Monday, January 25, 2010

Carlsbad Half- In the Can


So the race is over and I have to say that it turned out to be a nice little surprise. Finished with zero pain or discomfort, had great running weather, and came in at a respectable time, given my irresponsible approach to training. Fredo, my brah who flew in from Chicago to run it with me, was equally unprepared, but we both ended up having a downright pleasurable race! A recap;

Registration at the Expo

I hate Expos. For those who have never attended one, most races, especially large ones like Carlsbad (10,000 runners), have an expo for a day or two before the race. It's in some hotel or tent near the start/finish line, and it's where you pick up your race number. You also get a goodie bag full of protein bars and pamphlets for every marathon within two time zones of your race. There will be rows and rows of booths selling everything from running shoes and clothing to free chiropractic exams. You pick up your t-shirt at the expo (but it's bad luck to wear it until you've completed the race), and maybe buy some other race gear.

But the reason I hate them is that they're full of runners. Now, I know- I'm a runner. Or I used to be an avid runner. Now I'm just a guy who runs every now and then. But you'll see people at the expo who actually put on running gear to register. That's right- you'll see dudes wearing running tights and ear muffs to drive into a mall to pick up their number. It seems to be more of a guy thing than a girl thing. It's almost like their egos are so tied to running, that even at an event held ONLY FOR RUNNERS, and where everyone is presumed to be a runner, they want to make sure you know that they run.

Lots of these dudes will insist on wearing t-shirts and jackets from races past. They will also make sure they try every free sample available at the expo- protein drinks, chips of protein bars, bananas, etc. Runners are also notoriously cheap. Don't believe me? Cut a protein bar into 8 equally-sized pieces and put them on a plate on a small table outside your house. Look out your window after 15 minutes and you'll see a group of skinny people wearing long sleeved t-shirts with race logos and running tights, chewing away at the samples while complaining how dry they are.

Anyway, we registered, got our shirts, and got the hell out of there.

The Pre-race Meal:

Most people insist on carbo loading the night before a race. Technically you're supposed to do it two nights before, but whatever. You typically eat pasta to lay a base for the race the next day. You want to avoid crappy or greasy foods, and anything with lots of caffeine or alcohol, as they both dehydrate you.

Fredo and I went to Leucadia Pizza for dinner. I had four Diet Cokes and a small cheese pizza. When we got home, I ate a sleeve of chocolate chip cookies and went to bed. Slept like a damned baby.

Race Day:

Runners are encouraged to lay out their running outfit the night before, pinning on their number then so they're not looking for safety pins at the start. They generally get to the race 60-90 minutes before to stretch and get a good place at the start line.

We left the house about an hour before the gun went off, and thanks to a shortcut, got there in 20 minutes. We waited in the car until the national anthem, then walked over to the start line without stretching or warming up. Loads of people running around the parking lot doing sprints, stretching out, and getting into the zone with their iPods. Fredo and I basically just checked our Facebook accounts on our phones until the last possible minute.

We both had Wave 1 bibs, which meant that we could be in the first 100 runners. But being lazy and unprepared, we slinked into Wave 3. Which meant it was 6 minutes from the start of the race until we reached the start line. Which was fine.

The weather was cool and having neither stretched nor warmed up, we were primed for pulling muscles. But being in a wave of probably a thousand runners, we were banging shoulders with the other runners for the first mile. It took us over ten minutes to get from the start line to the first mile marker.

The next few miles we settled in a bit, and from mile 4 on, I don't think anyone passed us. We got up to an 8:20 pace at the turnaround (mile 6.6), which felt great. We actually felt like we were going a little easy, so we picked it up a bit. No one could have been more surprised than us when we got to mile 7 and noticed we had gone from 8:20 to 7:50.

The rest of the race were were under the 8 minute mile pace. We started joking nervously that had we known we'd feel so good, we might have actually tried in those first 6 miles. So we picked it up again, and I think our last mile was about 7 minutes.

Super fun time. The crowds were great. The worst part of the whole race was the classic rock cover band at mile 2. Shockingly inept vocalist warbling a Doors cover on the way out. On the way back in, at mile 11, they were still playing. I think they were still doing the Doors an hour later.

We grabbed some acai smoothies at the post-race expo and got the hell out of there. By 11:20 we were having breakfast at the Beachside on Hwy 101, dug in for the AFC Championship game.

Soreness hit both of us at around 7 p.m., mainly when going up or down stairs. Otherwise, a consequence-free run.

So pleasantly surprised at our "success" that on the drive home from watching football, Fredo said, "Yanno, that race sort of makes me wonder what we could do if we actually trained for a race. Yanno? If we did speed work, and really followed a program for a couple months. We could probably run a 1:25."

Then we both laughed and ordered a pizza for the second game.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Running on Empty

I'm registered in next weekend's Carlsbad Half Marathon and I am not remotely prepared.

The worst part about it is that I'm not nearly as concerned as I probably should be.

Last year I set a PR in the Carlsbad half, clocking in 13.1 miles in 93 minutes. That's a 7:08 pace for anyone who doesn't appreciate my awesomeness. Ok, that was braggery but HELL, if a brother can't brag on a 1:33, about what CAN he brag??

Anyway, my come-uppance is 9 days away, so shut it. You'll get your satisfaction. I like to get about 20-25 miles a week in when training for a half. I would normally do 2-3 five milers during the week and a tenner on Sunday. That simple program has gotten me through a hell of a lot of races. I keep using the word "hell" a lot. I must have Pat Robertson on the brain.

But since I've started doing yoga, running has become the ginger step child of my workout regimen. In the past three months, I've been chalking up somewhere between 10 and 15 miles a week. My long run has been 8 measly miles. I'm going to shoot for ten tomorrow.

Fredo's coming out from Chicago to run it with me, and he promised that we could take it easy. Then, in what he genuinely meant as a measure of comfort to me, he suggested that we "go out easy and pick it up after nine miles."


I mean, come on. After nine miles of a race for which I didn't train, the only thing I'm going to be picking up are the pieces of my ego left strewn along the route, as 90% of the race passes me by.

My strategy shall be thus: start out slow, and pull back.


Tuesday, January 5, 2010


(I've been going through some of my old writing, and found this. I think it's the favorite thing I've ever wrote. I'm going to post a couple more. Hope you enjoy.)

The only finger left on Danny’s body was his right index finger and he called it “Slim.”

One of Danny’s favorite actors had been Mr. Slim Pickens (R.I.P.), and he felt that the name honored both the actor and the finger. It was a good finger because it got shit done. Danny could still, believe it or not, wrap it around a pencil and write his own name. A shitty, scrawly, little-kid-wrote-it looking name, but for court documents and welfare maintenance forms, it did the trick.

Danny was happy. It was a positively gorgeous day and he was on his way to pick up $120 million dollars. At least that’s what tonight’s jackpot was. Danny Phelan was quite sure that tonight was his night. He felt it. A strange calm like he’d never known before. In fact, he had already passed through the initial stages of disbelief and euphoria- he was now sailing through the acceptance stage, knowing that in a matter of hours, his ship would sail in. Tonight would be the night that the chick who used to do the weather, (whose name he forgot but who had since been replaced by a black girl with long straight hair and curves like the Monte Carlo), would pull out, in succession: 7-13-15-28-33-42, with the lucky ball… 11!

It was weird how Danny could sense things. He remembered when he lost his first finger, how he saw it coming months away. Danny had looked at his hand one day and understood that his left finger was not long for his hand. Danny’s whole left hand had gradually gone numb, and then eventually cold. But it took a period of months for his hand to fully rot away, finger by finger, knuckle by knuckle, whatever the rest of the hand is called by whatever the rest of the hand is called. But that first motherfucking finger… that was the bitch of the bunch.

Danny was sitting in the lobby of Jiffy Lube, waiting for the portly Mexican to return his car to him. There was an array of magazines available, all current, and Danny selected US Weekly. He loved the bit at the end where comedians made fun of celebrities who showed up at big time functions wearing ridiculous outfits. He particularly liked the one where Kevin Costner was wearing some contrived surfer outfit, and one of the comedians commented, “Dresses With Wolves.” “Fuck Kevin Costner and fuck his ten fingers,” Danny had thought.

As Danny sat in Jiffy Lube, waiting for the verdict on his Impala, he noticed that his left hand and his pinky in particular, was cold. Too cold. He had long put off visiting a doctor because he had no health insurance, and he figured the coldness and loss of motion was due to a hockey injury. Still, the fact that his pinky had turned black and flaky had developed into a full-blown preoccupation for Danny. When no one was around (which was most of the time), Danny would talk out loud to his hand and try to bargain the finger back.

”OK- you stay on my hand, and I won’t use you to pick my nose.”


Danny sensed that somehow the pinky knew that he was a right index finger nose picker from way back, so the pinky wouldn’t fall for that empty bargain.

“Alright, then if you stay on my hand, I’ll wash you every day. More than the other fingers. And I won’t touch anything hot with you, and I won’t use you in any fights. In fact, I’ll make you the president of all the fingers. You’ll be in charge. What do you think?”

No answer.

But the inevitable… well, it was inevitable.

Danny had been sitting in the Jiffy Lube waiting room, thumbing (with his right hand), through US Weekly, holding his left hand on his left lap. Occasionally, he would whack his left thigh with his left hand in the misguided hope that applying blunt trauma to his senseless limb would somehow resurrect its sensory capacities. By now it had become an unconscious habit- he’d bang on his thigh without even noticing. So it took a moment for him to recognize that at 1:17 p.m., he whacked his thigh and brought his hand back up one finger short.

There was his pinky, sitting on the floor like a little raccoon turd. Pleased as punch to be sitting there and offending everyone. Danny regarded his hand with something approximating admiration, rather than horror. “Holy shit,” he thought, “it’s gone.” Danny however, did not get up from his seat, nor did he place the magazine down.

While some might have seized such an opportunity to launch into a blood curdling stream of profane disbelief, Danny simply murmured, “Huh. That’s some fucked up shit there.”

Danny was nonplussed, because Danny was more laid- back than Ghandi on Xanax. He could observe the most shocking events with no more than bemused detachment. And so Danny looked at the departure of his finger with scientific curiosity, rather than abject terror. And so he simply sighed, picked the finger up with his left (and lighter) hand, and folded it in the US Weekly. The black, rotted little metacarpal would rest in the peace of a story about Christina Aguilera’s reported relationship with Justin Timberlake. Danny got up, threw the magazine and its little treasure into the trash can, and sat back down to wait for his car.

He wondered if there was some law that prohibited driving with less than ten fingers. He had no idea. He withdrew his left hand and noticed that the bloodless color that had consumed his erstwhile finger had spread to his left ring finger. It wasn’t looking good for the remaining tenants of his left hand.

As the next eight months unfolded, the remaining fingers on Danny’s left hand each made their exit one by one, like children going off to college. Perhaps the most embarrassing for Danny was his left index finger. He was in The High Street Pub, watching the baseball with the other regulars, when a base runner was thrown out attempting a steal. In fact, the base runner had been safe, and Danny loudly offered to no one in particular that the second baseman’s tag had never touched the runner. Reflexively, Danny pulled his left hand out of his pocket to point at the television (his right hand, growing more numb by the day, was clutching his Negro Modelo). As Danny pointed at the replay, the left index finger simply fell off as if it had been held there by a piece of tape. Ironically, the finger fell into his ash tray. Some elephants walk miles and miles to find their final resting place. Somehow they know. Danny wondered if this were the case with fingers as well.

The regulars, long aware of Danny’s declining finger population, pretended like they didn’t see anything, although for the rest of the afternoon, everyone’s liquor consumption increased dramatically.

Now, eight months and 9 finger departures later, Danny walked down North Avenue, just like he did every Saturday, with two Jim Beam and Cokes in his system, approximately half of one spleef, and a smile a mile wide. “Shit happens,” wasn’t just Danny’s philosophy, it was the phrase that woke his soul up every morning, sucked it off, and made it coffee. Danny still had two legs and a mind like a “government supercomputer,” as he’d tell people, and he was simply happy to be alive on this fine, fine day.

As Danny continued on, he wondered if there was some special group for lottery winners, where they could gather together socially and discuss the finer points of insane wealth. He hoped that if there were such a group, nickel and dime daily lotto winners weren’t invited. The top prize for the daily lotto was approximately $5,000.00. “What the hell would a five thousand dollar winner know about being rich,” Danny thought to himself as he chuckled his way down the street.

And then it happened.

Right there in broad daylight, Danny’s nose-picking days came to an abrupt, anti-climactic ending. With his left stump cradled in his jacked pocket, and his right stump in the other pocket, Danny instinctively knew that he was now fingerless. Having lost all sensation in his hand long ago, Danny did not have the capacity to recognize any sensation past either elbow. But somehow he knew, like a mother knows when her child is in danger, that at some point during the constitutional, his last remaining finger had bid him sweet adieu.

Danny resolved to put this one in a jar, with some of that liquid that preserves pigs and eggs and stuff. The finger deserved as much. It had once spent an evening charging and retreating into the nether regions of one Miss Melissa Boudreau, who had later gone on to a career as an exotic dancer at the John Steinbeck-themed strip club, “The Grapes of Snatch.”

Danny did not break stride, refusing to pull out and regard the stump where his last remaining finger once lived. He didn’t care. After tonight, he’d be able to buy ten new fingers and ten new toes (many of which were currently plotting an escape). Heck, he might even get one of those Hollywood plastic surgeons to give him a couple extra fingers, just in case.

Finally Danny arrived at the convenience store where he had played the various lottery games with religious zeal over the past 20 years. He ambled his way over to where a heavyset woman with brittle looking grey hair sat behind the counter. She smiled.

“Hiya Danny,” she said, “How ya feelin’?”

Danny smiled back and then ducked his head down into his shirt pocket and came back up with a five dollar bill in his teeth. He withdrew his finger-free stumps from either pocket, and used them like a pair of tongs to remove the bill from his mouth. He somewhat awkwardly placed the dollar on the counter and said, “How am I feeling? Lucky…”