2013 Family Pic

2013 Family Pic

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Random Thoughts: Comrades Edition

Just a few more steps! Inside the stadium approaching the finish.

“Comrades is a great 5k race. The tough part is the two marathons you have to run to get to the starting line.” -anonymous

For years I’ve said I had a Personal Record (PR) for everything except hammer throw or an ultramarathon. You name it, I’ve done it. Marathon. Pole Vault. Hurdles (high & low). Javelin. Steeplechase. Mile (flat & beer).

In 2010, I first ran the 33-mile Saltwater 5000, a noncompetitive ultradistance event, and in 2011 I suffered through 32-miles in a 6-hour race on zero training. Technically ultras, yes, but not the kind I wanted to hang my hat on.
So I hatched a plan to run Comrades in South Africa, the one ultra that had a history and tradition that rivals the Boston Marathon. Being part of something that special was a real draw for me.

I’ve read several stellar race reports (links to my favorites below). Rather than write my own blow-by-blow description of the race, here is my List of Random Thoughts: Comrades Edition:

  1. The race is called the Comrades Marathon but it’s 56 miles long. I guess back in 1921 the marathon distance hadn’t been standardized and the name stuck.
  2. Comrades alternates directions each year between the inland city of Pietermaritzburg and the coastal city of Durban. Imagine if they did that in Boston, and finished in Hopkinton every other year? 
  3. When an immigration agent in Johannesburg’s airport asked me “What is the purpose of your trip to South Africa?” I proudly answered “I’ve come to run the Comrades Marathon” his eyes got big and a smile swept across his face. He shook his head and said “Man that is one long race. Good luck to you” as he handed me back my passport and welcomed me to his country.
  4. The 2014 Comrades finished in Durban, a so-called Down run, which appealed to me. “They” said the Down run was hard, painful and contained more uphills than you think. I didn’t believe them. After all, I’ve run the Catalina Marathon 14 times. Well, “they” were right. This course is HARD! Did I underestimate its difficulty? Perhaps.
    Toiling on the many uphills.
  5. Comrades awards medals based on finish time. This is cool, and gives you something to shoot for. Interspersed with the gold, silver and bronze medals are three named for Comrades legends. I thought I had a good shot at the 7:30 – 9:00 Bill Rowan medal.
  6. I knew I was in trouble by the 23rd mile. Which was a really miserable feeling knowing I was already out of gas and I still had a whopping 33 miles to go. Did I mention this was miserable?
  7. My splits may suggest otherwise, but I don’t believe I started too fast. I was averaging around 8:30 pace for those first 23 miles. That’s a minute-per-mile slower than I ran in the Akron Marathon last fall. In theory I should have been just cruising. Nothing was wrong – no blisters, GI issues or anything. Just. Tired. Maybe arriving Friday didn’t allow me enough time to adjust to the time difference. I know barely sleeping on Saturday night couldn’t have helped.
  8. Most of the last 30 miles were really painful. I did have a decent 10-mile stretch from 33 to 43, and began thinking maybe I could salvage a sub-9, but that went away when the long downhill ended. I was back to the walk-shuffle-walk method of ambulation.
    Head down. Trudging.
  9. When I realized I wouldn’t make the 9-hour cutoff, I felt certain I would finish in bronze medal time (9-11 hours), and set about to getting in under 10 hours. I mercifully finished in 9:37:26, 3,202 of 14,620 starters.
  10. Comrades has a strict 12-hour cutoff time. If you are not finished, you are out. No exceptions. Which means the finish becomes extremely emotional as the clock counts down and people sprint, limp, are carried into the stadium and across the line. People are stopped yards short every year and this was no exception.
  11. Comrades uses chip timing (with 15,000 starters they obviously need them for automating results) – but they rely strictly on GUN TIME for finishing positions and medals. Not such a big deal for me, as my qualifying time landed me in in Corral B. It took me 34 seconds to cross the starting line. Not so for the folks in Corral H, who started in a 10+ minute hole.
    My very own ChampionChip
  12. Fellow SCRR member Ted Williamson improved by 48 minutes on his 2013 time to finish in 9:00:36, agonizingly close to scoring the coveted Bill Rowan medal. It didn’t matter that his chip time was 8:56:46. He earned a bronze like me.
  13. Ted completely rocked this race.
  14. In a regular marathon, there seems to always be some dummy who shouts “only 24 miles to go” at the 2-mile mark. Well, Comrades sticks this in your face with ‘countdown’ markers. In kilometers. So after about 2 miles you pass the “86 km to go” sign. And so on. It can mess with your head.
  15. Comrades also has you wear bib numbers on your front AND back. And the bibs contain a wealth of information. Your name, starting corral, age group, how many Comrades you’ve finished – and background color denotes various other things (like blue for international). It was really very cool how veterans would pat me on the shoulder asking how I’m enjoying my first Comrades. I mostly had to struggle to respond politely.
  16. The bibs also took my mind off how bad I was hurting. It was fun to be reading people’s names, looking at their age group, starting corral and the like as we passed each other. Let me just say that a lot of South African names are unpronounceable.
  17. Someone from Comrades USA made up cool ‘Team USA’ shirts. Upon realizing there were only around 200 Americans in the field the idea began to appeal to me so I went ahead and got one. I’m glad I did. There is something special to ‘representing’ the USA in an international race.
  18. Crowd support was incredible. People the entire race were barbecuing, drinking beer and having a huge 89-km block party. The cheering was crazy. “Go Michael” and “U-S-A” were ringing in my ears and there were always little kids to high-5.
    Home stretch. The closer we got to Durban, the louder the crowd became.
  19. The course management, traffic, aid stations, first aid, finish line, results were great. This is truly a world-class event.
  20. I'd like to blame the second half of the race on the weather - but I can't. It was cold at the start - I wore a disposable jacket for the first 12 miles. Now some kid is running around South Africa with a sweaty OC Marathon jacket. As the day progressed it got warmer, but a thick overcast kept the direct sunlight at bay. For me at least, I don't feel like it was a factor.
  21. Kona Ironman legend Scott Molina finished less than two minutes ahead of me. Our split times suggest we must have passed each other several times on the course. I wish I’d recognized him. It might have given me some inspiration to push harder (read: walk less) the last few miles.
  22. I’m proud to say all of my toenails are intact. Indeed, my feet are really quite beautiful.
  23. This was the 89th Comrades. 29 years ago I also finished the 89th Boston Marathon.
  24. Oh, and the medals we all worked so hard for? They're tiny. Really tiny. No less meaningful, but quite contrary to all of the platter-sized medals presented at most races these days. But let me tell you there were a lot of very proud runners shuffling around Durban on Monday rocking their tiny hardware. 
    It's true. Size doesn't matter!
  25. The people of Comrades are amazing. Everywhere we turned we met great people. From Australia. Europe. South Africa. Other Americans. Fast people (we hung out before and after the race with Kirsten Leemans, a bloke from Johannesburg who placed 59th in a stunning 6:20:02!), mid-packers, people who just made the cutoff (one in 11:58:30) and many who didn’t make it through the final checkpoint and had to step off the course after 50+ miles. The “Spirit of Comrades” is a real thing. And it’s intoxicating.
    Too tired to celebrate? Not a chance!
  26. Comrades was Day 380 of my streak of running every day. Monday was Day 381 and I did 4 miles on the treadmill at the Hilton. I think that impressed some of the folks we were hanging out with. Even Kirsten the fast guy.
  27. I’ve never hurt so bad in any athletic endeavor. Ever. I was so miserable I swore I’d never do this again. But now after a few days I’m not so sure.

Two race reports worth reading are Kelly Agnew’s from Utah, whom we met at the Hilton bar on Monday night, and Ellie Greenwood from Canada, who won the women’s race, defeating the identical Russian twins who have had a stranglehold on this race for the last decade (a la Venus & Serena in tennis).
Kelly: http://slippingslowlyintopain.blogspot.co.uk/
Ellie: http://www.irunfar.com/2014/06/never-ever-give-up-ellie-greenwoods-2014-comrades-report.html)
The Comrades Wikipedia page contains a wealth of information as well: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comrades_Marathon

Since finishing, the frustration and pain I felt during the race has given way to a satisfaction that this is a performance I can be proud of. I certainly left myself room to improve, but I am indeed proud nonetheless. The people and history I encountered combined to make this a truly rich experience. I’m so very grateful for my family for supporting this crazy dream of mine. I know it’s a very selfish thing to undertake.

And while I can now say I’ve finished the world’s oldest and largest ultramarathon, I still don’t see myself as an ‘ultra guy’. Rather, I’m a runner who likes all aspects of the sport. Except hammer throw I guess. I still don’t have a PR for that.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

First a Model - Now a Poet!

Recently, I came home to find a poem written by Grace taped to the wall. I'm no poetry expert but I sure liked it:

When I asked her whether it was for a school assignment, she just said "no" that it was something she just came up with.
Turns out I'm not the only one who thought it was pretty good. Grace's grandparents also thought it was pretty terrific and encouraged us to submit it to The Los Angeles Times kids' section. If I'm being honest here, I can't say I realized that The Times published such things, but I found myself instructed to search the Sunday paper each week.

Dutifully doing that this past weekend, I came across this:


Well shucks. Now MY heart is full of delight!
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Saturday, December 24, 2011

St. Nick

In preparing for Christmas, Grace decided to write a biography of Santa Claus. I really liked her take on the jolly old elf. Here it is:

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Which goes to prove it's never too late to start something new.
Ho Ho Ho Everyone!

Lukey Boy Reading the Grinch

Luke reads the How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, by Dr. Seuss. Luke is 4 years, 4 months old, and this book is nearly a fourth grade reading level. Of course, there is some memorization because he knows the story, but he is definitely not just reciting from memory. What a good boy!

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Monday, December 19, 2011

Welcome to our new site!

Anyone who has visited this site recently could see how far behind we had fallen in recent months. Indeed, the newest photo on the old home page was two years old!

We've done a better job of posting photos in our Picasa albums, plus the occasional video on Youtube. These things, together with the occasional blog post, have rendered our old HTML site obsolete. So we've now made the blog the main body of the site, with links to photos and videos we add. Oh, and we've retained an archive copy of the old site. See link below right.

Happy 2012 everyone!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


NOTE: I'm writing this as much to remember these events as to share them, so my apologies if I don't leave anything out.

It started out as a normal, everyday evening. I had had a late night at my desk the night before and was dragging. Chickee was out running errands and I finished putting the girls to bed. Lukey had taken a good nap at school so he was going to bed last. Lizzie offered to do Luke's bath and bedtime so I could get back to my desk. I heartily accepted her offer, gave Lukey a goodnight hug as he was headed up with his auntie.

I headed straight for the fridge in the garage. In the 10 seconds I was out there, I heard a muffled commotion through the walls. Puzzled, I hit the door and heard the screams. I immediately recognized Luke as the screamer but also heard Lizzie hollering for me as well. If I wasn't already concerned, the sight of my son's blood dripping down from the landing above was enough to make me practically levitate up the stairs to see Lizzie holding a screaming 4-year old with blood spurting from a gash on his forehead.

Turns out my little monkey was jumping on the bed. And as the song goes, he fell off and bumped his head. They must sanitize all the 'the-head-is-so-vascular-it-bleeds-like-crazy' stuff so it doesn't freak out young readers. But I suspect that the doctor tells mama that but I digress.

In any case, I had never seen that much blood. Not to get graphic, but the house looked like a crime scene. I knew that job #1 was to get the bleeding stopped. I put him on the counter with a towel under his head and held a wash cloth on the wound. I couldn't get a good look at it because it was positively gushing (read: fountain), and Lukey-boy was anything but calm. His thrashing didn't help much, poor little guy. He just wanted me to stop touching his aching noggin. The gash looked to be nearly an inch long at the top of his nose directly between his eyebrows.

Lizzie was a huge help. She immediately was on the phone to Chickee, who was now SPEEDING home. I quickly became concerned that I couldn't take a flailing, bleeding boy to the ER for stitches, so unless I could get the bleeding stopped we were going to be stuck in that bathroom. Thank goodness the floor is tile. It was already too late for our clothes. Given the situation, I asked Lizzie to call the paramedics just in case I couldn't get the bleeding stopped.

The guys were there quickly. Seems like a cast of thousands, but I hear it was only six. Chickee arrived about the same time to the chaos and still crying Luke. Grace, having seen him fall in their room, was freaking out with worry, but thankfully she stayed in her room and away from all the color.

The good news is that the bleeding was slowing down about the time the firemen arrived. They busily made sure he didn't have a concussion or other life-threatening injury, while at the same time sizing me up and checking him for unexplained bruises.

Finally the crying and thankfully, the bleeding abated.

Before heading to the ER at Mission Hospital, we thanked the fire guys and bade them good night. But not before Lukey got to sit in the fire engine. And not a little pickup or ambulance, mind you, but the real, 4-alarm monster. I'm sure our neighbors were horrified to see this hulking thing racing up to the house with the siren blaring. Seeing the fire engine was surely the best part for our injured boy. He loved when they flashed the lights on their way off.

Mission's ER was jam packed, but there is something about walking in with a blood-covered child. One lady in the waiting room looked at us and said, hopefully, "I hope that's ice cream all over his shirt." They saw us quickly.

Luke at the ER waiting to be seen.
We waited around, saw the triage nurse, then we angered the ER doc when we told him we would wait for a plastic surgeon. "I stitch these things up daily" was his comment. "Then you won't miss one more" was ours. When Dr. Nolan arrived, we all were really tired (remember the evening started with me dragging). He was comforting, commenting, "this isn't bad at all" when he looked at the open wound on Lukey's head.

They put Luke into a so-called twilight anesthesia, which was strangely uncomfortable to see, but it sure beat the protesting of the shot that got him there. We stepped out of the room while the stitching took place.

A short time and a lot of worrying later, Dr. Nolan validated our insistence. Luke's cut was deep - to the bone - and required quite a bit of internal suturing. Indeed, he took 10 stitches in three layers inside, then 9 to close the wound. He said the result would be very good. Much better than had we just had the ER guy start sewing. He might say that to everyone but it was comforting to us nonetheless.

It took seemingly forever for him to wake up from anesthesia (it was 1:00 a.m., after all, a time when this boy is typically sawing logs), but we finally piled him in the car and gingerly strapped him in.

We are eternally grateful to Lizzie, not just for her quick action after the accident, but for looking after Grace and helping her get to sleep after such drama, AND for cleaning up the bathroom after we left. You'd have never known what the place looked like just hours earlier, but it was clean and quiet at 1:30 when we returned. Chickee took to the carpets with Resolve with such gusto that we now have white spots where there were red spots. We finally dropped into bed at 2:30. This on a night I was tired to begin with.

They said the drugs were amnesiacs, and that he wouldn't remember anything....WRONG! He remembered, and seemed traumatized by everything - except the actual bonking of his head! The good news is that over the ensuing days he seemed to get past it and was his irrepressible self.

The Sunday following the Wednesday adventures, we went to the fire station to bring cookies and thank the guys for answering the call.
Luke in his fire hat.

Helping a firefighter at the station.

"Driving" the fire truck (sorry about the bad lighting)

Luke with a real firefighter (a dad of kids the same age and with similar stories)

All in all, we hope these are the things that dominate his memories. Grace's too. Good thing Claire slept through the whole thing. Let's hope this is something he looks back on and remembers only when he reads this post and sees the pics. For the record, they don't do justice to how scary this injury was. But even as awful as it was, we thank God that it is a story we can tell without it being a major crossroads for this boy who has already been through so much.

We've already encountered so many people whose sons have similar tales. Sounds increasingly like a rite of passage. Let's hope it's an isolated occurrance.

Right before the stitches were removed.

One week following stitch removal.
Note that he is wearing the same shirt as the accident. Mommy works magic with Oxyclean!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Luke's Art

Posted by PicasaI've previously posted some photos of Grace's art, but now's the time to share some example of Luke's work. Luke won't turn 4 until August, so bearing that in mind, I think he does quite a good job.

This piece is a portrait of Mommy. I thought it was quite detailed. I also was impressed & entertained that he draws hands the same way Grace does. I don't recall drawing hands that same way, nor do I recall seeing kids doing that when Chickee was teaching, but Grace & Luke both do.

The second images are from the Father's Day card Lukey made for me at school. When his teacher asked him "where's his face?" Luke matter-of-factly replied, "he's looking the other way."

Well duh.

The inside of the card contains Luke's answers to the questions about me. Pretty insightful.