Monday, November 12, 2012

A Very Long Overdue Rest

WAIS Divide Antarctica....Where I'm headed in 12 days.

After going essentially non-stop for over a year, I have finally decided that I need some time to heal.  2012 was surely an unforgettable year for me; one that will likely stand alone when I look back on my book of life accomplishments.  But the nagging and annoying "tweaks" have been compounding.  As much as I try to wish things away, or tell myself that I don't get injured, the time has come to finally face some demons.  I unquestionably and absolutely battered my body this year.  There is no doubt about this fact.  I trained for Barkley, then ran it.  Less than three weeks later I was running a 50k, and then Massanutten two weeks after that.  Then came Finger Lakes, Badwater, Leadville, Pine Creek, and Oil Creek.  All the while I was putting in 50+ mile weeks without ever taking more than a day or two off.  There's only so much advil and ice can do.

I desperately want to run some great, NEW, races next year.  Depending on lotteries, this could include Hardrock, Western States, or various other venues.  I want to be healthy and enjoy my time on the trails.  I realize by taking time off, the body loses fitness, but this is the best time for me to take some down time.  I am headed to Antarctica in two weeks anyway, and I will have time once rested to ramp up again before the race season begins.  If I keep up the running, I'll never heal properly and just keep exacerbating existing problems.

  • Last June (2011), I ran the Rothrock 30k.  During this race, at about mile 15, I bashed my right front toe on a rock.  I felt something change in my toe, and it's never been the same.   I tried taking 5 days off last year, but it wasn't enough.  After continued pain, I finally saw a doctor early this year, and was told that it was not a broken bone, nor classic turf-toe...but was instead osteoarthritis in the joint of my toe.  The x-ray clearly showed that when I bashed my toe, all the cartilage between my 1st and 2nd toe bones was somehow destroyed.  In the x-ray, the two bones were touching as opposed to all of the other bones in my toe that showed a notable space between them.  What this all means is that when I bend my big toe certain ways, or push off it in certain ways, the two bones rub, it hurts....and likely irritates the joint only more.  While the symptoms do seem to come and go, the overall problem is still there.  I don't know that it will ever heal properly, but some time off is one way to test this.  Thankfully, the whole situation has seemed to settle into an equilibrium where my toes hurts when I run, but never "stings" like when I first incurred the injury.  Still, if I push off that toe in just the right way, it can bite.
  • Earlier this year, after finishing the Barkley, I should have taken a couple of weeks off.  Any sane person would have.  I did not.  I kept right on pushing.  I ran a 50k and then a ridiculously hard 100-miler : Massanutten.  At some point around this time I started noticing some nagging pain in my right heel.  I assumed it would go away....but it never did.  I continued to after day, race-after-race....and it never went away.  It waxed and waned, but remained.  I was always in denial, just assuming it would be like every other ultra-related ache or pain.  I assumed it would just go away....which is what my pains always do.  But it didn't.  It is now 7 months later, and my heel still hurts almost every day.  Some days it's almost unnoticeable, and I think that maybe it's finally healed, but then after a few runs it's back with a vengeance.  I run in my Hokas for a while thinking it will help, and perhaps it does; it's likely psychosomatic.  Is it a spur?  Is it the dreaded Plantar Fasciitis?  Who knows.  I just know it's never had a chance to properly heal.
  • Two weeks ago, I ran my last ultra of the season a short two weeks after running a new 100-mile PR at the Oil Creek 100.  During this 50k (Fire on the Mountain), I was having a blast, until somewhere around mile 25.  It was then that I noticed the outside of my right knee was extremely painful.  I did what most ultrarunners would do, I popped a tylenol and kept on running.  After the race, the pain subsided and I went worries.  Since that day, on every one of my runs, that knee pain angrily returns every time I hit the 4-mile mark.  No matter how gingerly I run, I hit about 4 miles, and I begin hobbling.  Not good.  

There came a point on my run last week, around mile 5, where I realized I was hobbling with knee pain, always careful of how I was pushing off with my right big toe (so as not to make it "bite"), while also wearing my Hokas so that my heel wouldn't hurt too much.  I quite literally stopped in the middle of the trail about a half-mile from my apartment, having an epiphany of sorts, while in utter amazement at how ridiculously stupid I was being.  I walked home cursing myself the entire way and asking the oh-so-poingnant question of "what kind of idiot runs on three nagging injuries?"

Just a few weeks ago I was reading a story about the U.S Running Streak Association.  I was in utter disbelief with the fact that there are people out there, so stubborn, that they have run at least one mile every day since before I was born.  I realize some people call this dedication...and perhaps it starts that way.  But somewhere along the line, after a few years, it turns into an obsessive compulsive disorder.  I was reading stories in the forums about how people ran in place on planes as they crossed international date-lines so that they didn't "miss a day".  I saw people explaining the logic to purposely stalling the finishing of a 100 miler so that they finished after midnight...thereby logging at least one mile the next calendar day.  I read, jaw agape, at how people run through airports or in bathrooms to make their miles.  I read about people running with broken feet, or legs.  People running while sick with the flu, with 102 degree temps, or immediately after surgeries.  I read about how people stress about accidentally falling asleep and breaking their 20-year streaks.  It is absolutely an obsessive compulsive disorder.  I cannot fathom running for a reason like this...especially one that taps into such an obsessive personality trait.  I think running a streak could be fun, and exciting....but keeping a streak for decades becomes a way of life and a commitment that I simply cannot comprehend.

And yet here I am running on a three injuries.  What the hell for?  I run because I love being outdoors, and staying in shape.  This can be done by hiking, biking, roller blading, whatever.  And so here we  Up until now, I've sort-of convinced myself that I'll just be relegated to running with pain from now on.  But that is not the right attitude.  My body is trying to tell me something, and I haven't been listening.  I am now.

I am taking some time off.  I will ride my bike and I will enjoy some easy hikes on local trails...but these running legs are taking a wee break.  How long?  Don't know...until things feel right.

For's time to head off to my 2nd home on the icy continent down below. I come.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

My 2¢ on the 2012 Election

Talking politics on what is normally an "outdoors" and/or "hiking/running" blog can be quite risky.  Any time you elect to bring up a subject where people's beliefs weigh heavily into the discussion, means you will likely get many, shall we say, "spirited" comments.  Still after sitting through last night's results, and thinking a lot about how various races turned out, I've been thinking a lot about what it all might be telling us about the evolving mindset of our nation....and why perhaps so many GOP candidates find themselves on the losing end of their respective battles.  Over the past 6 months or so, I've tried to be very open-minded about the campaign and the politics leading into yesterday's elections.  I've listened to a lot of NPR, read a lot of web commentary (from both sides), and have listened to heavily conservative news radio. I am a registered independent and I want to hear what everyone is thinking.  I have even peeked in on the the cooky and fringe sites that exist on both sides of the know the ones.  Crazy conspiracies abound.  In all of my reading, I've found genuine concerns and noble ideas from both sides of the spectrum.   

It's pretty clear that the GOP took a bit of a blow last night.  True, the Republicans will maintain their slight majority in the House, but in general, last night was a big win for the Democrats.  On most of the websites I read this morning I keep seeing the same question, "Why did the Republicans Lose?".  Not so much, "Why did the Democrats Win?" So after compiling my thoughts this morning after the results have all been tallied, here is my own answer that I've come up with to that question.   Obviously this is my opinion alone, and is only meant as food-for-thought.

Why did Republicans Lose Last Night?
  • Because Americans are moving more and more away from the idea of a religion-based society.  When you listened to concession speeches of Republican candidates last night, you heard a lot about "God this...", "Jesus that...", and "...He can never be elected off of His throne...".   What in part makes this country so wonderful is the idea that we are all FREE to practice our religion of choice.  Whether it be Christianity, Hinduism, Baha'i, Judaism, Islam, name it.    The more and more modern people are hearing politicians talk like this, the more and more I feel they are being turned off.  People don't want a Theocracy.  NPR ran a story a few weeks ago about how today has the highest percentage of people identifying themselves as being associated with "no religion" as has ever been seen in the past.  It seems people are truly wanting to keep their religious beliefs and practices as more of a personal choice, keeping it out of politics and the public discourse, and not aggressively evangelizing it anymore.  I want desperately for this country to preserve this fundamental right.  Everyone...and I mean EVERYONE has right to worship how he/she sees fit.  But I pose a thought to you.  Can you imagine if a candidate that lost his/her election, gave a concession speech praising Xenu and that Xenu has plans for us all?  Or if he or she gracefully accepted defeat, and then praised Allah?  It seems sometimes that we have freedom of religion, but not freedom from religion; specifically Christianity.  People WANT separation of Church and State.  People want a society built upon ethics and humanitarianism, not biblical morals.  I long for the day that this great nation becomes one that has a foundation of secular humanism....but one where people can and will still hold dear their own religious beliefs, and practice them without persecution.   A nation where Science and Reason are held in high regard, but a nation where there will always be a place for philosophy and religion...and freedom to worship how you see fit.  Much like what I saw and experienced when I was in Japan.
  • Because people are tired of bigotry, hatred, and elitism.  Last night I watched as early favorites Todd Akin, and Richard Mourdock both lost their Senate bids.  I also watched as Maine and Maryland voted for equal marriage rights for same-sex couples (and possibly Washington - still being tallied I think).  I watched as people like political commentator Bill O'Reilly said things like, "The white establishment is now the minority", and I watched as results numbers showed that the Republican presidential candidate only won 21% of the Latino vote (as compared to 31% in '08, and 40% in '04).  I watched as Hawaii not only elected the first ever Japanese-born, Asian-American, Buddhist woman to the US Senate (Mazie Hirono), but also elected the first practicing Hindu, Tulsi Gabbard, to the House (who will also be sworn in over a Bhagavad Gita).  I watched as Arizona elected attorney Krysten Sinema, a ridiculously smart (B.A., M.A., J.D., PhD) and Mormon-turned-atheist to the House of Representatives (now the only open nontheist in the House).  I watched as Wisconsin elected Tammy Baldwin, now the first openly gay Senator in the U.S.  I watched as women voters made a bold collective statement that they are tired of primarily conservative men telling them what they have a right to do, or not do with their bodies....or that they have a right to get in between a doctor and a patient.  People are tired of a party that isn't progressive and moving forward with the rest of the world.  People are tired of a country that preaches "equality and liberty for all", but then puts exceptions on it.  Minorities and various ethnic groups seem to feel like they are being treated less and less equally, and I feel that this was also reflected in the polls.
  • Because people care about the environment.  People want clean air, clean water, and a knowledge that horrible chemicals aren't seeping into the groundwater network.  There is genuine worry about a future affected by what nearly all climate scientists agree on is a warming world.  People are simply tired of hand-waving politicians trying to convince us that they know more than scientists who have studied their respective fields for years and hold multiple degrees (and have numerous peer-reviewed papers).  It seems people are finally seeing through the cloud of banal and/or vacuous garbage pundits are spewing.  People want was clear by the huge number of hits on the various fact-checking websites throughout the debate season.  People don't want numbers pulled out of the air.  They want real science, and real numbers.  Not fringe websites and not so called "experts" that are really just politicians or pundits.  I wrote a very long blog entry a few months ago after an experience I had with a climate denier.  It was all about our problem as a nation with the accepting of science and dismissal of conspiracies.  I never published it, because I thought it may spark too many comments.  But perhaps that will get posted soon as well.  Even in my tiny little corner of the world, people made a statement.  Here in Ferguson Township where I live, a generally red-leaning township, people voted for an environmental "Bill of Rights" that includes a Fracking Ban.  I was proud to vote for it...even though I am a graduate student in a Geoscience department.  In reality this referendum doesn't mean much practically, as Ferguson township sits upon limestones and not over any real part of the Marcellus Shale....but still I feel as though a statement was made.  People do care about our energy needs, but I feel that more people are looking at the way modern and progressive countries around the world are doing things with wind, solar, water, and geothermal, and want to follow suit.  People are tired of putting excessive greenhouses gases into our atmosphere, soot into our air and chemicals into our groundwater.  As much as you may chose to deny it, a greenhouse gas will warm the planet.  It is a thermodynamic certainty.
  • People are tired of cooky and fringe conspiracy theories.  I could write essays on why this topic fascinates me, but quite simply I feel that people are tired of turning on the news, during prime time, and having the slot be filled by someone yapping on about birth certificates and college transcripts.  We have more important things to do as a nation, and more important problems to solve.  We are all simply sick and tired of our elected officials wasting our time with nonsense.
  •  People truly, honestly, and desperately want REAL HEALTHCARE REFORM.  This topic is one that I am incredibly passionate about and one that I know very well as I worked for a premier hospital for seven years.  I worked in and around the billing and claims departments and know a lot about how it works.  I also have spent time in other countries that utilize a single-payer universal system that is not only cheaper than our system, but offers much better care.  A system that means you walk into a doctor's office, get treated, and then never experience the months and months of endless claims, bills, and bankruptcies.  Life expectancy around the world in countries with superior universal coverage is nearly always higher than the U.S.  Our system is inefficient, broken, ridiculously overpriced, and does not guarantee health coverage to all of this great nation's citizens.  I truly believe that Health Care is a right, not a privilege (A belief I know not shared by most conservatives).  A country so willing to send and protect her citizens in countless wars, should also be willing to protect all of her citizens back home.  I realize this is an extremely divisive issue, but like I said, one that I am exceptionally passionate about.  Yesterday people made a statement that while the Affordable Care Act may note be the single-payer universal system that many had hoped for, it is definitely a step in the right direction.
  • People want real and honest immigration reform.  When Mitt Romney said in an early campaign appearance that undocumented foreigners should "self-deport", it upset a lot of people. Obviously most people agree that there is a problem with undocumented immigration, but there are thousands of people that have grown up in this country since their childhood that have only know this country to be there own.  Surely there needs to be a way for those people to be put on a path to citizenship.  How is it that an undocumented resident can sign up and serve in our military...and be injured or even die in battle, but not be allowed to be a citizen?  I feel that people realized this last night, especially the Latino and minority voters, and then voted accordingly.
  • People want corporations to stop being considered individuals and want them to pay their fair share of taxes.  Since the '08 crash, and during the slow recovery that has followed, people have been hit hard.  People are working harder than ever  to just barely get by.  But then we see reports that major corporations and banks are able to pay little or no taxes because of corporate loopholes.  We struggle to pay 3-4 dollars a gallon for gas, yet watch as major oil companies rake in their highest profits ever in history.  I feel that last night's election reflects this frustration.
I think what remains eerily unsettling though, is that in the very first few hours following the election results, there is already talk amongst the conservative right of launching an all out, crossed-arms, foot-stomping, stubborn blocking-style Congress to anything and everything that the Senate or President puts forth.  Nevermind the will of the people that the government is supposed to represent, nevermind the civic duty of those elected, but instead....lets act like stubborn and bratty children and not agree to work together on anything just because you didn't get your way.  When Olympia Snowe retired from the Senate last year, she said her reason was because Congress had become so toxic and unwilling to compromise, that she just couldn't handle it any more....despite the fact that she loved being a Senator.  Olympia was a Republican, that often voted or worked with Democrats.  A true and honest compromiser.  Hearing this can only make the rest of us independents more dejected.  

So I pose to you...Congress:  Rise above the temptation to be obstinate and uncompromising.  There is a reason that Congress has less than a 20% approval rating.  People voted yesterday the way they did, and it should be sending you a strong message.  I know that Republicans and Democrats will likely not agree on much...but willing to work across the aisle and listen to what the country is telling you.  This goes for you too Democrats.  You must be willing to compromise.  It's time to evolve, and accept that the younger generation is simply more progressive.  There is much value in many conservative ideals.  I, myself, ascribe to many.  It seems that last night people told the GOP that while being more fiscally conservative is good, you need to also be more moderate or progressive on social issues.  We don't live in the 1700's anymore.  Time brings changes, and societies grow, change and, evolve.  So we must evolve together, including those conservative ideals, or the Republican Party may continue to drift farther from relevance and continue to lose in the future.

That's it.

....and I definitely welcome comments, but do please be civil.  These are only my opinions and don't really mean diddly squat.  I simply brain-dumped on here to get my thoughts down on "paper" while they were still coherent.  Shoot for all I know, all these reasons are garbage and the real reason Republicans lost is because of the hack that all the Democrats installed on the voting machines.  See I can be a crazy conspirator too!   Muuhhaaaahaa.  ;-)