the luckiest man on the planet …

That’d be me.

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Ten years ago, I almost lost my life.  I had a run-in with a Ford F150, while riding my bike to work.  I woke up a week later in the Neuro ICU at Harborview, learning just how fortunate I was.  The next few months were really difficult, especially for my family.  Never once did I lack for love and support.  And the most powerful gift someone can give you is  the gift of hope.

I deal with some minor reminders of the accident.  I lost vision in my left eye, have nerve damage, which hinder movement on the upper left side of my face.  I’ve got some minor pain in my ribs and my scalp’s a bit tender where the scars from my surgeries are.  None of these things limits me from doing the things I love.

I carry this gift of hope with me every day.  In the past ten years, I’ve gotten to see my daughters grow and shine.

Got to see the elder one open a couple of plays singing a-cappela.  Saw her graduate from high school, and head off to university.  We’ve traveled to Israel and China together.  Last year,she taught me how to lay brick while we built a house together in Sichaun.  Last week, we celebrated her 21st together.

My younger daughter’s poem was chosen as the theme for a class dance performance a couple of years ago.  She’d not told me ahead of time … just imagine my surprise and wonder at seeing the class perform to her words.  We’ve traveled abroad to Israel and Europe, creating memories and stories we’ll share for the rest of our lives.

I’ve gotten to celebrate several milestone birthdays with my parents, as well as their 50th anniversary.  My brother and I have spent many weekends together with his husband Patrick at their place near the beach in California.

I’ve run about 84 marathon and ultras since then, getting to visit new places, often with friends.  I’d never imagined this were possible for me, but this is what the gift of hope brings you.

Life’s definitely brought its challenges too.  Our family has dealt with some hard stuff and some transitions.  On balance though, I’m possibly the luckiest man on the planet.

Today, I might fit in a short run in a nearby state park.  I’ll enjoy a nice lunch with my parents.  Then, it’s off to a concert in a park – where it hopefully won’t rain.  But – rain or not, I’ll enjoy each of these moment as best I can, for what they are – gifts.

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alabama’s got some mud – enjoying the black warrior 50k

Last month I was thinking about some new goals for running. I’d been grappling with motivation and focus, and really thought about why I do this. My issues were pretty fundamental – road vs trails, speed vs volume, stuff like that.  It’s normal to ponder this from time to time – the intended result being to attach purpose to what we do each day.

One of my goals is to run marathon or longer in all fifty states. Not a phrenetic checklisting exercise, but rather visiting every state, experiencing what it’s about, and while I’m there, doing a race that’s something I’ll enjoy.
I’ve completed 22 states in the past 15 1/2 years. This means I’ll click off state #50 when I’m a little over 90. But it’s very much a “journey is the reward” thing for me, so that’s okay.

February’s a great time to race in the South. Not too hot yet, and there are some good options. Also, it’s usually a chance to escape the Seattle gloom. This is what brought me to the woods of northern Alabama this weekend for the Black Warrior Trail 50k.  All indications were that this was a great choice.  Trails, smaller event, good history, and irreverent humor evident in their communications.

Wanting to gauge the time to the start, I went out there before dinner on Friday, and got to meet the race directors.  Really nice people – they let me pick up my bib and shirt, and invited me for some food too.  Their positivity really made me feel like I’d made the right choice – a large road marathon’s got nothing on the great vibe we get in our trail running community.

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at the start, before the mud

Race morning brought some significant rain.  We’re not afraid of weather in the Pacific Northwest, but this not the gentle mist we’re used to at home.  This was going to be different.

We 130 lined up and hit the trail just after 8 am.  We started with about 500 feet of climbing during the first three miles.  This foreshadowed more significant climbing than I’d planned on.  After climbing on a fire road, we veered off into some nice single track trails, and people spread out a bit.  I held to running the hills and walking 30 seconds/mile for the first 12 or so miles.  After that terrain won, as did the mud.

Oh that mud.  Thing about hard rain on clay is that the water doesn’t get absorbed as quickly at the rain falls.  Very slippery.  Also ankle deep at times.  I felt a bit like a Looney Toons character running on air.  And I’m amazed I didn’t fall.

I felt pretty tired by the time I hit about mile 13.  This is when the walking became much more frequent, and my pace and cadence really declined.  This is when my inner voice got more doubtful, and I had to push myself to keep moving.  It’s not unusual for this to happen, but it felt worse because of the sketchy footing.  Miles 17 through 24 really crawled by.  The 50k runners had split off onto a separate loop around mile 8, rejoining the 25k route at 24, and this is when things picked up for me again.  By then I was feeling concerned about going over 7 hours.  Given my pacing for those middle miles, it was looking bad.  Then is leveled off a bit, and I felt more consistent.

Around mile 27, a young woman passed me, looking pretty strong.  I used this as a motivator to try to keep up with her.  After trailing her for about a mile, I assured her that I wasn’t stalking her, and thanked her for helping me pick my pace up.  Emily and I ran most of those last four miles together. We talked about our kids a bit.  She told me how she has to get creative with her training, as her husband travels a bunch.  Her boy saved up for a nice bike, and now joins her for her runs on a greenway near her home in Huntsville.  She’s run 6 100-milers, so she’s making it work.  Wow!

We crossed the finish in about 6:41 – which she shared was a 40-minute PR for her on this course.  I felt really good about being able to pick things up during the last miles.  In fact, my last two miles were my fastest two of the day.  It helped that we spent most of that on fire road rather than single track, but being able to muster that finish felt really good.  It’s also testament to how running really can be a team sport – it’s doubtful I could have done that without having good company and conversation.

Clicking off another state is always fun, but experiencing an event like this one definitely makes it feel like that journey’s the reward.  Bonus is that my first two events of 2018 were ultras, and that I’ve completed #96 lifetime “long ones” (marathon or better).

The mile splits, and cadence really tell the story.  It’s interesting that my heart rate remained pretty steady throughout, even as my pace and cadence slowed significantly.  I pulled this table from my Suunto movescount data, because it includes cadence per mile.  My Strava data is below too.

m Heart rate  Pace  Ascent  Descent  Cadence 
1 148 (75-166) 11’14 (89’24-9’56) 256 0 80 (39-90)
2 145 (136-162) 10’14 (14’54-8’39) 98 89 81 (31-92)
3 147 (131-162) 10’26 (14’07-8’39) 151 230 82 (60-96)
4 154 (145-163) 11’33 (14’54-9’56) 308 285 79 (40-91)
5 153 (145-162) 11’25 (26’49-9’34) 269 213 78 (32-94)
6 147 (121-163) 12’52 (0’00-8’22) 266 253 75 (34-95)
7 151 (138-163) 11’33 (14’54-9’34) 72 141 79 (52-92)
8 148 (139-159) 13’26 (29’48-10’43) 98 210 76 (39-91)
9 155 (140-166) 13’08 (0’00-9’34) 279 105 76 (45-232)
10 150 (138-167) 11’40 (16’45-9’34) 167 161 79 (67-94)
11 152 (137-167) 12’02 (20’38-8’56) 121 154 77 (52-91)
12 155 (138-165) 12’18 (19’09-10’19) 157 138 77 (52-89)
13 144 (119-167) 14’15 (0’00-8’22) 49 171 69 (31-90)
14 151 (134-173) 14’18 (20’38-11’10) 262 161 62 (37-99)
15 153 (143-169) 12’10 (17’52-10’19) 121 138 58 (34-86)
16 156 (145-166) 12’50 (26’49-8’56) 177 148 57 (35-89)
17 146 (124-164) 16’39 (0’00-9’34) 207 167 61 (34-90)
18 140 (127-154) 14’31 (0’00-9’14) 98 112 68 (43-93)
19 144 (123-164) 12’44 (19’09-10’43) 72 249 75 (32-89)
20 136 (117-158) 17’21 (22’21-9’56) 197 69 60 (42-86)
21 139 (115-164) 15’01 (22’21-9’34) 230 240 68 (48-91)
22 139 (117-162) 17’32 (0’00-7’53) 289 249 64 (47-87)
23 150 (120-167) 13’13 (33’31-9’56) 240 387 74 (48-91)
24 146 (121-170) 15’42 (0’00-9’56) 302 299 66 (32-89)
25 150 (127-170) 15’30 (24’23-9’56) 331 322 66 (38-92)
26 146 (121-167) 14’44 (53’38-9’34) 335 354 68 (41-91)
27 156 (141-171) 13’23 (20’38-8’56) 390 318 72 (34-95)
28 155 (130-177) 14’25 (0’00-7’27) 331 272 71 (37-98)
29 166 (153-174) 9’37 (12’11-7’53) 85 62 82 (74-93)
30 165 (153-174) 9’54 (10’43-8’56) 125 335 82 (71-93)
31 164 (157-172) 9’47 (11’39-8’07) 52 79 79 (28-93)

https://www.strava.com/activities/1401412658/embed/27f81e7a560ca5fef01329f85d61c7f657bda62f


where I’ve been …

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finishing the Kiawah Island Marathon, near Charleston South Carolina – December 2017

Been a while – about two and a half years we last corresponded.  Let’s catch up.  How have things been for you?

Still running.  Did a nice local 50k a few weeks ago, happy with my effort.  Learned a bit too.

Since we last spoke, I’ve run nearly 5000 miles, and completed 16 marathons and ultras.  Steady progress on some life goals too.  Next week, I’ll run an event in northern Alabama – state #22 for me.  And if I can keep healthy, I will complete my 100th long one later this year.

Tracking mileage and event count sometimes motivates me.  But it can also feed a certain compulsion – making running about hitting the numbers.  This is something I’ve grappled with recently.  After doing higher mileage, and averaging an event or more per month from 2012-14, I’ve dialed it back a bit.

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In part, life’s been busy.  But I’m also kind of searching for my next set of goals.  If I can shave five minutes off my marathon time, I can probably get into Boston.  Do I want to step up the ultra distances, maybe try for a 100k, or a 100 miler?  More fundamentally, do I want to focus more on trails or speed?

Owing to time constraints, I’ve been doing more solo running in recent years.  I miss getting more of a social fix on the trails.  How can I make that happen?

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Bridle Trails Winter Fest 50k, January 2018, photo by Takao Suzuki

Time always going to be our most valuable commodity.  Spending between 7 and 9 hours per week running needs to feel like it’s time well-spent.  For me, it needs to be aligned with a sort of ‘north star’.  Something that adds a sense of purpose to evening runs in the dark and mud.

What I’ve started doing is to put together a working list of events I’m interested by month.  This has given me a first cut at a training cadence, and also some understanding about when I’ll want to mix in more high intensity work, or more hills.  It’s a start.


seven years

 

One second. That’s how quickly it happened.

https://paulcdavid.wordpress.com/pauls-bike-accident-and-recovery/

Seven years ago this morning, I was riding my bike to work. A driver who was lost and late for a job interview, turned his F150 right in front of me. I hit the side of the truck and rolled under his rear wheel. Many injuries – most seriously a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) that threatened my life and livelihood.

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by the outline the police drew of my bike, 10 weeks after the accident.

A week in the Neuro ICU – much of it in an induced coma, a month in the hospital, and nearly six months away from work. I had people with me 24/7 for the scary and difficult first few weeks. All that love and support from family and friends helped me focus forward, one small step at a time.

I’m probably the luckiest person you’ll ever meet. I’m able to do the things I love, with the people I love, and am very grateful.

Going from running marathons and earning my living with my brain, to requiring full-time care in the space of a second forces perspective on things. I learned a lot about what it means to be human in the space of those months. And I try to remember these lessons every day.

Hug the people you love this morning. You’ll be happy you did.

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our kids visiting me in the hospital, three weeks after the accident


26.2 in the watershed

This spring has been amazing in the Pacific Northwest.  It’s been warmer and sunnier than usual.  I’d taken some time away from events after being on the “one or more per month” routine for the past three years.  That was good too – we’d had lots going on at home.

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early miles – photo by Herb Purganan

The first weekend in March brought me out to do the Spring Run for Fun @ the Watershed – a nice event put on by Northwest Trail Runs.

I’d done this one three times before, with a pretty broad range of finish times.  I’d not done good marathon training this year – my last 20+ miler had been six weeks before.  I’m used to doing these every 2-3 weeks. I was a bit nervous about how things would go.

As always, there were lots of friends out at the start.  It was chilly – high thirties – when we lined up.  Last year had been even colder, and also wet.  Today promised to be a nice day for running.  So long as I suppressed my inner whinging, I had little excuse not to enjoy the miles. 

My race plan was simple – try to keep my heart rate low-ish.  I started out faster than I probably should have.  My splits and average heart rate looked fine, but my respiration rate felt faster than I’d like.  It took me the first 6 1/2 mile loop to settle down a bit. 

Several miles in, I started walking a minute every mile or so, to help keep my late mile pace steadier.  I didn’t let myself walk much outside of the set walking breaks, even on the short climbs. I just kept plodding along. I used to do this all the time, but have gotten a bit more lax on trails than I’d like. As you’d expect, this got more challenging in the late miles, but it felt good to push myself like this.

I would see friends on the out and back sections of each loop.  As we got farther into the race, the smiles would turn into faces of quiet determination. Today I just needed some silent time, so I ran the race solo.

Six miles became thirteen, then nineteen.  Before long I was at the last aid station, around mile twenty-three.  I was just a short training run from done.  My legs were tired, but I felt better than I’d expected after my scant training.

Going around the top of the preserve, along Collin Creek, then to Trillium, I stayed in the present, enjoying the miles. Those last few short climbs were tough, but I knew I’d be fine.

I crossed the finish about fifteen minutes faster than I had last year – just under 4:27. This was still pretty far off of my personal best on the course (3:58), but I was pretty happy with my effort and my results. Not sure what is going to be next up for me – but I’ll want to get more quality miles in between now and then.

Charts and graphs for running geeks

My 6.55 mile lap splits trended up – 9 min positive split (62 vs 71) between lap 1 and 4 – no graph needed. It’s a  negative split that is often an indicator of a race smartly run. Lesson learned – again Smile.


what’s a wattle between friends?

There’s a tradition here in the northwest marathoning community.  On Thanksgiving weekend, some crazy people run four marathons in four days.  The most socially-acceptable name for this is the “Quadzilla”.  I’m not completely sure of the origin, but it’s since expanded to numerous other places as well.  Marathon Maniacs do this for at least two reasons : it’s fun, and you get to earn six maniac ‘stars’ by completing this feat.

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back in the time when I thought 3:40 was possible – photo by ross comer

I, on the other hand am not quite so ambitious.  I’ve done a “bi-zilla” before (just made that one up), but not four of ‘em.  But spending Thanksgiving morning running with several hundred friends is a great way to celebrate the holiday.

My race plan was simple – try to come in under 4 hours, and keep it fun.  So I was a bit puzzled when I started clicking off mile splits that were a good 30-45 seconds faster than I should have.  Each time, I’d take it back a notch but find myself speeding up again.  After a while I decided to see what would happen.  I briefly entertained the idea of hitting another sub 3:40 marathon.  That would have been something to celebrate.

 

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finishing – photo by ross comer

Over time the splits got slower.  Gradually reality set in.  By the time I passed through Gasworks Park again, heading out towards Ballard, it was looking more like a sub 3:50 was more reasonable.  I came in at 3:47:04, and was pretty happy with it.

Big thanks go to Matt and Betsy for putting this nice event on – it’s a great way to start Thanksgiving.


just a run in the park : point defiance 50k

The past couple of months had been kind of a whirlwind of running events.  I’d gotten a new marathon PR at Tunnel Lite, been done Blerch’d, followed by a nice jaunt along Baker Lake.  Legs were tired, but doing these had been a great way to step back from some work and life stuff that had been weighing on me.

That’s the way it’s supposed to work, right?  We do this for fun after all.

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When I arrived at the start of the Point Defiance 50k this early October morning, I didn’t really have a race plan.  I simply wanted to have some fun.  I’d run out there just once before, on my way back from a memorial service, another time I’d used these trails to sooth my soul (we still miss you Pastor Ron).

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Today I’d line up with some good friends, including two doing their first 50ks.  That’s pretty great.  At the start we took some fun group pictures, and talked through some nerves.  Just after eight, we were off.

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I hung with the faster kids from ESR for about two minutes, before taking it down a notch.  It would be well over twenty miles before I saw them again.  I lumbered up the steps, and then picked up the pace a bit heading up towards the point, where I caught up with a couple of friends and spent a few miles talking about life, and our teenage kids.  I was running solo by the time we came round to White Rock and Ellis Alley, then took a few minutes to replenish at Fort Nisqually.

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I hung out with my friend Robert for a while as we headed up Achilles Hill, and then back to the point.  I got some good tips about a race I’m considering doing in Hawaii and then we swapped stories about concerts from our distant pasts.

I recalled that we’d met each other while running the Tacoma City Marathon about five and a half years ago.  We’d met during the early miles when someone running with us observed that many of us had things that brought us out here, and motivated us.  I shared my story, and Robert shared his.  It’s amazing hearing about the twists and turns in someone else’s life, and then seeing what they do with it.  That day Robert was running a mile with a pace group, then speeding up to catch the next faster one.  That takes lots of focus and determine – fueled in part by things that had told him “you can’t”.  Right.

So this was the theme of the day for me.  I spent some miles with different friends, each with their own story that had brought them to the trail that morning.  And each of us surprised ourselves, at least in some small way.  Some of us did something we never thought we’d do. 

Along the way, there was some pain, doubt, and some turned ankles.  But we kept moving. 

As I started my final loop, I ran with my friend Gunnar, who’d finished the 30k, and was heading back to his car.  We know each other from work – and so talked about how easy it is to get caught up in things that steal time away from stuff that really matters.  As I headed up the steps for that last time, we told each other we should get together to run at work sometime – I really hope we do.

I completed my three loops with a very surprising consistency – each had taken within a minute of all of the others.  These were 10.375 mile loops – so it’s nearly unheard of – it means I’d varied less than 5 seconds per mile over the whole 31.25 miles on average.

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I’d be lying if I said I planned it.  I’d love to claim that I ran that smart a race, but all I did was to run according to how I felt.  Towards the end, I pushed a bit trying to get close to a 5:45 finish, but that’s the only time I paid any real attention to my watch.

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After that final trip down Nelly’s Gnarly Descent, Don and Amy cheered as I came in just a shade over 5:50.  I visited with Rikki, who had come in a bit ahead of me.  Shortly afterwards, Larissa came in for her first 50k finish, followed shortly afterwards by Bob.  We rested, relaxed and then saw Carol come in for her first 50k finish, smiling ear to ear.  One week off of a hard marathon, Sue had a tough last six miles, but she came across the line as well, with Kirk spending that last bit with her.

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That’s what it’s about, isn’t it?  You go out there to challenge yourself, but to have enough fun that you’ll do it again.  And again.

This wasn’t my fastest race, nor my hardest.  But I’ll remember this one for a long time. 

pictures by me, Larissa and Don Uchiyama, Ken O’Neill, and the Defiance 50k team