimes I look at life as if it were a puzzle.

When I’m working on a hard puzzle, I break it up into smaller sub-sections.  I put those subsections together, then I start to bring them together into a whole picture.  Sometimes it’s easier to get a subsection right when you’re only looking at that one part of the puzzle.

I guess the notion of breaking things up and re-assembling them applies to more than just puzzles.  It’s the way to build most everything—make sure you’ve got a sense of what the whole looks like, then break it up, assemble the pieces separately and eventually put them back together.

In life it’s a bit more complicated.  You can’t get it completely right, since things are more interconnected.  But looking at life as a group of pieces can sometimes be useful.

I spent much of October working on a few specific pieces.  The biggest one was getting some consistency in writing this blog.  I wanted to write something every day.

I’m starting to get some rhythm and energy going again.  These past 6 months, I’ve learned that it’s easier to get into a rhythm when you’re busy.  When the job went away in the spring, I was super excited—I’d have a ton of free time to do everything I ever wanted to do.  I found that when you don’t have a good rhythm, it’s hard to get momentum to do anything.  It’s almost like my rhythm and energy just ground to a halt when the major element of that rhythm (the job) disappeared.

So, as simple as it sounds, setting the goal of posting every day for this blog forced me back into somewhat of a rhythm.  Writing every day is one of those “puzzle pieces” that I’d like to keep into the future.

In November, I’m hoping to put most of the puzzle together.  The pieces include:

Oh, and I’ll get ready for my race later in November.  I plan to skip tapering for this race.  I may back off a bit in the week before the race, but I’m viewing the race as a long training run.  So no need to get crazy.

All of these pieces coming into focus is giving me some good energy.  I’m hoping to experience the paradox of adding more to my plate, yet seeming to have more time.  I know that paradox eventually stops working.  But I don’t have too many things on my plate yet.

Time will fly in November, so I hope to take it one day at a time, getting more consistent each day.