Really Any Angel Will Do

It’s difficult to get me out of bed early on a weekend especially if it’s threatening rain and I have a long ride ahead of me. Despite that I hit the “off” button on the alarm, shambled over to the window, checked the skies, and decided they didn’t look too bad. I was in for that day’s ALC training ride. Arriving at Sports Basement I was happy to see a big turnout of ALC riders was willing to take on a morning of cold, breezy cycling. The enthusiastic TRLs led us through the routine of stretches, route guidance, and the Safety Speech, and then we were off.

I’m a bit of a cold wimp, and the wind whipping across Crissy Field as we rode out had me wishing I hadn’t left my warm bed. But a quick climb and spin across the bridge quickly warmed me up. On the Marin side we took the usual route to get up and over Camino Alto before heading through the quaint towns of Ross and San Anselmo on our way to the turn-around point in Fairfax. And these little towns are serious about keeping their drivers moving slowly with stop signs placed every few hundred yards. I know as a good ALC rider the ALC stop is mandatory, but with all of the unclipping and clipping I wished I could engage in a gold old Idaho stoop once in a while.

The group converged on the Coffee Roastery and Fat Angel Bakery in Fairfax and refueled for the trip back to the City via Tiburon. Not only did I have one of the best pecan buns I’ve ever had at Fat Angel I got a chance to meet and chat with a lot of fellow riders and TRLs. Lots of good-natured ribbing, a couple of pieces of advice and stories from the ride passed the time before we got back on the road and headed home.

Grey skies gave way to sunshine as we navigated through Sausalito and up the Lateral (which has gotten easier to climb), and, as I rolled back into Sports Basement, I was glad I hadn’t let my cozy bed get the better of me. I hope that spirit stays with me next weekend as we tack on more mileage and take on some hill experienced riders keep talking about for some reason.

Postscript: Although it didn’t rain during the ride, it had rained the day before which made for some sloppy road conditions in places. When I got back home my ride was filthy. I ended up spending a long time giving the bike a proper bath to remove all that grit and grime, and now it looks like new.


A Little Help From My Friends: California International Marathon Race Report

Leave some medals for the rest of us!

The California International Marathon is a traditional west coast launching pad for runners vying for a spot in the Boston Marathon. Many folks, myself included, have taken advantage of the fast, net downhill course which wends its way from Folsom to the Capitol in Sacramento to punch their Patriots Day ticket.

My last training run in the bank, I threw my kit together and headed to Sacramento. Hit the expo and later met up with dailymile friends Caleb M. and Chris S. for an early pre-race dinner at Pyramid Alehouse topped off with one of their tasty, seasonal Snow Cap Ales. Good times catching up and talking about race strategy and expectations. Using good natured one-upsmanship to motivate one another they had both trained hard in a quest to turn in a time in the low 2:30s. With the new rolling registration for Boston in mind my goal was something in the 3:19 to 3:14 range which would put me in one of the early registration pools.

Race day dawned cool and calm with no hint of the winds that had been buffeting the state all week. Perfect race day weather. After milling about in the warmth of a hotel lobby, I piled onto a bus with lots of other excited runners and had a pleasant conversation with my seatmate all the way up to the starting area in Folsom. Dawdled on the bus a bit to soak up every last bit of warmth before heading out into the familiar swirl of the potty/sweats bag truck/start line maelstrom. I love the start of a big race like this—the cheers rising up from the runners as taper-tamped, pent-up energy is released; the arcs of discarded clothing flying through the air; and the arrhythmic beat of thousands of feet slapping the asphalt. Before me 26.2 miles of car-free streets devoid of meandering pedestrians and overzealous yapping dogs. The time had come to make a substantial withdrawl from my mileage bank and run a smart race.

Now, the first rule of marathon running is you don’t talk about marathon running. The second rule is don’t go out too fast which is difficult at CIM. The course trends downhill and starts off with a long, discipline-busting downhill. Soon, however, you have a chance to reconnect with your pace plan as you encounter the first of many of the race’s rolling hills. Another one of my early pacing problems involved missing the first couple of mileage markers. Not only did I not see the signs for miles 1 and 2, but I also did not hear the familiar chimes of multiple Garmins announcing the split. I’m certain I ran my first mile faster than my first split of 21:31 would indicate.

The miles clicking by I noticed I was passing a lot of runners, and my splits (6:50, 7:04, 7:04 for Miles 4 through 6) indicated I was setting myself up for a late stage, cramp-plagued meltdown. For me being out in front of the 3:10 pace group at mile 5 is a boneheaded move. Just then I noticed two fast looking fellows (don’t judge, you’ve thought the same thing, too) who were keeping up a pace I thought I could manage. I tucked in behind them and let them pull me down the course using their tremendous pace discipline to help me maintain metronomic splits ranging between 7:00 to 7:16 from miles 7 through 21. With my wee pace group set, I focused on my nutrition plan sucking on GU Chomps, taking water at almost every aid station (twice opting for the electrolyte drink to stave off those leg cramps), and two gels in the later miles after the half marathon mark.

As the race wore on I couldn’t believe I was still keeping up with my mini pace group. Each time they surged ahead a little I easily closed the gap and stayed with them. And, as the distance remaining dropped to single digits, the 3:10 pace group still hadn’t passed by. It was beginning to believe it might be a special day. I had hoped to stay with my group through the finish so I could thank them for helping me, but at mile 20 the duo took off leaving me to bring it home on my own. I flew up the last uphill on the bridge near mile 22 and headed onto the tree-lined streets of Sacramento enjoying the energy of the surprisingly large amount of clapping, waving, boisterous spectators.

By now I was feeling a bit of discomfort in my hips and feet reflected in the slight upward trend of my splits, which while higher remained remarkably consistent—7:22, 7:20, 7:20, and 7:21 for Miles 22-25—but I sped forward picking off a few more runners as we headed to the Capitol. Rounding the final turn I kicked past one last runner and bounded across the finish line. Stopped my watch and looked down to see 3:08:10, smashing my previous PR by a full ten minutes and giving me plenty of cushion for the new Boston qualifying requirements. I was stunned; I had never before run a marathon without running multiple miles at over an 8 minute per mile pace, and now I had finished one keeping the pace under 7:21 throughout. Elated, I ran over to greet the fabulous Layla B., volunteering for medal duty. She gave me a great, ”You’re finished already?!” along with a big hug.

And with that my race day was finished, and training for my next challenge had begun.

Ups and Downs

The bike in the foreground. Alameda, Oakland, Berkeley, and San Francisco in the background.

Today was all about climbing, and what a perfect day for it.

I was meeting a friend across the bay in Oakland, so I roused myself out of bed early to get ready and head out to catch the train to the East Bay. We met up without incident, made a few last minute adjustments, and then were off.

The ride started out in the Temescal and Rockridge neighborhoods, but soon we were climbing alongside the freeway toward the Caldecott Tunnel. After cycling for a bit, we stopped for a moment at an art installation commemorating the tragic Oakland Hills Fire before taking on Skyline Boulevard with its gradual curves and generally easy climb. At Grizzly Peak we decided to press onward and upward in order to take in the view. Eventually the road flattened out, and we found a turnout which overlooked a stunning view of the Bay Area sweeping from Alameda to Berkeley with San Francisco in the distance still wrapped in fog.

Well rested and hydrated we hopped back on for the ride back to my friend’s place which involved an exhilarating, slightly scary decent. A terrific payoff for all the climbing, but on my list of things involving cycling competence, properly negotiating decents is high. I held my own on today’s big plunge and didn’t ride the brakes too much, but I know I’ve got to learn technique which will in turn feed my confidence.

Does This Look Infected?

Turn your head and cough.
Turn your head and cough.

flickr photo by stopnlook

Today was my first experience with an institution which strikes fear in the heart of many Americans: a health maintenance organization.

Since I’m a freelance worker, I’ve paid thousands of dollars each year to purchase one of those “gold-plated” health insurance policies we heard so much about during the last presidential campaign. And even though my premiums went up almost hourly on a policy with a sky-high deductible (I basically had to fall down an elevator shaft to get my money’s worth), at least I didn’t have any government bureaucrat telling me which doctor I could or couldn’t see. No bean-counter in Washington denied any of my health care claims. I had a cadre of guys and gals down in Oxnard, California denying coverage for me instead thank you very much.

After years of paying all the costs of private health insurance though, my spouse took a job which offered health benefits, and I ditched my plan shortly after selecting a new plan. After looking through the choices on offer, I selected an HMO. Now, I know what you’re thinking. How can I go from my “gold-plated” free-market health insurance plan which will limit my freedom of choice and cares only to push the maximum number of patients through the system quickly and cheaply. Believe me, visions of having my choices limited swirled through my head as I approached the building housing my HMO. This is what happened next.

After paying my co-pay, I was called from the waiting room by a nurse who weighed me, asked me how tall I was, measured my blood pressure and heart rate, checked my body temperature, escorted me to a room, and left me to wait for a doctor. The doctor arrived, asked me a few questions about my health, looked down my throat, felt for my lymph nodes and thyroid, otherwise examined me, and recommended some labwork.

Shocking. I know gentle reader. Compare that account to what happened the last time I visited the Physician’s Assistant-Certified (the doctor must have been too busy to see me) from my pricey freedom-of-choice loving health plan.

I was called from the waiting room by a nurse who weighed me, asked me how tall I was, measured my blood pressure and heart rate, checked my body temperature, escorted me to a room, and left me to wait for a doctor. The doctor arrived, asked me a few questions about my health, looked down my throat, felt for my lymph nodes and thyroid, otherwise examined me, and recommended some labwork. Oh, and then I paid my co-pay.

Now, I know I’m lucky since I’m still relatively young, and I’m in pretty good shape. I haven’t had a lot of experience with using the health care I pay for, and I’m sure the HMO will figure out some way to steer me toward high priced drugs or deny me coverage in due course. But right now I’m not seeing the difference between types of health insurance, and I’m beginning to wonder a little bit more about what those politicians mean when they say government-run health care will take away my freedom to choose a doctor and get the care I need. Is that really what they’re worried about?

Running Into The New Year

What does this picture have to do with running?
What does this picture have to do with running?

2009 has officially begun, and as day two draws to a close here on the West Coast I bet folks are still sticking to the resolutions they made for the new year. I didn’t make any concrete resolutions myself (which means no one will ever know whether or not I’ve kept them), but in 2009 I would like to continue my running, eat better, get more sleep, and cultivate a healthier lifestyle. I’m definitely cheating by not quantifying those goals with a resolution, but I can’t imagine keeping some sort of sleep log to make sure I’m putting in more zzzzzs.

As for the running, I was hoping to get in a few miles on New Year’s Day to bring in the new year on the right foot. I even moderated the New Year’s Eve drinking the night before so I would feel good the next morning and would be motivated to hit the pavement. But a mid-morning lethargy washed over me as I sat around drinking coffee with my family and dearest friends with whom we spend each New Year’s. Instead of putting in some miles, a group of us headed out in the early afternoon for a couple of sets of “tennis”. So, I got the heart rate up a little bit having a blast with my friends chasing tennis balls around the court, but I missed the opportunity to run in the new year.

Today I didn’t have anything else going on, so I was able to put in my first run of 2009, which I hope is not a harbinger of things to come. This was one of those struggle days when one can’t wait for the run to be over. Tired legs, gusty, capricious winds, sharing sidewalks with jumpy pedestrians, and the guy who almost rolled me up onto the hood of his car all made for an unappealing run. I’m glad it was only six miles, although I’m sure I could have gutted out another mile or two if that’s what the schedule called for. Some days are just going to be tough like that, though, and I’m already looking forward to putting today’s experience behind me and having a good run tomorrow.

In fact I started the healing process as soon as I got back home. I noticed the wind had scattered a whole bunch of vivid yellow ginkgo leaves on the rain-soaked sidewalk outside of my apartment. I ran inside, grabbed my camera, then ran back out and snapped some pictures including the one above. And that’s one of the things I like most about this whole running and fitness gig–seeing and experiencing moments as fleeting as the windswept randomness of leaves on a city sidewalk each time I go out for a run. Sure there’s time in the day for a little television or work on the computer, but I believe it’s important to get outside if you can and see what’s happening in the community around you as you streak past.

Oh, and as for some more concrete running resolutions, I’ll sit down in the next few weeks and plan out which marathons I’d like to enter in 2009. Until then, you can check out my profile on dailymile to see the one goal I have set for myself this year.

What are your 2009 fitness goal or goals? Leave a note in comments.

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Mile After Mile

Hey, who's that handsome runner?
Hey, who's that handsome runner?

After seeing the site mentioned in a few Twitter posts, I decided to check out, “A social training log for runners, triathletes, and cyclists.” I haven’t delved too deeply into the site just yet, but I’ve already used it to log a couple of recent training runs, and I’ve enjoyed using the site.

Dailymile features a clean, web 2.0 interface with lots of colorful, Apple-style graphics and navigation icons. Like Facebook, the site allows you to connect with other users, send notes to one another, connect to events in your area, upload photos and video, all while updating a log of your activities and the changes you make to your profile. Once you sign on with an account, you can create a typical social media-style profile which allows you to include bio information, upload an avatar, and link your posts to your Twitter feed. You can tell Dailymile which activities you’re into-cycling, running, triathlon, for example-what your training goal is, and where you live. As the site grows and people begin to friend each other up, users will probably use this geographical information to form running and cycling groups or let Dailymilers know about fitness meet-ups in their area.

Of course, the main purpose of dailymile is to keep track of your training output. And while hard-core athletes who weigh themselves after each bowel movement may not find the web site robust and full-featured enough for their needs, I like the way the site keeps track of and displays the mileage and time data you input. It even calculates your pace so no more doing math in your head or using another third-party site. You can even add a note including one of the dailymile’s emoticons to let everyone know how you felt during your workout, which drives one of the cool social media-driven aspects of the site. If you post notes with a “blah”, “tired”, or “injured” emoticon, you may find yourself listed under the People tab in the “Athletes who need motivation” section. Here you can send other dailymilers a little training love with a “Congrats” or “Nice Job” blast, or, if you’re feeling a little competitive, an “I’ll Beat You” notice.

Dailymile emerged from invitation-only beta today, so, while social media stalwarts like badges and links to Twitter are already offered, integration to mapping web sites like isn’t. Until then, the I-don’t-run-in-the-shade-because-tree-leaves-screw-up-my-Forerunner-data crowd will probably stay away, but the Facebook and Twitter set will feel right at home.

Check them out at

What are some of your favorite fitness web sites?

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Lighting my way home.
Lighting my way home.

flickr photo by MDV

Since I’ve come to enjoy sleeping in a bit on weekends, I upended my usual routine on Sunday and did my long run in the evening. Usually I run through the nearby neighborhoods to get my miles in. But with 14 miles to get through I didn’t want to invite boredom by looping around and around the same streets again and again. Instead I decided to run through Golden Gate Park even though darkness was falling as I set out. It was quite dark out by the time I hit the Panhandle and moved through the eastern end of the park near the Hall of Flowers and the museums. In that part of the park, though, there’s a lot of lighting and you’re generally safe as long as your aware of your surroundings. But I was going to be running all the way down to the end of JFK Drive and then back up along MLK Jr. Drive, so I was in for a surreal, calm but slightly unnerving experience. There were a few other fellow sufferers about, but by the time I got to Crossover Drive I felt I had the park all to myself. Foolishly I pounded down the path even though it was so dark at times I occasionally couldn’t see the path itself, anything that might trip me up, or low-hanging tree branches. Sometimes I would come into a clear area and the sliver of moon would throw enough light to show me the way, but then it was back under the tree canopy, and I had to run the path from memory, picking my feet up slightly higher than I normally do to clear any unseen obstacles.

Shortly after the turnaround point I passed one other soul, and moments later experienced the spookiest part of my run yet. I followed a route which took me onto Middle Drive which overlooks the Polo Grounds and Speedway Meadows. For about a mile or so I was on a street closed to traffic with no one else around and moonlight barely lighting the way. I was well aware I was alone in an isolated part of the park vulnerable to anyone who might wish to do me harm, and I could hear in my head any number of admonitions against running through a darkened park on a cool fall evening. But I was having too much fun to care. I find the effect of running through a quiet park, day or night, calming and peaceful. It’s so much easier to focus on the essentials of what you’re doing-trying to knife through the air like an efficient running machine-with all of the normal distractions of the city stripped away. The park portion of the run behind me, I emerged onto the boisterous, crowded sidewalks of Haight Street and made my way home.

While I wouldn’t recommend everyone run alone through a cold, dark, urban park without wearing any lights or reflective gear, I had some wonderful meditative moments which helped propel me through a great run.

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