Monthly Archives: July 2009

summertime, and overtraining is easy

For the past several weeks, I’ve been feeling a bit run down while working out.  It’s not surprising, since I’ve been doing more miles than I used to, and racing far more often as well.  On the other hand, my body should be used to the higher running volume by now.  This morning though, I felt really tired, and my throat was a bit scratchy.  I might have overdone it once too many times.

Last week when we were at family camp, I was working out about 2-3 hours per day.  This includes biking, running, and some swimming. 

I actually went out on the bike five consecutive days, which is something I’d never done.  I’d bike between one and two hours, usually going between 16 and 19 mph and covering between 16 and 30 miles.  There were a fair number of hills involved too.  I felt very good about my effort, but by the end of the week I was dragging a bit.

Running was a bit different.  The week prior to camp, I’d taken some days off to recover from some leg pain along my lower left quad, down into my calf.  In fact, this was the first week all year that I’d not run at least 30 miles (my per-week averages were around 38 in the preceding month).  Essentially I kept the running to recovery pace all week.  Nice and easy, letting my mind wander.

I went 12 straight days without a real rest day.  Then I took this past Saturday off, but ran up Mount Si the day after.  After that, my legs hurt most of the week – a sign that some rest is probably in order.  Easier said than done when I’m wanting to be outside, enjoying the sunshine.

I’m wanting to do an August marathon.  Right now, the leading candidate is the Pacific Crest Traill Fat Ass – a free 28 mile run up near Snoqualmie Pass.  Hopefully I’ll shake off whatever crud I’m fighting in time to enjoy the run.  I’m a bit nervous about how well I’ll hold up, particularly on the hills, but there’s no better place to try, than close to home.

Footnote to the biking I’m doing is that I’m thinking about doing an Olympic Distance Tri before the summer’s out, in addition to the marathons.  I’m confident I’m able to complete one, but want to make it fun too (which requires prep and training).  August is going to be a very busy time for us, between Kris’ Ironman Canada training (and the race too), some family visits, and lots of work – not sure the triathlon thing will happen.  Would be fun though … hmmmm .


running up mount si – a late birthday present to myself

This past Sunday I ran up Mount Si for the first time in about fourteen months. 

This is a ritual I like to observe every Christmas Eve morning.  That wasn’t possible this past year for two reasons.  First – there was a bunch of snow on the roads leading out to the mountain.  And second – I’d only just started running again on solstice day, so clearly wasn’t ready to climb 3400′ over the first four and a quarter miles of the run.

I haven’t been doing very much hillwork.  I do run on a lot of rolling hills everyday, but that’s not the same as doing sustained miles of climbing.  So I was a bit nervous about what Mount Si would have in store for me.

It was a beautiful day out.  The temperature was into the eighties and the sun was out.  I had originally planned to head out early, but hung around at home to see kk off for her week at sleepover camp.  Then I just sort of lingered until Kris more or less kicked me out.

I began the climb at around three in the afternoon.  The trail is almost entirely protected from the sun, but it was crowded with hikers, so I had to weave in and around them a bit.  A bunch of folks shouted out encouragement to me as I ran past them, which felt very nice.

By the time I reached the 1.5 mile mark, I’d been out about 21 minutes.  That’s a bit faster than usual, so I felt encouraged.  I hit mile two at about the same speed too.  By the time I hit the three mile mark, I was pretty tired.  My legs were feeling it, and so were my lungs.  The problem was that I was on track to get up in just about an hour, so I felt I couldn’t allow myself to slow down.  This was a bit faster than I can usually do, so why would I take myself out of the running early ?

The final mile and a quarter up were not very much fun.  I struggled to keep my legs moving, and found myself dropping to a walk a bit more often than before when I’d need to step high getting up some rocks.  But after about an hour and a couple of minutes, I found myself scrabbling up the rocks just below the main plateau near the top.

To answer the inevitable question from the locals : no – I don’t go up the haystack.  For those that don’t know the mountain, there a several hundred foot ascent that involves non-technical, but more intense climbing than below.  So I give myself credit for climbing just the 3400′, not the whole thing.  But that’s plenty, and the views of Rainier and the valley are great from the plateau.

Then I started down.  Holy $&%@#(#!  I’d forgotten how difficult it is to run down a rocky trail with fatigued quads.  Wow!  It only took about 40 minutes or so to get down, but that was plenty.

All in all, the trip took one hour and fifty nine minutes, including about 5-10 minutes at the top resting.  That’s faster than I’ve recorded going up before.

What a day.  Wouldn’t have thought I’d be out here a year ago.  And that’s definitely a good part of the fun!

enjoying the eliot institute again

Our family spent the past week enjoying the Eliot Institute at Seabeck.  This is a family camp for Unitarian-Universalists, held on the shores of the Hood Canal, three times per year (July, August, and December).  Our family has attended since 2004, and we’ve come to look forward to this as a special week, surrounded by many friends from all over the Pacific Northwest.


The camp includes programs for both adults and kids.  Each morning begins with an ingathering, which starts off with a great slideshow composed of pictures taken the previous day (and compiled by my friend Alex Koerger).  The slideshow is accompanied by music that camp participants play along to, which adds a wonderfully personal feeling to the pictures.  For me, the pictures do a great job of capturing the feelings for each day, from the poignant to the hilarious.

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Each year, the program centers on a speaker.  This year, the speaker was the Reverend Stefan M. Jonasson, and the focus was on "Letters of the Spirit".  Over the week, he discussed ways that UUs can build out their "loose-leaf" Bibles, things that help us define and understand our spiritual selves.  UU’s often take a more open-ended approach to this than more traditional religions.  This spirit was reflected in the small group discussions we had following the morning program.

Afternoons are generally comprised of a combination of sports, or just hanging out at the lagoon, and swimming.  I’d use the time to ride my bike, run, or get humbled by twenty-somethings playing ultimate frisbee.  Many folks also spent time tie-dying – which gave us a great art gallery to enjoy.  All 400+ pieces were hung to dry on one of the upper fields.

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KK spent the time hanging out with friends, participating in the cannonball contest, or swimming. 

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R spent her time swimming, hanging out with her friends, or playing watermelon polo.

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One afternoon in the middle of the week, we said goodbye to longtime Elioteer Peter Knoepfler, who passed away a couple of months back.  Our family had the good fortune to stay in the same house as the Knoepflers for several years.  In addition to having accomplished much in his life, Peter was a gentle soul who gave much of himself to those around.


Evening activities include "Firelight", a great tradition of sing-alongs and jokes.  This year was a bit different, as one of the major contributors to this was away at a conference.  True to form though, several others stepped up to keep the tradition alive.  The range of music we get to hear is wonderful – everything from traditional folks standards from Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie, to some humorous songs, and some more contemporary ones too.  It’s always great seeing at least three generations of campers there enjoying the music.

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Usually, there’s a game or another event following the evening ingathering.  Old favorites include playing "Encore" or "To Tell the Truth".  Afterwards, we’d turn in, or linger in conversation with friends for a while.  Late in the week, there’s a talent show that allows both kids and adults to have lots of fun.

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Camp this year was a particularly special time for us.  Last year during camp, I was in the hospital.  Kris arranged to have the girls go with our good friend Jenny and her daughter.  While they were there, the community looked after them, and made sure they were in a good place.  It was a difficult time for us, with the future looking pretty uncertain.  Having them in such good, caring hands made us feel much better, and it was a lot more fun for the girls than shuttling to and from the hospital.

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I was amazed at how many people came up to me and told me that they’d kept up on the Caring Bridge entries that Kris wrote.  I was deeply moved by receiving so many kind words and hugs from our Eliot friends this week.  Often, we only see each other one week out of every year.  It is amazing how strong the connection is, and how much of a difference this community has made in my life. 

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I spent some time out riding my bike along the same 30 mile loop I’d ridden two summers ago, with the folks I’d ridden with before.  As I would ride, I’d feel the apprehensions I’d expect, with the traffic speeding along beside me.  But the combination of the surrounding natural beauty (country roads winding along the water and through the woods), and the great feeling of companionship helped me to focus on the road ahead, rather than worrying about things one really can’t predict or control.

The small group discussions this year held a similar significance.  Several of us in our group had life-changing experiences in recent years – including serious illness, death of a close family member, and the odd bike accident.  Given the range of experiences, we got to discuss the subject from many different perspectives – not centering on one person’s experience.  One discussion we had explored the metaphor of travel through the "wilderness".  This was a fairly fascinating exercise for me, as I found myself thinking about the surrounding beauty, learning experiences, and close companionship that we can experience in addition to the very unsettling feeling of traveling an unknown path without a map. 

This metaphor sums up much of how I’ve felt over the past year.  We don’t necessarily choose our path, nor can we always predict how we’ll travel or when we’ll arrive.  It’s important that we focus on being present, making the most of things as they are, and trying to reach where we want/need to be.  Friends and community help us do this. 

And July Eliot has been a great place for us to learn and experience this.

running is good for your brain, and your soul

Just ask Diane Van Deren, one of the premier ultrarunners in the world.  I read a great article about her in yesterday’s New York Times.

Until twelve years ago, she had been plagued by epileptic seizures.  She feared driving, or even taking a bath.  Grand mal seizures began to occur when she was pregnant with her third child.  She would be rendered helpless – “a rigid woman .. convulsing uncontrollably … Eyes rolled back”.

Often when she would feel a seizure coming on, she would grab her running shoes and head out the door.  Apparently she never had a seizure when running.  Running served as an “antidote”.

Examination found a black mark on her temporal lobe, localizing the cause of her previously unexplained seizures.  Doctors told her that they might be able to relieve the seizures with a procedure called a Lobectomy, removal of a portion of the right temporal lobe in her brain. 

Since then, she has been seizure-free, but that did come at a cost.  She has lost part of her memory and organizational skills.  She can no longer read maps, remember names, organize her belongings when going on a trip.  She often does not even remember how long she’s been running.  Her husband places mementos around their house to remind Diane of family milestones.  Her 21 year-old daughter feels that she lost part of her mother with the surgery.

This is how life works sometimes.  We face choices in which the best option is really the lesser of all evils.  The important thing to do is to figure out the best way to cope. 

Diane works extensively with Don Gerber, a clinical neuropsychologist at Craig Hospital in Englewood Colorado.  Dr. Gerber has helped her form habits which cue memory for her.  She always puts her keys in the same place.  She marks trail forks with rocks or sticks, so she knows where to turn on the way back.  She sends text messages to her family, letting them know where she plans to head as she leaves for a long run.

This is the name of the game when adapting to a brain injury or to cognitive changes.  Rather than moping over what you’ve lost, you need to figure out how to help yourself remap those neural pathways, or adjust to using the ones that remain.  For Diane, this took a period of years to do, as the changes were significant, and the adjustments difficult.

The inspiring thing is that she’s done this, and also does her best to enjoy life.  She won the Yukon Arctic Ultra 300 last year, and became the first woman to complete a 430 mile version of the run this year.  On Saturday, she will line up at the start of the Hardrock 100 in Colorado.  Over the course of the run, nearly half the field will drop out, while attempting to ascend 33,000 feet along the way. 

That’s amazing.  And Diane is amazing too.  She’s overcome her brain injury with grace and tenacity.  Definitely an inspiration.

From the New York Times article, printed 8 July 2009 :

a sense of progress – no mo’ neuro

Yesterday I quietly celebrated the day I awoke from an induced coma, following my brain injury.  I’ll likely forego active observation of anniversaries like this in the future, but this one bears some poignant memories for me.  I remember turning to my left and seeing my father sitting nearby.  I was still in an odd sort of dream state, but that part is clear.  I also remember seeing Kris and the girls that day, including hearing the wonderful joke that made me smile (then and now).

I talked about this with my brother last night via IM.  Every time I do this, I learn something new about what happened.  He told me about how he’d picked the girls up from camp, telling them they’d get to see their dad awake for the first time in a week.  He told me how it felt watching the exchange with the girls from the other side of the room.  It made me cry thinking about that.

I also visited my neurologist this morning.  Things are going well enough that he recommends calling him only if something comes up.  He reached this conclusion after hearing that I didn’t have any notable aches or pains in my head, and that things were going pretty well with work.  It helped when I dropped in that I’d been running about 38 miles per week and had done six marathons over the past three months.

My list of questions for him this time focused on long-term effects and risks.  Some of them are sobering (higher risk of Alzheimers), and some are sort of funny (potentially lower tolerance for alcohol).  He offered some advice on vitamin supplements (most of which I already take), and on maintaining cognitive fitness (keep my brain as active as possible, stress level low, exercise regularly, eat well).  Fairly uneventful, but it felt very nice to wrap things up on a positive note.

There’s still some medical work to be done.  I’m getting braces at the end of the month, and will likely have to wear them for about two years.  There’s also some jaw surgery in there as well – essentially re-breaking my upper jaw to realign my top and bottom teeth.  It’s possible that this treatment will also help to alleviate the constant Tinnitus I experience as a result of the accident.  It’s pretty annoying and has notched my hearing down a bit too.

If you’ve been reading from here regularly, you’ve noticed many fewer missives tagged recovery.   That’s a good measure of my gradual recovery and adjustment to being the post-accident Paul.  By any reasonable measure, I’ve done very well.  There are definitely differences, and still some things I’m working on.  Over time, you’re likely to read less about the accident, and more about family, running, or pointless political discussions. 

And that’s good in many ways.

running the foot traffic flat marathon

I celebrated Independence Day this year by running the Foot Traffic Flat Marathon on Sauvie Island Oregon, just west of Portland.  I chose this event for several reasons.  First – I wanted to complete my sixth marathon over the past three months.  Second – I’d thought about doing this one last year, but a nasty bike accident intervened.  What better way to mark Independence Day than to celebrate recovery by running 26.2 miles ?

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The weeks leading up to this race were full for our family.  I’d run two marathons in early June (Green River and Light at the End of the Tunnel).  We’d spent about a week and a half traversing parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin, celebrating my in-laws 50th anniversary and visiting friends and family.  Along the way, my legs started to feel tired.  While in the midwest, I was running 5-7 miles per day, and mixing in some tempo and speed work.  It started to wear on me a bit.  In mid June, I’d feel better speeding up a bit.  After a while though, it became clear that my body was telling me that it might want to take things down a notch.  Did I listen ?  Not really.

I’d more or less decided to go to Oregon to run the FTF because I wouldn’t have another easy shot at doing a marathon in July.  I was able to find a room a short drive away from the 6:45 am start, and was in business.  My father decided to join me for the race as well, meaning he’d see all six of my comeback races.  I think that’s amazing.  He’d braved the estimable traffic down to Portland, turned in and gotten up early, just to see a sum total of about 30 seconds of running from me (start and finish).  Of course that 30 seconds was interspersed with four hours of standing around, since the traffic on the island was so restricted.

Race morning came early.  I woke up, and ate a quick breakfast of a Clif Bar (for protein) and a bagel (because I was still hungry).  Then my father and I headed out to Sauvie Island.  We were surprised at the heavy traffic heading out on US 30 towards the island, but even more surprised when the traffic stopped as we turned to go over the Sauvie Island Bridge.  Then it was about twenty minutes of stop and go as we drove to the start.  It was very good that we headed over as early as we did.  I thought we’d end up idling at the start for about 45 minutes, but in the end, I had about fifteen to hit the restroom, and find the start.  There were a lot of people there – it was hard weaving through the crowd to find my way around.

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The siren went off just after 6:45.  We headed back on the access road, passing the motorists still streaming in for the race.  I imagine some of those folks missed their start by quite a bit (good thing there was chip timing).  The layer of cool fog lifted a bit, and by the time we headed up the out and back spur, it was getting warm fast.   The long stretch to the turnaround was nice : lines of houseboats along the river, lots of birds, and lots of quiet.  I was surprised that my splits were as fast as they were.  The first two averaged about 8:22, and the first four were all under 8:30.  That should have alerted me to the notion that I might have been going faster than I should, but instead I decided to trust my legs.  Bad idea!  I was feeling tired when I got to mile seven and eight, and my splits were slowing down appreciably.

I saw the leaders coming back around the eight or nine mile mark, recognizing Annie Thiessen and Christopher Warren among them.  A few miles further on, I saw my friend "Little Leslie" Miller, who’d gone out with the early group.  All of them looked strong and happy.  Turning around around mile 11, I was still clicking the miles off at a sub-9 pace, but was dubious about being able to maintain it.  By now, the sun was up and bright.  The temperature wasn’t too high yet, but the road along the river was fully exposed and felt pretty warm.

By the time I hit mile 17 and 18, I was doubting I’d be able to hold the necessary pace to get under four hours.  I tried gearing back, but it was too late.  Even introducing minute-per-mile walk breaks didn’t help much.  I’d simply gone out faster than my body wanted, and was paying for it.  By mile 23 I was walking.  If I’d continued trying to run, I might DNF (never had, never want to).  So I walked steady, trying to hold to 15-16 minute miles and hoping for the best.  I’ve had several races like this (Whidbey in 2003, Deadwood in 2006, and to some degree Yakima River Canyon earlier this year).  The key is simply to Keep Going, no matter how slowly.  Well –  I can do that.

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By the time I reached mile 25, I’d started alternating two minutes of running with a minute of walking.  I crossed the finish in about 4:08:31, happy to be done. 

Not the best of race efforts for me, but there’s a lot to be happy about.  A year ago on July 4th, I was in the Harborview Neuro ICU, in an induced coma.  It was unclear whether I’d wake up at all, let alone run marathons.  And I’ve only been running again for just over six months, but have managed to click off six marathons since April.  Along the way, I’ve learned a lot about what’s important to me and why I love running.  As I’ve mentioned before, I’m very thankful for all of the help and support along the way.  In particular, my brother Matthew is very much in my heart – he devoted lots of time and energy to helping me heal, including spending the better part of last summer up here.

From here on out, I’ll focus more on the road ahead rather than focusing on running as a means of healing.

I’ve run better marathons, but yesterday marked a nice milestone.

photos included courtesy of hal david

Charts and Graphs for Running Geeks

The mile splits tell the story here.  I went out too fast, and ran a pretty foolish race.  The chart shows that the per-mile trend was up from the beginning to the end.  So notable was the per-mile pace dropoff, that I needed to extend the y-axis to accommodate the min and max times.  In a perfect world, I would have finished my six-in-three months run with a better effort.  But I’ll definitely take it, and will learn from it too.


getting ready to run again

I’m in Portland Oregon, for tomorrow’s Foot Traffic Flat Marathon, on Sauvie Island.  I’m nestled in my motel room, about to turn in for a very early wakeup call.

It’s very warm here, and is supposed to approach 90 tomorrow.  Theoretically, it will be ‘only’ 80 around the time I finish, but even that’s higher than I’m used to running long in.

The course is out on a nature preserve, and is supposed to have many eagles and other wildlife.  That sounds very nice.  It’s flat too, which means I just need to focus on holding a steady pace, and finishing strong.

Since our trip to Minnesota and Wisconsin in late June, I’ve been feeling a bit more tired.  I suspect that the miles and marathons I’ve been doing are catching up.  I did do some speedwork midweek too (4 repeats of 3:45 fast – roughly 800 meters or a bit more).  This may not have been the wisest choice, but I’ve found that pushing myself a bit helps to get the rusty feeling out.  Anyway – we’ll see how it all works.

This will make six marathons in about three months.  That’s more than I’ve done in the past.  Part of me wanted to try this to establish that I’ve recovered "with a vengeance".  It’s also been a lot of fun.  My plan was to up my mileage, and try running more marathons than usual for a while.  Not so much for time as to build my stamina and strength so I could be confident about running hard in the late miles.  It’s worked well.  I’ve also gotten to run some very nice, small events close to home.  Getting to know more of the folks in our Seattle-area running community, and from the Marathon Maniacs has been a real pleasure.  And I still can’t believe that my father has made it to each of these events with me.  He’s in his room here as well, ready to head out to the race early tomorrow.  Spending this time with him has been very nice.

It’s probably time to gear things back a bit though.  Kris has Ironman Canada coming up, and that really needs to take center stage in our house over the next two months.  I may still try to do a marathon a month, but we’ll see how tomorrow goes and take it from there.

Wish me luck tomorrow.  Most important is that it’s fun !