Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Loneliness of the Medium Distance Runner

It's not lonely at all, really. At least it wasn't this weekend at the redundantly titled First Inaugural Winslow Half Marathon. My sister was with me and my Winslow friends were all helping to handle the logistics of the grand event (By some accident of kayaking, I've come to be friends with a whole slew of Winslovians over the last several years, which has been a great blessing to me.) Plus the 125 other runners were all real friendly, the ones I talked to, at least.

My favorite was Marge from Tulsa. I caught up with her a while after climbing the mile-long Welcome to Winslow Hill and she paced me perfectly for about four miles. This was my plan all along, you see, to find a 64-year-old woman to pace me for the first half of the race. We talked about lots of things as we ran and walked the steepest sections of the nonstop hills. Of course I mentioned that my sister had come up from Houston to run it with me. Anyway, we swapped leads for a while until suddenly I noticed she was no longer close behind me. No matter, people were getting scattered but I still occasionally came alongside someone I could say hi to.

After a long but steady downhill, I finally ran past the turn-around point just far enough to smack the hood of the EMT vehicle parked there and give the guys a thumbs-up, and it was on to the long and steady, and muddy uphill. I remember giving a shout to Marge and my sister both as I passed them but I can't remember who was ahead. I know I was only a few minutes up the hill when I passed them. I was feeling really good.

At about mile eight, the on-and-off drizzle and cool breeze we had been having turned into a downpour with a driving wind, which was exactly what I needed. It was perfect! The squall only lasted ten minutes or so but it left the course pleasantly slick and muddy. The cushion under my feet felt wonderful and I quickened my pace, walking only the very steepest parts of the hills. The nine, ten, and eleven-mile signs went by and I was tempted to start running up all the remaining hills, but good sense and discipline prevailed. I stuck with my plan and by the time I began the descent of Welcome to Winslow Hill the older lady with the homemade flip-flops and striped socks up to her knees was in sight. I was determined to run her down! It would not happen, though, and I'm glad about that. Her finishing eleven seconds ahead of me was the just and proper result.

On the way there, I was sure to put a nondescript expression on my face for the cameraman who was photographing every one's nipples just before they crossed the finish line. He actually got one photo which showed my nipples really well and another which was probably a better photo overall even though my nipples were not clearly defined. What a cool job, I thought, to see hundreds of people at their absolute best, people succeeding at something fun but also painful and challenging. Then I thought, what a drag! Here is this man who loves running and biking and swimming but can't do these activities because his lousy job won't let him. He works every race! Anyway, I wanted a keepsake and felt mercy for the photographer so I bought rights to the superior, nipple-less photograph for twelve bucks. Hey, the man has to make a living! A few minutes later, he sent an email congratulating me and included the nipple photo for no charge. I was so thrilled!

My friend Kristian, the cartographer who created the course map, is also a pretty handy photographer and he took a few more photos at the finish line. One is with my sister, Jennifer, and the other is with my friend David who was kind enough to wait around at the finish line the 47 minutes it took me to get there. It must have seemed like hours! I think I was having my picture taken with Jen when Marge wandered in. She, curiously enough, had had a long enough conversation with Jen at some point to figure out that she was my sister. How cool is that!

I was very proud of my sister. I said she was from Houston where people run up bridges and parking garages to simulate hills. That's not exactly correct. She's actually from northwest of Houston just far enough that it takes an hour to get downtown where the parking garages are and two hours to to get to the refinery district southeast of Houston where all the good bridges are. She showed up to Winslow, after a twelve-hour drive, not having run up a single hill in all the training she did for this race. That not being challenging enough, her purist heart chose to run the race consuming only plain water along the way. No Hammer Gel! Let me tell you something: Running Winslow without Hammer Gel is like climbing Everest without oxygen! I was hitting the Hammer Gel every hundred yards or I wouldn't have made it. As far as I'm concerned, her accomplishment dwarfs mine despite our times, which can be found here if you absolutely must see them. She killed it!

The course had it all: Steep hills, long hills, some pavement, some gravel, some mud, a hard rain, and a million great volunteers who did Winslow proud. My first half marathon experience could not have been more perfect. There was nothing lonely about it!

The Boston Marathon should have trophy girls this hot!

My sister Jennifer. Isn't she amazing!

David had Lana and all the girls there. I got to meet twins Isabella and Eleanor for the first time and they are so beautiful!

Notice the Hammer Flask in my right hand. Do you think I can get an endorsement deal? I believe!

My nipples!

Monday, September 05, 2011

There's Nothing Wrong With my Bike

My bike, as much as it kills me to say this, is adequate. It has been adjusted periodically but never modified, and alas!, it requires no modification now. Worse yet, I cannot think of any modification, needed or not, that would make it more suitable to my needs, and I don't make that statement casually. I make that statement after viewing and reading the product description for every single part available from Dan's Comp, the ultimate BMX shop if the universe. If Dan's Comp doesn't have a part that would improve the appearance, reliability, or functionality of my bike, then no such part exists. What has life done to me that I'm able to accept this bewildering fact? Has my fire burned out? I'm a lifelong gear head, or at least I was. I used to be able to modify a measuring cup to make it better. I could modify a hair comb! Now I can't even summon the enthusiasm to modify something as exciting and deeply personal as my bicycle. When I see that my rear wheel has gone out of true causing the brake to wear the rim unevenly, what do I do? Do I order a new double-wall rim along with an 11-tooth cassette hub and a 25-tooth aluminum chainring to replace my 13-tooth freewheel hub and 30-tooth steel chainring? No. What do I do? I buy a spoke wrench and true up the existing wheel. Then I congratulate myself for saving so much money. How sorry is that! And when my seatpost was squeaking, did I replace my rail-type saddle with a pivotal saddle and buy a lightweight aluminum seatpost? Of course I didn't. I took my crappy stamped steel seatpost apart, coated everything with vaseline, and put it back together, eliminating the squeak entirely. Again I congratulated myself. Then I stand back and marvel at how well the designers at Felt Bicycles balanced weight, features, and price to create a 24" BMX cruiser that, with no modifications at all, fit the needs of a forty-year-old man trying to reconnect in some Proustian sense with his very slightly better childhood. What has happened to me? I swear sometimes I look into the mirror and see a total stranger.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Two Weeks Till Winslow

I guess Jen is ready. I call her now and then and she's always like, "I ran twelve miles yesterday," or "I had a terrible run yesterday, only nine miles but it was 110 degrees outside." My sister is a traditionalist, you see. She thinks the way to prepare for a running race is to run. I can't necessarily argue with that approach given the results she's achieved in the umpteen hundred running races she's already competed in, but Damn!, it sure seems like a lot of work. I'm taking a different strategy, myself. Yeah, I have been running on weekends and a few times after work, but only a few miles at a time and always with lots of walk breaks. I hardly break a sweat. Instead of all that intensive training, I'm relying on the proprietary blend of 36 branched-chain amino acids developed over two decades by Hammer Nutrition, the choice of endurance athletes around the world. That and the optimum mix of elemental and chloride forms of potassium perfected by the hydration experts at Camelback. Dissolving just one Elixir tablet in my 21oz. water bottle is like eating twelve bananas. And the 670 calories of slow-metabolizing complex carbohydrates and 400mg of caffeine found in every ounce of Hammer Gel guarantee I won't be bonking when the walking gets tough. But no matter, Jen can run as much she wants to. I guarantee I will propel my sloshing corpulence the same distance she does two Saturdays from now. It will take me probably an hour longer, of course, but when I do finish I'll still have some glucose reserves left and any lactic acid produced in my legs will have been flushed free and pissed into a ditch long before I break the timing lights. Jen's body will still be cannibalizing lean muscle tissue to make up for the extreme depletion of nutrients she allowed to occur by relying on natural food and plain water to take her the absurd distance of a half-marathon. I wish her all the best, though, and I hope the cramping and nausea she will no doubt experience doesn't diminish her enjoyment of Winfest after the race. That would be a real bummer.

Can't wait to see you, Sis!

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Recondite Quips and Hockey Fight Clips

I do not have a clear concept of what irony is. Sometimes an unlikely relatedness between two events will strike me as being ironic, and when I describe that relatedness of events to my friends they usually agree that it is ironic, but I am still at a total loss to actually define irony in a way that would be understandable to a person not yet familiar with the concept. For instance, it seems ironic to me that I should choose this video to accompany what was supposed to be the final installment of Recondite Quips and Hockey Fight Clips which I posted shortly after Derek Boogaard was found dead of a prescription drug overdose. There are any number of "better" fights I could have chosen but the fact is my little tribute was also meant to honor one of my all-time favorite Maple Leafs. Who knew then that Wade Belak would take his own life just a few months later. Irony has a time component, you see. God bless you Wade Belak.