Running with raptors

It’s been a little over two years now that I’ve noticed I see many a raptor when I’m out running solo. In late 2017 I started hitting the trails a lot in preparation for the Bandera 50k. I put in a lot of miles in the Circle C trails and recall a few times when I’d scare up a hawk who was eating or hunting mice or snakes. I remember, very vividly, when I circumnavigated Lake Georgetown on a cold and wet November morning. I was probably two-thirds the way around the 26-mile trail and I found myself in a flat clearing. I was going through a rough patch so I reached into my bag to get something to eat. As I kept slogging along, eating whatever sugar-laden sport food I’d pulled out, I heard that distinct hawk scream that one would ordinarily expect to hear reverberating off of a canyon wall somewhere in the desolate southwest. I was next to a lake in Central Texas where there aren’t any buttes or canyons, but that hawk scream had that same echoing and startling effect. It jolted me back to life.

I think I had some kind of epiphany that morning. The raptor is my running spirit animal. And I’ve seen them many times ever since. Enough that I can’t recount exact encounters anymore. The majority of which have been hawks. I think what makes this interesting, to me at least, is that I don’t think I’ve ever seen this many hawks in all my life. It’s a reminder that you have to get out there in nature to experience these things. It’s also a reminder that the hawks are out there for a reason. When you’re on the trails alone, you’re not running or hiking among other people on foot or on bikes or in cars. You’re in nature amongst other creatures. I’d venture to assume that many of them are unassuming and relatively harmless to a human, but then there are also venomous snakes out there with you as well. I’ve run up on a huge rattlesnake crossing a single track in the neighborhood trails once last Spring. Thankfully I saw it (granted it was hard to miss because it took up the entire trail as it crossed) and was able to stop in time to admire it, and then long enough to let the endorphins kick in and have instincts remind me that that thing could make for a very harrowing life experience in nature.

I love knowing that there’s a possibility that I could experience a raptor while I’m out on a run. It’s a reminder to look up frequently. Running trails is a lot different from running on the roads in that you have to be very aware of your immediate future in space. Every footfall matters and you’re constantly having to plan your next ten footfalls by constantly surveying the ground. In those fleeting moments when terra firma is smooth, I remind myself to look up. There might be a raptor.

My current training plan called for a 10-mile run this morning. The alarm jolted me out of bed a bit before 4:30 a.m. and I was on the road by 5. I ran an out-and-back on Escarpment. Almost at mile 7 I stopped to turn around. I saw a little animal lying in the road. As I got closer I noticed it was a little screech owl. Its eyes were still open, but it didn’t react to me. It was so beautiful, but it was also so dead. I remember its yellow eyes looking like those of the glass variety that they use for children’s stuff animals. It looked just like a little cute stuffed animal that Mara would carry around with her.

I started my watch again and jumped back into my pace for the rest of the run home. A mile and a half later I stopped again when I came upon another little dead screech owl in the road.

I don’t know what it means to happen upon two dead owls within minutes of each other. I’m erring on the side of rare coincidence.

A short run with Bob

Bob is in the white shirt

“After nearly four years of battling multiple myeloma, Bob has been admitted into home hospice care to live out his final journey in life.”

That was the first thing I read on my Facebook feed this morning as I was getting ready to head out on a run.

I met Bob on May 5, 2017. He was one of the 4 people that showed up for an event I called the Escarpment 5.5. Escarpment Blvd. spans a few beautiful neighborhoods in southwest Austin and measures in at exactly 5.5 miles. I thought it would be a cool idea to host a 5.5-mile run on 5/5 at 5:55 p.m. I thought it would be such a cool idea that I put the idea out there to my neighborhood run club Facebook group of 300+ people.

Forty people signed up for the Escarpment 5.5. Five showed up, myself included. Bob was one of them. After the 5 of us exchanged introductions and took somewhat-awkward photos, like the one above, we all set out on the 5.5-mile southbound run to the terminus of Escarpment.

As I type this, I’m rubbing my temple while trying to remember when exactly Bob told me that he had multiple myeloma. I don’t remember if it was when we were running together during the first mile, or when it was when we all met back up at the end as we’d all separated somewhere during the trip due to varying paces.

There are two things that immediately stuck out to me about Bob:

  1. He’s a genuinely good and nice person. I’m pretty far over on the introverted scale, so I don’t like to talk about myself, especially to a person that I’ve just met. But Bob asked me questions and he genuinely listened as he learned about me. We talked about family, work, interests, hobbies. Running was a hobby of Bob’s, and he wanted to get back to running more often. And I’m pretty sure that’s when and why he told me that he had cancer.
  2. Bob has cancer. And he showed up to run 5+ miles during the hottest part of day in May in Austin. To hell with the 35 other people who said they’d come out. I was running with a bona fide badass.

I think it took about an hour for the whole crew to regroup at the southernmost point of Escarpment. Elise and Mara were waiting for us at the end of the run with brisket, tortillas, watermelon, water, Gatorade and beer. My family and the runners hung out for another hour or so and talked. Eventually everyone had to peel off to go wherever they were off to next in their lives.

Bob stayed back. He needed a way to get back to his car at the corner of Wm Cannon and Escarpment 5.5 miles away. Elise and I were more than happy to give him a lift.

Now, if you know my wife, you probably know that she can talk the bark off of a tree. So I literally took a backseat to Bob’s and Elise’s conversation as we drove Bob back to his car. And I’ll be the first to admit my ignorance about multiple myeloma, so I didn’t inquire much about it when he and I were running together. Elise asked as many questions of Bob as she could in the 10 minute car ride.

I listened as he talked about the countless doctor visits, weeks at MD Anderson, low blood counts, fatigue, being sick more often than not, weight loss, the loss of his independence. But through that all, I heard the faith, courage, strength and hope in every word that came out his mouth.

Bob expressed, in many instances, that he wanted to run more. He’d ran and was a fan of the Statesman’s Capital 10k. I’d taken a bit of interest in trail running that year, so we agreed that we should get together for some runs. On the roads or on the trails. Wherever our feet would take us.

We never went for those runs. Part of me is sad because we didn’t go on those runs. But part of me also finds a bit of comfort and knows that maybe those weren’t supposed to happen. Given the occasional updates that Bob has posted on Facebook, he’s been busy fighting like hell and living his life to its fullest with his wife, daughters, family and friends.

We’ll hit the trails together one day.

Houston training: days 2 and 3

I neglected to post yesterday about training & eating. Actually, I didn’t neglect. I don’t think I really committed to writing every day. I think as time permits, and if there’s something noteworthy worth, um, noting.

Yesterday started early with a 5-miler. I went out too hard. I think it’s because I could sense the cooler, almost on the verge of Fall-like weather in the pre-dawn hours, and there’s a noticeable decrease in the humidity. Yesterday for breakfast I had a couple scrambled eggs with spinach and, if I recall, some of Shalane’s Can’t Beet Me smoothie. Lunch was a couscous and arugula salad from Trader Joe’s. Dinner was a Wild West Rice Salad, also from Shalane’s cookbook. I took a late morning break from work and went for my mile walk. I broke a 17-minute mile and for me, walking, that’s a pretty awesome milestone. I like to run fast and walk slow. Those who know me just can’t wrap their heads around how I can manage to walk so damn slow.

This morning was an early 3-miler. On Monday and Tuesday I kind of beat my legs up running faster than I should’ve, so today I decided to run, as much as I hate to call them such, “junk miles.”

I didn’t even like writing that, so that’ll probably be the first and last time I refer to miles as junk. I basically ran slow, controlled, easy miles. I like those kinds of miles. The sky was so bright and clear this morning, and the stars were like bright holes in black velvet. I just took in my surroundings in the neighborhood and thought about the local stuff and nothing at all. Every once in awhile I’d breath through my nose just to make sure I wasn’t exerting too much effort. I think that if I make sure to enjoy those kinds of miles as my volume builds over the weeks, it’ll make the longer Sunday runs less like work and more like fun.

Breakfast was Greek yogurt, frozen berries, and I killed the rest of the Can’t Beet Me smoothie. Lunch was a Mexicali salad from TJ’s. Had some unsalted cashews, Granny Smith apple and some wasabi seaweed for snacks today. Went for my 17-minute mile walk after lunch. Had a late dinner of some smoked pork loin and more Wild West Rice Salad.

I’ve intentionally entered a caloric deficit this week as I’ve some non-muscle weight I want to get out of the way. The vast majority of that non-muscle weight (let’s call a spade a spade: fat) has been from sugar. Aside from a really sweet dressing on the couscous & arugula salad I had yesterday, I’ve had no refined sugar. And I’ve had no processed or refined carbs. And what I really noticed is that even though I’m only at day 3, I can already tell a difference in my energy level, especially in the late afternoon and evening. Over the past year, my shitty trucker diet had me tired and worn out by the time I got home from work. I’d (usually) feel fine in the mornings, but that wouldn’t sustain me throughout the day. I don’t know. It could just be a short-term system shock, but I’m noticing a difference in my all-day energy.

I just realized I didn’t drink as much water today. I had a couple of cups in the morning but didn’t during the afternoon. That’s probably why I was getting antsy and wanting to raid the office break room at 3 p.m. I need to remember to work on 8 oz. of water throughout the day.

Houston training: Day 1

I slept in yesterday morning and decided to do my first day of training early in the evening. The first part of this training block is also taking into account the Capital to Coast Relay. There’ll be some running in the heat during that race, and at least one of my legs will be in the afternoon or evening (depending on how we’re collectively pacing).

I also started my new fueling regiment. I don’t want to call it a “diet.” Lots of lean proteins, vegetables and lots of water. I thought I was already drinking enough water. That was apparently not the case. I found myself going to the bathroom every hour. Oh well, that’ll give me another excuse to walk away from my desk for a bit.

I also went for a 1-mile walk. That wasn’t really part of the plan, but I had to go to the library yesterday morning, and after I was done getting a new library card, I decided to go for a walk since I was already out. That walk was calm and refreshing and, it was at that point, that I immediately decided that I’m going to bake in walks into this training plan. If anything, just for the mental health benefits.

Training Eve

I’m going into a marathon training block tomorrow and I’ve guiltily waited until today to try to get “fit” again. Ever since having run the Boston Marathon, I just kind of let myself go. I eat whatever I feel like eating. I like to think I maintain a pretty healthy diet, but I’ll be the first to admit that I can shove crappy and unhealthy foods and drinks down my gullet.

In the Summer of 2010 I weighed the most that I’ve ever weighed. I’d stopped drinking alcohol the year before and replace alcohol with sugar. Up until that point, I’d never tried Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. Once I discovered Ben & Jerry’s, I’d plow through a pint every single night. To put that into perspective, a pint of Peanut Butter Fudge Core has 1,260 calories, 99 grams of sugar (166% of your RDA!), 78 grams of fat (100% of RDA). And that pint a night was on top of whatever the hell it was that I’d already eaten all day. For a while there I remember that I’d go to Jimmy John’s and eat a J.J. Gargantuan, which is 2,240 calories.

So I got out of the shower one day and looked at my butt-naked body in the mirror and was just really disappointed in what I’d let myself become. So I scoured the internet for a diet plan that I could get behind. I found one, and I started that diet the very next day. I had to cut out the Ben & Jerry’s (and all refined sugars) and start eating lean proteins, cleansing vegetables, healthy carbs, lean fats and lots of water. And I had to control my portions. I was really committed, so it wasn’t hard for me to adjust to my new lifestyle. And it was probably a month later that I decided to introduce exercise into my new lifestyle. Probably because I had more energy due to the change in eating habits.

I found that diet plan this afternoon and I’m going to start it again. I’ll modify it a bit because I need more calories, but it’ll be a fantastic foundation for rebuilding my fueling. And I think that’s the keyword. I haven’t been “fueling” my body recently like I had in years past. I’ve been taking in quite a bit of junk. It’s time to cull the junk.

I also bought Shalane’s “Run Fast. Eat Slow.” cookbook a couple of years ago. I cracked it open when I got it, but have never made a single recipe in it. Tomorrow I’m going to make the “Can’t Beet Me Smoothie.”

Mara gives me a haircut

I guess it’s a rite of passage. Eight years ago I let Maly cut my hair. I have no idea why I let her cut my hair. It was one of those ‘on a whim’ decisions. My hair was longer back then as I’d probably gone a couple of months between haircuts. These days I get my haircut on the first of every month, and I just get it cut short so I can go four weeks between haircuts. This month I was already a week an a half past due in getting a trim, so I decided to let Mara cut my hair. And she was pretty excited to do it.

One of the sad things about getting older and watching your children grow older is that this’ll probably be the last time my kids give me a haircut. Well, I guess it doesn’t have to be.

The Bitch and Snark training plan

Six weeks ago, my friend Shelley asked me if I’d coach her for the Monterey Bay Half Marathon. Shelley has already run a handful of half marathons and a full marathon. So I asked her why she wanted me to coach her. She told me that she wanted to change things up. She wanted a new plan and new regimen. That seemed reason enough for me. My next question was, “what is your goal for the race?”

“To finish the race and come away healthy.”

Finishing a race healthy (uninjured) should always be at or near the top of the list for an athlete.

I then asked Shelley is she had any interest in attaining a personal best at Monterey Bay.

“Nah.”

So it was decided, pretty much right then and there, that my not-so-hidden agenda would be for Shelley to get faster. Maybe she won’t get a PR at Monterey Bay, but my goal is for her to run it really well, and come away healthy, happy, and able to recover faster than she did after her best half marathon.

I created a 16-week periodized training plan that includes mileage, workouts, tempo runs and long runs.

I had to travel out of state the week that Shelley’s plan started. We maintained communication via text messages. On her second day I had her doing hill repeats. This was her feedback:

“Hills are speed work in disguise” -Frank Shorter

I was still out of town for her second week into the training plan. Tuesday consisted of a 4×400 track workout. Shelley hadn’t done a track workout in a really long time, and she wasn’t sure how to maintain my prescribed pace during the workout.
Interval training feedback:

I was back in town for the following week and she invited me along for the Tuesday hill workout. I was a few minutes late, and she had already banged out one repeat. I ran the next repeat with her, and then told her I needed to catch up. So I picked up the pace and tried to catch her in the next 5 repeats, but I was already a half mile behind, so it wasn’t until the final downhill that we finally reconvened.

The fourth Tuesday brought us back to the track for a 6×400 workout. I wanted to be there for this workout so I could pace Shelley. As we walked to the track, I told her that this workout was going to be: Hard, hard, hard. Harder, harder, harder. We were going to work on turning our legs over quickly and increasing VO2 max.

She was raring to go, so we started our first 400. My watch was having a hard time calculating pace (it told me we were running a 10 minute pace. We needed to be running an 8:15). So I settled into what felt like an 8:15 pace. At the 300 meter mark, my watch told me we were running a 7:45 pace.

We settled into our 2-minute recovery and I asked her how that felt. “That was okay. A little faster than the last time I did 400’s, but it was okay.”

I smiled and said, “Good.”

Recovery time was over and we started our next 400. As we started I told her we were going to go a little bit slower. She liked that notion. But we still kept a 7:45 pace. And we kept a 7:45 pace on the third 400-meters.

We’re into our recovery and Shelley’s breathing hard. Two minutes goes by quickly, and I remind her that this is the part where we’re going to go “harder, harder, harder.”

And it’s at that point where my watch beeps, telling us it’s time to run, and Shelley says, under her breath, “fucker.”

I laugh and settle us into a 7:15 pace, and we finish the last 200-meters at a 7-minute pace. It’s at this point Shelley’s done expressing her feelings under her breath. “DAMMIT. ASSHOLE. HATE. YOU. FUCKER!”

Two more to go and I remind Shelley why we’re doing this. The track is like the gym. We’re here to do work. It’s going to suck, but it’s going to pay off. She wholeheartedly agrees, and then calls me asshole again.

The next 400-meters start at a 7-minute pace and we quickly settle into a 6:45 pace. “FUH. ASS. UGGGHHHH!!”

Two minute recovery before our final set. “I hate you I hate you I hate you I hate you I hate you. Fucker.”

Last lap. We start at a 6:45 pace and I’m cheering Shelley on. “You got it. You got it! Push push push! Finish strong! Keep going! PUUUUUSSSSSHHH!!” And we end just shy of a 6-minute pace.

As we waddle our 2-minute recovery, Shelley takes her time to catch her breath and chug a bottle of water. High fives are exchanged. I was really excited for her and I commend her for her effort. I can easily see that she has the runner’s high thing going on. She calls me asshole again and tells me that I’m not invited to track workouts anymore.

The plan is working.

Mara’s first day of school

First day of 2nd Grade today:

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First day of 1st Grade last year:

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First day of Kindergarten 2 years ago:

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First day of preschool 3 years ago:

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First day of preschool 4 years ago:

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Maly’s first day of school

First day of 8th Grade today:

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First day of 7th Grade last year:

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First day of 6th Grade 2 years ago:

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First day of 5th Grade 3 years ago:

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First day of 4th Grade 4 years ago:

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First day of 3rd Grade 5 years ago

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First day of 2nd Grade 6 years ago

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First day of 1st Grade 7 years ago:

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First day of Kindergarten 8 years ago:

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First day of school 9 years ago:

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First day of school 10 years ago:

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First day of school 11 years ago:

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Portland

Here’s a compilation of some videos that I shot with the GoPro during our trip to Portland.

A runner’s sprained ankle physical therapy

I was diagnosed with a sprained anterior talofibular tendon on May 19th after twisting my ankle a few miles into our Grand Canyon rim-to-rim run. About a week after the sprain, I honestly wished I would’ve just broken my damn ankle. I’ve broken both of my ankles before and between us, I think this sprain is more of a pain in the ass than a fracture. I think “sprain” is too weak of a word. The medical community should call it what it is: Incurable Shitty Ankle.

A week after the sprain, my ankle was still the size of a softball and there was no way in hell I was going to try to run on it. The physical therapist, also a runner, who saw me in Flagstaff, told me I’d be looking at at least a month. And then he gave me my printout of stretches and strength-training exercises.

Now I’d been through physical therapy in the past with a hip injury. Based on the extensive research I’ve done by interviewing other casual and amateur athletes, 99.3% of them don’t follow through with their prescribed physical therapy. I am part of that 99.3% and didn’t continue with my hip exercises.

This time I decided I would actually do my PT because there’s absolutely no way I can run through this injury. I’ve only been doing these exercises for 11 days, and I have no idea how I’m going to fare when I return to running, but figured I’d memorialize the rehabilitation here with the hope that I might help you, fellow injured runner, overcome your Incurable Shitty Ankle. Note that a lot of these stretches and exercises are are supportive in nature, and focused in the hips and glutes.

Standing Hip Abduction (each leg 10 x 3)

Sidelying hip abduction (each leg 10 x 3)

Clamshells (each leg 10 x 3)

Weighted hip arches (10 x 3)

Supine active straight leg raise (each leg 10 x 3)

Ankle dorsiflexion and plantarflexion (each ankle 10 x 3)

Ankle inversion and eversion (each ankle 10 x 3)