Sunday, October 30, 2011


I woke up at 3:00 this morning, despite going out last night, my mind racing with thoughts from yesterday.  Actual tears were rolling out of my eyes, not sad tears, more like basic punctuation bookending the recent emotions, ones I don't fully understand nor did I have any idea I would necessarily experience.  On the surface, yesterday was about as plain jane as any day in my recent life, perhaps excessively plain.  But the undercurrent prompts me to digest and purge what I can, a cathartic attempt to hit reset so I can proceed.

A bit of background first.  Sandy beach on Oahu is a bodysurfer's dream, the steep sand bar and steady swells combine to produce hollow barrels which usually pack a heavy punch.  Water sucks back, energy builds, the crest peaks and then surges up and over, crashing down into a water and sand mixture that is maybe 1-2 feet deep.  Reliving my youth in retrospect, bodysurfing Sandy Beach shorebreak is very much like my own experiences with chaturanga.  There is a repeated rising and falling, a known dance with the self, accompanied by a parallel dance with the higher Self.  Each individual wave, each chaturanga, is semi-satisfying but often indistinguishable from the next.  And yet, the net sum of a session spent in the water or on the mat yields a singular whole, a unique point in time, an experience which becomes a memory.

I'll come back to Sandy Beach later.

Two emails received this week are worth reprinting, partly because of how they affected me, but more so as an explanation of what I need to work on.

"I just wanted to let you know how much I am enjoying Team Challenge. I appreciate the time that you take (Dave) to plan our workouts! I have never done anything like this in my life and I am truly enjoying it. These past few weeks I have seen myself accomplish things that I never thought were possible for a girl with Crohn's Disease. Thanks so much, & you will probably see me around next year. I'm loving it and we haven't even made it to Vegas yet...I can't wait!"
"Thank you again today Dave, and I mean that personally- not with my CCFA hat on.  Really cool to be a party of your first class taught, perfect opportunity for you to hone your craft on some open-minded friends and amateurs.  Very cool experience relative to my past yoga sessions, everything from the setting to the music was a great fit.
 You gotta let me know if you start teaching on a regular or even intermittent basis- I'd definitely come to your class again, the passion you have for it is contagious."
It's pretty amazing to observe the effect words can have on the human heart.  Word selection, tone, delivery, context, and especially intent all combine to exert a force, much like that wave at Sandy Beach, that affects me.  It's often easy to brush aside these emotions, just as it's easy to ride wave after wave and not pay attention to the last one or the next one.  And it's just as easy to overlook the risk that words and waves have, until something disastrous happens, a friendship disintegrates, or a physical injury is sustained in the water.  My parents always used to stress out about Sandy's being the spinal cord readjustment center of the US.  And certainly my own experience with words and particularly their negative effects has taught me all sorts of lessons.  Words can be intense.  The words above affected me greatly, primarily because they were unsolicited but also because of how succinct they are.  And while they say more about the sender than the recipient, their net effect on me is substantially more than I expected.

So how does this all relate to what I need to work on?  If I set the stage right, you might be confused, you might not follow my train of thought yet.  And that is precisely what I am good at, presenting a confusing, overwhelming, lengthy description of my convoluted thoughts which takes a lot of mental energy to decipher.  I think my mom realized this when I was 10 as I tried to explain to her how to repaginate a document in Word Perfect (remember those pre-Word days of "word processing"?)  I have never been a good teacher, in fact, I've been told many times exactly how lousy I am at it.  I'm a doer.  I take action.  I push the limits.  I ride the edge.  I was not born with the ability to tell anyone "how".

My sister has tremendous innate leadership and the ability to connect to individuals from all walks of life.  I am different.  I think we got opposite pairs of genes from our parents.  My sister actually ran a small yoga business out of her home a few years ago, before marriage and children.  My sister can nonchalantly shred on the mat, yoga is a perfectly comfortable home for her, an effortless extension of her Self.  While my sister was doing all of this, I was a quintessential tri-dork, with dreams of Kona which, once fulfilled, gave way to dreams of fast marathons, which broke away and funneled me into dreams of ultra which may not be completely dead yet, and eventually landed me on my yoga mat.  There exists quite a bit of comfort for me in athletic pursuits, I know how to push myself, I know how to not quit, it is the world of the known, the oddly comfortable.

Rewind, and take a slight detour...

Watching my father's progression and obsession with ballroom dancing has been a real life lesson for me.  I did not understand it at first, but it makes tremendous sense to me now.  At retirement, some people long for complacency, a routine schedule, an easieness.  But for many of us, when we stop growing, we start to die.  The Easa genes do not allow sitting still, for better or for worse.  We are workhorses, from my grandfather selling goods door to door out of his suitcase to my father's sacrifices in neonatology, to my sister's ruthless schedule of childcare activities.  When we go, we go all out.  It would be unnatural for any of us to stop placing hurdles in our path just to see if we can jump over them.  Despite no background, despite a surgically repaired knee, despite a complete lack of need, my father chose to pursue and excel at dancing.  And now he has absorbed it, now he is pretty freaking good at it.  The work shows.  His reinvented Self is as shiny and brilliant as the Dr in Dr. Easa ever was, and probably at this point substantially more impressive than any of his accomplishments on the tennis court.

So, now it's time for me to get on point.

And yet, we've already arrived.  This entire post _is_ already the point.  If I were to ask any of my 3 regular readers of this irrelevant blog what I need to work on, the answer would be unanimous and immediate.  Let's not even sugar coat it today, I did enough of that with those two quotes above.


That's it, exactly it, I don't even need to type the word "nutshell".  That is my feedback from yesterday's first yoga class.  That is my feedback from my own self analysis of my life.  That is my challenge, what I want to improve upon, my personal growth opportunity.  It is not my area of expertise, and yet I covet so dearly those who can express themselves in simple words that have great impact, just as my father covets the effortlessness of his dance instructor's grace.  I'm petrified of this.  I have no idea "how" to get there.

Take a look at what I've just done.  I've taken a clear and obvious statement of fact, one that just about anyone who knows me realizes intuitively, and anyone who meets me can figure out in 5 minutes, and then I turned something obvious into a multi-page, barf-o-rama of a post.  It's so easy for me to make unnecessary additions, so hard for me to subtract.  The restless earnestness comes out of me just like the waves rise at Sandy Beach, with ferocity and often overwhelming volume.

My communication skills are the precise opposite of a bumper sticker.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


I don't know how to explain last night, but I don't know how to let it pass without an attempt to describe what happened and how I felt.  It was unusual.  It was a lot like the morning of August 1st, 2010, which for various reasons is one of the lowest points of my recent memory.  It was a strange juxtaposition, entirely foreseeable, yet ultimately far more severe and intense than I was actually prepared for.  I haven't slept well the last two nights.  I feel like my scabs have been ripped off and I'm bleeding again.  It's a very raw sensation.  On the one hand, I love feeling this way, I love the rawness of sleep deprivation, self-imposed semi-starvation, and overdoses of exercise.  There is nothing that compares to the intensity of the state I inhabited from August 2010 through October 2010.  I felt tremendously alive, capable of anything, as if I could tap into a volcano's worth of fire at a moment's notice.  And yet, there is some real sadness that always seems to go hand in hand with this raw state of being.  Sadness at what has been lost.  Like a glass breaking into pieces or tint added to a gallon of white paint, there is no rewind, no undo.  All I can do is look forward and embrace the present moment.

I made plans last night to catch my favorite instructor, Lex's class with one of my fellow teacher trainers, Carrie, before meeting up with Shelley and Jaime to practice teach.  I wound up walking up the stairs with Carrie as we attempted to leave our workdays behind us.  I think her day had been rougher than mine, but I felt like we both looked forward to Lex's class with optimism, it would be her first one and her first trip to Haute, whereas for me it was roughly my one year anniversary.  I ventured into the studio, placed my mat, and stretched out with my eyes closed, retreating inward, diving into my vision of pratyahara.  With my eyes and lips sealed, my breath culled the heat out of my body as my tension released.  Lex brought the class to life with a greeting and began her theme about samadhi and specifically how active pranayama distinguishes a deep sensation from pain.  The concept is that when we lose our breath, it is no longer yoga.  And so the twisted evening of irony began.

Of all the themes for me to hear, that one is one of the toughest.  My challenge is, and has always been, a difficulty relaxing, difficulty accepting anything below maximum effort.  I love to blur the lines between a deep sensation and actual pain, it makes me feel alive.  What I love so much about my private sessions, what I crave every Tuesday and Thursday morning is how far Shane lets me explore my phyiscal boundaries.  I usually fall to the mat 5-10 times with Shane and it's OK by him to be doing that, he feels comfortable and so do I.  Sometimes I wonder if I am hitting mental limits or physical limits, sometims I worry that my brain shuts off before my body, but without failure there is no context of what is too much.  When he has me past my edge, I often lose touch with my breath, but he is OK with that and so am I.  It's a great physical cue for him, he can use it to judge how much further to push me before the point of complete failure.  It's also a great thing to try to work through.  So many times in low plank or twisted triangle or cobra or mountain climbers, when I'm gasping short sips of air, a gentle reminder to breath deep and embrace the sensation brings me back in line with my edge.  In fact, during headstand today, exploring a gentle backbend, I almost lost control and Shane thought for sure that I was going over, but somehow I managed to save it at the very last possible moment.  When I extend beyond my edge, sometimes I can bring myself back, sometimes I come crashing down.  It's one of the most beautiful pieces of what I experience with Shane, and not something that is safe or practical within a group class environment.

So, already I'm off kilter because of the message.  But, OK, let the message be the message, let me absorb what I can of it.  I don't have to reject my inner essence just because the message tells me that what I love isn't yoga.  There are other people in this room, maybe one of them will embrace the message for me.  Maybe today is just not my day to absorb the message.  Relax, accept, let it be, practice, proceed.  It is, after all, my practice, I can make it anything I want it to be.  So, I tune out the content of the words and focus on the beauty of Lex's tone, the steadiness of her pace, and I even laugh a little when I catch her making a subtle slipup, saying foot instead of hand, and then taking an extra 5 seconds to regroup and start the next series.  I find myself spending a lot of time with my eyes closed, as I often do, but even more so than normal this day and I'm not sure why, it just feels right.  Perhaps because we are covering balancing series in our teacher training and I'd really like to improve my balance so closing my eyes in simpler poses adds an extra element of balance training.  Perhaps I just really want to be in my own little bubble.  Eventually, however, I find I am unable to hold my balance with my eyes closed and I open them.  My gaze drifts towards the top that the woman in front of me is wearing, it is charcoal and pink, and I've seen it before.  As we inhale from extended side angle into reverse warrior I find my brain making a connection before I fully understand where it is going.  On the next warrior 1, vera bhadrasana, I see the face in the mirror and realize I am 6 inches from the mat of my ex-fiance.

It's hard to describe the impact of moments like this.  I suppose normal people would have noticed much sooner, at the beginning of class perhaps.  I don't look around when I place my mat, I retreat into my self, and I try to avoid looking in the mirror as well because my balance is so shaky.  I even remember one specific class, one specific moment where I had failed out of standing head to knee and I looked over at Jenna laying down on her extended front leg, standing leg straight, in full expression without a glint of effort and I could not stop myself from staring in wonderment.  At the peak of that moment I remember hearing Lex say something like "David, focus on yourself".  I was caught in a moment of envy, of coveting another's practice.  That is a great reminder, and a lesson I've tried to learn from.  To be alone in a room full of people is a delicate dance, a continual path of refinement.  But once reality of the present situation is absorbed, it cannot be forgotten or purged.  Here I am, on my mat, halfway into class, 6 inches from the woman who has elicited tremendous amounts of emotional pain from my depths.  I obviously can't move my mat, there is nowhere to hide.  I can't really focus at all.  I try to close my eyes and retreat even more, but I'm basically a big steaming pile for the next 30 minutes.

In retrospect, I saw this coming.  I didn't sleep well the night before, I woke up super early to write down some thoughts from the weekend.  I knew this had to happen, it seemed inevitable.  It was almost like a cosmic bear trap that I set out for myself to step into, much like the one that wrecked me on 8/1/2010.  Two worlds have collided, my past and present selfs are now indistinguishable.  As I sit on the couch, next to Carrie who is a completely ironic, cosmically created, stand-in for my other x-girlfriend, Kerri, Joanna comes out of the ladies room and she and I share a few words about Hunter.  Within a 6 foot radius are 3 women, one acting as a metaphorical substitute, who have substantially shaped my life over the past decade.  One took me from San Francisco to San Diego, one took me from Vista to Encinitas via Solana Beach, and one took me from inflexible and injured to a new plane of strength and inspiration.  An endless well of emotional confusion swirls into one big giant mess.  Thankfully I have practice training afterwards, to get my mind out of its self-induced tornado.  And even more fortunately, I got to wake up to Shane's reassurance this morning, that it is OK to push me beyond my limits and to smile and laugh while doing so.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


I've gotten annoyed with myself for being such a Deborah in my last few posts.  As a result, this is an effort to drag my mind outside to play for a day.  We'll see if I can hold this attempt at cheer...

I've always felt that yoga was a {sport, activity, pursuit, insert-noun-here} where women have a natural advantage.  Based on sheer numbers, it definitely appears that modern yoga in the west is overwhelmingly female dominated.  While I'm sure part of the reason is that many men prefer activities which allow them some remote possibility of "winning" I also think women have certain natural advantages on the mat.  Here is my attempt to elaborate on that hypothesis.

1. Women have 3 evolutionary advantages in the balance and movement departments:  proportionally wider hips, shorter height, and lower weight.  I remember well how much easier it was to throw my body around when I was 100 lbs and 5 feet tall.  I also remember despising every moment of my own skinny weakness before puberty.  As an adult, I watch my little brother jump, climb trees, and dive for the football with reckless abandon and it becomes painfully clear how different those experiences are for him than they would be for me.  Check out nature and you'll see many instances of smaller/lighter animals moving and balancing with ease compared to bigger/heavier ones.

2. Many women are taught to move gracefully as children.  Very few dudes get anything close to this type of training.  Ballet, gymnastics, diving, and dance are common pursuits for little girls and yet potentially devastating ones for boys.  As a result, the vast majority of us men hit 30 before we start developing any desire to smooth out the wrinkles in our physical motions.  Not only is a 20+ year head start substantial, but when you factor in the brain development potential over the first 20 years and compare it to the learning process an adult goes through, the scale tilts even further.

3. Capris, knickers, whatever you want to call them, this is the status quo for women in many sports, particularly yoga.  Dudes can pretend to get by with wearing them for cycling and golf, but certainly not yoga or running.  Now add in a generally lower sweat rate (I have no scientific evidence to back this up, but from what I've seen at the end of hot yoga, dudes sweat more than women) and you've got a clear advantage in terms of traction, particularly at the knees in bakasana, parivrtta anjaneasana, vrksasana, etc.  As a dude, I have to carry 3 towels to class in a pathetic attempt to maintain traction, I'm constantly picking these towels off the floor, dropping them to the floor, or trying to arrange them into the right spot to avoid slipping and crashing to the floor.

4. Since women are taught at an early age to group up for trips to the bathroom, sports, socializing, hugs, slumber parties, etc, they are more comfortable being inside and surrounded by a group of like minded souls.  Dudes typically start to freak out when surrounded on an 8'x2' piece of rubber by 8 others.  Typical dude sports take this into consideration, in football you get a helmet and a bunch of pads so that you can be in a tight formation with another sweaty dude without having to actually touch him.  Where this surfaces the most for me is prasarita padottanasana, where I sometims have to bend my neck and torso to the side to avoid grazing someone's unmentionables on the way down/up.  I think water polo was a decent help here, there's enough contact in that sport to force everyone past the fear of claustrophobia.

5. Women are far more comfortable with moments in life that don't revolve around competition.  Half of the guys on this planet can't go 24 hours without making a bet or challenging their best friend to some stupid, meaningless competition like eating 5 hot dogs in a minute or ripping off as many pullups as you can until your shoulder dislocates.  While the modern woman seems to be embracing competition in many ways, most still know how to shut it down at least for 60 minutes.  You see this all the time in class, women start mellow and rise to the challenge, they finish feeling satisfied.  Meanwhile, guys (especially myself) go all crazy the first 20 minutes while the instructor is asking us to reach for the sky.  We take them literally, nuke our heads and bodies in the 115 degree room, and wind up in a puddle of our own sweat, groaning our way through balasana for the entire second half.

6. Instructors are more frequently female, and women love to be lead by other women.  Most guys are challenged by this.  I'm sure a female firefighter or police officer could tell countless stories of the crap they have to deal with as part of every workday.  While I am a bit strange in how much I enjoy being told what to do and how to do it, by both women and men, I'd wager that the majority of men respond sub-optimally to a woman in charge of their actions, even if it's only in 1 hour increments.

7. Flexibility is a lot like balance, it's more frequently pursued by young women than young men.  Boys want to throw balls, hit stuff, move fast, and jump high.  Girls are more apt to bend themselves into pretzels or stack blocks under their feet while in the splits just for fun and because they can.  As a result, just like balance, women start off being far more capable of basic postures than men, making those first few yoga experiences far more enjoyable and dramatically increasing the odds of continuing their practice.  Guys get a sense of just how inflexible they actually are, finish the night off with a 12 pack of bud light, and just want to forget about the whole miserable experience.

8. Corrections and adjustments are generally welcomed by women.  With a lack of a gigantic ego to defend on a daily basis, many women long for advice on how to improve, for feedback on what they can do better.  This entire approach is semi-contradictory to the rules of being a man.  Boys are taught to blaze trails, demonstrate leadership (however misguided, the point is not where to go, but how fast you can get there) and establish dominance.  There is no moment quite like the hopelessness of feeling your intercostals about to tear in reverse warrior and having your knee flicked as a reminder to stop collapsing it towards your midline.  When it comes to physical adjustments, most of us men demonstrate substantial apprehension whereas women look forward to the assistance.  I must admit that it took me at least 6 months to feel comfortable with strangers touching me in weird places, telling me to do things my body doesn't even know how to do, and asking me to do so calmly, while breathing deeply, and ignoring the buckets of sweat dripping off my limbs.

9. Patience is something more often attributed to women than men.  I think some of this is biological, and some cultural.  In most cultures, the man puts the moves on the woman, and therefore the woman's pursuit of a suitable mate involves a lot of patience while parsing through sub-optimal options.  From the man's perspective, we are told to move quickly, to put capture and acquire that which we desire, lest it be unavailable if we wait.  Perhaps this is not a universal truth, but merely representative of the ability many women have to internalize patience, to be simultaneously content while pursuing change.  And if there is any sport that rewards patience, it's yoga.  Sure, in all sports we improve over the long haul, but with many sports there is a nice and reasonably steady packback from effort.  Establish a 21 day habit with running and you will surely feel better at the same pace and distance.  The same holds for swimming, cycling, weightlifting, baseball, basketball, maybe everything except golf.  However, 21 days of yoga will get you somewhere just below the surface, immersed in a confusing routine of pain and suffering that you haven't even begun to understand yet.  Worse than that, by 21 days, people will start to recognize you and stop treating you like an impresionable novice, you'll find out you really haven't been doing any of the lunges "right" and savasana will become the only asana you feel any confidence with.  It takes about 6 months to know hear which way is up, and maybe a year before you are equipped with the capacity to take positive action on what you are now able to hear.  Mostly because there's no ball, no goal, no end zone to focus your attention on, just a slew of banda's and nadi's, things you can't see or touch or yell at.

10. Dudes carry wallets, women carry purses.  Stand outside a yoga studio and watch people walking in/out.  Half the women will have a nice yoga bag which has a place for their mat, a pocket for their sweaty stuff, and another space for keys, phone, earrings, hair band, lipstick, etc.  With that slung over their shoulder, they have hands free to drink out of their pba-free water bottle as they walk to their prius which doesn't even need the keys accessible anyway.  Now look at the dudes.  Most of us leave a drip-trail behind as we walk to our rusty pickup truck after getting the snot kicked out of us.  Most of us are too cheap, stubborn, or lazy to own anything fancier than a trash bag to put our sweaty crap in.  As a result, when I walk in/out of the studio, I almost always drop something.  I have my heavy-as-hell manduka mat, my yogitoes towel, one manduka hand towel, and two scratchy washcloth-quality towels for natarajasana and vrksasana (I'm thinking about bringing sandpaper instead of towels for those).  That's all stacked in/on/under my left hand/arm.  My right arm attempts to hold my car keys, my barcode, my water bottle, my shorts for after class, a plastic bag for wet clothes, and maybe a scrap of some sort of energy bar to fuel me from the door back to my vehicle.  Since my balance is sucky to begin with, I'm a walking disaster in this configuration.

So, you can clearly see how yoga is a sport where women should (and do) dominate.  It's just set up to play to their strengths and encourage their success.  The barrier to entry for guys is substantial, but the payoff of making it through hell week (which is more like hell year) is the opportunity for an endless supply of estrogen whenever you need it.  Feeling bummed out because your nfl team lost?  Hit the yoga studio and you'll forget all about it by the end of class.  Annoyed at your neighbor b/c he bought that new 4 door pickup truck you wanted so badly but can't justify?  Stick it to him by kicking it to the sky in floor bow.  Angry at your household pet for scratching up your new leather couch?  Rip off a few dozen chaturanga's and you'll feel like the top dog you really wish you were.

Monday, October 17, 2011


I did not truly know you, but you changed my life.  That sounds audacious, and it is, very much so.  I've explained this before, to some of the leaders of my yogic journey, but I feel your passing gives me cause to pass it on to you, in words you can no longer read, but with the hope that this sentiment will carry out to you.

I was broken when I found your studio.  So broken that I could not really understand what I was looking at.  My first class in your space was destruction, bodies moving in heat, immersion in sweat.  My first impression of that first instructor was confusion and bewilderment.  Shane has since become my strongest guide and every Tuesday and Thursday morning he teaches me more than I can ever hope to absorb.

On November 14th I was moved to deepen my practice, to commit to the work that I needed to do.  I started my healing in your presence and under the guidance of those who you and your wife selected and welcomed into your extended family business.  As I passed through the studio, I would see you walking, talking, standing, smiling.  You were large, the embodiment of strength itself.  If it had not been for the soft look on your face I would have been intimidated.  I probably was anyway.  And yet your words were always kind, even though you had no idea who I was.

The space you built nourished parts of me that I never knew I was supposed to feed.  The people you had drawn in became acquaintances, friends, and some even flowed into my inner circle.  They became part of my support system, those who I share joy and pain with.  They continue to help me heal and prosper, they challenge me and they also accept me, much as you must have with them.

You changed my outlook, simply by doing what you love to do, by setting up a world where pursuit of health and happiness was the primary goal.  Amazingly enough, you were also able to successfully run this business and expand to a 2nd location during a timeframe when all economic indicators were consistently pessimistic.  You dealt with all of the headaches of construction efforts, permits, materials, slipped schedules, and you built something every bit as awesome as the first studio, only bigger, more spacious, more awesome.  This whole time you knew your days were numbered, and yet you chose to give your time away instead of keeping it for yourself.  I am in awe of that accomplishment.

I wasn't aware of your passing until well after it must have happened.  Probably because I doubt you ever knew my name.  But I felt you leaving somehow, I felt off balance, confused, inverted.  I wasn't able to practice that Thursday morning, I took Shane to breakfast instead and we just talked and he helped me to understand what I was feeling.

I will miss you, but at the same time I feel like I will know you better with every year that passes as I follow along behind you in my own journey, just as you must have followed someone in yours.  I would have liked to say "Thank You" sometime, but I was not quick enough to understand the urgency of your schedule.  I will instead extend my gratitude towards those who you leave behind.  Together we will honor you by honoring ourselves.


It's 5am and my mind is racing, processing a myriad of thoughts from the weekend.  At this point, I don't believe there is any chance of falling back to sleep.  Hunter is snoring at the floor next to the foot of the bed, exhausted from an evening of affection, foraging for food scraps on the floor, and meeting a new guest (a maltese) brought by a friend.  The roommates are also quiet, although as I write this, Trevor stirs and gets ready for his 6am group workout.  There is a stillness throughout the house, a peace and calm that I haven't felt for days because I packed this weekend as full as I possibly could and as a result I got so much more out of it than I ever expected.

The fabric of the next few pages will touch on some of the concepts that have been discussed recently in yoga tt class and also some of the thoughts that have been stirring in my head.  I will describe my dharma, the impact of acknowledgment, how I experience gratitude, and most especially for me, the joy I feel for the friendships I have been blessed with.  I don't expect anyone to be able to read this entire block, it's simply too long and convoluted to make any sense to anyone other than myself, but I write it so that I will remember, and I offer it in case there is any piece worth taking.  There is no discussion of racing in this post, just endless ramblings of thoughts about common and ordinary events.  In the interest of organizing these thoughts, I'm going to proceed chronologically as I recap events, and while doing so, intersperse my angles like a garnish.

Friday was a highly anticipated day for me.  I was giddy with excitement and expectation as I counted down the days and then hours until my first meditation session.  It was lead by a woman with life experience that greatly surpassed her meager years, someone who has lived and experienced situations and intensity which makes my own life experience seem like a sanitized and bubble-wrapped version.  There was no immediate epiphany from this first meditation session, but as I get closer to understanding some of what I am learning, I am realizing that the process of embracing yoga and eastern "philosophy" if I am willing to use that term, is more about the development of my long term "health" than it is about any individual moment of shining brilliance.  More on that later, but let me wrap up Friday with a description of my mood.  I felt completely at peace, softer than I had felt in years, perhaps ever, and so calm I had no interest in anything but returning to my cocoon and attempting to "just be."  I drifted off the sleep feeling utter contentment.  So maybe there is something to that whole meditation thing after all.

Saturday morning came quickly and I was so relaxed I burned up every last minute of sleep before heading off to coach my group of runners.  Roommate Trevor made a surprise visit to lead the stretching and I felt another huge wave of gratitude for his willingness to be there for a team he isn't actively working with, and on such short notice.  One of the other coaches was getting married that day, so I was flying light and I was so happy to have someone else to lean on.  In my moments of need, Trevor has shown up and given freely, and for that I feel genuinely blessed.  We had a great workout, perhaps better than I had hoped for, with lots of positive feedback, and a few "I just did the longest run of my life" proclamations at the end.  It was a completely satisfying experience.

After coaching, the plan was to knock out the marathon bench press challenge attempt #2, but Jeff was forced to reschedule and I didn't want to attempt it solo, so I wandered over to the nearest yoga studio where I saw my friend's car.  I hadn't seen her in a week and I wanted to bask in her glow, I told her this weekend that everything she touches seems to turn to gold and it's just absolutely true.  After climbing the steps, I realized I had missed her class by 10 minutes, too much time to jump in late, and so I headed off north, grabbed an acai bowl, spent 20 minutes catching up with my dad, and found my way to the carlsbad yoga studio for the noon class with a different friend, someone with completely different energy, but yet someone who's class always inspires and challenges me.  I got everything I wanted out of that hour, in 60 short minutes I felt back in tune with the pulse of life from that studio which I hadn't been to in weeks.  As I left, I longingly looked through the cracked door at the teacher training session going on, the original teacher training that had started the gears turning, and eventually put me in training I am doing at a different studio.  I felt the warmth from one of my friends who I knew was in that room, even though I did not see his face directly.  I smiled all the way back to my own class.

Teacher training on the weekends is apparently lead by 2 of the 4 instructors.  This was my first weekend session, having missed the last two with trips to San Jose and Chicago to indulge in running.  We started off with one of the instructors leading us through the beginning of the flow we are using as our framework, and paying special attention to her word selection, tone, movement around the room, and the buildup she uses to set the stage.  I felt my heat building as it always does in her class, a mixture of admiration for what I cannot yet do, both in terms of execution of asanas and in terms of clarity and inspiration of verbal guidance.  The gratitude I felt manifested in beads of sweat that dripped from my limbs in the unheated room.  Next, each of us received a chance to lead as we repeated that same flow twice more.  This was my first "round robin" experience, the first time I would be on the hot seat, along with everyone else, and I greeted it with the same eager anticipation I had felt for the meditation session, knowing I was completely unprepared, but feeling an openness to experience the richness of catastrophic failure with untainted naivety.  

The beauty of the next 20 minutes is hard for me to describe.  Hearing everyone's voice come through was a complete delight, not unlike the experience of finally enjoying an entire cup of coffee (a process that came with a few false starts for me).  Sure, we all need practice before we are ready to actually teach, but just like a child developing his or her personality, we all began to grow in that session.  I was sad that it had to end, but what followed was a lecture on Ayurveda which tore my attention back into the present and captivated my thoughts for the rest of the afternoon.

I must take a quick side-trip back to Shane, my Tue/Thur morning yoga instructor, who actually introduced me to ayurveda before I even knew what he was talking about.  Shane mentioned to me a couple of weeks ago that he felt I expressed a strong Pitta, and this analysis proved entirely true as we took the dosha quiz, although I was pleasantly surprised to see a lot of Kapha and even some Vata in the mix.  One other thing Shane had mentioned to me rang out especially relevant as we neared the end of the Ayurveda lecture and we were reminded of our homework, to show gratitude to someone in our lives.  One of the students told us his story, which he had written up, about connecting with an elder of special importance in his life and how the gratitude wound up coming right back to him.  This struck a chord with some of Shane's words from past conversations.  Shane described how he had cared for another man through his final months and how this man had wept tears of joy at how blessed he felt throughout his illness and eventual demise.

Saturday's sun set as the buzz of life washed over me, and my altered state of consciousness caused me to visit 3 different locations before settling in on dinner.  I wound up gravitating to see my friend who is taking the other yoga tt, in a misguided attempt to share time with him, at a time when he was so busy we barely got a chance to knuckle bump..  Unknown to me at the time, because he was so busy working, was a minor foot injury that had developed for him on Friday and was causing him substantial pain over the weekend.  More on that later too.  After dinner I managed to meet up with Jeff and cross off the marathon bench press challenge attempt #2.  Despite the failure to achieve the stated goal, I was invigorated.

Sunday morning was a chance for the weekly ranch run with the group, except that the group this week consisted of only one, Luc, who took me on a long and easy tour of flat dirt.  It wasn't a typical Sunday ranch run, but it was extremely pleasant, this man who I've run with for a decade now has recently changed his training plan and for the first time since I've known him, he's running easier.  Of course easier is relative and he took the opportunity to leave me behind on the last few hills with a lightness that erases the 20 year age gap between us.  We shared coffee and gatorade, and then parted, as I had to take care of shopping for dinner before teacher training.

I got the groceries into the fridge/freezer just in time to jump in the shower and jet to class, arriving perhaps 30 seconds late, but able to immerse myself in the pool of other students as we gathered in the lobby.  A short discussion of Breaking Bad ensued, and I felt strangely normal for talking about a tv show in a yoga studio.  I guess it really shouldn't be strange, but I was surprised that it didn't feel unnatural.  We gathered in a circle and started with some group discussion and that is when a mountain of a moment revealed itself.  Or perhaps it was more like a rogue wave that splashed over the deck of our ship and caused us all to stop our own mental chatter and sit at attention.  It really seemed to come out of nowhere, I remember blurting out something silly and mundane immediately prior.  Somehow the sharpness of intellect or intuition guided one of the instructors to ask the right question at the right time and the clouds lifted revealing that beautiful mountain which had been there the whole time, I just wasn't paying attention to it.  I don't know how that moment affected anyone else, but it spoke volumes to me about humanity, about how beautiful it is to be alive and to have sentiment, even if we frequently feel pain and disappointment.  Time slowed to a halt and empathy flowed freely.  I still get shivers thinking about it.  The raw expression left a mark on my heart.

We moved into a discussion of crescent lunge, one of the asanas which started out as a favorite before I knew or understood all of the work that I wasn't putting into it.  It has since become one of the more difficult poses for me, perhaps second only to warrior I which I think is only easier because I simply can't do it right.  Spiraling my legs is a skill I feel I am only scratching the surface with, and watching our instructor demonstrate flexed, pointed, flointed, and karate chopped ankle/foot position was one of the most enlightening and also depressing moments I've ever had in the studio.  It is fantastic to know and understand, to have the details presented and revealed as the covers are drawn back.  And yet, with the loss of innocence comes a natural feeling of desperation, that there is so much to learn and attempt to master, it becomes easy to feel helpless because my foot can't do any of those 4 motions very cleanly, I can't lift my 3 middle toes, and my foot actually looks more like road kill than my most important connection to the earth.

The Sunday class ended with part 2 of our anatomy lecture, where we got to see the passion of Dr. Ian on full display as he discussed his views about medications and the definition of health.  Just as it had been a real joy to experience the meditation session on Friday, it was wonderful to see the passion dripping from his lips as he made his case.  When I pay attention, I can see so clearly how different people are when they are doing or talking about something they love and fully embrace with all of their heart, as compared to doing or talking about something they are knowledgeable of but feel no special fondness for.  The energy is much higher, and the excitement is invigorating when part of their heart is in the game as well.

There wasn't much time to gather my thoughts after class, because I had to attempt to prepare food for my guests.  It wound up being a large gathering, for some reason everyone who was invited showed up and a few extras even managed to make it.  I could feel the stress rising as I realized my own limitations regarding food preparation.  And it is at precisely this time when the lessons of the weekend and the past few weeks really started to kick in and hit home.

My first guest arrived and explained the sequence of events surrounding his foot injury, how it had so quickly started hurting, and how the pain had seemingly disappeared 48 hours later.  His teacher training has involved an extended discussion of all the points in the foot which affect the entire rest of the body, and he also has some anusara background which he shared with me, describing the toes and fingers and what their meanings are, why we close thumb and forefinger in a ring to combine the Self with the universe, and all sorts of insightful angles on the injury.  I had to tear myself away to shower up, and when I came back, many of my friends had already arrived.

Sharing my home with the people who are dear to me is one of the greatest joys I feel.  It's an opening of myself and my space to those I trust with my heart.  What is especially wonderful about these evenings, which may just be my take on the experiences, is how all of my friends pitch in to make it happen.  I don't ever ask anyone to do anything, but each and every one of my friends always asks what they can do to help.  That kind of inspiration overflows my cup of gratitude.  One friend asked what was planned for dinner in order to pair the right wine to bring, and my reply of "nourishment for the soul" didn't deter her from her quest.  Other friends asked what they can bring and didn't even seem to mind when I responded with "your warm heart and pure soul".  OK, so, yeah, I was definitely a bit overly-zen, and yet these friends, the ones I love, respect and admire, are totally content with that, completely accepting and embracing of all of my funky silliness.

I did precious little food preparation myself, as an army of friends descended and conquered the task, including the dish washing, wine pouring, introductions, and keeping the mood enjoyable and upbeat.  If I had taken a moment to absorb everything, I would have felt like a completely soaked sponge.  It was one of those magnificent moments that stretched on for hours, where everyone and everything seemed harmonious.  And then the sink clogged and backed up.

Yeah, so, that last sentence really doesn't fit with the rest of this entry.  It was a bit of a mood killer.  I have to admit that, when it happened, it snapped me back to reality.  I felt instant panic.  Then I went through the mental checklist of options and workarounds as I evaluated my predicament.  It didn't seem possible to get through the evening without the sink, especially with it full of soapy water.  I had to take the drain apart and find the clog, there really wasn't an alternative option.  As I approached and then dove into that effort, I was reminded of my purpose, for the evening, and for life in general, what is known as my dharma.  I have gradually understood, over the past 36 years, that I am meant to be the foundation upon which others stand up and reach for the sky.  I am not especially good at greetings, at making people feel at ease, or introducing, and I struggle with general social graces, expressions of gratitude, being appropriate and tactful, and all of the social skills in and around most human interaction.  I'm not sure how much of that deficiency is genetic and how much is my fault for not paying attention earlier in life.  I am severely stoked to make some general (and slow) progress to improve in those areas.  But where I excel currently, where I am in my element, is the unglamorous problem solving and infrastructure that enables everyone else to live, to enjoy, to prosper, and to ignore the mundane "work" that has to be done to support life.

My Dharma is to support.  The truth of that has been revealed to me over my lifetime.  In high school, when it came time for everyone to receive a part for the "variety show," I was in heaven working behind the scenes along with the "trenchcoat maffia" crew to build out the set, cue the actors, and ensure the production went flawlessly.  I loved every minute of that experience, I was completely content to avoid any hint of visibility from the audience.  In college, my social role was much the same, if there was a problem, yo, I'll solve it.  I carried as many tools to my dorm room each year as I carried books, and I built a few elaborate lofts, one for a friend of mine who cursed me loudly as he attempted to disassemble it at the end of the year.  Since then, I've slipped even deeper into the role of the concrete beneath other's feet, the foundation upon which structures can be built.  When I reach for the sky myself, it's not often pretty, but when I enable someone else to reach, I feel such an incredible sense of self worth in their beauty.  This drives my passion for pacing, and most of my friendships and interactions, the desire to please, and the act of encouragement and enabling others to be their best.

OK, so, back to reality right?  I have this clogged sink of unknown origin, and I'm not actually a plumber, though I did install the disposer and I've done my share of tinkering.  As I disassemble the drain pieces, bit by bit, one of my friends gently heckles me that I'm not showing nearly enough plumbers crack.  I think of my plumber who I last saw when his band played at a nearby bar, a night that was just as perfect and fun as Sunday night.  I know I can't call him because he lives too far away and he's got a wife and kid, and really this is just a simple problem, a clogged drain, it's time to man up and deal.  I uncouple the pieces of 2" ABS which include the section from the disposer to the 2nd sink, then a connection for the RO unit, then the trap and finally the section feeding into the wall.  For some interesting reason, I start from the ground and work my way up, perhaps this is the yoga TT speaking to me about life.  I loosen the trap but it's as if there is no clog, no water emerges.  I continue up and find the source of the clog to be the top of the connection for the RO wastewater.  I find this out rather forcefully as water filled with garlic and soap sprays around inside the sink cabinet.  My friend quickly helps out as we pan away the water, and attempt to contain and clean up the mess.

In the end, an hour is lost playing under the sink.  Sure, it's an hour I would love to have had to be with my guests, and it was probably a completely preventable problem, either by design of the drain pipes or by being a bit more cautious about running the disposal or using the trash can for garlic bits.  But as my friend leans in and asks me "did you enjoy that" I have to respond with "yes".  It is my calling to tackle life's challenges when I am not prepared, when I'm not ready.  Just as I received the call to lead the yoga teacher training group through our round robin after 30 or 40 minutes of practicing for everyone else, at a time when my body was dripping with sweat that stained my eyes and altered my ability to concentrate, so too was I called upon, Sunday night, to unclog my own drain, in the middle of a gathering of my friends when I wasn't remotely ready.  It makes total sense.  It's who I am, it's what I do, it's how I am meant to be me.

As the guests left, one by one, I found my heart was full and my soul nourished as I had predicted.  Each one of them enriches my life in ways I cannot do for myself, and they all do so without needing me to ask, or without expecting anything in return.  I prepared less than 10% of the food and did none of the dishes, all of the normal "work" was all taken care of for me, by smiling faces willing to do it all over again next time.  My gatherings aren't remotely by the book, but they fill my heart and they teach me about myself and about life every time.

I didn't cry this weekend, but I felt like virtual tears of gratitude were present the entire way as I watched and observed, soaked and absorbed the wonder of the world around me.

Saturday, October 15, 2011


Oh how the taste of failure can be such a bitter pill.  I don't have much to say about Marathon Bench Press Challenge Attempt #2.  It didn't go how I would have liked it to and yet it went about as I expected.  What is so beautiful about the bench press is that there's no in-between.  There's no grey area.  Either you manage the lift or you don't.  It's success or failure, and in this case bitter, oh-so-bitter failure.  That's OK though, in fact it's quite awesome because it keeps the dream alive.  Honolulu just became that much more interesting.  Maybe I'll even lift once or twice before the race this time.  I'll have to think about that and decide if I consider it cheating...

NOTE:  Gavin DeGraw's "Not Over You" is playing in the background.  I didn't even notice that during the attempt.  I love that song.  How ironic, though, that the title of the song depicts the events taking place so literally, with an unintentional double entendre.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Into the Mystic

Cue the Van Morrison music (...we were born before the wind...)

We, as lemming students, were asked to write about these three words:


The first two don't really resonate with me, at least not immediately, not at this point in time.  Nonetheless, I will jot down my thoughts on them because I'm one of those color-inside-the-lines types of people.

The last one, well, shoot, I think I write about that all the time.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Om (aka Aum)

Honestly, I'm still mildly (ok, possibly even more than mildly) unimpressed with the whole yogic fascination with the sound of Om, the repeating of Om, and the apparent spirituality of the sound of Om.  Maybe that will change over time.  I'm not really sure.  Part of me has difficulty with this because it almost feels like worship of a pagan god to have a room full of Oms even though the rational side of me realizes Om is not intended to represent devotion to a spiritual being.  Part of me thinks my mother would not approve of me Oming.  Part of me thinks it's just a childish and silly noise.  Part of me is just bored by it.  All of those parts probably don't really "get" it, but each of us arrives on our own timeline, and I guess I'm not moving so fast on those points.

But, OK, forget about the sound.  That's not what Om is really about, what you hear is just a tiny little piece of Om.  And while I don't necessarily associate the word Om in my life directly, I have opened up my thoughts to explore the concept of "the fabric of our collective existence."  This concept seems to line up fairly well with some of the definitions and descriptions of Om.  So, OK, I accept you, Mr. Om, even if I choose not to call you by your name.  And before I get off on a horrendous metaphysical slant, let me try to bring this all back down to earth.

Up until maybe a year ago, maybe even more recently, I would tune out when I heard people talk about "putting energy out into the universe" or "meditating and waiting for divine inspiration".  It all seemed so passive, and in many ways anti-American to sit and do nothing and maybe ask for guidance without any human nearby to help you.  And while I wouldn't say I've had anything resembling a complete turnaround on that subject, I have been blessed with an opportunity to tune in more, to take the time to observe myself and my reactions, and also to observe others and their reactions to life's events.  It's easy to think of each decision, each action, as isolated in time and space.  But the reality is that every interaction we have affects each of us and alters all of our paths.  For a fun journey down that rabbit hole, check out "The Butterfly Effect".

Specifically, I'll describe one personal anecdote which illustrates the interconnectedness that exists when we tune in.  There are many more I could discuss, so many different angles on this concept, but the most recent concrete example in my life seems like the most fun to share.  To tell the story requires me to go back in time, way back to 2004.

I wound up unemployed for most of 2003, and I used that opportunity to indulge in a year long fury of dedicated training.  I got pretty fit and hit some goals, but the real payoff came in 2004 when that cumulative yearlong effort was fully absorbed.  I kept training pretty hard despite my work schedule, wound up finishing 222nd in Kona feeling entirely satisfied with myself.  Thanksgiving arrived and I made the annual pilgrimage to Dana Point for the Turkey Trot, since the Oceanside TT had not yet been established back then and I needed to justify the mountain of food I planned to consume that evening.  I started off running what I thought was a decent pace, and wound up in the middle of a pack of guys, near Michael Collins and Steve Chrapchynski, both of whom I knew from other triathlons.  As we stretched out towards the first turnaround, I noticed a young woman in her race briefs and tank, with long arms and legs and a seamless stride.  Lauren Fleshman sailed right by and proceeded to put a minute into me by the finish.  I went home with my tail between my legs after that one, not fully realizing that she would wind up on the cover of Runner's World after a 7th place at World's in the 5000 once 2011 rolled around.

So, fast forward to 2010, when I started reading a bunch of my friend's blogs for inspiration to dig myself out of a 3 year slump.  It was such a great way to stay in touch, somewhat of the antithesis of facebook status updates and twitter/text's abbreviated language which irks me so much.  You write your story once and everyone has a chance to read it, those who are interested can do so on their own schedule and those who really don't care aren't bothered by it.  I started writing my own blog and found it extremely cathartic, it was something I wanted to continue doing.  I added more and more blogs to my list to read and eventually stumbled across Lauren's blog.  I couldn't help but get excited with her descriptions of the preparation surrounding worlds and her writups of the experience after her race.  A little bit of comment surfing brought a few new entries into my blogroll, something Charisa had said would happen and would be one of the coolest parts of the effort.  One such addition was a med student in NY named Meggie who shared a background in competitive tennis and I found her thoughts struck a chord for that reason.  Meggie wound up blogging fairly incessantly about her love of the Believe I Am training journal that Lauren and her business partner had produced and which recently came to market.  From my cursory analysis, there seemed quite a bit of overlap between the training journal concepts and the suggestions in Matt Fitzgerald's book about the mind body connection of running, a book given to me by the Goddess, Alyssa Godesky.

Meanwhile, my Teach Challenge coaching gig was rolling along and I began to understand and explore the personalities of the participants through disjointed discussions.  One of my athletes, Lindsey, told me about how she really likes the structured training plan, that she puts each week's schedule up on the fridge, writes in her workout once it is complete, and holds herself accountable in front of her family and to herself.  Immediately, the light bulb went on and I felt compelled to connect the dots.  I wouldn't have been coaching these athletes without my friendship with David Volk which evolved over many years prior.  I wouldn't have met Lindsey without coaching her.  I wouldn't have been reading Lauren Fleshman's blog without her giving me a whooping back in 2004, and I wouldn't have known about the training journal without reading Meggie's blog.  All of those things happened, and then the universe decided to hammer the point home when it delivered a freak rainstorm to San Diego on the night of our next group workout.  Lindsey was the only participant to show up that evening, and she performed her very first ever interval workout valiantly and fearlessly despite the sogginess.

Now, granted, a journal is just stuff, an inanimate object, but for Lindsey I suspect it will be a positive framework for her overall health, a subject that is especially important to her.  And while I don't suspect that a journal alone will bring any dramatic transformation to her life, it felt like it was such an obvious and easy way to add a spread the joy of life around from Lauren, through Meggie, to Lindsey.  By watching it all play out and unfold, I inch closer to being a believer in the conceptual silent Om's taking place around me every day, and I renew my intention to listen more to the rythm of nature.  And within that context I see beauty in life that I had spent 34 years ignoring or taking for granted.

Next up, Dharma.  And then, yep, you guessed it, Mantra.  Oh I worry that Mantra will be a looooooong entry, but maybe I will find the right words to make it concise.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


This Saturday I will make my second attempt to join the "Bench Press Your Marathon Time" club.  This club has no formal definition nor any members that I know of.  The rules are simple, run a marathon, then within one week, bench press a weight greater than your marathon time.  It should be straightforward, but it is actually quite a challenge.  My last attempt was a failure, 6 days after RnR, attempting 245 lbs to cover the 2:43 I ran.

Sunday, October 9, 2011


Returning to Chicago for my third year initially served as a post western states carrot for me. Since Jeff and David Lipke were both returning as well, it seemed like a great opportunity to go back and enjoy the race. My first Chicago marathon, in 30 degree temps, was anything but enjoyable. My second, last year's pr, was all business, work, discipline, and focus. This year, 2011, was an opportunity to just have a great weekend and enjoy the city and time spent with friends.

The weekend started off with a late movie with Cody, my 11 y/o little bro. We saw a Doliphin Tale which was unexpectedly good, particularly the child acting. I didnt even mind getting only 4 hours of sleep that night before hopping on the 7am flight to Midway. Lipke joined me at the gate and immediatley the entertainment began. As we approached the CTA station to ride the orange line, we decided to stop at the Dunkin Donuts for breakfast. After an extended discussion with all of the people in earshot, Lipke settled on a glazed and a long john, we both had coffee, and i went for a plain, dry, multigrain bagel. While that sounds perfectly boring as hell, the discussion preceeding the selection was anything but boring or ordinary. We hopped on the train and Lipke went to work befriending everyone in the car.

Acting as lemmings, we followed an Amy from Atlanta off the train, to the shuttle bus, and off to the expo. Amy climbs mountains, runs a marathon every month, and stays in hostels when traveling. After realizing we were soft and collecting our bibs and shirts, we went off to the hotel where Lipke proceeded to collect all of the free items available. Gotta love that guy! We made our way to the lobby bar to watch some Virginia Tech football and have a few beers, where we met up with Jeff and Becky as well as Lipke's sister, Lisa, and her pal, Lindsay. Lisa ran 2:50 last year at Chicago, and while that served as a family PR, she was here this year to hit the Olympic B standard of 2:45:59. I had signed on board to be her pacer, purely out of selfish reasons to put some meaning behind my effort. Lindsay planned to join us as well, and lets just say that I was definitely not upset about spending almost 3 hours in the company of such lovely ladies. Dinner, city navigation, and a fitful night of sleep ticked by and before I realized it, the 5:15 alarm woke me from some deep REM sleep.

Jeffrey, Me, Lipke

Walking to the race was very smooth this year, much closer than last year's hotel selection. Once at the race, however, the typical cluster ensued. I made it into the seeded corral ok, but i was too early this year, so I got to see many male and female bums squatting on tree roots, along with several fence climbers. I kept thinking that the race could do a better job with the seeded start corrals. Last year I had the privilege of being in the elite development corral which was a very nice step up from corral A, but this year the 7 second differential between my PR and the elite development cutoff kept me out, with the explanation that there would be too many people, so no exceptions could be made. I was bummed, but figured i could make my way up to the girls before the first mile marker and as it wound up, I had no trouble finding them.

Lisa, Me, Lindsay

Approaching the two from about 20 seconds back, I instantly started smiling. Mostly because I really do enjoy pacing, it fills my desire to be useful and relevant, while simultaneously allowing me to shred myself. I was extra appreciative of the opportunity to pace such gracious and fine looking female athletes. I dare say they both have fantastic muscle definition and smooth strides. I grinned as I settled into their pace.

The week before, at San Jose, I had to hold Jessica back. Based on last years's splits, I assumed I would have to do the same with Lisa. However, they ran even smarter than i could have hoped and we hit the halfway in 1:22:45 or so. I was actually quite nervous about that because I knew it was going to be a warm day and I thought it would be smart to have a 60-90 second cushion by mile 20. Lisa turned it on at around mile 14, and we started clicking off a few 6:10's which was all I needed to see to stop worrying. Unfortunately, we dropped Lindsay around mile 17 or 18 after a few of these faster miles, and it didnt seem like she was going to be able to bridge the gap. I ran past Chaz, Ashley, Marley and Thora and got a great boost from their smiles and positivity. I also was very grateful for the husbands out on the course, both Derik and Brian were everywhere and so helpful.

Lisa demonstrated a tenacious confidence over the final 10k, running tight to my shoulder and keeping the effort maxed out. I was throughly impressed and genuinely stoked for her, though I kept that to myself for fear that it might slip away. I gave her what I felt was just enough praise to keep her fighting, meanwhile I started to wonder if my legs would hold up in the heat. I could feel my hip flexors tightening a bit and general fatigue setting in. There was no question that I would ruin myself to give her that 2:45, it was obviously the right day, in spite of the heat. I wasn't about to let my own insecurities have any voice in my mental chatter.

We passed quite a few women over the final 5k. I declared victory at 1 mile to go when I caculated we had well over 7 minutes to make it to the line. Lisa crossed right around 2:45 flat and seemed both surprised and satisfied. I was very grateful to share that moment with her, one that I'm sure means far more to her than I can ever understand myself. Jeff arrived a few minutes later, but I didn't see him until we got our gear bags. Lindsay was close behind, running a very similar race to Lisa's 2010 effort. I am thinking 2012 might be Lindsay's year to get her B standard :). Lipke rolled through and we grabbed a beer, took some photos, met up with Jeff, and went back to the hotel to clean up.

Looking back on the race, I find myself very satisfied with this course. I've experienced a total meltdown (more like a freezedown) and a pr beyond anything I thought possible, and now I have added my first successful pacing experience for the Olympic B standard. I have to say, I love these experiences, even the really difficult days, because they show me sides of myself that I dont get to see every day. Chicago is such a wonderful city (when its not freezing) and I have such indellible memories here.

Looking forward, I'm thinking about NYC in 2012. I feel like that is an experience I need to have at some point, and I think I'd like to experience it soon. In the meantime, perhaps I will make Jeff suffer through a PR attempt at Honolulu in December.

I also want to mention how inspired I was hearing about how the day went in Kona before our race. I have so many friends who can put up such silly times at Ironman that I can't help but feel some of their energy from thousands of miles away. It truly is a gift to be able to do the things we do, and to feel that extra special "good pain" that we all love so much.

Monday, October 3, 2011

San Jose

My roommate, Paul Wellman, had been targeting the San Jose half marathon for the last few months of his training.  As I watched his dedication and intense focus, I realized I didn't want to miss out on the party.  When the call came from David Kloz to pace BSK/RC/FlexR teammate Jessica, I readily accepted.  How could I turn down a free entry with VIP privileges, a solid workout, and a chance to see and experience some great racing?  I booked my flight up, made plans to drive back with Jessica and Sean, and attempted to fit in a little bit of training to prepare.

Saturday morning dawned early and I went off to my Team Challenge coaching gig at Cannon Park in Carlsbad after a stop at Pannikin for a pumpkin muffin and soy latte.  My other roommate, Trevor, and his trusty sidekick Jen met up with the team so they could get to know some of them for an upcoming functional strength clinic they will give next Saturday.  The workout was fantastic, we had beautiful sunshine, and I even got most of the group to take their shoes off and do some strides on the grass afterwards.

A quick shower and I was off to the airport and on a plane, surrounded by the SDSU women's soccer team.  Go Aztecs!  That part didn't suck too bad.  Once we landed, I had a choice.  The expo for the race was downtown, which was roughly 4 miles from the airport.  Taxi's were a $15 minimum though, and I was annoyed by that.  So annoyed that I walked instead of taking a ride.  Compared to SFO with BART or PDX with MAX or ORD with the CTA, I gotta go thumbs down on transit options out of SJC.  So, anyway, I spent the next 90 minutes or so making my way downtown, with a little bit of help from google maps on my phone and the trader joe's checkout guy who sold me some fizzy water and a couple of bananas at the halfway point.  I chuckle to myself about how we are all cheap in certain ways and less frugal in others.  I get to the expo, which could be any rock and roll race in any city, you wouldn't know the difference because it's all the same red carpet, black signs, and product booths.  I even found the Team Challenge San Jose booth.

With my packet in my backpack, Mike comes to pick me up as I message with Vince, one of the Team Challenge mentors, about the exactness of the route I set up for that morning's workout.  Note to self, go back and re-measure Cannon Park to La Costa via the campgrounds so I can see just how short of 4 miles it is.  I get to the Buchanan/Hogan residence where I get to meet the newest member of the family, Fiona.


She is very sweet

Mike and I then proceed to evaluate Sarah's 3 guacamole recipes in preparation for her contest at work, a contest she does not intend to lose.  Based on what I sampled, I don't see how she could possibly be beaten.  Sarah just might be the modern renaissance woman, she cooks, she cleans, she puts up with Mike, she saves dogs, she saves the oceans, she doesn't need makeup or fancy clothes, she has great taste in drapes and paint colors, and she's gorgeous.  While Mike and I take Fiona for a walk around the block, Sarah cranks out a delicious risotto which we enjoy with one of the candles from their wedding and 4 hungry dogs at our feet.  Well, 3 dogs at our feet and Woody, the 170 lb mastiff, keeping his distance b/c he takes a long time to feel comfortable with people.

After dinner we walk the 3 frisky dogs to froyo, and I get to pet Woody for the first time, on our 4th encounter.  To do so, I have to sit very low on the ground and stay still and Mike has to drag him over to me.  The contrast between Woody's muscular strength and fear of humans to Fiona's complete lack of fitness and adoration of people couldn't be more striking.  After the walk, Mike and I pass out with Fiona in a dogpile on the floor, the end to a completely wonderful Saturday.

The dogpile

My phone alarm wakes me up at 6am and I wonder to myself, I'm sore, I'm stiff, I'm old, how am I going to hold 6 minute pace for 13 miles today?  I creak out of bed and compose a long winded email to one of my athletes who is going through some tough times.  I BS about the benefits, both physical and mental, of finding time for a yoga practice.  After I brush my teeth, Mike and I head out to the race.  He drops me in the street at 7:30, with the start set for 8, plenty of time.  Except for the fact that I wander around for 20 minutes trying to find the VIP tent.  After some text messages from Mike who luckily parked near the information booth, I finally show up at the VIP tent as Jessica is heading off to the race start.  I grab the race kit she brought for me, change clothes, throw my gear bag into gear check, and at 7:53 I'm on my way.  I arrive at the line as the wheelchairs start, and somehow, in that 5 minute window before the run start I become fully present, alive, awake, and completely fired up.  I find Paul and give him a yell that probably was unnecessarily annoying.  It's gametime and I don't want to be anywhere else.  The music is pumping, Meb and Deanna are inches away, along with all sorts of other superstars, ripped bodies, muscles bulging, six packs on display, what a sight.  The gun fires and off we go, cranking out at a pace that is too fast, but feels just fine for the moment.

Approaching Mike somewhere after 5k
My job for the first 10k is to slow Jessica down.  After that, my job is to speed her up.  It's a strange juxtaposition, but one I know well, having raced quite a few half marathons myself.  I use words like "slow" and "easy" to calm her down as much as I can while we settle into 5:55-ish pace.  I figure that's close enough to where we want to be.  I have to keep pushing my palms down and running just off her side and behind her to encourage her to take it easy and not drop into 5:40's.  She complies every time I remind her, she isn't trying to sabotage her race, she's just fired up and ready to go which is exactly what you want for a PR attempt.

Along the way, we group up with Scott Dunlap who managed to get a great shot of Jessica from his camera, _while_ running 6 min pace.  Very good blog skills, Scott!  Around this time Jessica asks if she should have a gu, but I don't hear her so I apparently ignore her.  My streak of ignoring women continues!  I tell Jessica we are going to build starting at 6 and that it's OK to start opening up her can of whoop-ass now.  She responds with a request to hold pace.  I tell her it's my job to worry about pace, she just has to put her head down and run.  We wind up doing what she says b/c women know best, right?  Each clock we pass ticks off the seconds at :45 after within one or two.  There's something just awesome about a round number mile pace, you get all this great feedback from your garmin, your brain, and the clocks along the way, you know your over/under to within a second or two, and it just makes the effort so much more focused.

At mile 10, Jessica is in 10th position (based on the official results).  I tell her it's time to suffer and she responds.  We catch one girl who had started to fade, with her stride unraveling.  I tell Jessica that it'll feel great to catch the next group of 3 women, that she'll feel a tremendous boost if she can do that.  As soon as we get close, however, that group of 3 really starts to separate, so we wind up catching and reeling them in one by one.  I use phrases like "tractor beam" and "make contact" but I doubt Jessica is hearing anything other than my tone.  I continue to increase my urgency and Jessica continues to respond.  We are holding pace, but the effort is increasing, the crescendo builds.  After the mile 12 marker I remark that it's time to give up everything she has left.  I want so badly to catch and pass the woman in front of us, but Jessica has to be the one to do the work, to make the decision, to sacrifice and to hurt.  As we round the final turn, Jessica has managed to get in front and I'm not sure if it's going to be a battle or a surrender so I stay as wide as I can and cheer from the side.  I get a front row seat to a strong kick and a triumphant PR for Jessica, the end to an exciting race and one of the most enjoyable half marathons I can remember.

A front row seat to the final sprint at the last turn
Back in the VIP tent, amongst all the elite and leaned out runners, I proceed to demolish the free food.  Since nobody else is interested in it, I figure I should do my part.  I down 3 cups of coffee and try one of everything else available.  I suppose skipping breakfast before the race worked out just fine, but I'm sure I'm net positive 3000 calories for the morning.  Mike and I bs a bit with Dunlap, then I head off to Jessica's hotel room and bump into Meb in the hallway.  A shower, a long drive home with Super Sean at the wheel, and a fantastic dinner seal up a wonderful and memorable weekend.  I couldn't have asked for anything better.

Next weekend is Chicago.  After how well the pacing duties went at San Jose, I'm feeling confident that we can get Lisa her 2:45.  If she is even half as tough as Jessica, it should be a cakewalk.