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January 30, 2007

Swimming and Rambling

(Actually, the post title is deceiving, because you’re getting the rambling before the swimming. But the reverse title wasn’t quite as catchy, given the name of this blog. As usual, jump below the asterisks for the real post.)

Last week, the question was asked about whether I had gotten around to watching American Idol yet. This week, I can happily say yes. A few thoughts so far:

• You know how TiVo is supposed to help you watch your shows faster? Well, the first episode may have actually taken me longer than two hours to watch, on account of the number of times I paused the show to comment on how remarkably pretty Jewel is. In a related story, my wife has been controlling the TiVo clicker more often lately.

• When one girl sang the opening verse to “Baby Got Back” by Sir Mix-A-Lot, my 5-year-old daughter looked at me and said “Hey – it’s the song from the end of Shrek!,” and we all had a nice laugh. The next day, one of her kindergarten classmates got in trouble for singing the song on the playground. Sometimes, context is everything.

• It’s somehow fitting to have a music video by Chris Daughtry in heavy rotation on VH1 this month, just as Idol is starting again. It’s a nice reminder that the best talent probably won’t win the show – and, selfishly, it makes me feel justified in that I picked this guy as a star way back at the beginning of last season. Every now and then I get one right.

But here’s what I can’t figure out: the artist name on both the album and video is simply Daughtry, without his first name. Which means that either: 1) He’s trying to go by a single name now, or 2) the whole band is named after him. Unfortunately, neither of these explanations is very encouraging. The first case is nearly impossible to pull off unless you’re a rock super-duperstar like Sting or Bono, and the second move is almost universally disastrous.

Does anyone remember Danzig? Or Dokken? How about Winger? I can’t think of a single case where a rock band called by the lead singer’s last name has prospered. (Note – Van Halen doesn’t count. There were two of them, and neither one was the singer.) On the other hand, rockers who use their full names – Jon Bon Jovi, Jimi Hendrix, Rob Zombie, even Courtney Love - frequently do pretty well.

Now, I sorted all of this out in about three minutes – so the idea that some agent is really giving Chris Daughtry career advice like “I’d name the whole band after you – it will be great!” seems unfathomable.

Or maybe that’s just me. In case you hadn’t noticed, I’ve been known to overanalyze things. Let’s move on to the post …

***

If you’re looking to socialize while training, a swim workout is a lousy place to do it.

Ever since last May, I’ve been swimming on a somewhat regular basis with a group of 6-8 masters swimmers who meet at midday at the community college pool. We all have jobs to return to in the afternoon, so the group has a very businesslike approach to the workout: we briefly say hi to each other, then jump in and do a few hundred warmup yards, so we can get right to the workout and go our respective ways afterward.

Given the brief time frame, and the very short rest intervals between sets – not to mention the fact that our faces are underwater for 98% of the time – there’s very little small talk or goofing around at these workouts. Which, honestly, is just fine by me.

So it took me by surprise at the end of Friday’s 2500-yd workout when, as I was preparing to hop out of the pool, four swimmers stayed behind shooting the breeze and laughing. Whether it was the satisfaction from finishing another tough session, or the relief of the work week drawing to a close (or a combination of both), no one was in any apparent hurry to leave the scene. I figured I’d hang around for a few seconds to see what happened.

And when one of the guys said “Hey – want to do some underwaters?”, I knew that I had made the right decision.

Throughout my youth, underwater swims were the closing ritual to many swim practices, from the neighborhood grade-school team up to our high school varsity. They were a great way to have fun and challenge our oxygen capacities at the same time.

The task increased in difficulty as I got older: first just swimming across the width, then “cheating” across the length (by getting an additional push off the concrete downslope to the deep end), and finally being able to swim 25 yards underwater on a single breath. Sometimes we’d even push off the wall underwater and continue the other way, but I never made it more than 10 or 15 more yards (a couple of guys I knew could routinely swim 50 yards underwater). There was usually a lot of trash talking and showing off, and the scrutiny of my teammates probably pushed me another 5-10 yards beyond what I'd be able to cover otherwise.

I vividly recall the feeling that my lungs might implode just as I broke the surface on the far side, and I remember the pride of knowing that it was only our excellent fitness that allowed us to play such exhilarating games.

Those swim team practices were a regular feature of my youth. But somehow, in my reincarnation as an adult triathlete, I had forgotten how much fun we had at the end of those workouts, staying in the pool and goofing arounnd after practice, because there wasn’t anywhere else we’d rather be. It seemed unbelievable to me last Friday, but I hadn’t done underwater repetitions to finish a workout in several years.

So I stayed behind with the others and did four repetitions of 25-yard underwater swims. And in the deep water, as I kicked and pulled like crazy, exhaling in measured, incremental doses, straining for the cross on the far wall, I wasn’t a grown-up triathlete anymore. Beneath the surface, I was a child again – goofing around, challenging myself, showing off a little bit, and reveling in the remarkable things that my training enables me to do.

I was having a blast in the pool, just like when I was a kid. When I finally climbed out of the water, I made a mental note to myself: I definitely need to end more workouts that way.

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January 24, 2007

Dog Days 2007

I’ll keep today’s random notes short, then get right to a post that’s entirely about training. You know … like a normal triathlon blog is supposed to do.

I’ve finally started watching The Wire. I keep getting positive recommendations about it, and I also decided that any show with a theme song by the Blind Boys of Alabama deserves an honest chance to win me over. After watching the first two episodes, a couple of thoughts come to mind:

1. Apparently, on BET, it’s permissible to say the S-word, both B-words, and the racially charged N-word; but the F-word and GD are still off-limits. It’s interesting to me, because I know the network must have had an executive discussion at some point to decide precisely where to draw the line.

I would love to have been a fly on the wall in that room, watching a bunch of old guys in suits review a list of words on a marker board, arguing the merits (or lack thereof) for each one. Right before they hashed out whether or not to pixellate bare breasts and bottoms in the strip club scenes (yes to the first, no to the second). Is there any chance that they filmed this meeting for the special edition DVD?

And secondly …

2. I’m soooooo glad I don’t live in inner-city Baltimore. My wife said it best: It’s disturbing to know that most of the drug-and-violence scenarios aren’t entirely fictional. So if you think your life is bad, just be thankful that you don’t live in a housing project.

Anyway … the show is interesting. My plan now is to keep updated with it just enough so that if I decide to bail on an increasingly troublesome Apprentice series (a whole separate post someday) in midseason, I’ll have something to fill that time commitment so I don’t have to take the drastic measure of actually finding something productive to do.

(Gosh, that intro was still longer than I intended. I think I need a 12-step program or something. Here’s the real post…)

***

Last Saturday was our running club’s annual Every Dog Has Its Day 10K, the all-downhill race that I wrote about in this post last year. I also wrote this Monterey Herald article explaining the origin of what has become a favorite tradition of local runners.

Some years, as many as 70 runners show up to set a 10K PR on the fast course. A subset of these runners meets in the dark before the race, and runs 7 miles out to the start line, using the race as a challenging finish to a high mileage training day.

A smaller, crazier group within that first subset meets when it’s even darker, to run almost 8 miles before joining the 7-mile pre-race runners, putting about 15 miles on their legs before the 10K. And in that smallest subset would be me.

This year’s run took place on a cold morning by local standards. (Speaking of which – we’re more than three weeks into January, and I haven’t complained once on this blog about how cold it’s been here lately. You have no idea what kind of restraint that has required.) It was 32 degrees when the earliest group started, and grew colder for the next two hours before the sun came up.

Geographically, when you travel further into Carmel Valley, temperatures become more extreme. As we ran the 7 miles into the valley toward the start line, the puddles on the road became more frozen, and the asphalt had many stretches of black ice that sent us skidding a few inches with each footfall. The air temperature had dipped to the mid-20s by the time we reached the start area.

(For any Harry Potter fans out there – it felt exactly like we were running closer and closer to a Dementor. The landscape grew more icy, my body felt increasingly frozen, and it seemed like my enjoyment of the run was being sucked out of my body. Needless to say, I wasn’t in a fantastic mood at the start of the race.)

We raced the 10K, and my primary objectives were to: 1) stay upright, and 2) maintain a strong pace, in that order. And in those regards, I was successful. Here are some photos, courtesy of fellow runner Kevin Smith:


Picture #1 - about 2 miles into the race. I’m still wearing the jacket, hat, and second layer of pants that were intended as warm-up gear I would shed for the race. But standing around waiting for the start, I just couldn’t bear the thought of taking any clothes off. This California boy makes no excuses for being a cold-weather wimp.

Notice also that I’m running on the thin line of dirt in the middle of the lane, looking for a bit of traction. That dirt line wasn’t nearly long enough – although I never fell down, my feet slipped out from under me enough times to give me a severe case of the yips.


Picture #2 – what appears to be me stopping my watch a few steps before the finish line. I know what it looks like, but, um … on second thought, maybe I shouldn’t have included this picture.


Picture #3 – this is me after the race, wondering what was going to happen first – whether I would pass out from overexertion, or freeze in place and catch hypothermia because my legs were hurting too much to move anymore. Somehow, neither of those things happened, so I eventually pulled myself upright, and even managed to shuffle a cool-down run that brought my total mileage for the day to 22.

My time for the race was 37:12, with splits for each mile just under 6 minutes. That time is a few seconds faster than I ran last year - even when factoring out my “stopping the watch early” trick at the finish line. One year ago I ran similar pre-race mileage and had warmer conditions during the race. And considering the fact that I haven’t done as much overall mileage this year compared to last year (when I was training for the Napa Marathon), I was fairly satisfied with the way the morning turned out.

Note that I said satisfied, not happy. I wasn’t truly happy until I returned home, stepped into a hot shower, and felt the blood circulating to my face and fingers again. I mean … running is a nice thing to do and all, but sometimes, all I really want is to be warm and comfortable.

On that note - Is winter over yet? Because I really need to continue my training. But this cold-weather stuff we’ve had for the past month or so is getting pretty old.

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January 18, 2007

Runner Dorothy

Once again, I have a few random thoughts to address before today’s post.

I realize that I’m developing a habit of doing this. Just think of it like reading a magazine, where you have to scan through the letters to the editor before you get to the real articles. At least I don’t make you flip through 30 pages of clothing and perfume ads before getting to the post.

And if you’re the kind of person who skips past the letters to the editor, feel free to scroll down below the asterisks, and rest assured that you aren’t missing anything monumental. (Come to think of it, you can probably jump to the very end, and still not miss anything important. Sorry, I’m rambling already. Off we go … )

• First, thanks to everyone who responded to my MLK post. Those comments are probably the closest thing to enlightened discourse you’ll ever find on this blog. But don’t hold your breath waiting for the next time, because I can only venture toward the fringes of civility for so long before I start itching for my comfort zone of neuroses and trivialities. Speaking of which …

• Remember how I said I didn’t want to get The Game angry at me, because he looked like a total tough guy? Well, it turns out I don’t have to worry about that for a while, because he’s currently preoccupied with beating up David Beckham. I know, you think I’m kidding – but read this story. It’s almost too funny to be believed.

Seriously now - who would have guessed that The Game even followed professional soccer? And how exactly does Beckham’s arrival in town threaten The Game’s street cred in South Central L.A.? There must be more to this story than we’re being told. I just hope that if these two guys ever do get in a fight, somebody nearby will have enough common courtesy to film the thing on his camera phone so I can watch it on YouTube.

• This pains me to say, but my first thought after hearing about Ryan Hall’s record-breaking half-marathon was, “Wow … I wonder what he’s been taking?” I’m not aware that anyone has openly asked that question yet - but it seems to me that anytime a middle-class white guy from California suddenly smashes the best times of all but the most elite East Africans, it’s a legitimate point to contemplate.

I truly hate the fact that I’m so jaded about this whole drug situation - I’m one of the biggest track fans around, and I can’t even enjoy the standout moments anymore. This kid could be the next Steve Prefontaine or Frank Shorter, but will always have a cloud of suspicion around him. What a mess.

• Finally, I find myself in a television dilemma. For the past two years I’ve heard nothing but praise and fantastic reviews of The Wire; but since I don’t get HBO, I was never able to watch the show. Then last week, BET started airing the series from season one, and I’ve recorded them on TiVo.

The problem is that they’ve run the first four episodes over a span of one week, and I’ve been too busy to actually sit down and watch them. So now, at 90 minutes per episode, I’m almost 6 hours behind before I’ve even made it out of the gate.

The only other times I’ve been in this situation have been: 1) During the Summer Olympics, when I taped eight hours of track events each day, so I could watch every qualifying event leading up to the finals, and 2) When I inexplicably had to work on the day of last year’s National Spelling Bee, then stayed up past midnight watching 5 hours of preliminaries before viewing the final rounds.

The importance of the Olympics is self-evident, and if you read this blog during the summer, you know how I feel about spelling bees. So here’s my question: Is “The Wire” in that same category of must-watch television? Will it justify the kind of time investment that I’ll need to catch up? I’d be interested to hear recommendations from anyone who has seen the show. And keep in mind that twice-weekly, two-hour American Idol episodes started this week as well – that show definitely factors into the equation. It’s getting to the point where I’d have to be the Dean Karnazes of TV watching to catch up with everything over one of these upcoming weekends.

(My goodness ... that’s over 700 words of intro. I guess at some point these ramblings should probably be a whole separate series of posts. Feel free to suggest topics. Meanwhile, let’s get to the main article. )

***

Today’s “official” post is a goofy bit of creative writing that appears in Thursday’s Monterey County Herald, about a group of rookie marathoners. For non-locals, Del Rey Oaks and Seaside are small towns neighboring the Monterey Peninsula. And if, after reading the piece, anyone can think of a better name for Scott, I’d love to hear it. I couldn’t think of anything that came close to rhyming with the word I wanted.


Running Life 1/18/07: “Dorothy from Del Rey Oaks”

This story may sound familiar; it’s the story of a lady we know. For the sake of anonymity, we’ll call her Dorothy, who lives in Del Rey Oaks.

Dorothy was approaching middle-age and had just been through a messy divorce. Her self esteem was extremely low. She had gained weight over years and felt depressed all the time. She had no close friends to talk to other than her dear Aunt Emily.

Her only enjoyment came from walking her little dog Bobo around Roberts Lake in the morning before work. She would sometimes get lost in thought on her walks, and gradually started walking longer and longer distances.

One morning during her walk, Bobo broke loose from his leash. Dorothy ran to chase him, and made it halfway around the lake before a jogger helped out by scooping Bobo up and waiting for Dorothy. Dorothy could barely thank the man because she was so winded from the running, but afterward she felt exhilarated from the chase.

The next day Dorothy and Bobo saw the man again. She didn’t want to slow him down, so she tried jogging alongside him so they could talk. His name was Scott, and he worked as a night watchman. Scott said he wanted a better job, but his opportunities were limited because he dropped out of high school. He thought if he was only a little smarter, he could finish his education someday to advance his career.

Dorothy enjoyed the conversation and didn’t even realize she had jogged for about 20 minutes.

Scott and Dorothy began jogging together every other day, and soon ventured out on the Monterey recreation trail. One morning in Monterey they stopped upon a runner who seemed injured because of his stiff-legged stride. He wasn’t really hurt, but asked if he could run with them for a bit.

He said his name was Tim, but in high school, his track teammates called him “Tim the Man” because he used to be so fast. Tim explained that his joints occasionally felt stiff at the beginning of a run, but after he warmed up he would be fine. Dorothy noticed that he seemed to take in a lot of fluids when he ran.

Tim became a running partner of Scott and Dorothy. Tim had a sensitive side to him, and explained that he also had gone through a bad breakup. Sometimes he felt like his heart had been ripped right out of his body.

The group began meeting on weekends to run longer distances together. One Saturday, they ran all the way to Lover’s Point in Pacific Grove and stopped to look at the view. Bobo walked over to a man sitting in the grass, who started yelling profanities at the dog. Dorothy confronted the man, who apologized and began to cry.

He said his name was Leon, and he had just settled in Pacific Grove after living for a while in Africa. He had a job as a safari guide, but failed miserably when he realized he was terrified of almost all animals – even little dogs. Leon had lashed out at Bobo so he wouldn’t appear too cowardly.

Dorothy, Scott, and Tim asked Leon to join them on next weekend’s run. The four became close friends and running partners.

One January morning, Dorothy showed up with entry blanks for the Big Sur Marathon at the end of April. Her three partners had the following reactions:

Scott said, “I’m not smart enough to train correctly.”

Tim the Man said, “I don’t know if my heart is strong enough to do it.”

Leon said, “I’m scared that I might not finish.”

Dorothy said, “I hear that the Chairman of the Board, Hugo Ferlito, has run all 21 Big Sur Marathons. He stands at the finish line and helps hand out medals on race day. The guy’s some kind of running wizard. We can probably learn something from him.” Finally her partners agreed to enter the race.

Scott did some research and mapped out a training plan, even getting advice from some of those small, skinny runners he knew from the local running guild. He realized the group had to increase their training right away to have enough time to prepare.

They ran together for the next three months, and when the training miles got difficult, they came up with a mantra to help them continue: “Follow the hilly black road! Follow the hilly black road!”

Finally, marathon day arrived, and it was one of the worst weather days in Bug Sur history. The wind seemed strong enough to make houses fly. It was like a tornado out there! Dorothy commented, “Bobo - We’re not in Del Rey Oaks anymore.” It looked to be a real witch of a day.

But Dorothy and her friends persevered and finished the race. Scott had a smart race strategy of running easy in the early miles. Tim used a heart rate monitor to ensure a solid effort throughout the race. Leon showed great courage to battle through “the wall” at mile 22.

They all finished with their hands in the air and big smiles on their faces. And Hugo Ferlito, the wonderful wizard they heard about, handed each of them a finisher’s medal.

After the race, Dorothy realized that she had lost 25 pounds and regained her self esteem. Tim the Man felt like he was falling in love again. Scott returned to school, passed his high school equivalency exam, and enrolled in classes at Monterey Peninsula College. Leon took a job working with sharks at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Later that summer, they saw Hugo the Wizard running on the Rec Trail. They all graciously thanked him for the gifts they received.

And the wizard told them, “I didn’t give you anything that you didn’t already have inside you. It just took you 26.2 miles to find it.”

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January 15, 2007

Remember the Dream

"One man come in the name of love -
One man come and go -
One man come, he to justify -
One man to overthrow ... "


-U2, "Pride (In the Name of Love)"


By way of fair warning, this post doesn’t have anything to do with running. It's more like a public service announcement. I’ll try to keep it brief.

Before my 5-year-old daughter headed off to bed last night, she asked us, “How did people know about the dream that Martin had?” Her kindergarten teacher had obviously instilled some faint understanding of today’s holiday in her, but the overall meaning hadn’t entirely sunk in.

So on the way to her bedroom, I stopped at the computer and called her and her 8-year-old brother over. It took me about two seconds to Google a video of Dr King’s speech, and we sat and watched the whole thing.

I hadn’t watched the speech in its entirety in over 10 years, when I had to sign out a VHS video from Powell Library at UCLA, and watch the film in the library’s media center because the videos weren’t allowed off premises. It was a required assignment for my Speech 10 (Introductory Pubic Speaking) class.

So here’s yet another example of why we’re blessed to live in the information age: last night, I watched Dr King’s speech at the 1963 March on Washington with my son and daughter. And so can you. If you do nothing else to recognize today’s holiday, click this link, and spend 15 minutes watching the video. My eyes welled up when I first watched the speech in a cubicle at Powell Library – and last night, I felt the same emotion watching Dr King with my young kids.

Here’s the great thing about the speech: as young as my kids are, they got it. As powerful and passionate as the language is, the meaning is undeniably simple. Dr King wanted freedom where there was oppression. He wanted equality where there was unfairness. He wanted peace where there was discord.

Most importantly, they also understood that we still need these things today. It’s a good reminder for all of us.

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January 11, 2007

The Hill Not Taken

(My apologies in advance to Robert Frost … )

Everyone knows the expression that misery loves company. As for me, I prefer to leave misery the heck alone.

In some cases, leaving somebody to his own misery is not only more convenient for me, but beneficial for the other person as well. I encountered just such a situation while riding my bike through Fort Ord this week.

About two-thirds of the way into the ride, I was spinning toward home and pondering which route I would take at an upcoming fork in the road. The intersection lies in a valley, and both paths back to the start area involve significant climbing.

The direct road begins with a killer half-mile climb, then flattens out a bit before a couple of shorter (but still challenging) inclines lead over the hill and back down to the starting point. The alternate route is a few miles longer, with a more gradual climb that reaches a higher summit before descending to the same point.

I had some time to spare, and was leaning on taking the longer way around. Then as I approached the intersection, I saw another rider in the distance, starting up the base of the direct, steeper climb.

Two things are worth noting here:

1) It’s unusual for me to see other riders in Fort Ord, let alone ones that are just close enough to help pull me up a tough hill. So having someone ahead of me like that was a great opportunity. And …

2) When I’m training, I’m one of the most absurdly competitive dudes you’ve ever met. My inner alpha dog was barking like mad; I simply couldn’t resist the challenge to reel in another rider on one of the toughest climbs in the park.

So two roads diverged in a valley, and I - … I took the one with the chump on a bicycle that I planned on hammering into the pavement. (OK, it’s not quite as poetic as another version, but that's just the way I roll.)

By the time I reached the base of the hill, he was about a third of the way up, and I was locked onto him like a heat-seeking missile. Standing out of the saddle, I was gaining ground with each pedal stroke, and right on track to pass him about 200 yards short of the top.

But as I got closer, I started noticing things.

The guy was a little bit overweight – at least, he didn’t have the obvious physique that would identify him as a regular cyclist or triathlete. He wore a big Camelpak and a cotton shirt and rode a mountain bike that didn’t appear to be sized properly. He used one of his smallest granny gears while sitting in the saddle, and weaved the handlebars slightly side to side as he climbed. He was clearly struggling.

And in the space of two pedal strokes, my competitiveness turned to sympathy. I didn’t want to pass him. Instead, I found myself rooting for him - because I’ve been him.

It wasn’t that long ago that I was the heavy guy who had to get off the bike and walk because he couldn’t pedal to the top of the hill. Then I became the guy who used the smallest possible gears and nearly passed out after finally making it to the top.

Over the years I’ve developed my skills to the point that I can power my way up almost any hill, frequently dropping training partners in my wake when the roads turn steep. However, I’ve never forgotten the humility of being willing in spirit, but weak in the flesh.

I remember the tenuous emotional balance of determination and despair that I had on those early climbs, when I often contemplated taking up some other activity that wasn’t quite so agonizing. And as I approached the rider ahead of me, I was fearful of tipping that balance in the wrong direction.

I could have rode past and yelled something like, “Keep it up!” or “Almost there!”, but I knew those words would most likely be fleeting in his memory. What he would remember more vividly is how he got passed like he was standing still by some idiot on a 1980s tri-bike. It could even be enough to discourage him from returning to the hill again.

So with about 50 yards left between us, I sat down on the saddle, coasted until my momentum stopped, then silently made a U-turn. I headed back down the hill, and turned to climb the other route back to our starting point. Most likely, the other rider never even knew I was there, and I didn’t see him at the starting point afterwards.

I hope he made it to the top. I hope he felt the triumph of cresting a large climb, and I hope he returns another day to feel the satisfaction of the hills gradually getting easier. I hope he continues to progress like I did, and learns the confidence of knowing he can accomplish many daunting tasks through nothing more than hard work and dedication.

And I hope that my leaving him to his struggle helped him stay focused on the challenge he faced, rather than making him distracted and dejected.

Two roads diverged in a sunny valley, and I – well, I rode halfway up one, changed my mind, came back down, and then took the one less traveled by. Hopefully for that other rider, it has made a small difference.

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January 4, 2007

Identity Crisis

Thanks to everyone who welcomed me back after the last post – it was nice to see some familiar names again. I noticed a lot of updated profile photos, too. For the record, I don’t think I’m ever doing that – so that as long as I roam the blogosphere, I’m always going to look 32. Just like I’m still 25 on my driver’s license.

Today’s post is a long one, but I have a few random odds and ends to put out there as well before we get started …

• First, remember how hopeful I was that Britney Spears would get her act together and become a scorching hot video vixen again? Well, in light of recent developments … can we all agree to chalk that whole prediction up to my being an idiot, and just forget I ever wrote it? Because she clearly appears headed in the wrong direction. At least Elizabeth Taylor gave us 20 good years before she became oversized and obnoxious (and unfortunately, I was too young to see any of her glory days). The whole Britney saga is just too sad on too many levels for me to talk about rationally anymore.

On the plus side, my friend Dave finally showed up to one of our workouts this week. So I guess that post wasn't entirely for nothing. I know the right thing to say is that I'd much rather have an old friend return than see Britney become a hottie again, but, um ... maybe I better just leave it at that - it would be the right thing to say.

• I love the fact that there’s a popular rapper named “The Game” right now. We’re ridiculously close to realizing the classic “Seinfeld” exchange where George wants to name his kid Seven, and Jerry counters that a better name would be Mug Costanza. From now on, just pick a noun, and make it your name. Can I be “The Race”? Is there a writer out there called “The Blog” yet? The comedic potential is endless.

(Actually, I hesitate to go much further here, because I sort of like The Game. In fact, I think I’ve got a whole post about him in me for another day. Anyone who writes lines like “Bounce it like you’ve got hydraulics in your G-string” is going to capture my interest. Plus, he’s a lot tougher looking than me. Let’s continue … )

• Finally, I’m as excited as anyone about the next round of reality shows slated to start this month … but doesn’t the whole “Apprentice in Los Angeles” gimmick seem a little too desperate? It reminds me of the Brady Bunch’s trip to Hawaii: a relatively harmless idea at the time, but looking back, it probably signaled the show’s creative demise (that is, before they completely unraveled all credibility by bringing on that annoying Oliver kid. Is it wrong that I still have feelings about this?) Anyway, if one of Trump’s job applicants sleeps in the tent and wakes up with a tarantula on his chest, that’s it for me - I’m walking away from the show.

OK, that’s out of my system. I feel better now. On with the post …

**

I used to think that I had pretty good physical stamina. Then I tried to spend a day last week shopping with my wife.

We took advantage of Grandma’s babysitting offer, and spent the day at the shopping center. The point of the trip was to upgrade my work wardrobe a bit – although getting away from the kids for several hours was a nice bonus, too.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a somewhat “on the rise” person in our organization. While that’s generally a good thing, the part that drives me crazy is that I can’t always rely on the chinos-and-polo formula that I had slowly crafted over the previous 10 years (Oh, and one more thing - I can’t wear my running shoes anymore. In some ways, that fact alone makes me feel like I’ve sold my soul). I need to evolve a more upscale look, which means occasional shopping outings like last week.

The problem is, I just wasn’t feeling it. I never am, honestly.

Part of my dilemma is that I have no fashion-related sense of identity. Do I want my vibe to be like a privileged Ralph Lauren aristocrat? Or perhaps a J. Crew prep-school blueblood? How about an industrious Brooks Brothers go-getter? Maybe a smoldering Calvin Klein urban socialite? Or a high-society Armani man? I can’t say I feel a strong connection to any of these.

The other issue I have is with the expense involved. It’s hard for me to stomach spending hundreds of dollars on clothes that I don’t feel passionately about, and I’m uncertain that I’ll even like six months from now. If I were to buy those clothes, it would feel like I was simply buying into a certain image, then (probably unsuccessfully) trying to project it as my own.

Whenever I ponder this for too long, it all becomes pretty depressing. And so it was that my wife found me about three hours into the trip, walking around with a dazed stare, and she initiated the following exchange:

Her: You’ve pretty much given up on this, haven’t you?

Me: No, I haven’t … I’m all right.

Her (smiling): No you’re not – you bonked about an hour ago, and you’ve been dragging ever since.

Me: Is it that obvious?

Truthfully, I wasn’t sure whether to be more embarrassed that she was calling me out, or impressed that she correctly used the term “bonked” in a conversation unrelated to running. All I knew is that she was right: I had totally hit the wall. If it were a race, I would be looking for the meat wagon to hitch a mercy ride back to the car.

The paradox in this whole story is that while I have a borderline moral opposition to spending money on clothing to enhance my professional career, I rarely have any qualms about spending a similar amount of money on my athletic exploits.

I purposely neglect calculating the cumulative dollars I annually spend on race fees, travel costs, shoes, clothing, and other gear, because I fear the amount will be too staggering to justify. But somehow, I rationalize it to myself in that these types of expenses accurately reflect the person I am, and because I know the items I purchase will be extremely well-used. (Yes, it’s a shaky premise, but for now it’s all I’ve got. Just humor me and nod like you agree.)

In this arena, I’ve never had any problem with my sense of identity. I’m a runner (whoops, my mistake. I still catch myself saying that from time to time) – I mean, a triathlete who works out for several days per week, with very specific training-related needs.

I know exactly which products work well for me, and which I can live without. I like New Balance shoes on the roads, Montrails on the dirt, and Asics clothing on my body. I prefer training in compression shorts and loose fitting shirts. I wear moisture-wicking fabrics during a run, and 100% cotton afterwards. I need disproportionately thick gloves because my fingers always feel much colder than my core. I know that the Polar 210 has all the features I need, but the 625X is overkill. And I could give you about 20 more examples.

Granted, it has taken me several years to refine these preferences. But even when seeking the perfect balance, I was rarely filled with as much dread in purchasing running gear as I am when shopping for business attire. I think that speaks to the larger issue of self-image. Namely, wearing workout clothes identifies me as a runner (dang, sorry again - I still mean triathlete), and it’s an identity that I can very comfortably project to the outside world, because it’s an honest reflection of my soul.

(Sorry - I know this is getting pretty deep for a post about clothes, but I think I can make a relevant point here soon … )

I think we all carry an internalized, idealistic portrait of ourselves in our day to day lives, and strive to reveal that person to the outside world by the clothing (and, using a similar argument, the demeanor) we display on a regular basis.

For me, that inner person is a triathlete (See there? I’m getting the hang of it). It’s a guy with sweat on his forehead, chlorine in his hair, and perpetual soreness in his muscles. A laid-back guy who likes to push the limits during a workout, then lounge around the house in shorts and a t-shirt afterwards.

And as much as I try to convince myself otherwise, my inner self is definitely not a corporate executive, or someone who is comfortable in the corridors of power. But that’s exactly who I’m supposed to become - so for now I guess I’ll just keep trying to fake it.

It’s not easy to live an illusion, though. I mean, how many people do you know who need psychoanalysis simply by going clothes shopping? I drive myself crazy with this stuff. When it comes to my career, sometimes it seems like success is my own worst enemy.

Somehow, as a triathlete, I don't think I'd ever have such a problem.

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January 1, 2007

New Year, Old Me

Remember the last sentence of my previous post? The one where I said I needed to step up my training? I should have post-dated that entry for today, and called it my New Year's resolution.

I haven't done much running since then. I caught a minor cold after the coyote run, and had a crazy week with work and family obligations. Not only that, but my pool has been closed for 10 days, and the weather has been too dang cold for me to get my wimpy tail on a bike in the morning. It's like the exercise fates have conspired against me this week - to which, honestly, I didn't really object too much. I've taken things very easy for the past week, and I haven't exercised at all over the weekend. My plan is to ease back into things tomorrow - but I'm still reserving the right to change my mind when the alarm beeps at me in the morning.

If you're a longtime reader of this blog, you know our family's New Year's Eve tradition (and if not, this post will bring you up to speed). So in addition to eating a lot of brownies, here's what I've spent the majority of the last two days working on:




It's one of those photomosaic puzzles, and this was our status as of about 9:00 PM last night. We've made a lot of progress since then, and I'll post a completed picture later, but you can probably tell what it is already.


That's all I've got to report for now, so I'll wrap up with a couple of administrative notes ...

First, I'm insatiably curious as to how people initially find my blog, and what cyber-vehicle they use to return (for those who choose to return, that is. I haven't been able to find stats on that one yet.) I tend to use Bloglines, but I know that others prefer Feedburner or Google Reader or something else. So I've added some subscription options on the sidebar at right, including a direct e-mail notification if people would rather receive posts that way. If there are any other servers that you would recommend, please let me know.

Also, I've decided to go ahead and turn comments back on, starting with this post. Actually, after an initial detox phase, I tolerated the comment-free days much better than I anticipated, and in some ways, I enjoyed the simplicity of having comments disabled. But I also realized that part of the fun of blogs is seeing other people's reactions to somebody's posts - especially when the somebody who wrote the post is me. So, what the heck - new year, new beginnings. Let's roll with the comments enabled again.

(And if you're keeping track at home .... yes, my wife predicted this about 3 months ago. One of these days I should just listen to her from the beginning, and save myself a lot of trouble.)

But finally, here's one disclaimer about the comment thing: I'm not getting around the blogosphere nearly as often or as extensively as I'd like to. So if it takes me a little while to reciprocate contact with you, please don't take it personally.

That's all for now. I need to get back to the puzzle before my wife takes too much credit for our progress. My plan is to finish early enough that I can get a good night's sleep, and be back on the road first thing in the morning.

But we'll see how I feel when the alarm clock goes off.

**

Updated 9:30 PM PST: We finished! Here it is:



Hopefully I'll be in bed in an hour, and running the streets by 5:30. Good night.

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