Tuesday, April 26, 2016

An Amiable Run Through the Heartland

Early April found me truly in the heartland of the US on route to my 39th state marathon. Within 120 miles of the geographic center of the contiguous lower forty-eight, I was about as central as I was going to get on this 50 state quest.

Big city and small town marathons both appeal to me. In the big ones, I know that the courses will be generally lined with spectators and musical acts, DJs and other diversions. Amenities will be plentiful, but the size will demand more rigor in starting line procedures, security, bag pick up and finish line food and medal distribution. Small towns afford the same 26.2 miles, but I get closer to the event and the area. With only 101 marathon finishers, The Eisenhower Marathon in Abilene Kansas qualifies as small town. I was not disappointed by the people or the race as I ran part of the famed Chisholm Trail.  (Watch the 1948 Howard Hawks masterpiece "Red River" to know more about that.)

Splitting time between San Francisco and Los Angeles as I do, I quickly had a distinct sense of being somewhere “else” - a venture beyond metropolises. I flew into Kansas City from Seattle where I had been for our new office opening. Seattle itself is not big, nor is Kansas City, but within 20 minutes driving west on I-70, I was definitely in the country. Fields surround the freeway, and while not flat, definite plains are in abundance punctuated by a handful of small villages.

Any intestate buffers the driver from the realities of the local area in a way that back roads do not. I remember on a race in Wisconsin that I purposefully drove the local routes to enjoy the varieties I found. To reach Abilene though, pretty much the freeway is the only option not doubling the journey from two hours to four. Needing to check into my B&B and to make it to the race packet pickup at a reasonable time precluded those extra hours. However, since that freeway became a tollway about halfway to Abilene, I popped out of my Hertz rental cocoon to hand a few bucks to the toll taker. My first real interaction in Kansas reminded me that I was not Los Angeles any more. She thanked me with a smile and wished me a “blessed weekend” with a cheery wave as away I drove.

Nothing about this was fake or forced. She probably said the same words every minute of her shift. This was how she greeted the weekend and the motorists on their way to wherever. I pondered this salutation as I drove on to the center of the country. The midwest is known for being friendly, but I think those of us on the coasts either do not understand what this means or look down upon its honesty. Throughout my weekend stay, everyone I passed gave a nod or a friendly wave. At the $25 Neil Diamond Tribute concert I attended after the race (it’s ok readers to pooh poor this corny choice but it was actually enjoyable), my seat neighbors were chatty and inquisitive. Same at breakfast the next morning. And little time was spent on things like where you work and what not. Nancy and David at that morning meal dove headlong into a whole host of issues from local politics (they hailed from Wichita) to home remodeling to living in Europe which turned out to be a shared experience for all of us. Adrian the innkeeper at the Abilene Victoria Bed and Breakfast gave me a big hug when I left and told me to book early for the next marathon. 

Wizard of Oz quips come quickly to one’s mind when in Kansas. And what is more famous in Kansas than Dorothy, Toto and that twister? Signs along the highway advertise the Oz Museum. When Adrian showed me their video library, Oz was front and center. (Referring to the VHS only selection, Adrian comfortably noted her inn was a bit “old fashioned.”) Yet, I refrained stating any movie quotes out loud and tried to keep them out of my mind. And I never asked directions to Smallville, another fictional Kansas hallmark of “small-townness.”

In fact, quite the opposite occurred. As I walked the rather deserted but not rundown streets of Abilene, I tried to soak in and enjoy the runner welcome signs. Nothing fancy, just a friendly greeting and acknowledgment a twelfth year of running visitors were in town. At the local grocery store, the woman who bagged my few items asked if indeed I was there for the race. I guessed she probably knew everyone who normally frequented the store. She offered me a big welcome and a genuine hearty good luck while marveling that I had come from as far away as California. I thanked her and did amiably offer a small quip as I apologized for all the “extra traffic.” She got it and laughed loudly but honestly as she handed me my sack of snacks.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in World War II and 34th president, grew up in Abilene. This is why his burial place, library and museum sit around his ancestral small home. When Ike returned from World War II to multiple ticker tape parades, it was the one in Abilene that pleased him the most. He was born in Texas, but his family relocated around the time he was 2. So, Ike considered Abilene his home and the source of his friendly attitude and the reason for his winning smile. Having read a number of biographies of Ike and some of his own writings, this simple view of life is evident. He was not the orator of Churchill or the larger than life FDR or the big ego of Montgomery. He was closer to Truman (who lived in Missouri less than 3 hours away). Yet he was forged by the small town values and that of his military training and service. I have been a fan of Ike (particularly in his role of general) since working on Call of Duty and reading a flurry of books on the war. I found this visit to his home town (my second) relaxing and appealing.

The Inn I stayed in, owned and operated these past ten years by Adrian and Jay Potter, was delightful. Victorian in theme and name, the house was built in the 1880s. It housed Ike’s good friend Swede Hazlet (who is credited with encouraging Ike to enter the military academy) and is on the list of protected venues. The food was great with Adrian ensuring I did not have any dairy or gluten products. The 15 minute walk to and from the race another big plus.

Ike titled one of his biographies “At Ease” and that feeling was how I would describe my two days. In fact, I think this relaxed mindset translated into my fantastic run. 

Starting at the Eisenhower Presidential Library, the double out and back course was not all that spectacular. We did a lot of roadside running and enough miles in a park to break up that monotony. The headwind on the outward tracks was annoying but refreshing upon the return legs when it became a push in the back. In the end, I clocked a 3:45:40 time - my fastest since July 2013. I would say I ran relaxed except when I had to really push against the wind. At the finish, I happily raised my arms to celebrate crossing off Kansas.
A fellow runner with Old Glory in the wind

The next day after breakfast, I was back onto the concrete ribbon of I-70 to the bigger world but thankful for this chance to spend a few hours out of big city mode in the middle of the country.

Coming in my next post - Star Wars, Disney and Running - a perfect trio of races at Walt Disney World.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Easy Runner NW Style

I love running in Seattle and its environs.

Space Needle (train) Spotting


Does the city have more air? All those tress exhaling oxygen? Better scenery? A camaraderie with the outdoor spirit than energizes the community?  The northern latitude?

Whatever the reason, when I get to visit the Emerald City and stay long enough to lace up the shoes and hit the streets, I just run, well, Easy.

I know that phrasing might sound odd or at best like cheap poetry, but another word does not readily emit from my fingers or brain.  I just run Easy.

What do I mean by Easy?  I do not mean slow or that I take it “easy.” I do not mean that gravity lets up its grip on my treads.  And I certainly do not mean that the wind is always at my back.
Easy here represents perhaps a Zen attitude to running.  The miles fall behind gently.  Minutes pass in seconds and even in the rain and wind (both of which I experienced on one run this week) refresh rather than denigrate the experience.  Another word might be Flow, often used to describe performing an activity autonomically. I may go so far to say that I run in the Zone when in the Pacific Northwest.  

That though may be going too far.  The Zone often represents a lack of knowledge of the surroundings because the participant is so focused.  Yet, I feel connected to the people, sights and sounds that I am experiencing: A best of a train horn; traffic; wind and birds; and fellow runners and cyclists to whom I wave.  I stop and take pictures on my phone when something strikes my eye.

A friend of mine, Stephanie, who has spent time in the area and is also a runner definitely feels this magic too. She agrees that she just runs well in the Pacific Northwest. 

The new office 10k
I have been running in Washington since early in my 10 year running career.  My first ultra marathon took place on Mt Si in 2011 about 30 minutes east of Seattle. Numerous business trips to Seattle, Kirkland, Redmond and Bellevue have allowed me to find local trails and routes.  The various bodies of water make for enjoyable companions and destinations.  Drivers seem aware of runners and act accommodatingly. And as written above, all those lovely tress sending fresh O2 into the air.

This week, I ran a 7.4 mile out and back along Pugent Sound and then the next day what I titled the new office 10K (just longer actually).  I did a 6.4 loop from my hotel up to the Space Needle and then back down along the waterfront to our new office in SoDo (South Downtown) before returning to my starting point.

Both runs were fun, enjoyable, and great ways to start each day. And, well, Easy.

Our new Seattle Office on Utah Ave S

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Six Month Run, Run, Run

For those who have graciously followed my exploits these past 9 years from barely reaching the end of my block to running all over the world, you will in no way find my six month schedule unusual.  In fact, you might indeed declaim, as my running pal Lyndsey did today, “the old Laird is back.”

After a quiet 2014 that started with a medical issue sidelining marathoning for 6 months (in between which I helped sell our company), the end of 2014 saw my running totals increase.  I entered 2015 with a goal to regain, if not entirely, then in spirit, my 2012 form when I completed 20 marathons (or longer) events culminating in the JFK 50 mile race.  With one 50 mile event complete, the urge to try that again or to even think of a longer distance does not drive me onwards.  Instead, the 50 state quest - approaching state 34 on Labor Day - dominates my planning.  Just 22 and 1 week months separate today from my big 5-0 birthday.  With 17 states to complete by that day, I need to average about 1.5 races every 2 months.  While daunting, I had a streak of 25 months from January 2012 through January 2014 with at least 1 marathon completed (35 total).  I know the 17 are doable, and the challenges become more of scheduling because I need those 17 marathons in 17 specific states.

Finishing up the ABW Summer Splendor
To chase this goal, I’ve scheduled a big push over the next 6 months:

7 marathons (MO, NE, OR, WV, TN, MS, AL)
7 half-marathons (CAx5, CO, FL)
3 10ks (CAx2, FL)
3 5ks (CAx2, FL)

And I’ll add some sort of race in on Thanksgiving since I try to race that date every year.

I started 2 weeks ago with a run in Santa Monica organized by a local group, A Better World Running.  Their Summer Splendor Half-Marathon was a great kick off with a flat easy triple loop course along Santa Monica Beach’s bike path.  A quick sub 1:43 finish added to the enjoyment.

During this push, in January 2016, I will attempt my third ever double marathon weekend with a race in Mississippi on Saturday and then a two hour drive into Alabama to pound out 52.4 total miles in about 30 hours.

Preparing for that race weekend inspired this Labor Day quad race bonanza. Starting in Anaheim, for the third year in a row I am running the Disneyland races.  Friday was the 5K which I finished in 22 minutes.  Today, Saturday, was the 10K in just under 48 minutes (which when looked up my past results is on the longer side for me).  Sunday brings the half-marathon through the parks and then to Angels Stadium and back.  While that’s all relatively Goofy, the true Dopey-ness continues as I fly to Missouri to run the Heart of America Marathon for my 34th state.  Heck, Walt Disney was from Missouri, so this combination makes some sense in my mind.  More likely, I am just as crazy as a Mad Hatter.

In any case, this weekend totals 48.4 miles, so good training on the distance and legs for the pinnacle challenge down south.

Stay tuned for more updates and photos.  Thanks as always for your support.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Jolly Good! London's Canal Journey

The goddess Nike, drawn on by a quadriga, caps the Wellington Arch near the entrance to Hyde Park. Could a better place exist in greater London to start a 20 mile early sunny Sunday run?  I did not think so, and thus started a 3 and ½ hour run past monuments and buildings, along the Thames and then into a 13 km canal that I did not know existed until twenty four hours previously.  Join me on a photo journey of this awesome mid-summer saunter.

Aligned on an east-west axis, the Hyde, Green and St James parks form a greenway to the River Thames include some spectacular sites.  Whenever I journey to London, I run some combination of this triple parkland.  Numerous paths at various angles allow for any amount of variety in running routes from a mile to probably more than 20 miles.  My goal today was further afield though - I wanted some truly new territory under my feet.  I found that and more.

Just across the circle from Wellington’s Arch, and my next highlight of the run stands Memorial Gates.  Compared to the 150+ years of Wellington’s tribute, this memorial to the territorial armed forces of the British Empire who fought in the World Wars opened in 2002.  Maybe the planes in the sky are coming from one of the listed places: Africa, the Caribbean and the five regions of the Indian subcontinent (Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka).  The memorial sits at the western end of Constitutional Hill.

Less than a mile further comes Buckingham Palace.  The flag, limp in the windless morning,  indicated Queen Elizabeth II was in residence.  (Though apparently not out for a Sunday jog.) 

Friday, August 7, 2015

2015 Charity Update 6 - Final Tally and Further Thoughts

I had a nearly perfect birthday.

While the calendar shows about four weeks elapsed since my last marathon and your tremendous support of my charities and my running, those good feelings continue.  The momentum of my birthday run carried through the entire week that followed both professionally (closing an acquisition) and personally (my sister delivering a healthy amazing baby girl).

When I last posted, we were sitting at just over $23,000 in donations.  I wistfully wondered if we could possibly push over $24,000.  When doubled, this would equate to $48,000 - One cool grand for each of my forty-eight solar cycles.  Instead, you came through with big and small gifts to take us clear past $26K!  That’s a thousand per marathon mile!  And doubled is an ultra marathon amount of $52,000!   Thank you all so very much!

And in parallel, I continue to hear from people about how thankful they are to me for this campaign.  I am touched by the sentiment when I hear others say (as one of my coworkers did recently), “I figured I could work-out if Laird finds time for all those marathons.”  I was furthered honored this past week when Dr. Paul Turek, with whom I often fly to and from LA, produced a wonderful summary of this blog for his own website:  http://theturekclinic.com/when-is-running-not-just-running-mens-health/

One reason I like running races is that this effect is amplified.  The group self selects - one does not attempt a race if not actually interested in running.  Of course, it might happen, but rarely, especially at longer distances.  When staying at the Waitsfiled Inn, the host hotel for the Mad Marathon, the breakfast room was populated almost entirely by fellow runners.  So, comparison conversations popped up immediately - what’s your favorite or best time or next race?  And sometimes the topics stray to a deeper enquiry - why did you start running?  Why do you keep running?  The answers vary and sometimes are surprising.
Below the Bay Bridge before the SF Run

I met a professor from Iowa who, besides completing the 50 state marathon quest with his wife (Vermont was 38 for them both), he was also completing at least 100 kilometers of cycling in all 50 states too. There is a whole community of people who do this and host each other on official routes in all of the states. After Vermont, he was hitting New Hampshire and Maine in the following days.
Andre & Marina from Brazil

At a different spectrum, I have recently been pinged by someone who started running in his 60’s to raise money for research into a disease ailing his brother.  Now about to turn 80, Bob will be celebrating by competing in his first triathlon.

When I ran the San Francisco half marathon a few weeks ago, I met a couple from Brazil.  Andre and Marina wore identical outfits other than their shoes, and I asked them about this fashion choice.  Recently engaged, the couple were traveling the coast of California and attending two different weddings of friends.  They asked me if I knew a good late march marathon as they had just become engaged themselves and wanted to run one together on their honeymoon following their March 19 nuptials.

Liz smashes her first marathon
In the same race, I ran 3 miles with Liz.  Liz was doing the full marathon, so we said goodbye at mile 12 as the course split between the half finish and the full continuation.  Liz was actually one of those accidental marathoners.  She signed up only after her neighbor told her about the race.  Originally from Washington but now living in SF, she decided to try it for the challenge.  Her friend became injured and did not compete, but Liz continued. She planned to do more marathons if she enjoyed the experience.  Her speedy 3:33 finishing time - even for her young 29 years - certainly suggests her impressive first finish is nor her last.

My co-workers Raul and Kit also ran in races at SF - Raul did the full marathon and Kit finished his first 5K.  While we did not get to meet during the runs, we texted back and forth before and after.  Knowing we were out there cheering for each other gave a further sense of community, and a series of high fives the next day in the office.
Raul nears the finish. Love that shirt!

Meanwhile, I continue to run.  I have 7 marathons planned over 4 months.  I have at least two half marathons too.  I am posting this from Germany where I am working this week, and have already logged 28 miles near the Rhine river.  Today I did 13 and hope to run 20 on Sunday in London.  Each run is special and rewarding.  I wave at the fellow joggers and cyclists.  Most wave back or nod.

My last thought as I close out this sequence of posts is to address the shy way people tell me they exercise.  For some reason, people feel compelled to apologize for "only" running 1 mile or 3 or 5.  I always encourage any amount of running or walking or just getting off the couch.  Whatever you do to be active - enjoy it.  Do it.  Reward yourself.  Whether you mow the lawn, do the laundry or run a marathon - or all three - that’s great.  We can inspire each other with our passions and our accomplishments.

For now, another day, another run. Perfect.

Sunrise in Cologne

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Thank you times 3 or 33 or 48 or $23,000

Running a marathon requires training and dedication.  Child’s play in comparison to fund raising.

We’ve proven success at both.  Together, we’ve raised over $23,000 for The Andrew Reisse Fund, Children International and The Alliance for Children’s Rights.  Plus a lot of new people learned about their missions.  And this is before our match.

I am beyond thankful for the support you have shown me and these wonderful organizations.  My birthday presents this year were seeing all the donations and to receive amazing thank you notes about my work here.  People gave money and thanked me for the opportunity; how awesome is that?

I am not alone in my appreciation.  Each of the charities has sent along a thank you note:

From Margy Feldman, Director of Development at The Alliance for Children’s Rights

Dear Generous Supporters, 
Thank you so much for your contribution to The Alliance for Children’s Rights. Your gift in honor of Laird will enable us to bring stability to the children and families that we serve. Your generosity will ensure that many more children continue to get access to timely medical care, an equitable education and the support they need to finally have a permanent home. For children who spend every day in poverty, abuse and neglect, these basic rights often go unmet. You help us achieve these goals and allow more children to lead more safe and stable lives.
On behalf of the children whose lives are made better because of your support, we thank you. 

And from Sarah Schubert, Children International
Nearly 30% of India's 1.2 billion people are families living in poverty.  They suffer from unsanitary conditions, substandard housing, inadequate health care, nutritional deficiencies and limited educational opportunities. Thank you for supporting Laird's audacious 50 state marathon goal so that in turn Children International can reduce the daily burdens for 5,000 children living in the Shahabad Dairy community in Delhi, India.  Through your support and the kindness of others, we look forward to investing in these children's potential and provide them with opportunities to grow up healthy, educated, empowered and employable to break the cycle of poverty. 
Thank YOU! 
Sarah Shubert

And BK Adams at Maryland
To everyone who donated to the Andrew Reisse Memorial Scholarship Fund, the Computer Science Department at the University of Maryland sends you our deepest gratitude.  Your donation will help to educate the next generation of Computer Science students, who will go on to create exciting software that impacts all of our lives. Through your generosity, Andrew Reisse's legacy of creativity, mentorship, and ingenuity will continue on.

UMD Computer Science Shirt and my medal
If you wish to learn more about these charities and to continue your support in other ways, please contact them; I am happy to provide their email addresses.  They are run by amazing people doing incredible work.

I feel like I celebrated my birthday for over two weeks since you all kicked off the donations responding to my appeal.  It is time to wrap up birthday 48.  Still lots of marathons to run - 17 before I am 50.  Back to training!

I’ll be keeping the blog updated too and posting on Facebook.

And if you are ever interested in a run or have a charity you support, let me know.



Bye until the next run...

Sunday, July 12, 2015

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad. Mad Marathon and that's just fine

It's just really green here!
I mean really green!

Sunday dawned brightly upon verdant Vermont and Waitsfield, the home of the 5th annual Mad Marathon.  Started by Dori Ingalls in 2011, the marathon supports a few local charities including Hannahs House which helps mentally ill people in need.  Not knowing this before, I was happy to learn why so many people were wearing running shirts emblazoned with that logo. (Around mile 22, I finally asked.)

If you have had a chance to read the proceeding blogs, then you are likely bored of hearing about this race!  So, the short story is this:

  • It's beautiful here!
  • The race went great!
  • I ran with a fellow Marathon Manica, Jc, for about 22 miles of it which was fun.
  • The charity update is that we are $30 short of $23,000.  I would love to hit that and then $24,000 if at all possible.  With our 100% match, that would be $48,000 = $1000 for my 48th birthday today.  https://www.justgive.org/runlairdrun
  • It’s beautiful here!

Still with me? Then let’s get into some details.

Strangely, I did not sleep well before the race.  Normally I do, but it’s hot here and I think that had something to do with the tossing and turning.  When you wake at 2, 3 and 4 and don’t need to be conscious until 5, doubts start to settle in.  The race schedule stated 7 am for the gun to fire, and I like 2 hours ahead. This is not about preparation time - I can get ready in 15 mins for a marathon.  I just prefer the body to do its thing if you catch my meaning before I run.
A gathering of Maniacs

So, all, em, ready at 6:35 am, I heading across the street to the starting location.  I made it just in time to jump into the obligatory Marathon Maniacs photo shoot (which in looking on Facebook, I see I am just off frame - oh well).  Anyway, due to re-construction of an 1833 bridge on the course, we will be starting two waves.  Those 3 hours and less go first and those of us over that run 1 min later.

Race Director Dori fires the gun for wave 2, and I’m off.  This is a hilly marathon. It features 1950 total feet of elevation gain.  What I quickly discover is that there are really no flat bits.  There’s lots of ups and lots of downs.  Most everyone walks the super steep parts.  No shame in that.
I caught the gun going off perfectly! Would my race go as well?
The first covered bridge, circa 1833

Somewhere on the first down, my buddy Jc taps me on the shoulder.  We’ve run parts of races in Fargo, Niagara Falls, and one other place neither of us could remember.  We were also both at the Route 66 Marathon together too but never saw one another.
Jc (right) takes a drink before heading through another covered bridge

Running backwards (show off!) to pose for Jc's photo of me
Jc knows everyone.  I mean everyone.  The route features a series of out and backs, and as we were returning, he just kept calling out names of people going the other way and introducing me to them.  Small races like this are just great for that.  There is really a community feel; it’s low key.  In fact, I am finding Vermont to be very relaxed overall, but this small race feeling is pretty universal.  Dori greeted us upon our finish and took pictures with us.
Laird, Dori and Jc

The scenery is why you come to run this race, and it does not disappoint.  From tall trees to distant mountains, the race really featured a lot of this central Mad River Valley.  Because I am crazy, I took a bunch of photos.  Jc patiently walked while I did this, and he even snapped the one of my on the course running backwards so I could pose.

A bit on Jc’s resume.  Today was his 199th marathon.  He will hit 200 next week in Colorado. His wife was running her 6th today, and his daughter, sister and brother-in-law were running too.  Two other daughters greeted us around mile 24.  So, it was a family shindig for him.  He finished his 50 states 2 years ago a week after his 50th birthday. I cannot recall if he has done the continents yet, but he did give me a good recommendation for the Philippines where he is originally from.  But let it be known there are people crazier than I with my party 140 less marathons than he has.

It was more uphill than this looks
Fortunately, the worst of the course happens from mile 6 to about 18 leaving the last 6 miles or so pretty all downhill other than one big dip and a small uphill to the finish.  We both came in sub-4:15 which considering the terrain was quite good.  We finished 68 and 69 of about 300.  Not bad for two old men who promptly dropped our hot and tired feet into one of two inflatable ice pools kindly provided by Dori and team.

This was my first birthday marathon, and it was great.  I was well prepared, ran with a friend and met a bunch of new ones.  I’ve completed all of the New England states and 33 of them all.  And all of your contributions have been amazing.  My goddaughter called me a little bit ago.
Ahh, felt soooo goooood

Thanks for making birthday 48 super special.

On to state 34 and marathon 60!



33 States and counting...