Saturday, October 29, 2011

A Chronic Runner's Tales

So what is a chronic runner?  I would characterize myself as one.  Chronic runner, that is.   The term "avid" just doesn't seem to do it when describing my running habits and schedule.    To me "avid" implies someone who goes out the door with an agenda: run farther, run faster, run speed intervals, run hills, run fartleks, run splits.  No...this just doesn't describe how I run. 

The descriptor, "chronic" just seems to fit.   That's chronic, as in, "habitually" or "of long duration and frequent recurrence."    I get up in the morning, roll out of bed, and pull on running gear quickly, before I've had a chance to change my mind.  Out of habit.  I do this three or four times a week.  It's a well-ingrained habit.  Two or three times a week I run 4 or 5 miles, one time a week I run a longer distance, determined by where I am on the race training schedule. The week after a half marathon...6 miles.  Six weeks before a half marathon...7 miles.   Two weeks before a half marathon...12 miles.  My PR's are a decade behind me, now.  I don't care if I never do speedwork again.    Fartleks?  Only if you count the sprint to the house that last tenth of a mile.  Yep.  I'm old and have become set in my running has been this way for a long time.

If some other activity bumps into a scheduled run on my calendar, there's no question which item gets scratched.  A visit with friend over lunch, a weekend spent with son, daughter-in-law and grandkids, play rehearsals, serious miles on a motorcycle...these will definitely happen at the expense of getting a run in.  

Of course, there have been many times when I've successfully mixed running with socializing or travel.   Some of my most memorable runs have happened while I've been traveling.  And this weekend I'll get to combine running with travel AND family:  I'm spending the long weekend visiting my son and we're all going to do a Pumpkin Patch 5K/1K race on Saturday.   This ought to be interesting!  Stay tuned for the report!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Commitments....and Mosquitos

They're "killing" me.  Well, not really.  But figuratively speaking, these two things - a full calendar and those blasted mosquitos - are really taking a 'bite' (pun intended) out of my running schedule.

The welts are still popping up in all sorts of unimaginable places on my body as a result of that long run I did on Sunday.  The exceptional mosquito infestation here in Houston is all over the news.  Nearly overnight, these pests appeared, making life outdoors nearly unliveable.  I did a shorter run on Friday and had no problems with them.  Just two days later, and they made my long Sunday run miserable. 

I went grocery shopping yesterday after play rehearsal, and should probably count the multiple "hastened" trips in and out of the house to empty the trunk of my car of groceries as a workout.  Never have I unloaded the trunk so quickly, never have I dashed in and out of the door with such efficiency!  By the time I'd made that last trip, there were dozens of mosquitos hovering over my open trunk, drafting in my wake as I zipped back and forth from car to door.

I should have done an easy run on Tuesday morning, but just could not bring myself to go outside, sacrifice my tender flesh, my precious blood, to those mosquitos.  And again this morning I woke up intending to go out for that run, but, I admit it...I chickened out.  When I left the house at 8:30 AM for rehearsal, I noticed that there was a nice breeze, the temperatures were moderate, and humidity wasn't too bad.  And neither were the mosquitos. 

I guess this means that I should make the effort, get that run in tomorrow morning.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

My Faithful Riding Partner...My Olympia AST Jacket

I'm sitting here trying to remember when I bought this Olympia AST jacket.  I'm thinking it was in late 2005 or early 2006.  This model was brand-new to Olympia and was only available in one color - Dark grey (slate) with black ballistics - when I bought it from a BMW dealership on-line.  At some later point, it became available in hi-vis yellow.  That would have been nice to have. 

I had discovered another Olympia jacket model, the Airglide mesh/textile jacket, in 2004 when I attended the International Motorcycle Show in Dallas TX.  They had just been introduced, were being shown and sold at this show, and I came home the proud owner of an Airglide jacket:  A black one with red accents.  I loved it, loved the way it fit, loved the removable quilted jacket liner that could function as a stylish stand-alone jacket when off the bike.   I now wear a silver-grey Airglide 2.  Finding Olympia riding jackets has been a game-changer for me.

Fit had always been a huge problem for me when it came to motorcycle jackets.  I had purchased many and sold nearly every one of them on e-bay when their shortcomings became evident.  Being a short and slight woman, I found them all to be built for football players:  Sleeves too long, too big in the shoulders and chest, too long in the torso.    Alpinestars seemed to be the only brand I could find that was truly built for female riders.

I was wearing a red Alpinestars mesh/textile jacket prior to the discovery of this Olympia Airglide jacket.   That Alpinestars jacket was okay; it had a removable membrane liner to make it waterproof, but it wasn't insulated. And it wasn't well-suited to cold-weather riding since the fit was not conducive to wearing bulky clothing underneath.  I still have that jacket, occasionally pulling it out for local rides. 

Then, a few years after discovering the Olympia Airglide jacket, I discovered that AST jacket, suitable for 3-season riding with its ample venting, removable quilted liner - just like the one that came with my Airglide - waterproof shell, supplemented by the permanent membrane liner.  And I knew it would fit me perfectly, since it was the same cut/style as the Airglide.

Well, 6 years and possibly as many as 175,000-180,000 miles seem like plenty enough use out of this Olympia AST jacket.  Lately I've noticed that the Velcro fasteners on the sleeve cuffs won't stay fastened...they come undone at the worst times:  When it's cold, or wet, or cold AND wet.   And the neck closure will frequently come undone whenever I fasten or unfasten the D-ring latch on the straps of my helmet.  If I'm getting ready to remount my motorcycle, this inadvertent unfastening of my collar will often go unnoticed until I'm underway, going 70 mph, and then the cold air will pour into my neck and the jacket neckline will have blown open and been pulled back so much it will be virtually impossible for me to get that collar refastened while moving.  Arghhh!

Notice the pale grey back
compared to the dark gray
I replaced the Velcro "hook" strips, but then discovered that it wasn't the "hooks" that were no longer working, but the "velvet" strips that were so worn and "fuzzed" that the hooks just couldn't get a grip.  Replacing the "velvet" strips would have been a major undertaking.  Sigh.  Cuffs and collar that will not stay closed - totally unacceptable to me.

Otherwise, I was willing to overlook the fact that the dark slate grey color was badly faded across the back, the shoulders, the upper and lower sleeves, so much so that the jacket actually appeared two-tone grey.  I was also willing to overlook how the sleeve vent zippers - nice rubberized waterproof zippers that they are - were becoming difficult to open or close.  I used to be able to close the zips while underway, but no more.  I have to wait until I'm stopped, often even having to remove the jacket to do so.  Guess it's the permanent "bend" in the arms from the thousands of miles of wear that has made this so difficult these days. 

And then there's that "funk" - that permanently imprinted B.O. - that the jacket has picked up from all those thousands of miles ridden in 90+ degree, even 100+ degree temperatures.  I don't believe in washing my jackets by total immersion in water.  To me, they're just never the same after being washed.  Washing them seems to take the "starch" out of them, remove the water resistance of the Cordura fabric, wilt the "look" of the jacket.  I rather like the grunged look they get after so many miles' use.  I spot-clean them to remove major bug splats, mud, food, and other crusty stuff.  But the impregnated "funk" is another matter.  I noticed it on my last ride - the Shoalmire Tribute SS1000 last weekend.  Phew!  I could hardly stand myself!

My new AST jacket
in Sand/black
Yep!  Time to retire the jacket.  Last winter I had the good fortune to "score" a new one at a great close-out price - this one in the Sand color - at the Motorcycle Closeouts webpage.  When I received it, I tucked it away in my closet until the time when I felt my first AST jacket was ready to retire.  Well here it is...time.  

But then the other day I began to mourn my decision to retire that original slate grey jacket and the fact that it fits me so doggone well.  What if, when the day comes to retire this second new AST jacket, I can't find a suitable replacement for a jacket I love so much?  No other brand of all-season jacket fits this petite and slight woman, not even the smallest size men's Aerostich, even with all the expensive custom 'mods' available.  The AST is such the perfect jacket for all seasons. 

So, impulsively, in the throes of "loss," I logged onto that Motorcycle Closeouts webpage to see if they still had any of these jackets left...just to see.  Well, good fortune was smiling down on me.  That plus the fact that I wear a size Small.  The second generation AST jacket has been on the market for a couple of years, so I was surprised they still had a few of the first generation model in stock.  They had only a limited size selection,  the sizes that don't usually sell well:  size XS, S, and the largest sizes.  So I went ahead and bought another new AST jacket, this one in that slate grey color that served me so well...and at a greatly discounted price.  Now I have a back-up jacket.

Bring on the cold, the wet, the cold and wet...I'm ready!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Mosquito March

Well....I thought I'd go ahead and get another long run in this week, even though I just did one four days earlier, on Wednesday.  I just couldn't see how I was going to fit it in any other way, since every morning this coming week is taken up with play rehearsals.

So out of bed, running clothes on, a $10 bill folded and tucked away in that cute little zippered pocket on my running top, I headed out the door.  I thought I'd run over to the McDonald's on FM-518 about 6.5 miles away.  I'm really into their cappucino and their fruit & yogurt parfait, and this will make for a nice "destination" run. 

It was very pleasant outside this morning...a slight low mist hanging over the fields, a certain dampness in the air that we've not felt here in a long time.  My circuit through the neighborhood complete, I then headed out through the gate and onto the sidewalk running alongside the main roads,  past that nice pond I've referred to in previous blog posts, the herons still working the water's edges, a handsome Muscovy duck watching over her half-grown ducklings still grey with their downy baby feathers. 

When I was about a mile away from that "destination" McDonald's, I could almost taste the richness of their cappucino, feel the frothy milk on my tongue.  The thought of the yogurt and fresh fruit parfait was making my stomach rumble.

The cold air inside the store gave me a chill, as I briefly ducked inside the restroom to use the toilet and to rinse the sweat off my face.  I stepped up to the counter to place my order and the friendly woman at the cash register asked, "Have you been running?  Good for you!  You're making me feel guilty.  I should be out there too!"  Come to think of it, she looked like she could be a runner.  She was about my age - and about my size - and said that like she meant it.

I sat down inside to eat my parfait and, when finished, locked that little cap on the lid of my cappucino into the open position and headed out the door and towards home.  I'm getting pretty good at locomotiing while holding a to-go coffee and, after about 1/4 mile walking and sipping, I began to run again. 

As I got out of the "strip mall development" area and back into more rural lands, I began to notice that the mosquitos were starting to swarm and actually make a landing on various parts of my body.  Let me preface the rest of the story by saying that, because of the very dry spring and summer we've had here in South Texas, the mosquitos have been dormant.  But we had a good rain here two weeks ago, and all those mosquito larvae that had lain dormant for all these months hatched - all at one time - and are now after blood!  It's the worst mosquito infestation we've had in years, because they hatched all at one time.

I was running at a fairly slow pace, mostly to enjoy the coffee and keep it from sloshing out of the sip hole.  But I clearly had a large mosquito target on my back and was going slow enough for the mosquitos to land and start biting.  By instinct, I flailed my arms to dislodge the mosquitos, forgetting that the hand at the end of one of those arms was holding the coffee, and liquid flew out the hole, into the air, and onto my hand. 

I picked up the pace a bit, until I was moving fast enough that the mosquitos couldn't land on me.  They managed to keep up with me, though, and whenever I looked down, I could see a cloud of them swarming around my lower torso and legs.  If I slowed just one tiny bit, they were able to land on my legs and arms and start snacking.  Ughh!!

My legs were starting to "flag," reminding me that I had just done a long run four days earlier.  "Why are you doing this to us?" They were hollering at me, trying to get my attention.  It didn't matter.  I wasn't listening.  I was in self-preservation mode, legs be damned!  Just 3 more miles of this torture, and I'll be home!

It truly was torture!  What a predictament I found myself in!  My legs were really balking at this pace, especially after 8 or 9 miles yet, if I slowed down, the cloud of mosquitos surrounding my body would immediately alight. 

Finally!  My house came into view!  When I got up to the front door, I did one last little dance - flailing arms and legs to disrupt and remove any lingering mosquitos - and then dashed quickly in the door, into the safety of the house.  Whew! 

When I logged my distance and pace into my Runner's World online running log, I was astonished at the pace for such a long distance.  As far as it being one of those LSD (long slow distance) was a long distance, just not a slow distance, thanks to those mosquitos.

Friday, October 21, 2011

We Are The Majority

If you're like me and you're training for an upcoming half- or full marathon, you're following a  training plan. There are dozens of plans out there, each with slight variations.  But all of them advocate the same two elements:  An increasingly longer "long slow distance" (LSD) run per week, and at least one, preferably two, rest or recovery days per week.  Sources of well-respected training programs include: Runners World, which publishes several training plans at their website and offers real-time online coaching for its enrollees; and  USAFit which provides a training plan for those who sign up for a local chapter of their program or follow it on-line.  These two programs - along with many others that are similar - all have these two elements in common:  An LSD run and one or two recovery days each week of the program.

So, getting back to that LSD for a moment...LSD implies not only distance, but the pace at which that distance is run.  During the first week of a multi-week training program, this LSD typically starts with a distance of 5 or 6 miles and gradually increases week by week until this LSD approaches the race distance we're training for, whether it's a 12 to 14 mile LSD run in preparation for a half marathon, or a 22 to 26 mile LSD run in preparation for a full marathon.  And as its name implies - long slow distance - it's done at a sub-marathon pace, i.e., S..L..O..W.  

Here's the description for the LSD run at the end of the first week of training, taken from Runner's World's online training program:
  • Week #1, Day #7
  • Today is your first long, slow distance (LSD) run. The long run is the backbone of any successful training program. It builds your aerobic base, increases your endurance, boosts confidence, and helps you rehearse some of the gear and fuel strategies you'll need for the race. It also helps you prepare for the psychological challenge of racing for a few hours. Since you'll be running farther, you can go out slower than you usually do. On these days your goal is just to complete the distance.
For us mere mortals who represent the vast majority of folks who line up at the start line for half or full marathons, starting a training program - whether it's for the first time, or after a recovery layoff - and running that first Long Slow Run of 5 miles is BIG STUFF!  We add to this distance gradually, 10-20% increases each week, and next thing we know, we're running 12 miles and we're now confident that we can finish that half marathon.  And we feel damn proud of ourselves for reaching that point in our training. 

We run our race, maybe take a couple of weeks off from running, then slip into "maintenance mode" until the next race catches our eye, if at all.  For many finishers of a marathon or half-marathon, this may not ever happen again, or won't happen until the same time next year when the training plan starts all over again from the beginning.

Don't let anyone tell you that 5 or 6 or 7 miles is not a "long run."  Yes, there are those runners who eat miles like candy, cranking out double-digit mileage every day, running 30 miles on a Sunday.    But they are a small minority.  The rest of us - the majority of runners who do half- and whole marathons - why, we thank God or whatever deities we believe in that we made it to the end of that training program, worked our way up to and finished that last LONG SLOW DISTANCE RUN, be it 12 miles or 22 miles, and got to the start line injury-free.

A "long run" is a state of mind, not a statement of miles.

Mere mortals unite! 
See you at the start line.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Pygmalion Wears Running Shoes

If there's a connection between Pygmalion and running, I'll find it.  But in the meantime, let me say this:  9:00 AM rehearsals and 7:00 AM runs are pretty much mutually exclusive. 

I live in a great little community!  We have so many activities...too many, if you're the kind of person who wants to do it all!  One of the groups I've been active with has been the Players Club.  We put on three stage productions every year, usually a musical, a melodrama, and either a murder mystery or comedy.  Past productions have included Damn Yankees, South Pacific, The Odd Couple, just to name a few.

So this fall, our group is staging My Fair Lady.  I didn't try out for a part, because I worried I couldn't make the commitment to daily rehearsals for this production.    Working with the director, though, I set up the sound effects playlist on the computer and then offered to be a stand-in for anyone who couldn't make a rehearsal.  Next thing I knew, I was recruited into the chorus.  So here I am...committed.  Now I need to figure out how to weave my runs into the rehearsal schedule.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

A Fitting Tribute to an Outstanding Rider and a Great Man

Jack Shoalmire SS1000 - A nationwide tribute
Jack Shoalmire  1942-2011
Taken at Big Bend Ranch State Park, February 2011

It started at 4:16 AM on Saturday, October 15, 2011 and ended seventeen and a half hours later, at 9:54 PM.  My ride of 1,053 miles on some of Texas's most beautiful roads would join those of a hundred others', being done in all 50 U.S. states.


Jack Shoalmire
Taken at Rio Grande Village, Big Bend National Park
February 2010
When the word got out that this event was being put together in memory and honor of Jack Shoalmire, I knew that I had to be a part of this.  I immediately e-mailed back to the organizer to count me in.  After all, I had just seen Jack six months earlier in Big Bend and had seen him many other times at other MTF events prior to that. 

His sudden death has left a hole in the hearts of all of us who knew him and is a loss to the LD Riding Community as a whole.  What better tribute in his memory than to complete those in-state Saddle Sore rides (1000 miles in less than 24 hours) in all 50 states, rides that Jack had started but never had the chance to complete.

The LD riding community really came together on this one!   As Howard Entman, the person responsible for proposing and then organizing this event, said...More than 100,000 miles were ridden in Jack's memory this day.


I knew that this would be a momentous event.  I also knew that, because of this, I didn't want to do a simple out-and-back "interstate blast."  Last spring I routed a SS1000 for the MTF's regional Saddle-Sore event.  I had a straight interstate route for the first-timers, but I also drew up a route to appeal to the experienced IBA members, a more difficult route, one that included over 600 miles on non-interstate two- and four-lane roads and passed through a number of small Texas towns and county seats.  This would be the perfect route for a Jack Shoalmire Tribute SS1000.   I convinced friend Steve to join me on this ride.  He willingly agreed.

It was a lovely route.  It headed south toward the Gulf coast of Texas, ran 150 miles southwest, skirting the coast, crossing inlets and bays along the way.  Then it headed due north for 200 miles through the heart of the state's agricultural region to the eastern edge of Texas Hill Country just north of Austin.  The next leg of the route was 100 miles ridden on one of Texas Hill Country's most beautiful motorcycle roads, Texas 29, with its combination of sweeping curves, blind hills, and rugged terrain filled with mesquite and prickly pear cactus.   Then southwest on US 377, skirting between windswept mesas and through some pretty ranch country.  At Junction TX the route heads west to Ozona on I-10 then turns around and heads east to Houson on I-10, then right back to where it starts, just south of the city.

I made just one minor change to the route, sending it a little further east as it goes north out of Aransas Pass to Georgetown, in order to avoid Austin - and the traffic of a University of Texas home-game day.


My zooty BMW is ready.  I'm ready. So, with snacks, water, and Gatorade stowed in the left sidecase, it was off to Buc-ee's gas station, one mile from the house, to get my starting receipt for the Jack Shoalmire Tribute SS1000 Ride.  I had two photos of Jack - a nice portrait-style shot of him taken while we were at Big Bend Ranch State park for lunch last February, another of him taken the previous year at Big Bend National Park with his red KLR.  I also had printed out a copy of his obituary and had tucked all of these items together in the map pocket of my tankbag.  My rear footpegs were in the down position.  There was no question at all in my mind that Jack was coming along with me - and with all of the others - on this ride. 

At 4:16 AM my gas tank was topped off and I had receipt safely tucked away in my tankbag.  Now I just had to wait until friend Steve arrived from Tomball TX to join me.   By 4:30 AM we were headed south on TX-288 toward Angleton, Highway 35, and the Texas Gulf coast.

Okay, Jack.  Hang on!  We're off, heading south to start this memorial TX instate SS1000 in your honor! 

 It was pitch dark along Highway 35 and my imagination was cutting no slack.  I knew that this was a high deer-density area because of the  heavy vegetation and major Texas rivers that flow through here on their way to the Gulf of Mexico:  Brazos River, Colorado River, San Antonio River, Guadalupe River.  I was not sorry to see the first pink glow in my rearview mirrors, as the sun began to rise.  As we were passing over the causeway on Aransas Bay, I looked over my left shoulder and was treated to the start of a gorgeous sunrise.  Look, Jack!  Do you see that?  Do you see how calm the waters are, how the pelicans are poised on pilings and piers, waiting for daylight to reveal their breakfast, lurking just beneath these turquoise gulf waters? 

The light was a soft golden glow when we arrived in Aransas Pass for our first stop for gas...and to mark the corner of our route.  Steve and I had a small SNAFU at the planned gas stop.  The gas station I'd scouted earlier in the year for the MTF SS1000 was not yet open for the day.  The pumps were turned on, but the C-store was closed, a bundle of that morning's newspapers still sitting on the mat in front of the locked door.  Someone overslept, did they??  And of course the pumps would not dispense a receipt.  The message said, "Cashier has receipt."  I took a photo of the pump's display and of the store itself, recorded the purchase and odometer reading, then rode across the street to a Chevron station to get an ATM receipt for date/time/location stamp and to use their restroom.  Not a good start, but we were a little ahead of schedule, so not a problem.

Then another SNAFU as my GPS got totally lost trying to get out of Aransas Pass.  Construction to widen Highway 35 and add limited-access on- and off-ramps had us totally "off route" and Jill was so busy "recalculating" she neglected to tell me to turn right onto US-181 north.  But a quick discussion on the side of the road with Steve got us turned around and back on route.  Hopefully this will be the only U-turn of the day.

The aroma of freshly plowed earth assailed my nostrils as we passed through miles and miles of cotton fields in Taft and Sinton and Skidmore, on our way to Beeville.  Jack, can you smell it?   Hundreds of giant wind turbines were lined up to the horizon, doing their work and taking advantage of the prevailing southwest winds.

We stopped in Kenedy for gas and to mark the route, showing that we stayed east of I-37 on US-181 and TX-80, and didn't take that easy and fast route.  On up through the town of Luling with its watermelon-shaped water tower - and home of the Luling Watermelon Thump and some of the best BBQ in the state, City Market - and then continuing north to Georgetown.  We very carefully skirted Austin to avoid what was sure to be a crush of traffic heading towards the home game between University of Texas and #6-ranked Oklahoma State. 

Our next corner was Georgetown, where we turned west onto TX-29.  Corner marked with a gas receipt and a snack of peanut butter crackers and Gatorade, I began what was to be yet another pretty leg of this trip.  TX State Highway 29 heads west from Georgetown, through Bertram and Burnet, past the gorgeous Buchanan Dam, and then through Llano and Mason, both towns being county seats with pretty courthouse squares.

Coming out of Burnet, the highway begins a gentle downhill journey with gentle curves that sent me down and around a final bend where, first, a nicely restored iron trestle bridge came into view and then, off to the right, the Buchanan dam was gradually revealed.   It was an impressive sight!  The lake at its base glistened a brilliant and rich blue-green in the sunlight.

The road with its high-speed sweepers begged for some throttle and, with its smooth lanes, devoid of any traffic, I complied.   West of Llano, I spotted a deer feeding along the side of the road.  I had plenty of time to slow down, and was prepared to come to a complete stop if I had to.  The deer - a beautiful large doe - stood frozen, staring at me, until I came nearly to a stop along side her, when she leapt off the shoulder and into the wooded fields beyond. 

There's a short section along this highway where there are interesting pink and red rocks, large rocks, piled one upon another, tossed there by some colossal force of nature.  And here they sit today, how many thousands of years later.   It's not too far from Enchanted Rock State Park, no doubt another result of the same natural force of nature.  Riding through this area while doing this SS1000 was indeed enchanting!

At Mason TX I turned onto US-377 to continue toward Junction TX and was treated to beautiful views of mesas, their tops worn smooth and their sides carved into "organ pipe" formations by the strong winds that whip through and around these natural formations.  Cattle and horse ranches fill the flat pastures between the mesas.  The area was not nearly as desolate as I imagined it would be.

Soon, I was in Junction.  I needed to go inside to get my gas receipt and couldn't help but notice the motorcycle parked up near the front door.  Once inside, it was obvious that the man working the cash register was the owner of that bike.  He clearly knew that I belonged to that BMW parked at one of his pumps and knew why I'd come inside.  He was prepared to print my receipt, but not before marveling at how many gallons I'd pumped into that bike.  It really wasn't that many...the fuel light wasn't even on, nor had the low-fuel countdown begun.

Another quick "gas pump snack" of Granola Bar and Gatorade, and I was up on the interstate, heading the 90 miles west to Ozona, my turnaround point.  My SS1000 is now almost 2/3 complete.  In Ozona, it's now 3:30 PM, The exact time I predicted I'd be there.  Now my route will be straight interstate to home.  I'll have just one more gas stop - in San Antonio - and then I'll be back at the Buc-ee's gas station where I started.  I'm happy, because I know these next few hours will be easy riding.

As I rode along on I-10, passing through Sonora, then Junction, then Kerrville, I knew that I'd be on the Anderson Loop around the north side of San Antonio well before dark.  I reflected on how I'd just ridden this stretch of road 6 days earlier, returning from Van Horn after serving as witness for riders who were doing IBA BBG3000 and BBG4500 extreme rides.  How different my ride was this day compared to 6 days ago.  Today the sky was perfectly blue, the temperature a near-perfect 85 degrees.  Last week it was cold and gray and wet.  I was very thankful for how perfect the weather turned out to be on this day, the day we memorialized Jack by doing this ride.

The sun set in my rearview mirrors as I rode through Luling TX heading east toward home.  By the time I reached Schulenburg it was night-time.  But it didn't matter. I was on roads I'm very familiar with, I was feeling great, and I knew I was only 100 miles from home.  Besides, Jack was riding along with me, keeping me company.

As I rode through Katy, TX on I-10, my trip odometer turned over 1000 miles.  It is done.  Now just another 50 or so miles to my last gas receipt near home.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Wildly Diverse Groups...Benefiting One Cause

Back in the early 1980's, the parents of a friend of mine organized an event called the Florida Coast to Coast Ride. It was a group of motorcycle riders spending the day riding as many back roads as they could find between the west coast of Florida near Tampa and the east coast of Florida near Cocoa Beach.  It was the start of a tradition that was curtailed by his dad's health problems and then the event faded away in 1990.

  Ó 2011 smithworks
Fourteen years later, this friend resurrected the
Florida Coast2Coast Ride in his dad's memory, this time as a fund raiser for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Ironically, just days after that first resurrection event, he was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma. The event has taken place every year since, and I am proud to be a part of the event as a supporter, developing and maintaining the webpage and handling the on-line registrations, and as a participant.  

Taking all day to get from the west coast of Florida to the east coast of Florida seems highly improbable, what with Interstate 4 running along that very same path.  But this friend has managed to find every possible tiny little road there is between the two coasts, and has planned a diabolical route using these roads to get us from one side of the state to the other in the least efficient manner possible.  It's all great fun and raises money for this great cause.

This year the event takes place November 12.  A week later, on November 20, the Women's Half Marathon will be held in St. Petersburg, FL.   We're talking about a different group of people doing what they love to do, with the same beneficiary:  Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.  We're talking about people running a diabolical route that will take them from point A to point B through the streets of St. Petersburg in the least efficient manner possible in order to cover 13.1 miles between two points that are barely a mile apart. 

There's a satisfying degree of poetic parallelism to these two events. Don't you agree?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Something to Shoot For

This week's Running Notebook column in the Houston Chronicle - about a woman who has completed the 50 States Marathon Challenge - got me thinking.  There's an idea!  What if I went for a "50 States Half Marathon" experience?  There's no club or organization that I know of to recognize that accomplishment, but it would surely be fun to do!  And think of all the great cities I'd be visiting while trying!

I already have a bit of a start on this.  There was the Big Sur half-marathon in Monterey, California.   I did this one with my son a few years ago.  That was truly a unique and fun experience!    It was cold and grey that day and we both were bundled up to ward off the chill at the start line.  My son was in training for a full marathon in Sacramento, I was in training for the full marathon in Houston and we were each at about the same point in our training schedules.  In his modesty, my son felt that he was slow enough that he'd be running with me that day.  Well, that didn't happen.  By mile 5 he was clearly holding back, so he took off, meeting up with me later at the finish line.

I already have Hawaii covered.  I did the Maui Half Marathon last year, in September.  It was truly a memorable weekend, flying over there from Oahu while visiting son and family then camping out at a beautiful Hyatt Regency on the beach for the long weekend, the start line just steps from the front door. 

I have Ohio covered as well.  I've done the Cincinnati Flying Pig half marathon twice, and am signed up to do it again next May.  Such a great race in a great and welcoming city!  And Michigan is done.  Completing the Capital City River Run half marathon last month in Lansing MI was truly an experience!

And of course, there's Texas!  Numerous medals from half marathons and full marathons completed in my own home state hang on the wall here at my casa in Houston.    Soon I'll add Florida to the list of completed states.  The Womens Half Marathon in St. Petersburg FL is coming up in November.

 Let's see, now.  That's CA, HI, TX, MI, OH, FL.   Six down, only 44 to go...Yikes!  I doubt I could accomplish this before I get too old and feeble...but how cool would this be?!
Gotta work on this idea a bit more...

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Another Road Trip...Another Run on the Road

How does it feel to run at 4,100 feet above sea level when you usually run at an elevation that's just a mere 45 feet above sea level?   Ten years ago I had business in Denver and brought my running gear with me so that I could get a couple of runs in.  In fact, that was the year I was stranded at the airport when my flight home was cancelled.  It was September 11, 2001.  But that's another story from which folklore has been made.  I remembered that the altitude reduced my performance somewhat.  But I'm now 10 years older and I wondered how much more I'd be affected.  On this trip I was about to find out.

I'm in Van Horn, Texas this weekend.  It's a small, dusty town strung along the Pacific railroad line and bound on the south side by Interstate 10.  The town was settled in the 1860's as a support center along the overland mail route between San Antonio and El Paso.  Then the rail line came in, adding to growth of the town.  Today it's not much more than a wayside stop for travelers on I-10.  But while there are several chain hotels and fast food restaurants at the exits, there are still plenty of clean and neat mom & mom motorcourts along the main street.  There's a cute little coffee house in town, and a beautifully restored historic hotel that warrants a trip back to enjoy its luxurious furnishings and fine dining. 

Since I needed to get a long run in this weekend, I decided to map an 8-mile route through the town.  It was going to be cool in the morning - 50 degrees - but my greater concern was getting that long run in at 4,000 feet elevation.  There'd be lots of opportunities to short-circuit the route if I needed to, but, as it turned out, I didn't have to.

It was gorgeous and clear and crisp when I set out this morning.  I had money and my room key tucked in a pocket, with the reward of a McDonald's parfait, sausage muffin and cappucino waiting for me at the end of the route. 

The first little bit of the route was up a slight grade and I knew it...I could feel it in my legs but also in my breathing.  But, the good news was that soon I'd be turning around and heading back the other way, through town and to the far east side where the main street dead-ends into I-10...all of it  on a slight downhill grade. 

There's a Love's Truck stop at that turnaround point, so I took advantage of that.   Now I had to turn around and run back up that slight uphill grade to the center of town where I turned right and headed north towards the northern edge of town.   More uphill grade! It was mostly residential, but with the county courthouse, county fire department, library, and school all tucked in between the little stucco houses.  At 10th Street I turned left and ran three blocks which brought me into the heart of the residential area.  Each home was neat as a pin, with neat xeriscape yards (this is high desert, after all) and plentiful dogs to keep me company.  I turned south onto Fannin Street and headed back toward the center of town, my route making a large box through this neighborhood.

That's the nice thing about a tiny little town like this.  First, there's no traffic at all.  It made running a pleasure.  Second, the dogs pretty much own the little streets.  I was escorted and ushered from house to house by a phalanx of dogs.  Big dogs.  Little dogs.  Tiny dogs.  The cutest was a little "guy" that looked like a long-haired chihuahua.  It came charging out into the street and right up to my feet, barking and looking all business.  But it fell in step with me and scampered along, until I had to stop and clap my hands to shoo it back home.  I was afraid it would follow me too far.

I was then back to the center of town, so I ran south to a Pilot gas station that sits at an interstate exit and bought a bottle of water and banana.  I found a shady spot to eat my banana and drink some water before continuing my run. 

Now I only had the stretch from the center of town back up the main street to the far western side of town - about 2 miles - where a McDonald's sits at a different interstate exit.  Only problem is that this stretch is going back up that uphill grade and my legs were starting to feel oxygen deficit.  I kept my mind focused on the reward at the end of the run and just kept plugging along.  Occasionally I took a brief walking break to catch my breath.

Finally!  The street where I'd be turning left came into view and, once around that corner, the McDonald's was visible under the I-10 overpass.  I did it!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Windy Ride to Van Horn

I'm sitting here in my motel room.  I know I'm seated because I have several visual cues.  But my inner ears are still rockin' and rollin' me as if I were still on the motorcycle.  

I've ridden in lots of wind, much of it along east-west interstate corridors like I-10 or I-80.  Today was just about the worst cross-wind I've ever experienced in my significant motorcycle travel experience.  It started to pick up just west of Sonora, even though there were signs along the interstate corridor east of there, warning of strong crosswinds.  I'd checked the weather forecast the night before and it warned of this.  Weather on my XM service on the Zumo showed the same.  So it was no surprise, but unnerving nonetheless, as the gusts hit me, snapping my head to the right and blowing my already-leaning motorcycle nearly onto the shoulder of the highway.


I got on the road, leaving the house at about 6:15 this morning.  I was just ahead of the worst of the rush hour traffic in Houston, though it did get a bit heavy and frantic on the west Beltway and for a little bit on I-10 going through Katy.  But it soon loosened up and I was underway in earnest. 

I stopped at my usual Valero station on the Anderson Loop, just a few miles north of I-10.  I resumed my travel west - fat, dumb and happy - and then hit a traffic wall.  Everything was stopped and nothing was moving for as far ahead of me as I could see.  Good thing I wasn't doing an IBA ride...I would have fallen seriously behind.  Traffic crept along one car length at a time, with short stops that weren't long enough for me to even put the bike in neutral.  Eventually the telltale smell of hot clutch reached my nostrils and the bike began idling rough, a sure sign that she was overheating.   Traffic wasn't coming to long enough stops to let me shut off the engine, as I've been able to do when encountering this problem during other serious traffic back-ups. We just continued to move that maddening one car length at a time, come to a stop for 15-20 seconds, then move forward another car length.

After about 3 miles of this, the traffic was being forced off onto the feeder road.  Two lanes' worth of bumper to bumper onto two feeder lanes that eventually merged down to one lane at the next exit ramp.   At this point my bike was at risk of stalling and not re-starting, since she was becoming very reluctant to take off in first gear from a stop.  There was no shoulder, just two lanes hemmed in by curbs, so when we came to an underpass I turned right in hopes there'd be something - a store, a gas station, anything - where I could pull over and turn the bike off. 

Alas!  There was nothing!  Only a sign just ahead said, "Road ends ahead" and another that said "No exit."  I was stuck!  It was a narrow road, with drop-offs onto gravel at the edges of the pavement on both sides.  There was some kind of  narrow private driveway to the right, so I pulled in and did a u-turn, stopped, and put the sidestand down.  Here I waited for a few minutes, let the clutch cool down, let my clutch hand recover, and assess the options.

Really, there were no options, but to get back into that traffic and hope we could get clear of whatever it was on the freeway so that we could get back on and get going.  A helicopter was circling overhead - probably a news copter - and it was just ahead of us, so I knew we were getting close.  But damn!  It was slow-going and very nervewracking. 

Finally!  Free of the major accident, back onto Anderson Loop and 8 miles 'til I-10.  I just cruised along with very little traffic to keep me company until my next gas stop at the Exxon station in Sonora.  This is one of my usual gas stops whenever I head west on this road.  it doesn't look like much from the outside, but has a surprisingly nice ladies' room and a good C-store.  It was a quick stop, just long enough to buy a bottle of water and use the restroom.  Then I was back up on I-10 and heading west.  And into the strong crosswinds between here and Fort Stockton.

As I rode along, alert and on guard for the occasional strong gusts, I caught up -slowly - with a mint-condition Aspencade.  I passed him, but a few miles later, he passed me when I slowed for a particularly unnerving stretch of road.   I didn't see him again until I got off in Fort Stockton for gas. 

Thankfully the winds backed off a bit from Fort Stockton to Van Horn and I could relax and pick up my speed.  100 miles to go.  

I stopped at the Love's Truck Stop where there is a Subway, and got off the bike to check my cellphone for messages.  I had put out the offer to buy Subway sandwiches for the riders, but they had to leave me a message before 5 PM to let me know.  There were no messages from any of the riders - though there was one from friend Steve - so I continued on the hotel and got checked in.

I had not had anything to eat all day.  Nothing but water, so I was looking forward to walking over to McDonalds to buy something and break this "fast."  I also stepped next door to the grocer's and bought bananas, Gatorade, and some deodorant (I forgot mine). 

Now I wait for the riders to show up so that I can sign their witness forms for their BBG's.   Tomorrow I hope to get a decently long run in...although I'm not too sure how long it will be, since the elevation is 4,000 feet here.  It could be a bit of a challenge for this sea-level flatlander.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

New Shoes?

Is it time for new shoes?  Run after run, the shoes feel just fact, great!  Then, the very next run they feel awful; they feel "flat" and "sloppy."   Maybe it was just me, having a bad day.  But on my run this morning, it was the same thing.  Just how many miles do I have on these shoes?

When I got home I checked my on-line run log, which has a nifty "shoe list" feature.  Here I was able to see how many miles I had on my current two pairs of shoes.   Two pairs of shoes??  With only two feet, why two pairs?   I buy my running shoes two pairs at a time and alternate them on my run days to give each pair a chance to dry out and the various cushioning compounds and upper materials to "recover."   I learned to do this early in my running career after suffering through "wet sock" runs on days following a rainy run.  Here in Gulf Coast Texas this was quite frequent (except for this year, with our record-breaking drought). 

The tread in the center is worn
completely smooth.
I find that running shoes are like tires:  Different models have a different "tread life."  The particular shoes I'm wearing apparently have a softer compound used for the soles, since I can't seem to get the same mileage out of these as I did out of this shoe model's predecessor. 

So, a check of the mileage and then a visual check of the soles this morning confirmed it.  Yep!  If these were tires, even the wear bars would be worn smooth! 

These shoes have just a little over 200 miles on them; same for the other pair of shoes that get alternated with these.  The gradual change in the "ride" is hardly noticeable until suddenly one day they just don't feel right.  These changes are even more evident when a new pair of shoes are added to the rotation and then: Wow! 

"No, Mommy!  My shoes!! 

But it's time to retire these two pair, and break out two new pair.  I'll donate these to one of the many charities that regularly schedule pick-ups in our neighborhood.  They're clean, only 6 months old and still have lots of life left in them for casual wear.

I love pulling a new pair of running shoes out of the box,  putting them on and working the laces to mold the shoes to my feet.  Those first few runs in new shoes are sweet!  They don't need breaking in so much as they need "molding in."  That is, the uppers shaped to my foot from repeated wearings. Adjusting the laces until the shoe takes on that wonderful "hug" and custom fit around my foot.

It's just a little more than a month away from the Women's Half Marathon in St. Petersburg...plenty of time to get them properly "molded in."

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Now This Is What I'm Talkin' About!

Robin's egg blue temps and low humidity.  Time to back one of the bikes out of the garage and go for a long lunch ride.

My destination?  Tuffy's Eatery in Mauriceville, TX at the junction of US-12 and TX-62 and about 12 miles north of Orange TX. 

Friend Steve met me there at 11:30 AM and we proceeded to eat gumbo, red beans and rice, a chicken wrap, salad, and slices of pie for dessert.

After lunch we headed to the border...the state border that is, to get photos of our bikes in front of the "Welcome to Texas" sign at the Visitor Center on I-10.  The photos are for the Jack Shoalmire Memorial In-State Saddlesore event on October 15.  Riders in 49 of 50 of the U.S. states (still need a Hawaii rider) are signed up to do this ride.  The organizer will be putting together a video of photos and ride routes as they're recorded by our SPOT satellite trackers.

Quick goodbyes and I was back on the road toward Houston, leaving Steve behind at the rest area to check on today's new i-Phone launch.  He's such an Apple geek!  ;-)

 I took a quick gas stop in Beaumont and rode back up onto the interstate just as Steve was passing the exit.  But I couldn't keep up with him. 

Nice day!  Good to be able to ride in moderate weather and not be soaked in sweat and overheated by the end of the ride.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Cooler Days and Migrating Birds

Oh my!  It was 59 degrees outside this morning when I stepped out to start my long run.  Will I be warm enough?  I had on shorts and a singlet...I think I should be okay.

It was still dark at 5:45 AM,  but by the time I got to mile three, the sun was just starting to light up the eastern horizon.  It was a "rainbow" of sunrise colors layering the sky:  A deep burnt red, dark orange, shades of peach and apricot,  and then pink, as the light reached up into the night skies.  Along this stretch of my route is a large pond and often, in the early mornings, its surface is broken by the ripples of fish as they jump out of the water and drop back in with a splash. 

This morning a large heron swooped just a few feet above me and landed gracefully on the edge of the pond.  It stood stark still, its profile reflecting in the water and the sunrise painting his white feathers with a touch of gold.  A little flurry of ripples appeared in the water near where the bird stood, as living creatures beneath the surface detected the heron's presence.

Just then I looked up and spotted a formation of ducks fly by.  They were picture-perfect black shapes in precise formation sillhouetted against the orange sky.  They surely sense the change...the hint of cool weather in the air, the coming of fall with its crisp nights and cool days.    Soon there will be many formations in the skies - ducks, geese, cranes - as they head for their wintering grounds along the Gulf Coast of Texas.  It's a spectacular sight, and a reminder that we are all part of the Circle of Life.

In the circle of life
It's the wheel of fortune
It's the leap of faith
It's the band of hope
'Til we find our place
On the path unwinding
In the circle, the circle of life
                                           ~ Elton John, Circle of Life