Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Running and the Homeless

After suffering through a pretty deep bone bruise from misuse of my new awesome shoes (only to be used on non-paved surfaces from now on), I'm back to running on treadmills during days when the conditions are icy, snowy, or the temperature is below 30 deg F. I run in one of our city's indoor athletic centers, usually in the afternoons, but sometimes in the mornings. The facilities that the city provides for its population are excellent, with treadmills, elipticals, stationary bikes, serious weight rooms, gyms, pools, and racquetball courts. All are free except for the pools. The locker rooms are cleaner than those found in many athletic clubs I've visited around the country, with good showers, ample storage, and clean floors (I hate walking through hair or unidentifiable detritus in public showers - it really grosses me out).

At the main center where I work out, on many days I have somewhere to be once I've concluded my run. So I use the showers. Since the building is located near a homeless shelter, many times I find myself sharing the locker room with members of our homeless community. For anyone who's image of the homeless is of a dirty, alcohol-soaked bum, that has not been my experience with the people I've come across in the course of my use of the Community Building. The people I see are uniformly clean and, in some cases, fastidious about their appearance.

The first time I began to notice the homeless came after repeatedly seeing a guy enter the building, but not doing a workout. He looks to be about 19 or 20, and I see him every time I run on the treadmill. He comes in carrying a plastic bag of clothing and toiletries, goes into the locker room where he remains for about 40 minutes, and then comes out clean. This routine, I'm assuming, happens every day, because I think I have seen him every time I've been there. But for the plastic bag, and his lack of use of the rest of the facility (only the showers, lockers and sinks), I don't think I would ever have guessed that he was homeless. I have never seen him talk to anyone while he's in the building. He tries not to make eye contact or interact with others around him. He seems to be totally alone. Yet somehow, each day, he works to maintain a routine that keeps himself looking as good as possible and must give him a sense of quiet dignity. I actually find my heart breaking when I think about him, because it must be very hard being that age and facing the difficulties that confront him each day.

After taking note of the young homeless guy, I started to notice others. There are plenty of young and middle-aged men (curiously though, very few who look to be over 55) who have much the same daily routine. Some are friendly, while others keep to themselves. Every now and then, like yesterday, I find myself toweling off across the narrow room from someone who is having a highly-motivated conversation with himself. In this particular instance (yesterday), the guy looked so 'normal' while conversing into the air that I had assumed he was using Bluetooth. It was only after several minutes that I realized there was no mobile device involved. I didn't feel threatened, but again, just sad that here was a person who has obvious issues, who's probably alone, and yet even in his troubled state, he's at least trying (and succeeding) to look good and stay clean and healthy.

If this blog entry sounds weird, it really is for me too. I lived in San Francisco in the early 90's, and still regularly travel to cities with large homeless populations across the US. I also have lived in or visited Asia, Europe, Central and South America - places where there are large immigrant or indigenous poor populations. In San Francisco (a city I love) and other metropolitan locations in the US, I will confess to being very uncomfortable around homeless persons. I have been yelled at, followed down streets by people asking for money, had a crazy lady try to burn me with a cigarette, and had a very scary incident on a bus involving a deranged man with a meat tenderizer. I will confess that homeless people, in general, scare me. Thanks to Reagan and his ilk, many people who should be institutionalized or getting some kind of assistance, have found themselves thrown onto the streets to face the elements without any kind of treatment or safety net. It is not uncommon to run into people who are obviously a danger to themselves or others as I walk through major US cities. So. like many people in the US, my perception of the homeless was always based on what I had seen on the streets, and had involved some of the worst examples of that population.

But having a behind-the-scenes view into the daily struggles and toils that other segments of our homeless citizens go through has challenged my thinking on the issue. I see people working hard to try to 'fit in,' and look like 'normal' Americans. Something as basic as taking a shower or doing laundry serves as a point of connection between them and everyone else with permanent shelter. And, in light of the recent economic problems, there are more and more people who are joining the ranks of those with no set place to live. People who have recently come from a stable environment (no matter how fragile the foundation), must crave normalcy, and embrace it anywhere they can find it.

I've spent the past several weeks thinking of things I can do to help. I don't think walking up to someone and handing out cash is the way to move forward. In the case of the people who use the Community Building for hygiene, I believe that directly offering money would embarrass them and rob them of their dignity. I do, however, plan to bring some nice gym bags to each workout. And if I see someone using a plastic bag, I'll offer one of mine. It seems that would allow for a conversation like - "Hey, I see you don't have a gym bag. I have an extra one with me that I'm not using. If you'd like it, its yours." The type of conversation that just acknowledges someone as a person who might have use for something, rather than a person looking for a handout, seems to me to be a better way to go.

I also am sending a donation to the homeless shelter. I checked it out on line, and the conditions there are pretty grim. On any given night, the shelter has 75 + people sleeping side by side on mats on the floor of their basement. It is not a large basement, and it looks pretty cramped. With flu and cold season upon us, it also is probably an easy way for a person to catch a bug from someone else in the room. Knowing that has given me a new respect for the people who come into the Community Building to groom. I can't imagine having to sleep in those conditions each night, waking each morning to a world with decreased opportunities, and having to fill the daylight hours with no real friends and no place to call your own.

An unforeseen consequence to my habit of running has been to have my eyes really opened on the issue of homelessness in my city. I am not an expert, nor even particularly an advocate about the issue. I still bring, I'm sure, misconceptions and long-hardened prejudices to the table when thinking about the issue. Running, however, has brought me face to face with real people suffering real consequences of homelessness. And I plan to do more to help them in the future.

If you want to donate to a good shelter, please think about using this link, and then click on donate - http://www.lawrenceshelter.org/

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Free for $85 - addendum

OK, after waxing poetic about my new pair of Frees, I do have a couple of things to report. The minor ache in the side of my foot that occurred after I went for a 9 mile run, turned into a pretty major deep bruise - I had x-rays taken at the Dr's office yesterday. I spent last evening having a discussion with another friend who owns a pair. He said that he uses his pretty exclusively on trails and not on the harder surfaces (where I mainly run). He also just wears them as everyday shoes to walk around in.

So, in a week or so (when my foot chills out), he and I are going to hit the trails and I'll try them out on a more forgiving surface.

So now my thoughts on the shoe: Like anything else that represents a major change in your life, try to ease into it and grow accustomed to it before going full bore. I am still in love with the Nike Free. I do, however, plan to use the shoe a bit less on the roads and more on trails, paths, and everyday activities.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Free for $85.00

So, while waiting for Vibram glove-type shoes to become available in the US, I thought I'd try out the Nike Free running shoes. The Vibram and the Frees were mentioned in the book, Born To Run (which hasn't become my bible - but has taken on a Kaballah-esque role in my life). What is interesting about both types of shoes is that they are designed to allow your foot to be a foot. The Vibrams are basically a foot glove with a thin rubber sole, while the Frees have a sock-type foot covering up top sitting over thicker individually movable squares of rubber that are cut out almost up to the sole of your foot.

So one day last week I popped over to our great local running store, Gary Gribbel's Running Sports, and inquired if they had a pair of the Frees in size 9 or 9.5. As it turns out, they did. The color was a puke-inducing baby blue (I think Nike calls it University Blue - something that would only be true if your university was North Carolina). But, since they were one of only two pairs the store had, the other being a size 13, I tried them on. To my disappointment I found that they were too small. I was informed by several friends that this type of shoe does seem to run small. So the clerk called around to see if any of their other stores had a size 10. When he informed me that they didn't, I should've figured out that getting a pair would be difficult, but I didn't.

The next day I awoke and got on line to grab a pair of 10s from 1) Nike - they were out of my size in gray/green/yellow (my fav), orange, and University Blue, 2) Hollabird - same story, 3) Ebay - same story, 4) Amazon - same story, 5) Dick's Sporting Goods - same story, 6) Zappos - not quite the same story. Zappos had one pair of 10s left in (you guessed it) University Blue. So, I bought the pair from Zappos, feeling pretty stinking lucky by that point to even have found the shoes in the Northern and Western Hemispheres. I also requested an email alert from Zappos when the gray/green/yellow shoe becomes available in my size- if it ever does.

As you can tell by the title of this blog, even free isn't always free. The cost of this Free was $85. Oddly, like iPods and other things Apple, the cost of this shoe didn't seem to vary a lot from one retailer to another. They were pretty much $85-ish everywhere. I actually kind of like that, because there is nothing worse than buying something and then finding it a heckuva lot cheaper somewhere else the next day. Zappos shot me the pair overnight and didn't charge for the shipping (which was pretty cool). I pulled my baby blues out of the box and admired them before heading to the gym.

Because we're in the middle of Winter in the flyover states (this is a particularly good time of year to fly over these states btw), I've been doing a lot of running on treadmills. I'm not a fan of running machines, and never do more than 4-5 miles on a machine before calling it a day. But I was thrilled to be trying out the new shoes. Over the next couple of days I did 8 miles on the mill. I really couldn't tell a major difference between the Frees and my Asics. Since treadmills all have the shock absorbing platforms, you could probably run in stilettos and not notice much difference in shoe quality.

Finally, yesterday, the temperature got to about 40 F and I decided to give the shoes a real test outdoors. I went for a 9 mile run mainly on asphalt and concrete, but with a little bit of hard-packed gravel thrown in. Initially the wind was strong, and blowing right through my sweatshirt, so I couldn't really concentrate on the performance aspects of my new shoes. Once I turned perpendicular to the gusts, however, I did begin to really take note of the way they feel. The Frees are lighter than my Asics by a few ounces. They are also firmer in a way. I found that I wanted to run lighter, and was aware that my foot strikes were gentler than in my more padded running shoes. I also noticed that the Frees are a bit less-forgiving than a padded pair. Some foot strikes were not as comfortable as others. The Frees dictated a bit as to how I would run - form, hardness of foot strike, position/location of foot strike. It was very interesting and made me think a lot more about my form. The shoes were very comfortable. And with less padding, my running felt very connected to the ground. The push offs as each foot alternately propelled me forward felt very solid. I was pleased with that.

The only mixed review I would give the shoes came on a downhill at about 8 miles. I hadn't mastered how to chill out the jolt of going down a slope in shoes that are less padded. The result was something I had never really noticed before - I actually could feel my skeleton. With each connection with the pavement, I could feel the bones in my legs, and my knee joint working. It was an odd sensation that I had never experienced. I've been very aware of muscles, tendons, and ligaments before, but not of skeletal structure. It wasn't a bad feeling, but it was a new sensation.

After the run, I had no ill effects to report from yesterday. Today when I awoke and stumbled to the kitchen, I did note a slight tenderness on the outside base of my left foot. That has now gone away.

So the verdict on the Nike Free: The shoe takes a bit of getting used to, but I plan to keep running in my pair. I like the solidness and connection with the ground that it gives. I like its flexibility. I love its weight. While I do wish the Free came in more traditional shoe colors, I can live with the selections offered by Nike (as I said, I am hoping to get another pair in a more palatable color). For runs in the immediate future I think that I will slowly add downhill segments until I am fully used to the shoe. All in all I would highly recommend the Free as a shoe that will connect you to the ground and allow your foot to move more in the way it would if you were to run barefoot.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Bidness Closure and, of Course, Running

I shut down my company this week. It was a bittersweet few days as I packed, stacked, and loaded pallets for shipping products to the new distributor's warehouse. I had worked pretty stinking hard for four years to build the company in North and South America. And, while I could have easily continued importing and distributing the products, I realized that my heart wasn't in it. I enjoyed meeting people, working to solve problems, and fill their product needs. But I really didn't like the crazy amount of time spent working on bookkeeping, invoicing, bill-paying, taxes, packing orders, cleaning the warehouse, and crazy phone hours (the manufacturer's HQ is in Australia - making the middle of my night the middle of their day). In the end, it was better to drop the distributorship and pass it on to a company already set up for that type of work. All in all, I learned a lot, made some great friends, and had some pretty amazing travel experiences. I wouldn't do it all again in the same way if I had to do it over, but I'd certainly take another stab at this type of business in the future - note to self - Use a fulfillment company next time around.

To take the stresses associated with business away, I've been increasing my mileage on runs lately. Running at this time of year, though, has been an odd mixture of indoor/outdoor. I had my friend Joe in town from LA last weekend, and we ran a 6.2 mi loop that was alternately freezing cold and sweat-inducing. Joe, a native Kansan, hung in there pretty well. But afterward he confessed that he doesn't hit the kinds of wind we ran through on his daily runs through the Hollywood Hills. That night I went out and bought some cheap running tights which breathe a bit better than the sweat pants I had been running in during cold snaps. I'll be trying those out this afternoon when the temp is supposed to be in the upper 40s.

With very few outdoor running days, I've been sticking to the dreaded treadmill. I hate running on treadmills, although you wouldn't guess it by how often I seem to do it. But they (treadmills) are a necessary evil when you live in the central or northern flyover states. At least the treadmills in the Lawrence, KS Community Building (one of three great public athletic centers in town) face out through a large plate-glass window onto a basketball court. So there is something to watch while your legs move quickly taking you nowhere. Most of the hotels I stay in have workout rooms with either a blank wall to look at, or a tv tuned to a program I'd never watch, with treadmills outfitted with inoperative headphone jacks. In most treadmill cases, I take my MP3 player and just listen to NPR or random songs while I run. I do pretty well, but I absolutely hate having every calorie, tenth of a mile, second, and watt (whatever the hell that is) constantly flashing in front of me when I run. It is soul-sucking, and takes the joy out of the experience.

Enough for now. I'll have a bit more to write about rolfing next week when we start work on my mouth and nose.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Beach, Bok, Running & Rolfing

I just flew in from Florida last night, and boy are my arms tired!?! Actually, my great friend and co-worker, Marisa and I flew out and back in first class on Airtran - an airline that does not suck as much as its name would imply. They have a stunning rewards program and upgrades are cheap. This blog is not about airlines, but since I fly more than anyone I know (2-3 trips/mo), I'll do a quick list of my favs. #1 - Midwest - the absolute best treatment in the air. I know people who will fly this airline with stops over direct flights on other airlines. If you have a chance to fly Midwest, do it. #2 - Airtran - for the reasons listed above. They are also the best at notifying you if there is a cancellation, fixing the problem, and giving you real comps (like free food and flight vouchers) if the problem isn't corrected immediately. #3 American - I don't fly them too often, but always enjoy it when I do. Good first class, and not too expensive to upgrade. #4 - Continental and Frontier - Clean planes and decent staff. Avoid NWA, Delta, and United like the plague. I used to be a United Premier, but got lousy service even at a high level of miles. I never fly these airlines. Southwest is the middle of the road airline. It always is on time, but the amount of work you have to remember to perform in order to get a decent seat is excessive. I'll fly Southwest, but it doesn't make the cut of the top airlines.

Anyway, back to Florida. Marisa and I left our flyover state last week to have some business meetings with our brokers as well as to staff our company's booth at a natural products trade show. As those of you who know me know, I am not a fan of the sunshine state. I always think of the place as being full of rednecks or crotchety oldsters. On this trip, however, we experienced none of that. Everyone was truly nice (I hate that word). People were friendly, and, in some cases, even overly helpful. We hit Cocoa Beach one morning before the rains descended (it rained every day we were there). The beach was long, lovely, and devoid of people. We picked shells, watched sandpipers, and walked a mile or so in the sand and waves. Marisa even spotted a dolphin.

The best quick trip we did, though, was to a place my rolfer had recommended. Bok Tower Gardens is the best inland place in the state. It sits atop the highest point in Florida, with views over orange groves and flat expanses in every direction. At its summit is an imposing and beautiful carillon which was dedicated by Calvin Coolidge. The gardens were designed by the son of Frederick Law Olmsted (of NYC's Central Park fame) who was, like his dad, no slouch in the design department. The gardens are too stunning for words. We arrived early, and pretty much had the place to ourselves. The staff is so outgoing that we probably could've been adopted by a docent at the welcome center had we been so inclined. I'll leave the description at that. But if you're in Florida, this place is really worth the trip. Bring a picnic - it is a lovely spot. They also have a decent restaurant on site. Here's a link: www.boktowergardens.org

Outside of the beach, gardens, and a couple of kitschy orange stands, the Orlando/Kissimmee area didn't have a lot going for it unless you're really into Disney. And I should point out that both places we went to required having a car, and, mercifully, leaving the immediate vicinity of the house of mouse. I wanted to take advantage of being somewhere warm to go running each morning, but a total lack of sidewalks and a bit of rain blocked any forays past the treadmills in the hotel's spa until the last day. After 4 days of running on a revolving rubber mat, I'd had it. On Sunday morning I shot out the front door of the resort, past the bellmen and parking guys, down the needlessly circuitous drive, and onto a sand/dirt path sandwiched between a highway and a cow pasture. And actually, the run was nice (there's that word again). I followed the path (probably created by underpaid hotel workers going to and from the nearest bus stop a mile away) until it went under a major highway and came out onto a touristy street with huge sidewalks that are obviously never used, but which pass in front of all sorts of gift shops, camera stores, buffets, hotels, and carnival rides. I had the whole place to myself in the early a.m., and Florida is flat enough to make Kansas look like Colorado, so I covered a lot of ground quickly. All in all, I wish there had been more opportunity to run through the area. It was one of those surreal mixtures of highway, grassland, and tourist trap that made the run so enjoyable.

I did want to make one comment about our trade show (I hate writing about work). At the show, an old guy stopped by our booth. He's familiar to me, because he visits us at a few shows a year. He no longer owns a health food store, but somehow manages to get in to the trade shows. I always hand him a bottle of our wheat grass tablets or powder and he leaves. He's a good enough fellow, but we're not going to make any money talking to him, so I'd never taken the time to get to know him. At this show though he stopped by during a lull. So we started to chat. It turns out that he's a 73 y/o ultra-distance runner. He's done all of the races that I've ever dreamed of doing (many every year since their inceptions). He knows most of the people who are mentioned in the book I've been raving about - Born To Run. He gave me some pointers (which I took to heart), and some words of encouragement. The conversation I had with him (for 10-15 minutes) was one of the best I've had with someone I didn't know in a very long time. It really reminded me to try to be more present and (to really go for a platitude here) live more in the moment.

I'll end this post with a plug for another blogger. I've had a bunch of people ask me about rolfing since I started the 10 series. I checked out a blogger who is a rolfer who has a really good blog (with photos) which explains rolfing a lot better than I have. The site also talks about foot wear - something I hope to do in a future blog - particularly Vibram (I have to try Vibram and Nike Frees out for a longer period before writing about them). Anyway, for those of you with an interest in rolfing please visit http://fasciabalance.blogspot.com/. I think you'll like it.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Rolfing Redux

I said earlier that I would give periodic updates on my regimen of rolfing. I began the 10 session realignment about 6 sessions ago (it is actually going to be 11 sessions, because we spent one working exclusively on my right arm, where I have chronic tennis elbow).

The results of rolfing so far have been positive and noticeable. I still breathe much more easily than I did before beginning the series. I have also dramatically improved my PRs in running. I have knocked, no kidding, 2 + minutes off of my morning 2 and 3.5 mi runs - a feat that seems incredible particularly for the quick 2 mile runs. I have dropped my 10K time by 4-5 minutes. I do realize that the more I run, the better my times would potentially be. However, the drops have occurred literally the day after some of the sessions. And the time drops don't happen gradually, but dramatically. It is really impressive.

That being said, rolfing does hurt, and it is a major discomfort at times. I have lain on a table thinking that I just can't take any more pain. Just as I reach a pain threshold, however, a breakthrough happens as muscle pulls away from fascia, and an odd wave of relief and a new feeling of flexibility take over. This has happened repeatedly, and feels like a triumph when it occurs.

Rolfing, as I stated above, is attended by some uncomfortable moments. Last week for instance, after finishing work on my inner thighs (a bit disconcerting), my rolfer put her hand up my ass-crack so that there was only a thin layer of underwear between my vertical smile and her fingers. As one can imagine, I jumped a bit. She explained that she was working on the fascia that surrounded muscle around my tail bone. So for five or ten minutes, she dug away down there as I lay on my side and thought about the weather. It was very disconcerting, but I must say, when it was over, I felt great (and not just because her hand was no longer up my crack). There is such a nerve center around the base of one's spine, that any body work there is sensitive. But if it is done right, the movement and tightness that one may not even be aware of back there is alleviated. I, for instance, wasn't aware of it, but I was aware of it when it was gone.

So far, that's the best and worst of rolfing. I'm still very committed to the experience. I have worked with my rolfer to achieve the benefits that I have experienced. And while it is not for the faint of heart, if one perseveres, at minimum, there will be a greater awareness of how the human body fits and works together.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Running Monologue

I thought it'd be nice to expound once again on running and running-related issues and items. For any of those who do run, I have some course desriptions and two books to recommend. For those of you who don't run, I have one spectacular book to recommend. Recommending a book on running to non-runners is not my attempt to proselytize. In fact, I prefer that those of you who don't run keep on not running so that my favorite pathways and routes remain uncrowded and serene. But the book will interest anyone who's even slightly into cultural anthropology as well as those who like to run.

Before I list routes and tomes, I'll again try to capture the essence of what running means to me. The sport has really taken over much of my thoughts during the day, and more of my free hours each week. The time I spend running is the truest time I spend during any day. When I run, it is me in my complete self. My body makes the effort, but so does my mind. I run and feel the pains, fatigue, and exhilaration, and my mind notes those and adjusts to each feeling spurring me onward. Yet my mind also goes into a sort of stream of consciousness mode that I experience in no other endeavor. Thoughts are random and disjointed as my brain just goes where it will. Every now and then, this synaptic randomness coincides with euphoria - where the running becomes effortless - and I have what I can only describe as a transcendental experience that I wish could last longer than the 5-10 minutes of time it usually occupies. I realize that this experience is familiar to many runners, and is known as runner's high. And, while I may not have made the choice at 18 or 20 years of age, at 43, I'd take the high that comes from running over sex any day of the week. It is a much more profound and unique experience, and requires more effort to achieve.

Anyway let's start a list. I'll begin by saying that my list only includes places I've run in the past couple of years. I try to find good spots, and usually succeed. The biggest strike against a place is invariably traffic. And it usually isn't the number of cars passing by on a given route, but how much exhaust I am forced to swallow that creates a negative impression. The first three runs on the list are my current favorites. After that, I just picked a couple out of the other runs I do, where I thought either people wouldn't know how good a place could be (St Louis), or where my running partner would have given a city a higher ranking than did I (Boston). The ones that follow the top five are as good (or even better) in their own ways.

Top Runs:

#1 Griffith Park Observatory, Los Angeles - Start at Trails Restaurant on Fern Dell at the base of Griffith Park. You head uphill 2.1 miles until you reach the famed observatory. The uphill run is both challenging and beautiful. You're in the heart of LA, but also in a vast wilderness. You begin in a forested area that feels like northern Arizona, but quickly transition to a desert landscape coupled with a 10-15 degree rise in temperature. The road up is a winder, with cliff walls on one side, and valleys on the other. The views of the vast metropolis are spectacular throughout the run. The experience is repeated in reverse on the way down. You can also take trails that cut the distance, but are less scenic, and somewhat slick because they are steep and gravel-covered. I usually add a mile to the run by starting at the house where I stay when I'm in LA in the Hollywood Hills , and running down the hill to the starting point at the base of the park. This run is easily the most fun, one of the prettiest, and the most challenging of the runs I do. It is not really a run for beginners - there are exactly 0 flats. You are either going up continuously, or down continuously with no break. I ran the course three times last week with a friend who's getting back into running. Neither of us tired of the same route even after three straight days. It is just that beautiful of an experience.
Best time to run - early a.m. to avoid any traffic and higher levels of smog as the day progresses

#2 Town Lake, Austin, TX - Austin is just about the best spot in the world to run and bike. The main reason is the Town Lake area near Congress St. I've run there the past couple of years, and have greatly enjoyed being around so many others who share my passion for solo outdoor sports. There are dirt pathways, paved pathways, fun bridges (some of them solely for pedestrians and bicycles), and a natural spring to fall into midway through any run. I usually run early in the a.m., and am used to being one of the few out at that time of day. Not in Austin. Go running at 5 or 6 a.m. in the Summer, and you'll pass hundreds out on the trails welcoming the new day. I have run the trails both as a relative newbie to the sport, and as a more experienced runner, and found the experience to be joyful at any fitness level. Town Lake alone is worth the trip to Austin. While there, enjoy the weird cool vibe in shops along South Congress, the downtown on the other side of the river/lake, and try some of the various vegetarian-friendly places.
Best time to run - anytime, but in the Summer, afternoon heat gets brutal

#3 Provincetown, MA - Start by heading out of P-town on Race Point rd. After crossing the highway, look for a park on your left. Great trails emanate from this park. The trails can take you any distance you wish to go, but be warned, maps provided on the trails have absolutely no bearing to where you actually are, or the distances that remain. On my run with a friend through the trails, we had planned what looked like a 5 mile or so run. It turned into something between 7 and 9 miles. We're both college-educated, and have a cursory knowledge of simple maps, yet continuously had difficulty with those provided along the route. That being said, the run is so stinking good that it doesn't matter. You run from forest and lakes to rolling desert dunes, to seaside, to town. The flora and fauna are beautiful, and the running ranges from easy to slightly difficult (in the dunes). I almost gave this route the #2 spot, but it simply couldn't beat Austin.
Best time to run - Anytime

#4 Forest Park, St Louis - Surprise, surprise. What a nice place to run, with miles of both paved and gravel paths for runners and cyclists. I literally stumbled onto the park when I ran through an adjacent neighborhood where I was staying. Every day I went back for more. There are all distances and terrains in the park. Flat is good, and so are the rolling hills. You can even have a Rocky moment on the steps of the St Louis Art Museum (SLAM) - a world-class museum that is worth checking out after a shower.
Best time to run - Anytime (but if you're starting from outside the park, avoid rush hour traffic that clogs the roads around it during peak hours)

#5 Charles River and Pleasure Bay, Boston, MA - I can only write about one of these - the Pleasure Bay run, as a run that I have experienced. My main travel road-running companion, however has done both (I have only walked along the Charles, wishing that I was in a pair of Asics). I think my running partner would probably put the Charles at position one or two, and would probably agree with my placement of the Pleasure Bay run in South Boston. So, I'll merely say that the Charles is beautiful, and that running along it would be a privilege and an honor. The South Boston run that he and I did together started at The Renaissance Hotel near D Street. We set off through the industrial neighborhood near the convention center, and tuned left on Summer, and then left again on E Broadway. The Summer street portion of the run is what caused the precipitous fall from near the top of my list to position #5. The amount of exhaust the two of us inhaled on that portion of the run (both out and back) felt like the equivalent of simply wrapping one's lips around the tailpipe of an average car and breathing deeply for about 10 min. After some time, the two of us ran through a pretty nice neighborhood that ended at a waterfront park which had a trail that extended out into the water and wrapped around in a complete loop which forms what is known as Pleasure Bay. And the bay's name is appropriate. While the humidity made the overall experience anything but, Pleasure Bay's water trail proved to be just that - a pleasure. It is a surprisingly long run around the bay, but it is beautiful. We got to look at the fort which stands on the corner of the bay. And we got to see sea lions - always a treat.
Best time to run - Charles River - anytime. Pleasure Bay - only when traffic patterns are light

Other Great Runs -

San Francisco, CA - Golden Gate Park, Ocean Beach, Marina Green. All three are great places to go and run. All three are close enough to be combined on a mammoth run if you're so inclined. SF will probably hit the top of a future list, but for time constraints, I'll leave it here.

West New York, NJ - Run along Kennedy Blvd East. The sidewalks and trails are nice. But really, this is the single best vantage point (and it's the length of the whole run) to see Manhattan and the Hudson. Very few runners or walkers use this walkway, so it is one of the best kept secrets on the eastern seaboard. Spectacular.

Las Vegas, NV - Hit the Strip in the early a.m. after the gamblers, LA party-people, and booze hounds are back in their rooms. Cruising along the relatively empty Strip at 6 in the morning is kind of a wonderous thing. You get to experience the glitz and super-sized architecture without the distractions of traffic and congestion that plague the area all other times of the day. I used to hide out in hotel exercise rooms running on treadmills until I bumped into a fellow runner in the elevator who suggested the Strip. He was absolutely right.

Denver, CO (actually Aurora) - Cherry Creek State Park is a great place to run. Nice trails, nice lake, golf (if you're into that), and altitude training for we low-landers. I was struck actually, with how easy it was to run in the Mile High area. There are many other great runs in Denver. This is just the one with which I am most familiar.

Lawrence, KS - My home turf with great places to run. In the northeast, by the Kansas River (aka the Kaw) there are miles of graveled levee trails. There are also much more rustic trails in between the levee and the river. Be careful on these, because you will be sharing these with avid mountain bikers, and it seems as though every other plant along the trail is poison ivy. On the southern and western edges of the city is the SLT Trail. It runs for many miles and has plenty of good access points. All of the major east/west roads (with the exception of 15th st) also have wide paved sidewalks that will hook up to the trail It is mainly in the country along its western and northernmost miles. At Clinton lake, it turns back southeast toward the city, but still provides great running and biking with minimal traffic crossings. The levees are flat, but practically nowhere else in the town is. So come to Kansas and run some hills.


Finally, I have to mention a couple of books I've read recently. The first, for runners, is called What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, by Haruki Murakami. This is a thoughtful book that runners will enjoy, but I really can't see the allure for anyone else other than fans of this author. It is an autobiographical account of his running, and how his life has evolved around it. I found the most interesting ideas in the book centered around the issue of aging. His thoughts about awareness of the process and its effects (and how to deal with these) were new to me. I hadn't really given aging much thought on a personal running level prior to reading the book.

The final book is entitled Born To Run, by Christopher McDougall. It reminds me a bit of the book (not the movie) The Orchid Thief, in tone. It follows a cast of real-life characters around the Taruhumara people who live in the Copper Canyon area of Mexico. The Taruhumara are the stars of the book. They are reclusive super-athletes who will unteach you a lot about what you think you know in terms of training and equipment. An aside - I actually have a friend who told me his niece read the book, and now only runs in stockinged feet. For those of you who are not into running, the book is a fascinating look at this reclusive tribe (many of whom still live in caves today), of athletic, yet gentle people. I find it most interesting that they live so close to those of us in the US, yet they may be some of the most exotic people we have never heard of. If you're going to read a book this year, this is the one you should get.

Whew - I feel as though I just ran a marathon...with my typing fingers. More later. Thank you for reading!!

Monday, November 2, 2009

SAD songs say so much

I took a week off from postings because I was struck by a mixture of fatigue, slight seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and unchanneled restlessness. I don't get hit with that too often, but every now and then some sort of minor mental affliction takes up occupancy in my head for a few days, and holds on until I can shake it off with a combination of friends, exercise, reading, and a couple of good nights of sleep.

I hadn't planned to write this blog about SAD or depression, but after the above brief intro, I think I'll continue.

I always hated and despised the approach of Winter. I still do. But over the past few years, the advent of cold and darkness doesn't instill the same sense of dread and hopelessness that it used to. In 1991 and 1992, living in San Francisco and Dallas, respectively, I had a brief respite from the absolute terror I felt each year at the onset of Winter. When I returned to Kansas in 1993, after the two years of freedom from SAD, the symptoms only became worse. I would fall into serious depression, gain weight, have a terrible time sleeping, have troubled interactions with friends and family, and have inward-turning violent fantasies. Over the mid to late 90's, I honestly couldn't estimate the number of times I wanted to die - at my own hand, at the hand of others, or by accident. Every single night (and often during the day) for years, I would think for hours about how I no longer wanted to be around and participate in anything having to do with life.

And the SAD only got worse. It finally overflowed into the rest of the year as depression set in throughout the calendar. I also started suffering from terrible heartburn. It was so bad that I slept with a bottle of Tums (backwards, I always found funny, Tums spells smuT) by my bedside. I'd take a couple before bed, then once or twice as well during the night as heartburn pain would tear my from a usually restless slumber. And the depression hurt in other ways too. As the psychic pain became physical pain, I would regularly feel continuous sharp pains in my chest - the kind you feel when you are about to cry. Except in my case, whether or not I burst into tears, there was no subsidence to the pain. Finally, I knew my depression was coming to a head when on a flight, I looked out of the plane's window and thought, I could give less than a shit if this bird fell out of the sky. Or rather I thought that I thought it, because my traveling companion heard me utter the thought and was very uncomfortable the rest of the flight.

In 2001, I got invited to bike around the southern portion of France with a few friends. I started training for the ride. I was heavy, but not particularly out of shape. What followed the training was one of the greatest two weeks of my life, as five of us rode our bicycles on a self-contained tour which began in the dirt-bag city of Marseilles, and then went in a broad circle through wonderful places like Avignon, Aix, and Cassis. Sometime during the ride, the five of us were sitting at dinner and having a discussion that touched on mental health. It turned out that each person on the trip had been to see a shrink at some point in their lives. Three, in fact, had been to see the same shrink. All felt as though the visits had helped them very much. So, when I returned to Kansas (sadly just a few days before 9/11), I called and made an appointment.

I won't go through the whole experience, but some thousands of dollars later, and following some teary psychiatrist couch scenes worthy of a Hallmark movie, I was on the road to recovery. In the sessions, we did therapy that was both traditional as well as a newer type of treatment known as EMDR (see link below). I also started taking Zoloft. I knew that I only wanted to take a drug such as this for a couple of years, and then it would (I hoped) keep working after I had been weaned off of it. Prior to taking any anti-depressant, I had been very leery of them. I was worried that the drugs would turn me into an emotionless corpse, walking though the world with little feeling for anything. But I was desperate to get better. And the lows were so low that I felt I needed to do something. And curiously, Zoloft worked for me. It is true that while on the drug, the highs I had previously experienced when something wonderful happened, weren't as high. But the lows were also definitely not as low. It really took the edge off of everything. While the life experience may have been slightly dulled during the time I was on the anti-depressant, I found that I could walk along the edge of the depression precipice without ever actually falling in.

A couple of years after starting the combination of therapy and modern medicinal cures for the depression, I stopped doing both. And now, years later, the effects of the combo are still evident. While I'm still a bit OCD, and still have some swings of mood and temperament, I am much more able to control the lows when they spring forth on cold Winter days, and darkest of nights. It isn't a picnic on the lawn, but it is manageable. I have many friends who have taken a variety of anti-depressants, and most (not all) have done very well with them. Many too have gone to therapists. And most (not all) have had good experiences there as well.

I think that SAD and depression are pretty easily diagnosed by those around the person experiencing the symptoms. It seems much harder to diagnose yourself, because you don't have any frame of reference to how you should actually be feeling. It is much like getting a first pair of glasses. Until you get them, you don't have any realization that the world beyond a certain point isn't blurry. Once you do have a pair, you see what you have been missing - how the other half lives.

So, as we again approach the crappiest of all seasons, think about anyone you care about near you who may be feeling the effects in a more extreme manner than normal. If you do see the signs, take a moment to see if the person is aware of it, and if he/she is taking steps to work through it. While they may not want or take your help, you will have at least done your part to help make them aware that there may be a problem that they should be addressing.


Monday, October 19, 2009

Some Wee Random T'oughts

Last week when I was flitting from bridge to bookstore to restaurant to park all over the Big Apple (well, Manhattan really), I had a bit of an epiphany as to what is meant when one uses the term 'provincial.' It is usually used by people on the coasts as a pejorative when referring to someone from the flyover states. And, I'll admit to using it when referring to many from the flyover states as well, because, well... a lot of people around these parts are pretty provincial (here feel free to insert other synonyms like yokel, bumpkin, creationist... you get the idea). But, while the term gets used freely (and sometimes correctly) by people on the coasts when referring to central-staters, often those making the judgment are actually more provincial than the average hick from the sticks.

I'll give an example from a paper I wrote in an MBA class (more on the MBA cash-generating racket in a later post). If an average American travels abroad to, let's say Moldova, he/she may have a slight idea of what that country is about. The American may have read up on it in Wiki, a travel guide, or the like. He/she (here we're going to dispense with that and just go with... - hold for it, coin flip - yes 'she' wins) may also be able to point to the place on a map. But, for the most part, the American will have at best a cursory knowledge of the little country (landlocked in Eastern Europe for those of you scurrying to an Atlas).

The Moldavians, however will have a much better understanding of the American than she will of them. Because American culture and business is so ubiquitous in the world, the Moldavians will have seen American movies, read American authors, eaten at American style restaurants (there must be golden arches or a KFC sitting somewhere inside their borders). But my point is that even if the Moldovan view of America is slightly skewed to the pop-culture, fast food shell of what makes up American life, in a conversation, a Moldovan will have a much larger frame of reference as to background of his/her visitor than will the American to her host.

And the same lesson applies to the relationship between flyover states and the coasts in the US. Your average central states goat roper will know much more about New York, LA, San Francisco (yes, there actually are a whole lotta homosexuals there), Boston and DC, than the average coaster will know about Omaha, Tulsa, Des Moines (spends more on art per capita than any other city in the US - BTW), or Topeka (and here, quite frankly, I do have to say that there is nothing anyone ever needs to know about Topeka - the Scranton of the plains).

So ultimately, while a New Yorker lives 'here,' and someone in the flyover states is rightly deemed as living 'there,' the designation 'provincial' only applies in geographic fact, and not in the pejorative use of the term. Because, in fact, the geographic provincial, is usually less provincial in her understanding of the coasts than the non-geographic provincial is in her understanding of the rest of the country.

You may have to read that last paragraph twice. It's pretty convoluted.

For more information on the Republic of Moldova: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moldova
For booking travel to the Republic of Moldova: http://www.carlsonwagonlit.com/en/

Thursday, October 15, 2009

NYC...It Ain't Kansas

I returned last night from a trip to NYC. My friends Chris and Marisa were along for the trip as well, which finished off in New Jersey where Marisa and I had to work a trade show. But for three great days, we had the pleasure (and toil) of hanging in the Eastern Seaboard's premier city.

Rather than going into major details of the trip, I'll just mention a few things that we did that are different than the regular tourist fare of going to the Met, MOMA, Rockefeller Center, and that statue that the French so graciously provided to us. If you're in the been there, done that crowd, here are some ideas that you should add to your must-do lists for NYC.

1) The High Line: What a cool idea. I have never been to a city that has done as good a job of making a public park-like space from train tracks - and elevated ones at that. The fauna is impressive. The architectural details like benches, lighting, and surfaces are absolutely stunning. Walking along the few blocks that this park covers transports the stroller out of the Meat-packing and Chelsea Districts, and into a sort of fantasy space like no other I've experienced in North America. And the hotel which stradles the High Line lends some sort of futuristic, Logan's-Runnish kind of feel to the place (even thought the hotel itself looks like something designed from the last century's Eastern Bloc architectural manuals). You can learn more about this wonderful place by going to http://www.thehighline.org/ .

2) The Brooklyn Bridge: How great is it to spend an hour walking across a legendary span? The answer: very. We took a subway to the first stop in Brooklyn. We got off in a neighborhood dubbed Dumbo, and proceeded directly to the bridge. While it is a tourist site, it is one that rivals walks on other bridges like the Golden Gate in SF, or the Harbour Bridge in Sydney. In fact, it is better. When we arrived, there were probably about a thousand people walking, biking and running from one end of the span to the other. The views of Manhattan, the Manhattan Bridge, the islands in the harbor, and of course, Brooklyn, were fantastic. The information provided on plaques at each corner of the towers added significantly to the experience. And, defying stereotypes, all of the New Yorkers we encountered were outgoing and friendly. On the Manhattan side, just before we exited the bridge, we came across a good-looking guy selling some nice t-shirts that he had screen-printed using a photo-emulsion process. The shirt were the best I'd seen in the city. We picked up a couple of them before leaving and heading into Chinatown. To learn more about the bridge, here's a quick link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brooklyn_Bridge.

3) Vegan/Vegetarian options: New York seems to be a ground zero for excellent no-meat meals. Even Newark's airport has a huge variety of pre-packaged vegan cold noodles for those on the go. And the city... well the city has it all. We dined again at the Candle Cafe, Baby Cakes for pastries, Blossom for a really nice meal, a fantastic soup place on Allen Street (just up the road from Baby Cakes), and a place in Chinatown where my dish sucked, but Chris and Marisa gave rave reviews to theirs. Being a big fan of salads, I do have a word of caution. Vegan/vegetarian restaurants are great for ordering things like tempeh, seitan, tofu..., but don't order salads. They simply don't make ones that are nearly as good as other restaurants. I was consistently disappointed with the lackluster efforts that went into the vegan places' salad offerings. Stick with what the restaurants claim to be their focus, and you'll be good. But god help you if you order a salad at one of these places. Salads get treated like an afterthought.

4) Chelsea Art: OK, Chelsea is very well-known for its galleries, granted. On this trip we blew off the major museums in favor of dropping in on a bunch of galleries in the district. It was a good choice. The gallery staffs at all of the places were helpful, but did not hover. They are used to people walking in and treating the galleries more like museums. While the prices at some of the galleries would make one debate whether one needed a painting or a place to live, there were some that offered good quality pieces that wouldn't dent the wallet any deeper than would the purchase of a new (nice) bicycle. The only issue we had while we were in Chelsea was that there were so many galleries, we couldn't visit them all. We did go into several that had names we recalled from art history classes in college. But it is impossible to visit them all, because one can't spit in Chelsea without hitting a gallery - we know this, because we tried.

The next trips on my schedule are to very different worlds from Boston and NYC. Vegas and LA loom in the not-too-distant future. While not a fan of Sin City (at least the strip), I do love the City of Angels (actually prefer it to NY). I'll have more on that later.

One Final note: New Jersey gets a well-deserved bad rap for being one of the most singularly ugly places in the US. The portion of New Jersey that faces New York (places like West New York, NJ) , however, is fantastic. The Jerseyites er Jersians (whatever) living there have the best views of the city, a slightly less hectic lifestyle, and fantastically easy and cheap transportation into the city. They also have the best running trails/paths outside of Central Park (and again, with much better views). We ran along the Hudson every day on the Jersey side, and enjoyed the spotless, well-maintained walkways and stunning views. I would advise anyone wanting the best picture of the NYC skyline to take a shuttle through the tunnel to the Jersey side ($2.50 each way), and be amazed at the view. The round trip will take about 45 min. Nothing better.

Thursday, October 8, 2009


I have a client/customer who called me the other day to talk about nutrition and health issues (as many of my clients do). He is a guy in his 80s who has faced a lot of health challenges in his life, but manages to keep going through good diet, exercise, chiropractic care, and rolfing. As we talked about his various illnesses and structural problems and the way he had gone about treating each one, he illustrated how he had achieved the most success when seeking treatments that addressed the causes rather than the symptoms of the various ailments. I found that I was aware of most of the issues we discussed with one exception, rolfing. While I knew what rolfing is on a very basic level, I didn't understand the science behind the practice. I equated it more with getting a heavy-duty massage than anything else.

After my client's unequivocal endorsement, I began thinking that maybe I ought to look into more of what rolfing entailed. At age 43, I'm probably over halfway through life, and I thought it might be a good thing to go through a series of sessions that might realign my body to get it ready for the next 2-4 decades. So I began checking around and speaking with people who had been through the ten steps of rolfing. All, with the exception of two friends, claimed to have experienced mild to profound changes in how they felt after the course of treatments were done.

I checked names of good rolfers in the area through friends and websites, and made an appointment. Over the next few weeks before my first appointment, I thought about canceling several times a day. A full compliment of rolfing takes ten or more sessions. I had heard from a lot of people that rolfing really hurts. Since it deals a lot with work on the fascia - the connective tissue that maintains our structural integrity - it almost seemed impossible for a session not to be painful. It was with great trepidation that I walked into the office for my first experience. I figured that if I was able to survive it, I could always just bail on future treatments.

The session started with me standing and walking around in front of the rolfer in my underwear. Thinking that the experience was going to be like that of other massages I'd gotten, I had brought shorts to change in to. As my rolfer explained that rolfing was done with the client in his/her underwear, I thought furiously to try to remember if the underwear I was wearing had holes in it. After dropping trou, and noting (praise Jesus) that I had somehow put on a good pair that morning, the session began. For the first treatment the focus seemed to be on my front core, neck and arms. I certainly noted what was being done, but I can also say that, in my case, it wasn't painful. I felt something in my neck release, and my head changed its position a bit. It immediately felt more comfortable than the position it had been in - presumably for the past 20 years. Next came rib and chest work, which again, slightly changed the position of my shoulders. She (my rolfer) had me do some breathing pattern that was associated with what she was doing. I felt some subtle changes. Finally came arm work.

Those who know me well, know about the ongoing issues I've had with tennis elbow. I've had acupuncture, hour-long massages only on the arm, physical therapy, cortisone shots, and painkillers to try to get it fully under control. I mentioned this to my rolfer who began to work on the area. In the course of her efforts on my arm, I did learn a couple of things. I found that my right hand doesn't stretch out flat without a bit of effort on my part. I also learned about tingling sensations (um, the kind in your hand and arm), and places in your chest and shoulder where blood flow can be restricted causing this sensation to occur.

I won't say that there was a major breakthrough with my arm during the treatment, but it seemed pretty promising. Instead of moving forward to a second area for my next session, we're going to focus on the arm again, for what my rolfer deemed as session 1.5.

As I walked out of my first session, I didn't feel nearly as relaxed as I do when I leave a sports massage - the type of massage I normally get. But I did notice something very dramatic. As I took a few breaths, I found that I could inhale deeper and with much more ease. And now, a week or more since the first experience, I still have the ability to breathe much better. The rib work she did on me has somehow allowed this enhanced respiration. It is pretty amazing. Because, even though I do a good amount of aerobic work each day, I always have had trouble breathing deeply. For the past week, that has not been an issue.

I'll certainly have more updates on rolfing as I progress through the stages. But, for me, I'm turning into a believer that one can receive some noticeable benefits from the experience.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Years ago, when I was about 13, I started running. Our next door neighbor, Hal, was a slightly overweight guy who liked to run. One day he invited me along. He was a fun guy with a collection of campaign memorabilia from the sixties and seventies - some of it extraordinarily valuable. He'd even been McGovern's state campaign manager for Kansas. He was well read, married to a beautiful ceramic artist, had a great dog, and didn't once ever treat me like a kid.

When we started to run, I was in pretty good teenage shape. Back then, there wasn't a lot on tv, and the internet, let alone computers, weren't even on the radar. Papers due in school were still typed out, and White Out was a best-selling product. So I hadn't yet developed the bad habit of sitting in front of a screen for hours, sucking down soda and popping chips into my mouth (that would come later).

Anyway, Hal was into LSD... that's Long Slow Distance running - get your mind out... So each day after school (me) and work (him), the two of us would set off on a run averaging 2-4 miles. On the weekends, we'd do a run that was a bit longer, and then take the following day off in order to let the lactic acid that had built up over the week diminish.

I quickly fell in love with the sport. Running is so basic. All you need is a good pair of shoes. It is also a sport where you mainly compete against yourself going for longer distances or better PRs as you progress. And progression is rapid. You might start out running and walking a mile and finishing the workout completely exhausted, dripping with sweat, and feeling as though you're about to do a Linda Blair from that one scene in the Exorcist. But within a couple of weeks, that mile seems easy, and you've gone onto two, then three... I view running a lot like painting a house. It is one of the few things in life you can do where you can see the results of your work.

Hal and I ran for years. We started to run road races. My first one was a 4th of July race in Lenexa, Kansas. It was a seriously hot day. I was a bit overwhelmed by the number of people there. I ran a crappy race, was ditched by Hal and our other partner, Steve, by mile three, and finished the race about as ill as I've ever been in an embarrassing time - 6.2mi in 54 min. For a teenage 'athlete,' that was demoralizing. By the time our next race rolled around, I was wary, but I did a lot better. On the final 6.2 I did during that time, I had my best race ever. There were a lot of serious track people in that race. The course was as flat as a pane of glass. When the race started, I kid you not, every single runner except for six of us took off and was out of sight by the end of the first mile. The follow car, even pulled in front of us at one point, and gave us a half mile of sucking in its exhaust. But that day I felt great. I told my partners I was going to run ahead. So I set out on a 6 min/mi ish pace, and started to see some people ahead of me. By the race's end, I had caught every runner I could see. And, while still finishing in something like 89th place (out of 120), I considered this my best race ever. I had shattered my previous PRs, and could have gone around the course a second time.

Horrible races, for me, came when I changed distances. I once did the Hospital Hill run in KC. It is a nine or so mile run that goes up and down some serious hills. We arrived at the finish line before the start of the race, and boarded buses that took all of the runners over the course to the start - nine+ miles away. I remember very well at age 16, sitting in the back of the bus and getting scared about the hills and the distance. It didn't help that Hal, who had done the NYC Marathon a couple of times by then, and Steve, were both in seats next to me psyching me out by talking about how hard the hills were, how long the course was, and how hot the day was going to be. I won't go into the gory details of the race. But, at one point an emergency service worker looked at me as I ran by and shook his head. At another point, I was passed by a very overweight girl running along with a hairbrush in her hand (she'd accidentally taken it on the bus to the start, and didn't want to lose it). It took me a loooong time to get over that experience.

When I went to college, my runs with Hal ceased. I had moved across town, and ran a bit with friends, but had lost the fun, kindred spirit that I had in Hal. I entered a couple of races. Dnf'd one, and actually won my age group in another - a 3.1 mi race in a downpour that I completed in 16min and change. After that race though, I never really ran again.... until about two years ago.

When I took up running again, now 20+ years after I ran my last road race at age 19, my pant size was 40. I worked out a lot, but I also ate a lot. I biked a great deal and played some tennis. For the past decade, though, biking had been my main sport, with huge rides completed across several states and, in one case, France. A bicycling coach and I recently had a conversation. When I mentioned that, while I still bike a bit, I had switched to running, he said that he could tell because I'd lost a lot of weight. His thought was that biking, while a great sport, makes one hungry, while running seems to suppress the appetite. Only speaking personally, I tend to agree with that comment. While I had been in great shape, I was pretty overweight before I took up running.

And, the years were not kind when I started to run again at the high school track near my house. I jogged each day for 1 mile. Each time I finished, I'd be absolutely exhausted and drenched with sweat. The jogging wasn't fun at all. I felt this huge mass of flesh from my groin up to my neck jostle up and down with each step. I went through a bit of self-loathing when I thought about where I used to be in the sport, and compared that to where I was now. But you know, something happened that was wonderful. Each day for a couple of weeks, I did the same thing; jogging a mile and then slowly adding a walk/jog of a quarter mile at the end. Pretty soon, I was jogging a full two miles, which for me was (and I still think is) a major accomplishment. The mass that I carried with me slowly began to diminish, along with an appetite for large meals. Pretty soon, to make the jogs/runs more interesting, I got in my car, and began mapping out 2, 3, 4, and (gasp) 6 mile routes in my neighborhood and the surrounding countryside. And over the course of the next year, I was able to do them all. Pounds fell off, and my waist size went to 32.

I now have a certain joy when I run. It is a joy of self-knowledge, of limits being tested, being self-sufficient, and being proactive. While it was fun to run for year with a partner, I rarely go out with anyone else these days. The solitude I am provided each day allows for some real me time. There's no bullshit when you run. It is just you and the road. You know your speed, strength, and stamina. When I go out around 5 in the a.m. I have a chance to look at a calm world on an equal footing with it (not glazed over by the windshield of my car). It really helps me get through the day. I'm a bit ADD(my friends reading this are probably laughing at the words a bit), so if I miss a day I kind of freak out. But it's a trade I'll take. It is rare to find something so basic that one can enjoy so much. Running brings solitude, contemplation, and a sense of well-being to me, while bettering my health. There is little else that can match it.

I'll certainly have more on running in the future, but for now....

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Pahking Cahs In Hahvad Yahd

Tomorrow, I'll be flying out of the flyover states, heading to the East Coast. The plan is to spend a few days on Cape Cod, followed by a few days in Boston working a trade show. Everything about the Cape is lovely this time of year - the trees changing colors as Fall descends, beautiful beaches returning to long flat plains of deserted sand as the Summer tourist season ends, lighthouses flashing along the coastline. The only drawback to the place is the people.

... and I used to think New Yorkers were rude. Well, they've got nothing on the Cape Codders. What a passel of grumps and curmudgeons! Last year when two friends and I rented a place on the beach in Orleans (a freaking gorgeous town), the dashing Christopher and I got yelled at by the rental's owner for picking up fallen branches from the backyard of our own cottage. Later, Chris' spouse, the ravishing Marisa, got a tongue lashing (and not in the good way) from a local who was upset that she had tagged along on a free tour, and was taking pictures of a lighthouse. Finally, the three of us got hissed at by an angry queen for walking across a parking lot in Provincetown. If I'd met him in a bar, we'd probably have gone home together; but cut across his restaurant's parking lot and look out, because this cat's not declawed. It was all a bit disconcerting. By the time we left, we were actually looking forward to our arrival in Boston so that we might experience a level of civility (a characteristic not generally associated with that city).

As I stated earlier, Cape Cod is lovely this time of year, so we're heading back for more. Now that I know which parking lot to avoid (seriously not even a toe will cross that property line), we three have rented a pretty little place in Provincetown. I'm really looking forward to visiting the array of excellent art galleries on (or near) Commercial Street. There is good biking, running, OK dining, decent clubs/bars (so I hear) and views to die for. We've got wheels, so we'll be able to hit some of the other towns (I love Wellfleet, Hyannis, and Chatham).

Then it's on to Beantown - a city I'm beginning to like.
This will probably be the last posting for the next week or so. I don't know when I'll have time to write. House-sitters and kitty watchers have been hired (if one can call dumping one's cat at the parents' house 'hiring'). We're ready to go.
One final note: Apparently a senator from Mississippi has introduced legislation to allow passengers to have guns in checked luggage on Amtrak. The guns must be in a hard case, unloaded, and be declared by the passenger (much like with airlines today). If Amtrak doesn't comply with the bill when it becomes law, the railroad will lose federal funding. What makes this bill even dumber than the usual Mississippi-stupid, is that I can't recall a time when riding Amtrak where any bag (checked or carry-on) was even given a glance by an Amtrak employee. So it seems pretty meaningless and very costly as Amtrak will have to implement new procedures and hire and train new staff to comply. It seems that the senator, you guessed it, a Republican, is defacto expanding a federal program needlessly and thereby creating more government spending. But, on second thought, maybe he's right. We all know how well guns and trains have mixed historically. Why I can barely think of trains (or cars, or boats, bicycles, and Segways) without thinking of guns...

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

To take a step back from politics and health care reform, I've decided to devote this blog to the many fine series available on DVD. I am a huge fan of foreign films - mainly French, Spanish, Belgian, and Mexican/Latin American. Some US indie films, and a very few 'major motion pictures also float my boat. I do, I'll admit, prefer to watch most flicks on DVD rather than go to a theater. When I'm in LA, and have a chance to see a movie at the Arc Light, Mann's, or the Egyptian, I do enjoy that immensely. But otherwise, unless there is some quirky arts theater nearby I stay home. The flyover states are full of box buildings with multiple screens (usually disappointingly small), garish lobbies, pricey sugar and fat that has been manipulated into different forms to add value, and a general vibe that makes film-goers feel like cattle at a feedlot being ushered into separate pens. The one good thing I can say about the 'plexes' is that they usually have pretty comfy seats.... But then again, so does my living room.

Whenever I feel that I've spent too many hours reading subtitles or translating in front of the little screen, I have a tendency to look for series - usually from places like HBO and Showtime, but sometimes from other places like the BBC. I love series because if I find the right one, I can fall into that world for a period ranging from several days to weeks. I don't have to learn new characters, read subtitles, judge new camera work, direction, or film editing. I also am absolved of the chore of picking out new movies from Netflix, and screwing around with the queue. I simply move the entire series to my top picks, and they show up in order. OK enough about that. Here are some of my favorite series in no particular order. They're all good for different reasons.

Shameless - A British series about a family that somehow functions despite their dysfunction. Funny and touching. Only the first season is available in the US (at least formatted for our types of DVD players). I rented this on a whim, and am glad I did. I've made a bunch of inquiries to see when other seasons will be available, but have no answer at present.

Entourage - One of my most recent favs. Watch it after the kiddies are in bed (those of you that choose to overpopulate our planet). I think I spent more ass-time on the couch watching episode after episode for this series that any other. It is such a special show that I even overcame my previously visceral reaction to Jeremy Piven (I now see what others see in him) who's character is one of the two most interesting on the show.

Curb Your Enthusiasm - What can I say. As good as Seinfeld. The supporting characters are perfectly suited as foils for Larry David.

The Office (UK version) - As much as I like the folks in Scranton, the blokes in Slough are better. Disturbing and funny as hell.

Queer as Folk (UK and US versions) - While the shows have nothing to do really with gay life in Manchester or Pittsburgh, they are hot, topical, and unashamedly gay - showing things you might not have seen outside of a pron theater ( and by outside, I mean inside). Watch the UK version first. You can then blow off the first few shows of the US one which pretty much copies the UK content before splitting off on its own direction.

Band of Brothers - I watched the whole series one Christmas Holiday break when I was flu-ridden. It is a wonderful historical story that everyone should see. It gave me a real appreciation for the feel of the time and situation, and more respect for my elders who served. A couple of great movies to watch in conjunction dealing with the Japanese theater rather than the Atlantic are: Flags of our Fathers, and the truly amazing Letters from Iwo Jima.

Danger UXB - So let's continue on with WWII. This amazing series follows a team who work with bomb disposal in the London area during the war. It is very British and very tense. There is a new movie out this year dealing with bomb disposal in Iraq. I'd suggest seeing UXB first. It first aired in the US on Masterpiece Theater. And as a kid, it was the first Masterpiece Theater thing I'd ever watched - back then, I though Masterpiece Theater was about as exciting as staring at a white wall.

The Sopranos - Who could leave this off a list? It's a hard mob life for us. Tony and his crew strong arm their way into our hearts with each episode. Brilliant scripts, shooting (the film kind) and acting make this one of the best series ever.

Weeds - There is nothing ticky tacky going on in the little boxes that make up the characters' homes in Agrestic, a So Cal planned-development community. In each episode you root for Nancy to be able to make her deals, grow her crop, improve its quality, and be a good mother to her family. The characters all develop and grow as the series move along (not always in a completely realistic fashion). I'm through season 4 at the moment, and am looking forward to #5.

Skins (UK series 1) - Bad, bad teenagers. They do so much drugging, fornicating, and partying, that it is hard to believe that they have time to make other poor choices as well. Yet the always seem to find the time. This show is a bit of a guilty pleasure. Skins is kind of like a British version of Saved By The Bell - if Zach and Slater spent their days getting it on with their women and each other which high on whatever prescription drugs were in their parents' cabinets. The jury's still out on series 2 which still is in the character-development phase in the US airings.

The Black Adder Goes Forth (UK) - This short series set in WWI may be one of the funniest things to ever grace tv. Don't get up to go to the bathroom during an episode or you'll miss some pithy bon mots and set ups.

Others you might want to watch:

Sex and the City - I have to be in the mood to hang with Carrie and the gang.

Extras - Love it, just not as much as the above.

The Tudors - Haven't seen it, but I have friends clamoring for me to watch it.

Project Runway - Bravo, Bravo for coming out with this reality show. One of the few that is informative and begs to be mimicked by all watching during each episode.

If anyone has suggestions, I am always looking for more of these to watch. I'll try never to do spoilers on any shows, films or series I write about (unless I hate them - watch out Titanic and The English Patient).

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Health Care Reform

Recently, the older brother of a friend of mine died after heart surgery. With the exception of a heart condition, he was fit, ate right, and didn't smoke. He was in his late 50's, and for some time his doctor had advised him to get surgery to correct his condition. But he waited until it was really too late, hoping to hold out until he was old enough to qualify for Medicare to cover the cost of the operation. When he finally collapsed, and was too weak to weather the surgery. He died waiting to grow old enough to have coverage. So, he died years early and with a hospital bill. Nice.

As a self-employed person who was a relatively successful artist, and quite a successful landlord/property owner, he was never able to afford good insurance coverage. With a pre-existing condition, I doubt he would have been covered for what he really needed if he had gotten a policy.

What bothers me is that we Americans all know someone who has made a hard medical decision because of the cost of care and difficulties with insurance. Yet many of us choose to do nothing to fix a system so broken that we need only to look at our friends, families, or neighbors to see those victimized by the status quo.

It's the added government bureaucracy...It's the cost...It's the infringement on our freedoms,
people whine. They are wrong, however for several reasons:

First, if people are worried about a bureaucracy, it seems to me that having one government agency (which could be incorporated with Medicare) overseeing a public option, would have a much smaller bureaucracy than the multiple insurance companies and state insurance commissioners and their own bureaucracies which oversee the current system.

Second, the cost would not necessarily go up. Due to large-scale rate negotiations, increased competition, fewer emergency room visits, and more preventative care, the public option might well cost less, and cause those of us paying high premiums for private coverage to see our rates fall.

Third, and most absurd, are the arguments about socialism and fascism (they really need to make up their minds which one of these it is) going hand-in-hand with increased government involvement in health care. I notice that the people making these arguments never take the opportunity to discuss in any detail Medicare, Social Security (other than to say it's failing - even as they cash their checks), the postal service, our armed forces, fire departments, police departments, you get the idea...

The truth is that the government is deeply involved in all of our lives, usually for the collective good. To get to an anti-public health care rally, I'm guessing that most of the attendees rode over publicly-funded streets, lanes, and highways; drove in vehicles that were filled with government-mandated safety features; breathed air kept relatively clean... you guessed it, by government mandated clean-air regulation. I've noticed that there has been a bit of discussion about the postal service's rates rising as it is going broke. My response would be that a) other major parcel services have also raised their rates during this same period, and b) due to email/internet communications (oh, dear, another government creation), that we have collectively saved a bundle on postage over the past decade using this new form of seriously cheap communication. Government is not a business. Government, when it is working correctly, is an entity that should exist to enhance and protect our lives. And on most levels, it does a very good job.

Ultimately, health care is something so basic and so necessary that government should ensure that we all have access to it whether or not it is publicly-funded for those of us who haven't reached our sixties (where the current government program starts). Frankly, I'm much less concerned about a few illegal aliens getting a medical freebie than I am about my friends, family, and neighbors having access to quality affordable care. If we'd had this option even a year ago, maybe my friend's brother would still be alive.