Summer is Here

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I dusted off my hydration pack this weekend. With 102° yesterday and 90° today, without hydration, running was an existential life choice. With a belly bigger than Dallas, I feel the choice was made for me. I had to get out there and acclimate myself. This summer’s not trending any cooler.

I have only one tank top to my name, a TrackSmith racing singlet gifted to me over Christmas by my brother-in-law. I chose wisely to wear it Saturday for the really hot one. I’ll need more if I hope to survive this summer.

I ran five each day, walking roughly two miles of them. I shamelessly count my walking as part of the run distance. I’m conditioning myself for a sixty-mile backpacking adventure next month at altitude. Should be cooler at twelve thousand feet where these fields of blooming bindweed and prairie dogs will be replaced by alpine buttercups and mountain goats. Ah, summer.

Birthdays

With our birthdays two days apart, Ellie and I typically share our celebrations. Something kept getting in the way every weekend and our party was delayed by four weeks. This weekend was sketchy as well with eight inches of snow in the forecast, but it was just a cold rain and didn’t stick to the roads. So, Ellie got her electric guitar and I finally got my Doc Martins.

If Ellie turned twenty, that means I must now be sixty. And Brit would be thirty. With the obvious cognitive decline I must experiencing at this advanced age, I appreciate the easy math to recall my girls’ ages. I know what you’re thinking, with my girls being born a full ten years apart, but same wife. We’ll celebrate thirty-five years together this summer.

I could point out the adversities I’ve encountered over my sixty-year span, but they’re drowned in a sea of blessings and I can only think of how good my life has been. Good friends. A growing family. I’m ready for the next sixty.

Oh, and Margot turned eight months.

Fall River Road

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We couldn’t start at the trailhead to the Aspenglen Deer Mountain Loop trail. The camping road was still closed for the season. So we parked about fifty yards down from the Fall River ranger booth in a wideout and walked down the campsite road until it came to the trail, just past the bridge over Fall River. That was today, on a windless morning.

Colorado is deep into spring break mode this weekend.  We figured the crowds at ski resorts would be bigger this year, so Karen booked us into a lodge on Fall River Road, one mile before the ranger booth. Estes Park is asleep compared to the ski resorts. We can hear the Fall River running outside our window. The sound is of peace and bliss.

I expect to hike the same trail tomorrow. We’ll steer right on the loop instead of the left we took today. And we’ll aim to hike further. Then, we will pause for lunch before ending the afternoon with pedicures. I’m a gentleman hiker.

A Tale of Two Gerasimov’s

Valery on the left and Vitaly on the right

I should be thankful that Putin’s special military operation in Ukraine is driving sales of my Full Spectrum Cyberwar novel.  Not that the sales are meaningful but they are better than zero.  I initially considered the war to be life imitating art, my book being the “art”.  I blogged about it partly because I found that interesting and, to be honest, partly to further drive sales with some self-promotion.  But now this actualization of my story is leading to character assassination.  Like something out of the Twilight Zone, the characters in my story are being killed in real life.

Allow me to provide more context.  Every novel contains an obligatory disclaimer about events and characters described within as not actually describing real events or persons.  Clearly, that is meaningless for the historical fiction genre.  And I can tell you that it’s just basically bullshit for all novels.  There’s nothing made up about key characters.

My General Alexander (Sasha) Volkov in Full Spectrum Cyberwar was patterned after the real-life General Valery Gerasimov, a major general in the Russian military.  His relevancy was that he published the Gerasimov Doctrine, an essay on hybrid warfare and essentially what my book was all about.

Gerasimov’s essay detailed asymmetrical actions that combine the use of special forces and information warfare that create “a permanently operating front through the entire territory of the enemy state.”  Russia’s interference in our 2016 elections was a component of such hybrid warfare, making it relevant for my story.

Long story, short, I freaked out a little when I read about General Vitaly Gerasimov being killed in the battle over Kharkiv.  Turns out that Vitaly and Valery are two different major generals, but I initially assumed the first name was a typo and had to perform some research to confirm that.

So maybe this is a non-issue, but a key character in my Cyber War I novel, Sam Sumner, was patterned after Sheldon Adelson, and he died a year ago.  Of course, he was 86 years old, but still.  Spooky. Also, Andrei in Full Spectrum Cyberwar is patterned after the Ukrainian hacker, Maksym Igor Popov – still living as far as I know. I intend to monitor the content in my ebook versions to make sure the characters’ storylines don’t disappear as they die in real life.

The Hero

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My little sister and I toughed out a difficult 2020 together. I know, most everyone did. Our year was heavy with the sadness of caring for our mother on hospice. Normally we are separated by a thousand miles. If there was a silver lining, it was that the work-from-home nature of my job meant I was able to be there with her and my brother in our mom’s house for the entire year.

We were all able to be there for each other, as family should be. I don’t recall exactly how I felt when it was over in January of last year, I recall being a bit emotional. Nancy dealt with it by training for a half marathon. I was more than happy to join her.

Other family members traveled from across the country to join us and together, we turned hard memories into a celebration. With Covid limiting mom’s service to a Zoom video call, the weekend took on special meaning.

I’m grateful to my sisters and nieces for joining us in Austin. They came because they understood how their presence would contribute to the mental health of all of us. And it did.

In a small sense, my family’s actions were heroic. This is a time, for all of us, when we need strong actions, big steps, meaningful contributions. And it occurs to me, at a time when the world needs a hero, that we have one.

“I need ammunition, not a ride.”

Forgive the politics, but my blog receives enough views from Russia and we all have to do what we can.

Full Spectrum Cyberwar

Life imitating art. I don’t claim to be especially prescient, but the Russian-Ukraine conflict and Nord Stream 2 was the obvious background for the story I wanted to tell on hybrid warfare. My novel, Full Spectrum Cyberwar tells the story of what is currently playing out this week.

The graphic above illustrates how current affairs have impacted my book sales. I typically sell one book per month, so it’s easy to note trending from a zero sales line. The top graphic displays ebooks in orange and print in gray. Roughly half these are from the UK and roughly half are my second book Full Spectrum Cyberwar. The bottom graphic displays page reads from an Amazon program termed Kindle Page Reads. It allows Amazon Kindle Unlimited subscribers to buy by the page rather than commit to an actual book purchase. The royalties are significantly less, and I don’t have to opt-in to selling in this program, but it’s less about the revenue and more about getting people to read my book.

Especially with the Kindle pages-read program, the trend in my book sales is clearly correlated with Russia’s attack on Ukraine. Readers are searching for things like GRU and Nord Stream 2 paired with the term cyberwar. Hard to be proud of that, but the anti-mimesis is interesting nonetheless.

Run Nan, Run

My little sister Nancy said she was thinking about running the Austin Half Marathon. I dared her to. Then I double dared her. And then I said if she would run it, I’d run it with her. It would be my third Austin Half. By the time we were finished daring each other to train through the winter, my brother, another of my sisters (I have countless sisters and grew up playing with paper dolls), and two of my many nieces all found themselves day-drinking in a swanky Austin hotel.

I wasn’t always playing with paper dolls while growing up. My brother is five or six years older, depending on the season, and taught me to play sports. He taught me to throw and hit a ball right-handed. Turns out I’m left-handed.

After a day and a half partying in downtown Austin, Nan and I found our way to the starting line Sunday morning. I gifted her the tech t-shirt the Christmas before last. A tip for other self-published authors; never overlook the opportunity of leveraging your siblings as billboards.

Nan was still smiling at mile 12 as she crossed the bridge over Lamar. Youth.

As we passed the Capitol, with maybe 200 yards to go, Nan had the audacity to ask me how much further we had to run. Thinking back, that was most of our conversation over the 13 mile course.

My sister Sandy captured our final steps on video, proof of another Austin Half completed.

Sandy led our nieces, Michelle and Brook up and down South Congress for the 5K.

They finished, hardly breaking a sweat. But then it was only forty-some degrees outside, which is chilly for Austin.

We all found ourselves at the finish for a team photo. And before everyone returned home to our five respective states, I turned them on to the amazing fries at Hyde Park Bar and Grill.

Running Sunrise to Sunset

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It’s not unusual for long runs, marathons and half marathons, to begin at sunrise. A 100K (62 mile) ultra will take you from sunrise to sunset. My son-in-law Eric is taking his first steps in this photo above in the Black Canyon 100K Ultra yesterday.

I wasn’t there to crew this time around, so I began my morning viewing the photos stream into my mobile. It seemed a no brainer to then choose “ultra” for my starter word in my morning Wordle ritual and I was rewarded with a hole-in-one, guessing correctly on the first row. Still, I was jealous of Eric’s parents getting to crew him to glory. Eric’s running mate, Matthew is standing to the right in the photo above.

Margot was the youngest member of the crew, held here in the early morning hours by her grandmother, Julie.

Eric called Brit a third of the way into the run to tell her he was considering dropping out. He felt that he had heat exhaustion. Black Canyon is high-altitude desert north of Phoenix. My response to that is, if you have never DNF’d in an ultra, then you haven’t run enough ultras. Brit told him to tough it out to the next aid station to see how he felt. Ten hours later, he was crossing this finish line.

Cyberpunk Runner

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I met with Ellie today at Atomic Bob’s Burgers in Golden for lunch. A bit of a hole-in-the-wall but decent burgers. Running afterwards wasn’t easy on a full stomach and I found myself walking a bit. And it was windier than Alexa led me to believe, but it was a good sun and nice to get outside.

I’ve noticed a surge in book sales this past week from the UK, followed up by more reads than usual from the UK on this blog. I thought maybe they were finding my book by searching for Crimea or Ukraine since my second novel touches on that topic. Reviewing the analytics on it though showed the clicks coming from queries for cyber, cybersecurity and cyberpunk. Cyber, cyber, cyber.

Could still be related to the current events between Putin and the Ukraine. My book details the Russian use of cyberwar as a prelude to combat, hence the title – Full Spectrum Cyberwar. There are some good non-fiction reads out there if you want to brush up on the topic, as the Brits are apparently doing. I recommend fiction though, to keep things light.

A Winter’s Run

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With seven miles on the LoBo Trail today, I’ve had my first winter’s run of the season. I started out the year with a cold and hit the elliptical during the dark hours of the work week once I could breathe again, so this was a late start to my winter running routine. I could not have asked for a more perfect winter’s day to get outside.

It snowed a couple of times during the last week, so visually, the trail was in season. I wore the wrong shoes, my Hoka Rocket X road shoes, so I had zero traction for much of the trail. That wasn’t ideal but I know now that I need to transition my gear. That’s what the first run of any given season is all about – the learning curve.

Karen and I are talking about snowshoeing tomorrow. Brit has been walking with Margot nearly every day, acclimating her to become a Colorado girl. She’s a little snow princess.

Turkmenistan

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Gates of Hell

I’m triple vaxxed.  I don’t care about your politics, this is not a political statement.  I’m just saying.  I also received the flu shot along with two shots for Shingles because I’m in that demographic.  Regardless, on New Year’s Eve, I came down with a cold.  Insert your favorite profanity <here>.  At least the home test says I’m negative on Covid, I’ll test for reals tomorrow at a drive-through.

So, this is how I’ll start 2022.  Could be worse.  My first home in Boulder County was near ground zero of the recent fire that destroyed 1000 homes.  Looks like my block was spared although I have yet to perform a drive-by.  But that has me thinking about just how worse things could get in 2022.  Bad times have been trending for a couple of years now and I’ve yet to see anything to suggest a reversal of fortune.

Like anyone else stuck in the house to avoid exposing others to my malady, I’ve dedicated my morning to the keyboard, tapping out queries to explore just how bad things could get in 2022.  Turns out, things can get plenty bad.  Until you’re dead, things can always get worse.

I started by reviewing all the Covid stats published by seemingly bonafide health organizations.  No surprise, the stats are trending in a bad direction.  But everyone knows this.  I wanted to know what everyone doesn’t know.  I wanted to find the next shoe to drop.  So, I targetted my browser at the deep web.  If you’re not familiar with that iceberg metaphor, the known web sites, those indexed by Google, etc., constitute just the tip of the iceberg.  Most web sites are unsearchable and hence, underwater – the deep web.  This is where I searched for our pending doom and this is what I discovered.

You’ll find this hard to collaborate because Turkmenistan doesn’t publish their Covid stats.  Leveraging my several decades of IT and cybersecurity skills, I discovered cases around the city of Ashgabat where people who’ve tested positive three times, and who have subsequently died after their third infection, have come back to life.  Sort of.  They’re not really alive, they’re dead, but they’re zombies.  The living dead.

I don’t want to cause a panic. If you’re wondering why I suspected Turkmenistan, it’s because that country is home to the Gates of Hell, so it was a logical first place to search for zombies.  I know that without an extensive background in researching these kinds of things online like I have, you won’t be able to confirm any of what I’ve shared here.  I’m sure that frustrates you.  If you have friends though who are in IT, especially cybersecurity, and they have these skills, ask them to start looking into this for you.  If 2022 does bring about a zombie apocalypse, you’re going to want to be prepared.

Be safe.

Counting Families at Christmas

The four generations in this photo sum up what this year’s Christmas was all about. Depending on how you count them, my Christmas included at least nine families getting together.

There were young cousins – Margot and Ollie.

There were older cousins – Rachel and Ellie.

There were cousins from different schools.

And first cousins once removed.

There were aunts.

And grand-aunts.

And more grand-aunts.

Oh, so many grand-aunts.

And grand-uncles.

Oh, so many grand-uncles.

There were double-chin competitions with grandparents.

And moms holding babies wrapped as presents.

The holidays are nearing an end. Mine were blessed with family as I hope yours were.

Austin Boardwalk

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Scooter Overhead

The Austin Boardwalk isn’t really a boardwalk. It’s stamped cement slabs laid atop an iron framework and cement piers, but it does hover beautifully over Town Lake. And I ran across it for the first time today. When I ran around Town Lake, clockwise, as a high schooler forty years ago, after crossing the Longhorn Dam, I then had to run along East Riverside Drive until I reached I-35 where I could cross the lake again to the north side for the running trail. So, the misnamed boardwalk is a very nice improvement.

I started my run in the Bouldin neighborhood, at Karen’s cousin’s house near Oltorf and 2nd. Town Lake is less than a mile north. The boardwalk began east of Congress and continued almost all the way to the Longhorn Dam. I saw the scooter in a tree at the I-35 trailhead. The homeless tents increased in density as I neared the dam.

This tent was more modular in design. I almost expected to see Huckleberry Finn. The best part was that it stood across the road from a massive, modern Oracle office building that stretched along the waterfront for at least five football fields, but the shack had the better view.

The pink flamingo and flag pole bolstered this squatter’s rights with a sense of permanence. If I understand Governor Abbott’s brutal state law correctly, the city’s homeless cannot camp in visible areas, meaning it’s okay to be homeless in Texas so long as you can also be invisible. I did see a fair share of tents ensconced in the woods along the railroad tracks when I ran through the Bouldin Greenbelt in the hills above Town Lake. Not all problems have solutions, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep working to do better.

One section of the trail still required me to run down the street for half a block in East Austin. The signs leading me back to the trail were there, I just had to keep an eye out for them.

I became nostalgic upon running past the Peter Pan Mini-Golf Course after ten miles. I ran my very first cross country race here my sophomore year of high school. It wasn’t school sanctioned but Doug Hall led some of us boys to downtown Austin on a Saturday morning to psyche us up for the upcoming season.

I’m super happy to be staying in a house within running distance of Town Lake. Hoping to run through Zilker Park and the Barton Creek Greenbelt tomorrow. Merry Christmas.

Like Christmas for the First Time

My first two-week vacation since starting up with a new tech firm four years ago has begun. And it begins with a clean desk. I suppose clean is a relative term, but trust me, for me, this sparkles. And loaded up on the left-hand monitor is my third novel. I intend to use this time to tap out some stories on that sparkling keyboard. I love having the time to plan out all I’m going to accomplish in the new year. Top of my list is more reading, more writing, AWS Security Certification, and more working out. I’ll use these final two weeks of the year as a springboard to all of that.

Durango

I enjoyed a super nice ten miler today on the LoBo Trail in 40° temps and full sunshine. The only thing that would have made it better was a bit of snow. My buddy from Durango texted me this photo of his run today. The snow will come. I’ll be in Austin though in a few days. Austin won’t have snow but it’s an ideal running town.

Karen and I plan to spend some time down around Town Lake. If possible, I’ll sneak in a run with my son-in-law on the Greenbelt – the best inner-city running trail in the country. Eric and Brit are already down in Austin, staying at his brother’s house. We’ve delayed our flight because Ellie Rose came home from college with the flu. The nurse at Boulder Medical said they tried to get the School of Mines to send kids home two weeks ago because of an outbreak. I wish they’d have followed that advice.

Ollie n Margot

Karen and I are good though. We’ve had our flu shots and are triple vaxxed. Looking forward to spending time with family. I can’t even remember what we did last year, probably because we did nothing. I know for some, it feels like 2021 hasn’t improved much over 2020, but being able to see family and friends again sets the two years a millennium apart as far as I’m concerned. Just look at that photo above of Margot with her Aunt Priscilla meeting her older cousin Ollie for the first time. Their first Christmas together. This is going to be a special Christmas.

Restoration

Holiday Breakfast of Champions

The perfect holiday for me is when I have time to reflect, to be introspective of the year, and eat pie for breakfast. 2021 has been my restoration year. A return to family, running, and the first Thanksgiving dinner I’ve cooked in several years. The pie was baked by my son-in-law.

I ran this weekend over the dying landscape of an impending winter, but I’m invigorated. I learned to run comfortably with my current weight and completed my first marathon in four years. I’m a runner again.

The year started with the loss of my mother, and that was indescribably sad. Caring for her on hospice for twelve months with my brother left me prepared though. If you’ve done something similar, then you know the final passing is a blessing.

Months later, I became a grandfather. A life is marked by meaningful milestones and Margot Faye’s birth was a life changing occasion for more than just me. Our house once again has a bassinet, formula and milk bottles.

It’s impossible to top the birth of my granddaughter, but everything else has been going well too, including my writing. I’ve made a little progress on my third novel, and I’ve had other fulfilling writing outlets. I’m grateful for everything this past year. I hope it’s been as good for you.

India Kinks

I like to start my mornings out with a little endorphin spike by viewing my blog hits and Amazon stats on my novel. It didn’t do much for my self esteem to see only two blog reads this morning, but they were interesting.

With only two hits, both from India and both to the same blog post – Foot Fetish – the correlation was obvious and my curiosity was piqued. So, I googled India foot fetish.

That country is seriously into feet. As a runner, I sort of admire how they place feet on a pedestal. It totally supports the premise of my blog post. If you put in serious miles, take care of your feet.

Run a Little, Write a Little

I’ve heard people at parties express their annoyance with people who paste those 13.1 and 26.2 bumper stickers on their cars.  It’s not clear to me exactly why that bothers them, but it does.  When I’m part of the conversation, I respond saying, “I’m so much worse than that.  I’ve been writing a runner’s blog for over ten years.”  That puts me in control of the dialog and shuts them up.

After ten years, I’ve written over five hundred running-related blog posts. I’m not sure I know why I do it anymore than people know why they slap a 26.2 sticker on their car window. Actually, that’s easier to imagine, they do it to capture their accomplishment. I might do it for that sometimes, certainly when I’m writing about a big event. Mostly though, I’m relating my experience during some routine workout. I can’t imagine people are interested in that, but it doesn’t stop me from sharing.

I know that as I write, I’m looking to express how I felt on my run.  I fail every time, but maybe, if I could parse out a turn of phrase here and a sentence fragment there from all five hundred posts, I might be able to stitch together a description of how I feel on a run.

My senses first come alive with the simple act of stepping outside the house and feeling the air on my skin; the beginning of warmth in spring, the onslaught of heat in summer, the comfortable coolness in fall and the piercing cold of winter.  Being there to witness the change of seasons is magical and makes me feel like I belong to nature.  Words can’t describe the awareness I experience.

Then comes my warmup, which for me, is a good two, sometimes three miles.  I’m Sisyphus, pushing that rock up a hill.  My entire world is under the weight of gravity, until it isn’t.  My legs unwind and suddenly I’m an object in motion with no resistance.  This is what I run for.  That moment where my body detaches from my mind like a train leaving the station.  For the next three, six, ten miles, depending on my conditioning, my legs are a force that can’t be stopped.  Running feels like the natural state of being and well before the endorphins kick in, I’m in a state of bliss.

I’ve been trying for the last ten years to describe the joy running brings to me.  Had I ever once succeeded, I’d likely stop blogging about it.  There’d be no more story to tell.  Instead, my literary failures keep me at the keyboard, tapping my story out with expressive fingers as the spent muscles in my legs tighten and I finally withdraw to a bath of salts and hot water – to run and write yet another day.

Horizons

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My next big run is a ways out. Late February in Austin. I plan to run my third Austin Half Marathon, this time with my little sister – Nancy. I ran my first in 2012 and second in 2020. I’ve also run three Austin Marathons but it’s hard to be in marathon shape in the Colorado winter. I think that’s one reason I’ve always struggled in Austin; the other reasons would be the humidity and the fact it’s a challenging course with massive hills after ten miles – impacting both the half and full marathon runners.

Having a winter run on the horizon is a good motivator to get outside during months when sitting indoors by the fire is much more tempting. These are some long horizon pics from my run today on the East Boulder Trail. I really missed the Colorado fall last year when I was living in Texas. If I could only run in one season, it would be the fall in Colorado.

This last photo is at the start of my trail, although taken at the end of my run with a dry shirt. I always have a fresh shirt, towel and water waiting for me in the car. That’s experience. Nan said she doesn’t think she’ll be able to keep up with me because, in her words, I’m a natural runner. I’m not sure if there is such a thing. In my mind, once you start running distances in excess of ten miles, nothing matters more than weight, and Nan is nearly half my tonnage. I’ll need to train to ensure I can keep up with her.

The Vitality Kick and other Abnormal Obsessive Behaviors

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Mid-life crises are the senior equivalent of teenage angst. Kids are struggling to accept an uncertain future while we seniors know what lies ahead. Maybe we consider an affair but soon discover we’re not movie stars and we have about as much sex appeal as Santa Claus. That’s the insult on top of injury as our bodies’ decay rapidly accelerates just as we’re forced to recognize the frailty of life.

My youngest goes years without reading my blog, but she read my last post. The next day, she pulled herself away from Instagram to call me to discuss my apparent body image issues. Dare to publish your thoughts and everyone’s a critic. I defended my life choices while trying to recall what the point was of ever having kids.

Jut kidding of course and seriously, I’ve been enjoying my mid-life crisis for a good ten years. A few years past the starting line and fully warmed up, I found my stride with cancer at 51. Physically, the carcinomas were totally treatable, as many are when detected early, but that’s not to say it didn’t mess with my head. After sporting a buzz cut for the previous decade, I let my hair grow out and went on a serious racing binge, training between sixty to a hundred miles per week for several years. I even attained a flat stomach like the senior heartthrob Daniel Craig.

Of course, I never called it a mid-life crisis. I preferred the euphemism of being on a vitality kick. It’s pretty obvious I was chasing my vanity by growing long hair but I could always argue running more miles than I ever did in my youth was truly a healthy hobby. Sort of. Others did point out that anything over 30 miles was possibly counterproductive to good heart health. I’m going to start calling this the fall season of my life. And fall is my favorite time of year.

Women don’t get enough credit for having mid-life crises. The physical impact of menopause overshadows the emotional bankruptcy of a mid-life crisis. But for all their differences, men and women are mostly the same. There was this woman, looked to be in her sixties, race-walking or power hiking the Boulder Marathon two weeks ago. I started in the very back of the pack and found myself passing other runners throughout the event, but I didn’t catch her until mile seventeen. And it took me forever to pass her once I did reach her. You don’t become that fast in your sixties without some obsessive behavior. I wonder what she calls her mid-life crisis.

I ran this morning on the East Boulder Trail, my go-to course when I feel like running hills. I think I’m finally in shape enough to begin running with my local running group and almost did today but couldn’t make time for their schedule. They ran today along the Mesa Trail, a hard-packed dirt trail hanging off the Boulder flatirons like a shelf of brown grasses and pine. They’re my age and I like to listen to their talk of athletic injuries as if running was responsible for our bodies’ decay. A hard-earned lie we can share over a local craft IPA. I miss that and will make an effort to run with them again soon.

We’ve chosen to define our life’s decline by feeling it. Not through the false love of an affair but from the thrill of our cheeks and bare legs pushing past forty degree air on a mountain slope. We drown the subsequent aches in a tub of hot water and epson salts afterward, and like a phoenix the inflammation rises to haunt us as we step out of bed the next morning. That pain is our compass guiding us, cairn to cairn, through this lifetime tunnel of wear and tear and with a runner’s grace, it will carry us toward what lies ahead.

The Ten Week Plan

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Shuffling toward the finish line

I appreciate all the virtual high-fives from everyone last weekend for completing my marathon goal. I made certain to post all the race photos that cast me in the best light. Now for thoughts on training for a marathon in just ten weeks. To be clear, I don’t recommend a ten week plan, but I have a few observations from my experience that you might find useful as part of a more traditional training approach.

*** On Dieting ***

For those of you consumed by thoughts of losing weight, I’ll share my experience. I gained 20 pounds in 2020 out of emotional stress, one too many glasses of Malbec each night, and my own cooking. A weekly Mr. Gattis Sampler pizza figured in there somewhere too. I didn’t intentionally begin a diet in January, but I changed my habits nonetheless.

I returned home in January to my wife’s cooking and stopped drinking. I lost 15 pounds in 3 months. I call this an unintentional diet because my wife doesn’t cook much meat, especially red meat, and I wasn’t looking to stop drinking but she wasn’t and she’s a team player. I was only running on weekends at that point. I maintained that routine throughout the summer with very light drinking, until August when my melancholy demanded progress. I did try to diet then but it didn’t work out.

I thought I needed to lose more than those 15 pounds to run a marathon, I was thinking another 20 to 25 pounds because I’ve run marathons well in the past at 175 pounds. Weight does matter in distance running if you want to run fast. What I learned in my ten weeks was that I could run comfortably at 193 pounds, which was my weight last Sunday, so it was okay that I only lost another 4 pounds.

My goal was to complete a marathon, not run fast. I can tell you that my experience was just as satisfying in this run as in all past marathons. By the way, after burning through 4000 calories in those four and a half hours, I weighed 189 when I got home.

*** Motivation ***

The catalyst that precipitated my focus was serving as crew chief to my son-in-law’s 100 Kilometer alpine trail ultra. It was too much for me to gather in the forest with all those elite, perfect, runners’ bodies.

It’s one thing to watch a game on TV or from the stands. It’s another to be on the field in the middle of the spectacle. I fantasize about competing in the Olympics on many of my runs and when I’m standing amidst Michelangelo’s running Davids, I believe I’m living my dream. When you sign up for these extreme events, they let you literally stand right next to these beautifully exposed runners’ bodies. I forget that I’m fat and I feel like I belong there.

I don’t mind saying this because my wife knows I married her for her dancer’s legs, and because she still dances, that I mostly love the women runners’ legs, shaved and with such smooth curves of power. And I’m not too embarrassed to admit that I covet some of the men’s forms too. I want that for myself.

My motivation sounds vain now that I’ve written it, but doesn’t something like running a marathon have to be? You show me an elite athlete and I’ll show you a narcissist. Non-runners think of marathoners as masochists but no, they’re just in love with their own bodies. I noticed last Sunday that many of the men have taken to shaving their legs too.

*** Training ***

I’d been running weekends so I wasn’t starting from scratch. After committing to my plan though, I was disillusioned because I had to mostly train indoors on the elliptical the first two weeks, due to extremely poor air quality from the forest fires. Ironically, that probably worked in my favor. It kept me from exceeding my limits at the start. I did push myself hard, going for upwards of two hours on the elliptical. But there is zero impact on those machines and my body wasn’t nearly as sore or exhausted and I was able to easily recover for the next day. I think the elliptical helped to mitigate the potential negative impact of training too hard, too fast. Take what you want from that but in my experience, it’s not unusual to over exert yourself and then lose days for recovery time.

And, because I was concerned the elliptical wasn’t enough, I spent cycles on calisthenics and a little bit of weight lifting. I’m always too tired to do that after a run but had the energy training indoors and developed a good routine with squats, leg raises and planks. I lost absolutely zero weight the first four weeks, but people were complimenting me on my apparent weight loss. Best I can tell is that a daily two-minute plank toned up my abdomen enough that I gained two notches on my belt. I’d never done planks with any regularity before and had no idea at how effective they were. It did take me four weeks to go from one to two minutes. The lesson there, beyond the specific value of planks, is the benefit of strength training.

When I finally got outdoors, the new body tone helped considerably with my running, but I still had to learn how to run slow. I would often run Saturdays on an extremely hilly course and could run upwards of 8 miles. Then I’d try running on a flat course Sunday and find myself walking after a single mile. I figured I wasn’t able to recover properly because of my age.

Wearing a watch with a heart rate monitor helped me to solve the mystery. The hills forced me to run slow and I was running way too fast on the flat course. I had to learn how to run slow. It’s harder than you’d think. I found the heart rate monitor to be a better tool than monitoring my pace. Maybe this is only interesting to me, but every time I refocus efforts on running, it’s like I have to relearn how to run. Don’t assume you know what you’re doing.

*** The Grandpa Runner ***

Even after I learned to run slow, some days my heart would race, forcing me to walk. Best I can tell, I think it was the temperature from really hot days. I freaked out enough though to buy a more accurate heart rate monitor – the type with a chest strap and technically an ECG or electrocardiograph. I don’t mind admitting that I was concerned about having a heart attack in my marathon. Something about getting older. I became a grandfather a few weeks earlier.

My concerns were partly warranted because I have a condition called tachycardia Arrhythmia where my heart just randomly switches from the primary node to a secondary node to generate my heart beat. And that second node beats a ton faster than the first. I initially suspected that might be what was behind my heart occasionally racing from 135 bpm to 170 bpm on my runs.

When a cardiologist explained this to me at 25, he said the symptoms might disappear in my 50s. I think he was right because I’ve had a couple of ECGs since then and I know the condition has disappeared for my normal resting heart rate. But at 25 the symptoms went away at a slightly elevated heart rate and reappeared again at a yet higher heart rate, as diagnosed on a treadmill. I wondered if it wasn’t still happening now while running.

I have more to study yet on my heart rate monitor to know that I’m reading it correctly. Actually, I did read up on it and I know I’ll have to share the file with my doctor to understand it properly. An ECG chart is different from what I’m displaying above and it’s complicated. But rising body heat or running over four hours will start to raise my heart rate to where slowing down my pace isn’t good enough and I have to walk for a minute or so to recover. That’s fine. The above chart shows my heart rate held really steady throughout the marathon, under 140 bpm, but then started to shoot up past 170 in the last six miles, even though I wasn’t accelerating my pace. My max heart rate is defined as 160.

My point in sharing the heart rate details with you is partly because I think it’s some cool running tech, but also to stress that I’m not cavalier about my health. I get the sense sometimes that people think I train and run too hard and am not careful enough considering my age. I took measures to monitor my heart rate and shamelessly walked when I saw it was too high. I felt strong enough to continue running but I wasn’t so vain as to risk my health. It probably only added five minutes to my overall time and didn’t take away from my sense of accomplishment. And I know what I don’t know, so I’ll be sharing my data with a doctor for expert analysis. I’m 59. I hope to be 60 some day and to still be running marathons.

Pearl Street Marathon

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Still happy at 8 miles

I ran the Boulder Marathon this morning. Four years after my last marathon. Not sure if I can explain why running 26 miles was important to me. Let’s just say 2020 was hard and I wasn’t happy with my weight gain. I wanted to be a runner again and running a marathon seemed like the best way to become one. That’s how runners think.

Same road as the first photo, Oxford Road, but headed back west at 11 miles

Although most of the race was run on the Boulder Backroads, as in past Boulder Marathons, this one finished downtown on Pearl Street, so the organizers branded it as the Boulderthon. Who am I to consider that kitschy? Well, I’m a product manager. I understand marketing, it’s one of the hats I wear more frequently at work. I’ve named my share of products. Given that the biggest draw of this event, per the race organizers, is the downtown finish on Pearl Street, I’d have named it the Pearl Street Marathon. Think Colfax. Think Peach Street. Something meaningful to the locals. That would have differentiated it from past Boulder Marathons. I shouldn’t complain though. The event could not have been more well run.

15 miles into it at Coot Lake

Karen and I spent the night at the Hotel Boulderado. There’s no parking at the race start at the Boulder Res, and I didn’t want to make her drop me off so early, plus the hotel is near the finish on the Pearl Street Mall. We enjoyed a nice dinner at the hotel restaurant, Spruce, Farm & Fish where I ate raw oysters and Cod. That thing about runners eating pasta before a marathon is a myth. There were also buses lined up near the hotel to ferry me to the race start in the morning.

Beginning to slow down at 19 miles

The weather was awesome and likely helped me to do better than expected. 43° at the start. Low 60s by the finish.

Nothing stretches distance out longer than straightness, and this course had some long, straight roads. The half-mile-long dam at the Res was the worst. Because it’s straight in every dimension, it felt like three miles. Oxford Road was about four miles of straightness, but at least it undulated vertically with some hills. Still, I felt really good the first half and didn’t start to feel fatigued until mile sixteen. I pretty much ran to the race plan I shared last weekend, except I ran a bit faster overall; 50 seconds per mile faster in the first half and 10 seconds faster per mile in the second half.

22 miles and still running

My breathing felt great this entire run. I never once felt like I wasn’t going to finish. I did start walking a bit at the aid stations to drink and douse my head with water in the final 10K. I also walked a tad whenever my heart would start to race past my max heart rate. I found I could recover after a half minute or so of walking. This was also in the final 10K. Still, I finished well ahead of my goal, in 4:35.

At 24 miles and ready for it to be over

My legs tightened up after twenty miles and shortened my stride, but I never came close to cramping. I helped a runner out at 23 miles by giving him the rest of my pickle juice when I discovered him on the side of the trail with cramps. I had two 17 ounce water bottles, one with Tailwind, a high-calorie sports drink that’s not at all sweet tasting, and the other with dill pickle juice. You won’t find a sports drink with anywhere near the sodium as pickle juice. It has more salt than the Dead Sea. But I drink it because it tastes good.

Turning onto Pearl Street at 26 miles

As usual, I found religion those final six miles. Because I didn’t want to disappoint God, I made promises I couldn’t keep with the Devil. I’m kidding of course, but man, the things you say to yourself to get across the finish line. The twenty-fifth mile was uphill with a quick downhill near the end. Colorado races will always throw a hill at you near the end. Race Directors are cruel.

The final kick

I wouldn’t say I put on a kick, but I did finish strong. Karen and friends were there at the finish. Chris Price served as my crew chief and took all these photos. He rode around the course on his bike, ready to resupply my sports drinks, or carry me off if I DNF’d.

My first marathon as a grandfather

Finished 5th in my age group, even though I was 4th and an hour quicker in my last Boulder Marathon. I think other competing marathons in October, or Covid, and maybe the poor air quality this summer, diluted this year’s competition. The first two weeks of my ten week training plan was inside on the elliptical to avoid the unhealthy air quality. I wasn’t as fit as I’d hoped to be for this event, but man, it felt good to run it. I’m a runner again.

Confidence Builder

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Margot is starting to grow into her baby clothes, at least the legs, not so much the arms. Although I’m told she’s not happy being clothed. Like Matthew McConaughey playing bongos, she prefers her birthday suit. Who doesn’t?

I’m still committed to running a marathon next week. Given my condensed training schedule, rather than taper this weekend, I went for an 18 miler today. Nothing like a marathon on the calendar to scare yourself fit. 

I wasn’t confident that ten weeks of training would prepare me to complete a twenty-six mile run, but I know I made progress toward improving my fitness and I feel so much more confident after completing 18 today.  I could still drop out of the full marathon at the expo and sign up for the half marathon – a distance I could complete with much more certainty.  But the deal isn’t about certainty.  The deal is to try to run twenty-six miles.

That lack of certainty is partly why I enjoy running marathons.  Even when I’ve been one hundred percent prepared to complete the distance, when the only question was how fast, marathons are never a sure thing.  Although medically defined as obese, completing this marathon is as plausible as when I toed the starting line in competitive shape at my fourteen previous marathons. Anything can happen in a marathon over the course of three, four or five hours.

The two photos below are of me completing my first marathons at 16 and 18 years of age.  I ran my first Dallas White Rock Marathon before watches had been invented, but I figure I might have run it in under four hours. Seriously, I think they didn’t post my time because in 1978 they didn’t have an age group for 16 year olds. I wasn’t supposed to be there.

Running my first marathon with high school buddy, Mike O’Neill
Running my second marathon with my college dorm mate, Johnny Martinez

It’s ridiculous for me to estimate what my pace will be without more running under my belt, but I did start wearing a watch a few weeks back and today’s 18 miler was good to set expectations – and I like to play this guessing game ahead of marathons. If I’m smart, I’ll start out behind the 5 hour pace sign and run a solid 11:30 pace the entire distance, speeding up slightly the final 10K if I feel strong.

If you know me, then you know I can be somewhat delusional about my prospects, so I’ll start out a bit too fast for myself. I suspect I’ll run the first 10K at a 10:30 pace, slow down to 11 minutes for the second 10K, and run the final half at around an 11:30 pace and finish at four hours and fifty minutes (4:50) – give or take fifteen minutes. I’m usually pretty good at these estimates, historically within about 15 minutes, with the exception of those four-hour-plus times listed above. Like I said, lots can go wrong in a marathon.

Two things generally lead me to catastrophic failure in a marathon. Heat and a calorie/electrolyte deficit, or you could say nutrition plan. The impact of either of those conditions might be mitigated if I went out slower. The result is generally the same, severe cramping in the final 10K that leads to walking a bit. Not overly concerned about the heat in October. Temperatures should range from 55° to 70° for my five hours under the sun. Might rain. Ideal running weather.

Maintaining form in that final 10K is so hard because of the nutritional math involved in running beyond three hours. It’s physically impossible to not fall into a calorie deficit after three hours. You’re burning calories faster than your stomach can digest new calories. You can drink sufficient electrolytes if you’re disciplined about it. Best you can do on calories is to get in enough very, very long runs (3 hours or so) as part of your training to teach your body to adapt to efficiently burn stored proteins and fats. Or run so fast that you finish under three hours. Before today, my longest training run was two hours and I’ve never run a marathon under three hours.

I’ve never had speed as a primary goal in a marathon. I got comfortable enough, and fit enough, that I was usually confident of finishing. My goals have always been around managing my calories and electrolytes so that I feel comfortable the entire distance. Running at a sustainable pace is part of that just as success in the nutrition plan leads to a faster time. This time around, simply completing the distance in under the six hour cutoff time is my only objective, but I still have to manage those other aspects of the race – pace, electrolytes and calories.

I’ll comment afterward on the viability of training for a marathon in only ten weeks in my post-race report. I lost zero weight the first four weeks, and dropped my attempt at dieting. I lost a few pounds after that, apparently it takes time for the metabolism to kick into gear. No where near my goal of twenty to twenty-five pounds, but I feel like I’m able to run this heavy after having sufficiently toned up. Planks and squats probably helped as much as running.

I don’t consider it a failure that I didn’t achieve my weight loss goal. I see it as I lost a few pounds. Likewise, I won’t be at all upset if I drop out before finishing. I know the odds are long. My goal was to try to run a marathon, so I’m going to try. You can track my progress at this site. My bib is 123. See you next week after twenty-six miles.

Margot Faye

As much as I try to make this blog all about me, this story is about Margot Faye. The photo above, taken Friday night, captures my first time to see her. First time to hold her. First time to play grandfather.

Brit went into the hospital at 10:00 pm Monday and delivered Margot into the world at 10:11 pm Tuesday. Prevented from entering by Covid, I spent four hours outside in the parking lot. Allowed in under the spouse plus one rules, Karen would step outside from time to time to give me updates.

Now a grandfather, my life is full.  There is nothing more I should ask for, and yet I do want more.  I want more time with Margot Faye.  I want to be healthy enough to keep up with her.  I don’t need to be skinny, I understand that my double chin is here to stay, but I want to experience the Colorado outdoors with Margot.  Hiking and snowshoeing.  Backpacking adventures.  I want to be with Margot on her first fourteener.

Margot Faye will have a wonderful life. She’ll be raised by Brit and Eric, two grateful parents who will take care of her needs and give her the support to grow with confidence. Brit will give Margot the gift of song. Margot will be singing before she can talk. Eric will have Margot running trails through alpine meadows before she can walk. Margot will be spoiled by her grandparents in both Colorado and Boston. Her aunt Ellie lives just a few miles away. And there are great grandparents who can’t wait to see her.

After nine months of growth in the womb, Margot now has a life in the world. Her life will be a story of joy, sometimes of sadness, she will know love and love lost. She will experience everything there is of life but never alone. She will be surrounded by a supportive and loving family. And she will bring joy to all who know her. She already has.

Due Day

Yesterday was Brit’s due day. Not overly bummed that Margot Faye didn’t arrive on 911, but we’re on pins and needles. All I can do to pass the time is run. October 10th will be my first marathon as a grandfather, assuming I can get to where I need to be. I’ve worked my way up to running ten miles comfortably and I’m making progress learning how to best run over-weight, which is, wait for it, slow. Really, really, slow.

Speed is relative of course but my legs naturally fall into a nine and a half minute pace after they’ve warmed up. Problem is, I can’t sustain that pace for much more than ten kilometers. Running slower than your legs want to naturally go is harder than you might think. My cadence has been steady, regardless of distance, just over 170 strides per minute. Cadence is more of a cyclist term. Runners will instead refer to “pace” or “roll”, as in “I rolled past him.” But cadence is still a thing for runners, just as it is for cyclists.

If you’re running, as opposed to walking, then you’re very likely maintaining a cadence between 170 and 180 strides per minute, regardless of speed. If you’re running slower, say over a ten minute pace, then your cadence might be between 160 and 170, but for the most part, speed is determined by stride length while maintaining the same cadence. That might not be intuitive, but that’s how it works.

I’m finding it hard to run an eleven minute pace, I’ve been in the ten minute range. In the marathon itself though, I’ll simply line up behind the 5-hour pace sign. That will give me an 11:30 pace. If I feel good half way, I might run ahead of the pace sign at the Boulder Res. If I’m disciplined though, I’ll wait until about twenty miles, which is the start of a three mile down-slope segment. Slopes are noticeable at altitude.

I ran ten miles yesterday and was feeling strong enough to attempt twelve by running six miles before turning around. This part of my trail is actually a loop, or a lollipop as they say because it’s a five mile stick with a two mile loop. Problem was that the loop began an upslope. Gentle enough that you wouldn’t notice it at sea-level, but at a mile-high in elevation, it raced my heart up ten beats over my max rate for one and a half miles. I couldn’t recover by slowing down, which I did. It didn’t begin to drop again until the return where the slope began to drop.

The Boulder Marathon course will have a few tough slopes like that. Some that I would even call hills, although nothing terribly steep. It’s good to know that my heart rate will recover, I just have to hang in there and wait for the other side of the hill.

It occurs to me that I’m blogging more because of this marathon. Because I’m nervous. And that makes me think of what Brit is going through right now. She’s been pinging our family chat regularly with updates. She’s understandably nervous. My marathon is trivial compared to her life event. I recall how I felt decades ago. The anxiety was unlike anything I’ve ever gone through since. But then that baby is born and all is perfect.

That day is coming any minute now. The Rose Medical Center’s Covid rules are father +1, so Eric and Karen can be in the hospital. I’ll be a mile down the street in a Cherry Creek hotel. So excited to meet Margot Faye.

Beats per Minute

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Sharing my stats is a clear sign I’m beginning to exhibit compulsive runner behavior, but it’s a runner’s blog, so there you go. Sharing my stats from today’s ten miler to illustrate how I’m going to use my heart rate monitor as my primary tool to get me to the finish line. Now that I’m tracking my stats, I’ve discovered that I have been starting to walk/run once my heart rate exceeds 160 beats per minute (BPM). That’s a function of my current fitness which I could no doubt exceed if I were twenty-five pounds lighter. In fact I have. Below are my stats from my last marathon four years ago.

You use the BPM tool like this. Subtract your age from 220 to know your max heart rate. Mine is 161. Four years ago, mine was 165. Experts say you should target running between 50% and 85% of your max heart rate. At 85%, that suggests I should run with my heart rate around 136, or four years ago, around 140.

During today’s run, I read my heart rate at 144 BPM just short of four miles. I purposely slowed myself down, by shortening my stride (my stats proved I maintained my cadence), and monitored it closely so that I didn’t reach 160. I was able to actually slow it down a couple of beats, although it crept back up to 151 by the end of the run. My experience was that I was able to comfortably run ten miles.

You might notice that my stats from the Colorado Marathon four years ago show I averaged more than 10 BPM over my max heart rate for the duration. Apparently, it’s not a sudden death limit as my max was over 200. Probably lucky to still be alive, but I was much more fit back then. You might also notice the Apple Watch graphing software really sort of sucked four years ago.

I’ll practice this more but I suspect if I can maintain a pace around eleven minutes per mile, I’ll be able to keep my heart rate below 150 and that will enable me to keep running. Maybe even below 140, which is what I should really target to avoid a heart attack. I’ve always enjoyed running without a watch, but I have to say, tech is cool.