Some things we’ve done during COVID-19 quarantine

I taught Maly how to make my salsa recipe.

Which is really quite a simple list of ingredients (the trick is fire roasted tomatoes).

I taught Mara how to make beef jerky.

I taught Maly how to drive a stick shift.

We got a trampoline!

We celebrated Maly’s 14th birthday with a drive-by birthday party.

I ran every single street in our neighborhood.

We celebrated Mara’s 8th birthday with a drive-by birthday party.

Elise made cakes for neighbors for their birthdays.

Elise built a retaining wall in the backyard.

Maly and I ran the Austin Sunshine Run Virtual 5K.

Despite not wanting to, I finally bought a new iPhone.

That takes really good photos.

We witnessed the metamorphosis of caterpillars turning into painted lady butterflies.

Blue takes the night shift to care for Mara

Blue

Last night, Mara took a spill in the living room and hit her forehead on the piano bench, which knocked her into next month. Now, Mara is almost 8-years-old, so she’s a big kid and has learned to take dings, scratches and cuts. But this was one of those falls that created a loud boom. And then there was a split second of silence as everyone tried to figure out what heavy thing fell off the wall and smashed onto the ground. And then Mara let loose one of those blood-curdling screams. That sound that every parent fears. The shriek of true pain and helplessness.

It took a lot of consoling, snuggling and ice to recover from this trauma. Mara’s okay. She has a lump on her forehead and had a bit of a headache last night. It was a very traumatic experience for everyone in the house. Especially for Mara. She was in a lot of pain.

Mara and I have been making beef jerky this week and I’ve been running the dehydrator in the garage to keep the house from smelling like smoked meat. I put a batch in the dehydrator yesterday evening, which meant I had to wake up at 2 a.m. to turn it off. I passed Mara’s room on my way to the garage and as I did, I heard Blue’s dog tags jingle.

She was asleep on the floor next to Mara, who was asleep in her bed.

Every night Blue sleeps on the floor next to Elise’s side of the bed. That’s her spot. It doesn’t change. Every single night, that’s where she sleeps. Always.
Blue saw what happened to Mara last night. She left her usual dutiful post on the floor next to Elise to spend the night on guard for Mara. She knew Mara had hurt herself and wanted to make sure that she was okay through the night.

Running 50 miles

If you somehow found this, thinking it would be a blog post on how to run 50 miles, I’m sorry. I’m trying to figure that out myself. Instead, this is my post about my thoughts and goals for running my first 50-miler in Antelope Canyon this Saturday.

The furthest I’ve run is a 50k (~31+ miles). That was in Bandera in 2018. I signed up for Antelope Canyon on June 7th. I’d also signed up for the Mt. Hood Marathon, which happened on June 27th. I sprained my ankle on a rim-to-rim-to-rim adventure in the Grand Canyon on May 18th, so I had to drop out of the marathon. My goal at Mt. Hood was to run a Boston-qualifying marathon. I’d also signed up for the Houston Marathon on January 19th. My goal at Houston was to run a sub-3-hour marathon.

So I spent the back half of the summer rehabilitating my ankle. Fall rolled around and I PR’d at the Run for the Water 10-miler. And then I captained the Coast Busters in the Capital to Coast 223-mile relay for the last time. And then I dropped into training for Houston.

I hit my A goal and ran 2:56 at Houston. My only focus throughout the Fall was Houston. I never thought about Antelope Canyon. I told myself I could think about Antelope Canyon on January 20th. So, on January 20th, with a boost in confidence after having run a sub-3 marathon, I started thinking about how I’d train myself to run 50 miles in less than two months.

Exactly one week after the Houston Marathon it was my birthday. So Elise and I went out and ran part of the Austin Marathon course. Well, she rode her bike. I ran 21 miles. And then I jumped into marathon training again. I signed up for the Austin Marathon on February 16th. I figured if I ran two marathons within 4 weeks, that’d keep me fit.

My goal for Austin was to run a 3:15. That would be Boston-qualifier. I wound up running a 3:11 and had a blast. And I came away healthy and happy.

After the Austin Marathon, I just kind of jumped back into marathon training again, except I knew I had to turn it up to 11. I now had around 3 weeks to eek in some training for a 50-mile ultra trail race.

The week after the Austin Marathon I kind of took it easy, but run a 12-miler on Saturday and a 16-miler on Sunday.

The following week I ran some miles during the week. On Saturday I ran 10 hard miles of hill repeats, and then Abiram, Shawn and I ran the 26-mile Goodwater Trail that circumnavigates Lake Georgetown.

Now we’re just 6 days away from jumping on a plane and heading west so I can run the Antelope Canyon 50-miler. I feel really strong and confident fitness-wise. I’ve run three marathons in 6 weeks. I’ve kept a really strong base. I’ve run some strong and fast back-to-backs. I haven’t run much long, slow distance runs, but I’m confident that the hard and fast running will compensate. Honestly, what I’ve been stressing most about is my drop bag. I have no idea what to pack in a drop bag. I’m trying to imagine what I’ll want at mile 20-something, and then again at mile 30-something. And then possibly at mile 40-something. At this point, it’s just an exercise in learning. I’ve packed some Pringles, a few beef sticks, some salt tabs, some Spring Energy gels, a towel, some wet wipes, some anti-chafe goop, band-aids, a fresh shirt. I guess I’ll be okay. I was really stressed about my drop bag yesterday. I don’t know why. I guess it’s because I didn’t know where to start. I finally decided that less is more. If I try to bring everything that might save me, I’m opening up more opportunities to fail.

Fifty miles is a new distance for me. So, because of that, I don’t really have “goals” for this race. Instead I have plans. And those plans are based on experience from my one ultramarathon thus far. I think my plans can turn into goals along the way. So, here’s the plan:

  • Line up at the front. I don’t want to get stuck midpack amidst a bunch of selfie sticks and bloggers. I want to get to the slot canyons first and early so I can experience them without a crowd.
  • Make it to the next aid station.
  • Stay steady. I’ll slow down once I’m through the slot canyons but maintain an even clip. Walk when I have to, run when I need to. Drink and eat. Drink and eat.
  • 20 miles I’ll get my drop bag. Eat and check-in with myself.
  • Make it to the next aid station.
  • Steady and strong. Drink and eat.
  • 38 miles I’ll get my drop bag. Eat and check-in with myself.
  • Grind.
  • First in my age division.
  • Top 10
  • Top 5
  • Podium
  • Kiss Elise & the girls, Navajo taco and a beer.

Unfinished business in Austin

The Houston Marathon was my A race this year. My initial goal with Houston was to run a sub-3-hour marathon. It’s one of those things that pops in your head as a runner. There’s always a number. Always a new goal to chase. Instead of just a sub-3, I pulled a 2 hour and 56-minute goal out of thin air. Might as well swing big, right?

Last year I also signed up for the Antelope Canyon 50-mile ultramarathon, which is coming up on March 14th. But Houston was my A race. I never thought about Antelope Canyon during my Houston training. I told myself there’d be plenty of time to think about Antelope after Houston. So, the Monday after running 2:56:45 in Houston, I started thinking about how to train myself to run 50 miles.

I only had 6 weeks to train, so there’s no time to really rest and recover. Four days after Houston I signed up for the Austin Marathon, which is on February 16th. That gave me a little shy of 4 weeks to jump back into training. Exactly one week after Houston and on my birthday, Elise and I drove downtown and I ran 21 miles of the Austin Marathon course with Elise beside me on her bike. Since then I’ve been following the last 4 weeks of my Houston training plan.

So far so good.

I decided to sign up for Austin for a myriad of reasons. I’d originally thought about jumping into the marathon because John was signed up for it and I was going to pace him the last half. He hurt his foot some weeks ago, so he had to drop out. Another reason is that running a marathon less than a month after running my A race marathon is probably going to keep in really good shape for Antelope Canyon. I don’t know if this is 100% true because I’ve never run 50 miles, but hey, I’m going with it. I know my fitness is there. I’ve trained myself to run 26 miles fast. Running 50 miles is going to take me a long time, so hopefully the discomfort adaptation translates to the longer distance and extra time on my feet.

Austin is supposed to be a training run, however, there’s an element of redemption that’s sitting just below the skin. Austin was the second marathon I ever ran back in 2017. I bonked hard in that marathon. I’d gotten injured at the 3M Half Marathon the month prior and I took nearly 2 weeks off from training to deal with a hip and knee issue. I wasn’t able to get in any long runs leading up to Austin, and that showed on race day. The frustrating part was that this was the final race in the series for the Austin Distance Challenge. I was fighting for 1st pace in our age division against Shawn. I didn’t really know Shawn at the time, and now he and I are thick as thieves. Shawn beat me in cumulative time by 25 minutes and it all came down to the marathon.

I stayed really steady for the first 17 miles and then the wheels started falling off. I hadn’t put in any distance runs during my training. The furthest I was able to muster leading up to the race was 17 miles, and that’s probably why I came unraveled at mile 17 on race day. My back was open and ready for that monkey to jump on it.

It was a slog for those last 9 miles. There was a lot of walking and a lot of convincing myself that I wasn’t a runner. Running is stupid and you’re not good at it. I ran a 3:52:51 in the 2017 Austin Marathon. I hated that race. I swore I’d never run Austin again. Stupid Austin Marathon.

I came in second in our age group behind Shawn in the distance challenge. A few days later, my spark was reignited. Shawn moved up to take first in the Masters Division, which bumped me to first in our age division.

In June of that year, Elise and few to Seattle and I ran a 3:05 marathon along the Snoqualmie River which qualified me for the Boston Marathon.

My race performance in Houston will get me into the 2021 Boston Marathon by a large margin. And while it wasn’t on my radar, that same performance will get me into the 2021 New York City Marathon as a time-qualifier.

But I have some unfinished business to take care of in my home town. Austin is supposed to be a training run for Antelope Canyon. But I’m going to swing big. The Austin Marathon is not an easy course. It’s hilly. But this time, I’m ready.

Goal A: 3:15 – Boston Qualifying time, even though I don’t need to
Goal B: 3:19:59 – Sub-3:20
Goal C: 3:30 – I could hang with my newfound running friend, Lawrence
Goal D: 3:50 – PR my previous Austin Marathon time

Headhunter

I just threw away all of my Tae Kwon Do belts and the first place medal that I’d earned in the last tournament in which I fought in 2004.

When I was 11-years-old, we moved from Houston to Cat Spring. And I was absolutely lost. I went from the suburbs to 35 acres in the country. I had no friends. I’d never moved in my formative years, and these were important years. I went from a class of over 500 kids to a class of 80. We’re talking rural, “Friday night lights” kind of town where everyone knows everyone, outsiders were slow to be welcomed, and, I was a city kid trying to figure out life.

I’m an only child of my parents. My dad had two daughters from a previous marriage. My mom had two sons from a previous marriage. Dad was done having kids. Mom wanted a daughter. Dad relented. He got a son. Mom didn’t get a daughter. But my parents loved me unconditionally.

We moved away from Houston because my dad was a country boy. He’d made it big as a sales representative for a food brokerage company in Big Houston. He’d done that job for years and became a vice president. He bought weekend land in Cat Spring and eventually we’d move out there because Dad wanted to slow down and he was sick of our suburb homeowner’s association.

I started the 6th grade at Bellville Junior High. Again, I was a big city kid and I was thrust into the “boonies.” To say I was nervous would be an understatement. But I adapted quickly and latched on to anyone that would be my friend. School and social life were very sports-oriented. Since Dad had a son now, I found it as my obligation to play football since he nudged me, and he really liked watching the Oilers. So, I jumped into the local pastime and played football (poorly) in middle school. I think I might’ve also ran track and played basketball.

I sucked at sports. I didn’t like not being good at ball sports. I didn’t like that all of my peers talked about nothing other than sports. And I didn’t like being told what to do.

But I kept being active in sports when I got into high school. Football in high school was different. It was harder. We started two-a-days in Summer when I’d rather be hanging out with friends, or just enjoying not being at school. Shortly into summer football practice I busted my ass. Literally. We were doing some kind of ground drills that required us to spin laterally while on the ground, and I landed in such a way, directly onto my ass that caused a hairline fracture in my tailbone. The X-rays proved as much. I was out for my freshman football season. Not that I was going to get to play anyway because I was 5′ 9″ and probably weighed 120-pounds.

Around that time, Gus moved to Bellville and opened a Tae Kwon Do studio. When I was a Houston Kid, I loved watching movies. I loved Sho Kosugi, Bruce Lee, the Karate Kid, and anything ninja-related. Martial arts was the coolest thing in the world for me. I’d taken a Karate when I was six or seven because my mom was good about getting me involved in things, but this suburb class required sit-ups and a 6-year-old can do a sit-up about as well as he or she can explain the Pythagorean Theorem. So I didn’t do well at Karate.

When Gus moved into town, I knew, immediately, that I wanted to try Tae Kwon Do. It just made sense. I didn’t really know what Tae Kwon Do was, but I knew it was a martial art, and when you’re in a town of 2,000 people, you take what you can get.

So Mom and I went and met Gus one weekend morning. He hadn’t even opened for business yet. He was rebuilding the old 500-square-foot pier and beam church that he’d bought to turn into a studio. I’m pretty sure I was his first student. He asked me if I wanted to help him. I immediately thought of him as my Mr. Miyagi and quickly agreed. This guy was going to give me life lessons by means of manual labor that would turn me into a ninja that will need to have my hands and legs registered as lethal weapons.

He had me spackling walls because he needed help finishing his Tae Kwon Do studio. I’m bad ball sports. I’m equally bad at spackling.

Gus taught me Tae Kwon Do. He taught many Tae Kwon Do. I went to class every Tuesday and Thursday night. After 6 months or so, I earned two yellow stripes on my white belt. I had to learn some basic kicking, punching and blocking techniques to earn those stripes. However, after earning those yellow stripes, we were now allowed to spar. Sparring is controlled fighting, employing the aforementioned techniques. When I strapped on those pads, I had an ear-to-ear grin. I will never forget that moment.

And I loved to fight. We still had to do those “techniques” (we called them patterns) to prove that we were learning Tae Kwon do in order to move up in belt colors. I begrudgingly learned them, but all I wanted to do was fight. If I didn’t win first in a tournament, I would be angry. I was a fighter.

And that’s when I learned something about myself. I wasn’t a team sports person. I could play as best and as hard as I could, but someone else on the team could be having a bad day, or make an honest mistake. And our team would lose. When I fought, it was just me. It was all of my training and all of my heart. I never wanted to lose, and that was all on me. There were countless times that I was intimidated beyond my imagination, but I had no one to fall back on. So, I gave it absolutely everything that I had, and invariably that would pay off. I fought my ass off and I absolutely loved it.

I earned a lot of gaudy trophies from fighting in Tae Kwon Do tournaments. I decided to throw those away when Mom finally moved from the 35 acres.

After I’d moved to Austin and taken a hiatus from Tae Kwon Do for many years, I decided to get back into it. I found a studio in Lakeway and earned my second-degree blackbelt. And I felt good enough to compete again. So I went back to the homeland and fought, as an old(er) guy, in my 30’s, in the adult division, which is males 18+. And I won 1st place.

And that’s when I retired.

Since then, I’ve held onto all of my belts, medals and trophies from when I was 13-years-old.

Tonight I threw them away. That was me from a long time ago. And those experiences very much played a part in figuring out who I was back then. And those experiences and memories remind me of who I am today. I’m an individual sport and self-reliant kind of guy. I’m not discounting team sports. It’s just not my thing. I like to fight and push hard and drive myself to the results that I want and need.

Throwing those belts away tonight was really, really hard. But they served their purpose. They’re just things. They represent the past. And they’re very much a part of who I am today, but I don’t need to hold onto them. I’ll keep them in my heart. Since the tangible are gone, now they occupy a larger part in my heart, and that’s where they need to be.

Jeep jog stroller

Today we let go of the jog stroller. It’s been tough getting rid of the kids’ things as it’s like we’re having to let go of their childhoods. Many miles were put on this stroller. Elise made many trips to the grocery store. This stroller had lots of storage for groceries. Years ago I’d put in quite a few miles pushing this stroller with Mara in it. Pushing a stroller and kid weighing a combined 100 lbs. at a 7-something pace is a surefire way to get strong and fast. I kind of feel like we let go of a competitive advantage as well as a piece of our children’s past.

TV armoire

Today we let go of the TV armoire from our bedroom. After Elise and I bought our house, we bought new bedroom furniture because our old stuff was hodgepodge and rattled around in our new, big master bedroom. We found this armoire on Craigslist, it matched our new furniture, and the people who sold it to us wound up being Corey, the guy that hosted me at St. Edward’s for a weekend before I attended college there.

Mara’s little bike

Today we let go of Mara’s little bike. It was too small for her. It was really sad to get rid of it because I distinctly remember Santa Claus assembling and bringing this bike to Mara a few years ago for Christmas is Des Moines.

Running 876 miles to run 26.2

At the old high school track in Sealy, TX. A lot of training was done in Sealy, Bellville, Austin, West Des Moines, and on a highway somewhere between Hennessey and Okeene Oklahoma.

I haven’t had any “A” races or big running goals in the past couple of years. My friend Scott and I jumped into a local 10k in November of 2018 and I got first in my age group, in the Masters division, and came in 3rd overall. I ran the Run for the Water 10-miler this past November and PR’d. I ran my best times in each leg of the 10th annual Capital to Coast Relay. I also ran my poorest 3M half marathon in January of last year. I just hadn’t been really training hard or with much ambition toward any race or any kind of goal. I’d run the Boston Marathon in 2018 and kind of rested on that achievement for a year.

Since my Boston experience was less than what I’d hoped for (35 degrees, pouring rain and a 30 mph headwind), I decided that I wanted to run another Boston-qualifying marathon, so I signed up for the Mt. Hood Marathon. My goal was to run another 3:05 or better marathon, qualify for Boston, and the family and I would make another trip to Boston in April of 2020. As part of my training block, I invited myself to run the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim with my friends Patrick and Michael. While that was probably the most epic running adventure I’ve ever been on, I also severely sprained my left ankle when we were but a few miles into descending the South Kaibab trail. I’d sprained it so badly that it warranted a trip to the emergency room in Flagstaff the next day, and a diagnosis that I was going to have to lay off the running for at least 8 weeks. That diagnosis was on May 19th. The Mt. Hood Marathon was on June 27th. I had to drop out of the marathon.

Shortly after I’d signed up for the Mt. Hood Marathon, I also signed up for the Houston Marathon. The goal for Mt. Hood was to get into Boston. The goal for Houston was to run a sub-3-hour marathon. Mt. Hood is a downhill and extremely fast marathon, which would pretty much guarantee a qualifying time for Boston. Houston is a very flat marathon which is, as they’d say, a level playing field. Running a sub-3 in Houston would be a true test of training & endurance. I owe it to my friend Iram for putting it into my head to try to break 3.

My current marathon personal record is 3:05:42. I trained hard for that marathon, and that’s the race that qualified me for Boston in 2018. I ran a lot of miles in my training, and many of those miles were fast. I coached myself for that race and I’m still happy with the results of the race and training leading up to it.

I’ve coached myself for Houston as well. Before this training block started, I seriously considered seeking out a coach. I guess I stubbornly told myself that I could coach myself just fine, and I think I’ve done a good job. I’ve incorporated a lot of mileage, back-to-back weekend long runs and, this time, I incorporated two workouts per week. My workouts have consisted of hills, intervals and tempo runs. Workouts were usually on Tuesdays. I ran many hill repeats on Allerton, which is a good 1/3-mile 100 ft. climb behind our house. I ran more of my hill repeats up and down Wilke Dr. in Barton Hills, which is 1/5 of a mile that gets to a grade of 22%. Friends would ask if they could tag along for my Tuesday runs.

“I’m going to go run Wilke.”

“Uuuugggghhh.”

I quickly established a love/hate relationship with the track. After a Sunday long run, I’d look at the following week’s workouts and the interval on Tuesday would always jump out at me. Part dread, part excitement. I’d run a couple miles to warm up before my intervals, and I would just think of the run I was in at that moment. Then I’d start in on 800-meter repeats. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t count and do math and anxiously await until those repeats were over, but I knew I was running hard around a track for a reason, and I’d put myself to work. And while it wasn’t really a goal I’d set for myself, I’d usually run each interval faster than the previous. Loud music usually helped a bit. I’ve listened to Tool’s “Fear Inoculum” quite a bit on the track.

I also made myself work really hard on tempo runs. I think I naturally gravitate toward tempo runs. Or maybe I’ve convinced myself that tempo runs are synonymous with progression runs, where I’d run negative splits. During this training block, I made my tempo runs into hard workouts. I’d go out fast, and then ~2/3 into the run, I’d run at threshold and hang on for dear life, and then ease back right before my legs gave out on me. This has hopefully improved my VO2 max.

I ran all of the longer Saturday pace runs faster than my prescribed pace, but I don’t feel that it’s to my detriment. My prescribed pace for the marathon is 6 minutes and 50 seconds per mile. I’d usually hang between 6:20 – 6:30 for my Saturday pace runs. On peak weeks, my Sunday 20-milers felt great. I’d never look at my watch. I’d run how I felt that day, and I’d average a pace in the low 8’s and feel great after being on my feet for a little less than 3 hours, which is exactly how those long runs are designed.

I feel really, really good about this training block and the excitement far outweighs any anxiety for Houston on Sunday. I’ve done everything that I can leading up to this point as I start my last week of training, which is a tapering week. I have a couple 3-mile runs this week and a little 4 x 400 track workout on Tuesday. Other than that, my goals for this last week are to stay happy, healthy, fed and well-rested. I’ll really dial in my nutrition this week and get lots of rest and sleep. I’m looking forward to a lot of reading with my feet up!

I usually build out an 18-week training plan for a marathon. I’d already been putting in some mileage leading up to Mt. Hood and the Grand Canyon, so my build-up for this training block was a smooth transition. So this training block was actually 21-weeks, beginning on August 26, 2019.

Since August 26th, I will have run 876 miles and have spent 116 hours and 18 minutes on my feet. All of those miles, time and pushing hard so I can run 26.2 miles on January 19th at 7 a.m. in less than 3 hours.

My Houston Marathon goals are:

  • Goal A: 2:56 – Because why the hell not?
  • Goal B: 2:59:59 – Sub-3-hour marathon
  • Goal C: 3:04 – This would be a personal record
  • Goal D: 3:15 – This would get me into the 2021 Boston Marathon

Letting go of something every day

I’m not a resolutions kind of guy, but I kind of decided to turn a new leaf at the turn of the new year. Our house has really become cluttered since we’ve lived in it for the past 15 years. Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot I can do about that, because 99.9% of that stuff is “managed” by someone else. So, all I can do is take care of my stuff. And amid the general clutter, I’ve realized that I’ve become cluttered myself. It’s just stuff that has stuck around because it has a place. But it’s stuff that I don’t use, need or want any longer. Whatever it is, it has served its purpose. So, until I’m done, I’m going to try to let go of something every day.