Sunday, April 24, 2011

Tapering Madness

For weeks, maybe even months, I looked forward to this week.
Now I just need to get through it.
The marathon's Sunday, a week away as I'm writing this, and that means this week, I do practically nothing.
I run three easy miles Monday, three Tuesday, run four quarters Wednesday and rest until the day before, when I run a couple. That nothing might still be something for you, and if so, I'm not trying to offend. Trust me, after a marathon plan, it's nothing. At peak, I ran 50 miles a week, many of them hard, with a 10-miler and a 20 on back-to-back days.
Oh, there were so many days when I looked forward to this week. Most of the moments came in the morning, when my alarm buzzed and I rose my bitchy body out of bed to put on my running clothes in the dark. Up until mid-March, I put on several layers and looked forward to running in single digits, with frozen cheeks and frosty eyelashes. I had several days when the temperature couldn't even hit zero, and one day, it was, I shit you not, -25.
I had terrific training partners by my side, the routes were great and the training went surprisingly well. I was not only never hurt, I never even got a twinge or the normal aches and pains you can expect during a marathon training plan.
Still, it was a grind, and with any grind, after a while, you look forward to it ending.
Now I just need to get through the taper.
Yes, a taper is not only an excuse to take time off, it's a mandatory edict from your "coach" ( to rest. It's wonderful. And yet, it's not. It's not at all.
If you're a thinker - and that would describe me to a hilt, and probably a fault - then something like a taper will drive you nuts.
I'm not as bad as some of my training partners, especially the ones who completed the Ironman back in November. One already sent me a plan that included another day of running. She just couldn't follow the plan, despite the common knowledge that the rest, the chance for your body to heal, does you more good than any run this week. Another follows the plan but goes certifiably batshit.
I enjoy the rest, and yet, I start to feel anxious, like cockroaches are crawling through my skin, by Wednesday. I honestly wonder if meth addicts feel this way when they're in search of a hit. Training is not only reassuring, since you're doing what you're supposed to be doing to get stronger, it's also soothing, as there's nothing like a good endorphins rush when you're in the shower after a cold run.
Finally, the wife just got through a cold, and my 6 year old son now has one. Now every time I blow my nose or feel a tickle in my throat I'm convinced I'm coming down with something. I've had to run races through sinus infections, the flu and cramps. I do not want to run 26 with any of those.
I got into this marathon because last year's didn't turn out the way I wanted. I wanted a better finish. One without cramps at the end. One strong, like I know I'm capable of.
The rest will help me get there. All I have to do is make it through it.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Why I care (and why I don't) that online poker is poofed

I have to admit something. This is no longer a poker blog. You've probably guessed that by now, if you still bother to read any longer. And, as you may have guessed, I haven't played online poker for months.
The reasons vary. The games got too tight even for my taste at the levels I preferred to play, and I found it harder and harder to find any fish at all. As a result, the margin of my profits slimmed considerably, and so it also became harder and harder to shake off the bad beats, as they were inevitably cutting into what little profit I could eke out.
As you all also know, I've got three kids, and my free time is valuable, and a huge chunk of that already is devoted to training. It just didn't seem worth it to spend time playing a game that made me irritable for the hourly rate of a factory worker in Cambodia, especially when I get more brain food from reading, writing and, ahem, playing Angry Birds.
But I'm still mourning the loss of online poker, at least for now. Here are some reasons why, along with some other reasons why I really don't.
Why I care
• I don't like the loss of any freedoms, and this strips me of my ability to find a poker game when I want to play.
• I'll miss you guys. I still look back on those old Mookie matches with the kind of glee I normally reserve for shows like "The Walking Dead." And along those lines, there are some really great writers, people I look up to, now out of work. That sucks. The world needs good writers.
• I still watch poker on TV. And let's be honest. It's probably gone. Maybe High Stakes Poker survives, as well as the World Series of Poker, but even those telecasts are in danger of at least being whittled down, I fear.
Why I don't
• It'll be back. The Vegas casinos are drooling, I'm sure, at the potential revenue, and it's entirely possible  those sites will be filled with the kind of fish we used to catch in 2005. Probably not. But a guy can dream. And I wouldn't mind using those player points for things like free rooms instead of a mouse pad or stress ball.
• There are better things to do. Like, you know, play Angry Birds. Lord help me. Poker was less frustrating at times.
• I prefer live play. I love the table, the cards, the surly douchebags — er, characters — that crowd the table. Plus the players are a lot worse.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The last 20

I ran down the steep hill near the country road and thought about turning right to head back home. But I looked at my GPS and wasn't sure I would have enough to get to 10 miles.
I needed the 10, according to the marathon plan, and I wanted all of it, given that this was the last big weekend before I would start to taper. You gain more in the last mile than you do in the first nine. So I didn't want to leave it, and yet, I also didn't want to run around the block twice to get whatever leftovers I'd need. Making up miles at the end of a run, when your route is finished, is like waiting until 6 a.m. to open Christmas presents, and then your parents walking in your room at 5:59 a.m. and telling you you'll have to wait until 7 a.m.
I wondered what to do.
Then I saw the tree and smiled.
The tree was a marker six or seven years ago. When I began running, I would park my car at the nearby Poudre Learning Center and take off down the Poudre Trail. At the tree, I'd stop and turn around.
The run was, maybe, 20 minutes.
It was enough back then.
It was almost more than enough.
This is not an inspirational story. I didn't have a disease. I wasn't overweight. I was even, by all accounts, in shape, a mountain climber. But I could barely run three miles. I was out of breath as soon as I began. I flopped around like a penguin. I didn't even enjoy it very much.
Yet I always made it out to the tree and back.
Today I got up with the wind blowing. I knew it would be cold and maybe even rainy as the ground was wet. I peeked out my window and wrinkled my nose. This was exactly the kind of day I used to skip. But I had 20 miles to do today. Again, it was my last big day. The 20s are more important than any other run in a marathon plan. They reassure you, more than anything, that it IS possible to cover 26 miles and run for four hours.
Running a marathon is not magic. It merely means doing the miles.
So Saturday I was putting in my last 10 before the 20 the next day. I like running these miles at race pace. It trains you to feel what the pace you want to run, so you're not staring at your stopwatch at the race. You're worried about your hydration, other runners, that spot between your thighs that is starting to chafe, your rumbling tummy (is it hungry, about to explode, or just distressed), your nipples falling off, the heat, the location of the next aid station and how far you've got to go before this fucking thing is over.  You don't need to worry about your pace.
Plus it makes you a bit tired for the next day's 20. That's what you want. That's the only way to try to mimic what the last six feels like during the marathon.
I'm paying for the weekend now. I'm tired. It hurts a bit to get up. My feet are pissed.
But I like that feeling. I'll sleep well tonight. Part of the reason was Saturday I did run out to the tree again. As it turns out, I didn't need it at all. I went over by a mile.
From that intersection, it was about a half-mile to the tree.
I didn't need that mile for my training
It may be crucial for the race.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Sleeping in Salina

Whenever Kate wanted to visit her grandmother, I would drive through Salina with only one thought on my mind.
"Thank GOD I'm out of this place."
It was a mean thought. I'll admit it. Especially for a Kansas boy, someone who grew up in the suburbs of Kansas City but understood that it was towns like Salina that pieced most of his beloved state together like a puzzle. Salina, in fact, was a corner piece, the largest city between the state capitol, Topeka, and Denver. You may have stopped for lunch there on a road trip.
But in my mind, mean was justified.
A dozen years ago, I lost my job at the Salina paper. It was a good job, or so I thought at the time, and it broke my heart to be forced from a job I enjoyed, even if it was my fault.
Salina was an adjustment at first, when I started there in 1994, with its small-town feel, population of only 40,000 and three or four females my age. The most popular restaurant in town was an Applebee's. Yet I found my way, making friends all kinds of ages, throwing myself into training for my summer mountain climbing trip and diving into Salina's surprisingly rich art scene, playing in the symphony and acting in Shakespeare plays that packed its downtown park. 
Well, I had to leave all that, plus a girl I truly cared for (I managed to find one of the three), and as with any breakup, there were some bad feelings. This time the breakup was with the town. A few years later, I came back to visit Kate's grandmother (in one of the many coincidences that somehow let you know you've found the right person, Kate's mom grew up in Salina), and I blamed Salina for the bad feelings.
I had moved on by then. I somehow landed on my feet and found an even better job, in a place that was made for me, a city, Greeley, that combined Kansas' small-town feel with an hour's drive from the mountains. I took full advantage, eventually climbing all 54 of the state's 14,000-foot peaks, snowshoeing and skiing with abandon. I was in heaven, and I wondered, of course, what the hell I'd ever seen in Salina in the first place. THIS was the place where I wanted to live the rest of my life? Ha. In a snobby, snooty sort of way, I dismissed Salina and quite frankly dreaded going back. One year I simply refused to go, disappointing Kate more than I realized, and on many others I selfishly treated it like a pit stop before I could visit my parents in the suburbs that I truly called my second home.
This time, however, I agreed to a four-day trip for Kate. I've tried not to be so selfish with my own time - it's a constant struggle that I'll always fight - and Kate's pretty patient about my running and climbing adventures, even if they've been reduced. So I agreed to go. Plus Kate's grandmother is 88. She's doing well. Really well, actually. But that age, right or wrong, is always associated with "you never know."
Maybe because of that open(er) mind, or maybe because I was so emotionally and mentally drained from working on that story about Delaney (see last post), I was not dreading the trip. I think, deep down, I knew it would be exactly what I needed.
We arrived at grandma's Friday afternoon, and I jumped out and threw on my running clothes with Kate's blessing. Nothing cures an 8-hour car ride with three little kids more than a run, and six miles was on the marathon plan anyway. I googled a map on where to run in Salina and found some parks. I mapped out my own route that would take me to two parks and was on my way.
One of the things I love most about running is it helps you get to know the places you live. Towns truly do all look alike these days, thanks to corporate chains. There's the McDonald's. There's the Starbucks (and the other and the other). There's the Conoco gas station. There's the Applebee's. It's hard to tell one town from the other, unless you visit the nooks, and many of those nooks are in their parks.
Parks CAN look the same, but those friendliest to running generally don't. Rather than dig up the land, throw some sand down around it and plunk down plastic playground equipment, most cities now leave a couple spots that embrace the cities' natural landscape features and, other than carving out a couple trails, simply let the land BE. There are a couple places like this in Greeley, and they are my favorite places to run.
My route on the first day took me to two of these places, and one of them immediately brought a smile. It was Indian Rock, and its scrubby, rocky trails that jutted up and screamed down gave me the perfect place to train for my summer mountain climbing trips when I lived in Salina. I'd throw on a backpack and speed walk the trails for a good hour almost every day. This time I ran them, twice, and loved every second.
The next day, for my 12 miles (it was, thank God, a down week in the plan), I found a flood control ditch and ran it as far as it would go. By the time it was there and back, I only had 10 miles on my GPS. One of the challenging things about training for a marathon is finding good places to give you all the damn miles you need for a long run. I didn't care. Good enough, I thought.
There are nooks in a town, and then there are the tourist spots. Tourist spots are, of course, almost always cheesy and meant to draw you in so you'll help the local economy, but they're also usually quaint and give the towns a uniqueness that not even another McDonald's can quash.
In this case, we visited a zoo, the Rolling Hills. We saw the mall's tank with monster fish inside (that's always a hit with the kids). We wished for fireflies - Colorado doesn't have them - but knew it was too early.
We also ate. Vacations, for me, are vacations from everything except my training plans, and that includes my somewhat strict diet. We hit up the local BBQ joint, got shakes from the local burger joint and ate at Brookville. Brookville is a museum, only you eat there. It's a place where they serve real, authentic fried chicken dinners, the kind they used to serve after church 80 years ago (the waitresses even wear out-time outfits). That's all they serve. You get mashed potatoes and gravy, creamed corn, biscuits, fried chicken, lemonade, cottage cheese, and….sorry. I'll stop. It's goooooooooood.
There is also the strong Kansas wind, which infected two of my four runs, including today's which was cold enough to sting my chest as I stubbornly ran into it. But no place is perfect.
Last night I visited a good friend for an hour, and after I left, I drove up the road and by my first apartment, the first place I lived by myself, with my first real job. I wasn't sorry to see it in my rear-view mirror, but I waved good-bye with a touch of nostalgia. 
I hopped into bed after, and Kate thanked me for coming back to Salina. 
"There's a lot of good memories here," she said.
"For me too," I said, and slept well.