Wednesday, April 30, 2008


I'm not sure if I'm bragging or complaining, but I ran speedwork yesterday. "Speedwork," for those of you who have never run track or cross-country, is running VERY fast for brief, structured bouts of work, for the purpose of racing faster later on. It wasn't much, just 4 repeat quarter-miles with a quarter jog in between... 2 total miles of running, but it kicked my butt. For those keeping score at home, my quarters were in 87 seconds, 88, 87, and the last one in 82. That's a little better than 6-minute mile pace, or 10 mph+ for treadmill people (the "jog" in between was more like 10-minute+ pace).

I checked my logs... the last time I ran any kind of speedwork was 2005. I think the last time I ran quarters may have been 2001 or 02. This morning I feel like I've been hit by a bus, but it feels pretty good to know I actually ran fast. My tentative plan is to do this every week or two this summer, gradually adding a repeat until I reach 8x400, and then maybe decreasing the rest period after that. Hopefully by the time my cross-country team arrives in August, I won't have to train with the JV girls.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Easy Come, Easy Go!

It never fails. For almost 20 years of marriage, every time we get a little windfall, that's a sure sign that there will be an equal-sized emergency within a very short window of time that will put us right back at square one. I know deep down that I should be (and I try to be) thankful that God never lets us get too far behind in this calculus, but it is almost comical how the pattern tends to play itself out.

Take this week, for example. About a month ago, my kids were riding with a friend when her car was hit by a careless driver. Nobody was seriously hurt; my oldest was a little bruised, but we chalked it up to "no harm, no foul." This week we get a call and a check from Allstate--apparently if you sat for 5 minutes in the ambulance getting checked out, they just send you a blanket check for $250 to cover their tracks. Whoopee! Free money!

Well, before we even get the check in the bank, right as we're settling in for the traditional (dare I say, sacramental) Sunday nap, my middle kid bangs like mad on the bedroom door. "HELP! THE TOILET IS OVERFLOWING!" So, like any good homeowner, I grab a plunger and wade in (yes, I had to wade--yuck) to battle. No luck. Finally, we get the bright idea to bail out the offending potty and dump the cruddy water in the one working toilet. No dice--THAT one overflows, too. Worse, the water shut-off valve is stuck, so we get an inch of water in the master bath. I have a friend who's a plumber, so I called his cell. He answers... from 100 miles away. He says to call Roto-Rooter.

Well, the Roto-Rooter guy comes out and spends the afternoon with us. Nice guy. He roots out the main sewer line for a while... no luck. Then he goes through the drain in the master shower (which by this time has 4 inches of sewage water backed up in it--lovely, especially considering that Ann spent Saturday cleaning the shower top-to-bottom). Still no luck. At this point he's muttering that in 5 years of roto-rooting he's never had this much trouble with a main line before. Finally he goes through the pipes of the master bathroom sink, and with a giant slurping sound, all of the water starts to recede. I almost expected to see a rainbow over the house. Final cost: $234. Thank you, Lord, for a net gain of $16. We may celebrate at McDonalds, but we'll have to eat off of the dollar menu!

Still, I can't complain. That's why it's good policy to have the old Dave Ramsey "Emergency Fund." There were times in our financial life when a $234 plumbing emergency would have been an economic disaster, rather than an amusing (if somewhat gross) story. I don't really miss the money. But man, I miss getting my nap!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Revised Predictions

I haven't said anything political in a while, but I think I've finally decided that my initial prediction about the Democratic primaries needs to be revised. I originally said that Hillary would eventually convince the superdelegates to support her, winding up as the nominee... even though I thought Obama had the better chance to defeat McCain. I'd like to spin that 180 degrees--I think the Democrat party has pretty much decided that Obama is the guy. In the end, Hillary will have a series of convincing arguments as to why she should get the nomination, but I think she's running out of track--the finish line will arrive before she can pull ahead in any meaningful way. However, I now believe that she would likely have been the stronger nominee. Not that it matters if she doesn't get chosen, of course. But I think Obama has been wounded by the primary battle--what was once his biggest strength, being a "different," "transcendent" candidate, has turned into him being a very gifted politician, but still just another politician. It remains to be seen whether the "Reagan Democrats" who seem to favor Clinton more will prefer him, or the "maverick" John McCain. Now watch my luck--now that I have flip-flopped worse than a Mitt Romney or John Kerry, Hillary will probably find a way to win anyway and make me look bad.

Inspiration & Perspiration

Track season is winding down. That means track athletes will soon begin a period of "active rest" before they gear back up for cross-country. But for the COACH, it means I'll finally have the time to run more than two miles at a time. Lately I've been inspired--by a TV show, a book, a person, and a trip down memory lane.

The TV show is The Biggest Loser. On this reality show, a couple dozen morbidly obese contestants go to a fat farm for up to 15 weeks. There, they have access to excellent nutrition, an intense exercise regimen, and psycho personal trainers. There is the whole "get voted off the island" dynamic, but mostly it's about losing weight and getting in shape. The results are AMAZING... by the end of the show, the finalists have all dropped nearly half their body weight and gotten in monster shape. This past season, they had their first female winner--she dropped 47% of her former weight and got down to a lean, hard, buff 124 lbs. Of course, most of us don't have that amount of flab to lose, nor can we work out 6 hours a day. But what impresses me is that these sedentary people can get in great shape from a starting point of absolute zero in 15 weeks. It just so happens that I have 15 weeks until the start of cross-country season.

The book is Masters Running, by Hal Higdon. Higdon is in his 70s, and was an average collegiate runner who blossomed in his 40s to become an age-group world champion. Unlike so many books on running that advise 2 runs a day, 100 miles a week, etc, Higdon recognizes that the goals and the methods of the older runner have to change a bit. So much of my reading and thinking about training revolves around 17-year-olds, that it's nice to read a book that is realistic for me.

The person is my wife, Ann. She has worked a miracle with her body in the past year. She joined a gym near our house and has been consistent (that key element of training which always seems to be what I lack) in working out about 4-5 days a week. Although she has been reasonably careful about nutrition, she really hasn't dieted. And she has dropped about 25 lbs and gotten in GREAT shape. She is probably more aerobically fit than I am right now, and she looks fabulous. Every time she goes to the gym, I feel guilty for my lack of consistency.

Last, but not least, is a trip down memory lane. Last night I pulled some of my old training logs off the shelf and looked back on some of the best periods of my running life. When I was 30, I could race at the same speeds I ran in high school. My total mileage wasn't even that high, but I was consistent. I ran over 20 days a month, every month (so 5 days every week) with an average run of about 4 steady miles, at least one day each week of 6 or more, and one day of speedwork. Sometimes I ran with my team, and two or three mornings a week I would meet a friend at a local golf course and run a quick 2.5 miles down the fairways at 5 AM. Now, I'll probably not run the speedwork so fast anymore, and I'm thinking the 5 AM deal is pretty much out of the question. But I think I really could get back the consistency. I am even (shudder!) thinking of adding some light speedwork back into my running for the first time in several years.

So, there you have it... the germ of a plan to get back in whatever good shape looks like a this age. I have the time and the motivation. The biggest trick is going to be setting reasonable goals and not getting frustrated that my speed has naturally deteriorated somewhat. I want to race again--to be a runner, not a jogger who a couple of days a week "goes for a run." I'll post occasionally how it's going.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Dark Green

On the topic of things that really hack me off: the light bulb in my garage burned out a month ago, so I went to Lowes and got a new one. It was one of those twisty-type bulbs that have mercury in them which are so much better for the environment. Fine, I thought. I'll pay $5 for a $2 bulb and do my part to save some polar bear cub. But here's the trick--when you turn on the light, pretty much NOTHING HAPPENS. At least for a while. I swear, a family of fireflies gives off more light than one of these bulbs the first 3 minutes after you turn it on. Thereafter, it warms up nicely--which would be fine if this bulb were in my living room and was staying on for an hour after I hit the switch. But this is the garage. If I flip on the garage light at night, it's pretty much so I can walk out for 30 seconds and throw out the trash or retrieve something left in the car... all I want is to be able to see what I'm doing and not stub my toe. No chance of THAT anymore. Thanks, polar bears!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

"Regular Guys?"

Another thought about the candidates' tax returns. Hillary released hers last week; since 2000, the Clintons have made $109 million. My pocket calculator shows that's over $13 million a year, which means Hillary's average year is about 10 times as good as Obama's best year. Her charitable giving totaled out to about $10 million in that time, so almost 10% overall. Most of the contributions were to the Clinton Family Foundation, which distributes the money to other charities, so it's not all been "officially" given away yet, but by law, it eventually will be. John McCain hasn't released his returns yet, but given the fact that his wife is a multi-zillionaire heiress, let's just guess that he's not hurting. I found a link that posted the return info of George and Laura Bush (sorry, no link... can't get on blogger at home these days, and it's on that computer). The Bushes made about $800,000 a year and gave away a little over 10% a year.

Here's the funny thing. By these numbers, Obama is the most "normal" guy of the bunch. In this case "normal" only means that he has made between 5 and 30 times as much as an average family over the past few years, while the Bushes have made an average of 16 times the national average year in and year out (not counting the house and the plane). And the Clintons, bless their hearts, have averaged 270 times the median family income of $48,000 a year. Yet if you look at voting patterns, Obama comes across as the most "elite" of the bunch. Hillary's getting the six-pack democrats, while Obama is getting the champagne and latte set. (And of course, Bush gets, or at least used to get, NASCAR.) It hardly seems fair that a guy whose granddad was a senator and whose dad was president, who attended Andover (for a while), Yale, and Harvard business school, gets to be seen as a "regular guy" while another guy who went to Columbia and Harvard after rising from a pretty unusual family background comes across as the "Ivy League" candidate.

Maybe it's because he can't bowl. (Obama bowled a 37 over 7 frames a week ago... whoever talked him into THAT photo-op should be fired.) Maybe it's because Bush can throw a baseball. (In the only good press old W has gotten in months, he threw out the first pitch of the season last week: heat, a little high, right down the middle). Maybe it's because Bush mangles the language (hey, it worked for Ike!). But you often hear people ask, "which candidate would you rather have a beer with?" My gut says that Obama would order some yuppie micro-brew that nobody has ever heard of. Hillary would order whatever the focus group told her was the favorite of the locals. Bush, of course, would not order a beer, reminding us that he gave that up years ago. I wonder what McCain would do? He radiates "Miller Lite." But his checkbook says "Dom Perignon." I think that's one reason Romney didn't make it.

Let's face it--none of the people at that level are "normal." And we wouldn't want them to be. But their ability to at least relate to us little guys is key to getting a job that makes them even LESS normal.