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December 28, 2007

Shopping and Rambling

"I see myself holding a pair of thick, woolen socks … One can never have enough socks. Another Christmas has come and gone and I didn't get a pair. People will insist on giving me books."
- Albus Dumbledore, from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, By J.K. Rowling

*
In my Christmas Eve post, I mentioned that I had a whole essay to go along with that Peanuts video clip. After kicking it around for a while, I decided that a lot of the thoughts I had actually tie in fairly nicely with the New Year’s theme as well – so I’m going to tinker with it a bit and hopefully post it here sometime next week.

In the meantime, I’m long overdue in answering Momo's tag to list five random things about me. When you think about it, it’s kind of crazy that I’ve put it off this long – after all, I write about random things here just about every week. I guess what I was lacking was a coherent theme or unifying idea – something an English teacher once told me I should always strive for. (Right after she told me to never end a sentence in a preposition – but whatever.)

Since this is historically the week for returning and exchanging gifts, or buying the things you didn’t get but really wanted, I decided to do a list of random things with a shopping theme. I’d tell you that this list is worth the wait, but I respect you too much to lie that blatantly. It might, however, be worth the next few minutes of your time – especially if it’s a slow week at work for you like it is for me. Off we go …

1. If it weren’t for eBay, I probably couldn’t afford to be a triathlete. But Thank God that it exists, because I must buy more than 50% of my workout gear there. Clothing, shoes, gadgets, you name it – eBay is the first place I shop.

Remember a few years back, when Jeff Bezos was Time Magazine’s Person of the Year for his development of Amazon.com? Well, the lady who introduced eBay (Meg Whitman) deserves at least a similar honor – in fact, the Person of the Year title seems a bit limiting. Is it too late to give her a Nobel Prize for economics? After all, she’s completely revolutionized the way public and private sellers do business, distilled capitalism into a microcosm that is understandable (not to mention accessible and operable) even to grade-school kids, and kept me outfitted in triathlon gear for the past five years. OK, that last item isn’t exactly Nobel-worthy – but it’s just as important to me.

And while we’re on the subject, I’ve got two more eBay-related items:

2. This month, I sold a running-related listing on eBay for 25 times the amount that I paid for it several years ago. That’s no exaggeration: 25 times my original purchase price. I’ll tell the full story here sometime next month – but is it any wonder that I’m in love with eBay lately?

3. You know how everyone says that it’s critically important to support your local running and/or bike store? Well, as a general rule, I don’t support mine – and I don’t feel the least bit of remorse about it.

I mean, sure - I could drive 20 minutes to browse through a fraction of the training gear and shoe models that are available to me online, then spend twice the amount of money to buy them … but I’d really rather not. And I’ve had some awful customer service experiences at these stores that I’ll spare you the trouble of recounting here.

(The one exception to this item was when I bought my tri bike – but even then, I had to drive over an hour to find a store that had heard of Cervelos. Let’s just say Monterey County isn’t exactly the Boulder of the West Coast.)

Don’t weep for my running store, though – it does pretty well selling high-end outdoor wear and athletic shoes to Pebble Beach soccer moms who want to look sporty when picking their kids up from private schools. It's survived without my business for almost five years now, so I’m sure it will continue along just fine.

4. Last week, my mother-in-law gave me a very nice cotton sweater as a Christmas gift. Unfortunately, it didn’t fit, so I took it back to the outdoor store where she purchased it, only to find that they didn’t carry any more of those sweaters in my size. I looked around for various garments to exchange it for, but wasn’t really blown away by any other styles – so I ended up buying some trail running socks.

But here’s the funny part: I was just as happy to have the socks as I was with the sweater. One can never have enough good, sturdy trail socks. And I’m a pretty simple guy to please.

(And yes, I immediately thought of the Dumbledore quote above. I honestly don’t have to look far for these things – they usually just fall right in my lap. I like to think of it as a gift.)

5. With the exception of a few children’s videos, my wife and I never, ever, ever purchase DVDs for our own viewing interests. We're pretty much oblivious to current movie releases, and even when we rent something we enjoy, we never have the time to watch anything more than once. So we’ve never seen the point of buying videos for just a single viewing.

That is, until the Season 3 release of Lost earlier this month. I’ve mentioned before that we’re totally hooked on this show; for the past week now, we’ve been plowing through episodes after the kids go to sleep. During our waking hours, we have conversations starting with questions like, Whose side is Juliet on, anyway? What’s the deal with Locke? Are all of the characters really dead? And why hasn’t Hurley lost any weight?

But like I said, we’re only going to watch these videos once – so if anyone is interested in buying a gently used set of Season 3 DVDs for 20 bucks, let me know. I'll even spring for the shipping charges. The first person to drop me an e-mail (on my profile page) gets it – and if I don’t hear from anyone, it’s going on eBay by the end of next week.

It won’t fetch me nearly as much profit as my previous eBay listing, but at least it will put a little more pocket change into my PayPal account. You know I’ll find a way to spend it soon enough.

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December 23, 2007

What It's All About

I actually had a whole post to write on the following video - but for today, I'll just let the clip stand on its own:



Merry Christmas to everyone.

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December 21, 2007

A Runner's Letter to Santa

As a point of clarification for people who have recently found this blog – I write a twice-monthly column for my hometown newspaper, the Monterey County Herald, on the subject of running. Most of the articles are fairly generic advice geared toward novice runners, but occasionally they take a more creative turn, or have a wider application to other sports. In those cases, I republish the articles here on my blog.

The following article is becoming an annual tradition, as this is the third such letter I’ve written. I figure as long as there’s a Santa Claus, it never hurts to ask for some things I’d like. And who knows – one of these years, I just might get everything I ask for.

**

TO: Santa Claus
LOCATION: North Pole

Dear Santa,

I hope this letter finds you well, and that your final preparations for Christmas Eve are going smoothly.

I’m the running columnist from Monterey County who wrote you last year with a wish list of things that could make me a better runner. I’ve had a pretty good year, Santa – but I’ve also seen a lot of things that make me sad about the sport, and I’m hoping that you could somehow help me. Incidentally, many other sports face the same problems that running does, so if you can fix these things, you’d have the admiration of millions of sports fans around the world. (Not that you don’t have that already).

I believe in you, Santa, and I want to believe in my sports also. Unfortunately, this seems harder to do with each passing year. In light of this, would the following things be too much to ask?

The excitement of true fans: I used to love watching national collegiate or professional championship events, world championships and Olympics – but in recent years, I’ve grown pretty jaded. I’m at the point where I don’t know whether or not to appreciate the feats I witness on the TV screen anymore. I used to watch with a sense of awe and wonder – but now I just wonder. Maybe it’s because I’m lacking …

Faith in hard work: When I watched sports as a kid, there was an underlying premise that success was available to anyone with God-given talent and the willingness to work hard toward his or her goals. But lately, as top-level athletes in every sport get busted for various forms of cheating, it seems like skills and dedication are only part of the equation. It also makes me lose my …

Belief in records: Here’s how bad things have become: whenever I see a record get broken, or witness a performance for the ages, my first reaction isn’t to say, “Wow, I’m watching history!”, but to ask, “I wonder what he’s using?” This happens with alarming frequency in nearly every sport. Who was the last truly clean 100-meter dash world record holder, Tour de France champion, or baseball home run king? Nobody knows for certain – which makes every current and future record a cause for skepticism rather than celebration.

(Considering the previous three items, another request comes to mind … Santa, I know it sounds kind of Grinchy - but is there any way you could put Barry Bonds in jail for a while? The folks in charge of things down here don’t appear to be making much progress. I know this one’s a longshot, but figured I may as well ask.)

You know what might help, Santa? Maybe if we could get some …

Honesty from cheaters: Last week my newspaper printed a “naughty” list of 85 baseball players who are thought to have used drugs. Some players said they didn’t know what they were taking, and others said they were just trying to recover from injuries. Guess how many admitted intentional wrongdoing, Santa? Precisely zero.

Just once – just one time – this year, I’d like to hear someone who tests positive for performance enhancing drugs come out and say, “OK - you caught me. I was cheating, and I was wrong to do it. I’m just trying to compete against a lot of other guys I know who are also on the juice – and here are their names. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have done it, and I’ll accept whatever punishment you decide is fair.” Could you imagine how refreshing that would be? What if we also had some …

Humility from professional athletes: Santa, don’t you think someone like Alex Rodriquez could just say, “You know what? I can live quite comfortably on $20 million per year instead of $27 million; why not use that leftover money to reduce admission prices by 10 bucks, or to give out free tickets to kids?”

Can you picture this? It could all be one small step towards restoring the notion of …

Athletes as role models: I’m thinking of runners in particular here. Remember a long time ago, when the most famous athletes in the world were Roger Bannister or Jim Ryun or Bill Rodgers? Nowadays, most people would have trouble naming an Olympic gold medalist in any distance event over the past 20 years. Running has completely fallen off the radar. But there are several young Americans today with world-class talent. Maybe if they become more popular, we might also see …

Respect for runners: It seems like there’s always been this notion that distance runners are the misfits of the athletic world, since they don’t often participate in more glamorous sports like football or basketball.

But take it from me, Santa: distance running is hard work. Cross-country is a brutal sport – and the runners are just as intense and competitive as any 220-pound linebacker. They push themselves beyond boundaries of pain that most other athletes dare not approach, and they do it almost anonymously. I’d just like more people to understand that.


Well, Santa, you’ve got your work cut out for you. Sorry to make this list so challenging, but I figured that I’d rather have some meaningful change than toys and gadgets that I don’t really need anyway. I know I can’t get everything I ask for, but anything you can do to make the world a better place for runners would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks for your time, Santa. Have a safe flight on Christmas Eve!


Sincerely,

Donald B.
Carmel Valley, CA

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December 19, 2007

Frosting and Rambling

A handful of random thoughts before getting to today’s equally random post …

*In my election recap, it was very poor form to not mention and thank the person who nominated me - at least, the only one I’m aware of. Obviously, none of this might have happened without her, so I owe her a big debt of gratitude. She didn’t want me to mention her by name, so I’ll just give you a hint: she’s part pirate.

*I’ve been putting off a tag from Momo about 5 random things for entirely too long – another casualty of the blog contest. I’ve been involved with politics for less than a month, and it’s already corrupting my character. I’ll hopefully get that post up sometime next week, but in the meantime, here’s one item I was going to include: the song currently playing on my mp3 sidebar is one of my favorite Christmas songs of all time – and I’m willing to bet that most of you haven’t heard it before.

*I mentioned that I currently owe a lot of favors, so today I’m going to start paying it forward:

Robyn, who lives in my one-time stomping ground of North Carolina, has a truly altruistic purpose for her participation in triathlon: using her efforts as a platform to help fight homelessness in her home state. She is currently nominated in something called the Engines of Change Power of Sport Contest by Toyota, which – in addition to having the longest contest name I’ve ever heard – recognizes athletes who make a positive contribution to their communities. Visit by her blog, and check out the contest to give her some votes.

Speaking of positive contributions, this year Bolder launched a fantastic website named Bloggers Against Cancer, to increase awareness and support for the many agencies and organizations out there fighting against various forms of the disease. Most tri-bloggers already know about this site - Bolder has tremendous reach - but the runner-types who visit here could use a reminder. The blog is still in startup mode, but please give him a click and see what you can do to help.

*Time magazine officially named their person of the year (Vladimir Putin) today, which means that the one-year reign of the previous winner – All of Us! – has come to an end. Was it good for you? I can’t even remember what life was like before I heard that news.

And finally …

*Jamie-Lynn Spears, Britney’s 16-year-old sister, is pregnant. It’s certainly not the most shocking teen pregnancy ever, or even the most scandalous celebrity headline of the year; I only mention it because the girls’ mother, Lynn, is the author of a book on parenting that was scheduled to be released next spring. That kind of irony was simply too juicy for me to ignore. It’s like Barry Bonds writing a book about Just Saying No to drugs.

OK, enough rambling - thanks for humoring me. On with the post …

**

I’ve been doing a lot of writing lately - too much writing, honestly. Between blog posts, newspaper articles, holiday letters, and e-mails, my fingers need a break from the keyboard. So today, I’m letting some pictures do the talking. More specifically, I’ve got pictures of our Christmas cookies to share.

This wasn’t an official tag that circulated the blogosphere, but I’ve seen so many posts on this theme that it might as well have been. Earlier this week, our family spent the evening decorating a batch of over 80 shortbread cookies baked by my wife. When you think about it, it’s no wonder Santa gains so much weight at this time of year.

Each of us had our own set of various shapes to decorate. Here’s my 4-year-old daughter’s batch:

She’s very focused on toppings and sprinkles.

My 6-year-old is the artistic child, and here’s her collection:




A close-up of her favorite angel – it’s got a kind of "Picasso meets Jackson Pollack" vibe to it.

My 9-year-old son is fairly eclectic - he’s not satisfied until he’s tried every color frosting and every type of topping available. The results are fairly impressive:




This collection belongs to my wife:





Needless to say, she’s very crafty. And she does very cute things with snowmen.

Finally, here’s my batch:


I like to give my cookies a little bit of personality.


The star on the left was supposed to be Spongebob’s friend Patrick, but somehow came out more like Peach, the sea star from Finding Nemo. The one on the right resembles the Carl’s Junior mascot, for no reason other than it was easy to make.

Here’s a snowman I thought was kind of cool:


He’s my holy snowman. I made him as penance for this other snowman of mine:


Yes ... it’s a snowman who got peed on by a dog. I thought it was clever. My wife had a somewhat different opinion.

At any rate, frosting 80 cookies can make anyone a little punchy, and this snowman signaled the end of the evening. We boxed them all up to distribute to classmates and friends, and selected our favorites to leave for Santa on Christmas Eve. (No, the peed-on snowman didn’t make the cut.) After leaving some gifts, he usually eats all but a few crumbs before heading on his way. I think he’ll be pleased with this year’s batch.

And, on a related note: Santa has some serious training to do after the holidays.

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December 17, 2007

Best Blog! (Actually ... Best Blog Helpers)

So … can I rest now?

The results are in. I won. And seriously, it was nearly the most draining two weeks of my life.

I’ve been having nightmares about this Steve guy for days. Every time I looked over my shoulder, he was gaining on me. Every time I looked away, he pulled ahead of me. I’d go to sleep at night with a slight lead, and wake up with a 2-point deficit – so eventually I just stopped sleeping. You wouldn’t think I’d feel so terrorized by a guy from Minnesota who wears a Speedo, but as I’ve said before, the Internet’s a crazy place.



(Stadler and McCormack - 2006)

This election thing turned into an endurance event all its own - but now it’s over. This year, I got to play the role of Normann Stadler in 2006, while Steve was Chris McCormack (except that I promise not to accuse him of drafting later on). And, just like Macca, if we have a rematch one year from now, it’s very likely that he’ll kick my butt.

Because if there’s one thing I learned over the past two weeks, it’s that Steve has an awesome blog. I clicked over there many times to see how this guy was getting so much support, and I immediately became a fan. He’s on my Bloglines now, and I can’t wait to see what’s he’s got up his sleeve for 2008.

(On a related note: if I should become embroiled in some sort of sex scandal next year, or if any drunken college pictures of me start circulating the Internet, he’ll make a fine champion after I’m forced to step down. Not that I’m forecasting anything. Let’s just move on.)

Likewise, during this contest, I made a point of visiting all of the other blogs, some of whom I had never seen before. What I found is a multitude of great writers and athletes, each with a unique voice that contributes to this strange, wonderful tapestry that we call our endurance sports community.

So I received the most votes and I get to fly the “Best Blog” ribbon you see above – but I don’t for a minute consider myself the best blogger out there. Rather, during this particular contest, I was fortunate to have my own personal Karl Rove engineering a successful campaign behind the scenes.

In fact, if not for my wife, I likely would have finished the contest as I started: languishing in single digits near the bottom of the pile. Self-promotion isn’t really my strong suit, but encouragement and support are definitely hers. During the first week of voting, we had a discussion that went something like this:

Her: You should tell people you’re in this contest, and ask them to vote for you.

Me: Nah … I already mentioned it once. I thought I’d just leave it alone, and see what happens.

Her: You’re getting your butt kicked. You need some help.


And with that, the campaign was born. She sent e-mail distributions, talked up my blog to friends and family, and solicited perfect strangers at computer terminals at the public library (um … was that legal? If I’m asked to testify on this, I’ll make like Alberto Gonzales and suddenly forget everything that happened under my watch. I’d better just stop talking now.)

So my wife was The Architect, but this still wouldn’t have happened without a lot of support from my regular readers out there. (I’d thank the lurkers as well, but since we’re pretending to not know about each other, I can’t officially acknowledge you here. That’s your own double-edged sword of silence). If you took the time to click over to raceAthlete and cast a vote, thank you very much. And if you somehow figured out a way to vote twice, thanks doubly – but maybe we shouldn’t mention this in public anymore. I’m already teetering uncomfortably close to disqualifying myself.

In the final analysis, this whole contest was simply another example of how I typically presume that I can manage just fine all by myself, but eventually figure out that I’m much better off with the assistance and goodwill of others. I can’t tell you why accepting help is so excruciating for me – I just hope that one of these days I’ll learn not to question it so much. And hopefully I can figure out a way to repay all of the kindness that’s been shown to me around here lately. For the time being, just know that it’s all very much appreciated.

Finally, if you’re a newcomer to this blog, allow me to say: Welcome to Running and Rambling. Open 24 hours, no cover charge, no comment minimum. Make yourself at home, and feel free to take a look around the place. You’ll find race reports, subscription information, and musical entertainment on the sidebar, and plenty of nonsense right down the middle. I usually come around to talking about triathlons and ultrarunning, but sometimes it takes a convoluted path to get there.

I don’t always know where I’m headed, but I’ll try to make things as interesting as possible while getting there. And – as I’m constantly learning – the more people who come along, the more enjoyable the journey becomes. So thanks for stopping by today, and you’re welcome to join me for the ride.

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December 14, 2007

Bright Lights, Big Dreams

Wait - before we start ...

GO VOTE!!

(There - I got it out of the way early, and I won't mention it again. Just think of how nice it will be around here next week, when we can get straight to the posts. Speaking of which ... )

*
“Dad, I need to talk to you about my Christmas list to Santa!”

My 6-year-old daughter approached me with this remark about 2 weeks ago, after looking at the calendar and realizing that Christmas was less than a month away. Her statement was delivered with the exact sense of urgency you would expect from a 6-year-old writing the most important essay of her life.

The twist to this story is that her emergent tone wasn’t focused upon her own gift list; she had long since determined what her top choices were. Rather, she was concerned about how she could assist me. More specifically, she started the following conversation:

Her: Remember last year, when I asked Santa for a pair of running shoes for you, and he actually brought them?

Me: Yeah, that was cool. Santa’s awesome.

Her: I was thinking I could ask for something for you again this year. But you need to tell me soon so I can finish my list.

Me: OK … I’ll think of something soon, and let you know.


Last year, she surprised me by asking if there was anything I needed from Santa, so I jokingly told her to put me down for a pair of trail running shoes. And then – wouldn’t you know it? – Santa came through and actually brought them for me. Have I mentioned that I’m a big Santa Claus fan?

I had forgotten about that turn of events in the 11 months since, but my daughter remembered it well. Not only that, but she wanted to do the same thing this year and make it a tradition. Have I also mentioned that I’m a big fan of my daughter?

The trouble was, this conversation took place less than a week before the Western States lottery, and I wasn’t sure what my spring race schedule would be - and, by extension, what training gear I would need – until after the drawing. So I put off her requests for a few days until I saw the lottery results.

Then I went to her room, and we had this discussion:

Me: Hey – I know what you can ask Santa for this year, for me.

Her: Great! What is it?

Me: I’m doing a race next summer where I’ll have to run all through the night, and I’ll need a bright flashlight so I can see in the dark while I’m doing it. Can you ask Santa to bring me a flashlight?

Her: OK … but do you mean the kind of light that you wear on your head, or the kind that you carry in your hand?

(I mean … how many 6-year-olds know that trail runners use both headlamps and flashlights? I’ve mentioned how much I like this girl, right?)

Me: The hand-held kind. I’ll use that and my headlamp at the same time.

Her: OK – I’ll go write it down right now.

And that’s exactly what she did. Immediately below her requests for an American Girl doll and clothes for her teddy bear, she wrote the following:

… and a flashlight for my daddy so he can go running in the dark.

She didn’t specify that her daddy was thinking of a Fenix L2D CREE 6-Mode LED model, but I’m fairly certain that Santa will figure that part out. He seems to do pretty well that way.

Last week, the letter was sealed up and mailed to the North Pole. Now all we have to do is wait a couple of weeks to see what shows up under the tree on Christmas morning.

My daughter understands that not all of Santa’s wishes get fulfilled, but she seems pretty confident that her request for me will be granted. I have to admit that I share her sense of optimism about this one. Like I said before, Santa’s awesome.

And here’s the best thing about the gift: next year, when I’m using my new flashlight, it will be a handy reminder of the bright, considerate little girl who brokered the Santa deal for me. That’s sure to be a comforting thought as I’m running mile after mile through the darkness.





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December 11, 2007

Juju Redux

A couple of requests following the previous post led me to look up the juju rules that I first wrote about in 2005. Since I had roughly 4 readers (including my wife and mother-in-law) back then, I’m reasonably confident that this will be new material for most of you.

I’m reposting it here for three reasons: 1) To save you the trouble of hunting through my archives to find it, 2) Because I’ve tinkered with it a bit to incorporate my passion for triathlon, and 3) So I can produce a full-length post in less than 5 minutes. (OK, that’s technically two reasons and one cop-out - but I prefer to think of it as focus-group driven posting. Being in this election has made me adept at spin.)

So here’s the post, polished and updated. But before you continue – do I need to keep saying this? – go vote. (I know I'm driving you crazy with this contest, but there’s only one week remaining - and this way, I won’t start calling you at home.)

*

Training for races is tough work. We spend most of our days dragging ourselves out of bed, pushing ourselves through workout after workout, practicing dietary self-restraint, and alienating ourselves from friends and family while devoting endless hours in training.

After all that, the last thing you want to do is screw up your race because of bad juju.

Juju is a term adopted from African culture, and has various meanings. It can be something like a superstition. It can also be a charm or object with magical powers, or any ritual act that influences the forces of nature for better or worse. As it relates to athletes, juju is a specific behavior that really shouldn’t have any affect on race performance, but inevitably does.

Acts that directly affect physical performance, such as inadequate training, improper race preparation or foolish strategy, do not count. For example, wearing a new pair of shoes on race day or eating something unfamiliar before the race isn’t bad juju - it’s just stupid.

Experienced triathletes are careful to avoid bad juju before and during their event. The following are the most common examples:

Rule #1: predicting your own race time is bad juju. This is the “pride goeth before the fall” postulate of juju. On race day, there are too many variables that can conspire against you, to assume that they will all come down in your favor.

Nevertheless, athletes of all speeds frequently break this rule. As soon as you tell somebody “I will finish in x amount of time”, you are almost guaranteeing yourself a finish time that is much slower.

Try this experiment: ask a veteran marathoner how fast he is going to run an upcoming race. If he knows anything about juju, he’ll hem and haw and be more evasive than Mark McGwire before Congress in giving you a specific answer [*author’s note: it's a faded memory now, but the McGwire reference was much funnier two years ago - trust me.].

It's OK to have goal times - but to avoid bad juju, never forecast a specific finish time as fact. It’s much safer to say, “I’m hoping to run x time,” or “My goal is to finish in x time”; worded properly, those statements don’t tempt fate nearly as much.

Rule #2: wearing the shirt of the exact race you are running is bad juju. This falls under the “don’t count your chickens before they hatch” category of juju, and seems particularly applicable to novice marathoners.

It’s never acceptable to wear the t-shirt for the race until after you have actually completed it. Just because you show up at the expo and pick up your packet doesn’t guarantee that you’ll finish the race the next morning. Unforeseen physical ailments can quickly lead to a DNF - and there you’ll be at the side of the road, advertising the event that just kicked your butt.

Let’s say you’ve DNF’d while wearing the event shirt, and consider how ridiculous would it look. Think of it this way: what if, one year, the losing team decided to go ahead and wear those “Super Bowl Champs” hats that are printed in advance for each team, but only given to the winners. They’d look like idiots, right? That’s precisely the risk you run by wearing the race shirt during the actual event.

(By the way, what happens to all of those unusable hats and t-shirts? Hopefully they are sent to impoverished villages somewhere without TV or Internet access. I’m thinking there must be a whole society in some remote corner of the world that thinks the Buffalo Bills won four Super Bowls).

Rule #3: wearing the shirt from one race while racing in another is bad juju. The worst mistake an athlete can make is underestimating or disrespecting any given course.

In order to race well, you have to focus all of your energy on the challenge at hand, not looking ahead to the next race, or dwelling excessively on a past event. Wearing the shirt from another race just demonstrates conflicting interests and loyalties.

This is the “how can you be committed to me when you’re thinking of another girl?” tenet of juju. It’s like going out to a special dinner with your girlfriend, while wearing a sweater that was an anniversary gift from a previous lover, and having your current girlfriend recognize it. Only in this case, your girlfriend is incredibly vengeful and has the power to completely sabotage your race. It’s far better to just avoid such situations entirely.

Rule #4: Wearing event clothing or logo gear prior to completing the event is bad juju. This is a pre-race corollary of juju rule #2. Many races sell logo gear online prior to the event, and these items are popular Christmas gifts to runners with a big race in the year ahead. However, wearing such gear ahead of time is one of the best ways to screw up your mojo going into race day.

The one exception to this rule is if your gear says “In Training For … “ prior to the event name. Of course, once your race is completed, that “training” shirt immediately becomes outdated fashion in comparison to the actual event gear. The best policy is to just be patient for a few months, and splurge on event gear after you’ve actually finished.

Rule #5: Telling your finish line posse that you’ll be done by a certain time is bad juju. This is a more severe variant of Rule #1 that could be called contagious juju - because it affects not just you, but everyone who is awaiting your arrival at T2 or the finish line.

All it takes is one stomach cramp, blister, flat tire, or mechanical breakdown to turn your estimated 6-hour bike split into an 8-hour slog, or your 4-hour marathon into a 6-hour survival march. Such a delay might also trigger panic among your loved ones who have spent the last two hours entertaining progressively worse thoughts about your fate.

To avoid this plight, give your crew an approximate window of arrival times, and be sure they realize that these are only rough estimates. Establish periodic checkpoints for them to assess your progress, so they know when there’s enough time to grab a cup of coffee before your next reunion.

*
These are the most obvious cases of bad juju in action, but these examples really just scratch the surface. While there is no rational explanation for these phenomena, I've had enough experiences and observations to believe in the power of juju. So as race day approaches, don’t ruin all of your hard training with foolhardy behaviors that can tip the scales of karma against you.

After all, marathons and triathlons are hard enough on their own.

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December 5, 2007

To Catch an Ultrarunner

Sorry, you’ll have to humor me for a little bit longer on this whole Western States thing, which continues to occupy a large portion of my brain today. On the plus side, I won’t make you read through a Harry Potter quote to get to the post. We’ll get back to regular programming – at least, as regular as it ever gets around here - soon, I promise.

In the meantime, I’ll remind you to go to raceAthlete and
cast your vote for the Best Endurance Blog before reading today’s post. It’s your civic duty as a blog reader. And if you’ve already voted, thank you – now go vote again. (Just kidding – sort of.)

OK, on with the post …

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Have you ever been in a position where something so good happens to you, that you halfway expect to find out that there was some sort of mistake? In the two days after the Western States lottery, that’s exactly how I felt.

Even after seeing my name on the lottery list, I must have hit the “refresh” button at least 20 times over the weekend, just to make sure there hadn’t been one last update where I had been bumped in favor of somebody else. I guess it hadn’t quite sunk in yet that this whole process was actually starting.

Thankfully, those thoughts were put to rest on Monday afternoon, when a large envelope from the WS committee arrived on my doorstep. Inside it were a little bit of swag (more on that in a second), and the race participant’s guide.

Less than 2 days after the lottery, and we’re already in Game On mode. I guess no one will ever accuse the race committee of procrastination.

Here’s the first swag gift they sent me:


A pair of arm warmers. The ideal accessory for long training runs on cool mornings that promise to turn warm several hours later. They’d be perfect for the start of any ultra, and particularly useful for the first several miles through the high altitude and snowpack at Western States.

Unfortunately, I’m NEVER going to wear them. At least, not until after the race. It’s simply bad juju.

Before I started this blog, I wrote a newspaper article on “bad juju”, which described several ways that runners invite cruel misfortune upon themselves by carelessly disrespecting karma beforehand. I’ll find the article and reprint it here someday.

Anyway, Rule #4 on that article was to never, ever wear the logo of a race you hadn’t yet completed. And now I’ve got Western States sending me logo clothing like a young female decoy on those Dateline NBC “To Catch a Predator” shows, just to see if I’ll take the bait and walk into the house. Sure - if I decided to wear the gear, I could claim entrapment, but that wouldn’t be enough to excuse me from committing the offense in the first place.

So the arm warmers will stay in the back of my sock drawer until at least next July. And if my forearms have to shiver a bit in the early mornings, that’s a price I’m willing to pay to keep my conscience intact.

As far as the participant’s guide goes, it’s a 31-page affair with trail descriptions, pacer and crew guidelines, and about 100 different variations of saying “This is a very dangerous race.” Some of the topic headings include Getting Lost, Signs of Renal Failure, Leaving the Canyons on a Medevac Helicopter, How Will I Know If I’m Getting Heat Stroke, as well as the overly descriptive title Why Can’t I Stop Puking?

Um ... OK then. Message received. It’s a dangerous race.

If nothing else, flipping through the participant’s guide helped reassure me that this thing is actually happening. Yes, it put the fear of God in me, but it also got me to quit refreshing the race roster every hour – so I guess I’ll just learn to take the good with the bad when it comes to approaching this race.

It’s a lesson I’m sure I’ll employ more than once over the next seven months.

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December 4, 2007

Because I Asked

"So I should be in Slytherin," Harry said, looking desperately into Dumbledore's face. "The Sorting Hat could see Slytherin's power in me, and it - "

"Put you in Gryffindor," said Dumbledore calmly. "The Sorting Hat placed you in Gryffindor. You know why that was. Think."

"It only put me in Gryffindor," said Harry in a defeated voice, "because I asked ..."

"Exactly," said Dumbledore, beaming once more. "Which makes you very different ... "

- from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by J.K. Rowling

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A couple of quick notes before today’s (hopefully, also quick) post …

1. The 10 finalists for Best Endurance Blog have been posted, and somewhat miraculously, I’m still in the running - I'm the Dennis Kucinich of this group of very talented candidates. Head over to raceAthlete and cast your vote – it’s just like voting for a congressman or some lame ballot measure, except you don’t get one of those “I Voted!” stickers when you’re done. (I know I’m not exactly selling it, but I’m sure there must be something enjoyable about the electoral process. I think you’ll get to see one of those little bar graphs or something. ) Go ahead and click over there now - this post will still be here when you get back.

(See? Still here.)

2. Momo tagged me with that “5 Random Things” deal that’s going around. I’ll get to that soon, I promise – but I have a couple of other items lined up first, starting with some final thoughts on the whole Western States lottery process.

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It’s one thing to be sorted into a place you desire; it’s something altogether different to prove you belong there.

Harry was placed into Gryffindor house, known for its qualities of bravery and courage. Through his ensuing adventures and battles, it was clear that he was deserving of his placement. However, at the point of his initial sorting, Harry was uncertain that he would become worthy of his housemates' lofty standards.

At one point, his misgivings were so strong that he sought an unbiased confirmation of the Sorting Hat’s decision – illustrated in the quote that opens this post. Even after Dumbledore reassured him, Harry struggled with the burden of expectations as he moved from one difficult challenge to the next.

So I’ve been chosen to do this race, and everyone is telling me congratulations and saying how excited they are for me – but I haven’t really done anything yet. I'm only here because I asked to be included. I was sorted into the group I requested; my job for the next seven months (and on race day) is to prove that I belong there.

After all is said and done next June, I’m hoping it will be a foregone conclusion: I’ll survive the race in one piece, and know that I deserved to share the same rugged, mountainous stage with some of the best ultrarunners in America. But the path from here to there seems incredibly long right now – and I don’t have a Dumbledore to encourage me along the way.

Remember what I said a few posts back about the magic and mystery of the first-time endeavor? Well, it’s for real now … and I absolutely love it.

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December 1, 2007

GRYFFINDOR!

“Not Slytherin, eh?” said the small voice. “Are you sure? You could be great, you know … Well, if you’re sure – better be GRYFFINDOR!”
- The Sorting Hat (to Harry), from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by J.K. Rowling

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I’m in! Western States 2008, here I come.

Obviously, a lot of thoughts are swirling through my head today. First off, I’d like to thank the race committee for nearly giving me a heart attack by waiting until less than 30 slots remained to announce my name. I know I’ll place many demands upon my cardiovascular system in the next several months, so it seems fitting to start the process with a few solid hours of elevated heart rate and blood pressure. I’ll just consider that the first of many tests.

Regarding the rest of the training, I can’t wait to get started - but at the same time, I’m just now starting to appreciate the magnitude of the task. I’m equal parts excited and terrified. I’m exciterrified.

Sadly, neither of my Monterey County training partners who applied got into the race, so I won’t get the privilege of sharing the whole experience with them. I hope to set up some sort of pacer or crew system with them or some other folks I know, but none of these discussions have really happened yet – before today, I just felt like that would have jinxed the whole deal.

I also missed some blogger names I was looking for, like Rick and Olga and Mark, but I haven’t done a really thorough search of the list yet. I know Scott will be there – although I only plan on saying hi to him at the start, before letting him blaze off into the distance ahead of me. Who else am I missing? If you’re going to be there, let me know – I’m sure we’ll have plenty of chances to strategize and/or commiserate between now and next June.

Finally, I have one more concluding thought on the Potter/Sorting Hat analogy from the previous two posts – but I’m afraid that once I start in on it, this post will quickly grow much longer than I intended. So I’ll call it quits for now, and save those thoughts for a separate post next week.

That’s all for tonight. Accio States!

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