My philosophy of parenting includes keeping only moderately decent furnishings, because mistakes will happen. For example, one of the boys got permanent marker on our dining room table. It’s the nicest table I’ve ever owned, but it’s also an Ikea pine wood jobby, easily scratched and marked. It’s not anything we’re likely to turn into an heirloom. When I was a kid, I always thought getting yelled at for that sort of thing was a huge injustice. Growing up hasn’t really changed my mind. I can tell the boy didn’t do it on purpose*; it’s easy not to think of these things when you’re a kid**. Nothing (that’s not actually yours) has a huge amount of value, because that’s not how your mind works yet. It’s just stuff, that exists in your world. How on earth could you understand the schooling and career building behind the day your mom was able to buy a decent table? Knowing that, why would I get my dream table – if I had such a thing – and expose it and my kids to each other? It’s better to have the niceish, functional table, tell them to clean up the marks as best they can, and ban permanent markers. -J *He did once mark on a chair on purpose, but that time I could tell it wasn’t malicious. He was just “oh hey, a chair and a marker, let’s see.” Yes, sometimes as a kid you brain fart that way. I remember doing it, don’t you? **And, the daughter pointed out that the permanent marker may have bled through the paper, which is just a problem with experience and/or anticipating consequences.
I enjoy having kids, if for no other reason* than explaining things that happened a decade or two ago to someone who wasn’t there and has no earthly idea what it was like.
Yesterday I found myself telling daughter about getting They Might Be Giant’s “Flood” album on CD in the early 1990s, and how cool CDs were, because unlike tapes and records, all the music was on ONE SIDE. And it was a cool shiny space age format. And they eventually figured out they could put more than a record’s worth of songs on it. Tom Petty commemorated the ONE SIDE thing by making note of it on the CD version of one of his albums…the song ends, and he says something like “This is the point at which a person with the tape or record would have to stand up, or sit down, and turn the album over. So let’s just take a minute to mark that. ………. Okay, here’s side two.”
And about the 50 CD changer we bought. You could put in 50 CDs on a carousel, and select which one to play. And it was just the most amazing awesome thing ever. And how that was the precursor to a few format changes – remember MiniDisc, anyone? And then to digital music, and Napster - which was amazing – and burning your own CDs, and mini digital music players. And how I wasn’t paying attention to the announcement of the iPod, but how it kind of sunk into my consciousness, and how super amazing cool that was. Digital music on a compact, easy to user player was, as it turned out, everything I wanted out of music consumption in my tweens and teens**.
All of this is an alien world to my children, who of course have never known what it’s like to be without digital music – “Hey Mom, can you download that Minecraft song onto your phone?” – in the same way I never knew what it was like to be without television.
This great foreign world perspective, the idea that history is reality, something you actually LIVE THROUGH instead of just read about…it’s not a great reason to have kids, but it’s a wonderful fringe benefit.
*And there are MANY other reasons.
**iPods became popular a little later than my teens – when I was in my mid-20s, apparently – so I have memories of stacks of records, and a tape-to-tape high speed dubbing deck I got for Christmas, and mix tapes and on and on.
I get overwhelmed with the amount of stuff that needs doing. On those days, I try to remember to make a DONE list. Not a checklist, no. When I finish a task, I put it on the list. There: concrete evidence that I’ve accomplished things, without the added stress of all the unchecked items to do.
Similarly, it’s important to write down wins. This is good career advice, of course: keep track of your wins, so when you have to have a review, or update your resume, you have a list of things right there. (You won’t remember them otherwise.) But for personal use, a “win” list is important. You don’t have to do it daily or weekly…just as you think of it.
It’s so easy to feel like a failure, because you Haven’t Yet Won. There is no Won. There is hardly ever, ever a Won. There is only one little-w “win” after another.
Write down your wins every so often, as they happen.
Last night, my data professional, security conscious husband got a trojan virus on his computer that permanently encrypted (locked) all his files away from him. This particular trojan (called CryptoWall) demands hundreds of dollars to unlock the files again. We may end up paying.
I wrote a more technical blog about this over on my database blog, but for those of you who might need a civilian’s guide to what’s up, there’s this blog.
- This trojan virus is for realz, and it can affect you. Like I said, we’re security conscious; Sean doesn’t open email attachments, download weird suff, all that. He still got it. There is literally no way to get the files back – no software, no company, no trick – unless he ponies up and they happen to provide the encryption key. We have security expert friends who say the exact same thing.
- Some of the usual safety mechanisms won’t protect you. Sean had antivirus, up to date. He had offsite backups of his files, in the form of Microsoft OneDrive. OneDrive keeps a constantly updated copy of files up in The Cloud, which in this case was bad, because it updated all the files with the encrypted versions. Yes, you can lose all your files.
- The solution is ridiculously simple, but you have to do it now. BEFORE you get the damn trojan.
Easy solution: Save off your files now
This is super easy.
- Buy an external hard drive. It almost doesn’t matter which one. Get one with halfway decent reviews, and don’t feel the need to spend $500 on it. Mine was something like $80, I think, and it’s got a huge amount of space.
- Plug it into your computer. Hard drives these days come with USB cords, and are (usually) immediately recognized by your computer. It will show up as a new drive in your “My Computer” screen.
- Copy files to it.* This can be as complex as using the script I provided over on my tech blog, or just copy and pasting your “My Documents” folder to the external drive. Do this every month or two, and if your computer catches the trojan, you can give the hackers responsible the finger, get your computer wiped and reinstalled, and stick your files back on it.
Seriously, that’s all.
Please do this now. For you.
P.S. Feel free to ask me any questions you like about this.
P.P.S. This is by no means a complete discussion of security practices. It’s just one aspect, and it will go a long way toward helping you out. Obviously keep complex passwords, keep your antivirus up to date, don’t download strange files with candy, etc. etc.
*Never hook anything up to a computer that’s been infected. In fact, take that computer offline once it’s infected. You do NOT want to pass the trojan on to your external hard drive, or a USB thumb drive, or (thereby) to another computer. Trojan viruses are contagious, you know.
This one is for Jes Borland, but all of you get to benefit, too.
Sean’s Beef Hash
- Potatoes, diced about 1/2-1 inch. Oh, call it 2 pounds
- Onions, diced. Maybe ½ or 1 onion
- Salt, pepper, thyme
- Sliced/chopped meat: roast beef/pot roast, or osso bucco, meatloaf, whatever chopped meat you want. The ratio could be up to half and half meat to potatoes, so up to 2# of meat.
- 4-6 oz of bordelaise sauce, or roast beef gravy, or something. Optional. You CAN make a dry hash but this is better.
- Eggs (optional)
- Preheat oven to 450F.
- Get a cast iron pan (or non stick) super hot. Put in some oil, just enough so the taters won’t stick.
- Put in potatoes and onions, salt, black pepper, thyme.
- Brown on one side for a couple minutes, turn them to brown another side. keep doing that for 6 minutes, or until medium brown on most sides
- Sprinkle in the meat.
- Put the pan the oven until the potatoes are done. (You know, it stabs nicely, or cool one and eat it).
- Take the pan out and put it on high heat.
- Spoon in your sauce or gravy.
- Toss that around, cook until the sauce is nearly dry and carmelized, all stuck to the food.
- Adjust seasonings and go. Or,
- IF you want to cook eggs in it too, make a couple of divots in the food and crack an egg in each, put the pan back in the oveen for 5m or so, until the eggs are done enough for you. (We like them sunny side up, so the yolk is cooked but still liquid).
- Feel full for hours.
We’re driving back from the southwestern tip of Texas, and don’t have big reliable internet. So, I’ll add pictures and formatting later. -JM
It’s later, and we’re home! Picture time… -JM
Here’s the story. If you want the SHORT version, you have to skip all the way down to the bottom. But, why bother with the short version? It’s a freaking ultramarathon, and it deserves more than a cursory glance, so say we all.
Waking at 4am wasn’t hard. Staying asleep until 4am posed its own challenges, but I prevailed. Half our party intended to sleep in – while the start of a race isn’t a completely blah affair, neither is it required attendance, as far as I’m concerned. But, Sean’s and my early day preparations kind of woke the other two in the small place we’d rented. Ah, well.
We loaded up and headed down. Now, we’re in Big Bend country, so you should basically just imagine a New Mexico landscape – lots of dirt and rocks, big-big hills that are the bones of the land, lots of scrubby and pointy and stabby growth. That also describes Mexican landscapes. And, come to think of it, large parts of Arizona. Either which way, that’s Big Bend country. We couldn’t actually SEE much of this at 5 in the morning, but it was there, and I was about to run into it, in the dark, with something like 50 other people all wearing headlamps as BRIGHT AS THE ALMIGHTY SUN. I didn’t engage in much conversation at the starting line, as everyone already had their lights on, and you don’t really want to do a face to face under these circumstances.
On your mark…
My team hugged me and saw me off for the countdown. 3-2-1, and 50 (or so) highly spandexed and hydrated people jogged across highway 170 to the East Contrabando Trailhead, going into Big Bend Ranch State Park (Big Bend National’s little sister to the west).
I started at the back, and stayed at the back. I knew it would be a small miracle if I finished the race; that I was likely to be slower than anyone else; and that last place suited me perfectly fine. The night-morning was perfectly, loverly dark, and the sky was bright, and I couldn’t look at it much because apparently the entire ground was out to kill me. Seriously, it’s all scree and rock on top of rocks on top of scree, and more rocks of sizes all the way from gravel to boulder and everything in between. Even on the trail, there was an awful lot of “OH HOLY SHIT I DIDN’T PICK MY FOOT UP HIGH ENOUGH oh I’m okay” going on. And, one fall in the dark. Not bad.
2 Miles In
Nearly everone passed me. About 2 miles in, two volunteers directed everybody down the righthand path at a diverging of ways. I took the offered path, which 300 yards later opened up on to a dry river bed. Aaaand I couldn’t find the continuing trail, which is generally marked with rock carins and little orange or pink flags. I looked all over. I saw nothing. I looked some more. Nothing. I looked up and down stream. I figured I’d try what would have been up stream for a while. After a bit I noticed two women behind me. We eventually figured out that was NOT the way to go – I brought maps of the trail along as photos on my iPhone – and retraced our steps. We still couldn’t find the path. We tried something that LOOKED like a path. Nope.
After casting around a LOT (and gathering up another lost runner), we finally found a path with a flag, and followed it joyously. Right back into the waiting, friendly volunteers who’d directed us up that path in the first place. Back where we started, 2 miles from the starting line.
The other runners and I parted, and I went back to casting about for the lost trail, led by the volunteers’ assurances that they had, just the previous night, followed that very trail without problem. Still nothing. After a very thorough try, I went back to the volunteers AGAIN and was directed up the lefthand part of the trail, which cut out the half loop I’d been searching for. It’s not the official route, and I could get disqualified for it, but I’d been dicking around for at least 30 minutes, and I’d definitely done the equivalent loop distance.
I fucking got lost on the fucking shortcut trail.
I swear to you, I had the maps, I had a very clear Big Dipper pointing out a very clear Polaris, and what should have been a very clear path simply wasn’t…it was another washout – no, TWO washouts, and I explored both, began backtracking, got lost AGAIN… It was foot stompingly infuriating. It was maddening. It was wasting time and energy I really, REALLY couldn’t afford to waste. I was never in any kind of danger – I mean, I was two bloody miles north of the bloody highway that runs along the south edge of the entire bloody park. It wouldn’t have been difficult to get back to start. BUT I WANTED TO FINISH.
Through some weird miracle, I wound up back at the same place I’d lost my way before – at the dry river bed without the damn carins or flags. And, now that the sun was well up and the visual world was larger than the beam of my headlamp, I found the damn flag. The tiny, 2 inch pink flag, tied to an 8 inch bush, hidden behind ANOTHER bush.
Nevermind, I have the route again. And I am well established in my favored position: last place.
Getting to Aid Station 1 – no really, we’re still working on the first aid station – and 2
*sigh* So, tired and demoralized, I headed toward aid station 1. If you’re not a runner, you might not have much of a concept for how run time goes. It’s very like The Oatmeal’s portrayal: he looks at his GPS watch: 4.7 miles. He runs down the street, up a hill, past many building, around a thing, up another hill, and on and on and on, and then he looks at his watch. 4.9 miles. “Really?” he says. “Yes really, F.U.!” says his watch. That’s the jog to Aid Station 1.
The people there are surprised but pleased to see me, and they offer me cold potatoes (an excellent and mild way to get needed salt into your system), Coca-Cola, water, and other munchies. I refill and nosh a little, and move on to some lovely supportive notions from the volunteers there.
I am tired already. Maybe it’s the early waking. Maybe I’m not fully over that stomach bug. Maybe the early morning waste of time was REALLY that demoralizing. In any case, parts of the trail are uphill, and I’m not feeling energetic, so I walk some, and run. I’m planning to make up that lost hour as much as possible on my way to aid station 5, because I have to arrive there by the 1pm cutoff, or I won’t be allowed to continue*.
My plan goes pretty well, and I make up 15 or 20 minutes on the way to a.s.2. An aid station in this race is generally 2-4 people hanging around a table that has snacks/water/hydration drink, a truck or two, and a camp toilet (a 5 gallon bucket with a bag and chemicals, inside a special little tent with personal cleanup supplies). I stop to use the facilities, and don’t bother filling up on water. I’m only 8.5 miles in, and the next stop is in 5 miles. This does not turn out to bite me in the ass.
The volunteers there warn me that the path ahead gets a little rough. At some point slightly further along, I think, “Hah, I had rough for breakfast!” Sometime later, I reflect that I was also having rough for brunch, then elevensies and lunch.
*Some races have lesser cutoffs. It’s a race, they can run it the way they like. I’m the one who chose to sign up. Besides, the cutoff time may well have a safety aspect to it…I didn’t know, I never took the opportunity to ask.
A 2,000 foot climb is actually quite significant
The path to a.s.3 really is rather rough. Up till now we’ve mostly been on single track dirt (read: dirt under asstons of loose rock that is plotting in various ways to kill you) and on 4wd track (also mostly dirt, with just enough rocks to be in real danger of being geologically murdered) lined by various desert plants, 50% of which are desperately sharp to the touch. And, the way has been reasonably level and mildly uphill. Not so here. We’re getting super back country, we’re getting our elevation on. This slows me down somewhat, and later slows me quit a bit.
But in the meantime, I unexpectedly find myself catching up to two women on the trail. When I get closer, I see that the trailing figure is limping. She is a coach for several other runners in the race, and said “a rock got through to my foot”. I understand immediately. Ever step on a sharp rock with your bare heel? Like that, and expanded to actual injury proportions. We’re back country, and she can get by, so she’s making her way to the next aid station, where she can be driven out.
The other runner is one of the women I initially got lost with in the dark (though I wouldn’t have known; I never looked at anyone’s faces, for fear of being permanently blinded by 1kajillion lumen headlamps. Seriously, those fucking things should be used to keep oceangoing ships safe from rocky outcroppings). She appears to be staying with the injured runner for safety, which is awesome. I do not, which might not be awesome, but I need to make up time, and I want to alert the medics ahead that there’s an injured runner coming.
I run the few downhills. I walk the many uphills. Miles pass. I eventually wind up climing around on top of those huge hills you see in the distance of old westerns, following a WELL MARKED TRAIL of little red flags positioned at eye level (looks pointedly at whoever marked the first 3 damn miles of the race, here). I think it’s somewhere in here that the rocks triumph a second time, and I fall a second time. “Two,” I say, and make a face at the scrubby, pointy cacti nearby that tried and failed to catch me. Suck it, cacti.
I pass two different men in biking gear – these are the bicycle medics, hanging out around the dangerous areas to see to injured runners – and I tell them about the injured woman. They radio it in, and do whatever bicycle medics do in a case like this. I am told by the first guy that I’ve got a hard climb and maybe a mile to go, and I’d better hurry to make the cutoff time (wait, what?); and by the second guy, many hundreds of yards later, that I have 2 3/4 miles to go and not much time. At some point along this stretch, another one of these bike medics tells me that I still – STILL – have a jillion miles to go, and the cutoff time at aid station 3 is at 8:12am, which is about now. What? Cutoff time at a.s.3? First I’ve heard of it; the website only had cutoff times posted for aid stations 5-9. I decided to ignore him on the off chance that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and I have to keep moving forward anyway.
The views are stunning, and nearly Grand Canyonesque.
After a time, I recognize the early symptoms of altitude sickness. Really? How high up am I? So I sit, eat a salt pill, and dump the grit out of my shoes and socks for the fourth time. And see, to my surprise, the injured runner and her companion sort of catching up to me. I’ll be damned, seriously, if I’m going to get caught by a runner limping along with an injured foot. I get up and plod on. The non-injured runner – #66, I think – catches me up some time later, and we make our way up what appears to be a nearly vertical slope (it’s not, quite) to aid station 3, manned by a man and his 8 year old son.
A bit of uncertainty
We ask about cut off times. The volunteer doesn’t know. I waffle a bit, refilling my water bag. The kid at the snack table pops a handful of M&Ms and says, “We encourage you to continue.” It’s adorable, but I still think, “Easy for you to say, kid.” #66 is gathering her things up to make a try, and since the volunteer doesn’t have a definitive answer on cutoff times, I decide to head out with her. It’s 11:00am. We have 2 hours to make about 10 miles, which would be perfectly doable in a road race with 12 minute miles, but presents quite a challenge here…even if we are nearly on the top of the mini mountain.
We set off walking and running, which I know isn’t going to to the trick. I power walk at about 17 minutes per mile, and jog downhill faster than 12min/mile, but there aren’t enough downhills, and I’m having some GI distress. It takes me forver to remember the Pepto Bismol tablets I have with me, but I eventually do, and almost instantly feel better. Still tired, but better. At this point I’m at a race-official distance of maybe 15 miles, plus 3-4 tacked on in that hour of wandering. Tired tired tired. Hard to eat. Probably not drinking enough. #66 and I troop along within 20 yards of one another for a couple miles, then she leaves me in the dust.
It’s not going to happen. I literally can’t make the 1pm cutoff time at mile 25. I can blame the getting lost – obviously it’s a huge part of the problem here, as I could’ve used that hour – but it’s not the only thing. There are definitely lessons to be learned from all of this, and I’m going to write them down below for next time, whenever that may be. For now, I still need to get me to aid station 4, where I will collapse in a chair and happily eat cheez-its and drink orange-grapefruit juice and talk with the volunteers about race things, until something better comes along.
I want you to know I’m in my rented room, drinking hard cider out of a fluted glass, and I thought “fancy” and then dribbled it down my shirt.
Aid station 4, the end of the road
I walked. Once you give up, you can relax, and stop gasping the slightly thinner air, and coddling your complaining right foot on every run. There’s not much honor in actually giving up – #66 kind of kicked all kinds of ass by continuing to mile 25 even though she knew for a fact she couldn’t make the time, and she has all kinds of respect from me. But me? This time, I gave up. People were waiting for me. I was tired, and a little down on myself for my mistakes. And frankly, I don’t think I’ve developed enough freaking fortitude yet. It’ll come if I work at it, but I don’t have it yet.
I walked down rough double track, and down little scree hills that also attempted runnercide, and fell again (“Three.”) and still wasn’t really hurt, and continued to almost turn my ankle every 7th step. And I finally put on music, and enjoyed the scenery.
The people at aid station 4 were very hostpitable – I mean, it’s their job of course, but outdoorsy people always seem so NICE. I walked up at 12:30, still 5 miles away from a.s.5, and said “Guys, somehow I think I may not make the cutoff time.” They laughed, and then I said “I quit,” and two people immediately leapt out of their chairs and offered me seats and drinks and all kinds of good things. Mostly cheez-its.
They’d camped there overnight, and had set up a tower to aid in communication. I assume it’s for ham radio, but I know absolutely nothing about such things, so it could just as easily have been a transponder for a sonar communications system. Somebody knows these things.
We talked races and kids and so on, and eventually a very nice geologist and his wife Amelie and two kids drove by, and made room for me in the back seat.
And that, kids, is how I tried to run my first ultra marathon, and DNF’d. I truly and seriously can’t blame the race organizers completely. I’m tempted, because that one flag early one was totally bullshit, but it should not have had quite THAT big an impact on my race. So, lessons learned:
- Do not go off on random, path-looking things. Trust that they DID mark the path, and you just can’t find it. Sit down and wait for daylight if that’s what it takes.
- Seriously, you need more practice running trails.
- And you need trail running shoes. The more-or-less road running shoes you have now could be complicit in aiding and abetting attempted murder, for all the good they did you in ankle-turn protection.
- Do not underestimate the course. Yes, it turns out, it would have been a good idea to come out and run on the course beforehand. This also includes, btw, taking a much closer look at overall altitude.
- Work on your hydration. I actually got rather dehydrated in the last stretch of the run, even though I thought I was drinking enough. When I hit the car, I downed a bottle of water, a bottle of coconut water, and most of a 20 ounce Coke.
- Remember to pack WAY more gels than you did, in your actual pack. It’s nice that there are like 30 of them in your drop bag. Didn’t do your upper GI any damn good around mile 17.
- Don’t get sick right before the race. I have no idea if this had any impact on the race itself, but it seems likely. Just, try.
- Sunscreen. Seriously woman, you know better. You had it. You knew you needed it. You even emphasized to your crew that they should make you reapply at a.s.5. So why on this greenish-brown earth would you neglect it? Future You is angry with past You.
Things I did right:
- Got a great crew. Supportive, loving, willing to help in any way.
- Overpacked food and gels and drink in general, at least in the car. Gotta love a good, varied food supply.
- Packed salt pills and Pepto. Saved me a world of hurt and misery.
- Good headlamp, extra batteries. Good gear in general, except for the shoes.
- Ate well the day before. There was no junk food, no sirree. And nothing weird.
- Put detailed screenshots of maps on my iPhone. While this didn’t save me from getting totally lost, they were very useful in pointing out that I REALLY WAS totally lost. Also, I was never truly, in-troube lost, in part because of these maps.
Notes from my crew:
- I ran too soon, vis-a-vis my my skill level. Don’t overreach. (Sure.)
- Underestimated the terrain. (Totally.)
- I had the right equipment – pack, knife, foods.
- Different shoes, for rocky terrain.
- Don’t let my kids get sick while I’m gone. (#1 son apparently has the flu.)
- Maybe take a different kind of sock with you as a spare. (I forgot to mention that my favorite, never-gave-me-a-second’s-trouble socks irrirated the shit out of my big toes, and the spare pair I had was of the same style and brand).
P.S. Will I do it again? Yes, but not this year. And most likely not this race. I loved the experience as a whole, but I really do hate the complete instability of the ground. Call me a mud-and-dirt-and-grass kind of girl, those desert rocks really could have done me an awful turn. As for me, I’m better aware of my inexperience, but not too awfully down on myself. It’s already a good memory.
The short version: I got lost in the dark early on, ran (officially) 20 miles, and was unable to make the cut off time, so I stopped and was driven out by a nice geologist and his family and met the team and drove home, slightly dehydrated and sunburned and disappointed. But it was lovely anyway.
Yesterday on Twitter, a friend asked me if I was excited yet about the race. I said, “Are you kidding? I packed my drop bag, pack, & waist pack yesterday. I’ve been smiling since Friday. I’m flying through taper runs.”
I’ve got stuff packed. Food gathered. Car cleaned. I’m hydrating (and therefore peeing) like mad. I have a camp stove so Sean can heat up some midrace food/tea for me. I have more of my ideal sock (CoolMesh, if you’re curious, though the SmartWool socks are ever so comfy). I’m going to bed earlier and waking up earlier, prepping for that 5:30AM starting gun.
Is it time to race yet?