seven years


One second. That’s how quickly it happened.

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.


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.


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.

spring marathon in the watershed - early miles

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.


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.



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.


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).


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

rolling through the north cascades–baker lake 50k

I’d had lots going on this month. 

There had been some unpleasant stuff going on with work, and I was feeling like I was at a crossroads.  Real life was busy too, looking at colleges with our eldest daughter.  Lots to think about.  The good news was that I had plans to run the Baker Lake 50k.  This event put on by Terry Sentinella had been on my list for several years.  The course rolled through the the woods along the lake, in the shadow of its namesake Mount Baker.

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coming back across the river, photo by takao suzuki

Stirred up by some of the stress I’d been carrying, I didn’t sleep well the night before.  Morning came earlier than usual – after a simple breakfast, I started the hour-long drive to the start.  Thankful that the race was a small, low-key event – I relaxed a bit on the way.  I was confident about covering the distance, although this would be my longest run since late July’s White River 50 miler.  The day’s run would mostly be a retreat of sorts, a chance to step back and get some needed perspective on things.

We started on time under an overcast sky.  We wended our way up over the dam, and embarked on the trail that would take us out 14 miles to the turnaround.  Three miles in, we crossed a creek along a big log put in by the forest service.  We were about ten to twelve feet above the creekbed.  It was kind of fun on the way out, but much more interesting on the way back when my balance didn’t feel quite as sure.

The first of only two aid stations was at mile 5.5.  Simple, but functional – it was self-serve, water-only.  I took a minute to top off my bottle before continuing on.  As we rolled through hills, we sometimes ran along a steep dropoff of several hundred feet into the lake. 

The roots and rocks kept me paying careful attention to the trail in front of me.  But around mile 10, my mind had drifted a bit, and I took a hard spill, bruising my ribs and right quad.  Along the way, I managed to turn both ankles a bit too – making any lateral movement on these joints painful.  I’d feel this the rest of the way, but plodded on.

I reached the turnaround at Hidden Creek almost exactly three hours in.  I was pretty sure that the trip back would be slower, so didn’t feel pressure to work under the six hour mark.  This was the second of the two aid stations, and it would be ten miles before I got back to the other one.  I drank a bunch of fluids, and ate a bit before headed back.

I wasn’t going fast, but I felt pretty good.  I felt more calm than I had in a while, and just took it in.  This was the goal for today – relax and enjoy the miles.

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photo by takao suzuki

Right around mile 22, a group of three overtook me.  The young woman running in front apparently felt pretty intense about the run.  Each time we’d approach a climb, she’d grunt out loud.  On the downhills she’d growl.  It was interesting.  I was okay with it when they passed me at the aid station with 5.5 miles to go.   While there, she picked up one of the gallon water jugs and chugged directly from it.  I didn’t see whether she finished all of it, or simply put it back for others to share.  You don’t see that happen too often. 

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photo by takao suzuki

The final two miles were tough.  I’d reached the point of counting down, and was ready to be done.  As we exited the trail with about a mile and a half to go, I fell into a nice conversation with a woman named Simone, who shared a story about her grandchild, and how she finishes each race with a cartwheel (yes she does).  It was a nice pick-me-up as we crossed over the dam, and headed back towards the finish.

I crossed the line just under six and a half hours.  I rested for a short time at the finish, then changed into some dry clothes and headed back to Burlington for some crab shooters and brisket.

I’ve been running distance for years now, and still haven’t quite figured out how to carry over lessons learned on the trail into real life.  Can’t stress about things we don’t control, just work on making the things we do control or influence better.

blerched and proud

My pattern in recent years has been towards smaller events, low overhead, and low key.  So back in March when The Oatmeal announced that he was going to put on the inaugural Beat the Blerch Marathon (along with the Half and 10k events), I wasn’t sure I wanted to brave the crowds to register.


early miles – photo by ross comer

It was Kris’ fault that I did.  Five minutes before registration started she texted me saying “could you register me for the Blerch thing too?”.  After twenty five minutes of refreshing non-responsive web pages, and retrying I thought I’d gotten both of us in.  Turned out they bumped her, and then I was left with a registration that I felt sort of ‘meh’ about.  Sunk cost.  Damn.

When race week rolled around, I was one week off of a new PR.  I was still soaking that one in – a new PR at age 49.  Made me wonder what kind of self-imposed ceiling I’d been working under in the sixteen years I’d been doing marathons.  Think about it.  How often do we assume a perceived limitation is real?

So legs tired, and spirit still reveling in that new PR, I lined up with the costumed crew at the start on a foggy morning in Carnation.  It had been a very tough week at work, which made it even more of a grind.


the start – photo by ross comer

Aside – I never ever thought we’d see people flying in from all over the country to run on the Snoqualmie Valley Trail.  But there we were.  Matthew Inman sprinted to the front of the pack in his inflatable suit to send us off (he would run the half, as he did the day before).  And off we went …

I kept a steady sub 8:40 pace for the first 9 or so miles.  I was unaware of the slight uphill grade on the way out, so didn’t plan accordingly.  The smart thing to do, especially given the fatigue I still felt from the week before would have been to go out verry easily.  By the time I hit the halfway point, it was too late.  I was clicking off consistent sub 9 splits, but didn’t feel good about being able to keep that up in the second half.


mustering  a smile, but feeling the miles – photo by ross comer

By the time I came back through mile 15 and 17, I pretty well toasted.  This stretch passes by a firing range in the distance – so the sound effects were an apt metaphor for how I felt – like I was being assassinated – albeit slowly.

At mile 22, I began walking more.  My sub-four goal went out the window.  But along the way, despite me feeling done, I appreciated the silly vibe the race had going.  Not my best day running, but a fun event nonetheless.  I came in just under 4:15, just under my time for my first marathon, sixteen years ago.


Having had some time to reflect on the race now, I’m not sure I would do this one again.  It’s too big, and the hassle factor was a bit much for me.  On the other hand, race day was fun – it was great seeing many first timers out there taking on the Blerch.

it’s all downhill from here–the tunnel lite marathon



I’ve run all of my events on trails this year.  And seven of eight of them had been ultras.  But when my wife Kris qualified for Boston several months back, I got the itch to try doing a fast marathon again, just to see whether I could qualify, or even get close.

Another reason to shake things up is that I’ve struggled a bit with motivation in recent months.  This is why when we were at a birthday party for a friend last month, I excused myself to register for the Tunnel Lite Marathon.  When all the other guests were enjoying cocktails and food, Kris and I were huddled to the side with our smartphones entering our info.

This event starts just east of the Snoqualmie Tunnel, near the pass.  We run downhill into North Bend, most of the way on a nice railroad grade, through the mountains.  It’s quite beautiful, and it’s an excellent route to attempt a Boston Qualifier (BQ) as well.

I was confident that I could cover the distance.  I’d done adequate weekly mileage, and some good long runs.  But it would have been better to actually do some intervals, mile repeats, and tempo work to prepare.  You know, actually train?  But as is often the case, things got busy.

One downside of being on the marathon or ultra per month plan, as I’ve been for nearly three years, is that it’s a veritable treadmill.  Other than the White River 50 miler, I’m usually pretty well trained to cover the distance, so I tend to get lazy about strength and speedwork.

Back before I started doing these marathons and ultras so often, I’d focus on One Race for months.  I’d do more structured workouts, knowing each day whether I was doing long slow distance, speedwork, or recovery pace. 

So when I lined up at the start, I had no idea what I’d get.  I’d fly a bit blind too, since the band on my GPS watch had broken – I wouldn’t have a way to check my pace easily.  Turned out that there weren’t mile markers until mile 14 here, so I really had no idea how I was doing.

When we ran those two early miles in the dark through the Snoqualmie Tunnel, it really was a fitting metaphor for my race plan.  I kept my eyes straight ahead towards the light, and tried to keep a steady turnover.



Exiting the tunnel, I doffed my headlamp and began the trek downhill.  We were on a steady (railroad grade) descent for most of the course, with the bulk of this happening over the first 21 miles.  It’s kind of like running with the wind at your back, until your legs get trashed from the pounding.  I paid more attention to form than I usually do – low glide, slight forward lean, and engaging my core as best I could not having done any actual core work in forever.  It helped.

I started feeling the wear in my legs around mile 8 or 9.  At the same time, I wanted to see what I might have in me.  This course can do that to you.

I glanced at my watch when I reached halfway.  I’d run a respectable road half marathon pace.  If I could maintain the pace, I’d PR or maybe even BQ.  Now things got harder.

We wound through the trees, over the beautiful bridges.  I’d run this part several times before.  I remembered coming around the corner near Rattlesnake Lake, feeling like I could fly.  I also remembered my wheels coming off after taking this part too hard several years back, and having to walk most of mile 25-26.

When we leveled out a bit by Rattlesnake Lake, I gave myself permission to ease up a bit.  By now we had mile markers, so I was taking my splits.  I was hovering around 8 min/mile, sometimes less, not often too much more.  I’d need to keep under about 9 min/mile in order to PR.  Some quick math told me that a BQ would require pushing under 8’s for the duration.

And this is where things get interesting.  I sort of told myself “I can’t”, lacking confidence in my training.  It might not have been realistic, but I have to wonder what would have happened if I’d not been doing the math.  I might have pushed myself so hard I had to walk.  By now my hamstrings had spasms, and I was worried about that.  On the other hand, maybe I checked out a bit too soon, thinking that the BQ was out of reach.

Ultimately I missed the BQ by about 5 seconds per mile.  Realistically, I could have made this up by slowing down a tad in the early miles, so that I had enough left to push a negative split.  I lost about five minutes in the second half.  I’ll never know, but it’s good food for thought.

Those final five miles were tough ones.  I held together pretty well until mile 25, when I walked a bit.  My hamstrings were starting to cramp, it was getting warm.  I crossed the finish in 3:31:54, over seven minutes faster than my previous PR.

This was one of those days I went out and surprised myself.  I got better than the race I’d trained for.  Next time I run down from the Tunnel, I might prepare more for it – would be interesting to see what that gets me.

photos by ross comer

charts and graphs for running geeks


This is the pace chart, taken from my Suunto Ambit.  I don’t place much faith in it telling me that my peak was a 4:41, nor that my fastest mile was a 5:04.  I think it more likely that I peaked just under 7, and my fastest mile may have been around 7-ish.  Given that the late miles were all over 8 min/mile according to my watch (slowest was 10), I must have done a goodly number of sub-8 miles early on.

First half was about 1:43:26.  That means the second was about 1:48:28, a positive split of five minutes.  Strength and speed work are the best way to address that.  It’ll be interesting to see whether being sooo close to a BQ motivates me to actually do that.


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