Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Take Off, Hoser

Between those words, 'Back Bacon' and 'eh' is the only Canadian I speak. And, it looks like I'll need to study up on it as Steve and I have decided to head to the Maritimes in the Great White North for our fall marathon. Right now, we are aiming for the Prince Edward Island marathon on October 18 with the Valley Harvest marathon in Nova Scotia on October 11 as our backup plan. Backup plan? Yes, in case something comes up for either one of us and we can't make the weekend of October 18. October 11 is close enough that we can adjust our training schedules.

I've been to Canada probably a dozen times or so. Mostly in Montreal or Toronto. (I went to Expo '67 in Montreal as a small child.) This, however, will be my first time going to the Maritimes. My wife and I have talked about going but never had the opportunity to do so. I think our discussions were around which island to visit and we were afraid of picking the 'wrong island' to go for a vacation. As I stated before, the marathon I picked this year was to a place that I wouldn't be going otherwise. Parts of Steve's family is from that area so it's a perfect choice for both of us.

Back to speaking Canadian. I know, I know, Canadians speak French and English. And, I'm sure Canadians are tired of hearing everyone saying 'eh' to them. But, in the late 1970's/early 1980's, there was a late night show called SCTV, which was a parody of independent television. One of the sketches they did was a panel show hosted by Bob and Doug McKenzie which played up (purposely) to Canadian sterotypes. Bob was played by Rick Moranis and Doug was played by Dave Thomas. (Here is a Wikepedia entry describing the show http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bob_and_Doug_McKenzie)

At the time, it was very popular and the characters wound up with albums, records, and a movie. Recently, I read a list of the 100 most popular characters in television history and they were left off the list. (That's why I rarely pay attention to these lists because they are tilted to recent history. ) I've included a YouTube clip of the characters. If you do not remember them growing up, you will probably not think its funny. If you remember staying up late to watch SCTV (which was almost as popular as Saturday Night Live), then you will appreciate the sense of humor. This was my introduction to Canadian culture.

In any case, Steve and I agreed we will make our final decision for the trip when we meet up at Falmouth, the weekend of August 8-9.

(Notes: I think I'm starting to get the hang of my recent swimming lessons. At least the part where you are 'rolling' your body with every stroke. I started to do that in practice and have found my shoulders are not so tired after the session. I also feel that I'm getting to the other side of the pool a lot quicker. Or at least, it feels like I'm getting there a lot quicker. I'm scheduled to do an open water session at Lake Nockimixon on June 21 which will be the real test of whether I do what I was taught or what comes naturally for me. My biking and running are going well, so far.
Also, I did purchase my new toy. Instead of the Sony camera, I decided to go with the Canon Powershot SD series camera. I'm still learning the features but better quality videos of where I run should be coming soon.)

Monday, May 18, 2009

Summer Plans 2009

This coming weekend, Memorial Day weekend, is the unofficial start of summer here in the United States (could have fooled me as there are frost warnings posted for this area tonight). The Bucks County 5k Spring Series is winding up (one more race) so it's time to look towards what is coming up in the next few months. Oh, you can say I have a few plans.

The first one is kind of an unintentional plan. I am leaving for a business trip to England on June 6 and arriving the same day. A colleague of mine, based over there, suggested we do a 5k together the following day of my arrival. You see, last year, when he was over in the US for a weekend, I took him to a local race and he wants to return the favor. So, on June 7, I will be doing my first international race, the Festival of Running 5k at Battersea Park in London. It is close to where we are staying so it works out perfectly.

The following week is my 50th birthday road trip that I have been planning for months. A friend of mine, who also turned 50 this year, and I are traveling from city to city for a week going to a baseball game every night in a different stadium. We start the journey on Sunday, June 14 by going to a Pittsburgh Pirates day game. From there, we head for Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago, St. Louis and finally Kansas City for a Friday night game. We are flying back home late Saturday afternoon which gives me enough time to run a local race around the Kansas City area. Jennifer, author of the Life is a Gift. RUN blog, and who lives in the area, has been helping me choose a race that will be convenient from where I am staying. Unfortunately, Jennifer will be away that weekend so we won't be able to run the race together.

After my baseball trip, I will be ready for my first triathon, the Lake Lenape Sprint Tri scheduled for July 11. From my two trips mentioned above, it will be interesting to see how much training I will be able to do during those weeks. Biking is almost out of the question but I can continue my conditioning by running. I hope the hotels we have booked have pools but, in reality, will I have time? Got to play this one by ear and hope I have the time to get in one or two swims. As far as another tri this year? Dunno. I haven't thought that far ahead and have only been focusing on Lake Lenape. Let me get through this one, please? :-)

The day after Lake Lenape, my wife and I are vacationing in Vermont for a week. With our dogs. All four of them. We wanted to do a 'get away' week as opposed to a big trip like we did last year going to Hawaii. We thought we could save some time, money and effort by taking our dogs along. But where? We found a place in Mt. Snow, VT called the The Paw House Inn. It lets us keep our dogs there for the day and take them back to the room at night. Considering the cost of boarding the dogs when we go away in general, it's worth a shot.

Falmouth is still on the schedule for August but, as the summer fades away, a fall marathon is then on the horizon. Right now, Steve and I haven't settled on one, but, we were looking to do one in Canada. Like Prince Edward Island. Or Nova Scotia. I know, I know, we better settle on one 'cause I have to start training soon for it! I think it will depend on what weekend works out best for both.

And, to record all of this, I decided to upgrade my video camera from my phone to, probably, a Sony W220 as a birthday present to me. I was looking at the Flip video cameras but decided I wanted still photography and video camera in one. I should be getting it this week.

So, as you can see, I have a busy summer ahead of me. So, what are you doing this summer?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

(Re) Learning How to Swim

I thought I knew how to swim. Apparently, Joe don't know swimming. At least how to swim efficiently.

As a boy, I would spend endless summers at the Sunny Willow Swim Club right up the street from my house. My parents were very insistent that my sisters and I knew how to swim and were not afraid of the water. I would have to get up early, once a week, (and, early for a kid was probably 8AM) and take swimming lessons.

If you wanted to go into the deep end of the pool, you had to take a test. The test was swimming from one end of the deep end area to the other side and back. If you made it, you got a band to wear to signify you qualified. If you weren't wearing the band, you couldn't go in the deep end. So, you had to remember or you were stuck with the kiddies at the shallow end.

I would say I've been swimming since I was about 6-7 years old. I've come to find out last Monday that I was doing it wrong. Oh, I could do laps. Have been for the past few months since I really started this tri training. But, if I was going to do a triathlon, I had to learn to be more efficient in the water. What really woke me up to this fact was when I was asked to count the number of strokes I did doing one lap. I was told it should be around 18. I was in the mid-20's. In doing this, I was using up more energy than I needed, therefore, possibly tiring myself out before I hit the bike and the run portion of the race.

Now, one of the things that is great about being a newbie are these lightbulb moments. I am sure people, who have done triathlons in the past, know about this. Live this. And, it's not a big deal. But, for me, it was undoing something that I have been doing for the past 40 years.

What they were teaching me was Total Immersion swimming. It's about gliding in the pool just enough to save your energy and let your propulsion take you a little bit further. It's about making sure I'm not sticking my head fully out of the water to catch my breath. It's about rolling your torso as you take a stroke to give you a little more power. It's about sticking my chin down as I move forward. The mantra I was taught to make sure I'm doing things right is, 'Look at the fishes, listen to the fishes.' This makes you think of keeping your head down as you swim and then tilt your head just enough out of the water (and your ear pressed against the water) to catch your breath.

My coaches studied the way I was swimming. Then they gave me a thousand different tidbits on ways to improve. And, I tried them all at once. And nearly drowned in doing so as I was throwing water in my mouth as I tried this new technique. OK. I was told to concentrate on one thing at a time. Probably a good idea. The first thing I started with was breathing as, I suspect, it's the most important thing. Then we got out of the water and watched the former collegiate swimmers do laps. Wow! What an eye opener as they make it look so effortless. They can do a lap in about 13 strokes, half what I can do. And, they are moving a lot faster than I can.

When I first thought of doing a triathlon, I was confident that it was just a matter of getting in shape and I knew about the techniques of swimming, biking, and running. Oh, I have a lot to learn.

(Below is a video I found on YouTube that shows the Total Immersion technique they are teaching me. When I'm in the water, this is what I think I'm doing. From my coaches, the word is I'm better than I was when I first started. No comments about trying to teach an old dog a new trick.)

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Turning of a Decade

50 years ago...

  • Dwight D. Eisenhower was President of the United States
  • Fidel Castro comes into power in Cuba
  • Nikita Krushchev is the leader of the Soviet Union and engages VP Richard Nixon in the 'Kitchen Debates'
  • Harold Macmillan is the UK Prime Minister
  • The Day the Music Died as a plane crashed in Iown killing Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper and Richie Valens
  • Alaska enters the Union as the 49th state; Hawaii enters as the 50th state
  • The microchip and Etch-a-Sketch were invented
  • Mattel's Barbie doll is launched
  • The TV show 'Bonanza' premiers on the NBC network. It's the first regularly scheduled TV show presented in color.
  • The US Grammy Awards are started
  • Motown is formed
  • Lee Petty wins the first Daytona 500
  • NASA announces the first American astronauts which the news media dubs 'The Mercury Seven'
  • Average cost of a new home in the US is $12,400
  • Average cost of a gallon of gas in the US is $0.25
  • Average cost of a new car in the US is $2,200
  • And, this Wednesday, 50 years ago that day, John and Elaine had their third child, their first and only son who was born in Germantown Hospital (PA) at 7:20am and weighing in at 8 pounds, 7 ounces.

Yes, another decade down. I have run my last race in the 40-49 age group.

Since the beginning of the new year, I have started to reflect on my life. I know I have been very lucky through the years. I have great parents and a good relationship with my sisters (even though they tortured me as the youngest :-) ) and their families. I have a wonderful wife who comes from a wonderful family.

There have been speed bumps along the way but nothing that wasn't overcome. My biggest scare? In the early '90's, I was diagnosed with Epstein-Barr disease aka chronic fatigue syndrome. It was a virus that had no cure and there was no certainty I was going to get rid of it. My fear was that this was going to be my life from now on. After a few months, I was able to resume my life the way I wanted to live it. And, I started to think about not taking life for granted anymore.

What have I learned in my life that I can impart words of wisdom to you from this old sage? I can be clicheish and say eat healthy, stay in school, obey the commandments, etc. Which are all important, don't get me wrong. But, there is one thing, as I look back, that I wish more people did. Communicate. Never think you know what the other person is thinking. I've learned this in my home, social and business lives. Talk to people. If you have a disagreement, try to understand it from their point of view. Why are they thinking this way? What information do they have that led them to this opinion? Talk it out. You may still disagree. But, you may be able to understand where they are coming from a lot better.

Also, in the lines of communication, don't let time slip away in reaching out to people you've known through the years but haven't been in contact with. One of the best lines I remember is, 'Days are long but years are short.' It goes by fast, believe me. Reach out to an old high school/college friend, a favorite aunt/uncle/cousin, etc. It's not always easy, I know that. There is too much to do in your work-a-day world. But.... I ran a half marathon in my father's hometown where my uncle lived. I stopped by my uncle's house to say hello and wound up watching a baseball game with him and talking. I had a good time just sitting there and talking with him. At his funeral, years later, my cousin told me it was something that he mentioned quite a bit and was thankful I remembered him. It breaks my heart that I didn't do it more often.

I won't bore you with the changes I have seen through the years. I won't even say that, 'in my day' things were better. They were. In some things. In others, I wish I was young and had a chance to start it all over again. In the beginning of this entry, I mention the microchip as being invented 50 years ago. Over the years, this, I believe, has had the most impact in our lives. From the microchip came the personal computer. From the personal computer came the internet. From the internet came different ways we listen to music, read our newspapers, watch our shows, get information, to reach out to old friends, to meet new ones that you never met face-to-face. Cars are different. Appliances are different. The newspaper industry, which has existed for hundreds of years, is radically changing. We go further and further into space. Because of this invention called the microchip.

Regrets? I have a few. (No, I won't break out in song and sing, 'My Way'). In reality, I don't have regrets. I may think about how life would have been for me if I made a different decision. But, I don't regret not taking that path. There are times when I regret not having children. But, it was a decision we made, along the way, that we wanted to focus on our careers. (And, no, thank you very much for your kind offer, but, I don't want to take your children.) I guess regret is the wrong word. But, I wondered if I would have been a good parent and what kind of children I would have raised?

I face the reality of, what someone at work described, 'having more past than a future.' I hope he's wrong but it's most likely true. A few years ago, I asked a college friend what he thought about as we were about to turn 45. His reply, 'In college, I didn't think we would have made it to 40. Everything after that is gravy.' Gravy indeed.

I'm not saddened by this landmark event in my life. Hey, it beats the alternative. I'm happy where I sit in life. I've learned a lot about myself through the years. Of my strengths and weaknesses. Of what I'm good at and not so good at. I try not to worry about the future. I know that the next decade will bring a lot of changes. And, as the years go by, I understand the saying of how youth is wasted on the young.

There are three thoughts I will leave with you in this entry. First, show patience in life. It's never easy but it will carry you a long way. Second, don't listen to advice. OK, that's not entirely correct. I guess best to say, carefully listen to advice. I've learned the best teacher in my life is me. I can be taught a million ways until Sunday of how to do something but, unless I experience it first hand, it will never sink in. So, let your own life be your best teacher.

Lastly, your body will age but your mind won't. I've had numerous conversations with people through my life that still think as if they are in their teens and twenties. That's not a bad thing. Don't get me wrong. They have matured. But, don't look in the mirror to see how old you are. Look in your heart. Live life to the fullest.

(Notes: Congratulations to the Broad Street and the Lehigh Valley Half marathon runners. Not the greatest conditions to run in so I have more respect for you to even towing the line out there. Congrats to Mom on the Run blogger Karen who set a PR in the Indy Mini-marathon on Saturday. Congrats to Mind That Bird for pulling off the second biggest upset in Kentucky Derby history. If I only played the Superfecta that day.)