Brian's Journal - Spring 2013

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Today was not as warm as yesterday, only mid-60's, due to morning stratus which didn't clear until after lunch. David and Trevor reported that the clouds broke up at Mud Mountain Dam, as I had predicted. They drove up 410 to hike the Palisades Trail, ate lunch at the North Snoquera Overlook and continued up to the old clearcut where they were turned back by too much snow. We encountered very little snow up to the overlook, hiking with the McLarty's on Sabbath. At seven miles, that was Susan's longest hike in more than a year. She was tired yesterday and today, but the good news is that her ankle was fine.
I cleaned out all the nest boxes this afternoon, scrubbing with bleach water the ones which were occupied last summer. I hadn't checked them since then, and I found a baby swallow skeleton in the Tree Swallow box in the garden, along with lots of black crumbly material which may once have been ants. In the box on the north side of the workshop I found a dessicated baby Bewick's wren. The box outside the southeast corner of the living room contained fresh dry grass and duck feathers, but no old material. I thought Violet-green Swallows used it last summer, and I've seen House Sparrows frequenting it recently, so perhaps the sparrows cleaned it out for me, or perhaps the swallows never actually occupied it. In any case, I emptied it in an attempt to discourage the House Sparrows.
I didn't make it out for a run - too tired. It was all I could do to move the ladder around. I took two naps, one in the morning and one in the evening, and could have used another in mid-afternoon as well. My hay fever was bad today so I took a whole Zyrtec instead of just a half, and I think maybe that may be part of the reason for the fatigue.
4/6/2013   Yakima River Canyon Marathon  
Good birding race - 48 species today including several new marathon birds. Thanks I guess to warm weather in the past few weeks, and a later marathon date than recent years, the canyon was much greener than I've seen it in the past. Balsamroot was even flowering in some places and cottonwoods were tinged with green. The bird migration farther along as well. I heard and saw a White-throated Swift around mile 17 and heard Vesper Sparrows singing at mile 23 and Chukars calling at mile 24. Other bird highlights included Wild Turkeys calling around mile 6 and a Prairie Falcon diving across the road at mile 14.
4/14/2013   Boston Marathon  
I finished about 45 minutes before the bombs went off and met Susan on Arlington, about 4 blocks from the finish, after picking up my drop bag. We just happened to be crossing Bolyston when the bombs went off but had no idea what they were, thought maybe they were some kind of celebratory fireworks or something. We heard a loud boom and saw a cloud of pale brown smoke spread out into the street from the sidewalk area and billow up two or three stories high. While we were watching, another cloud mushroomed out from farther down the street and we heard another loud boom.
We began walking back up Commonwealth Ave towards the Harvard Club, another 3 blocks or so beyond where the explosions had happened, and began to see dozens of police vehicles and several ambulances racing towards the marathon finish. We also began to encounter groups of runners walking down the mall on Commonwealth Ave. Several stopped and asked where I'd picked up my gear bag so I explained where the buses were. The marathon had been abruptly canceled and thousands of runners were bunched up right where Commonwealth Ave begins to dip down under Mass Ave. None knew exactly why. Cell phones had mostly stopped working so information was hard to come by. We later learned that service may have been blocked to avoid the possibility of the bomber setting off additional bombs via cell phone. Whatever the reason, spectators couldn't find out if their runners were injured and runners couldn't find out if family members had been at the finish when the bombs went off. We, and everyone around us, began to get a sense of how serious the situation was. People were not in a panic but they were shocked, worried, uncertain what to do. Some were crying. Police were tense too, shouting and even swearing at pedestrians who were trying to get into the area to look for family members or retrieve their cars.
I was particularly concerned about Jeff, whom I knew might be finishing about at the time of the explosions. It was a scary hour before I heard from him. He had in fact been on the scene, having crossed the finished line seconds before the first bomb exploded just a hundred feet away. Anita escaped even more narrowly. She'd been right at the bomb scene and would certainly have been hurt, except that when she caught sight of Jeff approaching the finish she ran over to meet him and was just out of range of the explosion when the bomb went off.
The emergency response was impressive. Streets were cleared within minutes to make room for lines of ambulances, some of which had been waiting on scene to assist marathon finishers, a small percentage of whom normally need medical attention at the finish. On TV we saw bomb victims being transported on stretchers and wheelchairs originally intended for marathon finishers and loaded into the waiting ambulances. Ambulances swept down traffic-free streets towards area hospitals. Hundreds of police and National Guard who'd been deployed along the course for traffic control (and to manage inebriated spectators) converged on the scene, clearing remaining runners and spectators and cordoning off the area. Bomb squads and SWAT teams moved in and began a comprehensive sweep for other bombs. Early reports claimed they found three, one of which had malfunctioned and was merely smoking. They exploded it with a water cannon.
Runners unfortunately had a tough time of it. About 6000 were affected by the course closure. Without access to their clothing bags at the finish, and in many cases with no money or phone, they were stiff and sore from running 25+ miles and soon became chilled since they were no longer actively exercising. Many were staying in hotels in the area which were in lockdown pending the bomb search, so they couldn't get back to their rooms, or meet up with their families either since the family meeting place was on the far side of the lockdown area.
We ate a late lunch with Mom and John in the hotel grill, our attention fixed on the news channel on the TV. They were able to get out as planned after lunch to drive back back up to New Hampshire. We'd booked another night at the Harvard Club intending to catch post-race Maniac party, but due to the lockdown, restaurants were closed and police have been urging everyone to stay off the streets. Tony, Chris and Steve are in one of the closed hotels, and since the subway isn't running, they couldn't get over to Cambridge anyhow. A few guys from the Elliott Hotel next door had bought pizzas and beer and brought them over to the big ballroom in our hotel. The grill was closed so Susan and I dined on their leftovers and shared an Amstel Light.
So we are unhurt tonight, as is everyone I know, both spectators and runners, who were here in Boston for the marathon. But there's grief under the surface, grief that the venerable and venerated Boston Marathon was attacked, and grief for the some 140 marathon spectators who were injured and 3 who died. It seems particularly unfair that spectators, those who love and support us who run, were the ones who suffered most in the attack. I'm angry too that someone felt justified in committing this atrocity against the city and the marathon and running, and I want them identified, captured and punished. Death would be too small a price for them to pay.
The marathon, by the way, was tough because I ran hard without having trained to run hard. The first 20 miles weren't too bad; I averaged 8:10/mile for the first 10 and 8:40/mile for the second 10. The last 6 weren't too good. Despite what felt like a higher level of effort, my hr dropped 3-4 beats/minute and my pace slowed another 30 sec/mile to 9:10. I don't remember when I ate my last gel but around mile 23 I looked for one and discovered I had none left. I felt hazy, a bit faint, and had to breathe harder than normal, all signs of low blood sugar. My legs and feet were sore too, particularly glutes and hamstrings, and I'd been feeling possible blisters on my toes since sometime in the first half though they never quite materialized. So I limped into the finish at 9:30/mile struggling unsuccessfully to pick up the pace but glad to be finishing no worse than 3:45.
It seemed to be a bit of an off day right from the start. There were no White-throated Sparrows singing along Commonwealth Avenue. At the buses up by Park Street I waited for a chilly hour because queues weren't clearly marked. On the bus I didn't socialize much because everyone around me was speaking Italian. Arriving somewhat late at the Athlete's Village, I kept busy with porta-potty visits and preparations and walked down to my corral without having come across anyone I knew. Though I was glad to be in the race, to be standing in the crowd behind the starting line on such a good day for a run, I wasn't psyched to run hard. I'd have been content to take it easy, as I've been doing on all my other long runs this year, but that's hard to do at Boston. Caught up in the multi-hued river of runners streaming out of Hopkinton, you just can't go slow.
Having qualified with a relatively fast time, I was mixed up with the wrong crowd. I was fit for eight and change while they were doing 7:40 or better. Though not that far off their pace, it was enough of a difference that several thousand runners passed me in the first ten miles. Succumbing to temptation I probably pushed a bit too hard in the early miles with a couple of sub-8 (downhill) splits but for the most part I paced myself as I had wanted to. I kissed 5 Wellesley girls plus Susan and Ali and hit the halfway point just under 1:48. At mile 15 I greeted Bridge and Moriah and gave Julia a hug before speeding on. I walked a bit on the Newton hills between 17 and 20 but it was the 10:30 mile 21 which forced me to acknowledge that 3:40 and a BQ wasn't going to happen today. Having already qualified last fall that was OK, so I reset my goal to 3:45, or at least under 3:47. I achieved that, making this race my median Boston with three slower and three faster in the six years I've run it.
Not feeling as enthusiastic this year as in past years I'd been thinking this would be my last one for a while, but given what has happened, I now want to return to support this great race. I'm glad now too that I bought a jacket this year. I liked the blue and yellow colors (they remind me of TP #3) so when I found a size Medium in Marathon Sports (the store where the windows were blown out by the finish line bomb) I bought it even though I figured I would only wear it in Boston. Now I wear it proudly and barring injury, I'll be back next April for #8.
4/19/2013   The Bombers Apprehended  
They caught the bombers, two brothers of Chechen origin who were identified by the public from surveillance video released by the police which showed them carrying, and apparently even placing, the backpacks containing the bombs while runners jogged towards the finish line in the background. It was an intense manhunt, especially in the past 24 hours. The older brother was killed in a firefight with police which took place about the time we were getting off the airplane in Seattle. The younger brother, a college student at U Mass well-liked by his friends, was injured in the firefight, ran over his fallen brother as he tried to escape in their stolen SUV then took off on foot and hid in a boat in someone's back yard until a neighbor noticed blood on the shrink-wrapped craft this evening and called police. He was captured alive and taken to the hospital with FBI agents tagging along to interrogate him.
Though no motive has yet been determined, it appears to me that the marathon wasn't the objective per se - it just provided a vulnerable crowd to target. I think it will turn out that the terrorists had no particular antipathy for the race; they were impartial, striking almost at random. That makes the bombing more like a natural disaster than an act of aggression or hatred - and that in turn is somehow reassuring, less disturbing than the idea that someone would hate the marathon and those who gather for it. I also suspect that the older brother, perhaps infected with Islamic fundamentalism, corrupted the younger and drew him into his deadly plot. Hopefully now that his mentor is dead he will cooperate with police and we'll be able to get a full picture of how this tragedy came about. In any case, the two of them apparently had more bombs and bomb plots in the works, so it was certainly a good thing they were stopped before they could wreak more destruction.
4/30/2013   Squak Mountain  
I ran a loop on Squak Mountain this morning hoping to hear a Northern Pygmy Owl. My original destination was Rattlesnake Ridge since three were reported up there a week or two ago but as soon as I reached the Winery Road trailhead it began to snow hard. After only five minutes the ground was already turning white so I retreated to Issaquah where the storm was wrapping up. I found about a half inch of snow higher up on Squak, enough to frost the fir branches but not so much as to impede running.
I didn't find any Pygmy Owls but I counted 34 other species, 5 of them new for the year: Hammond's and Pacific Slope Flycatcher, Cassin's Vireo (that was a surprise) and Townsend's and Wilson's Warblers. The vireo was singing some distance away so I bushwhacked off the trail in its direction (Salal is scratchier than it looks) and called it with my phone. It came right in and sang all around me, though mostly backlit up in the treetops making it tough to pick out many details. I did at one point get a clear view of its spectacles, and the overall size and shape were clear. A few minutes later I got a good view of another vireo but it was a Hutton's - olive gray above, pale yellowish-olive below with more of an eyering than spectacles. The Townsend's were nice, half a dozen bright males singing in the Doug Fir treetops but somewhat downslope so I didn't have to crane my neck too much to see them. Their songs varied but seemed to end with two fairly musical upslurred notes "sileek-sileek" or "tzeek-tzeek". The songs on my phone weren't a very good match. Black-throated Gray Warblers on the other hand, end with a single buzzier "zizeeet". I've long had difficulty distinguishing those two, in part because it's so difficult to spot singing Townsend's Warblers in their preferred habitat high up in the tops of Douglas Firs.
Five new birds today makes 241 for the year and 54 new for the month. Altogether in April I saw 193 species in Washington, got out in the field 19 of the 23 days I was in state and submitted 37 Washington checklists to eBird, with another 8 shared checklists, for a total of 71 hours.
5/5/2013   Tacoma City Marathon  
I paced 4:25 again this year. Though I crossed the finish line at exactly 4:25:00 on the clock I lost my entire group at about mile 18 in Point Defiance on a couple of gentle uphill grades. I was a minute or so ahead at that point so I slowed down a bit to perhaps 10:25/mile but they still couldn't hang on. Until then, or at least through halfway, I had a loose pack of about a dozen runners with me. Sue Galley from Calgary Alberta ran with me through mile 22. She will be pacing 3:50 at the Calgary marathon and wanted to practice today, so she carried my sign more than I did. She'll do fine. The only way I stay on schedule is by checking my watch frequently but she seemed to have an internal metronome and held a steadier pace than I did.
Since I was pacing I didn't try to count birds but did notice my first-of-year Black-headed Grosbeak in a neighborhood somewhere and several Hutton's vireos and Black-throated Gray warblers singing in Point Defiance Park. Purple Martins along Ruston Way, which came the closest to being a new marathon bird since I've seen them during only one other race - Capitol City a few years ago.
The last few miles were tough. Steve White ran with me and together we hung on to the 10:15 pace we needed to finish on time. The route was in full sun and the breeze was at our backs so the air was hot. My hamstrings and groin were stiff and sore and it was a struggle to stay upright and keep my legs moving. If I hadn't been pacing I'd certainly have been walking, but that wasn't an option. I'm glad I made it.
Afterwards I waited for Susan to show up and join me at the finish. We hung out with Rick H and a few other people at the finish area for quite a while before walking up to The Swiss for lunch and a beer. Susan got to talking with a Japanese man from Brazil who'd won a Maniac award for bringing the most new Maniacs into the club, so we took him with us to the Maniac post-race party at CI Shenanigans. There she gave Prez a backrub and he fell asleep in her arms. In my post-race daze I don't remember who we sat with or who I talked to, though after the massage Susan and Rick discussed his past girlfriends, most of whom he retains as friends after they break up.
5/17/2013   A good night's sleep  
I went to bed before 10PM last night for the first time in six weeks, and didn't wake up until after 6AM, unusually late. My pattern has been to get to bed at 10:30 or 11PM and wake up between 5:15 and 6AM, then feel tired much of the day because that's not quite enough sleep for me. Maybe the run helped - I ran 4 miles before supper, only my fourth run this month and one of those was the Tacoma City Marathon. I've either been too tired or too busy birding to get out running. And I have been busy birding - 11 days, 25 eBird checklists, 35 hours in the field and 157 species so far this month, 22 of those new for the year.

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