Wednesday, March 31, 2010

In this moment

There are times I do not enjoy being a parent.
These times are pretty easy to break down:
1. When they are sick - No one likes seeing their kids suffer, and no one likes cleaning up their sheets after they puke all over them, and no one (especially me) enjoys getting sick after they are sick. I used to never get sick. I got sick maybe once in five years. This year, thanks to the little germ generators and the fact that marathon training wears down your immune system, I have been sick, I think, around 96 times this year. Last week I had strep throat. Right now, thanks to yet another little cold my kids brought home, I'm coughing like a coal miner.
2. When they are tired - There is NOTHING worse than a 2-year-old who can't function. I'd rather listen to a Britney Fox album than one of the girls' tantrums when they're overtired. It's usually about the most mind-numbing, stupidest stuff, too, like Allie got a pink cup instead of orange. Oh, the horror!
3. When they are in their Miss Independent stage (and Mr.) - This is when they don't listen, when they want "Mommy to do it," when they want to do it themselves (even complicated things like washing their hair, which NEVER works and they get soap in their eyes and then they scream at you for that), when they want food you have or a piece of candy or more cookies or a bite of the dog or a sip of your beer (don't tempt me kids) or when they don't want to go to bed despite the fact that they are overtired. They are in this stage approximately 97 percent of the time.

The other times are great.

Lately I'm a little fascinated at how alike parenting is to distance running. That's mostly because my LIFE is distance running. Seriously I have no good stories to tell in bars any longer, unless they want to hear about the time I got up at 5:30 a.m. Tuesday to run in a park and saw a fox (the actual animal, not the 1976 term for a pretty lady). Which, honestly, nobody sober wants to hear.
But it is, and the reason for it is when you're parenting, you sort of enjoy the bad moments, even if you're not enjoying them in the moment. Distance running (and mountain climbing too) is much the same way. I didn't necessarily ENJOY getting up at 4 a.m. and running through that same park in the dark on my way to a 19-mile run, but I look back on that time with a certain fondness.
You love running even when you don't at the time, and your kids are the same way. I smile now when I think about last night's tantrum, about how Allie's face turned a new shade of red - I think I'm going to call it Temperta - even though I wanted to flush her down the toilet at the time.
There are times I love being a parent in the moment as there are times I love running in the moment.
I can only hope as they get older, the two will begin to mesh more.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

A crack in the armor

The first twinge of an ache hit me around 6:30 Monday night. When I felt it, I blew it off, as I always do, as if that would help it go away. Sometimes it works. Usually it doesn't.
"Um, what did you say you felt," I asked Kate, who was crumpled up on the carpet in a ball after suffering through a sick day laid up with strep throat. She told me. It matched what I was feeling.
Oh, shit.
By 8:45, I knew I was screwed. It's an awful, sinking feeling when you know you're getting sick. There aren't many feelings like it. Maybe waiting for an hour alone at the dinner table for a date and starting to realize you're getting stood up, or when that first flush card hits and you know you're about to get runner-runnered by a douchebag for a huge pot. 
A creeping sickness is probably the only time I tend to feel deeply sorry for myself. "Ah, man, why me?" I even squealed around 7:45 p.m. I went to bed an hour later and woke up at 7 a.m. feeling like I'd been hit by a truck.
Now I know that's a cliche, and a pretty bad one at that. But I really, honestly felt that way. Maybe not a tractor-trailer - there'd be nothing left of me if that was the case - but definitely an F-150. Every joint ached, my throat like a piece of barbed wire had lodged in it, and I had the energy of a hibernating grizzly.
"Tell the kids I loved them," I croaked to Kate.
Unfortunately there's a larger theme to this post. Remember what I said just a couple weeks ago about running good, like I was on a hot streak at poker, in training for my marathon? Almost, I worried, too good? It appears my Aces are now being cracked. The sickness was only part of it.
I ran 20 Saturday, and once again, it went well. Really well. I felt great and enjoyed being tired at the end. Again.
Only Sunday I woke up and went for a four-mile recovery run, and on my way up a hill, my right knee started to hurt.
Now I should say me and the knee (a good title for a novel, I think) have a history. Ten years ago, I tore the ACL in it ever-so-slightly in a mountain climbing accident. Doctors said it would be fine, but now I wonder if it's coming back to haunt me.
I've said this before - probably to the point where it sounds like crybaby whining - but marathon training is stretching me much more than I anticipated. It's lowered my immune system - obviously - and now it may be unearthing an old injury. 
I can take a lot of pain. Endurance athletes usually can and, in some ways, we enjoy it. But this is, I have to admit, scaring me a bit. This is not what I call "safe" pain, which is muscle soreness or a contusion or just general suffering. This is a possible injury that, if it gets worse, could, pardon my language, fuck the marathon.
I'm probably overreacting. I've been too lucky during my short running career. I've never really been hurt. Even the knee isn't that painful. I could certainly run 26.1 on it if knew it wasn't going to snap on me. My guess is my body is saying WTF to me running, say, 20 on Saturday. 
Still. I honestly loved training for the marathon because it was predictable. If you did the training, you handle the increasing distance, and it was true, so very true, almost too true. I like my life to be predictable and orderly. 
Yet I'm finding out that training for such a demanding event is, in fact, unpredictable. You don't know how your body will react to the increasing demands, and all you can do is hope - and I guess pray a bit - that it will hold up. That's what I'm hearing from all my friends who have done them. It's chaotic. It's exactly like raising twins, and the chaos was by far the most frustrating thing about having kids in the first place. 
Maybe I'm in denial, but maybe I'm still running well. Maybe I got sick at just the right time, when my body obviously needed rest. I'm feeling much better, so I ran for a couple miles today, something to get my body back into it. And the knee didn't hurt. Much. I didn't even feel the twinge as I ran down that slight hill today.
Denial works well. Right now it's all I got. 

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Thoughts on a good but disappointing season

I will not lie right now. I'm pissed.
I know I shouldn't be too much. I even feel spoiled saying it. But yeah, I"m upset.
Part of me thinks of the incredible waste this is. We put together a wonderful team and worked hard to lose only one game in a terrific conference. And we're the overall #1 seed. And we're done.
What a waste.
Part of me wishes we could have somehow shaken the nerves that haunted us the entire game. It took us nearly the entire game to finally fight and play our game.
What a tragedy.
Part of me also honestly wonders why I bother. This is not rational thinking right now, or even logical, but why put all my energy into a team when it just ends in a wasteful heartache every year?
We've had our fair share of chokes as a #1 seed, haven't we? More than our fair share?
But then I have to pause and think why I'm a fan. Is it really for the end result? Do I watch Temple in December only to hope they play that well in March?
No. At the beginning of the season, I pledged to enjoy the journey and the ride. And I did. As hard as it is right now, I truly enjoyed this team. Right now it truly sucks - I mean this is the toughest loss I can remember since 1998 or maybe 1997 - but we're so lucky to be Kansas fans.
We'll be back next year.
And so will I.

P.S. I just hope Kentucky doesn't win.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

How to Make a Mix

I consider myself a music aficionado, which is a tea-and-crumpets way of saying I think it's pretty awesome.
(I had to look up how to spell aficionado through Google).
And so I also consider myself a master Mixer. Not like Dre so much, of course, but still pretty damn good. And I've made myself that way by following a few guidelines along the way, both in how I make the mixes for others and how I make them for myself (which I continue to do, both for my iPod and for CDs). And I know it's March Madness and I'm doing my first 20-miler this weekend and I'm actually running good at Rush Poker finally, and I should post about those things, but you'll hear plenty about both of those, believe me, and so here's a fun break.
1. Start with a banger - Did Judas Priest ever start with a rumination on Cleopatra, complete with French Horns? No. Did Metallica ever lead an album with a noodling acoustic guitar feature? No. So why the hell are you putting the waterfalls and pipe flutes first? Start with a rocker or, if you're not making a rock mix, as up tempo as you can get.
2. Avoid the cliches - This is a great tip for writing as well, but cliches in mixes, as in writing, should be avoided like the plague (get it? LOL!). This means you do not put that goddam Patrick Swayze sung "She's Like The Wind" song on the first mix tape/CD you make for her. 
(By the way, I'll use "she" or "her" for the rest of this because I'm a guy. If you're a girl, you can substitute it for "he" or "him." Unless you're a lesbian.) You do not put "You Shook Me All Night Long" on there either to appear saucy. And putting "You Light Up My Life" is not nearly as clever as you think it is.
3. A band or obscure song is a good idea - Especially if it means a lot to you. There's nothing cooler than discovering a favorite song through a mix CD someone makes for you (I fell in love with "Under The Milky Way" because of this).
4. But don't overdo it - I generally save Testament, Flotsam and Jetsam and Shadows Fall for my own enjoyment. For some reason, not everyone loves heavy metal or enjoys hearing guys who sing like they're an extra in the torture-porn film "Hostel." I have yet to figure out why this is, but it's true.
5. If it's played on classic rock formula radio, leave it off - No one - and I really do mean no one - wants to hear "Sweet Home Alabama" on a CD mix. You don't either. If you discover, say, an Irish band covering that song, that's funny and therefore should make the mix. But otherwise leave off "Pour Some Sugar on Me" or "Slow Ride." The idea is to entertain you or someone else, not to encourage them to put a hot poker in their eyes.
6. Mix it up - Heh. I know. That's what a Mix CD IS, silly! (LOL!). But if you're making, say, a running mix for your iPod, you don't have to put hard, fast and loud all the time. I'm usually relieved to hear something slow and mellow after an hour of guitars and aggressive drums and vocals during a long run by myself. 
7. Bring on the quirky, funny shit - Offspring had an "Intermission" segment on its most famous album (yep, the one with "Come Out And Play" that you went nuts to at those sorority parties or school dances and congratulated yourself at how "edgy" you were). I used to put it on side B. It got lots of LOLs. Seriously.
8. Jazz is fine, too - I know you like to show how smart and sophisticated you are, and nothing seems to do that better than jazz. Classical music works, too, but those pieces are longer than you think (commercials only take the best snippet). I would suggest Miles Davis, John Coltrane or maybe some Duke Ellington. You can overdo this too. You don't need to put a 23-minute tone poem on there. That really won't make you look smarter. Just a bit snobby and obtuse. 

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Looking over my shoulder

There are times, probably too many times, when it's not a good thing to be a poker player.
The game is so beautiful, with the intoxicating allure of money, the rush and more fun than anyone really deserves, that you put up with all the crap that goes with it. Losing streaks that make you constantly cranky, the douchebags who always seem to infect your table and just the goddamn unfairness of it at times (and I'm not just talking about suckouts) can always make you wonder why you play.
And there's another reason too.
You're constantly wondering when you'll stop running so good.
Running so good is the best grammatically incorrect feeling in the world, and right now, I'm running really good.
No, not in poker, though that hasn't been too bad either, thanks to Rush Poker. No, I'm talking about my marathon training.
I ran 19.5 Friday. I had to get up at 4 a.m. to do it. I ran 9 the day before in a nasty wind that felt as if I was being thumped in the chest by a demon. Friday was the longest I've ever run in my life. By the end, by all rights, I should have been dragging. But I wasn't. I was stronger by mile 14 than I was in mile 12. I pushed the tempo again. It was, dare I say it, fairly easy.
Every time, in fact, I've run the longest I've run, I've felt stronger at the end.
I feel great right now, perhaps the best I've felt in my life.
So really, what's the problem?
Well, I've got three 20-milers waiting for me, but even that isn't really the issue.
The issue is I'm wondering when the good run will end.
That's what you always think as a poker player, and that's not what I need right now. I've been an endurance athlete most of my life - in fact I've been one longer than I haven't - and most of that was mountain climbing. Even so, I've never considered myself a good athlete, and my track record growing up will back that up. I'm not being modest here. I'm proud of what I've done. But there are always doubts, warranted or not. Doubts, if you really think about it, usually aren't warranted.
The game's still going. It ends May 9 when I cross the finish line. I just need to keep the rush going, so that when doesn't turn into an if.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Down with the sickness

I'm having a hard time believing exercise can make you feel younger.
Training for a marathon is aging me.
These days I'm in bed by 10 p.m. and at up at 6 a.m., even on the weekends. I still drink coffee but I prefer green tea. I don't drink much alcohol, am trying to watch my diet more and get a little cranky when those damn kids drive by the house squealing their tires.
But I don't like to compare it to getting older. I think it's more like a sickness.
Following the training plan for a marathon involves six days of running, and all of those days are at least 3 miles. You don't have to, but I do speed work, meaning intervals, hill repeats or hard tempo runs (running at 10K pace for a specific amount of time) twice a week. There's also a marathon pace run the day before the long run. So if you're running, say, 16 that weekend, you run 8 the day before at your planned race pace. For me that's 8:45 per mile.
This week I've got perhaps the toughest one of all my plans. I've got a 19-mile run that I'll have to start at 4 a.m. so I can head to Winter Park with my Dad and a 9-mile pace run the day before. I've got hill repeats, a tempo run and two 4-mile runs ahead, plus two lifting and core workout sessions. That's my week. 
Halfway through my 18-week training plan, all this is taking its toll, as you would expect, even as I've felt far better than I thought I would. Just so you don't think this is whining, in some ways, the training is easier, not harder, than it was a month ago. That became apparent to me during my last two long runs. Two weeks ago, I ran 17, the longest I've ever run, yet I felt so good, I was running the last four faster than the first four. And last Saturday my long run was only 12 miles in what we call a fallback week (a week that lets you recover from the tough two weeks that preceded it and gets you ready for the next two tough weeks), and it felt like it was "only" 12 miles. 
Just a few months ago, 12 was a lot. Hey, it IS a lot. It's practically a half marathon. Now it's easy. 
Yet the margin of error is much, much thinner than it's ever been. If I don't get eight hours a night - hell, if I only get 7 one night - it kicks my ass. I've been sick three times since I started training, and I think that's only partly thanks to my three little petri dishes. And though my body feels good, I have to be careful about doing anything else. I thought it was crazy that bikers training for the Tour de France refuse to walk up even one flight of stairs. Now I understand.
It's shocked me how much of a toll the training takes. I mean, I've been active my whole life. Before I started running, I climbed about 20 peaks a year, and last year I ran six half marathons. But it feels like I've constantly got the flu, only without the nausea. I've got to go to bed early, don't do anything crazy and avoid the hard living. 
When I tell my friends about the toll I'm paying - all of them marathoners or Ironman finishers - they just nod. Yep, that's the way it is. The goal is to get through it all without getting hurt. The race, they say, isn't nearly as big a deal as the training leading up to it.
Still, it's been a fun journey so far. The weariness isn't just a reminder that I need to go to bed early. It's a way to remind myself that I've worked hard. I'm halfway through the goal, and after these two weeks, when I run 20 next week for the first time, I've got to start thinking that it's really gonna happen. 
Plus there's been a lot of little rewards along the way. 17 miles isn't a lot when you think about the fact that a marathon is 9 miles more, but I felt like a badass the whole day, and I've already said that's probably the biggest reason for doing this.
And there's a certain magic to being outside for hours at a time, in the early morning hours, when your neighbors are just starting to brew their coffee.
Today the first light cast a glow over the sky. I was near the start third hill repeat, gasping for breath, lost in my weariness. And I looked to my right and saw a golden eagle. It's a rare sight to see one this time of year, in a suburban neighborhood, albeit one on the edge of town. It's as if nature was encouraging me.
I stared at the eagle. And then my watch beeped, and I started to fly like one.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Let the sun shine

I slipped on the shorts the way a retired skier slips on his suit for the first time. 
It felt like ages. 
My legs looked it, too. Despite my love for the outdoors, I have pale skin, the kind worn by couch potatoes who squint at 10 a.m. and prefer to play Dungeons and Dragons in dank, dark, basements and other settings worthy of dungeons (and, apparently, dragons). 
My skin gets copious amounts of Vitamin D every year and millions of minutes of sunshine, yet by the end of the summer, I still only have as much color as a 1982 newspaper. 
Sure enough, my legs looked more like an X-ray than actual flesh. 
It had been a long, cold winter, and I had worn tights since early October.
One thing runners have always loved about the sport is its simplicity. In that sense it's the complete opposite of mountain climbing. It used to take me hours, if not days, to pack for a trip, even if I was only planning to climb for a few hours. You need to pack food, water, energy gels, sunscreen, emergency equipment, extra clothing, shoelaces, a hat, gloves, a trash bag you really want me to go on? 
But the winter makes you plan your runs, too. When I'd run, I'd have to slip on tights, put on running crampons, a hat, gloves, wear two or three layers, a jacket, a face protector you really want me to go on?  By last Saturday I was so sick of dressing for 15 minutes just to go for a damn run that I grumbled to my wife, "It feels like I'm going mountain climbing."
Ah, but Wednesday came, and with it the threat of a day over 55 degrees. I paused before throwing in just a pair of shorts and a shirt for my intervals track workout later that afternoon. It felt so LIGHT. 
When I did throw on my shorts and my shirt, it did feel light. And I began my run around the track. My legs almost stung from the bright sunlight. I actually sweated in my minimal clothing. I needed a lot of water when I was done.
It was warm. It was almost like spring. And it was wonderful.