July 24, 2017

The Missile/Dam/National Park Tour Home -- and the road forward

We hit all the big missile related sites in the Southwest on our route home.

Los Alamos Bradley Science Museum.

V-2 Rocket, restored, White Sands Missile Museum

The White Sands Missile Museum.

The outdoor rocket field at White Sands Missile Museum.

The Titan Missile Museum
Giant Titan Rocket (never feuled, no warhead) 
inside the Titan Missile Silo at
the Museum.

Launch control for the Titan Missile Silo.

We also visited the Biosphere and Hoover Dam, which neither of us had seen before.  We took a 2 hour very educational Biosphere tour, but unfortunately, the damn tours were not being offered on the day we arrived.  So we did a self-tour in the 109F heat, and got back into the air-conditioned car for our drive to Vegas.

The ocean inside Biosphere 2.

I used to love Vegas, but now it doesn't really do much for me.  We had a nice quick visit with a delicious greek seafood dinner at Estiatorio Milos, followed by an hour or so of craps play by me, a good night's sleep, a quick run in the gym, and the long drive to Lee Vining, California.

The scale of the dam is hard to comprehend -- it's HUGE!
The next day, we used our National Park pass for the 5th time at the East entrance to Yosemite, finally getting over the purchase price in entrance fees for a net saving of $30.  It's valid through August 2017, but we doubt we'll have the chance to hit up another U.S. National Park next month.

Smoky view of half dome from Columbia Rock
For our last night of the sabbatical, we splurged and stayed at the Ahwahnee Hotel.  I'd always wanted to stay here ever since I was a little kid, and despite all of our visits to the park, I'd never done so.   After checking in to the hotel, we braved the smoke from the Mariposa fires and hiked the Upper Yosemite Falls Trail to Columbia Rock and further to the first view of the falls.  Despite the cool temps (the smoke limited the heat from the sun), and breeze, it was a solid 3 mile round-trip hike with 1,000 ft plus of elevation gain starting around 4,000 feet.

The dining room at the Ahwahnee.

From Yosemite, we drove to the storage unit, picked up the aerobed and a few other items, and drove home to unlock the door for the first time in over a year and start our re-assimilation back to our home-based life.

Lower Yosemite Falls -- gushing due to this year's snowpack.

After a Saturday of chores, we attended a lovely wedding, and then slept in Santa Cruz so that I could run Wharf to Wharf with E2.  It's a bigger race than I realized, with a sold out registration of 16,000, of which, several thousand registrations are limited to locals.  E2 got into the local lottery registration, so she encouraged me to try the general registration lottery and I got in too.

Smoky view of Yosemite Valley from the Upper Yosemite Falls trail.
My "training" consisted of intermittent running and hiking whenever I could fit it in the last several months.  I had a (slow) baseline from my Peachtree Road Race, and I'd tried to fit in slow aerobic efforts mixed with some speedwork as we drove westward.  Thankfully, the day of the race was blissfully overcast with a starting temperature of 57F.  As expected E2 was more fit than me, but she needed a couple of portapotty stops that helped me recover.  I did need to ask for one walk break after the top of the last major hill, but overall, I was pleased with how it went -- final Garmin data claimed 6.09 miles at 11:36 avg pace including all of the stops.  When running, we averaged 11:21 minutes per mile, with the last 1.1 miles averaging 10:47.

Oh look! Stop and Go traffic on 880 North at 3 PM.  Yup, we're back.

I've registered for the Rock 'n Roll San Jose 10K on October 8th as a goal race to actually regain some of the year's lost running fitness and complete a 10K at a (hopefully) decent pace, followed by the Kaiser Permanente SF Half on February 4th, as the goal race to return me to half marathon shape.

The final road trip was great, but it's very nice to be home, putting our home-based life back together, including scheduling local races and (at some point) a training plan with local runs.

July 16, 2017

U.S. Southern Route West, Part 1

I drive outside of North America, E drives in North America -- this sabbatical year, I made out like a bandit.
We've got a bit of a schedule to keep on our drive back to California.  Technically, the sabbatical year is up today, and we are now on borrowed time.

Unlike the lovely 9 week trip we made from California north to Canada and then east, below the great lakes, back up over Niagra falls and through Quebec to Maine and down to Atlanta, we're pushing the mileage and minimizing the site-seeing on our trip back.

So many wrought iron fences in the French Quarter of New Orleans.
E drove from Atlanta to New Orleans in one 6 hour plus day.  We arrived to heat and humidity and a culture that was so uniquely its own that it floored me.  If most of our American travels are about realizing how much major US cities are all starting to evolve to be more like each other, arrival in New Orleans was the opposite.  This place is *very* much its own, with very strong French, Spanish, and Caribbean influences. 

Also, the food.

5 PM beignet snack before a hot sauce tasting
at Pepper Palace (YIKES!)
and a 2 hour walking tour
followed by a delicious dinner.
Oh. My. God.

We only ate a few meals in New Orleans, but I could not believe the deliciousness of every single bite that passed my lips.  These people have combined and savored everything from all of their immigrants and made a cuisine unlike any I've ever had.  So many different layers of flavor.

We took the Creole Queen down the Mississippi to the site of
the Battle of New Orleans, which they are proud to report
is how the war of 1812 was finished off, and why the USA
did not have to lose her Louisiana Purchase territory
to the Brits (or the Spanish, due to legal technicalities).
After 2 nights in New Orleans, E drove another 6+ hour day to Austin so that we could visit with friends.  Visiting Austin was bittersweet.  The C family were the folks we had our most frequent social interactions with when they lived in our town.  They moved while we were traveling, and coming back home to miss them is going to suck.  Thankfully, they have a very comfortable guest suite that we plan to take frequent advantage of.

Austin still feels foreign to me, but after several visits in the last few years, it's starting to feel more and more comfortable.  For example, I thought I didn't like Tex-Mex, but actually I just hadn't had good Tex-Mex before Austin.  Similarly, I thought Texas BBQ brisket was fine, but the best offerings in Austin convinced me that it's one of the most impressive ways to cook beef, period.

Welcome to Texas, indeed!  Driving across the border from Louisiana.
I started running regularly in Austin after a couple days of recovery post Peachtree.  It was ridiculously humid, but after Atlanta and New Orleans, 70% humidity didn't seem too bad.  I kept the running up on our road trip after we left, and I pulled a 7-day 25 mile running streak (took day 8, today, off) for the first time in a long time, with most of the miles being slow (often run-walking), in heat and humidity.
Oh, Texas...
After a few fun days with the Cs, we pushed westward with one-night stays and days of driving with only the occasional stop for missile-related site-seeing.  Each day we got closer and closer to home, and things started feeling more and more familiar.  Rural Northern Californians, and particularly my Dad's and Mom's extended families and college friends have so much in common with the average person we encountered in Western Texas and New Mexico.  Every day of westward travel, as the landscape and air became drier and drier, and the accent moved more towards that of my grandparents, I could feel our cultural approach to my homeland in my bones.

Last night's accommodations at the Big Chile Inn, Las Cruces, NM.
After a full year of travel, we are coming home, visibly, palpably, a little each day.  And for the first time in my life, I'm completely devoid of wanderlust.  I can't wait to live a bay area home-bound life!

July 4, 2017

First Race in 13 Months

Running took a back seat to friends and family as well as travel and foreign language, culture, and food during the sabbatical year.

Huge Peachtree Road Race expo at the Georgia World Congress
I am totally okay with this.  We've been very active, walking for most of our sightseeing, and most weeks, I've fit in several hours of decent cardio (usually hiking with some running wherever I could make it happen).  Also, hefting our packs everywhere coupled with lots of elevation change in our hiking as well as gym workouts (both hotel and outdoor) means that my general functional strength is much better than it was before the year began, even if my running fitness isn't.  Although my weight has fluctuated a few pounds here and there whenever I've found a scale, right now, I weigh a pound or two *less* than I did before we started the year, and I feel like I have more muscle, particularly in my upper legs and arms.

Before we left the bay area, my last real race was the See Jane Run Half.  Since then, I've only strung together more than 5 miles of true running effort on a handful of occasions.  So, I was understandably a bit apprehensive about running my 3rd Peachtree Road Race.

We were in corral G, so we got to watch the final meters
of the Women's Elite field finish before we started.
I'd run this race twice before.  The first time, in 2011 (almost 6 weeks after a 4h13 Coeur D'alene Marathon (avg 9:40/mile) I ran it to pace my father-in-law and a pregnant friend on a very hot and humid day -- we finished in 1h07 and I remember it being *much* more difficult than 10:54 miles should have been at that level of fitness.  In 2014, one month after a 2h15 half marathon (10:15 avg), on a relatively mild 4th of July in Atlanta (by this race's standards) I ran it in 1h03 to average 10:10 miles, and it was also *very* difficult.  In other words, it appears that this course and weather are not designed to BT's advantage.

I'd gone out for a few runs in ATL the week and a half before the race, so even before the red alert I knew that it was going to be rough for me (I'm very heat and humidity sensitive).  When our corral started at 8:05 AM, it was about 74F with 95% humidity, and both the temp and the humidity just kept climbing.  Just standing around waiting for the start caused me to break a sweat...

My 70+ FIL is *very* fit and finished 7 minutes ahead of me.
The start was the usual festive 4th of July occasion, with red-white-and-blue stars and stripes everywhere and on everyone.  My father in law wanted to try to make up the slow downs from the crowding in the first half mile, and by the time we hit the first water station, it was clear to me that I could not keep up with his planned pace.  So, I told them to go on without me and walked briefly, and then started my plan of run-walking heat management (walk up hills if high effort, walk slowly through water sprinklers & water stations to dump cups on my head, walk in the shade if a patch presents itself between long exposed areas, etc.)

3/4 of mile walk from where we parked to our corral,
then 0.4 miles of easy intermittent walking to the actual start,
and 1 mile from the finish to our other car.
I finished the course with 6.3 miles on my garmin at an average pace of 12:30 (1h18 chip).  Given the heat, my lack of training, and my history on the course, this felt like a decent showing.  I feel good about it as a very high effort starting point for some home-based running in the fall and winter. 

Also, I observed two very interesting things.  First, I backed off due to overexertion much earlier than I historically would have (probably because 13 months of not training gave me permission to be very conservative), and I actually cooled down the overheating and was able to finish the last 1.5 miles of the race with a stronger effort and faster pace than the portion in the middle where I was struggling.   I don't think I've ever actually recovered from over-exertion and gotten comfortable enough to have a faster finish in a race before.  It was such a great feeling (the downhill didn't hurt).

Pace & Elevation vs. Distance (miles)

Second, I had remembered this as a race with lots of hills.  But the hills near my in-laws' home are much more steep (where I'd run a few miles in prep), and that, combined with all of the hiking we did this year means that right now, I don't really register a total elevation climb of less than 300 feet over 6 miles as anything remotely hilly.  The race felt flat to me, which was a big change from the 2 previous attempts where I'd done the running before the race in the flat bay area (also possibly because I took walk breaks up the hills and compared to uphill hiking, these inclines were nothing).

I am happy to be back in my home country and to be able to celebrate its birthday with such a big fun race.  I highly recommend the Peachtree Road Race to everyone.  The field is large enough that the raffle is relatively forgiving (all 5 of our group who registered as individuals got in).  This year, it was the site of both the men's and women's US 10K road championships, which made for some fun fast US running to enjoy while waiting for our start corral. 

This race is *amazingly* well run -- tons of security and volunteers, 60,000 participants, water stations are well-marked and large (but nothing besides water is on offer), the start corals go off *exactly* on time, the toilets are abundant, and the finish is in the beautiful and huge Piedmont Park where you can relax with friends and family and enjoy the ice cold water and snackboxes.

And now, I'm psyched to have time to actually build some real running into my schedule as we road trip across the US, I get to construct a 2.5 week training plan to get ready for Wharf to Wharf.  Wish me luck (E2's in fabulous shape, so I'm gonna need to up my game -- I'm starting with praying for cool weather.)