Tuesday, April 30, 2013


I was browsing through a teammate's blog last night, when a post about Challenges caught my eye. Like Foodie McBody, I love challenges. They are pretty much the only way I get anything done. That's why I sign up for races. However, sometimes I forget to challenge myself. Now that I've been reminded, here are a few challenges I'm planning to pursue:

  • 15 minutes of cleaning (or tidying) every day. I think I saw this recommended on Crazy Aunt Purl before, but I've never implemented it. I hate cleaning, mostly because it always takes so long. I am going to try to make a commitment to do just a little bit every day. I am going to try to figure out an accountability path for this - I don't want to bore you with blog posts or facebook posts about my super exciting cleaning, but maybe I can record it in a sidebar of sorts.
  • Complete a Coursera course. I have heard of MIT's open access courses before, but I'd never heard of Coursera until a friend/co-worker told me about it last week. She is taking a stats class with some others here at work, and they have an accountability group so that they actually complete it. This isn't real school, obviously, but you do get a certificate of completion at the end if you do the work. I have found several courses in which I'm interested, and I am currently choosing between two starting this week. (I want to do both but overloading myself probably won't help get the job done.)
  • Train for a half marathon on June 8th including at least two days of strength a week (and maybe even one day of yoga). Given that this is only 6 weeks away, maybe I can actually maintain that commitment. Generally strength training shouldn't be part of the last month before a race, but although I do plan to use this race as a gauge of my fitness, I am not too worried about messing something up with strength training. (Note that I have not specified an amount of time that I will spend each session. Gotta start somewhere...)
If you are interested in completing any of these challenges with me, or in trying to hold me accountable (i.e. posting on my wall about whether I've done a core workout this week or what have I cleaned today), your participation would be most welcome! I love to have partners in crime. Since my first season of TNT, I have been mostly a failure in the stick to a schedule department, so I'm hoping to get back into the groove here.

Do you have any challenges I should know about? Or any methods of accountability?

UPDATE: Check out my sidebar for a Joe's Goals tracking score. I'm aiming for 1-3 points per day and an average of 2 points per day in any given week. (7 points a week for cleaning, 5 for working on Coursera, and 2 for strength training.) Please yell at me if I'm not achieving these goals.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Sasquatch Scramble Race Report

Several months ago, Matt learned from one of his co-workers about a new racing company, Sasquatch Racing, who would be putting on a trail half marathon in Redwood Regional Park near our house. It was in April, about a month after the marathon, and it seemed like a good opportunity to take part in my second ever trail half marathon in a convenient location. Plus, the event advertised a 9:30 am start, medals that functioned as bottle openers, and beer at the end that wasn't Coors Light (and would be drunk after noon because of the late start).

So on Saturday we headed for the hills. We arrived an hour early because I was afraid of parking lines like the ones at Quarry Lakes, but there were no lines to be had, so we shivered in the fog for a long time. Finally the sun came out - still not much going on; I call this low-key racing:

Here's the start line:

After a short pep talk about following the red ribbons and who knows what else, Marathon Matt, one of the founders, walked us a few feet forward toward the line and suddenly started counting down. From 3. Okay, I guess we're starting!

I have run many of these trails before, with my typical route being a 7.5 mile loop on West Ridge and Stream  trail. During the race, I got to experience several other trails. My very favorite was a hair-pin near-loop off West Ridge made up of Baccharis, Dunn, and Graham. The trails wound through several small canyons full of Redwoods. It was absolutely gorgeous! I will definitely be heading back to those trails on future visits to the park.

The first couple miles are pretty much straight up hill, and having suffered from a head and chest cold for over a week, they weren't super easy. But I have no shame in walking up hills anymore. After that it starts to get more uphill rollery rather than straight uphill, and around mile 7 there was a nice downhill on Stream. Many parts of the upper trails were sun-baked and felt like running on concrete, which wasn't fabulous.

Then another short uphill on Prince, where at the top, I was demoralized by seeing runners heading the other way, 3 miles ahead of me. I continued run-walking, walking up most of the hills no matter how steep. I had started coughing fairly often by this point, which would continue throughout the rest of the race. (It is physically difficult to run while coughing, by the way.) Finally on my way back down, I was walking up another hill but had pretty much crested it and should have been running again. A friendly hiker cheered for me by bib number. When I looked up I realized it was the TNT hike coach. I promptly started running again and thanked her for the inspiration - I was embarrassed to have been caught walking.

I was feeling pretty exhausted by mile 11 and wishing it to be over, but luckily it was nearly all downhill at that point (although quite exposed), which was nice. Most of it was so steep though that I had trouble running very fast. Here I am, arriving back at the picnic area, at the bottom of the last hill, so close to the finish:

After finishing, I promptly had an extraordinary coughing fit. Poor Matt had to dig out my inhaler as fast as possible, but it didn't help much, probably given that it was likely sickness related and not asthma related. He informed me later that people were looking at me, so I guess I embarrassed him. Alas. Eventually I was able to calm my lungs down and feel like a normal person again.

The race would have been much better had I not been sick, but I still enjoyed it. Running on trails makes me count the miles less; I simply enjoy the scenery. It was great to find the awesome new (to me) trails. At the end I was handed a giant sugar cookie with a picture of Sassy, as well as a medal that does NOT double as a bottle opener, but with a bottle opener attached. Bummer. Maybe next time.

All-in-all, it was a good race for an inaugural race. I would have liked more food at the end besides the cookie, like salty snacks. The Red Hook Beer was tasty though. They did have a signage error on the last turn, marking it with solid flags instead of swirly flags, but hopefully no one missed it. I was also confused about the aid stations because they had changed their approach since the initial course description, but that maybe was my fault.

I would do one again, if priced right, especially the awesomely-named Honey Badger Half for which I still await details.

However, while I do enjoy trail racing, I think that I will not forgo road racing completely. Because every trail run is different, with different elevation gain and levels of technicality, it is hard to judge your performance in comparison to other races. For instance, according to Strava, this race had 200 feet less elevation gain than the one in December. I finished 10 minutes faster. Is this all due to elevation gain? Who knows.

I plan to sign up for a road half marathon soon as a way to judge my fitness level - to see if I'm still making forward progress, or plateauing, or even going backwards. (Ugh, I hope not, but this is my fear.)

In addition, although I like low-key racing, I also like at least some of my races to have more excitement, like the Xterra race, and the Brazen races I did Thanksgiving weekend. I'll just keep mixing it up.

I also totally forgot to mention, since I was sitting down while writing this, that my calves have absolutely seized up and I can barely walk let alone go downstairs. I remember after Xterra being shocked about how not sore I was given the elevation gain. Not sure what in the world happened this time.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The American Dream

Sometimes when I am bored, I look at the Trulia app on my iPad. I have it set to single family homes less than $500,000. Usually this doesn't kill too much of my boredom because there isn't much to look at.

This last time I found a beautiful house in the hills for $400,000. This is amazingly cheap for the Bay Area, and it also contains a potentially rentable lower level. Matt and I became somewhat serious about potentially investigating and purchasing this house. In the end it appears to be seriously underpriced just to start a bidding war.

But it has gotten me thinking. I love the idea of renting because you are not tied down. Awesome job in another location? No problem. What if one of us loses a job? Just downgrade. What if we decide to spend a few years in another country? What if my wayward spouse decides to go back to school?

However, I am now intrigued by the thought of actually owning a house, preferably one larger than the 500 sf we live in. At least big enough for a couch. Where we can do projects in the yard and in the house. Where I don't have to worry about when the landlords will kick us out. Where maybe we can invest ourselves in something besides our jobs. Like chickens. (And goats.)

But here in the Bay Area, that is an enormous and scary monetary commitment. And it makes, by default, so many decisions about our future. Will we ever be old enough to make these adult decisions?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Boston Marathon

Last Monday, I spent my first hour in the office watching the women's finish of the Boston Marathon. A few hours later, I took a brief glance at facebook only to find numerous posts linking to the explosions at the finish line. I was glued to my computer, trying to learn about what had happened, shakened by the random violence on the marathon spectators. Though I didn't know anyone running the race this year, I know many people who's dream it is to get there. And I can't imagine the guilt a runner would feel when their family and friends, who had come to watch them finish, ended up in the hospital instead, or worse. It was shocking; how could this happen to one of America's great institutions.

That same week, 14 people died in a fertilizer plant explosion, 7 died in election protest violence in Venezuela, 2 Richmond teenagers were shot in front of their homes. Probably some ungodly number of people died in countries where war and terrorism are a common occurrence.

At the Boston Marathon, while more than a hundred people were wounded, many severely, very few died. So many fewer than in Newtown, Aurora, Tucson. And yet, our lovely Congress failed to enact meaningful gun-related legislation that same week. Because a background check? God forbid.

I remained glued to the news throughout the release of the photos, the search for the bombers, the killing of the MIT policeman, the grenade launching, the manhunt in Watertown, the blood on the boat. To find one teenager.

I am complicit. We are all complicit. We live in a world where traditional terrorism freaks us out enough to shut down an entire city for an entire day, while more frequent mass shootings appall us, but not enough to do anything about it. Where we fight regulations, the kind that might keep a fertilizer plant from exploding and flattening a town. We are confused.

Last Thursday, I participated in a run for Boston and a candlelight vigil. It was lovely; it was a celebration of running and unity. While I will continue to run marathons, I certainly can't ask anyone to spectate. That's why terrorism is insidious, making us second guess our actions. But are random mass shootings and giant explosions really all that different?