Playing With Fire

Yesterday we celebrated Nowruz, Persian New Year. My wife is from Iran, she moved here when she was nine and most of her family still lives in Iran, so we try to hold on to Persian traditions and culture and instill a respect in our children for their Iranian heritage. I wish I spoke some farsi, but my vocabulary is pretty much limited to telling someone they stink, or that they are being rude, or that they are gross, or that they need to be quiet. Seriously, I am trying to pick it up and I am using this site for some basic conversation lessons. My wife tried teaching the kids farsi, but with only one parent speaking a foreign language, it becomes too convenient to slip back into English. Now the kids know farsi as mom's angry language, but in a good way.

One tradition that we all love is Nowruz. It just makes sense to me that New Years is celebrated on the first day of Spring, the vernal equinox. A few weeks before Nowruz, my wife starts growing sprouts and gets the Haft Sin ready (this is a traditional table decoration with seven things that start with the letter 's'). The haft sin stems from Zoroastrian tradition, and everything on the table symbolizes something. The sprouts symbolize rebirth, sumac for beauty and the color of sunset, vinegar for age and wisdom, painted eggs for fertility, dried oleander fruit for love, garlic for health, and apples for beauty (thank you Wikipedia).

We also break out a couple of fire logs for the pyromaniac training Chaharshanbe Suri (the fire festival) on the Wednesday before Nowruz. This is a favorite for the kids because they get to jump over fire (it's supposed to be a bonfire, but we make do with Duraflame). This is a purification ritual where, as my son explained to me, you give all of your fear and sadness to the fire and once you jump over it you are happy for the new year. Another favorite for the kids is that we all eat Iranian sweets at the moment of the vernal equinox, in order to start the year with a sweet taste in your mouth.

Haft Sin

I started the new year with a great run on one of my favorite trails with some of my favorite people. I mentioned in a previous post about a virtual race to raise money and awareness for cystic fibrosis, and was so grateful for the people who responded to that request and joined me on Sunday for a trail run. Some came out to Elfin Forest and ran and hiked on a cloudy Sunday morning, and some ran on their own. I want to thank everyone who donated to the cause, people who I don't even know who might have read the blog and decided to give a little, people I haven't seen since high school, neighbors, friends, thank you.

I also started the new year with an email to Tim, letting him know that I am ready to get back to work, that there are 19 weeks until the Canadian Death Race, and right now that number seems really small. Time for some hurt. Happy new year.

Avalon 10K Race Report and Running on Catalina Island

I just returned from an amazing weekend of running on Catalina Island. Friday, after waking up to the news of devastation in Japan, sending off some quick emails to friends that we have there, and re-scheduling our ferry from Dana Point (ports were closed) to Long Beach (only 30 miles north, but apparently much safer) we did what any sensible people would do, got on a boat during a tsunami warning and headed for an island, Catalina Island, home of the country's best trail marathon. My wife and a bunch of our running friends were there to run the marathon, and since I am not quite ready to run a marathon at this point, I entered the Avalon 10K which was run at the same time as the marathon and was probably added for the less hardcore spouses. It helped a little to assuage the guilt as my wife was gutting out the hilly trail marathon.

I have to admit that it was nice to sleep in until about 7:00, watch some news, then head down to the town of Avalon for a quick warm-up and a 8:20 10K start along with about 200 others. I knew that if I ran well, I would have a chance at a good age-group finish and possibly a podium spot, so I planned to try to stick to a 7:00/mile pace, slower on the two big climbs and try to make up some time on the downhills. I positioned myself towards the front among what looked like a bunch of local cross-country kids.

When the gun went off a few of the kids darted out and I tried to stick with them, hoping that they would slow, but they showed no signs of it over the first mile and a half; I just tried to remain calm and relaxed, trying not to let the kids get too far ahead. On the first climb I caught up to the leader and could tell he was breathing hard, then we hit the downhill and I sped up a little and he was complaining of a side cramp. I encouraged him to breathe through it because I really didn't want to run by myself at the front of the race. It was completely unknown territory for me, and I really wasn't prepared to take the lead with four miles to go. I glanced to the left and right and realized that I was on my own.

The self-doubt set in hard and I started to slow down a little. I found myself thinking that I didn't belong there, that I was fooling all these other runners that were cheering for me. I found myself losing serious motivation to maintain the lead. I have been in races where the leader is pretty far in front at the turnaround and I have seen the focus and determination written on their faces, ignoring the people on the sidelines clapping, ignoring the other racers. I wasn't able to do that. I said about a hundred thank yous to people lining the streets and great jobs to racers going the other way. I cheered on a 10 year old girl that was running the race with her parents and as I passed, I heard them say, "that's the leader of the 10K cheering for you," which put a huge smile on my face and pushed the happiness meter way past red.

There was a truck ahead of me and I was supposed to follow it through the course, which I was grateful for because I really didn't know where I was going. I had planned on following the leaders through the course and didn't plan on being one of them. So, I tried to catch the truck. Of course the truck sped up when I did, but I used that as motivation. Playing the "catch up with the truck game" kept me going through the second big climb, then at the turnaround I could tell that second place was about a minute and a half behind me and at that point I knew that nobody was going to catch me, so I opened up down the last hill, still trying to catch the truck and running the last mile at sub 6 minute pace. It was an amazing feeling hearing my name over the loudspeaker as I ran down the main street of Avalon with people cheering and the announcer saying "here comes your 10K winner, Dax Ross." I finished in 40:51, a 6:36 pace.

Avalon 10K elevation profile
Medal ceremony -- it's gotta be the shoes.
I can't really act like I've been there before because I haven't, and I don't plan on playing this win off like it's no big deal, because it was a freaking awesome feeling to win that race, and I don't know how many more of those I'll get, so I enjoyed every minute of it.

That said, the real suffering that day was done out on the trails of Catalina. My wife had a great day on the course. She felt like everything came together and she really enjoyed the beauty of the island. She was even happy that a buffalo kind of charged her and ran a few feet behind her. My friends Chris and Jeff both took home age group victories in the marathon and Chris took 4th place overall.

My wife, running the final stretch through Avalon with a smile on her face
Chris headed to 4th overall in the marathon
Jeff brining in an age group victory on a tough day
This has got to be one of the best finish lines in the world

After the race, we all got together for some greasy Mexican food and Margaritas, then a quick nap and out to Luau Larry's for some celebration and dancing to the house band (the owner, Gill Torres, and his band played an amazing 3-4 hour set with everything from P-Funk to The Violent Femmes). Amid the music, drinking and eating, I convinced Chris to join me on a trail run the next morning. The prospect seemed to grow dimmer and dimmer as the night went on. Then, walking back to the hotel, Chris tells me he'll be there at 7:45. I told him I wasn't 100% sure that I'd make it, but since he ran the marathon, I couldn't flake on him, and I really wanted to get a good trail run in.

I have no idea what Wiki Wacked means, but I guess I got it done to me.

7 AM came quick (with an hour cruelly robbed by daylight savings time), and we ran up to the one of the ridges on the island. It was about a 1500 foot climb and I was lucky that Chris had run the marathon the day before or else I never would have kept up with him. The views were amazing as the sun came up, and the trail was narrow and quiet.

Avalon in the distance

I'll definitely be back next year, probably not to defend my title in the 10K, but to suffer through and over the island in the marathon.

Maffetone and Shirtless Jiggling

I'm back with a semi running-related post.

I am trying to build slowly to be able to run 78 miles in the Canadian Rockies in August, so I am following some of Phil Maffetone's principles while working through his excellent book. I don't like to complicate things too much, so here's the Maffetone Method for Dummies people like me who get scared by numbers:
  1. Calculate your maximum aerobic training heart rate.
  2. Schedule a base-building phase and try to keep your heart rate under your maximum aerobic heart rate during that phase.
  3. Except when you race.
  4. Or, except when you feel like running hard (this isn't part of Maffetone's system)
That last one is my own caveat, and it's something that I can't help. It's fun to run fast sometimes, or try to keep up with faster training partners. That's what this is all about, right, having fun? The best part about this method is, right now, it's working, and I'm developing a pretty solid base. I am able to run the same routes faster while maintaining the same heart rate that I did a few weeks ago.

I'm also trying to lose those 10 pounds I put on over the winter. I bought Matt Fitzgerald's Racing Weight, which is a solid book, but he lost me at food log. I decided to change two habits, 1) no second serving of dinner (which is very difficult because my wife is a pretty awesome cook), and 2) only one drink per night (I can't cut it out completely; the health benefits are just too delicious). So, I've dropped about 3 pounds so far (in about two weeks).

You try turning down seconds of this
It's really amazing to me how two very simple changes can work so quickly and effectively, though not quite fast enough. I was running a trail behind my house yesterday, a trail with a couple of mountain lion warning signs, a trail that is also frequented by rattlesnakes, so it is usually fairly deserted. It was also in the upper 70s and I was wearing a black shirt, which I stripped off in the spirit of Anton Krupicka. I turned a corner and two moms (could have been nannies, the kind of nannies my wife won't let me get, she prefers the older, plumper variety to the au-pair) pushing matching strollers up the hill. I had a couple of seconds to suck my gut in, flex my arms and nod to them in what I interpreted as a nonchalant, how you doin' nod, and as I pass, one of the kids says "Ewwwwwww, that guy had his shirt off." I was tempted to turn around and say "Guess who else has his shirt off? The monster that is going to chase you when you close your eyes tonight," but I didn't.

I'm going to Catalina this weekend with my wife who is running the Catalina Marathon. I'm really looking forward to the 10K as a speed workout, showering, then showing up at the finish line to watch Jeff, Chris, Cory and Sanam crush the course. It's going to be a beautiful weekend for running the island and I'm looking forward to an early Sunday morning solo trail run. Hopefully I'll see some buffalo or some red foxes (it would be really cool if I saw Redd Foxx, but that isn't happening).

A final note. Oprah is right. If you say you want something, you'll get it. I recently wrote that I wanted a pair of the New Balance Minimus trail shoes. Well, I won them in a blog giveaway. Know what else I want? A three hour marathon at the Las Vegas "stripping at night" Marathon in December. Yeah, I registered for it A) because I love running at night, and B) because a recovery meal in Vegas > a recovery meal in Sacramento (I was planning on California International).

Here are a couple of pictures that were sent to me by readers who are proudly displaying their Run Dirty bumper stickers. I still have a few left if you want one.

From Ramsey
From Chris (looks like I'm sharing some prime cubicle real estate with Paige)

The F-Word

Breakfast is a frantic time at our house, everyone rushing around, making sure that teeth are brushed, lunches are thrown together and packed in bulging backpacks, homework is done, socks are matching, the kids are fed, and the chocolate sandwiches are made. We eat a lot of Nutella, and instead of pretending it's a healthy choice, we call it like it is and when my son spreads Nutella on a couple slices of toast, slaps them together, then licks the knife, it's a chocolate sandwich.

It's rare that we all sit at the table at the same time between the hours of 7 and 8 AM, but this morning was one of those times. We were huddled around my wife's iTouch watching a baby laugh hysterically at ripped paper. I miss having a baby around. They're like little stoners, finding joy in the simplest things. After watching that (about 7 times) my 4-year old daughter says, "someone said the S-word at school yesterday." The 5 year old and 9 year old were both suddenly quiet, the S-word is not allowed in our house and they all know that its utterance leads to an immediate trip to "the hole" (otherwise known as sitting on the bottom stair for a time-out). Luckily the 4 year old left it at that and did not say the S-word, "stupid."

We all breathed a sigh of relief, then my son said quietly, "I know what the F-word is."

My wife and I looked at each other, our eyes widened a little. Had it come this fast, the kid is in kindergarten and he already knows the F-word? I guess I shouldn't be surprised that kids are growing up faster in this hyperdrive world where things get passed around and repeated on Facebook and Twitter faster than you can say Numa Numa, a world where my Grandma is already quoting Charlie Sheen, "My Metamucil is working today...winning." I remember when I would have to explain "where's the beef?" to my parents; see, it's this old lady looking at a really big bun and she's asking where's the beef because the patty is so small, and it's funny because she's old and she keeps saying where's the beef. You could get a laugh with an appropriately timed "where's the beef?" a year or two after the commercial first aired. I assume that in the next week or so, everyone will have used the term "I have Adonis DNA" at least ten times. The ironic "Duh winning" t-shirts will be tired before the 3-5 day shipping window has passed. They will be stuffed at the bottom of the t-shirt drawer between a bright red Speaker City t-shirt, an Obama t-shirt, and a "That's What She Said" t-shirt (all of which I actually own).

"What's the F-word?" I asked, tentatively, because I didn't really want to know the answer, hoping it wasn't my fault, that I hadn't let it slip. We cancelled cable a couple of years ago, so my profanity-laced tirades had been quelled with the serene absence of Fox News.

"Frickin'," he said, looking at the ground, expecting a trip to the hole. My wife and I looked at each other and smiled at the retained innocence of our 5 year old. My older daughter seemed as relieved as us; she nodded enthusiastically "that's right buddy, frickin'," happy that she was still the only kid in the house with knowledge of the word that trumps all others. Her maturity was secured, and I was thankful to her for playing along.

"That's right, and you shouldn't say that word," I told him, reveling in this moment of parental skill.

"I know what the B-word is, too," my son wasn't content to impress us with frickin', so I waited for the "butt" that was sure to follow.


Again, silence, and I tried to hold it in, tried to look stern and prep myself for the lecture to come, but I just couldn't do it. I started laughing, hard, basically cementing in the 5 year old brain that bullshit equals funny.

I guess things don't change that much. I remember eavesdropping on a conversation between my mom and my uncle. They were talking about a politician who had been caught with a prostitute. I was probably around 10 years old and I didn't know the word prostitute, so I asked. My mom went into this long explanation about how sometimes women charge money for things like kissing, hugging and dates. I'm sure she chose her words very carefully and was as delicate as possible, trying to preserve the innocence, the baby laughing at ripped paper. I patiently listened to her explanation before saying, "Oh, you mean a hooker."

I'm sure they laughed.

Rainy Saturday Run Plus The Most Awesome Elevation Profile Ever

I was sitting there, in my truck, watching the raindrops fall on my windshield, sliding slowly together like The Terminator reforming, picking up speed and rolling down the glass. I was hoping nobody was going to show, then I wouldn't have to run. I could just make a quick stop at the coffee shop and head back to my warm home, dry. The kids would just be waking up with sheet lines on their cheeks.

Then I see Chris.

I should have known, the last of the Saturday morning die-hards, wearing a rain jacket and looking around, ready to go, so I get out of the car and we start.

We picked a good time to start, the rain had slowed to a drizzle as we ran along the ocean, which was showing a different personality today, not the calm sun and tan and bathing suits of most San Diego days, but the angry white caps and wind and the bright grey of sun behind the clouds, breaking through and lighting patches of the green blue sea.

I wanted to do a progression run, starting real easy, then gradually increase the pace, finishing faster than I started. I can't do this and run with Chris. He is quite a bit faster than me, so I tried to keep up, run his pace, his warmup pace, for as long as I could hang. It turned out to be about 4.5 at around 7 min/mile pace, then turning around at the end of the campground, Chris asking if I minded if he picked it up the second half, me saying something stupid about how I needed a 4.5 mile cool down from the tempo run I just did and watching the maroon rain jacket getting smaller and smaller in the distance. I slowed for a mile or so, then picked up the pace again, not finishing faster than I started, but close, and really pushing it at the end of the run, back to the coffee shop and in from the rain that had started again.

I stumbled on a race called La Ultra today. It's a 222 km race in the Himalayas. It has to be one of the hardest endurance events out there with one of the sickest elevation profiles I have ever seen. There was one finisher last year. I'm not saying I'm going to do it anytime soon, but the seed has definitely been planted.

La Ultra compared to Leadville 100 and Everest Marathon

Ratings and Recommendations