Friday, July 29, 2005

Running Commentary

I'm off to San Francisco this weekend to run the SF marathon. It's probably not going to be one of my faster races, but i think it'll be an interesting route. It includes a trip across the Golden Gate and back. I'm really looking forward to the trip if nothing else. It's been almost two years since i've been to the Bay area, probably the longest absence since i've lived in CA. We're planning to take the boys to the Monterrey Bay aquarium on the way up, and then we're going to visit Alcatraz on Sunday after the run (assuming i can still walk). We might go to Hearst Castle on the way back.

I don't really have a good sense of how i'll run this time. I've not done nearly as much long distance going into this race, which was intentional but still concerns me. I'm experimenting with the idea that slightly shorter distances at higher intensity will benefit me more than a bunch of 20+ mile runs. We'll see. My longest training run this time was about 18 miles, but i did speed work further into my cycle. Since this is a hillier race, i don't really expect a super-fast time, but i'm curious to see how the final 10k will go.

I don't remember where i saw it, but the description of the marathon that i like best goes something like this: you run until you are exhausted, suffering, demoralized; then you run 6 more miles. However, i'm trying to keep in mind the soon-to-be-legendary feats of Dean Karnazes, who recently completed a 262 mile run. I figure if he can run 10 straight, i oughta be able to get through 1 faster than i think.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Le Tour

Some human endeavors expose the inadequacy of our methods of communication. For example, parenthood is impossible to describe to somebody who's not a parent. I expect that the real experience of being in a military battle is indescribable. The most extreme things can probably only be experienced.

Every year when i watch the Tour de France, i realize that there's a whole lot of stuff in this race that's foreign to most people, and i don't mean just that it's in France (and maybe Germany, Belgium, Spain). The intricacies of bicycling racing are without parallel in the sports world. The concept of domestique, a rider whose main purpose is to serve the needs of the team's top rider, is strange, especially since these riders are in fabulous shape and often top racers (one of Lance's team members won the Giro d'Italia this year). The idea that you can win the war (the Tour) without winning any of the battles (the stages) is odd. The idea that in a sprint race a group of riders throws itself at the finish line with reckless abandon in order to win the stage, and yet they all get the same finish time as the peloton. The word peloton. Lots of strange stuff.

But none of that stuff is what i find so amazing, and so impossible to describe. The amazing part is the sheer physical accomplishment. These guys ride hard stage after hard stage with only a couple of "rest" days (on which the riders still ride in order to keep their legs loose). I usually do a couple of 100+ mile rides in a year. I don't race the distance, i just ride it usually averaging around 20 miles/hr on relatively flat rides, slower if there are hills. Still, it takes a lot out of me and i'm in fairly decent shape compared to the general public. These riders do harder, longer rides daily. Plus which, they are racing. Bicycle racing, despite what you'll hear from ignorant sports writers year after year, is a skill-intensive activity. Riding a bike at close to 30 miles/hr in the peloton is a skill, cornering at full speed on slick roads is a skill, descending a mountain road at 60 mph without wetting your pants is a skill. It's mentally exhausting to ride like this, because your attention can never waver.

I know that i never will experience anything quite like the Tour de France, and i'm sure that even my impressions of it are false in ways. But i've never seen anything on video, in print, or elsewhere that really conveys the essential incredibleness of the race. I think that's because there simply aren't adequate superlatives to describe what is for most people effectively impossible. Finishing Le Tour, never mind winning it, is superhuman.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

I spent most of the last two weeks at my parent's place in Indiana, which is not exactly where i would choose to spend my summer vacation, but you don't get to choose your family as they say. I have a strange fondness for Indiana, especially the northeastern corner where i spent my formative years, but i couldn't live there again. I miss the corn fields and the trees and the basic irrepressible greeness of the place. Unfortunately, the bugs like that stuff too. I like certain Hoosier behaviors, like the fact that a conversation doesn't count until you make eye contact and that most people would just as soon skip the small talk in favor of not talking at all. But i hate the red state politics. As the old joke goes, Indiana is a really good place to be from.

My boys enjoy visiting their grandparents. They like to go to my parent's lake place and fish or swim in the lake, but they also get to do things that they don't get to do at home like drink soda and watch TV for hours on end. Finally, they get to spend time with their cousins, Matt and Ben, with whom they have almost nothing in common besides similar ages and a sort of generic gifted child weirdness. Matt and Ben are tall and skinny and pale, my boys are shorter, tanned, and muscular. My nephew Matt is self-consciously intellectual and introverted, while my son Nathan, who is about the same age, is sociable and intuitive. Ben loves watching sports on TV (his dad is a radio guy, so Ben pretend-broadcasts imaginary games in his back yard), while my son Henry is purely kinetic. Still, the boys get along famously in that way that kids do. Kids have a talent for finding common interests.

Beyond fishing and swimming, we saw some movies and went to some car museums (my parents live in Auburn, IN, a classic car mecca). We hit some of our favorite eateries, like Fish of Stroh and Bob Evans for breakfast. But the thing we tend to do most when visiting my parents is nothing. Not in the sense of purposeful relaxation, like when you sit on the beach and have people bring you drinks with tiny umbrellas in them, but rather we collectively abandon our routines and just basically bide time between meals. No lessons or practices or appointments or plans. We watch TV, read books, and frequently we nap. It's the intellectual equivalent of fasting in order to purge the toxins.

Despite the fact that i stopped paying attention, stuff continued to happen in the world while i was gone. Armstrong's killing everybody in Le Tour again, Tiger won at St. Andrews, and B Hopkins finally lost his middleweight crown. General Westmoreland and Scotty died. San Diego changed mayors, twice. The new Harry Potter book sold roughly 1.7 zillion copies. Bush named a successor for Sandra Day O'Connor, whose name i think is John Roberts, which sounds vaguely like a euphemism for penis. There were hurricanes, one named Emily, which let me tease my wife on a daily basis about headlines saying things like "Emily pounds Mexico" or similar. But it'd be very easy to sit in my parent's basement and forget about the world, and to be honest i couldn't think of any very good reasons why i shouldn't.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Music Of My Youth

Thanks to access to a large on-line catalog of music, i've been exploring some of the music that i listened to when i was first starting to develop my own tastes (as opposed to listening to whatever my parents had on in the car). My older son Nathan is at this point in his life now, so it's been interesting to me to go back and look at what i liked then and why.

A large percentage of the music that i listened to then can be categorized as either a) now unlistenable, or b) already classic at the time. In the (a) category is stuff like KISS, Nazareth, and Ted Nugent; while the (b) category would include The Beach Boys and Elvis. I had a large collection of Beach Boys 8-track tapes, and a box full of Elvis 45's that would probably be worth something these days. Between those categories is a soup of classic rock, pop, and forgotten artists.

For reasons that i no longer remember, i started collecting music in the 8-track format, and that lasted for a while since i had a 8-track player in my first car (curious historical trivia: the 8-track tape was invented by Bill Lear of Learjet fame). Other than the Beach Boys and an embarassingly large collection of KISS tapes, i had Aerosmith, The Alan Parsons Project, Billy Joel, Elton John, Styx, and Led Zeppelin. Most of this music i'd be happy to never hear again, but there's some that i still enjoy. Billy Joel's The Stranger holds up fairly well, i think. I like most of Elton John's catalog still. Aerosmith is about the only harder rock band from the collection that i'd still listen to, though it's hard to find the Aerosmith catalog on-line prior to Rocks. With the exception of Alan Parsons, this was popular, chart-dwelling music that i'd heard on local radio. I had a few interesting nuggets that i'd acquired from friends or from the back of somebody's van. I had a Bay City Rollers tape because of a girl i liked. I had a couple of Parliament/Funkadelic tapes, though at the time i thought i was the only person who listened to them (remember, this is rural Indiana).

Despite my 8-track collection, i was something of an audiophile as a kid, within the limits of my very limited budget. I had a Kenwood integrated amp, a Kenwood tuner, and my pride-and-joy Electrovoice EV-1 speakers. It took me a while to scrounge the money for a turntable, but when i did the first two albums i bought were Fleetwood Mac's Rumours and KISS Alive II (yes, more KISS). Some of Rumours still sounds pretty good, i especially like Christine McVie's Songbird (i remember putting that on mix tape for my one-day-to-be wife while in college, along with other strange stuff like Yes's Roundabout and Squeeze's Is That Love. Why she still married me i don't know).

My taste didn't improve too much on vinyl. I remember having a Bad Company record, Candy O by the Cars, an REO Speedwagon record, some Queen (de rigeur during my early high school years). I had British Steel by Judas Priest (me and every other white male teenager). I had multiple Molly Hatchet records and Lynyrd Skynrd Live. It wasn't until high school that i had some moderately cool records that i still wish i had. I had More Songs About Buildings and Food by the Talking Heads, some Elvis Costello, and Squeeze. I also had a copy of Waylon Jenning's Ol' Waylon with Luckenbach, Texas. My mom bought me Pink Floyd's The Wall.

I guess what's most amazing to me in retrospect is how much music i didn't buy. I loved the Knack song My Sharona, but never bought the album. I like several of the new wave bands, but didn't purchase much beyond the token Elvis Costello and Squeeze. I didn't buy Jackson Brown's Running On Empty, despite the fact that i liked several of the songs. I didn't own a real punk record until college, or a rap album, and the only non-pop album i owned was a version of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. My conclusion is that my musical purchases were driven to a large extent by peer influence.

I don't feel too bad about this, given that it's almost an axiom within the music marketing world that young people buy music because other people buy it first. There must be some trendsetters, but the trends they set don't necessarily correlate to the music being interesting. My sense is that kids are escaping this now, probably because they have more ways to hear music. Music still has to be cool, but cool can now be defined by MTV, Fuse, Nickelodeon, the radio, some buddy's IPod, or Napster.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

July 4th

A mildly strange independence day. I got up at 5:30 and drove to the Scripps Ranch area of San Diego to do a 10k race. I felt good for a change and ran a decent time (for me) of about 39:20. That's my 10k PR, and my first time below 40 minutes.

In the afternoon we went to a party in Encinitas, the summer place of one of the Filipino families that my wife grew up with in Phoenix. There's a big wedding coming this Friday that's being held in San Diego, so there are a bunch of people in town.

After we came home, we took the boys to see Madagascar, along with my sister-in-law. It's a moderately cute movie, but the main plot is rendered completely irrelevant by the scene-stealing lemurs, lead by King Julien (voice by Sacha Baron Cohen, aka Ali G).

Got home in time to grill some hamburgers and watch fireworks from the back yard and drink some beer; because after all that's what independence day is all about. For many in my neighborhood, the 4th is sort of Memorial Day, take II. Flags, parades, fireworks, and lots of show of support for the troops, which around here means unquestioning support for whatever idiocy the president is proposing this week. I like to think of it as Thomas Jefferson day, a celebration of our most enignmatic founding father. Whether it's true or not, i like the myth of Jefferson writing the Declaration of Independence solo, suspecting that it would hard for people to understand, that posterity would raise its collective eyebrows at the "created equal" bit coming from a slaveholder. I like to think that if Jefferson came back today, he'd regard most of the politicians in Washington on both sides of the aisle as self-evident dipshits, and that he'd have special contempt for the brainless self-assurance of our chief dipshit.