Monday, October 26, 2015

Descent into Madness? Entering the 2016 Napa Valley Marathon

"You have to forget your last marathon before you try another. Your mind can't know what's coming."

 - Frank Shorter
Start of the 2015 Napa Valley Marathon
(photo from Napa Valley Marathon Facebook page)

It's been over 20 years since my last marathon. Now, jumping back into the marathon waters, I've registered for the 2016 Napa Valley Marathon on March 6th.

Those marathons I ran over twenty years are fleeting memories, so what's in store for me in the Napa Marathon is a bit of a mystery. I remember after my last marathon telling my girlfriend, "If I ever think about running a marathon again, talk me out of it". That woman is now my ex-wife and needless to say, she's no longer around to talk me out of it. Indeed, if I told her I was contemplating an act well known for causing insufferable pain, her immediate response would be "Go for it!".

I have vague recollections of the 1994 Boston Marathon. I trained for it through a particularly harsh Ohio winter, badly overestimated my fitness, went out too fast and crashed well before Heartbreak Hill. Gasping at the finish line in exhausted delirium, barely gripping an open can of grape juice hanging upside down from my limp arm, I was too disoriented to even notice the steady stream of purple juice pouring out the can down my leg. It took a full two months to recover.

I remember even less of the 1995 Columbus Marathon. It is the only race of  the hundreds I've entered in my life I didn't finish. Coming through mile 23 having a particularly bad race, I was tired but certainly had enough left to finish. At that point, I was only a block from the finish line, the course looping back out a final three miles before the end. I didn't feel like fighting those last three miles. So I stopped, walked over to the finish area, picked up my sweats bag and went home. I'll take few regrets to my deathbed, but that is one of them. Running is about finding a ways to overcome barriers, developing personal growth through the struggle, so quitting that race just because I didn't feel like doing it anymore goes completely against what running is all about.

You might say the marathon and I have some unfinished business. The was a time where I envisioned myself a full time marathoner back when I was in my twenties. My first two marathons were in fact, fun and encouraging. But I also discovered the human body was not really meant to run 26.2 miles, and the after struggling through the marathons at Boston in 1994 and Columbus in 1995, I was done with marathons.

Still, thoughts of one day returning to the marathon never died. I've always regretted never fully embraced or enjoying the Boston Marathon experience, and for decades, I've had thoughts of coming back to Boston, maybe when I get to be in my 50's, to run it again and just enjoy the experience of being part of the historic race.

Well, I'm 48. If that dream's going to happen, it's about time to start getting busy. After a few half-marathons over the past years, I'v gotten antsy to scratch that marathon itch. Maybe I'll find the marathon was just never right for me, and the dream will be like a lot of dreams, nice to think about, but something particularly problematic to actually do. But it's worth noting back in the day I was young, overly ambitious, physically strong but mentally weak in certain ways and perhaps just couldn't handle the whole gravity of a marathon. Back then, almost every race lead to disappointment from over estimation of my abilities fueled by definition of self-worth dictated by finishing time and place. Today both older and wiser, I go into races with more realistic expectations, enjoying the competition and the whole running experience, grateful to be still at it after all these years. Maybe a more mature mind piloting my body through all 26.2 miles will make all the difference.

As I begin to embark on four months of training focused for one morning in March, there is certainly the risk hope and optimism will end up being eclipsed by the inevitable tedium and discomfort inseparable from that training. Of course, life has a way of getting in the way of running for good reasons. If there's one thing I've learned in 35 years of running, how you take the journey is more important than whether or not you take the goal. Success will be sweet, but never assured, and it's going to require a lot time running alone in the pitch black of early winter mornings and plenty of days spent dragging around tired legs. Is willingly entering into such a strange bargain madness? Perhaps. But that's what runners do.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Cashing out at the Folsom Blues Breakout Half-Marathon

No, I didn't have a breakout performance at the Folsom Blues Breakout Half-Marathon. It was more like early parole.

As you might guess, this race starts near Folsom Prison on the Johnny Cash Bridge. After a couple downhill miles, it winds along the American River bike trail and finishes in historic down Folsom. Any race featuring the music of Johnny Cash with a finisher's medal that doubles as a bottle opener is my kind of race.

I had mixed thoughts going into it, as my preparation was a little cobbled together around a fair amount of personal and professional travel and a bit of lingering fatigue that I chalked up to over training to compensate for missed time. Or maybe it was just old age. The plan was to shoot for 6:40 mile pace through 10 miles and assuming I got to the 10 mile mark at that speed, I figured one of the following would happen:

a) I'd feel great and blitz the last 3.1 miles
b) I'd hang on and hold pace to the end
c) I'd fall apart and crawl to the finish

The first couple down hill miles did indeed feel easy at 6:25-6:30 pace. By the time I got to mile 4, back around 6:40 mile pace as the course flattened, my legs felt OK, but started dropping subtle hints the last few miles were not going to be fun.

At mile five, a couple young whippersnappers caught up to me. One sported winged tattoos on his legs and sleek looking sunglasses perched on his closely cropped blond hair while the other guy had long, wavy black hair tied back and was huffing and puffing like a steam train. I didn't think anyone sounding like a steam train at mile 5 was going to last very long in a half-marathon race, so I moved ahead him, got right behind the guy with the sunglasses and held on. I was right, and didn't see the huffing and puffing steam train guy much after that. I just kept looking squarely at the back of the other guy's red singlet for the next few miles that I covered in the 6:30-6:40 range. 

So I hung on and used him as a wind blocker for the moderately strong breeze blowing off the American River under an overcast sky. Sometimes he'd pull away, but I'd reel him back in. I thought he'd finally lost me on the windy uphill portion just before the bridge to cross the river at mile 7, but worked myself back within striking distance on the next down hill mile. At this point, I had this idea about catching up to him so I could turn to say to him "I'm not that old".  Such ideas were not to be as he started pulling away. Yes, I did get to mile 10 slightly under 6:40 mile pace and while I didn't have crawl to the finish line, it took plenty of scratching and clawing to get there in 1:27:57, at an overall 6:42 mile pace. So I guess you could say after getting to mile 10 just under a 6:40 mile clip, I accomplished (b) and still clung to the pace. Well, sort of.

Special mention mention goes to my wife Linda, who endured a hip injury training for the half-marathon. Battling through it she recovered to enough run 5k run instead of the half-marathon and ended up winning her age group in the 5! She worked hard through some pain and really deserved it. Yay Linda!

The post-race beers at Folsom's Lockdown Brewing tasted particularly sweet.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Santa Clara Valley Brewing in Edible Silicon Valley

Tom Clark (left) and Steve Donohue (right) of Santa Clara Valley Brewing
It's a short piece, but now Silicon Valley foodies have been introduced to Santa Clara Valley Brewing in Edible Silicon Valley magazine. Both Santa Clara Valley Brewing's Tom Clark and Steve Donohue were fun and engaging to work with for the article.  You can read the online version here.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Rambling Reviews 10.12.2015 : Mammoth Brewing Wild Sierra Farmhouse Saison, Ninkasi Noir Milk Stout, and Cucapa Runaway IPA

Time once again to review some of the more intriguing brews which crossed my path.

First up, Wild Sierra Farmhouse Saison from Mammoth Brewing Company.  Our family's fall annual camping trip to Yosemite is not complete with picking up a few Mammoth brews at the Yosemite Valley store, since in and around Yosemite National Park is the only place you can find Mammoth's beers. In this one, the fruity esters with plenty of apricot character blend well with the moderately toasty malt. Mammoth Brewing adds local pine needles to the brew, literally injecting the piney breezes of Yosemite into the mix, creating a clean freshness in the brew to bring it all together. Be forewarned, packs a bit of a punch for the style at 7.5% abv, yet I found it wondrously stimulating and refreshing sipping this on my front porch.

For our next beer, we turn to the dark side. It's Ninkasi's Noir Milk Stout with Coffee, part of Ninkasi's Special Release series which the brewery sent over for a sample. Upon first sip, I detected the usual rich, creamy, and roasty characteristics of this style. But as the beer warmed and the flavors opened up, dark under currents began to emerge. Buried deep beneath the strong dark chocolate and coffee flavors, came the faint sounds of hops, scratching and clawing to break free. This is no easy sipper, it's a compelling conflict in a glass as the characters struggle for flavor dominance in the darkness. An arresting experience.

Finally, beer karma compels me to write some nice things about Cucapa Cerveza since they apparently sent me some of their beers to sample. I say "apparently" because one day coming home from work, I find this big box on my porch and inside are 20 bottles of their different beers. No one wrote me from the brewery ahead of time asking me to try a sample, nor was there any letter in the box. For the most part, I enjoyed all the different beers from this Mexican brewery, which all had their own soft earthy quality to them. Of the bunch, I found their Runaway IPA highly exotic in its unabashed malt-forwardness. You can tell it's an IPA with its noticeable floral, earthy bitterness poking through the slightly sweet malt background.  Maybe that's just the way they do IPA's south of the border, but I really appreciated how they resisted the temptation to smack you in the face with a bunch of hops like only 27 zillion other IPA's do. Refreshing in both its restraint and soft edges, while it's not mind blowing, this IPA's may well force you rethink the possibilities of the style.

Friday, October 2, 2015

The Session #104: It's not you, it's me. Well maybe it's you.

I struggle to find the words, Session, but maybe this thing just isn't working out anymore. I mean, when I met you, it was great. Some many wonderful conversations, so many new experiences. And yes, trying new things and just goofing around with you was fun, and at times, wonderfully intense. But these days, it feels like work. We don't seem to know what to do any more. It seems forced, like you always want to talk about some deep complex subject or do something wildly experimental, like you need to top last month's topic. Can't we have a quiet night and just review some beer? I know, it's not all that original, but hey, I still find that fun even if you don't.

You know, people change and sometimes you don't seem so interested. I mean, this thing seems old fashioned, the way people Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook these days. We used to plan so many things in advance and you were so full ideas about what to do. Now you never tell me what you want to do until almost the last minute. I mean, it seems forced. If you aren't really into this, maybe it's time to, you know, end things?

Yeah, I have to admit, there's evenings where I rather curl up with a good book or go out with some of my friends, but if it's that first Friday of the month, I put my best foot forward to make it work. I've started meeting other writing projects, just being friends of course, and have been totally open with you about this, and I really appreciate your understanding about giving me some space. I've really tried not to miss our special Fridays.  But yes, I've started missing our day here and there, so you're right, I'm not always there for you.

You know we had a wonderful run. I met so many great people through you and had so many good times. You really challenged me, forced me to think differently, made me a better person in your odd way. Those memories will last forever.  OK, that's corny, but I'm trying to put this in the best light. How's this: Nothing truly lasts forever, but things that endure for a long time are really special. Well, that's kinda corny too.  Forgive me for using cliche's, I just can't find the right words.  Even though things don't look good between us, for a while, it really meant something.  That made it all worth doing.