Tuesday, November 19, 2013

My First Marathon

Two years ago I never thought I'd ever be able to run a marathon, but after putting several half marathons behind me and four months of dedicated training, I ran the Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon!

This is the same event that I ran my first half marathon during, just a year ago.  I completed the training without any issues and on the evening of November 17th I was ready to run, nervous and excited, and joined about 30,000 of my running buddies in the Starting Village as we put ourselves into a proper mental state with each other and with the help of the All American Rejects (who put on a fantastic concert for us!).  Then it was time to get into our corals, hear a wedding performed at the starting line (because it's what we do in Vegas) and the National Anthem.  Finally the gun sounded and we were off.  I set out to run the race in four hours and twenty minutes but ended up finishing in five hours and twenty six minutes.  I'll explain why.

I learned a few things through my training and the race.  First and foremost, a full marathon isn’t twice as hard as a half marathon.  It’s more than twice as hard.  I suspected this was the case when I realized I had passed through the 13.1 mile mark with what seemed like ease, but somewhere around mile 20 I was more than twice as sore as when I had finished the half marathons I'd run before, to include covering 13.1 to 20 miles seven of the last eight weekends during my training.  In the end, I think the marathon is the hardest thing I’ve ever put my body through.

Cramps.  Thankfully I’ve never had abdominal cramps or stomach issues while running.   I’ve had to manage leg and foot cramps after long runs at times but I’ve also never had to deal with them while running.  Until this race.  Between miles 17-18 my right calf cramped pretty hard.  It happened quickly and rather than pretend I could fight it, I slowed to a walk and let it resolve.  It seemed to take forever, but it worked.  I went back to running after it let go and continued on until sometime between mile 22 and 23 when it cramped again.  I slowed to a walk again.  It took longer to stop cramping but I finally picked up a slow running pace once it released.  At that point the front of my thighs were on the verge of cramping (probably the result of compensating for the misbehaving calf) but never did so, so I pressed on and crossed the finish line tired and happy, with a small group of other tired and happy runners.  The time I spent walking accounted for a good bit of the extra hour it took me to finish the race.

Hydration.  I don’t think the cramps were the result of dehydration.  I was well-hydrated, sweated throughout the race and even had to stop several times and take advantage of the portable bathrooms staged along the route.  I don’t believe I was over-hydrated either.  My watch and RoadID fit well and never got tight.  My hands and feet never swelled.

Nutrition.  I’d been training at longer distances with Gu gels and cut up nutrition bars, and if I ate during a training run, I’d carry water (rather than a sports drink).  I’d eat along the way every 45 minutes to an hour with good success.  On mid-length runs, I wouldn’t always take solid food or gels and would run with Nuun in my water bottle instead.  My longest runs made me sore but I never cramped.  With the leg cramps during this race, I have more experimenting to do with long distance nutrition.  I suspect the cramps were the result of not managing my electrolytes well and so an imbalance formed during the run.  (BTW, I’m a pretty salty sweater.)  Based on recommendations from others, I want to try Tailwind and will probably give it a go the next time I train for a long race.

Weather & Clothing.  The weather was perfect.  The temperature at the start was about 65F with low humidity typical of southern Nevada, and just a slight breeze.  Being a night race, the sun was setting as the race began and the temperature gently dropped throughout the run.  I wore shorts, a thin long-sleeved tech tee, with another short-sleeved tech tee on top.  Injinji socks and my Saucony Kinvara 3s on my feet, and no hat or gloves.  As is the norm, I had no foot problems at all (including no blisters).  I never felt too hot, and only got chilly when I was walking off the leg cramps.  BTW, the Kinvaras are now retired with that race bringing me just short of 400 miles on those shoes.  They were fantastic road shoes and I’ll probably replace them with a pair of Kinvara 4s.

My Family.  Training for this race took four months.  I couldn’t have done it without the support of my wife and son, who patiently dealt with my (very) early runs during the hot months, then my evening/night runs during my last month of training.  That last month was especially disruptive since runs were longer and often trampled over dinnertime and even my son’s bedtime on occasion.  And then there was the adjusted social schedule with friends and other family members.  I owe my wife and son HUGE thanks for letting me train for, and then run this race.  So thank you Stephanie and Paul!  I love you and I can’t repay you for your generosity and patience.

Now that this race is done, I plan on trying to work more variety into my training:  more general body strength, core strength, and I want to get back to working on the stairs and rowing again.  I’m also going to try to get back to more trail running.

So, will I do it again?  YES!  I definitely want to run another marathon.  The half marathon in Las Vegas is awesome because you spend all of the time on The Strip and parts of the Art District, but the added route for the full marathon is frankly boring, covering two long and straight roads.  I’ll probably continue to run the half marathon here but will look for my next full marathon in a different location: perhaps one of the southern California races in LA or San Diego.

It’s great to be a dad!

(Disclosure:  I was not asked to comment on or endorse, nor was I compensated for mentioning any of the brand products in this post.)

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Book Review - "Ender’s Game" and the Ender's Saga

Written by Orson Scott Card from 1985 through 1996, I’ve read the four books contained in what is often referred to as “Ender’s Saga” several times.  With the movie version of Ender’s Game now on the big screen, I thought it would be a good time to review the original books in the series.


Ender’s Game (1985)

When Orson Scott Card wrote Ender’s Game, he created a classic for older children (“young adults”) and adults alike.  When compared to most modern action/adventure stories (and movies) the pace of Ender’s Game strikes me as a bit slower.  Even so, there’s plenty of action, suspense and drama as the reader follows young Andrew “Ender” Wiggin through his training the military Battle School in order to make the cut to continue to be groomed for eventual command.

The story is set far in the future, after Earth has recovered from an attack by a hostile species referred to as “the Buggers”; an attack that nearly annihilated humanity.  In an attempt prepared for a future Bugger war, children are screened and selected for battle training in a special schoolhouse orbiting the Earth.  The hope that some will show the right tactical and command skills, and have the overall mental capacity as they move into adulthood to make them qualified and capable of commanding a fleet of warships.  This book focuses on young Ender’s training and testing as a child.  Removed from his family at a very young age, his adventure is often less than pleasant and at times brutal.

Without spoiling the end, events take a dramatic turn late in the book, having a lasting effect on young Ender, and significantly shaping the rest of his life.  This also sets the stage for the subsequent stories contained in what has become known as “Ender’s Saga.”  This book, as well as those that follow, are full of all the good stuff that makes great science fiction--space, ships, a struggle to save Earth, and the hope we have in our youth to move us into the future.  As with all great Science Fiction, Ender’s Game is thick with social commentary and leaves the reader chewing on weighty ethical questions once the story ends.  This is great book for adults, and a wonderful tool for parents to share with their kids when the time is right.  I believe the discussions over the lessons that apply to real life will last for years to come.  Grab a copy and enjoy!

Speaker for the Dead  (1986)

I loved Ender’s Game and was eager to finally read this sequel.  Initially I wasn’t sure how the story would unfold but it took off quickly, building on the momentum created in the first book.  According to Orson Scott Card, Speaker for the Dead was the story he originally set out to tell.  Reinforcing what Mr. Card said, as good as Ender’s Game was, it only sets the stage for this story.

As with Ender’s Game, social commentary is at the heart of this amazing story, and the reader watches the practical results of the now mature thoughts and consequences of Andrew “Ender” Wiggin’s youthful act of xenocide committed against the Buggers.  In an attempt to address, put into context, and perhaps even redeem himself from the savage act of xenocide, Andrew authors two books, “The Hive Queen” and “The Hegemon”, and becomes the first of a non-religious order referred to as Speakers for the Dead. Through these two books, and his words as a Speaker for the Dead, Andrew strives as an adult to limit (if not prevent) any future act of xenocide.  Triggered by the practical calling for a Speaker for the Dead to address the death of several humans on the colony planet Lusitania, we watch a larger story unfold when the resultant moral doctrine contained in “The Hive Queen” and “The Hegemon” play out as decisions are made about how to practically deal with the much more significant emerging conflict between the Human and another sentient race called the Pequininos.

There are very few plot holes, but they’re not of consequence in the end.  They’re easily overlooked and quickly overcome by this amazing story.  If you liked the original story and haven’t read this sequel, please do.  You won’t be disappointed.

Xenocide  (1991)

After the strength of Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead, I had to see where the story went and decided to read Xenocide even after hearing and reading very mixed reviews for the book.  I’m glad I did.  Xenocide took a slower pace than the previous books and deals with a human fleet sent by Starways Congress toward Lusitania.  Onboard the fleet is a weapon called the Molecular Disruption Device (MDD, or the “Little Doctor”), a weapon with the ability to destroy an entire planet, sent with apparent intent to do just this to Lusitania.  If so, the destruction of this colony world would result in the annihilation of all the human colonists as well as the xenocide of two entire races living only on Lusitania: the Pequininos and a third (surprise) sentient race.  Working together, the three races struggle to find a way to stop the fleet and if necessary, to leave the planet.

Whereas moral and social commentary are usually undercurrents in science fiction, they take a much more significant role in this book as the author examines cultural, racial and even gender biases and preferences in the context of the struggle to preserve life: specifically what happens when the struggle for life and culture of one group puts another in jeopardy.  Xenocide also examines the unique origins and life of Jane, Ender’s faithful companion and an apparently another sentient being (a third species outside of humanity) living within a communications network of devices called Ansibles, spanning the inhabited universe and allowing faster than light communications between the worlds.

This diminished the strength of the book for some, but I didn’t mind as the more traditional elements of science fiction were still solidly present:  the possibility of a sentient life emerging from within the virtual world; an interesting and creative examination of a particle called the Philote; faster than light communication and travel; and time dilation. Some reviews I read expressed dislike for the liberties Mr. Card takes with science, however I enjoyed how he played with physics to enable a continuing and wonderful work of fiction.  He’s no guiltier with his scientific liberties than most who preceded him in the genre.

While Xenocide wasn’t my favorite single book in the series, I definitely enjoyed it as a key part of a broader piece of wonderful storytelling.  While taking a slightly different direction, Xenocide is a logical place and way for the story of Ender Wiggin and the universe he lives in to continue.  Keeping that in mind, I recommend it to anyone who enjoyed Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead.

Children of the Mind  (1996)

This book had many similarities to and differences from the first three in the Ender’s Saga.  It’s very different from Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead in that it’s more philosophical, even though it’s much more a direct continuation of the primary story that left off at the end of Speaker for the Dead.  While also different from Xenocide, there are a greater number of similarities with this book than with the first two.  I mentioned in my review of Xenocide that social commentary takes a  more significant role; in this book it takes a primary role.  Children of the Mind is much more philosophical than the books that precede it but Orson Scott Card does a fine job of wrapping up the overall story of Ender Wiggin and those who surround him.

As Mr. Card continues and concludes the story of Ender, he takes the events of the previous three thousand years of history and uses them to pose the very difficult questions we often try to avoid: what is life, what does it mean to be human, what makes us individuals and is the value of an individual life when weighed against a greater population or even the entire species, and what is gender?  His characters wrestle with the difference in value (if any) between life and sentient life.  He also does a fantastic job of posing very significant and real moral questions on a societal level, and works through them (often without providing “the” answer): when should war occur; at what point does the price of employing a weapon of mass destruction outweigh the cost; etc.

My only constructive criticism or observation is about the title.  I’m not sure what other name I’d give the book, but I didn’t feel the story was much about the order called The Children of the Mind.  While they play a critical role in the story, the order itself is only a secondary actor.  It seems the only real tie to the order is that the more heady and philosophical nature of this book suggests we’re all actually children of the mind in one way or another.  Mr. Card challenges us to think about ourselves, humanity, and the world we live in.

I definitely enjoyed Children of the Mind.  I recommend it to readers who enjoyed Xenocide, especially if you want to know how the story of Ender Wiggin concludes.  My only “caution” to the reader is to remember the much more philosophical direction this book takes.  Once again, enjoy!

I recently saw the movie Ender's Game and look forward to posting my review soon.

Based on my fondness for these first books, I'll continue reading in the Ender’s universe, moving on to the four “Shadow Saga” books.  I also plan on reading Ender’s Game to my son soon.

It’s great to be a dad!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

I Didn't Mean to Scare Him

It’s happened to many of us before, I’m sure.  I was supposed to be a tender moment, and I scared my son.  It was the middle of the night and he was asleep.  He’d been fidgety all night, having dreams, talking in his sleep, and tossing and turning.  At one point it sounded like he might have been awake so I got out of bed and went to his room to see what was up.

He appeared to be sound asleep.  If he had awakened, he was already back in dreamland.  Or maybe he never woke up and it only sounded that way.  I went over and stood by his bed for a while just watching him, gently adjusted his sheet and blanket, then stood a bit longer to see if he would stir.  Nothing.  He was out, and for the moment quiet and still.  So cute and peaceful.

It was time to head back to bed myself so I slowly knelt down on his bed and leaned over to give him a gentle kiss.  This is nothing out of the ordinary.  Every night before I go to bed, I walk back to his room to check on him.  I always give him a kiss and whisper in his ear that I love him, I’m proud he’s my son and I’m proud to be his dad.  This was no different other than it was in the middle of the night.  As I leaned down, just a foot or so from his face, he opened his eyes, saw me and screamed.  I felt horrible!

As quick as he was scared by the presence of someone so close to him, he realized it was just me.  I had also moved my face back from his a bit and said, “it’s okay buddy, it’s just me.”  Recognition set in immediately and I moved back in, now to comfort and hug and hold him.  He latched on, and out of breath, quietly said, “dad, you scared me.”

“I know, son.  I’m so sorry.  I just came in to check on you.  I didn’t mean to scare you.”

Catching his breath, “I know, dad.”

“I really love you, son.  Please don’t be scared.  I’ll always protect you.  I never want to scare you.”

“I love you too, dad.” And he held me tighter.

He quieted back down, faster than I would have thought possible after scaring him so bad.  Within a few minutes he was back to sleep.  I re-adjusted his sheets, gave him the kiss I had intended to give him at first, and whispered my usual affirmation of love to him in his ear.  As I started to move away and off of his bed, on the cusp of sleep he whispered back,  “I love you too dad.  I’m proud to be your son.”

That young and amazing boy broke my heart twice in just five minutes.  First because I felt so bad that I had scared him, knowing there was no way to undue that moment.  Then, with his sweet words of love back to me.  I left his room knowing the last thing on his mind as he went back to his world of dreams was my love for him.

It’s great to be a dad!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Comfort of 20 Years

Just over a month ago on June 26th, Stephanie and I celebrated 20 years of marriage.  In one sense it seems overwhelming.  I’ve realized it’s also a standard for comfort for me.

A lot has happened in 20 years.  We were young, but weren’t too young by most standards when we married.  I was already 29 years old and a captain in the Air Force, and Steph was just a few years behind me in age (although she undoubtedly looked much younger).  Relative to those who marry during, or right out of college, we had been around the proverbial block at least once or twice.

Time flies.  I can’t believe how fast 20 years has gone by, especially as I ponder that at 49 years old, we’ve been married for almost half my life.  It’s amazing and wonderful.  While I can easily remember life before we were married, those memories are mostly like the memories of a movie I saw.  They’re real, but the memories of life prior to our wedding are mostly absent of “tangible” emotion (if that makes sense).  The years after, however, are rich with the emotion and events of our lives together...our life together.  We’ve moved our household 10 times, traveled to and lived in a variety of places around the world, and 12 into the adventure our son was born as he joined us in our amazing journey.  Looking back at all that’s happened, all the moves and discussions about the stuff of life, the decisions we’ve made, our agreements and disagreements, all the things routine and exciting--it’s a bit overwhelming.  So much has happened in what now seems to be so little time.

And yet there’s comfort.  Even though time flies, somehow the past 20 years has seemed like a lifetime in the most positive way.  While time does fly, strangely at the same time it’s become foreign to me that there was a time before we were married, a time that I lived alone, did things alone, had no wife or son or in-laws.  The wonderful life I have today is almost the only life I remember with real emotion and passion.  It’s the long and delicious life, the full and complete life, that’s culminated in things that have nothing to do with houses, cars, places, etc.  The past 20 years has somehow quietly and firmly consumed all that I am, focused on my wife and our son, and our extended families.  All the rest very peacefully became the stage we’re on and the props that set the scenes we’ve experienced and enjoyed.  In the end, the past 20 years, married to the same sweet and amazing woman has taught, and brought me comfort.  At least a kind of comfort that didn’t exist before we were married.  Not that I was uncomfortable, but I’m somehow now more content and comfortable than I ever was before.  Life went from good to great, from tasty to exquisite, from black and white to full color, or perhaps from regular-def to high-def.  You get the idea.

So our 20th anniversary came and went, with the associated and heart-felt special events and a quiet evening alone while our son spent time with his grandparents, but the momentary celebration of our 20th year pales in comparison to the wonder and comfort the last 20 years has brought to and meant to my life.  I believe there’s truth in the statement that when we’re wed, the two become one.  I can’t think of a better way to describe it.  Without my wife, half of me would be gone; I can’t even imagine it, nor do I want to.  She is and continues to be the love of my life and the mother of our son, and I’ve probably failed in my attempt to explain how those very sterile words actually mean something more than words can say.  I trust that there are other husbands and fathers out there who know what I’m talking about.  I also hope this modest attempt to describe how something conceptual has quietly become real serves as an encouragement to someone out there who might be considering embarking on the same adventure in marriage.

And the only thing I can say to my amazing wife are these powerful and insufficient words:  I.  Love.  You.  Thank you for being my wife and the mother of our amazing son.  As long as it's with you, I can't wait to see what the next 20 years brings for us!

It’s great to be a dad!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

A Big Month!

First there was Free Comic Book Day, then Steph and I went away for a week-long vacation visiting friends and attending a convention on the east coast without our son, and shortly after our return the school year ended with Paul finishing kindergarten.

May the 4th (be with you)...Free Comic Book Day.  Yes, being the geek parents we are, we have a favorite local comic book store and took Paul to pick out a few issues and enjoy the costumes.  And boy did he!  He went in costume himself and was a hit with everyone there.  At his request we pulled out an old Halloween costume and transformed him into a little Bobba Fett.  When he arrived he was instantly greeted and flanked by by a few fellow Star Wars characters:  a Stormtrooper and a full-sized member of the Fett clan.  Our son told my wife, "This is the best day of my life!"

Toward the end of the month it was time for the convention.  I completely trust my in-laws with Paul, but I think I suffered from something akin to fatherly separation anxiety.  As I think I’ve said before, I miss my son when he’s in the next room asleep.  For my wife and I to be on the opposite side of the country for a week was a little stressful for me.  I’ve been on trips before, but Steph’s been home.  This time it was both of us going and while we had confidence he’d do well, listen to what he was told, and have a good time, there was really only one way to find out:  so off we went!  We had a blast at the convention and Paul had a blast with his grandparents, but this was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done as a father, and maybe in my life.  We spoke with him several times through the week and it was all fun and games.  The conversations weren’t long.  He was so busy having fun he’d give us a quick data-dump, and then off he’d go.  It warmed my heart to see how comfortable he was!  His behavior was great for his grandparents and at school, he did everything he was supposed to, and best of all he didn’t stress over our absence.  It was a great relief to know he took it all in stride.  (In fact, I think our dog stressed more than anyone, but she’s clingy and defensive.)  When we returned home, Paul was happy to see us, mostly because he could finally tell us about his adventures playing games, going on walks and especially playing in the pool.

I’m sure fathers who have gone around this track before understand--as a father this was a big step for me.  I think the same was true in a different way for our son.  Each of us grew a little (or maybe a lot) due to the experience and I’ve had the privilege of watching my son take a small but major step in his growth.  I’m happy to see this level of independence in him.  As I pray with him every night: I’m thankful and proud that he’s my son, and that I’m his dad.

Then, school ended this past week and we’re now the proud parents of a graduated kindergartener / brand new first-grader.  Paul did well this year at school and I’m confident he’s very ready to enter grade school.  For him it means next year he gets a new teacher and new friends in class, but Steph and I have made a bit of a big deal about it with him, pointing out we’re proud of him for being a first grader now and for how well he did this year.  He’s already excited rather than nervous about it, and we’ll reinforce this with him toward the end of the summer.  In the meantime, summer break is here and we’re swinging out efforts toward encouraging him to enjoy the fun and the days away from the classroom.  I’m pretty sure we won’t have a problem with that and if this summer is like the last two, he’ll tell us he’s ready for school sometime during the last month of summer break.  I love this lifetime adventure and as always...

It’s great to be a dad!

Monday, April 29, 2013

1000 Miles

Almost three years ago I began consistently logging my runs using the Nike+ website.  This month I passed 1000 miles.

I never set out with a goal to run a certain number of miles, so 1000 kind of snuck up on me.  Having run my whole life, I think I began logging my runs primarily to start keeping myself committed to run regularly, and maybe to see how much I was actually running.

Here’s how it breaks down:

Jun-Dec 2010:  32 runs, average distance 4.8 miles, annual total 155.89 miles.

Jan-Dec 2011:  64 runs, average distance 4.6 miles, annual total 295.26 miles.

Based on the data I captured for seven months in 2010, I probably ran just short of 300 miles for the whole year, just as I did in 2011.  That tracks with my own perception of how I was running.  I was fairly consistent, with most of my running happening in the best weather during spring and fall.  This is obvious when looking at the graph for 2011.  In June of 2011, I moved from southern Germany to Las Vegas, Nevada: a dramatic climate change, but my running picked up again in the fall.

Jan-Dec 2012:  77 runs, average distance 4.7 miles, annual total 364.83 miles

Climate change aside, something odd happened in 2012:  my mileage was low in the winter, and stayed low through the spring and didn’t pick up until fall.  I’m not really sure why, since the weather is fine for running year round in Las Vegas, except for during the day in the summer.  It seemed I just skipped my usual volume of running in spring and I’m not sure why.  Back to why I started tracking my runs:  based on my own perception, I wouldn’t have noticed this.  The records gave me the ability to look back.  Regardless, what brought caused in increase in miles toward the end of the year was my decision to run a half marathon.  I grabbed a training plan from Runner’s World and started to work toward the goal of entering and finishing the Rock ‘n‘ Roll Las Vegas Half Marathon.  I ran that race in December 2012, ended the year strong and moved into 2013 pleased with what I had accomplished in the form of the half marathon.

Jan-Apr 2013:  42 runs, average distance 5.4 miles, annual total 228.77 miles. (Note: I had to repost this chart, which now runs through early October.)

I set a few goals for 2013:  to run at least two half marathons and to enter and run my first full marathon.  Little did I know that I’d almost immediately knock out one of the half marathons.  Late in December I received an email from Competitor prompting me to enter the Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona event, pointing out that if I ran these two desert races back-to-back, I would pick up an additional finisher’s medal called the “Double Down”.  I entered and rolled right back into the last 30 days of training for a half marathon.  The new year was starting as strong as the previous year ended.

Now, four months into the year, I’m keeping my miles up better than in years prior.  As April comes to a close, I’ve logged just over 55 miles, pausing only for eye surgery at the very end of the month.  I’ll pick right back up again the second week in May, consistent with what the doctors advice.  I have my sights set on running the Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas marathon in November this year, and somewhere between now and that race I’ll find at least one more half marathon to run to achieve my goals for the year.  Also, if the last two thirds of this year mirror the first third, I'm on pace to log just short of 1000 miles in 2013 alone.  We'll see how that works out, but I'd like to think I can do it with just a few extra miles here and there.

So what does it all mean?  There’s certainly satisfaction in seeing I’ve run 1000 miles.  I’m looking ahead, I'll cross the 2000 mile mark sometime around the beginning of 2014.  If the marathon this fall goes as well as I hope, I want to run at least one marathon in 2014 and attempt a 50K later in the year.  I’m convinced seeing my running progress charted out has helped me run like I should, rather than just thinking I’m running like I should.  I can see when I’m slacking off.  Even so, the charts alone don’t motivate me completely.  While I have a goal of running to maintain fitness (physical, mental and emotional), without specific goals to reach (races, time improvements), while still good it will quickly become less purposeful.  I think this is what happened during the first half of 2012.  Entering and running races ensured I have something specific I’m shooting rather than just the general/overall purpose of fitness.

Then there’s a long-term goal--perhaps THE long-term goal:  to run for the rest of my life and to be an example for my son.  I want us to enjoy each other’s company for a long time to come, and hopefully serve as a good example for him.  And you already know why.  Because...

It’s great to be a dad!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Running Etiquette (Part 2)

My last post covered ten of my running etiquette “rules” and as promised, here are the rest.  I hope you find them useful!

Here we go, picking up at number 11:
  1. (#11)  The road or trail doesn’t care about you.  Potholes, rocks, lose gravel and the weather are indifferent about what you’re doing.  Wildlife doesn’t respect you or your good intentions either.  Don’t let the routine, the ordinary, or your experience lull you into a false sense of security.  Be prepared for the things that don’t usually bite you, literally and figuratively.  Hope for the best but have a reasonable plan for the worst.
  2. (#12)  Have a plan.  In the spirit of the previous rule, let folks know your plan and carry some form of identification.  Whenever possible I let my wife know where I intend to run and how far/long I expect to go. I’m also a huge fan of Road ID.  Let’s face it, we’ve all set out to run a certain route and/or distance, along the way you change the plan for any number of reasons and suddenly you’re not where you said you’d be.  Then you find yourself needing help.  Back to Road ID--pure figurative gold and very affordable.  No matter what, if someone finds you, they have the info they need to render aid and contact someone you’ve designated on your behalf.  If you’re an outdoor athlete, whether you run, walk, bike, ride horses, etc., get yourself a Road ID.  Hopefully the worst never happens, but if it does, make it easy for someone else to help you.  If Road ID isn’t your thing, that’s fine.  Just find a way to ensure others can find out who you are and render aid to you in the event you’re unable to ask for their help.
  3. (#13)  Hygiene matters.  If you’re an early morning runner it seems in most cases the shower understandably happens after the run.  Fine, but no matter what time of day you run, brush your teeth before you hit the pavement or trail, especially if you’re going to run with someone else.  We runners love our air and when we run we sure move a lot of it in and out of our lungs.  When you’re running with others, minty fresh (or even mediciny) breath always wins over last night’s egg salad or the kimchi you ate at lunch.  Trust me.  Your clothes matter too.  You might not notice or mind the clothes you’ve repeatedly run in for the last week, but your running buddy will.  Being frugal is one thing, but consider how often you probably ought to swap your shorts and tech tee for a fresh set.  Ditto for your body.  I didn’t forget what I said at the start of this rule, but knowing you’ll get a little “aromatic” when you log the next several miles isn’t a good reason to put off the shower that you probably already needed yesterday.  Last thing on this topic: if you run in Vibram Five Fingers, please throw those things in the washer every now and then.  Yes, you can do that!  They’ll hold up just fine and we won’t have to smell your feet even when you’re still 25 yards away.
  4. (#14)  Running is a journey.  I’m talking about a lifestyle or even a lifetime and of running, but just about every individual runs contain a little piece of that journey.  This one probably warrants a separate, dedicated post as well.  You hear runners talk about facets of this all the time when they say things like “listen to your body.”  When you run, you have time to strip away the usual daily grind at the office or at home.  It’s you, your body and your thoughts.  If you run regularly, you’ll inevitably find yourself noticing things about your body that you’ve never noticed before.  You’ll have the chance to work through issues mentally ranging from how your body is managing the physical stresses, pains and achievements of the run, to matters that the “normal” day doesn’t afford you the chance to dedicate thought to.  You can daydream, or listen to music or books.  You can actually enjoy an uninterrupted conversation with a friend who runs with you.  You’ll see the world around you differently.  You see things you’ve never noticed on the road you normally drive down.  The trail in the woods you never see other than to drive by becomes a beautiful adventure and a world all its own.  Over time all those runs add up and the time spent running makes you a better person:  physically and mentally.  Others may or may not notice, but you will.  That’s why I say running is therapy for the body and mind.
  5. (#15)  Run for fun!  I’m concluding by circling back to some of the thoughts in the earlier rules.  Don’t get all wrapped up in the gear.  Get yourself a good pair of shoes and get going--alone or with a friend.  Old shorts and a t-shirt are just fine.  Buy other stuff when and if you decide you need it.  Don’t let other people or someone else’s running attire become your excuse for not hitting the road or trail.  Generally speaking I don’t look like a runner, and quite often I don’t wear what some might consider the “right” clothes.  Whatever.  Enter races if you want, and if you do, have fun.  As Nike says, “just do it.”  Brookes says, “run happy.”  There are dozens of other appropriate slogans out there.  Pick one and take it to heart!
If you’re not a runner and this has encouraged you, let me know if you decide to get out there!  If we live near each other I’ll gladly run with you  If not, I’ll gladly be your virtual running buddy. 

As always, it’s great to be a dad!

DISCLOSURE:  Road ID did not ask me to review, support or recommend their product.  I don't have a relationship with them other than as a happy customer.  I've not been compensated in any way.  The opinion expressed here is completely my own.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Running Etiquette (Part 1)

I’ve seen other runner’s etiquette and "rules" lists over the years and thought maybe I should share my thoughts with those who follow my adventures.  Hopefully you’ll identify with them, you might chuckle a bit, and I might even make you a little angry.  These are the “rules” I try to run by and they’re based on my own experiences dating back to my years as a young man when I started running with my Dad.  Some may be unique, but most are probably variations on common themes from across our sport.

  1. Never judge other runners.  You can certainly admire them, but don’t judge them.  They’re running too.  I think it was in Runner’s World I read, “there are no ugly runners.”  It captured the same attitude I’m trying to express.  Publications like Runner’s World (which is an awesome resource!) seems to present a picture of what some think is the typical (or stereotypical) runner: very lean, ideal form, and all the right gear.  There are many folks out there who look just like that, but if you see someone running who doesn’t fit the picture, remember this: at least they’re running.  You and I won’t ever know why or how most of the folks we see running actually ended up motivated to hit the road or trail--all you know is they’re there.  As a lifetime runner without they “typical” runner’s body type (I consider myself an “ordinary runner”), I’m pretty sure I’ll never look like those runners on the magazine covers.  The less-than-picture-perfect person you pass on the road or trail might have finally decided to give running a try.  They might even be on their very first run.  Or, they may have once been an incredible athlete, but are now recovering from injury.  What matters is they’re running.
  2. Acknowledge other runners.  A smile or wave of recognition or encouragement is always appreciated.  A kind verbal or non-verbal greeting goes a long way when shared with other non-runners on the road or trail too: walkers, equestrians, cyclists, etc.  Make a point to offer this kindness to others whether they return it or not.
  3. Your shoes matter most.  Other than shoes, all the rest of your gear falls into the “nice to have” category.  You risk hurting yourself without the right shoes.  If you’re just starting out and don’t know what you need, your best bet is to find a local running store.  They’ll assess you and let you know what kind of shoes you need.  Many of them will watch you run and/or look at an old pair of shoes to see how you move, then advise you from there.  Oh, and those shoes won’t last forever.  Understand that if you get into this, you’re probably going to buy new running shoes every 300-400 miles.  Distances vary depending on whose advice you’re considering and how you run.  Regardless of miles, if your feet, ankles and knees start complaining and there’s no other cause, it’s probably time to treat yourself to some new shoes.
  4. Running is an individual and a group activity.  For many of the runners I know, it’s primarily individual rather than social.  However, you’ll still find like-minded buddies to share your passion with whether you run with them or not.  Fact is, there’s an individual and a social element to running no matter who you are.  Even if you’re a solo runner, find a local running group or track club, or even a casual group of friends at work or school who also run.  I’m pretty sure you won’t regret it.
  5. Running buddies and training plans keep you focused.  I mostly run alone unless I’m in a race, but I have several running and non-running friends who expect to hear about my jaunts.  They ask regularly and my answer can’t be, “I didn’t run.”  They’ll apply all the appropriate pressure.  Call it accountability or something else, but it’s nice to have others around you who are interested in what you’re up to.  For those solo runners like me, training plans give some structure to the routine.  Even if you enjoy running, you’ll find yourself in those periods of slump when the routine becomes too routine or you’re not challenging yourself.  Having a race goal and following a related training plan causes you to add variables you might not otherwise include:  flats and hills, slow and fast speeds, changing distances, etc.
  6. Running is competitive.  Here’s the secret though: you may not always (or even usually) compete against another athlete.  Your primary competitor may be a new distance or a personal best/record, a change in the frequency of your running or weekly volume, or a change in the time of day you run.  There may or may not be another human there.  This is true for races too.  I know I care very little about when other runners finish the race I’m in.  The competition for me is to finish what I started and how that finish compares to any previous races of the same kind.  But if you’re competitive and want to race others, you’re still in the right place!
  7. It’s as much a mental game as a physical one.  Maybe it's more mental than physical.  No doubt running is a physical activity and it carries all the physical benefits and consequences with it.  Learning to physically deal with discomfort and pain is only a part of it though.  Right along side the physical aspects are the mental and emotional ups and downs associated with your commitment to run:  mentally dealing with the physical discomfort, pain and injury; nerves on race day; and frankly moments of boredom.  Whether you run with some form of audio entertainment or not, running is not always the most mentally stimulating task.  I’ve mentioned it before: running for me is mentally therapeutic.  Even so, running with music, an audio book, or just my thoughts along with the urban or natural sounds that surround me can still result in those moments where my brain wants something more or different.  Discipline is called for: yes physically, but also mentally.  Oh, just getting out the door to run may be the thing that requires the most mental discipline.
  8. Never defend your right of way.  The rules of the road or trail are nice, but your soft body will usually never win a contest with a bike, horse, or motor vehicle.  At best, you’ll probably break even with another runner or jogging stroller.  Courtesy and respect are always nice when they’re extended to you, but in the interest of safety and deference to others who may not even see you, when in doubt, err on the side of caution and respect the things around you that could cause you harm.
  9. Respect the distance.  This rule, and the next probably warrant their own dedicated posts:  No matter whether you set out to run a mile, a 5K, 10K, half marathon, marathon or ultra, patiently and properly train for and respect the distance.  It’s the best way to avoid injury.  Biting off more than you can chew after a moment of sudden inspiration usually ends in unnecessary pain and discouragement.  I know this will anger some, but I also tend to think unless a race clearly advertises otherwise, running races are for running and the achievement of crossing the finish line is diminished if you treat it otherwise.  If you enter a race knowing you can’t or won’t run through to the finish, consider covering the distance outside of the timed race setting.  This is especially true of the longer distances: the half marathon and longer.  I’m definitely not the fastest runner, but I’ve never entered a running race without the expectation I’ll run from the start to the finish line.  You can (and should) do the same!
  10. Walking is awesome.  This is related to respecting the previous rule.  Do what you can do to gain and maintain good health.  There are times when anyone who runs finds they need to walk during training and during a race: to repair equipment, perhaps to eat or drink (I can’t drink from a cup without walking), to deal with an injury or help a fellow runner.  When you need to slow to a walk during a race, check beside and behind you then move to the side of the course.  In other words, run like you drive--or should I say run like you’re supposed to drive.  Some races declare a side of the road or trail for slower runners or walkers.  If so, follow the rule.  When it’s all said and done though, if you move to the side, you’ll lessen the risk of surprising or angering a runner behind you who may want to pass.  You’ll also reduce the risk of causing a wreck and getting hurt, or hurting someone else.  If you’re a runner, pay attention to the races you enter.  If the race allows walkers, parents with strollers, etc., don’t get mad when they’re there and moving slowly along the course.  Walking is awesome too, but enter running races to run unless the race specifically accommodates walkers. 
I’ve probably amused, intrigued and angered enough folks at this point, so I’ll stop for now.  In a few weeks I’ll post the rest of my thoughts on running etiquette.  In the meantime, if you happen to see me out there, let me know if I don’t smile and wave.  And please don’t hit me with your car.

It’s great to be a dad!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Calico Basin Trail Hike

Last weekend I took Paul on a trail hike around a small peak in the Calico Basin part of Red Rock Canyon.  This would be the longest and most difficult hike he’s ever done.  With water and snacks in hand, we joined with another parent and one of his friends from school and off we went.  

In the Google Earth image, we parked on the left side near the intersection of Sandstone and Kraft Mountain Loop, then started counterclockwise around the peak.  You can see the trail circle the mountain, then cut up and over, circling around the top of the image and back toward where we parked.  At the start, most of the trail was relatively flat, with elevation changes happening gradually.  The scenery was awesome and we made our way about half way around the peak on a trail that varied between powdery sand and gravel.  

At about the halfway point, the ground got a bit rockier and we came to the first of several obstacles, primarily large boulders, we had to climb up and over.  The challenge for the two parents was to coordinate our efforts to work the boys up and over the obstacles.  Usually one of us would go up first, then both the boys, then the other parent would come up last.  The boys were also challenged by this, not just because of the climbing, but because once on top of an obstacle, it took all the attention a five and six year old team of boys could muster to pay attention and be still.  They did great!

With the rock scrambles over obstacles behind us, we rounded the peak to turn back toward the car and had the opportunity to hike a trail up and over the peak, taking us very close to the highest part.  We rested at the top for a bit, enjoyed a little more water and took in the view, then made our way back down.

We spent the rest of the day resting and visiting my wife’s parents.  He’d given everything he had to a physically demanding day doing something he’d never done before.  He rode an emotional high too, probably fueled by regular statements by me of how proud I was of him for doing something that difficult for a little man.  Then bedtime finally came, his head hit the pillow, and he slept hard and peacefully.  When my bedtime came, I did too.  Being a dad, for me the day brought its own stress and excitement as I watched my son do things he’d never done before, some of these things with a bit of very managed risk, but risk nonetheless.  I fell asleep content and very proud of Paul.

Another adventure is behind us now: one more special experience I’ve had the privilege of sharing with my son.

It’s great to be a dad!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Is Running Too Expensive?

I recently posted in a running community on Google+  “Running is about you and a pair of shoes.  Okay, and a shirt and shorts unless you want the cops involved.  But many in our sport are also geeks and end up pushing ourselves harder and further.  We want to know more about the how, why and what's happening to our bodies when we run.  We want to adjust and tweak.”

While someone just trying out the sport may watch others of us geek out, remember you don't need all the sporty gear and tech to get the job done.  You don't have to look good, be color-coordinated and sport all the latest gear.  I've said this before and really meant it: running is a form of playing.  Just watch kids; they just run.  They don’t geek out about gels, don’t wear fancy hydration belts or sport GPS watches and heart rate monitors.  Even though it’s fun to geek out with all the latest goodies, we can do just what the kids do, and it’s okay.  You, a pair of shoes, and clothing adequate for the climate:  that’s all you need, especially if you’re just starting out.

Shoes.  You don’t even have to get overly stressed about all the varieties of shoes out there.  Find a friend who runs and head to a running store.  Tell them you’re starting out, and you want an appropriate pair of shoes to give this running thing a go without breaking the bank.  Or, unless you have issues with your feet, hit a major chain sports store or even the shoe section in a department store.  Try on a variety of shoes and buy a pair that feels good on your feet and fits well.  You probably won’t go wrong with a recognized brand that makes running shoes, but don’t feel like you have to succumb to the marketing machine either.  Many of the big brands have a variety of shoes including several models a reasonable price.  Just remember, how your new shoes fit is important.  How they look is not.

Socks.  As a new runner, if you’re going to buy anything else other than shoes, buy yourself a few pairs of running socks.  Again, easy to geek out and find all sorts of custom running socks out there, and they all have a place in the sport.  Don’t spend the money to buy those just to find out you don’t like the whole running thing.  If you don’t already have something that’ll work at home, grab a few pairs of ankle-high athletic socks.  They’ll work just fine and keep you from looking like your grandfather when you wear those over-the-calf white, high school athletic socks with your shorts.  (I said you don’t have to look good, but you also don’t want to scare folks either.  (This is why I don’t run shirtless.  I don’t think I look very good without a shirt and I really don’t want to scare small children or cause passing cars to crash at the terrible sight of my pasty bod.)

Running Clothes.  Clothing is easy because new runners run short distances.  Somewhere in your stuff is a cheap pair of athletic shorts or sweats and a t-shirt.  They’ll  work just fine.  Go with long sleeves or throw on a wind-breaker if it’s chilly.  Don’t worry that all your friends who are veteran runners have those technical shirts that wick water away, keep you warm (or cool), and are rumored to deflect rogue cyclists and cars along with rain and snow.  Those shirts are great (and I own a bunch of them!), but I promise you can trot around the block or cover a few miles in those old shorts and tees.  Also, if you work your way up to entering and running 5K (3.1 mile) races, find the ones that offer a shirt.  They’re usually the technical tees and you’ll quickly end up with a drawer full of them.  Bottom line:  don’t pay the money to outfit yourself for a marathon when you’re just exploring those early, short distances.

Running Buddies.  Finally, find a buddy to encourage your running and not your fashion sense.  Related, runners are like anyone else and come in two basic varieties: demanding and encouraging.  The demanding ones will want to drag you “up” to their level immediately and make you another version of themselves.  They’ll try to drag you along (and probably suck the fun out of the experience).  You’ll be equipped to run a marathon before you’ve even decided if you like running a couple miles, and you’ll feel guilty you’re “not dedicated enough, wearing the right gear, or doing more or better.  They may be great friends, but they’re probably not the best running buddies.  They need to run with someone who is at their level, not with you.  You’ll also know a person or two who is happy to work with you to explore the sport just as you are: someone with the heart and mindset of a mentor or coach.  They’ll encourage you rather than drag you.  They’ll answer your questions and help you along the way.  Most importantly, they’ll allow you to become the runner you are, not a carbon copy of themselves.  If you’re a social person and already know you’ll be a social runner too, or you’ll need the encouragement, find that encouraging person and team up.

This advice has grown out of my lifetime of running.  I’ve mentioned before that my son will start running with me this Spring, not because I asked him to, but because he asked to run with me.  I assure you he won’t look like “Mini Me” when we start down the path.  He’ll look a whole lot like a kid who just ran off the playground than he does a little runner in all the technical regalia.

Now get out there and run like you mean it!

It’s great to be a dad!

Friday, February 15, 2013

A Big Week

The first week of February was a pretty big week for our household, and I’ll warn you now, there’s a little bit of parental love in here; I’m going to boast a little about my son.  This week he turned six, lost his second tooth the morning of his birthday, he tested through the end of the entire list of vocabulary words for the school year, and he won a Citizenship Award for fairness at school.

I’m not sure why having a six year old seems so different than having a five year old.  Perhaps it’s more psychological for me as a parent than any actual significance.  He’s still a child and I’ll always endeavor to ensure he gets to enjoy being a child at every age, but having a son who is now “grade school age” somehow makes things different.  It certainly feels different than when he turned five but it’s a little hard to quantify other than to say he’s a year older.  Some of the greatest changes while he was five have been his ability to spell and read.  He’s reading at the same level I was when I was in second grade, and unlike today, my classmates and I were reading in first grade.  (It saddens me that it seems the current standard in so many states is to have kids reading by third grade.  Nevada is one of those states.)

And tooth number two fell out on his birthday!  He was in the bathroom brushing his teeth and I heard him cheerfully exclaim, “My tooth fell out!  Dad!  My tooth fell out!”  We’ve told him that losing his baby teeth meant he was becoming a big boy, so he sees this as a good thing.  When I went in, he proudly showed me.  I asked him where his tooth was and he pointed at the drain.  I assured him that we didn’t need to see the tooth and that the hole where it had once been spoke volumes about how he was growing and healthy.

Then, two days after his birthday we attended the quarterly assembly at his school.  His school is Pre-K through 5th grade and is small enough that they assemble the entire student body during these quarterly gatherings.  In addition to the curriculum, each quarter the school focuses the students on a particular civics/citizenship attribute.  Last quarter was “fairness” and we were proud to learn that our son won recognition for being the best model of fairness within the kindergarden.  We weren’t necessarily surprised based on feedback we’d received from his teacher the year prior at the same school, and even from his kindergarden teacher in Germany two years ago.  What made this different was he was formally recognized in front of us and in front of the other students.

Then to wrap up an amazing week, even though the school year is just past half over we learned he successfully tested through the entire year’s list of vocabulary/sight words and he’s rifling through his spelling tests with equal skill!  All I can say is we seem to have done something right when we started him down the path of doing his homework in a disciplined way, rewarding him for getting it done, and ensuring we read to him (and he reads to us) nightly.

Related to last week, I think it’s important to point out he’s in a kindergarden with a formal curriculum; with real, nightly homework; and high standards of conduct for the kids.  But the school does a fantastic job of teaching the kids at their ages rather than pushing them too hard.  In other words, they aren’t pushing the kindergardeners to be first graders, etc.  They absolutely expect them to be good kindergardeners in order to be ready for first grade.  The kids know what’s expected, are solidly encouraged when they show progress, helped when they struggle, and I think this keeps school fun for them--as fun as school can be anyway.  We strive to have the same environment at home and do our best to always be mindful to let our (now) six year old actually be a six year old, to enjoy the things little boys at his age enjoy, and ensure while we’re laying the critical foundation of education, he also gets plenty of time to play and goof off.  It isn’t always an easy balance to keep, but so far so good.  I’m so proud of my son!

It’s great to be a dad!