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enD of aN erA.

Today is my last day as official KPBSD Webmaster.

After no small amount on consideration, I will be taking a new position with the Borough IT Department.

Thank you to each and every one of you. This last year with KPBSD has been filled with wonderful challenges, learning experiences, and of course amazing friendships.

My departure is decidedly bittersweet.

Please stay in touch.

– Mike Crawford

Skiing at minus 6 degrees last night made me worry that my toes might also be “minus 6.”

Nalloweeh.

Wednesday was my second Halloween in Alaska. I’ve dressed up (not in spectacular fashion) both times. This Halloween, an interesting thing happened to me that came from my indecisions about foodstuffs.

Last year I bought candy to give to Trick or Treaters as they came through the office. I didn’t think much of it then, but I got to thinking about feeding kids candy in light of the rampant childhood obesity epidemic in this county. I wondered if this year I could go with a healthier alternative. I looked for options, but was entirely too parsimonious to purchase granola bars for every potential child. I thought about mitigating the sugar damage by getting something difficult to consume, like suckers or jawbreakers, but didn’t feel morally clean enough to do that. Left with a dwindling amount of alternatives, I ended up doing nothing, which I was rather disappointed with, but luckily some others in my department had treats so all was not lost.

Halloween night, I went running at Tsalteshi, and got back still bereft of candy. My plan was to cleverly cloak my whereabouts once home by leaving only one light (inconspicuous, out of view) on in the entire house, to thwart teeming hordes of children bent on obtaining candy that didn’t exist. I cooked myself a meal and was eating by this solitary light when I heard footsteps up the back steps. A knock at the door signaled the arrival of a Trick or Treater. I opened the door.

“Trick or Treat!” A girl’s voice said. It was still so dark I couldn’t even see her costume.

“I really don’t have anything. Umm, do you want a banana?” I managed, looking about the darkness.

“Sure!” She replied.

As I fetched said banana, I heard her yell down to a parental figure, still waiting at the bottom of the steps, “See? There WAS a light on!”

She gets lots of bonus points for being insanely tenacious.

I can only hope she ate that poor banana moments after receiving it, lest it be battered beyond recognition by being bounced about in her goody bag in the 18 degree temperatures.

I entertained no other guests that night, and imagine she told other would-be Treaters, “Don’t go to that house, all they give away is fruit.”

Random Roll

For some reason, I never thought I was gonna enjoy running or give it and honest effort. If you have kept up with my posts about running, you know I’ve never imagined anything significant was gonna transpire to let this change. At some point, you might have also gone down this path of never anticipating changes are gonna happen. When I run, as I do, slowly and at times painfully, around the Soldotna area and beyond. I wonder what about a desert environment, where you would never (or rarely) get rained upon. But if you’re gonna try and make a change for the abstract, be it tropical, winter, or other climates, you had better not cry foul when the other intangibles occur. Because even if we say we never want changes, what are we gonna do when faced with, say, a hostile environment? It’s sometimes easier to just bid goodbye to those things which we never imagine are gonna occur. Some might tell you that a change of scenery might be good. But is this a lie? Sometimes it is good to stay and grow in your current space, and not risk getting hurt by reaching beyond what you are comfortable with.

Few chore min a mall list.

I’m in a period of growth. While my physical height is more or less unchanged since high school, I’m trying to learn and adapt to new things professionally, physically and mentally.

Sometimes, I’m the one responsible for recalibrating my goals and expectations. Other times, someone or some people do something so amazing it gives me pause, and forces me to reevaluate my own expectations and capabilities.

A couple of weekends back, I entered yet another 5k run race – this time a fundraiser for Diabetes. It was on the trail system I know and love – Tsalteshi. The morning started in the most unpromising of ways – ridiculous winds and rain. Live music, enthusiastic volunteers and hot coffee quickly cast aside my doubts. The sun also came out and arrived just in time for the race start. I noted that my main competitor Sean (whom I had barely finished ahead of in the last Salmon Run, but had beaten me each time previous) had also shown up, looking fit and ready to race.

I started fast, knowing that the early uphills would be my chance to get any sort of lead. Turns out that technique didn’t work too well, as Sean stuck right behind me until the Beaver downhill, where he passed me and stayed ahead on the Raven uphill. He built on his lead during the very muddy and slick flatland section, and I thought I had no chance to catch him again. I pushed hard on the Wolf uphill and to my surprise, saw him less than 15 seconds ahead. I knew we had less than a kilometer of the race left – on flat and downhill – both of which he’s generally faster than I am on.

I urged my legs to increase pace and edged ahead on the flat. Bursting out of the woods, I could see the finish line at the end of a long downhill. I abandoned all self-preservation instincts and ran flat out over the uneven terrain, going wildly out of control, a condition that persisted more or less until the finish line.

My time was under 20 minutes for the first time of my life, at 18:47, but that’s a bit deceptive since the course had to be routed around a rather sizeable lake on the Wolf Trail, which took a bit of distance off.

But I was thrilled regardless, and after loading up on some more coffee, I headed to the other side of Tsalteshi where the real run competitions were taking place.

Because of the considerable flooding in Seward, the High School Cross Country Running Region Championships were moved to Tsalteshi. Thankfully, the Tsalteshi Trails system is large enough to host multiple races coincidentally and not have any overlap. The Regions races were held on the Wolverine Trail, and thanks to a huge and amazing volunteer effort, the event went flawlessly. I was lucky enough to watch tremendous student athletes battle it out  in an effort to reach the State Championships. The largest race had well over 100 athletes, who came storming by en masse, school colors proudly displayed.

I left the race humbled by the student athletes and the dedication they have not just to their sport, but to their education and school.

I kept up with my after work running for the following week, culminating Friday where I was lucky enough to get snowed (!) on during my run. Despite the mess, I still managed to put in my hours.

During the weekend, I went by the Kenai River Marathon to cheer on a number of friends who were competing. I had a few offers to run as part of a relay team, but even that reduced distance (6.55 miles) was far too much for my shins on pavement. I hope to be able to do it next year.

My relay friends had a great race, finishing third of over a dozen teams. Some of my friends competed in the half-marathon – a 13.1 mile march on punishing pavement. I was happy to see my Diabetes race rival Sean do exceptionally well – finishing fourth with an incredible average pace of UNDER 7 minutes per mile. I haven’t made up my mind if something like this is within my desires. I guess I’ll wait and see.

By far the most inspirational case for me was my friend competing in her second ever half-marathon. She moved to Alaska only a couple of years ago. At that time unable to run a mile without stopping to walk, something possessed her to train – and train hard. She entered last year’s half marathon, and finished – a fantastic accomplishment in itself. This year, she pushed herself to her limit, and absolutely destroyed her time from a year ago.

She came in 28 minutes below her previous time.

28 minutes.

That means that if This Year Her and Last Year Her were running together, This Year Her would have had OVER A TWO MILE LEAD by the finish. She would have been a speck on the horizon.

I’m still completely blown away.

She would say I’m crazy, but I know for a fact that that 28 minutes will soon be her target time for a 5k.

Just wait and watch. She’ll do it.

Inspired by teen athletes and inspirational distance runners, I ran 9 miles Monday.

It nearly killed me.

But it did keep me motivated to improve, and reminds me that dedication to a task is fundamental in achieving it.

So I owe a huge thank you to everyone who has inspired me to push out that extra rep, run that extra lap, take that extra step.

Now, if I could only just be a little bit taller…

Eve Vents Four Awl Inn Terrace Dead

There’s a particular point of realization that you’re no longer where you used to be. There’s a good chance that I’m talking about getting lost again, but in this case it’s more of a metaphorical realization point.

I realized that my running – a source of frustration and self-inflicted derision – has switched from being a considerable weakness into a bit of a strength. Not a huge strength, mind you, but a strength all the same.

For the last months, I’ve focused not on short term speed, but long term durability in my running. To wit, I tried to not injure myself. I’ve slowly built up my tolerance for longer and longer runs, my longest being 7.5 miles. My shins have been mostly better, still needing some TLC after harder runs.

In the interim, I’ve done other things. Most notably, I organized a mountain bike race at Tsalteshi Trails with others from the Tsalteshi Trails Association and the Kenai Peninsula Cycle & Ski Club.

Leading up to the race, I had been trying to come up with some kind of fun event that Tsalteshi could host. I learned that Tsalteshi had previously had mountain bike races in years past. I had been running frequently, and often exploring some of Tsalteshi’s adjacent, not-real-trail offerings. After weeks of consideration, TTA Chair Adam and I came up with a rather ridiculous mountain bike racecourse that would challenge any rider. The most fun aspect was having the racers go “off-piste” from the usual trails and experiment with radically steep and muddy downhill sections and decidedly vertical ascents, often wandering through root-ridden singletrack trails, which were an absolute delight with the considerable rainfall we had had. I contacted the indomitable Coach Angie, bike chair of KPCSC, and asked for their help.

With only a few days of warning before the race, dubbed “PsychoCross 2012,” we decided that the race be for those 18 years and over thanks to the dangerous terrain. The night before the race, we flagged the nine mile course in pouring rain, which had my Excitement Meter absolutely pegged. Saturday morning arrived, bringing with it unexpectedly nice weather. The trails were still a mud pit, but that was rather the point of the race.

The short notice brought only 10 brave riders, but that was enough for a good bit of action. One guy from California showed up with a cyclocross bike AND flames tattooed on his leg so you knew he was serious. There was also a photographer and journalist from the Clarion.

I rode the course before the race, to make sure that everything was flagged appropriately. I brought with me athletic field paint, and would stop every so often and spraypaint arrows the size of bison on the trails lest people be lost. At the top of the mudslide and wildly steep downhill, I wrote “BIG HILL” in big letters and attempted to draw a skull to warn riders of the severity of the upcoming descent. It ended up looking like a giant mushroom, thanks to my lack of artistic prowess. At the bottom of the Wolverine trail, I saw a small child walking ahead of his family, collecting pin flags as if they were flowers. I asked him nicely if I could have them back and he relented. Smart lad.

Deflagging aside, no one got lost thanks to our great volunteers. Everyone finished except for odds-favorite Mr. California, who lamentably broke his chain whilst in second place.

The event, though small, got some attention, landing on the front page of the Clarion:

http://peninsulaclarion.com/news/2012-09-10/tsalteshi-cycle-and-ski-club-host-%E2%80%98psychocross%E2%80%99-race

The next day, I went with a group for perhaps the last road bike of the season. I had it in my head to do 80 miles, and ended up going from Soldotna past Nikiski to the end of the road at Captain Cook Park. The day was brilliant, the traffic light, and it felt good to ride long distance. I rolled back into Soldotna and took a roundabout way back to my vehicle to get my 80 miles, and called it a day.

The next weekend I entered the Tustumena 5k Run to see how I’d do in a race on more or less flat ground and pavement. It wasn’t the nicest day, but the rain wasn’t terrible and the horrendous winds forecasted didn’t yet materialize. There were 45 of us in the race, a good number of kids. The Tustumena 5k is a fundraiser for Tustumena Elementary School, and is very well represented, even with the sodden weather. Many of the kids tore off in a dead sprint right from the start, which lasted for the first 0.1 mile of the 3.1 mile course. I fell in behind a very fast woman and hoped she knew where she was going. I had glanced at the course map before the race, but was completely unfamiliar with the area and have a tendency to get lost. A good portion of it was off road, and after the first mile I thought I knew enough about where I was going to forge ahead. After a beautiful run around the Johnson Lake campground, we were back on the roads. I was leading, and imagined how classically Mike it would be to get lost with less than a mile left. Thankfully, I managed to choose the right path, and ran back into the school parking lot 20 minutes, 28 seconds after I had started.

I wasn’t thrilled with my time, but I thought dialing it back a little for the first mile was prudent, and I had a really fun time and met some great people.

So in the course of a few decades, I’ve gone from dead last to first in a 5k race. Admittedly, the Tustumena 5k is more of a fun run than an competitive crucible, but it helped me realize that my running might be taking a surprising turn into a bit of a strength.

If anyone needs me, I’ll be making a bouquet of pin flags. Just turn right at the giant mushroom.

Untie Tilled.

It’s strange how thoughts can be overwhelming at times. Perspective, it seems, is the most reasonable way to combat this.

Recently I read a friend’s thoughtful and insightful blog post, about how she was feeling down and going to visit a friend. She knew that her friend would be able to pull her from her funk. She then began to ponder this, and decided that it wasn’t quite right for someone else to hold the key to her happiness. Instead of dwelling on herself, she realized she was in control of her happiness, and made changes as she saw fit. I agree with her, in that it’s not right to let someone else control the way you feel. You are in control.

In the past, I’d try to look within myself to diagnose problems. If I was feeling down, I would wonder what I could do for myself to make me feel better.

Turns out, this is a terrible way to approach malaise.

The answer, it appears, is reaching outside of yourself, and helping others.

Serendipitously, others needing help are most always within reach.

Instead of being mired in your own thoughts, take a second to help another. One nice gesture, a thoughtful comment, or even something more involved, like volunteering for the community. There are so many wonderful organizations that need help everyday. It doesn’t need to be a huge time commitment – you can do this on a lunch hour.

Sometimes, this is so wildly successful at making one feel better that the very act of volunteering and helping others borders on a selfish act. But if you are indeed helping people, invariably it’s a win-win.

Party like baby wombats…

Thanks, A, for the fun and continued absurdities.

Lucid Dreams.

Many of us have dreams.

Some of us share them.

Very few of us act upon them.

Allie Ostrander, a high school freshman in Alaska, had the wherewithal to act upon her dream.

An incredible cross country runner, Allie had the idea of creating a summer cross country race series that would not only seek to engage the community, but also provide funding for a worthy cause.

Together with the Kenai Watershed Forum, Allie used her Caring for the Kenai project to use her summer race series to raise money to combat Reed Canary Grass, an invasive species that destroys salmon habitat.

Long before the races were to begin, Allie contacted me to help. She needed online registration for the races, and a way for people to easily sign up and pay. I set up the registration for all five races, which were to be run on consecutive Wednesdays at 6 pm. We spent some time (with her dad’s credit card) making sure everything worked as it should.

As the first race drew nearer, I thought my responsibilities would increase. I volunteered to help during the first race day.

I arrived ready to organize people, lend my expertise, and mollify those who would otherwise be lost without said expertise.

I wasn’t needed. Not even a little bit.

I arrived to see tents set up, tables full of volunteers checking racers in, music amping up the crowd, and a race course fully flagged and ready to go.

I asked Allie how I could help. She paused, trying to think of any place she hadn’t already accounted for.

“Could you make sure people take the first turn at Moose?”

I was happy to have a Very Important Task. I would be the only thing standing between people making the turn or plunging ahead and being hopelessly lost in the hinterlands. I went to the Moose trail turnoff, where I was dwarfed by a giant orange sign indicating the way. I was completely superfluous, but at least I was in a great spot to view the race. As over 60 runners stormed past, I made my way upstream, where I thought I could help by moving some signs for the second lap. As always, Allie was way ahead of me.

I missed (and was likely not missed at) the second race as I had to work late, but thought I would actually try and race the third installment.

As you know, I’ve been trying to become a better runner. From my triathlon training, I have good lung capacity and my heart is strong, but it turns out I’m not a very efficient runner. So, for the few weeks leading up to the races, I’d been going to the Tsalteshi Trails and attempting to strengthen my running muscles by running slowly for longer distances.

Race 3 would be my test. During the Tri the Kenai, I posted a very slow run time of 23 minutes, which saw me slip at least five places in the rankings during the run alone. I had a very specific goal of an under 22 minute 5k, even though the course would be different, based on Allie’s proclivity to make each race harder than the last. The first race, incidentally, was the exact same course used for the triathlon. Each additional race became increasingly difficult.

I felt pretty good during Race 3 – my first running race since getting near dead last in high school.

I finished 11th overall with a time of 20:39. Over 100 people participated in that race. I had done far better than my expectations, but knew I wanted to do better still. I set a goal of an under 20 minute 5k.

For Race 4, I had been suffering from shin splints, so I joined a group of fun runners and even helped pace another friend of mine. She did really well, and that made me (and my shins) quite happy.

I had kept my recalibrated goals for the fifth and final Salmon Run Series race, but unfortunately, this was to be the most difficult race yet. Not only was it longer than 5k at over 3.25 miles, it was mostly on Tsalteshi’s most feared course – the Bear. I knew that pacing myself properly would be key. To that end, I chose a runner who had bested me by a decent margin during Race 3, and planned to attempt to keep up with him as long as I could.

The race underway and the faster runners streaking ahead, I kept just behind my target, and I fell into a comfortable pace. He was faster on the downhills, I was faster on the uphills, and we were generally the same speed on the flats. I had a bit of a lead on him up until the downhill on Bear, where he caught up. We were dead even at the flat spot before the huge uphill climb.

“Are you ready for this?” He asked.

“I’ll never reveal the Wu-Tang secret.” I responded.

Actually, I forget what I said, but I think I made noises of general agreement.

I knew this would be my chance to get a lead on him, so I attacked Bear with wild abandon. I do love hill repeats, and knew my strength was in the uphill sections. Back up on top, I had amassed about a 30 second lead, but we still had flats and downhill to go, so I knew I couldn’t rest easy.

Sure enough, I could hear him slowly reeling me in. He was right behind me with all but a slight uphill and long downhill to the finish – I had to make a move.

I began my kick (See? All that time watching track events during the Olympics comes in handy) on the uphill, hoping to surprise him with a sudden increase in speed. I reached the top and began sprinting inelegantly downhill toward the finish. I knew he was the better downhill runner, but I managed to hold him off and finished a mere 3 seconds ahead.

My time wasn’t great, 21:30, but not terrible considering a long course (my 5k time would have been around 20:30) and it being the Bear – Tsalteshi’s oft-feared climb.

More surprisingly, of nearly 80 people in the race, I placed 4th overall. I was thrilled.

In addition, my shins felt better than they had previously, and despite some horrendous blistering on my foot, I managed a good race and my highest heart rate ever recorded – over 200.

So, my heart still thinks I’m a teenager.

And with that, it seems I’m dreaming…

The reality though, is that Allie’s project brought awareness and community involvement in a great way, for everyone. All thanks to Allie for making her dream a wonderful and inspirational reality.

Pro Tip: Never mistake pepper spray for an inhaler.