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Running across America, sort of.

August 25, 2011

This current training cycle has been full.  Full of miles, full of travel, full of adventure.  I committed myself to both intensity (hard, speed workouts) and endurance (frequent, long runs) in preparing for the St. George Marathon, in the hopes that I’d be able to handle both quality and quantity of miles in the build-up.

The intense workouts are usually the less interesting ones but without them there’s no chance that  my legs will be accustomed to running 7:20-something miles for well over three hours.  And they aren’t much fun, with mile repeats (running hard a mile, catching my breath, going again), tempo runs (that get increasingly more uncomfortable for an hour or so), and hill work (painful and sometimes demoralizing).  But, in absolute terms, I’m getting faster; a 6-something  mile no longer rips me up and downhill I can string  quite a few of them together without much cardio pain.  But it is the long runs that I enjoy most and I’ve been piling them up recently.

Looking back over the last almost-12 weeks, I tallied up the days I ran at least 10 miles and found that I hit double-digit miles 18 times*.  The mix of terrain included high desert mesas and mountain trails, parks, country and cloud forest roads, a solid race, and a few long treadmill runs.  The training, especially the long runs, has taken me to some of the most beautiful and diverse areas of the country from home in blazing hot Austin, to mercifully flat but humid St. Louis in the Midwest, to the wide open rolling high desert in northern New Mexico, to the unparalleled Rocky Mountains bordering Boulder, and now to the cool forested slopes and pristinely sandy coast of Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.

64 runs in less than 3 months.  In 5 different states, at sea level and over 13,000 feet, with a stocked pack or nothing but shoes and shorts, across thigh-high creeks and patches of snow and traffic and over snakes and around sheep and while running along cyclists and trains and angry dogs . Some running with friends, old and new, and lots of solitary miles through city centers and rugged, remote wilderness, and on the spinning belts of treadmills, which are indifferent to my pain and fatigue and often push me to my physical limits.  It has been quite a whirlwind summer and I feel like I’m doing the right things to see what my best performance can be on October 1st.

I have just a handful of really challenging runs planned over the next couple of weeks before I start tapering for the race.  Some days I question myself, how I’ll be able to perform on race day, if I’m doing everything just right.  But, I know that I’m happy and that these last few months have been some of the most fun, most exciting, most interesting, and most challenging of my life.  I wouldn’t trade the experiences I’ve had, even for a big PR, and I can’t say how fortunate I feel to be able to have the support of friends and family, along with the health and motivation,  to continually explore the world and my own capabilities.

It really is worth mentioning that many – perhaps most – of the phenomenal experiences Alison, Sagan, and I have enjoyed over the last few years have centered around extensive travel to interesting places around the U.S. and the world.  The vast majority of the places we’ve gone, including long stretches in Dublin, Edinburgh, Amsterdam, Manhattan, Boulder, Kona, and multiple stays in Taos and Santa Fe, have been arranged through home swapping.  While many people unfamiliar with this type of travel question our sanity, I wonder why anyone wouldn’t want to do this.  I mean, this is one of the current the views, overlooking the Pacific Ocean from 2600 feet above Kona, Hawaii:

 And two weeks ago it was this (Boulder, Colorado):

And a month ago it was this (Taos, New Mexico):

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The cost for staying in the gorgeous homes at these remarkable locations?  $0.00.  That’s right, it’s free.  And, unlike the artificial and obscenely expensive hotel experience, we have multiple bedrooms that can accommodate family and friends, full kitchens for making snacks or full meals, space to spread out, and yards to play in, a local experience, and, more often than not, a vehicle to get around and toys for the kid(s).  And, depending on the house and location, we’ve had bikes, kayaks, paddleboards, trampolines, snorkel equipment, camping gear, maps, travel guides, workout rooms, DVDs, and, as it so happens on this trip, all-we-can-eat avocados.

The one in the middle is the size of a “normal” grocery store avocado (really, compare it to the bottom of the coffee maker):

For those of you with the lifestyle flexibility to work remotely (internet and phone service is everywhere, you know), there is a whole world of opportunity out there.   With many months of exchanges under our belts, Alison and I are enthusiastic advocates of home exchanging and we’re happy to explain more about how it works.  Just ask.

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*More for my own reference than anything else, here are my days of at least 10 miles over the last 11ish weeks:

6/3 15M Austin

6/10 18M Austin

6/17 10M Austin

6/21 17M Austin

7/1 20M STL

7/8 12M Austin

7/16 30K race Austin

7/19 18M Taos

7/20 21M Taos

7/21 15M Taos/Santa Fe

7/22 15M Santa Fe

7/26 14M Taos

8/4 20M Boulder

8/14 21M Boulder

8/19 12M Austin

8/21 10M Austin

8/23 10M Kona

8/25 10M Kona

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