A year with Strava


Another fantastic year of running in the books, full of new friends, new trails, and most importantly, the arrival of Autumn Burrell, my beautiful 10 month daughter and occasional jogging buddy.  If there is one thing i’ve learned about being a father, it’s that it brings the most important things of life into focus.  For both Kristin and I, running is one of those things, and we’ve both enjoyed one of our most pleasurable years of running yet.


2012 was also my first full year using Strava, the GPS tracking cum social fitness network. Strava scratches a lot of itches for me as an athlete, from the tangible to the intangible.   For the analytic nerd in me, It provides a framework for tracking performance over the duration of a training cycle and monitoring progress on key training runs/workouts (example).  And for the competitor in me, it injects an extra bit of motivation into a hard effort, with the knowledge that I am competing against both my own previous best times, and also everyone else on Strava who has ever run the trail.  In short, there is a life to the run beyond the pain of the workout.  For those of us that don’t train in a club or a group, that sort of virtual competition, even if it’s only with ourselves, is incredibly valuable (if used selectively).


Using Strava for a full year also means that I have a whole slew of data to reflect back on at year’s end.  I’ll share a summary of these numbers below, not because i think they are so impressive, but to serve as a  benchmark to measure future years.    Many elite runners run nearly twice the volume that i do, but this is what works for me to maintain balance in my life.

So here’s my 2012 year in running by the numbers, with goals identified in parentheses (aimed primarily at being injured less)…Hopefully 2013 will be just as fun.

260 total runs

325 hours of running (2013 goal: 365)

2,260 total miles run (2013 goal: 3000)

337,000 total vertical ft  (2013 goal: 500,000)

1300 average vertical ft per run

49 consecutive days off due to Achilles tendonitis (2013 goal: 0)

11 races, 6 wins

187 miles raced

29  Mt Tam summits (2013 goal: 50)



Back on track

Hard to believe it’s been so long since my last post. At that time in early March, my daughter was barely 2 weeks old, I was just recovering from a 2 month Achilles tendonitis injury, and the Bay Area was just beginning to blossom into spring. Needless to say, much has changed since then.

Summer has arrived (climatically speaking), I’ve bounced back from my injury, and little Autumn is developing in all those special ways that only her family can fully appreciate (so I’ll spare you every last detail).

Having a baby, or going through any major life event, is a valuable opportunity to examine the priorities in one’s life. It’s amazing how the scarcity of free time brings clarity to how you want to spend it. There are some things that I thought I was excited about but have completely slipped off the radar in the last three months. Blogging, for example. Learning a foreign language might also fit into this category, although I remain hopeful this inspiration will return one day. Looking back on the last 3.5 months now that the dust has settled, It is the relationships and activities that prospered during this time that feel very significant. Family and friends (obviously), running, cooking, and travel come to mind. These aspects of my life are more meaningful and joyful now than ever before.

Running is going better than ever after returning from injury. I think i’ve found a nice balance between running as training (which is an aspect of running I have always loved, but has sometimes come at the cost of injury and burnout), and also running as a means of both experiencing joy, and coping with the world around me. A big part of this balance is learning the value of restraint, and I think i’m practicing that with greater success than i have before.

So far I have two races under my belt this spring, both on the roads. I did the Kalamazoo Half Marathon while visiting family back in early May and came away with a nice little unexpected win.

And this morning I met up with friends Nathan, Brett and Peter to run the 92nd Annual Statuto 8km Race in North Beach (aka little Italy). I first ran this race back in 2007 and appreciated it’s “small town race in a big city” atmosphere. Hosted by the Italian Athletic Club of San Francisco, the race is unlike any other. Donuts and coffee are served before the race. Salami and wine are given away as awards. And the trophies are reminiscent of what you might expect from a high school national cross country championship. Huge.

I’ll always remember what the rotund Italian announcer said to me when I collected my trophy back in 2007. “Congratulations. He looks like a runner doesn’t he? Now someone get that boy some food!” Classic.

Well, It seems the mega trophy is a tradition they are fond of, as I took home another one this morning, along with a bottle of Italian red wine. It was a great morning in the city with friends.

Statuto trophy (photo by Brett Rivers)

Looking forward to running my next race on trails, most likely in the Headlands of Marin in the next month, and some bigger mountains later in the summer. Stay tuned…

Exercise is a dad’s best friend

The advice I hear over and over as a new parent is that sleep is the most important thing you can do to survive the first year of parenting. And believe me, after getting anywhere from 3-5 hours of sleep night after night, the idea of taking a daily nap sounds pretty appealing. And yet each day when given the opportunity, I turn to exercise instead.

I’m somewhat envious of friends who are less reliant on exercise. They seem to go about their day with ease, rolling with whatever the day presents without concern for how it will affect their ability to get out for a bike ride or run. I imagine these friends to have infinite time to read the newspaper at their local coffee shop, engage in lengthy philosophical discussions with their wives, play for hours with their kids, and write poetry in their spare time.

Meanwhile, i start twitching and becoming irritable if noon rolls around and i haven’t yet gotten my heart rate up to 150 (i’ve been pretty grouchy the last 2 months since my achilles injury). Yesterday was a perfect example. I was sitting in the living room, the late morning sun was streaming in through the windows, birds chirping outside, and the cutest little baby I’ve ever seen was napping in my lap. What could be better, right? And yet i was unbelievably irritable. The sun was too hot. Simple tasks too tedious. And I almost hurled my phone over the balcony after yet another AT&T dropped call. What’s the problem here? I need a nap. No, i need a bike ride.

So with the blessing from my awesome wife, I went for an hour and half ride along the stunning pacific coast on the famous Highway 1. The views of the ocean from this rolling highway (peacefully free of traffic on a weekday – hurray for paternal leave!!) are breathtaking. On a clear sunny day in winter, the Farralon Islands are visible on the horizon and the water is a beautiful turquoise color that seems only possible in the Mediterranean. From Stinson Beach, my route climbed up the lower slopes of Mt Tamalpais, where I danced on the pedals as if i was finishing the Alp d’Huez stage of the Tour de France. But instead of fist pumping fans and flag bearing countrymen cheering me on, 200 year old redwoods creaked and groaned overhead with approval. After summiting the climb, the ride finished with a cruisy descent through shady redwood groves as dappled light danced across the road. It was pure bliss. It was one of the best bike rides of my life.

Funny thing is, i’ve said that to myself after my last three bike rides.

When i come home from these rides and my wife asks how it was, i try to act nonchalant. But like a kid who just scarfed a chocolate bar out of the cupboard, the evidence is all over my face; pure smiles.

From that point on, the day seems to unfold with ease. Washing dishes feels less tedious. The crying sounds less piercing (as perfect as she is, she does cry on occasion). Sitting down and being still with my daughter, taking in all the details, the new facial expressions, and the funny little noises that come out of her, becomes an absolute joy.

I think it all comes down to patience. In addition to the health benefits, the pursuit of goals, and the fresh air, exercise makes me more patient. And patience, i’ll venture to guess, is one of the most important traits to foster as a successful father (and husband).

So for now, and the foreseeable future, i will have to abandon any hopes of leisurely mornings reading the newspaper, afternoon naps, and poetry writing. Because the one personal activity that makes me a better (i.e. patient) parent, husband, and employee, is exercise.

Coffee comes a close second.

Preamble to Fatherhood

Well, i’ve been a dad for a week now.

After barely 5 hours of labor on Wednesday February 22, my amazing wife gave birth to a little girl.  In a matter of hours, the great mystery of who the little person was that had been so expertly nestled in her belly for 9 months was revealed.  In that same amount of time, I went from being an unsuspecting naive young man to being an unsuspecting naive young father.  I now have a daughter to look at, to hold, and to (attempt to) comfort. As she lies next to me in her cocoon like swaddling cloth, the notion of what it means to be her father still feels a little uncertain, yet utterly gratifying. The following quote from the book Crawling: A Father’s First Year says it best:

In the back of my mind I knew I’d have children someday.  I just didn’t know how to get there with any grace. I was on one side of a canyon, aware the I’d be on the other side, but had no clue how to make the bridge.  And now, i am on the other side, and there was no bridge, just this wild biological leap of faith (and some discussion, some unprotected sex).  Here i am, a parent. I’m teetering on the edge of the other side though. I have to learn how to be a parent, to care for this baby.  It’s terrifying.

But i think i’m getting warmed up to it.  For now, i’ll follow my instincts, which tell me this: don’t drop her.  keep her safe.  give her nourishment and warmth.  love the heck out of her!

Tourist Clubbing

Maybe when i become a father i'll stop taking pictures while driving...

These last couple weeks have felt like I’ve been in a bit of a holding pattern.    Our baby’s due date — the biggest, most exciting, most frightening event of our lives — looms ahead of us in a matter of weeks, if not days (more on that in the next post).  And meanwhile, the achilles injury i suffered over a month ago continues to keep me out of commission on the running front.  But that holding pattern is sure to give way to exciting changes ahead.  The achilles is slowly coming around (fingers crossed) and the bun will be out of the oven in no time.

Meanwhile, we’ve been getting out on some fun day trips in the Bay Area to take advantage of our waning days of independence.  On Saturday we drove up to the Sonoma Coast, about 1.5 hours north of Mill Valley.  This is a beautiful stretch of coast with dozens of small beaches connected by rocky bluffs and crashing surf.  It can be appreciated from the comfort of one’s car while driving the infamous Highway 1, or better yet, hiking the 3.5 mile Kortum trail.

Sonoma Coast

On the way back we stopped at Nicks Cove for a roadside lunch, which in this part of the state means oysters and wine.  Unfortunately, these are two things that Kristin isn’t supposed to eat while pregnant, but we found a couple other bits and pieces for her to enjoy.  Nicks Cove is almost too picturesque for its own good.  As if the restaurant’s location on the waterfront were not enough, it also has a small boat house at the end of the long dock, where more adventurous diners can enjoy their bivalves and rose surrounded by the ocean on all sides.  The whole structure gently rocks with the rhythm of the waves, and a wood stove keeps the place feeling warm and cozy.

The Boathouse at Nicks Cove

The Boathouse at Nicks Cove

Inside the boat house

Rose always tastes better outside


Saturday was a tough act to follow, but with friends visiting from San Francisco and LA, we put on our tour guide hats and headed for the hills.   On a sunny day in Marin, there is no better place to take visitors than the Tourist Club.  Nestled in the redwoods on the lower slopes of Mt Tam, the Tourist Club is a privately operated Bavarian style clubhouse, reached only by trail.  Visitors are welcome to hike in on weekends and enjoy a pint (or pitcher) of German beers out on the sunny deck overlooking Muir Woods.  The scene is remarkable.

The Tourist Club

Walking the Sun Trail to the Tourist Club

We finished the outing with a quick trip to the top of Mt Tam to enjoy the views of the City, before heading over the Golden Gate bridge for a nice dinner at Aziza.  Aziza has one of the best cocktail menus in the City, and their Michelin starred California-Moroccan food aint bad either.  It was a great day out with friends, in a place we continue to be proud to call home.

View of the city from the summit of Mt Tam