Sunday, September 30, 2007

What Would Satan Do?

It seems right now a lot of folks are getting ready for half marathons, marathons, triathlons, Toyota Sell-a-thons and whatever else they can push themselves through this fall. In fact, many of us are in the final taper or cooldown before the main event, so I thought I’d throw out some random thoughts on, and perhaps advice to get through, life before the big day.

Take It Easy
So you’ve got a week or two before the event. I won’t tell you to cut back on mileage, your training schedule should tell you that. But remember to cool it. You’ve got all this extra energy going nowhere all of a sudden, and it sometimes gets converted into some weird hyperactivity, and then you find yourself bounding up stairs or actually running to the refrigerator. And then one night, without really paying much attention, you slam you’re little toe against an end table, or a knee on a coffee table, and you’re cussing out your own furniture. You don’t need to be paranoid or overly careful, just be mindful so you don’t give yourself a dumb injury. Make your steps a little more deliberate, watch out for dangerous situations, like jumping out of bed in pitch-black darkness, and you’ll be fine.

Cranky Say: Relax
If you’re into relaxation techniques already, great, but if you’re like me, you don’t have many yoga moments in your life. So learn to relax yourself a little, and make it count. My method is to lay flat on my back on my bed or couch, close my eyes, and concentrate on relaxing body sections one by one, starting with the feet and heading north. I imagine that I’m on a beach and waves are lapping up higher and higher, relaxing me bit by bit. Of course, I’m daydreaming about a bowl of Ben and Jerry’s Rocky Road by the time I get to my ankles, but I’ve learned to stick with the program. Whatever works for you, just take time to learn some method to relax your body and brain a little so you don’t go nuts not running or biking or swimming or yes, eating.

I don’t think I need to explain this one too much, but it’s worth remembering in a big way. Especially if you’re like me and don’t like stretching so much. I tell myself to do it and shut up, so there.

Yeah, we know to drink more water, but in the few days before some insane event, it’s important. Depending on whom you ask, I’ve heard it should be eight or even ten 8-oz glasses of water each day. That’s fine, but you better have a bathroom ready for the bladder blitzkrieg dead ahead. All I can advise is: drink more water, but enough to make you feel comfortable about feeling a little bit like a water balloon, everyone’s bathroom mileage varies.

I’ve found that keeping a nerdy index card with some numbers written on it (that I cross off every time I drink a portion of water), or a handy note that you can put hash marks on for every glass, works for me. Yes, my short-term memory is that bad, but like a running log with forgotten information, it helps me to keep track of all that liquid passing through. I probably don’t drink enough water to begin with, so three glasses feels like an ocean, and I always forget because I’m tired of the bathroom trips. But keeping track helps you stay better hydrated, and be mindful at the very least.

Dress for Success
Don’t buy new stuff at the last minute to wear in your race. You can bet there will be some evil inseam or indestructible garment tag that will drive you nuts. Wear something already road-tested on a long run, and stick to it. Put your outfit and backup bad weather gear aside ahead of time and don’t think about it. I shove all that in the bag I’m going to check the night before and forget about it so I when I get up at the pre-crack of dawn I just have to empty the damn bag out, dress, and be on my way. By the way, unlike normal long run training mornings, I take a shower before heading out the door. Sure, you’re going to be sweaty and dirty when you’re done, but a shower can relax you and make you feel fresher, and anything that makes you feel slightly better during a race is worth it as far as I’m concerned.

Well, I have lots of other running-related opinions (you knew that already), but these are at least some of the things that go through my mind while tapering and I have more free time to feel insecure about cutting mileage. Oh, and do yourself a favor, before setting out on that big day, identify or even register for another ‘big day’. Give yourself another goal, no matter how big or small, so you have something else to look forward to. It minimizes that ‘do or die’ feeling you get, and lessens the potential disappointment of a bad day. The fate of western civilization does not hang in the balance if things don’t work out, remember that. And enter the fray knowing that you’ll come out the other side with another crack at personal victory or even redemption in another insane-a-thon..

But you have to take it seriously, you’ve spent months of your life getting ready, right? As the song goes, ‘relax… don’t do it’… Sorry, was that Satan talking?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Office 5K

I don’t normally push TV shows, but The Office is one of my favorites. It’s one of several shows right now, like Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO), The Sarah Silverman Show (back next week on Comedy Central), and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (F/X) that makes you laugh and squirm at the same time. The Office is a bit tamer than the rest, but it has the same idea: people behaving badly, sometimes very badly. In this case, it’s hopeless office manager and friend-to-everyone-and-no-one Michael Scott.

Anyway, tonight’s episode apparently concerns Michael’s very own 5K race for a ‘cure’, which you can bet will cure nothing. From the website:

HE RUNS FOR THE CURE-SPECIAL ONE-HOUR PREMIERE - A freak accident causes Michael (Golden Globe winner Steve Carell) to feel the office is cursed. He explores the religious beliefs of his employees before deciding to hold a charity 5K fun run.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

An Open Letter

Dear Daytrippers,

I want the city back. Not tomorrow, but now.

As I type this, we are being overrun by diplomats, people who think they’re diplomats, movie stars, people who think they’re movie stars, and even people who don’t know the difference between diplomats and movie stars, and there are plenty of those. OK, we’ve got President ‘W’ and his posse, the wacky President of Iran and his windbreaker wardrobe, even the new Président of France, looking for a halfway-decent croissant. Right now, helicopters are circling my neighborhood like flies as the Prime Minister of Lichtenstein stops here for a venti pumpkin frappacino.

Yesterday I tried to hit Christie’s in midtown, but no, the streets are blocked off. In fact, foreign officials aren’t buying anything, it’s… Carrie Bradshaw. So they’re filming ‘Sex and the City – The Movie’ and life goes on hold. It’s just New York, right? Hey, cute show and all, I’m not hating on a cable sitcom that put this city on a creaky pedestal, but can’t they go up to Toronto and film like everyone else? Don’t they have Manolo Blahniks up north?

And I just passed by the Waldorf Astoria, and it’s more like Fort Apache – the Bronx than an overpriced hotel. Outside were lots of men in black suits and sunglasses looking very serious, with that squiggly wire coming out of one ear, like they stuffed fusilli in there, or something. Jeez.

So I want normal, everyday tourists from Berlin and Biloxi back. I want to step out my door and get run over by a Guatamalan nanny on a cell phone pushing an adorable Damien in a baby stroller. I want to get back to being sideswiped by little men wearing baseball hats (backwards, of course) delivering cold food on 20th-century bicycles. I want some greying businessman, fresh from a Men’s Warehouse sale, stopping in the middle of the sidewalk to take a call from his therapist. I want my city back, and back to normal. Is this too much to ask?



Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Rhymes With Pants, Pt. 2

Since I’m still ignoring my right Achilles tendon, and that’s working out really well, I’ll serve up some more pictures of France from a week or so ago, along with a side order of my very own 6th-grade worldview…

Marie-Antoinette was bored with all the fancy rooms and whatnot in Versailles, so she had her very own Epcot village built a mile away so she could slum it like Lil’ Kim. Seriously. It goes on and on, fake rivers, fake buildings, pruned gardens, rolling hills, and now wildly-obese American tourists get to roam around it, like we have at Epcot, too. All they need is a Sbarro and a Panda Express, and it’ll be just like home…

Here’s Lil’ M-A’s very own Loew’s-style, sticky-floored, super-sized cineplex near the faux ‘petit village’. There’s room up front for an orchestra, and little windows on the upper left and right for even more musicians, now all ready for some teeny-tiny Bose surround-sound speakers to blast some crunk-ass Jerry Bruckheimer plasma joint up in da membrane, yo.

A cute-as-hell nicotine café in the hood, on the rue Buci. Everyone’s eating snails, awaiting the next work strike and the next Steven Seagal movie. Got a light?

And now for the PBS portion of your program, time you learned something new (besides the fact that though I love France, I don’t take it too seriously). I do tend to get hardcore about this stuff, so bear with me while I ignore my… uh, nevermind.

This big ol’ slab of furniture is in The Louvre, and it’s by a fairly well-known maker by the name of André-Charles Boulle (1742-1732). Boulle perfected a type of inlay that now bears his name, an inlay of brass or pewter set into tortoiseshell (and sometimes the other way around). If you’re a D-I-Y/Home Depot kinda person, you’ll want to know he took a sheet of flattened tortoiseshell (not easy to make to begin with) and a sheet of brass, sandwiched them together, and cut out a design with an early version of a coping saw. The result was a puzzle of sorts, and he could fit the resulting brass piece inside the larger shell piece that was outlined and cut the same way, and vice versa, if he wanted to. Glue the whole thing onto a oak wood plank and you have a fancy-pants panel that you can use on any flat surface. Oh, and charge big, pre-euro prices for it.

Boulle’s workshop was in the Louvre (it was a swanky version of an industrial park before it became a palace and later, a museum), and he just cranked the stuff out. Trouble was, he couldn’t stop going to auctions and buying artwork and stuff beyond his means, so he was always in debt and pissing everybody off, so much so that they ganged up and went to king Louis XIV to complain. Unfortunately, a massive fire, due to some errant cigarette no doubt, burned down half his workshop (and many a priceless work of art) at some point. Boulle got a little bit of a reprieve, but he still managed to piss off everybody right ‘til the end. Corny and predictable as it sounds, I sure would’ve loved to have been there to hear some powdered and bewigged French fry exclaim ‘Zees ees Boulle-sheet!’ or some Mel Brooks-inspired variation thereof.

He never put his name on anything he made, so that’s reason enough for furniture historians to hate him right there. But since the royal household always hired lackeys to keep incredibly detailed inventories of every thing not nailed down, we know what was at least bought from the A-C-B workshop. These days we can expect to see one of his rare pieces, in good condition, to fetch up to $1-2 million at auction. That’s Bill-Gates-kind-of-money, and sure enough, Mr. G. collects old French furniture like this; he probably has a couple of these boullilicious thangs in the guestroom already.

So next time you find yourself in a museum with European decorative arts, whether it’s in Cleveland, New York, Detroit, Philadelphia, or wherever, impress your companions with your offhand identification of rampant Boulleshit. Chances are, if you see all that fancy inlay, it’s by André 1700. Just call it a Louis XIV Boulle desk, or armoire, or bidet, or roach clip, whatever it is, and listen for the oohs and aahs that either mean ‘you’re just brilliant’ or ‘where the hell did that come from?’.

Link to More Boulleshit at the Getty

Friday, September 21, 2007

My Summer Vacation

In an effort to not think about my right Achilles tendon (sticking your fingers in your ears, closing your eyes and repeating ‘la-la-la-la-la’ works, too), I’ll post some pictures from my Paris trip. Those of you who are bored by travelogue photos can just skip ‘em, believe me, I’ll understand, though I at least made an effort to write goofball captions. Oh, and the Achilles ‘T’ says ‘hi’.

The Galeries Lafayette is an old, big department store in an old, big 19th century building with an interior dome that reminds you of old, big 19th century Eiffel Tower construction methods. So why not recreate the Tower and invert it down from the ceiling?
Paging Dr. Freud!

As the British would put it, this usual shot of the Seine is ‘bloody typical’. Unfortunately, I had to leave after taking this picture, a cloud of cigarette smoke moved through like a high pressure area on Doppler radar.

Now that the euro has a value of $1.40, it makes the trip to Europe and all that secondhand smoke that much more expensive. So let’s go hit Le Grand Vefour, one of Paris’ best restaurants. Here’s the menu, and remember, in France an entrée is actually an appetizer. Hey, that first one is 92 euros, what does that mean in greenbacks? Only about $129. Hey. Let’s get the ‘tasting menu’, that’s just 268 euros. Chicken or fish? Boo-yaa!

The front door of the Prime Minister’s ‘Crib Official’. No, Ellie-Mae, no, Jethro, there is no ‘ce-ment pond’ in the back.

Waiting in line to get into the Elysée Palace, France’s version of The White House. The place is open only two days a year, in mid-September, and S. A. Chilles was all up in that. It took hours, don’t ask. Really, it did. And yes, that’s the Prez’s pimp-ass ride on the left…

The Président’s Office, and desk. Now THAT was a trip to Ikea. I wouldn’t want to lose that Allen wrench…

And finally, a timely shot taken in The Louvre. Remember to stretch, everybody!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The “I” Word

Got back last night from The Country That Rhymes With Pants. It was a fine trip (more on that later), but I found myself battling the “I” Word. To borrow from several clichés, it’s the word that dares not speak its name, and the bane of running, and I was afraid to say it out loud for fear it would be true after all. That word is “Injury”.

My name is Cranky Runner, and I am an Injured American.

Three days before I left for Paris, I ran a harder-than-usual set of hill repeats in Central Park and felt OK. Next morning, my right Achilles (or is that A. Chilles?) tendon freaks out as I step on the floor. ‘Hey, that hurt’ blogboy said, and off I went to run a regular 5 or 6-miler. No way; after 2 miles, I knew I was cutting this one short. The next day, same experience, but this time it hurt more, meaning even less mileage. On Friday I sucked it up and ran 5, did OK, but still the same dull pain, and I’m starting to get a burning sensation going up the back of my leg, which cannot be good.

It was then that I decided I was going to take time off, despite the training for the marathon in three weeks. It was a mind-bending five days of me not running and me seeing other runners on the road and me irrationally hating them. Me, me, me… I know. But it really is frustrating, especially after such a nice summer of races and decent training. Plus, I very rarely get injured. Damn.

So after five days I came back to running a little, still feeling the $%*&# Achilles tendon. It didn’t help that I was on my feet all day, every day, but I was in France, at least. A fast ten-miler last Sunday made me feel much better, though I was feeling the tendon later that day. Damn, again.

So yesterday morning I ran in the Luxembourg Gardens, got passed by sharky teenagers in physical education class from the local high school, and felt sad to be leaving and sad to be on the injured list. I never got a chance to get sick of running 1.23 mile laps around a small park in Paris. But now I'm back in the 'hood, and I’m ready to hit the road to try again. Funny how sitting on a plane can make you rest your legs and feel better, I guess that’s a good thing.

For the record, I am not canceling my appearance at the Chicago Marathon, whatever form that participation takes. I will not sit around and feel sorry for myself, just… cranky. Same as usual, right?

Achilles Tendon Info

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Faire le Jogging

Tomorrow I’m off to this place:

Well, not just this place, some places nearby, too.
But as for this 1.3-mile park circumference route, it’s going to be loop after loop. It takes me about 10 minutes or so to go all the way 'round. At least the scenery is nice, that’s for sure.

Oh, and I’ll be ordering stuff like what you see on this menu:

La Carte - Le Buisson Ardent

Now, I’ve eaten some fancy meals, but I’m no gourmand. And I’ve been to Paris 75006 enough to tell you that in my opinion, the food is often overrated and sometimes scary, in a Stephen King sort of way. For me, every meal in a restaurant there is started with a tiresome process of entrée elimination, when I rule out anything that’s this side of biology class (such as lamb’s brain beignet, horsemeat steak, kangaroo filet, all of which I’ve seen on menus). You have to hand it to the French, they can lop off some unspeakable part of barnyard pet anatomy, add a brilliant sauce, and shamelessly serve it up with dramatic flourish. Anyway, I’m no vegetarian, and I don’t know how anyone could be one in France, but honestly, people... Wish me luck.

And my other pre-trip gripe is all about The Land of Second Hand Smoke. The French are generally nicotine fiends, 40% of them smoke, including 25% of the doctors, which tells you something right there. If people want to smoke and kill themselves, that’s their business, I just hate having every dinner experience accompanied by a 19-year-old chainsmoker producing clouds of cigarette effluvia wafting horizontally across me and my rabbit spleen dinner. The scenario is always the same: you sit down, order the only thing on the menu that doesn’t require an hour of surgery, then two chattering madamoiselles sit down next to you with their packs of Marlboros and proceed to drink and smoke their heads off right through to midnight. The French government outlawed smoking in school recently, generating unbelievable crowds of smokers outside of colleges and high schools… until they head to the café or restaurant in which you just sat down. Next February, the restaurants and bars will become non-smoking, so I’ll just have to hold on until then, when massive strikes and demonstrations for personal liberty and supporting the right to kill oneself (and whoops, other people nearby) will no doubt occur. At least everybody will be outside, picketing and smoking. Then I’ll be able to pick at an inedible ‘terrine of skate’ in peace.

Yeah, I know, shut up already, it’s France, f’Chrissakes. I will, it’s my favorite vacation spot, and even though it’s not a great running town (too much insane traffic, too much car exhaust, narrow sidewalks with everyone walking smack in the middle) it beats the shit out of Epcot, not to mention quite a few neighborhoods of The Big Apple. Anyway, if you’re up around 1:30AM EDT next week, you’ll know right about then I’ll be running little mind-bending loops through clouds of cigarette smoke around the Luxembourg Gardens, pictured below.

Au revoir…

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

To Mayberry and Back

Got back late yesterday from attending my cousin’s funeral over the weekend; thanks to all of you for your kind comments… my cousin was, for a time, like a big sister, and she’d been sick for quite a while. Passing away at 58 is too young, though no time is good I guess.

Driving eight hours in one direction is not so easy when your legs want to cramp up from running all the time, but I at least managed to avoid all the holiday traffic. Plus the weather was just about perfect, if a little hot. No complaints, though. And funny enough, I turn on the TV on Sunday morning and there I find coverage of the Rock n’ Roll ½ Marathon in Virginia Beach. I’m not so knowledgeable about the race, but I found out it was a bit more serious than I thought; 17,000 finishers, and the winners were from Kenya. If you hold a race, and your top runners are from Kenya (and can finish a half in 1:02), your race is pretty darn serious. I used to think the whole ‘Rock n’ Roll’ race series was a gimmick to get paunchy white middle-aged men to come out and part-tay with some bands before hitting Hooters for some pitchers, but I was wrong.

As for me, I found myself not doing my usual weekend three-hour-tour of training, but instead finishing about half that, which was plenty under the circumstances. I don’t know how people can run on rural highways and roads that are without even a hint of sidewalk or space. Quite often I’d find myself running on a narrow, slanted shoulder, which would turn into tall grass, which would turn into nothing worth running on except the actual road, and then back again. All while pickup trucks and SUVs flew by, though plenty of folks slowed down to gawk at someone from outer space alone on the road… I may be wrong, but I definitely got the vibe that personal exercise is something the city slickers do, especialy since the hotel I was in didn't have the typically windowless 'fitness center'. Speaking of city slickers, the sobriquet ‘yankee’ is sometimes used without a hint of irony or amusement by certain folks in southern Virginia.

On one occasion, a car up ahead stopped on the road, leaving just me and the driver in the middle of semi-nowhere. And he just sat there as I ran closer. Once I got about 10 yards away, the driver took off in his car… which made me a little creeped out, and of course, my imagination goes into overdrive creating headlines about some rural serial killer abducting hapless joggers in week nineteen (‘they’re nice and slim by then’) of their marathon training. And weird thing is, this happened TWICE in one weekend. Funny how ready I was to return to the safety of Central Park. Used to be a time when you never heard anybody say that…

So I’m back to the city with its loudness, aggression, pruned parks, flourescent papaya drinks and actual honest-to-God bagels. Home, where I can run hill repeats and write about annoying minutiae that only a ‘real runner’ would get. My hamstrings hurt already…