Enlightenment versus Romanticism and Marathon Training

Is marathon training a product of the Enlightenment, the age of reason, or is it more a result of romanticism, seeking nature and intuitive feeling?  In the era of the Enlightenment, men, well almost only men due to the circumstances of the time, were not likely to be out running for sport or athleticism.  Descartes did not write, “curro, ergo sum”, or “I run, therefore I am.”  He did write “Cogito, ergo sum”, or “I think, therefore I am.”  Who were the famous people of the Enlightenment?  Sir Isaac Newton stands out.  His laws of motion laid the basis for centuries of physics study and they may say something about running.  A body in motion tends to stay in motion, while a body at rest tends to stay at rest.  A lot can be read into that statement, beyond the mere physics.  One pictures a runner who needs to get out daily and run or his or her day is not complete, versus the person lying on the divan waiting for divine intervention to get moving.  The second law states that the force exerted on an object is equal to its mass times acceleration.  Another way to look at that is the acceleration equals the force divided by the mass, meaning the lower the mass, the greater the acceleration.  So, when you lose weight, and get into running trim, less force is needed to get up to speed.  His third law about equal and opposite actions may be more applicable to ice hockey than running.  Other famous individuals include Baruch Spinoza, Immanuel Kant and John Locke.  They wrote about individual liberties, blending logic, reason and empirical knowledge, and religious freedom.  They represented those who felt selling indulgences was not the way to heaven, which began with Martin Luther nailing his ninety-five theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg.  I read this as one cannot buy himself into anything that takes dedication, work and time, never mind the implications to organized religion.  Our own Ben Franklin was a great thinker, inventor, writer, politician and leader.  He was not a runner, as far as I can tell.  He was part of the Enlightenment, and his words and works had great impact in his time and forward.  A reading of famous quotes from Poor Richard’s Almanac provides the curious with plenty of sayings to thinku about while running solo on a 20 miler.  Here’s a taste:  “The noblest question in the world is:  What good can I do in it?”  We’ll return to that thought.

How do romanticism and running relate?  Romanticism followed the age of reason, as a reaction to the scientific and industrial advances which seemed to obliterate the beautiful, natural and emotional.  To a scientist, Maxwell’s equations were beautiful, but to Lord Byron, beauty was found in nature, love, turmoil, adventure, and pleasure.  George Gordon Byron, called “Lord” because at age 10 he inherited the lordship of Byron, was born of a profligate father named Captain John “Mad Jack” Byron, a rogue and scoundrel who apparently had anger problems.  Lord Byron, a most famous figure of the romantic era, who wrote “She walks in beauty”, and a wealth of other poems, long poems, satires and tales, was an athlete and warrior.  This was in addition to being a lover, adventurer, cad, and debtor.  He was known for boxing and equestrian skills, and played cricket.  Many other authors, poets, musicians, and artists, including Jane Austen, Delacroix, Wordsworth, and Mary Shelley, who penned “Frankenstein”, defined this era.  Romanticism meant defying order, industrial progress, rigid attachment to religion and social norms, and seeking the whole of natural and human experience.  Does this sound like a marathon runner?  In many ways, I think it fits.  We train under all sorts of adverse conditions, from the sweltering heat of summer to the icy roads of winter.  We train in the dark, and in the rain.  We gather at the local pub to swap running stories while downing pints of beer.  Our goals may be ephemeral, enjoying the training as much as the racing.  We are smitten by the beauty of our co-runners, their form and grace.

When training for a marathon, we are drawn in by plans which prescribe the length, the pace and the frequency of our runs.  There are competing programs, and some swear by one while others will follow a different program.  Some, like scientists in a lab, will try different programs and measure success by the outcome of their latest race.  We use the latest technology of the day, GPS, Garmins, heart rate monitors, and smartphone apps.

Counter to this is the marathoner who just wants to finish the race and is not so concerned about a Boston Qualifier.  This is the runner who gets in the zone, and is focussed on the Zen of the run.  He or she is still facing the great challenge of 26.2 miles, a long run, but who eschews technology and goes for the feel.

Regardless of one’s perspective, what good can we do?  Does running a marathon help mankind or is it a personal indulgence so inwardly focussed to be useless to society?   This question could be fodder for pages of argument, but not here.  I would say it is both a personal indulgence and a way to enhance life experiences for many.  It keeps us fit.  It engages us socially, away from the desk and computer.  With the enormous growth in popularity of marathon running, it has become an economic boon for many cities.  I’ve been impressed and amazed by the support given by the crowds lining the course.  I think marathon runners set a great example of dedication to the supporters, who in turn provide us with encouraging cheers and clever signs to make it across the finish line.  My readers can let me know whether Enlightenment or Romanticism best represents the marathon runner, but ultimately, it is a noble effort.

Note 1:  Lord Byron’s daughter, Ada Lovelace, was an example of Enlightenment wrapped in Romanticism, designing the first type of algorithm used in an early type of computing machine.

Note 2:  the header photo shows Lord Byron’s scrawled name in a pillar in the dungeon of the Chateau de Chillon, where he was inspired to write “The Prisoner of Chillon”, photo by the author.

A Gibbous Moon Doth Shine

As I ran this evening along the path beside the lovely Cooper River, a shining gibbous moon was on the rise.  It seemed to pull me on, moving with me as I ran, never getting closer nor farther.  More than half, but less than full, it presented a beautiful picture in the sky. I got spellbound as I ran, but coming up to a busy intersection, I was snapped back to full alert state.  It was a subtle reminder, though, how the seasons are changing. There I was at 7:30 in the evening, and already the sun had set and the moon was clearly visible.   It has been warm this week, the warmest week of the summer.  I’ve been finishing my runs soaking wet from sweat.  When I take off my socks I can wring out a cup of sweat between the two of them.

The sound of cicadas would be impossible to describe to someone who had never heard one.  It is an unmistakable sound, though, and so typical for this time of year.  It is never one cicada, it is a crowd of male cicadas sending their messages to females that they are present and ready to mate.  The loudness of the song, and its constancy are remarkable.  As I ran along I listened for the much more delightful sound of a cricket chirping, but my search was unsuccessful.  If there was one it was drowned out by the blaring cicadas.

We are in the last throws of summer.  As the evening sky comes earlier, I am reminded that soon I will need to wear a head lamp.  While a definite safety feature, there is not much that is fun about wearing a headlamp.  It creates a sharply demarcated cone of visibility around my feet and a few yards in front of me, but shuts out the rest of the view.  Early morning runs on the weekends, also, will be dark, although made more pleasant by the lack of traffic compared with the evening weekday run.

Eating in the summer is always fun.  The fresh vegetables from local farms, the peaches, the tomatoes, and the small but significant harvest from our backyard garden make summer meals a festival.  My favorite, the blueberries, seemed to last particularly long this year.  I admit to being a blueberry addict.  I bought several ten pound boxes of them at the height of summer, and washed and froze them for my habit year round.

With colder days and longer nights, there is also an urge to indulge.  Football games with beer and nachos, colder temperatures driving up the appestat, and the diminishing supply of fresh garden produce yielding to potatoes, squash and other filling foods makes for a challenge against fitness.  With a marathon coming up in November, and my desire to be fit into the New Year, I must redouble my efforts at this time to stay the course, get in the runs, watch the calories, and not yield to temptations.  On the positive side, though, my hops are ready to harvest, and there will be another good Backyard Homebrew in the making in the near future.

The Salt Flats of San Francisco Bay

newarksalt

 

In 1850 in San Francisco, there was a commodity almost as valuable as gold, and it was plentiful. Not that it brought in the same reward, ounce for ounce, but it made a few individuals very rich. That commodity was salt. It was in easy reach, wherever the briny water of the bay lay very shallow, lapping on the littoral edge and drying in the sun. A white crust of salt on the sand and dirt was the result. The gold rush brought thousands to this mecca of fortune, but they needed to be fed, and salt was in high demand. To get it to the boarding house kitchens, though, took some ingenuity and very tough men. The southern and eastern part of the bay is a large flat expanse, and creating drying ponds for the salt crystals to grow was a natural for this area. Acres of space was available, and the early inhabitants of the area, the Ohlone tribe, had harvested salt here for centuries.  Former sea captain and failed gold miner John Johnson started commercial mining of salt in this area in 1854, selling it for $50 a ton, according to a Wikimapia article on the subject.  Competition developed, bringing the price down to $2 a ton, but still it was a profitable venture. Eventually, the ownership of the salt production passed through the Leslie Salt Company, and finally to Cargill, Inc., the largest, privately-held corporation in the U.S.

Why bring this up on a blog purportedly about running?  I had the opportunity to attend my nephew’s wedding two weeks ago, in Newark, California, located in the heart of the salt flats.  The San Francisco Bay area is an amazing mix of have and have-not, beauty and ugly, ultra-high tech and grunt labor, old and new, the arts and sport, and academic and common knowledge.  I flew in from Philadelphia to San Francisco and headed for the car rental area.  This is reached from the terminal by a very modern, automated rail line.  On arrival in the car rental pavilion, where all the rental companies have counters, I was amazed at the huge number of people waiting in line to get a car.  Clearly, this would be a major week for tourism in the bay area.  I was impressed how the lines moved, and the rental process was very streamlined.  Thousands of people were renting cars while I was there.  Once one’s contract is complete, a walkway leads to the garage where, on multiple levels, the cars are parked.  I waited in another line until a young man escorted me to my car.  We took the usual tour of the car to note scratches and dents, he gave me his card and told me to call him if I had any problems (a nice touch, Enterprise), and I was off.  Instead of heading north into San Francisco, I headed south on Highway 101.  This is a famous road, known in the early Spanish settler times as El Camino Real.  Today, it passes through Silicon Valley, home to such major corporations as Oracle, Apple, Google and Adobe, to name but a few.  Silicon is an element.  It is the basis, due to its semiconductor properties, of transistors, diodes, and integrated circuits.  From these came computers, and thus, eBay.  The companies in this area have been enormously successful in recent years, and their employees are very well paid.  The homes in this area are absurdly expensive.  For example, a two bedroom, two bath ranch style house in Mountain View, 1953 sq. ft., with very little style on a quarter acre lot, is listed at $1,875,000.

Bathroom in the 1.875 million dollar rancher in Mountain View.

Bathroom in the 1.875 million dollar rancher in Mountain View. (from the Zillow listing)

Heading down route 101, I made a turn onto route 84, which becomes the Dumbarton Bridge over the southern end of the San Francisco Bay.  Along this road I could see the salt drying along the roadside as the east bay area is reached.  This took me into Newark, home of Cargill’s salt headquarters and the site of the wedding.  I checked in to the Courtyard Marriot Silicon Valley.  They refer to it as Silicon Valley, but it is really on the wrong side of the bay.  It is hard by the salt ponds.  I arrived later in the afternoon and needed to get to the pre-wedding family dinner at my sister’s house in Livermore.  This was a very pleasant dinner with lots of wine and good food.  For the most part, everyone was in a good mood.

The next day, Saturday, was wedding day.  Since the wedding was not until 6:30 P.M., I had plenty of time to get a run in that morning.  Newark does not seem to be a runner’s town.  I asked at the hotel desk for advice where to run, and the desk person suggested a loop around the Lakeshore Park.  I asked how long the loop was and was told it was about 2 miles.  I went back to my room to check this out on the map.  It turned out the loop was a bit under a mile, and was about a mile from the hotel, so I needed a little bit longer run.  I put on my running clothes and headed out, trusty Garmin on my wrist.  My route took me past the park and over a freeway to the wedding venue, a very pretty park called Ardenwood Historic Farm.  It was where George Patterson, another unsuccessful gold seeker in 1849, was able to buy property in 1856 after working as a farm hand.  He had a house built on the property, and started his own farm.  Apparently, it was a very productive farm, as he was able by 1889 to rebuild the original humble farm house into an elegant Queen Anne style mansion.  Today, the farm continues as a working museum, owned by the city of Freemont, and host to many weddings, day trips and farm experiences for students.  Unfortunately, on my run, the whole park was locked up tight, and I couldn’t progress through it’s dirt roads.  Turning back, I made my way to the Lakeshore Park, a man-made doughnut shaped pond with a paved path around it.  I ran two laps around the pond, and marveled at the variety of birds that were attracted by this small body of water.  Many different breeds of ducks, geese, herons, snowy egrets and numerous other species had made a home here, and it made for an entertaining couple of laps.  On my way back to the hotel, along Cedar Boulevard, I made note of the homes along the road.  Again, they were small, ranch-style houses with car ports.  A number had for-sale signs.  The last leg of my run was through a very long strip mall of shops, which seemed to be not the original intent for the stores.  There were karate studios, hair salons, and a Chinese diner, to name a few, with empty shops between.

After I got back in my hotel room, I was again curious about the houses for sale in this area.  Looking up some prices, here the prices are much more reasonable.  Offered for $899,000 was a five bedroom, three bath house with 2500 square feet.

5 BR, 3 BA house in Newark.

5 BR, 3 BA house in Newark. (from the Zillow listing)

Still no bargain, but more living space than in the highly desired parts of Silicon Valley.

Of course, I was there for the wedding, and it went off without a hitch.  Well, not exactly, as my nephew and his new bride really did get hitched.  The wedding venue was just beautiful, the outdoor ceremony was quite nice, and the after-wedding party was very enjoyable.

My nephew and niece-in-law say their vows.

My nephew and niece-in-law say their vows.

George Patterson house at Ardenwood Farms.

George Patterson house at Ardenwood Farms.

On my way back to the airport the next morning, I again passed the salt encrusted shoreline, then passed a very large building being built along Route 101 with a Facebook sign in front.  I stopped for gas and turned around in front of Oracle headquarters, a collection of rounded steel and glass tall buildings aside another man-made lake.  I see it is thanks to these pioneers of computing and the internet that I am able to express myself on a WordPress blog.  We’ve certainly come a long way from George Patterson building a farm.

 

P.S.  Robert, from Zillow, Mountain View, can provide more information on the surrounding area properties:

http://www.zillow.com/mountain-view-ca/

Three Times the Fun

NFL news today is not about the game, but about lawsuits, contracts and other off-season minutia. Baseball is now mid-season, and in the hot days of summer, it really is a pastime. NHL hockey is done for the year, after the LA Kings won the Stanley Cup. Los Angeles is a real natural for a top hockey team, with its long tradition of ice sports. The NBA finished its season last month with the San Antonio Spurs taking the top spot, another city known as a hot spot for development of its winning team’s future players.

If like me, you are not a big fan of these big sports, this may be your weekend. We have the quarter finals of World Cup Soccer (or football), the finals of Wimbledon, and the start of the Tour de France. For me, its an opportunity to spend some serious couch potato time glued to the set, ignoring the lawn, and watching my favorite professional athletes battle it out.

World Cup play began Thursday, June 12, when Brazil took on Croatia, beating them 3-1 in a game that showed the Brazilian team’s typical style of play, non-linear, dance-like and taking advantage of their ability to confuse the other team.  The World Cup has exceeded all expectations so far.  The threats of protests melted as play got under way, and the matches got under the locals’ skin.  The venues, while some had Amazonian jungle conditions, were all in good shape and seemingly prepared for the crowds.  The fans have come from around the globe to cheer on their teams, and it appears that Brazil has played excellent host to the visitors.  My USA team rose to the challenges facing them and managed to win one, tie one and lose one in the first round, making out to the knockout round.  There, they got knocked out by an organized and efficient Belgian squad, but they performed admirably, gave us some thrilling moments, and showed that the USA team can play soccer in the world’s stadium.  Other matches of the first round have been equally exciting, with strong showings by such teams as Costa Rica, Mexico, Colombia, Nigeria, and Greece.  I love the fact that World Cup Football brings together such widely placed teams from around the globe, along with their cheering fans, in the same stadium.  No other sport does this, and its a great boost for mankind.

At the same time, Wimbledon started play Monday, June 23, and we are now in the last two days.  While the women’s singles play is finished as I write this, the men’s singles will be tomorrow, and should be a real classic battle.  Roger Federer, who has been struggling lately, and did not make it out of the second round at Wimbledon last year, will take on Novak Djokovic.  Federer first played Wimbledon 15 years ago, and has taken the top prize seven times.  He has mastered every aspect of singles tennis, can prevail on any surface, and has a style of play that is efficient and surprising, when he whips out a passing shot that does something that seems physically impossible.  His opponent in the finals tomorrow, Djokavic, is also an all-around player, currently rated number one in the world.  He is younger (32 vs 27) and possibly fitter than Federer, and he has proven himself able to beat Federer.  The record favors Federer, though, with Federer leading 18-16 in head-to-head matches with Djokavic.  The match starts at 9:00 AM EDT, and should be very exciting to watch.

The third of the three big sports this weekend is cycling, and the opening stage of the Tour de France.  While one might expect this race to take place in France, and mostly it does, it starts this year in Leeds, England with the riders doing a 45 minute slow paced tour through the town before heading out to the countryside as they race to Harrogate.  Usually, the tour starts the first day with a short time trial, but this year the race starts with a 190.5 km stage made for the sprinters.  As I write, the finish is unfolding with the teams of the sprinters driving the race at unreal speeds, with the pace line of the teams straining to carry their sprinter to the line first.  Heart in throat I watch, seeing if the riders can hold their lines, go through turns fearlessly, not touch the brakes or the wheel of the rider in front.   As it happened, Mark Cavendish was not able to hold things together and wound up hitting the pavement in a high speed crash, denying him the thrill of winning this stage in his hometown in front of the royal family.  Instead, the honor went to German Marcel Kittel of team Giant-Shimano.  In the odd world of cycling teams, this team is a Dutch team sponsored by Giant bicycles, a Chinese company which does have a manufacturing facility in the Netherlands, and Shimano, a Japanese maker of bicycle components.  The race will continue two more days in England before moving across the English Channel to the French mainland.  Watching the tour can be rewarding even if you are not a cycling fan, since the coverage from the helicopters and motorcycles shows the amazing and beautiful scenery of the route.

So, it’s time for me to go watch Argentina take on Belgium.  Maybe Messi will show us some of his brilliant moves and score a goal.  Happy watching, sports fans.

Waiting for the Dawn

I’m here.        Are you there?

I’m here.         I’m here.        I’m here.       Are you there?          Are you there?

I’m here.  I’m here.  I hear you.  I’m here.  Are you there?  I’m here.  Are you there?

I’m herAreyouthere?I’mhereAreyouthereI’mhereAreyouthere?I’mhereAreyouI’mhereArethere.

I am an habitual early riser.  I get up before the dawn.  Even in the late spring as we approach the summer solstice I am up when it is still dark, and hearing is very acute.  I can hear a train very far off making it’s way down tracks.  But as the dawn nears, the birds start to sing.  First only a single bird sounds a few chirps, then another starts to answer, and another, and another until there is a cacophony of bird noises filling the early morning air.  This is the best time of the morning.  The air is still cool, the scent of the air coming through the open window is fresh, and I am by myself, able to think about plans for the day, the week, and the coming months.

There is a clarity of thought early in the morning that does not carry through to the end of the day.  As the day progresses, the surrounding noises get louder, people talk over one another, conversations are rapid fire and brief, and one tends to react rather than think things through.  So, it is a real pleasure to have the early morning to pour a bowl of cereal, grind some beans and make coffee, and then sit by myself, listening as the birds sing, and think about my plans.

I like to read the NY Times on my iPad early in the morning.  I’ll go through the headlines, and read the latest from Gail Collins who always makes me laugh as she points out absurdities in politics.  I’m amazed and depressed by all the news of the nightmares some people are living in places like Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Somalia, Eastern Ukraine, and on and on.

I think about my day and try to remember the things I must do, the things I want to do and the things which would be good to do.  It’s especially important to remember the things which didn’t make it to all my various forms of calendars, whether the Outlook calendar for work, or my phone calendar which I’ll often set to remind me a day or a couple of hours ahead of time of something which needs doing.  But things like car repairs, bill paying and other activities don’t make it to the calendar and must be remembered.  I also have several presentations for work to prepare, which I know need doing but for which I don’t have any reminders.

As for running, I have done with my spring races, two half marathons and a ten miler.  I signed up for the Philadelphia marathon November 23, and I plan to start the training process sixteen weeks earlier, Sunday, August 3.  As my friend Tony pointed out, looking at the usual training plans, I’ll have to back off on my running to fit into the plan.  Not that I would do that, of course.  My thoughts at present center on how to remain pain free and get into good condition for the marathon.  I have some nagging pain in my right knee which I have had before but always makes me worried.  It is nice, though, to get a break from the buildup to races, and just enjoy the running now for running’s sake.

For now, I will enjoy the pre-dawn time as the sun begins to light the sky, the birds awake and sing, and my ears have dropped their defenses and can pick up the slightest sounds of the early morning.

Frank

 

Semi-Marathon International de Nice

 

A beautiful day in Nice, France, 25 April 2014.

A beautiful day in Nice, France, 25 April 2014.

I got the idea to run this race about three years ago. I was looking for a way to have a travel adventure combined with a race. I thought it would be nicer to my wife to pick a half marathon so she would not bear the burden of my recovery from a marathon, which is not always pretty. After searching on-line, I found this race, which seemed ideal. It is run right around the time of my birthday, is in a beautiful location, and it bills itself as international. Perfect! So, what took me three years to do it, and how did it finally go?

The race is run late in April, and when I got the idea, I was also signed up for Boston. So that year was out. Then it took another year to really decide to do it. Finally, it took about six months of planning for the time off, to figure out what was needed to sign up, and make plans for the whole trip. The website for the race, http://www.nicesemimarathon.com/v14/ did not have an updated site until around October of 2013, and then it was still French only. About a month later, the English version was up, although the instructions for filling out the registration were only in French. Not too challenging, though, as they were quite clear. The race required a doctor’s certificate stating I was fit to run, but none was provided on the website. If you are a French runner and belong to a running club, apparently this is required for the club, and only your membership is needed. If you are a foreigner, you need the certificate. I was able to find one on the Paris Marathon website, had my friend, an internist, certify me, and sent it in by email. Voila, I got confirmation I was registered. The cost was 17€ plus 2€ service fee.

As it turned out, this year’s version fell one day after my birthday, my 60th, so it could not have come at a better moment. Yes, an age bracket change. We booked tickets to Nice planning to arrive on the 25th of April, to give a day for orientation before the race. Never having been to Nice, we did not know the city layout, or where would be best to stay. After a bit of a search on line, and finding out a couple of hotels we tried first were sold out, we reserved a room for three nights in the Best Western Hotel New York Nice, a long name I know, but centrally located and not far from the start of the race.

Today, finding out information about how to get from place to place is relatively easy. On-line sources are plentiful, and one can usually tell the reliable sources. Keys to look for are good grammar, a recent date, and a reliable blog or website devoted to travel. We were able to discover the bus from the airport at Nice into town cost 6€, and there are two buses depending on where you want to wind up, the 98 and the 99. More interesting is that with the help of Google maps, one can plot the walk to the hotel, know exactly how far it is, and even see street views so the landmarks are recognizable. This is all part of the fun of planning a trip to unknown places. We easily got through airport customs, made our way to the bus station at the airport, got tickets, and were delivered to Gare Central, the main train station in the center of Nice. From there we were able to walk to our hotel, which took about 20 minutes, along the Av. Jean Médecin. We were pleasantly greeted at the hotel by a desk clerk named Nella, who registered us and help us get further oriented. Our hotel room was very attractive, and had large glass doors leading out onto a small balcony. Across from us was a Monoprix supermarket, and caddy corner was a very large outdoor café and bar.

After getting situated in the room, we walked towards the old part of Nice where the expo was, in order to pick up my number. The expo was small, and outdoors under tents, in the oldest part of Nice. This is now a spot for shops and restaurants. A large flower mart took up the center of the main pedestrian street, and restaurants and bars with plenty of outdoor seating occupied either side. There were also many small shops selling local specialties. One was entirely devoted to sardines in cans, with many variations.

Picking up my number.  Dossard is French for bib.

Picking up my number. Dossard is French for bib.

The people manning the tents for the expo were extraordinarily pleasant and helpful, and it was no problem to find my number.  I then went to the next tent to pick up my goodie bag with my T-shirt and the usual things they add, like advertisements for other races, and samples of sports bars and drink.  One odd standout, though, was a large jar of Tikka Masala, which is an Indian sauce of tomatoes, lemon, coriander, and other spices used to make curry.  While this may not be typical pre-race food, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend it, it does point out that the sponsors do get to show their wares.  We planned to enjoy it after we returned home.

After picking up my bib and Tee, we wandered through the old part of Nice.  We were hungry, and while late in the day in Nice, we were still on eastern standard time.  So, we stopped at a fish restaurant called “La Grande Voile”.  Our dinner there was just satisfactory.  I cannot recommend this restaurant, based on the fact that the waitstaff made themselves very scarce even though we were one of only a few couples dining at the time, and also they brought the wrong fish.  But, my appetizer, a bowl of mussels, was quite good.

Mussels at La Grande Voile.

Mussels at La Grande Voile.

When we returned to our hotel that evening we were just amazed that our children had arranged for a bottle of Champagne to be brought to our room. Accompanying it was a card wishing me happy birthday and good luck.  It seems we have taught our children well!

A very nice bottle of Champagne delivered to our room.

A very nice bottle of Champagne delivered to our room.

We went across the street to the grocery store, bought some strawberries, and sat out on our little balcony, enjoying the view, and our bottle of Champagne.  I am aware that eating mussels and drinking Champagne before a race may seem foolhardy, but I thought I would at least have a day to recover before actually running.

The following day, Saturday, we awoke to warm sunshine streaking through our window.  Since this was the day before the race I wanted to get in an easy run to keep the muscles toned.  I put on my shorts, a shirt, and my running shoes and headed out to the large path along the ocean for a practice run.  It seems I was not the only one.  About a dozen or so other runners, some with Semi-marathon shirts on, were doing the same.  We ran along the Promenade des Anglais, the last half of the semi-marathon to be run the next day, where signs were being set up for the race, portable toilets were being set in place, and meanwhile the usual beach activity was still going on.  Artists were setting up their stands to display their scenes of Nice, beach denizens were hanging out chatting with each other, and, along the surf, many surf-casting fishermen and women had their lines in the water.

The day of the race came fairly quickly, although the race starts at a very reasonable 9:30 AM.  Our hotel had breakfast for twelve euro, not a small sum for cereal, pastries, ham and slices of cheese.  Normally, my wife and I would buy the same from the market, and have breakfast in our room, but for various reasons we didn’t get set, so I had the hotel breakfast.  Then, it was time to do the usual pre-race preparation.  I got on my shorts and singlet, pinned my number to the singlet, and got on my socks and running shoes.  In addition, I put on my rain jacket, since it had already started drizzling under heavy clouds.

In front of our hotel, ready to head down to the start.

In front of our hotel, ready to head down to the start.

Walking down to the start, we passed through the beautiful Place Massena, bordered on both sides with spouting fountains from large rectangular paved areas.  Seven tall poles holding up sitting figures represent seven continents which are lit from inside with colors that change, representing conversations.  The centerpiece, a very large (7 meter tall)  nude statue of Apollo surrounded by his planetary helpers, was a controversial piece when first displayed and spent some time on the outskirts of town until it was moved back in 2011.  Finally, the buildings behind the statue are elegant, stately and make a striking backdrop.

Place Masséna in Nice.

Place Masséna in Nice.

We got to the start area, and got oriented.  With some time left before the start, I went for a brief warmup run.  The crowd grew, as the runners and their families gathered.  It was a typical pre-race scene, with lines at the portable toilets, lots of milling around, and at one end of the area, a couple of trainer types were leading an exercise routine to music.

The parcours of the race.

The parcours of the race.

The total starting the race, including both the semi-marathon and the 10K, which started together, was about 5,300.  The 10K runners ran the first half of the semi-marathon course which circled through the streets of Nice.  Then the semi-marathon course continued out along the Promenade des Anglais to the Nice airport, turned and headed back along the same route to the finish line.

At the start, getting ready to join the throng.

At the start, getting ready to join the throng.

The race got underway in typical fashion, with the blast of a horn.  I made a small tactical error in not moving closer to the front for the start.  As with many popular races, the crowd toward the back is not really going for time.  With the narrow streets and large number of runners, that meant the pace when I crossed the start line was slow, and with a tightly packed group it was difficult to move ahead. Along with a number of other runners in the same predicament, I had to move to the sidewalks to get my pace up and move ahead of the crowd. This presented a problem with light poles, onlookers, and a few other obstructions. The runners were enjoying themselves, though, and as we went through the tunnel under the central train station, there were a lot of hoots and yells which echoed back. The first five kilometers passed back close to the start, then the second five were a loop through the eastern part of town, again heading back to the start. At this point, the 10 K runners peeled off to their finish, as the rest of us 21.1 K runners headed out the Promenade des Anglais for the second half of our race, a flat run out to the Nice airport and back. The finish was deceptive. As one got closer to the end, a large, inflated arch over the road looked like the end, but it was just an advertising banner. The real finish line was on a slight turn toward the ocean then along a carpeted finish over the line.

The stars of this race were the Kenyans.  A group of six Kenyan men finished in 1:01:31, 1:01:32, 1:01:33, 1:01:34, 1:01:36 and 1:01:38, the first of whom was Kennedy Kipyego.  The first woman to finish was also Kenyan, Janet Kisya, in 1:10:59.  Both of these runners ran personal bests in this race.

Of course, I didn’t see much of them, although the out-and-back nature of the second half of the race did give us commoners a glimpse of the front runners as they whizzed by heading toward the finish line.  All the other runners cheered these champions on as they sped by.

The last power surge, heading toward the finish line.

The last power surge, heading toward the finish line.

As races often go, the last few miles, or in this case, kilometers, seemed to never end.  Finally, I could see the 20 K marker and new the line was near.  Racing in kilometers is great; the last kilometer is shorter than a mile!  As I crossed the line, I heard the announcer call out “États-Unis”, and I knew it was for me, since there were no others of my countrymen around me.  I raised my arms as I crossed the line, pleased to have made my goal of running this race.  My finishing time was a bit slow, which I justified by the slow start and the long plane trip to get here.  Never mind, though, I was quite happy and satisfied.  My ever-supportive wife, Kathleen, caught me right at the finish.

Just after finishing, catching my breath.

Just after finishing, catching my breath, arms akimbo apparently in the style of the race.

I was a bit dehydrated, dripping with sweat, and a little shaky.  I drank down one bottle of water and most of a second as I passed through the finish area and collected my medal.  I think the medals mean a lot for a marathon, perhaps a little less for a half marathon, but I was quite pleased to have this memento.

Representing my home club at the Semi-marathon International de Nice 2014.

Representing my home club at the Semi-marathon International de Nice 2014.

As my wife and I walked together out of the race area and back to our hotel,  I told her all about the race course, the challenges and the beauty of the course.  We then started to plan our afternoon of sightseeing.  We headed back to the Place Masséna and on to our hotel, saying au revoir to monsieur Apollo as we left the area.

Apollo's back, passing on our way back to the hotel.

Apollo’s back, on our way back to the hotel.

No Meat Michele

Michele running her marathon PR this year.

Michele running her marathon PR this year.

 

 

 

Our running club, the South Jersey Athletic Club, has a lot of running stars.  Some are stars because they simply outperform everyone in their field.  Some are stars because of their longevity in running, with one of our group about to run Boston for the twenty seventh time.  Michele doesn’t fit either of these categories.  Her stardom comes from her personality, her drive, and her steady improvement as a blossoming runner.   She first introduced herself to our group about five years ago, for our Sunday morning runs.  She wasn’t fast, and she didn’t usually go the long route.  But that changed as she kept with her training and dedication to becoming a better runner.  She ran in the cold, ran in the rain, in the heat, early before the sun came up, and after dark, carrying a light to avoid potholes.  After our Sunday runs, a group of us will gather at the local Starbucks to chat, joke around, talk about upcoming races, and make the big decisions regarding club activities.  Michele is an active participant in this group, not least because she often plies us with homemade pastries, such as biscotti, or blueberry-spelt muffins, to refuel after our long runs.  Oh, and she is also a No Meat Athlete.  The term comes from Matt Frazier, who writes a blog by the same name and has developed a large following.

Michele, warming up after a cold run at the end of March.  Whatever happened to March going out like a lamb?

Michele, warming up after a cold run at the end of March. Whatever happened to March going out like a lamb?

I was curious what led Michele to become a vegetarian, and how she felt it helped her in her athleticism.  I also wanted to know her secret for dropping over thirty minutes from her previous marathon PR when she ran the Shamrock Marathon this year.  I put to her ten questions, and she was kind enough to answer them in a very thoughtful and serious manner.  Here are the questions and her answers:

 

1.  I assume you were not always a vegetarian.  Why did you decide to go vegetarian?
Short answer:  Ethical reasons.
For as long as I can remember, I was always an animal lover.  No one in my family is a vegetarian, and meat was as much a staple in our daily diets as I imagine any other typical American family. Lunch was always some sort of lunch meat style sandwich and dinner was always centered around some kind of meat. From a young age, eating animals never quite sat right with me, but I was at the mercy of my mother, who prepared all of our meals.  When I was 14, I simply decided one day that it was time I made the switch to a vegetarian life.  I stopped eating meat “cold turkey” (Brandon would love that pun). Within a year, it was just second nature to me.  After the first few months, I really never missed it.
2.  Which came first, no meat or athlete?
No meat.  I was certainly not an athlete in high school, although I occasionally pretended to be one, joining the lacrosse, softball, and soccer teams (I was terrible at both of these), and even cheer-leading one year. When I discovered running, I realized that I prefer sports that don’t involve much hand-eye coordination.
3.  What special dietary considerations do you need to know to get all of your nutritional needs met?
The two most popular (and annoying) questions most vegetarians are asked by non-vegetarians are “So, if you don’t eat meat, what do you eat?” and “How do you get enough protein?” Contrary to popular belief, protein is not an issue for most vegetarians and even vegans. A person eating a well-balanced diet, full of a variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, and legumes, will satisfy most of his or her dietary requirements.

There are only two exceptions that I know of that vegetarians and vegans should be a little more conscious of:

Vitamin D – important for bone and muscle health. Vitamin D is most plentiful in non-meat animal sources such eggs and cheese, as well as through exposure to the sun. A vegan would have to rely mostly on sun exposure, fortified foods such as nutritional yeast (an interesting type of food I have only recently discovered, most often used as a substitute for cheese, sprinkled on food or in sauces), fortified cereals, or supplements.
Vitamin B-12 – important for the health of the nervous system, as well as making red blood cells. The daily requirement of B12 for a healthy person is quite low, and the body can store it, so a vegetarian could easily get enough through sources such as eggs, milk, and yogurt. However, for vegans, it is a little more difficult, and one would have to rely on fortified foods such as fortified cereals, nutritional yeast, or supplements.

At this point, I still eat some animal products (occasional eggs and dairy products), and have never suffered any symptoms suggestive of a Vitamin D or B12 deficiency. As I move more towards a complete plant based or vegan diet, I am starting to pay a little more attention to these essential nutrients.

 

4.  When did you start running as a sport, and how did you get started?
Aside from the forced 2 miles we had to run every day for high school lacrosse, which I loathed, I really started running in the spring 2009.  Prior to that, my running history would go something like this:  Spring time arrives.  I make a vow to run every day.  I go out on day 1 and try to run a mile as fast as I can.  It is awful.  I do this 2-3 days in a row, and then give up because by then I’m hurting and it’s clear that I can’t run.  Swear off running.  Following year, start again.

In 2009 I was gearing up for the same old routine, but I happened to come across a clinic to train for your first 5K thought the Cherry Hill Recreation Department.  I think it was a 6 or 8 week clinic, and it was run by the Cherry Hill West track coach, Nick Mitidieri. Coach Nick was also Brandon’s high school track coach, and I’ve since bumped into him with his track team at some of our No Frills races.  My first week training with Coach Nick I learned the most important thing – how to pace.  That first night I ran a mile and a half and amazingly felt good at the end, much unlike my previous 1 mile solo runs.
5.  What was your first race?  How did it go?
My first race was at the end of that training clinic.  It was called the Run Your Own Life 5K (which no longer exists).  My main goal was to run the entire thing without stopping to walk.  I met that goal.  My finishing time was 31:56.  My husband was there cheering me on at the finish line, which was just amazing.  It was really the first time anyone had come to watch me in any of my sports, and it was such a great feeling having him there, supporting me.  After the race I could not wait for my next 5K!  I was, however, afraid I’d fall off the wagon, so I made a point to sign up for one 5K per month.  I knew if I had a race on the calendar, I’d keep training.
6.  What influenced you to try to run a marathon?
99% of my influence came from being around other runners, namely, SJAC members.  Before joining the club, the “marathon” was kind of some mystical fantasy in the back of my mind, which I thought maybe, just maybe, I could accomplish one day.  I gave myself a rough time frame of 5 years to complete my first marathon.  When I first joined SJAC in the fall of 2009 I was training for my first Half Marathon, and did many of my long runs with Sue Hamilton.  At the time she was training for the Philadelphia Marathon.  Over the weeks of running with Sue (and Heather), I realized that she and I ran similar pace, and seemed rather similar in our running abilities, and it made me think that if she could run a marathon, why couldn’t I?  That was when I first started thinking more seriously about the marathon.
7.  What was your first marathon?  Do you recall how it felt to finish?
Ultimately, my first marathon was in March 2011 (less than 2 years after my first 5K!).  It was the National Marathon in Washington, DC (I think this race was recently sold to the Rock N Roll series).  My time was 4:34:36, which remained my PR until my recent marathon.

Finishing was quite emotional.  I felt decent most of the race, until about mile 22, when I started a lot of walking/running.  In the last quarter mile, running up the hill to the finish line, all kinds of things started freaking out in my legs, and I think it was only the sight of the beautiful finish line that got me up that hill and kept me running at that point.  I don’t remember exactly how I felt when I finished, but I do remember being on the verge of tears, when suddenly Tom appeared before me, snapping me back to reality.

Side note about Tom:  He was, once again, a great supporter.  Spectating a marathon can be a little challenging, especially navigating around an unfamiliar city to hit as many mile points as possible.  He managed to make his way around the Metro and see me at a few different points along the race, including the finish.  Later in the day, when we were back at the hotel and I was attempting to find a position which didn’t hurt, he said to me, “Man, watching a marathon is really exhausting.”  Really?
8.  You recently ran a marathon PR by a huge margin.  How much was the margin, and to what do you owe this superior performance?
My first marathon remained my PR until this March, when I ran the Shamrock Marathon in 4:01:58, making the exact margin 32:38.  I did a lot of things this past year which I attribute to my PR.  2013 started out with me being injured and having to back out of the Shamrock Marathon.  My injuries were mostly the result of over-training. I found myself unable to do most forms of exercise.  I certainly couldn’t run, but also couldn’t bike or even do the elliptical.  The only form of cardio exercise I could tolerate was swimming.  At this point, I already was not happy with my weight and was terrified where my weight would go without being able to run.  This finally gave me the kick in the ass I needed to get some things in order.  I started paying better attention to my diet, focusing more on whole foods.  I also hired a personal trainer, who really seemed to appreciate the fact that I was an athlete, more so than most of his clients (his words, not mine) and pushed me really hard, changing up my usual gym routine, and adding in a ton  more core work.  The concentration on diet and change in exercise routine led me to lose about 18 pounds over the course of the year.  The weight loss just naturally adds some speed, and I found the cross training and increased core strength really helped my endurance.  Towards the end of the marathon, of course my legs felt beat up, but I never felt like I had to stop to walk or hit “the wall.” In my race pictures, even in the later miles, I’m still standing tall, not slouching from a weak, fatigued core like I often found myself in race pictures in the past.

The other thing was that through being injured, I really learned the difference between general soreness from training hard and actual pain.  I learned to listen to my body when something wasn’t right, and addressed those issues right away, before they turn into full-blown injuries.  I still battle a little bit with my IT band, but thankfully it hasn’t totally given out on me in quite some time, and I continue to work on strengthening the muscles in my hips, where the ITB issues originate.
9.  What keeps you running?
I love that I am truly only competing with myself.  When I played team sports, I always felt bad that I wasn’t good, like I was letting my team down.  In running, there isn’t that pressure, only whatever amount of pressure I want to put on myself. There is always another goal to achieve, whether that is to do a particular race, or to get a PR in a specific distance.  Running has also become an integral part of my social life, knowing that I have a weekly date with running friends. Everyone in the running community is supportive of one another, and there seems to me a mutual respect among all runners, regardless of abilities.  I am often amazed when other athletes, many of whom I look up to and would go to for advice, have come to ME for advice. There’s no competition or one-upsmanship – everyone simply wants their fellow athletes to succeed, whatever that means to them.
10.  If someone wanted to become a No Meat Athlete like yourself, what would be your advice? What would be the benefit?
It’s hard for me to say how one should transition from eating meat to not doing so, since I’ve been doing it for so long. But I would suggest perhaps making small changes. Cut out one form of animal product, for example, red meat, and go from there. One should focus one’s diet on eating more whole foods, eliminating most processed. As you get more into the plant based lifestyle, you can be more adventurous. Trying new ingredients that previously sounded too weird to try in a recipe start to become not so scary. (I discussed nutritional yeast in #3 above. This is something I avoided in recipes for years. Finally I took a chance, figuring if it appears in so many recipes, it can’t be that awful. Now it’s a staple in my pantry).

There are so many resources for plant based nutrition for both athletes and non-athletes. My personal favorites are:

The Thrive Diet:  This diet was created by vegan former pro-Ironman triathlete, Brenden Brazier. Brazier takes the vegan diet to the next level, by concentrating on foods that deliver the maximum amount of energy with the least amount of stress to the body. The basic principal is the fuel the body with nutrients that are easily absorbed and easily digested foods. If the body is spending less energy in the actual process of digesting the food, one has more energy for training. I have 2 of Brazier’s books, and follow several of his recipes every week.

Oh She Glows Blog and Cookbook: www.ohsheglows.com. I discovered this blog about 6 months ago. It’s not geared towards athletes specifically, but all recipes are vegan and made with natural foods. The creator of the blog, Angela Liddon, recently released her first cookbook in March 2014. I pre-ordered it and have already made at least a dozen recipes from the book.

And of course, how could I answer an entire 10 questions without mentioning the No Meat Athlete website itself: www.nomeatathlete.com. This blog creator, Matt Frazier, also recently released a book, but I have not checked it out yet. While No Meat Athlete (NMA) has some recipes, the blog is designed more as just a general discussion of the NMA lifestyle. Lately I’ve been listening to Matt’s podcasts (available on iTunes) during some of my solo runs.

Michele atop the Philadelphia Art Museum steps (see my previous blog, "Rocky II, It's a Knockout")

Michele atop the Philadelphia Art Museum steps (see my previous blog, “Rocky II, It’s a Knockout”)

Rocky II: It’s a knockout!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

At the start of Rocky II, in front of the Running Company in Haddonfield

At the start of Rocky II, in front of the Running Company in Haddonfield

 

Haddonfield, N.J.  – Last Sunday morning, fifteen members of the South Jersey Athletic Club gathered in front of the Haddonfield Running Company for the start of Rocky II, a point to point run from Haddonfield to the finish at the top of the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum.  It was a perfect day for this type of run.  It was bit chilly at the start, around 37 degrees F, with the sun just starting to peak over the buildings on King’s Highway.  The runners stowed their gear in the bag carrier’s car and prepared to get going.  The bag carrier, Craig,  was the son of the organizer, and had offered his time in exchange for his Dad’s gratitude and the promise of brunch with the group.

The club, known as SJAC, has a usual Sunday run which is a loop of about 13 miles.  Every once in a while, though, a different run is proposed to add some variety and challenge.  The first Rocky Run was just about a year ago, so it was time for the sequel.  The route this year was very similar to last year’s route.  It follows the usual Sunday morning route up to Route 130, which is a busy highway on the edge of Camden.  This year, we went across 130 and past the Camden County Golf Academy, formerly known as the Cooper River driving range.  This has a sixty station, double-decker driving range where one is expected to hit the ball into the water.  Once merely a driving range, it is now home to Rutgers Camden’s golf program.  Moving on, we ran along Admiral Wilson Boulevard, where the memory of strip clubs and cheap motels, torn down for the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia in 2000 is fading.  Now, it is a rarely used park, with pretty rose bushes lining the boulevard, and a wide paved curving path along which few bikes or runners pass.  The park ends on a narrow sidewalk at the edge of the road, which takes one in to Camden City proper.

Leaving Cooper Hospital, and heading for the Ben Franklin Bridge

Leaving Cooper Hospital, and heading for the Ben Franklin Bridge

As we did last year, at the 7 mile mark we again went right through the main floor of Cooper Hospital, stopping for a restroom

Up the Ben Franklin Bridge walkway.

Up the Ben Franklin Bridge walkway.

break and water.  Then it was on to the Ben Franklin Bridge.  The road through Camden goes past the Rand Transportation Center.  Here, the PATCO line into Philadelphia, the River Line to Trenton, and the New Jersey Transit buses all come together.  It is a busy place, even on a Sunday morning, and we got a few amused stares by the locals as we ran by.  Nearby is the Walt Whitman house, where the famous poet spent the last eight years of his life.  We did not run by his house, but may on future editions of the Rocky Run (Rocky III, the Leaves of Grass edition!

 

 

The first real challenge of the run was the stairs up to the Ben Franklin Bridge walkway.  Three flights one must ascend to get to the walkway, and there were a few groans from our group, although nothing too serious.  As mentioned, we had a beautiful day for this run, and the sky was deep blue, a perfect backdrop for the cityscape of Philadelphia.  The bridge rises for three fourths of a mile before it turns down again.  We stopped as a group near the apex for a photo, and got a nice passerby to take the shot.

Near the top of the walkway, Ben Franklin Bridge, looking toward Philadelphia

Near the top of the walkway, Ben Franklin Bridge, looking toward Philadelphia

At the base of the bridge on the Philadelphia side we took a sharp u-turn down to “Old City”, and made the second change from last year’s route.  This was to take us by another landmark, the Betsy Ross House.  We took another brief stop to document our run.

In front of the Betsy Ross House on Arch Street in Philadelphia

In front of the Betsy Ross House on Arch Street in Philadelphia

Then, it was on past other landmarks in the city, the Arch Street Friends Meeting House, the Constitution Center, the Liberty Bell, and, of course, Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was signed.  We continued down Sixth Street all the way to Christian Street in South Philly, home of the Italian Market.  Rocky Balboa made this spot famous in several scenes in his movies.  We didn’t try to replicate his movie runs.  In fact, to that, one would have to have magical powers.  If you’d like to see what it would take, writer Dan McQuade published an article in Philadelphia Magazine exploring the theoretical route.

After passing my favorite pizza and steak place in the Italian Market, Lorenzo’s, we kept on running to 16th Street, where we headed north all the way to the Ben Franklin Parkway.  The goal of the run was finally in view.  The Parkway is a great stretch of road, flanked by various museums, and lined by the flags of 109 Countries.  At the top of the Parkway, the Philadelphia Art Museum is a beautiful architectural achievement in its own right.  Situated where it is, braced on either side by Kelly Drive (formerly East River Drive) and West River Drive, and at the base of Fairmount Park, it is the epicenter of weekend outdoor activities in Philadelphia.  West River Drive is closed to automobiles on weekend mornings during daylight savings time.  Kelly Drive has Philly’s iconic Boat House Row, not just pretty to look at, but the base of a very active rowing community.  Every weekend, some type of race or organized activity is going on, centered around the Parkway and the art museum.  This day was no exception.  The first running of the Hot Chocolate 15k run was wrapping up as we finished our run.

We ran straight up the middle of the Ben Franklin Parkway to the art museum.  Starting at the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, along the way, we passed the Parkway’s most famous fountain, the Swann Memorial Fountain, or the Fountain of the Three Rivers.  As we got close to the museum, we got funneled through the staging are of the Hot Chocolate race, and had to clamber over the barriers to get to our final goal.  I found an open barrier so I didn’t have to embarrass myself trying to climb over, but others in the group were much more agile.  Finally, it was up the steps to the art museum entrance.

 

Philadelphia Art Museum, and the "Rocky Steps"

Philadelphia Art Museum, and the “Rocky Steps”

Everyone made it to the top!

Everyone made it to the top!

Of course, what would a trip to the venerable art museum be without a stop at the statue of one of Philadelphia’s most famous citizens, Rocky Balboa himself.  Well maybe he wasn’t really a “citizen”, and I guess, maybe  he wasn’t “real” but he sure brings out people from everywhere to pose by his statue.

Giving the old Rocky pose.

Giving the old Rocky pose.

After we finished the run, we reconnoitered with a plan to have brunch at the famous Sabrina’s Cafe on Callowhill Street, about a mile from the art museum.  When we got there, the place was teeming with people with the same idea, many of whom had run the Hot Chocolate run that morning.  We wound up heading over to Friday’s on the Ben Franklin Parkway, not a unique Philly experience, but we were hungry.  As it turned out, breakfast was over, and they were serving lunch.  We were also almost their only customers.  We had a very nice lunch of burgers, a some had beers, and all were quite happy.

SJAC runners at Friday's after the Rocky II run.

SJAC runners at Friday’s after the Rocky II run.

After lunch, it was back to Haddonfield.  We had just enough room in a couple of cars to haul everyone back home across the bridge.  Now, we’ll need to start planning next year’s sequel.  As one of our runners, Brian, put it, the sequels really went down in quality after Rocky II.  Let’s hope the Rocky Run’s don’t suffer the same fate.

Randy says so long, from Philadelphia!

Randy says so long, from Philadelphia!

How to make Black Eyed Peas

Pat, a delightful nursing assistant with whom I work, was disappointed we would be missing the hospital cafeteria’s soul food extravaganza out in our surgical center, away from the main hospital.  This was an homage to black history month.  I suggested to her we should put together our own soul food pot luck for lunch, and she was quite enthusiastic about that.  In fact, just about all the nurses and techs in our surgical center wanted to contribute something.  I realize I am not black, nor do I have a “soul food” background.  But there is a crossover between Texas cooking and soul food, and I know a bit about Texas cooking, so I offered up my own version of black eyed peas as my contribution.

First, buy some ham hocks.  This is the far end of the leg of the pig, before the foot.  It has meat, but also tendon, bone marrow, fat, and skin.  I like them smoked.  (Michele, my running friend who is meat free, turn away at this point).

Smoked Ham Hocks

Smoked Ham Hocks

Put these in a pot, cover with water, and bring to a slow boil.  Cook them like this for a couple of days with a bay leaf, five or six hours a day, replacing the water as needed to keep them covered.  Let chill, skim off the fat, and set aside.  One day into this process, clean one pound of dry black eyed peas, and start an overnight soak in cold water.

Dried Black Eyed Peas

Dried Black Eyed Peas

On the day of cooking the peas, drain the soaking water, rinse the peas, and return them to a large pot.  Take the chilled pot of ham hocks, which after boiling for two days, have turned the water into a wonderful, protein rich gelatin.  The meat has been cooked to a nice tenderness.  Remove the skin, and carefully extract all the bony pieces.  There will be lots of small bones, and one gets to plow through the hocks with bare fingers, extracting the meat from the bone.  Pick out any cartilage or sinew not wanted in the final mix.  Cut or shred the meat into little bits.  Add all the gelatin and the meat to the peas.

Take one good-sized green pepper and chop into small bits.  Likewise, shop an onion.  Saute these in oil until the onions are translucent and the green pepper looks thoroughly cooked.  Add this to the pea pot.  Add water as needed to just come up to the level of the peas.  Add freshly ground black pepper, sage, and salt to taste.  Don’t over salt, since there was salt in the ham hocks.  Add several dashes of Tabasco sauce, or if you really want them hot, use cayenne pepper.

Bring the mix to a boil, and cook for 35 minutes.  Unlike a lot of beans, the black eyed peas don’t require a long cooking period.  Cooking them too long turns them into mush.  Once they are cooked, check the seasoning to be sure the heat is right.  Let chill over night.

We served these the next day by warming in a crock pot.  They were a big hit, along with all the other incredible contributions to the lunch.  We had collard greens, smokey red beans, chicken, several versions of mac and cheese, rice, corn fritters, corn pudding, green salads, and lots more.  There were several different chocolate cakes, too, since everyone likes chocolate cake.  I think we came out way ahead of the cafeteria’s offerings.

It’s still very cold here in New Jersey.  While we are facing single digit temperatures, trying to get the running miles in, facing snow, ice and wind, it’s not bad to have some nice comfort food to keep us going.

A Bridge, a Fox, and a Tie-in to Running

Unless one were lost in the woods these last couple of weeks, it would be impossible to miss the uproar over the George Washington Bridge closures.  Last September 9-13, lanes were closed on the Fort Lee side of the bridge, which is the busiest bridge connecting New Jersey to Manhattan, in a sudden and unexplained move, later brushed aside by port authority officials as a “traffic study”.  On Dec. 16, 2013, John D. Rockefeller IV, chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, wrote to the chairman and vice chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey requesting answers to very direct questions regarding the lane closures.  Answers were provided in a letter written by the Port Authority Board Secretary which were filled with standard protocol type language.  It was not until a subpoena from state legislators demanded emails and text messages from various people involved with the closures, specifically Bill Baroni and David Wildstein, that it became evident that the lane closings were political retribution against the mayor of Fort Lee, a man of Croat heritage mistakenly referred to as a Serb in one of the emails, perhaps the biggest insult of all.  The people who instigated the lane closures were all close allies and working for Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey.  While the governor has claimed he knew nothing of the involvement of his team in the closure of the lanes, he has a reputation of being a bully, and taking retribution on a political foe is consistent with his character.  He is known for his bullish, bullying style, making fun or yelling at opponents who have the temerity to speak against him.

It was time for the television pundits and posturers to take a stand, generally, as one would guess, along political lines.  There was one comment that really stood out, though, as being a strange, and utterly outdated way to see this debacle for Governor Christie.  After all, he is positioning himself to be the spokesperson for the republican party, and possibly to run for president in 2016.  He should be preparing the big tent, to attract conservatives and near-conservatives, libertarians and tea-partiers, whites and off-whites, men and, yes, even……women.

Brit Hume, senior political analyst at Fox News, on a Sunday talk show called “Media Buzz”, had this to say:  “Well, I would have to say that in this sort of feminized atmosphere in which we exist today, guys who are masculine and muscular like that in their private conduct, kind of old-fashioned tough guys, run some risk.”  He went on to explain that the governor is an old-fashioned guy’s guy, a masculine and muscular guy, in constant danger of looking thuggish or sexist.  He got a quizzical look from a co-commentator on the program, Lauren Ashburn, but later was supported in his contention by another Fox star, Bill O’Reilly, who said that real men who are rough around the edges, maybe rude or blunt, get a raw deal from the public.  Another way to look at this, though, is that real men, manly men, have a right to their own way of behaving, and women are trying, and now succeeding in ruining it for them.

Has running “suffered” from feminization?  The Olympic Marathon of 1896, held during the first modern day Olympics in Athens, Greece was a men-only event, as were all the events at that time.  Initially, women were probably not considered for competition, since they were not felt physically capable of participating.  They were also excluded based on a men’s club mentality.  But, a woman did run the first Olympic marathon, just not as an official competitor.  Her name was Stamata Rivithi, and she completed the 40 kilometer course in 5 hours and 30 minutes.  The winner that year, a Greek named Spyridon Louis won the men’s event in 2:58:50.  Violet Percy, an English woman, was the first officially timed woman marathon winner with a time of 3:40:22 at the Polytechnic Marathon in London in 1926.  These women broke barriers, but the premier marathon event, the Boston Marathon, had yet to be tainted by the presence of women.  It was not until 1966 that a woman named Bobbi Gibb (co-alumnus(a) of mine from Revelle College, UCSD), ran the Boston Marathon as a non-registered runner.  It being an AAU sanctioned male event, women were not permitted to officially run it.  Bobbi Gibb’s story is nicely told in an interview she did which is posted on the Bill Rodgers Running Center website.  She reports she applied for an entry to the race, but got a reply from the race director, Will Cloney, stating that women were not physiologically able to run a marathon, and furthermore, were not allowed to.  She had to hide in the bushes at the start, wearing her brother’s shorts and a hooded sweatshirt.  She joined the race after about a third of the runners had started.  She reports that she was recognized as female, as she put it, by the men studying her anatomy from the rear. The men around her were very supportive.  She says they told her they would not allow anyone to remove her from the race.  She finished with a very respectable time of 3:21:40.  While unofficial at the time, she has since been recognized by the Boston Athletic Association as the first female winner, and she won three years in a row.  Ironically, at the time she ran her first Boston, the longest sanctioned race for women on the AAU calendar was 1.5 miles.

Since then, the number of women participants in running races has grown dramatically.  In a Wikipedia article, a graph of women’s participation (not just runners) in the summer Olympics has grown dramatically from the early 1900’s to the present:

Women as a percent of participants in the Summer Olympics

Women as a percent of participants in the Summer Olympics

In one of our major races in the Philadelphia area, the 10 mile Broad Street Run, held the first Sunday in May, the number of women participating has grown steadily since the race began in 1980.  This past year, 2013, the total number of women finishers was 17,269.  There were 14,773 male finishers.

For major marathons, women have not yet reached parity with the men, but are not far behind.  For 2013, at Chicago, there were 17,395 women and 21,488 men finishers.  For New York, 19,567 women and 30,699 men completed the race.  In Europe, at the Berlin Marathon, 8,946 women and 27,528 men finished.  And in Los Angeles, 7,773 women and 11,761 men crossed the finish line.  In Boston in 2012, 9,006 women and 12,666 men got to run that last stretch down Boyleston Street to the iconic finishing banner.

Women have also become leaders in the world of running organizations.  Mary Wittenberg, the president and CEO of the New York Road Runners, is responsible for the business and operations of the club, including the production of the New York City Marathon.  Stephanie Hightower is president of the USATF, the national governing body for track and field, long distance running, and race walking in the U.S.

Every Sunday morning, I meet with a group from my running club at 7:30, to run a 13 mile loop.  Sometimes we go farther, if we are in the midst of training for an upcoming marathon.  We’ll start out earlier, get the extra miles in, and then meet the group at 7:30 to start together.  We have a balance of men and women in the group.  I’m sure not one of the guys feels put upon, inhibited or less manly because women are participating in the sport.  Likewise, the thought that women are not capable of participating, the thought held 30 years ago and earlier, has been proven to be bunk.  It is true, that when men and women mix together in a social setting, men behave more civilly, less crudely.  At least, they should.  There really is no excuse, in my mind, for bullying and being obnoxious, and it certainly is not the fault of women if someone who behaves that way is brought down.  I would say, yes, running has been feminized, in that women have been able to participate in this great sport which was once closed to them.  They have shown their mettle, and taken on the challenges of the toughest of races, the marathon.  They have contributed greatly to the organization and running of the sport, and their participation keeps growing.  Far from making us guys unmanly, less of a man’s man, they have joined our ranks, and made it better.  What a bunch of “bushwa” (got that from a NYTimes crossword puzzle) coming from Brit Hume and Bill O’Reilly.

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