Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Jon Acuff

Lately I've become a big fan of Jon Acuff, author of the "Stuff Christians Like" blog.  Back when he was just getting started in that blog and his other writing endeavors, I wasn't too impressed.  The blog looked kind of hokey to me.

But I think he's refined his image and his message a lot in the last few years, getting both funnier and more serious.  I'm listening to his book "Quitter" as an audio book and am about halfway through it.  I've been amazed at his brutal honesty over his failures, and his realistic steps toward accomplishing dreams.  And that's each reader's dreams, not just his dream of becoming a writer.  I've been challenged by the specific steps this book has given me to just do better where I am in my daily life.  And it's continuing to reassure me that I really don't have a desire to be my own boss.  As much as that's a popular trend in our culture, it's not me.  I need the accountability of a boss and I like the security of a steady paycheck.

His blog post for today really struck me.  Where am I investing my time, money, efforts and energy?  "Arrive empty to the grave, having given all you were given, stewarded all you were tasked with."  Wow.

Saturday, May 25, 2013


This week I started down the path in fulfilling a longtime dream: getting my M-1 license.

For my birthday, I signed up for a motorcycle safety class.  The class consists of an in-class Wednesday night session and two road sessions on a Saturday/Sunday morning/afternoon.  This was the first week I was available for all three days.

I knew this class would be valuable for me just in making the decision to even get a bike.  As much as this is a dream fulfilled, I knew that the class might help me realize that it’s not for me after all.  For that reason, I didn't tell many people about taking this class.  Also, I know so many people are vehemently against motorcycles because of the increased danger factor, and I really wasn't in the mood for those debates when this is just the "I'm thinking about it" phase.  I think part of that is due to being so war-weary over the battles with my boss about the safety of me donating blood.  She's deathly afraid of needles and is convinced this is an unsafe endeavor for me.  I can't imagine what she'd do if she found out about this.

The in-class portion was informative but overwhelming.  It was a combination of video shorts and working through a textbook to answer questions.  I was wondering if I’d really be able to do this on an actual motorcycle.  As someone who actually forgot how to ride a bicycle and had to be taught a second time, I was a little wary.

I was very glad to know how to drive a stick shift.  There would have been no hope if not for that.

The other people in the class spread the gamut of all skill levels, from never having driven but having been a passenger (like me), to experienced riders who were now legalizing their riding.  There were about 24 people in the class, and we would be split into two groups that weekend morning vs. afternoon.  Probably 1/4 to 2/3 of the class was female.

I learned that motorcycle riders are a unique sub-culture.  There’s no standard profile of someone who rides a motorcycle, but there’s a shared bond over the love of riding.  The closest comparison I can think of is the deaf community.  For the short time I was in an ASL class, and from watching Switched at Birth, there’s a strong identity in just being deaf.  It’s not a militant “us against the world,” but there’s kind of a “we don’t quite fit the mold, and we don’t really want to anyway” mentality.

We were instructed to leave no skin showing below the neck for Saturday.  Boots covering the ankle, jeans/pants with no holes, long sleeve shirt and/or jacket, fill fingered gloves covering the wrist.  They would supply bikes and helmets.

I signed up for the afternoon session 1) so I wouldn’t have to be in Selma at 7 a.m. and 2) so I wouldn’t have to miss a third week of church in a row (Mothers’ Day and the half marathon keeping me away the prior two weeks).

Amy helped me wrap ace bandages around my knees from last week’s trampoline debacle.  I had suffered through wearing long pants M, W, R & F at work, taking Tuesday off for some reprieve from the agony of fabric rubbing over the burn areas.  But today I needed to be able to focus, so it was worth the effort to wrap them up, and the hair-pulling pain of taking the bandages off afterward.

I showed up at the range, which was a parking lot shared with a recycling center, and the instructors Randy & Jim went over range rules.  Jim had led our classroom session on Wednesday.  I wasn’t thrilled with either of them.  They were experienced riders, but I felt like it took a lot of pushing to get them to give the specific answers I needed to feel comfortable on my bike.  But thankfully I’ve learned to be very assertive when necessary, so I got the coaching I needed.

I really struggled at the beginning, but I finally started to get the hang of it.  The day was exhausting.  They provided water, but I was glad they told us to bring food and water.  It was hot out, but being on the bikes meant we stayed pretty cool from moving around.  One thing I’d discover later is that I’d skipped sunscreen.  I had been expecting to get a full face helmet, but they only had 3/4 helmets in my size, so my face and neck were exposed.  I'm pretty red.  When I got home, I just stood in a cold shower for several minutes trying to pull out some of the burn.  I think it helped.

By the end of it today, I was exhausted, but so encouraged.  I was legitimately thinking about getting a motorcycle.  We’ll see how tomorrow goes!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

California Classic Half Marathon 2013 - Part 2

I went home from the party battered and bruised.  I yanked off the band-aids (actually, I had to have Amy do it because I couldn't inflict the hair-pulling pain on myself) and applied Neosporin, but the band-aids were so painful coming off that I didn't want to put on more.  As a result, my exposed wounds were incredibly tender and itchy, that trying to sleep last night was difficult.

I probably only slept four hours--if that.  I was miserable upon waking up.  I tried to sleep a little later just to get in a few more z's.  I was dizzy and nauseous, two less-common but acceptable symptoms of sleep deprivation.  Thankfully I had laid out everything the night before, so not much thought was required in getting out the door.  I found a place to park with only moderate difficulty.  Made it through the bathroom line with just enough time to get to the start line.  Saw a few friends.  My buddy Brandon and I decided to start together.  He's a triathlete and running is his weakest event, and he was only shooting for 2h30m.  I was aiming for 1h50m, and he was okay trying to stick with me for awhile.  He's in much better shape than I am overall, and he normally runs faster than I anyway, so I figured he'd be able to do it.  Heidi had come out to cheer for me and our Bible study leader Sandy, so we saw her for the first time near the end of mile 2.  Brandon and I stayed together for a little over 2 miles before he veered off for the portable bathrooms along the course.

One odd thing about this race is that there were no mile marker signs.  If not for my Garmin watch, I wouldn't have know how far along I was on the course.  I'm not sure if it was a good or bad thing to not have signage.

We had started behind the 1:50 pacer (actually behind all the pacers because they were jammed so close to the front and we couldn't get through), but I caught up to within 30 feet of him and held there through mile 7.  During mile 3, I passed girl with a full-size sandwich board sign that read "Free Gummy Bears."  I had decided not to run with gu (big mistake given how lousy I was feeling) so I pointed to her for some, and she was flat out ecstatic that yet another person wanted some of her gummy bears.  She may have been a teenager, but could have been in her 20's.  Her exuberance reminded me of Lisa L.  I exclaimed "God bless you" with relief as she dumped a handful into my cupped hand.

We ran through the Tower District and then into Roeding Park.  We were running through the zoo on mile 6.  It was actually pretty nice, and I considered that maybe it was time to lift my boycott of the zoo (another rant for another blog post another day).  But then I realized I wasn't thinking clearly and abandoned that thought.

Mile 7 was where things started to go downhill.  I was so exhausted, and my knees were in so much pain that I couldn't even tell if I was actually experiencing any running pain or if it was just from my wounds.  The spectators were few and far between, probably because the participant numbers were also down, so it was hard to keep morale up.  I promised best friend status to almost everyone holding a sign or ringing a cowbell.  I would start crying almost every time I pass a big cheering group.

The 1:50 pacer pulled further and further ahead of me, and was out of sight by mile 10.  My calves were cramping around mile 9 through the end.  I would occasionally throw out a really deep groan from the pain.  I wanted this race over.  Heidi was there mid- both miles 10 and 11.  I finished mile 11 and I had to walk.  I didn't let myself walk for longer than a tenth of a mile, but I had to do that 3 times in mile 12 and twice in the final mile.

I was eyeing my watch, trying to make sure I'd still be able to PR.  I wanted to break 1:58 so badly.  I ran into the baseball stadium and heard Shawna (who was one of the announcers) announcing the gun time (which was about a minute ahead of my chip time) of 1:57, so I poured everything into it, sprinting for home plate.  I flashed a smile for the jumbo-tron and the cameras, and screamed with relief when I crossed the finish line.  I received my medal and started chugging water.  I had carried a bottle of water and had a cup of water or Gatorade at almost every aid station, and I was still thirsty.  These past few months I've needed to carry more water when I run, even for my short training runs, so I was glad to know that going into this race.

Then we actually had to climb the stadium stairs to get up to the finishers arena.  Not fun, but I survived.  And then I ATE.  I drank a lot of water.  I had two bowls of Coldstone ice cream, two plates of breakfast (pancakes, sausage, strawberries, bananas, bagels).  I hadn't realized we'd need our ID's for our free beer, and I wasn't carrying mine, so I was resigned to forego it, but my friend Chad didn't want his, so he got one and gave it to me.

I walked around for awhile, saying hi to various friends I hadn't realized were running today.  When I finally went to leave, I discovered with dismay that my car key had come loose from the knot in my running shorts drawstring.  And I had only worn those shorts because I couldn't wear my normal track pants which I know had a better drawstring material for retaining knots.  My mind started racing.  I hadn't carried my phone because it was too heavy on these shorts.  I had nothing on me except my music player.

I went back into the race arena.  I tried to call Amy using a security guard's phone because she's the only number I have memorized because she's always my emergency contact on race forms.  She didn't answer either because she was in church or didn't recognize the number.  So I went back inside figuring I'd find a friend.  If I could at least get a ride home, I could clean up and then get another ride back with a spare key.  I found my friends Larry & Rebecca first, and they were about to leave themselves.  They graciously dropped me off at home, and I logged onto FB from my laptop to let Heidi know what was going on, since we had plans to go to church after I got home.  So instead of me picking her up, she came and picked me up.  I showered while I waited for her, and when I finished cleaning up, she was waiting in my living room.  I tried to stretch a little more before we left, but I got dizzy from that and had to lay down for a minute.  We finally made it back to my car, abandoned the plan for church because my knees were hurting so badly, and I BBQ'd lunch for us instead.

All in all, I'm glad I ran.  It was a rough test of endurance, and I'm grateful to have passed.  But wow, I hope I never have a racing day this tough again.

California Classic Half Marathon 2013 - Part 1

I need to blog about this quickly so I don't forget all the details of it.  And because I tend to put off getting around to blogging about big events in my life.

I wasn't originally going to run this race.  Last year's (that I didn't run because I was running a half marathon the same day in Portland) apparently did not go well.  The weather was insanely hot for May and the aid stations all ran out of water way too soon.  Sign-ups definitely declined this year because of that debacle.  But after the bombings and the Boston race last month, I felt like I had to run.  And I was really struggling to be diligent about staying in shape even though it was warming up.

I was going to register for the two-person relay with my friend Todd, and his wife Alicia and our friend Amy were also going to relay it.  I decided I wanted to be paired with Todd because he's even faster than I am at short distances, whereas the women are slower than us.  At our speeds, Todd and I actually had a chance (albeit a small one) to place for one of the cash prizes.  Then we found out the per-person price was the same whether you ran the whole 13.1 or just half the course.  As an accountant, I understand that your costs incurred are mostly per-person, but there is a perceived loss of value in paying the same price to run 6-7 miles instead of 13.1, and they lost three registrations because the three of them weren't interested in paying that price.  So I registered for the half solo.

I went to the expo on Thursday for packet-pickup.  I'm always a little letdown at Fresno's race expos.  I've been spoiled by the elaborate Rock 'n' Roll expos with so many booths and sponsors you actually get lost in the convention centers.  But there were some fun moments.  I walked up to a booth selling solar energy equipment, genuinely curious, and asked the rep to give me his spiel.  He smiled, stood up, took a deep breath, and started off with "How much is your monthly electric bill?"  I gave him the number range, and then corrected myself saying that was total PG&E, that just electric would be less than that.  His face fell the slightest bit, and he replied, "Then my spiel is, have a nice day."  He was very nice about it.  I explained that I have a swamp cooler and that my house is pretty well insulated.  He sighed, saying, "Those swamp coolers are killing us."  Apparently I couldn't get per-month cost savings to justify the installation costs.  That made me unbelievably happy.

I bypassed the free massage booth.  I historically haven't found them good enough to be worth the wait in line, so I decided not to bother this time.  I was specifically looking for the Trail of Two Cities (Fresno/Clovis' November half marathon) booth.  They were offering two free gear items from past years' races if you signed up for this year's race at the expo.  I didn't know yet whether I'd want to run the half or the full, but you can change that at that expo and just pay the price difference.  Since the price difference doesn't increase, I decided to save the $15 now, because it won't be refunded if I drop from the full to the half.

Then I saw the Wascally Rabbit (Fresno's September half marathon) booth.  This will be the second year for this race.  This race benefits kids aging out of the foster care system.  Many of these kids can qualify for full-tuition financial aid, but have no resources for housing, books, etc., and as a result, pass on the chance to go to college and just enter the minimum wage work force and/or often end up homeless.  I couldn't run this last year because it was on our company's fiscal year-end, so I was counting inventory, but it's a week earlier this year.  And there was a ten-dollar discount for signing up at this expo.  They were also giving away shirts and medals from last year's race.  The shirt has a female version of Bugs Bunny leaning forward in a provocative fashion, so that went in the goodwill bag when I got home.  At first I thought it was cool to get last year's inaugural medal, but when I got home, I was saddened that they were giving them away to people who didn't run.  I feel like it cheapens it for the people who ran and earned these medals last year.

A key element of this race story is what happened the night before.  Last night, I went to Joshua's 7th birthday party.  I had Joshua in my Kindergarten Sunday School class.  I plan on taking him and his older brother Kyle (9, who I had in my VBS group when he was in first grade) on the CBC father/son campout in July, so I skipped our monthly Spades night to go to the party.  The party was at a place called 2extreme, a playplace with dozens of trampolines.  You can bounce by the hour or have birthday parties hosted there.

I was a little nervous about going to the party knowing I had the race the next morning.  I've never been huge on trampolines because I get headaches from jumping too high on the big ones, but I was really more concerned about twisting an ankle this time.  Thankfully none of the individual trampolines were that huge, there were just four large arrays of them.  There were padded mats in between each one, and carpet separating the four areas.  One of the areas had an adjacent pit filled with 1-cubic-foot foam blocks.  Ryan & Elika, Kyle & Josh's dad and stepmom were there already, but their mom Tiffany was running behind.  I signed the waiver, got a wristband, took off my shoes and started jumping.  I was the only adult jumping to start.  But after about fifteen minutes, Ryan started jumping too.  Tiffany, Elika, and the other kids' mom stayed on picture duty.  At first I was getting the lay of the land, and then got more confident in sprinting across.  I eventually ditched my socks too.  I was glad I had learned from previous parties and brought a hand towel along, because I was sweating like crazy.

I launched the boys into the foam block pit several times, and later games of tag broke out.  Somewhere in there, Kyle was chasing after me and I misjudged distance and landed on the carpet area instead of another trampoline.  I fell forward and scrapped a half-dollar-sized piece of skin off each knee in rug burns.  Man those HURT!  I knew band-aids weren't worth the effort yet since we were still jumping, so I just got kept a wet paper towel in my pocket and kept dabbing it periodically.  When our hour of jump time was up, I asked for band-aids and Neosporin.  They only had the standard-size band-aids but no Neosporin.  I was shocked but tried to keep my "You idiots run a playplace for children and don't stock Neosporin?" face and voice at bay.

We then got the kids into the party room and handed out chips and capri-suns while we waited for the cake.  The staff brought it in, Josh blew out his candles, and they took it away to cut and plate with ice cream.  It was going pathetically slow, so I stepped into help by delivering some plates and ultimately cutting the cake.  I was really surprised that they were this inexperienced in flow of events.  But Josh had fun and that's what mattered.