as the legend has it, the magnificent centipede  was about to ruthlessly inject its prey with a deadly venom… then unexpectedly the poor doomed prey ask him a rather benign question:  “you have such a large number of legs, how do you keep them all coordinated enough to walk, seems very difficult?”

the centipede laughed with his usual arrogance and said, “you know i never really thought about it, you see i just kind of…..”

at that moment the centipede went into a deep concentration, realizing he never actually tried to figure it out. he picked up one leg and tried to think about what was next…. unable to figure out what to do next he stood there motionless, helpless confused.

the brilliant little prey walked away to live another day.

this story comes to me, not without a lesson: if you force yourself to think about something that comes intuitively, you may render yourself incapable of performing the skill that was once so easy.

recently i learned this lesson as i have been trying to improve my running form.  for the past 4 months i have been obsessed with my running form, and just form in general.  i have been running for about 30 years, and my form has not been horrible.  it has changed here and there but for the most part it has been generally quite smooth.  however i believe that it has not been the model of efficiency.  i don’t run symmetrically my knees bend too much on every stride, and my feet spend too much time on the ground.  i have been watching video after video of proper running form.  each time i watch a video i get something new to work on.  maybe i just have a short memory and i’m just relearning the same thing over and over again, but i always leave inspired.  i have been practicing the “pose”, studying the chi, and fawning at the barefoot runners.  i even run with my vibram five fingers to help me get up on my toes.  i aqua-run three times a week to practice my form and work on strength.  i work out very specific muscle groups to enhance parts of my gait that i like.  needless to say i am quite obsessed.

though i have been very dedicated to studying  the human running form, i have one very glaring problem.  i can not run anymore.  i remember the old days when i could just leave the house and run like a deer through the neighborhoods and trails like there was no limit.  it didn’t happen every time but it used to happen, and it was what running was all about.  now, my running has turned into complicated dance steps performed with a puppet using hundreds of strings made from human muscles.  every move of every muscle is thought out, analyzed and corrected…. from my toes to my neck and shoulders.  by mile two i am completely exhausted, my enthusiasm is gone and everything feels like forced exercise.

i long for the days when running will be fun again.  my mind is so fixed on running correctly; i think i will never get back to running freely.  perhaps i should take a shot of jägermeister, like i did when i learned to telemark ski. i was so overwhelmed that i ordered a shot of jäger, got back out on the slopes and voila, i could tele!

a quiet mind and a relaxed body is what i need right now.

the boston marathon is just around the corner.  as of this day it is only 78 days away.  this is my third time qualifying for the big event, but only my first time signing up.  the first two times i was just a kid and felt i had bigger fish to fry than running a classic.  now i am in my 40’s and i have big hairy audacious goals for this race, or i should say that i “had” those kind of goals…now they are more like little peach-fuzz-like modest goals.  it’s not that i lack drive or that i give up easily, but it’s more like i don’t want to kill myself.  i don’t mean jump off of a building-end-it-all kill myself, but more like drive-myself-onto-the-freeway-until-my-tires-blow-out-and-i’m-still-going-with-nothing-but-rims.  i got that metaphor from watching t.v. late at night, i think it was called greatest car chases or something like that…. if left unregulated i will run till my body falls apart.  in fact i think i hit that point 20 years ago when i told myself i would never race again…somehow i’ve made a comeback or sorts.  i race again, and last year i even “raced” a full marathon.  during my journey over the past 20 years, i’ve developed all kinds of ideas an innovations that have helped me to continue running.

everyone says, “listen to your body” but does anyone really know what that means?  i hear runners talking all the time about it. but does anyone really speak body-language?  that’d be cool if rosetta stone had software for learning body language.   listening to your body doesn’t just mean that if your ankle, knee or foot hurts during a run you should slow down.  it really means that you should perhaps stop, and consider not running till it stops hurting.  in fact at this point, the problem is probably screaming at you.  did you fail to listen to anything before the run?  even if there was no communications at all between you and your foot or whatever, did you fail to consider that maybe you ran too hard the day before, did you get enough sleep, was your body completely fresh? my point is not to criticize runners, but to bring about the point that listening to your body, has many many levels.  i am by no means successful at this point, and i actually have a confession to make.

i am kind of injured.  i say “kind of” mostly because i am still trying to figure out the severity of it.  i have considered various outcomes from stress fractures to it’s-all-in-my-head… and i still don’t know.  the only thing i do know is how i became injured.  it’s not like i am obsessed with mileage.  i am actually a very conservative runner.  i try to listen to my body, and as a result i have very modest weekly totals.  when i ran the san francisco marathon last july, i finished with a 3:12, and my weekly mileage was 30-40.  so how did i get injured this time around?

last week i had this epiphany of about my training and my injury.  i got injured because i stopped listening to my body and started listening to statistics. the statistic are all around me and i find it very difficult to avoid. how far did i run this week? how much did i run last week? how much do i need to run? how much did my friend run?  it is very easy to get caught up in this “rat race”.  in fact, i think most of us don’t even realize we are in a “rat race”.

the problem is that almost every training program out there is mileage based.  from beginner to elite… we have prescribed recipes for our workload.   the fact is, everyone is different, everyone has different obstacles in their daily life that effects their training. they could be sick, sleepless, hungover, stressed out…whatever.  weekly mileage is an artificial benchmark that was chosen empirically for the average person with similar goals.   before i have to debate this point, let me point out one thing…. every running training program out there falls apart when when you introduce cross training.  and what is cross training? cycling?  jumping jacks? shoveling snow?  unicycling? all of these are forms of exercise that benefit you greatly but usually can not be categorized by even the greatest of all programs. perhaps you could break down each of the muscle groups that are most worked in the said events, but can you really control when they happen? no, you can’t! what if you have to shovel your driveway to get to work? and you have intervals planned that same day? or what if there is a break in the weather and you want to go out for a unicycle ride (this only applies to me)?  what if you got drunk unexpectedly on a saturday night (maybe this only applies to me as well)? should you still go out and do your 20 miler?

so what are weekly mileage plans good for? they’re good for feeding the obsessive compulsive behavior in most of us.  we need something tangible to stroke our egos.  we need to quantify our efforts.  when i return from a lunch run how, unimpressive would i be if couldn’t tell the receptionist that i ran eight miles. “i ran at a good effort for me today”… not too impressive right? actually it’s not the receptionist or coworker, or spouse of friend that we are really trying to impress… we are trying to impress ourselves.

i look back at my old logs and i must say that sometime i am quite impressed.  sometimes i feel that i’ve kicked ass, and sometimes it’s a shocker to see how little i’ve run.   this is actually what caused me to get injured.  i looked back at my mileage and looked at my friends’ mileage…looked at my goals, looked at my friends’ goals, and felt i needed to step it up a notch.  i ran a very modest little 3 mile run with my vibram five fingers. the next day my calves were a little sore as usual, but i had a last minute plan to run with my friend.  i didn’t think i should run, but since the weather happened to be nice, and i don’t get to run with her that often, i ran.  the day after that i had a planned 15 miler.  i didn’t wake up that morning feeling like i wanted run.  the weather was cold and crappy, my legs were tired, but i had planned it….so i ran it.  i knew it was wrong when i started and the last two miles of that run confirmed my initial feelings…. that’s when my left shin started to really hurt.

the moral of the story is….. mileage isn’t everything.  statistics are very vague indicators of your fitness.  especially if you cross train.  please don’t think that listening to your body is going to make you into a “lazy” person unable to push through pain.  there is good pain and there is bad pain.  listening to your body does not mean to run conservatively all the time.  if your mind and body are up for it…. let ‘em go!  by all means take advantage of the days that you feel good! don’t hold back because it’ not in your training plan to run fast this particular day. however use common sense, if you are tapering for an upcoming race.

what is my plan for boston?  (if my injury turns out to be minor) i plan to work as hard as i can for the next 78 days.  i am not going to log any more miles, no more dailymile, no more rigid plans, no more mileage based workouts.  i have many activities besides running that i plan to get me closer to my boston goals, but i will go as i feel, i will try to balance my mental and physical attitude before and during each and every thing i do.  i don’t need statistics to tell me i am not working hard enough,  i don’t need motivation from others, i find my motivation from inside me.  i want this to be a very enjoyable journey to the boston marathon finish line.

feed back is welcome.

this past week i got a new performance bike catalog in the mail.  i don’t really need any bike stuff, with the exception of mountain biking shoes.  i never plan on buying them because they are so expensive.  i always look at them like bike-porn in the catalogs just to have something to look at i guess.  this week they went on an unbelievable sale.  i don’t know why but these shoes never go on sale…never!   but here they were in front of me, the exact one’s i told one of my mountain biking buddy that i was needing.   i was so excited, and couldn’t wait to get to the performance store to pick them up.

after about 24 hours of waiting, something dawned upon me… i am training for a marathon.  not a mountain bike marathon (if there is such a thing) but a real running marathon.   i am planning to run more miles in the next four months than i have in the last four years.  i’m not going to stop cycling during this time,  i’m just going to change my priorities a little bit.  from now on mountain biking and cycling are going to my cross training activities, and running well that’s just going to take the spot light for a little while.   for the past 10 years, mountain biking has been the fruits of my labor. my cycle commutes, my weekend trail runs, all of it has been so that i can go out on my mountain bike and have a blast.

if running is going to be number one,  then i am going to require some better equipment than my clearance running shoes, cycling sox, and 15 year old tech shirts.  after going over the short list of things i need for running, i realized that the first item was going to be a new pair of running shoes. of course this means that sale or no sale the new mountain biking shoes would just have to wait.  i am not too excited about putting my mountain bike shoes on hold, but i was excited about getting a new pair of running shoes.

i went down to boulder to get my running shoes and i picked a mighty fine pair, if i do say so myself.  i felt pretty content that i was transforming myself back into a runner after a pretty long hiatus…. as i left the parking lot, i remembered that sale at performance bike.  it was only a mile from where i was and maybe i could pick up some gu, endurox,  or maybe some socks. so, i decided to stop by.

as i walked up to the store front, there was sign after sign reminding me of their super sale and the 20% savings for team performance members…which i was!!   the first thing i saw were some beautiful cheap cruiser bikes… those are nice, but even if i wasn’t focused on running right now, i still couldn’t buy one of those… moving on.  found some killer socks. then the jerseys caught my eye.  oh my god they were almost 30% off!!! they never go on sale.  i found a sweet fox mountain bike jersey my size… i picked it up and carried it around for a while.  i saw the sidi mountain bike shoes… oh they were beautiful under that discount sign.  i picked them up and looked them over.  i found my size and started to try them on… when it hit me.  i just spent 100 dollars on a pair of running shoes.  i can not afford two sports.  i sadly put down the shoes, and even walked over and put the jersey back.  everything was crazy cheap.  i found some cheap commuter tires for my bianchi, which i almost justified, until i realized that i had tires that will get me through the season.  camel baks, panniers, pumps… all of it i had to walk away.  that place is a crack house,  i had to get out.  i ended up buying some endurox, green socks, and some wonderful chamois butt’r.  not a bad haul, considering i could have easily spent $300 on cycling gear.

don’t forget to check out my running blog for my running adventures.

about eight years ago i was in the market for a new road bike.  i didn’t know too much about road bikes except for the little bits of information my friend gave me about components and such.  i had no particular bike in mind, so at each bike shop i would just pull out a bike from the rack, look it over and wait for the bike-cupid to strike me.  when i finally visited the last bike shop there were two bikes the caught my interest right next to each other.  i pulled out the first one, and i kind of liked it.  it had just about everything i was looking for and it was in the right price range.  the only thing missing from this bike, was that cupid arrow.  i really wanted something with pizazz, and this bike had none.  so i pulled out the next bike, it was very similar to the first bike, only it had red rims…..hmmm.  i pulled it out of the rack, held it with one had fully extended so i could get a good view of it.  as i stood there staring at the bike, trying to picture myself on it, a really cute female shopper passed by (i think a cyclist) .  i was kind of blocking the isle so she had to kind of had to go around me and the bike.

as she passed, she looked at the bike i was holding and said, “nice bike.”

i smiled, turned to the bike salesman, and said, “i’ll take this one!”

the bike salesman and said with a stone face, “right on man, good choice.”

i really loved that bike it was my first real road bike.  it was light, it had dura-ace components and it was hawt!  i know the girl only said it was “nice” but to me it felt like she meant “hawt.”

anyway, i rode it to work almost everyday that first week.  about that same time back at home we were getting ready for an extended weekend trip to yellowstone national park.  i was still pretty excited about my new bike and i didn’t want to leave it at home, besides i knew there would be some great road riding up there.  so i took it along.

that first night we stayed in a cheap hotel along the wyoming idaho border.  we unpacked all of our stuff into the hotel room and i brought my bike in for safe keeping.

i don’t really remember what everyone was doing but i remember exactly what i was doing.  my bike was parked in the narrow isle between the left side of the bed and the window.  i was laying on the bed next to the bike, and my wife was on the right side of me reading a book or something.  i laid there in bed propped up with pillows. i had one arm around my wife and the other arm to my side.  i remember looking at my bike being so happy, and each time i thought about my bike i would hold my wife a little tighter.

finally after a few minutes of just thinking about how  happy i was, i said,” i am so happy right now.”

my wife asked, “why?”

without thinking, i just said it like it was,”well, i am right in the middle of my two favorite things!”

my wife: “WHAT?!?!?”

me: “what’s wrong with that?”

my wife: “ME and your BIKE!?!?”

my wife: “…i am included with your bike?”

me: “well, yeah…”

me: “isn’t that good?”

wife:”grrrrr”

needless to say i didn’t get any that night… nor did i get any for the next few nights.  i guess it kind of worked out that i had my bike with me, i got to spend a lot of time thinking about what i said.  even to this day, i feel really badly about the grouping my wife with an inanimate things, and often apologize to my wife when i bring up the story.  she actually thought it was pretty humorous at the time, and she still does.  over the years i think she has actually learned what an honor it is to be top two in my twisted world.

:)

it was a perfectly formed line of people that started along the sidewalk of lawerence street and turned past the dirty brick building onto park avenue.   if it had been a different crowd with different people, it would have looked like a special night in downtown denver.  however, most people know better.  most people stay away from this area this time of night, unless they are driving by, on their way to a better place.  this is where the homeless and the helpless hang out every day and every night.  since it was nearly dinner time the crowd was much larger than the daytime crowd.  in the yellowish lighting from the street lights their colors were washed out and appeared like an old faded photograph from the great depression.  no smiles, no conversations, no cell phones…no families.

tonight was my volunteer night and i arrived as usual on my trusty green town bike.  as usual i missed the right street and arrived from a different direction.  i found myself having to cut through the line of hungry patrons… “excuse me”…”pardon”… “just one…sec” …”thanks”.  just toward the end of the line near my entrance, i found a good “no parking” sign that served as my bike rack.  i felt a little uneasy leaving such a pretty bike amongst the vagrants.  in reality most of them are not thieves nor are they evil, in fact they are  much nicer than your average mall shopper.  i didn’t have much choice and i was already late, so i locked my bike and walked away.   i had to cut through the line again to get to the entrance of the giant dirty brick building.  the door seems quite secure and daunting for some reason.  next to the doorbell was a sign that read,”press doorbell for 2 seconds and someone will let you in.” sure enough at the end of the 2 seconds someone opened the door.   every time i work here the entire staff seems to be completely different than previous visits.  perhaps they are the same i just can’t seem to keep their faces in my head.  i guess it goes both ways because for some reason every time i show up i am not instantly recognize as a volunteer.  i usually have to answer a few questions before i am allowed to enter.  i guess i really need to start looking less homeless.

on this night my job was to be the door man.  the doorman counts the people coming in and hands them silverware wrapped in a twisted napkin.  i’ve had many different jobs while volunteering here so each time it’s a surprise. what’s cool about being the doorman is that i got to look everyone in the eye and welcome them to dinner.  i greeted each person with “here you go….enjoy.”   after a while i had wished that i didn’t look some of them in the eye; quite disturbing.  you ever look into the eyes of a person that is totally insane? i don’t know how to explain it except that after it is over, it lingers on for a few seconds and you have to mentally pull yourself back into the moment.

as they came through the line one by one i couldn’t help but try to figure out each one.  i’m sure most of them had some tragic story of how misfortune and ill circumstances brought them to this lowest of lows.  i could tell how some of them were pretty new at being homeless, i could see that some were career homeless, and i could see how for many there was absolutely no hope for a miraculous turn around.  this latter group is perhaps what brought me here in the first place.

for the life of me, i just could not figure out some of these guys.  one guy looked rather well dress, and in a good state of mind…the only thing i could figure was that for some reason he wanted to come out for a free meal.  another guy had the most perfectly shaven head i had ever seen.  i don’t know how he did it, with out a home.  every year i shave my head around summer time, and i can not keep it cleanly shaven for the life of me….and i have a home.  another younger guy came in looking like dave gahan (for those of you who don’t know, he is the lead singer for depeche mode).  this one had on a very long leather-ish looking black coat that went down to his calves.  he didn’t talk to anyone and looked around quite a bit, as if he had a song in his head and he was looking around to see if anyone could hear it.  then there was the uni-bomber guy.  hoodie with mirror finish glasses.  this one kind of freaked me out a bit, mostly because i could not see his eyes, and he appeared to always be staring straight ahead, chewing his food for an unnaturally long period of time.  finally there was the guy with the sweater vest and tie. he was rather short and stocky and sported long curly dark hair, much like weird al yankovic.  he looked like he could have been in some kind of novelty ukulele band that specialized in carnival music.  no doubt that this little guy was weird, from his sweater vest and curled locks, to his timid eye shifting glares.  he was the very last to leave, never talked to anyone. even as we piled the chairs onto the table around him, he never talked, never smiled.. just sat there looking scared.

i don’t really care if the people coming through the door needed food, or appreciated the food they got.  they are society’s ultimate outcast. the unwanted, the unloved, the uncared-for.  somehow coming to dinner filled something in them.  it gave them something to do, or it made them feel cared for, or they just came to hang out with their friends. maybe they just came to meet new people.  even though i spent much effort trying to figure it out, the only thing that i really care about is that they did come.

it was a long night we served about 330 people.  this was much more than previous volunteer nights. i was exhausted and the night air smelled so good, after my 2 hours of duty.  i slowly rode my bike back to my car down the dark back streets of denver.

i was riding home after an epic ride with some work buddies.  i rode from my house to la port colorado right at the base of rist canyon.  this is a popular hill for cyclist. i forgot to measure the distance of the climb, but it’s basically 3000 feet in about 10 miles.  i could be way off on that, but i don’t have my gps data here with me.   all i know for sure is that it was 40 miles from my house to the top of the hill.

i was heading home and i was real tired.  i was running out of drinks and i had no more food.  i still had about 20 miles to go and the sun was going down.  normally i don’t care about the dark but on this bike i had no lights or reflectors.  i knew i wasn’t going to make it home before dark so i was going to need a little help.  the problem was trying to plan where my “crew” would pick me up.   i got out my iphone and noticed that the battery icon was in the red.  i  had maybe 10 minutes left, but if i actually used the phone i’m sure the phone would have died instantly.  so i shut off as many battery wasting things as i could, and proceeded to make my first call.

i called the wife first…. no answer.

i called home … no answer.

i called the 15 y/o no answer.

i called the 12 y/o he answered!

son12: “oh hey dad, where are you?”

me: “i over here in fort collins, i’m kind of stranded, do you know where your mom is?”

son12: “huh?”

me [increasing frustration, but trying to be grateful that someone answered their phone]: “i am stranded in ft collins, my phone battery is almost dead, where is your mom?”

son12:” i don’t know….can you pick me up?”

me:”no i can’t pick you up, because i am on my bike and i don’t have a light…and i am stranded!”

me:”alright i got to go….” [hang up the phone]

so that little stop to try and get help took about 20 minutes and drained my already dying battery, and i got no where.  i quickly got back on my bike and started racing toward home.  after a few minutes my phone vibrated once.  i thought help was on the way, so i pulled over and got out my phone.  it turned out to be a text message from my 15 y/o.

son15: “can you pick me up?”

why are my kids all over town? irritated, i powered down the phone and continued my race for light.  the sun was going down rapidly and i was pretty tired from the day’s ride, but i was still pushing as hard as i could to get closer to home.  i knew i wasn’t going to make it home, but the closer i got to civilization the better i felt.  within a couple miles of loveland i decided that i better start trying to get a ride from one of these kind-hearted colorado motorist.  i stuck out my thumb and started hitching it.  as i slowly rolled through my last couple of miles;  car car car…truck, nothing!  for two miles i tried to hitch a ride, not one person even slowed down!

right when i got into town i remembered that there was a k-mart along the way.  i pulled in and tried to find a way to lock my bike.  the only thing i could do was tangle my helmet strap around the wheel to try and deter someone from riding my bike away.  they could easily remove my helmet, but they would have to take the time to do it, and hopefully i will be done with my shopping by then.

i am a mess at this point, i have dried salt all over my face and jacket. i don’t know what my nose looked like, and god knows what my hair was up to.  not that i care so much what i look like, but there were lots of people around that looked like they never rode a bike in their lives….nor did any of them exercise for that matter.

i walked into the store, marched over to the bike section….click, click, click, click!  my cycling cleats, made a lot of noise.  people that didn’t even notice me turned to see what all the noise was.  i kept marching to the bike stuff.  i got there and tried to find something cheap.  i did find something cheap alright, but i couldn’t convince myself to buy it.  it was a headlight the size of my foot and took 2 d-cell batteries. what the fuck?  the stupid thing probably weighed 3 pounds….but on the other hand it was only $9.99!  well i couldn’t do it because i knew that i would have to throw it away right after i got home…or find some way to mount it on my car or house.  i found a little light for 20 dollars… a lot more than i wanted to spend but at least i would use it after today. i also found a tail light that was fairly cheap and got it.

click click click…up to the register i marched.  as i was at the check-out, a mother and her 10 y/o stood in line behind me.  i could see the kid motioning to his mom something, some kind of secret.  i knew he was pointing out all the grossness visible that had dried on me and my clothes. sorry k-mart shoppers!

i got out to my bike,  and tried to open the hard plastic form fitting wrapper that most things come in these days.  you know the kind? where if you don’t use a box cutter, you end up cutting your hand or crying in frustration, or both?  i wrestled around with the stupid packaging in the cold and dark for a few minutes until i declared victory.  a premature victory i might add.  it turned out that my tail light needed a battery or two.  back into the store i went….click click…etc.

i grabbed some batteries at the end of the register and stood in line.  i was second in line, but second, only to the guy with literally 100 cans of cat food!  isn’t there a way to scan one item and then enter the count into the register?  in this case “count” would be 100!  i’m guessing not, because the register lady was doing one at a time.  she got to about can 73, when the lane next to me opened.  i quickly reached over and gave my stuff to the new register lady… and i was off.

now it was completely dark, i had all my low quality k-mart lights mounted shining in all their glory, but i could barely see the road.  the headlight had such a small beam the radius on the ground was probably only 18 inches.

anyway, it was a long, arduous and kind of a sketchy ride home.  when i got home, i saw my wife’s car in the driveway. wtf?  she said she was home the whole time, and couldn’t get to the phone in time.  she tried to call me back but it went straight to voice mail.  everyone was acting like things were all normal.  i asked if son12 had told everyone about where i was.  he didn’t tell anyone. actually he didn’t even know himself…. don’t ask me why he didn’t know, just being a 12 y/o i guess.

1 headlight for bike $19.99

1 taillight for bike $9.99

1 bottle of purple gatorade $1.00

1 4-pack of batteries $4.99

1 non-existent support crew $0.00

80 miles … priceless.

i got out of my car almost ready to run, but i had to stop at the trunk to get out my water holder.   i put it on, and it felt like i had gained some weight since my last run.  i sucked it in, fastened it up and off i went.  started out with a slow nonchalant walk toward the start of the trail… transitioned to a light march…. and finally a slow jog as i entered the trail.  it had been a couple of days since i last ran, and i’m not sure if i had shut down properly the last time i ran, because my legs, arms, and back were all a little stiff.

within minutes, the trail became very muddy, forcing my mind to stop thinking about the creaky, stiff, awkward limbs, and to start focusing on just keeping up-right.   one of the things they never teach you in running school is how to run up hill in the mud.  you can’t run it like a normal up hill.  the tendency, at least for me, is to over compensate for the hill by leaning forward and kind of tiptoeing up the hill. the way to do it at least the best way for me is to run as perpendicular as possible to the  hill, and to land as flat footed as you can.  this way you apply more surface area to the ground.  my mud hill technique may seem weird but these slopes are well over 15% grade, and anything else will surely have you slipping face first into the mud.

the first little hill happened very quickly and my body was not warmed up prior to it, but afterward it quickly started to heat up.  the next couple of kilometers or so were semi-flat with enough rolling hills along the way to keep me “honest”.  before long, i was completely loose and i could feel my pace subtly inching up as i sloshed through the mud.

after about 5 kilometers of mud, snow and rocks, i actually thought of shortening my run.  i don’t know why.  i think i was just getting a little tired of maneuvering through the terrain.  i was also starting to worry about my muddy foot prints and their long term effect on the trail.  i kept going because i didn’t have another plan and i always hesitate when it comes to shortening my runs.  after a couple more kilos my mind started to think less about the snow, less about the rocks…and more about my breathing, and my posture.  i was now running, at a more aggressive pace and the terrain seemed much less intimidating.  without even thinking i stepped over and around rocks and ice as if i already knew where they were.  i was much smoother and more fluent than earlier and all i could think about was running further and faster.

before i knew it, i was 10 kilometers into the run, which should have been the turn around point.  i didn’t feel like turning back already.  my goal was 20k and i could have easily done it, but i had done the same thing last week.   i was feeling much better than last week at this point.  so after some careful endorphin induced thought, i decided to take the long way back.  this would add about 10 more kilometers to the run.  my “plan” was to head out to the other trail head which was next to the highway.  if i was hurting by the time i got there, i would hitch a ride back to my car.  i had never hitched a ride before but it seemed like something i could do.

now that i was committed to my new journey, my mind slipped out of focus a bit.  i started to worry if i made a mistake by making my run 30 kilometers.  i was also worried about how i was going to ask for a ride.  my mind raced around these thoughts for a few more kilometers, until i hit the point of no return.  the point at which it would be longer to turn back.  at this point all the noises were silenced and i could hear my self breathing once again.  and out of no where like a magical spell, i could feel the endorphins kicking in.  my goal was clear, i was committed, and feeling perfect.  nothing was nagging at me, nothing was distracting me, all i could feel was everything working properly. rare!

i still had one more big hill to climb, before things would flatten out and i could get a feel for my pace and effort.  i felt fast… not real fast, i’ve been faster, but for where i am in life, this was pretty fast.  i did a pace check with my gps several times and found that i was about 7:45/mile pace after 20 kilometers of trail running.   at that point i was at the second trail head, and there was no one around to ask for a ride.  it didn’t matter, i had decided many kilometers ago that i would get back to my car under my own power no matter what.  it’s funny, but this run was not a big deal, no one was watching me, no one even knew i was out running, i could have bagged the whole thing and got a ride to my car.  however, when i lock on to something, i lock on.  it would have been pretty hard for someone to keep me from finishing this run.

i got out to the highway and i was still feeling pretty good.  as each kilometer clicked off, i could feel myself not feeling as good.  i was still going at a pretty good pace, but now i was struggling a bit just to keep form.  all i could think about was my form.  i tried to keep my back straight, and keep my arms moving.  that’s all i need to focus on when  times start getting rough.  each stride now seemed a little more difficult than the previous…and each breath seemed to have a little less oxygen.

i was running next to traffic and i could feel them approaching and i could feel the gust of wind as they passed.  each time i looked over at them i could see the passenger looking back at me.  kind of weird for my current state, so i decided to not look at anyone anymore. staring into the vanishing point of the road was a little disheartening, except for the fact that now it seemed far, and my original estimate of distance was probably correct.

focusing was getting easier and more difficult at the same time.  easier since i had more things to focus on, and more difficult because now the distractions were coming from inside me.  more little aches and pains from my knees, and ankles… and now my stomach was hurting a little.

i was now completely out of water, but the end was near, and i wasn’t worried.  i could see my turn-off from the distance.  still full of little aches and pains, but trying to keep my form.  as i was running up to the parking lot i passed a person walking the other direction.  i smiled quite greatly and said hello.  i was very happy to be almost done. …and then done.

i walked around the parking lot a few times, before opening my car.  i stretched for about 10 minutes, and i could feel the stiffness that was causing me discomfort for the last 7 kilometers.  my head was light and airy, not completely grounded yet.  i think it was later that night when i finally came “down”.

i didn’t plan on having an epic day.   this turned out to be my longest run in almost 15 years…. and my funnest run in i don’t know how long.

it’s all about listening to my body.  i’ll hold it back when it tells me to, but more importantly, i’ll let it go when it wants to go.

every year when i take down our artificial christmas tree from the attic, i always remember that very first year in colorado.  that first year when i thought it would be cool to have a real tree.  we had real trees before, but we usually bought them from the temporary tree lots in town.  the trees were usually cut down long before christmas and rested on the pavement against a chain link fence with scribbled price tag tied to its tip.  i really disliked that ritual because it somehow seemed very commercial and less romantic. i naively thought that it would some how be more real christmas-like to have one that we cut down ourselves.

i talked the wife into my utopian vision of a perfect christmas, and before long we had researched and found a place that was a little over an hour away.  at the time we only had two kids, an 18 month old and a 4 and a half year old, so we dressed them warmly and packed them into my 1983 toyota tecel.  the weather was kind of rainy, but as we got closer to the place it quickly turned to light snow.  i remember thinking how perfect the conditions were for tree hunting.  we stopped at the check in station and pre-paid for our tree and borrowed a saw, since i didn’t have my own.

the area was a little disappointing, because for most of the year it was used for harvesting lumber.  we could see lots of clear cut patches as we drove up the winding gravel road.  we pulled over in one of the bigger pullouts on the side of the road and everyone got out of the car.  we were all pretty excited, or maybe it was just me.  after all… i had a saw in my hand and it was snowing and we were going to find the perfect tree.  we had the 18 month old in the backpack which my wife carried; we were going to switch off, but somehow i never took a turn… i guess because i was carrying the saw.

i was running around with the five year old jumping over logs and bush whacking our way to trees that seem ideal from a distance.  this went on for a while but soon my wife got tired and the excitement slowly wore away.  we were all pretty cold and went back to the car, disappointed and freezing, trying to figure out our next move.  as we sat there in the car warming our hands with the little heater vents, we saw one of the workers doing something near by.  at this point i was thinking refund.  how can i get my money back, there are no suitable trees here.  i went over to talk to the guy and told him that we couldn’t find anything.  without thinking he said to go up the road about another mile and there were a bunch of trees there.

i went back in the car and relayed the information to my wife.  we drove up to the spot he was talking about, and i started to get out of the car.  i decided that the wife and kids should stay in the car where it was warm;  i would scout around and call them for approval if i found anything good.  up here the snow on the ground was much thicker.  i had a much more difficult time moving about.  after too long i had found what seemed to be the perfect tree.  i walked around it several times making sure it was without defects.
after almost 2 hours of looking around and hiking up and down steep hills in very cold and now windy conditions, this tree was looking really good.  i ran back to the car full of jubilant excitement and told the family that i found the perfect tree.  my wife looked somewhat disbelieving because i had said this a couple times earlier.  this time i grabbed the 18 month old and my wife and the 5 yo followed behind cautiously.

i crossed the road and stood just at the edge on the snow covered shoulder.  i looked back for my lagging family and yelled out “this way!”  i stepped through the snow and started heading into the woods where my perfect tree was waiting for us.  after about three steps into the snow i realized that it was not a shoulder, but in fact a ditch that lined this road.  a very deep ditch. as i took that one endless step into the ditch i realized i was going to fall.  i had my 18 month old in one arm and would have crush him… if my reflexes didn’t take over.  as i sank down into the ditch my arms went up. and as my arms went up my child was ejected out of my arms and flew some five feet away into a pillow of soft snow.  at least i think it was soft.  no matter he cried like crazy.  my wife who was cautiously standing back the whole time could not restrain herself from laughing after seeing that the baby was ok.  it must have looked crazy funny from where she was.

after some confusion i finally found my tree again.  i showed her the tree and like any good used car salesman, i had her loving the tree as well.  i picked a good place to start sawing and began.  the saw blade kept getting bound up and i had to have my wife push one direction as i cut away.  the tree finally fell and it was so heavy that it broke a few of its branches on the way down.  i guess these “real” trees are a little heavier than the “parking lot” trees.  i drug this thing back to my little car and proceeded to put it on top.  i stood back and looked at my setup, and it kind of looked like a tree with a car underneath it. you know, like the tree had fallen and crushed my car.  i’m sure it was just an optical illusion.  i tied it up and drove off.

as i was driving back, and the family was asleep. i started to do a little math. i could see about 4 feet of tree sticking out the back of my car. i could see the tip of the tree passing the nose of my car.  this tree was over 20 feet tall!  we have vaulted ceilings in our house but i doubt they are 20 feet tall.

it did not fit in our house. not even close.  i had to cut almost 4 feet off the bottom, and it was still just barely fit.  this thing was almost six feet in diameter, the base of the tree was about 8 inches thick and the bottom row of branches spread almost 6 feet in diameter.  i had to build a custom tree stand for this monster, and we had to buy extra decorations since we had never had anything this huge before.  this tree was full of bark and it had pretty good sized pine cones all over it, and it dripped tree sap the entire time it stayed in our living room.  on christmas day our presents were covered in sticky gooey tree sap.

i don’t remember anything that anyone got that year.  i hardly remember christmas day for that matter.  but some how, the year we had the giant tree, was the most memorable christmas ever.

note: this was not taken from national lampoon’s christmas vacation…admittedly it is very similar, but it is my own story.

the nose is quite a wonderful thing… i just started using mine about 3 years ago. after reading a book by john douillard “body, mind and sport.”  before then i used to breathe only through my mouth.  i used to think that that was the only way i could breathe.  i have a nasal septum deviation, a slight over bite and some pretty big incisors.   i had seen people breathing through their nose but usually not in a workout scenario.

john talks about how the nose is the primary breathing apparatus for humans.  among other things the nose filters and warms the air before it enters the lungs.  the mouth on the other hand is for emergencies, air goes directly to the lungs shunting all other mechanisms the body has for preparing air.

you never see a deer or rabbit running with its mouth open, panting uncontrollably catching bugs in his mouth… or having a difficult time saying good morning to other deer do you? of course not!  that’s because most of nature’s animals breathe through their nose.

by the time this sank in, i was determined to figure out how to nose breathe while i run.   it took me quite a few miles but i finally got pretty good at it.  in the beginning i used to have to carry a tissue with me, to keep the nasal passages open…and i became an expert at the farmer’s blow.

i now love nose breathing while i run and when i cycle.  not only do i feel more refreshed, enlightened, and some what more accomplished (it is difficult after all).

i also use nose breathing when i am recovering from an injury.  not only do i feel like more oxygen is flowing through my body making my muscles heal faster…that’s debatable.  another reason is that keeps my mind off the injury.  it really takes a lot of concentration for me to breathe and run. so i have little or no brain power to focus on anything else.  also because it’s so difficult i can only run at a slower more governed pace ( i can’t just run as fast as i want).  i always have to run a bit slower and steadier, which keeps me from blowing something out.

today at lunch i decided to nb for my little 3mile run.  i started out at what seemed like a snail’s pace…and slowly picked it up till i found my breathing  limit.  i figured that i started out at about a 9 or 10 minute pace and worked my way down to about an 8:30 pace.  that’s not too bad considering i was  just out for a jog. also, this was just an estimate, i really didn’t know for sure how fast i was running. until…

i turned my gps on and checked my pace.  holy shit! i was running at a 7:20 pace!  i didn’t feel that fast.  i was still having a little trouble keeping up with the nose breathing but i was able to handle it.  as i was running down the path someone yelled at me, “hey, don’t forget to breathe!”

i did forget…. in fact that’s all i could think about.  when i got back to work i was so full of endorphins i didn’t feel like sitting at my computer.   and after such focused breathing for so long, it transcended the work out to the remainder of the day.  since the run, i have only breathed through my mouth while talking….and “they” tell me, i don’t talk much :)

so if you don’t breath through your nose while running or cycling try it!  you’ll be impressed with yourself.

let me know how it goes.

later

last week i finished up my volunteer work for the denver rescue mission.  i didn’t have any obligation to work there except for the one i imposed upon myself.  you see normally i would have been satisfied to put in my one day, call it an experience and be done with it.  however, in this case there are are several reason why i wanted to make this a regular event.  the first reason is that i really want to help the homeless. the first day i was more of a liability to them. i didn’t know what to do, how to do it, where things go, or when things happen.  i had to ask every little thing.  kind of annoying for the people that manage us, but they are used to it i guess. …judging by the way they so gracefully micromanage us volunteers.

after observing round after round of noobs each time i volunteered, i don’t think it was just me that needed minute by minute guidance.  back when i did my first day, i naively assumed that the volunteers participated in an egalitarian society, everyone had more or less the same job, no favorites no rankings.  after my second visit i quickly learned that filling water cups was for the ‘green”.  most first timers have to fill these water cups and place them on a cart, so they can hand them out when the lines starts.  funny thing about these cups, they are corporate coffee mugs, left over from the dot com bust.  lots of unknown company logos adorn the  sides of these ceramic artifacts from a different culture (a culture that i am way too familiar with).  one thing that can be said about all the volunteers, is that they seem genuinely happy (unlike the corporate world).  it must be because they feel like they are doing something worth while and making a difference.

so as a five time veteran of  volunteering i pretty much know what is going on at this place.  i know more or less, what needs to be done, and how to do it.  i’ve fill the water cups, filled the trays, handed out the trays, cleared the tables, wiped the tables, and helped in the kitchen.  there are not many jobs that i am unfamiliar with these days.  we had a full staff of volunteers this time, and mike started giving out the assignments.  as the new people were given their jobs, i started to wonder if there would be enough jobs to go around.  he already handed out all the jobs that i was familiar with, so when it was my turn, i was pretty excited to think that i was going to get something new.  he turned and pointed to me and said, i need you to do something for me.  he then walked over to me and explained what my new job was going to be.

it turns out that the mission is having a little problem with the homeless leaving at different times.  ideally if everyone would eat at the same time they could leave at the same time.  however due to the buffet style lines, some people would start eating much earlier than the guys at the end of the line. this would cause some guys to get bore and ask for seconds, or just take off.  in order to correct this, the denver rescue mission was trying a “dining room” style eating.  everyone would sit down and get served at more or less the same time.  this way they could eat and finish at the same time.

the end of dinner was 7:30 and everyone was required to stay seated until that time.  so my job, was to be the house security or “bouncer” if you will.  i would stand at the door looking tough and keep people from exiting before 7:30.  i’ve been to way too many concerts and events where the power hungry ill equipped security guards detour the crowds with terse arrogant  directions…”don’t stand there”, “stay behind the line”, “this exit is closed”…etc.  today was my turn and i was naively excited to get this job.

the minute all the food was handed out i marched over to “my” assigned door.  i was instructed to try and talk people into staying  and to not use force no matter what.  i was also instructed to not try too hard to keep people in, it might make them angry.  so there i stood with an eager look on my face, quite unfitting for the task at hand.  with little or no attention payed to me, the first homeless guy walked past my guard.  at that moment i realized that i was going to have to look a little tougher.

i looked around and studied some of the other guys doing the same job.  these other guys were quite a bit harder than me.  they were former addicts and were actually going through the rehabilitation program at the mission.  they somehow got off the streets and came into the shelter to get help.  most of them were quite tough looking,  as they stood there, mad dogging every homeless person thinking about heading their way.  hmm…i could do that.  i straightened up my apron, rolled up my sleeve so my tattoo would show (note: my tattoo is of a bicycle), and stared off into the distance like i was looking out the bottom of my nose.  since i was the only one guarding a door that led to the outside,  most of the homeless headed my direction.

i would start out with a cool, “how’s it going man?”

i would follow that with a “so you’re not going to stay till the end?”

…then they would counter my questions, by just walking out. buy the end of the evening i had turned back three guys, and let two go, and only one got out of hand.  he was trying to get out by saying he had permission. other bouncers came over to help out, and just made the guy really mad.  he started yelling at them…and finally we just let him go.  apparently the other homeless guy don’t like this guy either.  he is annoying to them as well.  we all laughed about it afterward.  no matter what the group, there is always at least one ass hole.  it’s ok, though it brought me a little closer, to the people i was trying to help.

at the end of the evening i went to the back room to get my stuff so i could go.  there were two female volunteers there getting ready to leave as well.  i didn’t get a chance to meet them earlier so i introduced myself.  after our short intros, they said, “you looked pretty intimidating out there”

i said “oh heh…thanks”.  i think it was a complement, at least i took it as one, because i was really trying to look intimidating.

it was a great night anyway. i would have rather handed out the food, but i’m glad i didn’t.  most people can not say they were a “bouncer” at the homeless shelter.

peace