Thursday, September 25, 2008

Nathan at SOMA Show

Nathan at SOMA Show
Originally uploaded by mikemull
I like this photo. The black and white gives it more drama, and the "spirit fingers" in the foreground are actually a bit ghostly.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Palin Comparison

This presidential campaign is the first in which people of my generation are a part of either ticket. As it happens we have Barack Obama, who is a couple of years older than i and Sarah Palin who is a couple of months younger. Similar age is about the only thing they have in common though, beyond the trivial coincidences of living in the same nation and being of the same species.

It's no surprise that i support Obama and disdain Palin. Obama is well educated, enlightened and informed. Palin is not, which is fine, but not really what i'm looking for in a potential president. I don't like the fake-folksy demeanor, the persistent reinterpretation of history, or the staunch pro-life stance (people compare Palin to Reagan, but she's much more like W). I am concerned that she is ignorant of foreign policy, and that she's embroiled in various small-time political scandals that indicate a tendency to seek and abuse power.

Worse though is the religious rhetoric, and the fundamentally (no pun intended) anti-intellectual views that she espouses. I don't think she's smart enough to be intentionally theocratic, but clearly she's the sort who cannot separate her fundamentalist beliefs from her political actions. Like all religious neo-conservatives she will rail against the "terrorists" (viz. Muslims), but the real enemies of her belief system are skeptics, freethinkers, scientists, seekers of truth. Her ideas would be loathsome to a John Adams or a Thomas Jefferson, as they are clearly loathsome to the woman with whom she is most frequently contrasted: Hillary Clinton.

I'm confounded how any fraction of the 70% of the population who disapproves of Bush can support Sarah Palin, who is essentially a female version of the same thing. I'm not exactly an Obama groupie. I have issues with his traditionally liberal view of government and i'm nervous about how his tax restructuring will affect people in California where so much of one's income goes to housing. But he's such a vastly superior human being in all respects that it's really no contest. I know that the dyed-in-the-wool conservatives will vote McCain/Palin regardless, but anybody who's undecided at this point must seriously consider the very real possibility of President Palin. I do not want the first President of my generation to be such a poor representative.

Monday, September 22, 2008

LA Marathon

I've been planning to run the LA Marathon in 2009, as my second attempt to break the 3 hour mark. It's not a super-fast course, but i figured it had the advantage of being a short road trip and a familiar place. Even though it's not on a par with the other major city marathons yet, i want to run it once just to check it off the list.

However, it's starting to be more of an adventure than i expected. The race has been operated for several years by an outfit called Devine Sports. They scheduled the 2009 race for Sunday, March 1st. However, Devine has had some financial trouble, and according to a recent LA Times article, Devine sold the event to an organization created by Frank McCourt, the owner of the LA Dodgers. That alone wouldn't be a big deal, but the new organization apparently plans to move the race to Monday, Feb. 19 (President's Day). True, it's still early enough that most people aren't too deep into their training cycle; but that's still gotta be a big ship to steer in another direction.

I'm undecided about what i'll do now. I like the idea of a Monday marathon (very Boston-like), but it means i have to start my training program two weeks early. That doesn't sound like much, but since i like to run in the mornings it means starting before the DST time change and even more dark, cold mornings. That week is also what we affectionately call "ski week" around here, meaning that my kids have the whole week off so we go snowboarding. My alternatives are the Napa Valley marathon on March 1, or maybe waiting all the way until summer and doing the Rock'n'Roll San Diego again.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

David Foster Wallace

I know it's peculiar to mourn a complete stranger, but i find myself very sad today at the news of David Foster Wallace's suicide. If you're not familiar with his writing, you should be. But it's not just that he was a significant writer. To me he was a symbol of success for a way of thinking that was intelligent, broadly curious, and never intellectually satisfied. He was funny and human but never simple. He was the sort of person i would like to be. To think that even he could not cope is profoundly depressing.

If you don't know his work, start with A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again. It's one of my favorite non-fiction books, and probably my favorite book title ever. This is a collection of essays, but the title essay is the real payoff.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Fender Mustang

My son Nathan has become something of a guitar nerd. He can identify guitars in videos and movies, and he's always on the lookout for deals on E-Bay and elsewhere for lefty guitars. He finally found one that met both his standards and his price. This is a Fender Mustang, which was the favorite guitar of famous lefty, Kurt Cobain. Clearly, i'm not crazy about Cobain being a role model, but it is a pretty cool guitar.

Monday, September 01, 2008

TransRockies Recap

The TransRockies run is hard, tough, grueling, exhausting; all adjectives that are necessary but not sufficient to describe the experience. It is difficult because of the altitude, the climbing, the distance, the daily wear and tear, the sleeping in tents, the carrying of gear on one's back, etc. On the other hand, it is six days where you don't have to worry about much else beyond running. In fact, it'd be a pretty good way of life-- get up, eat, run, eat, hang out, eat, sleep, repeat. Roughly speaking, the TransRockies is somewhere between traveling circus and military exercise.

Still, it's pretty hard, especially for us sea-level folk. Running a 100+ mile week is tough in any case but i was surprised at just how much of a toll the altitude could take. At 8 or 9000 feet it slows you down; at 11000 feet it makes you delirious.

Day 0 - Denver to Buena Vista

On Sunday, I arrived at the Denver airport along with hundreds of Democratic National Convention attendees. I had about 3 hours to kill before the shuttle would pick us up for the trip to Buena Vista. By 1pm four TR teams had assembled, including myself and Mr. P. We didn't chat much with the other teams on the way out, but later on it would come in handy to know these particular runners.

We got to Buena Vista in late afternoon, and checked in our team. Buena Vista is a cute little town, with a mixture of older buildings and modern stores and hotels. It's pretty easy to walk from end to end, which we did a couple of times in going from the Super 8 to check-in, and then back to the community center for the pre-race barbecue. On the way home from the latter we got rained on and jogged back to our motel, which was a disconcerting introduction to the difficulty of running at this altitude. A few hours after the barbecue we got hungry again and went to the local Mexican restaurant for a snack.

Day 1 - Buena Vista to Numbers - 13 miles

We went back to the community center for our first pre-race breakfast, which was good but seemed heavy at the time. We met a couple from Maine; the husband had been asked to come out and play music at the campfire for the Salomon runners and employees.

The first day was a "gentle" introduction to the altitude. We started at Buena Vista and ran primarily on a gravel road that ran along the Arkansas River. It was a relatively mild incline, and a total distance of just under 13 miles. At my normal altitude that'd be an easy 1:40 or so. We worked pretty hard to finish in 1:54, about 30 minutes behind the race leaders. Maybe this altitude thing was gonna be harder than i thought.

After the race we soaked in the river for a while, and then caught a shuttle to the nearby Arrowhead campground, which was the site of our first tent city. After settling in, we traveled into Buena Vista with some other runners, our purpose being to buy some gloves for Mr. P. We also got some Alleve and the other runners got beer-- a sort of combination carb source and sleep aid for runners.

Tent City at Arrowhead Campground

Day 2 - Vicksburg to Twin Lakes - 10 miles

The second day was the shortest mileage of the week, but we were still all a bit anxious about it because it would also be our highest altitude. The first half of the run, after a short flat section, was a climb up to 12,600 foot Hope Pass. It was an exhausting climb. The slopes were never too brutal, but at 12000 feet it's tough to keep moving. Coming up over the pass and seeing the Twin Lakes area in the distance is one of the highlights of the week. The single track descent on the other side is fun too, because it's both beautiful country and well-maintained trail. It eventually took us 2:24 to finish the run, both the hardest and slowest 10 miles i've ever run.

After the run, a shuttle took us into Leadville, which is a Mecca of sorts for trail athletes, both runners and mountain bikers. Leadville was my favorite stopping point in the race. It has decent restaurants and shops, but doesn't seem like a tourist trap. This was also our first experience of the "portable shower truck", basically a semi-trailer with shower stalls and a set of sinks outside. Without this innovation, the event would probably not be very popular.


Day 3 - Leadville to Nova Guides - 24 miles

The third day was the first long day, and the longest day of the week in terms of mileage. The profile didn't look too bad-- there was one climb and descent to about 7 miles, and then another climb to about 15 miles, after which the rest was downhill and flat. I felt OK on the first climb, but the second was hard. By the 15 mile control station i was tapped out, and i had to do a GU shot. That seemed to help a bit and we moved well through the downhill section. The last 3 miles was a flat section on a dirt road leading into Camp Hale. It was pretty hard but i vowed to continue running, no matter how slow. We finished in 4:24, which was at least within our limit of 4:30, so we felt good about it.

Our camp site for the night was a place informally called Nova Guides. Actually, there's a sort of lodge there operated by the Nova Guides, an outfit that does everything from jeep trips to rafting. They have a restaurant, and a grassy area where we could stretch out and rest. We also had a memorable dinner that night. Mr. P and i sat with a group of young women who are all in the military. I can't remember the last time i've laughed so much.

The campfire that night was a bit rowdy, in part because there wasn't anywhere else to go, and in part because several people got involved in the music making. It was fun, but i was more interested in the sky, which without much artificial light was deep and detailed.

The circus comes to Nova Guides

Day 4 - Nova Guides to Red Cliff - 14 miles

The fourth day was slightly shorter, but had another tough climb at the start. It wasn't obvious from the elevation profile, but it turned out to be very steep at the top part of the climb, and everyone slowed to a crawl over the last mile. At the top though we had a beautiful section of trail along a ridge with great views in every direction. For some reason, i was feeling relatively good this day and managed to keep up with Mr. P despite his much longer stride. We totally bombed the downhill and had our best finish of the race, albeit in a none-too-speedy 2:34. Still, it moved us up a couple of spots in the overall ranking.

Our stopping point for that night was the town of Red Cliff. There's not a lot to Red Cliff, but it does have this amazing bar/restaurant called Mango's. They have probably the best fish tacos i've ever had outside of San Diego. We sat near the race leaders that evening, Erik Skaggs and Max King, the latter of whom had been in the shuttle with us from Denver Airport. It was kind of cool to talk about running and other stuff with the elites of the race; something that would not likely happen in a typical race.

Red Cliff

Day 5 - Red Cliff to Vail - 23 miles

This was the day that had made me nervous all week. It was long, but the scary part was the elevation profile, which looked like a big "M". Ten miles up, followed by a jagged 5 miles at above 11000 feet, followed by about 9 miles of down.

As it turns out i was right to be concerned. I was feeling relatively good up the first climb, but during the stretch at altitude i began to feel very bad. This was my first real problem with the heights. I began to feel dizzy and a bit nauseous, and there were sections where it felt like i was blacking out between steps. I had to walk a lot on runnable sections, and by the final summit i was beginning to wonder if i would finish. For the first part of the downhill section, i still couldn't get into a rhythm, and had to walk occasionally. After the final control station with 5 miles to go i finally began to feel better, and we ran the last downhill section pretty fast. We had to push to come in under 5 hours, about 4:57. It was a disappointing time, but still one of the hardest physical efforts of my life. This was the only point in the race where i doubted my ability to finish, so the poor time was largely compensated for by the mere fact of finishing.

Our camp site that night was just outside Vail Village, so we were essentially back in civilization. We had cell-phone reception and were relatively close to a Starbucks, so it wasn't quite the hard life. We also had steak that night, for which i'm eternally grateful to the caterer, The Gourmet Cowboy.

Vail Village

Day 6 - Vail to Beaver Creek - 21 miles

The distance and profile looked pretty daunting for the last day, but it was easier to face since we knew we'd be done at the end. Unfortunately, Mr. P was struggling with a sore foot- an apparent case of bursitis at the point where his Achilles tendon connects to the foot. It made it very hard for him to run downhill, which we'd be doing plenty on this day. He still kicked my ass up the hills- even if i could match his cadence he'd pull away since each stride was so much longer.

The run started with a pretty long climb, but it topped out at only 10,500 feet so it seemed much easier than the previous day. We then had a long, steep, descent on a pretty but very narrow single track. It would have been a blast had Mr. P been feeling better.

As a cruel twist, the organizers added another climb with about 5 miles to go. To add insult to injury the very last section of this climb was straight up a ski slope. I felt like i needed a rope to climb it. It sucked. The very last part of the run was another steep downhill cutting across the face of another ski slope. It was an awesome finish, but again pretty hard on Mr. P's injured foot. It was extremely gratifying to run the last few paces into the finish chute, knowing that we'd just finished a damn hard event. There are too many platitudes about the value of finishing over winning, but in this case finishing did feel like a pretty amazing accomplishment.

That night we were comfortably bunked in a hotel in Beaver Creek, with warm showers and flush toilets and cable television. We had our finisher banquet at the Park Hyatt and i got to drink wine (mediocre, way over-priced wine, but still...). We sat with the Polish Gore Tex team and had a good time exchanging stories and jokes (please, no Polish joke comments). By then, i'd started to feel happy about surviving the week without any major injuries, extremes of weather, significant sickness, or encounters with aggro sheep dogs (inside joke, you had to be there). I even started entertaining thoughts of maybe, just maybe, doing it all again some day.