Monday, October 25, 2010

Travel Conclusion

4:30 a.m. Too many weeks on the road

Las Vegas... Sin City... Gateway to the rest... Last week, as the final stop in my tripartite trade show travel (three shows in three weeks), Nevada's premier gambling mecca became my home. I normally stay at the Westin - my favorite off the strip hotel - or one of the Venetian properties. Both, however were booked up, so I went with the Mirage.

At first blush, as I entered the lobby, I thought what a sad little place. The ceilings seemed low and kind of dark. There was no organization to the check-in process (which took an unduly long amount of time). And overall, after two weeks of travel, I wanted something light and airy, not slightly clammy feeling and dark. Finally, after a nice clerk checked me in, I found myself on the 11th floor, trudging down one of those low-ceilinged halls that seem to extend forever in the palaces of excess that populate the city. My doorway was only one or two away from the absolute end of the hall. That made it about a football field's distance from the elevator or the ice machine. Honestly, after all of the travel, it kind of rankled me (that is a term I have always pined to utilize (that is yet another)). But there were some benefits to the outpost location that became more apparent as my stay progressed - I'll get to those later.

I opened the door to my room, and was pleasantly surprised to be greeted by a somewhat tasteful, passably clean, and... wait for it... airy room. I gasped, no kidding, as I realized that the windows actually opened in the room. Who knew? Since I hadn't lost any money yet, I was only tempted to inhale the fresh(ish) air, and not to fling myself out into the afternoon sky. I checked the bed for bugs - this is something I always do. One apparently cannot be too careful anymore. And, finding no critters lurking, I proceeded to unpack in the nice room, with its views of both the Strip and the mountains in the distance.

I was pretty tired from the travel and a good run the day before, but I nevertheless changed into shorts, trudged back up the hall, and went downstairs. Since it was raining (a true oddity for Vegas), I found the cardio-center and did a quick workout. The guy at the desk was nice and helpful. After the treadmill, I showered and then went to dinner at a sushi place across the boulevard with a co-worker. It wouldn't be until the next day that I'd finally do a run on the Strip.

The next day I awoke at 4:30 a.m. I had been working on the East Coast for the past couple of weeks, so it somehow felt as thought I had slept in, with the three hour time difference and all... I was looking forward to a run, but it was too early. I grabbed a small $4 cup of coffee (no kidding - and actually $5 with tip) from another very nice guy in the casino, and then went back up to my room to continue reading the running and philosophy book I've been wading through for the past couple of weeks. When 6 a.m. finally rolled around, I went back along the hallway, down to the lobby, and out onto the Strip. I was instantly surrounded by people running. And this happened the next day as well. It was amazing, really, because outside of Austin, TX, I have never visited a place that had more early morning runners in one place than Las Vegas.

For years I had heard from other runners that the Strip is a great place to run in the mornings. And, while it was nice to be around other runners, I can honestly say that the Strip is not a good place to run ever. I did two runs of approximately 6 miles each on two subsequent mornings, and didn't really enjoy either one. The Strip simply has too much traffic and emissions , too many curb cuts, too many scary drunk or drugged people (staggering somewhere...home?), and too much noise (blasting so loudly from speakers in front of the various properties that you can't hear your own MP3 player), that the run really isn't fun. It is an interesting route, but I found it utterly impossible to get into a flow. And it was pretty depressing seeing some of the homeless types sleeping wherever they could find a safe spot as I got further out of the center. So, now I can say been there, done that, but I don't plan to do it again.

Now to return to two earlier topics. First off, I came to actually appreciate the Mirage. The rooms were nice. The staff of the hotel is actually the nicest I've encountered on my 20+ trips to Vegas. The amenities (cardio-room, the snack shop, the Starbucks) were all good as well. I would happily stay there again. And I would ask for a room at the end of a hall. Because of the way Vegas is, the room requiring a hike was a wonderful insulation against the noisy late-night revelers that populate the city. I can honestly say that my stay at the Mirage was the most restful I've ever had in Sin City. After initially being unimpressed, the Mirage grew on me. I would highly recommend it as a nice place to stay the next time you find yourself in the glowing city in the desert.

Finally, to return to another comment; if you do travel a lot, you can check out places you are staying by going here . I use it. I cannot vouch for its accuracy, but it does serve to remind me to check things once I'm in a room, prior to unpacking. On all three of the trips I took, I encountered no critters creeping or crawling. But with the bugs all over the news lately (like an epidemic), it is good to check.

Until next week... Good night. Sleep tight. And... well... you know the rest.

Monday, October 18, 2010


I spent most of last week and weekend in Boston. I probably like that city more than any other on the East Coast. That's normally not saying much, because those who know me are aware of my preference for all things west. But Boston is different. It has an open feel, nice people (a rarity for the Eastern US), stellar waterfront, great shopping, and so much history that you can't even spit without hitting a monument of some kind.

Marisa and I hit our favorite places to shop on Newbury Street. We also dined at our favorite vegetarian and vegan restaurants. A Slice of Pie, My Thai, and The Other Side were all as good as we remembered, serving up good, inexpensive fare.

We also stopped in at the Harvard Bookstore in Cambridge. I picked up a copy of a book entitled Running and Philosophy. It is an edition with essays by various runners and philosophers (as the title might have clued you in) who discuss various aspects of mind and body co-existence and dynamics that occur when one runs. I'm about a third of the way through the book as of this writing. So far I've found the first three essays to be excellent, thought-provoking pieces. The two that followed dealing with running as religion and religious experiences through running, sounded as though they'd be more interesting than they turned out to be. I'll write more on the book when I complete it. I would, however, recommend it strongly, simply based on what I have read thus far.

In Boston, we stayed at the Renaissance Hotel on the south side near the convention center. The hotel has a lovely workout facility which I eschewed (except for one day that was extremely cold and rainy). Each morning I arise and hit the asphalt. I'd leave the hotel running on a bridge that crosses a major roadway. I then ran about a mile and a half through a horrifyingly trafficked industrial zone before turning through a neighborhood park toward the ocean. A mile or so of that, and I'd hit a circular jetty or break of some kind that stretches about one and a half miles with water on either side. It returns to land by an old fort. I'd then run back to the hotel, retracing my steps.

I've written about this run before. The sea and park sections of it are pretty neat. The traffic section, however, is not. I do the run when I'm in Boston because it is a route I know. The nice parts of it are certainly not worth the ugliness you have to run through in order to reach them. That being said, I did the run three times in the four days I was there. The other day I ran on a treadmill. If all running was like that, no one would run...

When I got home yesterday, Kansas weather was perfect. After 5 days in cold rainy (but awesome) Boston, I was ready for a run I love. I normally don't do longer runs on days that I fly, but yesterday I made an exception. As soon as I walked in my door, my travel clothes fell to the floor (there's a lovely image) and my running attire took their place. I felt a nit tired and jet-lagged, but cranked out an 8 miler on the SLT. No speed records were set. I also never really got into the zone. But I was able to re-introduce my being to the special feeling that comes from running a favorite route. The run seemed like a metaphor for hanging out with an old friend. Last night, I slept well.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Living here in Allentown (really just visiting)

Chris sharing a pre-race moment with his coach (and wife), Marisa

The Bert Nash Dash and Bash was a really fun time, with a 5K, a 10K, and a bunch of great bands playing afterward. I had been looking forward to running the 10K for some time. It was going to be a great way to pop a local race and support a good local case at the same time. The race was scheduled for a start time of 4 p.m. on Saturday. I found it kind of odd that a race would be scheduled with such a late starting time. I also found it odd that at 7:30 a.m. Saturday morning, I was out on a 12 mile run with my buddy, Eric, rather than resting up for the race later in the day. Here's what transpired.... I remember it like it was yesterday....

While I had been planning to run the BND&B (sorry, I'm tired of typing that out), Eric is signed up to do the KC Marathon (or half marathon) next weekend. He called me on Friday with the request that I do a last long training run with him. He also offered to pick up half of my entry tab on the BND&B if I'd blow it off (the race that is). Since I like longer distance running, and prefer morning runs to those later in the day, I didn't take too much convincing. I still picked up my race packet, just in case I decided to do both runs. But I was pretty sure I was just going to train in the a.m. and then hang out later at the race.

Here's an aside: While picking up my packet at Gary Gribble's, I bought a new pair of Mizuno's. My older pair has about 700 mi on them, and were starting to look a bit long in the tooth. I really love the Inspire model, and was happy to buy another. I took them out on the training run yesterday morning, and they felt great - no issues.

New Mizunos are on the right (My camera sux. The trim is orange, not pink)

Anyway, so we did a beautiful run on a beautiful day. And once it was done and I had showered and napped (and watched a lot of tennis on the tube), I drove downtown to see the race. I purposely left my running shoes and bib number at home, knowing that If I brought them I'd surely want to run.

Chris Ford was ready to run. At the start of the 10K, he lined up in the first row. Not too long after the start, he came rolling back through the finish chute in 5th place (first in his age division - 30-34yo). The day had gotten hot, and he had pushed it by knocking out the first mile in 6min 10sec. He held it together, though, and made it through the brutally hilly course in a good time.

Chris rocking his medal

After he stopped sweating like a... well, a guy who'd just run a hard race in the heat (sorry no good metaphors came to mind), Chris hung out with Marisa and his best friend - a glass of Free State beer (see pic below). We listened to some bands and then split for home.

All in all, it was a good week for me. I had a good race last Sunday, and a good long run the following Saturday. I ran about 40 miles this past week (sadly, 12 of them on a hotel treadmill in cold, rainy Allentown, PA). I read a book by Dean Karnazes that was pretty interesting. And I got to see a friend ascend (metaphorically) the podium at a great new race.

This coming week will be more running in more exotic places - if you can imagine a place more exotic that Allentown, PA.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Sand Rat

My friend and awesome runner, Kurt Scheuler with his 'Rat' Trophy

Great race today: The Sand Rat race kicked off this morning with more runners than ever. Eric and I had planned to do it together, although due to work schedules, we trained separately. I had put in 30 something a couple of weeks ago. And this past week tapered a bit to be fresh for the 9.5 mi trail run that is the Sand Rat.

It was a chilly dawn this morning. I wandered through my house a bit undressed (read butt-nekkid) to my laundry room where I store all of my running gear. The temperature made the trek down the hall (I hadn't turned on my heat) a bit like ... well.. walking down a hall in a cold house in the winter. Most of you know what I'm talking about. And with my new awesome wood floors (just installed a few weeks ago), my feet were cold as well as points north.

For breakfast I drank a fair amount of coffee, and had a pretty good helping of oatmeal to get me loaded and race-ready.

After going over to Eric's, and waiting for him for an interminable amount of time while he packed his gear - much like a sorority girl getting ready for a date - we set off for the start of the race. As I said a moment ago, dawn greeted us like a chilly northern woman with poor circulation giving us a cold embrace. It was a bit of a consternation as we, and some other friends, discussed what to wear and bring on the run. Do we wear long pants or shorts? Long or short sleeve shirts? Jackets? Gloves? In the end, I opted for a long sleeve shirt over a short sleeve shirt, shorts, and gloves. Because there was water on the course, I finessed my bottle. I packed a shot of Accelerade Gel, a salt tablet, and some Glide (anti-chafing lube) in my short's pocket.

Lawrence music fans might recognize Tom Conroy of Crossing and Conroy's fame

When the run started, we did the first half mile on the road, and then popped off into the river trails. I spotted a guy who does ultras ahead of me, and fell in behind him. I had run with him on the Clinton North Shore race a few weeks before, and liked his pace. The trails are so narrow at the beginning that if you don't get a good spot, you're either going to be held up, or be the one holding up other runners. I seemed to have gauged my insertion point perfectly, because I was neither the passer of the passee until about mile 3.

Anyway, when we cruised through the first mile with my watch reading 8.5 minutes, I knew it was going to be a fast trail race. Not only was it fast, it was extremely comfortable and also a beautiful day as the weather warmed. By mile 2 I had removed my outer layer up top and had it wrapped around my waist.

Early in the Sand Rat Race. You can just pick out my black hat.

I hit the zone, and went on cruise control. As I ran, I came upon several people I see at race regularly. We would talk for a while as we ran, and then split and move on. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. I seemed to run each successive mile faster. Between mile 7-8, I ran a sub 8 (something I never do on the trails).

I finished with a whole lot of energy and a time of 1hr 19min. that was about 10 minutes faster than I thought I'd do on a trail. It also occurred to me that if I hadn't chatted with people along the way, that I might've been able to shave another 5 min or so off of the run. However, trail running is so fun, and the people so nice, that I find if someone wants to share their enthusiasm with you during the race, it is a great thing to take a moment and talk and take a snapshot of the joy that is running.

Eric looking happy on the run

I have the Bert Nash race next week. It has a ton of hills, so I'm looking forward to seeing how I do on hilly roads again.