Sunday, May 31, 2020

Big ultra reopening day tomorrow: with a purpose


Many times, I wish I could write my mind to issue posts faster. This is one which formed in my mind through the week and, here we are, Sunday May 31, 2020, 4 pm, on the day our local San Clara County Shelter in Place order was supposed to come to an end, at least with the most restrictive phase 1, only to receive a last minute notice to... remain in place! I was going to say "dang" but, honestly, I'm so grateful that our County was the first one to take such a measure, in the whole US, I very much do trust what our health officials are recommending.

If you follow my blog, you know I pledged to stop boasting about running, to avoid increasing the feeling of many that they are finally missing so much by staying home. Not the right time for the masses to get on the same trail at the same time, we already tried in March... Because our order was already reissued once, and the situation looked much better health wise, I didn't expect it would be a third time, and with so many stringent restrictions. And I had formed big plans again in my head, ultra plans! To be honest, I didn't stop running during the past 2 months, just stopped talking about it and connecting my Garmin to Strava. For one thing, it hasn't been super interesting running, mostly slow miles in my neighborhood as I'm still painfully coming back from this 2018 injury and a 7-month break in the second half of 2019.

Last weekend was Memorial Day weekend. A weekend which became special for running many many miles in memory of the fallen, a few in my family, and many more from around the world. A weekend which marked the peak of my ultra and heat training before Western States for instance. Sometimes logging more than 125 hilly miles over the 3-day weekend. Last year, it was actually the first weekend of the break I took to heal my tendon injury after a semi-successful half ultra season. And I was happy to finally not lot a single mile!

This year, I had hoped of logging 100K over the three days. Pale comparison but I feel I'm coming back from so far away, I had to rebuild with the proper goals. The thing is that, while the injury fades away at last, I'm going through so much stress at work that I have had serious breathing issues. You might have missed too that I'm not sure if I got COVID-19 myself back in February when I came back from a conference after losing my voice and with a super dry cough which lasted a good week (after visiting France, Austria and Israel the weeks before, three countries which closed borders soon after I left...). No fever though and I was able to compete and win my age group at the 50K Road Nationals in freezing air on March 1 in New York, and same at Paulo's 50-mile trail Nationals 2 weeks later, so I'm really not sure if that lung condition is a reminiscence from that lung imflamation episode, or stress-induced asthma again. The good news though is that, while that makes me stop in the first mile or two even if I start at a slow 8 min/mile pace, this usually pass afterward so I was able to run a few training ultra runs these past months.

So, last weekend, as I was struggling again on one of these runs, I couldn't stop thinking of a couple of friends, Bob and Annick, who are both battling very serious cancers, on the other side of the country. Bob is from Great Britain and exemplifies the legendary humor and phlegm of that nation. It must be in the air they breath when growing up! I'm so impressed and moved by the optimistic way he still handles the situation, even as he has been sent back home with some light hospice care support. As for Annick, so much on her shoulders, mentally and literally, while she also has to split her energy to fight her own battle against this terrible health situation.

I wanted to share about them because, this Monday, I'm planning on running 100 miles in their honor, and I would like you to join me, in thoughts and, either in prayers or at least to send them the best vibes of courage and hope.

The idea formed as Paulo Medina launched his 100 miles to Auburn race, a virtual event for which you have a month to log miles against various goals(*), the ultimate one being the more than symbolic 100.2 miles corresponding to the legendary Western Sates Endurance Run. Western States has been run every last weekend of June since 1974 (albeit not in 2008, one of the fire years). Can I run 100 miles over a month? I missed that mark in January, but, after averaging 100K per week for 8 years (2011-2018) I've been back to 80-100K weeks since February. So, yes, I can! But can I run 100 miles in a day in my neighborhood, on my own, without any competition or racing incentive? This, I don't know, never tried it before!

Coincidentally, I did attend our District 101 Toastmasters Conference this weekend and one of the keynote speaker, Ryan Avery, 2012 World Champion of public speaking, reminded us of this key mantra: "It's not because you haven't, that you cannot!" At least I've run 100 miles, and more, a couple of time. And on hilly terrain too, while I plan on running my local flat 5K loop 36 times, this time. Granted, all on concrete, which comes with its own challenge on the legs, but still. At least, I should avoid last week's heat wave which peaked around 98F already! Weather forecast gives a 60-80F for this Monday. In true 100-mile spirit, I still plan on starting very early, around 4 am, in case I need a full day to cover that distance. Assuming the body and minds hold on, which hasn't been my strength lately. As the expression goes, Inshallah!

At a minimum, building on the Pentecost theme, I'm hoping that running in spirit and communion with Bob and Annick will keep me moving forward, slowly and consistently. I promised them 1 mile each, 50 times each and, that, if not all of them on Monday, Tuesday will be another day. Again, I very much hope that you will join me in sending them a maximum of positive vibes! On their behalf, thank YOU in advance!

See you on Facebook this Monday then for a few updates. Short of an official reopening unfortunately, I'll keep complying with our local Shelter-in-Place order by exercising on my own and without taking the car to go to the start!

PS: incidentally, Wednesday is Global Running Day, so that run may elect. But please plan on celebrating that special occasion to log a few miles too!

(*) 30.3 miles = Robinson Flat Medal -- 62 miles = Foresthill Medal -- 100.2 miles = 100 miles to Auburn wood buckle.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Physical Distancing: you are welcome!

I've been sitting on this blog post for almost 8 weeks now, better spit it out! When I first drafted it, it felt so bizarre to see people not taking #PhysicalDistancing seriously. Almost 100K deaths later, even more surreal... And since it's now Memorial Day, I'm now starting the post with a "you are welcome" to all who served and are serving our democracies, making so many sacrifices to follow incredibly more stringent orders than the ones currently in place to fight this pandemic! Let's reflect on this...

Back to late March, it was just the beginning of the Shelter in Place order for our Santa Clara County, I shared that I got mad with too many hikers not respecting basic physical distancing guidelines (I don't like the #SocialDistancing term and don't feel it makes sense as we've never been so socially connected than nowadays). But I felt some remorse as it looked like I was considering these trails, mine... Since then, based on multiple reports like mine, parks got closed so the problem should be solved.

Moreover, a week later, I pledged not to boast about running anymore, and asked my fellow running buddies around the globe to do so, not to entice more people to explore the outdoors, just at the worst time to have crowded trails! We've invited everybody to do so for several decades, trying to inspire them to leverage this healthy hobby, but it's really not the right time to get started. Sorry.

Meanwhile, where I live, and in many other places, we can still go out to breathe, without driving to distant places; exercise is even encouraged but not for too long, and not too far from your shelter. And, of course, keeping at least 6 feet away from anyone, or even farther away given our extended and powerful exhale when we exercise! (Many studies have been published since then, suggesting even 20 feet.)

Like in the run I mentioned in the first paragraph above, there are still people not exhibiting proper and common civic sense. When I go out in our neighborhood, I've taken a new habit: stepping out of the way first, even if it means going on the street, thankfully rather calm right now. And came a new blog post idea about the expression "you are welcome!"

To all the angels on the front line: you are welcome!

First and foremost, I'm so grateful to all the folks working so hard and dangerously on the front line to keep our world moving. The medical staff in hospitals but also everybody involved in the triage. We talk a lot about the people who have tested positive and show serious symptoms, a huge worry of course, especially as that include a huge proportion of the exposed medical staff. But there are hundreds of thousands of people being sick, unfortunately as usual, to also care about. Then all the medical staff in less essential positions who, like many workers, are out of a job and cannot work from home. On the front line is also all the employees in grocery shops. 10 days after Agn├Ęs, it was my turn to go shopping and I felt really uneasy for them as many shoppers did wear a mask and didn't keep the safety distance inside. There are many other people keeping our world running but these two categories are the most exposed in my opinion. You are so welcome for your service and dedication!

To the shelter in place deniers: you are welcome!

I had seen that coming a few weeks ago, the fact that, if we were successful in flattening the curve, the deniers of the tough measures would say: "see, what did we tell you, completely useless, not that many deaths!" And it's already happening, although the death counter is still in the red zone! Before much time, I can hear Trump bloat, after claiming that it was... nothing: "Could have been 200,000 deaths..." Well, when I first worked on this post, we were in the 30K range. Now, on Memorial Day weekend, almost 100K deaths, with 11 states having their record number yesterday! So, obviously, we are not done yet.

Italy, Spain and New York, you are welcome for showing and proving out how terrible (and real!) this pandemic is, and how important it is to not spread it and all catch it at the same time!

To the runners backing off: you are welcome!

When I see anyone on the sidewalk, my incline is to give the right of way and keep running on the street to form sufficient distance. But, sometimes, another runner does it first and I never miss the opportunity to thank them.

To the people who are acknowledging you went out of the way: you are much welcome!

The first week, it was like people looked offended you went off their way and avoided them. A few weeks later, some people take the opportunity to have some genuine acknowledgement and say hello, a basic civility which got lost in our anonymous cities. Days after days you could see the same people and regain of sense of neighborhood. Especially in an area in which you are either inside your house, in your private backyard, or in a car.

Last but not least, to the walkers, runners or cyclists who are not showing any consideration: you are welcome, like it or not!

This is really the category which triggered this post. I love to see the reaction of these users of the sidewalk when, from the middle of the road where I'm taking proper distance, I tell them "you are welcome!" Like when you hold the door open for someone behind you and they go through without any thank or even acknowledgement. My only disappointment is when they don't even hear me because they have earplugs on. Fortunately, this doesn't represent the majority, but it has been quite close to it in my 8-week experiment.

Of course, you can apply this to many other settings, like when shopping, between people caring about others, and those who cut just one foot in front of you... Overall, as you can read between the lines, I'm rather disappointed with the lack of civic sense of many, even in such adversity. What if that would have been a biological terrorist attack? What if we would experience an earthquake? Given so much individualism and politicization!

With that, let's see what reopening and getting out of confinement look like in such a divided society in which a group really cares, and another one, doesn't. Given the images of this Memorial Day weekend at beaches, parks and pools in certain areas, I remain pessimistic... Mind boggling...