Thursday, January 26, 2006

Thanks to Jeff

Well after my rant about the wind on Sunday, it got the better of me. It was windy all day Monday. It really messed with my sinuses and allergies. I had planned on running Monday since I had dinner plans on Tuesday but when I got home, my head just felt all foggy so I scrapped the running plans for the day.

On Tuesday, my wife and I met an old friend from high school for dinner. Jane is about the only person I still have any regular contact with from my high school days. Seems kind of sad to think of it that way. Anyway, Jane lives near Chicago and is in sales. She travels freqently and her travels brought her to LA. We had a really nice time catching up. The last time I had seen her was July 2004 when she talked me into going back home for our high school reunion. She has two sons a little younger than ours. We swapped stories of the frustations and joys of raising boys!

Wednesday I finally got to run with my old running partner and co-worker, Celeste. She's the one that suffered the stress fractured ankle, diagnosed in NYC, the day before the marathon. We ran together 3 to 4 days a week over the summer. Our last run together was nearly 3 months ago. It was good to have a midweek running partner again. We ran our usual route over at the Santa Fe Dam. This was only her second run on asphalt since she was cleared to run again. She did well. We did 4 miles in 35:15, a little slower than we used to go but a good start none the less.

Finally today I signed up for a couple of races. I really need a race out there somewhere to shoot for. I've found that my efforts and motivation are less than inspired without a goal to aim at. I signed up the a half marathon, The Great Race! of Agoura Hills. The half marathon is on both roads and trails. The race was voted "Best Running Event in LA" and "Best Post Race Party in LA". I'll have to let you know about that later. I also signed up for the Puma 5K Run for the Cup that Jesse told us about last weekend. It is four 5K races starting next weekend and ending in June. I don't really have a chance of winning anything, especially with Jesse there competing in my age group, but it will be a change of pace and something new to work towards. I snooped around the internet and found a 20:15 5K time for Jesse, so I've got my work cut out for me. I don't know if I can get there but I do hope to improve my 5K times over the course of the series.

And to that end (and to explain the post title), I did my first speed work session tonight. I've read about speed work and have been inspired by Jeff's accounts of adventures in speed work(see Nov 9), but I've never really given it a try myself. I alway just go out there and put in the miles pretty much at the same pace. I did some research in back issues of Runner's World and based on my best 5K time of 24 minutes, I figured I should do 400 meter repeats at 1:52 to 2:00. There is an old beaten up dirt track at the local middle school within a half mile of my house. I took the long way there for a warm up and planned on 4 laps "speed", with a recovery lap between each. Four laps probably doesn't seem like much but based on what I read it seemed like a good place to start.

Lap 1 1:44 Recovery 2:34 faster than I expected
Lap 2 1:48 Recovery 2:41 slowing down already
Lap 3 1:51 Recovery 2:35 slipping a little more
Lap 4 1:49 Recovery 2:49 pretty consistent after all!

I took a long way home and ended up with 5.7 miles for the day. I was pretty happy with my first real attempt at speedwork. It was a confidence booster to know that I could do 4 repeats in less than the 1:52 prescribed. Hopefully this will turn into a faster 5K time in the future. Look out Jesse, here I come!

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Digital Dilemma

Thanks to the Santa Ana wind conditions here, it was a beautiful day for a run. Although it was breezy in my part of town the sky was clear and we have a beautiful view of the San Gabriel Mountains. I wish I had taken my camera with me. Since I live down in the San Gabriel Valley, the winds are not as severe as they are in the canyons and passes. I am really glad we live where we do. We used to live out in Rialto, just below the Cajon Pass. The wind howled through there like nobody's business. For some reason high winds just about drive me crazy. I certainly don't miss it.

I went over to my usual route. It's down between two hills and fairly well protected from the wind. My wife and son went with me. They dropped me off at the corner and went on to my mother-in-laws. The plan was for me to get my run in and meet them back there to look at my pictures from India.

All my photos from India are digital. My son and I had copied them from our computer onto a CD. Grandma's computer couldn't read it. They drove back home and the older son formatted another CD differently but it still wasn't readable on Grandma's computer. We don't really understand what's going on. I guess they will have to come over here to see the pictures on our computer some day. Earlier in the week I had made a copy of the pictures on CD for my son's History teacher. He doesn't know if the teacher was able to view the photos or not. I also have to decide whether I want to print any of the pictures. My wife is big time into scrapbooking and has already mentioned that she wants to make an India scrapbook for me. She bought background paper and India stickers before I ever even left. She will need hard copies to make the scrapbook. I really like the convenience of the digital camera but it was easier, or so it seemed, to share the photos the old film and paper way.

Weekly miles: 24
2006 miles: 24
Lifetime mile: 3470.3

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Eight with Patrick

I was off to meet the CA Cruisers this morning at our usual spot along the Santa Ana River Trail. It was a nippy, at least for us cold wimps here in southern CA, 41°F. We had a really good turnout, nearly the whole group had shown up. The sun was shining and once I got going I warmed up nicely. I started off in a sweatshirt and gloves but ended up carrying them the second half of the run.

I wasn't sure what to expect today. When we got the email this week from our group organizer, she sent me and Mike a separate email introducing us to Patrick. Pat had just recently moved back to California, living in Newport Beach. Pat was apparently a faster runner and she was hoping we could run with him. I'm all for meeting new running partners, I just wasn't sure how fast or how far I would be going on Saturday. After getting to the trail, being introduced and finding out that Pat had run Boston, I was pretty sure that I wasn't going to be up to running at his pace. Boston, heck, you gotta be fast to run Boston. Boston is not even on my radar. I need to take 37 minutes off my best time (or become a woman) to qualify for Boston. Neither scenario seems likely!

I was planning on 8 miles, Pat was initially hoping for 10. We decided to go out 4, turn around and see how we felt at 8 and possibly tack on the extra 2 in the other direction. We started out with the group with a 9:55, we picked it up to 9:10 for mile 2 and 8:30 for mile 3. Just after the four mile turn around Jesse caught up with us and ran us in. Pat and I both decided that 8 was enough. We averaged just less than 9 minute miles for the run. My legs felt tired but good. Pat's calves were tightening up. I think the pace was good for both of us. Although having BQ'd in the past, Pat's short tem goal is to get back to 4 hour marathons, a few runs with him may help get me there as well.

One of the goals of the group is to run at different places. Next weekend is my turn to host. I had planned to bring the group up to Bonelli Park. It is about a 30 minute drive up for most of them. Some of the group are running the Pacific Shoreline Marathon in Huntington Beach the following Sunday, Super Bowl Sunday. I am planning a run with mixed pavement and trails but not too many hills. Although the trails aren't super tough, compared to the relatively flat Santa Ana River Trail, they probably aren't a good idea the weekend before a marathon. I drove over to the park this afternoon to check the one possible water crossing. The water is low enough that we should all be able to get across easily with dry feet. Maybe some other time I can get them all back up and we can do some of the trails and hills.

After today's run, Jesse handed out entry forms to the 2006 Puma 5K Road Race Challenge Series. The series is four 5K's, three in north Orange County but the first is in San Diego. Jesse was pretty excited about it. His last two marathons took their toll so he wants to concentrate on speed at shorter distances. Unlike Brent, I still haven't firmed up any plans for 2006. This might be a fun way to start and a diversion from marathon training.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Laundry Night?

Thursday night was one of those nights I couldn't quite decide whether I was going for a run or not. I kept debating with myself - should I take it easy getting back into the swing or was two weeks really all that long of a break and shouldn't I just pick up where I left off? My lower back is still hurting some, especially when I run. I had fallen on some wet stairs on my trip. Until I started running it felt better. After my runs Monday and Wednesday it hurt pretty badly.

Take the day off, run, take the day, run? Finally my wife chimes in with "Just make up your mind so I know whether I should start dinner or not." That said, I decided to go. To make it a little easier I just ran a loop around my neighborhood. As I ran through the neighborhood, I came across the smell of fresh drying laundry, over and over. Apparently Thursday night is laundry night in Covina. I did the 4.5 mile loop in 40:32. Although getting started was tough, I felt fairly good. I do feel as though I am really heavy on my feet the last couple of days.

I checked my log book and found that I hadn't run this route since September 28. Then I ran the loop in the morning before work (something I don't do often) in 40:15. My comment in the log at that time was "way slow!!" It was probably good, all things considered, that I took it "way slow" again tonight. As a bonus when I got home dinner was ready and on the table. I have a good life and a great wife!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Running Again

I had taken Monday off from work presumably to recover from jet lag. Kolkata is 13.5 hours ahead of Los Angeles. I still haven't figured out where they get the half hour. I thought all time zones were an hour apart. Anyway, I was just sitting here in front of the computer catching up on email and blogs when I realized what a beautiful day it was, sunny in the mid 60's. Up to this point I hadn't really thought about when I would start running again, so I decided that now would be as good a time as any. I wasn't sure how the first run of 2006 would feel. I tried to stretch a little in India and I probably walked 3 to 5 miles a day, but I had been feeling really stiff.

I decided to go over to Bonelli Park. I didn't feel ready for the hills but there's a 1.75 mile loop around the picnic area that is fairly flat. I figured I would go around once and decide from there whether or not to continue. Once I got started everything felt pretty good. My legs were fine. The biggest struggle was my breathing. It seemed more labored than normal and I felt like you could have heard me coming from 50 yards away. Many of us had developed what we affectionately called the "Calcutta cough" during the second week of the trip. Kolkata obviously has no AQMD. I made it around the first time and decided to give a go for lap two. I ended the run after two laps, 3.5 miles, feeling happy to be home and happy to be running again. Later that day I was completely wiped out. My legs were sore almost immediately and coupled with lingering jet lag my sleep that night was not very restful.

Tuesday I went back to work. I spent most of the day recounting my trip to all that stopped by the cube. It was good to process and tiring at the same time. I took the day off from running.

This morning I packed by running clothes and took them to work. My running buds from work and I used to go over to the Santa Fe Dam and run 5 miles at least once a week. We hadn't done this since the change back to Standard Time. There is no light on top of the dam so it feels a little eerie. Now that the days are longer, if figured if I could get out of work right at 5 o'clock I would still have 20 minutes or so of daylight. I was also counting on some lingering light from the recent full moon. When I got to the dam the sky was all clouded over with big rolling grey and black clouds. They were pretty high up, but were all sinister and menacing looking. They made me think horror movie or something out of Lord of the Rings. I was still feeling stiff but my breathing was much less labored today. I put in 4 miles and finished in the dark. I will be glad when Daylight Saving Time takes affect again.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Kolkata, India

I have returned from just over two weeks in Kolkata (Calcutta), India. My written words will in no way be able to describe the thoughts and emotions of this trip. Trying to process the city through western eyes was nearly impossible for me. At first glance Kolkata is city of full of uncontrolled filth, noise, and sheer human masses. This photo represented my thoughts the first few days. I could not make sense of the things I was seeing. India seems to be in a time warp. Women are almost always clothed in sarees, while the men can be found in anything ranging from traditional lungi (cotton plaid material wrapped around the waist), kurtas (a long tailed shirt usually worn with matching or white cotton pants), or even western style clothing. So clothing offers you no reference to a point in time because of the sheer variety of styles. Taxis, are reminiscent of a 1950's era Chevrolet. Buses and trains have no windows or climate control. Motorized, bicycle and human powered rickshaws are all quite common. Construction methods were mainly hand powered and reminded me of the way things might be done in a backyard project or by the American pioneers 100's of year ago. Living conditions vary from tarp shelters on the sidewalk to slum buildings and cramped apartments. Everything is in a general state of disrepair. On the other hand there is a beauty to be found as well. The textiles, including sarees and shawls are beautifully colored and elaborately stitched. Jewelry is also dazzling. But the most beautiful thing is the human spirit.
The mission of our trip was to serve along the Sisters of the Missionaries of Charity at homes established by Mother Teresa. There are homes for men, women and children. The men our our group volunteered at Prem Dan a home for mentally and physically handicapped teens and men, as well as the sick and dying. Because we were there for two weeks, we were able to develop relationships with the patients as well as the other volunteers. Volunteers come from all over the world to help at these homes. I met people from Chile, Australia, Japan, France, Spain, Switzerland, Canada and Korea. I expected that the patients would be somewhat detached from the volunteers due to our temporary status, but they are just the opposite. We came to India expecting to show them love and respect and they treated us in kind. The routine at the home is well established. Rather than getting frustrated with new volunteers, the patients are very helpful in training us to help them. If one of our group missed a day due to illness they were quick to ask about them and looked forward to their return. The first day is overwhelming but by the last day I was able to see that we had indeed made a difference at least in a few lives for a few days. The need in Kolkata is great. Mother Teresa has done something special in setting up these homes. The urge to volunteer and help is unquenchable. We met countless people who have returned year after year, spending as much as 6 months at a time at the homes. One man I met was a geography teacher from Canada who began a 2 week vacation in Kolkata, volunteered at Prem Dan on the first day and has been there now for nearly 3 months. He has a plane ticket for the end of the January but couldn't say for sure that he would actually use it. The human spirit in the volunteers and the patients is truly a beautiful thing. We were all there to serve based on Matthew 25:40 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'
The need in Kolkata is huge. People are begging to get into Prem Dan or one of the other homes. While the existance there is simple, it surpasses the conditions of the street. The mentally and physically handicapped will be cared for for the entire lives. The sickest spend their last days being compassionately cared for. The future of the sick that will get well is uncertain.
When I got home, one of the first things my wife asked me was "Would you do it again?". I didn't even hesitate and answered "Yes, I definitely would." As confusing and disturbing as the first few days were the trip was ultimately rewarding. Our capacity to help is so simple. A strong back for chores and a warm heart ready with a smile or a hug are all that are required. I pray that I can make myself open to opportunities to help out back here in my own community.