Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Rock N Race, Pineland Farms and a Trip to Napa

This weekend had it all: 2 races, a fun trail run, 10 vineyards and Full House!
On Thursday night after work, I ran the Rock N Race. It is a race for the Payson Cancer center at Concord Hospital and is a great fund-raiser. I have been biking to work on Thursdays so this would be my first brick workout in over two years. In fact, this would be my first 5K in about that same time. Having done no speed work or fast races for quite some time I didn't know what to expect but soon remembered how much 5k's suck. The pace starts out fast but manageable but slowly inexorably becomes ever more uncomfortable. Each of my miles was slower than the previous. As with everything in life though, it did eventually come to an end and after cheering on fellow runners, I headed over to the Barley House for much needed carb reloading. Yes. I am probably the only person who gains weight running 3.1 miles.
Runners leave the starting line of the annual Rock ‘N Race 5K in downtown Concord on Thursday, May 21, 2015.<br/><br/>(ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

Kendra and I took off for California at 3am the next morning and arrived in San Fran with enough time to explore Ghiradelli square before heading north out of the city to Muir Woods and the Dipsea trail. There is a race there every year which is heralded as the oldest trail race in the country dating back to 1905. What makes it even cooler is that it is a handicapped race so a 7 year old female can(and has) win the race.

Can you spot the runner?

After running and communing with the Redwoods, we continue up Highway 1(one of Outside Magazine's best drives in the world) and stayed the night camping at Bodega Bay.
Upon waking, we started our 4 town, 8 vineyard extravaganza! We started in Healdsburg and, after stopping in Santa Rosa and Kenwood, made our way down to Sonoma. If you are planning on going to Wine Country, make sure you pick up the Sonoma Passport! It gets you discounted or free tastings and percentages off purchases. Well worth its cost! Don't drink? It is still well worth the drive for the scenery alone but also for the snacks and interesting info you learn at each vineyard. And if you drink but just not wine, don't forget all the amazing breweries this area has to offer. Bear Republic in Healdsburg and Laguinitas in Sonoma are just two more well-known ones.
Sunday was more laid back with us doing a vineyard tour and only a few tastings. A nice low-key Sunday after  a busy Saturday.
Relaxing view from the Vineyards

Low-key for us. Busy for Amber. After two months of training, Amber returned to racing this Sunday at the Pineland Farms 25k trail race. I had done this race several years ago but did the 50 miler so the pace was pretty slow. It is amazing how different a course can feel when you're racing it rather than jogging: those "little" hills aren't so little anymore. Amber asked me how the course was and I had told her that it was rolling with a few little hills. After the race I think she wanted to kill me.

Not before winning the race though. She came in 18th overall and 1st female finishing 15.5 miles on undulating trails in under 2 hours. This was after a six hour training ride the day before and running 7 miles earlier that morning, cheering on her sister who was running the 50k!

I imagine Amber used her Monday Memorial day as another huge training day. Meanwhile, we made our way back to San Fransisco, took the ferry out to Alcatraz Island and then rode the Cable Car across town. We spent a few hours just walking around the city and did find DJ Tanner's house. That alone made the trip worth while. Ended our day at the 21st Amendment Brewery in South San Fran which, if you like IPAs, you should definitely check out.

All in all a fun and productive weekend.


View from the Park by the Full House house

View of Lombard st from the Cable Car

Pier 39 Sea Lions

 Up Next: Rockerford Marathon May 31st(Danny)
                IM CDA for Amber(June 27)

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Quick Trip to Delaware; or Danny the Dummy Pacer

My weekend started on Friday when I went to my father's award ceremony where he was honored at the South East Champion of the Children for 2015. This was a well-deserved award for all that he does for the children he works with as a special education director as well as just for being an awesome father and grandfather. Glad I could be there to help him celebrate.
My brother, Matt brought up his daughter Olivia and it was nice to see them. I had to fly out early the next morning because I would have otherwise hung out with them longer. Every time I see her, she is cuter than ever.
Don't the hours grow shorter as the days go by
You never get to stop and open your eyes
One day you're waiting for the sky to fall
The next you're dazzled by the beauty of it all...

The next morning, Kendra and I flew down to Philadelphia where I was attempting to pace her to qualify for the 2016 Boston Marathon. She had put in the effort and miles and was ready to go. We had chosen the Delaware marathon because it was supposedly a flat course but what we didn't account for is the heat and humidity we encountered. And what Kendra didn't account for was my poor pacing skills.
We spent the day before the race exploring Wilmington and Newcastle Delaware with Kendra abiding by a no alcohol policy while I imbibed and sampled crayfish nachos and other spicy delights not ideal the day before the marathon.  

New Castle

 Tubman Garrett Park- The start and finish of the Race

How I'm sure most of you have heard of Harriet Tubman, but how about Thomas Garrett? I hadn't.
Garrett, a Quaker,  worked as a stationmaster on the last stop of the Underground Railroad in the Delaware. He openly defied slave hunters as well as the slave system and allowed escaped slaves to stay at his place.  Garrett helped Tubman as she passed through his station many times;  providing her with money and shoes for the slave runaways. Interestingly it was Garrett provided Tubman with the money and the means for her parents to escape from the South. It is estimated that he helped over 2,000 slaves get to freedom and supposedly he is the prototype of Simeon Halliday in Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin.

While the course was fairly flat, we did somehow have to get up and down that bridge somehow four times

History has a way of putting things in perspective. We weren't running away from anything and were opting to subject ourselves to 26.2 miles of running. So I shouldn't have anything to complain about. But.....
Race morning was already sticky and hot but seemed like we'd luck out with some cloud cover. After missing a BQ by 11 minutes in Mississippi, 3 of which because I took her out too slowly, I decided not to make the same mistake. I took her out at 7:45 minute/mile pace thinking that if I could get her through the half with a bit of a buffer, we could settle in for the second half. That nearly if ever works. I repeat: Don't build a 1/2 minute/mile buffer into your marathon plans!

Side bar: This race is beautiful! Tree lined streets, good support and a fun post-race celebration. Negatives about it are the excessive turns in the first few miles as you make it out of Wilmington. Beyond that it is definitely a good race to do.

We did go through the half within seconds of her half marathon PR which would have been good if she was racing a half. As it turns out however she was not and we soon hit the figurative wall. The humidity and the hills came at the wrong time and we had to stop a few times to make sure we stayed hydrated enough. She was able to muster some decent last miles so I know it wasn't a fitness issue so much as pacing and weather related.

I know she was disappointed that she didn't qualify but it's still early enough in the season that she will be able to compete again before Boston registration opens up.

We spent the rest of the day and the next exploring Philly both walking and on rented bikes.  We drove by Eastern State Penitentiary. It opened in 1829, and was one of the most expensive American buildings of its day and supposedly the most famous prison in the world. The Penitentiary would not simply punish, but move the criminal toward spiritual reflection and change. It used a Quaker-inspired system of strict isolation from other prisoners, with labor. To prevent distraction, knowledge of the building, and even mild interaction with guards, inmates were hooded whenever they were outside their cells and primarily kept in isolation. The thought was that the criminals, exposed, in silence, to thoughts of their behavior and the ugliness of their crimes, would become genuinely penitent. Thus the new word, penitentiary. However, it was thought to be inhumane and by the 1900's it started allowing prisoners to exercise together. And by the time Al Capone was imprisoned there in 1929, it allowed for lavish accouterments and lost it's original intent. Very interesting building and history.
Eastern State Penitentiary
We stopped by Monk's Cafe which is proported to be the bar that brought the Belgian beer craze to America. Cool bar but with half the beers in double digits, we decided not to stay there too long.

 Kendra even ran the Rocky steps. The day after the marathon. That's how I know she still had some left. I think she will be qualifying soon enough.
Rocky Steps

Cool murals are all over the place in Philly

Speaking of marathons. If you aren't doing anything next weekend and want to volunteer, contact Michael Wade and help out at the first ever Gate City Marathon. Maybe I'll see you there!

PS. It was not until after posting this that I found out that today was the 30 year anniversary of the MOVE bombing where the Philadelphia polic commisioner ordered a bomb be dropped on a row house in West Philly killing 11 people including 5 children. It is amazing how much history I do not know. Find out more about it at Wikipedia.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Ireland Trip; or 50 Shades of Green

This past week I flew to Ireland to celebrate my late cousin Kevin's life with my parents and Uncle Billy. Before he had passed away, he had a vacation planned to Ireland with two of his good friends. They went after and scattered his ashes. We were headed there to see if we could find them and celebrate his life. Well actually my parents and Billy were headed there. They mentioned it in passing to me a while back and I latched on and invited myself along. They all being to polite to say no, graciously accepted my self-invitation.

Due to vacation time restrictions, I couldn't do the exact same days as them so our trip was staggered when I got there before them by a few days and then left before. Never having been to Ireland I wanted to try to get in as much as possible, especially on the days before my family arrived because I wasn't sure what exactly they would want to do.

So on the Thursday I arrived, after spending probably thirty minutes trying to park my car in the narrow confines of Dublin on the streets by my hotel(Word of Advice: get a hotel OUT of the city and take a bus or train in), I did a walking tour of the city.
Dublin has plenty of historic sights and doing either the Guinness or Jameson distillery tour is a necessity but after a day there, I had had enough and wanted out of the city.

I headed up to Northern Ireland and headed to the Mourne Wall. Note: My GPS told me it would  take about 1:45 to get there, but it took almost 2:30- Ireland is the only place I've ever driven where the speed limits aren't there as recommended speeds so much as the limit in which you can drive without dying. Suffice it to say, I drove under the speed limit for almost the entirety of the drive. Which was phenomenal. The Mourne Coastal Drive is an amazing drive, with walls and falls along the whole way(that's falls from cliffs not waterfalls). The entire windy road along the ocean is lined with stone walls that, seemingly, are there to ensure your car accident occurs on the road not someone's yard.

Speaking of which: my credit card usually covers car rental insurance but not in Ireland. Only one of the few places in the world where you need to purchase coverage through the car rental company. Which I highly recommend even though it is pricey.
Okay, so after making this amazing, albeit slow, drive to the car park for the Mourne Wall, I started on the Mourne Wall Challenge. The Mourne Wall is a 6 feet tall, 100 year old, stone wall that spans 22 miles over exposed mountainous terrain and takes in over 15 summits in the Mourne Mountains. The challenge is to cover all 22 miles of the trail following the Mourne wall in a day. I had done some cursory research and thought that I could do it in about 4 1/2 hours. No steep climbing and places that looked very runnable. Or so I thought.

The first mile is along an old road and ascends very gradually and was totally runnable. The wall the jogs left and starts climbing the first peak at which point I slowed to a hike. The terrain provided good footing and I quickly made it to the summit. The descent was a little more challenging with a fair amount of scree and not so good footing. You hit a col and then climb back up the next peak. After this summit, the wall and trail don't coincide as you head into the reservoir.
Lots of briars led to some cuts and scraps at this point but otherwise was feeling good and had covered about a quarter of the hike in 1:15. A little slower than I was expecting but the first half of the hike was supposed to be the hardest.

Things certainly became harder quickly. I left the wall to continue following the trail which the diverged in multiple directions(apparently sheep still roam this area and create their own paths).
 I chose the most direct one back towards the wall which, unbeknownst to me, brought me right through a bog(or muck as they call it). I started out hopping from spot to spot attempting to keep my feet dry but soon it became so mucky that I was doing everything in my power not to lose a shoe in the shoe(and soul) sucking muck. At one point, after a few solid steps, I took a misguided one and fell waist deep in muck so thick that I was really concerned about getting out. Luckily I had a branch I could pull myself out with and managed to scramble to solid ground. All told, there was about a 1/3 mile of this crap and it took me almost an hour to get through.

Now exhausted and wet(and stinking of bog), I encountered a series of peaks, although none independently were too long or challenging, combined into a mean mid-section of the hike. Luckily the views (almost) made up for it. During this entire time, I had not encountered another person hiking, but at the mid-way point, I came across a group of probably 15 college-aged kids looking like they were backpacking, a quick hello and I was on my way. More climbs and descents and I hit what I thought was the last summit. However, as there was a tower on the top, I found out that I still had three more peaks to go and I was able an hour behind time. So much for seeing Belfast or the Giant's Causeway, now I was just looking to get out in the light.

It was about this time that I was reminded of a "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell" skit where they were talking about a farmer in China that had a "pretty good wall of China" and was trying to make it a tourist attraction. "I know it's not a great wall but it is pretty good" . I thought that that was an apt name for the Mourne Mountains: The pretty good wall of Ireland. Except replace good with awful. I was so sick of hiking by this point and just wanted to be done. I smelled foul, probably looked worse and just realized that I had almost 6 more miles to go.

Like the weather in Ireland, my mood quickly changed as I came around a bend and was confronted with an amazing rainbow. How could I be upset? I was in Ireland, on this epic hike and surrounded by beauty. That was enough to get me out of my funk and jog/run the rest of the way back in. I still came up over an hour slower(5:40) but it gave me time to explore in the Bloody Bridge and Newcastle and a few other small towns along the coast.
I checked into my hotel for the night, showered, and scrubbed and scrubbed and showered, threw my shoes in the trash and fell immediately to sleep.

The next morning I headed back to Dublin Airport to pick up my parents and uncle. They had taken a direct flight(as opposed to my 14 hour journey which included a layover in Munich) from Boston so hadn't slept much but appeared ready to go. I had come up with an itinerary of sights to see as we journeyed across the country to Ennistymon where we had rented a cottage.

Castles and ruins was the main dish on this trip with, of course, food and drink thrown in for good measure.

That evening after settling in to our place, we drove over to the Cliffs of Moher(only about 10 minutes from our place). That place is amazing. Over 600 feet high, right into the ocean. There actually is a hiking trail along the cliffs and if my quads weren't totally shot, I probably would have considered doing it.

The next morning we slept in then headed to an Irish church. If you haven't done so, you should go to an Irish mass. The whole thing only lasts about 35 minutes and the priest, who looked eerily like Austin Powers, spoke in such a thick accent that I could only pick out about 1 word in three. Plus no singing and minimal kneeling. My kind of mass. Getting out of the parking lot probably took a longer time than the mass itself. From there we headed to Galway with a stop in Kinvara for lunch.
 In Galway we found two very different pubs, the first: Salt House is a microbrewery only pub that doesn't even sell Guinness. A little hipsterish but good assortment of good beers. The second was more of a locals pub to which we were drawn by the sound of Irish music. Sure enough, inside was live local music. It was a nice afternoon.
We got up early the next day because we were headed to the Ring of Kerry. This was the main reason for our trip and why we picked Ennistymon as our home base. This was the trip that Kevin had planned on going and it was also where his ashes are scattered. His friends who scattered it didn't give Billy a clear idea where it was just that it was somewhere on the Ring and they gave him a picture of the location. Beyond that it was anyone's guess. Billy had said just the night before that he had no intention of actually finding it, but rather was just going to be there for Kev.

As we headed to the Ring of Kerry, I was getting more and more nervous. The roads were filling up with tourists and there didn't seem to be much to it. We passed a few cute towns along the way but nothing spectacular. Little did I know that we weren't even on the Ring yet. Typically it starts and ends in Killarney but from where we started we didn't pick it up until Kilorglin(Yeah, I know, the Irish are a violent people with all this killing going around). Almost immediately after that I could see what the fuss was about. The snow-capped mountains abutting the ocean. So many shades of green that the 50 is probably an understatement but a good name for a book. The crowds had thinned out so I could drive as fast or slow as I wanted.
We also were able to take detours off the beaten path, one of which included a road barely wider than our car climbing higher and higher alongside a cliff. The ocean views would have been amazing if I could have seen through my tears. But seriously with every turn being a blind one and nowhere to go except down(did I mention that this road was two-way?), it may for a nerve wracking, and yet amazing, detour.

After lunch in the town of Sheem, my mother wanted to walk around a little so I encouraged them to go ahead and I'd follow with the car. Although they were still ahead of me, I stopped at a junction in the road and decided to park and run and get them rather than drive down one direction. After piling them all back in the car, I decided to go the other direction(the road seemingly less taken).

This was a good choice, it brought us to some amazing views and also right to the foot of the Kinlarney National Park.
After a quick jaunt to a waterfall we got back in the car.

 We drove by some lakes and something made me stop at the side of the road. By this time we were pretty much through with pictures not even slowing down at some of the sights. It had been a long day and this was the very end of it. However, we stopped and got out, and despite signs saying not to leave your car unattended(the first sign like this we had seen), we decided to walk down towards the water. I was drawn to a boat which made for a great photo with snow-capped mountains in the background. Billy quietly came up to me and said, I know it's impossible, but I think this is where Kevin's ashes are scattered.

Sure enough, after getting home and posting the photo on Facebook, the girl who had scattered his ashes confirmed that this was, in fact, the same spot. Out of the whole trip to have stopped at this one place. Serendipitous to say the least.

Now nothing could top that part of the trip but we tried to with a few more castles and ruins. I had to head back to Dublin before them so we parted ways the next day. I spent the evening on the beach at Donabate north of Dublin and the morning going on a nice run along it.

 It was a good way to end a nice Irish trip. A three hour lay-over in Switzerland with a good view of the Alps and then I was on my way home. A fantastic trip and so glad I could have been a part of it.

If you look back at how many times I used amazing, fantastic, good, great, beautiful, you might just wonder whether it should been called 50 shades of great. I am so glad that I invited myself along.