The danger in running the East Boulder Trail is the full sun exposure. In the cold air that welcomes winter, the full sun exposure is nature’s gift that supports running in shorts and a long-sleeved t-shirt.
The brown-on-brown fields were soft and gentle, when they weren’t pure mud from the melting snow. The neighborhood 5K turkey trot yesterday was fun. I’d been planning to go into Thanksgiving dinner with a calorie deficit. The post-run donuts and mimosas doomed that plan.
The lake is still far from frozen over.
Stopping to take photos of the coming winter helped me to run farther. I was enjoying myself so much, I didn’t notice I was four miles out, until I was four miles out. I thought it best to turn around after my discovery.
The snow typically offered the best traction. I would choose the snow over mud on some hills, specially where the deep ruts formed fairly technical tracks. Snow was always a better path over mud.
Some of the prairie dog fields looked like a dead part of the world. I have two words for those fat prairie dogs – over grazing.
Some trails were pure mud with few choices to navigate around. Other times I was forced to run over the slickest ice to avoid the mud.
Today’s conditions were amazing. Sometimes the snow-drip mud is too much. Today had the perfect mix of elements. I ran super slow but my form felt good. There’s an art to running slow.
Depending on where the texture of the snow sits on the melting spectrum, sometimes it’s like running on a sandy beach. Exhausting. Glad I got out this weekend though, despite the temperatures. November is the month to get acclimated to the cold air.
It was shorts and sweatshirt running weather this weekend. I even started out wearing gloves the first mile on Saturday. The trail was lit by such a beautifully soft sun. I only ran four miles but it was my best run of the year.
I have a death plan. I bet you don’t have one of those. I’m not talking about a living will, although I sort of think death plan would be a more apt name for those documents. I’m referring to my grand exit strategy.
I know that dwelling on such thoughts is morbid. And I can lean melancholy at times, but I’m goal oriented. I had a really good six mile run today and I still feel the vigor from the trail. And yet, I couldn’t help thinking about how I intend to die over the course of those six miles. And I think that’s perfectly normal for a sixty-year-old. A cancer here, a heart surgery there, the passing of one’s parents; whether you measure it in years or miles, it starts to add up.
I’m going to die gloriously on the runner’s field of battle. During a marathon or perhaps a mountain trail run. Ideally, a well-planned race so that there will be paramedics standing by to collect my body. My heart will be beating at max, until it’s not. My eyes will be wide shut, staring at a mountain sunset. I’ll lay down to rest in an alpine meadow and know the race is over.
I’ll admit, I’ve been planning this for a while. I think about it every time I sign those waivers as a part of online race registrations. Every time I run with abandon down a steep mountain trail slope. Stumbling over a rock is one thing running uphill but tripping over a tree root on the downhill can be a death-defying tumble. I somersaulted into a ravine once while running down the amphitheater trail in Boulder, shirtless with my car key in my hand. Fortunately, a bed of poison oak broke my fall.
To be sure, this is a long-term plan. I’d like to enjoy a few more podium finishes before I go and at my current pace of conditioning, I’ll need to still be running and racing in my eighties to win my age bracket. But like I said, I’m a planner. I have three marathons on my calendar for 2023 – Austin in February, the Colorado Marathon in May and the Boulder Marathon next October. Any one of those could finish me off, but I feel like I have many more miles to go before I sleep.
Karen and I spent a couple of days in Buena Vista, researching potential retirement ideas. I’m interested in someplace with trails. We took the interstate instead of Hwy 285 because it offered more options for lunch. We drove into October clouds at Loveland Pass and soon found ourselves in a whiteout of sleet. Winter comes early to the mountains.
*** Colorado Trail ***
I first drove to this trailhead on segment 12 of the Colorado Trail in 2011. It’s a few minutes west of Buena Vista on CR 365. You could scrape by with a low profile vehicle but there is already snow on the last mile so consider 4WD in October. I launched northbound from here to Harvard Lakes.
The first mile was steep but offered up some nice views, both of the Arkansas River Valley to the east and more mountains to the west. Unlike the drive in the previous afternoon, the skies were clear with bright sunshine. The cold air was a bit of a shock though at 25°. The trail was dusted with snow but my Hoka Speed Goats provided good traction.
The snow deepened a bit at one mile, but the trail flattened out and I was able to start running. At this point I wondered if I should had brought along trekking poles.
Further into the darkness of the forest, around two miles, the snow deepened to four inches. The trail was still runnable but my ankles began to get cold and my feet became wet. Gaiters would have been brilliant but I wasn’t expecting snow.
I wasn’t thinking of my discomfort though. Rather, I was wishing I wasn’t experiencing this spectacular day and trail by myself. I lean toward introversion. There are times I like to be alone, times I need to be alone, but never when I’m experiencing something so wonderful. I like to share times like these. This trail was just so perfect, I wished Karen or my girls had been with me. I felt guilty being the absolute only hiker running this trail. I felt like I’d stepped into heaven and was stealing from God.
There were two creek crossings in the third mile. This log bridge was fun. The snow deepened even further as the third mile rose higher in elevation and the trail became tougher to spot. I lost the trail once but steered back on by watching for cut logs.
I was enjoying myself so much that I could have kept going for hours, but turned around at Harvard Lake per plan – right at three miles. And it did actually take me a full hour to reach my turn-around point. The snow governed my pace as much as the elevation gain. Just a section of the Sawatch Range, the Collegiate Peaks earn their name because they contain 5 fourteen thousand foot peaks named after universities – Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia and Oxford. The Colorado Trail, joined with the CDT, loops around both sides. The eastern loop is perfect for running. The western slope is less pedestrian, mostly above tree line.
*** Broken Boyfriend ***
I ran the trails across the eastern side of the Arkansas River the next morning. These are almost urban trails for BV, similar to the trails that loop around Ouray, but more extensive and much more runnable. There are numerous loops. I crossed the northern bridge to start and climbed up the Northern Trail.
Everywhere, even on the climbs, the trails undulated with fun dips and graceful switchbacks. The Northern Trail connected with Broken Boyfriend which side-hilled south where I descended back down to the river on the Southern Trail. The Bridge-to-Bridge Trail brought me back to my start. There were other connectors and options to run further, but I had to check out of the hotel and return home. I had a great two days of running in the City of Trails – Buena Vista.
Life starts at sixty. Everyone knows that. Which is why I had heart surgery a week ago, quit my job, and plan to go trail running this week in the Collegiate Peaks. I’m focused on new beginnings.
My heart 2.0 has been operating fairly smoothly since the ablation. I track it throughout the day with the fourth frontier EKG chest strap that displays metrics to an app on my iPhone. I can track it for hours. It was recordings from this app that I was able to share with my primary care to begin diagnosing the problem. Cost about $500 but very cool tech. There’s an online dashboard for EKGs but below are before and after surgery EKG summaries from my app. Until today’s run, I’d yet to record A-Fib post surgery.
After a week of taking it easy, I ran four miles today and recorded some A-fib for the first time – which is normal so it didn’t bother me. My pace was slower than normal though. Time to get back in shape. I’m registered for the Austin Marathon in February.
Everything is of course new to Margot. This is her first halloween and we took her to Munson farms where we took Brit and Ellie for their first pumpkin patch experiences.
Margot was hard to keep up with as she romped through the pumpkin patch
Karen finally caught up to her.
It was a bright, sunny October day.
Margot picked out a pumpkin her size and no doubt dreamt of witches and goblins last night.
Point zero on the Trans Canada Trail (AKA Sentier Transcanadien) starts in Victoria BC. Literally a couple of miles from my condo along the coast. I know because I was there today. Just past St. Ann’s Academy and through the middle of Beacon Hill Park. This initial 4.5 mile section is termed the Dallas Road Waterfront.
I didn’t have to cut through Beacon Hill Park, but with a maze of endless grass trails that pass fragrant flower gardens, why would I choose a route along an urban street? I ran up over the hump of Beacon Hill itself for the view it provided of the Straight of Juan de Fuca.
The Dallas Road Waterfront trail is asphalt, not as bad as cement, and it is an urban trail after all. What I found more amazing than the view was the dog park that ran alongside it for a good mile.
This park for pampered pups didn’t end until it literally collided with the ocean. And that is point zero of the Trans Canada Trail.
According to tribal history, the Ute people have roamed the lands of the Routt National Forest since the beginning of time. They were the first peoples to inhabit Colorado and eons before they adopted the horse from the Spanish, they formed the first human Colorado mountain trails. This weekend, Eric and Anthony relied upon the Ute spirits to give them strength as they roamed the trails above Steamboat Springs for the Run Rabbit Run 100 mile ultra.
Anthony brought Ellen along for the trip. They went to school together with Eric at Beloit College. Ellen ran on the women’s track and cross country teams while Anthony and Eric ran on the men’s teams. Anthony and Ellen married in 2019, just like Brit and Eric, as if they’d predicted the pandemic. Ellen is a nurse in Minneapolis, studying to be a nurse practitioner. Anthony is a biologist/ecologist, studying to be a mechanical engineer. They say you never stop learning.
Brit, Margot, Ellen and I crewed Eric and Anthony at the first aid station we could reach, Fish Creek Falls. It’s a three and a half mile drive outside of town. Eric came in a few minutes under pace feeling strong, not in the top ten, but after ninety minutes of running, within range. He didn’t ask for all the gels he’d planned to consume, which left us wondering if he was running too hard.
It’s funny Anthony looks to be running by himself above because he was with a large pack of other runners at this point twelve miles into the race. Like Eric, he was essentially on his planned pace. True to his analytical nature, Anthony would run the entire distance to plan. Eric was another story.
The women were fun to watch run through aid stations or out on the trail because they shared such strong camaraderie and spirit. A couple of 40-49 year olds are pictured here crossing the bridge over Fish Creek – local trail runner Siobhan Pritchard from Steamboat and Tracey Larsen from Breckenridge.
Addy Rastall, also of Steamboat, paced neck and neck the entire 100 miles with Heidi Farfel from Carbondale. They would eventually finish first and second – top ten overall. I’ll finish the women theme with the pair below with Fish Creek Falls in the background. Their bib numbers aren’t visible so I couldn’t get their personal details.
The race timing provided online tracking at a dozen checkpoints, counting the finish. This allowed us (the crew) to meet up with our runners at the few aid stations where we were allowed to crew without having to hang out all day waiting, because we could estimate their arrival based on their pace. Eric hit the Dry Lake aid station about two hours under pace and in fourth place. We panicked upon this discovery but beat Eric to the Olympian Hall aid station a good fifteen minutes ahead of him. This was where I planned to join Eric as a pacer for the segment termed the Lane of Pain – a twelve mile segment with an 8% grade for the first three miles.
While waiting for Eric’s arrival, the wind kicked up and the rain fell hard. I looked for Eric under a tent like the boy in Cat in the Hat staring out the window thinking if the sun will not shine, it is too wet to play. I shall sit under this tent on this cold, cold, wet day. But Eric showed up still in fourth place and ready to run up that steep, muddy hill. I was more dead weight than a pacer and couldn’t keep up with Eric. Three miles later, I reached the summit about a minute behind him. He continued on for another three-plus mile loop while I waited for him at the aid station.
We knew I wasn’t fit for the full twelve miles and planned to rejoin Eric for the drop down the six mile descent back to the Olympian Hall aid station. The Lane of Pain route was a figure eight with the aid station at the intersection. The descent was twice as long as the ascent, but consequently much more shallow with generous switchbacks. Eric paused for maybe one minute at the aid station and launched back down the single track as the darkness of night replaced the light of day.
I couldn’t keep up with Eric on the way down the Lane of Pain anymore than I could going up. He left me in oxygen debt almost immediately. Just as well as my headlamp didn’t provide enough lumens for me to run too fast. I ran as fast as I could in the darkness but fell three times. Once by tripping over a tree root. I fell hard on that one. Then by slipping in the mud. Lastly, I rolled my ankle. Fortunately, the mechanics of my ankles allow me to run again right away. A blessing for trails. Eric reached the bottom in third place. With over half the course behind him, he was running fast and we were concerned he might blow up and DNF. A couple of hours later, Ellen and I crewed Eric as he completed the Lane of Pain.
We drove Matt, another of Eric’s running buddies, up to the Dry Lake aid station on Buffalo Pass to pace Eric for the final thirty-plus miles overnight. His original pace would have had him finish at 8am. With his competitive bid, we were now projecting a finish between 4am and 6am, assuming he finished at all.
Fortunately for the crew, Eric crossed the finish line at 6am – after twenty-two hours and twenty-three minutes in first place for the tortoises division. The only person to complete the course ahead of him was the first place finisher for the hares division which started four hours after the tortoises. Eric would have placed twelfth had he competed with the hares, something he’ll have to consider for his second 100 mile ultra.
In an event where it’s common to drop out, Anthony finished as well at the more gentlemanly hour of 12:30 in the afternoon. Both runners felt strong to the end as they completed their very first 100 mile ultras. They celebrated by purchasing leather belts in town to go with their customary award belt buckles.
I ran four and a half miles yesterday, my first exercise beyond walking in the last two weeks. It felt so good. The soreness in my legs this morning is a welcomed sign that I’m back on track to train for a marathon. Maybe not an October marathon anymore, but one while I am still sixty. I have until next April.
I met with my cardiologist Friday and she assured me my heart is healthy. She scheduled more exams and visits with other specialists to determine what triggers my irregular heartbeat, but other than it forcing me to walk on some runs, my health isn’t in danger. She cleared me to run again. She’s a runner. She gets me.
After a couple of melancholy weeks, I left her office almost manic. I can imagine how the importance I assign to running might appear juvenile to others, but it’s my North Star. It’s been a constant throughout my life. My successes and failures running mirror other aspects of my life. Having this almost inane abstraction to real life helps me cope. I’m a runner. There are worse habits.
My next big running event won’t really involve me running. I’m going to serve as crew chief for my son-in-law as he runs the Run Rabbit Run 100 miler in Steamboat next month. It’s an elite event with some of the world’s best ultra trail runners. The photo above is of Addie Bracy, the female winner of last year’s event. With a $75,000 overall purse, $15,000 will go to each of the men and women’s winners. As crew chief, I’ll have unimpeded access to all of it. Life is good.
Summer is over. This weekend’s weather was meant for running. I sat on the couch this morning with the doors wide open so that my one dog who doesn’t like to go outdoors when the grass is wet from the overnight rain could enjoy the cool air.
I’ll meet with a cardiologist next Friday. She’ll review what I’ve already seen with my untrained eyes. The anomalous electro cardiogram readings. Video showing the valves of my heart push blood via a sonar-generated echo cardiogram. She’ll diagnose the likely cause, tell me my condition is mild and suggest treatment for what my ignorant readings have already led me to believe – I’ve enjoyed too much coffee in my lifetime. I cancelled my online auto-delivery of a coffee and chicory creole blend this morning. I’m struggling to find a decaf version.
“Childhood living Is easy to do The things you wanted I bought them for you“
When I was young, healthy and strong, I imagined myself a race horse. It wasn’t a stretch of my imagination. I ran NCAA track and cross country. I lived in an athletic dorm overflowing with Texan football players. I thought of us all as race horses. Tirelessly trained and running for the entertainment of others. I didn’t feel cheapened by it though, I imagined my body was that of a powerful animal and I liked it.
I think of different things when I run and I sometimes still recall how I used to consider myself a race horse. I try to reimagine myself that way. The daydream is different now. I’m no longer on the track racing alongside other stallions. I picture myself as a wild horse galloping through an alpine meadow. I’m alone now, having left the younger horses to sprint and fight and mate. I’m looking for a place painted with wildflowers where I can lay down to watch the younger horses sprint and fight and mate.
“Wild horses Couldn’t drag me away Wild, wild horses Couldn’t drag me away“
The last twenty-four hours have done their best to kill running as I know it. First, a local running hero for me, who regularly runs extreme, elite events around the world, who writes a top-rated running blog and is invited to those world class events all-expenses-paid because of her influence, who does everything I’ver ever wanted to do as a runner and for that is my hero, fell down while cleaning her dog and broke her arm and ribs and punctured her lung. Apparently she’d exceeded her limits washing her dog. Then, this morning, my doctor told me to stop running.
***Insert expletive here***
I mean, running is what I do. I’m a runner. I’ve been writing a runner’s blog for over ten years. It has several hundred subscribers. That’s what I use to promote my novels. I was training for a marathon in October. I’m still sort of processing. I have to take a daily baby aspirin now.
***Insert a more creative expletive here, the first one was insufficient***
To be fair, I only have to stop running until I complete a more exhaustive cardiology exam and treatment, but that marathon is now out-of-reach. Hopefully I’ll be fit enough to run the half marathon since my sister is flying into town to run the half. I know this is actually good that I learned a thing or two about my health condition and it’s all temporal, but I went in there this morning expecting to be told to lose some weight. I was ready for that. Not this.
Yesterday, I completed week one of yet another ten week plan to prep for the Boulder Marathon. I’ve been down this road before. Seems like just last year I trained for this marathon with only ten weeks of running. There’s more riding on this one though. This time around, I’ll be running a marathon at sixty years of age.
Like last year, I’m not starting completely out-of-shape. Last year I’d been running weekends. This year, I’ve gone a full month without running, but I squeezed in some good hiking in July. Those four days of backpacking with Rob in the Mount Zirkel Widlerness Area set me up directionally for marathon training. I’ve lost three pounds since that hike. So, I feel like I have a leg up on these ten weeks.
I setup a mileage plan. Not overly aggressive, I won’t strive for over seventy miles in a single week. And really, I doubt I’ll run more than fifty. The primary goal though starting out is consistency. I targeted thirty-five miles this first week, and next, but the bigger goal was to run every day. I hit thirty-four miles. Close enough. I ran all seven days and that’s the victory I’m taking out of week one.
One particular run, Tuesday I think, felt pretty good because the weather was a bit cooler. Several of the runs have seriously sucked. Saturday was one of those. It was also my longest run at seven miles, but I walked a bit in every one of those miles. Not sure why. Could have been heat and humidity. Maybe I didn’t recover fully from Friday’s late afternoon run. My heart kept racing to over 170 beats per minute and I just had to stop running.
I developed a pattern of running for two or three telephone poles and then walking one. I relabelled my run an interval workout. If you’re going to establish hard-to-reach goals for yourself, you need a few tricks like that. I don’t have a coach looking over my shoulder so I take some liberties. I’m trying not to get too psyched out about not being able to control my heart rate. It felt horrible though. At around 170 bpm, my legs forced themselves to walk. Then my heartbeat would immediately shoot up to about 180 and I’d feel dizzy and nauseous for 10 or 20 seconds. My heart rate maxed out at 185. That’s kind of scary when you’re sixty.
The weather will be cooler though in October for the marathon. And I expect I’ll be a few pounds lighter. It’ll be hard to maintain my consistency with some upcoming travel plans – Austin later this month and British Columbia in September. I’m mapping out my running routes now though. Nine more weeks to go.
I ended the day babysitting Margot. At ten months, she can stand and take a few steps. And she loves stuffing her cheeks with avocado.
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.
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.
Forgive the politics, but my blog receives enough views from Russia and we all have to do what we can.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.