Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Holiday Between 11 & 12

Snowboarding at Mt. Baker, January 2011

Today, on my last run of 2011 - rounding out 1,290 miles for the year! - I got to thinking about holidays. After the dutch holiday Sinterklaas on December 5, New Year's is probably my favorite holiday. (Thanksgiving comes in a close third!) New Year's has all the trappings of a good holiday - generally some time off from work or school obligations, the opportunity to spend that time with loved ones, an excuse to make delicious food and enjoy it.

Sunrise Summit of Mt. Si, February

No matter how well-intentioned the original vision, so many holidays have come to revolve around spending copious amounts of money, drinking copious amounts of alcohol, eating copious amounts of candy, etc. I suppose it could be argued that New Year's can, and often does, include any or all three of these aspects, too - but for me, my hallmark end-of-year tradition has always been my annual New Year's Eve journal entry.

Ski Trip with Dad to Salt Lake City, March

In it, I recount my year's most memorable moments, new friends I made, books I read, movies I saw, songs I listened to on repeat far too many well as the standard resolutions list for the coming year.

Whidbey Island Half Marathon with Lauren, April

The last part is always the most exciting to me. This year, I've decided to call them "projects" instead of "resolutions". The word "project" connotes an ongoing process, a journey, as opposed to a simple destination. In a conversation with Elodie several days ago, we were discussing New Year's resolutions, and how common it is to have the same things appear on your list every year - and then to feel discouraged that things reappear year after year. I feel like "project" takes off the pressure for perfectionism. Arrival can be an illusion.

Unleash the Beast Adventure Triathlon with Team ONW, May

While I'll always vouch for the power of "SMART goals" (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely), I think most of what falls into the typical resolutions bin are not of that nature - but that doesn't mean they're not valuable. Last year, among other things, I resolved to "run more regularly", "read more books", "be more financially stable", and "care less what others think, and remember that my life is truly my own" - which are ART goals, at best, but missing the Specific and Measurable parts of the equation.

Ladies' Hike in Olympic National Forest, June

But does that mean that putting energy toward those things didn't yield great results? Heck no! 2011 was a really wonderful year for me, filled with a lot of love, laughter, great meals with great people, memorable travels, amazing runs and races, good reads.

Camping and Fireworks, July

I spent nearly half the year writing full time for a company I love. I also got to pursue my passion for web design in evening classes. I was able to visit both my parents, interview some inspiring people, and cook/host a lot of delicious meals with friends. My writing was published in Outdoors NW magazine, on the REI Blog, and on [what used to be called] Green Smoothie Queen. I read a ton of great books.

Angels Staircase Trail Run in the Methow Valley, August

Alan was home for a good deal of the year, and we got to spend more time together than ever before, cooking together, hiking, road tripping, moving into a much better apartment, exploring Seattle, and plowing through several seasons of Seinfeld, Mad Men and The Wire. I got to play a lot in the mountains, kayak, ride my bike, snowboard, snowshoe, hike, camp in the woods, swim in the river, and run a ton - as near by as around my own neighborhood, and as far away as heather fields in the Netherlands.

Dash Point Half Marathon, September

I was reminded that when I really focus on something (in the case of 2011, running), I can excel. I went from a year of injuries and subsequent low mileage to a year of doing a dozen races, five of which were marathon distance or longer. I shaved a full minute off my mile time, and nearly 20 minutes off my marathon time.

I even ran a 5K in a full-body giraffe costume!

Visiting Mom in Holland, October

One of my close friends got a new heart valve this year. Another moved to Hood River to start building a new life for herself. Another one got engaged to a wonderful guy. Another got his book proposal accepted for publication. Another found the courage to quit a dull desk job and start getting paid to be himself. Another saved enough money to take herself to France for most of 2012. Yes, it was a good year indeed.

Hosting Thanksgiving, November

Arbitrary as the first day of the new calendar year is, I like that rather than centering around consumption, it signifies to me a holiday of calm reflection. It embodies hope, empowerment, and the potential for positive change. It is the chance to imagine your best self, and then go boldly after it.

Snowshoeing on Christmas, December

Here's to 2012!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

This won't stay in Vegas

I am, at heart, an optimist. I prefer the rosy-tinted goggles to dark shades, and I really, really wanted to like my experience in Vegas last weekend. After all, I like to like things!

But I think that in this case, I must apply the old adage my aunt once passed along to me: Everything is either a good time or a good story. I've been dying to sit down and write this story all week long.

The problems began before Lauren and I even arrived in Vegas. This nighttime marathon/half marathon event sold out at a whopping 44,000 participants - which already sounded like far too many. On the other hand, the Competitor group and their Rock 'n Roll events generally have a solid reputation for putting on world class events, so I relaxed. I relaxed even more upon learning that of those 44K, only 6,000 would be doing the full marathon, and we'd get to start an hour and a half earlier than the 38,000 half runners.

However, I noticed a worrisome thing when I looked at the course maps online: we full marathoners would run a 13.1-mile route off the strip before merging with the half marathon - which was run almost entirely up and down the famous Las Vegas Strip. From the outset, this seemed like a terrible lack of planning on Competitor Group's part - only the elite full runners would be fast enough to miss the messy merge with the half runners, whereas the rest of us could fully expect to run into a wall of the back-of-the-pack half runners and walkers. I was not the only full marathoner stressed about this before hand - the event's Facebook page was littered with runners asking whether there would be separate lanes for full and half runners. Competitor Group ignored all these questions, leaving us all in the dark, uncertain of what to plan for or count on.

Competitor Group further ticked me off by not allowing Race Day packet/bib pickup. I understand this rule when the marathon starts at the crack of dawn - but when it doesn't start until 4 p.m., it seems a little unnecessary. Furthermore, it wasn't made clear at registration, so if for some reason your travel plans didn't put you in Vegas in time for the Expo the day before, you had to pay an extra $40 - FORTY DOLLARS!!! - to be able to pick up your packet at all - and even then, you had to be one of the first thousand people to sign up for Race Day pickup, or else you were SOL. All this on top of the $140-170 you already paid - which, for you non-runners still with me at this point, is about twice what a typical marathon costs to run. Talk about a money grab.

Let's jump to the marathon day itself. While the 4 p.m. start was part of the initial draw for me to this event, it actually proved a bit odd - Lauren and I had no idea what to do all day leading up to the marathon. We'd laid out all our clothes and gear the night before, slept in late, then more or less spent the day twiddling our thumbs. We couldn't eat too much, certainly couldn't drink, didn't want to be on our feet too there went an entire day of our Vegas trip, lounging around and doing very little in our hotel room. When the time was finally nigh, we hopped on the monorail to get to the starting area at Mandalay Bay resort/hotel/casino.

Our race start was fairly pleasant. The sun was shining brilliantly, the temperatures cool and the wind tame. Lauren and I hugged and wished each other good luck, found our starting corrals, and soon enough, the race began. I felt great for about two miles, maintaining a good clip right at about 8-minute miles. A talkative Canadian woman fell in step with me at that point, making unpleasant conversation as she ticked off, at no particular prompting, a litany of her race accomplishments, PR's, Ironman times, training philosophies, opinions on GPS devices, etc. In my haste to try and shake her, I made the classic mistake of running the next few miles a little too fast, clocking a 7:45 and a 7:40 mile. Whoops. This being the first day of a certain time of the month, this was also about the point at which abdominal cramps kicked in. The party was just getting started!

Obviously, of course, none of these factors had anything to do with the Competitor Group and their race organization. By all counts, in fact, they were doing great at this point! The weather was ideal, the sunset over the mountains as we all ran toward the desert was lovely, the bands along the course were good.

However: no porta-potties for the first 8 miles of the course. What?! I've never used a bathroom during a marathon, and fortunately didn't need to this time - but there were plenty of people hopping off the course, women squatting in the bushes, because Competitor Group failed to provide any toilets for large stretches. The few porta-potties that appeared later in the course were so few and far between that the lines were outrageous; reports later indicate the average wait time was around 15 minutes if you needed a mid-race bathroom break.

But let's talk about my first real encounter with disaster: nearly getting mowed down by a cop car. At about mile 7 or 8, there was an aid station on the left side of the road, which many of us drifted over from the right side (where we were, in anticipation of a right turn in the course soon) to try to access. Before I made it, though, a few cop cars came down the left side of the road, driving against the marathon traffic, separating us from the aid station we were trying to access, honking their horns with their siren lights swirling in the darkening dusk. This was befuddling indeed.

The cops started yelling at the aid station volunteers not to give us any water. Turns out the marathon course would eventually double back on itself on this road, so they were the aid station for later in the course - not yet. Obviously, none of them had been told this beforehand. The volunteers began frantically yelling at runners not to come over to their tables after all, which all led to a great deal of confusion and weaving and more angry yelling.

So, while I thought running at night would be amazing and peaceful (the way it always is at Ragnar), it was anything but. The race organizers - for good reason, of course - had lined the whole course with massive street lights powered by massive generators. I have a strong personal policy against racing with headphones, but the annoying whirr of these generators made me wish I'd brought some headphones after all to drown out the noise. Like running next to a lawn mower mile after mile!

Meanwhile, my cramps were getting worse. I came close to dropping out at several points, just feeling miserable and generally feeling like I hated running. I knew I'd started out way too fast when the 3:30 pacer group caught and passed me around mile 7 or so, and I already felt too pooped to try and stay with them. But I kept going.

As we approached the Strip again around the halfway point, the crowd energy was fantastic. There was music, cheering spectators, lights...all of this was great. I strung together a few more sub-8-minute miles and felt like a rockstar. But then...then came the true plummet into race-organization disaster.

I hit the halfway point in a new half-marathon PR of 1:45:18, on pace to finish in under 3:31 - a more generous Boston Qualifying margin than I'd even thought myself capable of - and I was proud of myself for gutting it out through what had already been a pretty tough race, mentally. The merge with the half marathon, however, was every bit as disastrous as my worst imagining.

The "separate lane" for the marathoners, a tiny chute along the left side of the Strip, was delineated with small orange cones, spaced hundreds of yards apart. Every tenth cone or so had an 8.5 X 11" piece of paper with size 16 font on it explaining that full marathoners should stay to the left, half marathoners to the right. In the dark, among the stampeding of tens of thousands of feet, you can imagine that the cones went entirely unnoticed. Most had been tripped over or kicked aside by the time I ran by them.

Full marathoners were yelling at half marathoners to stay to the right. This fell entirely on deaf ears. A few bike marshals tried in vain to ride through the crowd and keep half and full runners separate, but they were screamed at, spat on, and ignored as well. I don't blame the half marathoners; they were "running" in the biggest clusterf--- of their lives, too, and just trying to find space to be able to move - but to be on pace to Boston qualify and then be literally running into the backs of half marathon walkers, arms linked and chatting on their cell phones in the middle of our 10-foot-wide lane, was beyond acceptable. The ugliness that emerged between runners was the most depressing and deflating part of it all - the yelling, the name-calling, the pushing and shoving. Maintaining a positive mindset was harder than trying to maintain my physical pace at this point.

Over the next 13 miles, I pulled my calf muscles more times than I could count, dodging between runners and walkers, jumping on and off of curbs just to be able to run at all, much like try to maintain any semblance of my pace.

The aid stations were some of the worst on-course messes of all. There were no flags or lights indicating ahead of time where they were, and in the dark, you'd be even with the aid stations before you even realized they were there. This created horizontal movement across the course, resulting in tremendous traffic jams with tripping and more pushing and shoving. I missed a couple aid stations altogether because it was too late to "merge" horizontally across fifty people to get myself water. Moreover, there weren't separate cups for water and Cytomax, so you had to stop and have a conversation with the volunteers to find out what you were drinking. Lastly, there was ICE in some of the Cytomax cups - can you say choking hazard? Christ! I still have no idea what ice cubes were doing in Dixie cups when the temperature had already dropped to 40 degrees.

From mile 16 through the end, I only ran one more sub-8-minute mile. My calves cramped up horribly from all the curb-jumping and course-weaving. The half-marathon stampede never thinned out, so until the very end, I couldn't run in a straight line. And don't get me started about the horrible screamo-angry-metal band we had to listen to twice along the Strip. I was not in a good mood when I crossed that finish line in a chip time of 3:36:36.

Which is really a bummer, since it was a new personal record for me, and a full six minutes faster than when I ran Amsterdam less than two months ago!

Traffic was completely backed up at the finish line, thanks to Competitor Group's brilliant idea that all runners needed to funnel through a photo line before going anywhere. No room to walk, no room to sit down, no room to even put your hands above your head without whacking someone else's face with your elbow. I felt nauseous in the crowd.

The finishers' "food" provided at the finish line consisted of bagels hard as hockey pucks and bananas green as grapes. I walked by a woman with a banana who was complaining to her husband, "I can't even break into this thing!"

At this point, I got the hell out of there and went to stuff my face at the Bellagio buffet with Lauren and her parents - and so concludes my own list of relatively mild complaints about the race. Not awful, but certainly not great either. Unfortunately, I learned later, I had one of the better experiences at the Vegas Rock 'n Roll marathon of anyone. The stories that have emerged since are downright ugly.

Eventually, the aid stations ran out of water and Cytomax. The half marathoners out on the course for three or four hours had nothing. Then they ran out of medals. Half finishers were initially given full marathon medals (as if anyone could feel excited to wear a medal for a race they didn't complete!), then when they ran out of those, had nothing to give the finishers. I don't know how that happens in an event that's been sold out for two months, but it did.

The sparse medical tents were not given even basic supplies like blankets - so when runners began pouring in with the beginning stages of hypothermia (the temperature drop once the sun went down and winds picked up was substantial), RN volunteers were offering their own jackets and clothes to help warm runners back up. Totally unacceptable.

All runners were funneled, after the finish line, through a single set of doors into the Mandalay Bay casino - nothing like being swarmed in mobs of people, cigarette smoke and flashing lights after running a marathon! The Michael Jackson Cirque de Soleil show, also in the Mandalay Bay, let out at about the same time that many of the slower half runners were finishing - so another 35,000 (mostly drunk) people joined the already massive mob inside the casino. This is where crowd control utterly failed. People began throwing up, passing out, and getting trampled - but the mob was so dense inside that medical assistance was nearly impossible. The Strip was so clogged with ambulances and taxis afterward that most people reported being able to run the entire race in less time than it took to get back to their hotel at the end. Although the Competitor Group had promised free shuttles at the end of the race, there were none in sight, and so most of us wound up walking (limping?) for miles after running to get where we needed to go.

After running out of water, some of the aid stations started using hydrant water for runners. Hoses from hydrants filled trash cans, then volunteers scooped cups in the trash cans to fill them up - talk about unsanitary! On top of Las Vegas having one of the highest levels of pollutants in their water supply, it's no shock that handfuls of runners reported violent sickness after this whole fiasco.

The Competitor Group had reported in pre-race materials that parking for runners would be free and available at many of the major casinos. Unfortunately, this turned out not to be the case, and many runners were turned away at the casinos that had been specified and forced to find parking elsewhere, resulting in them missing the starting line or just being unable to reach their starting corrals. The corrals in the half marathon failed entirely, so most half marathoners couldn't start actually running until 8 or 9 miles into the race, due to all the walkers in the early, unenforced corrals.

Another minor, but nevertheless notable, Fail on Competitor Group's part was the pre-race "medical information" in our swag bags. There were two different pamphlets with race day tips - one which recommended all runners take a baby aspirin the morning of their race, and another that warned that aspirin has been shown to reduce kidney function and should be avoided for 24 hours leading up to any race. Way to be consistent, Competitor Group.

But the ultimate Fail of all is that for 36 hours after the race, the Competitor Group failed to comment on the deluge of stories and complaints. Instead, they went to the local news channel and filmed a segment on what an "economic success" the event was, and that they plan to open it up to 60,000 runners next year.

Three days later, finally, there was a formal acknowledgment of "difficulties", and a commitment to hearing runners' feedback and using it to improve next year's event, plus a generous $10 off our next Competitor Group event - but I'm afraid, it was too little, too late. There are too many amazing race directors and organizations who do an incredible job and value the runners that keep them in business. This was nothing but a giant money grab, and I have no interest in ever being a part of it again. I'm sorry calves, I'm sorry wallet, I'm sorry first time runners who may never be interested in doing a race again because their experience in Vegas was so atrocious, I'm sorry half marathoners who trained for months for this and didn't even get a medal at the end.

Some of these issues would be forgivable - except that this organization puts on dozens of these races every single year, and have a huge full-time staff devoted to race organization. They collected over $7 million in race fees for this. From race spokesperson Dan Cruz, "We certainly learned a number of things that will be planned better in the future" is simply not enough to make up for what happened this year in Vegas.

Haven't had enough? Read on. Four days later, the horror stories are still pouring in by the hour: Rock 'n' Roll Las Vegas Marathon Facebook page.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Figuring out this life

Fall in Seattle is nice.

I don't often share things online that I write in my own journal, but I wrote the this a couple weeks ago, and I think it's worth a share (if you can stand the long-winded navel-gazing that these self-indulgent entries inevitably feature).

Nov. 4 - I don't have enough time and energy to tackle everything in my life that I want, to pursue all the paths that entice me. Every time I meet or read about someone on one of those paths, I think, "Yes! That's the thing I want to devote myself to!" I read a great novel, I want to be a novelist. I read Sedaris, I want to tell stories about my life that make people laugh. I stumble on an interesting blog that generates revenue, I'm sure that's what I'm cut out to do. I run a trail race, and suddenly running is all I care about excelling at. I go to a good bluegrass show and I'm obsessed with picking my banjo. I read an interview with a successful young entrepreneur and I'm sure I want to start my own business.

My parents can attest to the fact that this extreme enthusiasm for mimicry started early in my life. A visit to the circus inevitably inspired a homespun version in our basement in Kansas when we got home in the evening. I'd rope in my stuffed animals, my dog Sasha, my hula hoops. I taught myself to juggle plastic bowling pins, practiced enough gymnastics to pull off one-handed cartwheels and front handsprings. The rodeo, the Olympics, the carnival...anywhere fun and exciting my parents took me, I took home with me and recreated in the basement for an audience of two.

If I watched a game show, I'd make up my own version at home; pretending to ask my parents questions for a school project, I'd interview them individually about their favorite and least favorite things, then challenge them against each other later in game show format to see who knew whom best. If I visited my dad at his office at the Kansas City Star and he took me down to see the massive, noisy, ink-stained printing presses, I'd draw up my own family newspaper by the end of the week. I kept up the W Family Gazette for an impressive number of issues, flying down the stairs in excitement to deliver my product to the hands of my parents, crying out "Hot off the press!" and charging them a quarter apiece for their issues.

Believe me, I treasure this quality in myself. Creativity and a constant hunger for learning and trying new things certainly keep life interesting, and usually pretty darn fun. But it's not without its frustrations, too. My journal entry from two weeks ago continues:

I exhaust myself! I can't decide. Not that my decision needs to last forever, of course, but nothing's ever going to happen in my life if I spread myself too thin. I can't do the New York Times crossword every day, prepare great meals, read at least a book a week, keep up on current events, maintain my blog, have enough time for all the people I love, volunteer regularly, make time to write in my own journal, continue working on my Dutch, take web design classes, teach myself a half dozen programming languages, run 50 miles a week, keep the apartment clean, work on transitioning to a high-raw diet, do yoga, lift weights, ride my bike, meditate and develop a stronger spiritual core, build a photography portfolio, travel regularly, submit more of my writing for freelance publication, hike, snowboard in the winter, write letters to friends, maintain a social life that involves going out at least a few nights a week, stay in touch on Facebook, work and earn enough money to afford living in Seattle...and still get enough sleep! It's ridiculous, now that I've written all that down, how much I actually expect myself to do in my day-to-day life. Obviously, I have to make some choices.

And those aren't even the BIG goals. Those are just the average daily life goals, the stepping stones to the big goals. Big goals are things like: summiting Mt. Rainier, running a 100-mile race, publishing a book, making the world a better place in a really big way...

So, where does that leave me? The two weeks in Holland gave me the incredible gift of time for reflection on what passions continue to stoke my fire the most - and (surprise!) running and writing both emerged high. I've been looking into volunteering with local chapters of several nonprofits (you know, in my copious amounts of free time!), and I've been torn between 826 Seattle, a center that offers youth after-school mentoring, tutoring and writing workshops - and Girls on the Run, a program that helps young girls feel empowered and develop healthy habits and self esteem through running.

I use my deliberation over the volunteering choice as a metaphor for the greater internal debate - whether, at this point in my life, to make running or writing my bigger priority. Neither passion, obviously, will ever fall completely out of my daily life - but I've been doing a little of both for many years, and I'm ready to do a lot of one of them for awhile to see what happens. I'm fortunate, of course, that I've been able to do a good amount of writing in my working life so far - this debate is really about what my "after-work" hours will look like (until, of course, I can figure out how to get paid to run all day and then write about it!)

With this question nagging at me since I've been back in the states, it's no wonder that the following quote jumped out at me from a book I've been reading, Matt Fitzgerald's RUN: The Mind-Body Method of Running by Feel. Deena Kastor, America's fastest and most accomplished female marathoner, said to Matt in an interview that in 1995,"I didn't feel like I had done everything for my running. I felt I had much more potential and I didn't want to walk away from it. I could open up a bakery or write a book at any time in my life, but I wanted to make sure that I got that running fever out while I was still young and energetic enough to do it."

And guess what? That spoke to me. I met Deena at the 2008 Chicago Marathon, after taking an impromptu solo road trip and obtaining a press pass to chat it up with the elite runners. She was softspoken, kind and every bit as inspiring in person as when I'd read about her in articles.

Deena, right before my starstruck-fan ambush.

So I'm doing it. I'm taking advantage of my youth and energy, and making running my top priority for 2012. My plans include: (hopefully) snagging a coaching spot with Girls on the Run, volunteering at as many trail runs as I can fit into my schedule, running higher mileage than ever before, training for my first 50-miler, qualifying for Boston, and above all, logging my second totally injury-free year in a row! Cheers for finding both form and footwear that work for me.

Three beautiful fall runs, three different pairs of shoes...can you tell I'm turning into a junkie?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Amsterdam Marathon Race Report

Well, the morning of the marathon began with a minor disaster - biking all the way to the starting line at the Olympic Stadium, only to realize that I'd left my waist belt with my water bottle and all my energy gels (hauled all the way from Seattle!) on the floor of our apartment. Jeetje! Fortunately, because I'm a Nervous Nelly when it comes to time, we had about an hour to hop back on our bikes, ride furiously back to the apartment, gather my gear, and ride our bikes back to the stadium in time for the official race start. We made it back in plenty of time, but I got a little more of a warmup than I was anticipating!

Ready to ride to the starting line, smiling because I haven't yet realized I've forgotten my hydration belt.

Nevertheless, with 13,000 some runners, there was a huge bottleneck getting into the stadium for the start. I, along with thousands of others (including Cinta, who ran as a pacer for runners gunning for a 3:45 time) were still outside of the stadium in a huge mass of people trying to get in when the gun went off and the elite runners took off. My mom snapped the following photo of me right before I joined the crowd and made my way to the start.

I didn't cross the starting line for a full 11 minutes (and then some) after the official start of the race, but of course, chip timing assures you still get an accurate time. The start, then, was quick - out through the stadium and into the streets of Amsterdam, every bit as crisp and sleepy as Sunday mornings in Seattle, save the pattering of thousands of footsteps on the pavement.

The first few kilometers were really an exercise in strategic stepping, weaving between other runners to find the space among the crowd to be able to run a steady pace. Cinta and the two other 3:45 pacers, who ran with purple helium balloons above their heads, set a steady clip at the beginning, so I fought the running crowd to be able to stay even with them.

Eventually, the crowd thinned and spread out a bit, and I fell into a comfortable - albeit challenging - pace. Having run a 3:45:16 in Eugene last May, but having done about the same mileage in training this time around, I had no hopes for this race other than to thoroughly enjoy the course and hopefully come in under 3:45.

For the vast majority of the race, I stayed within range of the 3:45 pacers, occasionally dropping in next to Cinta to say hi. Despite my best efforts to pick up my pace a notch and put some distance between myself and the 3:45 pacers, inevitably the phrase I heard most from spectators along the sidelines was, "Ohh, hier komen de drie uur, vijfenviertig lopers!" - here come the 3:45 runners! Almost invariably, when I pulled over a few seconds at the aid stations to chug some water or AA drink, the pacing group would pass me again.

Meanwhile, the course was beautiful! In many ways, it was very similar to the Eugene course - a virtually flat course, starting in the stadium, running a small initial loop that lapped by the stadium again before taking off for the outskirts of the city, and running a long out-and-back up and down a scenic river...

...and eventually winding through a bit more urban scenery before finishing at the stadium. The weather was also reminiscent of Eugene - cloudless blue skies, pure sunlight, and cool, crisp morning air. In other words, ideal running weather.

My mom was an amazing supporter and cheerleader, hopping on and off her bike all morning to see me pass at several points along the course - at the ready with a bag of BodyGlide, alternate running shoes (because the ones I planned to run in mysteriously developed a little hole two days before the marathon!), and other gear...none of which I wound up needing, happily. It was wonderful to be able to see my mom along the way, hear her yell excitedly, and give her quick hugs before running on.

With that said, I learned that my mom's trademark whooping and cheers are not so trademark after all...I can't tell you how many whooping Dutch people along the course sidelines I mistook to be her all morning long! On another note, this really was an international marathon - runners not only from Holland, but from France, Israel, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Japan, England, Scotland, Portugal, Kenya, Ethiopia, Brazil, Italy...apparently there was a small handful of other Americans, too, but I didn't meet any of them.

Because I couldn't find my Garmin before leaving for Europe, I ran only with a stopwatch - and because all the signs were in kilometers instead of miles, I never had the moment when I ran by a 20-mile marker and felt obligated to get nervous about hitting the wall. Whether the common 20-mile bonk is a placebo problem or not, who knows - but somehow, for me, not having that sign or marker seemed to help. Though I could definitely feel my legs tiring after the first couple hours - I've only done two running workouts in the past 8 weeks that could really classify as "speedwork" or training "at race pace" - the remainder of the miles felt challenging but not increasingly so, and there was enough left in the tank to sprint out the final 200m on the track. I crossed the finishing mats a full two and a half minutes faster than my last (and previously best) marathon.

Cinta and I at the finish line!

My mom steals my medal and space blanket, and strikes a pose.

RACE RECAP! (mostly for my future reference, and for the curious running geeks amongst my blog readers, too...)

Average weekly mileage in 8 weeks leading up to marathon day: 29 miles + 2-4 cross-training sessions

Longest single run in training: 23 miles

Race Day Breakfast: Raw Revolution Spirulina & Cashew bar, glass of water with a generous spoonful of chia seeds, a few pieces of dark chocolate

During the run: 2 packs of (non-caffeinated) Clif ShotBloks (1/3 of a pack every 35-40 minutes), ample water and a bit of AA Drink (Dutch Gatorade)

By The Numbers:
1st Half-marathon split: 1:51:39 (8:31 pace)
2nd Half-marathon split: 1:51:02 (8:28 pace)
Overall time: 3:42:41 (8:29 pace)
Slowest 5K: The first one (27:19, 8:47 pace)
Fastest 5K: The second and fifth ones (26:00, 8:22 pace)

Weeks Until My Next Marathon: 6

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Living it up on the other side of the world

Oh, what a trip this has been already! One full week here now, and happily, it feels as though I've been able to pack in a lot of great adventures, without completely overwhelming myself. Still plenty of time to relax, read, catch up with my mom and catch up on sleep.

With the exception of a few cold, rainy days at the beginning, we've had great fall weather here. Loads of sunshine, crisp air, picturesque clouds. I arrived via a 9-hour direct flight (the first time I've ever been able to fly nonstop from home to Amsterdam! Thank you, Seattle!) last Tuesday. I made a futile attempt to ward off jetlag by sleeping only 3.5 hours the night before my flight, thinking I'd be able to just pass out on the plane and wake up refreshed and ready to roll when I arrived in Amsterdam at 8:20 a.m. local Dutch time. Unfortunately, I decided to finally take the fancy-phone plunge and purchase an iPhone for myself right before leaving - and the thrills of being able to play with a new mobile toy in airplane mode on my flight, combined with chatting it up with a sweet German woman whom I sat next to, prevented me from sleeping much at all on the flight.

Almost full moon! Trippy to watch a sunset, moonrise, and sunrise all in the course of one flight.

My mom came to meet me at the airport, and we immediately hopped on the train back to Nijverdal, the small town in the east where she lives. Upon arrival in Nijverdal, I barely made it through the tour of her cozy, new little house before collapsing in bed for an all-day nap. Woke up for dinner and passed back out again shortly thereafter, for a total of 17 hours of sleep. Oi vey!

The next few days, we had a relaxing few days at home in Nijverdal. I got to know her daily environs a bit more - the neighbors (who fielded a few complaints about our rowdy storytelling and laughing into the wee hours of my first few jetlagged nights here!), the local thrift shops, the newly renovated town square, and what I remember best about my last visit to Nijverdal...the beautiful woods and heather fields on the edge of town. For my last few training runs before the Amsterdam marathon, my mom and I set out for the woods, and she walked one loop on various routes while I ran the same loop twice. We really lucked out with the blue skies and sun-spackled trails.

On Saturday morning, we set out for Amsterdam again by train - arriving to slightly warmer weather, and a sunny, glorious weekend day in the city. A longtime friend of my mom's is vacationing in Uzbekistan for a few weeks; generously, he left us the keys to his centrally-located Amsterdam apartment, as well as two ratty old bikes for us to ride around the city. Truly a blessing - I can't imagine being in A'dam without a bike!

Saturday afternoon, my mom and I biked to the marathon expo in the south of the city to pick up my marathon bib and t-shirt, then on to the house of Cinta - my host during my semester abroad in Amsterdam. Cinta, a longtime marathon runner herself, prepared a delicious, vegetarian pre-race meal for me (and herself! She ran as an official Runner's World pacer for runners trying to get a time of 3:45) of pasta with fennel, mushrooms, walnuts and cheese. Her girlfriend Tanja joined us, and the four of us had a wonderful time making up for lost time.

Me with Cinta and Tanja

We biked home at the end of the night, through the lovely Vondelpark, of which I have many fond memories of nighttime biking with Taryn (my fellow housemate at Cinta's from study abroad). It's really peaceful there at night, the darkness punctuated only by other bike lights, the silence broken by the steady whirr of your bike light on your front wheel...on many Dutch bikes, your bike light at night is powered by the energy of your actual pedaling - innovative indeed! I fell into bed at Gustaaf's flat, stayed up awhile reading the latest Jeffrey Eugenides novel on my iPhone before dropping off to sleep. Amazing, technology. (On a total sidenote, I'm halfway through it now and really enjoying the read, contrary to many of the early negative reviews.)

Sunday was the big day - Marathon Day! I think I'll save most of my ramblings about the marathon itself for a separate entry (because we've all witnessed how capable of rambling about running I am!), but suffice to say that it was a gorgeous day with a beautiful, flat course, and I ran about as fast as I hoped to.

Sunday evening, we celebrated by getting together for tea, and later dinner, with one of my mom's close friends from 40+ years ago when they shared their first apartment in Amsterdam together, and her husband and daughter Sabrina. A good evening, full of many stories and laughs too! My mom and Sabrina worked on devising a plan to keep me in Holland longterm :)

Monday, my mom and I hopped on our bikes and headed for the "Amsterdamse Bos" - perhaps my favorite, most cherished part of the city, and one of which few people, even lifelong Amsterdam residents, seem to be aware.

It's a big wooded area just a kilometer or two outside of the city, with an expansive trail system (both semi-paved bike trails and unpaved walking/running trails), lots of lakes and creeks, scenic farmland, and even - as I learned with surprise on a solo run there four years ago - wild boar-ish animals called "Schotse Hooglanders".

One such mellow fellow, just hanging out next to the trail.

The intention was to bike to my favorite restaurant in all of Amsterdam, a Dutch pannenkoekenhuis (pancake house!) with a pancake menu reminiscent of the indulgent breadth of options available at the Cheesecake Factory. Dutch pancakes can be sweet or savory, and include a wealth of ingredients we Americans typically only thing of putting in omelets or crepes...but we're talking full-blown, thick, bigger-than-your-face pancakes here, with any ingredient or combination you desire cooked right into the middle of the batter.

The Boerderij Meerzicht (roughly translated: Farm with a Lake View) is situated in the middle of the forest. Though we found it without trouble, we were disappointed to discover that it's not open on Mondays. Talk about a bummer! Happily, though, we biked back to the city and found ourselves some solid Dutch pancakes there instead.

Sunday evening I was able to get together with a fellow marathoner and friend from my semester abroad, whom I'd originally gotten to know through interviewing for my thesis paper. Over a pot of tea, a few glasses of port, and a block of aged Dutch cheese, we had quite the time catching up, too!

Today, my mom and I spent a relaxed morning wandering around the famous, outdoor Albert Cuyp market, enjoying some traditional Dutch "patat met" (fat french fries doused in mayonnaise and served in a paper funnel with a fork) before making our way back to Amsterdam's Central Station and on the train back to Nijverdal...

...which brings me to tonight! More updates to follow. Namely, the marathon report :)

Monday, October 10, 2011


My life in passports! The very farthest left one is the Dutch passport I got as a baby, from the glory days of dual citizenship in my youth.

In exactly 11 hours, one Delta plane will take off from the tarmac at Sea-Tac and I will officially be en route to the Netherlands - my first trip abroad in 4 years, and my first time getting to see my mom since moving to Seattle 2+ years ago! My anti-jetlag plan is to get as little sleep as possible tonight (hence my starting a blog entry at 2:45 a.m.) so I'll pass out when I board my nonstop Seattle-Amsterdam flight and wake up totally refreshed upon arrival at 8:20 a.m. local NL time. We'll see how it goes ;)

As always, there are a thousand things to write about - and unfortunately, in my somewhat sleep-deprived stupor, I keep starting paragraphs and then not liking the way they turn out. So perhaps I'll skip any sort of meaningful writing this evening. The short of it all is that I do hope to have some more time to write in the coming weeks, to catch my blog up on my life - as well as write about my visit to the Netherlands and upcoming marathon.

In the meantime, a few images of the beautiful skies here during the past few weeks:

Sunset over the Olympic Mountains.

Sunrise over Lake Union (as seen from our balcony!)

This one's a sunrise too! Gorgeous.

Well, it's 3 a.m...I'm pushing 20 waking hours now, and not likely to last much longer. Toto, we're not in college anymore.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Student loan debt: My first political rant

(Tried to cram this into a Facebook status update, and it didn't quite fit.)

I've never considered myself a particularly political person. I don't aspire to be so, either, as I find politics generally dirty and upsetting to my otherwise (and preferred) rosy view of humanity. I've only tagged one post with "politics" in my blog before, ever. By nature, I err on the side of conflict avoidance, so political sparring just hasn't ever held much appeal for me. With that said, I finally feel too intensely about something to keep my mouth shut about it - and I look forward to hearing your ideas in response, especially if you disagree with me.

So. Michigan congressman Hansen Clarke is proposing a bill to forgive all student loan debt in our country.


As the initial spark of "WOW, THAT WOULD BE AWESOME!" fades, I'm left feeling appalled that anyone, let alone the 160,000+ people and counting who signed this petition today, can think this is a decent idea. (On a sidenote, I find it curious that this petition website ups its number of signatures it "needs" every time it hits its the moment, it "needs 165,000", but I'm sure by the time most of you read this, it will undoubtedly be higher.)

So yes, the proposal sounds great in theory, at first glance. I have student loan debts I'd surely enjoy seeing magically erased as much as the next person. If the government bailed out Wall Street, why not "College Street" too? After all, isn't it better to invest in the bright, innovative, hard-working minds of tomorrow than in greedy, corporate, bureaucratic schmucks?

This idea was proposed two years ago, too, and with it came a barrage of supporters. Genuinely depressing stories emerged, of people who felt they'd worked incredibly hard to earn their college educations, only to be faced with a dismal job market and the inability to keep up with soaring interest rates on their loans. Yes, the interest rates are often outrageous, and much like with the housing/mortgage crisis, not enough understanding conveyed of the risks involved in saddling oneself with five- or even six-digit debt. I have great sympathy for those who have studied and worked hard for their degrees, yet are now struggling to stay afloat because of their debt burden.

However. What about the thousands of others who aren't in the same situation, for better or worse? What about parents, or even young students themselves, who worked extraordinarily hard to put money in a college fund to avoid having to ever go in debt to fund their education? What message does universal-debt-forgiveness send them? "Haha, suckers, way to work your ass off for 20 years for nothing!"

It's a bit like telling all the Ferrari and Lamborghini owners in the world, "Hey, we realized that what we charged you for these cars was unreasonable, so we're going to refund all your money to you. Oh, where are we finding the money? So glad you asked! Well, since the Honda and Toyota owners didn't spend as much as you did, we feel they can all pitch in for your fancy-car-reimbursement plan."

What about people who didn't even go to college because they opted to enter the workforce after high school instead? The educated elite can argue all they want for labeling such a situation a tragedy, but to do so by default steals agency from anyone who made that decision with intention. Steve Jobs, for one, understood that college is not necessarily the ticket to success, and didn't feel the exorbitant tuition rates were worth his while. While college is undoubtedly a tremendous privilege and life-changing experience, it is not the end all, be all - and is certainly even less so at the tune of $200,000 of debt, which a mere bachelor's degree these days offers no guarantee of allaying.

So what about people, you ask, for whom not being able to afford college was a disappointing reality, and not a choice? By which I mean, those who were qualified - who perhaps were even accepted at elite schools - but didn't have the financial means to go at the time. Yes, this is sad. But isn't suddenly making free the education of those of us who DID have the privilege to go a slap in the face to those who didn't? "Oh, if only you'd been born into a family with the wherewithal to take on mounds of debt on your behalf, you too could have had an elite education, for free eventually...but, too late now."

What about people who did take out loans to attend school, and have worked hard for 5, 10, 20 or more years to pay their loans off already? Is this not a slap in the face to them as well, for all their efforts to make good on their promises to repay what was once borrowed?

In the meantime, if this bill were to become a reality, would the promise of it on the horizon not diminish incentives to be fiscally responsible for those of us currently saddled with student loan debt? Let's offer a dozen people full-time jobs, but qualify the offer with "Or you can just hang out for a year and not work, and we'll still give you a year's salary at the end of it." I can guess which option most people are likely to opt for in that scenario, and it's not the one most likely to get our economy churning again.

Most of all, where does the money come from to bail out the debt-strapped graduates? Money doesn't just grow on trees, I'm sure you've heard. The government is already trillions of dollars in debt, so if it's the government that's expected to pick up the tab, it's really not forgiving anyone's debt - it's just transferring it. To whom? (1) Taxpayers, who as far as I'm aware, are the exact same people this would supposedly "bail out", and (2) Future generations. Great job, America. So many of my peers who spent their voices in college railing against the irresponsible spending of our predecessors are now pouncing with glee on the notion of doing the very same thing - denying responsibility for incurred debts because they seem unfair - so someone else has to deal with them instead.

Wake up and smell the hypocrisy, please!

Lastly, even if this bill ever passed, then what? Is college just "free" from now on? Or is it just students who graduated in 2011 or earlier that get a retroactively free ride, and from now on, everyone will be expected to pay exorbitant tuition rates again?

I'm not saying that the economy, higher education system and entire institution of student loans aren't broken. I think they are. But the solution is not to absolve young people of financial responsibility in their own lives. The solution is not to teach an entire generation that if, oops, they made the decision to invest in something that didn't pay off the way they thought it would, that the government will take care of everything.

Of course, I'm still enough of a liberal at heart to believe that government, despite its disappointing performance for most of my life so far, can be a positive force in its citizens' lives. I would like to see the government concern itself not with forgiving all debt, but with helping prevent the kind of sky-rocketing interest rates that have indeed destroyed lives - and that goes not only for student loan debts, but for home loans and mortgages, credit card companies, etc. Nevertheless, to blame the banks and loan companies entirely is to ignore underlying, problematic societal attitudes, and the need for a shift in our collective thinking about money, education and the wealth of our society.

I'd like to see the government - society as a whole, really - take more responsibility for the financial education of our youth, particularly as they approach college age and face huge decisions that will affect the rest of their lives. As thousands of petition signers have demonstrated today, the "Go into as much debt as you need to to attend the school you want" model is not working out for most Americans anymore. Families are pouring millions of dollars they don't have into the "investment" of higher education, which simply isn't producing the same ROI that it did for the baby boomer generation. The solution, however, cannot be a soothing Band-Aid for the nation's educated albeit disillusioned twenty-somethings. Rather, I think we need a broader examination of the real problem at hand - our society's misunderstanding of, and subsequently dysfunctional relationship, with debt.

End rant.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Running some numbers (pardon the pun)

All right, I think it's working. Now that I got the big stuff out of the way in that last updates entry, I feel liberated to devote an entry to some elaboration on the smaller stuff.

Shockingly (I've become so predictable, I worry), the topic I'm drawn to write about is running. In my pre-Seattle life, I'd never raced longer than a half marathon - and only one of those, at that. Since moving here barely two years ago, I've done 10 races longer than the half-marathon distance that once seemed quite daunting indeed.

Not that I really hold a candle to the many, many talented and prolific runners out there who are putting in huge miles way beyond what I do. The great thing about the running world is how simultaneously empowering and humbling it can be. Nevertheless, my move to Seattle clearly marked a turning point in my athletic life. As I head into my most dense period of endurance racing yet, I found myself crunching some numbers tonight - and turned up some interesting results.

Of the four marathons and ultramarathons I've run, there has been a distinct hierarchy in my mind on how I'd rank my performance in each, relative to perceived exertion.

#1: Eugene Marathon, May 2011 (3:45:16)
#2: Vashon Ultra 50K - Trail, June 2010 (5:34:34)
#3: Vashon Ultra 50K - Trail, June 2011 (5:36:24)
#4: Seattle Marathon, August 2009 (3:55:51)

Eugene was just a blast, hands down. I felt strong and relaxed pretty much the whole way. I knew what I was doing. It wasn't the longest distance I'd ever run before. I'd had more racing experience to fuel and hydrate properly on the run.
The 2010 Vashon was also a blast. Nervous about tackling a distance six miles beyond what I'd ever run before - and on trail, to boot - I started very conservatively. I had the wonderful Elodie to pace me the last ten miles. It was challenging, sure, but again, I felt strong and solid the whole way through - and even knocked out a miraculous first place finish.
The 2011 Vashon, though my pace reflected almost identical performance to 2010, was much, much harder for me - physically and thus, mentally. Things just didn't feel as good as the previous year.
The 2009 Seattle marathon was just kind of a mess. It was exciting because it was my first, and I had about 16 or 17 really amazing miles - but I just totally fell apart after that. Rookie mistakes. Got cocky, started too fast, didn't really fuel, and so forth.

Until tonight, I'd never really sat down and taken a hard look at the statistics of my training/preparation for each of these events. During my extremely brief stint working at 24 Hour Fitness when I first moved to Seattle, I remember consulting a personal trainer, Kyle, about marathon training tips. He'd run a bunch of marathons and ultras, and his biggest piece of advice was, "Don't underestimate the importance of running high weekly mileage."

If my general training strategy has a weakness, it is indeed in my weekly mileage. When I meet new people and am preceded by my running reputation, they often assume I must run all the time - every day, at the very least. Nothing could be further from the truth. Anywhere from zero to two runs a week is pretty standard for me, three runs a real accomplishment, and four runs a week a rare miracle.

Tonight, I looked at my training log and added up the average weekly mileage stats for the 8 weeks preceding each major endurance race I've done. I found some astounding and revealing differences that I'd never really noted in comparison before.

#1: 2011 Eugene - 25 miles/week + 1-4 cross-training sessions (max: 43-mile week, longest single run in training: 24 miles)
#2: 2010 Vashon - 32 miles/week + 1-2 X-training (max: 48-mile week, longest in training: 25 miles)
#3: 2011 Vashon - 22 miles/week, no X-training (max: 41-mile week, longest in training: 20 miles)
#4: 2009 Seattle - 19 miles/week + 0-1 X-training (max: 33-mile week, longest in training: 21.5 miles)

See? I don't run as much as most of you think I do. For all the rambling I do about it on my blog, I'm really quite a part time runner.

So what conclusions can I draw from all this? First, that Kyle was right: weekly miles matter. Second, that racing experience also matters - but not so much that it will totally compensate for under-training. Third, that cross-training is generally a good idea. Fourth: given that conventional marathon-training advice states that beginners should aim to run 30-50 miles/week in training, I could probably be a hell of a lot better of an athlete if I just put in few more miles each week.

On a curious sidenote, my overall body weight seems to have little effect at the margin. I don't keep consistently detailed track of my weight, but suffice to say that I was roughly ten pounds heavier when I ran the Eugene marathon than I was when I ran Seattle. In that case, perhaps overall racing experience did compensate after all. Hmm!

Anyway, here's to running higher mileage. I've logged 42 miles and 3 cross-training sessions this week, with six weeks until marathon day - so far, so good. Now, off to bed so I can get up and squeeze in some miles before hitting up the river in the afternoon for string band practice :)

Friday, September 2, 2011

Living my fullest life

Yowzaz! Pretty sure this is the longest I've gone without blogging since I moved to Seattle. Perhaps if I get some major life updates out of the way, I won't feel as daunted by writing in my blog in the future, because the big things are covered and I can go back to writing about small everyday joys and more mundane musings. Here goes:

1. Alan and I moved into our new place on Lower Queen Anne! We had a successful housewarming BBQ/birthday party at the new digs with friends, our newly minted grill, and the most delicious homemade red velvet cake ever - kudos and thanks to my friend and baker extraordinaire Lauren W.

2. My temp copywriting job at REI Headquarters has been extended a few times, so I'm still commuting down to Kent daily to research, learn about and write about all the sweet gear we sell. Pretty pleased to still be working there! What kinds of things do I write? See here. Straightforward as our writing tasks often are, I am forever inspired by my colleagues' cleverness and creativity.

3. Yours truly has become a running/training/athletic MACHINE! Well, so I like to think. I got in a bit of inspired frenzy to sign myself up for a bunch of races. On the docket for the coming months are two full marathons, one half, and my third official ultra (50K). Oh! And I'm going to run 30+ miles around the perimeter of Mount Saint Helens in a few weeks with my friend and fellow Dutch/Swedish hybrid, Ged. Wish us luck!

4. Speaking of July, a team of 11 friends and I tackled the Ragnar Northwest Passage 190-mile Relay for the second year in a row. Our team, the Alpacas by Day, Ninjas by Night, had a blast. I wrote a story about it for the REI blog here. (Beware: link does not always cooperate in Firefox. Try another browser if it doesn't work.)

I am blessed with good friends in this city.

5. Speaking of more running, I tackled my steepest, most rugged trail run yet last month, with my now-longtime trail running pals, Elodie and Tom - the Angel's Staircase run in the Methow Valley, about four hours east of Seattle on the other side of the mountains. 5000 feet of elevation change over 25 kilometers, peaking at 8000 feet, with stunning views in all directions. 6th place among women, I'll take it!

This ridiculously awesome photo courtesy of Glenn Tachiyama.

Beautiful views courtesy of race director James Varner, whom I interviewed and wrote this story on for Outdoors NW magazine several months ago.

6. Oh, and let's talk about where those marathons are that I've signed up for. I'm going to Vegas, baby! Running the strip at night - a nighttime marathon, how cool is that? Talked into it by my lunchtime running buddy at work, Logan (not that it was a really hard sell...)

7. But what's even better than Vegas? Answer: Flying over the North Pole on a direct flight from Seattle to Amsterdam to visit my mom and run the marathon there next month! Dutch Rosetta Stone lessons are in full throttle again. Can't believe it's taken me four years to get myself back to Holland, but it will great to see my mama and run 26.2 in the city that made me truly fall in love with running in the first place.

I took this photo in 2007. The marathon course runs along this river.

8. Alan took me to see Weezer on my birthday last month. In case you didn't hear the story (I love this story!), Alan and I were walking along a street in Seattle many months ago and passed a billboard advertising Weezer in Seattle on August 19. Knowing that I was once upon a time a big Weez' fan, he asked if I'd like to go. Snootily, I scoffed that the only way I'd go to a Weezer concert today was if they played Blue Album start to finish. We turned a corner and the next billboard we saw was, "WEEZER - Playing Blue Album and Pinkerton, start to finish." Wha?!! So we went! It satisfied in the nostalgia realm in big ways.

Yup, I was quite sure I could dig up an old photo of me in my trusty Weezer tee. Me, at 15, with my parents and Dutch cousins/family I haven't seen in years.

9. Been trying to ride my bike more lately...commuting a lot around on two wheels, including several bike trips up to Green Lake in the north part of this city, to go swimming with Oberlin friends - Ruth, who's happily staying another year in Seattle to continue working for Habitat for Humanity, and Shari, who spent the whole summer here leading kids' nature camps for the Audubon Society. Do I have cool friends or what?

10. So, I've been writing all this while sprawled out on a bunch of pillows and blankets on our balcony, looking at the night profile of the Cascade mountains, the shimmering Lake Union, the Seattle skyline all lit up, and even a good number of stars. Really, really happy in the new apartment! A good friend of mine whom I'll kindly keep anonymous recently paraphrased my blog as "Blah blah blah ohhhh Seattle, blah blah blah I'm so special because I love Seattle soooo much blah blah"...snarky, sure, but that's the nature of our friendship anyway (he's the big brother I never had!) and furthermore, I can't imagine a better summation of my feelings. Thank you, you know who you are, for stating it so eloquently. Indeed, I freakin' love this place!

11. Have we been over the fact that I get to have a reunion next month with this wonderful woman?

It's been a long time coming. Thank you, good world, for giving me the opportunities to work hard, play hard and accomplish so many of the things in 2011 that I hoped I could. And thanks to everyone in my life who's making this one amazing ride! You all are great.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The times, they are a-changin'

Two weeks ago, Alan and I got a notice on our front door, announcing that our building had been procured by new owners. In 60 days, our rent would jump by over $500 a month. My mood about it, since then, has ranged from stress and anger (stage 1) to delirious amusement (stage 2) to a quiet, tentative sense of excitement (stage 3).

Stage 2 delirious amusement came in considering how NOT worth the new rental rate our building is. Yes, it's been a great place to settle into Seattle - walkable to everything from work to downtown to the stadiums to quaint neighborhood main drags to stunning views and urban parks, close access to highways to the mountains too, a quiet building with mostly good neighbors, etc.

But there are plenty of issues that we've tried to ignore for the last couple years. I won't go into detail here about them, but they're pretty 50/50 with the positives.

The new owners are not really landlords. They're a small investment company who renovate beat up, old buildings into fancy new apartments to make them far more profitable for owners. They don't really expect us to pay the new rent; they just want us out to do their renovations and help along our "rapidly gentrifying neighborhood." (Their phrasing, not mine.)

Learning that caused a brief plummet back into stage 1 (stress and anger), but it was shortly replaced by a leap into stage 3 (!) when I started cruising apartment listings. Although the market for renters is much tougher now than it was two years ago when we were last looking, we managed to land a new place within about a week and a half of initiating the search - and it's a great one!

And so stage 3 continues. Now that I know for sure where we are going, I feel like I'm at the beginning of a new relationship - giddy, distracted, and ultimately obsessed with the concept of something I really don't know at all...but will, very very soon. As I write this, I'm on my lunch break at work, chowing down over my keyboard so I can get some of my infatuated ramblings off my chest before plunging back into work.

We'll be moving to Queen Anne - the other major hill in Seattle that nuzzles downtown. The famous, so-called "Frasier view" is taken from Queen Anne. I took the following photo on my first run up the hill, nearly two years ago.

Hassles of moving week itself aside, we'll get to enjoy all the perks of moving without the hassle of having to find new jobs or new friends. Instead, we'll get to explore new cafes, new restaurants, new bookstores, new libraries, new ice cream shops, new running routes, new evening walks, new hidden public stairways and secret views...all the exciting aspects of going somewhere new!

We'll be in a nicer neighborhood overall, and finally have covered off-street parking! We'll have our very own balcony with beautiful views of the Seattle skyline, Mt. Rainier, Lake Union and the Cascade mountains. We'll have enough space to not need a separate storage unit anymore. And all for about the same price we pay now!

Clearly, we should have made this move a long time ago.

In the meantime, as with all goodbyes - however small - I have lists of things I will miss about our current home...lists of things I still haven't ever gotten around to doing in our neighborhood, that are imperative to do before moving next month. Funny how a deadline sometimes is all the push you need to grant yourself the experiences you've been thinking about, if not dreaming of. Nostalgic list entry coming soon to my blog :)