• 28,000 days

    This 4-inch circle of stiff paper has been floating around my work desk since mid-August, when I picked it up for free at a clothing store in Vancouver, British Columbia:

    28000days

    “Life is short; live it” has been a mantra of mine for years now. It’s a phrase that wormed its way into my head after seeing someone nearly be murdered in 2009 and then witnessing a double-fatality car wreck three months later. I’ve also phrased it “life should be lived, and dreams should come true” when thinking about the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing victims. And a friend who died of cancer in 2012 inspired me to write that “life needs to be lived, and that it’s worth fighting for as long as possible.”

    To say that the past year has been hard is an understatement. My immediate family has been dealt the cards of injury, death, ongoing sorrow and stage 4 cancer. Through it all, my first instinct has been to LIVE. Each new blow has made me more determined than the last: If this is how life will be, I need to make the most of it NOW rather than wait until the unknown future. I need to chase dreams and sign up for races and see friends and visit new places NOW.

    In response to the above 28,000 days thought, my friend Desiree pointed me to this video. I’m not always a video person (reading is faster!) but this was an instance where the visual representation really shines through:


  • Tuesday Time-Waster: P.O. Box 1142

    I might have a lifelong fascination with WWII, but that fascination always seems to reveal how much I DON’T know. For instance, a Virginia park just outside Washington D.C. was actually a top secret place codenamed P.O. Box 1142, and it’s where Nazi POWs were interrogated — by Jews.

    P.O. Box 1142 was the American government’s first foray into interrogation, and they kind of learned as they went along. And then, when the war ended, the place shut down and became Fort Hunt Park. Those who worked there had been sworn to secrecy by the U.S. government, and they only consented to interviews after the National Park Service, seeking to preserve history, got the military to send them written releases.

    I learned about this place while listening to a “This American Life” podcast (“Act 2″ of that one). I naturally turned to the Internet for more information. The podcast site has this blog post with old documents and photos. And NPR’s “All Things Considered” previously did a feature on the place.

    I’ve wanted to return to Washington D.C. for years, and now I have yet another site to add to my list. History is so fascinating.


  • Tuesday Time-Waster: I wrote about music

    Yes, this is self-promotion. And it’s shameless. I have TWO articles published this week at Riff Magazine, an online venture started by a friend/former colleague.

    Today’s just-published article is located here, where you can read about the upcoming Treasure Island Music Festival. It was fun to interview head honchos at the companies that started the event a decade ago.

    And yesterday’s piece was a concert review of Gwen Stefani’s show last Saturday. Confession: It was my first-ever concert review. For someone who wrote mostly hard/breaking news for 10 years, this was a new adventure. Sure, I also wrote plenty of GA (“general assignment” in journalism jargon) articles, and breaking news stories (i.e., car wrecks, fires, homicides) were often followed up with profile stories. However, my stuff was always “news” rather than in the “features” or “lifestyle” sections. I was admittedly nervous, but this No Doubt fan couldn’t say no. And it turned out that I loved being on deadline again. Who knew?!


  • Seawheeze 2016 Half-Marathon report

    One-word summary of the Seawheeze 2016 half-marathon: Fun.

    Version 2

    One-sentence summary: A long weekend in lovely Vancouver was punctuated by a steady run with a truly good friend.

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    Spoiler: Run time was 2:13, which is 28 minutes slower than my personal best. And I’m fine with it. So are my Achilles’ tendon and IT band.

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    And now for all the details about the weekend and the race. I never wrote a race report after running the Seawheeze half in 2015. I wish I had, because it was a good time with my training buddy Kristen, with a bonus side trip to see Deb in beautiful Victoria.

    Seawheeze 2015 with Kristen had much cooler weather.
    Seawheeze 2015 with Kristen had much cooler weather.
    Lynn Canyon was lovely.
    Lynn Canyon was lovely.

    I had good reason to not blog: I broke my thumb four days after the race while still in Canada, flew home late in agony due to canceled flights, saw two doctors, had surgery, was in a cast, had to cancel a marathon due to medical bills, and I couldn’t run for awhile because of the swelling. I only got this far in a rather sad blog post: “Last week at the end of the half-marathon, I received a carrot-shaped medal that was the most appropriate medal I could have ever received. Standing by the Olympic Cauldron, it felt like I had walked through a door into a ray of light, and that another door was finally opening ahead of me. Four days later, I smashed into the asphalt. The sound I heard was that of a door slamming shut.”

    This year, I returned to run the Lululemon Seawheeze Half-Marathon, and I once again got to spend a long weekend in Vancouver. It’s a great city, and I could easily spend many more vacations there. The people are nice, the weather is lovely in the summer (and I hear the winter isn’t too bad), the views are great, and the U.S. dollar has gone a lot further there in the last couple years. (British Columbia has 12% sales tax, but once I factored in my taxes and the exchange rates, everything was about 22% cheaper for me.)

    English Bay
    English Bay

    I flew into Vancouver on Thursday morning and promptly began walking.

    This is an Inukshuk, an ancient Inuit symbol used as a landmark and to show hospitality and friendship.
    This is an Inukshuk, an ancient Inuit symbol used as a landmark and to show hospitality and friendship, according to a plaque at its base.

    Since I’d been to Vancouver a year earlier, I tried to see new-to-me parts of the city, but I generally stayed near downtown. Between the Inukshuk above and the wishing tree below, I was once again smitten with the city.

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    Words from a 7-year-old.
    Deep thoughts from a 7-year-old.

    Michaela arrived that night, and we were up early the next morning to go stand in a line to shop. Because of course that is a wise thing to do 24 hours before a half-marathon.

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    But we could watch sea planes take off, which was cool.

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    So, about this whole “line up to shop” thing. Lululemon, which puts on the whole race, creates limited-edition clothing sold only at the expo one day before the race. The clothes kind of go along with the whole theme of the race, which this year had a fun spy theme (and was totally up my alley). Every year, people have gotten more fanatical about the clothes, and Lulu encourages it by only making small amounts of clothing. Well, this year the first person got in line at 10 a.m. the day BEFORE the expo. It turned out she’d been paid to sit there, which I think is a bizarre way to spend money, and this had the effect of getting people in line even earlier. Some had already been planning to camp out, and they brought inflatable beds, blankets, etc. And, get this: The clothing is not sale priced.

    These were the only free things.
    These were the only free things.

    The store opens to runners at 7 a.m. We got down there at 6:30, and it took us THREE FREAKING HOURS to actually get inside.

    Let's pose for photos, since there's nothing else to do.
    Let’s pose for photos, since there’s nothing else to do.

    They put the clothes out in order by size, so when you actually get inside, you rush to your section and see what there is to see. You can’t buy more than 15 items, and you can’t buy more than three of the exact same thing (for friends back home). So people generally grab a bunch of stuff and then get away from the madness to ponder how much money they really want to spend on running clothes. I fully admit to liking the company’s clothes, because the anti-stink material helps, and because the bras and shorts actually do not chafe me; I will spend many dollars to avoid raw skin. But I was not about to reach the maximum amount of items — I ultimately bought one pair of shorts and two tank tops. I later heard some crazy stories, like people who grabbed entire piles of clothes and then sat on them while deciding what to buy. Then there are the people who buy stuff and immediately post it at much higher prices on eBay.

    Free yoga to calm down after the shopping madness. (Butt shots are free of charge.)
    Free yoga to calm down after the shopping madness. (Butt shots are free of charge.)

    Michaela and I were both about to lose our minds, so we went and ate brunch. Then, while 500+ people did the free waterfront yoga, we took advantage of short lines at the various free stuff being offered as part of the race expo: sticker tattoos, photo booths, food and drink samples, and hair braiding and manicures that we skipped.  We finally got around to picking up our race packets, which contained our timing chips, a nice water bottle, actually cool sunglasses in a case, a whole tube of Nuun, and a mesh duffel bag. Every entrant also received a pair of shorts earlier in the year.

    Rather than another "maybe it fits" shirt, runners got to pick their size and cut of shorts, which were mailed in May.
    Rather than another “maybe it fits” shirt, runners got to pick their size and cut of shorts, which were mailed in May.

    At some point, we ate again.

    Serious business.
    Serious business.
    This is my serious face.
    This is my serious face.

    And again.

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    And then I actually took a “flat runner” picture, which I rarely do.

    (Note: Dirty shoes are not directly on the bed.)
    (Note: Shoes are not directly on the bed.)

    And then at some point we went to bed and woke up. Yes, this is a very precise blog post. Here, have a sunrise photo.

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    Our hotel was about a 15-minute walk from the start line, which was perfect. I did that last year, and it’s so nice to avoid vehicle traffic before and after a race. (And, really, weekend tourists staying in Vancouver don’t need a car. I do wish Uber and Lyft were allowed, though.) The race started at 7 a.m., and we got down there around 6:30. We made last stops in port-a-potties that had no lines, and then we went to the start corrals and said, “Hmm, what are we going to run?”

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    Michaela was coming off a half-Ironman and I was coming off a two-month Achilles tendon strain, so neither of us had any dreams of speedy times. Michaela figured she would just stop and take pictures along the way, and I figured I would just try not to run my slowest time ever (the bar is low on that, if you count trail runs…) So we stopped at the 2:20 pace group and figured we would just start there to avoid racing at the start.

    They released the runners in waves to avoid too heavy of bottlenecks, and with each wave, bursts of steam would shoot from an arch. Finally, it was our turn to go under the arch. GPS signal was a bit spotty around the buildings, but that soon straightened out as we ran. The race goes through a bunch of downtown Vancouver, and past “cheer stations” that Lulu puts some effort into. A whole spin class was riding hard in one section, and Michaela and I both said we really just wanted to stop and join in. Some actors were dressed up as detectives or spies or something to go with the theme.

    Within a mile or two, we’d both had enough of the cluster of people around the pacer, so we sped up and passed them. Things became much less congested. We were still running together, sometimes chatting and sometimes pointing at the various attractions (and NOT talking about the woman whose skirt had ridden up or the young guy who was holding up his pants while trying to run). The miles rolled on, and we just never stopped or drifted apart. We did walk briefly through the aid stations because it was warm out, but we picked up the pace right where we left off. I’m terrible at aid stations and drinking from cups while moving, so I usually sped up to catch Michaela the Ironman. There was no walking. No stopping to stretch. No sitting on the side of the road. Just like last year, I discovered that I could simply keep running.

    Best cheer group EVER. (Photo is not mine.)
    Best cheer group EVER. (Photo is not mine.) Well done, Vancouver PD and Lulu.

    We ran over the Burrard Street Bridge and back, and did airplane arms in the process, then entered Stanley Park to run for miles along the lovely and, thankfully, shaded seawall. A woman had something like seven yapping puppies in a carriage, which boggled our minds and made up for the lack of a promised puppy cheer station. A bunch of people were dressed in nude bodysuits, and they creeped us out while successfully distracting us. People in fantastic mermaid costumes were perched on rocks in the water. A full-blown cheer party was happening on a yacht out in the water, and I was wondering how to get on THAT volunteer job which clearly involved alcohol at such an early hour on a Saturday. A guy was doing some crazy jetpack-waterski-hoverboard thing in the air over the water, and we were impressed but both knew we’d fall on our faces on top of the board if we ever tried it.

    And then we had about 1.5 miles left, and we both wordlessly picked up the pace. We passed a sign that said we had one kilometer left, so we pushed harder. Then we encountered some turns, and more turns around buildings, and people saying “you’re almost there,” and I’m pretty sure that kilometer was actually a mile. The last part of the course had changed so the finish area would be off the street, and the vast consensus was that the course was long.

    But we did finally finish, and we were given a huge medal, a bottle of Smart water, a nice hat, a damp towel (amazing in the warm weather), Saje essential oils, Nuun, Kind bars, and a bag to put everything in.

    Done!
    Done!

    Then we got into a too-long line for food. Granted, it’s nice that they served hot breakfast sandwiches, cherry tarts (delicious) and grapes, but if we had finished 20 minutes later, the line would have been insane. I later heard that some people received frozen sandwiches because the big ovens were just not big enough. And I’ve heard first-hand accounts that they ran out of water, which is a big no-no and a bummer for such an overall phenomenal race. I think a critical error was that volunteers should have given runners one bottle each and told them refill stations were available near the food; nobody near the finish line knew this, and I saw runners with arms full of bottles. This is one of the two most well organized races I’ve ever run, so I’m not sure where the communication broke down. Given Lululemon’s track record, though, I’m sure they’ll have plenty of water next year.

    Letters around the edges are in code. Break it to read, "mission accomplished."
    Solid medal. Letters around the edges are in code: Break it to read, “mission accomplished.”

    We headed back to our hotel, but were sidetracked by a McLaren car (they start at around $300,000, and I have no idea why I knew this but I did). Itwas painted to look like a Pokemon and even had little Pokemon characters stuck to the dashboard. That poor, poor car.

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    Is this how I play Pokemon Go? Do I need an app??
    Is this how I play Pokemon Go? Do I need an app??

    That detour led us into a store that had animal masks, which you’ll learn about if you keep reading this never-ending blog post. Anyway, after showers we went out for more food, Japanese this time.

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    Then we went to the Gastown area of Vancouver, because why not walk more miles since you’ve already run 13.5?? (Side note: My ankles killed me the whole trip. I need to do more walking, apparently. Or maybe I should actually get into running shape…)

    Gassy Jack, who founded Vancouver.
    Gassy Jack, who founded Vancouver.
    Mannequins made of Legos at The Lab.
    Mannequins made of Legos at The Lab.

    And then we met up with a couple more of Michaela’s friends, and had more food, which is not pictured.

    Beer flight = yes.
    Beer flight = yes.

    Now, about those animal masks. This is what happens when you’re kind of delirious after a race, when one of you owns three orange cats (but wants many more), and when you’ve just taken pictures of a Pokemon car. We found ourselves inside a store, looking at facial masks that make you look like an animal. And this is what happens when you try them that night:

    Roar?
    Roar?!

    The funniest part — possibly — is that these masks were clearly not made for someone with a big head and a Jewish nose. I suspect the mask would have done more good if we hadn’t been laughing so hard that they kept lifting up. Hey, Lululemon, here’s an idea for a cheer station next year.

    Michaela left at the crack of dawn Sunday morning, and I watched the women’s Olympic marathon, which was live in Canada but stupidly tape-delayed in the U.S. Score another point for Canada! Then I packed up and set out for Granville Island, because of course my feet were thrilled to do more walking.

    Even the graffiti in Vancouver is done with taste and approval.
    Even the graffiti in Vancouver is done with taste and approval.

    I wandered around the tourist-crowded area, ate more food (not pictured, shockingly), and then walked back across the Granville Island Bridge.

    Best cement plant EVER.
    Best cement plant EVER. Click to see the full-sized photo.
    Seriously, best ever. A strawberry-painted cement mixing truck!
    Seriously, best ever. A cement mixing truck dressed up as a strawberry!

    I wandered around Yaletown a bit, but my feet were really tired so I headed to the airport a little early.

    Well done, Vancouver.
    Well done, Vancouver.

    I eventually boarded my plane, settled into my window seat, and heard a loud THUNK as we backed away from the gate. Then we stopped moving, and about 10 minutes later the pilot told us the airport crew had forgotten to disconnect something from the plane, thus causing the noise, and maintenance had to inspect the plane. Well then. But all was well, only putting us 20 minutes behind — which then caused another 20-minute delay when we landed and SFO had apparently given our gate away to some other plane.

    But, hey, this time I did not return from Canada with a broken thumb. A year later, I can say: “1.75 thumbs up!”

    On the Granville Island Bridge, with the Burrard Street Bridge in the background.
    On the Granville Island Bridge, with the Burrard Street Bridge in the background.

  • Tuesday Time-Waster: Ana the spy

    I recently came across the story of Ana Montes, a U.S. government analyst who also spent 17 years spying for Cuba. I’d never heard of her, but a random CNN article caught my attention and then sent me to Google for more information. This 2013 Washington Post article by Jim Pompkin is a great read and has fascinating information if you have any interest in this kind of thing.

    Interestingly, Montes escaped a lot of publicity because she was arrested 10 days after 9/11. Dozens of federal investigators had been building a case against her for several years, but 9/11 suddenly changed everything: She was given a bigger role with security clearance regarding the U.S. response to 9/11, and investigators couldn’t risk having her give THAT information to Cuba. And so, while everyone was still reeling from 9/11, a spy was arrested. She could have face the death penalty, but she plea bargained to a 25-year prison sentence and thus avoided a trial.

    The man who first suspected Montes wrote a book about it, and I’m tempted to buy it. Reviews are good but it sounds like a lot of the intriguing details were left out (not surprising; since it was written by a former government employee, he’d have to get it cleared by them for publication). Speaking of true spy books, though, I thought “The Spy’s Son,” was fascinating and well-written — that one was about CIA employee Jim Nicholson who dragged his son into his saga.

     


  • Tuesday Time-Waster: Pink’s musical genetics

    My musical tastes are pretty diverse — as in, “from Metallica to Yanni” levels of diversty. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that I also really like Pink (or P!nk). I love her voice, I love the melodies, her lyrics mean something, and she’s also a phenomenal athlete.

    In 2006, the song “I Have Seen the Rain” appeared on an album of hers, and it turned out to have been the work of her father, a Vietnam War veteran who wrote the song while he was serving overseas. Pink has been through a lot of tough stuff in her life, and the song made me admire her even more. This is a good article, written in 2006, and here is a duet of Pink of her father performing that song:


  • Tuesday Time-Waster: A bike ride

    “But it’s not about the bike. It’s about getting out of your routine, and that could look like anything.”

    While feeling a bit blue last night, I opened another browser tab and scrolled through Facebook. I usually move past videos unless they actually feature my friends and/or they’re about 17 seconds long. But something about this one made me stop. Maybe it was the mention of Oregon, a state I love. Maybe it was the bike, which I’ve been longing to ride outside. But maybe the main reason I stopped is that it was posted by Cindy, whom I admire and who sometimes pops into my head when I’m least expecting it.

    At any rate, I stopped scrolling and instead clicked the volume button on the video. Four minutes and 14 seconds later, the video was done and I was left sitting there, unaware that it had far exceeded my normal mental video capacity. And so I’m sharing it, because we all need these reminders to nudge our subconscious — until we do something about them.

    “I want to be aware of every day I’m alive.”


  • Bataan Memorial Death March Marathon 2016 race report

    I went to the desert of New Mexico with one mission: to run a marathon in memory of my grandfather. And, though he’s no longer here to comment on my blog as “Grampa Ben,” I think he’d be proud of me for having the determination to overcome many challenges to reach that finish line.

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    I’ve had a few tears in my eyes at race finish lines, but this was the first in 17 marathons that I found myself sobbing as I ran through the finish chute. Two soldiers even asked if I was okay. I said “Yes, thank you,” because I couldn’t put into words why I was crying. It was a mix of sadness and happiness, of broken and healing hearts, of fear and hope. Most of all, it was because Grandpa’s grin had just flashed through my mind.

    To tell the story of my Bataan Memorial Death March Marathon experience, I should go back 2 years, 3 months and 2 weeks – or 119 weeks. That’s the last time I ran a marathon. The IT band in my leg had started acting up, and it worsened halfway through that December 2013 marathon where my friends were tracking me and saying, “She’s on pace to qualify for Boston!” I tried doctors and therapy and cross training, but my leg simply was not happy. I took it into my head to just get used to NOT running. After all the childhood excuse notes out of physical education, and after all the recent running, I decided that was my new reality. And I stuck to it for quite awhile.

    But running still called me. I wasn’t done with it, and it wasn’t done with me. Nearly a year later, in the fall of 2014, I signed up for a half-marathon the following August. And then in spring of 2015, I threw my name in the lottery for the 40th annual Marine Corps Marathon that would be held the next October. My perfect race lottery track record held up yet again, and my name was selected. Around the same time, I crossed a goal off my list by trying a Body Pump class at my gym. I’d never done so many squats and lunges in my life, and I was sore for several days. But my IT band didn’t hurt at all. I kept going back, and my IT band remained silent. Perhaps this was a partial cure. In the meantime, I bought a road bike and shifted my focus to cycling, so that helped me regain some fitness without attempting to return too quickly to running. (“Shifted” wasn’t an intentional pun — that was inherited from Grandpa.)

    I didn’t leave myself a lot of time to train for that August half-marathon. I was more worried about hurting my leg than anything else, so I kept the mileage low. The race was almost 25 minutes slower than my personal record, but I finished with an intact IT band and decided I could actually run the Marine Corps Marathon. And then I broke my thumb three days later. I sold my race bib (legally) and canceled the expensive hotel I had booked, putting the money toward my insurance deductible.

    I had hand surgery around the same time my grandfather couldn’t get out of bed and said he needed to go to the hospital. This alarmed the entire family, because he never asked to go to the hospital. The plan had long been that I would be the first to get on a plane, because I was the closest family member by several flying hours and the only one who could get there on a non-stop flight. Now, I couldn’t go; by the time I could travel, it was too late. Grandpa never returned home, and we lost him on October 14, 2015. His determination never wavered, even at the very end.

    Somewhere in the midst of everything, I heard about the Bataan Memorial Death March Marathon. I’ve been fascinated by World War II since childhood, but I had never heard of the Bataan peninsula in the Philippines. American and Filipino soldiers tried to defend it, but it fell to Japan in April 1942. Thousands of soldiers were taken prisoner and forced to march for seven days without food or water. Most died. Those who survived were then subjected to brutal prison camps, where more died. Filipino residents tried to help the American soldiers, and were killed for their efforts.

    For the past 25 years, a marathon has been held in the desert of New Mexico to honor those who experienced the Bataan march. Bataan survivors, many of whom live in New Mexico, attend the marathon every year, shaking the hand of any and every marathoner. And every year, fewer survivors remain.

    I’ve never been to New Mexico, and I want to see every U.S. state. And, hey, it would get me another state if I ever decide I can attempt a marathon in each one. But the main reason this race would not leave my head was the meaning. Grandpa wasn’t at Bataan, but he served in the Army in the South Pacific. He could very easily have been sent to Bataan. I couldn’t stop thinking about the marathon.

    New Year’s Day came, and friends told me: “Here’s to a better year.” Well, that was not to be. On January 12, my world shattered from more family medical crises. The second surgery I needed on my thumb paled in comparison. The idea of going to New Mexico to run a marathon seemed ludicrous and selfish.

    But once I started looking through the prisms of my shattered world, I knew I had to keep living, now more than ever. I could only be strong for my family if my own mind and soul and body were strong. I needed to make decisions that would make me happy and that I wouldn’t regret later. I still wanted to run Bataan in Grandpa’s honor, and I feared that I might put it off until there were no survivors left. I registered for the marathon just three weeks before it was to be held.

    After changing my itinerary three times due to family matters, I found myself sitting on a plane beside the friend who had bought my Marine Corps Marathon bib. We landed in El Paso, Texas (a new airport for me), ate carbs, then headed to White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The drive went past “tank crossing” signs and others that warned people to stay in their cars. It’s very much an active missile range, and the military doesn’t mess around.

    If you look closely, well, I plead the Fifth as to whether I took this photo.
    If you look closely, well, I can neither confirm nor deny whether I took this photo.

    Upon reaching a gate, everyone had to wait for clearance through the National Criminal Information Center database.  Old speeding tickets didn’t count, so they let me inside to collect my bib, shirt and medal/dog tag — this was given out before the race, kind of like one final reminder that I was to finish what I started.

    I was back there at the starting line before dawn Sunday morning, surrounded by marchers and runners, and outnumbered by those who wore camouflage.

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    It was freezing cold, especially since I was wearing a thin tank top and shorts. I received many comments about how cold I must be, though later I would hear people saying, “I wish I had worn a tank top” as we passed. I hadn’t worn my Marathon Maniacs tank top in almost three years, so it was fun to feel like I was part of a running group again.

    With Eliot; when I sold him a marathon bib last year, I had no idea we'd be at a different starting line.
    With Eliot; when I sold him a marathon bib last year, I had no idea we’d be at a different starting line.

    The opening ceremonies included a number of military rituals, including the national anthem, a fly-over by a medical helicopter, a roll call of Bataan survivors present, and a roll call of those who had died since the previous year’s marathon. That list numbered 21; I can’t imagine what it will be like when only one name remains, and then none.

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    At 7:30 a.m., we were on our way. The race has a marathon and a 14-mile route, and the majority do the marathon. There are civilian and military categories, and “light” and “heavy” options: You can choose to carry a 35-pound pack. Many service members wear their full military fatigues, including the boots that are quite sturdy but not exactly ideal for marathon running. Many of them walk the entire route, some carrying flags and some wearing prosthetic legs. I passed one young man with two prosthetic legs and heard him saying “I got blown up,” and knew he was telling the story of how he lost his legs.

    The first few miles were on pavement, and I did my best to rein in my pace, since I had a long way to go and was starting at 4,000 feet altitude. I chatted for two miles with a Maniac named Maria who helped me set my pace. She was born in the Philippines said Bataan is a big deal there — she learned about it as a child. When I left her, I picked up the pace, but managed not to be too reckless. I have my fueling pretty well dialed in by now, and I just eat five gels during the course of a marathon when I’m supposed to, whether they’re appealing or not. I carried my trusty old handheld bottle and told myself to stop and refill it at least twice so I’d keep drinking and hopefully stave off the effects of altitude.

    The climbing began around mile 7 and did not relent until mile 13.5, at 5,400 feet elevation. I had noted this ahead of time so I knew what mile point I was looking toward. What I hadn’t fully expected was the sand. I’ve run plenty of trails, but not loose sand. Sand combined with uphill (and my lack of training) to reduce me to many, many walking breaks. I chatted with various Maniacs, sometimes leaving them and sometimes being left by them. I leap frogged with some people through much of the race. The views were lovely and peaceful, the weather was perfect with warm sun but a breeze that cooled me. The aid stations had water, cold (bonus!) Gatorade and orange slices that hit the spot for me.

    White Sands Missile Range, living up to its name.
    White Sands Missile Range, living up to its name.

    Mile 13.5 brought the reprieve from all that climbing, and I finally found myself running downhill on what was thankfully packed dirt. I did lose a minute to fish a rock out of my shoe, but that was the only time I thought I should have worn gaiters.

    Somewhere around mile 19, we returned to a paved road we had run up. Walkers were still heading up, and nearly all of them were in full military gear. I had just reached the “furthest I’ve run in more than 2 years” point, I was going downhill, and I had amazing people to smile at. As a bonus, many of them returned my huge grin with compliments and smiles. Fortunately, I looked at my watch and saw the 8:30 pace so I slowed down – I still had seven miles to run, and I was really not in shape to be running that pace at that point.

    Screen Shot 2016-03-26 at 3.40.04 PM

    We returned to packed sand, and I said hello to a gal who was wearing military fatigues and had a Maniac sign pinned on her back. Her name was Laura, and we ran together from about mile 20 to 24. She was such a sweetheart, and I was fortunate to have her company through the notorious “sand pit,” which wound up being about 1.5 miles long.

    Laura, who recently qualified for Boston.
    Laura, who recently qualified for Boston.

    I felt a little guilty, but I left Laura at mile 24 and began to run. I knew I could probably jog most of the last two miles, and I wanted to get this done. I also wanted to try to run those miles to finish strong for Grandpa. And so I did, sometimes very slowly because my legs really wanted to stop.

    Before I fell apart...
    Before I fell apart…

    People were cheering, soldiers and civilians alike. I rounded a corner and saw the finish line, and Grandpa’s smile flashed into my head. I started to cry. I picked up the pace and didn’t want to stop running because I was afraid I’d start bawling, but someone had to scan my bib so I came to an abrupt stop. I was crying but trying to hide it behind my sunglasses. Then I realized the survivors were just beyond the finishing chute. Those elderly men had been there in the morning when we started, and they were still here. I gently grasped their hands, saying “thank you” through tears to each one. What they didn’t know was that I was also thinking, “thank you for being there instead of my grandfather.”

    Starting to cry, also known as "how to take a bad race photo.)
    Starting to cry, also known as “how to take a bad race photo.)

    Post-race delirium always hits me, but this time I think the emotions made it worse. I usually text a few people from finish lines, but I was too drained to think about it, aside from Eliot, whom I’d texted from mile 21 and 24, trying to coordinate post-marathon shenanigans. A Maniac I’d never met went searching for a recovery drink for me. Laura, my buddy from late in the race, finished and hugged me.

    I finally forced myself to go find food, then made myself eat half a plain cheeseburger because it was too much effort to find condiments (though I later found a packet of mayonnaise in my handful of Chex Mix and Oreos; I have no idea where it came from).

    And then, because I knew I’d regret it if I said no, and because I could hear Grandpa chuckling, I went sledding down sand dunes.

    IMG_5656

    It was a 40ish-minute drive away, I was still wearing my marathon shoes, and my legs were in utter denial that they’d have to hike up the dunes. It was absurd and hilarious. We didn’t even get lost.

    YOU try hiking up sand dunes on marathonized legs.
    YOU try hiking up sand dunes on marathonized legs.

    Oh, and my finish time was 5:19:02. I was 47th of 785 women in my “civilian light” division.

    Grandpa, every step was for you. Thank you for the unwavering confidence, for encouraging me to look at the good side of life, and for setting an example of determination.

    IMG_5645
    White Sands National Monument

  • 2015 in cities

    I’m blatantly stealing this idea from Kimra, because I have nothing better to do on a Thursday evening, I suppose? Anyway, here is a list of cities in which I spent at least one night between January 1, 2015, and December 31, 2015. An * denotes those cities in which I spent multiple non-consecutive nights.

    Santa Rosa, CA *
    Dublin, CA *
    Placerville, CA
    Healdsburg, CA
    Kailua-Kona, HI *
    Portland, OR *
    Seattle, WA
    Centralia, WA
    Beaverton, OR *
    Weed, CA
    San Francisco, CA
    Vancouver, BC
    Sydney, BC
    Upland, CA

    So, that makes four states and one Canadian province. I had planned on several more cities and states, but surgery and family happened instead. I did make two trips each to Kona and Portland, so I guess that’s something.

    I also captured 364 of the 365 days in photos. When you’re about to lose your grandfather and you cannot go to him, no photo will suffice. But here is 2015, in photos dumped into a low-resolution phone app, then put into low-resolution Facebook, and then captured in screen shot. I get an A+ in photo presentation skills, right?

    2015-1

     

    2015-2

     

    2015-3

     

    2015-4


  • Tuesday Time-Waster: “It’s going to be okay”

    I haven’t been inspired to post lately, and I even broke my nine-month streak of blogging at least once a week. But a thoughtful “comic” from The Oatmeal resonated in many ways. I put “comic” in quotation marks because it’s not actually comedy. It’s a tribute to a hero who’s not even really known for his heroism, and a reminder that we’re all a little better if we help rather than hinder.

    Go read it.