Blog page 2

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:

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.

Weakend Warrior

I’m not exactly sure what I was thinking.

Down in San Diego, pondering the possibilities of a job as Webmaster for a school district up in Alaska, something was grievously wrong with my grasp on reality.

To wit, I imagined me getting up, going to work, coming home, reading or perhaps catching up on movies and television, particularly during the dark winter months.

I could learn to juggle, do crossword puzzles, cultivate Bonsai trees, learn to speak Jive. A myriad of possibilities flashed through my mind. An 8 to 5 job, no entanglements, scads of free time. What couldn’t I do?

Turns out what I couldn’t do is any and all of the above. Somehow my free time became learning to cross country ski. Then teaching P90X classes. Then training for swimming. Learning how to road bike. Running hill repeats. Doing triathlons. Hiking mountains. Adventure racing. Running races. Mountain bike trekking… Things I never imagined doing whilst in Southern California.

I’ve been with KPBSD for a year now. This, if any, seems like a good time to ponder anew.

Since my weekday schedule seems to more or less bereft of free time, I thought I could put relaxation on my To-Do List during the weekends.

As you might imagine, this, too, was a complete failure.

Weekends are active for me. It’s the best way to explore this amazing state. The sun’s up most of the time these days. Sometimes you can even see it.

The weekend before last was a sun filled affair with pleasant people, beautiful scenery, blooming wildflowers, and a death march.

It began innocently enough; a planned mission up Skyline Trail, across the ridge and down to Upper Fuller Lake and the trailhead. 13 miles of hiking. Couldn’t be too difficult, right?

Wrong. Skyline itself is a bit of a trek. Not even two miles, but it’s more or less like ascending muddy stairs for said two miles. But the view is incredible. There were six of us, and we quickly fell into different groups according to hiking speed. I ended up hiking with a Liz, a former Peninsula resident and pro cross country skier. She runs marathons, and liked to hike like she had left ice cream in the car. We quickly made our way around the ridge, leaving the rest of the group behind. We talked about cross country skiing, training techniques, and diet. Well, Liz did. I focused on trying to hear her over my ragged breathing. Five hours after starting, we had completed the trek.

Finally, here was my chance to recuperate, to finally start trimming Bonsai. Alas, no.

The next day, I decided to give my hiking muscles a break. I jumped on my mountain bike and went up Resurrection Trail to Juneau Lake – a round trip of nearly 20 miles. I’ll make a quick aside here to note that the muscle group used primarily in hiking, we’ll call them “legs,” is precisely the same group used whilst biking.

Mine, however, began to falter, at times even flail, earning the new title of “flegs.”

Monday morning, my flegs were flummoxed.

I tried to recover as best I could during the week, but instead I tried my hand at “Active Recovery,” which is the ill-fated theory that the best thing to do for muscles in need of recovery is give them more to do. I ran for three evenings in a row, including the Salmon Run Race 4.

I had nearly recovered enough by the weekend to feel inspired to do the entire Resurrection Pass, a nearly 40 mile mountain bike trek from Hope to Cooper Landing.

It was amazing. Breathtaking scenery, marmots bounding hither and yon, and hemlock trees that look like Alaska’s version of the Bonsai. Perhaps here, then, I can enjoy my idle time. Midway during a five hour trek through the wilderness, a brief respite to behold the beauty of nature. This is what my free time has become, and I couldn’t be happier with this development.

Besides, learning Jive is exceedingly difficult.

Got whistled at constantly during yesterday’s bike ride.Silly marmots.

Run-on Sentences…

This might be inconceivable to many, but I’ve actually more or less kept up with my attempts at running.

For those of you who don’t know, I’ve been trying to slowly increase my tolerance for running (also slowly).

Whereas, for the last several weeks I have attemped to stumble about the Tsalteshi Trails with the intent to teach myself how to run.

Whereas, initially I was a conventional, heel-striking runner, which has fallen out of fashion because there are other, more efficient and less painful ways to run.

Whereas, I’ve used these training missions to learn how to be a “forefoot runner,” which means more leaning forward, faster running cadence, and less impact.

I’m kind of getting there. My first real test was Wednesday, where I raced in the third installment of the Salmon Run Series at Tsalteshi Trails. This would be my first running only race since high school, where I had the dubious distinction of finishing dead last at one event. But, I knew from my triathlon training that I could do okay, and to that end, I had a very specific time goal of under 22 minutes.

With brilliant sunshine and 100 other participants, we were off and up the Incline Hill. I usually like to monitor my heart rate during exercise, as it allows me to gauge just how much effort I am expending. This time, it kind of scared me. My theoretical maximum heart rate is 184. My average during the run was 186, with a high of 194. So, in a good news, bad news kind of deal, my heart still believes I’m 26. The bad news is I’m nowhere near that, as my brain continually exhibits the behavior of a 12 year old.

I finished in 20:39, far under what I was hoping. So, the good news is I’m improving. The bad news is that it still takes me days to recover from even 20 minutes of running. Whereas my brain might be 12 and my heart 26, my knees, hips shins behave as if they’re 80. At least this allows me to think the goal of an under 20 minute 5k is achievable, should my body decide not to rattle apart.

So, it’s back to the Trails I go, intent on putting more mileage under my feet in an effort to strengthen my running muscles sufficiently to increase my efficiency, and hopefully reduce pain.

If anyone needs me, I’ll be in the demographic of 12/26/80, inexplicably writing Whereas in bold and running oh so slowly.

Hammer, man, et al.

“Hey Mike, what have you been up to of late?”

“Oh, not much, just vacationing overseas, racing extreme offroad triathlons, running, and helping put together the latest District Annual Report.”

“Wait – you’re RUNNING?”

–          Imagined dialogue if you asked me, “Hey Mike, what have been up to of late?”

So, yes, it’s true, I’ve been running.

More importantly, I had an opportunity to take an all-too-brief hiatus from work and visit an amazing individual in New Zealand. You might realize that my trip fell more or less squarely in the dead winter in the Southern Hemisphere, but I was not to be deterred. We had a brilliant time, catching up, mountain biking, exploring…we even got to sail on an America’s Cup yacht. Absolutely incredible.

I managed to make it back just in time to enjoy the full brunt of a gorgeous Alaskan Summer. I hope it lasts longer than this week. Last week, I went up to Los Anchorage to do the Xterra Hammerman Triathlon. I went with two good friends, Angie and Adam, as we were part of a team, something that neither Adam nor I had done. The weather, lamentably, was a bit on the damp side, which made the mountain biking segment, the leg I was to complete, a bit of a challenge. 14 miles of slick, muddy, and overgrown singletrack awaited me. But I had a blast, and only fell three times, which was a personal best for me on that course. Angie had a great if cold swim, and Adam had a blisteringly fast run, but I think my crashing (and missing a turn – oops) led to a slower time than I had hoped. Still, we finished third of the coed teams. I’ll make a quick note about the winning team – their mountain biker was professional… But the main aspect worth noting is that we all had a really fun time, and no one got hurt.

Speaking of professions, in the Wide World of Webmastery, things are fantastic. Busy and varied, as I am splitting time between installing new computers in various schools around the district, and working in the office as needed. The latest project has been the KPBSD Annual Report, which provides a synopsis and interesting facts and stories from the previous school year to the public. Look for yours soon as an insert in the newspaper.

If anyone needs me, I’ll be running.

Seriously, this time…