Wednesday, December 28, 2005

More on the Way
From the 1115 AM forecast discussion out of the National Weather Service's Monterey office:




Tuesday, December 27, 2005

In the Rain
No offense to the old dudes and gals and others whose circulation might be challenged, but the pool where I swim is usually too warm. Especially during the summer. Swimming in an 83 degree pool when it's 90 out is ugly. It's worse than running in hot weather. It's suffocating. But come wintertime? Today I scurried from under cover out onto the deck and slid into the roiling waters and -- not fooled by the steam -- took off like a crazy man to battle the big chill when I noticed, woops, the water was warm and cozy. God, it was nice. Too warm? I flirted with the idea, but, no: With the rain pelting down and the air temp around 50, we were pushing the limits of bearability but just staying within bounds. Indeed, the contrast between the water and the cool rain was trippy and ... hmm... delightful. Question to me upon my return to the office: "How was the swim." Me to inquisitive colleague: "Delightful!"

It was the quickest 2000 yards I'd done in ages, maybe ever. Breaststroke, backstroke, freestyle -- swimming wasn't a chore today, with warm water below and cool water above. It was fun and in its texture conjured memories of the times in college when my buddies and I would head out in a big rain onto the fire trails in Strawberry Canyon, above the football stadium. We'd take the lower trail, fight our way up a brief steep stretch called "the connector," then do the upper trail for a few more miles. Jesus, we were 19 or 20 and we could run hard and long in the rain as it washed ashore, blowing through the Gate, falling on the hills, dripping through the trees, cutting culverts across the path, to be leapt. Didn't hurt that heading back, the last third of the run at least was a big decline. We'd fly home, just fly.

We'd run one day in the rain and the next day, the storms still rolling in off the Pacific, we'd play two or three hours of pickup ball at Hearst. There was a roof over us, but the doors were open for ventilation and amid the shouts, the squeaking sneakers and the pounding of the ball on hardwood and off the backboard and iron, you could hear and feel the rain all around you still. We'd walk back home afterward, the rainwater washing down our foreheads, mixing with sweat and stinging our eyes. We were supermen, we were boys, we were in love with our own youth -- and well we should have been -- which seemed to sprout in the rain.
Catching Up
Was getting ready to take Christmas pictures when I noticed that the camera memory was full. So I cleaned it out and found a bunch of pictures that had never been processed. Here's a couple of shots I liked of Niko. The first is from Halloweeen, when Niko put on a lab coat and went as an inventor (which he is); the other is from summer, when you could dig a hole without it filling up with rainwater in about two seconds.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

A Few Updates for You Regular Readers (Yeah, Right)
1) The abdominal pains subsided within hours of me calling to make an appointment to see the doctor (a week ago Monday). Was it quitting coffee that did it? Going on a largely gluten-free diet? Eating less at a sitting? Drinking less wine? Or some combination of all of those? Who knows? Still eating and drinking less -- which feels good. I tend to overeat. Still staying away from coffee. The first two days were hard but now the routine of starting with a cup of strong, dark English breakfast tea, followed by several cups of mint-lemon balm tea through the day, is growing on me. In the winter, it's comforting to have a hot drink at your side.
2) In the days following the marathon I was insanely sore. My quads were destroyed. I literally could barely walk. I walked home from the office the day after and it took nearly a half-hour, twice the usual time. Curbs were a challenge. Stairs were impossible without clutching the railing. Three days after I could walk normally and almost do stairs hands-free. Five days and I wasn't thinking about any aches and pains.
3) I ran this Monday evening, 15 days after the marathon. Felt good to run and my body responded well. It was just three miles but enough to leave me slightly sore the next day. I'll run on Saturday and probably Monday and then get back into the routine. Napa Valley Marathon, first Sunday in March.
4) I swam twice last week and also the past two days. Last week it was cold here in Napa and hard to work up the desire to get out into the pool; this week, the rain has a tropical feel to it and swimming today as the drizzle came down was fun. I did more backstroke than usual. I'm a terrible backstroker, but doing it anyway improves my feel for the water and makes me a better swimmer. Or so I like to believe.
5) Anna in the office got the flu. She sat out one day but has been working since, hacking and sneezing and wheezing. I've been steering clear of her and applying copious amounts of Purelle to my hands after touching anything outside my office -- doorknobs, the copier or fax machine, the microwave and anything elese in the kitchen. So far, I'm OK. Anna? Oh, I think she's getting better.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Looking Out the Window at Work
This time when the rainy season came
a gray blanket, the sound of passing cars kicking up water
I felt old. Not tired, weary or spent. Not bored.

Rather, this: I'd been around a long time
knew the routine well now,
shifting into the depth of winter.

Shallow and unassuming, for the most part,
I concede, on the valley floor
where little pools and nothing slides.

But warm sunshine, here our raison d'etre,
was now gone, absent forever,
until it would be revelatory.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Looking Ahead
I haven't had wine for nearly a week. Terrible, unhealthy behavior. And I'm not sure the teetotaling won't continue for a while. But dammit, come the new year I resolve to begin drinking again. One glass, every day! No matter what! I can do it! Your support is appreciated.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Not a Pretty Post
I've been suffering from abdominal pain for more than a week now, beginning mildly then becoming pretty intense the last 48 hours. The episode began a couple of days before the marathon; just a vague sense of things being slightly tight in the lower abdomen. It was such that it was easy to ignore. And on race day it never entered my mind; maybe it was gone. But on Monday it was back -- although, again, mildy. Of course, my quads were so destroyed by the race, I probably couldn't have noticed a little tummy ache. By Thursday my legs were fine but my gut was hurting. I woke up at 4 in the morning on Friday and couldn't sleep. Friday afternoon the constancy of the pain made it impossible to get any work done. I wasn't doubled over in pain, mind you. It was as though I had one big, full-abdomen -- from the ribs down to the groin -- cramp. Walking and moving around actually seemed to relieve the pain. Friday night was worse than Thursday, and today was worse than Friday. This evening, horrible. I don't have diarrhea, but I'm gassy (told you, not pretty stuff). I'm eating less, though I continue to have an appetite. BMs don't relieve the pain at all. Ginger ale helps a bit. Tums, nothing. I've had episodes like this before, but never lasting more than a couple of days. I think I may have a bit of irritable bowel syndrome. I think the stress of the marathon and some poor eating afterward might have pushed this to the degree it is happening. I think I may need to cut down on coffee -- green tea, here I come -- and alcohol. I'd also be curious to see how I'd do with less wheat and dairy. Whatever, if I'm not better by Monday, I'll go see the doc.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Rae Revealed
I didn't realize the California International Marathon folks had posted bios of all the pace leaders. So I've got more information on my guy Rae, beginning with, as you might have noticed, the fact that his name is spelled with an e, not a y. Sorry, Rae!

I've cut and pasted Rae's info below. As you can see, he's amazing. Not only has he done more than 130 ultramarathons, he holds the American record for a 100-mile road run, 12:12:19, set in 1989 at the Sri Chinmoy USA 100 Mile Championship (the run was done on single-mile loop course in Queens, NY). And in 1990 he set the American record for distance covered on a track in a 24-hour period -- 165.3 miles. All that, and from what I could tell, a heckuva nice guy, too.

Rae Clark
Home: Auburn, CA - Endurance Capital of the World
Age: 52
Occupation: Teacher/Coach
Date and name of first marathon: Mayor's Cup Marathon, San Francisco, 1978
Number of marathons completed: 154
Number of CIMs completed: 14
Marathon PR: 2:28:53
Marathon awards: 12 top finisher overall
Marathon finish of which you are most proud and why: my PR 2:28:53 at Las Vegas (1989) because I trained hard and it paid off. I felt strong the whole way.
Number of ultra marathons completed: 131
Ultra marathon awards: 30 top finisher overall
Ultra marathon finish of which you are most proud and why: SRI Chinmoy 100-Mile National Championship (NYC, 1989) and the 24-Hour Megan's Run. I set American Records at both events.
How many Boston Marathons? 5
Coaching experience: 11 years of track & field, 10 years of cross country both youth and high school
Other pacing experiences: I have paced dozens of runners to personal bests during the last 21 years. I've had a great time pacing the 3:20 group at the 2001 and 2002 CIMs, the 3:30 group at CIM 2003, and the 3:10 group at the 2004 CIM.
Other hobbies: backpacking, hiking, biking.
Anything else you think your Pace Group would like to know about you:
I have paced many individuals in the past and my CIM Pace Team Leader experiences have been so positive that I am looking forward doing it again this year!

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Chasing Ray
I know why they do it. By making us get up at 4:30 a.m. and be on a bus to the start line by 5:15, and then beginning the race at 7 after we've stood out in the freezing cold for an hour, most of the time in line to use the typically inadequate number of portable toilets, race organizers can no doubt promise the cops and city officials the whole big stinking mess will vanish from their streets before nightfall. Still. Running 26.2 miles is pretty tough -- for me and for most non-Kenyans. If the race is being held April through October (we're restricting Pete's Law of Marathon Start Times to the northern hemisphere), by all means, start it early to avoid heat issues. But in December in Sacramento? Fat chance midday temperatures will peak higher than the mid-60s. So you start the race at 9 a.m. Most folks -- who also might be known as "paying customers" -- would end up running with temps in the 40s and 50s. Maybe a few people would plod the final, gruesome few miles with the temperature hovering around 63. Oh, the oppression! To me, this seems like a very good plan -- and even with a generous six-hour limit, it still leaves your course clear by 4 p.m.

But don't get the wrong idea. I loved the California International Marathon, begun in Folsom before sunrise and ended in the shadow of the state capitol with the sun very low in the southeastern sky indeed. I loved it in the way that this sort of thing is always loved by a me sort of person. (This sort of thing: a long, physically and psychologically challenging athletic event. A me sort of person: fairly fit and dedicated, but not especially gifted at the discipline.)

You get out there and you take your first step and you say to yourself, OK, one step closer to done. And you say that periodically but often for the next nearly four hours, maybe 6,000 more times. And in between you go a million places, pondering the (running) form of the woman up ahead in the black tights with fluorescent green shorts over them and a tight purple bib top with some red sports bra straps showing above the neckline; appreciating the subtle but helpful hand signal of the guy moving left in front of you to pass someone; noticing after eight miles of having a wet nose and finally wiping it dry that it felt better to have wiped it dry (with the $2 cotton gloves you bought at the expo the day before) ... the list could go on forever. I said your mind goes in a million places! Of course, most of those places are in the neighborhood of How You Are Doing. Also known as, the Pace Place.

Which is where Ray comes in. Ray was my pace guy. Maybe you didn't know this -- I only learned about it in the past few months -- but at a lot of the bigger marathons they recruit volunteers to run the race at a specified pace, allowing competitors gunning for a time to be pulled along to success and admiration among their peer group. Ray was the 3:30 pacer at CIM this morning. Ray looked like he was in his late 40s or early 50s. He was a little scruffy and ridiculously, perfectly suited for his job. The pace was easy for him to hold (easy for me to say) and he had big ol' biceps that made running the whole damn 26.2 while holding a stick with a red "3:30" sign atop it appear to be no great feat. This required keeping his carrying hand at shoulder level, which is hardly the way you want to run a marathon. Not to cast aspersions, but quite a few of the other pacers were not so diligent as Ray on this count.

Ray talked, though wisely he did not keep up a constant chatter. He talked about the course -- letting us know when hills would come and when we'd have a chance to coast a bit, always spinning whatever we were about to encounter in a believably positive direction. He celebrated the arrival of another mile marker and reminded us that it meant that we had one fewer miles to go than we did before (analogous to the step thing I talked about earlier, but a good bit more powerful). He talked about Boston -- a lot. Most of the 3:30 group were aiming to qualify for Boston; it's the time 45-49 year olds need to race in the world's most famous marathon. As we ran, Ray said, "This sign shouldn't say '3:30,' on it. It should say, 'Boston.' We are on the road to Boston." Ray was confident, though not obnoxiously so, that we would all make it.

For the first four miles I ran just a little bit in front of Ray, then alongside him for a while, then just a few steps behind him for a very long time. I came into the race not really trusting I could run a 3:30. I'd run only two previous marathons, with a best of 3:41 at Napa in March. I was worried the 3:30 pace -- 8:01/mile -- was quick for me. Going out at that pace, I wondered what would happen come Mile 15 or 18 or 23. I wondered if I'd make it, period, after stretching myself from the start.

Wondered. Ha. The word I should use is "feared." I was afraid -- but a part of me wanted to take on the fear. Ray made it a lot easier to do so. Through Folsom and Orangevale and Fair Oaks I told myself to stay with Ray as long as I could. At Mile 8, I said that would be the halfway mark, at least. At the halfway mark, I said Mile 16, at least. (My left knee was hurting terrifically then, but I concentrated on staying with Ray and I listened to Ray and the pain eventually subsided.) At 18, I said 20. Still I stuck. And then, at 21, Ray began to pull away. But of course Ray was running the same pace he had the entire race. It was his job, his duty. I, meanwhile, was fading.

In many ways, I felt good. I had been enjoying the race. The crowds were great. I wanted to be all cynical and dismissive of the spectators shouting nonsense like, "Looking great, 755," when I had snot dripping out of my nose and I was listing and pallid. But it was all great. There was the guy who looked like he just finished the swing shift at the steel factory -- imagine there were still factories in this country -- reading from the Sacramento Bee's list of the entrant numbers and names, calling out, "Way to go (pause to find the name) … Suzy!" "Uh … (pause) … James, you are so all over this race it isn't even funny!" There were old folks, young folks, rich folks, poor folks -- the whole darn beautiful tapestry dipped in a melting pot that is this great nation of ours, all of 'em out early, in the cold, to watch people run by them and shout words of appreciation and encouragement.

So I was having fun and I was with Ray and then came the fade. Yes, the fade. Not stomach trouble. Stomach was great. Head, too, was solid, no foggy-groggy where am I stuff. It was my quads. Tight, tight, tight. I ran as hard as I could -- it didn't hurt any more to run hard than it did to run easy, really. Only stopping would have made the pain go away. But 9-plus miles were all I could manage. I hit the Mile 21 sign at 2:48, an even 8 minute/mile pace. The next 5.2 miles took me 47:32, a 9:07 pace. Miles 22-24 were the toughest. You dream of it being over and embrace and push back and embrace and push back again the sense of deliverance you believe the end will bring. Yet somehow, even as you sink deeper into your own pain and the contemplation of it, the experience moves beyond you and you beyond it. You notice among the scattered spectators a little guy just barely old enough to stand teetering and falling, plop, and another maybe three years old doing two quick toddler sneezes. It brings up a mental image of your little boy and you wonder what he'll think when he's 43 and looks at Dad's silly collection of marathon and triathlon finishing medals. You endure DJs spinning tunes way, way too loud, and an indiesh band playing a song whose lyrics capture you for five or 10 or maybe 20 yards, who knows? The marathon is a weird sort of parade but better because the crowd is performing too. One time, a woman in the crowd tailed her running friend for about 100 yards shouting encouragement, offering gu, taking her cap, always coming up with one more thing just when you thought she had been left behind. She was really loud and the guy running next to me kept muttering quietly but with scary intensity, "Shut up! Shut up!" I understood his point, she was obnoxious. But she was beautiful, too, this the Wacky Friend who so much wanted to help.

I don't know. It was nothing special -- there are dozens of marathons like this around the country every year -- but it was, like life itself, spectacular.

Oh, my time: 3 hours, 35 minutes, 32 seconds, according to my Garmin and the chip.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

How I Celebrated
- Worked.
- Swam 43 laps (one for each year)
- Put hot water in the watch-the-coasts-disappear-due-to-global-warming mug that Anna gave me.
- Had a cookie that Karen gave me.
- Got burgers and fries from In-N-Out with Niko: Good burgers, but what was with that goofy cashier? I say to her, "Double-Double with the works, including fried onions; cheeseburger, no nothing, just bun, meat and cheese; and an order of fries." She rings it up and we've got a Double-Double, a cheeseburger, two fries, and a medium Coke! As we wait for our food, I see that EVERYONE picking up food is noticing an error in their order.
- Opened a bottle of 2001 Ridge Lytton Springs to accompany burger and fries (no, this wasn't a la Miles; we brought the food home). Beautiful Zinfandel, he said, pouring himself one more glass than was prudent on a work night.
- Chatted with Niko about global warming while sipping '01 Lytton Springs. Niko: "Wine is a good way to tell if there's global warming because if there's global warming the wine will taste different. I can't remember, are they better wines with global warming or not as good?"

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

A blog compiling corrections from newspapers around the country -- that would be fun. Maybe a project for the new year. Right now, there's this (stolen from L.A. Observed):

Correction o' the day, from the Daily News: "A story Friday misquoted Los Angeles school board member David Tokofsky in regard to a comment he made about Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's push for authority over local schools. Tokofsky referred to the mayor's growing up in the City Terrace neighborhood rather than calling him a city terrorista.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Dumb Run
I was supposed to do 12 miles at a comfortable pace. I don't know what got into me. The first couple miles came in at 16 minutes, and I felt good. So I stuck with the 8 minutes/mile pace. Well, actually, I sped up a bit -- and what the heck, if you're going to run 12, why not go another mile (point one) and make it a half-marathon?

Because I finally downloaded the software I needed to upload my Garmin run data, I can give you all the details:

Lap 1 2.01 miles 16.01 7:59/mi
Lap 2 2.75 miles 21:58 7:58/mi
Lap 3 2.76 miles 21:34 7:48/mi
Lap 4 2.74 miles 21:14 7:44/mi
Lap 5 2.05 miles 15:10 7:24/mi
Lap 6 0.79 miles 05:33 7:00/mi
Total 13.10 miles 1:41:32 7:44/mi

Hopefully I'll recover from this slightly overboard effort by Sacto (Dec 4). Course, that said, it WAS fun, so what the hell.
News of the Weird
Tri-Valley Herald neglects to properly apostrophize "It's" in a headline. Check it out.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

New Feature: Crap I'm Tired Of
I think I have a pretty high tolerance for crap and I've never thought it great fun to spend a lot of energy complaining about that which is, in the great scheme of things, unimportant, or which I can easily avoid or ignore. For instance, I'm not inclined to join in on all the Rachael Ray bashing that is all the rage these days. But perhaps not all clickies come with on-off or channel-changing buttons. Thank goodness I have one of the good ones. Anyway, criticizing nearly anything on Food Network these days is like using a fucking bazooka to shoot fish stuffed into a two-gallon bucket. Thank God for Alton Brown.

Some crap, however, is either harder to avoid or more damaging to the culture -- or both. Because I know you care, today I begin cataloguing them on this site.

Crap I'm Tired Of, Item 1:
Sleep Train commercials, especially those delivered by "news" anchors. I have a terrible habit, picked up from my father (always blame the parents), of listening to news and talk radio. Anyway, I don't mind the talk-show hosts delivering Sleep Train commercials. But news anchors? I suppose it didn't shock me when I heard the KGO afternoon duo selling out. I expected better from KCBS. News people are constantly amazed at the lack of respect they command these days. Well, uh, maybe the fact that you shill for a mattress company is part of the answer. And yeah, we KNOW they'll deliver the mattress that day if you order it buy noon AND they'll take away your old mattress for free.
(Related thought: Interesting marketing strategy by Sleep Train -- inundating radio. Or maybe I just fit their target demographic perfectly? Doesn't seem to matter where I go, Sleep Train is there: KFOG, KGO, KNBR, KSFO (I get perverse pleasure out of listening to freaky wingnut conservative wackos, which is a shamefully deficient explanation for why I ever tune it in, but it's true))....

Saturday, November 19, 2005

I've been consolidating my gains. Or slacking? I really do think it's the former. I can't remember who it was -- I do recall him seeming authoritative -- but someone said it takes three weeks to realize the benefits of a long run. Thinking about that and feeling very worn out after the 20-miler last Saturday, I eased back into running this week. First, two days of long walks and a swim. Then back to back 4-milers, followed by a day off for a swim, then a 6-miler today. I'm starting to feel recovered. With two weeks until the marathon, I'll probably do one more medium-long run, on Thanksgiving or the day after. The point is to keep the body in tune with long runs, but not break it down. Tricky business.

Oh, by the way: Nice job, Bears!

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Three weeks (and one day) before Sacto, so I did my last long run. Twenty miles at an 8:26 pace. This is 10-20 seconds per mile slower than I hope to do come race day. It was pretty good, although, honestly, I'm not sure my thick-limbed body is made for long-distance running -- at least, not at age 42.9. At Mile 12 my left knee started hurting; out past 15, there were lots of aches and pains. But aerobically I felt fantastic, so I just kept going without losing the pace.

In the hour after the run I had one tall glass of water and 12 oz. of ginger brew. Two hours later I'm finishing off a huge blueberry, banana, yogurt, raspberry sorbet smoothie. Starting to feel "normal" again.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Death Valley Out; Sacto In
It's a long drive to Death Valley -- 11 hours or so, according to Mapquest. And doing the December 3 marathon there would require two nights' hotel. And with gas being as expensive as it is … well, it all added up to a change in plans: I've signed up for the California International Marathon in Sacramento on December 4. Course sounds kind of dull and from what online posters have said, isn't as fast as advertised. But a friend said it's a well-run event and friendly and fast enough, and it's only an hour away. Settled.

(BTW, the race slogan is "Folsom to State Capitol," which sounds like the title of a book or movie about a criminal turned governor...)
Can't remember what we were talking about, but the expression "spill the beans" came up in conversation with Niko the other day. Spill the beans? Well, we had to look it up, even if it was time to get ready for school. One of my first Google options (can't remember what search terms I used) was a promising site that had vanished. I went back and clicked on the cached page, and found paydirt -- a long page that was only the expressions beginning in the letter s.

Spill the beans - reveal information or a secret
An Americanism that may come from bean as US slang for 'head' (spill or let slip what is in one's head). More likely it comes from 'know one's beans' (know what's what); this is clearly related to the early 17th century English saying 'know how many beans make five,' which has the same meaning. It is a short step from knowing one's beans to spilling them, i.e. telling what one knows.

Here's the longer-than-your-arm URL for the cache of the page:

Saturday, October 29, 2005

In the Long Run
With the marathon five weeks off, I've only got a week or two to improve my fitness and to reintroduce my body (and my mind) to going long. Last Saturday, after a long break, I ran eight miles. Today, I went for 16. The pace, 8:36/mile, was a bit slower than what I hope to run in Death Valley. Interestingly, though, my splits were negative until the last mile. That was encouraging. But the last mile wasn't. Man, I wasn't starting to ache.

Friday, October 28, 2005

I talked to a man late yesterday afternoon, and within a few hours or so of our conversation he was dead. I heard the news this morning when I called a professional acquaintance who also knew the man. Before the call, it was clear to me that the man I would soon discover to be dead -- who would leave behind a wife and 9-year-old daughter, named Grace -- was going to be mentioned in the call. He was tangled up in the issue we were likely to talk about. Before the call, before I knew the news, the fact that he would come up in the call -- in a not-focal but also not-tangential way -- gave me a good feeling. I wasn't extremely close to the man and can't claim to have known the breadth of his life at all, but in a narrow range that seemed to be widening we had come to know each other and I liked the man -- his energy, his passion, his quick, funny, slightly crazy mind. I knew that when the professional acquaintance and I talked about the man there was likely to be knowing laughter and probably a few tales told about something he had said in a particular way; possibly a minor denunciation or two as well; and certainly much appreciation and respect.

His name was Patrick Wofford. He ran a business here in Wine Country, Benchmark Consulting, working with many of the major wine companies and organizations to find winemakers, marketers, sales personnel, executives, you name it. Patrick's company brought me to Wine Country, from a freelance-writing career (don't laugh, it paid the bills) in the Applegate Valley in southern Oregon to Napa to toil for the late great Patrick and I didn't work together much on that position, although I remember him coming in for the close. Before his firm would endorse me for the position he had to vet me. He wanted to make sure I wouldn't, as he put it, "End up a dead cat on his doorstep." I gathered this was a headhunter's way -- or at least Patrick's -- of saying he didn't want me to fail in and/or bail from the job, which would not only jeopardize his fee but would also injure his reputation. I got the sense, too, that it would just plain piss him off. Maybe this is a reflection of my own insecurities and my indecisiveness about my professional life, but I thought at the time he was insightful to press me a bit.

The Sonoma and Napa wine industry is a small universe and when there's a halfway decent job available out there everyone knows about it and, I suspect, everyone with an IQ higher than his age and a moment's experience gets a call from the headhunter doing the search. After coming to Napa, this is how I really got to know Patrick. Patrick never asked me where I thought I'd be in five years. He never asked me to tell him why I was the most qualified person for a particular job (though he did advise me to have good answers to those questions, since the employer might ask them). Whenever our on-again off-again dialog resumed, it was always as though we'd just left off yesterday even if it was really two or three months ago. We'd say hi and we were off and yacking. Patrick was a good listener. He'd listen and when I was finished with an answer, he'd say, "Yeah," and he'd pause, and then he'd shoot me something like, "You're not ready for this job and I think you know that." I didn't think Patrick's judgment was perfect but I thought it was remarkably good. I trusted him. So I'd seriously entertain whatever he said and once in a while, try to change his mind. And he wasn't afraid to change his mind, at least, not with me.

Patrick and I talked for about a half-hour late on the day he died. Yesterday. I was on my cell phone, outside under a weak storm's gathering gray, daylight fading, cars heading toward Highway 29 on First Street, our little downtown Napa emptying, life rolling forward. And this is how our conversation wrapped up:

PATRICK: Hey, are you dating yet?
ME: Well, I haven't been on dates. But I wouldn't say that's a result of a decision not to date.
PATRICK: You know what I mean. Are you far enough through the shit that you can date? Are you there yet?
ME: I don't know. I don't know. Maybe I'll say that, uh, I think maybe I'm to the point where I want to find out whether I'm ready to date or not.
PATRICK: I don't know if I want to inflict you on this person.
ME: I'll be cool. I won't be manipulative. You know me Patrick. I don't try to hide things. She'll know as soon as I know if I'm still a basket case.
PATRICK: Yeah. Maybe. I'll think about it and talk to her.

I laughed and so did he. And we said our good-byes.

I haven't gotten the details yet, but apparently, later that night, Patrick had a heart attack. In talking today to some folks who knew him, I learned it wasn't his first, and that his father had died of a heart attack. Someone recalled Patrick once saying he didn't think he'd get a lot of years. Maybe that explained the gusto he brought to life. He served on various committees and ran for City Council a couple of times, narrowly losing one bid. He was a man everyone in the industry knew or knew of and he was one of those people, from what I could see, who made the world a more interesting, richer place.
I've been sleeping more the last couple of weeks. I feel better. My view now is that if I can sleep a minimum of seven hours a night, and most often get eight hours, I will have a happier life.


I did a short run and a swim or two in the week following the October 9 Berryessa half, but with a cold settling in and then lingering, and with Niko under my exclusive watch for a long stretch, ended up doing nothing beyond walking to and from work for the week that followed. Now I'm getting back into it. Six days ago did an eight-mile run, slow and easy. Felt a little rusty but good. Swam 1000 yards yesterday, first swim in 10 days, and that was freaky. Whoa, water! By the end of the swim it began to make sense again. Then I did an evening run and that was remarkable. I didn't feel strong, exactly. I could tell my stamina was limited. But my legs had never felt fresher. I'm sure that I could have done a PR for a 2- or 3-miler (not that I have a known PR for either of those distances). This leaves me thinking that rest is good.

Did I say that already?

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Napa Vintage Half-Iron Triathlon
What next? That's what I'm wondering now. One thing is certain: No more triathlons this year. Last Sunday's half-iron swim-bike-run gaggle up at Lake Berryessa marked the end of the season. ("Season." That's far too grandiose a term to describe my periodic exertions, but anyway it's over.) It ended well. The sun shone; the field was small and friendly; I didn't fall or flat; I didn't barf; and I started what I finished.

Took me six hours and fifteen minutes, which is more than half an hour longer than my best half. But it was a tougher course than Vineman. Part of the swim went right into the damn sun and most of the time I was either off-course or stopping to see if I was off-course yet. And then I turned at a buoy when I was supposed to go straight and one of the kayak dudes had to redirect me. That cost me a minute and some pride.

Nevertheless, when I did know my way my swim was steady and relatively strong. I climbed out of the water onto the concrete boat ramp at Putah Creek Resort about 39 minutes after the starting horn blared.

The bike ride was beautiful, through the rolling hills that divide our mild, Mediterranean inland valley from the Big Valley, with its wicked hot summers and cold fog-bound winters. The terrain was brown and the grasses and the trees seemed crisp and just about ready for the rainy season to begin. Aromas of sage, fennel, hay and other plants were carried by the breeze, which blew from the northwest at first then turned a bit and came warmer from the northeast. We never quite had the wind at our backs, nor did it ever feel like we had to fight it. But there were always hills and twists and turns. It was a ride where developing a rhythm wasn't easy. And, too, with only 88 athletes going (and a healthy number dropping out along the way), it was lonely out there. There were stretches of 10, 15 miles where I didn't see a single rider. This made it a challenge not to take it easy on the ride, which was fine. From the start of the day my body had felt a little off, my throat a bit scratchy and my sinuses congested. I mostly convinced myself that it would be dangerous to dip deep into the energy pool -- everything I had would probably be necessary just to finish. So I didn't hammer any climbs and I coasted the declines. Once or twice I scolded myself for being such a weenie, but then I told myself that maybe this year, maybe this October, maybe this day, just being out there was proving enough to myself.

Anyway, the suffering would come. What was it about that run? Well, I was on the asphalt between 1 and 3 p.m. and the temperature was 85 degrees and there was no shade, so that wasn't ideal. They had us go about 2.2 miles out and 2.2 miles back, once, twice, three times. Each time out, there was about 200 feet of vertical ascent and 100 feet of vertical descent. And of course the reverse coming back. The big climbs came on long, gentle curves, giving you a long opportunities to contemplate the hard work ahead.

The mind games this setup engendered were interesting and intense. On the plus side, it was easy to measure my progress. At each turnaround I could do a simple calculation: One-sixth done. One-third. Halfway. Etc. But I found this focus on where I was -- on, When will this agony be over? -- to be tiring and distracting. I felt disconnected from my actual performance, clueless as to how hard (or not) I was going. My first out-and-back split was around 36 minutes -- well under nine minutes a mile. Then came splits of 42 and 46 minutes. Who knew? All I knew, constantly, was where I was on the course and what that meant I had done and had left to do.

When I headed toward the start/finish for the last time the guy at the turnaround said, "How many is that?" "That's it," I said. "I'm done." The PA guy overheard me and said, "That's Pete Danko from Napa. Stick a fork in him, he's done."

I picked up my medal and a bottle of water and headed down the ramp into the water -- 66 degrees, they said. That was a good ten minutes. Then, as I gathered my gear and took it to the car, the PA guy reminded us about the "great beef enchilada dinner" that was waiting for us. The mere thought had my stomach doing flips, so I picked up my T-shirt and began the hour and a quarter drive home. After about 15 minutes, my body was screaming for calories. I pulled over at a little grocery and got a ginger ale. Sipping it felt like I had been hooked into an IV; my muscles and stomach relaxed, and the fuzziness in my head began to clear.

The morning after, on Monday, I woke up with a full-fledged cold, concentrated in the sinuses. So: That was a triathlon done at less than 100 percent. OK. That explains some things.

Now I'm feeling significantly better. I did two very light swims during the week and am contemplating an easy, not-long run this morning.

Here's what I'm thinking for the next few months: Run, run, run. Long slow runs. Low intensity! And maybe -- if I can swing it with the work and family schedule -- do the Death Valley Borax Marathon on December 3. I love triathlon, but sometimes the effort and complexity of putting together the three disciplines can feel like too great a burden. Plus, the races are becoming outrageously expensive. I was going to do an Olympic distance tri in November, but it was $125 for early registration, and $140 for regular registration. Meanwhile, I can do a marathon in one of the more amazing spots in the world for less than half that.

The numbers:
Swim: 39:29
T1: 4:43.2
Bike: 3:23:17.1
T2: 2:40.4
Run: 2:05:17.4
Total: 6:15:28.3
17th out of 34 male finishers

Friday, October 07, 2005

Weekend Fun
The best laid plans.... Niko is ailing, though just one of the 2-a-day-for-10-days Amoxicillin doses prescribed by Dr. Carrillo appears to be making inroads already. It really is a whopping dose: He's getting 1,250mg of the stuff a day, about 60mg/kg of body weight. Always-dangerous Internet research shows this is the new protocol for ear/sinus infections (Niko apparently has the latter), after years of 20-40mg/kg being the norm.
Meanwhile, I've got a scratchy throat and feel run-down. Harbinger of things to come? I'm guessing not. I think the half-iron action will happen on Sunday. Maybe not "as planned," but it'll happen.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

2,192 Days!
That converts to six years. Happy birthday, Niko!

Saturday, September 24, 2005

In today's Times Magazine:
Nor can we know ahead of the fact (and here lies the heart of the difference between grief as we imagine it and grief as it is) the unending absence that follows, the void, the very opposite of meaning, the relentless succession of moments during which we will confront the experience of meaninglessness itself.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Race Angle
I never bought into the view that the federal response to Hurricane Katrina was evidence of President Bush's malevolence toward black people. To me, the more likely explanation had its roots in a general disdain for the value of government to aid people in getting through life's inevitable and often unavoidable challenges; and sheer incompetence. I mean, the man is a boob, no? Anyhow, Harry Shearer notes HK's impact was not felt by people of color alone, and in hard-hit largely white middle-class areas help has been slow to arrive.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

American English
I don't know; I like the semicolon.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

The thing about riding alone -- for me -- is that I so easily convince myself that I can cut it short. Up Veeder, down Dry Creek, ah, what the hell, that's enough. Thirty miles. An hour and 45 minutes. Good ride but, c'mon: blah!
Let the Mystery Be
I've never been sure how a run or bike ride or swim is going to go. I've been surprised many times. But there have usually been larger, recognizable patterns playing out. I'd be having "a good month" or "a tough couple of weeks." That kind of thing. And the workouts would rarely stray too far from the trend line. Now? No telling.

Thursday I swam about a mile, then did a little 5-mile run in the evening. Wasn't up for any more than that. It was OK. Last night, I skipped my scheduled afternoon swim, walked three miles instead, then when I got home decided to run. The plan: 6 or 7 miles.

After about five strides I said to myself, "My legs feel good." The weather has been unusually cool this September, with the fog persisting past noon and temps peaking in the low 70s -- and by evening dipping deep down into the 60s, with the south wind howling. But yesterday the morning gloom burned off a little earlier and the temps bumped five or eight degrees higher. There was a hint of our typical end-of-summer warmth in the air, deliciously. Was I inspired?

I ran out toward the river by the Yacht Club, then turned around and headed south to the restored wetlands on the edge of town. Hopped the fence, trespassing. Did the 0.8 miles on the old paved road, then hit dirt and circumnavigated that strangely placed Pinot vineyard, running along the levees. Where I was, the sun had dropped behind the western hills, but it still shone bright on the eastern edge of the valley. The skies were clear except for a few wisps of pink-edged clouds just to the left of Mount St. Helena. I scattered some ducks and a great egret on my first 1.1-mile loop around the vineyard, and a few jack rabbits darted out onto the levee, blazed a zig-zagging path, then dived back into vineyard.

I ended up running 10 miles, exactly, in an hour and 18 minutes. That's about 7:50 per mile, which for me is fairly fast. My left hip began to ache, as it always does around Mile 10, but otherwise I was strong and fresh at the end. It was my best run in months. It came out of nowhere. This morning, I'll go out an ride 50 miles or so. No telling how it will go -- until it's done.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Start with Apricots
Don't know where they got their info, but it looks pretty legit: the 29 healthiest foods.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Napa River Delta Blues
When Niko and I finally emerged from the house -- many hours after his 6:10 a.m. wakeup, and after the vacuuming, laundry folding, spider catching, Katrina tracking, duck drawing, raccoon drawing … oh, yes, and the preparing and consuming of egg-white scrambles, waffles, blueberries, faux-meat sausages and potato pancakes -- we were struck by the afternoon heat. Not wishing to drive far, but seeking cooler air, we raced down to Carneros. "What are we going to do there?" Niko asked. "Explore," I said.

Heading south from the highway on Cutting's Wharf Road, the rolling hills flatten and the vineyards become scattered, eventually giving way to marsh. On the horizon, distant, are Tam and Diablo, even Sutro Tower (I think). That wide-open quality is what I like best about this part of Napa County. Our valley is narrow and I sometimes feel the Mayacamas and the Vacas squeezing me. For those of us in the business and maybe those not, too, half of the time it's nothing but wine, everyone everything everywhere wine until you want to sream. The other half of the time, at home, one settles in for the familiar debate, You Fucked Up vs. You Got Fucked Over (no matter who wins, you lose).

Carneros is a soft landing, quiet, bird-filled -- but quirky. Empty spaces with no good prospects. We saw pretty, modest homes with pear orchards and flower gardens and we saw many, many ramshackle properties that suggested escape from somewhere was the only point. "There are a lot of no-through-road roads here," Niko noted. And roads that, after a spell, are "Not Maintained by County." We walked a few levees. We stood on an arched one-lane bridge over a tiny tributary, just a few feet above the reedy expanse yet above it all. It occurred to me that you could spend a long time getting to know Carneros. Or, better yet, in Carneros, a long time unknowing things.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

In Print
A visit to the Copia Kids Garden leads to an appearance in the SF Chronicle. Check out the full story, or read the relevant excerpt:

Before we left, we made one last visit to the chickens. There I met a veteran of sustainability. He had just purchased a basket of strawberries for himself and three potted basil plants for his mom. Niko, 5, agreed with me that the chickens are the best part of the garden.

He and his mother, Rebecca Bateman of Napa, have watched the Kids Garden grow since its inception. They come at least once a month to see what's new in the garden and to check on the animals. At home, Niko grows tomatoes and pumpkins on the roof along with millet for his pet parakeet. I asked Niko what he likes best about gardening and he said, "The way the garden changes ... well ... you know ... the evolution of the garden."

As we left, I had a good feeling knowing that there are children in the world being taught about what healthy food is, where it comes from and how to take care of the environment so that it will continue to provide for generations to come. Even my kids said they had fun and wanted to come back. Maybe we'll even see Niko again.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Good News!
Niko has agreed to hire me as Public Relations Manager for the Ducktective Co. when it is up and running. And the reversal of the workweek that he has long advocated -- five days off and two days on -- will be implemented at all Ducktective offices and factories. "But," he added, "it will be two very long, very busy days."

The Duckdective Co. will be a dynamic leader in the inventions category, with an emphasis on products that involve conveyor belts, either in their manufacturing or ultimate use. Carbonated milk and the bagless, incinerating vacuum cleaner are already in the development stages. Other ideas announced tonight include a device that will stir food while it is in an operating microwave oven, and something to do with cat doors.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Tired. Tired of needing so much. Tired of thinking I need so much. Tired of not knowing. Anything.

Stupid. Stupid and sad and stuck.

I loved the air today. The afternoon breeze, charging through the gate and off the bay and over the marshes directly south of here, was cool and felt like fall.

Niko in bed, just before lights-out, his sheet pulled up to his neck, his hair pushed back from his forehead: loved that the best.

Today, I spoke to a kind and exuberant and beautiful woman about wine. Can't beat that.

So what about that stuff? Those moments. Those experiences.

I suppose I need to count them on the other side of the ledger -- they belong it seems on the not-stupid, not-sad and not-stuck side. Or maybe I need to put a fucking match to the ledger, stop assessing, delete this puke of a post and pull my head out of my self-indulgent whining ass. Or, alternatively, my self-indulgent whining head out of my ass. Whichever.

This much I know: I'll go to the pool tomorrow dreading all the laps ahead of me, dreading them more than death it seems. But I'll get in. And about two-thirds of the way through, around the mile mark, I'll realize that I'm alive and, fuckin-a, perhaps in charge of this thing my life.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

I alluded a few posts ago to Lance Armstrong's recommendation that his rival Jan Ullrich begin the Tour a few pounds lighter. What follows is a noted triathlon coach's thoughts on body weight, how best to reduce it, and athletic performance:

Around the time of the Tour de France there are often questions about how an athlete should go about losing weight in order to climb better. There’s little doubt that being lighter means climbing faster. Pro cyclists who contend for the yellow jersey, the polka dot jersey or who need to support their team leader in the Alps and Pyrenees try to be lean by the time the terrain turns upward. The best climbers are generally less than 2 pounds of body weight for every inch of height (divide your weight in pounds by your height in inches to find this number). It’s rare to find a rider in the pro peloton at 2.5 pounds per inch or greater. A lot of them who are not climbing specialists are around 2.1 to 2.2. The latest average I have for the TdF field shows an average of 2.151 pounds per inch (thanks to Gregory Byerline for providing that data).

Every pound of excess fat shaved from your body saves you about 3 watts in a climb. In running it is something like 2 seconds per mile per excess pound in a race. For most endurance athletes, a 1-point shift in weight-to-height ratio means about 5 percent loss of weight—around a 7- to 9-pound loss of love handles. That can be done safely over a two-month period if there is a big A-race with lots of climbing or the need to run faster on the calendar a couple of months from now.

How is it best for an athlete to lose weight? Unfortunately, there have been few studies of serious athletes that looked at this question.

One group of researchers, however, has examined the issue in an interesting way. They compared eating less to exercising more to see which was more effective in dropping excess body fat.

They had six endurance-trained men create a 1,000-calorie-per-day deficit for seven days by either exercising more while maintaining their caloric intake, or by eating less while keeping exercise the same. With 1,000 calories of increased exercise daily—comparable to running an additional 8 miles or so each day—the men averaged 1.67 pounds of weight loss in a week. The subjects eating 1,000 fewer calories each day lost 4.75 pounds on average for the week.

So, according to this study, the old adage that “a calorie is a calorie” doesn’t hold true. At least in the short term, restricting food intake appears to have a greater return on the scales than does increasing training workload.

Notice that I said “on the scales.” The reduced-food-intake group in this study unfortunately lost a greater percentage of muscle mass than did the increased-exercise group. That is an ineffective way to lose weight. If the scales show you’re lighter, but you have less muscle to create power, the trade-off is not a good one.

How can you reduce calories yet maintain muscle mass? Unfortunately, that question hasn’t been answered for athletes, but it has been for sedentary women. Perhaps the conclusions are still applicable to athletes.

In 1994, Italian researchers had 25 women eat only 800 calories a day for 21 days. Ten ate a relatively high-protein and low-carbohydrate diet. Fifteen ate a low-protein and high-carbohydrate diet. Both were restricted to 20 percent of calories from fat. The two groups lost similar amounts of weight, but there was a significantly greater loss of muscle on the high-carbohydrate, low-protein diet. It appears that when calories are reduced to lose weight, which is more effective than increasing training workload, the protein content of the diet must be kept at near normal levels. This, of course, assumes that you’re eating adequate protein before starting the diet, which many athletes aren’t. When training hard, a quality source of protein should be included in every meal, especially when trying to lose weight.

--Joe Friel,

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Gone Fishing
It is starting to make sense, the instruction from the swimming manual to be "fish-like" in the water. Long and fluid. Sleek. Knifing through the water. OK, I'm the clumsiest, klutziest fish in the pond, but I'm starting to feel it. Three and a half years after taking up swimming, thousands and thousands of torturous laps later, I'm starting to feel it. And the confirmation is on the clock, where I see myself clicking off an endless string of 55-second 50s without tiring a bit. Slow as that is, it's faster and easier and clearly more efficient than before. What to explain this transformation? Lots of swimming. Three or four days a week in the pool all summer, then six days last week and already three days this week. Plus, as I mentioned, those three-plus years. You live in the water, you get fish-like. A little bit, at least.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Vine Times
Why, yes, I do live in Napa and, indeed, I toil in the wine industry. Been a long time since I said anything about matters of the grape. Nothing profound to offer tonight; just three quick items:
1) Tony Hendra has, rather provocatively, reviewed the new McCoy bio of Parker. Fun read.
2) My pal David Darlington writes in the Times mag about Leo McCloskey, who feeds heartily off the wine industry's assumption that Parker has vast powers. Go here for that elucidating piece.
3) Finally, tonight with grilled turkey cheeseburgers, a salad of freshly picked tomatoes, and a pile of rosemary potatoes with diced grilled red bell peppers, I enjoyed Cuvaison's 2001 Merlot Carneros. Based on many tasting experiences now, I am convinced that the region is as exciting for Merlot and Syrah as it is for Burgundian varietals.
Recently, my parents, grandmother and Auntie Margaret were over for the day. It was Margaret's first visit to the house so we took her on a tour. In the course of the tour someone pointed out a photograph, taken from the back window of Niko's room, of Niko and me on the hammock. If love could be boiled down to its pure essence, it would be this photograph:

A father and his son in the warm evening glow. Niko is reclined on top of me, his head propped up against my leg. We are facing each other and he is examining something he is holding in his hand and he is (I am sure) spinning brilliant theories about the object and its origins or use. In the photograph, the object is just barely too small to decipher. The stuff of our family life is scattered around us on the ground, brown now in early fall beneath the big oak. On the left edge of the photo there's a wading pool, empty but for a few clumps of leaves. Below, there are a couple of chairs, one wrought iron, another from an old dining-room set. There's a colorful plastic tee with the fat yellow bat nearby. There's a bunched up silver tarp, with Sammy Cat just off the edge, peering -- as he often does -- at something knowable only to him. There's also a bucket of water with one of my winemaking siphons in it. No doubt Niko had been siphoning earlier.

Looking at the photo, it occurred to me: My ex created that. One evening during our allegedly loveless marriage, she stopped what she was doing, grabbed the camera and captured that moment.

Photography is as much art as any other form. Beauty in art rarely comes by accident. And this beautiful photo, this picture of overwhelming tenderness and sweetness, was made by my ex. Could she have created it if she didn't see and feel and hold love for our lives -- for me -- in her heart? A classic technique of abandoning marriage is to revise the history; my ex wants to believe there never really was love between us. I see now where there was pain and poor communication and even meanness -- as in most human interaction. But there was love, as well. Tons of love. The evidence is everywhere, I am sure of it. Which leaves me, where, exactly? Where I was before, where I have been since this started, where I will be, it seems, for a very long time: drifting deep in sadness. Sadness for myself for what I have lost; sadness for her for the pain that drove her to destroy so much that was beautiful.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Out There Running
So what in the world's come over you
And what in heaven's name have you done
You've broken the speed of the sound of loneliness
You're out there running just to be on the run

Well I got a heart that burns with a fever
And I got a worried and a jealous mind
How can a love that'll last forever
Get left so far behind

--John Prine

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Half Vineman to Me: Here, Pete; I Have Your Ass for You
Today I entered a new realm of triathlon. I sucked. Wait -- don't be alarmed! I'm not brimming with self-loathing. I'm actually proud of my performance. The run was 2+ hours of hell, yet I never stopped. I ran the whole thing. I ran slowly, but I ran it and in the end they gave me my medal and I look at it, right now, and say, "I earned that thing."

But I still sucked.

I'm not sure what my time was. Somewhere around 6 hours, more than 20 minutes slower than last year's 5:38 and 15+ minutes slower than my first Half Vineman, in 2002.

What happened? Two things: First, in my so-called training, I didn't put in the necessary work on the bike. Gordo has said many a time that the bike is the heart of long-distance triathlon. "The bike is the engine," is how he's put it, the idea being that if the engine isn't powerful and well-tuned, the athlete will come out of the bike in no position to run well. My story, in a nutshell. In poor cycling shape, I nevertheless splitted under three hours, making it a typical Half Vineman bike for me. But getting that time zapped me. Typically, I come off the bike and uncorked a couple of 8-minute miles and only slip by about a minute-per-mile over the course of the 13.1-mile run. Today, my first mile was 9 minutes. My second was 10. My legs were shot. It was all I could do to turn out 10-minute miles the rest of the way.

There was also the matter of hydration. My wave was second-to-last of 16 to go, each separated by 8 minutes. By the time we started our swim, at 8:45 a.m., the fog deep in the Russian River Valley was already burning off. On the bike, I never felt hot and never felt thirsty, so I didn't drink much -- probably about half what I remember consuming in previous Half Vinemans. By the time I began running, I realized I was parched. I drank a couple of cups of water, and sips of Gatorade, at every aid station (every mile). My stomach took it reasonably well, and after each station, I'd feel stronger for a couple of minutes. Then I'd fade. This repeated over and over again.

OK, so how dehydrated was I. Well, three hours and a probably a half-gallon of fluids later, my weight was still down almost 6 percent. This is serious dehydration, friends. (Check out this link; I was shocked.) Now, another hour and a sandwich and a liter of water and a beer later, as the cooling evening breeze kicks in and blows into the office here, I still feel very hot.

So, OK, I sucked and I was stupid.

But hey, as I said above, that's OK. I started, I finished, I learned. Now I'm going to get ready -- really ready -- for a cool local half coming up in October. Half Vineman handed me my ass today and the Napa Valley Vintage Half is going to pay for it!

UPDATE: Official numbers are in.
--0:40:30.9  on the swim (fantastic, a PR);
--3:03:11.5  on the bike, but they didn't have a T1 for me, so it looks like they folded my usual 5-minute transition into the bike time, which means I biked a 2:58;
--a 4 1/2-minute T2 (awful; couldn't find my bike for a full minute, then when I tried to put on my tri shirt I found I'd pinned my race number through the front and back of the shirt, making it impossible to put on);
--and the aforementioned hideous run, 2:15:45.6, between 20 and 25 minutes slower than my previous Half Vineman runs.
--total time was 6:03:54.7; this left me a surprisingly high 144th out of 234 in my age group, which suggests I wasn't the only guy to suffer from a, uh, drinking problem.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Warming Up
The temperature shot up to over 100 in the valleys around the Bay today. I got in my workout -- 45 flat miles of steady, hard pedaling-- early enough to avoid much heat, but I couldn't avoid wondering what might happen next Sunday, at Half Vineman, if we have another day like this. My age group hits the water at 8:34 a.m., which means I'll probably begin the half-marathon run portion of the race sometime between noon and 12:30. Yikes.

One other quick tri-related thought: Saw a quote from Lance that Ullrich's problem has been that he isn't in quite the shape he needs to be as the Tour begins. Specifically, Lance said the big German needs to be a kilo and a half less-big when the race starts. This was a reminder of how important Lance sees body weight. I've seen many references from him regarding his own weight. Clearly, he works harder than anyone to find that sweet spot of maximum power and minimum weight.

Me? I could easily be six or seven pounds lighter without sacrificing any strength. How much time would that cut off my 56-mile bike split?

Friday, July 22, 2005

Today's Mystery
We do not know today whether we are busy or idle. In times when we thought ourselves indolent, we have afterwards discovered that much was accomplished and much was begun in us."

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Road Trip
Niko and I are back from our southern sojourn, our jolly jaunt to San Diego County for my sister Liz's wedding . We drove 1,100 miles in just over four days, did a night-before-the-wedding party, the wedding, Legoland and I snuck in a 9-miler on foot and a 40-miler on the bike. It was all grand, even the 400 miles of I-5 that we conquered Monday evening/night. Fellow cyclists will want to know I found the ride on the excellent website of the local Sierra Club chapter and while it was never stunning or even lovely, it provided plenty-interesting exploration. It seems so obvious but it bears repeating: You see so much more on the bike than you do in the car. What stood out most starkly about this harsh and brown part of the world is how relentless, god-awful and phony the development is. I noted this as well on my long run, conducted in post-noon blazing heat up in southwestern Riverside County, in Murrieta -- everywhere you turn you find a new housing development going up with some cheesy name intended to suggest that the tract is unique from the one to the north, south, east or the west. Rancho This, That Bluff, Some Crest, Quite-A Canyon.... It all just reeks of cheap, stupid marketing. But I guess in California, you don't have to market a housing development well, do you? There are plenty of prospective buyers making the rounds in Lexuses and BMWs, not troubled at all by signs that say, "Starting in the low-800s."

Back to the ride: Mostly it was on wide roads snaking their way through the canyons, softened by grading. Bike lanes and wide shoulders everywhere -- good. Aggressive drives and lights always turning red every mile or so -- bad. I made a wrong turn that added a few miles to the trek, but no big deal. I got close enough to the ocean to enjoy the seabreeze and I went hard at the steady climb up Pomerado, well into the ride. Good stuff. Thanks to the grandparents and great-grandma for watching Niko while I played!

Monday, July 04, 2005

Making the Grade
"No breaks, no shade, no fun" -- that's what earned Oakville Grade the top spot on one man's list of the toughest Napa climbs. After tackling the hill today for the first time this year, I concur. Six-hundred and fifty feet in a mile in the afternoon sun. Man. But I made it, and continued on up to the Veeder summit. (One of the fascinating aspects of riding Mt. Veeder Road is the microclimates you pass through. I'm talking micro, tight 20- or 30-yard redwood-shrouded stretches that get no sun ever and the temperature drops 20 degrees, only to rise 30 when you pop into a perpetually sunny spot around the bend. Just one more thing you notice on the bike.)

Today's ride marked the beginning of a big week as I try to pull things together for Half Vineman on July 31. This is my fourth year in a row doing the race and I've improved my time each of the past two years. Despite the sketchy nature of this season's workouts, I have it in my head that I can take last year's 5:38:23.4 down to 5:30. Here's the recipe, with last year's times and this year's goals:

Swim…….42:58.7 / 41
T1…………4:48:6 / 4:15
Bike……2:54:58.0 / 2:52:30
T2…………3:25.7 / 3
T2……...1:52:12.2 / 1:48:15
Total…...5:38:23.4 / 5:30

Yeah, I've got myself saving a minute in the transitions. I've done no special training or practicing in order to make that happen; I just know that in the past, I've made no effort to be quick in the transitions. This year I will.

Anyway, the key to preparing myself for a good race-day effort: Getting in three rides of 50+ miles in the next two and a half weeks.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Again with the Racing

Today I raced. In subpar shape after a spring and early summer of illness, business and generally sporadic training -- a friend described the phenomenon as "barely holding onto fitness" -- I went out and did the San Jose International Triathlon (1.25K swim, 40K bike, 10K run).

It had been since Half Vineman -- mid-summer last year -- that I raced. In the interim I did run a couple of marathons but for me that's not racing; that's called surviving. This race is just a couple miles from my parents' house, the house I grew up in, so I drove down yesterday evening and slept in one of those tiny kid beds in what used to be the room I shared with my brother Phil but is now Mom's sewing room. The birds woke me ten minutes before my 5:30 alarm was to go off. Good! A few extra minutes always come in handy on race morning, to be spent (as they were this morning, for example) standing in line at the portapotty, then jogging back to the car to retrieve the forgotten goggles.

In good time, there I was, in my wetsuit and my maroon swimming cap (marking me a male, 40-44), standing in a couple of inches of fetid Lake Almaden waters, waiting with my fellow tri tribe as the waves of age groups set off, separated by four minutes and practically catapulted forward by a booming cannon shot.

It occurred to me that I wasn't nervous. I wondered if this was a change from previous races, but -- customarily, not trusting my memory -- I couldn't be certain. I was dreading the swim, but that's par for the course. Mostly I was enjoying the scene and the scenery (lots of fit girls, people chattering about all the ailments that have held them back, that kind of thing), and speculating, to myself, about how I'd do. My thought: it wouldn’t be a bad showing if I finished 10 minutes slower than last year's 2:36, with most of the lost time coming on the bike.

We maroon caps finally got going and the swim in Lake Almaden featured many familiar elements -- thick green unappetizing water, guys swimming up your back, guys weaving back and forth in front of you and kicking you in the head (or, just as likely, me weaving and crashing into feet) and of course the indignity of the next group's leaders catching and leaving you in their wake. Despite all that, my level of distress remained low and I actually began to believe I was moving along OK. Not quickly, mind you, but better than usual. And sure enough, my time out of the water was 27 minutes, 23.3 seconds -- pretty awful, but about 90 seconds speedier than last year and 85th out of 134 in my age group. That's far and away my best swimming placement ever. Of course, I didn't know any of these facts at the time; it just seemed pretty good.

On the bike, we headed out of the park and turned south/southwest almost immediately, embarking on a flat, straight 13-mile stretch that would make up just over half the entire course. The marine intrusion was still howling up the valley and we were slogging right into it. Tough going, especially after we crested a little hill that takes you out of San Jose's development and into the farmlands between the city and Morgan Hill. I was down to 14.5 mph at a couple of points, and it was a bit discouraging. For awhile there, I thought I was looking at a horrid 1:30 ride, way off my 1:13 of last year. But of course, we enjoyed the benefits of this wind returning to the start/finish area on rolling McKean Road, just to the west over the first ridge of the Santa Teresa Hills (which front the Santa Cruz Mountains). Even with the wind pushing me along I worked hard, often cruising at 25, 26 mph, and I brought it in at 1:17:43.2 -- just four minutes off 2004. Not as bad as I feared -- but not nearly what it should be, ranking 100th in the age group.

Finally the run. I nearly matched my time from last year, finishing just seven seconds slower in 46:01.7, 34th best in the age group. And really, what was cool was that it felt, well, easy. I kept up a nice even pace (every mile was between 7:20 and 7:35) and was in control, just cruising.

So: swim not an embarrassment; sucky bike; great run. Add it up and you get an official time of 2 hours, 39 minutes and 0.1 seconds, 76th in the age group and 473rd out of 1100 finishers. Mediocre and, as always, utterly exhilarating.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Rilke. Always Rilke.
Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist, a marvelous living side-by-side can grow up for them if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole and before an immense sky.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

No vino
Did I mention I haven't been drinking wine the last few weeks? Oh, that's right -- I haven't mentioned anything! Blogger vacation. Recharding the batteries. Flaking. Just not into it. Well, anyway, yeah, it's been 17 days since I imbibed. Persistent sinus and throat problems were the impetus. More soon on this topic, as it is multifaceted. (Just wanted to get something posted to inspire me to get back in the flow here.)

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Or was it "plastic"? I could look it up, but why don't you and let me know. Thanks.

Anyway, what brings this classic line from The Graduate to mind is an encounter I had with an older guy at the Paterno Wines Tasting Room Tent at Indian Wells Garden Tennis Center (whew). When I mentioned that I lived in Napa and that it was growing with the flood-control project making development more attractive, he leaned close and whispered: "Buy. Buy real estate. Bust your balls if that's what it takes. But buy real estate. Do it, Pete. This is your chance. This is OK, doing this wine thing. But if you're ever going to get ahead, buy. Buy. Whatever it takes. Buy."

And you know, he's probabably right, this retiree from West LA who has settled in Sun City to live out his golden years with his bride of 40+ years under the desert sun. Or at least, isn't this the lesson any sane Californian would have learned from history?

Saturday, March 12, 2005

On the Road Again
If there is one definitive statement that could be made about the past five months of my life, it is that I have not been riding my bicycle. No-no-no -- the 45 minutes here or the hour there on the trainer in front of the television don't count. That is exercising. That is working out. That isn't riding the bicycle.

So today my friend Dan generously came up to Napa for the second time in a week and we went for a ride. We made our way through town onto the Silverado Trail, headed up the valley to Rutherford, sliced across the valley at Conn Creek, turned south on 29, did that pretty little jaunt on Yountville Mill, then cruised home down Solano (the 29 frontage road) and California.

A couple of quick observations on this 2-hour, 35-mile expedition:

1) It wasn't that hard. Riding with Dan took my mind off the work, so that helped.
2) Dan pulled my ass quite a bit. That helped too.

Seven weeks until Wildflower.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Napa Valley Marathon
The day after the marathon -- that's pay day. You get to eat anything you want and do nothing meaningful. Guilt-free.

Half a bag of Terra chips? Hell, I ran an f-ing marathon yesterday, get off my case. Back-to-back Rachel Ray's? Hey, 26.2 miles is a very long way; I earned this.

The only problem is personal locomotion. Up and down stairs especially. But that's all right. Once you've got the snack foods and yourself into position in front of the television, there's no reason to move much.

Special thanks to Dan and Kate for entertaining Niko while I burned Asics rubber on the Silverado Trail. You think three hours and 41 minutes of running is tough? Try taking care of a too-smart-for-his-own-good 5-year-old for SIX hours!

And truth be told, the run was a blast. Weather was spectacular, cool with patchy fog to start, then brilliant, not-too-hot sunshine. A couple of months of off-and-on-but-mostly-on illness left me in tough straits the last three miles. It had been nearly two months since I did a long run, and even that was a mere 16-miler. My muscles and joints simply weren't ready for the stress of 26.2. At Mile 23, my hips, thighs and knees were ablaze, ready to seize up completely. But as Krukow would say, by then this big hoss could smell the barn.

Now some splits for the amusement of the 22nd century history graduate student working on the dissertation, "Rise and Fall of the Weekend Warrior: Athletics And the Early 21st Century White American Male."

Miles 1-4………..33:11 (8:18/M)
Miles 5-8………..32:53 (8:13/M)
Miles 9-12………33:10 (8:18/M)
Miles 12-16……..33:30 (8:23/M)
Miles 16-20……..34:03 (8:31/M)
And the last 10K..54:11 (8:44/M)

Final word on marathons and other acts of personal courage and commitment comes from the aforementioned Niko. After Dan had explained to him that marathons are very hard to do, Niko replied: "I try to avoid doing hard things."
Cardboard. Paint. It's that simple. Go.

*Who Would Jesus Bomb

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Happy Valentine's Day!
A day early, but I'll be traveling tomorrow....

My own view of love, this Valentine's Day 2005? Paul Simon said it well in "Graceland":

And I see losing love
Is like a window in your heart
Everybody sees you're blown apart
Everybody feels the wind blow

And yet there goes Paul, bouncing down the road, pedal steel pushing him forward, and with these words:

And I may be obliged to defend
Every love, every ending
Or maybe there's no obligations now
Maybe I've a reason to believe
We all will be received
In Graceland

Thursday, February 10, 2005

After Work with the Crows
I've been listening to Counting Crows and loving their music. This is a band I don't hear anybody talking about these days. I'm guessing most of the hip folk see the Crows as woefully mainstream and tired. Well, whatever. I find their music powerful and inventive, the words lovely and provocative. Listen to "A Murder of One" or "A Long December" or "Recovering the Satellites." See if you don't agree. Do what works for you, by all means, but here's my MO: I get home from work, put the Trader Joe's Turkey Pot Pie in the oven (to be accompanied by a salad -- a bag of baby spinach with homemade honey-mustard dressing), go for my eight-miler, which feels good after having swum hard in the afternoon, get home, shower, take the pot pie out to let it cool, and then crank the music. A glass of wine (trading off with water; gotta rehydrate after the run) finds its way into my hand. Tonight it was a wacky old thing that had been buried in the scary basement of our office, a 99 Sokol Blosser White Reisling. Round and luscious, a little petrol, lots of apricot, kind of funky. Loved it. Anyway, it all went well together, songs about giving up and being given up upon, Turkey Pot Pie, five-year-old Oregon Reisling, the post-run high, the music vibrating through the floor, the anxiety fading, fading, fading into the slightest glimmer of rebirth. (Or was it simply the realization that it is all right and perhaps even proper to be angry, and to let that anger distill and to find its essence, to -- yes -- take oneself off the hook on this one. Completely.)

Workouts this week: Four swims in the 1500-2000 yard range, all just nonstop laps, just getting the stamina back; three runs, 5-8 miles apiece.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Running and Swimming
Well, it appears the extended illness of January 2005 will not go down in history as having permanently derailed my triathlon career. (I use the terms "history" and "career" loosely, of course.) Did a couple of runs earlier this week -- a 3.5 miler, then a 4.5 miler at 9 minutes/mile, then 10K in 48:40 (7:50/mile). Swam 1000 yards on Tuesday then 1500 on Thursday. No doubt I'm off my game, but not so much as I expected. If I had to, I'm sure I could run a 10-miler today in 90 minutes, or swim a mile in 34 minutes. I suppose that is the benefit of having trained more or less regularly (say, five to eight workouts a week) for three years.

So now it's time to get back on the bike after a three-month absence. I'm hoping my bike fitness returns quickly, but "hope" is not what will do the trick. There's time in the schedule to do rides on Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday mornings. Getting my ass out of bed and on the road -- that's the key. As always.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Health Report
On Wednesday I found out I had a touch of pneumonia. Just the beginnings of it, thank goodness. I shiver at the thought of a full-blown case, because this was bad enough: fever and aches throughout the body (head, joints), breathing difficulty, cough -- pretty brutal stuff. The doc gave me three big pink tablets. This was Zithromax, and each tablet contained 500 mg of the drug. I took one on Wednesday around noon. By dinnertime the fever was gone. By bedtime, the aches had subsided. By Thursday morning, I felt pretty normal again, until I went up and down the stairs a few times, which left me exhausted, my head spinning. And that's pretty much where I am today -- I've trended better but remain weak. I wonder how much of that is the infection and how much of that is the antibiotics? There's a lot of antibiotic in my body right now, since the idea with the Zithromax three-day course is (as the pretty fold-out Pfizer box says) that the drug builds up in your body and keeps working on days 4-10.

So the Napa Valley Marathon is five weeks away. I'm going to do it. I'm not going to do it in the 3:35 that I was thinking I might before this shit hit. And if I limp home in over four hours, that's OK. It's a strange thing -- part of the point of my training has been to give myself a precise idea of what to expect on race day. I wanted to know how hard I could push it. I wanted to know my time before the race even started. Now it's back to being a big fat mystery.

If all goes well, I'll do some walks in the next two or three days, then some light jogging the remainder of the week, just to remind my body that I'm a runner. Then I'll build up over the following two weeks to something in the 15-20 mile range. Then it's a two week slide into the race.

Hey, whatever. I'm not Frank-fucking-Shorter. Just a plodder struggling to put a little excitement and adventure into his life. I'll run.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Training Log: Jan 22 05
Friday afternoon I noted a sudden and significant improvement in my condition, so on Saturday I did a short run. Just 3.5 miles in about 32 minutes. Short and slow.

Now, two days later, I'm sicker than ever. The fact that Niko got hit with twin ear infections didn't help. He was up a bit and wanted to sleep with me and his tossing and turning and rapid breathing and sighing and moaning had me up literally the entire night Saturday. Then on Sunday we had friends and family over. It was great fun, but in hindsight not prudent. Soon after our friends Dan and Kate left, Niko starting shaking with the shivers. Gave him Tylenol and he conked out immediately, if fitfully. Then I started feeling lousy -- aches in the back, head and a pretty powerful general malaise. Then came the cough, from deep in the chest. At night, I got the shivers, too.

So now Niko is on antibiotics for the second time this winter (matching his total exposure to antibiotics for the first four years of his life), and I am suffering with a 102 degree temp (my usual is about 97.8, so this is pretty high, and it's rare). I stayed home from work today and it doesn't look good for tomorrow. I hurt all over -- except for my stomach. I've got an appetite. Another good and interesting symptom (or non-symptom) is that my sinuses aren't congested.

Anyway, which me luck. I'd really like to get back to working out again. Being down for a while makes me pine for even short runs, rides and swims. Now, I'm so tired and achy, I am going to crash. 'Night.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Falling off the Log
Training log has been absent for several days for a good reason: No training. I caught Niko's cold (Niko says Robert at school had it before him, so maybe we should call it Robert's cold). Anyway, I have walked every day, four or five miles. And I'm feeling better, except for a cough. So tomorrow I think I shall run.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

And It's ... No Good!
It's always been one of the weirder aspects of football: 59+ minutes of huge, insanely athletically endowed men crashing into each other, only to be followed by some runt who played soccer in high school (and, unlike everyone else in the NFL, never got the hot girls) trotting onto the pitch to decide the game. When one of these sidewinders sneaks it between the poles and over the bar, the deed is noted but only briefly. All too soon the focus returns to the stars. But should the little guy miss, oh, then he shall dwell in a deep, dark and very lonely place. Post-game, inevitably he will yield a quote to a crowd of reporters who just as inevitably will note that the piteous words were uttered "amid teammates who dressed silently around him." So it was for Doug Brien, who missed not once but twice today for the Jets against the Steelers. Well. At least we know this: No matter how awful you feel tonight -- no matter how disconnected from the world or bereft of love or just plain down in the dumps you are -- you got it all over Doug Brien.
Training Log: Jan 15 05
Swim: 1800 yards. I'm going through a period of weak motivation. In fact, I'm as unmotivated as I've been since I started doing triathlon a little more than three years ago. So just getting something done each day -- anything -- is a bit of a victory right now. I swam. Yipee!

Friday, January 14, 2005

Training Log: Jan 14 05
Run: 7 miles / 1:00:23 / 8:33 per mile pace. Hey! I did a slow run. Nice and easy until I stepped in a hole with my right foot and wrenched my left knee as I tried to keep my balance (and did). But I think everything is OK now.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Training Log: Jan 12 05
Run: 5.1 miles at 7:30 pace. Should have run longer and slower but just didn't have the time or the patience. That's life.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Training Log: Jan 11 05
Swim: 2000 yards. A lot of 175yd/25yd reps, freestyle/breast, the breast for recovery so I could be fresh enough to keep perfect form on the freestyle. But the freestyle sucked anyway until about three-quarters of the way into the swim. I guess that's what a week out of the pool does.

Walked 4 miles tonight under many stars, in the chill, it was good.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Social Security Crisis My Ass
Josh Marshall spells out well what a scam Bush and the Rs are trying to perpetrate:

The Social Security Trustees estimate that over the next 75 years the
program faces a budget shortfall of $3.7 trillion.
As we've noted previously and will again, the Trustees use a very pessimistic estimate of future economic growth to arrive at that figure. But, for the moment, let's stipulate to that amount.
$3.7 trillion is a lot of money.
But how much will the president's Medicare drug benefit plan cost over the next 75 years?
$8.1 trillion, say the Trustees of that program.
And over the next 75 years how much will the president's 2001 and 2003 tax cuts cost if made permanent, as the president wants?
$11.6 trillion.
So you add that up and you get $3.7 trillion we need to cover Social Security's shortfall and $19.7 trillion we need just to cover the costs of the two major domestic policy initiatives of the president's first term.
And yet Social Security, says the president, is in crisis and destined to chew through the rest of the federal budget.
Training Log: Jan 10 05
A lot going on today, so it was great to have the pool back open and sneak a swim in to bust up the day. Short swim and I had no feel for the water at all; nevertheless, good to do something that wasn't hammering my legs.

Swim: 1800 yards: 1x600; 25yards breast, 75 yards free x 6; 1x600

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Good-bye, Xmas

niko working in tree, originally uploaded by pjdwine.

It was a very good Christmas, featuring our most ambitious lighting work in five years on South Montgomery Street. So it was a pretty hefty project to get it all taken down and packed away. Thank goodness we had a skilled professional to help.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Fan Fade-Away
I was stunned today to learn exactly how far removed from the sports scene I've become (remember, I spent the first six years of my professional life as a sportswriter).

Now, mind you, I still pull the Sports section from the rest of the paper first thing in the morning, and I do look at Sportscenter from time to time. I just don't study these sports-news outlets very closely anymore, I guess. And I almost never watch pro football. And beyond the Giants, even baseball has become a challenge (Infospigot has written well on this topic).

Nevertheless, it was shocking to see this Yahoo sports headline this morning -- Schottenheimer Named AP's Top Coach -- and not have a clue what team Schottenheimer coached. I didn't even know if he was coaching in college or the pros! Turns out it's the San Diego Chargers, who apparently won 12 games and are in the playoffs. Who knew?
Training Log: Jan 08 05
Run: 15.63 miles / 2 hours exactly / 7:41 minutes per mile pace
Actually, this was a 2-hour run. In the first hour I covered 7.62 miles (7:52 minutes per mile pace) and in the second hour, 8.01 miles (7:29 min/mile). This was my first long run in prep for the Napa Valley Marathon on March 6. I had plan on doing two more longs, but am now reconsidering. This run was great and there's no doubt it will improve my muscle endurance, particularly. But I worry about the toll it takes on my body. After about mile 12, a lot of joints begin to ache -- not just the knees, which always ache on long runs (and actually, they weren't too bad today, but also the hips. I want to be fit on March 6, but I also want to be healthy. The new plan may be to stay in the 8-12 mile range over the next couple of weeks then go for 20 on January 29. That's five weeks before race day. I'm not suggesting I'd then do a five-week taper; I just think another body-crunching 18+ miler from then on in isn't going to make me faster on March 6. Instead, I see a week of mostly rest following the 20 miler (lots of walking), then a mix of 5 to 13 mile runs over the next three weeks, then an easy week heading into race day.

A few additional thoughts: I went pretty hard the second half of today's run and was well-whipped when it was over. I couldn't have sustained that pace much longer. This suggests to me two things: I can almost surely run a half-marathon at 7:30/mile pace; and I might be able to run a marathon at 8/mile pace -- though that's no sure thing.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Training Log: Jan 07 05
Just a lousy week on the triathlon front. That pool closure really threw me off my game. Today I went over to my old gym to pay $10 to swim in their crappy putrid choking indoor pool only to find they wanted $15 for the privilege. I thanked them very much and declined. So I walked at lunch, a mile or two, then walked three and a half miles tonight, first under clouds and stars then under rain. Praise the Lord he directed me to bring an umbrella. All thanks go to Him, you know. I'll see if I can do a run and a swim before Niko arrives tomorrow just after lunch....

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Training Log: Jan 06 05
I shouldn't even call myself a triathlete. All I do is run. Haven't been on the bike in weeks. Haven't swum since Monday. It's just run, run, run. Thing is, I'm enjoying it. No -- I'm not saying this is the way it's going to be from now on. It's just that right now getting deep into running feels good. I know I'm flirting with danger; the knees, man, the knees. But the simplicity and purity of running, always attractive to me, now have me in their thrall. May be that only an intervention by one or both of my biking pals will get me out of it. Save me, fellas, save me!

Run: 7.17 miles / 53:01 / 7:23 pace, not really working extremely hard, just running well and finishing hard.
Measuring Napa
In the course of conversation last night, Niko wondered how long Napa might be. He speculated 112 miles. (Hmm. The precise distance of the bike leg of an Ironman-length triathlon. Coincidence?) I thought it was a bit shorter than that. He asked, "How do we know?"

So it was that today, on the way to school, we set out to measure our fair burg. We began by driving to the south end of Jefferson Street where, courtesy the flood-control project, wetlands are burgeoning. Napa's city limits officially extend much farther south, but this is where the residential development ends. Beyond are those wetlands and a great gap between the city and the satellite business park at the airport.

Having pegged our southerly teminus, we drove north on Jefferson, which bisects the city north to south. At Imola, we noted the street and the distance in our notebook: 0.5 miles. At Old Sonoma, 0.8. And so on, past Oak and Lincoln and Trancas and Trower until we got to Salvador. Now, there is smidgen of housing beyond Salvador, but only a few blocks. And besides, Niko's school is east from Jefferson on Salvador, and it was 8:59, and school starts at 9. So we called this the end of Napa -- 5 miles! -- turned right and got to school. Niko excitedly shared the news about our discovery with Victoria, his teacher, then grabbed a wagon and began pulling it around the play area.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Desperately Needed: Solar Input
Eleven days without sunshine, and we Napkins are getting antsy. Me, anyway. I'd have to do some research to know for sure, but it sure seems like it didn't used to be this way in the winter: a month or two of sunny weather followed by six weeks of rain, then sunshine again and before you know it, we're well into spring. In the Bay Area of my youth, was there not a lovely mix -- two days of rain followed by four days of sunshine, interrupted by a day of rain, then five more days of sun, then maybe a week of rain and onward thusly? Ah, who the hell knows. In recent years the weather is an all-or-nothing proposition. And the forecast for the next week or so: bleak.
Training Log: Jan 05 05
No pool. Cold and wet in the morning so no ride (wimp). No time to run in the evening (Niko). So I took a 3-mile walk at lunch. That's fine. Sometimes in triathlon, less is more, as someone once said. (Who?)
PR in Action
Kudos to the PR Department at Wal-mart, which is probably called the "Corporate Communications Department," as such operations are at most larger companies because PR folks can't help but PR even their own identity.

Wal-mart had a bad November, with sales rising only 0.7 percent over the previous year, and its gain in December of 3 percent was solidly below the gain it posted last year, 4.3 percent. Yet there's the New York Times saying that "Wal-Mart, the country's biggest retailer, managed to come back with style."

Well, the PR people certainly did.

Faced with bad-to-mediocre news, Wal-mart spun a story of a near-miraculous comeback from the depths of retailer hell. The story begins with the Times recounting how a top company executive tracked on his Blackberry the unfolding bad news that hit on the day after Thanksgiving. "'At 7 a.m., I looked at the readings coming in from other states, and my gut feeling was confirmed,' he recalled in an interview yesterday. 'By 8 a.m., we knew we had an issue.'"

That's when fearless Wal-mart executives -- and even hourly employees, the Times notes -- sprung into action. They held meetings and developed ad campaigns and stuff, but mostly what they did was cut prices on key items. Sometimes it worked -- the rise in fleece sales was said to be "very significant" (note the use of imprecise but suggestively positive language). Sometimes it didn't. Sometimes we're not really sure. But surely they attacked the problem.

Was all this cost-cutting a little, uhm, dangerous? Wal-mart says, uhm, not really we're pretty sure maybe not we don't think so at this point. Here's how the Times put it:

"Still those markdowns did not cut significantly into profits, executives said. Tom Schoewe, Wal-Mart's chief financial officer, said that earnings should come in within the range projected earlier: between 73 and 75 cents a share for the quarter that ends in January. 'We haven't revised that estimate,' he said."

Again, note the suggestive but imprecise language. "Did not cut significantly into profits"; "should come in within the range projected"; "'we haven't revised that estimate.'"

What becomes clear in reading this story is that the Times desperately likes this tale of Wal-mart, the behemoth, acting nimbly to save the Christmas season. What also becomes clear is that it's not entirely clear that 1) what Wal-mart did was at all unusual (don't companies always track sales and lower prices to move items that are glued to shelves?); or 2) that what Wal-mart did was especially effective.

The Times says that "tomorrow, Wal-mart is expected to announce that December sales achieved a 3 percent gain over sales for December 2003." The Times doesn't say who expects this or where it got its information about these expectations; I'm going out on a limb and guessing Wal-mart. No matter. The Times likes this number because it's bigger than the 2 percent rise number that Wal-mart had put out last week. Success -- for the PR department.

Instead of just dumping a load of disappointing news out to the business world -- the 3 percent rise in December sales -- Wal-mart's PR folks deftly juxtaposed it against the 2 percent figure it "estimated" last week (and which, the cynic in me presumes, was a number Wal-mart was pretty sure it would actually beat), then fed the Times a lot of nice anecdotes and half-baked insider information to show how this victory was achieved. They recognized that how desperately media want to tell dramatic stories, and how bringing reporters inside your company -- giving them information they typically don't have access to -- can be so effective.

Beautifully done.