Saturday, October 29, 2005

In the Long Run
With the marathon five weeks off, I've only got a week or two to improve my fitness and to reintroduce my body (and my mind) to going long. Last Saturday, after a long break, I ran eight miles. Today, I went for 16. The pace, 8:36/mile, was a bit slower than what I hope to run in Death Valley. Interestingly, though, my splits were negative until the last mile. That was encouraging. But the last mile wasn't. Man, I wasn't starting to ache.

Friday, October 28, 2005

I talked to a man late yesterday afternoon, and within a few hours or so of our conversation he was dead. I heard the news this morning when I called a professional acquaintance who also knew the man. Before the call, it was clear to me that the man I would soon discover to be dead -- who would leave behind a wife and 9-year-old daughter, named Grace -- was going to be mentioned in the call. He was tangled up in the issue we were likely to talk about. Before the call, before I knew the news, the fact that he would come up in the call -- in a not-focal but also not-tangential way -- gave me a good feeling. I wasn't extremely close to the man and can't claim to have known the breadth of his life at all, but in a narrow range that seemed to be widening we had come to know each other and I liked the man -- his energy, his passion, his quick, funny, slightly crazy mind. I knew that when the professional acquaintance and I talked about the man there was likely to be knowing laughter and probably a few tales told about something he had said in a particular way; possibly a minor denunciation or two as well; and certainly much appreciation and respect.

His name was Patrick Wofford. He ran a business here in Wine Country, Benchmark Consulting, working with many of the major wine companies and organizations to find winemakers, marketers, sales personnel, executives, you name it. Patrick's company brought me to Wine Country, from a freelance-writing career (don't laugh, it paid the bills) in the Applegate Valley in southern Oregon to Napa to toil for the late great Patrick and I didn't work together much on that position, although I remember him coming in for the close. Before his firm would endorse me for the position he had to vet me. He wanted to make sure I wouldn't, as he put it, "End up a dead cat on his doorstep." I gathered this was a headhunter's way -- or at least Patrick's -- of saying he didn't want me to fail in and/or bail from the job, which would not only jeopardize his fee but would also injure his reputation. I got the sense, too, that it would just plain piss him off. Maybe this is a reflection of my own insecurities and my indecisiveness about my professional life, but I thought at the time he was insightful to press me a bit.

The Sonoma and Napa wine industry is a small universe and when there's a halfway decent job available out there everyone knows about it and, I suspect, everyone with an IQ higher than his age and a moment's experience gets a call from the headhunter doing the search. After coming to Napa, this is how I really got to know Patrick. Patrick never asked me where I thought I'd be in five years. He never asked me to tell him why I was the most qualified person for a particular job (though he did advise me to have good answers to those questions, since the employer might ask them). Whenever our on-again off-again dialog resumed, it was always as though we'd just left off yesterday even if it was really two or three months ago. We'd say hi and we were off and yacking. Patrick was a good listener. He'd listen and when I was finished with an answer, he'd say, "Yeah," and he'd pause, and then he'd shoot me something like, "You're not ready for this job and I think you know that." I didn't think Patrick's judgment was perfect but I thought it was remarkably good. I trusted him. So I'd seriously entertain whatever he said and once in a while, try to change his mind. And he wasn't afraid to change his mind, at least, not with me.

Patrick and I talked for about a half-hour late on the day he died. Yesterday. I was on my cell phone, outside under a weak storm's gathering gray, daylight fading, cars heading toward Highway 29 on First Street, our little downtown Napa emptying, life rolling forward. And this is how our conversation wrapped up:

PATRICK: Hey, are you dating yet?
ME: Well, I haven't been on dates. But I wouldn't say that's a result of a decision not to date.
PATRICK: You know what I mean. Are you far enough through the shit that you can date? Are you there yet?
ME: I don't know. I don't know. Maybe I'll say that, uh, I think maybe I'm to the point where I want to find out whether I'm ready to date or not.
PATRICK: I don't know if I want to inflict you on this person.
ME: I'll be cool. I won't be manipulative. You know me Patrick. I don't try to hide things. She'll know as soon as I know if I'm still a basket case.
PATRICK: Yeah. Maybe. I'll think about it and talk to her.

I laughed and so did he. And we said our good-byes.

I haven't gotten the details yet, but apparently, later that night, Patrick had a heart attack. In talking today to some folks who knew him, I learned it wasn't his first, and that his father had died of a heart attack. Someone recalled Patrick once saying he didn't think he'd get a lot of years. Maybe that explained the gusto he brought to life. He served on various committees and ran for City Council a couple of times, narrowly losing one bid. He was a man everyone in the industry knew or knew of and he was one of those people, from what I could see, who made the world a more interesting, richer place.
I've been sleeping more the last couple of weeks. I feel better. My view now is that if I can sleep a minimum of seven hours a night, and most often get eight hours, I will have a happier life.


I did a short run and a swim or two in the week following the October 9 Berryessa half, but with a cold settling in and then lingering, and with Niko under my exclusive watch for a long stretch, ended up doing nothing beyond walking to and from work for the week that followed. Now I'm getting back into it. Six days ago did an eight-mile run, slow and easy. Felt a little rusty but good. Swam 1000 yards yesterday, first swim in 10 days, and that was freaky. Whoa, water! By the end of the swim it began to make sense again. Then I did an evening run and that was remarkable. I didn't feel strong, exactly. I could tell my stamina was limited. But my legs had never felt fresher. I'm sure that I could have done a PR for a 2- or 3-miler (not that I have a known PR for either of those distances). This leaves me thinking that rest is good.

Did I say that already?

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Napa Vintage Half-Iron Triathlon
What next? That's what I'm wondering now. One thing is certain: No more triathlons this year. Last Sunday's half-iron swim-bike-run gaggle up at Lake Berryessa marked the end of the season. ("Season." That's far too grandiose a term to describe my periodic exertions, but anyway it's over.) It ended well. The sun shone; the field was small and friendly; I didn't fall or flat; I didn't barf; and I started what I finished.

Took me six hours and fifteen minutes, which is more than half an hour longer than my best half. But it was a tougher course than Vineman. Part of the swim went right into the damn sun and most of the time I was either off-course or stopping to see if I was off-course yet. And then I turned at a buoy when I was supposed to go straight and one of the kayak dudes had to redirect me. That cost me a minute and some pride.

Nevertheless, when I did know my way my swim was steady and relatively strong. I climbed out of the water onto the concrete boat ramp at Putah Creek Resort about 39 minutes after the starting horn blared.

The bike ride was beautiful, through the rolling hills that divide our mild, Mediterranean inland valley from the Big Valley, with its wicked hot summers and cold fog-bound winters. The terrain was brown and the grasses and the trees seemed crisp and just about ready for the rainy season to begin. Aromas of sage, fennel, hay and other plants were carried by the breeze, which blew from the northwest at first then turned a bit and came warmer from the northeast. We never quite had the wind at our backs, nor did it ever feel like we had to fight it. But there were always hills and twists and turns. It was a ride where developing a rhythm wasn't easy. And, too, with only 88 athletes going (and a healthy number dropping out along the way), it was lonely out there. There were stretches of 10, 15 miles where I didn't see a single rider. This made it a challenge not to take it easy on the ride, which was fine. From the start of the day my body had felt a little off, my throat a bit scratchy and my sinuses congested. I mostly convinced myself that it would be dangerous to dip deep into the energy pool -- everything I had would probably be necessary just to finish. So I didn't hammer any climbs and I coasted the declines. Once or twice I scolded myself for being such a weenie, but then I told myself that maybe this year, maybe this October, maybe this day, just being out there was proving enough to myself.

Anyway, the suffering would come. What was it about that run? Well, I was on the asphalt between 1 and 3 p.m. and the temperature was 85 degrees and there was no shade, so that wasn't ideal. They had us go about 2.2 miles out and 2.2 miles back, once, twice, three times. Each time out, there was about 200 feet of vertical ascent and 100 feet of vertical descent. And of course the reverse coming back. The big climbs came on long, gentle curves, giving you a long opportunities to contemplate the hard work ahead.

The mind games this setup engendered were interesting and intense. On the plus side, it was easy to measure my progress. At each turnaround I could do a simple calculation: One-sixth done. One-third. Halfway. Etc. But I found this focus on where I was -- on, When will this agony be over? -- to be tiring and distracting. I felt disconnected from my actual performance, clueless as to how hard (or not) I was going. My first out-and-back split was around 36 minutes -- well under nine minutes a mile. Then came splits of 42 and 46 minutes. Who knew? All I knew, constantly, was where I was on the course and what that meant I had done and had left to do.

When I headed toward the start/finish for the last time the guy at the turnaround said, "How many is that?" "That's it," I said. "I'm done." The PA guy overheard me and said, "That's Pete Danko from Napa. Stick a fork in him, he's done."

I picked up my medal and a bottle of water and headed down the ramp into the water -- 66 degrees, they said. That was a good ten minutes. Then, as I gathered my gear and took it to the car, the PA guy reminded us about the "great beef enchilada dinner" that was waiting for us. The mere thought had my stomach doing flips, so I picked up my T-shirt and began the hour and a quarter drive home. After about 15 minutes, my body was screaming for calories. I pulled over at a little grocery and got a ginger ale. Sipping it felt like I had been hooked into an IV; my muscles and stomach relaxed, and the fuzziness in my head began to clear.

The morning after, on Monday, I woke up with a full-fledged cold, concentrated in the sinuses. So: That was a triathlon done at less than 100 percent. OK. That explains some things.

Now I'm feeling significantly better. I did two very light swims during the week and am contemplating an easy, not-long run this morning.

Here's what I'm thinking for the next few months: Run, run, run. Long slow runs. Low intensity! And maybe -- if I can swing it with the work and family schedule -- do the Death Valley Borax Marathon on December 3. I love triathlon, but sometimes the effort and complexity of putting together the three disciplines can feel like too great a burden. Plus, the races are becoming outrageously expensive. I was going to do an Olympic distance tri in November, but it was $125 for early registration, and $140 for regular registration. Meanwhile, I can do a marathon in one of the more amazing spots in the world for less than half that.

The numbers:
Swim: 39:29
T1: 4:43.2
Bike: 3:23:17.1
T2: 2:40.4
Run: 2:05:17.4
Total: 6:15:28.3
17th out of 34 male finishers

Friday, October 07, 2005

Weekend Fun
The best laid plans.... Niko is ailing, though just one of the 2-a-day-for-10-days Amoxicillin doses prescribed by Dr. Carrillo appears to be making inroads already. It really is a whopping dose: He's getting 1,250mg of the stuff a day, about 60mg/kg of body weight. Always-dangerous Internet research shows this is the new protocol for ear/sinus infections (Niko apparently has the latter), after years of 20-40mg/kg being the norm.
Meanwhile, I've got a scratchy throat and feel run-down. Harbinger of things to come? I'm guessing not. I think the half-iron action will happen on Sunday. Maybe not "as planned," but it'll happen.