Monthly Archives: September 2009

marathon challenge

A couple of weeks ago, Kris and I watched an incredibly inspirational program from the PBS NOVA series, called Marathon Challenge.  You can watch the program online here.

The premise was this : select a group of sedentary people, give them 9 months of training, and then watch them complete the Boston Marathon.  Easy, right?

I’ve been a first-time marathoner filled with doubt myself.  And having been with others who were essentially raising themselves from couch potato to marathoner status, I’ve definitely watched people I never would have imagined completing 26.2 miles cross the finish line.  It’s amazing, and wonderful to see people do things like this.

The Nova program was interesting.  They selected these people, based on factors they never really explained.  Suffice to say that some of the folks faced significant challenges.  One woman was 70 lbs overweight, another smoked.  There was a guy who faced a heart disease risk that felt daunting.  Another woman was diabetic.  None of them exercised regularly prior to joining the Marathon Challenge.  Initially, the NOVA folks felt that they would probably lose 30-50% of the participants over the course of time.  This is a bit higher than I’d seen in my Team in Training days.  It makes sense though, given the smaller population and the fact that all were sedentary prior to joining.

Let’s talk about the human drama involved here, because that’s easily the most interesting part.  Real world people facing real world problems, while attempting a significant physical challenge beyond any they’d ever faced before.  A woman grieving the death of her mother to a drunk driver.  A man enduring a difficult divorce and a custody trial over the kids.  A man worrying about whether he’d be able to run in the New England winter, because he’d suffered a heart attack several years before while shoveling snow.  Despite these doubts and fears, and despite facing long odds based on their initial stress tests, they all gathered each week for their long runs.  Starting at a couple of miles, they gradually increased the distance to 5, 10, and more miles.

Along the way, they forged supportive bonds that motivated each other.  Even when they struggled with injuries, they stuck with it.  If they were sidelined for a while, the group would rally behind them as they rehab’d, and when they rejoined the group runs.

The medical/physiological story could have been its own program.  During the first stress test, most of the participants struggled with low scores, measuring their VO2 max.  One participant scored “exceptional”, indicating a probable genetic advantage.  In a fairly short amount of time, all participants VO2 max scores soared into the exceptional range.  This reinforces what I’d heard before about the aerobic system being very easy to train, even if the joints and muscles present more of a challenge. 

Additionally, they found that people’s weights stayed fairly stable, illustrating that exercise alone isn’t a weight loss program, that what you eat matters a lot.  This also agrees with my own anecdotal evidence, wherein my own weight has rarely decreased when I’ve trained for a marathon.  It might even increase a bit, as I tend to eat more, as my body tells me it needs the fuel.

One of the participants had to leave the program, after suffering multiple stress fractures on two occasions.  She did not leave due to a lack of determination – clearly there was a larger medical issue there.

On race day, there was a lot of nervousness.  One of the participants was ill with a urinary infection which made her quite uncomfortable when running.  A number of them struggled in the later miles.

Amazingly, all participants other than the woman who left with the stress fractures completed the program, and the marathon.  I can’t tell you how touching it was to see the woman who’d been so overweight, sprint over the final quarter mile and cross the finish in tears.  Made me cry – and yes I’m serious.

This is one of the things I truly love about running.  There are enough difficult things in the world that get us down.  Yet, when I’m out running with friends, the best in us seems to come out – it’s all about being positive – even when our goals get a bit crazy.

Facing a challenge like this changes your life.  It teaches you that you can do most anything when you set your mind to it.  And unless you have a significant medical issue – you can do it.  On a more basic level, it teaches you how you can surprise yourself in some nice ways.

I would definitely recommend this to runners and non-runners alike.  It’s a great story of what determination and positive energy can do, even against the odds.


reflecting a bit, and sending thoughts out to ‘dick dime’

Results for the Roots Rock 50k were finally posted earlier this week.  I finished 5th overall, in a field of 16.  Naturally in a larger field, I wouldn’t have gotten into the top ten, but it still feels good to be in the top third of the field overall in my first official 50k run.  I’m pretty sure I could improve by about ten-fifteen minutes, but am happy with the effort and the results.

I’m very pleased with last week’s MS Ride experience with Kayla.  I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to see my daughter ride well during this event which we’d worked towards together.  My hope is that we’ll do this ride again next year, increasing the distance over time.  It’s a great way to incorporate long-term goals, with physical activity, all for a good cause.  My real hope is that we’re able to convey to the kids just how fulfilling this combination of factors can feel.

Also heard that Kayla has chosen to run cross-country for her school again this year.  My hope there is that she has lots of fun, and puts her ample heart into this.    Experience tells me that when we find something positive to do that with, we’re definitely happier.  It’s been fun watching her kick into training mode to prepare for her first meet this week.

About a week ago, I got some mail from a woman who’s good friend (and former spouse) had been involved in a serious bike accident while training in Colorado.  Richard Paradis (aka Dick Dime) sustained a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), including some axonal shearing in his right hemisphere.  From my brief reading, this is a type of diffuse injury that can affect different areas of the brain, and is caused by trauma.  He’s an accomplished athlete, a competitive triathlete and a sub-3 hour marathoner.  Richard and his training partner were both injured while training for the Ironman 70.3 Championships.

Although he’s doing much better now than several weeks ago, the road ahead is long and somewhat uncertain.  Brain injuries are hard – we rely a great deal on clinical diagnosis, rather than systemic checklists which tell us exactly how things are looking.  There are indicators, predictors, and statistics, but it can be nearly impossible to know for sure how you’re going to be affected in the long-term by injuries like these.

For an athlete like Richard, it can be difficult to afford yourself the time and space to recover.  We get very focused on goals that can easily be quantified, and recovery from TBI often cannot be easily quantified.  It’s based on a wide range of things, including remapping of neural pathways to undamaged ones, and recovery from injuries beyond the brain as well.  He is apparently fairly lucid, but is having trouble with memory and fatigue.  And frustration.  I remember these feelings myself.  Adding to the difficulty is that Richard does not have health insurance coverage.

On the positive side, Richard has a great bunch of friends and supporters helping him.  And he has the mindset of an endurance athlete, where you judge progress towards goals over the long term.  Based on my experience, this should make a huge difference.

I’d like to tell Richard and his friends to know that the body and brain are miraculous things, in their ability to recover.  And that the early stages of recovery are often very difficult.  While the brain does it’s harder healing work, sometimes not much progress is visible.  I remember feeling exhausted after getting up and walking for five minutes.  I remember sleeping a lot.  And I remember longing for a glimmer of what I’d been able to do prior to my injury.  It’s also very difficult and humbling being dependent on others for even the most basic of things.

It’s hard to wait for recovery.  It’s hard to believe in yourself when you’re exhausted and fearful about what the future holds.  More than anything, I’d like to give Richard and his friends the gift of hope.

II don’t know him, but based on what I’ve heard, he has the mental focus and physical ability to recover as best he can.  In a way this is just a much more difficult endurance event, without a finish line.

In any case, I’m definitely keeping Richard in my thoughts.

riding to cure MS

This morning, Kayla and I joined a bunch of other folks to ride in support of the MS Society.  We had a beautiful morning, and a lot of fun riding.

Back a couple of months ago, we were talking about something around the dinner table.  A question came up about a second helping of dessert.  I’d used the marginal excuse that I’d done a long run that morning, and remember telling Kayla that if she would do the MS Ride with me, that she might be able to get a second helping sometime (she doesn’t recall this herself, so perhaps we can avoid dishing out that second helping).  In any case, she agreed.  Very promptly, she set up her fundraising site, and sent mail out to friends and family.  Within a couple of days, she’d cleared the minimum fundraising goal, and faithfully upped it.  Then she got on me for lagging behind her efforts … so here’s my fundraising site too.

It all worked out nicely.  Between the two of us, we’ve ended up raising close to $2000.  Not bad for an effort started over dessert!

Our training was a bit more sporadic than I would have liked.  We didn’t get out for many quality rides, and I was a little concerned about how things would go the day of the event.  Following Kayla’s 15 miler with Kris while we were up in Penticton BC a couple of weeks ago, I was confident that we would finish.  I wanted to make sure she’d have fun though, because I’d like to make this a regular thing.  In the end, both of us were just fine.  Eighty degrees, sunny, and a nice, flat course made things work well.

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We got up early, and after a good breakfast, headed the sixty miles north to Mount Vernon.  Preparing the night before was a bit disorderly, but as it turns out, nothing was forgotten or omitted.  We arrived at the "Riders Village" just after 7:30, and picked up out packets.  After getting situated, we hit the road at 8:22 in the morning.  Kayla smiled as we rolled, as said "I guess we’ve started".  Note to self – I need to learn to take things this easy when starting a marathon – it’s a perfect attitude.  WE wound through downtown Mount Vernon a bit, then followed a line of bikes out towards La Conner.  Our pace was steady and sustainable.  Based on our training rides, I’d figured we’d be able to keep at least an 8 mph pace.  We were better than that, gliding out the Skagit Flats at a 10-12 mph pace.  The speedsters passed us, and we passed some other folks.  I was genuinely impressed with the way Kayla conducted herself on the road, faithfully signalling and calling out "on your left" as she passed people.  Just under 55 minutes later, we reached the turnaround at about 11 miles. 

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I was pretty amazed at how well things had gone so far.  And even more amazed when Kayla protested us taking a water break, saying "But I want to keep going!".  Under protest, she consented to a brief 4 minute break, and then we headed back.  Riding under the blue sky, I was smiling the whole way, particularly as we passed the beautiful profile of Mount Baker while heading back towards the finish.  Our pace on the way back felt a tiny bit slower to me, and the time would verify this feeling.  But we weren’t off by much (about ninety seconds longer).  We exchanged a few stories, and got excited when we rolled back across the Skagit River, entering Mount Vernon again.  And I can’t tell you how nice it felt crossing the finish line with my daughter, 1:55:45 after we started.  This was about four minutes faster then the ‘A’ goal I’d had for us, and over an hour faster than our ‘B’ goal.


We hung out for a short while in the Rider’s Village.  We spent some time talking with Michael, a rider from Oregon, living with MS.  Michael showed us his three-wheeled recumbent bike, which allows his to ride with us.  He’d volunteered for over ten years before finding this bike which allows him to ride, despite experiencing some trouble with his balance (a common symptom of MS).  We talked a bit about how Kayla’s Grandma Susan and Great-Uncle Steve are both living with MS, and how I’d give anything to be able to ride anywhere with them.  We called home with our news, snapped some pictures, and then headed home.


What a morning!  I always enjoy getting out and enjoying the sunshine like this, and enjoy it more with my daughter.  Especially since she’s the one responsible for inspiring me back onto my bike following my bike accident last July.  Even better was that we got to do this in support of a cause we really believe in : getting to a cure for MS, and funding education and patient services for folks living with MS. 

I’m very proud of Kayla’s efforts here.  She did a great job with the fundraising, challenged herself to ride as well as she could, and she was very good company.  As Kayla likes to say "Today is a gift, that’s why they call it ‘the present’ ".


getting ready to ride for MS

Tomorrow Kayla and I will ride 22 miles to raise money for the MS Society.  This has been a ride I’ve wanted to do for a number of years.  And it’s very fitting that I get to do it with the kid who got me back on my bike following my bike accident last year.

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This endeavor with Kayla has been fun.  As our kids grow and become more independent, devoting energies to things we both believe in (such as supporting research to prevent and treat MS, and human services for people living with it) is a great gift of time.

Our training has been a bit light.  I can’t always convince Kayla to get out and ride, in order to prepare for the miles.  It’ll be fine, although might go a bit more slowly than it could have.  But it’s supposed to be a beautiful day – up near 80.  As we ride we’ll be thinking about my mother and uncle, who both live with MS.  They’ve faced this challenge with grace and courage, and given us a great example as a result.  It isn’t so much what circumstances we encounter in life, as how we respond to them.  That’s what helps us define ourselves.

It’s not too late to give to the cause.

Kayla’s fundraising page :

And mine :

roots rock run – 50k of fun

I ran my first 50k this morning.  At least the first one I’ve run on purpose.  I joined a nice group of folks in running two 25k loops around a large tree farm in Port Gamble Washington

The run was called the Roots Rock 50k, and was organized by the fine folks of Poulsbo Running.  I ran across across this event while sifting through the offerings noted on the race calendar offered on the Marathon Maniacs site.  I’d wanted to build on my experience from last month, and notch an official 50k for the first time.  Sooner rather than later, or I’d need to train more for it.  There were two held on Labor Day Weekend : Roots Rock and the interesting-looking Campbell River 50km Trail Challenge (held at the north end of Vancouver Island).  My worry about Campbell River was in securing accommodations up there on a holiday weekend.  It seemed far more straightforward to stick closer to home.  So I headed over to Kitsap County on Saturday afternoon, in time to pay for my registration, get something to eat, and relax.

I got up a bit early for the race, and spent so much time relaxing that I added some time pressure to my drive up to the start.  There were no precise driving directions, but I figured Port Gamble wasn’t so big that they’d be able to hide too many runners there.  I was correct about this.  I spotted the steady queue of runners heading over to the bathroom, and just followed them to their source.  Promptly at 8:30, race director Chris hailed us over and gave us the simple directions : two 25k loops, three aide stations including the start (roughly at 5 mile intervals), turns marked with chalk and ribbons.  Then we were off.

My mind was fidgety for the first five miles.  My legs felt tired, andI had some trouble focusing myself on the task at hand.  And I was having pretty bad Morton’s Neuroma pain in my left foot.  All of this tempted me to call things good after a single 25k loop, but the longer I ran the more determined I became to do the whole thing.  I had a number of reasons, most of them out of vanity, but it illustrated how important it is not to take yourself "out of the game" unless something’s really wrong.

My pace was a bit too fast for the first stretch.  I noticed that my breathing was a bit hard, and gave myself permission to throttle back a bit.  About 3 miles in, we had an adventure with a bunch of yellowjackets.  Apparently someone in front of us must have stirred them up nicely, because they were mad.  One guy received about a dozen stings.  The two folks directly in front of me were both stung-  one of them about five times.  For some reason, they left me alone.

I reached the first aide station in about an hour, just about what I’d expected given the technicality of the trails, and the steady up and down.  By the time I reached the second station, I was alone (the folks I’d been running sped up).  This was just a table full of water jugs – self-service aide.  The final stretch heading in seemed pretty fast.  We spent a bit of it doing some good downhill.  Then we found ourselves on the road, for a three minute run back to the start.

I spent about seven minutes refactoring what I was carrying.  I’d erred by taking a two-bottle belt – it felt like it weighed a ton and kept sloshing around.  I’ve worn this same belt in a number of races and not felt like this before.  So I pared down to a single bottle of Cytomax, and carried gel packs and Endurolyte tablets.  I’d wanted to pick up some pouches of Cytomax, but didn’t take care of that at home, and REI was out of them.  I figured that I’d refill at five miles with the Accelerade they had, and then make due for the final stretch with water, gel, and the Endurolytes.

Paring this stuff down really helped.  I should have done this to begin with.  The single-bottle belt was snugger and much lighter.  My legs were definitely fatigued, but I knew I’d be able to push through it – albeit more slowly.

By the time I got to the five mile aide station again, I’d passed the yellowjacket area without a bite.  Ten miles to go, and I was feeling pretty good.  Heading off into the woods, the rain started again.  This time hard.  At times, I had trouble seeing more than ten feet in front of me.  And the woods were dense enough that it got pretty dark.  Wild – it usually doesn’t rain like this in the northwest – it’s usually a steady sprinkle.  Footing became an adventure too.  Much of the way I found myself plowing through ankle-deep streams of water flowing downhill as I climbed.  I fell a couple of times, once ending up rolling over onto my shoulder and getting mud plastered all over.  Lightning too – close enough to seize my attention.  This sort of weather is extreme for us here – especially in early September.

By the time I hit the final aide station, I was ready to be done.  My legs were very tired.  My shoulders were a bit sore from one of the spills I took.  And I was definitely cold and very wet.  I quickly topped off my bottle with water, and pressed on.  Along the way, I couldn’t help but feel that there was quite a bit more uphill than I remembered.  After about five hours and forty-two minutes, I crossed the finish line.  Word has it that I was either fourth or fifth overall, although the 50k field was fairly small.  I hung around with a couple of fellow Marathon Maniacs for a few minutes before changing quickly into some dry clothes and heading for the ferry.

I’ve only had a few hours to reflect on this, but am feeling very good about my effort today.  I didn’t have a hard time goal (mostly because I didn’t know much about the course), but came in faster than my six hour guess.  I could grow to like this 50k thing.  It’s definitely challenging, but a bit easier on your body (trails verses roads).  Although the event was small, the energy around it was great.  Always a lot of fun discovering new trails too.

in search of sustainable and effective health care coverage reform

To this point, most of the discussion on health care coverage reform has been vastly disappointing.  The sides are so polarized that it’s degenerated into an unproductive shouting match.  The uninsured are the ones who will pay the price for this irresponsibility.

When I first heard the term “Death Panel”, I was convinced that former Governor Palin was referring to bad science fiction.  It is not surprising to hear reactionary populist tripe coming from a person whose primary focus appears to be self-promotion, not responsible leadership.  The short attention span mobs have seized control of the public dialog, while tangible progress in Congress has stalled.  The president has not shown the necessary visible leadership that would refocus the debate on what the goals are.  Charles Blow captures the mood well in this op-ed piece.

Complex problem.  No easy solutions.  No clear consensus.  I’ve had a number of conversations with people I disagree with politically.  It’s amazing what happens when two adults who disagree but want a positive solution work at it a bit.  In a number of cases, we seemed to arrive at some very common conclusions.  Each of us is experiencing conflicted thinking between healthy suspicion of large government-run efforts, and a common goal of social justice.

In yesterday’s New York Times, David Brooks wrote a very  interesting op-ed column on health care reform.  He cites an interesting article on health care reform, written by David Goldhill in this month’s issue of The Atlantic .  His gist is that we need to change the system at its core.  Reduce, rather than expand the role of insurance.  Focus the role of government on what it can do most effectively (protect the poor, cover us against true catastrophe, enforce safety standards, and ensure provider competition).  And preserve or establish incentives for people to "do the right thing" – both from the health and financial standpoint.  It jibes with my belief that we need to change the basic business model of the health care industry in order to get the desired result.

Brooks also cites what looks like an interesting report from the Brookings Institute on ways to reducing health care spending, while improving quality. 

Also worth pointing out is an interesting clip of Senator Al Franken speaking to some concerned citizens (including some tea party folks) at the MN state fair about health care reform :

There are some interesting contrasts drawn in these examples with the hardline liberal stance on reform.  For example, Franken cites Swiss universal health care coverage as an example of a highly regulated but privately owned option that appears to work pretty well, and is more financially sustainable than a public option layered on top of the current health care model is.

I’m no subject matter expert, but recognize that the system as is needs some kind of disruptive change in order to reach even the simplest of goals. 

These articles are definitely food for thought.

our family trip to b.c.

We spent much of this past week up in Penticton, British Columbia.  Originally, we were going to cheer Kris on, as she competed in the Ironman Canada event.  Because of stress fracture sustained late in her training, the trip was simply a family vacation.

Although it wasn’t what we’d originally planned, it was nice.  We drove up to Penticton from Seattle last Thursday, braving a seven hour drive.  Despite me causing a slight panic about running out of gas, just over Blewitt Pass, the ride was fairly uneventful.  Other than the occasional change in mood from the wildlife in the back seat, things went pretty smoothly.

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Once arriving at the palatial Waterfront Inn, near the shore of Lake Skaha, we unpacked, and tried to figure out why KK’s teeth illuminated.  It remains a mystery.


We spent part of Saturday visiting one of the few operating steam engines in Canada, the Kettle Valley Railroad, north of Lake Okanagan.  The girls spent time with their new friend from Toronto, doing a scavenger hunt for objects along the railway, while Kris and I simply enjoyed the beautiful weather and the views.


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A banjo player walked up and down the cars, playing tunes and singing with the crowd.  It was nice, low key fun.


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We came to a turnaround, where we got to get out and explore the train and its surroundings a bit.


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Sunday was the day of the big event.  A number of good friends and training buddies of Kris’ were racing, including several doing their first Ironman distance event.  The energy surrounding this was amazing.  Rachel and I had walked around town the night before, enjoying a nice little street fair, and some great sushi.  She delivered a great bit of wisdom over dinner that night, which I will not soon forget.  She said "you know – sometimes you just can’t get enough of what you have".  And this is something we all forget sometimes.  All the more reason to listen to the seven and a half year-olds of the world more often.  They’re wise.

Kris got up early on race morning, and watched the swim event.  She and my friend Bob tell me that the sea of arms pumping strokes through the water was amazing to watch.  A bit scary too, because of the barely contained chaos.



I watched the pros, and some of the athletes make their way past the fourth mile of the bike course.  They make it look very easy, especially considering that they’d just swam 2.4 miles in less than an hour (some were under 50 minutes).


After doing a run and taking a swim, the girls and I headed up to watch the athletes where the bike and run courses met.  The amazing thing about this was seeing the leaders hit mile 22 in the run, even as many people were making their way through the last miles of the bike course.

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Seeing our friends smiling through the miles, knowing they were working hard but enjoying themselves, was definitely inspiring. 


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It was inspiring enough to make me consider whether I should sign up to try this next year.  Common sense took over, and I figured I’d be better off trying some less extreme triathlons first.  Still, it was amazing to watch people push themselves to big goals like this.

Side note – I’ve posted pictures of the pros and our friends doing Ironman Canada to our photo-sharing site.  The pictures are available to people for their personal use.

The final day we spent with some friends we’d met at the Eliot Institute several years back.  Carol and Keely live in Kelowna, about an hour north of Penticton.  They drove down to spend the day visiting, swimming, and enjoying some Thai food with us.


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Significant to me this week was that I marked the year anniversary of my skull bone being replaced.  This was the beginning of a very significant period of recovery for me.  Life is indeed what we make it, even when we don’t always control everything that happens to us. 

And sometimes, you just can’t get enough of what you have.