Archive for August, 2009

August 30, 2009

Hood To Coast 2009

I’m on the train on my way back from another relay race. Hood To Coast is among the first, best, and largest running relay in the world, and I’ve run the race with friends and strangers a lot over the years.

This time, I ran for Parkland Youth – a group of Pacific Lutheran University track runners who are all in their early 40’s. That makes them a masters team – and this year they were looking to break 21 hours (the race is 200 miles) and to win their division. They were short a runner, and I had the chance to toss my hat in the ring. I was pretty sure that I’d be the slow guy on the fast team, so I ramped up my speed training and also asked for the shortest total distance, thinking that I’d rather take a beating on a severe downhill than run a total of 18 miles!

I was a bit nervous about a couple of things: Racing with a bunch of complete strangers AND not being fast enough! Although I’ve been running and racing for years – I didn’t take it up until well after college – and there is a marked difference between those who raced in college and those who didn’t. I didn’t know if I’d fit in with a bunch of guys that raced together for four years – and was also nervous that I’d mess up their plans for the win!

Turns out – I was lucky on both counts. The team was comprised of 12 runners, two others like me who weren’t PLU grads. But all were masters runners, had some experience with Hood To Coast, and had typical, ribald senses of humor. For instance, running and talking about bowel movements tend to go together. As Chris said “I have to move, if I’m going to move!” And move he did – he cranked out 3 runs at a 6.30 or  better pace. Four, if you count his sprint from the porta-john, where as he described it:

"I knew I had to move, so I had to move. There was just one curve left in my lower intestine, so I almost yanked a guy out of the porta-john to take care of that curl. I heard Nathan yelling for me, so in one fluid motion, I grabbed the TP, wiped, upped my shorts, and opened the door and raced to the hand off.”

Of course, the re-telling was exaggerated, but the running wasn’t. We left Timberline Lodge at 6.30, just 15 minutes ahead of the very fastest teams. I was starting, and was more than a bit nervous: both vans had come to the start line to watch, and they’d drive past me on my way down the hill. On top of that, I was due to lose about 2,500 feet of elevation over 5.6 miles – a grade that approached 9% in places. Nathan (our team captain) had figured that I would run a sub six minute pace, based on one of my recent races and on the downhill. I was skeptical – but I did hit the first mile at 5.30 – I time I’ve rarely seen on my watch. The next mile was slower, and the pounding wasn’t so bad – at least not in the moment! I had a hard time actually measuring my pace, because I wasn’t working very hard – gravity was doing most of the work. I raced down, down, down, and finished in a 5.58 pace. Not as fast as the team needed –but I hoped to make it up on the next two runs!

I handed off to Nathan, and he smoked down the hill in a 5.26 pace. Robert was next, at a 5.40 pace, Mike (recovering from an injury) was in the low 6’s (he’d promised 7’s), and Scott blew out his long, hilly leg at a 6.02 pace. Craig ran below 6.30, and we handed off to the other van and headed to Portland to rest for a few minutes before starting again.

The break in Portland (courtesy Nathan’s mom) was nice, but much too short. Before I knew it, we were in the van and on our way to downtown Portland. Our van 2 had run strong as well, and we were within 2 minutes of the next masters team. It was about 1.30 in the morning, and cool when I took the baton and headed up and over the Hawthorne Bridge for a near 5 mile run along the waterfront and thru the industrial area of downtown Portland.

It was fairly awful – my legs were beat from the downhill pounding, and I wasn’t really awake yet. To make matters worse, the miles weren’t marked – so – while I’ve run that stretch of road before – I had no idea how fast I was going. My only real option (I had 30 seconds to make up for the team based on my first run) was to run as hard as I could, so I did. It hurt, and there were moments when I was sure that I was either running both the best and the worst run of my life. I tried to keep my eyes off my watch, but it was hard: I kept myself disassociated by doing math. I’m not very good at math, so it takes awhile, but it goes like this:

My fasted mile might be a 6.15 – so – to go just under 5 miles will take around 30 minutes. And my slowest might be closer to 7, which will take 35 or so. So, I won’t look at my watch until I’m sure I’m halfway.

Of course, that didn’t work – I checked my watch, and noticed I’d been running for all of 8 minutes – barely more than a mile. Ugh. Nonetheless, I knew that if I could just hang on for 30 minutes or so – I’d be well past halfway. By the time my watch was in the high twenties, I was sure I was close, and could tell myself that I just needed to hang on, so I did. I ended up with a 6.34 pace – better than I’d hoped for, and a second a mile faster than predicted. I was spent – but I’d but my deficit to about 30 seconds. I didn’t know how I’d get through my next run, but figured that I’d worry about that in the morning!

The rest of the team also hit their targets or better – and while the team we were chasing was slowly pulling away from us – we were on track to place 2nd AND to break the 21 hour mark – a fairly aggressive goal for us. After we picked up our runner, we headed to the next exchange for a bit of sleep before our final set of runs.

Right around 8.00 AM, Nathan woke the team, and we all shuffled around trying to wake up and prepare for our last effort. Our van 2 contacted us via 2 way radio (no cell phone reception where we were!) and they had run pretty well, but lost a bit of our margin. Alan came charging in, though, and handed me the baton, and I set off for a morning run, still wearing the same pair of contact lenses I’d put in more than 24 hours prior!

It wasn’t as hard as my 2nd effort – maybe because I could see the mile marks. The first mile was tough, as my sore muscles took their time warming up – but I tagged my watch and saw that I’d covered that first mile in 6.15. I was thrilled – if I could hold that pace, I’d make up my gap! The 2nd mile had the tinniest of rises though, and I could feel the tug of gravity working against me at that point. I was pretty dismayed though, to see a 6.45 on my watch – I was behind again, and more than a bit demoralized. The road evened, and I knew that I had just under 2 miles to go, so I did my best to work my arms, get on my toes, and to charge the runners in front of me. I hit mile 3 at a 6.05 pace – which likely meant that the miles were mis-marked, and that mile 2 was long, and mile 3 was short. That left me not knowing for sure how fast I was going, or if I was making up time or losing it!

The final half mile was a gentle rise followed by an even gentler downhill –and when I spotted Nathan, I got back up on my toes and ran at a full sprint – the sooner I finished the sooner I’d be out of may agony! I handed off the baton, and staggered to the side of the road. My teammates left me be until they were sure I wasn’t going to throw up, and then told me I’d made up a second a mile on my projected pace. I was delighted – it had been a grueling effort, but it had paid off!

My van mates ran hard over challenging ground, and woke Van 2 in time for the hand off. We delivered a 9 minute margin on that sub 21 hour finish time, and we headed for the beach!

We were out of cell phone contact for the next 3 hours, and only heard from Van 2 when their next to last runner was finishing. They’d run some challenging hills, and while they’d lost a bit of the margin –we were still ahead of our best expectations. Alan headed out for his final 5 miles, knowing that he had just a 2 minute cushion if he were to help us break 21 hours.

It came down to the wire! We lined the race course and peered anxiously down the boardwalk, waiting for him to take the turn and head towards us and the finish. We each gripped our watch, and watched as we saw 3.29 tick over, and no Alan in sight. He had just a minute to make the turn and cross the timing pad!

When he DID make the turn, we yelled and waved, each of us trying to somehow indicate that we weren’t just happy to see him but that he had to MOVE HIS ASS! It was a down to the wire finish – he turned the corner and we all had a few tense moments – each of our watches varied a bit, but it looked like he’d finished with just a few seconds to spare!

Although we had to wait (a beer helped), we did get news at last – we’d placed 2nd in our division, 20th out of 1,000, and had indeed cracked the 21 hour barrier by a skinny 15 seconds!

It was great fun, hard, hard, exercise, and fun to be with a group of guys that had raced together so long that the next morning one of them asked (out of habit) “what’s the team uniform for the day?” (Yes, we had uniforms).

We’ll see about next year – they may or may not need an extra runner – but if they do, and I am in shape – I’ll head back for another go at the 2010 relay!

August 10, 2009

How Much For a Cup of Coffee?

I’ve been a home roaster for 10 years, maybe more, ever since my friend Jen Kennedy sent me some delicious coffee beans. I asked about their origen, and she told me that some students at the University roasted them. I phoned one, and he told me that home roasting was easy. A quick google search later and I was browsing www.sweetmarias.com. Turns out – it IS pretty easy!

I purchased a Whirley Pop popcorn popper, some green beans and a thermometer, and I was roasting minutes later. The technique isn’t that hard, but immensley variable:

  1. Heat up the Whirley Pop (I like about 425-450 degrees
  2. Add in about 8oz. green beans
  3. Whirl for 7-10 minutes (I like a Full City roast, and roast into the second pop)
  4. 4ool, grind, brew, repeat!

The other day, I started to wonder if my efforts these past years are a money saver or not, so I did a quick calculation:

  • 1 pound of green beans (six dollars) yields about 21 cups of coffee (I enjoy strong coffee)
  • Filters are about eight cents each
  • Shipping is just about five cents a cup.

Labor. Well. This isn’t’ exactly rocket science. But even at 25 bucks an hour (I don’t roast the whole pound at a time – who needs stale coffee?), my time still costs just thirty cents a cup.

All told? The freshest coffee in Seattle for just 71 cents a cup! Whoo hoo! And if I decide that my labor is only worth ten bucks an hour – I’m getting my coffee for fifty three cents a cup!

For grins, I thought I’d see what roasted coffee costs:

  • Kenya beans from Starbucks look to be about 20 dollars a pound, or 95 cents per cup
  • Pete’s sells a Kenya for 14.95 –which gets you a cup for about 71 cents
  • Tully’s cheats a bit –they sell by the ounce –so their coffee is a bit cheaper than Pete’s (tastes that way to me, too) but gets you a cup for 57 cents.

All told – I’ll stick with the home roasting: Better quality, fresh, and fun!

August 9, 2009

Half Dome

Half Dome appears on many of the “must hike before perishing” lists, and when my sister invited Puja and me to hike, we did a bit of research and decided not to go. Then we did a bit of hiking, a bit more research, and decided that we should go, so we did.

We arrived in Yosemite at 11:00 PM, and geared up for the hike. We’d decided to hike at night to avoid the crowds and to beat the heat.

30 lbs of gear. What was I thinking?

I was planning on running down the hill, and Puja and I also thought that having her nice camera at the top would be a bonus. So, between my running shoes, the camera, the water, the 10 essentials – my “day” pack was almost 30 pounds!

The first part of the hike was steep and on concrete – nothing at all like what we’d expected. But it was cool, the company was good (in addition to my sister, we were joined by her husband and son, and by my brother Matt and his son), and we were moderately fresh, despite flying down that afternoon and the long drive.

We opted for the short steep walk up, just along Nevada Falls. Even though it was dark, it was pretty – and the sound of the falls and the reflection of our headlamps on the granite were beautiful.

Patrick hiking half dome at night

There are close to 800 steps along that part of the trail, and while Puja and I had trained well – we hadn’t climbed 800 steps by way of practice! It’s a different sort of hiking, and harder at night. Good thing we had trekking poles with us!

Near 2.00 in the morning we hit the valley – a 3 mile gradual climb along parts of the Merced river. The break from the steep climbing was nice, but the trail was mostly sand and not a lot of fun for walking. But the moon was a day from being full, and there were moments when we were able to turn off all of our lights and walk by the light of the moon.

We exited the valley, climbed past another water fall, and headed up. The last pair of miles prior to nearing the peak were full of long, winding switchbacks – and by now it was nearing 5:00 in the morning. In addition to being fatigued from the climb – the lack of sleep was apparent – it was easy for me to start thinking that climbing Half Dome at night was a poor idea!

That thought was reinforced near 5:15 when we exited the woods and spotted the sub dome – a rounded mound of granite which we had to walk up in the dark. Unlike much of the rest of the hike – there weren’t clear steps up the face of the sub dome, and in the light, and on the exposed granite – it seemed like any mis-step would be quite dangerous. Worse – the prospect of coming DOWN this step grade was terrifying.

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Nevertheless, it was nearing sunrise, and we wanted to be on top for that. We climbed (slowly and carefully!) to the top of the sub dome, and then down into the saddle – where we spotted a pile of gloves and the cables that rise to the summit.

Most people just grasp a cable in each hand and pull themselves up, much like using both hands to pull yourself up a stairway. Puja and I had brought some climbing gear, which was a huge relief, especially after the uncomfortable scramble and around the sub dome.

We clipped in and started to pull ourselves to the top!

This is even steeper than it looks.

It was still dark, but the sun was on the rise, and we summitted in time to watch the sun creep over the valley. It was cold and windy atop, which kept us from exploring, but the view was gorgeous!

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After resting and re-fueling on the top, we decided to head back down.

DSC_1162 DSC_1149 Patrick and Puja shelter from the wind

Going DOWN the cables was harder – gravity was working against us, and I was again very glad to have a climbing harness and to be clipped in!

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The scramble up and over the sub dome was MUCH better in the daylight, and we were pretty cheery for the first few miles back down. Along the way, we saw the hordes of people making their way back up and were especially glad that we hadn’t made the climb in the morning.

We walked back the way we’d came, and through the valley, where we stopped to rest our feet in the Merced river.

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We opted for the longer (but less steep) trail home, and while that provided some terrific views of Half Dome – all of us had tired feet with 2 miles to go!

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The last two miles weren’t much fun – lots of rocky, uneven and seemingly endless switchbacks. Save for the occasional groan – we didn’t talk much (or take many pictures!) those last two miles, and were completely chagrinned when we got to the bottom and realized that our car was another 1.5 miles away!

After a cold beer though (my sister planned ahead) and an entire dish of home made brownies, we headed to the hotel for a good night’s rest.

August 9, 2009

Torchlight Parade Times Three

I ran the Torchlight Parade last night – the first time I’ve done that race in about 13 years, but my third time racing. Last night was an odd combination of the first two times I raced (according to the weather, anyway). The first year it was a summer storm – thunder and rain. The 2nd time was a Seattle heat wave – well into the 80’s.

Last night was a combination of the two – about 85 for the race, with thunder and rain just after.

The first race was my speediest. I was on my way for a group camping/running weekend, and they guy organizing had let me know that I might want to carpool with another runner. Her name was Molly – and while we hadn’t met, we traded a pretty funny phone call:

Me: I was told you are running the Torchlight, and need a ride to Mt. Rainier?

Molly: I do. What kind of camping gear do you have?

Me: Just backpack stuff, but no tent.

Molly: Long pause

Molly: Well – I have a tent . . .

Me: I promise I’m not a felon.

Molly: Okay – meet me at my condo, we’ll park your car, take the bus to the start.

So – that’s what we did. Molly gave me her house key, and told me that I’d finish the race first – and that I should run back to her condo, and shower, and by the time she got there, I’d be done.

The race was terrific – my fastest 8k. I was in great shape, and I was having a running/camping adventure, and I was also making a new friend. I finished the race, ran back to Molly’s condo, and while in the shower, laughed out loud: I was in her condo for the first time, in the shower!

We had a great drive out to the mountain, and by the time we pitched the tent, everything was fine. Turned out she knew of a music CD I had just completed, and some of my friends – so, despite the slight hill (we kept sliding down to the bottom of the tent), it was a good night’s rest.

We ran around the mountain, and drove home the next day. We ran together a fair bit until Molly moved to Montana – but we’re still in touch.

The second race was my slowest – it was hot, I hadn’t been training, and someone handed off a spare race ticket just a few hours before hand. Between the heat, the poor training, and having to job from the back of the pack – not a great race.

Last night was better, but hard: The bus dropped me off an hour early (surprise, surprise), and I grilled myself on the pavement for an hour before warming up.

The start was a bit clogged, but broke up the second we went up the onramp to the Viaduct. It’s a tough way to start the race – not yet warmed up (except for the heat of the day!_ and up the hill we went.

I hit the first mile at 6.24 – just about right. We climbed a second hill before heading into the Battery Street Tunnel, where the odor of every exhaust pipe was still evident. There were a hot wind blowing in from the other end of the tunnel, so while we weren’t in the sun – it was still hot! I hit the 2nd mile at a 6.18 pace, and while I felt like I was working too hard for that pace – at least I was running well.

We exited the tunnel, and turned down to Dexter, and my heart sank a bit. I’ve been riding that stretch of rode a lot, and know from experience that it is an uphill grade. You might not notice in a car, and on a bike it means dropping a gear or two. But on foot, in the heat and so on? I didn’t have a gear to drop, but my heart rate sure went up with the hill.

I hit mile 3 at a 6.25 pace, and thought that perhaps the worst was over. We turned down Denny, and made a quick jog on 5th before dropping down to 4th Ave – where my heart rate went up and my spirits flagged a bit. 4th is a cruel mixture of up and down – and I was definitely on the uphill part! But the crows was out for the Parade, and I knew that once I hit the mid part of town, I’d get a break back down hill. To my complete dismay,(and after heading down hill!) my 4th mile was a slow 6.38! Ugh! By then my heart rate was near its maximum, and I was really ready to be finished.

I forged ahead, climbed the last hill and then we sprinted towards Qwest stadium and the finish. I’ve raced a lot, and on several occasions felt awful at the end – but this was one of the worst. My time was okay – but given the effort to get that time – I was more than a little out of sorts!

I grabbed a water and jogged toward Capitol Hill where I was meeting my wife and my friend Robert for dinner. Just then – the thunderstorm hit, and while I wasn’t happy to get soaked –the rain was nice and cool.

The next day, I found out that the course was long – which means that I ran faster than I thought – and THAT was quite a relief!