Friday, November 30, 2012

A Desperate Road

I don't think anyone would disagree that certain stretches of I-10 through western NM and eastern AZ are dreadfully boring.  The only excitement afforded through that stretch is scanning the horizon for a hint of a dust devil.

But my, all that construction these last few years has certainly paid off.  Smooth, wide roadways through NM where there used to be miles of Jersey barriers and horrendous back-ups. 

Along the way, I spotted three different lone pedestrians, desperate-looking men carrying all of their worldly belongings on a road out in the middle of nowhere.  Two of them carried heavily-loaded backpacks, but the third one was the most pitiful.  he had a rickety luggage carrier loaded down, and on the ground about 30 yards back was a small pile which included a light blue milk crate and a duffel bag.  He had pushed the luggage carrier ahead and when I passed him, he was walking back to move the small pile of belongings.  Three times the work to move 20 yards.  It will be a very long day for him   There was nothing for miles in either direction. 

I also spotted the occasional serious hard-core bicyclist, lone travelers moving west, their panniers no doubt carrying the bare minimum necessities to keep the load light.  It is, after all, 4,000 ft above sea level along I-10, dry and arid, and with some short but steep climbs and descents along the way.  Hard bodies doing hard work under hard conditions.


I arrived in the Scottsdale area mid-afternoon, my first stop The Runner's Den to pick up my race packet.  It's a small store crammed with running gear.  The tiny parking lot was packed so I continued a few yards past the shop and turned into a parking lot serving a small strip mall.  As I was getting out of my car a man and woman were carrying large stacks of bakery boxes toward an open car trunk.  I looked in their direction and saw the Europa Pastry Cafe.  Never, never go into a European bakery on an empty stomach!  No, I did not stop for lunch today, choosing instead to make good time to Scottsdale.  The pretty young woman working behind the counter was talking to a man who was no doubt her dad, but they were talking in a language that sounded to me like Eastern European origin.  She easily slid into unaccented English to greet me and take my order.  I asked her where her family was from and she proudly proclaimed, "Poland!"

And then there was this little bit of Texas a couple of blocks down from the Bakery:

Bakery treats in hand, I walked to my car, stowed them inside and then walked across the street to the Runner's Den to get my race packet.  Inside, the display floor was crammed with racks filled with running clothes.  Every inch of wall space held racks, tiered 3 high, loaded with shorts, tops, jog bras.  If I didn't already have two dresser drawers crammed with running clothes, I would have spent some time here.  I got my race packet and then grabbed some Power Gel and got in line to pay.    I struck up a conversation with the young man running the cash register and learned that he was headed to Austin TX next week for an Outdoor Sports Gear Conference.   

Next stop....Hilton Garden Inn near Old Town to check in and then walk across the street to Old Town in search of an early dinner.  I stopped into Gray Wolf, one of the many Indian crafts shops to buy some postcards, and then walked a few doors down to have dinner at Cien Agaves.

Tomorrow:  Back to Old Town for some in-depth roaming and browsing.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

On the Road to Scottsdale

November 28 - This is exactly how it looked from my driveway. 
Jupiter sat right next to the Moon at the 10 o'clock position.

Yesterday evening, around 6:30 PM, I had one last thing to do before leaving this morning for Scottsdale, and that was to collect the day's mail and leave a "hold mail" card in its place.  I walked down to the bank of mailboxes and when I turned to walk back to the house, facing east, I was greeted with a breathtaking view of the rising moon, Jupiter tucked up close next to it at about the 10 o'clock position.  It was a gorgeous sight!

This morning was cold - 41 degrees - and foggy as I left my neighborhood and got onto the beltway that took me to I-10 West.  I drove into more fog on I-10 between Brookshire and Seguin.  It's always foggy through here in the early Spring and late Fall.   Numerous rivers cross I-10's path and where cool air meets warm water, or vice versa, fog will develop.  And indeed the fog was thick in sections as the road dipped down into the low-lying spots created by these rivers.  But once west of Seguin the fog cleared out and it was a clear and cloudless day. 

Ample proof of our thick deer population in the Hill Country of Texas lay along the interstate on the road shoulder and the median.  Many carcasses and large bloody splats marked the spots where deer squared off with motor vehicle bumpers.  Always a stark reminder to me of just how dangerous the stretch of I-10 is between Van Horn and Boerne.

In the northern suburbs of El Paso along I-10 for the night, I'll get back on the road in the morning and should get to Scottsdale mid-afternoon.  First stop will be the Runner's Den running store to pick up my race packet, then on to my Hotel. 

Next up:  A visit to Old Town nearby the hotel on Saturday, and Sunday....race day!

Friday, November 23, 2012


Thanksgiving at Grandma's house!  My son and his family arrived mid afternoon on Thanksgiving Day, laden with kids, toys, little kid-sized suitcases, kid-friendly food, and a giant casserole dish filled with home-made dressing.
Mimi happy, Trevor not so much.
The turkey was just about ready to come out of the oven as they walked in the door, so out it came and in went the new potatoes and the dressing to bake for an hour.  We had food on the table at precisely 4:30 PM and it was then..."feast on!"
We ate ourselves silly, taking second helpings when we were admittedly beyond full. 

Dig in, everyone!

Thanksgiving is done which of course means that all of America's attention will now turn to the next major holiday on the calendar...Christmas.

This attention particularly includes kids.  And grandkids.  Trevor sat down and wrote a letter to Santa, telling him he was good and what he wanted, which was pretty cute.   I got an envelope for him, told him to address it to Santa at the North Pole, but short attention spans being what they are for 5 year-olds, he addressed it to his own home.  But he got it right on the second envelope.  We walked it down to the mailbox a few days later.

The lion saw heavy duty this weekend.  He normally lives in the kids' guest room but Mimi wrestled with this "almost as big as she is" lion to get it off the bed, through the door and into the living room, where he stayed for the duration of their visit.  He makes a great tiny-kid sized seat for watching TV, even a soft bed with chin rest for TV watching.  Needless to say, Lion was the subject of a number of power struggles during the weekend.

Friday morning we made pancakes for the kids and then pulled the artificial tree, the one I purchased on sale last year, out of the closet and my son got it set up for me.  I don't have a lot of tree ornaments, and most of what I do have are up in the attic over the garage.  But I did have a small box of ornaments that I've collected over the years, most of them with a story behind them.

Daughter-in-law made hot cocoa for all of us and I turned the two grandkids loose with the ornaments.  Instructions to Trevor were to hang them anywhere on the tree and to not forget the back of the tree. 

Daughter-in-law and I then sat back and watched as the two kids did a super job hanging the ornaments on the tree.  Trevor was meticulous in his placement of the ornaments, making sure they were well-spaced.  He was still going back and rearranging and repositioning them well into the evening.

After Mimi drank her cocoa, I handed Mimi a little cat ornament and she spent the rest of the tree-decorating time hanging that one ornament.  She wanted to make sure she found just the right spot for the "kitty ornament."

Good job, Trevor and Mimi!

Mimi and Dad playing Christmas carols on the piano:

Tomorrow morning, son and daughter-in-law will head to College Station for a little overnighter getaway.  I bought them tickets to the A&M-Missouri game and got them a hotel room for Saturday night.    The grandkids and I will stay home, eat popcorn and chocolate, watch lots of TV and movies, stay up late, and just generally get away with as much as possible while their mom and dad are gone.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Over the River, and Through the Woods....

The kids are coming!  The grandkids are coming!  I am beyond excited!

It's not every year that I get to share thanksgiving with my family.  This year I've been blessed once again.  Tomorrow morning they all pile into their car and head to grandma's house.  My house.

My preparations began last week, when I did all of my Thanksgiving food shopping before leaving for Tulsa and the half marathon.  Not wanting to deal with the crowds this week, I got it all done last week, got things put away in the pantry, in the fridge, and in the freezer in preparation for this year's Thanksgiving feast on Thursday.

So yesterday I pulled out the cranberries, the walnuts, the crushed pineapple, the Jello packages and made my mom's cranberry salad recipe.  It's become a family tradition and now, this year, will be served in her memory. 

The salad is now congealing in the fridge and today I'll get the cherry pie - my son's favorite - made and start prepping the turkey for its overnight soak in brine before it goes in the oven tomorrow.
Cherry pie is cooling and brine is steeping.

Tomorrow morning I'll get a run in early, then pull the turkey out of the brine and let it sit in the fridge until it's time to put in the oven.  Son and daughter-in-law are bringing the dressing, and I'll put new potatoes into the oven to roast along with the dressing.  

The leaf is in the dining room table, the placemats have been set out. and chairs arranged. 

Ohhhh....I can't wait!  I can almost smell it!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Route 66 Half Marathon is Done!!

A perfect day for a race!  43 degrees at the start, high scattered cloud cover all morning...great conditions for running a half marathon (or full marathon for the truly crazy runners!). 

The start line was at the corner of 7th and Main Streets, right next to the Holiday Inn where I was staying.   I waited until about 7:50 AM to leave my room and take the elevator down to street level.  A short walk three blocks up the street parallel to Main Street brought me up to the cross street that got me into my assigned corral, Corral C.  Friend Steve was already there, waiting for me and as we stood together waiting for our corral to move forward, a woman standing next to us recognized me from the Galveston Mardi Gras Marathon last February.  I wrote previously about our meeting.  She and I had met at that race while we stood outside in the miserable cold and wet, waiting for the race to start.  We still had a long wait, so I brought her back to the Tremont Hotel where I was staying, so that we could sit in the lobby until just moments before the race start.  I was surprised that she remembered me!

Our corral of runners moved forward as each of the corrals in front of us were released and was our turn to cross the start line!  The route took us straight down Main Street to 15th Street and there was a nice downhill slope which meant a smooth flow of runners in what can sometimes be a clogged first few miles.

The race course was really well-planned!  While it was a hilly course, and there was a particularly long uphill stretch through mile 2 and into mile 3, the downhill sections more than made up for this. 

The course was pretty, as well.  Beautiful neighborhoods, a loop around Swan Lake which even had a few white swans, through the campus of a gorgeous private school, and through a really pretty park at the top of a hill.  Which, of course, meant a nice long downhill stretch on the backside.

The course flattened out when it got down to the Arkansas River and continued south.  It also got a bit boring as well, as it turned away from the river and then turned south again on a parallel road through a tacky business section.   This happened to coincide with what I call the "flats of the half," which are miles 7, 8 and 9.  It's when the initial excitement wears off and boredom sets in.  When this happens to coincide with a particularly boring stretch of the route, the race becomes a mental challenge.   But once the race route turned back toward the river and continued south again, I knew that I was getting close to the turnaround point just south of the 10 mile mark. 

I've had a rough patch of races this past spring and fall, my finish times being much slower than I'd like, mostly due to unseasonal heat at the spring and summer races, a PAC episode during one race, and a nagging foot/shoe issue.  So this time I paid particular attention to maintaining pace.  I would know if I succeeded in doing this when I passed mile 9.  You see, I knew that in order to finish with a sub-3 hour time I'd need to pass the mile 9 marker in 2 hours or less.  So when I passed that mile marker on Riverside, I glanced at my Garmin watch and saw my time:  1:55!  I was well below my objective of 9 miles in 2 hours.  I knew at that point that I was in good shape for a sub-3 hour finish time, possibly even a PR.

I kept it up, kept putting one foot in front of the other until I reached the turn-around point on Riverside.  Then not too far up the road we all ran across a timing mat at the 10 mile mark.  Just 3.1 more miles!!  A huge mental boost!  Just before I reached the mat, I could see friend Steve on the other side of the street, heading south toward the turnaround point.  I'd lost track of him at around mile 5 when I got out ahead of him.  I knew that he was behind me, but I didn't know how far back he was.  This was my first opportunity to see exactly where he was on the course.   I gave him a high clap and a thumbs-up when we passed each other.

I was feeling good at this point.  I wasn't tired and my legs still felt fresh.  My strategy of walking up the hills and taking advantage of gravity on the downhills seems to work well for me.  I know that I can walk up hills nearly as fast as I can run them...I learned this years ago, while running the Houston Marathon and struggling through those dips on Allen Parkway that go under Waugh and Montrose at miles 22 and 23.   So I have stuck with this strategy wherever the hills are long or steep.  I used this strategy in this race and it really paid off.

But between miles 11 and 12 I found myself slowing to a walk for absolutely no reason.   It was a mindless, unconscious slowdown.  Then I'd realize it, chastise myself, and break into a run again. But then a quarter mile or so later I'd unconsciously slow down to a walk again.   I had no reason to be doing this - I felt good, my legs felt strong.  It was a habit I'd developed through last spring and summer when I was struggling with the heat and other issues.  I had none of these issues now, and really had to kick it up.  And I was definitely doing better than many other runners at this point in the race, as demonstrated by this cool graphic.

 When I got to within a mile of the finish line I realized that these brief walks had stolen my chance for a PR.  But I was still in good shape to post an excellent finish time. 

When I made the final turn off Riverside toward the finish line, a woman about my age, standing along the sidelines cheering us on, ran over to me and asked me if I wanted her to run me in.  "YES!" I said.  "I'd LOVE that!"

So she ran along side me for the next 100 yards or so, telling me I looked great, to keep it up, finish strong.  Then when we reached the "runners only" chute area she broke away with the parting words of "You go, girlfriend!"  I loved it!!  She definitely put some spring into my step those last few hundred yards.  As we ran along she told me that she ran a 1/2 marathon last weekend and had run the Route 66 5K race on Saturday so was out there to cheer us on.  Way to give back, girlfriend!  Gotta love the camaraderie among runners!

Then next thing I knew, I was running across the finish line timing mat and getting high-fived by the finish-line crew.  I haven't felt this good, this strong, at a race finish in months!  My finish time was great!  My 4th best career 1/2 marathon finish time!   Very sweet, when I consider that my current all-time PR was earned in January, 2005 when I was 8 years younger!


The really cool Finisher's Medal:

And here's what the 50 States Half Marathons Completed map looks like now:

Another great race experience...and I'm feeling really good about myself after having completed this one in very good time!!

Next race:  Scottsdale Fiesta Bowl Half Marathon, December 2, 2012.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Tulsa Gets Ready...

Last month it was Wichita, this month it's Tulsa.  Two prairie cities sprawling out with plenty of elbow room.  Two cities with downtowns that sprung up from the wealth of nineteenth century.  Lots of history here in Tulsa and I plan to get out and see some of it on Saturday.

I arrived midafternoon into Tulsa on Friday - yesterday - plenty early to check out the Fitness Expo.  Once I checked in to the hotel, I headed on over to the convention center to get my race packet.  The Expo had a nice number of exhibitors with lots to look at and plenty of shopping opportunity.  I stopped at the Marathon Maniacs/Half Fanatics booth to hopefully buy a shirt and then chatted with the fellow who was working the booth.  Unfortunately I learned too late about the special bibs and finisher medals for members so I will lose out on getting a special Half Fanatic medal at this race.  Darn!

I bought a pair of throwaway cotton gloves for $2.00 and then discovered the Blue Cross-Blue Shield table where they were giving them away for free!  And then I found a booth selling some really cool laser-cut charms and ornaments and couldn't walk away without spending some money.

In honor of the Route 66 race theme, there was a nice display of several vintage cars within the exhibit hall.

I had not eaten lunch yet, so found a Quizno's on my way back to the hotel and picked up a sandwich to bring back to my room.  My favorite: roast beef with peppercorn sauce, hold the onions!  I settled in, in front of a movie on TV and had a nice late lunch/early dinner.


This morning I waited until it warmed up a bit and then set out, camera and Art deco architecture walking tour map in hand, to find some of these treasures.  Tulsa has a large number of buildings on the historic register, many of them right downtown.  The oil boom and the art deco craze collided in Tulsa at the turn of the 20th century, resulting in a treasure trove of buildings that represent the Zig Zag, PWA, and Streamline Styles of art deco architecture.  While there are still a good many of them standing, just as many if not more were demolished before they could be saved.

Before snapping some architecture photos, I stood for a moment and watched them erect the start line structure....exciting!!

I walked south on Boston Street to the Methodist Church, a spectacular example of Zig Zag style.

Then I walked back up Boston Street toward 5th Street and passed a couple of nice examples:

Oklahoma Natural Gas Building

Entryway detail

The Public Service Building of Oklahoma:
Public Service Building of Oklahoma

Entryway detail

Then it was on to 5th and Boston where two fine examples of Art Deco architecture dominate the skyline and streetscape.
The Philcade building has a spectacular lobby:

Across the street from the Philcade is the Philtower building:

A nice little crepe and coffee house resides in one of the shops off the lobby of the Philcade, so I ducked inside and had an Italian crepe for lunch.  Light fare, probably  not enough for lunch, but a good and tasty start.

So what next??  I decided to walk back over to the Fitness Expo at the convention center and pulled out my phone and called friend Steve.  "Are you still here at the Expo?"  He was, and we met up for a photo op. 

The race folks had one of those photo booths - you know, the kind we'd all crowd into when we were teens - and I wanted to get some silly photos of the two of us! 


Here's the start line structure, nearly finished and ready for us tomorrow morning!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Mentoring and Encouragement

There is no question that if I hadn't had a superb running coach and mentor when I first started to run, I never would have stuck with it, nor would I have made running part of the fabric of my life, my being.

Now was the time to "pay it forward."  A friend and fellow co-worker, who is now also retired, started a weight loss journey just about a year ago and has lost significant weight.  He is truly an inspiration for others who need to take that same journey.  He's done it mostly on his own, changing up his diet, getting active, joining a gym, and becoming a runner. 

Last summer, encouraged by his good progress and finishing a 5K then a 10K, he signed up for the Route 66 Half Marathon to be held in Tulsa OK in November.  We are now just 2 weeks from the starting gun for that race and I was concerned about his motivation to keep working toward his dream.  I follow him on Facebook and admit that I was worried when the number of posts about his running accomplishments were getting sporadic at best.  The last one I saw that had to do with running reported a 7 mile run he did last month.   But nothing since then and, more troublesome, no reports of longer distances.

So a couple of days ago I reached out to him, asking him if he'd like to join me for a 10 mile run on Sunday.  I was pleased when his response was a "yes."

Ten miles is a major milestone for runners.  Only a very small percentage of runners ever pass this physical and mental barrier.   And it is indeed a barrier.  My former running coach and mentor used to always say that the body really sits up and takes notice after a 10 mile run, that the body truly knows that it's been worked when it has run 10 miles.  This distance exceeds the body's glycogen stores and challenges the body's ability to process and flush the lactate that builds up in the muscles.  At this distance a runner must refuel enroute to replace those depleted glycogen stores.  On the other hand, distances shorter than 10 miles - 10K or 6.2 miles is typically the longest distance that most runners ever do - don't require refueling and rehydration during the run.

I felt it would be important for my friend to cover this distance, if only once, prior to the half marathon two weeks later.  If he could successfully run 10 miles, then he can successfully finish the half marathon.  Therefore I was very pleased that he accepted the challenge and his accepting the offer spoke volumes about his commitment to this life-long change he's making to his body and his psyche.


My friend arrived at my door at 6:30 AM this morning and in a few minutes we headed out in the predawn light.  My plan was to run 2.2 miles within my neighborhood, then stop at the house for last-minute bathroom, hydration, or wardrobe needs before heading out again for the long 8 mile stretch. 

We ran at an easy, slow pace.  I knew it was slower than he'd been able to run 6 or 7 miles, but pacing is difficult for the new runner and I wanted to make sure that he had something left in the tank when we got into the last couple of miles.  I also wanted to give myself a break, since I'm on the recovery side of a cold and didn't want to further irritate my recovering bronchioles.  I gave him permission to run on ahead, but he stayed with me all the way to our turnaround point at McDonald's, at the 5.45 mile mark. 

I quickly ate a yogurt parfait and had a few sips of coffee before we retraced our route back to the house.  A gentle rain had started and I was grateful for the coolness and the cloud cover.  My friend ran out ahead a bit on the return leg, but once he got out in front about 100-150 yards, I stayed on him.  I was proud of him.  Not once did he stop to walk, or if he did it was only very briefly.   

I realized that in giving my friend directions, knowing he'd probably run on ahead of me, I'd forgotten about the right-hand jog he'd need to take at about mile 9.5 in order to stay on-route.  So I took a side-street that met up with the route ahead of his path, cutting about 0.1 mile off my route, and then I ran in his direction until we met up.  I didn't want him to miss that turn and find himself adding distance at a point when he surely wouldn't appreciate it.

We ran the last 3/4 mile together to the house.  He did it!  I don't think it had even sunk in yet for him, but I was surely excited for him.  I remember vividly my crossing that 10-mile barrier for the first time and it truly was a major accomplishment for me back then, just as it is now for my friend.

Now he's ready!  He should have no worries or fears coming up to the Route 66 Half Marathon.  He's broken that 10-mile all he needs to do is continue getting those runs in for the next couple of weeks, get in a 7 or 8 miler next weekend, and then rest up, eat right, hydrate, right up to race day. 

Good job, my friend!


Friday, November 2, 2012

Foggy Bottom Running

It's been an interesting week.  First, there's been the early morning fog these last few days that has lent an appropriately eerie mood to my morning runs this Halloween week.  Then there's the head/chest cold that was "gifted" to me by my kids and grandkids this past weekend.  I knew they were all sick.  I knew that I was 99.99% guaranteed to catch whatever it is that they had.  Yet I knew that the weekend was going to be so worth the high risk. 

And indeed it was.  Birthday party for Trevor on Saturday, and then the next day a visit to Mrs. Heather's Pumpkin Patch on Sunday.

And on Monday, once the grandkids were delivered to their pre-school, We had a delightful breakfast -  just my son and daughter-in-law and me - at the Broken Egg Cafe in Mandeville.

So back at my own humble abode on Monday evening and by the next morning I had the beginnings of a cold:  scratchy throat, sneezing.  I skipped getting a run in and instead headed for the grocery store to buy some fruit, soups, and zinc lozenges in hopes of nipping this in the bud.  I have a race to run in less than three weeks.  Oh, yeah, and a pint container of Ben & Jerry's Cherrys Garcia ice cream also made its way into my shopping cart. 

By Tuesday evening the cold was full-blown.  A multi-tissue extravaganza of drippy nose and gargantuan sneezes.  But I was hopeful that the zinc theory actually works.

Wednesday morning, Halloween day, it was cool and foggy both outside the house and inside my head, but that was no excuse to skip going for a run.  I promised myself a bowl of chicken rice soup and peanut butter crackers, followed by a bowl of Cherries Garcia ice cream if I succeeded in getting at least 4 1/2 miles in.   So out the door I went, a wad of tissues clutched in my left hand, to accomplish this goal ---- 4.7 miles, actually.

I think the zinc lozenges were working.  The horrible sneezy, drippy nose stage lasted only a day, converting to the stuffy-nose-and-dry-cough stage.   For me, the drippy stage usually lasts a lot longer than this.  The big question then was, where is this dry cough symptom going to take me?  I had no cough medicine in the house, so hopefully it wouldn't last long.  Yeah, right!  Make a list:  Buy cough medicine tomorrow.

Friday morning and more fog, but not as bad.  That annoying dry cough is still there, but not too bad.  Not bad enough to keep me from getting another run in, but the chest tightness definitely made it hard to breathe and it slowed me down.   So I most certainly need a trip to Walgreen's to buy a bottle of cough syrup - DM - giant economy size bottle.  Just in case. 

Oh, and look!  They have their Halloween candy marked down, 50% off!!