2013: Porcupine Mountains Trail Half Marathon

Whatever momentum I thought I had gained in recent months of running and participating in organized events, I lost at least parts of it since the 2013: XTERRA Marquette Epic Triathlon with Team Winston. Part of it was due to the busy-ness of the new school semester and the responsibilities that come with it while a really really big part of it is the good ole me finding ways to not run as frequently as I could. The only training run I did was a short 3 miler that took me up the Quincy Hill along the tram track, and hoped that prior trail run races would help carry me through this one. Looking through my logs, there was some silver lining running up this copper-ladden hill: my previous such attempt had taken 17+ minutes just for the hill climb; this one took less than 16 minutes for much longer distance before and after the hill climb. For what it’s worth, this race — Porcupine Mountains Trail (Half) Marathon — turned out to be the first of its kind, for me, that had a ceiling on the registration as well as on the time to finish the race.

The week of the event taught me some invaluable gems: to turn off auto pause feature on my Garmin Forerunner 405CX (courtesy of Dr. Suits) and to carb load in multiple phases, instead of just the day/night before (courtesy of dear friend, Andi). I am quite happy to report that I listened to and followed both these gems of advices. Having taken care of my carb loading needs [a home-made pesto pasta with Montreal Steak Seasoning served as phase #1 on Thursday night, a breakfast burrito in 5th and Elm Coffee House for phase #2, the customary lunch at Rodeo Mexican Kitchen with friends (Nancy, Josh and Amy) for phase #3 and dinner with the Gracis (Sam and Kara) at Rodeo Mexican Kitchen (yes, again) for phase #4], stayed off of alcoholic beverages, participated in PlaidUrDay festivities, loaded up six 6-packs for the road (just in case Wisconsin ran out of beer) and learning from the mistakes of my previous race, I opted to spend the night within a stone’s throw of the event location. The Gracis were kind enough to let me crash with them in AmericInn Lodge & Suites, helping me get a full and good night of sleep for the first time all week.

Hauling winds off the greatest of the great lakes had been accompanied by a down pour in the morning of the race, and the event started on time with barely enough sun light but plenty of fog and chill in the air. No sooner had the cow bells chimed to indicate start of the race than I found myself at my usual place – at the very tail end of the pack. I did, however, find some good company to run at fairly comfortable pace: a fellow physics major from the greater Chicago area. Taking my (lack of) training into account but mindful of the not so pretty face momma nature can put out in this neck of the woods if she so chooses, it was deemed necessary to pay due respect to the ever ascending trail and that it was energetically less favorable (a phrase that I shamelessly stole from a fellow Exercise Science major of a runner) to keep running up.

After a 3.5 mile hill climb was by far, amongst all the trail running events I have participated in, the best aid station ever in a log cabin: not only they had heed in a jug (which I, at first, heard as beer and my unbounded joy was rather short lived) but home made cookies! If I thought the trail was muddy and slippery during the first hill climb — thanks in great part to the recent down pour — I was in for a very pleasant surprise. Of the next many miles some were relatively flat, some were steep down to a valley, some were brutally uphill, some had been explored by me before while I was a newbie on others but almost all of it was muddier and slipperier. Deep chocolate-isque slush, at times ankle deep, made traction — often taken for granted — a real luxury, both in concept and practice, and running through the gushing Carp River a breeze!

Although just about every joint in my limbs was hurting and I was chilled to the bone when I crossed the finish line after 4+ gruesome hours, every painful step over a course of 13.7 miles was totally worth it — making new friends, realizing the value of wanting to run when no one is cheering for you, learning that there are trail running shoes, maiden experience of hitting the wall around the 11 mile mark that made the last mile seem like it would never end and re-realizing the value of a hot shower on a cold day (in Union Bay Campground). I probably would have finished around 3:45 had I not stopped to help some people that could have hurt themselves in the middle of nowhere and to cheer/high five oncoming marathoners (that I know for sure had worked/trained lot harder and smarter than I had) but I wouldn’t trade the experience of seeing that other person smile, in pain, for anything. While I understand that the opportunity to run in itself is the reward for running — especially through the beautiful back country trails — my evil twin would have most certainly taken some pleasure in a completion medal for some more bling! Somewhat of a disturbing experience was from running with an elderly lady — probably in her late 50s or early 60s — that claimed she had paid her registration fee and wouldn’t get out of the way of oncoming (faster and stronger) marathoners; and almost got knocked out by one such marathoner running downhill.

While I thought the trail was muddy and slippery and, took over 4 hours to complete 13.7 miles, and have been continuously whining about it, some of my chronically over-achieving friends — some of whom have done (many) marathons, half and full Iron Mans and such — ran through the same muddy and slippery trail like it was nobody’s business: Kara (2:19:27 @ 10:38 min/mile), Christine (2:29:43 @ 11:25 min/mile), Laurie (2:30:19 @ 11:28 min/mile), Deidre (2:40:59 @ 12:17 min/mile), Katie (2:54:08 @ 13:17 min/mile) … just to name a few!

13.63 miles in 4:05:34 @ 3.3 mph, 18:11 minutes/mile
Splits: 13:28, 15:34, 18:38, 18:39, 16:35, 18:40, 19:20, 15:36, 21:57, 19:22, 19:04, 17:57, 18:59, 18:30

Timing was a courtesy of friends at Superior Timing. As has been the norm of late, I did maintain an inconsistent pace as indicated by the speed, elevation and heart rate spectrum below (thanks to Garmin Forerunner 405CX and WP GPX Maps plugin for WordPress). And in spite of it, I wasn’t the last one to finish. Hopefully, as I have hoped so far, I will train better for the Running Chunk 5k in a few days, and for the Madison Half Marathon in a few weeks.

Post-race activities included a grabbing a quick meal in Paul’s Superior View Restaurant; driving 225+ miles to De Pere punctuated with a 20 minute nap along US 2; spending quality time with friends [Sarah (and mom and dad and Hannah), Erik, Helen, John, Nils, Chelsea, Kevin, Katie (and mom and dad)] before, during and after the Lions-Packers game in the holy Lambeau Field; exploring Door County and grabbing a delicious meal in HuHot Mongolian Grill with Katie’s dad; and a scenic drive back to Houghton.

2013: XTERRA Marquette Epic Triathlon with Team Winston

In an attempt to ride the momentum, if one could call that, that I had gained in the past six months of occasional running and participating in more than my fair share of organized running events — 5 mile Breakers to Bay, 10k Hodag Run, 6k Mt. Baldy Summit Run and a Half Marathon as part of Canal Run — I had run few more times, I had made up my mind to run the Porcupine Mountains Trail Half Marathon in October and was eagerly looking forward to another organized event in September. On one fine day in July, while enjoying a fine beverage in a fine watering hole, dear friend Kris mentioned about an upcoming XTERRA Marquette Epic Triathlon and should our friend Greg (a much much better runner than I am) be not able to make it, I would be in as part of Team Winston.

Except for having seen several triathlons before — Yooper Sprint Triathlon in 2013; several editions of Copper Man — and a plethora of awesome friends compete in and complete them, either individually or as part of a team, my experience with triathlons at any level is as close to zero as one can get. Once officially committed to and signed up, I did train some: two really long runs (a 11 miler with Nancy and Josh, and a 13+ miler with a fair amount of hills) and one short run (a 4 miler to the end of US41 and a 2+ miler part ways up the Brockway Mountain).

The usual carb loading at Rodeo Mexican Kitchen with friends, and staying off of alcoholic beverages ensured that I was well prepared but a bit of unscheduled and unforeseen work kept me in Houghton the night before the race, thwarting my plans of getting a good and full night of sleep in Marquette. Driving 100+ miles in the wee hours of the day, I made well within the scheduled closing of transition area, met up with Team Winston and had numbers painted on my body.

The events started on time and veterans of Team Winston, Kate and Kris, did a fine job: Kate taking a hair over 30 minutes for a mile long swim, and Kris completing 30 miles of mountain biking, in not the best of health, in under 2:30. If only I had paid attention to friendly advice of Josh, Nancy and Amy, and studied the elevation profile for the 10 mile trail run course a bit more carefully, I would have been well served. Lack of information on the event website regarding aid stations and their location only added to my woes. The course turned out to be about 6.5 miles up and 3.5 down (as opposed to my imagined 5 up and 5 down), and the only aid station was at the 6.5 mile mark – leaving me with little to no water. However, a bright and sunny day had made way for one with cloud cover, gentle breeze and a slight drizzle – making the uphill climb a lot less worse than it would have been otherwise. The course also meandered through rugged yet scenic back country in Marquette Country, parts of it along the North Country Trail.

Timing was a courtesy of friends at Superior Timing. Apart from maintaining an inconsistent pace as indicated by the speed and elevation spectrum below (thanks to Garmin Forerunner 405CX and WP GPX Maps plugin for WordPress) and costing Team Winston a better than last place finish (I had the worst T2 time of 41 seconds and I had the worst run time of 2:27+), it was quite the fun and educational event: fun in that I had the opportunity to be a part of the event, hang out with old friends [Greg, Jen, Kara, Justin, Chris, Maria] and make newer ones [Craig, Adam, Sarah]; educational in that it taught me things I hadn’t cared to learn about triathlon (let alone team triathlon), the value of a post-race hot shower & a good night’s sleep and exposed the desperate need for a better training regimen.

10.71 miles in 2:27:30 @ 4.36 mph, 13:46 minutes/mile
Splits: 10:37, 12:29, 14:06, 15:53, 13:24, 13:27, 14:14, 13:18, 13:47, 15:34, 15:03

Post-race activities included a maiden visit to The Pasta Shop for an excellent dinner sandwiched between maiden visits to Ore Dock Brewing Company and Blackrocks Brewery in the fine company of the Bunkers [Kris, Kate, Karen and John], Greg, Craig, the Resslers [Tom and Dee], Alex and Jason – before heading back to Houghton to take care of some work related issue.

Given that this is the first edition of this event in Marquette, organizers did a pretty decent job. Number of people registered and number of volunteers seemed to be quite less. If I may be so arrogant as to offer some suggestions for next year, it’d be to have more volunteers, provide more information about the location and number of aid stations, potentially put a time limit for completing the race and have a professional photographer or two to document the proceedings.

The fact that there is quite some pain in my quads almost 18 hours after the completion of the run but not as much as I had after the Canal Run Half Marathon is probably an indication that intermediate training runs have been productive but leaves no room to imagination that there is as big a room as any for improvement. Hopefully continued runs that incorporate serious hill climbs, runs that are more frequent than just the ones over weekend, disciplined eating and sleeping habits … will prepare me better for the next organized event about four weeks from now.

2013: Hancock Canal Run Half Marathon

It is the first time in my life that I have had the opportunity utilized the opportunity to participate in organized running events on back to back weekends. It is also the first time in my life that I have had the opportunity utilized the opportunity to participate in the same organized running event for a second time. Of all the organized running events that I have participated in so far this year — 5 mile Breakers to Bay, 10k Hodag Run and 6k Mt. Baldy Summit RunJourneys Half Marathon (in Eagle River, WI) and a 10 mile Hancock Canal Run (@CanalRun) were the only ones I had actually planned to take part in.

Just like in 2012, I did sign up for the Journeys Half Marathon, and had been training for it too. But then came the news, through the grapevine of Upper Peninsula, that Hancock Canal Run had an expanded menu from this season, and that it would include a half marathon as well. For as much as it has been a bucket list item to successfully complete a half marathon, getting an opportunity to do so right in my own backyard, potentially with a lot of friendly faces from the awesome community I am so fortunate to live in, and to have a chance to sleep in my own bed the night before — made it a no brainer of a task to sign up and train for the Canal Run.

One final thing stood in the way — will I get some commemorative bling for completing the half marathon? Yeah, sometimes I’m childish like that. The good fortune of knowing the race director in person took care of it in no time! Their decision to hand out completion medals made it even easier of a decision to bypass the Journeys Half Marathon (in spite of having paid big bucks for registration). As such, I am happy to report that this has been the only event of 2013 that my mind wasn’t looking for an excuse to get out of it. The training — while not with as much religious fervor as one would expect — included the following goals:

  1. Finish the race and not be the last one to do so.
  2. Finish the race at 12 min/mile pace and keep a consistent pace through out the course.
  3. Keep the walking, not counting in the vicinity of and through aid stations, to a mile or less.

Lessons learned from every one of the previous races so far, I made sure I ate and slept on time all through the week, stayed off alcohol for two days prior and to go with the same cushiony pair of shoes (thanks to Nancy and Josh). I believe a really good cardio work out as a result of 700+ ft hill climb as part of 6k Mt. Baldy Summit Run (thank you Michael Young!) and two really good carb loading meals (lunch at Rodeo Mexican Kitchen; Melissa‘s home made dinner with Joel, Matt, uncle n’ aunt at MJ residence), a full night of sleep in my own bed and a quick breakfast in the morning prepared me well for this much awaited event. After the exchange of pleasantries with friends and friendly faces [Amy (@AmyUpNorth), Joel, V, Mark, Travis, Katie and Coach Wittenberg], and carefully listening to the instructions from the event organizers (Mr. Tervo, Kate), I moved to the back of the pack as with every race so far.

For the second time in as many months, a dear friend and colleague, Nancy (@itcrd) chose to sacrifice her own time and pace, and run with me the entire way to help achieve my goal. She provided invaluable information as to when I should take the Gu (Tri-Berry Energy Gel) and fed me with candy to keep me going the entire length of the course.

Just past the 9 mile mark or so, I desperately wanted to walk for a while — as I had done in every single race so far. And then I saw Amy Roberts [Run Like The Finn: Daily Mining Gazette news clip; Photos] walking the 10 miler with her friends. Coupled with the fact that someone was sacrificing their time for my sake, this was all the motivation I needed to put any thoughts of walking to sleep, suck it up and continue to run. Conquering the hellish hill in the last mile or so, albeit at less than snail’s pace, made way for running through the sprinklers. As if on cue, the energy seemed to boost out of nowhere with the finish line in sight (I thank Nancy, again, for timely intake of fluids and energy gels).

Timing was a courtesy of Superior Timing, and my pace throughout the race was gradually consistent — as indicated by the speed and elevation spectrum below (thanks again to RunKeeper app on my iPhone and WP GPX Maps plugin for WordPress). With an official time of 2:38:48.4, I finished 10th (out of 11) in my 30-34 age group, 59th (out of 62) amongst males and 119th (out of 125) overall.

13.1 miles in 2:38:48 @ 4.96 miles/hour, 12:06 minutes/mile
Splits: 10:03, 10:10, 10:28, 11:02, 10:45, 11:06, 11:37, 12:01, 13:24, 12:05, 14:23, 16:00, 14:29

I am not happy with the not so strong finish — starting out with ~10 min/mile for nearly first 6 miles and then finishing at 12:06 min/mile, 6 seconds/mile slower than the goal. But I am happy to have finished the race, not be the last one to do so and supremely happy with the fact that I did run the entire length of the course, except in the vicinity of and through aid stations — achieving two of the three aforementioned goals I had in mind.

While I do not believe in handing out participation certificates for every one, I will certainly cherish the commemorative medal I received — it’s a thing of beauty. Something I will cherish even more is the mystique of this community that was at its glorious display. There always seemed to be a familiar friendly face cheering on just around every bend and corner — volunteers (Evan Hendrick, Nate Larson, Doug Polzein, Mike Abbott and more), brockit crew snapping photographs, Mix 93.5 calling the live action on air, and many many friends (mom and dad Becker, uncle and aunt Kral, Julie, Michael, Kim, Jess, Becky, Brandy and more) — making it more than worthwhile to have passed on other half marathon opportunities elsewhere and opting this to be my maiden one.

There have been many friends and mentors [Amy, Amy, Chris, Daddy 750 and Amanda, Dr. Suits, Dr. Weidman, Nils, Louisa and Jesse, Julie, Nancy and Josh, Randy, Rebecca, Sam, Toni, the Boissevains (Margi and Paul), the Carlsons (Abby, Josh and Justin), the Griffis (Adam, V), the Handlers (Christine, Rob, Shannon, Stephen), the Lehtos (Tammi and Chris), the Resslers (Dee and Tom), the Richards (Carrie and Bob), the Vendlinskis (Andi, Jim, Rick), the Vertins (Melissa Becker and Joel), the Youngs (Christine and Michael), and the Zerbsts (Kristen and Ron)] that have constantly been sharing their wealth of knowledge and encouraging me to run — often in a friendly tone and at times in a much needed not so friendly tone. Thanks be to them all and to the good Lord above.

Rest of the weekend

Saturday included driving out to Aura to be part of the 37th Annual Aura Jamboree and hanging out with Bradfish-Conner-Erickson-Ladd-Stenvig families on the shores of Lake Superior. It also marked the first time ever that I camped on back to back weekends. As painful as were my sore body parts, they did provide quite a bit of entertainment to just about everyone involved through out the weekend. A trailor — thanks to Melissa, Joel and Matt — is captured in this Sunday night video just outside The Fitz (please bump up the volume, otherwise I’ll look drunk).

  Vimeo clip: Aura Jamboree

2013 so far has been the most productive year when it comes to running – never have I run this much ever before in my life. I hope to God that this Canal Run half marathon will serve as a stepping stone for many more, and may be even a full marathon some day.

2013: Run The Keweenaw, A Festival of Trails

It has been another two weeks since Hodag Run – a 10k race in Rhinelander, WI, the heart of the Hodag Country. Preparations for this one were just like that for Hodag Run – apart from (minimal) running around of bases in softball and/or at work, I didn’t make time for any.

Several moons ago, dear friend Amy (@AmyUpNorth) and I had been talking about running in all three events of Run The Keweenaw, A Festival of Trails (@RunKeweenaw). While I continued to talk the talk, she continued to walk (or run) the walk and train as well as she could.

My mind, that often looks for excuses to not run, found a glorious one – when Michael Young wondered if I would be interested in photographing the race – or so it thought. When I said I’d rather photograph the races than run in them, the coach in him put it in no uncertain terms that I couldn’t use the opportunity to photograph the event as an excuse for not running in (at least one of) it. He was even gracious enough to accept my application well past the normal deadlines. And of course, once it went on Facebook, I was committed at all levels to participate and complete the Mt. Baldy Summit Run.

Carrying on the lessons learned in Rhinelander – sleeping and eating on time, and keeping alcohol consumption to minimal quantities, and hydrating well – seemed to have paid rich dividends. No sooner did the race begin than the sunshine made way for a pleasantly surprising cloud cover but not so surprisingly (and deservingly so) I found myself at the very tail end – being passed by fellow human beings of just about every age group, shape, size, health and physical & mental capacity. And a little while later, the course left the paved roads of Eagle Harbor township and entered the trails managed by The Nature Conservancy.

Still running in the same cushiony pair of shoes (thanks to Nancy and Josh), sandy trails in the beginning seemed bad and a neat little creek to run through offered some respite. While rest of the course made it seem like it was an ascension to hell, friendly faces and cheers along the way — capped off with more friendly faces and cheers at the top — made every single (painful) step worthwhile.

If there ever was a race, that I had taken part in, that makes one feel like the effort in itself is the reward, and then further rewards one with an incredible and unparalleled view of the Keweenaw peninsula, including that of lush green series of mountains on one side and of the Lake Superior on the other — Mt. Baldy Summit Run is pretty much it. This summit, in the process, became the first ever natural venue that I had run/raced to before ever having hiked it.

Timing was a courtesy of RaceSplitter, and my pace throughout the race was very erratic — as indicated by the speed and elevation spectrum below (thanks again to RunKeeper app on my iPhone and WP GPX Maps plugin for WordPress). With an official time of 00:50:48, I finished (dead @%$&ing) last in my age group and amongst all males.

3.60 miles in 50:00 @ 4:32 miles/hour, 13:53 min/mile

Several sips of water offered by a dear friend and volunteer, Howard Haselhuhn, not only made up for my lack of reading the race instructions carefully but provided enough energy to run almost all the way down to the town with Amy (@AmyUpNorth).

Rest of the weekend

Saturday included photographing 2k Junior Trail Run and Copper Harbor Trails Challenge in Copper Harbor, followed a fantabulous farewell dinner at The Fitz (@FitzRestaurant) for a dear friend, followed by first camping experience — in Copper Harbor — in many many moons.

  Vimeo clip: Run The Keweenaw: A Festival of Trails

Sunday morning brought along more photographic opportunities: 25k Carl Olson Memorial Adventure Run, some half way up the Brockway Mountain off a cliff, and some more in the woods by the finish line. As awesome as it was to have some of my photographs be used as a prize for the longest of the runs in this festival of trail runs, it was even awesomer to see one of the racers (same guy that did the somersault in the above video to keep me entertained) not only wait for couple elderly racers to catch up to him, but keep the said elderly racers ahead of him and finish behind them!

I still am quite sore even after about 36 hours of completing only the first of the three runs (and a little bit of running around). God bless those who ran all three segments — amounting to nearly 27 miles of hill climb and trail run of various proportions. I’m eagerly looking forward to the 2014 edition of this event, to run in more than one segment, to re-connect with the new friends I made, and make some more.

Hopefully this and all the previous races so far will have helped me prepare for the upcoming (my first) half marathon as part of 38th Annual Canal Run next weekend.

2013: Hodag Run

It has been almost a month since Breakers To Bay – a 5 mile race from Houghton Breakers to Oskar Bay and about the same amount of time since the last run of any kind, not counting running around the bases and/or in the outfield in softball, and/or at work. Persistent and nagging dry cough due to allergies take much of the blame for keeping me tied down although an equal amount of, if not more, blame can be attributed to my own procrastination.

A little over two weeks ago, while hanging out at a famous watering hole in Houghton, a dear friend and native of Rhinelander mentioned about the YMCA Hodag Run For Your Life – a 5k, 10k run/walk/stroller event with its proceeds going towards the Y’s Strong Kids Scholarship Campaign, which ensures that no one is turned away from the Y(MCA) due to lack of ability to pay. With fond memories of the wedding festivities from little over a year ago still fresh in the mind, and with a chance to enjoy some (real) cheese curds and Spotted Cow, it didn’t take too much thinking and persuasion to sign up for this race.

Owing to the watchful care and prescriptions of another dear friend [thank the Lord for (real) doctors, eh?], the persistent and nagging cough had been on the downward trend for a while while the medication itself – Nuclear Antibiotics in particular – had become a topic of amusement to many of my other friends. With the least amount of preparation for any race so far, we (Melissa, Joel and myself) headed towards America’s Dairyland. The drive in itself was quite pleasant and brought to realization yet another thing that hasn’t changed in years: when not behind the wheels, my innate ability to doze off into short yet frequent naps (ask Nils for a reference, if need be).

Learning from the mistakes of aforementioned previous race, the pre-race carb loading diet included awesomely delicious home cooked meal – salad, bread and lasagna, and gatorade for fluids as opposed to (several) lime dipped beverages. A full night of sleep (which had become quite a rarity in past several weeks) did help quite a bit as well. Completing the pre-race breakfast ritual, we (Melissa, Melissa’s mom, Joel and myself) headed towards starting point for the race in downtown Rhinelander. Weather couldn’t have been any more ideal for this event: overnight rains, cloud cover with near zero humidity, gentle breeze with a random sprinkle of sunshine and rain drops, and a cushiony pair of shoes (thanks to Nancy and Josh). This also turned out to be the first race to include presentation of colors and singing of the national anthem.

The race got off to a pleasantly surprising fast start although it didn’t take long for many of the 5k’ers (started about 3 minutes later) to catch up and start passing me. The course snaked through many of the scenic, lush green domestic neighborhoods of Rhinelander and included a few turn arounds and (anti)NASCAR-isque right turns — many of which patrolled by friendly volunteers. As a result, I always had some fellow racers in sight, although they were running in the opposite direction and about 10-12 minutes ahead of me.

And soon enough, as it has been in every one of the races so far, human beings of just about every age group, shape, size, health and physical & mental capacity had passed me and I was almost the last guy left in the race. Although I finished the race a whopping 40 seconds/mile less than the anticipated 12 minutes/mile (thanks to Tortoise and Hare Race Management, LLC for timing measurements), the pace throughout the race was very erratic — as indicated the speed and elevation spectrum below (thanks again to RunKeeper app on my iPhone and WP GPX Maps plugin for WordPress). I not only finished last in my age group but last amongst all males too (yeah, DFL).

6.15 miles in 1:09:47 @ 5.29 miles/hour, 11:21 min/mile

Post race activities included consuming plenty of food (first home made cup cakes, and then veggie pasties with wheat casing from Joe’s Pasty Shop), a round of golf where I shot an astonishing 80 (in 9 holes for a +43, not counting the countless trial and misdirected swings), consuming more food (cheese curds, Spotted Cows and quesadilla at Cross Country Bar & Grill), hanging out with a little kiddo and a full night of sleep.

Sunday morning brought awesomely delicious crepes with home made maple syrup and, blueberries and strawberries. Weekend also involved some very insightful discussion related to GPS, (Arc)GIS, etc., with Melissa’s dad. Return journey was safe and uneventful and I did indulge in a handful of naps. All in all, it was a very very relaxing weekend — so much so that the persistent and nagging cough almost disappeared. It also re-taught an important lesson, that it takes practice to get things right and achieve perfection even if it is finishing (dead bleeping) last in a race.