Thursday, October 30, 2008

Disinfecting Sunlight for the Cynical Mind

Well, it's been a quiet week in Spring, Texas, my home town, out on the edge of the Megalopolis. The weather has been quite cool, by Texas standards. The 50 degree temps were cool enough to wear long sleeves for the first 10 minutes of my run this morning, although I did notice what must have been a native Texan in Capri length tights, long sleeves, running vest, gloves and ear warmers. My Minnesota friends would, no doubt, have been mystified by this weak constitution indicating an obvious defect in character.

The weather signals that The Day is quickly approaching. The Day is when we in this pluralistic collective will take part in our one common sacrament--casting our votes.

Well, except if you participate in early voting.

Which I do.

Because I don't like to wait in line.

Even for food.

Especially for food.

Especially if that food is a crap sandwich with a side of crap.

Which is all you get to vote for in this or any year.

I guess I better warn you now that if you are a Democrat, or if you are a Republican, and if you think your ideology or party is "The Answer" to the world's problems, you are not going to like this post. You might want to exit now.

**whistling to myself**

Still here?

OK. Here's the deal. I drove by my early polling station three times on two different days before finally concluding that the line out the door was never going to be any shorter--that I would have to stand in line with "the people" in order to cast my ballot. So, I finally did. I know this makes me a really bad person, especially given all those who have suffered persecution and imprisonment and even death for the right to vote. The least I could do is stand in a wee bit of a line, right?

Yeah, I know. And I did.

But I didn't like it much. And because of that, I'm a bad person.

But it gets worse. I'm not even convinced that democracy is intended to enable a society to make the "right" choices for what is best for it. Basically, you get to vote if you can fog a mirror, whether or not you've studied the issues and the candidates. Your vote counts the same if you're a PhD in public policy from Harvard or if you need adult supervision before you can work the voting machine. Knowing this, both the political parties try to buy votes of the uncommitted rabble in the middle by promising goodies that our grandchildren's grandchildren will never pay for, or by playing on fears calculated to get a vote, or at least to keep them from voting for "that guy," even if it means staying home.

This is what it's come to? We can do no better than the worst of the worst--classless and deceptive rhetorical technique that is unworthy of a mediocre, law school mock trial team? Lee Atwater and James Carville and Karl Rove alike would have all gotten their asses canned if they worked on my team. I see better advocacy from the least competent lawyers in town. Half as bad would get any of my associates fired and would permanently injure any good lawyer's credibility with the court. Yet, year after year, the same parties and the same candidates and the same consultants do the same things without being held accountable.

The genius of the our system is not that we make good choices with our collective wisdom, but that we transition power regularly enough through this Rube Goldberg, fear-mongering, pork-barrel, sausage making device that we keep either party from becoming a tyranny. We don't drive down the road so much as we keep weaving from ditch to ditch, two four year olds fighting over the steering column, most of the time moving forward.

So, yeah. I have been dark and poisoned in the mind for much of the last week as the cesspool of political jousting has been eaten up and spewed out the back end of the 24 hour news cycle.

Until tonight.

During my drive home, the "mellow" playlist on my Ipod started with James Taylor and soon I found myself singing with the John Denver songs that followed. Sweet, simple, naive even. But singing. Then the words--about children:

Though the cities start to crumble,
And the towers fall around us,
The sun is slowly fading, and it's colder than the sea,
It is written, "from the desert to the mountains they shall lead us."
By the hand and by the heart, they will comfort you and me.
In their innocence and trusting, they will teach us to be free.

For the children and the flowers are my sisters and my brothers.
Their laughter and their loveliness could clear a cloudy day.
And the song that I am singing, is a prayer to nonbelievers.
Come and stand beside us,
we can find a better way.

And I ate dinner at home. And it was better there.

And that's the news from Spring, Texas, where all the food is fast, all the schools are exemplary, and all the commutes are below average.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Don't They Have A Pill For This?

Well, it's been a quiet week in Spring, Texas, my home town, out on the edge of the megalopolis. Autumnal temperatures -- shivering dang near 50 degrees -- have descended upon the Gulf Coast, and that can only mean one thing:

Marathon training is proceeding in earnest.

I, myself, have been proceeding in earnest, and in so doing I am coming to the conclusion that endurance sport is anti-American. How could I possibly claim this? What am I? Some kind of communist? Some Euro-Kenyan wannabe? Well, let me explain.

No, let me sum up.

If you turn on the radio or the TV or open any magazine, you will be confronted with someone trying to convince you that you can have something for nothing--or at least something without effort:

  • You can have a sexy core and abs of steel if you buy this machine and work out just 20 minutes a day, three times a week.
  • You can be rid of the chronic disease that your lifestyle gave you if you just take this pill.
  • You can have babes-a-plenty if you use this mouthwash or body spray.
  • You can be rich without working.
  • You can be healthy and happy and blessed if you buy this preacher's book.
  • You don't have to change your life and quit eating yourself to death; you won't be obese any more if you take "small steps."

Endurance sport, however, is the opposite. For all the doping in sport, there is no "fast pill." You have to work hard. You have to hurt. Small steps won't do. If you want to run fast, you have to run fast. If you want to run far, you have to run far. If you want to race well, you have to race. There is no easy way. There is no victory on credit. You have to pay now. You get what you settle for, and you have to participate in your own rescue.

Dang, that'll never sell. That's not the American way. What about buy now and pay later? Yeah, let me know how that's working out for you.

**End of rant--I promise**

So, toting a history of wimpy racing, I've been trying to run fast, and far, and race this fall. Speed workouts with real runners like Scuba Steve and Coach T. Long runs without lollygagging. Training on the marathon course. Running the hills.

Today was the first in a series of warmup races--The Houston Half Marathon--three loops on a fairly brutal, rolling course. The computer simulators said that if I want to run a 3:40:00 marathon, I should do this half-marathon in 1:46:27, which to you and me, kids, is 8:07 pace. I used to do Yasso 800s at 8:00 pace. My previous best in a half was 1:56 -- although I was not going all out and it was not anything like a near death experience. My first half put me in bed for the whole day and probably was 2:30.

On paper, I ought to be able to run it, but they don't run the races on paper. They run them for real and the numbers don't lie:

Mile 1 8:32
Mile2 8:15
Mile 3 8:10
Mile 4 8:04
Mile 5 8:07
Mile 6 7:49
Mile 7 8:11
Mile 8 8:01
Mile 9 8:07
Mile 10 7:43
Mile 11 8:01
Mile 12 7:59
Mile 13 8:01
.23 (yes the course was long)

Total: 1:46:48
Avg. Pace: 8:04
Avg. HR: 155
Max Pace: 6:33
Max HR: 173

Of Course, Carrie was probably running her whole marathon today at that pace. I wanna be her when I grow up.

There may not be a pill for this, but there is a prescription. I did cheat only a little bit. I kind of had a pacer--except she kept running away from he while I thought I was going to puke. Coach T was kind enough to haul herself out of bed early this morning and join me for the third lap only. She was very mean to me, called me "old man" a lot, and nearly ripped my lungs out during mile 10. Thanks for that.

If I had managed to get through the water stops instead of wussing out, or if I had just puked and got on with it, the last miles would have been 7:50s. That's what Coach Garmin said I was running most of the time. I wish I could have run faster to make it work Coach T's time. It really was above and beyond the call to get up at 0500 after baby sitting well past midnight last night. I owe her.

So, imagine that. If you practice running fast, you learn how to run fast. So, supposdly I could run a 3:40 marathon on a course much flatter than half course I just ran. But that's not for another 80 days or so.

Hmmmmmmm. I wonder if I can hit 3:3?------

Especially without that pesky swimming and biking warmup.

Monday, October 20, 2008

You May Call Me, "Coach"

Mrs. Greyhound and I have been getting after it. Hot and sweaty, groaning, even little screams. She's even complaining that she's having trouble walking right. 'Cause that's how I roll.

I mean personal training of course. What did you think I was talking about? Perverts.

Mrs. Greyhound has been following a "Couch to 5K" running program with the goal that all of us will do a Turkey Trot around Thanksgiving time. I am so proud. This has me totally stoaked and I am so looking forward to running it with her, stride by stride. But in the true Greyhound spirit, she's been taking it up a level. On days when she doesn't have running to do, she's been walking and doing strength training.

She's had a routine developed by Maria Gratia, but frankly, Mrs. Greyhound (like me) isn't a big fan of strength training. It can be boring if you haven't got a trainer to work with, and Maria Gratia is far too busy and too far away to work with Mrs. Greyhound three times a week.

So Mrs. Greyhound asked me.

***Insert Evil Laughter Here****

After her last two walking sessions, I conducted (at her request) a 30 minute circuit of core and strength training with some dumbells, medicine balls, Swiss ball, and body weight exercises. I think she complains more with me than she does with Maria Gratia; but then, I probably take less guff than Maria Gratia.

But she won't call me, "coach," and there's probably no double entendre when Maria Gratia tells her to "go down" on her lunges.

We've done it twice.

Exercised that is.

The rest is none of your business, but I will say that I'm not upset that my wife is sleeping with her personal trainer.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Marathon Training Is Simple, Right?

(A depiction of Pheidippides, the first marathoner, announcing the Athenians' victory moments before his death. I wonder if I'd run faster in his race day attire. Perhaps we submit Greyhound's Race Day Kit to a vote.)

I once saw a shirt, on, that had the swim, bike and run symbols along with the Ironman distance of 140.6 underneath them. The caption then read:

Oh, you ran a marathon?
That's cute.

So, this marathon training thing shouldn't be that hard for a "multiple Ironman finisher" like me, right? After all, marathon training is simple, right? You don't have to figure out how to fit in all that biking and swimming, right? You just run, right?

Uhm, right. Sure, marathon training is simple, but simple (as in basic) does not mean simple (as in easy).

It's basic. You run.

It's not easy. You run a lot. Some of it quite hard.

Always with the freaking running.

This week, with all the freaking running, has been like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna git. Today, was tight calves and two miles required to get rolling. Yesterday was running in the humid sun, then the cold rain, and then in the humid sun again, all in 30 minutes. But those weren't the "key" sessions.

Saturday was an 18 mile long run right in the zone that felt great, notwithstanding the heat.

Tuesday was a hard track workout--Yasso 800s. This is where the rubber sole meets the road, and it has me wondering what my goal should be.

A reasonable goal for me would be to shave 10 or so minutes off my marathon PR, running somewhere between 3:40:00 and 3:45:00. This would mean running Yasso 800s at 3 minutes and 40 to 45 seconds, six of them this week, building to 10 before race day. So I warm up at the track, bemoaning the stinking heat and humidity, and take off for my first repeat. I ran it strong, but not crazy fast, and hit the lap button at 800 meters. **blip**

The numbers stared me in the face:


**Blink** **Blink**

OK, wait. There's no way I can run a marathon quicker than 3:30, let alone in 3:16. There must be something wrong. That is an abberation. I'll never hold that pace. You are not a sub-8-minute pace marathoner.

Time for repeat number two. Hit the lap button **blip**


OK, stop. You wussed out on that one. WTF? Why not run fast? If not you, who? If not now, when? Why are you such a mental midget? HTFU. Nothing bad is going to happen if you can't finish this track workout. You're only going to hurt. You're not going to die.

Time for repeat number three. Hit the lap button **blip**


That's more like it. Breathe, Kimosabe. Feel that burning in your lungs and sides, that tightness in your hamstrings? Feel that bile in your throat? That's weakness, sloth and slowness leaving the body.

Time for repeat number four. Hit the lap button **blip**


I think I'm going to thow up. I can't do two more like that surely. Shut up, pansy. You just have to do one rep at a time, a few meters at a time. Don't do the whole workout at once. Run one straight and one curve at a time. Hold form. Go hard and quit complaining.

Time for repeat number five. Hit the lap button **blip**


If I stop now, I've done most of the workout.
'I can make up for it later.
This is good enough.

There is no "good enough." There is either complete or incomplete. There is either success or failure. You need to quit succeeding by redifining the goals downward. Don't think. Just run. Turn off your brain. Just go.

Time for repeat number six. I hit the start button and took off, trying to just see the portion of the track just in front of me. As with the previous laps, my breathing became labored sooner and sooner into each succeeding repetition. Eventually, there was no rhythm between my breathing and my strides. Without any rhythm at all, I was just taking in the maximum amount oxygen I could possibly process, with spit and sweat slinging off of me like a horse that had been run too hard. I struggled to hold some assemblance of form and keep my feet flickling lightly off the surface of the track. On the back stretch of the last lap, the pain was everywhere---feet, hamstrings, shoulders--it even felt like something had my groin in a vise. My past neck injury was tight, my shoulder and right hand went numb. The last turn. Last 100 meters of the day.

Hit the lap button **blip**


There is nothing like a session on the track to make you wonder who you are. Am I a middle of the pack runner, or do I just have a middle of the pack runner living in my brain? A man my age can only qualify for Boston by posting a 3:20:00. That's impossible for me, right?

Is it? Really? Maybe impossible for this year, but . . . maybe?

And then, this. Somehow this is all related to me. I'm not sure just how. This . . . a "man my age." I remember very clearly when my father was "a man my age." It was yesterday. I went to sleep, and then I was the same age my dad was.

Then, yesterday, my father received his first prescription for Alzheimer's medication. He's not quite 70 years old, and he's not nearly to the point of suffering disabling dementia, but still. Alzheimer's medication. His father before him had dementia. My dad will probably have it. I see the signs. I have seen them for a decade. Will I wake up figuratively "tomorrow" and have the same problems?

If I lose my mental sharpness, who would I be and who would I become when for so long, I have defined myself by my brainpower. Literally, my childhood nicknames were "Dr. Spock" and more usually, simply "The Brain." And these were my friends who called me "The Brain." God only knows what the jocks called me. I now make my living, and quite a good one, simply by thinking better than my competition.

When that is who you are, who do you become when the brain no longer works right? More imporantly, when that is who you are, what do you really want to be right now? How do you spend the next 27 years if you think you might lose your mind? How do you spend today? What are you running away from? What are you running toward?

Hit the lap button **blip**

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Are You Trying To Make My Head Explode?

It is now less than 100 days to the running of the Houston Marathon--the next "A" race at which part of me wants to set a new marathon PR. That part of me is getting up, hitting the streets, completing the workouts, and seeing progress. That part of me ran 18 miles yesterday at an OK long run pace and finished strong on the rolling last miles of the marathon course.

But see, there's this other part of me that seems to think that it's OK to get a B+ on workout compliance, that it's acceptable to obtain a B+ on tightening up the dietary standards and shed that extra bit of gelatinous goo and get back into "fighting shape," that it's really nobody's business whether I log my workouts, or whether I am strictly hitting my splits, that "good enough" is good enough.

Good enough is NOT good enough, mister. This little rant is to the lazy person inside me:

I know I'm supposed to be Blogger Give-A-Crap, but you want to know the God's honest truth? I am what I eat, and I clearly went out and devoured a 9-minute-mile, dumpy, 42 year old lawyer--not an Iron Greyhound.

As of now, I'm in training. I am not just doing training, as I have been all along. I am "IN" TRAINING. I will eat real food, not processed, food-like substances, mostly plants, and not too much. No more Scotch. No more beer. Lunches to be taken to work. Healthy snacks. Workouts to be logged. Splits to be hit.

We are going south of 3:53:41--maybe way south. No more Mr. Nice Guy. Sweat the small stuff. It's time to get with it.


Monday, October 06, 2008

On Being 42

**READER ADVISORY--I appreciated all the birthday wishes today, but I thought this graph was funny and thought you might as well. But look out. I'm grumpy and whiny and I haven't a right to be. So read on at your own risk. ***

Because I am 42, my hands are hurting as I type this. My running knees and swimming shoulders are fine, but my hands have the same arthritis my mom has, and it's getting to be that time. My knuckles are swollen so that I can't get my wedding ring off (good) or on (bad). I type for a living, so hand pain is to be my lot in life.

Or maybe it was the online Scrabble. I'm not giving that up even if they amputate.

Because I am 42 (and have been doing endurance sports for several years), I can wear my wedding ring when my knuckles aren't too swollen. When I was 35, I couldn't wear it because my fingers were too fat. Now, my fingers are just right, when my knuckles aren't all out of control.

Because I am 42, my life is a bit like the wonderful shortbread cookie I had to top off my lunch today. I know it must have been delicious, because I've had the experience before. But I don't have any memory of eating it. Why don't I remember living it more? Wasn't it good? Didn't I think so at the time? Why didn't I notice the good things when they were happening?

Because I am 42, I notice the doddering, middle aged men in the central business district, with their halting steps, their tentative faces, their resigned-to-life-posture, their flabby bellies, and their man boobs. Statistically, several of them will have a heart attack before this time next year. Several of them will probably die, of that or something else. A couple of them look like they could take a fall. They take cholesterol drugs, blood pressure medication, antidepressants, insulin, and erectile dysfunction medications. They are basically my age. Some don't know that their lives are almost over, and they've spent them in offices, just like mine. This horrifies me.

Because I am 42, the first steps I take in the morning are bent over and painful, and the more in shape I get, the more crippled I seem to feel getting out of bed. Because I am not resigned-to-life, I feel this feeling every morning at 0400 on my way to working out.

Because I am 42, my inner George Clooney wants to be a "silver fox." I'm no six footer, but I'm reasonably trim, somewhat muscular, salt and pepper hair, with a certain "distinguished" look, so I've been told. But then my inner Heathcliff Huxtable reminds me that George is a fantasy, and Heathcliff is reality. I am no silver fox or wild predator. I am domesticated. Indeed, I'm not only domesticated, I'm a Golden Retriever with social anxiety disorder.

But I still crave wildness.

And because I am 42, part of me wishes I was 22, with my 22 year old girlfriend, enjoying a wild freedom that I imagine is the life of my younger friends.

Except I wish I had a 42 year old law partner's pay check, and not that of a recent music graduate. And I also remember that I was already old at 22, sort of Bob Dole without wrinkles. I was cranky and conservative and responsible beyond my years, never closed down the bar, always acted responsibly, always in bed on time, and never hung over for rehearsal.

And I kind of regret it. It seems too late now.

But because I am 42, I see danger in wildness. I have a daughter who's of an age that things are starting to appear in her room that have never appeared before. Cosmetics. Lip gloss. Articles of clothing ostensibly meant to lift or support objects that are not even there yet. And I'm afraid. I'm not ready for this yet. She was 4 yesterday, and I was 35. And I read the Chronicles of Narnia out loud. And I want that back.

But I can't have it.

But because I am 42, I am not sitting still or going quietly. I am going to PR in the marathon in January. And, in April, I am going to ride from Houston to Austin on my bike for the fourth year in a row. And I am going to PR my Ironman triathlon in November 2009. I am going to kick my own 35 year old ass, and stuff any regrets down the throat of Father Time.

Because I am 42, I have some idea how fast this next year can go. And I want to fill it. Who's with me?

Friday, October 03, 2008

Confessing Runner

There's a new post here on Confessing Runner.