Friday, October 29, 2004

Night Swimming
Oh, OK. Late-afternoon swimming. Cool REM song, though, eh?

After being on the shelf for a full week with a nasty cold, I finally got in the pool again today. Usually I sneak a swim in during my lunch break (and then eat at my desk); today I never could pull away from the office so the swim came afterward. Ever spent much time at a gym (or health club, or spa, or whatever)? One of the interesting things about your modern American exercise venues is that they can have a radically different feel depending on what time of the day you typically go. I'm at Healthquest around 2 p.m. most days, along with a bunch of retired farts who behave really sweetly toward each other, always saying hello and striking up good-natured conversations that veer off in strange and wonderful directions and which I take great pleasure in listening in on. Those old guys: Another cool thing is, you'll be sitting there getting dressed and some wacky song will come over the gym's stereo system, like that "Nasty Girl" tune done to the old sugar-sugar pop hit. The graybeards don't usually say anything about it, but you can just feel them thinking, "What the fuck?"

Mid-afternoon, the pool crowd tends to be made up of non-swimmer swimmers, old ladies in funny swim caps floating back and forth with random flutters of their arms, maybe a few folks doing a lap of crawl followed by a lap of bad breaststroke followed by a lengthy rest while clinging to the wall. I'm not saying I never see any good swimmers in the afternoon. I do. There's an Asian chick who wears a jammer top and never swims without some sort of device -- flippers, the little buoy thing that goes between the legs, the paddles on the hands, something. She's a very good swimmer and I usually see her once a week. And Mr. Swimmer Stud, a guy about my age who has your classic inverted isosceles triangle swimmer body and races sprints in national-level master's meets -- he makes rare appearances. Often, though, I'm the fastest guy in the pool, which tells you everything you need to know.

So anyway, today, as I mentioned, I couldn't get away until work was over. Around 5:30 on Friday evening, the locker room was full of middle-aged guys getting ready to pump iron. Conversations were sharper, less lyrical, predictable. At the pool, there were three swimmers, two long, lean young guys and a burly gal. All doing flip turns, all clearly keeping track of their lap splits. Nothing wrong with that, just different.

Different, too, of course, was the angle of the sun. Obviously. Over the course of the summer and early fall I became accustomed to the high, hot sun and I usually plastered sunscreen on my exposed pate. And it always took me a lap or two to transition from the warm air to the chilly water, but working hard, the temp was just right, cool and refreshing.

Today, the sun was low in the west, lower than I was ready for. There was only a half-hour of full sun to go. The light, looking across the length of the pool and out toward the sunset, was beautiful. The water seemed to move differently, slower, pulsing instead of pitching and splashing. Getting in out of the mild but cooling air, the water was warm, enveloping.

So with all of that, it felt great to swim. I kept it short, just about 1200 yards, half my usual swim. I was surprised at how comfortable I felt in the water. It took a few laps, but that's all. I guess this is the payoff for swimming four or five days a week for the past three months, and three or four days a week in the four months preceding that. Now I actually kind of understand what the swimming coaches say when they talk about "feel," about moving fishlike in the water. I felt good in the water, at home. Then again, maybe it was just some trick of the time of day, some inexplicable fleeting experience. I'll be curious to see how it goes on Monday afternoon, when I'm back at the usual time.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Those Remarkable Sox
My old college roommate and longtime pal Steve Kettmann, author of One Day at Fenway, had a piece in the Times yesterday. An interesting take on how the seeds for this remarkable Red Sox season were planted in the ashes of last year's loss to the Yankees. Ball fans, check it out.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

I went down to LA earlier this week for a special showing of Sideways, the movie that makes Alexander Payne 4-for-4, may win Paul Giamatti an Oscar nomination, and will probably transform Santa Barbara wine country forever. The movie is excellent (see David Edelstein's review in Slate, a right-on take on the film even if he pushes a bit too hard on the alcoholism theme). Sideways has a fun and easy pace and a warm sweetness without at all being saccharine. It's hilarious, true, but there's a deep desperation to both men that yields truly harrowing moments. I left the theater thinking a lot about the search for love and other transcendent experiences.

It should also be said that this is the wine movie of all time. Payne uses the characters beautifully to capture both the glory and folly of wine geekdom. Of course, the best thing about Sideways is that one of the wineries I do public relations for comes off well in the film. It's Sanford Winery, the first tasting room that Miles and Jack hit on their adventure. Miles introduces it as one of the best producers of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in Santa Barbara County. Yes, we've already obtained the clip from Fox Searchlight!

P.S.: David Denby loves Sideways, too. Here's his review in The New Yorker.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Our [Insert Adjective Here] Democracy
Election geeks and other concerned citizens: If you haven't hooked into it already, get on over to the Electoral Vote Predictor for the latest on the state of the presidential race. Niko and I check it daily (you should have seen the excitement in the lad's face when some outfit finally did a new poll in New Hampshire and the state tipped from its perpetual tied status to the Dems. "Barely Kerry!" he shouted, noting the Granite State's newfound blue outline).

The site's formula makes for some big swings in the total electoral vote count. If the latest poll shows a candidate with a lead in a state, no matter how small the lead or how consistently the poll has been out of whack, the state goes to that candidate. But over time you do see trends emerging. And the happy trend in recent weeks is that many of the swing states seem to be going Kerry's way. Michigan and Pennsylvania now look pretty solidly blue. What's clear, still, however, is that this thing is very, very close. Ohio and Florida, the big enchiladas, remain up in the air (Can you picture the hovering enchilada?). And Nevada, New Mexico, Iowa, the aforementioned New Hampshire and a handful of other less-populated states could be pivotal as well.

One other thing about the Predictor: Don't forget to read the text, updated daily The writer offers important insights into the poll updates, and his dry, straight-ahead commentary often turns quite funny. This morning, I got a kick out of this passage:

"In South Carolina, Republican senatorial candidate Jim DeMint has apologized for saying that gays and unwed mothers should be forbidden from teaching in the public schools. But he didn't retract the statement. His race there against Inez Tenenbaum, the state's school superintendent, is also surprisingly close. In Oklahoma, Tom Coburn has repeatedly tried to unsay things (such as his supporting the death penalty for abortionists -- and this coming from an obstetrician who has personally performed abortions). Finally, In the Illinois Senate race, Marylander Alan Keyes has opposed gay couples raising children saying: "If we do not know who the mother is, who the father is, without knowing all the brothers and sisters, incest becomes inevitable." Republicans are a lot livelier this year than usual. And the liveliness seems to be working. My current projection shows the new Senate with 52 Republicans, 46 Democrats (including independent Jeffords) and 2 tossups, but 8 or 9 races there are very close and change from day to day."

Sunday, October 17, 2004

New Season
We had one scattered shot of rain in September, but otherwise it's been dry since spring. Until now. From this morning's National Weather Service forecast discussion:


Saturday, October 16, 2004

One Day at Fenway
The Sox and Yanks will play at Fenway today, weather permitting. It's always special when these two teams get together at that little old ballpark -- but to really understand what it means, you need to read the new book by my friend Steve Kettmann. He tells the story well.
The Year
Maybe I'll do one more competition this year. I'm contemplating the Death Valley Borax Marathon. I think I'll be well-enough recovered by then -- December 4 -- but most of the literature advises to wait several months before doing a second marathon. That would point me toward the Napa Valley Marathon, right here on my home turf.

Anyway, I set out to do more events this year and I did. Special thanks to Rebecca and Niko for being so cool about me taking the time to train and compete.

Millerton Lake (1.5K S, 40K B, 10K trail/road run)
Uvas (1K S, 18M B, 5M R)
Wildflower Half (2K S, 56M B, 13.1M R)
San Jose (1.5K S, 10K B, 10K R)
Half Vineman (2K S, 56M B, 13.1M R)
Tour of Napa Valley (100M bike ride)
Bizz Johnson Trail Marathon (26.2M R)
Think Nader has faded away as a factor in presidential elections? We certainly haven't been hearing as much about him. And it doesn't appear as though he'll pull the 4 percent or so of the vote he did in 2000. But a recent New Republic piece by Ryan Lizza suggests Ralph could still do in the Dems (and give us four more years of Bush). Here's the key excerpt:

Despite the fact that he is registering barely 1 percent in national polls, Nader is indeed perfectly positioned to cost Kerry the election. Consider Kerry's current road to 270 electoral votes. The number of true toss-up states has dwindled to eleven: Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, West Virginia, New Hampshire, Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico. Nader is on the ballot in all of these states but Pennsylvania and Ohio, where his access is still the subject of litigation. Each of these states is close enough that Nader could make the difference, and the damage he could do to Kerry becomes more obvious when one looks at the combination of states Kerry is likely to need for victory. Assuming Bush wins Florida and Kerry wins Pennsylvania, Kerry must then win Ohio and some combination of three to five of the remaining eight small toss-up states. These eight states have two things in common: in each, the race is almost a dead heat, and, in each, Nader is polling between one and four points. In other words, Nader is doing best in the most closely contested states. For instance, an early October Gallup poll of registered voters in New Mexico showed Bush beating Kerry 47 to 46 percent, with Nader at 3 percent. An American Research Group poll in New Hampshire showed Bush and Kerry tied at 47 percent, with Nader at 1 percent. In Colorado, Gallup shows Bush and Kerry tied at 48 percent, with Nader at 2 percent. As pollster John Zogby noted in a recent analysis of his own numbers, "There is ... no doubt that Ralph Nader is hurting Kerry." 

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Official Results
Everybody says it’s not about the time – it’s about having fun, or getting out, or staying fit. And in a way, that’s all true. Still, one of the best parts of doing races is studying the final results. The Bizz Johnson Trail Marathon results just arrived via email, and they show me with an official finishing time of 3:49:48. That placed me 10th among 28 finishers in the male 40-44 group, and 70th among 267 finishers overall. My per-mile pace was 8:47.

The winner? That would be Michael Fretz in 2:45:54. Other notable finishers: Allan Kerr, 12th overall in 3:14:07 (notable because the man is 61 years old); and Aaron Guerrero, three spots and two and half minutes behind. Aaron was born 45 years after Allan Kerr.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Running the Bizz
Well, it was pretty remarkable. I mean, there was nothing great about my performance -- I finished in just under 3 hours and 50 minutes, which is good for a first marathon, good for someone who has never run more than 16 miles, and good for running at altitude (between 4200 and 5600 feet in elevation). Good but not great. Great would have been sub-3:40.

What was remarkable about my first marathon -- the Bizz Johnson Trail Marathon -- was everything about it. Signing up less than two months before the race, quickly working a few long runs into the busy schedule, being careful not to destroy the knees in the process of getting ready. Not coming up with an excuse to bail -- and not being derailed by work or life. Then getting up there ... the five-hour drive from the Bay Area, the pre-race dinner with all these freaky and cool Western States veterans talking about 100-mile and 100K runs and shit. Waking at 5 on Race Day to get some coffee and food in me, and a dump out of me, before leaving the motel. The bus out of Susanville to the trailhead where we started: I love the conversations that pop up in the hours and minutes before a substantial endurance test. You see pretty far into people. I talked to an young guy from San Francisco who, beneath his cool, seemed to have a burning intensity; and an older woman from Seattle who was looking to do Ironman Canada in '06 and you knew she would. Then there was standing out in the woods in the 28-degree chill before the race began, waiting for the line to the Porta Potties to move, dammit, move already. And then running. Running and running and running. One down 25 to go. Two down 24 to go. Three down, 23 ... it's a long run. Of course, the mind is wandering all over the place while it happens. I must say, however, that I thought almost not at all about my soon-to-be ex-wife, who earlier this year unilaterally decided that her only way to happiness was to destroy our family. I'm tempted to say flat-out that I didn't think about her at all, because I can't remember doing so, but surely I must have. I don't know why my mind didn't go there. It always does on training runs. Maybe this was just too interesting in its own right. Sometimes it's hard not to see divorce and the overwhelming sense of loss and the bigness of the challenge ahead as "real life" -- you know, lots of "real life" going on, etc. But here, on Race Day, was a case of life overtaking life, and thank goodness for it.

About Mile 12 my knees began to hurt and I was going slower than I had anticipated. Beforehand I'd been thinking, oh, maybe an 8:15-8:30 pace. But I was closer to 9. Some serious doubt crept in: If was hurting at Mile 12 running 9-minute miles, what was going to happen at Mile 21?

Turns out I got faster. I hit the halfway mark about 1:57 and ran the second half in 1:53. The fact that we were losing about 80 feet of elevation each mile on the second half surely had something to do with it.

But I really believe the key for me was in accepting the pain and then letting it fade away. This mindset allowed me to just keep running. I wasn't tired. Aerobically and as far as my nutrition and hydration went, I was great, perfectly fine. The question was could I take the sharp joint and muscle pain. That appears to be what doing a marathon is all about, assuming you run at a comfortable pace.

So between miles 13 and 20 I tried to relax and cruise through it, enjoying the scenery as we hooked up with the Susan River and moved through the canyon it cuts in the Sierra. Not New England, certainly, but lots of brilliant yellow leaves alongside the river held between orange and brown walls. Every so often I'd approach another runner and that would give me the chance to fall into his (actually, more frequently, her) pace, think about how she was doing, imagine what she was feeling.

Things only became a little desperate around Mile 24. My big leg muscles were shooting off rockets of pain and were heavy as lead. But they had been performing the same action for so long, it's all they knew what to do, so they kept doing it: One foot in front of the other. One foot in front of the other. Thank God the course -- a hard dirt/gravel road/trail all the way -- was smooth. If I had been required to vary from the sameness of the action, I'm sure I couldn't have kept running. A couple of times I sort of stumbled, after hitting a rock or something, and my leg muscles were so zapped, I almost crumbled to the ground.

But I kept running, never stopped and somehow, I stopped trying to fight or ignore or even embrace the pain, and simply brought it aboard as my companion. I got this idea in my head, crazy as this sounds, that this was why I was hear, on the far side of the Sierra, on the edge of the Great Basin: to run with pain.

By about Mile 23 it had become apparent that I might be able to beat 3:50, so that became my goal. At Mile 24 I was around 3:31, giving me 19 minutes to travel the last 2.2 miles. I tried to pick it up a bit. I figured if I hit Mile 25 by 3:39:30 I'd be in good shape. But at 3:39:30, there was no marker. A minute later, still no marker! I didn't think I was slowing down -- but maybe I was becoming so out of touch I just couldn't judge anymore?

No. There was no Mile 25 marker! This became apparent when I still hadn't hit it by 3:53 or so. Relieved and inspired, I gave it everything I had.

I finally got to Mile 26. Only a fifth of a mile to go. We crossed over the river one last time, went down a narrow trail hugging the side of the hill, then straight down into the finish at Hobo Camp, the trailhead just outside Susanville. A crowd of a few hundred was there and they cheered and said "Good job, great finish" (I finished hard, as always, but they say that to everyone). The clock was somewhere around 3:49:45 as I crossed. They stopped me, asked me how I was doing ("great," I said, and I was -- wasn't even breathing hard), and handed me my medal.

So now I've done a marathon. Twenty-four hours later, I'm not sure if it means nothing or everything.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Well, that didn't go very well, did it? Here it is, 10 weeks after Half Vineman and I'm only beginning to post again. And I am, really.