Saturday, January 5, 2019

Best of 2018

 As I do every year, here are some highlights from running, trails and travel for 2018.  

1.             New York City Marathon

I was thrilled to receive the news early this year that I lotteries into the New York City Marathon. I have wanted to run this marathon since I was a teenager, when I watched the now legendary finish where Rod Dixon passed Geoff Smith int he final half mile for the win. There's only one New York, and running the five burroughs in a day is a great way to see the city. I was just one of 50,000+ runners, making my way through town. 

The best part was finding my wife Deborah at the finish line. It has been an eventful year for us. Her excitement and joy for me in this simple accomplishment warmed my heart in the best way possible. Just getting to New York to do this trip together away a mission extraordinaire. The race and trip were also special because my sweet AC and her husband Dave joined us. Seeing them at Mile 16 was a highlight, as was attending the Lion King.

2.             The Fowl Run 10k

I run the Fowl Run in Mount Vernon most years, in early November. The race is so well organized, and is minutes from home. The course is flat, on a familiar route, passing through neighborhoods and fields, with swans usually somewhere along the way. I'm putting this event near the top of my highlights for the year because I ran the race in under an hour. I set this 10k goal at the start of the year, and here I met it. While not an extraordinary time, it reflect that this was my best year in running in the past five years.  Something to build on.

3.             The Big Island

We went back to the Big Island! Aloha! The trip was spectacular. Several months later, I think maybe our favorite part was seeing the star show up on Mauna Kea. It was a cloudy, cold day up high, and we didn’t have much hope of seeing stars. But once the sun went down, the sky cleared and the universe opened up to us. Astronomers had their big telescopes out, and with their laser pointers they directed us around the Zodiac, the Pleiadies, and the Milky Way.  I've seen stars from high altitude before, but I think this was a first for Deborah. The rest of the trip was great of course too—when is it not great in Hawaii? Highlights included the Botanical Garden (amazing plant biodiversity), the Hilo Farmer’s Market, touring coffee farms, a horse ride on the range, and watching the Hawaii morning news with coffee. I managed to also fit in the Run for the Hops 5k, which is a well organized event, with the fruits of Hawaii at the finish line.

4.             The Woolley Runs Marathon

So, I did this event again, and not well. I really like it--flat, quiet, and a time to meditate on trail. This event ranks here, in a kind of infamy,  because I did the whole thing with an umbrella, in classic ultrarunner style. It wasn’t pretty, but it was pretty special in its own way--wind coming in hard, umbrella collapsing, a few chipper words from Stan as his tent blew over--just that kind of day.

5.             Nookachamps Half Marathon

This one wasn’t pretty either, but it makes the list because Mike and Rich came up, and afterwards we had a full day of breakfast and birdwatching in the Skagit Flats. Just good to spend time with friends outside.

6.             Mercer Island Half Marathon

The only special thing about this one is that I did it,, for the first time, after knowing about the event for 30+ years. I've done most of the major, long-time events in Western Washington--probably Eastern Washington too. For me, this has been a glaring omission, especially since in my late teens, or so, I worked on Mercer Island. This is another terrific event, on a beautiful rolling course, with views of beautiful houses and Lake Washington. Hopefully I get back sooner than later.

7.             The Seattle Marathon

For the first time in a few years, I went ahead and did the full marathon. I used to have an annual streak on this race that was double digits. The course changed this year, and there seems to be fewer runners than in the past. I feel like the event needs a recharge. Still, I really enjoyed my day, and especially running the first half with Rob and logging some miles on the Burke-Gillman. 

8.            Spokane River Run 25k

I made the journey east to Spokane for the first time in probably a decade, to visit a good friend and his family, and then to run the Spokane River Run 25k. I managed to listen to all of Neil Gaiman's Norse Mythology on the way. The Spokane River Run rolls through Riverside Park, mostly on soft trail through lodgepole pine. It is not technical, but it is beautiful eastern Washington running and supports a good cause. I sort of wish I had just done the 50k. Cause to return, I suppose.

9.            Washington D.C.

I had to visit DC for a conference in December, and fit in some meaningful family time in the process. A brief window opened up, and so I laced up and ran the monuments, including the National Christmas tree. Washington D.C. is a great town for workout runs, because you can pass iconic site after site. My favorite discovery on this run was on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, above the reflecting pool, where MLK's spot for his "I have a dream" speech is marked.

10.         Skagit Runs

OK, this is not an event either, but I had some downright terrific runs from our doorstep this year. I stretched things out a bit, going 10, 12, up to 14 miles. These runs quickly got me out into the corn fields of the Skagit flats, running by barns and farm equipment, as well as along the Skagit River, and into other quiet country places. My focus was to just maintain a pace, and these runs became valuable escapes for me on Saturday mornings. I made a conscious shift to focus on running a steady pace, as opposed to the run/walk pace that trails sometimes demand. We live in a beautiful part of the world, and there is a lot to be seen, right here in the valley. I feel like these runs, even more than the events, helped me get a little more back into the flow of running. 

The year was full, with many more events and runs.  As typical, I ran the Berry Dairy Days Half, the Great Sedro-Woolley Footrace, and the March Point 10k.  I ran my 15thconsecutive Baker Lake 50k, on a beautiful day.  There was a Skagit Flats Half—a new tradition, I ‘m thinking; and a Padden Relays

I didn’t spend much time in the high country—hopefully I’ll make up for that this year. There was a day where Seth and I tried rockhounding, visiting the Walker Valley site in Skagit Valley looking for geodes. Pretty funny, the two of us pounding rocks with ordinary hammers, with motorcycles buzzing around. Found one, which though small, sits in my office. There were also numerous drives around the valley with Deb, including one memorable drive out to the Farmhouse. 

There were also some high quality shows. A Pearl Jam show with Seth, albeit a tough one for me, though it was said to be one of their best. Deb and I saw the incomparable Angelique Kidjo cover the Talking Heads Remain in the Light album at Benaroya. We also saw the Lion King on Broadway with AC and Dave. And perhaps my favorite: Hamilton at the Paramount with Deb in February, a show to remember.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Washington D.C.

Work and family took me on a brief visit to northern Virginia and Washington D.C. this past weekend. The visit included a wonderful meal with the folks, a visit to Great Falls National Park, and then a conference downtown.

I made the most of a short window by running the National Mall before my conference, in the freezing cold. Probably four or five miles, with some painfully long stops at certain intersections. The sky was dark, and there was a headline-making snow storm just a bit south of DC. 

I started near the Capitol Building, and then ran by all the iconic monuments--the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, the reflecting pool, and so on. My favorite find was the spot where MLK spoke after the Freedom March, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. I also threw in a detour to the National Christmas Tree, over by the White House. Boring!

The next day, I took a quick walk through the National Art Gallery at lunch time. The Gallery is one of my favorite places, but on this day had very few visitors. Maybe it was the storm. It felt criminal, speeding through empty rooms with Monets, Homers, and the like. The place is amazing. I managed to catch the featured exhibits Whitebread and Corot, and then grab a highlights book on the way out.

My final adventure was finding my way to the airport on the Metro, for a late Monday night return. East coast trains and public transportation are always cool--makes me feel like a local.

Some pictures...


Sunday, November 25, 2018

Seattle Marathon

Another Thanksgiving weekend ends with the Seattle Marathon for me. This was a most wonderful Thanksgiving weekend, certainly my favorite ever, having gone through a very hard few months recently, only to be able to spend a very happy time with Deborah and family. In addition to the Thanksgiving dinner, Deb and I got a hold of one of the grandkids and made our way down to the Seattle Marathon Expo, followed by Pike Place and Seattle Art Museum's Peacock in the Desert Exhibit (art from India). Priceless.

The marathon had a new course and start time. The start time was 7:30 AM, which means I had to leave Mount Vernon at 5:30 AM, which wasn't so bad, albeit a little early. The weather was a chipper 40 degrees--I wore gloves and a vest over a long sleeve shirt, which was about right.

The course still starts at the Experience Music Project, just east of the Space Needle. The first four miles wind through downtown and then onto I-5's express lanes. It is a bit hilly to start out. The course dumps out into the U-District on the 42nd Ave exit around Mile 4. This was kind of cool for me, as I lived for three years near here back in the 1990s, during the school years. A picture below of my old place, which so far hasn't been torn down. Cranes everywhere in Seattle.

I ran the first 13 or so with Rob from MV, who was great company.  We probably could've stuck together the whole way, but I kind of entered my pain place after that, and would not have been good company as I figured each step. I usually run events alone, but Rob really kept my pace good for the first half. He said we did the first half in 2:15, which would be quicker than my half times this year so far.

The last thirteen miles were a bit painful, though mostly flat on the world famous Burke Gilman Trail, until Mile 23. I saw many familiar faces along the way. Half exhausted, seeing Matt H. cheering folks on at Mile 23+ was really great. Also good to see Jenny and her crew volunteering.  The last mile or so is a fast downhill on Highway 99 into Queen Anne and Memorial Stadium. I finished around 4:54, which I'm happy with for today. That represents a steady pace with some walking, but no serious cramps and I don't feel too bad after the fact. A half hour faster than NY too. Little improvements.

I'd like to see the Seattle Marathon work on things a bit. I've been running this race since 1997. I'll continue to show up for the full and half, as I am able. The volunteers were terrific. That said, I feel like the Expo gets smaller each year, while the prices continue to rise. Little things bother me. Last year I registered at the Expo, and they took 3 or 4 months to cash the check and register me, which was annoying. The half marathon point on the marathon was not marked, and there was no timer there which there really should be. The after race food was lacking--long gone are the days when they served Ivars chowder after the cold run. Nothing against Dole Pineapple cups, but they should be able to do better for what we pay. Also, the medal is pretty much an ad for Amica, the title sponsor, with their slogan featured prominently on one side. It's very plain. I joked that maybe they should add a crane or two to the obligatory Needle.

The new course is ok, but I had to stop at a few points, to be waved across the street after traffic was once again stopped. Lots of gels, but the aid stations dropped off towards the end--one ran out of cups, etc.  I think Amica should demand more of the organization, as should the City of Seattle. Having just done the New York City marathon, I have a real feel for what a marvelous community event a marathon can be. Seattle can do better.

Despite that unload, I had a great day out there, and there was a lot of good cheer from volunteers, police officers, and spectators. Clear skies help a lot.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Fowl Run

Another November first weekend Fowl Run in the books today.  The weather was good running weather, with single layer temps, no rain, and just a little breeze. As always, the Fowl Run--this being the 40th year even--was hosted with great skill by Skagit Runners. Thank you volunteers and friends for always doing such a great job.

I ran the 10k, and finished under an hour (56 minutes0, which was a goal of mine at the start of the year--that is, get my 10k time under an hour again. It's been a while. So, I'm pleased, particularly given I ran a marathon last Sunday in New York. I kind of cramped up though in NYC, and so while I finished that race recently, it was an easy recovery week.

The snow geese are back. There were a couple fields full of them on the run, and I also saw a few swan flying in formation. There were lots of runners this year, and pumpkin pie and apple cider back at the school, among other treats. I didn't stick around to see if I won a turkey, although I saw some little kid walk off with one. 

This is one terrific community race. 

Thursday, November 8, 2018

New York City Marathon

I ran the New York City Marathon last weekend, and absolutely loved it.  It will be a highlight of my year, as far as running goes.

As a teenager, back in the 1980s, I watched the New York City Marathon one November Sunday morning on television.  I followed running closely then, as a high school runner and reader of Runner’s World.  I knew all the high performers.  The drama that year was whether Rod Dixon, a 10k specialist from New Zealand, could step up to the marathon distance.  Geoff Smith of England held the lead, in the rain, for many miles, and looked to have the race in hand.  However, Dixon closed the gap over the final miles, and took the lead in the last half mile, with the announcers calling it like a horse race.  It was a great thing to watch live, and I remember clearly thinking that day that I would run a marathon some day.

Running a marathon seemed a huge thing back then. I registered for the Marine Corps Marathon in high school, but had to bail because of shin splints. I was running track and cross-country then, and putting in lots of miles, as a teenager might do. It wasn’t until much later, in 1997, that I actually finally went and took the distance on in Vancouver.

All these years, I continue to watch this race when I can, and follow with interest.  So, to finally have a chance to run the course, which travels through all five boroughs (Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx, and Manhattan), was absolutely a bucket list item for me. There's only one New York.

And only in New York does getting to a start line become as much a production as running the race itself. I got out the door at 6:30 AM, and took the subway down from Lincoln Center to Battery Park and the Staten Island Ferry, coffee in hand, wearing disposable sweats.  After a bit of a wait for my ferry, I enjoyed views of the Statue of Liberty from the water, along with a bagel, and hundreds of other runners. Another wait on Staten Island to catch a shuttle bus to Fort Wadsworth, which is the starting line. I finally arrived at 10:30 AM, right before my start time at 11:00 AM. 

The race starts by going over the Verrazano Bridge, which seemed to be nearly two miles.  Police and media helicopters are above, and it is just swarms of people. These days, everyone is stopping for a selfie on the bridge.  Once across the bridge, you enter Brooklyn, where crowds await, with signs to cheer runners on.  The next 10 or 11 miles are up through Brooklyn, by restaurants, brownstones, gas stations, street art—all the sights of Brooklyn.  It feels like a parade, with streams of runners, and the streets lined with cheering families and bystanders.

I met my AC, Dave, and Deb right after leaving Brooklyn over 59th Street.  This was extremely special to me, and we were fortunate to find each other in the crowds.  Cell phones help, I guess.  After that, I started getting a really bad cramp in my lower abdominal region, and I couldn’t run.  The last ten miles were a struggle of walking and running, but the crowds and positive vibes were steady, and I was fine with it.  The slog up through Manhattan and Queens was tough, but somewhere around the Bronx I seemed to be able to shuffle again, though the feet hurt. 

The excitement seemed to pick up all the more once back in Manhattan.  My fastest mile was my last, though it wasn’t all that fast.  The finish line is marked with the flags of the many, many nations, represented by runners.  Banners hang from the light poles, honoring past winners who’s names are well known to me—Joanie, Bill Rodgers, Dixon, Grete, Tergat, Radcliffe, and so on. 

The Finish Line is a production.  You get the medal, and then they give you a bag of recovery items (drinks, apple, protein bar), and then you shuffle for almost a half hour to get a very nice poncho.  Finally, my feet ready to revolt, I found my sweetie in the family reunion area.  For many personal reasons, this was the very best part of the whole event, as we weren’t sure she could make this trip.

The rest of the weekend was filled with great moments.  We went to the Lion King—our first show on Broadway—with my AC, who is high school choregrapher.  Fine eats, including bagels, pizza, pasta at Joe Allen, and so on.  A visit to the Museum of Modern Art, to see Van Gogh, Picasso, Rothko, Warhol and others—an amazing place that deserved more time. 

Loved the race, and loved being able to do this with my wife and family.  A very special weekend.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Baker Lake 50k

This year's Baker Lake 50k was a bit chilly, but clear, with some of the best views of the lake and Mount Baker I can remember. I suppose the crisp, fall air will do that sometimes. Above is a picture I took, after the race, from down the road from the campground. By then, the clouds had formed, but earlier in the day the sky was the same blue, and the mountain and other high glaciers were unobstructed. The view from the Noisy Creek turn was the best.

I ran the early start, as I've done for the past five or more years. I prefer the early start because I get done earlier, and there are less people on the trail. This was my 15th Baker Lake in a row. I think it may have been my 100th marathon or longer distance event as well. Markers on the trail, I suppose.

As always, Terry, Delores, James, Chris, Toi and others from Skagit Runners put on an exceptional event. Simple, beautiful, and affordable. The finish line goodies included burgers, pulled pork, soups, beer, soft drinks, and plenty of choices for the veggie folks. Lots of familiar faces on the trail--all smiles, coming and going.

New this year was additional water bottles at Noisy Creek, about 10 miles in. I think this is a great add, since there is a water cache also at Maple Grove, about 4 or 5 miles in.

I wasn't fast, and I found the back 15 to be slower and more drawn out than usual. I think that may have simply been because I was wrestling with whether to go down to Kirkland afterwards for an event. My time, while not fast, was an improvement over the past four years. This probably is a reflection of more road running on my part this year. I got knocked off track in August, which is understandable and ok. Going forward I'd like to work on losing weight and running steadier. For me, running and trails are part of who I am--and whether up or down--I'm just glad to be able to continue to be out there.

On the drive in, I finished up listening to Scott Kelly's book, Endurance, about his year in space and his journey to becoming an astronaut. On the way home, Bob Marley's Legend. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Skagit Flats Half Marathon

I ran the Skagit Flats Half Marathon on Sunday.  I think the first time I ran this race was in 2002 with some school friends. Still ticking, still clicking.  The event is becoming a real favorite of mine, because it is so beautiful, it is so local, and because I can come home and watch the first week of football afterwards.

The race starts at Burlington-Edison High School, and is an out and back through the Skagit Valley, finishing back on the school track. The event has been around 41 years now, and my friend Stan has ran the full just about every one of those years.  I originally signed up for the full, but switched down when I realized it would've been a bit too much for me, going into the week.

I ran a 2:27, which is both faster and slower than I would've liked. I was running a bit quicker until August, but my training has fallen off.  Now trying to get back to basics. It was a good day out there, just the same. Thank you to all the cross country teams and Skagit Runners for putting on a top notch event, like always. You are the best.