Monthly Archives: May 2009

riding with the middle-schoolers

Several weeks back, Kayla invited me to join she and her classmates on a bike trip over on Lopez Island next week.  I figure I’m dangerously close to being the world’s most embarrassing man.  Being that Kayla’s nearly twelve, this is expected.  So, how could I say no ?

The trip itself sounds like a lot of fun.  We’ll take the ferry over from Anacortes on Wednesday, camping on Lopez for two nights, and doing a good 25-40 mile bike ride on Thursday.  The girls get to choose which of two rides (short or long) they do.  I figure I’ll ride whichever they prefer to put me on.

Last year, they apparently had horizontal rain for the bike ride.  Here’s hoping the weather from this week holds.  It would be wonderful to have sunshine, or at least no rain when we’re camping.

One of the prereqs for taking the trip was to join them on a ride from the school out to Genesee Park yesterday.  Taking 37 12 year olds on a bike ride through Seattle city streets is not dull.  Fortunately, the teachers organized things and kept the girls safe.  All I had to do was to ride along and cheer them on.

We didn’t set any speed records, but I was pretty amazed at how they did.  Each girl was supposed to convey directions down the line of bike by shouting them out – “turning left!, slowing down!  car back!  stopping!".  This they did with zeal, which was pretty funny.  Imagine a whole line of girls barking out these directions in a steady ripple, down the line. 

The trip back was punctuated by several hills carrying us up from Lake Washington Blvd, through south Leschi.  These hills were not easy ones, and the girls handled them very nicely.  Some of them took a bit longer, but everyone seemed to push themselves a bit, and the folks gathered at the top of the hill cheered the rest of the bikers on.

This was pretty spontaneous – no one told the kids they had to cheer.  They just did.  The positivity was infectious!

It made me wish we spent more time teaching adults to focus on the positive things, including encouraging each other to push ourselves up out of our comfort zones a bit more.

Anyway – it was a fun afternoon.  Hot too – the thermometer inside my car said it had gotten to about 85 – which is nearly as warm as it ever gets here.  Wow.


third place – who would have thought ?

Results are in, and I was the third place finisher in the Call of the Wild Marathon.  This is proof again that if you find a small enough race, you too can place.

The race was more of a training run, being so small.  Also – judging by the times overall, it’s pretty clear that the superfast folks weren’t there.  That said, I’m very happy with my results – primarily because I felt good while running.  Even in the late miles.  I’d feel the same about the run even if I’d finished in 24th place.

Between Tacoma and Call of the Wild, it is clear that Yakima was scheduled about a month too early for me.  I fell apart after mile 20 there, with fair warning from my legs (and head) for about 5 miles before that.  It’s been a matter of building more strength and stamina, which has paid off.

I’m aiming to do another in about a week and a half – the Green River Marathon, from Kent to Alki Beach in West Seattle.  The only problem with that is that I’m joining Kayla for a three day field trip to Lopez Island.  Should be lots of fun – it includes a bike ride of between 25 and 40 miles too!  She invited me along, so I couldn’t very well say no.

One other thing to mention is that I’m halfway to my goal of running six marathons in six months.  I really can’t believe this has been possible.  Definitely counting my blessings.

call of the wild marathon race report

This morning I joined some friends and maniacs in running the Call of the Wild Marathon.  It was a grass-roots event, organized by Adrian Call, with help from a bunch of nice folks.  The race was held on the Burke Gilman and Sammamish River Trails.  The route was formed with a simple 3.95 mile out and back to the north, followed by a 9.15 mile out and back to the south.  All flat, on a paved trail.  The danger in this event is getting winged by rogue bicyclists who are also trying to make the most of a sunny spring day.

Kris was alerted to this event by her friend and running buddy Chrissie, who guided the half marathon group.  The price (donations to cover the cost of sport drinks and breakfast) was right.  There were about 23 people signed up for the full marathon, another 7 for the 50k, around 20 for the half marathon, and perhaps 5 for the 20 miler.  A real mix of people and events.

The flexibility is great, but you definitely need to make sure to carry your own fuel for something like this.  There were perhaps four unattended aid stations scattered along the course, which was very nice, but I need to drink more often than they’d have permitted.  So I packed a bottle of Cytomax, four gels, and some Endurolyte tablets.  I also packed enough Cytomax mix to make another bottle.  This is pretty easy to carry.


hanging out at the start.

At seven AM sharp, we were off.  We headed north on the trail, for a 3.95 mile stretch.  I’d gone out a bit fast (apparent in my split chart), so ended up slowing a bit on the way back.  Early on, I felt some tenderness in my ankles and calves, possibly the result of a heavy than average couple of weeks running.  They seemed to calm down within the first 6-7 miles.


and we’re off!


going out in front – first time ever.


embarking on the trail, northward bound.

Oddly, I was actually the lead runner for about a half mile.  Never before, possibly never again.  Shortly after, the eventual winner overtook me.  I think he wanted to hang out and chat a bit, but his pace was going to be too fast for me, so I dropped back pretty quickly.  By the time we hit the turnaround, I was runner #5 or so, reflecting my better judgment taking over.


kris just before the start of the half.

Coming back to the starting area just shy of eight miles, I noted that I’d slowed a bit.  This was a conscious decision.  I’d already given myself permission to take things slow today, not even pushing to get under four hours.  With that in mind, the results would surprise me.

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heading back into the start area to refuel for the trip south.

As we headed south towards Marymoor Park, I let my mind wander.  I checked my pace (between 8:30 and 9 consistently), as well as my cadence (always between 82 and 84).  It was very sunny by now, and I started to feel a bit warm.  After heading about 5 miles to the south, I began seeing the half marathoners coming back the other way.  Kris passed with  her cadre of friends, all of them looking strong and appearing to have a very good time.

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kris and friends heading into the finish.

I hit the south turnaround after nearly two and a half hours.  I’d not spent any time computing how far I’d gone, and couldn’t remember which trail mile marker the start was near, so I guessed I’d gone between 16 and 18.  With that kind of range, there’s really no way to figure out how I was doing though.  All I knew was that if I was able to hold a reasonable pace, finishing in under four hours wouldn’t be an issue.

And so I did hold a good pace.  In fact, I sped up a little bit for the last nine miles.  The conditions were great – sun, not too hot, and no headwind.  And even into the later stretch, I didn’t feel very tired.  I kept watching my cadence, and trying to consciously engage my core, in order to get the best from my stride.  Both in Yakima and Tacoma, I felt too tired to do this later.  Seems like my plan to increase strength with more miles (and more marathons) is working.

For the final two or three, some fatigue set in.  But when I rounded a corner and saw my father positioning for a camera shot, I felt great.  I cruised into the finish in 3:48:23, possibly good for placing overall (although I have not confirmed this yet).

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just before the final turn across the bridge.

This was less than a minute off my time from Tacoma.  Granted this course was a lot easier, but repeating the quicker time, and feeling good about it tells me that I’m doing things the right way.

And I’m definitely enjoying myself, which is the important part.

All photos were included courtesy of Hal David.

Charts and Graphs for Running Geeks

The mile splits weren’t marked, so my splits were from the stretches between each turnaround.  Although I went out a bit faster than I should have, my pace was pretty consistent overall, and I finished faster than I started.  Definitely a good day.


more about mike may, and crashing through

Several weeks back, I wrote about Crashing Through, a biographical work about Mike May.  He’d lived as a blind man for 43 of his first 46 years on this planet, recovering his vision following a revolutionary stem cell procedure and then a corneal transplant.  At the time I was only about halfway through the book, but couldn’t keep myself from writing about it.

Many reviewers have talked about how May’s story is inspiring, particularly as so few (perhaps fewer than a dozen) people have ever regained sight after so long. 

Mike May is an inspiring person, with or without sight.  In fact the thing that made such an impression on me was illustrated by the way he decided to pursue the surgery which gave him his sight.  He made a list of pros and cons.  There were many potential risks, some of which could have proved life threatening.  He had a rich life, with a wonderful family.  He didn’t feel he needed sight, because life was just fine without it.  The only reason to pursue the surgery was because he’d not experienced sight in his memory.

I found the period after he regained sight to be interesting, because it reflected how it feels to see.  His way of thinking, and his approach to life in general is a great model for all of us.

He has never shied away from challenge.  And after regaining his sight he faced quite a bit of unexpected challenge.  The book details several other cases of people who had lived without sight for years.  In all of the cases discussed, the subject suffers periods of significant depression after regaining sight.  That would appear to defy logic, but the probable reasons are intriguing.

May found seeing exhausting and confusing, largely due to the fact that the visual function in his brain was effectively dead.  Apparently seeing is as much a cognitive process as it is a physical one.  Our brains recognize objects based on years of learning experience.  When May lost his vision at age three, many of those neural pathways were effectively repurposed to other complex tasks.  When he regained sight as an adult, he could not reclaim those back for object recognition. 

After undergoing study with a professor and researcher, and after thinking a lot about his situation, May found a way to bootstrap some of the cognitive process necessary for him to recognize objects.  In effect, he readapted the mindset of a blind man, relying on his other senses to teach him about objects.  Then he’d try to commit them to memory.  It turns out that by relying on other senses (hearing and touch primarily) which he had developed over years of practical use, he was able to stir some object recognition without having the benefit of full cognition.

It’s imperfect, and doesn’t replace the lost neural pathways.  But it definitely help Mike May to proactively improve his sense of sight.  Working on recognizing what things look like is a more useful way to spend your time than feeling bad about things you don’t control.  The subtext here is that people who are willing to challenge themselves perhaps can make their own "luck".

This is what inspires me about Mike May.  He has never ceased trying to find a way to make things work, even against insurmountable odds. 

That’s the kind of person I want to be.

biking to work – finishing a trip started ten months ago

Yesterday I rode my bike to work.  It was a beautiful day for a ride, much like it was last July the first, when I didn’t complete the trip.  My excuse for doing this was that it was National Bike to Work Day.  But the real reason I wanted to was to complete the trip I couldn’t ten months and a half ago  -both literally and figuratively.  Throughout recovery, I’ve marked a number of milestones.  Many of them are relatively small things that people do every day.  They’re things I wouldn’t necessarily have even mentioned before, but they mean I’m closer to recovery.  Closer to ‘normal’ again.  That’s what this milestone was about for me.

Getting on a bike again was not really a physical challenge.  It’s an emotional challenge though, another step in putting the bike accident into the past for me.  Closure.  A statement that I wouldn’t let my accident define me, or limit me in any way.  A key step along this path took place a few weeks ago, when Kayla got me to do a short ride.  The whole family climbed onto our bikes, and we rode around the neighborhood.  Kayla and I rode together, venturing onto a couple of high-traffic roads, because I wanted to understand how that would feel.  I remember when the first car passed me – I was very aware of it, but not too nervous.  A good sign.

Then last Saturday, I did my first ride of any real length.  I rode from home to the kid’s school, to attend their annual art festival.  A bite-sized ride. Only about 2 miles, along a road that didn’t usually have much traffic.  After spending most of the afternoon at the school, I rode from there down to Enatai Beach, taking a mostly low-traffic route I’d ridden a fair number of times.  Lots of hills, which made the workout efficient :).  On the way back, I ventured up a steep hill about a mile south of home.  A couple of times going up this hill that I wasn’t sure I’d be able to make it up, but I was able to tough it out.  Kris pointed out that it might not have been the brightest choice to try this hill on my first ride back, because I could have ‘stalled’ and tipped over (unable to unclip my feet quickly).  But it felt great to be able to do this.  The ride was about 23 miles all told, not fast – but challenging.  Because of the sparse traffic, I was able to experiment a bit – trying some faster downhills to see how I’d feel.  I definitely felt a bit nervous, but was able to push myself through.

So when yesterday rolled around, I knew that the only real challenge would be convincing myself to climb on and ride to work.  Symbolically, I chose the same route I’d ridden the day of the accident.  Aside from a couple of miles along Old Redmond Road (where the accident occurred), the traffic isn’t too bad.

I got ready, but found myself stalling to get out the door.  Just after nine, I kissed Kris goodbye, and she told me to have a safe ride.  I climbed on the bike, and rode up the hill on 60th.  About a mile and a half into the ride, I turned onto Old Redmond Road.  This is mostly downhill, and there’s a steady stream of cars coming from behind.  The irony of being hyperaware of them is that this wouldn’t have helped avoid the accident at all.  The problem was simply that the driver made a bad choice, and cut me off when making a right turn.  I had about 1 second to respond, which wasn’t long enough to avoid him.  So maybe it’s strange viewing it as something I couldn’t really have avoided, but that actually helped temper my nerves.  There’s nothing I could have done about it, ergo, there’s little to be gained by worrying.

I passed the corner of 144th (where it happened) with a lump in my throat.  But that was it.  I smiled as I headed down the hill and made my turn.  From here on it was easy.  What happened, has happened.  I have lots to be thankful for.  And it was a beautiful day.

The trip home was actually a bit more difficult, due to higher traffic.  I was motivated to take the same route home, because it allowed me to visit with Bob, Amy, and Mark, who met to run near Bridle Trails State Park.  They’d spent lots of time with me, both in the hospital and after.  It felt great being to ride up to them and visit.  From there, it was an easy mile home.  I rolled into the driveway and unclipped, feeling good to have this behind me.

Before the accident, I could not have imagined how long this recovery would take, and what would be involved.  I posted to Facebook that I’d done this, and got a bunch of nice messages from friends.  One of them asked me "is there anything (you) haven’t done yet?".  Honestly, I don’t know anymore.  And that’s very good, because it means I can think less in terms of the accident. 

The next ride to work, will just be a ride.  And that’s the way it should be.

five centimeters

I spent the morning with a Neuro-Ophthalmologist at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle.  Essentially he told me (again) that I was unlikely to regain vision in my left eye, absent some significant advances in medicine and technology.

The condition I suffered as a result of the bicycle accident is called Traumatic Optic Neuropathy (aka TON).  I sustained damage to the bone structure surrounding the optic nerve, which caused significant orbital hemorrhage, essentially killing the optic nerve on my left eye.

The short story is that I need to regenerate about five centimeters of nerves in order to be able to see.

Yes – things could have been a lot worse.  Had the injury occurred in the area of the Chiasma, I would likely have lost all vision.  Also – the examination this morning established that my right side had not sustained any related damage, despite me having also broken my orbital bones on my right side (I know this because I can feel a screw protruding from above my eye socket).  And of course if the damage to my frontal lobe had been more serious, I could have had much more significant limitations. 

The optic nerve for my left eye is non-functional.  The ultrasound measurements taken this morning reveal it to be significantly thinner than the nerve on my right side.  This is effectively atrophy, or “pallor” (if I read the literature correctly).

Now – I hadn’t gone into the appointment with any real hope of getting surprise good news.  The little bit of reading I’ve done on TON tells me that the window of opportunity to improve things is primarily limited to the time of the trauma.  Treatments can include corticosteriodal therapy or optic nerve decompression surgery. 

According to one of the articles I read about TON, medical intervention has not demonstrated clear benefit in recent studies, even when the intervention occurs within hours of the trauma.  Further, cases in which vision is completely lost show that vision is usually not recovered.  There are always exceptions to the rule, but chances are just about nil that my eye will start seeing without a more radical form of treatment becoming viable.  According to the Neuro-Ophthalmologist I spoke with today, there is nothing even to the point of animal study that looks promising for me to recover vision.

I was very disappointed to hear how remote the possibility for medical correction seems to be. 

More things would be more possible if the eye itself had been damaged, instead of the optic nerve.  For example, if the issue was with the retina, I might benefit from having an electronic device implanted to transmit quantized digital image data to a healthy nerve.  Apparently this function is achievable with current digital technology.  Simulating the sophisticated function of a healthy optic nerve in a digital implant is not.

So yes.  The short story is that I need to regenerate about five centimeters of nerves in order to be able to see. 

This is far more similar to the requirements to correct a spinal injury than what we ordinarily think about for recovering vision.  And I have no idea how long the stints of dead nerve channels are in a ‘typical’ spinal injury, so it is also possible that I’m an outlier relative to spinal injuries too.

In any case, the appointment left me feeling a bit down.  But I’m no less determined to see from my left eye someday, no matter how improbable that seems now.

on recovery, from the marathon and more

I just added some pictures for the Tacoma City Marathon to my race report.  Check ’em out if you’re interested.

This week hasn’t been an easy one. 

Work’s been tough.  The company announced a bunch of layoffs on Tuesday.  While no jobs in our group were affected, this definitely cast a pall over things.  We’re also trying to get things in order for our current release, while kicking off some planning for the next one.  Not dull, and not entirely pleasant either.

Kayla has been sick all week.  On Sunday afternoon, she developed a fever, and demonstrated some signs of a viral infection (not H1N1).  It’s always tough when your kids aren’t feeling well, particularly when there are health concerns flying about.

The positive thing I’ve carried with me this week is the feeling that I can put the word ‘recovery’ behind me, with respect to the bike accident and my running.  As I’ve mentioned before, recovery of my whole person, physical and emotional, will take a long time.  But after running strong on Sunday, I no longer need to think about recovery in terms of my running.  This is a big milestone – and I’m very happy to have reached it.

There will always be good running days and not-so-good ones.  But it feels good to be able to put more of the accident behind me.

In terms of marathon recovery, things are going pretty well.  My legs are pretty tired, but that hasn’t kept me from running.  Against my better judgment, I ran with my friend Ben the day after the race.  I’ve always rested at least a day afterwards before, but between the tensions at work and the chance for good company, I couldn’t pass up the chance.  Today was the first day I tried anything other than a strict recovery pace.  I kicked hard for about a quarter mile towards the end of our run today.  Not impressive, but it felt good to stretch my legs a bit.

I’m trying to decide what my next race will be.  In keeping with my goal of 6 marathons in 6 months, I’m thinking about maybe doing the Capital City Marathon the weekend after next.  This isn’t ideal, because I have plans to go to the Mariners game the night before.  A free alternative is the Call of the Wild Marathon, essentially a maniac-organized event about four miles from home.  The course isn’t that exciting, and there appear to be fewer than ten people ‘signed up’ to run the marathon (there is also a 50k and a half marathon).  But you can’t beat the convenience, the cost, and the spirit of the event.  I’ll figure it out over the coming week.

In any case, things over the next month are going to be very busy on the event front.  Kris has a bunch planned as well (Tour de Cure, Call of the Wild Half Marathon, Issaquah Triathlon, and probably some others I’m forgetting).