Monday, September 15, 2014

Nine Weeks to the Big Sur Half-Marathon: A Just Putting in the Work Kind of Week

Vasona Lake from its dam at the northern edge,
a turn-around point for many of my runs.
No inspiring or thought provoking quote this week.  Sometimes there's a time to look for inspiration and other times it's good to contemplate what you are doing.  But sometimes it's just time to put in the work.  This week was a "putting in the work" kind of week.

Monday was a sluggish 6 miles.  The double whammy of a 4 mile tempo run on Saturday and eleven miles on the trails taking its toll.  Tuesday, another 6 miles to the Vasona Dam and back.  It felt surprisingly easy and smooth running on the Los Gatos Creek Trail compared to the day before.  Pretty encouraging.

Wednesday was an eight mile fartlek run.  On the early warm-up miles, I ran by a bunch of cats standing at attention along the Los Gatos Creek Trail, eagerly awaiting The Cat Lady, for their morning breakfast.  After a couple warm up miles, it was time to run fast for 90 seconds, and then return to an easy running pace for another 90 seconds, and repeat that cycle ten times.  The fast sections seemed faster than this same work-out two weeks ago, but perhaps that was just my optimistic mind playing tricks on me.  The last 2-3 hard fartleks were definitely a struggle.

The next day was an easy eight miles along the Los Gatos trail to the southern border of Vasona Park and back.  On the way back, the runner I referred to as "Fast Grandma" whizzed by coming the other way.  You know, she doesn't look quite that old enough to be a Grandma, so I'll just cal her "Fast Masters Lady".  That sounds better.  I also think she'd prefer this new moniker.

Friday was a day of some core exercises and foam roller routines to help the legs recover, with no running.

Saturday was another long distance tempo run of twelve miles.  Unlike the twelve mile tempo run  two weeks ago, the GPS watch had no trouble locating the distant satellites high above the earth. After an easy 7:07 mile, I settled into seven per mile pace through the six the turn-around point. Coming back home, I was hitting 6:40-6:50 miles for the last 3-4 miles. The GPS watch had me timed a 6:51 for 12.29 miles, but GPS watches tend to overestimate distance by about 2%, so I was likely just under 7:00 per mile pace for the twelve miles.

Sunday was a recovery run of 8 miles that felt surprisingly and encouragingly easy, coming the day after a hard tempo run.  Near the end, I encountered a middle aged couple walking their dogs who stood by the edge of the sidewalk to let me pass.  The guy called out,"Nice job at Wharf to Wharf", which was odd, since I didn't recognize him.  I don't know if it was a case of mistaken identity on his part, or mistaken non-identity on my part but it was a slightly odd way to to end the week.

Week 3
Total miles run: 48
Weight: 174 lbs.
Currently preferred carbon replenishment drink:  North Coast Brewing's Scrimshaw Pilsner

Monday, September 8, 2014

Ten Weeks to the Big Sur Half-Marathon : Too Much of a Good Thing?

The Los Gatos High School Track
"Too much of a good thing can be wonderful."

-Mae West

Mae West was assuredly referring to some hedonistic pleasure, not her weekly running mileage.  I can only hope cramming in an extra run here, tacking on an extra couple of miles there a couple times each week leads to ecstasy at the finish line in ten weeks.  The extra miles hopefully will add up to an increased resiliency during the last few critical miles of the half marathon.  Of course, too much of a good thing can also lead to a nagging tendinitis injury.

Recapping the week, Monday was a standard eight miler around my neighborhood.  I felt surprisingly fresh after a tired Sunday run.  Tuesday, more of the same with a short six miler heading south along the Los Gatos Creek Trail to Vasona Dam in Los Gatos and back.

Wednesday was the first big run of the week, a tempo run of six miles at sub-6:30 per mile per pace. This time, my Garmin GPS had no trouble finding the satellites unlike last Saturday's tempo run. When you think about it, it's pretty amazing those GPS watches work at all.  Somehow, that small collection of electronics strapped to my wrist communicates to satellites several thousand miles away, determining my location to within about 10 feet over the entire surface of the globe.   However it works, a GPS watch is great for providing the necessary feedback to developing "pace sense", an underrated mental running skill.

After the accelerating during the first warm-up mile of the tempo run to 6:15 pace, I zip by the Cat Lady, a short, thin elderly lady who arrives promptly at 6:30 every morning to feed the stray cats along the Los Gatos Creek trail.  A few opportunistic raccoons also take advantage of her generosity. The first three miles go by surprisingly easy at 6:15 pace as I get to the turn-around point.  Heading back, thw brisk breeze hitting my face makes me suddenly realize why those early miles felt so easy. Working those last three miles against the wind, the pace slowed to 6:30-6:35 per mile.  Still the overall pace for the six miles balanced out to 6:25 per mile, under the target.

Thursday was a "recovery" day.  Normally, I take one day a week where I don't run at all.  Instead, I usually do some foam roller exercises and core exercises like planks,  push-ups, and other various contortions involving an inflatable fitness ball.   Before I started taking a  weekly recovery day, I found myself wearing down and often got injured.  I've also found strengthening my core has really improved my form which not only allows me to run more efficiently, also helps avoid injuries.

Friday, it was back to an easy six miles to the Vasona Dam and back.

Saturday was a morning four mile tempo run at the Los Gatos High School Track.  I meet up with a training group of people I've been running with for ten years.  Some people socialize over beers, some people over dinner or walks in the park.   We socialize by waking up early Saturday morning and running fast for a few laps around an all-weather oval.  I was hoping to run at 6:04-6:08 pace for the sixteen laps around the track.

Our group of five runs tightly packed for four laps, coming through the first mile in 6:07.  The pace picks up and it's a little too fast for my blood.   I let a couple of the leaders go as our tight group becomes spread out single file and come through the second mile at 6:01 pace.  Subsequent miles of 6:06 and 6:01 put me at 24:16 for the four mile run, exactly 6:04 pace at the lower end of my target. Encouraging.

During the cool down, we talk about one member of the training group who didn't show up that morning, hasn't been running much lately, and lately has gotten noticeably depressed.  Some of us are little worried over this development.  We talk about difficult times in our lives, and how running helped get us through those periods.    After the cool down, we head over to Peet's for coffee and a scone and talk about our upcoming races and that plane flew for thousands of miles after the pilot lost consciousness and crashed into the Caribbean.

Sunday was an eleven miler through the hills of Almaden Quicksilver Park.  As I ascended the main hill in the center of the park, on my right looming through the light fog were the gentle outlines of the Santa Cruz Mountains.  On my left was the urban sprawl of San Jose, the downtown skyscrapers barely visible.  The rugged hills of Quicksilver are a great place to develop balance and leg strength, as each stride on the rugged hills and uneven footing is always different by necessity.  It's also a great place to escape the city for a couple of hours.

Week 2
Miles Completed: 48
Current Weight: 183 lbs.
Currently Preferred Carbohydrate Replacement Drink:  Gordon Biersch Blonde Bock

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Session #91: My First Non-Belgian Belgian was not Strohs

This month's Session is a very Belgian one from Belgian Smaak who asks us to share our experiences with our first Belgian beer.  In the free wheeling experimental and inclusive nature of Belgian beer, "the rules are that there are no rules".  So when writing about our first Belgian beer, we don't have to write about our first one, or even a beer actually brewed in Belgium.

That makes me highly tempted to write about the time my high school girlfriend scored a couple of stale cans of Strohs on a date, the was the first beer I ever drank.  Well, the first beer I ever drank if you don't count a few sips of Rolling Rock my dad periodically allowed me to try from his glass. However, it just doesn't seem right to twist that beer experience into this Session.

Instead, let me tell you about the first Belgian beer I remember drinking, Brother Thelonious from North Coast Brewing.  It was on a trip through California's Mendocino County over seven years ago where my wife and I stopped at North Coast's brewpub across the street from their production brewery in Fort Bragg.  I still remember my surprise at it's intense banana fruitiness, calling it "banana beer".  I was just discovering all the possibilities of craft beer then, and this "banana beer" was a big part of that discovery.

Revisiting a couple bottles of Brother Thelonious last week, I found it to be have plenty of fruitiness but more like prune than banana with some dark malt roastiness, and light aromatics one associates with Belgian ales. I'm not sure exactly what "banana" I was tasting with those first sips of Brother Thelonious back then with, but this beer remains a discovery.

OK, since this beer is brewed in the United States, is really isn't a "Belgian beer", a non-issue for our Session host, but a distinction that's gotten Stephen Beaumont into a lather. Which raises the question: How is it that only Belgium and no other country has transferred its nationality to any American beer inspired by its brewing traditions?  An American brewed Hefeweizen is hardly considered a German beer.   At least it's no more German than an American brewed Bitter is British, or an American Pilsner is Czech.  Does this Belgian nationality transfer phenomenon hold true in other countries besides the United States?

I realize tedious hair-splitting is what gives beer writers something to write about, but is it too much to ask ourselves why this happened rather than go around slapping peoples wrists whenever they declare something "Belgian" even when it actually isn't from Belgium?  Well, the problem is, I really don't know why or how the country of Belgium achieved this impressive feat of national identity transfer and nobody else seems to know either, so maybe we should go back to all the tedious hair-splitting. Except our Belgian Session host has no interest in splitting hairs, so maybe that should tell us something.

Very well.   My first Belgian beer I remember that was actually from Belgium was none other than Chimay Grande Reserve Blue paired with bread pudding at a beer and dessert pairing a couple years later after that trip to Mendocino County.  Beer and dessert pairings seemed a little novel way back in 2009, and once again as I further discovered beer's many possibilities, a Belgian beer was a big part of that.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

11 weeks to the Big Sur Half-Marathon : Out the Door

The sidewalk outside my front door.
"Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome."
-Arthur Ashe

Returning from a short weekend vacation in Kansas Monday afternoon, it was time to begin the twelve weeks of training leading up to the Monterey Half-Marathon.  I unpacked and did a short, ceremonial 3.5 mile run around the loop of the Los Gatos Creek Trail on the east side of my home town of Campbell, CA.

The next day was my first hard day of the week, an eight mile fartlek run.  Fartleks are one of my favorite old school workouts.  Fartlek is a Swedish word for "speed play" and the idea is to run at varying speeds over the course of the run.  I'm not as playful as the Swedes so my version of fartlek is to simply run for 90 seconds at 1500 meter pace and then return to easy distance pace for another 90 seconds and repeating that over and over nine times.  As I get within six weeks of the half-marathon, the fartlek runs will morph into track intervals.

Wednesday was an easy run south along the Los Gatos Creek Trail to Vasona Dam and back.  Vasona Dam holds the waters of Vasona Lake in Los Gatos.  On the way back, I encountered a runner I often see on the Los Gatos Creek Trail. Let's call her "Fast Grandma".  I don't know her name, how old she is, or even if she's actually a grandma.  Her straight, dark gray shoulder length hair and granny glasses make her look like grandma as she whizzes along the trail.  She could be anywhere between 40-60 years old and if she races, she would have to dominate her age group given how fast she glides along the trail every time she goes by. After two years of passing each other on the trail once or twice each week, we've developed such a familiarity that a slight acknowledgement with a turn our fingers has evolved to a brief verbal "Morning" greeting.

Thursday and Friday were easy six and four runs respectively.  They felt pretty effortless but I held back for the big 12 mile tempo run Saturday.

Saturday morning, I'm standing in front of my apartment complex waiting for my Garmin watch trying to find its distant satellites orbiting the earth.  I must have faked it out starting the search indoors because it kept restarting some sort of sequence over and over again, failing to communicate.  After five or ten minutes of this, I get impatient and just head out in regular stop watch mode.  I prefer the nearly real time pace feedback of the Garmin watch, but since I know roughly were each mile is along the 12 mile out and back run along the Los Gatos Creek trail, I can roughly figure out my pace along the way.

I come through the first mile around 7:00, get a little carried away and come through the second mile at 6:30. Yikes!  Too fast.  Pulling back on the throttle a little, I come through the approximate 4 mile mark in 27:00. Still too fast.

All things considered, it's better to be too fast than too slow, but running long distance tempo run is bascially playing with fire because they are very stressful workouts.  If you have a nagging injury or feel a little sick, a hard 12 miler is a great way to knock yourself out of action for two weeks.  And trust me, I've done just that.  The worst thing I can do is turn this into a 12 mile time trial and the idea is to run this at a pace I call "Can't hold a conversation for more than 30 seconds pace".  Since I have trouble running a mile at 6:30-6:45 while talking continuously for 30 seconds, I need to slow down.

I settle into a more reasonable pace by the time I get to the turn-around point on the gravel road just south of downtown Los Gatos.  Heading back north to Campbell, I pass a couple packs of the San Jose Fit training group, all wearing matching bright orange shirts and following each other in single file as they wind through the narrow woods along Los Gatos Creek.  I finish back home in 1:23:05, a 6:55 minute per mile pace, about what I was shooting for.

Sunday caps things off with a easy six mile recovery run.   I was slightly beat up from yesterday, my right hamstring feeling tight, but otherwise felt OK.   The first week had a couple challenges, and by design, none of those challenges were supposed to be difficult.  The good news is that they weren't.  Early on, it's just about finding limits.  Testing those limits will come later.

Week 1:
Miles completed:  45.5
Current weight:  176
Currently Prefered carbo replenishment drink:  Bison Brewing Hop Cuvee

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Book Review: Brew Britannia! Presents a Fascinating British Counterpoint to America's Brewing Revolution

It may seem a little pointless to post my high recommendation of Brew Britannia!, the history of British beer's rebirth written by Jessica Boak and Ray Bailey.  After all, since people on both sides of the pond like Zak Avery, Alan McLeod, Stan Hieronymus and Pete Brown have already weighed in with their enthusiastic thumbs' up, what's really left really for me to say?

These beer writers are pretty knowledgeable about British brewing.  I, on the other hand, only had this foggy notion about some weird group of British beer enthusiasts called CAMRA, which sounded like something straight out of a Monty Python skit.  So I eagerly read Brew Britannia! hoping to learn beer's transformation in Britain given I was pretty well versed in America's brewing revolution.  Boak and Bailey's book presents a fascinating British contrast to what happened in America.

As many already pointed out, Boak and Bailey couple impressively thorough research with a conversation-like writing style, focusing on the personalities that drove the British beer revolution to create an engaging story. Beer histories tend to be fairly wonkish, delving deeply into brewing styles,  beer ingredients and brewery equipment.  Boak and Bailey thankfully go in the opposite direction, focusing on the personalities and motivations of the various individuals who made British beer what it is today while rarely discussing the beer itself all that deeply.  Given the book give a very linear history of British beer starting from 1960's, this was a wise choice, preventing it from turning into a tedious "bus schedule" of British beer minutia.  What I found especially fascinating about Brew Britannia! was comparing Britain's beer revolution to what occurred at approximately the same time in the United States.

American brewing pioneers such as Fritz Maytag, Ken Grossman, and Jim Koch were undeniably passionate about beer and took great personal risks to follow those passions to create Anchor Brewing, Sierra Nevada, and Boston Beer respectively.   However, it is equally undeniable they were all also shrewd and highly ambitious businessmen who worked long hours to build their eventual empires. The craft brewing revolution in the United States was in many ways, entrepreneurial capitalism at its finest, where a few smart and hard working individuals took calculated risks the market would pay extra for a different product and turned out to be right as individual consumers started buying it.

Boak and Bailey's history documents a revolution with a similar outcome, but a demand driven one rather than the American revolution driven by new supply.  Various consumer groups emerged in the 1960's, most notably CAMRA, which not only were seeking better beer in opposing the Big Six British corporations, but were undeniably social and arguably political organizations.  Their fight was ultimately a lot more than simply demanding traditional live cask ales in favor of forced carbonated kegs of fizzy the Big Six brewers favored. It also centered on the traditional role of the British pub and a revolt against large corporations that were perceived as poor stewards of British tradition and identity.  While there was certainly dissatisfaction in the United States at the sorry state of beer in the 1960's and 1970's, there weren't any organized consumer groups in United States seeking change in our nation's beer.  That whole idea seems somehow un-American.

The early British craft brewers emerging in the 70's and 80's come across as reluctant businessmen, simply trying to brew a few barrels of decent brew without the more ambitious goals of the America's initial craft brewers. And yes, Boak and Bailey portray CAMRA as both goofy and dogmatic, prone to infighting over virtual any trivial topic they could possibly fight over, confirming my suspicions about the organization all along.

Boak and Bailey's story of Britain's craft brewing revolution seems, well very British.   Which raises the question, does each nation's brewing transformation uniquely capture it's national identity?  Are Sweden's and Italy's craft brewing revolutions distinctly Swedish and Italian?  Are Beer Bolshevik's fermenting revolt among Russia's proletariat as China engages on a Long March against lager imperialists led by a beery Mao Zedong?  Upon finishing Brew Britianna, these questions no longer seem as absurd.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

12 Weeks to the Big Sur Half-Marathon: The Journey Begins

Start of last year's Big Sur Half-Marathon in Monterey
(Photo from Big Sur Marathon Events
"The will to win is nothing without the will to prepare"

-Juma Ikangaa

This quote from Tanzanian distance running legend Juma Ikangaa seems the ideal way to start a new series on this blog. Twelve weeks from now I'll be running the Big Sur Half-Marathon in Monterey.  As any runner knows, it takes a lot to prepare for a half- marathon, whatever your ability.  For many of us runners, taking the journey to reach a mountain top of our own making is why we do what we do.

This fall, that journey is to finish the half-marathon in 1:22, a 6:15 per mile pace.    Last year, I ran the Big Sur Half-Marathon in just a tad under 1:26, about 6:32 per mile pace. No question running a 1:22 will be difficult, but after carefully considering some of the runs and races I've done this year, it's doable.  I'd still be pretty happy if I ran 1:23, about 6:25 per mile pace but 1:22 is the target.   Six weeks before the Monterey Half-Marathon, I'll run the Bridge to Bridge 12k in San Francisco both as a racing tune-up and reality check.

I'm going to start a weekly diary of sorts, posting each week on my running experiences and thoughts leading up the race.  Rather than a tedious tally of each day's run, I hope to both inject a sense of purpose into the quest, and share with you the people, the places, and the things encountered along the way.  Sometimes, I'll describe a certain aspect of the training. Other times I'll introduce you to other runners, either long time training partners or anonymous runners who've gained a certain familiarity as they go by in the opposite direction each morning on the trails.  There will be a few random observations about things as they enter my mind. And with some luck, I won't be writing about any injuries.

The goal is to share my little world within the strange tribe of runners to give other runners added direction, comradery and inspiration while showing non-runners the purpose for doing these crazy things.   Ought to be interesting, should be fun and as always, I never quite know where this will take me.  Hope you join me for the ride.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Beer of the Month: Maduro Brown from Cigar City Brewing

How many Brown Ales have you tried that gave you the "Wow" factor?  I can't think of too many myself.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of the style that's way under appreciated. But even I must admit a good Brown Ale is more like "background music" than a beer that commands your immediate attention.

Maduro Brown from Cigar City Brewing is that rare exception.  I picked this one up a local supermarket last month during the family vacation.  I know Cigar City makes a bunch of special releases that beer geeks gush over but really wasn't expecting that much from this Brown Ale in their regular line-up.   I just figured it would go well with the burgers we were having for dinner.  It caught my notice at first sip and would go well with just about anything.

It's rich, silky smooth, full of complex flavors of toffee and chocolate.   Cigar City adds flaked oats into the grain bill to give it that wonderful texture and tie all the great roasted flavors together. One of the best Brown Ales I've ever had and another good reason to go back to Florida.