Tuesday, May 31, 2011

What happens when I don't blog for a month

This evening, I went for a nice long-ish run through Madison Valley, arguably one of the nicest parts of Seattle, and ultimately down to the shores of Lake Washington. At the end of the road is a dock that pokes out over the lake. I was about 3.5 miles into my run at this point, and decided to sprawl out on the dock beneath the horizon-bound sun for a solid 10 or 15 minutes before continuing my run. To say that I felt grateful to be alive in that moment is an understatement.

This picture was not taken today, but this entry feels like a good excuse to share this shot I took about a month ago after running to Golden Gardens - yet another lovely Seattle park on the water.

The sky felt big today...full of those massive, puffy clouds that didn't mind sharing sky space with the sun - a rare breed here in Seattle. I had the dock to myself, and nothing but the sounds of the water lapping against its legs beneath me. The temperature was perfect lying-on-a-dock-in-a-sweaty-t-shirt-and-shorts weather. I could see to the tops of Cougar and Tiger Mountains both, my running playgrounds, and some of the snowy peaks in the North Cascades as well. Really lovely indeed. I couldn't stop thinking, I live here. I ran from my doorstep to this place. I live here.

I got together with Lu last week for dinner (Thai food, yum!) and dessert (Yogurtland, yum!) and a lot of overdue catching up. At some point, we got to talking about how easy it is to forget that Seattle is a city surrounded (not entirely, obviously) by water. Although a city of hills opens itself to the possibility of amazing vantage points and views in surprising places, there are also plenty of spots in the city that proffer no view of the water at all. My daily walk to work is one of them.

So, in keeping with the lyrics that inspired the name of this blog, I do appreciate the times I'm able to be near the water. It's a rare run I go on that doesn't have me running along, around, or over some body of water. I love it.

It has been a week of quiet, content moments like that, and catching up moments like the one over hot noodles and curry with Lu, and also a week of letting go and embracing change. As many of you know by now, I was offered a full time copywriting gig at REI Headquarters for the summer - an opportunity I am beyond thrilled about, though it has meant a swift departure from many other aspects of my daily life this past year.

In the span of two weeks, I went to my last (for now) web design class, my last (for now) in-office day at the magazine, and on Thursday, my last day (for now) selling shoes at the Seattle REI store. Although the goodbyes said this week are not permanent in the sense that anyone will be out of my life entirely...my day-to-day routine will indeed change drastically, and the faces I see at work every day won't be the same. The "goodbyes" of this week reflect the inevitable groan of change that happens in our lives, and dang, it's never easy, even when the changes are exciting.

Cobbling together part time jobs and classes and the occasional freelance contract project has made for an interesting, wonderful, and full (!) two years in Seattle, but I am hungry to try life on a regular schedule again.

Over a year ago, when I went through my last "Whoops, I have too much on my plate" crisis, I remember a conversation with my friend Tom about how being stressed out not only sucks up your time, but it also deprives you of creative flow. Without the ability to let your mind genuinely wander, unencumbered by the onerous need to constantly monitor your mental to-do list, making art or envisioning anything new at all is difficult. Creativity and innovation flow only once you've decluttered your brain enough to make room for their possibilities.

Happily, since being offered the job this summer and starting to wean myself off my current mosaic schedule, I have felt more balanced and content than I have in a long time. I haven't been stressed. I have read a bunch of books. (Ann Patchett! Toni Morrison! Hello again, world of literature!) I have had time for my friends and for myself, and it's been quite lovely indeed.

With Alan in town for nearly the entire month of May, we got in a lot of nice adventures, including a day of hiking and sunshine and waterfalls and breweries and bookstore browsing up in Bellingham.

Several weekends ago, Alan and Elodie and I spent the better part of our Saturday gorging ourselves on free cheese samples at Seattle's annual Wine and Cheese Festival at the iconic Pike Place Market. Did you catch the part about it being free? Drool. Alan and I came home and filled our fridge with blue cheese, young Gouda, coconut cheese (infused with coconut oil, for real!), smoked cheddar, and acted as temporary hosts to Elodie's trove of soft, stinky French camembert.

Homemade nachos with smoked cheddar. So much for my dairy and gluten avoidance.

I also managed to make it to two of four days of the 40th Annual Northwest Folklife festival - a big old hippie party at the Space Needle every year, that Seyeon took me to for the first time in 2005, and which was a big part of why I thought I'd love living in this city. Voted "Biggest Flower Child" by my peers in my high school yearbook, is it really any surprise I went to Oberlin College and eventually wound up here?

Let's see...what else? Two evenings of dinner parties with good friends in a row - Kate and Jeff's Memorial Day deck warming party, complete with grilled burgers and mini cheesecake tarts, and Megan and David's kitchen warming/anniversary party, complete with spicy Thai soup, chocolate-covered strawberries, and the best homemade bread, made by my favorite Dutch mother currently living in the continental U.S.

Sunset last night from Dave and Megan's living room window.

Speaking of delicious food, Lauren and I hit up the brand new Skillet Diner on Capitol Hill; I'm definitely becoming one of those urban foodie divas that wants to try out all the hot foodie spots. Aiee. Seriously though...plaid shirts on all the wait staff, beer and wine in mason jars, damn good fries, and again, all within walking distance of home.

Earlier in the month, Alan and I trekked up to the small, old navy town of Port Gamble with the Outdoors NW crew for the Beast Adventure Triathlon. 6 miles sea kayaking, 16 miles mountain biking, and an embarrassingly short 5K trail run at the end...Neal, being the rockstar he is, covered the first two legs of the tri, before I took over for the final brief running leg. The weather was miserably characteristic of the Northwest, so we both got wet and cold, but (well, I speak for myself) had a blast nonetheless.

The mountain biking part was very hardcore.

Coming down the finishing chute!

Team ONW!

I've gone for some lovely runs with friends, including exploration of the water tower at Volunteer Park with Zanna (4.5 stars on trusty Yelp; go read about how people give themselves heart attacks climbing the stairs for the best free view of Seattle, then imagine the two of us RUNNING up those flights...heck yes), and my first time cruising around Carkeek Park with Ron - a sweet morning run sandwiched between delicious, raw, Incan-superfood-charged smoothies. Why am I friends with so many men (well, two at least) who eat weirder things than me, run in Vibram Fivefingers, speak with exclamation marks, and have adorable little boys I wish I could hang out with all the time? Life is good.

Summer is in the air, and I am grateful as ever to be alive and here. Hello June!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Weekend in Oregon: Beer, sunshine, and 26.2 miles

First and foremost, thank you all for your kind words on my last entry here. My blog saw a record number of views the day I posted my entry on Sasha, and many of you took the time to send me messages or call, and I want you all to know how much I appreciated your love, comfort, and support over the past week. The loss of a pet is never easy, but being able celebrate her life with you all meant a lot to me. I'm honored that so many of you took the time to read my words of tribute to my dog, and also that they resonated with you. Thank you, all of you...I am grateful for you in my life.

Second of all...as always, bless running.

And living among mountains.

This past weekend was a wonderful respite from the "real world", as Alan and I made an Oregon road trip out of the weekend and spent our time taking my little Passat for a grand adventure through mountain passes, by lakes, along babbling rivers, into the woods, and through a few new towns. The whole weekend was all in the name of the Eugene Marathon, about which I wrote a story for Outdoors NW last spring and was registered to run in 2010 until I injured myself about a month out. Bummer.

This year, however, my body has held up to the training I've put it through. Maybe it's the new shoes (running in lightweight, neutral shoes for the first time, after a lifetime in stability shoes), maybe it's all the trail running and hills around Seattle strengthening my muscles, maybe it's just getting smarter about my training over the years...but in comparison with my last marathon, this one was a blazing success.

We began the weekend by driving down to Eugene - Tracktown USA, and home to many running greats throughout history including the late and great Steve Prefontaine - for the Expo. We stopped in Portland for lunch that day, finding (as we did for the entirety of the weekend) little hole-in-the-wall, mom-and-pop restaurants along on our way on Yelp. Family-owned Lebanese restaurant? Heck yes; 5 stars for the Nicholas Restaurant.

Guided again by editorial I've done for the magazine, I was really interested in checking out Bend (there will be a little mini-story of mine in the upcoming Outdoors NW about trail running in Bend!), so Friday afternoon, we started driving east in Oregon on the beautiful McKenzie Scenic Highway. The Forest Service campgrounds, sadly, were still closed for the season - the mountain pass along that highway peaks at about 5,000 feet, and the snow was still quite ample up there - so we wound up pitching a tent in an RV Park in the woods.

RV parks...never my first choice, but it was a surprisingly beautiful one, and I felt sufficiently tucked away in the forest in our cozy little REI Half Dome.

The following morning, we slept until the sunshine woke us up, and then made the rest of the drive east to Bend. Bend was a blast. The weather was incredible, and we spent an entire relaxing Saturday exploring town.

Our afternoon included: getting brunch at the lovely CHOW (thank you again, Yelp), strolling along the Deschutes River that winds through town, checking out Bend's REI, stopping by Fleet Feet to meet and chat with the Patagonia-sponsored runner that I interviewed for my story on Bend, and polishing off the afternoon with a couple microbrews on an outdoor terrace downtown. And I have to say, I think Oregon kicks Washington's butt in microbrew-land. Alan's 10 Barrel Brewing Co. S1nist0r Black Ale (Bend) and my Rogue Hazelnut Brown Nectar (Eugene) rocked both of our worlds.

Anyway. We drove back to our campground that night, stopping in Sisters for dinner at an old hotel renovated into a sweet saloon-type restaurant called Bronco Billy's for my official pre-marathon meal (grilled salmon, rice pilaf, and a skewer of grilled veggies = yum!) before cruising through the mountain pass at sunset to return to our campsite. Beautiful drive.

Us with the Sisters mountains in the background.

Sunday morning, the alarm clock went off at 4:30 a.m. By the light of my car headlights, we took down camp in record time (it was freeeezing cold out), hopped in the car and hit the road for Eugene. The weather, again, couldn't have been more ideal - perfect sunshine, and temperatures ranging from 42-55 degrees in the morning (68 later in the day...).

The starting line, outside of historic Hayward Field.

The marathon itself was incredible - beautiful course along rivers and trails and through beautiful wooded areas as well as quaint residential areas, full of energetic spectators, great musicians along the sidelines, and pretty flat and fast overall. And yes, I ran the whole thing with my camera (in a pocket of my hydration pack, but easily accessible while running.) I am that devoted to you all, my blog readers. :)

It was the opposite, in many (good) ways, of my first marathon in Seattle in 2009. I obviously went into this one with a great deal more long distance running experience under my belt; when I ran Seattle, 26.2 miles was the longest I'd ever run before. At mile 20 of Eugene yesterday, I thought, woohoo, only a 10K left; thank goodness I don't have to run 31 miles today!

I fueled much better this time around, taking in gels or shot blocks or squeezable packs of almond butter at 30-40 minute intervals. I stopped at every single aid station for a cup of Gatorade, and sucked down water from my pack on the run. I'm pretty sure I remember only stopping at a couple aid stations in Seattle for water or Gatorade, and only eating one (maybe two?) gels. Whoops. Live and learn.

I also ran the first half much slower. With Seattle, in my excitement, I accidentally clocked a 7:02 mile early on, and crashed and burned with 10:00+ miles and a lot of walking at the end. This time, my slowest mile (9:02) was my first, and my fastest (8:12) was, of all things, the 21st...and my overall pace got faster and faster as the race went on, with the final six miles, despite my muscles starting to burn, my fastest pace of the entire marathon.

I blame (a word I use in jest) my unexpected 3:45:16 clock time on the 3:50 official pacer. I started out the race way behind him and the pack that ran with him, beginning conservatively and really enjoying the first half of the race at a leisurely pace. I honestly had no ambitions with this marathon, except wanting to do the whole thing without walking (like I did during the last 6 miles of Seattle) and secretly hoping I'd beat my time...but not feeling very confident about it. But at some point, I caught the 3:50 pacing group, somewhat to my surprise, and was still feeling very strong; I ran with them for awhile before feeling confident enough to push ahead.

And push ahead I did! I lost the 3:50 pacing group for a few miles, and felt like I was maintaining a good, strong pace. I indulged in the glimmer of hope that I might, in fact, catch the 3:40 pacer - when all of the sudden, there was that darned 3:50 pacer again, right on my heels, and pushing what suddenly felt like a VERY hard pace. This was about mile 19, when my legs were just beginning to really feel it. Seven miles away from the finishing line seemed too soon for me to start really racing (vs. cruising comfortably), but I was determined not to let that darned pacer pass me - and there he was, chasing me down.

That sense of competition pushed me to my max. I felt unsure my legs were going to make it, but I kept reminding myself that I'd trained for this, I'd fueled everything perfectly, and there was no logical reason for me to not be able to finish the race strong - despite my body protesting and trying to convince me otherwise. Fortunately, the scenery along the river for the final 7-mile stretch was beautiful, the crowd support amazing, and before I knew it, there was historic Hayward Field and the finish line, and an unexpected miracle time on the clock before me. I finished strong, at a 7:44 pace for the home stretch into the stadium, but with next to nothing left in the tank: just the way you want to finish a race.


Best quote from my blog entry about my Seattle marathon: "3:45 would have been great, but that's what next time's for, right?"

Next up: qualify for Boston! I was 4 minutes and 17 seconds away from a 2011 Boston qualifying time...but they've just made the standards even more rigorous, so my goal for my next marathon, whenever that may be, is to run a 3:34:59. It's going to be hard to top this experience, though. Eugene for the win.