Monday, November 3, 2014

Punctuation Matters: a Cautionary Tale

No-shave November.  Seems pretty simple, right?  Unless you mistake a simple hypen for an em dash.

  • No-shave November = no shaving during the month of November.
  • No—shave November = please, go ahead and shave during the month of November.  No, really, we mean it.
Let's be honest, who hasn't made this mistake?

Punctuation really does matter, people.

Don't let this happen to you.  Pay attention to punctuation!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

An Autumn Jaunt in the Mountains

Wildflowers in October

This past Columbus Day I thought that we should head out to the Blue Ridge Mountains and see the changing leaves while they were still on the trees.  In all the years we've lived in Virginia, every year we've heard that we simply have to go to Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park while the leaves are i all their fall splendor.  We tried to go out and see the fall foliage last year, but we waited until the first week of November, and by the time we got there, most of the leaves had already fallen.  I wanted to avoid that this year, so we took advantage of the holiday to head a little to our west and see what there was to see.

Some friends decided to join us on our adventure, so I looked through the 50 Hikes in Northern Virginia book that we somehow acquired—seriously, I have no idea where we got the book, and we’ve had it since before we went to Thailand—to find a hike that was short enough for the little kids, but would let us see something awesome.  I found the perfect spot in the Woodstock Observation Tower, just outside the town of Woodstock (shocking!) on the western side of the national park, but not actually inside the park itself.  For the tightwad in me, that means I didn't have to pay twenty bucks for the privilege of seeing autumn leaves.

The tower itself, according to the US Forest Service, was built in 1935 by the Civil Conservation Corps.  It’s less than a quarter-mile walk up the trail from the parking area to the tower itself, so our little kids had no problem.  From the top of the tower, looking to the east, you get an awesome view of a sparsely populated valley with the Blue Ridge Mountains behind, and while we were on the tower, there were clouds moving through the valley creating a simply gorgeous picture, especially with the leaves starting to change on the mountains.  To our west, at least when we first got on the tower, you couldn’t see anything but clouds—the kids thought that was really cool (so did I, but it seems like much more fun if you say that the kids thought it was cool...).

Looking east.
We had lunch on the tower, and eventually the clouds to the west parted long enough for us to see the incredible view, which includes the Seven Bends in the North Fork of the Shenandoah River.  While we were up there, another set of clouds blew through, including one that actually enveloped the tower, which we all agreed was pretty ridiculously awesome.

Oh, and we had a valuable lesson with the kids about not reading graffiti out loud.  Important stuff for life, really.

Imagine these two in 60 years...
On the way home, we stopped in the town of Woodstock and enjoyed a little of the small-town America feel of the place.  Anne was glad that she skipped a friend’s birthday party to come along, and even Ben finally admitted it was pretty cool.  Maggie spent the day with her friends, but when she saw our pictures, she said she kind of wished that she’d gone with us instead.  I like to think that these are the kinds of experiences we have with our children that, when they are older and living away from home, they will remember with fondness and think, “You know, we did some cool stuff as a family when I was a kid.” 

How you lichen this weather? :-)

Friday, July 4, 2014

If You Give a Brent a Blog*

If you give a Brent a blog, he'll want to write about lots of things that you might find boring. Like running. Especially running. But on occasion he will blog about other things. Like food.

Mentioning food will make Brent think about the pizza they had at work the day before Independence Day to celebrate America's birthday.

And if you give a Brent too much pizza at work, the chances are he will come home feeling sluggish.  When he gets home, the Brent will probably be torn between giving in to his feelings of sluggishness and wanting to go for a run because it has finally stopped raining. And because most of the Brent's blog posts deal with running in some form or another.

The pause in the rain will remind the Brent of the powerful storm that he witnessed from the top floor of the building in which he works. That storm brought amazing amounts of rain, accompanied by wicked crazy wind that broke tree limbs, all while his coworker was out getting pizza (that man is a true American hero, by the way).

The Brent will decide that going for a run is in fact a good idea, because it will make him feel better mentally as well as physically. Even the resumption of rain won't keep the Brent from going out for a run, because he knows that summer rain actually feels quite nice.

The pizza that he ate will probably make the Brent feel bloated and sluggish as he starts running. Maybe he shouldn't call it "running" at that point, because he's not likely to be moving very fast. It will take a little while for him to loosen up and actually feel good enough to really call what he's doing "running."

While he's running, the Brent will have lots of interesting mental conversations with himself that would make people question his sanity. That's why he will keep them to himself, unless he decides to blog about them. Really scary stuff.

Speaking of scary, because he left for his run after 7:30 at night, it will start to get dark before the Brent gets home.

Because of the rain and because it's summertime in Virginia, however, it will also be nice and humid.

The warm humidity will bring out fireflies. Seeing the fireflies will get that song by Owl City stuck in the Brent's head for the last mile-and-a-half of his run.

And that will make him smile. Might even make the Brent giggle a little bit. When he gets home, he might even call his children to come out and enjoy the light show put on by the fireflies. And there will probably be more smile, more laughter, and happy hearts.

All that running and smiling and giggling and happiness will probably make the Brent want to blog about it.

*My utmost and sincerest apologies to Laura Numeroff.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

That one time I decided to do something totally crazy, like run 50 kilometers

The first weekend in June marked my third time participating in the The North Face Endurance Challenge trail race.  This is the event where, two years ago, I completed my first marathon.  It’s also the event last year in which I failed to complete my first attempted ultramarathon, dropping out at Mile 26 of a 50K race.  I was determined to finish the race this time, and after failing to train properly for the Rock n’ Roll Marathon a couple of months ago, I tried to make sure I was getting the proper mix of long and short runs in training so that I would be able to finish.

My buddy Kenny came down from Connecticut—he had signed up for the race before he and Melanie moved up there in early March—and we drove up to Algonkian Regional Park bright and early for the race.  Kenny’s strategy for the race was to keep his heart rate in his optimal fat-burning zone, which in his experience is a pace that he feels he can run at for hours and hours.  What that meant was that we had to walk up and down the big hills—last year we were a little too aggressive on some of the steeper downhills, and that can be more taxing on your legs than perhaps you might think.

So that’s what we did, and it worked really well.  The temperature and humidity were manageable, especially compared with how hot it got last year.  The trails were a little sketchy in a few spots because it did rain overnight, but it was nowhere near as muddy and slippery it was two years ago.  We were making good time and feeling really good as we got into the Great Falls aid station, just under the halfway point.  About two miles before we got to that aid station the race leaders passed us going back the other way—the two guys in the lead looked phenomenal, and we figured they were going to finish the race in about four hours (official time for the 50K winner was actually 3:58—that’s just awesome).  At this point we were on pace to finish in about seven hours, which would have been a great time for us.

The section right above Great Falls was, for me, the most difficult part of this course.  It is all up and down, and some of the footing is very tricky, so this is a section that can really mess with your mind.  Up until this part, I was feeling pretty good, but it took a lot out of me getting through that section, and I was starting to struggle a little bit.  Kenny stuck in there with me, and his encouragement was greatly appreciated, especially since I really struggled between Great Falls and the Carwood aid station.

This would be a good time to mention that the Carwood aid station was new this year—in previous years, there weren’t any aid stations between Great Falls and Fraser, a distance of about six miles, and that was very difficult for a lot of runners, including me.  The addition of that stop was crucial for me, and I’m sure for many others, in being able to finish this year.  Like I said, I was struggling and staring to have doubts that I would even finish the race, again.

That's TWO thumbs up, just for finishing.
All that said, I have to confess that I walked the entire distance between Carwood and Fraser.  At the start of that section I was feeling so worn out and depleted, I was thinking that I would be able to finish the race, but only by walking.  I told Kenny that I’m just not built for ultramarathons, that he should just go ahead and run ahead without me, and that I’d see him at the finish line.  To Kenny’s credit as a friend, he stayed with me.  His legs felt fine, but he was having some pain in his lower back, so every so often we would stop so Kenny could stretch out his back.  We walked pretty fast, it wasn’t like last year where I was barely conscious of where I was, but for almost three miles we just didn’t run at all.  Fraser was where I dropped out last year, so just getting to that point was an accomplishment for me, but it wasn’t enough to just get there, I wanted to get past it.

By the time we got to the Fraser aid station and got some food in us, I felt like I was ready to run again, so we did.  Not only did we start running, but we ran for the majority of the last five miles.  And not only did we run for most of those last five miles, but according to Kenny’s Suunto GPS watch, we kept a pace that was our fastest of the entire race—looks like we did something right by walking those three miles!

All smiles once it was all done.
In the end, we finished the race in 7:56, just under eight hours and four hours after the winners crossed the finish line.  Not exactly a world-beating time, but I finished, and for me that was huge.  I cried at the end of the race, with Mali and the kids around me and offering their congratulations, I literally sat down and started to cry.  It was just such a relief to finally finish this distance, no matter how slow and painful it might have been.

Just like last year, after the race I said that I’m done with ultramarathons.  And, just like last year, within a day of saying that, I was already thinking about what I could do differently to be stronger, to finish faster, and to have a more enjoyable experience.  I have other running goals that I am going to turn my attention to—sub-20 minute 5K, sub-40 minute 10K, sub-1.5 hour half marathon—but I won’t rule out more attempts at marathons or ultras.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am done. I really mean it. For now.
 And, of course, we went to Five Guys afterwards to celebrate.

Friday, May 2, 2014

I've Been Uchtdorfed

I've been going through another one of those periods where I feel guilty about not having put anything in my blog for months on end.  I mean, every month I tell myself that I will write something, I'll put something here, and before you know it, another month has come and gone and I haven't written anything.

And then, over Spring Break (yes, it was two weeks ago, but let's not have a guilt trip over that), something happened.  It was Tuesday night, I was walking from my office to the car.  The wind was blowing the snow--yes, you read that correctly, SNOW--horizontally, so I had to hold my umbrella perpendicular to my body just so I could see.  And in my mind I was grumbling about how it's supposed to be spring break and why on earth is it even snowing, grumble-grumble-grumble.

I settled into my car, turned on the engine, and what was it that I heard?  The amazing German-accented advice from Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that he gave in the Sunday morning session of General Conference this past April.  I've taken to listening to recordings of General Conference during my commute because I find things that are not only useful for my early-morning seminary classes, but there's so much there that helps me just be a better person.

Anyway, President Uchtdorf said:

"Could I suggest that we see gratitude as a disposition, a way of life that stands independent of our current situation? In other words, I’m suggesting that instead of being thankful for things, we focus on being thankful in our circumstances—whatever they may be."

And that got me thinking.  I have so much to be grateful for, even when it might not look like I should be thankful for those things:
  • I'm grateful that I'm tired.  I'm tired because I have a job that I enjoy and I get to spend every school morning with some of the most amazing teenagers you'll ever meet.  Yes, I'm exhausted sometimes, but it's worth it.
  • I'm grateful that children poke me and wake me up from my nap on the couch to say good-bye before they go to school in the morning.
  • I'm grateful for my sweet daughter who covers me with her blanket while taking said naps so that I won't be cold.
  • I'm grateful for my oldest daughter and the high-school attitude she cops with us sometimes, because it shows me that she's starting to grow into an independent young woman.
  • I'm grateful for a wife who complains about my sometimes difficult work schedule, because it means she is concerned about my health and wants to spend time me.  It means so much that she lets me sleep in on Sunday mornings.
  • I'm also grateful that she doesn't complain when I tell her I'm going for a three-hour run on a Saturday.
  • I'm grateful for those days, like yesterday, when it rains so hard that you can hardly see out the window, because it means we're getting water for the beautiful trees and flowers that make Virginia so awesome (apologies to my wife and others who suffer from allergies!).
  • I'm grateful for those phone calls from my in-laws that come at sometimes awkward times of the day, because it means they're thinking about our family and they want to talk to us.
  • I'm grateful for indoor plumbing.  Not that it's a burden, I'm just constantly grateful for it.

So many other things to be grateful for, but hopefully I can always remember to be grateful, regardless of my situation.  Even if I do have to remember to do so with a slight German accent.