Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Layer after layer

Yesterday was Laird's memorial service and it was a powerful reminder once again what an amazing person he was. Many have told me that they have found this blog to be a helpful resource in the past week, especially for those who are out of town looking for infomation. I decided to print my eulogy to Laird for those of you.
In the past week I have been thinking about Laird and managing to balance my grief with the joy of all the memories I have of him. In the time I’ve been around Laird since I first got to know him 18 years ago there have been so many experiences we shared. Recovering those experiences have been like peeling an onion with each memory peeled back revealing another and another.

Each layer has brought me back to something I recall about him. Just last night as I was trying to piece together something for today I hit on something I hadn’t remembered for maybe 10 years. Laird and I were running with some other coaches while he has in high school out on the military base on a cold winter day. I wasn’t in great shape and eventually the other guys pulled Laird ahead and I got dropped halfway out. It wasn’t a big deal, but the group got further and further ahead until I couldn’t see them. So I’m out there all by myself feeling pathetic and slow and a couple of miles from the end I see something coming towards me in the distance and in a bit I see Laird has doubled back by himself to help his feeble, old coach in. And that was just the kind of guy he was.

Laird was a team guy. He understood that he was going to be better if those around him were better too. Laird was going to be a great runner without anyone’s help but everyone was going to be better and have more fun if they worked together. Our XC team hadn’t gone to state as a team for 2 straight years before Laird joined the team. We won 3 straight state titles Laird’s first 3 years. His senior year Laird won the individual title but he was asking how the team did after he won.

One week before Laird’s memorable dual with David Dyer in the state meet. Laird, Jerry Ross and Joe Anderson placed 1-2-3 in the region meet. As Laird and Jerry came down the final meters Jerry led by a foot. But rather than both of them sprinting to beat the other they kept the same pace and Jerry won the race. Perhaps Laird could have thrown in a final surge to take the win but he was more thrilled to see a teammate and friend like Jerry get the victory.

In “To An Athlete Dying Young” A.E. Housman writes about the young runner who won the race for the town. The consolation in his death, Housman says, is that he never got old to see another break his records. But that wouldn’t be the case for Laird. Laird would celebrate his records being broken and he would likely be the first to congratulate them. Laird never looked at his opponents as competition but rather as partners in achieving their best. He valued them pushing him to run faster and he wanted to help pull them to their bests. He appreciated his competition and respected their efforts. When the race was done Laird would likely be running warm-down laps with the opponents he had beaten while laughing and talking positively about the race.

I wish Laird’s life with us had been a marathon instead of a mile. But that’s what Laird was - a miler. He loved the simple beauty of the distance. He had a limited print of Roger Bannister, the first man to break four minutes for the mile.

The mile requires a perfect combination of all elements. You need endurance, strength and speed. If you can combine all the elements you can achieve the perfect race of consistent pace, strength over fatigue and finally speed in the final straight. Laird managed to combine all the elements with his relationships with others. Laird had generosity of spirit, humility of self and unshakable loyalty to his friends.

For those of us who saw him run the last meters of a races his finishing kick was powerful, blazing fast and decisive. Just like the vortex Laird created when he blazed away from the competition, all of us have been pulled along in many different swirls of memories and relationships. Seeing so many people here and talking with many of you, it’s obvious that Laird’s life was unfairly short, but it was also so powerful to affect us all and so many. Like all of you I am so sad that he isn’t here to continue having that affect. But I’m more comforted by the knowledge that I was lucky to be close enough to that vortex and allowed to be pulled along.

As I was running this morning I was talking to a friend about Laird and about how I was glad I had the opportunity to give him a photo a few weeks ago of the last race he ran and that I was glad we had the chance to do it together. But at the same time I felt bad I hadn’t talked to him one more time in the past weeks. She told me that I need to focus more on all the times we spent together rather than that one time I didn’t call. I know many of you feel the same way. Let’s continue to focus on those times we spent with Laird. If there’s one thing Laird didn’t do is live in regret. We owe it to him to not regret that missed opportunity at the expense of the great experiences we all share.

Laird, I love you. I miss you. You have affected my life and inspired me in more ways than you will ever know. Thank you.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The hand of a friend

Yesterday I spent severely overdue time with one of the most amazing people I know. It has been nearly seven years since I last saw Kaarin Knudson. I consider the opportunity to get together this weekend with her a huge help in light of this past week's events. 

It's not possible for me it to think about my relationship with Laird and not think of Kaarin.  Again, it wasn't just because they were amazing runners, they were incredible individuals period. That I was lucky enough to coach one of them would be enough. To have that opportunity at the same time goes beyond lucky - it was truly a blessing.

"Ah, how good it feels, the hand of a friend"

Like Laird, I can't possibly convey what a titan of a individual Kaarin is. Last year when she called me to tell me that she had developed a very aggressive form of breast cancer, it was a moment of concern and sadness for me followed by 30 minutes of positive conversation that almost made forget that she was going through the toughest race of her life. The only time I have never felt better after talking to Kaarin was when I had to tell her about Laird's death. 

I think Kaarin also knew that we had to meet this weekend before the memorial for Laird so she made the drive up from Eugene where she lives. We had a four-hour "lunch" and talked about the great memories we've experienced and caught up on where we are at. Invariably the topic would circle around to Laird. Kaarin was one year older than Laird at Dimond High but their lives in many ways were a carbon copy. Both won state 800 and 1600-meter track titles, both won individual state cross-country titles. Both were graceful, beautiful runners, the picture of perfection you see when you close your eyes. 

They dated through high school and college while at the University of Oregon. Though their relationship ended after college the mark both left on each other is indelible. Everything one would say about Laird is the same they would say about Kaarin. It's obvious that each of their live's were richer for the time they spent together.

To meet with Kaarin yesterday and again today gave us both the opportunity to buffer our grief with the great memories we have shared together and with Laird. I expected that each memory we recalled would make us sadder and shed more tears, but rather we seemed to smile more and laugh at the funny stories and situations. After a couple of hours we were joined by another friend, Ryan Moody, who had driven down from Seattle to meet with us. Ryan was a fellow Dimond grad who also ran with Laird and Kaarin.

We avoided being thrown out of the crowded restaurant for hogging a table for so long and found a quiet booth at the bar where we took up another six hours recounting an incredible amount of memories. Again, the conversation continually circled back to Laird. We finally had to call it a night, not because we had run out of conversation or interest but rather time. I suspect that we could still be draining beers and talking about all the great times we shared and shared with Laird. It was a positive evening that did so much to help us deal with our need to communicate our feelings with another who felt the same pain and shared the same memories.

Kaarin has finally finished her chemo treatment and her hair has grown back. She has also begun running again and has come up with some very powerful goals for herself in the future. She has asked me to help her with them and I simply couldn't be more honored that she wants me to assist. The opportunity to help her with these goals will be so much fun and I look forward to the coming years and more close contact. I also look forward to passing along our journey. 

Consider that nearly 20 years ago Kaarin was a 14-year-old, 5-4 freshman who talked faster than the human brain can process. I never could have imagined that the befreckled waif, who surprised us all when she popped out of the woods in her first state meet and placed fifth would be the 5-10 (still befreckled) woman who inspires me with her strength and kindness today.

Thanks Kaarin. 

Saturday, January 24, 2009

A Run in the Park

Its amazing what a simple little run will do for one's spirits. I had probably my best run in about 6 weeks today on the Forest Park Trail here in Portland. It wasn't particularly fast or far but for the first time in what seems like forever, I was able to run without the dull ache or pain I've been dealing with. I'd almost forgotten that there is any other feeling.

Between the injury, food poisoning and Laird's passing (read the Anchorage Daily News link about Laird) I really needed a lift like today. My reason for being in Portland was to meet with Adidas and see a new trail shoe that is set to release in 2010. The shoe is a new design solution that has excellent promise for trail running with its Formotion heel unit that allows for adaptive response to the uneven ground.

I became involved with the shoe this past August when I met in Salt Lake City with a trio of Adidas employees who wanted my input on different aspects for the shoe. The basic approach of the shoe was generally in place so I don't want one to think I helped "design" the shoe. Rather, because of Skinny Raven's experience with so many trail shoes we see, even and the feedback we receive from all the trail shoes we sell, our input was helpful in what aspects were important and those that weren't. We spent nearly three hours in August talking about tread height and patterns, upper materials and mesh densities and even lacing systems. 

I expected to see a early rough sample in November when I was in New York for the marathon, but sadly the person who brought it along with other models had his entire bag stolen in Ohio before coming to NYC. So the first visual I had was a rendering two months ago, but as it was a drawing it was difficult to completely grasp the shoe. So today I met up with Ben Evans, our store rep for Adidas, and his boss Scott Schilter who manages all the specialty reps for the US. Scott used to be our rep for Skinny Raven, but once he proved himself with our store Adidas realized his potential and promoted him. Scott is in the Skinny Raven rep Hall of Fame for his brave run with me on the Lost Lake trail and his overstated story about the bear we ran into that he tells everyone else in the US. Suffice to say, to my peers in other shops around the country the story comes off as I personally wrestled the bear into submission while Scott ran past.

Anyway Scott unveiled the first of three preproduction samples as we got ready to start the run. It was beautiful! I had certain expectations but it really looked cool for a first-round shoe. As preproduction samples come in size 9.0 for men I am able to run in many models, from all vendors, well before they are produced for the public. So it was great to be able to slip the shoe on and try it on a real trail as well. 

It fit really well straight off, though the heel was a touch loose. Its expected that there may be subtle things that need to be addressed at each step of the design/testing process so its not a problem that one may notice something. In fact, it helps to have that feedback so changes can be made. In the new adi-zero XT that comes out this summer I tried two different versions that had changes I felt in the fit that others did too that were addressed in the final product. Designers value constructive feedback and make notes of every small detail and compare to other feedback. They're "only" shoes but there is a lot of work that goes into getting it right through the various stages. It's not as glamorous as one might think. I get to deal with more of the finished product, but a lot of the process must be pretty mind-numbing.

Running was flat out great! Light weight, smooth transitioning and just a very comfortable ride. A nice mix of soft dirt and a touch of mud just to challenge the traction. It really helped that my leg felt good and being on dirt and varied terrain only helped more. After almost no exercise this week I expected to feel sluggish and heavy, but rather I felt really good and the excitement of the new shoe only enhanced the experience.

Scott, Ben and I met up for a great post-run breakfast and we dissected the shoe a bit more with Scott taking notes to pass along to Dave Jewell, who works in Germany and is behind the project. All the vital "organs" are in place for the shoe so little things like eyelet placement, stitching to compliment color,  or toe cap options are things we focused on. 

There are a few details I'm not at liberty to publish right now like photos or the name of the shoe, but I can promised that it is going to be a wonderful shoe and will be a prominent shoe for Skinny Raven when it comes out in 2010. I get to keep this early sample, so if you want to know more come to Skinny Raven and I can show it and tell you some of the details. 

Friday, January 23, 2009

On a layer of air

Last night as I packed to leave for this trip I saw a spot about Laird's passing on the television news. They showed video (click on Sports with Kevin video thumbnail for Jan. 22. Video of Laird starts at 3:07) of him winning state titles in track and cross country. What I saw was exactly what I've repeated in my mind over and over the last few days. Light and fast, smooth and powerful seemingly running on a layer of air just above the ground the others behind were touching.

As hard as its been talking and giving info to others about Laird it has been encouraging that he is so well remembered and liked by so many. That he touched so many in a positive way is hugely rewarding for me to know. I know what a positive effect he had on me and I'm glad that others were also able share that as well. 

As I look at my blog report I can see where people access my blog and where they come from. Many have been looking for information about Laird and found their way here. And the places those people are come from all over the US and several countries. The traffic to my blog has been ten times usual as those people stop and read about Laird. Again, I hope I do justice to those memories and I can't possibly describe how much I appreciate all the different comments I continue to receive from all.

I had a chance to talk this morning with my friend Harry Johnson. Harry and I coached cross country together, but at different schools in Anchorage. Despite having "competing" teams Harry and I were of like mind about many things and we have also covered many miles together. Harry understands better than anyone how different my relationship with Laird was than the usual coach/athlete relationship. In fact, the kayaking photo on the last post was while we were staying at Harry's place in Cabo. It was hugely comforting to talk with Harry and have him know how I feel. Thanks Harry.

I was able to talk with Laird's wife, Karen, for the first time last night. Despite what a great guy Laird was, he was completely lucky to end up with someone as sweet as Karen. You are simply not going to find anyone sweeter and kinder (or cuter) than her. As she didn't meet Laird until after college I don't think she understood how many people knew and thought so highly of Laird. Despite her grief, I hope she is able to come away from the memorial with a better understanding of how many people knew the person she loved in the same way she did. I also know she and Laird's family will need the prayers of all of you as they try to cope with this.

Laird's memorial is scheduled for Tuesday at the Tanglewood Golf Clubhouse in the evening (sorry I don't know exact time yet).

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Take time to appreciate the little things

I found today's title with the fortune cookie I grabbed with my lunch today. If you can't find inspiration from a fortune cookie where else can it be found?

Me and Laird, Carlsbad 5000

I slept better last night for the first night in several. I think being able to put into words all the things about Laird that had me turning all night the previous day allowed me to sleep better. I can see many have also found their way to my blog today. I appreciate all the kind things many of you have passed along in various forms. I hope I was able to capture the same feelings and memories you recall from Laird as well.

Laird winning Palmer XC Coaches Race 2000

I ran at the Dome today just to move my legs for the first time in several days. I also wanted to think about Laird in an enviorment that I remember him so well in. I felt like I hadn't run in months as I slogged the first mile in nearly nine minutes. Within 5-6 laps the mental and physical cobwebs lifted a bit and I felt like I was actually "running" instead of moving my legs back and forth. Just three miles but it was one of those days I would feel like this whether I did it today or waiting another day or two.

Laird and I kayaking El Arco, Cabo San Lucas 2001

Made a quick stop at the gym and spun a few miles on the bike and then talked with Sam Hill about Laird. Sam and Laird were at Oregon together so we were able to share our feelings for almost an hour while Sam ascended about 10,000 feet on the stair climber. Sam remembered a conversation he and Laird had while at Oregon that he plans to use this summer to honor Laird by.
I managed to make contact today with another one of my best friends and another former runner I coached who is another amazing person well beyond her immense running talent. Its no wonder Kaarin and Laird dated for several years through high school and college. It was positively miserable to have to deliver the message of Laird's death to Kaarin and having her 1600 miles away in Eugene. I need to travel to Portland this weekend to meet with Adidas and we will likely meet up. I can't wait to get together and give her a long hug. Today was a day when you wish your arms had no limits to how far they could stretch.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A deep blow

After struggling with nagging injuries and then getting sideswiped with food poisoning I was trying to be positive and not give in to self-pity. I mean, in the big scheme its such a tiny thing. Last night I received a call that I would have traded a lifetime of injuries not to get - one of my best friends was found dead.

Laird Prosser was one of the best of the many great runners I have been privileged to coach. But our relationship went far beyond just helping him run faster than anyone ever had at Dimond High where I coached for 20 years. It was the way he did it, the way he conducted himself and the way we supported each other even after his running career was over. Laird epitomized all the things I wish I could have when I was a young athlete. 

Helping athletes go beyond what they think they can achieve requires so much trust on their part. As a coach you understand what a leap a young athlete makes when they believe in your confidence in them. The joy of success is obvious, but when things don't go well the disappointment is also magnified. On both sides athlete and coach share those moments on a more intense level. Seeing Laird put forth such effort inspired me to be a better coach.

Laird set still standing school and region records and his 800 and 1600 times haven't been matched in 15 years by any runner in Alaska. At Oregon Laird ran 3:46 as a frosh but the following year after running 3:45 he was left off the PAC-10 meet team. Hurt and embarrassed Laird struggled with how to deal with this seeming slap in the face by the coach. I had traveled to the meet in Seattle to watch him and another former runner compete. Laird still came to the meet and as we sat I watched as he was approached by teammates feeding him negative comments about what a raw deal he had gotten. 

Rather than buy into the crap and the suggestion he should leave Oregon, Laird came home told me he wasn't going to let anyone make the decision for him in the future. He set himself to 90-mile training weeks all summer and gave all of us severe beatings when he did a couple of summer races. That fall he was the first runner for the Ducks in their first meet. I used Laird's attitude when I had to make similar decisions for runners whether they would run on varsity or not. I hated to make the decision and tell an athlete that I believed someone else would be "better" than them. I would pass along Laird's example and hope that they wouldn't allow someone else in the future to make that decision for them.

I thought Laird would be the first Alaskan to break four minutes for the mile. Unfortunately, injuries and the Bill Dellinger to Martin Smith change at Oregon kept that from happening. He would help coach with me at Dimond before heading back to school and then one year after he graduated. We added a few things that became staples of our program he brought to us from Oregon. I considered it a huge compliment that he wanted to be part of our coaching staff. I also ran at Dimond and because of the positive experience I had as an athlete I wanted to coach. I was honored that Laird felt the same about his experience.

Despite my sadness I'm filled with so many positive memories with Laird. The huge win his sophomore year in the 1600 defeating the defending state champ and running 4:15. His salute to the Dimond section on the backstretch of his senior year 1600 victory. Even him driving 120 miles from San Diego to LA to pick me up at the airport for the LA Marathon. Who drives that far to pick up a friend? 

He was such a beautiful runner. So smooth and graceful. I loved running next to him because I could feel my form elevate in an effort to match his. I'm going to focus more on carrying that form in the coming miles as I think of him and the many miles we shared. 

I've coached many excellent athletes, but Laird was one of the very, very rare who was just as special an individual. I just lost a great friend, but fortunately I'm left with nothing but special memories of him. 

Monday, January 19, 2009

Not quite silver lining

I definitely underestimated the overall effect of my bout of food poisoning as I expected to feel much better today. Rather it was all I could do to drag myself into work and maintain a positive face. Exercise was out of the question but given my leg issues I've decided that the timing, if there is ever a good time, was probably for the best.

I'm reminded of the New York City Marathon a few years ago when Meb Keflezghi had a sub-par result as the result of food poisoning two days before the race. After Saturday's episode I couldn't imagine attempting a marathon today. Between dehydration and the five pounds lost running a few miles would be miserable.

Fortunately, I experienced my worst illness experience at a relatively young age so nothing will ever seem as bad. Again, it was a case of food poisoning that I picked up on vacation in Acapulco when I was 15. It was one of those at first you are afraid you are going to die, but then turning to being afraid you are not going to die. My advice, stay away from the limeade at the Denny's in Acapulco.

Hopefully tomorrow will be better and more importantly the past few days off my legs will improve my injury. 

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Mind versus Body

With 2009 off to such a mediocre start for me I look forward to the coming months as the last several weeks have been a struggle. A case of food poisoning left me hugging my toilet as much as my pillow last night. Just one more hurdle to be overcome towards future excellence.

Surprisingly, I somehow had the motivation to think I could get up this morning and meet my friend John Wirum for a run. Such is the delusion or insanity that exists in this runners mind. While I'm proud for trying, it only took about 10 painfully slow minutes to realize that I wasn't doing myself any good. I had to let John go and did another slow run/walk back to my car. Hard to find the silver-lining in today's effort but better today than before the Boston marathon.

"Sickness shows what we are"

As I've said before it's all about momentum and better to be going the right direction before Boston than on fire now. I've had many marathons where I've been flying a month or two before and going backwards when it counts. Besides that everyone misses days because of illness or injury. I'm sure Paula and Haile have or will deal with some detour on the way to their many races this season.

On a more positive note, cheers to Joleen Smith on completing her first marathon in Phoenix today. I've been advising/encouraging her over the past few months and I hope it was a positive experience. Looks like she struggled the last few miles but such is the marathon and you can't coach or tell anyone what that will be like. I look forward to her report in her blog.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Price of Pain

Not only is injury discouraging, its expensive too. You deal with the pain of running and then you deal with the pain of therapy - and pay for it too! What a bad deal that is.

Still sore and swollen in my shin I had another session with the Queen of Pain, Katie. My right leg is all torqued up and she has been ripping things apart trying to get them all to play nice with each other. I knew I was in for a tough one before we started as there is still swelling from the training in California earlier in the week and the plane ride only exasperated the situation. Not even compression socks could keep the leg from plumping up from the 16 hour trip. I was stunned to see my leg when I rolled off the socks when I got home. I had no idea it was so jacked up.
One of these legs is not like the other. Can you guess which one?

Katie pushed and pulled and eventually got to my shin and it was all I could to to keep from kicking her with my left leg. I know I need to let her in but it is really hard when she hits that hot spot and you tense up. She'd back off and I would tell her "I can take more if you need to". Of course I didn't want more, but she felt I had done well.
I really hope we are close. At $100 a pop I'd just as soon scrawl out a check for $1,000 and skip 10 massages and be good rather than this gradual process.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The great irony

One of the drawbacks of leaving town is that your work often stays behind rather than taking a break too. So despite a brief break I have been greeted by meetings and work that have been waiting for my return.

Its the season of product showing for all our vendors for the coming summer and fall. The revolving door of reps coming to Skinny Raven to show the new shoes and apparel comes every January. After that we write predicted orders and the vendors produce the products based on our orders. Its fun to see the new styles and colors, etc and hear what's new for the coming season. The running industry is full of great people excited about their job and to be working with companies like Skinny Raven, that share the enthusiasm. It's a job, of course, but its not like floor tile or some other mundane product. Everyone along the process from shoe designers to sales reps to myself and our staff and ultimately our customers are passionate about the sport and the product.

That said I was very sad to receive a phone call from Keith Kelly yesterday just as I was preparing to view product from my Asics rep. Keith called to let me know that he along with 300 others were laid off from Reebok. The short story is that Adidas owns Reebok and its been a strange marriage for the past three years and Adidas decided to trim work force from Reebok. I just met Keith a year ago and if not for his enthusiasm and his boss, Kevin Adams, we would not have been bringing the shoes into our store. Having great relationships with our business partners is something we look for and in the case of Reebok it was obvious they were excited to be involved with Skinny Raven. Keith and Kevin even traveled all the way from Boston this summer to reinforce their commitment to that relationship.

I looked forward to building the brand and the relationship with Reebok and Keith in the coming years and saw great potential. Personally I'm very sad for Keith and for the hard work he and Kevin put in to make Reebok a relevant brand. It had to have taken a tremendous amount of work to go to all the stores and events and develop the relationships and confidence for shops to take a risk on the brand. And just when it was time for that work to show its fruit, the rug has been pulled out from under them.

Today I had an appointment with the rep from Under Armour, which is coming to the market with footwear for the first time. The company has generated quite a buzz for its aggressive introduction to the channel and especially at a time many stores are reluctant to add new models, much less unproven brands. The irony of having a company with no history or commitment to running, no history of design of quality footwear or no evidence of support for the sport of running gnaws at me. Especially in light of a company like Reebok that has sponsored meets and races and sponsored athletes and has runners working in the running business now without jobs. So unfair.

So I had a cordial meeting with an individual who has never run competitively wanting to have a position in our store that Keith had worked so hard for and Reebok had invested so much time and effort and money into. Its very disappointing to have to consider that this brand may have a future in our industry, not because it has a history or real interest in the sport, but rather because its going to throw a lot of money at advertising and try to appeal to the casual sport athlete who runs. I tried the shoes on and they are okay, but frankly I would not advise anyone to purchase as the quality is better in all the other major brands and I'm not convinced that the shoe you try this year will be anything similar next.

Keith #18 banging with "The Big Mazungo" Craig Mottram #3
Luckily, Keith has so much to offer any company and I would hire him in a second if he wanted to come to Anchorage. Perhaps the extra time he has will translate into enhanced running and better results than he could have achieved while working. In the span of 10 months I ran into Keith six separate times from Boston to Anchorage to New York and Dallas. I hope we'll have more opportunities to run and share beers in the future. Click here to read an excellent interview with Keith after he won the NCAA Cross Country Championships

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The price you pay

Knowing that you need to make the most of opportunities is a good impetus for training. Being in SoCal and having perfect weather will certainly get you going whether you feel like it or not.

Morning breakfast by the beach and surfing by the pier

After weeks of Vitamin D deficiency and sub-zero temps I knew I needed to squeeze everything out of this trip to California. In the morning I rented a bike again and decided to make Malibu my goal. It's about 20 miles and having a goal made it more fun. I planned on rewarding the effort by finding a roadside cafe and stuff my face while sitting in the sun. I found the perfect spot and reveled in what a truly perfect day it was. Upper-70's, slight breeze and dry.

Destination Malibu and clunky bike I cranked 110 miles on

I tried not to push the pedals too hard as I didn't want to grind down my quads and not be able to run later. After a short nap I headed out the door to beat the sunset. My legs felt horrible! I can't imagine what it's like in an Ironman and I had lunch and a nap. I thought I was running 10-minute miles but was encouraged to see that the first mile was 7:05. That was a good sign that I must be getting stronger and after about two miles I loosened up quite a bit and started to feel as good as I had all week.

At the turnaround the sun was about five minutes from setting and the air temp dropped a touch more making the shirtless running even nicer. As it was a Monday there were far less people on the trails. After seeing so many people at the beach over the weekend I wondered if people in LA actually had jobs. I was able to stretch out the final miles and was hitting 6:30's until the last mile where sand had accumulated on the concrete making the turns a bit slippery.

All in all a nice training camp and worth the long trip home. Up at 4:30 to catch a flight from LA to Seattle. Just missed the flight to Anchorage by one seat so I now wait in Juneau to get home. It will turn out to be a 16 hour trip home. Small price to pay.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Welcome to the freak show

Even though I have been to Venice Beach a few times before I am always struck by what a slice of California this area is. No doubt it epitomizes the stereotype one envisions of SoCal.

A long run out and back on the bike trail from Venice Beach past Santa Monica to Pacific Palisades will pretty much take you past thousands of people on a sunny weekend. Today I got a very late start on my run and it was almost noon when I started off. By then it was nearly 75 degrees but all my time spent in the gym without the benefit of wind cooling me makes this weather seem nice. A stop every few miles to hit water fountains made it all the more enjoyable. Total for today was 14 miles at 6:45-50 pace.

Without someone to run with I resorted to keeping up with the occasional bike that would either barely catch me or I would barely catch up to. I spent about two miles catching, passing and getting passed by a hand-cyclist who would put in a few hard cranks to gap me only to have me bridge up to him when he got slowed down by traffic. I had one couple that I passed three separate times on the way back whenever I stopped to get a drink. They had to wondering what the hell after the last time.

As I can't run as much as I have time here I have been getting some extra training by biking while adding miles to my NCC totals for the Tri Club. I'm back in the top-100 overall, but not thrilled that my bike total has just eclipsed my run total for the program. January is bike month so I've been helping the cause by hitting the bike way more than normal. It's been a new source of training and I'm curious as to its benefit. While here I've rented a bike everyday and tried to get 20-30 miles in. The bikes are pretty mediocre as for performance but training is training. I went south just past Hermosa Beach and back. Finished up just as the sun was setting and so many people were gathered to watch it drop into the ocean. I don't know what primal urge draws us to watch but it reminded me of the scene in City of Angels when the guardian angels would gather at the end of the day on the beach to do the same.

Today at Venice Beach ........ . City of Angels

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Haven't had a dream in a long time

After finishing yesterday's post I wandered over to my fellow blogger Keith Kelly's page to catch up with his progress. Besides being an extremely talented runner, Keith is a straight-up great guy. Always positive and has a unique writing style and musical insight. I find it all the more remarkable when you consider he does it all despite the burden of being Irish.

I clicked on to his video link for Thursday of  "Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want". It is such a smooth song with a "Garden State" sound that touched lightly on my feelings of late on a myriad of areas of my running and life in general. In addition, Keith has been on his own comeback trail and hit a personal high note yesterday on his tempo run. Not only did I sense his excitement, I could appreciate on a deeper, more personal level, what it feels like when all aspects of running collide in perfection. 

I've mentioned before that I'm continually motivated for that "sweet spot" of running that occurs not based on specific times or results, but rather that deep, intrinsic feeling only you can determine. It might happen in a race or a workout, but may happen on a random run or a random part of a run. I'm reminded of the scene in Saint Ralph when Ralph is doing the final workout at night in the park and Father Hibbert has him do the last interval on his own. On that interval Ralph actually begins to fly off the ground as his mind, body and spirit connect in perfection. Watching that in the movie gave me goosebumps as I know exactly how it is to not feel your feet touch the ground and the legs feel no resistance.

I'm not there yet, but I know that it can't be far away and am always open to the moment it may happen when I'm not prepared for it. In any case, I appreciate Keith passing the moment (and the music) along to remind me that it still exists out there. Here's the video from  "Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want" from the 7 Worlds Collide concert series. 

A day at the beach

After nearly two weeks of sub-zero temps in Anchorage I was fortunate to find a way out of town to a place much warmer - Venice Beach, California. Luckily, my little sister is a flight attendant for Alaska Airlines and she also needed to get warm.

After the run at the Dome Wednesday, she invited me to travel with her here. When I fly with her it's free so that is an easy decision. Clearing the schedule in one day is a bit harder but thanks to Mark and Brent filling in for me, I was California dreaming. I think I was vitamin D deficient anyways so some sunshine was in order.

Today was a good day despite tired legs. I never felt loose and easy but I managed a good pace and running in shorts and shirtless felt good. Running the bike trail from Venice Beach past Santa Monica was just a menagerie of activity. Bikers, Runners, Walkers, Surfers, Skate Boarders and Beach Volleyballers (many hotties there). I must have run past thousands of people on my 11 miler. Having all that distraction took the mind off the sluggishness and the tender leg. It also felt good to blow past bikers once I got rolling.

Got the pace down to 6:30 the last couple of miles after I started feeling tired, but I tried thinking about running like a Kenyan. It forced me to relax and be lighter on my feet. Once I did that I started running a few seconds per mile faster. Always good to think about form when you are tired as that's when habits (good or bad) take hold. 

Hopefully, I'll loosen up and get a better night sleep and recover from the trip so a better run will follow tomorrow. No matter what it beats the cold, indoor track or treadmill.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Someone to talk to

Today's title is lifted from a rarely heard song by the Police. After posting about needing someone to run with to help pass the time, I was assisted through my best run in over two weeks. I had doubts about even trying as the leg has been poor lately, but I started slow and when I caught up to Michelle after a few miles it was feeling better.

Fortunately, I was a little tired and Michelle was running well so we were both able to have a good time. Having her to chat with made the laps in the Dome go by quickly and took my mind off my leg. Good time getting to know her a bit better and talking about our little trips to Paris, London and Rome. Kudos to Michelle for making today so productive for me.

Today was the 9th day in a row in which the high temp has not exceeded 0 degrees. The longest cold snap in 10 years for Anchorage. We could really use a break as there is a long way to go with winter and a bit of plus temps would go a long way towards everyones morale. As for my morale it may get an additional boost as little sister, Esther, was at the Dome today also and asked if I want to go to Santa Monica for a long weekend trip. As she is a flight attendant I can travel free when I go with her so. I will enjoy getting the hell out of this icebox and get some warm weather in.

For now it looks like laps in the Dome will be the best for my leg as outside has not been productive. Tomorrow we have adidas rep extraordinaire, Ben Evans, in town for next seasons new product so I will drag him inside for more running. I'm sure with another sub-zero day coming that he'll be happy to run in circles.
Here's a cut of Someone To Talk To. I caught the very first Police concert in Vancouver on their reunion tour last year. Very cool concert and great energy as they had been working for a few weeks to get the act together again. They were genuinely excited by the crowd's reaction as they must have been uncertain of how they would play after being apart for 25 years. For me the Police were a seminal band when I was in college and when they broke up I figured that was one concert I would never see.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Don't call it a comeback

With all due respect to LL Cool J, I wasn't really gone but taking a needed break to get properly inspired and other things in order also. Cranking out blog posts takes a bit of time and I think a recent comment referred to it as "feeding the blog" like feeding a dog. Thanks Keith (and Mom) for staying on my ass to get me back posting.

I wish I could say that the New Year has forced me to become re inspired and ready to make it my best year ever. I plan on making it my best ever as 2008 was a very good year too. But I didn't feel any special push once that calendar page flipped over.
Today was a good day spent inside the Dome as we have endured our 7th straight day of temps below 0 degrees. I ran outside yesterday at -10 and with proper clothing I felt great but my calf and winter shoes don't seem to enjoy each other right now and I had to turn back. Today at the Dome felt much better and I could run a better rhythm (6:45 pace) rather than slog along with multiple layers.

I was inspired by a group of ladies that were also putting in their laps at the Dome this a.m. as well. Three of them were with me in New York for the marathon in November and I haven't seen much them since. Dorothy (3:14) who I ran the race with, Selina (3:35) and April (injured and didn't run) were clipping off laps with fellow speedy mom Michelle. A very impressive group of women and runners who manage to run very fast while also managing kids and family. Especially good to see April running so well as she had to miss NYC with an injury.

I feel a bit inadequate when I try to compare dealing with my issues when all I have to do is account for myself. Seeing them hit the track after getting the kids back to school after Xmas break and ripping off laps is very cool. I told Selina that I need to have a few kids to develop some patience and toughness. I also need a good team to train with like they have. Those laps and miles would go by a bit easier with someone to run with. Watching the girls run together was like watching a college cross country team out for a daily run.

I'm gonna knock you out