Monday, March 31, 2008

Race Report: March Madness Biathlon… & Scotland Run 10K

Sunday morning I spent a lot of time in Central Park. Too bad it was still cold, and though the temperature was right about 27 degrees it still felt pretty chilly even with multiple layers on. No, I did not do the biathlon, though if I had my bike act together it would’ve been a nice event to enter. It involved two miles of running followed by two bike loops of the park, or 12 miles, plus another 2 mile run. The finish deadline for the 800 competitors was two hours, so it wasn’t a real killer, or at least didn’t seem like it to me (though I kept my mouth shut about the perceived easiness of the course while cheering on the racers). I did get to watch the transitions, see what gear people were throwing around, and watch some folks struggle on the final 2-mile run. The event was finished up by 9:30 so that the New York Road Runners could start the Scotland Run at 10. The Scotland Run caps off Scotland Week in New York, a celebration of bagpipes and shortbread and red plaid outfits and shit.

So onto the observations. One problem I noticed in the biathlon was with such a short time spent on the run before folks started hitting their bikes, the bike transition area was soon jammed, and it quickly became survival of the fittest. I saw one guy stop, sit down and block a whole aisle while he leisurely put on his bike shoes, and I was amazed angry racers weren’t pelting him with CO2 canisters. Granted, this was no hot shit Ironman competition, but it seemed a bit cramped and haphazard. I also noticed that the quality of the bikes slowly descended from ‘Terminator’ to ‘Big Wheel’ as the T1 time elapsed. Serious folks have serious rides, while the daytrippers are on bikes with banana seats and plastic tassles on the handlebars. Sure, I exaggerate, but not much. And I’m not criticizing anybody, but I didn’t see many speed records hit while people were running. I thought I’d at least see one 5:30 minute/mile runner, but not in this event, not even close. Those 5:30 folks were just waking up to run a 10K somewhere else.

As the event went on, I made it to the west side to cheer people on, part of my ‘pay it back’ campaign that helps competitors and engenders good karma for my later races. I saw a couple of guys I knew, which is always good when it’s 27 degrees and your standing on the side of the road and clapping like a wind-up monkey toy. Before it got old, the whole thing was over, and everybody was back at the start at the Loeb Boathouse. I had a half hour to get over to Tavern on the Green, near where the 10K was to start.

And unlike the small family feel I had experienced at the biathlon, the race start was pandemonium. Nearly 7000 runners had come out and were jamming the drives, and the starting gun/booty call made it even more insane. It was still cold, but warmer now in the sun, and I positioned myself not too far from the front of the line. After what I believed to be a bagpipe version of the National Anthem and some muffled, fast-food drive-through remarks from officials, we took off heading north to complete one loop of the park.

And of course, there’s the usual 15-minute per mile runners with headphones, walkers, etc., who get right up front at every race so the rest of us nearly kill ourselves when we nearly run them over in the first few minutes. Later this month, the NYRR will be instituting pace corrals based on previous finish times in short races to combat this problem. This time I was lucky, I was not far from the front; running pal Susie was behind me, and it took her 5 minutes to get to the start line. Which is ridiculous.

Anyway, off we went. And before the race I had looked up my best 10K time. And wouldn’t you know I got it in my head that I could beat that 42 minutes with a little more effort and determination than I usually give in a short race. So no water stops for me, and this time I’m paying strict attention to pace. After a fast start, I discover my first mile was under 6:45; funny though, it didn’t feel so good.

It got worse. Halfway through I realized I was running a 10K at a 5K pace. I started getting nauseous every time I was speeding up a hill. Not good. You’ve heard the voices: ‘I really can stop if I want to, it’s not worth getting sick over’ followed by ‘but you made it this far’ and ‘only a few miles to go’. Only to have this inner conversation repeating in a sickening loop every time it gets horribly uncomfortable. And of course, f-bombs start popping up between the nouns and verbs.

I knew I had to slow down going up the small hills, and I NEVER do that, but it was better than having some bagpiper along the course watch me hurl. Bagpiper along the course, you say? The Scottish shit was hardcore out there, I’m tellin’ ya.

‘I’m not doing this again’, I announced as I got all Nietszchean and ‘that-what-does-not-kill-me-only-makes-me-stronger’ on my own sorry ass. Then I hit the 5-mile mark between 32 and 33 minutes and I STILL cannot do the proper math to figure out whether I’m running fast enough or not. All I know is I’m slowing down and people are passing me and I don’t care, which says something right there about my state of mental health at mile 5.

We finally, finally start to see the finish line coming into view ahead, it’s the same finish line as the marathon, and isn’t that fucking cute. There’s a damn incline right here, screw the New York Road Runners for not picking a flat finish to this race and all the other goddamn races we’ve run, too. Yes, your pal Cranky sure got testy, because it was A.F.T that the G.D. race was over.

And the clock says 40:26. Holy Shit! How did that happen? Well, you ran your ass off to the point of almost throwing up, you idiot. What did you expect? …I was still having private, internal ‘discussions’, obviously. Later on I found out I was 13th in my age group of 358 male runners, which is about as good as I can get. Had I gotten a sex change on Saturday, I would’ve been the 13th woman overall. See what happens to your brain on race day? You think up crazy shit.

So after racing twenty 10K races over the last decade, I cut a minute and a half off the old P.R. from ’04, the same Scotland Run at that. Nice. But what wasn’t nice was feeling morbidly ill during the race, and getting to the finish on sheer willpower. So let this be a cautionary tale: race, and I mean at or above a 90% effort, at your own peril. I have no regrets (not now, of course, I’m sitting at a keyboard eating double chocolate chip cookies and opining about something that happened yesterday). But as I tell myself and you as well, be careful what you do out there and what you wish for. All that ‘racing’ crap can get you into trouble.

One more thing, NO WAY I’m racing in Boston, three weeks from today. If I have to stop at Wellesley along the way for coffee and donuts, so be it. Screw Heartbreak Hill, I’m taking my time.

(Here are some biathlon photos just so you know it’s the same crap going on everywhere. The final photo is of the 10K start only; as you might imagine, I was cursing and swearing too much to create cuddly Kodak moments.)

Friday, March 28, 2008

iPod Friday 29 – I’m Rick James, Bitch.

In an effort to get me to calm down and stop racing in the pool, and therefore discourage drowning, my swimming trainer advised me to come up with a mantra or something to play in my head to help me relax during the 8-10 seconds at a time when I’m face down in the water. ‘Ever try yoga?’ he asked, and I responded ‘no’, an answer that left neither of us surprised. ‘How about a song, or something like that?’ I asked, and trainer said ‘sure, if that does it for you’.

So the first thing that popped in my head worked somehow, and here’s how it went:

(diving, hands crossed, pointed forward; feet kicking)
She's a very kinky girl…
The kind you don't take home to mother
(head facing down; steadily blowing bubbles)
She will never let your spirits down
Once you get her off the street,
(move right arm down, start to bring up)

I had the rest of the lyrics, along with corresponding swimming ‘moves’ all ready to transcribe, but I figure you’ve heard this tune before anyway... Thus my swimming became ‘super freaky… yow.’

Soon I tired of ‘the kind of girl you read about in Newsweek magazine’, and got a little more current. So last week I started mentally broadcasting the tic-toc’s and doomsday riff off of Mrs. Ritchie’s new song out of Timber-Land.

I leave you with these songs, both have catchy hooks that can drive you crazy. Or get you to the end of the pool, which for me is pretty much the same thing.

Rick James – Super Freak (12”)

Madonna featuring Justin Timberlake and Timbaland – 4 Minutes

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Tales From The Pool, Part 1

Last Friday was Good Friday, and I made my way to the pool for the fifth day in a row. Since it was a holiday for many local schools, the pool facility did not have its usual gaggle of screaming, larval New Yorkers in the shallow, blocked off, end. However, the AARP members who hit around mid-morning were in full force, with no Lisa Lisa in sight (an obscure and poor ‘80s cultural reference, I know). So I found myself in the shorter lanes, just doing the time to fit the crime. And I picked a lane right next to a sweet-looking 10-year-old little lady who had the day off from school while daddy (who worked at the pool) kept an eye on her.

Like me, she was doing 1-2 laps and stopping at the pool ends each time to assess her progress. More accurately, I was stopping to get some air, she was stopping to sigh heavily about the burdensome weight of life in the fourth grade and a ‘this-is-so-ten-minutes-ago’ completion of another lap. Then her sighs started getting more anxious, more like ‘I’m bored out of my mind, and I’d kill anybody here for a Hannah Montana download’. But soon I realized her boredom was getting converted into a desire to beat me, Grandpa Simpson, to the end of the pool.

I picked up on this as soon as I arrived at the end and looked over to see her looking benignly in my direction. ‘Oh, is that what’s going on here?’, I thought. And I looked back. She turned and dived. Then I knew it was ON.

So I made my way back, and Little Miss Sunshine decides to stop mid-pool to, well, just stop to check her goggles, and screw with my head. Hmmmm. I thought to myself: ‘that little swimming cap is hiding three 6’s, or maybe just a ‘665’, cause you ain’t all THAT, half a Miss Thang’. Underwater, a ‘snap’ could be heard.

I stopped the Tyler Perry show then and there and decided to get a little more focused. We took off down the pool. I’m counting my strokes, I can hear ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ on an 8-track in my head, with program clicks, and I make it. And Abigail Breslin, or that bee girl in the Blind Melon video, or whatever the hell she is, is already taking off. Dive! Dive!

We make it back about the same time, and I act like I have NO IDEA she is there. And she acts like she can barely float her ass in the pool, she’s so bored. But she sees me, and I see her, and our sweet looks at each other say it all: next time, you are toast.

I exit the pool (I don’t need a ladder, missy). I shoot her another look that says: ‘I’ll see you later in these pool lanes, little girl. And that’s when you’re going down.’

Yes, I know what you’re thinking, this is how a grown man trains for a triathlon. I swear it’s from the lack of oxygen in the pool.

Yeah, right.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Mugging in the Park

Sorry to be a posting fool these days, but this is kind of newsworthy…

Last night a jogger was mugged and stabbed in Central Park about 8:45, two robbers made off with his iPod; the jogger went to the hospital, but I believe he’s OK. This is kind of rare, but it’s the type of thing the news media jump on.

I don’t like running at night anyway, and I just happened to run this afternoon. And got pulled over by a reporter from WCBS mid-run. After an hour in the pool this morning, I was happy for the break.

Here’s WCBS’ website, and the story.

And here’s the brief audio. As you can tell, I was out of breath and full of brilliant observations.

And Runners, Too.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

March 20th

Back in January, I wrote: “Training better start coming together before spring, because I’m not going to want to be throwing money at the three-sport lifestyle for months if I don’t enjoy it on some level, be it through better health or through satisfying some personal masochistic tendencies.”

Now it’s spring, at least on the calendar, and it’s time to assess. I have indeed thrown money at triathlon training, and continue to. But as Bob-O suggested, and several others as well, just work on the swimming and get ready for Boston. Well. I’ve been doing just that.

As for running, I PR’d in a 15K a couple of weeks ago, I’ve kept a reasonably OK weekly mileage of 40 miles or more, and finished a 3:15/22-mile run last Sunday that actually left me feeling good enough that I could’ve done a few extra miles. I have found that in light of all the biking (spinning) and swimming I’ve been doing I enjoy running more than ever, and in winter weather, at that. I wish my mileage was higher, but I just don’t have it in me to do more after swimming and weight-training and biking most days.

Biking is the remaining wild card, only because I’m not looking forward to the expense. I attended a workshop on how to change a tire on Tuesday night, and I wouldn’t have been surprised if it had been sponsored by MasterCard. Of course, it wasn’t, my tri-team set it up, and it was certainly educational, but I could just see my compulsiveness to be overly prepared with high-tech gear winning out over fiscal responsibility. I can’t say much more than that, though I think once warmer weather arrives and I can enjoy the outdoors I’ll get into it and the bike money pit as well and feel better about it. Another thing, spinning makes my quads burn every time, but ‘whatever doesn’t kill you…’

As for swimming, tomorrow will be my tenth trip to the pool in the last twelve days. And I have indeed gotten better in two months of training. My breathing is rather improved. My swimming instructor agreed with my recent poolside statement that I am my own worst critic, so as much as I want to I will not make negative comments on what I can’t do. For weeks I was waiting for the breakthrough day when I would complete 50-100 yards without stopping, but I’ve decided that’s not the right approach. I’m just going to plug away at it, and if ‘it’ (whatever that is, perhaps a PR distance, perhaps a high level of confidence) happens in April or May or whenever, then so be it. Unlike running, when it comes to swimming I can’t be moderately competitive with my past race times or set up goals, I just have to get in the pool and keep at it and get better. And that I have.

Overall I’m not as far along in tri-training as I wish I were, but I’m not going to worry about it. Frankly, I’m a little bored thinking about it all, and if it happens that I later decide I’m not ready to finish the triathlon I signed up for in July, I won’t do it. Right now, I can’t say I won’t be ready, because I’m keeping with the training. And getting ready for Boston, I’ll assess where I’m at after that, too. But that’s where I’m at, and every time I have a bad training day or I’m unhappy with a workout, I’ll think about all the people half my age (warning: he’s using the age card!) who could not physically do what I’m doing and then I’ll S-T-F-U.

And you thought I’d just written a rational assessment without getting a little snarky. That, my friends, will probably never change… Then again, the cloying image of the kitten at the ‘peep buffet’ was probably a tip-off…

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A Time For Healing

I come to you today to discuss something that has recently come to light. I do this because I feel the people need to know that I am honest with them. I speak to you today with the conviction that we must all work together, and to clear the air, so that we may move forward with the necessary determination to get the job done.

Running has always been important to me; what you don’t know is that at one time I was not faithful to running. During the late nineties, I strayed, and at one point I almost gave up entirely. But for the sake of my race times, I went for coaching, and decided to work through my problems; in hindsight, I had no one but myself to blame. And now I am faced with even bigger challenges. For now, two other sporting endeavors have threatened the peacefulness I've derived from running for so long. Rest assured, I will never turn away from my running career, and never turn away from those who made it possible. I now leave you to begin anew the monumental task of balancing the budget in the face of tri-ing expenditures. Thank you for your support and best wishes, and thank you to the state of New York.

(Ed. note: OK, there was only one bad pun in there, get over it. And if I have to hear about one more politician’s sex life (like our new governor’s) I’m going to lose my mind. Or go running instead.)

Monday, March 17, 2008

Ready for Spring

It’s been a nice, sunny day in New York City. Too bad it was freezing, especially this morning when I headed out at about 6:30. I know, I’ll miss this weather in July.

Here’s Lewis Black from a few years ago, It pretty much sums up how I feel.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Race Report: USA 8K Championships

Here’s something rare, a race report about some event I didn’t even run in. I could’ve signed up for the ‘normal person’ 8K held before the championships, but since I had a long run on the schedule for today, I decided racing the day before was not a great idea. Plus sometimes it’s better to just sit one out and watch other people run hard enough to vomit all over themselves. Good times!

I had no excuse to not lug around the camera, so I showed up at sunup on a chilly, misty Saturday morning to take some pictures. The race for everyday folks started at 7:30, so right as it started I managed to dash off to the west side of Central Park to cheer on the folks at the 1-mile mark. I was the only one there, and since it was at the top of a hill, the runners were generally happy to see anybody with a pulse telling them they’re doing well and everything will be OK, because ‘at least it’s not a marathon’. I made it back to the east side in time to see all the runners, again, rounding back up near the 4-mile mark. A participant asked me if he was ‘almost there’ and I told him in the nicest way possible that I don’t announce that information unless I’m staring at the finish line. Another runner laughed, they knew what I meant.

After the 1,780 ‘normal’ runners finished, the super-fast men’s invitational was held at 9AM. These guys are faster than I’ll ever be, but I was also reminded that most of them look like they stopped growing at 16 (even though some of them are well into their 20s and even 30s), and have that short, lean, bony, sinewy body type. Which sometimes makes their heads look huge. Oh, I ain’t hatin’ on the playas, it’s just there’s a body type going on, and we all know it. They could kick my ass in any race, and that’s all there is to that, and if 6% bodyfat is what it takes, so be it. Same goes for the women, although there’s even less bodyfat going on there, those ladies have upper arms that look like sticks.

And after Jorge Torres won the 8K in 22:41, the ladies turned out for their race, and Shalane Flanigan won that in a time of 25:40. With both events taking about a half hour for everyone to finish, there wasn’t a lot of standing around and waiting for it to be over, that was a nice change for the average spectator standing out in the cold.

As for me, my running mileage for the day was a lowly 3-4 miles accumulated as I shuttled around the park to snap pictures. Like I said, I saved most of my energy for today’s long run, which turned into a trip through four boroughs (with running pals Susie and Denise in the first half, and later a trip past the site of yesterday’s crane accident in midtown) and two times across the Queensborough Bridge. Amazingly, I had 22-23 miles in me, or 3 hours plus. I’ll take it, my long runs haven’t been so long lately, I think I broke out of that today. Hopefully, I’ll have enough leg strength for tomorrow morning’s swim training session and won’t look like I’ve forgotten everything.

So below are some chronological images of the three 8Ks I watched, and award pictures of the top ten runners in the men’s and women’s races. At least you get the idea of what it looks like to run in Central Park in the winter.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Lies vs. iPod Friday 28

It hasn’t been a very good week for Silda Spitzer. I live about ten blocks away from the governor’s apartment in Manhattan, and Thursday morning I could hear the helicopters circling as everyone waited for Client-9 to come out and tell reporters he was leaving his job. When the news conference came, there Silda was, standing by her husband, and frankly she looked like hell on a ritz cracker. Well, if anybody had a right to, she did.

Now the news media is all over the young woman who met with the governor in that D.C. hotel room, and she’s cashing in big.

Not much more to say, the media will say it all as they rummage through the Spitzer’s trash and dissect ‘Kristen’s credit card bills. Keeping with the theme, here’s a new tune by Moby, it’s not as annoyingly easy-listening as his last few efforts, but he’s back to sampling gospel singers; it’s not ‘I Will Survive’ (thank God), but close, and would probably make a good Silda Spitzer theme song.

Moby – Disco Lies

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Feb. Vacation ’08, Pt 3: Running In Rio

I’ve been putting off this long-winded saga, so I better get it in before I forget all about it. Then again, some of what happened I’ll never forget…

So on a Friday afternoon, I took a flight from São Paulo to Rio de Janiero. Before I get caught up in forgettable details, I’ll mention a few things about Portuguese. It’s a language that reads like most European languages, especially Spanish, but isn’t pronounced like anything you’ve heard before. So the word for ‘no’ is nao, but it’s not pronounced NOW, but NOWN. Interesting sounds spring up out of nowhere. When the hotel concierge discussed fights to Rio, she said something about ‘heeyio’, and I first thought of something sun-related, like helium. No, that’s how ‘Rio’ is pronounced, no hard R sound going on there. So it’s pronounced 'HEE-oh day zhah-NAY-ro'. And ‘Janeiro’ translates to ‘January’; when the city was founded by the Portuguese, they mistook the lake near the coast as the beginning of a big river. And since January is the beginning of the calendar, it was the ‘river at the beginning’ so to speak. See, you’re learning shit here all the time at Cranky’s place.

Off to ‘Hio’ I went, and the one-hour flight was quite nice, especially after the combined eleven hours of flight time it took to get the hell down there. Though most of the taxi drivers don’t speak a word of English (you establish your destination and the cost before you get in the cab), the trip to the hotel was quick, unlike other trips by car in unrelenting all-day gridlock.

Pretty soon it becomes obvious that Rio is a beach resort town with a very, very large city tacked on. It’s Brazil’s version of Ocean City, Fort Lauderdale, Venice Beach, and every other summertime destination all rolled into one. There are two main beaches: Copacabana and Ipanema, names that remind me of specific tunes I’d often heard played in elevators. But that’s where the similarity ends, because the beaches are pretty and yet somewhat grungy at the same time. First thing I notice is the dress code: not much. For men, shirts are optional and the usual choice is none at all, while the women are a little more modest. So I didn’t see any fashion awards handed out, it’s too damn hot. The temperature all day and all night is between 26 and 30 degrees Celsius, or 78-86 degrees Fahrenheit. With tropical humidity that probably violates the Geneva Convention.

And now it’s time for another Portuguese lesson. The phrase for ‘thank you’ is 'obrigado', pronounced oh-bree-GAH-do. I spent the entire time there just dying to say ‘Domo obrigado, Mr. Roboto’, but I figured a dumb-ass MTV-related reference from the ‘80s would get me nowhere fast.

I won’t talk much about the touristy stuff I did, it wasn’t all that exciting, even to me. But it was oddly funny going to the H. Stern headquarters and getting a tour of the facilities. H. Stern is a Cartier/Tiffany-style jeweler that has it’s main office in Ipanema, and they offer free transportation to and from your hotel, the only cost to you is the time you spend privately with a sales associate as they try to hard sell you some high-priced jewelry. I ended up looking at watches with crystal faces and Swiss movements, the cheapest ran about $3000. The whole time I was trying on watches I kept thinking about what $3-5K would buy me at the Tri bike shop, so that put a damper and reality check on the visit. Anyway, I didn’t buy a watch or anything else, I’m no jewelry freak, far from it. Nobody wears a decent watch around town anyway, for fear of it getting stolen.

And I didn’t make it to that Japanese-monster-sized statue of Christ the Redeemer on a mountaintop that you see in all the guidebooks. Apparently, no self-respecting local goes to this gigantic concrete statue, it’s the Rio equivalent of The Statue of Liberty. As you probably know, only tourists go to The Statue of Liberty, New Yorkers have to practically give up their driver’s licenses if they set foot in the thing. And so it is for Cariocas (residents of Rio) at ‘Christ Redentor’, except for the religious hardcore. However, I do like that Jesus is portrayed with his hands outstretched as if he’s about to clap and yell out ‘you’re almost there!’ We all hate hearing that, but if anybody’s going to say it and mean it, it’s good ole’ J.C.


I digress. About the running. I mentioned before that Rio is a great running town; it’s flat along the beaches, of course, but they built a special running/biking lane between the road and the promenade along the beach, and it’s pretty wonderful. And non-running pedestrians respect it and don’t use it like the local idiots do here on the Central Park drives. AND I was surprised to find users stuck to the right. No head-on collisions like in some places I know. So I decided to head out on a little 40-minute run the first morning I was there. And this recreation lane always has people on it, Cariocas love them some exercise.

Before heading out, I was mindful of personal security. Brazil, and Rio especially, has a very, very bad reputation for petty crime; I’d heard of someone who had their Swatch watch stolen at knifepoint on the beach, during the day, so I packed lightly. A Xerox of my passport, a little bit of money, and… my iPod. I was ambivalent about bringing it, people apparently get held up all the time for iPods, but I saw so many runners with headphones I decided to take a chance. I turned it on, and the first track to play was ‘Girl From Ipanema’. I’m not making this up.

Off I go, and I’m passing runners while keeping a moderate pace. I pass more runners, and I get to about the 20-minute mark, and suddenly it hits me: it’s HOT. And the humidity is like what you feel when you first walk into a florist’s shop. A wave of steamy, stagnant, damp air overtakes you, and then you realize that delightful local smells (sewage, coconut oil, fried meat stands) are just hanging in the air waiting for you to come along. That was when I realized why I was passing so many runners; it’s too damned stifling to run fast in Rio. So I cooled the pace, even though I noticed my tongue started to hang out like a big black dog’s towards the end of the run.

The next day I ran earlier, but since the temperature doesn’t drop overnight, it didn’t matter. Sauna running time again. I could only manage about five miles, and it wasn’t even sunny. In fact, it wasn’t sunny for very much of the time I was there, and one day I hit the beach mid-afternoon for about an hour or so. It looked like it was going to rain any minute, so I just hung out for a little while. I had a little suntan lotion, that was OK, but I soon discovered I didn’t need SPF 45. I needed SPF 45,000. And so I got cooked like Nazis at the end of that first Indiana Jones movie. Christ the Redeemer, I got burned, and burned badly.

And when I went on my next run under cloudy skies, my shoulders were singed. It was unbelievable, the damned place is a carnival of melanoma.

SO, later that weekend it was time for my Sunday long run. Two hours plus of good times (sarcasm alert)… cause these-are-the-good-times... I made my way along the recreation lane, and off to a route I found through the Copacabana Runner website the week before. There’s a lake (lagoon) inland about a mile from the beach, and since I knew the circumference was about 7.5 kilometers, I decided to run that twice on top of the 15K or so it would take to get me there and back. And around the lake is a fine running and biking and walking path, asphalt on rolling hills. Off I went, exploring new neighborhoods of Rio/Hio. I felt pretty good keeping an easy pace (or die) and passed a few runners. I passed one running group of four, they seemed like they knew what they were doing without being dicks about it (my definition of a good runner; after all this time reading all these dumb posts you just got my definition). Later I slowed down, they passed me and I was behind them. At one point I noticed that some lady walking her dog had gotten caught up with this running group ahead of me, and her dog was dragging her along, by the leash, with the runners. Two of the runners started to point and laugh about the ‘gato’, and that’s when I realized it wasn’t a dog, but a cat on a leash that had joined us. So here I am, in Rio in the blistering summertime, running along a lake with hyperactive exercise-obsessed Brazilians and a goddamn cat dragging some lady yelling in the highest-pitched Klingon-inflected Portuguese accent she could belt out. This was one of those ‘no one will believe this’ moments that only show on the widescreen plasma TV of your life, and you know it when it’s happening.

After the heat caught up with the cat, the cat stopped and quietly collapsed, and then the heat started in on me. And I began to feel my shoulders burn again, and the sky is STILL completely overcast. I finish the second stupid loop of the lake and headed home, slower than ever. Are there water fountains anywhere? No. Little convenience stores? No. Supermarkets? Are you kidding? You’re supposed to buy tiny, little bottles of mineral water, and that’s if you can find them, because Sunday is a holy day of rest, right? Right. The water bottle I brought on the run was a distant memory, and I later ended up, in a dehydrated trance, having to hit the hotel room minibar where everything is $15 a pop. As Joni once said, you don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone. Oh, and another thing, you can’t drink the tap water, ANYWHERE. They even tell you to brush your teeth with bottled water. At this point I’m about ready to go home. Nice place, but the personal security paranoia thing gets tiring, and the only tourist activity is to go outside and get skin cancer in ten minutes or less.

One other observation. While in the middle of my heat-induced delirium moving at 5 minute/kilometers, I kept seeing runners with technical shirts emblazoned with the word ‘PETROBRAS’ on the back. It seemed that PETROBRAS is a major race sponsor like ING, and I kept trying to figure out what the hell that PETROBRAS was. Then it hit me: frilly, petroleum-based lingerie, black of course. And then I kept imagining salespeople at the Brazilian version of Victoria’s Secret having to re-price inventory all day long as the price of oil fluctuated. Yes, this is the crap I think of when heat has addled my brain, and regrettably, sometimes not. Anyway, later it occurred to me that it stood for ‘Petroleum Brasil’ and I suddenly realized my junior-high stand-up routine was over.

Fast forward to my late-night redeye flight back to the land of safe tap water. The international airport in Rio reminded me of JFK circa 1985, and that is no compliment. It looked like the kind of place you’d be stuck in during a third-world coup, where you couldn’t get out and would end up having to spend the night under dim, dirty neon lights. It was so bad I was reasonably sure one of the set designers for Saw II had been there for inspiration. And while I’m standing in line to tell nice, nice lady I’m not carrying cuticle scissors, the biggest, fattest American to cut a swathe through Brazil this decade is in line in front of me. Six and a half feet tall, two and a half feet wide, he could only be a football player with an eating problem. And you can see this coming, can’t you? Oh yes, you can.

I get on the plane after the craziest South American cattle call the airline could organize, get seated, and sure enough, Mountain Fiji shows up and is sitting right behind me. Of course, he doesn’t fit in the seat, so his legs stick out into the aisle and all the way under my seat and sticking out. I can’t blame him for being big (though he might’ve at least tried to send dessert back once in his life)… but damn, he’s large. And my seat never once reclines because his knees completely stop it. And every seat is taken on this 8-hour, overnight flight of sardines arriving in Miami at 4AM. And my shoulders and back are on fire thanks to that sunburned run with the gato. Obrigado, Hio.

When I arrive, I have another flight back home to that other dimension called New York City. After 14 hours of traveling, I spend an hour looking for parking in Manhattan; though my skin is already peeling, I’m home.

OK, OK, I’m glad I went. I learned about a world outside my own, a world most New Yorkers can’t imagine exists. I can now say I’ve been to South America. I have new respect for Brazilians’ dedication to running, which is more than I can say for folks at most tourist destinations elsewhere. And I love finding new places to run, even if it means later looking for malignant skin tumors on my shoulders, in the middle of the night, in an airplane toilet.

Should you go someday? Probably. The people of Brazil are cheerful, and welcoming. Bring your running shoes, some SPF 45,000, a gallon of bottled water, a slower running pace and you’ll be OK.

Monday, March 10, 2008


Just when I thought we were going to get a little break from politics on the nightly news… our governor admits to hiring prostitutes. The next ‘turning point’ primary (Pennsylvania) isn’t until the end of April, so until then we get to hear ALL about Mr. Spitzer’s sex life. Thanks, Eliot.

I don’t give a damn what public people do in their homes or hotel rooms, as long as it isn’t hypocritical. But now laughing boy has gone and done it, and now the only thing the media will cover for the foreseeable future is what or who he ordered from room service.

About a year and a half ago, I was walking out of Central Park on a sunny afternoon, and found this goofy-looking runner waddling past me on the path. He wasn’t moving very fast (nothing wrong with that), but I remember thinking to myself ‘this guy needs to get himself to running camp pronto for some emergency help on that running form’. And yes, once he got closer, I realized that it was Mr. Spitzer. Nice to see our public leaders getting out for a little jog, but they, like the rest of us, could use some coaching.

And now, Governor Spitzer needs a lot more than coaching, he needs to learn how to keep it in his pants.

So bring it on, networks, CNN, major cable outlets, the morning shows, late-night comedians, we know what to expect, you never disappoint. I can see it like a truck coming down the highway, inexorable and boring at the same time. For now, real news won’t get reported, only seamy conversations and teary-eyed apologies. If only Mr. Spitzer had just gone out on some goofball run instead of calling Dial-A-Ho.

With that, I will offer one piece of advice for myself or anyone else out there who’s sick of what passes for news these days. Next time you turn on the TV and hear wall-to-wall coverage of this kind of crap, turn the TV off, and go out for a run. And dream of better days.

Race Report: Colon Cancer Challenge (4M and 15K)

It’s behind me now, the 15K I finished along with about 3200 other runners Sunday morning. Over an hour before, a 4-miler was held also, and I got to stand on the course and cheer on the early runners. It’s a win/win for everybody, and I’ll take any good karma I can get, especially before a race. And it’s a pretty good way to kill some time before you have to go on…

So my strategy was to run the same pace I ran in a 10-miler three weeks ago, over a shorter distance. How hard is that? I found out soon enough. After a Saturday of torrential rain and high winds, the temperature dropped 30 degrees, while we kept some of those nasty winds. So another wintertime race in clear, cold, blustery weather. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to move on to races that do not include ice on the course and getting thrown around while mid-air.

The Central Park hills I know so well kicked my ass, so keeping the pace was a lot harder than I expected. And when people start passing you in the last three miles, you know you’re slowing down. But I didn’t slow down too much. I generally kept the pace, and tried to do the math, you know, distance remaining, pace per mile, etc., and failed miserably at that. I wanted to beat my previous 15K time of 1:06:50, and I just couldn’t get the arithmetic going right in the brain. Someday I’ll write about ‘Runner’s Brain’ (or lack thereof), the relationship between increased running distance and decreased ability to compute simple, 3rd grade math formulas.

Anyway, I reached the finish line at 1:03:33. Not as fast a pace as three weeks ago in the 10-miler (any faster would’ve made the pace barfworthy)… but it’s the PR I’d hoped for. And happily, a nice improvement over the previous record. It helps to not run in many 15K races anyway, but I’ve averaged one every year for the last ten years, so I’ll take what I can get. And I’ve been doing tempo runs at 6:48 m/m for a while now, I guess training helps after all. I’ll put a little sticky note reminder about that on the brain hard drive the next time I start to whine about tempo/interval runs…

Friday, March 7, 2008

Update/iPod Friday 27

Haven’t posted in a few days, too busy, but I just wanted to acknowledge some of the comments and encouragement I’ve received over the last week. Thank you. And for a bunch of people who type at each other more than anything else, we know what’s going on, even when it’s not being expressed.

So I won’t yet continue my account of the National Lampoon Brazilian Vacation, but instead mention a couple of things about training and races and all that stuff. I’ve got a 15K race on Sunday, and in a rare move, I’ll discuss it in advance (usually I just over-discuss marathons in advance). I’m actually looking to do a PR; if I can keep the pace I ran during the 10-miler three weeks ago, I’ll finish pretty well. I found out a few days after that last race that I finished third in my age group, and even though there were only 300 runners in that race, I’ll take it.

And I need the boost in confidence. As Bob-O commented, I need to cool it (my words, not his) and save the bricks for later. In January I trained like gangbusters, and discovered I had no swimming ability, and also discovered pedaling on a bike was dead-boring. So February rolled around and I was in burned out. I spent a week away; maintaining running mileage helped a little, though. For now, I’m in the middle of my second round of swimming lessons. I feel like I improve about 2% every time I hit the pool and it’s not fast enough for me. But I am still learning how to breathe in the pool, and learning I can’t swim as fast as I run (!)… even my swimming instructor has made that observation, and told me to calm down. For now, I’m doing headstands at the bottom of the pool with the kids, and getting blisters from blue rubber flippers.

Last night I went to an awards ‘gala’ that was put on by the Tri team at the swimming fitness center I use. I’ll write about that later, but in the meantime, I was looking to be inspired by a hundred triathletes together in one room. I heard a few comforting stories (‘it took me so long to learn how to swim’, ‘you’ll be fine’, etc.), but most of the night was spent hearing and watching people get awards for 9-hour Ironmans and the like. Awards are fine, and I’m sure people deserve them, but watching the same total strangers win award after award gets tiring in itself. Well, like I said more on that later.

And now for something unrelated… I have to answer a few comments about my trip. I didn’t exactly ask anyone on the street in Brazil, nor did I personally check this out, but… I did NOT get the impression that everyone is bisexual in Brazil. Outside of Rio, it’s a fairly Catholic country. Sorry, Claire. And AR, I did not notice that Brazilian women were the most beautiful in the world (paraphrasing, here). Not to say that beautiful Brazilians don’t exist, nor that Brazilians as a people are unattractive. I just didn’t notice drop-dead gorgeousness everywhere, female, male, or otherwise. I will say that I didn’t see the level of obesity we have here in the States. Brazilians appear to be a bit more up on exercise and physical health than we are, that’s for sure...

Oh, and Mindy, we’ll talk later about that future Ironman. I’d like to see the gear we'd invent for THAT.

More later, but for now I’ll lay on you the new Hot Chip video that doesn’t make a lot of sense, but makes me laugh, and we probably all need that anyway. Because after all the training I’ve been doing, I really do feel like I’m ‘Ready For The Floor’.

Hot Chip – Ready For The Floor

Monday, March 3, 2008

Running Vacation February ’08, Part 2

(São Paulo, from the 23rd floor of my hotel.)

I arrived in São Paulo after an eight hour plane ride, and airport customs was not so bad and actually easier to get through than it is back home. It shouldn’t have been bad anyway, because the damn visa to get in the country had already cost $130 along with two days spent at the Brazilian consulate in New York. The weather was warm (it’s still summer), but not horrible, and rain was imminent. Later I was told by a local that it rains all day, every day, in March. Nice.

Well, the next day included some business outside of town… though you wouldn’t know it was outside of town, because the city is gigantic and sprawling in a Southern California kind of way. Recently I heard São Paulo described as what you’d get ‘if New York threw up on L.A.’, and that’s not far from the truth. Twenty-story high rises are clumped by the dozen far off into the horizon, while every so often you see some random green space. And the traffic is, I am told, worse than in L.A.

Luckily, the fitness center in the hotel was one of the best I’ve ever seen, as in more than one machine left over from the 80’s… there were at least eight treadmills, ten bikes, every weight machine they could get in there, and most exciting of all, the room had huge windows. These people take fitness seriously. Now, I’m usually intrepid when it comes to running on city streets, but this time I had to reconsider. First off, there were NO pedestrian walk signs on 95% of the intersections. The guide book I brought explained that driving is a hazardous sport in Brazil, and quite often drivers feel that obeying red lights is, well… optional. Plus, scooters and motorcycles constantly cut in and out of sitting traffic, so they are the main cause of pedestrian death. Great. So after walking around the city, I observed all this mayhem on the streets, along with the gridlock, and decided the (I can’t believe I’m saying this) treadmill was the way to go. At least I got to watch American sitcoms with Portuguese subtitles.

A day and a half later, it was off to Rio, an hour away by plane. But before I forget, I’ll lay on you some facts and figures and odd info about Brazil; having never been there, I decided I’d at least learn something about the place:

Population of Brazil: 185 million. Judging by the bathing suits I saw in Rio, that’s about 30 meters of cloth divided amongst the entire population. But interestingly, women going topless at the beach is a real no-no. Apparently, going topless is only for heathen Europeans.

Geographically, Brazil is larger than the continental U.S. You find that out fast when you’re flying over the country for hours and hours and still haven’t gotten to where you want to go.

With 18 million people, São Paulo is the most populous city in South America. That’s bigger than my hometown. And that’s pretty big.

You knew this already, but they speak Portuguese. The recipe: two cups Spanish, a tablespoon of Italian, an teaspoon of Arabic, and a dash of Klingon. Hmmm… I just moved this blog up four million notches on the Google search result list for ‘klingon’. Anyway, half the language rhymes with ‘Nike Swoosh’. Since they are foaming-at-the-mouth soccer fans, that’s rather appropriate.

São Paulo has the largest Japanese population in the world, outside of Japan. Which means there are Japanese/Brazilian fusion restaurants. OK…

Brazilians LOVE pork. The national dish is a bean stew with every imaginable part of a pig thrown in. Like in Europe, I don’t know how vegetarians handle going out to dinner.

And yes, there’s a level of poverty unlike anything you can imagine. It’s very strange, on one block you’ll see an expensive office building or ritzy high-rise (both with armed guards standing in front, glaring at passers-by) and a few blocks away you’ll see shacks and slums, and empty, one- and two-story windowless buildings. And shoeless kids, sleeping on the sidewalks. And we think OUR social safety net sucks…

On that happy note… more later…

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Bob-O is an Ironman.

(A still image taken from the live feed at the finish line. Mr. D had just 'rolled' under the tape.)