Friday, August 7, 2015


The first month of marathon training is in the books.  After the past two week’s long runs, I’ve scribbled “slogfest” as the lone descriptor in my training log.  With humidity nearing 100% and temperatures creeping into the mid-eighties during my long run last Saturday morning, my inner monologue began debating the merits of downgrading the pace and walking it in.  I would resolve to keep running and then a few minutes later the inner debate would begin again.  Towards the end, every few steps I found that I had to keep deciding to run.

And this is exactly the reason I run marathons.

Marathon training is the best venue I know for practicing the act of succeeding.  This is because we come to cross a marathon finish line exactly the same way that all great endeavors are achieved:  we have to decide and then keep deciding.

The initial commitment to a goal is critical, but it’s the process of moving that goal from dream to reality that really matters.  And that process takes grit – a sort of “tenacious, dogged perseverance” (source).  There’s a burgeoning body of literature that says that the best predictor of success is grit, not talent.  Interestingly, marathoning is the metaphor used by the researcher investigating the role of grit in success:

 “We define grit as perseverance and passion for long-term goals.  Grit entails working strenuously toward challenges, maintaining effort and interest over years despite failure, adversity, and plateaus in progress.  The gritty individual approaches achievement as a marathon; his or her advantage is stamina.  Whereas disappointment or boredom signals to others that it is time to change the trajectory and cut losses, the gritty individual stays the course.” 

– Duckworth et al. in “Grit:  Perseverance and Passion for Long-Term Goals”

It is likely that grit can be learned.  I remind myself of this on long runs – that the miles I’m logging in marathon training may have spillover benefits to the achievement of other long term goals.  This grittiness I am cultivating has relevance beyond a marathon finish line.  Because, in the end, whether it is marriage or career advancement or forgiveness or 26.2 miles, to accomplish great things we have to decide and then keep deciding.


Wednesday, August 5, 2015
















“Alone in an unknown wilderness hundreds of miles from civilization and high on one of the world’s most imposing mountains, I was deeply moved by the stupendous mass of the great upheaval, the vast extent of the wild areas below, the chaos of the unfinished surfaces still in process of moulding, and by the crash and roar of mighty avalanches.”

 – Charles Sheldon in 1906, “The Wilderness of Denali”



Tuesday, July 28, 2015










High on the list of things I know nothing about you would find mushing.  You know, mushing, like dogs pulling sleds through the snow.

So we drive to Seavey’s Kennel to see what this is all about.  There are about a hundred dogs and it appears that all they want to do is run.  We’re given a brief introduction:  sled dogs can be any northern breed of dog, their ideal running temperature is twenty below and they can run a really, really long way.  We learn that the Iditarod is a 1,000 mile dog sled race across the state of Alaska.  We quickly figure out that the Seaveys are the royal family of dog sled racing (and suddenly we understand the importance of the Seavey sled sitting outside Jack London’s Cabin).

Since there is no snow on the ground, we board a wheeled sled and dogs are selected to pull.  As the musher selects dogs, the kennel breaks out into a chorus of barks, each dog yelping and pleading to be chosen.  At the musher’s command, we are off and the pups are pulling us along at fifteen miles an hour or so.  The musher is soft spoken and his commands are gentle.  We get to chatting with him and he tells us that he has completed the Iditarod twice.  The folklore around the race is epic:  hypothermia and broken bones, sled crashes and improvised repairs, snowstorms and the glory of completing the race, mushers’ unwavering commitment to their dogs.  The sled pulls back into the kennel and we disembark.  And then: we meet the puppies.



Tuesday, July 7, 2015




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Leaving Le Barn Appetit, we head towards Exit Glacier, about eight miles up the road, for a quick visit.  A mile long trail leads from the visitor center to the view point.  The majority of the trail is paved and it is well worth the walk.  We stare at the ice and look through binoculars at its formation – the frozen bubbles and soot and the little waterfalls formed by dripping snow melt.  As I have said before, I am never one to turn down a trip to a waterfall.



Thursday, July 2, 2015











If our cruise through the Kenai Fjords served as an introduction the Alaska’s land and sea, our stay at Le Barn Appetite provided us with an introduction the state’s culture.

Janet and Yvon are the proprietors of the establishment.  She a retired high school teacher and he a Belgian crepe maker.  Their story is quite something:  the openness of their home to children in need of one (they’ve had nearly 20 foster children in total over the years), their resourcefulness and ingenuity, their resilience and humor.  The B&B is a cobbling together of a diverse assortment of structures:  a tree house, a cabin, a barn.  The cabin, we are told, was built by the foster children one summer.  They had nothing to do and were getting into trouble, so Janet instructed them to build a cabin…and they did.  The aesthetic could be described, in a word, as kitsch.  There are truck tires and school desks scattered around the property, all waiting for their next incarnation as a garden pot or fireside seat.

We arrive and are given a tour.  Janet and Yvon’s home was destroyed in a fire a few years ago and the couple is rebuilding.  Their new home is nearly complete and Janet shows us around with a great deal of pride, careful to point out several prized possessions and recent finds from the local Habitat for Humanity store.  Everything has a purpose and I get the feeling that this woman has never wasted a single thing in her entire life.

Our tour ends at the “Jack London’s Cabin” where we’ll be spending the night.  She gives an incredibly thorough cabin tour in one run-on sentence that goes something like “this is a real log cabin and this is a Seavy sled their family gave us, this is a cabinet I picked up for $8 dollars at Habitat for Humanity (points to price tag on the back as proof), Jack London’s books could’ve gone in here or maybe he could’ve had something like this in his home, don’t you think?, this is the bathroom, this is a curtain to give privacy between the two beds, and this is the bear my husband shot.”  The whole tour comes out in one breath and is perfectly matter-of-fact.  Ryan and I looked at the bear pelt and then at each other dumbfounded.  The accommodations are incredibly comfortable and authentic.

The next morning the sun is shining and we walk over to the barn for breakfast.  In the dining room, there are antlers and a taxidermied turtle and snowshoes and model airplanes and a deep sea diving helmet and family pictures and trumpets.  Yvon is perched at a bar crafting crepes and holding court.  He’s cracking inappropriate jokes and repeatedly asking for diners to call the Pope as the crepes they’ll be eating are so decadent they will almost certainly fall into sin.  The crepes really are that good.

We have a morning activity planned and our time at Le Barn Appetit comes to a close, so we say goodbye to the innkeepers.  We debrief about the innkeepers in the car and find ourselves in agreement that it was an absolute pleasure to spend a night fully immersed in Janet and Yvon’s reality.



Tuesday, June 16, 2015






























An alternate title for this post could be:  sea lions and whales and puffins, oh my.

We arrived in Seward, snacked on halibut tacos then boarded the Nunatak for a day cruise through the Kenai Fjords.  The weather was cool and overcast, but the rain held off – apparently a rarity here.  We pull out of the harbor and immediately see a pair of otters playing off the port side of the boat.  We spend the afternoon cruising around the bay.  There are misty whale spouts on the horizon and there are Dall sheep scaling the cliffs that drop into the bay.  Seals nap at the water’s edge; sea lions bellow then flop into the water from their perch on the rocks.  There are spinner porpoises playing in the wake of the boat.  A veritable artic safari unfolds before us in Resurrection Bay.

Glaciers frame in the bay to the west, mountains to the east and the ocean to the south.  If one were to construct a set for the play “Alaska,” I think this panorama would do nicely.

We pull into the shore for an all you can eat salmon lunch, then board the boat and continue exploring the Fjords.  The air is cold and we are bundled standing, watching, drinking in the land and seascape.  I notice that the captain is only wearing a short sleeve t-shirt.  He points out a bald eagle in a treetop, then explains the difference between the two species of puffins swimming beside the boat.

We explore nooks and crannies around the fjords.  There are uninhabited islands and we look for humpback whales.  The captain turns off the boat engine and we listen for their breathy exhalation.  All is quiet.  We scan the horizon waiting for the next appearance.  The whales surface in due course, on their own time.  Not necessarily in the places we were looking, but magnificently, nonetheless.  We are watchful, expectant, present. Quite a lovely posture, come to think of it.



Monday, June 15, 2015







I flew into Anchorage with zero visibility on our itinerary.  I literally had no clue where we’d be going or what we’d be doing.  Little did I know that Ryan’s wonderful boss who lives in Alaska had orchestrated the most incredible itinerary for us.  I flew in Saturday night, then Sunday morning we hopped in the car and began an incredible little road trip around the state.

Seward was the first stop on our itinerary.  Traveling from Anchorage to Seward takes about two and a half hours by car.  The route travels along AK-1 which winds between Resurrection Bay and Chugach National Forrest.  In short, the drive is spectacular – snowcapped mountains, a bay filled with beluga whales, alpine meadows.  We stop at the midway point in Girdwood and eat humongous old fashioned donuts and apple fritters at the aptly named Alpine Café and Bakery.  We continue driving until we reach Seward.


Tuesday, May 26, 2015







There may be no more touristy activity, but when someone hands you a pair of tickets for the bateaux mouches, you board the boat — preferably at sunset.

Your husband announces that he has tickets and you sort of roll your eyes and then inquire somewhat incredulously as to whether he is really serious because those boats are packed with tourists, so cliché and really sort of lame.  But, we are beach kids through and through and our coastal upbringing has taught us that when you receive an invitation for a boat ride, you accept.  So we dutifully board the boat, wearing sunglasses and sort of looking at the ground as all the cool Parisian teenagers loitering in the park by the dock are smoking cigarettes and looking at us.  You can practically hear them sneering.  You sit down and then are surrounded by a group of French high school students that look equally as embarrassed to be on board.  The boat sputters to a start and our little trip down the river begins.  The high schoolers start holding hands and you notice the girls perfectly messy French hair and how they are all smack dab in the middle of evolving into French Women and you take note of how much less self-possessed you were at 16.  Then you look at your husband and think about what he was like at 16 – boisterous, athletic, cool – and think about how funny it is that it is he who you are riding next to on this (admittedly very pleasant) tourist trap in Paris.  Then you settle in, realizing that you are now just part of the mass of tourists on board and out of the direct line of sight of the elegant Parisian Women and you watch as the sun falls and the light changes and the carousel goes around and around.  You float down the river past the places you visited in the preceding days – you notice the Musee D’Orsay and Notre Dame – and you watch the people on the bank picnicking and sipping wine and laughing.  Then you think of all the famous people who have picnicked on those banks and sipped wine and laughed and think to yourself how very lucky you are to have come through this city with your husband who was once the 16 year old in your PE class.  Evening arrives and the boat finds its way back to the dock.  You disembark and notice that the sneering teenagers in the park have disappeared and you find your way to a café nearby where you too can sit by the river and sip wine and laugh while watching those oh so touristy bateaux mooches pass by.


Monday, May 25, 2015


Happy Memorial Day, friends.


Friday, May 22, 2015















A couple of months ago I read Cheryl Strayed’s “Tiny Beautiful Things.”  To use a cliché, I couldn’t put it down.  I inhaled her advice and tough love framed in with “sweet peas” and F bombs.

Since reading, I haven’t been able to get this quote out of my head:

There’s a line by the Italian writer Carlo Levi that I think is apt here: “The future has an ancient heart.” I love it because it expresses with such grace and economy what is certainly true—that who we become is born of who we most primitively are; that we both know and cannot possibly know what it is we’ve yet to make manifest in our lives.

I’ve passed these words along to a friend making decisions about residency, offered them as hope to a person trapped in indecision and spoken them during a celebration of someone’s recent accomplishment.

We both know and we cannot possibly know.

Ryan graduated on Sunday.  We drove to D.C. on Tuesday to attend the graduation gala, a gathering of about 1,000 affiliates of the School of Business.  It took us two tries to get to the right venue.  Tuesday night black tie galas are, at least from my singular experience, a bit odd.  It’s the middle of the week and staying out late on a Tuesday has consequences.  Plus you feel a little silly getting all dolled up.  We attended anyways and spent the night sipping cheap wine in a hotel ballroom, offering congratulations and inquiring about post-graduation plans.  Most of Ryan’s friends worked through the MBA program, so questions about next steps were answered rather wistfully – there were hopes of new opportunities and moving on from current positions, but few graduates had concrete offers.

This graduation was markedly different than undergraduate commencement ceremonies where students receive diplomas and are then thrust out into the real world.  This graduation lacked the same sort of punctuation and felt a whole lot like a Tuesday night black tie gala – situated very much in the middle of something else.

I began running a few months after I graduated from college.  I’d just started my first full time job and remember being exhausted at the end of the first week.  The thought of working like this for the next forty years nearly brought me to tears.  It sounds silly now, but the prospect of professional life after college felt big and long and I feared it would be exhausting and monotonous.  Up to that time life had been punctuated by graduations accompanied with clear transitions from one school to the next.  The task was scripted and performance was measured.  I had no idea how to navigate those first weeks of my career and felt at once trapped and completely lost at sea.  So, I started running.  I signed up for a marathon and found a training plan.  Running added structure to a life space that otherwise lacked any sort of finish line, so I pinned on a bib and found my own.  Punctuating my first steps into adulthood with mile markers and weekly long runs, I built endurance and began to gain perspective.

In the years since graduation from college, I still find myself wishing for punctuation — a pause between this and that— and a moment in time bearing witness to that which was in the past and this which is what will usher in the future.  A college-style three month summer vacation would do nicely.

But, I guess that’s the thing about life (as Robert Frost famously said):  it goes on.  And, as such, transitions are rarely as anticipated and discrete as college commencement.  The reality is that continues and it’s unclear where this next thing will begin.  And so recently Cheryl Strayed’s words took on new meaning for me:  whereas in the past I called them forth to bear witness, I now hold them close with great hope and expectation.

We both know and cannot possibly know.

Finish lines still matter and so we lace up and start running.  We count the miles.  We sign up for races and see how we measure up against the course.  In running we test the edges of ourselves again and again.  Along the way we find strength and a pack to run with.  We learn to endure and we come to understand the incredible places we can go if we just keep placing one foot in front of the other.  We run from here to there and move from this to that and in so doing we come to understand that we both know and cannot possibly know where these steps will lead us.

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