Sunday, April 29, 2012

Big Sur photo safari

This was a very special event for me. But I'll get into that stuff in a day or so.

For today, kids... sit back, and you might want to go to your big monitor for this post. It's the mother of all photo safaris*.

This is Big Sur...

First, let's get this out of the way...

Wasn't in Monterey 15 minutes before
I found this beaut just outside the Expo.
(For those new to DR365, I defile fountains... a lot.)

I'd done some homework and scoped out an iconic Monterey fountain in the middle of a big-ass plaza by the wharf.  It was super-close. And now a planter.

Is there anything sadder than a no-longer-a-fountain?

Classy stenciling on the plaza walls. I'm pretty sure they meant
"No Bikes OR Skateboards",
unless they are cool with one or the other, but not both. Seems unlikely.

Runners are great people. The best people. We know that. At the Expo, you mingle in and around a big... what's the term for a group of runners?... a fartlek? No... a sweat band! Yes, a sweat band**. Anyway... here are some special runners.

Bart Yasso - inspiring, engaging, hellacious runner. Even better guy.
Also Chief Running Officer at Runner's World... a nice gig.
Also a fantastic speaker, which we'll discuss another time.

Brady and Ben - I "met" Brady through her blog and twitter.
The first post of her's I read was about wanting to do Big Sur,
I was signed up 15 minutes later.
You can follow her awesomeness here:

Mark Remy - writer at Runner's World who I met
at a pub across from the Expo. Insanely nice dude.
I bought two of his books (this and this).
You should, too.

Dean Karnazes - the Ultra Marathon Man himself
The guy is ultra-human. And very cool.

Meeting Dean was a big deal to me. I had a chance to tell him how his book The Ultramarathon Man, and how he tries things not knowing if he can do them, changed not just my running, but my perspective on life. I am not kidding. The day after I finished his book, I started my first streak... 100 miles in 7 days. He was very gracious and warm.

Big Sur is a point-to-point race, so you board a bus, at 4am, you to the start.
Stepping on the bus is a seminal moment.
Once you're on, there's only one way back
... across the finish line

The start village was packed with marathoners.
This is my tribe.
And they are a very patient lot when it comes to waiting for Port-a-potties.

Ok, enough foreplay... Let's get to some racin'...

At the start, I thought this was scenic. I had no idea.
I was about to get my eyeballs blown out.

See that red and white doojie way the hell up there? That's the start.
I properly corralled myself at the back of the second wave.

Guys are just gross. I apologize for my entire gender.

Ah, there it is. The shit is on!
Wait! I forgot to start my watch!
Hold on... ok, the shit... is... oooonnnnn... NOW!

After a few miles of downhill, where it felt like you were falling out of the sky,
we popped out of the giant redwoods,
which I totally forgot about until just now.
Crap. Totally missed them.
Looks I have to come back.

Now it gets unfathomably beautiful.

Very happy cows.

 See that mist? Pretty, right? Things is, it's actually the harbinger of death!

OK, it's not really the harbinger of death, but it is the harbinger of blow-your-hat-off-for-fun-before-it-knocks-you-on-your-ass wind.

And now we're in it.
It looks all calm and peaceful.
It's not.
It's cold and windy and steep and forever.

I should point out that there are about 7 feet of flat on this course. You are either going up, or down. Sometimes the easy ups actually feel like flats.

More of nature's beauty.

Look how beautiful nature is, kids.

Ok, these guys really ARE harbingers of death...

Chinese drummers, though clearly they are not all Chinese.

The drummers sit at the base of The Climb. The climb up to Hurricane Point. This 2+ mile steep-ass, unrelenting climb makes you wish one of those drummers would have clubbed you when you went by. One of the REAL Chinese drummers... he'd do it up right.

As brutal and soul-raping as the climb is, the views are spectacular...

The top, Hurricane Point, was shrouded in that first harbinger of death. The peak is exactly at the 12-mile mark.

Truth is, I managed the climb to hurricane point well. Only stopping for pix. I was more than a little proud of myself. If I recall correctly, I said something about making Hurricane Point my bitch... not sure.

Very shortly after Hurricane point is, with the possible exception of the finish, the highlight of Big Sur...

Bixby Bridge

I remember the first time I saw an ad for Big Sur, many years ago, before I ever dreamed of doing a marathon. Every ad features a photo of the bridge. It's a siren song. I stared at it, for a long time, and I knew I wanted to run across that bridge one day. But I never thought it would actually happen.

It's not every day one gets to live out a half-a-life long dream. When I put a foot on that bridge, I remembered seeing that ad. I got goosebumps. I got chills. I teared up. I was acutely aware of how lucky I am to have the health, means, and opportunity to fulfill such an audacious wish. I'll never, ever, forget that moment.

Just after the bridge is Michael Martinez. Michael plays a grand piano, in tails (Michael, not the piano), on the course. You might want to send the kids to the other room for a sec... good? cool.

Having a guy play a grand piano, in tails, on a marathon course, is fucking awesome.

Ok, back to PG-13.
Me and Micheal

The best damn orange I have ever had in my life!

Alien working an aid station. No clue.

I should probably note that about this time, things went a little bad... race-wise. As a flatlander, climbing is a little foreign to me. I was telling a guy on the return bus that the biggest hill in the Indianapolis Marathon would go unnoticed at Big Sur. I trained on what hills I had. It got me to mile 19.

At mile 19, there was an especially steep climb, paired with a vicious wind. I hadn't walked a step to that point, but I fought this one too long. I ran out of "climbers". They had served gallantly, but what little climbing muscles I had, clocked out and went home for the day. They didn't bother telling me, they just left. I figured it out when, as I was running an uphill, I noticed walkers passing me.

I accepted my reality, remembered Mark Remy's first rule of running ("Have fun"), realized that torturing myself wouldn't be fun, and started walking the uphills. No pouting. No whining. No denial.

Know what? I worked. On the downs, and "flats" I felt fantastic! Usually after 20 miles, my hamstrings turn to steel rods, and my calves fill with concrete. But today, I felt great. Not fast, but great. And I was having fun again. I just couldn't climb anymore. No biggie.

Plus, I had more time for pictures...

Runner friends... think about your last marathon.
Now imagine running a marathon with this kind of scenery.
I know, right!?

Yeah, I got nothin'. She was really playing the harp, though.

People actually get to live down there.

Mile 23 is famous for the strawberries.

The best damn strawberry I have ever had in my life!

From the strawberry station on, it was head down. Left-right. Look good for the spectators. Get to the finish, and...


I have this thing where, after a race, I stand around the finish and congratulate those who finish around me. At a marathon, this is especially cool, because I've usually been running around these people for a couple hours. My Midwestern ways freak out some people, but most are gracious, and appreciative. Try it sometime.

The best damn cookie I've ever had in my life!

Best damn, and smallest, and out of focus, grapes I've ever had in my life!

Best damn cup of horrible beer I've ever had in my life!

Leaving the finish area of a big race is always bitter sweet. You don't want it to end. But it must.

I was shocked to see a bus that would take me to
just across the street from my house in Indiana.
But, I still had stuff in my hotel room.

Throwing up pictures and tapping out captions is the easy part. Summing up the experience will take some time. For now, I'm going across the street, to a most excellent recreation of an English pub, and have a beer and meat pie.

Good running,

*All of these images are by me. Feel free to use them, but please include a link to the blog post. Thanks.
** I'll say it... I love the idea of a group of runners being called a sweat band. It just came to me, and it tickles the hell out of me. There, I said it.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Carmel Half-Marathon

This might sound a little portentous, but I'm gonna say it anyway because we all know I can be a little portentous... I ran the Carmel Half-marathon last weekend, on a whim.

I signed up at packet pick-up.

There were several reasons to run this half:
  • It literally encircles my neighborhood. Either I run it or I'm trapped by it for 6 hours.
  • I could walk to the starting line in less time than those who drove to the race.
  • It's good to support local events.
  • The GF was running her first half.
  • I have been totally freaking out about my upcoming marathon and could use a distraction.
There was also a big reason not to run this half:
  • My marathon is this weekend. This weekend!
  • It was cloudy, windy, and chilly.
  • The shirt was kinda fugly.
I'd decided weeks ago that I wasn't going to run it. What turned me was that my marathon freak-out was way stronger than my fear of running too hard a week before the big one. Besides, a decent run, a run where I might actually find my marathon goal pace, and most importantly, stick to that pace, might just help the jitters.

Probably not, but it sounded better than being trapped at home, freaking out, with runners circling around me, silently mocking me.

So ran I did.

I love running in unusual, interesting, far-away places. But there's something comforting about a race in your neighborhood. I'd run every inch of the course at one time or another, and most places pretty often. I hadn't necessarily run down the middle of the street, but I knew where the hills were, and where the flats were. And a bonus for me, being directionally and positionally challenged, I knew where I was most of the time. And I saw lots of familiar faces.

What wasn't so familiar was running so far toward the back of the pack. This was my first half since 2008. Wow, that can't be right! Let me check something here... one sec... nope, that's right. I ran the IU half in 2008. Anyway, it'd been awhile.

Plus, this wasn't a race for me. It was a dress rehearsal. My biggest fear - other than having my horrible training on full display out in Big Sur as I crawl on hands and knees up the hills, crying like a wounded puppy - is going out too fast. So this half was about finding my easy marathon groove, and reassuring myself that it was a groovy groove.

Let me tell ya, that was a damn good idea. It took me 7 miles, over half of the race, to find that groove. Once I found it, it was awesome. I felt like I could click off miles all day. Had it taken me 7 miles of the marathon to find it, I'd have been in a four-alarm panic.

Now, thanks to the delightful Carmel Half-Marathon, I feel more or less relaxed and confident that I can slot into that groove early and really enjoy Big Sur. I also learned that the socks I had planned to wear were woefully inadequate, and that there are a couple strategic places I need to make sure get a little extra dab of lube. 

Quick review of the race, as this was my first Carmel Half (I volunteered at a water table last year). The course is rolling and really nice... lots of neighborhoods, no long miserable flat-and-straight-as-far-as-the-eye-can-see hunks. The amenities are medium-race quality, better than I expected: Excellent start/finish area with live music, great aid stations, plenty of volunteers. Passed quite a few cars stopped for runner traffic - most seemed to be taking it in stride. I made a point of thanking those with their windows open for their patience.

The crowd support was about what you'd expect from a small town race... very slim, limited mostly to a sprinkling of family members and the occasional cowbell. The racers were pretty thin, too... not quite as many as I expected. I ran alone a good portion of the race, but there were always people a few yards ahead of me, and yes, some passing me. I had company if I wanted it, but also room to run if I needed it.

The only negative for the event (aside from my noobish inattention to the conditions and the resulting screw-up of not bringing dry clothes to change into, or even a jacket for the race (Thanks, Marty for the loaner!), and subsequent freezing of my nards after I'd finished) was that the finish line announcer, who dutifully announced at least the first name of every finisher as they came down the final 50 yards or so, totally missed the finish of the marathon winner. I felt bad for the guy, having just won a damn marathon, and no one other than a couple of us who just happened to be paying attention, even clapped for him. Meh, he probably felt worse for me, the schmuck standing in the cold wind in a wet shirt.

I posted my worst time for a half since 1994. But Saturday wasn't about time, it was about finding that groove, and feeling good about next weekend. Today, two days after, I'm a little sore, but in a good way.  I'm a little more confident that I'll make it through Big Sur in once piece, which puts me just above scared-shitless.

That's a good place to be above, even if only just.

Good running,

PS - Sorry guys, I didn't realize until I was walking home that I failed to snap a single picture during the race. I'll make it up to you next week.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

50 sphincters clinched

There are over 50 sphincters in the human body (seriously).

Nothing will cause every one of those over 50 sphincters to clinch tight as a drum head like a "Hey sport, less than 2 weeks before your marathon" email...

I wish I was in "taper mode", and not "freak out" mode.

I wish I could say I felt well prepared.

I wish I could say I felt confident.

I wish I could say I wasn't scared poopless.

But the reality is that my training has been poor. The reality is that the hills are going to eat me alive. And then puke me up. And then eat me again, like a dog with stomach issues.

Seriously, I might not be able to walk for a week after the race. Seriously.

Still, I can't wait.

It's Big F'in Sur.

It is going to be glorious!

Good running,

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Fountains make everything better

There's one word that best describes my running over the last few weeks... it starts with S-U-C-K, and ends with an exclamation point.

Anyone who's been lucky enough to run a run of a lifetime, as I did almost a month ago (read about it here) (no, really, if you haven't read the post about my amazing run in the English countryside, you really should... it'll make you want to go run... outside... in the countryside... in England) knows that the bigger, more epicy the run, the bigger the let down after.

I know I should be running more. Hell, I'm 2 weeks away from a marathon for crying out loud. Ironically, I will be doing a lot of crying out loud, right around mile 22. But it's hard to get up for a training run on the same boring routes that won't remotely compare to what I experienced just a few weeks ago except that both included me, running, on the planet Earth. So instead, I pout and make excuses.

The good news is that this mope too shall pass.

In the meantime, let's talk fountains!

Those who read to the end of the English countryside post, well, good going! Probably took you almost as long to read it as it took me to run it. Sorry about that. But you also know about the new international flair of the fountain defilation campaign.

In fact, the defiling campaign has taken a decidedly "Go big, or keep your shoes on" character. And by big, I mean friggin' HUGE. And audacious.

Take for example the fountain outside Buckingham Palace.

Buckingham Fountain

That's right, Buckingham F'in Palace. Big enough? I thought so.

This was big, really big. And deep. And right in the middle of a huge-ass round about. You might recognize it if you've wasted several hours of your life watching any royal wedding. The carriage with the newlywed royals negotiates the round about just before passing though the palace gates on their way to their rumored ritualistic bath in the tears of the poor. Separate baths, or course... they may be married, but they aren't common.

The fountain is beautiful, but it also has the vibe that at any moment a gaggle of not-very-amused palace guards are about to march, in perfect ranks and step, around the bend and drag me off to Tower of London, which, turns out isn't a tower at all. More like a compound.

I hadn't been so nervous before a defiling since, well maybe ever. The GF and I scoped the photo angles and planned our escapes route, just in case. I took a little extra time to secure my rolled up pants, since the water looked pretty deep. Let me say that it's hard to look like you aren't about to desecrate a fountain when you're barefoot and lingering around a fountain with your jeans rolled up to your knees.

With the coast more or less clear, it was go time. As I approached the wall, a young boy holding his mother's hand walked by. The mother didn't even notice me, but the boy did and he seemed to know instinctively what I was about to do. I gave him a "yep, it's going down" wink, and put a "don't tell your mom or she'll wig out because she's all British uptight and won't understand that this is harmless flouting of societal boundaries" finger to my lips.

As the little boy looked over his shoulder with an anticipatory smile of disbelief and excitement, I swung my legs over the edge and knew immediately that the water was significantly deeper than I'd thought. Above my knees deep.

Four or five pictures, just to be sure, and I was out. No one batted an eye.

On a side note, if by chance you find yourself walking around London with jeans that are dripping wet above the knees, might I suggest the blissfully low humidity of the British Museum... dries them out in a jiffy.

Buckingham, alternate view

What do you do after you've soiled the Queen of England's fountain?

Smoke a cigarette?

Uh, I was being literal. That wasn't a euphemism, but I like what you did there.

The correct answer is head to Trafalgar Square. There are some incredible fountains in Trafalgar Square.

We walked Trafalgar Square to find it bustling with people, tourists and locals. And cops. Bobbies, I guess. Lots of bobbies. Undaunted, we scouted a round a bit to find a good angle for the photo. And then, it went quiet. A bad quiet. The unmistakable quiet of fountains being shut off.

If I remember correctly, I said something like "Oh golly, that is most unfortunate timing.", except way more vulgar.

Like any good runner, I refused to quit. After I finished pouting, and after being assured by one of the 397 security personnel that they were doing maintenance on the fountains and that they would be back on in 20 minutes or so, we retired to a nearby pub.

The Two Chairmen

After a proper pint and some sausages and mashed, we went back to the square, finding the fountains again sprouting forth, and picked the perfect spot. I disrobed, well just my feet, so I guess I dis-shoed and dis-socked, and started to the edge when I saw one of London's Finest walking directly toward me... me, the guy who's standing next to an internationally famous fountain barefoot with his jeans rolled up.

What did I do? The only thing I could do.

I used an old Jedi mind trick to persuade him to just walk on by. I wasn't the fountain defiler he was looking for.

Once the the fuzz was well on his way, in I went. Easy peasy. And not very deep. But still, epic.

Fountain in Trafalgar Square

That was it for London. But really, what more could I have asked for.

Well, I'll tell you what I could ask for... how about a few days with my boys in the greatest city in the world not even 2 weeks later. Sure, that'll do.

I took my boys to New York City over Spring Break. We did the Empire State Building, Central Park Zoo, Guggenheim, National September 11 Memorial, and the American Museum of Natural History, the one from the Night at the Museum movie, but not quite enough like the Night at the Museum movie to meet the expectations of an 11-yr old who really loves Night at the Museum. But that's another story...

Anyway... I have a few fountains on my hit list, and one of them is in Central Park. If you guessed Bethesda Fountain, you're today's big winner.

The boys and I were making our second visit to Central Park, and I pulled rank and put the fountain at the top of the agenda. When we arrived on the plaza, we noticed a bunch of cameras and microphone booms and people standing around like only union workers can stand around. Sure enough, they were part of a crew shooting a TV pilot. Those who weren't standing around were shooing people away from their shots. Undaunted, I forged ahead.

My youngest is the most adventurous of the lot, and always up for a fountain defiling. He even defiled a fountain with me in Milwaukee, but that's also another story, one you'll have to get from me in person. When his big brother's around, he plays it cool, but I knew he'd be up for being my photographer. And as much as they groaned about it, they were all smiles when I got in.

Bethesda Fountain, Central Park, NYC

I was glad to finally get that beauty in the books. I was glad it wasn't very deep because it was quite cold. The older boy was glad I hadn't been arrested.

We spent a good part of the rest of the day playing on the rocks in Central Park. It was a great day.

The next day was our last day in the city, but it was chock full of fun. One thing the boys insisted on was hitting the Lego store at Rockefeller Center. This day would be our second visit to "The Rock". The first was late one afternoon on a mistaken hope that the NBC tours weren't sold out.

On that first visit, I pointed out the lovely, but upon investigation seemingly unattainable fountain down by the ice rink. You know the one... in front of the golden flying guy, right below where the Christmas tree is. Not all the time, just around Christmas. We'd even scoped out the lower level, but there just was no getting to the fountain. Unless...

This day, the youngest, again the adventurous one, said, "Hey Dad, let's go skating." I knew what he really meant. And so, apparently, did his older bother, who opted out of skating. The deal is, there's a rest area for skaters, only for skaters, that is just to the left of the fountain.

In the fountain defiling racket, we call that an opportunity.

Incredibly there was no line to skate, so we bellied up to the cashier. I paid $34 dollars. We got into our rental skates, and there we were, skating at Rockefeller Center.

I'd always wanted to skate at Rockefeller Center. I even got in line once, but half way through the line, my less enthused travel partner (at the time) changed our mind. This time, The Duke and I were cutting it up.

After a few laps, and a fall for the little man, he gave me the look.

"You ok with taking my picture for this?", I asked.

"Sure", he said, trying not to act excited.

I faked the need for a rest, took off my skates, gave the boy a nod, and got in. He took a most excellent picture.

Fountain at Rockefeller Center

This, boys and girls, is a huge get. It took a trip to New York City, imagination, planning, execution, $34, a willing assistant, and a patient assistant's brother. I feel a little guilty for making the young one an accomplice. No I don't. He was more than willing. I'm very proud.

These fountain adventures have buoyed my spirits. I'm getting back on the roads and trails. The marathon? Oh, I've already booked my airfare, so I'm going. And I'm scared shitless. Those hills are going to kick my ass right up around my neck. But that's cool.

It's going to be a beautiful course, a run of a lifetime, and I bet there's a really nice fountain somewhere in Monterey.

Good running,

PS - Those new to this musty corner of the internet might enjoy browsing my interactive Google map of fountains I've defiled.