Marathon Man Report (As Promised)


I promised to let you know how it went, so here’s how. At a blistering overall pace of 13:45 per mile, I made the entire fifteen miles. This in spite of not doing any significant amount of running for three weeks. However, all my body parts seem happy enough to go along with the program this week, so other than the fact that my legs are a tad tired (this was the longest run of my life to date, after all) nothing bad happened.

It did start out going quite a bit faster: my first five miles were at a 12:15 pace, which would have kept me ahead of the tortoise and the scorpions. As it was, I only managed to beat the one legged man with a bad ankle by a minute or so, and the tortoise looked impatient when I came in. Still, it was a lovely morning to be out, with a beautiful moon and a gorgeous dawn, so I’m happy with this week’s performance.

Next week there’s a race up on Mt. Charleston I might enter. Twelve miles at eight thousand feet. Sort of like old times, only higher. Until then . . .

Back on My Feet Again

Yes, I am back on my feet again, running that is. Tomorrow I’m going to try to run fifteen miles. That’s actual miles, not whatever distance that is reported by an exercise bike. Distance on a stationary object is really a silly concept. My total distance in the past couple of weeks of cranking on that thing is exactly zero millimeters, to at least twelve significant digits.

But yesterday I took the plunge, or maybe I mean the first step and ran for a whole forty-five minutes. It was a pleasant little run, and because summer has left early this year I got to do it in broad daylight. Previous runs have all begun, and often ended, while the sun was not yet in the sky. There are several advantages to running during the day. For one thing, it’s easier to see where you’re going. You ever wonder what’s down that next step? Ever wonder what’s down that next step when you can’t see the bottom? Ever wonder what’s down that next step when you can’t see the bottom and you’re going at a dead run? And you hope the ‘dead’ part is a figure of speech? Go ahead, try it some time.

So anyway, things are looking up for overall survival as the daytime temperatures are not getting out of the nineties. In fact, this being the Mojave Desert, I can run at noon and be cooler than I was a 5 AM in July. Of course, in July, at 5AM, the sun was coming up. It’s up now at noon, but it seems to have lost its will to fry, if  you see what I mean. Maybe the sun suffers from S.A.D., you know, Seasonal Affective Disorder, because this time of year it seems to burn cooler every day. Poor sun. Maybe it goes to therapy during all those long winter nights. That would explain how it always comes back all bright and shiny in April, and starts frying the skin of the tourists somewhere in the middle of May. Which is an interesting thing about tourists: they’ll do what no resident of this desert would ever dream of, which is to sit out by a pool of warm water in the noon day sun and let themselves turn into Exhibit A in a Burn Trauma Treatment class. I guess the moral is that if you lose your shirt in Vegas, stay inside until you can afford a new one.

Anyway, I’m wondering where we’re going to run tomorrow, because the trail along the Pittman Wash is only three or four miles long, depending on if they’ve paved that next mile yet. So, to go fifteen miles we’d have to run back and forth, what, five times, which would be awkward because at the end you’d be three miles from your car. Hey, we run, we don’t walk home, know what I mean? So anyway, it’ll be fun to see where we end up, since somehow or other we need to get seven miles and then some away from where we start out so we can run back.

Interesting thing about running back: it’s all downhill. That means, of course, that running out is all uphill. And that means that the most difficult way to run, downhill (if you’re a runner you’ll know what I mean; if you’re not you think I’m joking so heck with you anyway for not knowing anything, nyah) is done after you’re all tired out from slogging miles and miles uphill. It’s the club’s little way of winnowing out the weak and unwillful. Unwillful? Is that a word? I really don’t know; you’ll have to look it up.

I’ll let you know how it all works out. Ciao!

Actual News


The news was in the news this past week, or at least the news on one network, that network being CBS, because some people thought it was a big deal that Katie Couric, the cherub-faced chipper gal from The Today Show was taking over as solo anchor of their Evening News. Well, that aspect really was no big deal. For one thing, there are other solo female anchors out there, and there’s nothing all that special about the original “big three” broadcast networks when you can get sixty channels for not much per month from cable. Still, having said that, I’ll also note that I did watch on Monday out of sheer curiosity.

I’m glad I did, because it let me know that I should watch the other four days as well. Amazingly, Ms. Couric is the first evening news anchor that I’ve actually liked since Cronkite retired. She is a whole lot better than her gig on Today would lead you to believe. In fact, she’s better than anyone else on national, or so far as Las Vegas is concerned, local television today. No kidding. Why, you ask, I’m sure.

She’s better because she delivers the news in a calm and easy to listen to voice, never shrill and never shouting. She never puts any false urgency into her reports, which is something every other newscast does at least some of the time. I think Fox started it on the national scene, but it was of course the local stations in Los Angeles that introduced the falsely urgent “high speed chase” and other distractions now imitated so widely. In fact, on cable news, Fox is probably the least sensationalistic these days, a fact I never thought I’d be reporting, but there it is. Generally, the broadcast networks are all better than cable, but only CBS, and only starting last week, seems to be putting out a product worth of the name “news program.”

Not only is her delivery good, but she really does strive to be fair. For example, on Monday she had a reporter from the New York Times on a segment called “free speech,” wherein people get to say whatever they want for a few minutes. On Thursday Rush Limbaugh was the speaker. He ranted less than on his own program, but there was nothing to suggest he modified a single bit of his point in order to gain his spot. Maybe that fairness is why she, of all people, got to interview the President during the week. Somehow he trusted her to just let him say what he was going to say, but not those other guys, even the supposed mindless White-House supporters (so called by some) at Fox. So, let me commend the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric to your attention. Assuming she keeps it up, you’ll get to see what a news program used to look like back before, well, before these last few years when “news” has devolved into “infotainment.” If you’re like me, you probably have noticed that “infotainment” is neither informative nor particularly entertaining. I’m happy to see that someone, at least, appears to be committed to actually imparting a few facts.


In a related but separate note, one item of news I saw last week is that the nation of China has a serious problem with childhood obesity. Before you say something like, ‘yeah, so who doesn’t?’, consider that China has never in the past several thousand years had a surplus of food before. China, of all places, has too much to eat. I can’t think of anything that will guarantee that they will not act as our enemy that is possibly better than fat Chinese kids. I wish them luck with that problem, I really do, because maybe whatever they use that works can be applied here. But I’m really, really glad to see that they’ve joined the flabby and prosperous. The whole planet should have that problem, really it should.

FARTLEK?

FARTLEK
By Steve Fey

*** I know I promised this for last time, but I had that thing with the bad shoe and the exercise bike to get off my conscience, or wherever it was stuck. Here’s the bit about the fun from Sweden. ***

That word there, in the title? Can it possibly mean anything like what it looks like it means? I mean, really? Of course not. I would never resort to cheap humor that depends on bodily functions for effect. That would just be pulling your leg, squeezing blood out of turnip, pissing up a rope, camping under the south end of a bull facing north. Know what I mean? I know you do.

What that word is, is Swedish. Yes, the people who gave us the famous meatballs and massage to boot have come up with an invaluable aid for anyone training to run a race. They call it fartlek because they like the word. To them it sounds like a joke about a bodily function. To tell you the truth, the word is a contraction of two words that together mean “fun with speed.” That sounds good, doesn’t it? You ever wish you could hang out at Bonneville at maybe take your car for a spin down that long, salty runway? Of course you do. Speed is what Americans worship above all else. Not just the stuff you brew up in the morning, or even the stuff you buy from your bartender between Budweisers, but real speed, the kind where you’re going a hundred miles an hour around the turns on the Interstate, and the cops can’t catch you because some joker tied a log chain around their back axle and they turn on the lights and siren and roar after you only to destroy their car. That kind of speed. The good stuff.

But of course that’s not what fartlek is about. You can’t jump on an Interstate in Sweden and drive a hundred thousand miles without seeing a traffic light. You can’t even get across the country, in fact. Come to think of it, there are no States in Sweden in the first place. Of course, there’s only one State in Hawaii, and they’ve got Interstates. But, anyway, when you live in a place where the sun sets in October and rises in April, where the national pastime involves putting wax on boards you then strap to your feet, and you convince yourself that you’re having a ball as your extremities slowly freeze and fall off into the snow, when you come from a place like that, then it does seem like fun to torture yourself. What you do in fartlek is run along at your usual pace for a while, then you run as fast as you can for a while, then you run slow for a while, then you run really fast again for a while, then you walk for a while, then you run your regular pace for a while, then you run really fast again for a while, then you collapse into a painful heap for rather a long while.

I’ve been doing this exercise for the last month, every Wednesday morning before work. Half an hour of this sort of Swedish fun and I’m alert and ready for the day. So long as, that is, the day involves not doing anything else. What happens is a conversation like this:

Me – Well, I think I’ll run to that next intersection there.
My Body – Okay, if you have to, but only this once.
Me – Well, I think I’ll trot for a while.
My Body – Good idea. That, or you could just drop dead and save trouble.
Me – Well (puff, pant), time to walk for a while.
My Body – Finally you smarten up.
Me – Well, looks like it’s time to sprint again.
My Body – No it isn’t. Not at all. Here, let me pull those feet in.
Me – Why is my face in the middle of the street?

Some fun, those Swedes. Or maybe they just expect to clean up on the massage to get rid of the painful aches you get doing fartlek. Well, everybody knows how shifty they are, right?

Marathon Man Part Trois


BICYCLE DAZE
By Steve Fey
So I may have mentioned that I bought some new shoes a while back. Not a long while back, mind you, but a while. Enough of a while that last Sunday, when I thought my problem was that I’d been digging ditches and stuff on Saturday and so I was tired, um, yes, that’s true in fact; anyway while I thought that, my problem really was that the padding in my left running show had been reduced by the overwhelming masculine power of my, um, stride, to have approximately the softness of Carl Rove’s heart at a Democratic caucus. It was only ten miles, and I finished it, only about six minutes overall off of my usual blistering pace as a snail catcher. Then my hip felt a little strange, so I drove home. Then I got out of the car. Then I said something like “Ouch ouch ouch ouch ouch ouch!” Something like that, I really don’t remember. It was hard to walk. I felt strangely, well, sick, because I also noticed that my left knee was about twice as big as my right knee. I discovered something all endurance runners come to know after a while: no sane body will put up with that sort of treatment indefinitely.

Well, the upshot is that I’ve spent quite a few hours this week imitating a penguin. I mean I’ve been stuffing a cold pack down the back of my pants (the back, not that it should matter; and I’m ashamed of you for thinking what you were thinking) and sitting on it while doing whatever else I was doing. Sometimes this involved sitting on it while walking around. This is made possible by the simple fact that the cold pack, plus the normal girth of my hips, makes my pants almost too tight to fasten on. See how the exercise has helped? If I hadn’t lost weight lately, I’d have had to put the cold pack outside my pants. This, of course, is ineffective as everybody can see that you’re sitting on an ice cube and will, of course, think a whole lot less of you in consequence. Wouldn’t you? So that means that you can never put a cold pack in, for instance, your back pocket and sit on it. You have to put the cold pack inside your pants where nobody can see it. If anyone asks about the rectangular bulge on your hip, just explain that you’ve recently won the lottery and you don’t trust banks. While they’re thinking about that, get the heck out of there before they mug you for your cold pack.

The short story is that I feel more or less fine after a week of that sort of treatment. Tomorrow, at 05:30, I’ll try running another twelve miles. If it starts to bother me, I’ll walk back and imitate a penguin some more.

So, what’s this about bicycles? You know, you can’t train to run 40 kilometers (actually 42, 195 meters) and just take a week off. Since I really couldn’t run (your weight triples when you start to run, did you know that?) I had to find another way to get gasping for air. What I found was the local rec center, run by the city, where there are several reclining stationary bicycles to choose from. And, oh, but a stationary bike is fun. For one thing, they have televisions to watch while you’re cranking away. At five in the morning, that means the televisions are showing the weakest, and lowest rated, of the local news teams desperately trying to score points with viewers. So, as I’m trying to get my heart rate elevated a bit, which ain’t easy on a bike compared to on foot, I get to see somebody on location in front of the Boulder, Colorado jail house talking about how that joker who confessed to killing Jon Benet is inside. They can’t interview him, they can’t even interview the police chief because he’s still in bed (it’s six in the morning there, but you see what I mean.) Still they can get some reporter up from some “sister station” in Denver to motor all the way up to Boulder to stand in the middle of an empty street in front of a deserted-looking jail and babble inanities about some dude who may or may not have killed some poor little girl ten years ago. Besides making me glad that there are no serious news stories out there, you know, wars, natural disasters, economic glitches, international incidents or whatever, this whole thing is so pointlessly boring as to make me wish that one of the reporters had eaten some bad fish for breakfast, and they end up hurling right there on camera. At least that would be more fun than seeing Boulder, Colorado at six in the morning with nobody on the streets.

And aside from that, the bike just isn’t as good as making me breathe heavy. I’ve clocked a heart rate of 150 while running (right after I stopped to walk a while because it was killing me, but still it’s true) and 130 is easy to maintain for as long as I want. On the bike, which has these automatic heart rate monitors when you grip the handlebars, I can’t get above 118, and that only for a second. I dunno, but it seems like the old feet are better exercise. Of course, you don’t need shoes at all to use an exercise bike, certainly not cushy ones like you need to run in, but all in all, I’d rather hear my footfalls than the local traffic report (what do you suppose they say at 5:30 AM, hmmm?) So, the moral is, if you like to run, get new shoes more often than you think you need them, get plenty of rest, drink plenty of fluids, and be sure to purchase a top of the line cold-pack to stuff down your pants. There. How’s that for sage advice?

Marathon Man Part Deux

MARATHON MAN DEUX
By Steve Fey
Last weekend I was going to be out of town on Sunday morning so I did my twelve miles on Friday instead. The day started out well, because as it did so I was still asleep, which is always a comfortable way to start things out. But after a few hours, at four or so, I got up, ate a hearty breakfast of brown rice, pennicilium mold, and the juice of Luna moths, and set out for my long, long run.

I started out going uphill, knowing, as I of course do so well, that things would go downhill fast enough. As it happens the trek uphill, which went on for almost an hour, goes past an interesting assortment of shops. The place with the really good authentic New York pizza was okay because they don’t open until lunch. I guess the Lowes was okay too because even in Vegas they aren’t open at 4:30 in the morning. Of course there was the IHOP™, which is wide open at any hour several days a week, including Friday. Lucky for me I had a generous supply of Gatorade™ thirst quencher which, oh heck, no joke here, the stuff tastes a bit salty but it’s a miracle drug. If you want to exercise, especially in hot weather, get some. Sorry, folks, I just can’t mock such a life saving invention. Besides, I did have with me a generous supply of Gatorade™, so I’m not making that part up.

At any rate, in my case about thirteen minutes per mile, which is a whopping 4.6 (count ‘em) miles per hour (watch out Danika Patrick) I kept on going uphill until I ran out of hill up which to run. [That sentence is a prime example of correctly f***ed up English. That is, it is proper so far as your high-school English teacher is concerned, but it’s truly a lousy way to speak English. What it means is that I kept running until I got to the top of the hill. See how much better that sounds?] From the top of that hill I could see for, well, sheer meters in any direction. Triple-digit meters, even, maybe a few rods down one way. It was breathtaking, or I guess it was because by that time I couldn’t catch my breath. Too bad I’d only gone about four point six miles, huh? But, as I said, it was all downhill from there, so down I went.

You learn things about your neighborhood when you go out early in the morning and run around. For example, if you go on a public path, there will have been a lot of dogs there before you. Sometimes I even meet a dog who’s also out for some exercise, but that’s okay. It’s the former dogs, or rather their presents to future pedestrians, that really add some interest to the morning’s activities. Do you know that it’s possible to sidestep six ways in six steps without breaking stride? Well, it isn’t, but you can try if you really want to. Still, and all, I missed. Or the dog dooty missed, depending on how you look at it. Or maybe I mean smell it.

This week it’s back to Sunday, but my next installment is going to be about a bit of fun invented in Sweden. Unfortunately, it doesn’t involve Swedish girls, although it could if they wanted to. But, that’s for next time. Until then, keep your blisters dry . . .

News, Security, and a Modicum of Freedom

It’s been a big news week, hasn’t it? One piece of good news that amazes one to contemplate is that they caught the real killer of Jon Benet Ramsey. Confessed, he did. Too bad Patsy didn’t live to witness the day. Or at least to sue the tabloids for all that crap they published over the years. It’s amazing what being well off and living in a place like Boulder, Colorado will allow to happen: they’ll solve the ten-year-old murder of your daughter. Around the same time a little girl in Englewood, Colorado, of not-so-well off parentage and named Alie Barella, was killed. They found her body through the efforts of one amazing bloodhound named Yogi, who was able to track her scent over a day later along a freeway and up into a remote canyon. Her killer remains at large. The upside for the family is that, not being rich, nobody in the tabloid world thought to accuse them of murdering their own daughter, which I’m sure they didn’t. I was sure the Ramsey’s didn’t murder their daughter as well, but the two cases do illustrate the ups and downs of having money in our society, don’t they?

But in other news of course there’s the ridiculous BS promulgated in our airports by the TSA. You can’t even take aboard a bottle of water you bought inside security now. This, if you will, is utterly stupid. Not that that’s a surprise. You know who wants to get us? Islamic men, usually Arab but always Islamic, between about seventeen and thirty years old want to get us. Nobody else cares enough to go to that extreme. I’ll bet there aren’t ten women in the world who would volunteer for such a mission, and no men not fitting the description I just gave. It would not be unfair racial profiling to search the young Islamic men and let the rest of us go with just the minimal security thought necessary prior to 9/11/01. I’m not badmouthing Islam, nor young men, and for those who are young Islamic men who are not out to get us, and this includes virtually all such who are in the country legally, I apologize for the inconvenience of even bringing it up. But, the truth is that this particular profile is accurate, and inconveniencing the rest of us, including Islamic women, is just plain wrong and stupid. But, stupid is what I’ve come to expect from the current administration. For instance, when they say that . . .

We’re still not completely safe? I’d say not, what with the president using illegal wiretaps to spy on us. What? Yes, illegal wiretaps, as decided by a Federal court today. You need a warrant to conduct a wiretapping operation. The constitution says that so clearly that even a person completely ignorant of legal proceedings can figure it out. But the administration said that they had to do it for reasons they could not reveal without compromising “national security.” If that’s security, Mr. President, I’ll take raw danger. Frankly, if we have to do things like a dictatorship in order to call ourselves free, then we’re just trying to fool ourselves in the first place. If we’re really better than “them,” then we need to act like it, and keep our behavior within the law. Sorry, George, nothing personal, but rein in your cloak and dagger team, okay?

Marathon Man One

MARATHON MAN: THE SERIES
By Steve Fey
Introduction

Back in the day, say twenty years ago, I used to run middle distance races. 10k mostly, which is 10,000 metres for my Canadian audience, or a bit over six miles for my American friends. But, one thing and another interfered and about sixteen years ago I ran my last. Until, that is, the past June 4th, which is the day on which I started running with the Las Vegas Roadrunners club, which is an annually blossoming organization dedicated to training for the Las Vegas Marathon, which this year will be held on the blessedly cold day of December 10th, 2006. Besides the weekly Sunday runs with the club, there is a training schedule to adhere to, involving several hours of various sorts of running during the week. In my case, since I start work at 7AM, I’m usually out on the street plodding around by 05:00 or so. Why not after work? Because after work, in July in the Mojave desert, you couldn’t run a block without having a Gatorade IV, so early in the morning, before the sun can get too high in the sky (meaning, basically, visible above the horizon) is when people who like to run are out and about, huffing and puffing away.

Just today, which for the record was the first Sunday run where I didn’t have some sort of agonizing trouble crop up, it occurred to me that there were some comedic possibilities to this entire adventure. If you think about it, why would anyone get up early to run eleven miles, and nobody is even chasing him? Really, why? So, and sorry for this sober prose, it was as I was running along today that I decided to create a series of, well, blog pieces really, though I’ll publish them both spots, giving a running account of the fun I’m having getting my almost 57-year old butt to move along mile after mile at anything resembling a running pace. (A bit under 13 minutes per mile at the moment, a bit off my former 7:20, but at least it’s a pace.) The first real article begins

RIGHT HERE

So the first day started out innocently enough. It was dawn, but not too crazy hot yet. In order to lure new recruits into a false sense of comfort the club provides all the Gatorade, Goo and Bananas you want. Goo? Don’t ask. I can’t bring myself to eat the stuff. It has a flavor akin to that of an orange peel left in the bottom of a dumpster by an untidy litterbug, but some people swear by the stuff. It comes in three flavors, which are: bad, worse, and awful. Nice to say that for once, there’s a real choice here. The first morning, looking at all that stuff, mostly good to eat or drink, naturally you think “hey, this is gonna be a snap!” This feeling of confidence lasts roughly until about the tenth or eleventh step you take after the signal to start is given, right on the dot at six am. At first, since I had a pace in a former life, I started out running like I meant it, passing a whole bunch of slowpokes and moving off briskly down the road. The run went a total of 45 minutes, which in the old days was less than I needed to finish a 10k, but this time the bearers only had to tote the basket with me in it back for a mile or so, as the entire experience only covered maybe a mile and a half. Embarrassed? Nah, other people had to be carried out and back. I made it half way, right? Worried? Nah, I read Mad. Or I used to, anyway.

The next week was about the same, but after the run the second week I stepped out of the car and discovered that some itsy bitsy thing seemed to be wrong with my right leg. I couldn’t be sure, but it felt like maybe my knee was just the teeniest bit upset, so I limped around instead of running for the next week, including a day in San Francisco, where I probably walked more miles on a bad knee than a Mormon kid recreating that famous trek, I realized that, thanks to my keen insight, perseverance, and dedication, I could hardly walk. You know that stuff Barry Bonds shot into his friends’ butts? I took it in pill form for a week, then lots of Aleve™ for another week, and this time I was all okay again. I ran fifty whole minutes one Friday morning, straight through. Then that Sunday I got a blister, so I just knew that Nike, the Greek God of Running Like an Idiot, was unhappy with me. So, for the next couple of weeks I used the “walk-run” technique wherein you run a few steps, then reason that your knee hurts so you should walk awhile, so you do that for twenty minutes or so, then repeat. But finally I felt healthy again, and I was back to running, and running like I meant it, only slowly.

The thing about running is that you sweat a lot. That means that you need to drink a lot of water, and it explains why products like Gatorade™ are so popular. That’s why, each Sunday morning I drink until I’m sloshing before I set out, water, Gatorade™, or both together. Except that one Sunday. I’d already put myself on a diet, because frankly it’s just too hard to run when you’re hauling around two of yourself, but I forgot, this one week, to drink a lot of fluids. The result of which is that, when I hobbled in at the end of the day, there was a three-year-old girl, a desert tortoise, three scorpions, and a one-legged man with a bad ankle cheering me on. They were all done with their bananas already. Note to self: don’t do that again.

That was last week. Today I actually ran further than I’d run in sixteen years. At the blistering pace of 13 minutes per mile, which, to give you some perspective, is a bit slower than the average big wheel piloted by a three-year-old girl. But I’m getting faster, and my knee doesn’t hurt (the new shoes help a lot.) Next week I’ll pick on a topic of particular interest to those crazy enough to run with nobody chasing them on a hot Mojave morning. That includes a lot of people who have no idea where the Mojave even is, I know, so the audience should grow nicely.

Until then, drink a lot of water, stick to your schedule, don’t hurt yourself, and above all watch out for that tortoise. I think he cheats.