Thursday, March 29, 2012

RIP Earl

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Creating Your Own Happiness

I played basketball all throughout my childhood. I played as a kid, in high school, and even collegiately. I was never a gifted athlete. Instead, I had to rely on hard work and mental toughness to achieve success. My game was based on me being able to put myself in the right spot on the floor, giving me the best chance to make something good happen. My success centered almost entirely on being in a position that allowed me to do the right thing.

I’ve been in a bad funk lately. My running, my work, nearly everything has suffered. It started as a mental funk (due to several stresses), then gradually worked its way into a physical funk as well. I had no desire to run, and when I did drag myself out for a run, my legs felt pretty lousy. I have mentioned before how my mental and physical state of being are linked, and when one is out of whack the other is sure to follow. On the physical side of things, I took a few days off from running to try to recharge the energy levels. As for the mental aspect, things are as bit more complicated.

A student of mine was reading an article entitled “Creating Your Own Happiness”. The title got me thinking about life. Happiness is a funny thing and can be quite elusive at times. Life, like my basketball career, is all about putting yourself in a position to be successful. Happiness is no different. It takes effort, but you need to position yourself in situations that lend themselves to happiness. I’m not talking about some bacchanalian life, but genuine happiness. I know what makes me happy, but recently I have not been in a happy state of mind. I have not been putting myself in a good position to achieve happiness. It’s all very complicated, but it’s been a stressful few weeks. I know what I need to do, and I plan on doing it. Life is too short to be unhappy. Like Andy Dufresne said in The Shawshank Redemption, “It comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy living or get busy dying”.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Guads Revisited

This past week I went back out to the Guadalupe Mountains with some friends for a little running and relaxing. The weather could not have been any better, as the temps at night were cool (low 50s) but not too cold, and the days were warm (mid 70s) without the high humidity we have been getting here in San Antonio. I was really looking forward to the trip, as I needed a mental break from reality, and any chance to get into the mountains is a moment I cherish. On Thursday morning, we all met at “Dangerous” Dave Brown’s house to begin the 500 mile journey west. Chris and I rode together, following Dave and his wife Kim in one car and friends Tim and Ellen in another. After stops for gas and lunch, we arrived at the campground in time to set up our tents and head out for a hike before dark.

The plan was to hike to the highest point in Texas, the summit of Guadalupe Peak. The elevation of the campground was near 5800’, and Guadalupe Peak tops out at 8751’, so we would have some serious climbing to do over the course of the 4.25 miles to the top. This hike is not an easy one, as the trail immediately shoots up, not gradually easing into the climb. Despite the steep incline, we made pretty good time to the top, arriving just after dark. The views we caught of the setting sun on our way up were pretty spectacular, and the small patches of snow we encountered were a nice surprise. Dave and I celebrated by popping a peanut butter Gu gel, signed into the log book, and turned on our headlamps for the return trip back down. Despite Ellen and Kim’s insistence that they weren’t strong hikers, we cruised down quickly, and I had to move quickly to keep up. Arriving back at camp just before 10PM, we turned on the stoves to cook dinner, which in my case was a large cup of chicken flavored soup. We laughed as Dave entertained us all with his noodle cooking prowess (or lack thereof) crawled into our tents to rest up for the big day ahead.

(Kim checking Dave's gear, with Tim in the background)

(Dave, Kim, and Chris headed up the Guadalupe Peak trail)

(Chris and me)

Friday was the long day, as we planned to cover as much ground as our bodies would allow. After eating breakfast and gearing up, Dave, Tim, Chris, and myself set out for the Tejas Trail. Much like the Guadalupe Peak trail we ascended the night before, the Tejas Trail goes up quickly. The clear skies and warm sun made for a tough hike up the mountain. Because his fluid intake needs are higher than most mammals, Chris was carrying a full gallon jug of water in addition to his Camelback pack and 2 handheld bottles. I had an Ultimate Direction pack filled with gear, 2 handhelds, and 2 bottles in a waist pack. Since there is no place to refill water along the trail, we would need to carry all the supplies we would need for the day.

After what seemed like an eternity, we topped out on the trail, refilling our bottles and stashing Chris’ gallon jug behind a tree. We cruised down the trail on a rocky (but runnable) section before Tim turned back (he wasn’t planning on running as far as the rest of us). Dave, Chris, and myself ran a bit further before Chris informed us that his right knee was really giving him fits. We decided it was best if he turned around and headed back (he waited for us at a trail junction), while Dave and I set off to explore an area I had yet to see. We ran through nice dirt singletrack, rocky nastiness, and exposed heat, all the while taking in the stunning views below. Deciding it was time to turn around and meet Chris, Dave and I ate some solid food and made our way back, finding Chris relaxing on a bed of pine needles. After a 30 minute break spent cooling off and talking to a ranger, we began to re-trace out steps and return to camp. I wasn’t feeling so great, more of a mental state of being than anything physical. I was happy when we returned to the junction where Chris had stored his jug of water, only to find that someone had stolen it! Good thing we cut our day a bit shorter than planned, or Chris may have become vulture food. I knew we had 4 miles and 2,000’+ of elevation drop ahead of us, so I put on some tunes and followed Dave down the mountain. This section was very rocky and technical, but I enjoyed the chance to run, as there are very few runnable sections of trail on the way up. After 40 minutes, Dave and I pulled into camp (Chris had to go slowly because of his knee), satisfied with a good 22 miles in the mountains on a perfect day. We chatted with everyone and ate dinner before retiring early after a long day.

(Beautiful sunrise)

(Chris with his water)

(Dave's Hokas)

(Chris, Tim, and Dave looking across toward Guad Peak)

(Tejas Trail with Guad Peak behind)

(My favorite section)

(Dave running)

After a restless night spend tossing and turning in my tent (the wind was howling all night), I awoke and grabbed my gear for one last run. Dave and I planned on making another summit of Guad Peak, excited about the cool morning air and the chance to hammer down the mountain on the return trip. This was by far my favorite run of the 3 days. We hiked quickly up, spent a few moments snapping photos from the summit, and headed back down. Although this was my 3rd time to the top of Guadalupe Peak, it was my first opportunity to run down in daylight. Although not an easy run, I enjoyed opening things up a bit, as Dave and I pushed the paced as we neared the bottom. We passed a bunch of people headed up the mountain on yet another beautiful day. We made the round trip in just under 2 hours and 40 minutes, satisfied with yet another fun run in the mountains.

(Tejas Trail as seen from the summit of Guadalupe Peak)

(El Capitan)

(Me on top of Guadalupe Peak, highest point in Texas)

I had a great time enjoying the mountains with friends and am truly blessed to have such great people around me. I can’t wait to get back out there again soon!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Happy Birthday

I’m headed to the mountains today. No, not Colorado (I wish), but the Guadalupe Mountains of West Texas. I can’t wait to get up into the thinner air. Should be a lot of fun. Today is the birthday for a couple important people I know. I just wanted to wish you a very happy birthday. In your honor, I drank my first Rockhopper Robust Porter last night. Ymmmmmmm…..

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Spring Break

I’m on Spring Break this week, so I should be nice and relaxed, right? Somehow the opposite is happening. I always feel more stressed and busy when I’m not working than when I do. I think a lot of it is mental, as I have more time to “think” when I’m not working. This isn’t always a bad thing, but I need some rest. Thank goodness I’m heading to the Guadalupe Mountains tomorrow with some friends. It will be a nice break from the ordinary, a chance to get out of the city and decompress. I know what awaits me when I return. But I am looking forward to the challenge of what is to come. I’m ready to start over.

Spring Break has given me time to play with Lester, and we’ve made the most of it. He’s loving having me home all day, and we’ve gone on lots of rides and played ball until he nearly dropped on several occasions. He’s loving Spring Break!

(Playing ball on the field at school)

(Watching soccer practice, wishing he could play)

(Taking a break in the shade)

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Wet, Cold, and Muddy - Prickly Pear 2012

My first ever trail race was the Prickly Pear 10 Miler back in 2006. I won 3rd in my age group, scored a free pair (my first) of Brooks trail shoes, and had a blast. Since then I have been hooked on trail running. Although my tastes have changed and I now prefer more hills and rocks, I return to Prickly Pear every year. I am drawn to this race for a variety of reasons. The course is close to my house, it’s a chance to run a “fast” race, and Bill Gardner always throws a good party. My goal the past 2 years has been to break 5 hours. Given my level of fitness coming out of Bandera, I felt like this was a reasonable goal this year. I trained hard, logged 2-3 speed workouts per week, and felt great (physically) going into race week. The only thing that could derail me was weather. Usually Prickly Pear marks the first really warm day of the year, making the 3rd loop (there are 3 loops in the race) really hot and difficult. Surely one year I would get cooler weather for the race. Be careful what you wish for…

Although I generally don’t trust a 5-10 day forecast in Texas, the weather report leading up to the race looked ominous. We would get our cooler weather, but with it would come rain, lots of it. Anyone who has run McAllister Park in the rain will tell you the mud can be quite the challenge. Oh well, nothing OI could do about it, so there was no sense in worrying about things. Sure enough, the front blew in on Thursday, and the downpour started. In a way this was a blessing for me. Mentally I wasn’t feeling too peppy, having been stressed out quite a bit and not getting much sleep. I wasn’t really excited about the race. Knowing the trails would be sloppy with mud was a blessing in disguise. I knew that running a sub 5 hour time would be nearly impossible for me in these conditions, so I might as well just enjoy myself and get some time on my feet.

I awoke Saturday morning and didn’t want to get out of bed. I was really not excited. I check the weather outside and found rain and 40 degree temps. Oh well, let’s just have fun. I arrived at McAllister and chatted with Chris and other Rockhopper friends. I decided to wear my compression calf sleeves, arm warmers, and gloves. It wasn’t overly cold, but being wet for 5+ hours would take its toll on my body, so I needed to be prepared. Joe T had agreed to run with me and help me break 5 hours, so I met up with him at the start, and off we went. My legs immediately felt sore and flat, not good considering we hadn’t even hit the mud yet. Joe and I chatted, running with Rachel “Honey Badger” Ballard for a bit. Although there was less standing water than I expected on parts of the course, the mud was deep and slippery. I told Joe that 5 hours was not going to happen. He suggested we keep plugging along and see what happened. I can’t thank Joe enough for keeping me going those first 2 loops. I for sure would have walked more than I did if he hadn’t been around.

The first loop was fairly uneventful. I enjoyed chatting with Joe, Rachel, and Olga. The mud seemed to come in 3 sections. The first 4-5 miles were slick and treacherous, but the mud didn’t stick to your shoes too badly. The next 2-3 miles were the worst of the course. The amount of mud wasn’t any worse, but it was more of a caliche-type mud that clumped to the bottom of your shoes. It felt like you were running with ankle weights on. My ankles still hurt from that section. Luckily, the last 3 miles were more of the mud from early on, with several puddles and sections of flowing water thrown in. It felt good to splash though this section and wash off some of the mud from my shoes.

Joe and I hit the start/finish in just over 1:40. My legs felt better with each step, but I knew that wouldn’t last forever. We would have to maintain this same pace for the next 2 loops for me top break 5 hours – not going to happen. The second loop is always eventful because you catch up to many runners in the 10 mile race. This makes for a lot of passing and shouting “on your left”. It’s fun to see so many people enjoying the trails, but this also means more feet to chew up the already muddy trails, making the 2nd and 3rd loops especially tough. I found it funny to watch and listen to some of the things being said on the trail. This race attracts a lot of new trail runners and roadies. Not all are prepared for the conditions found on trails. I chuckled to see people pulled off on the side of the trails scraping mud from the bottom of their shoes. Yes, it feels good to get the clumps off, but experience tells you the mud will be back on within seconds. I overheard a couple ladies asking each other, “are we crazy for doing this”? I saw people slip and fall (I did plenty of slipping around as well), get dirty, and laugh at the absurdity of it all. Laughing is really all you can do in races like this. Getting upset and angry won’t make the mud go away, so you might as well enjoy the moment, even if the moment hurts. Several memorable things happened on this loop. I got to see some of my cross country/track kids working an aid station, which was neat. I reunited with an old friend, Mr. inner thigh chafing (less than pleasurable). But my favorite moment had to be approaching the final aid station and seeing Joe T leading a group of 4-5 girls in a chant of “we love mud, we love mud…”

At the end of the 2nd loop Tony and Olga caught up to me, passing me as we were leaving the aid station. Tony looked great and went on to take 2nd place in the master’s division, while Olga took 2nd overall female and 1st master. I, on the other hand, slowly made my way through another round of mud. After a bit of mental math, I realized I could break 6 hours if I hustled through the last few miles. This kept me motivated enough to trudge along. After a long, wet day on the trails, I crossed the finish line just under 6 hours. I was greeted by Chris, John Sharp, Tom, and Elizabeth. We chatted for awhile about the day, and then I headed to the car to find some dry clothes.

Although I didn’t break 5 hours like I had hoped, I had a good time and good some good “mental toughness” training in. It seemed that most times were sower than usual, obviously due to the conditions. The winning time in 2011 was 3:25, but this year the winner crossed the line in 4:44. Quite a difference. Congrats to all the Rockhoppers (too many to name) who ran or helped out at the race. You guys are awesome! As for me, it’s time to de-stress and start hammering hills. Mountains here I come.

(Elizabeth and Chris - who is taller?)

(Tony - 2nd place in AG)

(The Honey Badger takes the victory)

(Muddy Finish)

Friday, March 9, 2012

Out of Retirement

Before I got into running, I was an avid basketball player. I played all during my childhood and into college. After twisting my ankle over 4 years ago, I stopped playing and haven't played a game since...until today. Against my better judgment (peer pressure is an evil thing), I played in the student-faculty basketball game at school. My goals were simple - don't get hurt, try to conserve energy, and WIN. I'm pretty laid back, but when it comes to basketball, I turn into a different person. Luckily for me, I accomplished all three today. Sure, it wasn't the best idea to play in this game the day before Prickly Pear, but judging by the current weather, my time goals are out the window tomorrow anyway. Plus, I had fun out there. It felt good to be back on the court, even if my body didn't always do what my mind wanted it to.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

More Pictures

(Mom and Mason)

(Dad, Mom, and Mason)

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Mason Shoemake

My sister and her husband had their first child last night, Mason Thomas Shoemake. He weighed in at 5 lbs, 13 oz. Time for Uncle Brian to buy him a button down running shirt!

(Mason Thomas Shoemake)

(Mason and Grandma Ricketts)

Monday, March 5, 2012

Salado Creek Race Recap

There are 3 things in life that are guaranteed: death, taxes, and Tony finishing 3rd in the master’s division of a local trail race. This past Sunday I ran the Salado Creek 10 Miler (16.04K) put on by Bart and his crew, and I had a blast. I debated all week whether I should run the race and was even unsure what to do when I awoke on Sunday. Seeing the perfectly blue sky and cool temps and knowing this was one of a very few trail races that take place within the San Antonio city limits was enough to sway my decision.

I arrived early to register and immediately ran into Tony “Master of the Masters Division” Maldonado and Domingo “I Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Shoes” Gomez. I was pleased to see that Tony was wearing his official Ricketts race shirt, which (by total coincidence) happened to be the same shade of blue that I was wearing. Awesome. Tony, Kelli Newlon, and myself set off into the woods to run a few miles before the race started. Kelli told us that she had been sick all week and was probably going to change to the 10K race instead of the longer one. All 3 of us plan on running Prickly Pear next weekend, so we chatted about that and all sorts of other things.

We lined up with 100+ other people and were soon on our way, headed down a paved hill that would wind its way around until we left the dreaded pavement and hit the trail. I had forgotten how much I enjoy this course. It is a perfect blend of fast singletrack, rooty twisty nastiness, and rocky fun. It has something for almost all types of runners. I tried to keep my pace in check early, not wanting to push too hard during the race since I am more focused on Prickly Pear. I knew the roadies and faster folks would be ahead of me early, but I thought I could rein them in later on the rocky stuff. I was right. With the exception of a few low hanging branches and trees, I was able to maintain a consistent pace, slowly passing people along the way. The few sections of rock reminded me a bit of Government Canyon. I really had fun here and several times found myself running harder than I should have. Oh well. The highlight of the race for me was a steep section that included a rope to hold onto as you pulled yourself up. Pretty cool. I made the “turn” at the halfway point feeling decent, but running a little harder than intended. I tried to keep things causal on the way back, and other than a nice fall in which I slipped on a rock coming around a corner and ended up landing on my elbow, I managed to do okay. As I was approaching the end of the trail that signaled the last mile of pavement, I spotted a blue streak just ahead. It was none other than Tony. I tried my hardest to catch up to him, but it was not be on this day. Tony is fast, but only for short distances J

All in all, I had a great time. Fellow Rockhoppers Amanda Alvarado (2nd female overall), Kelli (1st in her age group while being sick), Tony (3rd masters), and Domingo all had great races. I can’t wait to go back again next year.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

42 Bottles of Beer On the Wall

I'm one step closer to drinking my first batch of home brew. I bottled up my "Rockhopper Robust Porter" last night. All that's left to do is wait a couple weeks and hope things turn out ok. I ended up getting 5oo ounces of brew into bottles, meaning I have just shy of 42 bottles of beer to drink (the actual total was 30 bottles, 14 of which were 22 ouncers). They should be ready at the end of Spring Break.