Friday, December 31, 2010

Total Exercise for 2010

In 2010 I actually kept an exercise log. To make it a little more interesting, I did my log as a fantasy run on the route of  the Trans-Siberian Railroad. I started in Vladivostock, on the eastern end of the Trans-Siberian Railroad and ended up somewhere between the cities of Mogocha and Chita. I'll continue along this route until I reach Moscow. This fantasy run made me realize just how big a country Russia really is. I'm still in Siberia, east of Lake Baikal. Here are my totals for running, skiing, cycling, and walking in 2010:

Running: 1249.1 km
Skiing: 513.5 km
Cycling: 343.2 km
Walking: 82 km
Total km: 2187.8

Races run in 2010:
Munich City Run Half-Marathon, June 2010: 1:55:52
Munich Half-Marathon, October 2010: 1:53:45

The totals for cycling and walking are lower than the actual number of kilometers that I cycled and walked. I only counted bike rides of over 2 kilometers. If I went someplace in town that was less than 1 km from my house, I didn't count those rides. The same went for walking. I only counted walks over 2 km. There were also a lot of walks over 2 km that I simply forgot to enter on my spreadsheet. My husband and I would often take walks that were about 3 km. Most of the time I forgot to log them. I'll have to be more diligent about that in 2011. The skiing total is fairly accurate because of the new website which records the information on my ski pass. Whenever I go through a turnstile to get onto a lift or gondola, that information is recorded. When I log onto the website, I can get the number of vertical meters and kilometers that I skied. My running total is also accurate, though it seems a little bit low for having run two half-marathons this year. From January to March I skied a lot and didn't run as much, which could account for that figure.

Almost 2200 kilometers is a good amount of exercise. It's certainly a lot better than spending that time sitting on the couch. I plan to keep on being active in 2011.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Infomercial Entertainment

Back when I was a kid, there were infomercials for various products and musical artists. One of the earliest infomercials that I remember was for the Veg-O-Matic. The Veg-O-Matic came out before electric food processors. For only $19.95 you could slice and dice just about anything and make enough Julienne carrots and French fries to keep your family fed for the next six months.
There were also infomercials for the Abdominizer and various cleaners and stain removers that were better than anything you can buy in a store. But the Veg-O-Matic was the classic infomercial product of the 1960s and '70s.

The Veg-O-Matic was made by K-Tel, which also produced all sorts of records (and infomercials to sell those records). You could get anything you wanted on K-Tel records: greatest pop hits of the '60s and '70s, the best love songs and duets, great polkas, instrumental hits, and more. K-Tel would send you those songs on LP records, cassette tapes, or even 8-track tapes. You could even buy K-Tel records for only $3.99 in various stores too. Nobody I knew ever owned any K-Tel record sets; but somebody must have bought them because they continued to be advertised for many years.

When I got older and watched late night cable TV, there were lots of commercials for Boxcar Willie  and Zamfir, Master of the Pan Flute. I always thought that Zamfir was a big joke and couldn't possibly be real. But in 1992, shortly after moving to Germany, I went to Munich with my husband and some friends. As we were walking around, we saw posters for an upcoming Zamfir concert in Munich. In German, Zamfir is der Koenig des Panfloetes (The King of the Pan Flute). After having a good laugh after realizing that the person we saw on those late night infomercials in the States was real, we took some of the posters to show our friends. It turns out that Zamfir is very popular in Europe. Who would have known?

A couple of weeks ago my son was home sick from school and was watching German daytime TV. As he was channel surfing, he came upon an infomercial for the Amazing Spider Pan. Yes, even the Germans have infomercials and home shopping channels. The Spider Pan is a frying pan with a special spider web pattern that makes it easy to cook with less oil and to clean. When you call in your order, you get 3 Spider Pans, 2 free lids (I assume that one lid fits two of the pans), and an instruction booklet. The instruction booklet looked rather thick. I guess there's more to using the Spider Pan than, "1. Put food in pan.  2. Put pan on stove.  3. Turn on burner." I couldn't find any Spider Pan commercials in English. I guess they're only sold in non-English speaking countries.

After the Spider Pan infomercial came one for the Kirmesmusikanten. The Kirmesmusikanten are accordion players, one man and one woman. The infomercial started with a woman in Trachten (traditional clothing) against an Alpine background talking about the wonderful and relaxing folk music of the Kirmesmusikanten, and how everyone can now enjoy 80 of their greatest hits on 4 CDs. She was also sad that the Kirmesmusikanten were no more because the man died earlier this year. There were video clips of the Kirmesmusikanten playing a sampling of those 80 hits. Both the man and woman looked like they never realized that the 1970s had come and gone. They were dressed in '70s polyester clothing; the man had an Afro (he was white), and the woman had a mullet perm. Yikes! The woman had a fixed, fake smile, while the man would shrug his shoulders and sport an evil grin while playing his accordion. His facial expressions were hilarious!  I had to Google them to see if they were real or a joke. It turns out that the man and woman are a brother and sister from the Netherlands. They are very popular in the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, and France. Here is one of their videos. I love the very first comment about it (on the last page of comments): "Wow. Words escape me, yet I can't stop watching this video." Needless to say, that comment was fitting.

As long as there is TV, there will be infomercials and people buying the advertised products. I think I'd rather just watch them, have a good laugh, and save my money.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Kosovo Sign Language

After work today I did an indoor workout. I normally don't like running on the treadmill, but it was slushy out and the roads and trails were starting to ice over. It also gets dark so early. By the time I'd be halfway through my run, it would be dark. Even though I don't really like running on the treadmill, it's better than turning an ankle or slipping on ice.

I hadn't run in the last week because of a muscle pull in my calf. I did a mix of running and walking today. When I felt a pull in the calf muscle after running slowly for about 22 minutes, I walked for the rest of my time (total run/walk time was 30 minutes). I have a feeling that I'll have to go back to a beginner's program because my calf muscle hurts again. I'll have to take it easy and figure out how much I can run before the muscle acts up. At least racing season is over for this year, so it's not like I'm losing training time. I'll also ski so I can get some exercise.

The gym on base has TVs that people can watch while using the aerobic machines. I usually watch the TV that's in front of my treadmill without sound while listening to music on my iPod. The TVs on base receive channels from all over Eastern and Western Europe, the former Soviet Union, the Middle East, and Africa in additional to the US Armed Forces Network and German channels. This afternoon the TV was on a channel called RTK, which is the main TV station in Kosovo. It was showing the program "Friends" with subtitles in a language that I thought was either Turkish or Albanian (it turned out to be Albanian; RTK broadcasts in Albanian, Serbian, and Turkish). After "Friends" there was a newscast. The news show had a Sign Language interpreter. The interpreter was shown on about half of the screen, with the newscast on the other half. Suddenly my workout got a lot more interesting. Before coming to Germany, I was an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter, so I was instantly hooked. I focused on the interpreter and tried to see if any of the Kosovar signs were similar to American ones. I was also curious about Kosovar Sign Language--is it really Albanian, Turkish, or Serbian Sign Language or a mix of all three? All of those languages are spoken in Kosovo, with Albanian being the most common because most Kosovars are ethnic Albanians. At first it appeared that there was no fingerspelling in that particular sign language. Then I realized that that language probably used a two-handed alphabet after watching how the interpreter made the same signs where it seemed that a name should be spelled. Even though my ASL is rusty from not using it, I could pick out some signs that appeared to be the same as ASL signs: Europe, president, show, accept, night/tonight, grow/develop, together/union (one of the stories had the European Union flag in the background), say, now, and talk with each other/discuss. There were other signs that were different from ASL signs, but I could still figure them out: Albania, money, hear/listen, change, our. My workout ended in the middle of the news show. It was the first time in a long time that I was sorry that a treadmill workout ended. If I didn't have to stretch, shower, then go home, I would have stayed around to see the full newscast just to watch the interpreter.

Over the next couple of weeks, when I'm working the early shift and having to run after work, I'll be sure to put the TV in front of my treadmill on RTK so that I can watch the interpreter. It will make running on the treadmill a lot less boring.

A word about ASL...Contrary to popular belief, it is not a universal language. There are some signs which are universal: eat, drink, sleep, time. But each country has its own sign language. ASL has the most similarity to French Sign Language. It is a mix of French Sign Language and signs that were used in the States in the 1800s in American schools for the deaf. It is quite different from British Sign Language, even though those languages originated in English speaking countries.

Postscript...After doing a Google search, I learned that deaf people in Kosovo use the same sign language as deaf people in the other countries that were part of Yugoslavia, though there are regional dialectical differences.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Parenting Blogs

Parenting blogs, especially "mom blogs," are like car accidents on the Autobahn. I know that I shouldn't look at them, but end up doing so anyway.

One of the first parenting "blogs" that I read was published back in the days before the Internet. It was a weekly column in the Stars and Stripes called "Life on the Home Front" by Pam Zich. Ms. Zich wrote about being married to a Marine and the adventures/daily life of herself, her husband, and their three sons Jimmy, Tommy, and Ronnie. It seemed like Ms. Zich wrote about every minute detail of her family's life. Every week I would vow to myself that I would never read that column again because I was always bored by people who constantly talked about their children. I often wondered how anyone outside of this woman's immediate family would actually be interested in such a column. I'd read it and tell myself, "Never again. Who cares about what little Tommy told Grandpa about using the potty?" But like that proverbial Autobahn car wreck, I would be drawn to "Life on the Home Front" the next week.

Parenting blogs and websites tend to fall into three distinct categories:

1) Blogs that are similar in tone to "Life on the Home Front." These are the ones where moms (most of these blogs are written by moms) write about every moment of their lives with Little Herkie and Junie. Everything that Herkie and Junie do, no matter how trivial, is published on the Internet for all to see. Of course everything out of their mouths is extremely witty. When Herkie or Junie are sick, Mom posts their hourly temperature reports. There are lots of photos of Herkie playing baseball and Junie in her ballet performance. Like "Life on the Home Front," I can't imagine these blogs appealing to someone outside the blogger's immediate family or circle of very close friends. But judging from the comments that they get, these types of blogs are very popular.

2) Perfect Parent Blog/Sites. These blogs are the ones which preach breast feeding, attachment parenting, keeping the TV off (or not having a TV at all), and only letting Junior eat organic homemade baby food. According to the people who write these blogs, moms who give their babies formula might as well be giving them strychnine. I drank formula as a baby because I was adopted and am alive and healthy. Parents who have their babies sleep in another room instead of in bed with them are cold-hearted monsters who are upsetting their baby's sense of security. And letting your baby have a cupcake on his first birthday? You're setting him up for a mouth full of cavities. When Precious gets out of infancy, Mom blogs about how her little one knows her alphabet, three foreign languages, and differential calculus. After all, a good parent would never let Precious fall behind her peers. These are the moms who become helicopter parents who won't let their kids out of their sight, even when they go off to college. After all, every adult out there is either a potential child molester or rapist. Moms who write these types of blogs stay at home with the kids, and usually homeschool, because that's what good mothers do.

3) The anti-perfect parent blogs. These are the ones where moms write about how they let Junior eat a candy bar or a meal at McDonald's, drink a bottle full of formula, play in the mud, or sit in front of the TV while Mom cooks dinner. They take on the same self-righteous tone as the Perfect Parent blogs. The general theme of these writers is that their child did or ate something "bad" and didn't become retarded, autistic, obese, or have a mouth full of cavities. I think that every parent has let a child do some of these "bad" things. The key is moderation. I also don't think that writing about how your child is still normal after eating a Happy Meal is newsworthy. Some of the moms who write these blogs work, while others stay at home with the kids. One of my favorite anti-perfect parenting blogs is Mompetition ( The woman who started that blog uses hilarious cartoon videos to poke fun at the extremes of "perfect" parenting.

My favorite parenting site (and one of my favorite sites in general) is Free Range Kids ( . It's not a typical parenting site at all. The woman who writes the Free Range Kids blog, Lenore Skenazy, was dubbed "America's Worst Mother" because she let her 9-year-old son ride the New York City subway by himself. He had asked to do it; and Ms. Skenazy gave him the tools to help him arrive home safely. After that incident, she was criticized soundly for "endangering" her son. The Free Range philosophy is letting kids do the things that we all did as kids: walking or biking to school or to a friend's house by themselves, playing without constant parental supervision, or simply viewing other adults as good people. Ms. Skenazy's blog includes articles from various news sources which show how pervasive the American culture of fear has become. Some of the articles include items like: 6th graders not being allowed to bring pencils to school because they can be used as weapons, parents being turned in to Child Protective Services for leaving a child alone in a car (while within sight of the car), Barbie dolls with little video cameras that the FBI says can be used by pedophiles, and parents yanking their kids away from friendly senior citizens who dare to smile and say, "Hello" to the kids. Every time I read one of the articles that Ms. Skenazy posts, either ones that she found or that readers sent in, it makes me glad that I live in Germany where Free Range is the parenting norm.

I encourage anyone reading this post to check out Free Range Kids and Mompetition.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Running in a Winter Wonderland

There's something about running in fresh snow that really appeals to me. Everything looks so fresh and clean after a snowfall. My city looks like something out of a Christmas card. Even though I've lived in a cold climate for almost 20 years, I still love fresh snow. When I see snow falling I can't wait to go out running in it. The snow puts me in a happy mood, which makes the run that much more fun.

Fresh snow is easier to run in than snow that has been around for a time, especially if the old snow has melted and refrozen. My quads and glutes get a good workout from having to lift my legs higher. The nice thing about fresh snow is that I don't need to put my ice spikes on my shoes. When I run in snow, I plan on being about 10 to 15 percent slower than usual to account for lifting my legs more and the snow being a little slippery. In the winter I run for time rather than for distance.

Yesterday morning it was snowing heavily. In fact, it snowed pretty heavily all day. I put on my winter running jacket, hat, gloves, and warm tights, then headed out the door. There were a few people out walking; but nobody else was crazy enough to run. There were a few slippery spots, but overall the snow was light and fluffy. I was ankle deep in powder. A 5 km run that would have taken 26 minutes or less took almost 28. But I enjoyed the feeling of cold air and snowflakes on my face, so I didn't care about being slow. The only thing that spoiled the run was that toward the end the snowplow came and took the snow off the trail. When that happens, the trail is icy and very slippery. Fortunately, I only had to deal with a short stretch where there was ice.

I may need my ice spikes for my long run tomorrow because it rained today and it's supposed to be below freezing tonight. That means the snow will be refrozen and icy. It will be slow going, even with the spikes. But the cool winter air will be invigorating and give me energy on my long run. Maybe I'll get lucky and it will snow again tonight so I can run in fresh snow.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Greatness Part Two

What makes a runner good? Like with any other athlete, the conventional measure of greatness is victories, podium spots, medals, and trophies. But there's more to being a good runner than a bunch of hardware or simply being speedy. 

Being a good runner is the ability to go the distance, especially when conditions are less than ideal. Any runner who has trained for an event can finish it in ideal conditions. For me an ideal race day would be 10 to 15 degrees C (50 to 59 F) and overcast. I would be injury-free and have no problems during the race. What separates the good runners from the rest of the pack is finishing a race when things don't happen the way you wish them to. The weather may be hot, I may have a small injury, or I may have a cramp during a race. But I've been able to overcome those problems to make it to the finish line. 

A good runner is someone who always gives his or her best effort. It doesn't matter if that runner is fast or slow. What's important is that the runner did the best that he or she could do under the circumstances. I'm a middle of the pack runner, yet I consider myself to be a good runner. When I race, I always strive to do my best. I know several runners who are slower than me who I feel are good runners because they always go out and do their best. None of us are going to set any records, but that doesn't matter. It's the effort that's important. 

Some of my most satisfying races were not ones in which I set any personal records. They were races in which I knew that I did the best I possibly could. I trained for the 2004 Neumarkt City Run 10.5 km race with the goal of improving on my previous year's time. But on race day the weather was unseasonably warm. I knew that a fast time was out of the question. When I finished, I was over a minute slower than in 2003. But when I crossed the finish line, I was very happy because I knew that I went out and did my best in the warm weather. Another great race was the 2005 Hohenfels Box Run 10K. I was the 3rd place woman in that race, but that's not why I felt good at the finish line. What made that race great was that I was part of a team, which inspired me to do my best. My team ended up winning the team title, which made my hard effort even more worthwhile. The 2007 Munich City Run half-marathon was also a wonderful race. It was my first half-marathon in three years. My goal was simply to go out and do the best I could. My time wasn't my half-marathon PR, but I was happy that I performed better than I thought I would. 

I also know fast runners who I feel are not good runners. There was a man who I knew when I was in Hohenfels who told me about his races. I was impressed at first, because he told me that he was always in the top 3 either overall or in his age group. But my respect for his ability disappeared when he told me that he would quit a race when he knew that he wasn't going to get on the podium. That's so wrong. I would rather finish last knowing I had given my best effort than quit simply because I wasn't going to win. 

When I started running and racing, my former running partner Bill told me that I was a good runner. I didn't believe it at first because I wasn't very fast. It was after I became an experienced racer that I realized that Bill was right. Bill saw that I not only was fairly fast (in my latest half-marathon I was in the top 20% of the women), but that I had what it takes to go the distance in both favorable and unfavorable conditions. 

The majority of runners will never win a race or age group award or qualify for the Boston Marathon. But as long as they go the distance while giving their best effort, especially in less than ideal conditions, they are good runners. 

Friday, December 3, 2010

Greatness Part 1

How do you measure an athlete's greatness? In most sports the conventional measures of greatness are victories, medals, special awards, and trophies. The more hardware and wins an athlete has, the better he or she is.

But greatness is not just measured in medals. A great athlete may not only have a lot of wins and medals but can be considered great for other reasons. That person may be someone who makes his or her sport look easy or have good sportsmanship. Great athletes are not only excellent on the playing field, they are also good people off the field. They are not only respected for how well they do their sport; they are respected for being someone who is a good role model for a child or junior athlete in that particular sport. They are also respected by their fellow athletes. I will list some athletes who I think are great both on and off the playing field at the end because I want to finish this entry on a positive note.

There are many superb athletes whose greatness is nullified by their attitudes. While I respect their athletic achievements, their attitudes or personalities prevent them from becoming true greats in my eyes. Here are a couple of examples of stellar athletes who will never become truly great:

Bode Miller. He has the most World Cup wins of any US skier. But his attitude toward the sport makes me have close to zero respect for him. He prefers to train alone and not be part of the US ski team unless it's convenient (he had to be part of the team for the last Olympics). Miller has stated that he has raced while hung over and feels that performance enhancing drugs should be legal in professional skiing. At the 2006 Olympics he was more interested in partying than skiing. In a TV interview he also said that he's not a role model and doesn't want to be one. Sorry Bode, part of being a top athlete is also being a role model.

Lance Armstrong. His record of 7 Tour de France victories may stand forever. I actually had a lot of respect for Lance and his achievements on the bike until last year's Tour de France. In that Tour he did everything he could possibly do to sabotage his teammate, and eventual race victor, Alberto Contador. Armstrong finished 3rd in that race, but his behavior on the podium was boorish. He acknowledged second place finisher Andy Schleck but looked away when he had to shake Contador's hand. He also pouted the whole time on the awards podium.

Now for some terrific athletes who are also great off the field:

Kurt Warner. His American football team, the St. Louis Rams, won the Super Bowl in 2000 with Warner as quarterback. He has accumulated many pro football awards and accolades over his career. But what sets Warner apart from most of the other great quarterbacks is that he spends a great deal of his off time working with disadvantaged children. Warner doesn't just put in an appearance; he spends a lot of time with kids mentoring them and serving as a role model. He is a Christian and lives his religious principles by helping those less fortunate than himself.

Hermann Maier. The Herminator has the second most Alping skiing World Cup wins and a total of 14 Crystal Globes (4 overall and 10 for individual disciplines). His determination to succeed when he was told that he would never make it helped to make him a legend. When he was a junior skier, he was dismissed from the Austrian team for being too small. He went home, apprenticed as a bricklayer to build his upper body, and raced in local ski competitions during the winter. After finally catching the attention of the Austrian coaches, he won 2 Olympic gold medals in 1998 and three overall World Cup titles. In the summer of 2001 he almost lost a leg in a motorcycle accident and was told that his racing career was over. But he worked hard to rehabilitate his leg and came back to win a 4th World Cup title. In the 2006 Olympics he was told that he was too old and washed up to win any medals, yet came away with a silver and bronze medal. Maier was always the first to check out the course and one of the last to leave. Even when he was past his prime, his hard work and determination rubbed off on his Austrian teammates.

Diego Forlan. Forlan captured the world's attention in last summer's football (soccer) World Cup, where he won the Golden Ball for being the tournament's best player. Forlan led his Uruguayan team to a 4th place finish in the World Cup finals, its best finish since 1970. With his club, Athletico Madrid, he won the European Golden Boot twice for being the top goal scorer. His team also won the Europa League Championship and the European Super Cup. But there is another side to Forlan besides being a goal scorer. When his sister was a teenager, she was in a car accident and became paralyzed as a result. Forlan, who is close to his sister, promised that he would always take care of her. A lot of the money that he makes goes to his sister for her medical expenses and care. His football career is for more than individual accolades; he also plays so that his sister may have a good quality of life.

Aksel Lund Svindal. The Norwegian skier is the answer to the trivia question, "Who was the other man to win 3 skiing medals at the 2010 Olympics?" With his 3 Olympic medals, 5 World Championship medals, 2 overall World Cup titles, and 4 World Cup individual discipline titles, he is one of the skiing greats. After winning the overall World Cup title in 2007, Svindal had a severe injury that kept him out for the 2007-08 season. But he came back from that injury to win the overall World Cup title in 2009. What makes Svindal special is his sportsmanship. When he won the bronze medal in the Olympic giant slalom his teammate, Kjetil Jansrud, won the silver. Svindal said that that medal was extra special because his teammate was on the podium with him. He was just as happy for Jansrud as he was for himself. At the World Cup finals last winter Svindal had a DNF in the giant slalom. Most racers leave the area when they have a DNF. Not Svindal. He stayed by the finish area and cheered as each racer crossed the finish line. Both children and adults can learn about sportsmanship from Svindal's example.

Coming soon: Greatness Part Two, or what makes a runner great.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Thoughts on Being Over 50

People like to say that 50 is the new 30. I must admit that I feel 51 years young instead of 51 years old. It's funny when other women talk about how they feel so old because they're going to be turning 30. My response is, "Been there, done that, lived to tell about it and the same thing for 40 and 50." I feel that life gets better as you get older.

When I turned 50 last year, I was so different from my image of what a 50-year-old woman should be. That image was formed when I was younger from observing my mother and other women her age. My image of a 50-year-old woman was someone with the following characteristics: Big beehive hairdo (with a dye job), polyester pantsuits, gravelly voice from too much alcohol and cigarettes, slightly overweight, takes various prescription drugs, and doesn't exercise.

Let's go over these things one by one...

Beehive hairdo: Let's just say that the women of the B-52s don't need to worry about any competition from me. I have a fairly short haircut and my hair is my natural brown with a touch of grey. I haven't bothered to cover up the grey because there isn't that much. Also, I view each grey hair as a life lesson learned.

Polyester pantsuits: OK, I do admit to wearing polyester because my work uniform is made with lots of it. But when I'm at home, I'm in jeans and cotton shirts or wool sweaters. My technical running gear is made with polyester, but at least it has a nice feel and doesn't look like traditional polyester.

Gravelly voice from too much alcohol and cigarettes: Nope! I definitely don't have a gravelly voice. My mother smokes and I always hated her cigarette smoke. I tried to smoke when I was in junior high but hated it. I did my share of drinking when I was in college, but now I hardly drink. I'll have a glass of wine with dinner once in a while. I don't like to drink much because it affects my running.

Slightly overweight: I'm at the low end of the normal weight range for my height and age and have never been overweight. In fact, as a child I was underweight.

Takes various prescription drugs: I just read a book which said that the average 50-year-old American takes between 7 and 11 prescription drugs. The only drugs which I take daily are a multivitamin and a calcium supplement. The last prescription medicine that I had was for a skin problem on my hands last year.

Doesn't exercise: Regular exercise is part of my life. I can't imagine my life without exercise. In the winter I do a mix of running and downhill skiing. When it isn't ski season, I run, hike, and ride my bike. If I'm going someplace in town, I either walk or ride my bike. I haven't started slowing down yet and finished in the top 20% overall among the women and in my age group during my most recent half-marathon in October. When I do an on-base race, I'm one of the oldest, if not the oldest, woman in the field. It's a fun feeling to be older and still be among the top women in the race. A couple of years ago I was the 4th place woman in an on-base race at age 49. It was the first time in a long time that I finished "off the podium" on base. One of the top three women, who was in her 20s, said that she hoped to still be running when she was my age. At first I was a little offended because it felt like she was implying that I was ready for the rocking chair instead of the race course. Then I decided to take it as a, "You go, girl!" At that moment I realized that I was a role model for what an older athlete can do.

One of my wishes is to be like the senior citizens that I see on the running/hiking/biking trails and ski slopes. I think it's wonderful that those folks are defying the stereotype of how an older person should be. They're probably not anything like how they imagined a person their age would be. I also want to be different than my image of someone my age.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Helicopter Parents and College Life Lessons

A while back I saw a "20/20" story about helicopter parents. It featured a single mother with two college student sons to illustrate the growing helicopter parent phenomenon in the States. The mother takes care of her sons' needs so that they can concentrate on their studies. Mom has both sons' class schedules and gives them a wake-up call so that they'll get to their first class on time. The sons don't even choose their own classes, Mom does. She has a copy of the boys' syllabi so that she knows when they have papers due and exams. Of course she calls them to remind them of upcoming tests and deadlines. On the weekends Mom drivestwo hours to the university, cleans her sons' dorm rooms, and does their grocery shopping and laundry for them. When the boys were questioned about how they felt about their mother doing so much for them, the response was that it helped to make their lives easier. No surprise there! If I had someone taking care of all of my needs, my life would be easier too.

Those boys have it much easier than when I went to college. I had an alarm clock instead of a daily wake-up call from Mom. If I missed a class because of oversleeping, it was my responsibility to find out what I missed. Nobody reminded me when I had exams or papers due; I had to read my course syllabi on my own and plan my study time. I even chose my classes without any parental input. I read the information about the required classes for my major and picked my classes accordingly. My half of the dorm room sometimes looked like a tornado came through it because nobody cleaned up after me. When I got tired of my room looking messy, I cleaned up. My mother did my laundry for me once when I came home for a weekend. After that one time she told me to buy a box of Cheer and read the back. At that time, Cheer laundry powder had directions for which clothing went into hot, warm, and cold water.

Being away at college on my own taught me a lot of real life skills. From my sophomore year on, I worked part time while going to school. I learned to use my time wisely because I had less time to study than non-working students. One of the most important things I learned was how to prioritize tasks. For example, if I had a limited amount of time in which to study, I had to decide which subjects were the most important to study at that moment. Prioritizing tasks is an important part of my life as a parent with a full-time job. Another important life lesson was doing a little bit of a project each day to meet a deadline instead of putting it off until the last minute. That has served me well in my various jobs because I always met my deadlines. Getting along with others and resolving problems with roommates through compromise was something else that I learned. It would have looked silly to call my mother to help sort out any minor roommate issues. She would have told me to fight my own battles. In college I really learned how to organize my things and follow the saying, "A place for everything and everything in its place." It was much easier to find my books and papers if they were in the same place and if I kept my part of the room clean. I also learned to sort laundry carefully so that my whites wouldn't turn to pinks due to errant red socks.

I wonder how the boys in the "20/20" episode, and other kids with helicopter parents, are going to fare when they graduate from college. They seem to be missing out on learning vital life lessons because they are not doing much on their own. Will their mothers accompany them to their job interviews and negotiate their salaries for them? Eventually those kids will have to leave the nest and have their own families. Will their mothers continue to micromanage their lives as they have kids because they never learned how to do organize their lives on their own? The mother in the "20/20" episode alluded to that when she said that she hopes to become good friends with her future daughters-in-law. I wonder how the grandkids of helicopter parents will turn out. Will they rebel and become more independent, like kids of previous generations, or will they also end up dependent on their parents (or grandparents) for every little thing? Only time will tell.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Spring Skiing in November

The weather in Garmisch has been unseasonably warm. You'd think it was May or June instead of November with the warm, sunny weather. Even the mountains are warm compared to how they should be at this time of year.  The snow that fell on the mountains in the ski area by my house has all melted away. 

Right after the first snowfall a couple of weeks ago the Zugspitze glacier opened for skiing. The Zugspitze, which is Germany's highest mountain, has a small ski area. Because of its height, it's the only place to ski in the area at the beginning and end of the season. It's also the place to go when the other ski areas don't have much snow. The Zugspitze ski area improved several years ago when they replaced one of the t-bars with a chair lift. It's the only chair lift on the Zugspitze, but there are three different runs you can take from the top of it. The runs are rather short, and the hardest ones are intermediate level. 

Because of my work schedule, today was my first day on the ski slopes. I went up on the Zugspitze. It was a beautiful, sunny day.  The snow was soft, like spring snow. I started off with a short-sleeved technical shirt, a lightweight long-sleeved technical shirt, and my jacket. After a couple of runs I ended up shedding the long-sleeved shirt. It was even warm enough to eat lunch outside. As this post's title says, it was spring skiing in November, though it felt more like April. The down side is that there is a small base of snow (official report 85 cm) with a lot of rocks showing. At least it was easy to see the rocks and avoid them. For now it's best not to ski off-piste because of the rocks. But it will be a lot nicer after another snowfall or two. I felt like I skied pretty well for my first day, though I just skied for a couple of hours. Burning out on my first day wouldn't be any fun. I'll get stronger and gain more endurance as the season continues. It was also very uncrowded for a weekend. There was almost no waiting for the chair lift and the runs were almost empty, which was very surprising. I heard that it was very crowded yesterday because of the good weather. Maybe a lot of people got scared off from coming back today. I'm not complaining because I hate waiting in long lift lines. 

During ski season I'll ski two to three times a week and run twice a week. My runs become a little longer to make up for not doing it as often. I'm looking forward to more snow and a good ski season. 

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Culture Night/Kulturabend/Kultyurnii Vyecher

Last night was Culture Night at my work. Let me explain what Culture Night is all about...

I work in a school where students from the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, the USA, Africa, and South America take special courses in democracy building, counter-terrorism, and national security. The students are military officers, police officers, or government workers in their countries. They come for various courses, ranging in length from 3 to 12 weeks.

The 12-week course is offered twice a year. The highlight of that course, at least for me, is Culture Night. For Culture Night the students cook their national dishes, wear traditional clothing, and even play music from their countries. They also display photos or other items from their homelands. The alcohol flows freely, with vodka, wine, and different types of schnapps (which could also be used as paint thinner) offered by almost every country. It's wonderful to see the national and personal pride that goes into preparing the food and displays.

Culture Night is always on a Saturday. The advantage of working on Saturdays is that the kitchen in the building where I work is next door to my office. I get to smell all of the good cooking and often be the official taste tester. Working the day of Culture Night also has its down side. There have been a couple of times where I’ve had so many free samples during the day, I was too full to enjoy the main event.

The most important thing to bring to Culture Night is an appetite. Every table that you pass has students calling you over to try their food. It’s almost like being in a room full of Jewish grandmothers telling you, “Eat this. It’s good for you.” I learned early to serve myself. If I let the students serve me, I’d get a portion large enough for a 300-pound man. The students are rightfully proud of their national cuisine and want people to enjoy it like they do. But they forget that there are about 40 other countries being represented, all with students wanting you to try their food.

I think that one of the questions on the application for the 12-week course at the school where I work is, “Are you a good cook?” People who answer, "No" have their applications rejected. The students do a great job cooking their national dishes and the food is always delicious. There are a couple of delegations who “cheat” and order food from local ethnic restaurants. But these are the small delegations with only one or two students. The Romanians have a fellow countrywoman in town who makes their Culture Night dishes. But everyone else cooks their food. The Kyrgyz students impress me the most because they make their noodles from scratch instead of buying pre-made ones.

Last night's Culture Night was a success. I had a lot of my favorites, such as: Tajik plov (a rice dish with meat and carrots), Afghan chicken and rice, Turkish pizza, Mongolian dumplings, Turkish and Moldovan stuffed grape leaves, and Romanian nut-filled pastries. Some new things which I had that were also great were: Pakistani chicken over basmati rice, Saudi dates with an almond rolled into the middle, Georgian eggplant that had lots of garlic, Latvian ham-filled pastries, Argentine meat-filled pastries, Libyan nut cookies, and a unique Belgian jelly-filled candy. Every Culture Night I also have a glass of wine from a country that is not usually thought of as a traditional wine producer. Last night I had good red wine from Montenegro.

The next Culture Night will be in May. I'm looking forward to having some of my favorite dishes and trying new ones.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Go Speed Racer!

Okay, so I'm not a "demon on wheels" like the cartoon character Speed Racer. I wouldn't even call myself a demon in running shoes. But this week I've been a real speed demon, at least by my standards. I think it has something to do with a combination of cool weather (but still above freezing) and the ice that was there last week melting away.

A couple of weeks ago we had our first snow. As is the case with October snowfall, it melted away quickly. But the combination of warm days and below freezing nights froze the melted snow and created lots of black ice on the trails where I run. The good thing about the ice was that it forced me into a slow pace. There was enough ice for the paths to be slippery, but not enough for me to put ice spikes on my shoes. Since I was still in recovery mode from my recent half-marathon, a slower pace was good to let some little nagging problems heal fully.

This week I was really flying and feeling like I wasn't expending extra effort. That's such a wonderful feeling, especially because all of the little aches and pains from the race are gone. I often get faster after recovering from a race, so this is not a new phenomenon. Being on terra firma instead of ice was an extra added bonus, as was the sunshine.

There won't be too many more days like this left. It's supposed to cool off and start raining on Sunday, and the forecast calls for snow on Monday. Ski season has already started with the local glacier opening last weekend. However, the snow is not very good yet. Once ski season gets in full swing, I will ski 2 to 3 times a week and run twice a week. My runs will be slightly longer to make up for the lower frequency.

I have always enjoyed winter running and am looking forward to it. Running while it's snowing is like being in the middle of a snow globe. I like running on fresh snow, before it has been packed down and hardened. There's something about running in fresh snow that makes me feel like a kid again. People who insist on running indoors on a treadmill during the winter are really missing out.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Competition: Everyone Can't Be A Winner

Academically, one of my main complaints is the existence of weeded-out courses. These are typically introductory level courses, often in the sciences. They are intended to lessen the number of biology majors and show pre-med students what they are in for. This fosters an unhealthy competition within the class, and the difficulty of the exams and the amount of studying expected are too much of an abrupt shock for many entering students. What is the point of attending an "elite" school if they institutionalize oppressive amounts of work? Learning can exist in a positive environment, and some schools need to catch on to this concept. --Cornell Freshman

The above passage was the second paragraph of a letter written to the New York Times about college freshmen. The first thing that I noticed was that he should have said "weed-out" courses instead of "weeded-out," unless everyone in the class is high on marijuana. Then the term "weeded-out" would fit.

My second, and more serious, thought about that paragrah was the student's complaint about how courses designed with a high washout rate foster "unhealthy competition." It made me wonder how a person lived for 18 years without having to compete for anything. Does this person really expect to get an A in class for simply showing up, or that the class should be dumbed down so that everyone gets a good grade? There are a limited number of spots in medical schools. I personally want the doctor who's operating on my vital organs to be one of the best and brightest, not someone who thinks that he should get a good grade because he has a pulse or who went through watered-down classes. When I was in college in the late 1970s and early '80s, biology majors accepted that there was stiff competition for a coveted medical school slot. Those who didn't make it through the demanding pre-med courses changed their goals, then moved on with their lives. They didn't whine about the competition being unhealthy because they knew up front that only a certain percentage would make it to medical school.

I realize that I'm generalizing about the writer based on one letter to the editor. But it appears that this person never had to compete for anything in his life. Somehow over the past 20 years people in the States got it in their heads that zero competition promotes self-esteem. The prevailing wisdom has been that kids who don't do as well as their peers, academically or athletically, will suffer from low self-esteem. The way to make every child feel good about himself was to eliminate competition and any source of disappointment. The "everyone wins leagues" in the US are a good example of how competition has fallen by the wayside. Kids get a trophy at the end of the season, no matter how poorly they fared. This sends a message to kids that they don't have to give it their best in order to get an award.

The "everyone's a winner" concept is wrong, mainly because it promotes mediocrity and a sense of entitlement. People will believe that they deserve an award for lackluster effort. Kids need age-appropriate levels of competition to realize that not everyone can win. Competition is also a good way to motivate someone to try his hardest. Back when I was a kid, children had to try out to get onto a Little League baseball team or high school sports team. The kids who didn't make the team either worked harder to try and make it the next season or did something else. Yes, they were disappointed about not making the team. But they didn't complain about it or have their parents demand that they get put onto the team. Competition also prepares a child for real life. When kids get older, they have to compete for limited spaces at a university or for jobs. Having experienced a certain level of competition early in life makes a child better able to handle having to compete for more adult things like a job. I wonder how kids who have grown up without experiencing any competition, like the letter writer, will fare when it comes time to apply for a job.

I've seen the "we're all winners" effect in races that I've done. In the past, only marathon finishers got medals. A marathon finisher's medal signifies that the runner accomplished something that very few people can do. It is really worth something. Then medals began being given out for half-marathons. A half-marathon is still a long distance, so I have no problem with a finisher's medal for completing one. But I recently ran a 5 km race on base where all of the finishers, runners and walkers, were given medals. The top overall and age group finishers also received trophies. When I mentioned to the organizers that medals for finishing a 5K seemed a bit over the top, the response I got was that not everyone is a competitive runner and that the runners and walkers who completed the course deserve something.

My 11-year-old son also feels that non-competition is wrong. He was in the on-base ski program for three years. On the last day of the program, there is an informal race. The instructors record the times, but aren't supposed show them to the kids (some do anyway). After the race, there is a ceremony where all of the kids in the program get a certificate and medal. During my son's last year in the program, he had just turned 9, but was in a group of 12-15-year-olds. He placed second-to-last in the race in his group and was ecstatic about not finishing last. When he came home from the race, he asked why everyone got a medal and not just the top three kids. He then said that he didn't really deserve his medal because he wasn't one of the top three in his group. I tried to explain that the medal was for participation, but it still seemed wrong to him. He had been in both German and on-base ski races where only the top kids in each group got an award and the others left empty-handed.

Maybe our college freshman letter writer needs to learn from a child that not everyone can be a winner and that we can survive a little competition.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Deutsche Schule (German School)

Over the years people have asked me why I put my son in German school instead of the American school on base. The short answer is that he went to a local German kindergarten (preschool) for three years and that most of his friends were the German kids in his class. I felt that it was best for him to start first grade with familiar friends. The base school was always there as a fallback if he didn't do well in German school. But so far he's doing very well in German school.

Here's a little background about German schools for readers from other countries. Grundschule, or primary school, is from 1st to 4th grade. There are three levels of secondary school, which starts in 5th grade: Gymnasium, Realschule, and Hauptschule. A student's marks in 4th grade determine which type of secondary school he'll attend. Gymnasium (5th-12th grade) is for the students with the best marks, Realschule (5th-10th grade) is the middle level, and Hauptschule (5th-9th grade) is the lowest. A Gymnasium has a university prep curriculum, while Hauptschule students get a good basic education equivalent to a US high school diploma and learn vocational skills. Gymnasium graduates who pass their university entrance exams have the equivalent of an Associate's Degree. Grading is on a 1 to 6 scale, with 1 being the best mark. A 1 is very difficult to get; a student must be virtually perfect to earn a 1. A 2 is above average, 3 is average/meets all standards, 4 is passing with some deficiencies, 5 is the highest failing grade, and 6 is the worst failing grade. Religion is also part of the German school curriculum at all grades, even though Germany is a secular country. Students who don't take Catholic or Lutheran religion classes take Ethics.

Here are some of the things that I really like about German schools. They'll help explain why my son goes to one instead of to the base school.

There is no grade inflation like in US schools. In American schools it seems like students get a B just for showing up with a pulse. If they have a pulse and are breathing, they get an A. German students have to earn their grades. German teachers go at a prescribed speed in class, which is geared toward the class average. I have worked in American schools and noticed that teachers go at the pace of the slowest kids in the class. The higher achievers are bored waiting for the rest of the class to catch up. Because my son is one of the better kids in his class, he would be bored if he had to wait for the teacher to explain the lesson to the slower kids. The pacing of lessons in a German school is a better fit for him. German students who don't "clear the bar" must repeat the grade. There is no stigma for repeating a grade. Many kids in Gymnasium repeat a grade. In my son's class there is one boy who repeated 5th grade last year and another who is repeating 6th grade this year.

In the States a lot of "frivolous" courses have been cut out because of standardized test preparation. Many US schools have no art, music, sport, or recess. Because of No Child Left Behind, schools prep their students to take state tests in reading and math. There is a lot of teaching to the tests instead of creative teaching. The schools' funding and ratings depend on test results. In Germany kids must also take standardized tests in German and English. But school funding isn't contingent on the test results, so there is no pressure to teach to the tests. Even before my son started school, I wanted him to have an education that included the arts and sport along with academics. My son is in 6th grade in a Gymnasium and has a very well-rounded curriculum. He's taking: German, English, Latin, math, biology, history, introduction to computers, art, music, sport (PE), and ethics. His schedule varies every day. One would think that a school for high achievers would cut out the arts and sport in order to make room for the academic subjects. That's not the case in Germany. The arts and sport are also considered important.

Another thing that I like about German schools is tracking. Tracking was eliminated in the States because it supposedly made the slower kids feel bad about themselves. By having the three levels of schooling, students are with those of their ability level. The high achievers can go at a faster pace, while the slower kids can get the extra help that they need without making the rest of the class wait for them. I've noticed in my son's school that the kids are proud of having good grades and are in competition with each other to see who can get the best marks. They really push each other to do well.

Teachers are treated by parents and students as the professionals that they are. The teacher's word is law and discipline is strictly enforced. If a child forgets his homework more than three times, he must stay after class and catch up on his work. Students who consistently forget their homework, or who act up too much in class, must help the janitors clean the school. Cheating and talking during tests is strictly forbidden. If students are caught cheating or talking during a test, they are given a 6 and the parents are called in to talk with the teacher. My son recently had a biology test where two kids were caught talking and given an automatic 6.

There are a few things that I don't like about the German school system. One is that I feel that 5th grade is too early to start tracking the students. Performance in 4th grade may not necessarily reflect how a student will do in 8th. I personally feel that it would be better to have the kids go to primary school through 6th grade and then track them. That would catch some of the late bloomers. The other thing has to do with the nature of Gymnasium. Because universities in Germany are free, the government only wants to pay for the best and brightest to attend them. Kids who go to Gymnasium are the future university students. There is a high washout rate in Gymnasium. Students who have trouble in Gymnasium end up dropping down to Realschule. Sometimes I have the feeling that the Gymnasium teachers are deliberately trying to make the kids fail to weed them out early. There are also not very many tests or quizzes. When I was in school, I took a lot of tests and quizzes. If I had a poor mark on a test, it didn't affect my grade so much. But kids in German schools take very few tests compared to their US counterparts. A bad mark on a test has a big effect on the overall grade for that class.

Overall, I've been very happy with the German school system. I feel that my son is receiving the same well-rounded education that I had when I was a child.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

American vs German Races

I started running and racing in San Diego and kept up with it since being in Germany. People have asked me if I prefer races in the States or in Germany. It's hard to say where I prefer to race because my overall experience in both countries has been good. Organizers in both countries do a great job in creating a good race day. Today's post will be about the things I like best in each country.

What I Like About American Races:

1. Flexibility. Americans are more flexible when it comes to having to adjust water points or courses based on conditions. A good example was when I ran the 1992 America's Finest City Half-Marathon in San Diego. The weather was unseasonably hot and humid. The organizers added four more water points to the original four. I've also been in on-base races where the original course was altered due to excessive mud or ice.

2. Porta-Potties. Americans are great about putting Porta-Potties along the course of a long race. Germans haven't quite caught on to doing that. Men have the physiological advantage of being able to simply turn their backs to the course and "take care of business" anywhere. We women either need a Porta-Potty or bushes. Since bushes aren't always available, Porta-Potties are nice to have. I personally never used a Porta-Potty during a race, but it's good to know that one is there if I need it.

3. Races are for Everyone. In the States, you don't have to be a serious runner to participate in a race. A runner can enter a race just for the accomplishment of finishing. Until recently, there was a "serious and fast runners only" mentality in Germany, which discouraged slower runners. In the States "relaxed runners" and walkers are welcome. In races where there is a time limit, walkers and slower runners have an earlier starting time. Opening races to everyone is a great way to encourage people to get off the couch and move.

4. Swag. The last time I raced in the States was in 2004, before the economy went downhill, so things may have changed. But in just about every race I did in San Diego, I got a good-sized bag full of free samples, a t-shirt, and discount coupons. There were vendors at the finish line handing out free Power Bars and sports drink samples. A lot of races also had prize drawings. I won prizes in drawings twice: hockey tickets and dinner for two at a fancy restaurant.

What I Like About German Races:

1. Kilometers. Because Germany uses the metric system, courses are measured in kilometers instead of miles. Maybe I've been here too long, but I prefer kilometer markers. In the late stages of a long race, when I'm feeling tired, I know that it's not so far to the next marker. When I race in the States, I have to remind myself that the course is marked in miles so that I don't feel like I'm super slow. An 8-minute mile is much faster than an 8-minute kilometer.

2. Small Local Races. When I lived in Parsberg, there were a lot of small local races in my area. The people who organized them were very friendly and welcoming to all runners. They made each runner almost feel like a member of the family. In many small races, each runner's name is announced as he crosses the finish line. It makes the race experience more personal. Some small races also had the best prize giveaways. The Velburg Easter Run (near Parsberg) and the Eibsee Run in the Garmisch area are known for their prize drawings. One year in Velburg I won a large chocolate Easter bunny. At Eibsee two years ago I got warm mittens and a calendar. Small races also have very inexpensive entry fees.

3. Free Public Transportation. In big city races the public transportation is free for the runners. Because parking is hard to find in large cities, and is often limited at a race start or finish, people are encouraged to use public transportation. Whenever I race in Munich, I park at a park-and-ride on the south side of the city and take the subway to the start. The trains run every few minutes and are clean and efficient. When I ran the Berlin Marathon in 1994, I also took the subway to the start area.

4. Odd Distances. In big, organized races a course is set to fit the race distance. A 10K race will be 10 kilometers, a marathon 42.2, etc. But the little local races are fun because the organizers plot out a course, then measure the distance. The course is often a scenic trail in the woods. If the trail is 8.7 kilometers, then that's the race distance. To me it's fun to run a different distance than the standard 5K, 10K, half-marathon, or marathon. The Eibsee Run is a surprise because the starting point changes slightly from year to year. The advertised distance is 12.2 kilometers, but it varies a little because of the where the organizers decided to put the starting line.

In both Germany and the States, the organizers and volunteers deserve a big "thank you" for doing a great job and for making each race day a memorable experience.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Munich Two Chapter Two

A few random thoughts about yesterday's race in Munich...

The weather was perfect for a long race. It started off a bit cold (4 C or about 39 F) and sunny, which made me debate whether to wear a short-sleeved or long-sleeved shirt with shorts. I opted for the short sleeves. It was a good call because it warmed up enough that I would have baked in the long-sleeved shirt. The breeze was chilly, but felt refreshing in the later part of the race. 

According to the marathon website, there were over 18,000 runners in the four races: marathon, half-marathon, 10K, and  6 km Trachtenlauf (race where the runners wear traditional Bavarian clothing). I met people from different parts of Germany who came to Munich for the race. 

I ended up running into someone that I knew from my Hohenfels days. He was the principal of the base elementary school when I first moved to Germany. He was also here in Garmisch during my first year here. When I last saw him he wasn't running, so it was a big surprise to see him at the race. We ran part of the first kilometer together and then I took off ahead. He commented on my photo of Bill that I had pinned to my shirt above my number. When I told him who Bill was, he thought that it was a fitting tribute to have Bill with me during the race. 

When I looked at the results, I saw the last place men and women and their times. The last place woman finished in about 3.5 hours. The amazing thing was that she had Down syndrome. She belonged to an athletic club for people with Down syndrome. What a wonderful accomplishment for her to have finished a half-marathon. I'm sure there have been many times in that woman's life where she was told that she couldn't do things because of her limitations. But yesterday she did something that very few "normal" people can do--finish a 21.1 km (13.1 mile) race. 

The finishers medals for the half-marathon and 10 km runs were heart-shaped. They were decorated to look like the big gingerbread hearts that are sold at fests all over Bavaria. Because it was the 25th running of the marathon, the finishers of every race got a medal. The marathon medals were round and look like the one I got when I ran it three years ago. 

My right knee is still a bit sore today, but it will be fine in a few days with some rest, ice, and massage. I can tell that it's an IT band problem because of it being on the outside of the knee. Also, when I use my massage stick on my IT band, the knee pain goes away. It also seems to loosen up when I walk around. Whew! I've had knee injuries where I was out of commission for a couple of months. Suffice it to say that was no fun. 

All in all, the Munich half-marathon was a good experience. I hope that the organizers decide to make the half-marathon part of the marathon festivities. I'd like to go up and run it again. 

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Munich Two

This is the second half-marathon that I ran in Munich this year. I ran the half-marathon that's part of the Munich Marathon. This is the first year that there was a half-marathon along with the marathon.  There were close to 5,000 finishers at this inaugural race: 1651 women and 3120 men.  My time was 1:53:43, which was about 2 minutes faster than my time at last June's City Run.  I was 296th out of the 1651 women and 24th out of 144 in my age group (W 50-54). The results were segregated by gender. Just for fun I checked my time among the men's results and would have been right in the middle of the pack. 

For the most part, I'm satisfied with my time. I achieved the goal of improving on my time from the City Run. There were also a couple of  things which affected my time. The first 16 km (10 miles) were fast. Then the toe cramps struck. The three smallest toes on my right foot kept cramping. I had to walk to loosen them back up. This was the first time that I had toe cramps in a race. My husband gets toe cramps when his feet get cold. After having experienced them today, I'll never again think that he's being a big drama queen when he gets them. The other problem had to do with the sport drink that was served. It tasted awful and my stomach didn't like it. Even when I diluted the drink with water, it gave me gas pains. This was another first. Normally the sports drinks at races don't bother me. I attribute some of that to the nervous stomach that I had since Friday. 

At first I was a bit disappointed with my time because I really wanted a faster one. I was on track for a much faster time through the first 16 km. A lot of that time I was "in the zone," going fast but still feeling pretty comfortable.  But as I was leaving the stadium after having some post-race refreshments, I saw other people who were crossing the finish line. They were finishing at around the 2:15 mark. Then I realized that there were people in the race who would have been very happy to finish in my time. That and being in the top 20% for both the women and my age group put things in perspective and the disappointment went away.

Before the race, I also incurred some slight injuries. There was a huge line for the women's bathroom. Instead of directing people to the Porta-Potties near the start, the organizers sent women to an indoor bathroom with only 3 toilets.  A group of us women toward the back of the toilet line, myself included,  decided to use some nearby bushes to take care of business. There were nettles in the bushes! I got stung on my left hand, arm, and leg. I've brushed up against nettles while training and the sting lasted a couple of minutes. Munich nettles must be more potent than Garmisch ones because the spots where I got stung are still bothering me. I still have some red bumps on my skin from the nettles. 

The course was the second half of the marathon course. About half of it was in the old city. I remember the last part of the marathon course being a big labyrinth, but somehow I though it was only the last 6 km. But about 8 km was like being in the middle of a maze until heading toward the finish at the Olympic stadium. The last kilometer seemed to be the longest because I kept expecting the turn into the stadium tunnel and onto the track. I remember that feeling from running the marathon too. 

I saw a funny sight in the early part of the race. We runners passed by a restaurant called "Mai Wok." One would think that it would be a Chinese restaurant, especially with the word "wok" in the name. Nope. It was a restaurant which served both Indian food and pizza. I've also been to Indian restaurants and pizzerias, but never to a restaurant which served both types of food. 

The runners were encouraged to use public transportation to get to the start and home from the Olympic stadium. The subway trains were packed! It was like what you see in Tokyo during rush hour. I had a Power Bar with me to eat on the train ride back to the park-and-ride where I left my car. But there wasn't enough room to pull it out of my bag and eat it. It was nice that all of the public transportation in Munich was free today for the runners. 

Now it's time to take a well-deserved rest. My right knee is a little bit sore, but some ice will help it. I'll spend most of this week walking instead of running to let my body recover. 

Friday, October 8, 2010

Call Me Lightning

This entry's title, which is a song by the Who, sums up how I've been running over the past couple of weeks. I can tell that I'm peaking because I'm going a lot faster on my normal routes but feel like I'm holding back. I'm peaking at the perfect time for my half-marathon on Sunday. Today's short (about 5 km) run was another fast one, though I felt like I wasn't exerting myself at all. For a lot of the run I felt very "in the zone." I feel the way I did before running my first half-marathon back in 1991. My time in that race was better than I expected.

I can't believe that the race is in two days. All of the training is in, and I'm as ready as I'm going to be. The weather will be almost perfect for a half-marathon. It's supposed to be sunny and about 10 C (50 F) at the start. If it was overcast, then it would be perfect. But I'll take the cooler temperature and sun over hot and cloudy any day. This afternoon I put my chip onto my shoe, topped off the gas tank, and put my favorite Eros Ramazzotti disk in the car's CD player. I know what I'm going to wear in the race and afterward. Tomorrow after work I'll get my clothing and other gear together.

I don't have any specific time goals. My half-marathons in cooler weather are in the 1:49-1:54 range, while the warmer-weather ones range from 1:55 to 2:00. If I had to set a goal, it would be to beat my time of 1:55 that I had in this summer's Munich City Run. If all goes well, that's a very real possibility.

Sunday's race will be dedicated to absent friends. As usual, I'll pin a photo of my former running partner Bill to my shirt. I'll also be thinking about two other friends who have died. Michael was stabbed to death in January 2008. I ran a couple of races up in Hohenfels with Michael. Even though I beat him every time, he was always very good-natured about it. I had gone to Munich several times with Michael. He and his wife always enjoyed being in Munich. Dan died earlier this year from pancreatic cancer. He was never a runner. In fact, he was overweight and didn't exercise. But he always took an interest in my running and races. If my legs start feeling like they're made of lead, I'll think about one of Dan's jokes to take my mind off the pain.

I'll post a report on the race after I get my results.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Seven More Days...

...until the Munich Half-Marathon.

This is the first year that there will be a half-marathon along with the Munich Marathon. So far over 1600 people have signed up for it, which is a good-sized field for an inaugural race. I have a feeling that a lot of people will sign up this week. Many runners tend to wait until the last minute to register.

The half-marathon will be the second half of the marathon course. It will start at the half-marathon mark and finish in the Olympic Stadium. A lot of the tourist attractions in the city center, like the Glockenspiel in the Marienplatz, will be part of the course. I remember the last few kilometers in the city center being rather labyrinthine. It also seemed to take a long time to get into the stadium once it was in sight. But the finish on the stadium track is fantastic. The track is made of a high-tech very springy material that feels wonderful on tired feet. The only down side is that the course won't go through the English Garden. The English Garden was originally in the second half of the marathon course, which is the same course used in the 1972 Olympics. Then several years ago the organizers had runners do the course in reverse and it has stayed that way ever since.

Training has been fantastic and I'm peaking at the right time. It's going even better than for my half-marathon in June. In the past couple of weeks I've been running my normal routes faster. Yesterday I ran my last long run, about 13.5-14 km, or somewhere between 8.5 and 9 miles. I hit my checkpoints with my fastest times this year, yet felt like I was holding back. When I do my short runs later this week, I'll really have to rein myself in and save my energy for the race. All of my training is in and there's really nothing I can do now but have an easy week and hope for a good race and cool weather.

Because the race is a point-to-point course, my plan is to park at the park-and-ride on the south side of the city that I use when I do the Munich City Run and take the U-Bahn (subway) to the start area. The U-Bahn stops about 100 meters from the start. This seems to be the simplest option and the one with the lowest potential for getting lost or arriving late. The other options are:

1) Park at the starting area and take the U-Bahn back from the Olympic Stadium. The down sides are limited parking and the fact that I don't know my way around Munich by car all that well. I can just see myself driving all around trying to find the start area and missing the race. It's the stuff of pre-race nightmares.
2) Park at the stadium and take the U-Bahn to the start. The up side is that all of my things would be handy right after the race. I can just get in my car and head directly home. The disadvantage is that the closest U-Bahn stop is about a 20-25 minute walk from the stadium. I also don't know exactly where it is. Again, I'd be wandering around anxiously before the race trying to find the U-Bahn stop and worrying about arriving on time. If I'm going to have a long walk to the U-Bahn, I'd rather do it after the race because it will help to loosen up my legs after running 21.1 km (13.1 miles). Also, after the race I can ask people how to get to the U-Bahn stop and get there without any anxiety.

Race day has really snuck up on me. It seems like just a few weeks ago when I decided to train for this race. I'm really looking forward to it. My goal is to enjoy the experience and finish the season on a high note without setting any time goals. This anticipation reminds me a lot of what I experienced before my first half-marathon in 1991, when I had a better-than-expected time.

Here's to a good race...

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Only in Bavaria

Even though the fall mornings are cold, I've been riding my bike to work when I'm on the early shift. There aren't too many more good days for cycling left until winter comes and I want to take advantage of the little bit of exercise and cross-training that I'm getting. Every time I ride my bike instead of driving, it's also that much less carbon I'm putting into the atmosphere. Because I have such a short commute (2.5 km to one building and 3.4 to the other), my rides to work and home are rather uneventful. But this morning I saw something very funny.

I rode by a house that had several stuffed deer heads with antlers displayed outside above its second floor (first floor to the Europeans) balcony. There is nothing unusual about antlers displayed the outside of a house here. But the person whose house I passed had an interesting use for his hunting trophies--he used them to dry his shirts. On each set of antlers there were two shirts on hangers, one on each side. Most people here would have used a standard drying rack or clothesline, but this guy decided to go for the Creative Uses For Antlers Award. I can just imagine the conversation between the man who shot the deer and his wife:

Wife: Those deer heads with the antlers are totally useless.
Husband: No they're not. They're perfect for air drying my shirts.

I wish that I had a camera with me to photograph those shirts hanging from the antlers. I'll just have to keep the vision of them in my head. Only in Bavaria...

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Bella Italia

On Monday I got back from an 8-day trip to Lake Garda in Italy. The weather was sunny and warm, though the mornings were refreshingly cool. Our apartment was on the small side, but had everything that we needed. We were outside the town of Sirmione, on the very southern part of the lake. Most of our days were spent hanging out by the pool or lake, which was about 300 meters from our apartment. The pool at our apartment complex wasn't heated and was rather chilly. Brrrr! But the lake water was warmer and very pleasant. Lake Garda was surprisingly shallow, at least our little part of it was. I could walk out for over 100 meters before the water was over my head. There was also a small playground across from the apartment complex, where we played some basketball or football (soccer). Overall it was a very relaxing vacation. We went out for pizza once; but the pizza wasn't as good as that at our local pizzeria in Garmisch (which is owned by Italians). On the other nights we cooked our meals in the apartment. The ice cream was fantastic! Italians make the world's best ice cream. We decided to stay for another three days, but as we were making a reservation, we saw a weather report which showed lots of rain over the next four days. We decided that if it was going to rain, we may as well be at home. 

The area where we stayed is famous for its amusement parks. There are three big ones in the area: Gardaland, Movieland Studios, and Canevaword (also known as Movieland Water Park). Movieland and Canevaworld are owned by the same company and you can get a special 2-day ticket that's almost a "two days for the price of one" deal.  Here's how I rated them:

1. Canevaworld: No waiting in lines for the different rides, which was a definite plus. The Crazy River inner tube ride was the most fun ride. It wasn't very crowded the day we went there because the day had started off fairly cool. 

2. Gardaland: Had the best roller coasters and rides in general, but long waiting times for the various good rides. I was too scared to try Blue Thunder, which was a suspension coaster. Magic Mountain was a fun coaster with two loops and two corkscrews. 

3. Movieland Studios: The smallest of the three parks. Most of the attractions got you wet. There were also long waits to do some of the rides. Their main roller coaster was fun, but over almost as soon as it started. 

One thing that I really like about European amusement parks is that you're allowed to bring your own food. In US amusement parks it's streng verboten (strictly forbidden) to bring your own food into the parks. At all three parks were able to pack nice picnic lunches and buy little treats. The food in European amusement parks is also not a big ripoff like in the States. The prices were the same or slightly higher than they would have been for the same food at a restaurant in town. The whole idea of going to an amusement park in Europe is to have a good time without going broke. 

There were a few things that I found a bit different. One was that when I was looking online for places to stay, I noticed that hotels in the area cost a lot more than apartments. You can really save money by staying in an apartment and cooking most of your meals. I've found over the years that Italian hotels aren't that nice. An Italian three-star apartment is much nicer than a three-star hotel.  Sheets and towels also aren't included with an Italian apartment like they are in Germany or Austria. You either have to bring your own or pay for each set of sheets and towels. We brought our own. Even though it's now the 21st century, most of the toilets at the amusement parks were holes in the ground surrounded by a little porcelain. You'd think that with the relatively high ticket prices of these parks (but still much lower than an equivalent amusement park in the States), they could afford to get out of the Dark Ages and upgrade the commodes. 

I got in two short (about 5 km) runs during my trip. There is a small path along the lake shore. Even though it was short, it had all sorts of terrain: grass, dirt, pebbles, wooden bridges, cement, cobblestones, and a little bit of asphalt. I would have run more, but I slept in too late most mornings. If I wasn't out the door by 9, it would have been too warm to run. But I wasn't a total slug because I walked around the amusement parks, played ball, and did a little swimming. I had to do something to burn off all the ice cream! 

I have the rest of the week off. Then it's back to work on Tuesday, which is also when the kids go back to school in Bavaria. 

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Bill's Wit and Wisdom

Author's note: This was originally started on 26 August, which is why that date is the posting/publication date. The draft was saved on that date. But it was revised and actually posted on 9 September. "Yesterday" refers to 8 September and not 25 August. 

My former running partner Bill died 4 years ago yesterday from complications of leukemia. Bill taught me just about everything that I know about long distance running. Even though some of the things he taught me may be considered "old school" today, I still follow them because they have always worked for me. As I became an experienced runner, I passed on Bill's teachings to new runners who came to me for advice on how to run a half-marathon or marathon.  Here are some of my favorite "Bill quotes" and pieces of advice:

"If there was no last place finisher, the race would never end." This is my very favorite quote from Bill and is true when you think about it. Bill said that to me when I told him that my biggest fear for my first half-marathon was finishing last. He also (correctly) assured me that I wouldn't be the last finisher. 

"Running is 90% mental and only 10% physical." I've lost count of the number of times that a positive or negative frame of mind affected my running. 

"You think too much." This one also ties in with, "Stop looking at your watch." Bill noticed right away that I was obsessed with my times. This was his way to get me to simply enjoy running without worrying about my pace. One time he even took my watch from me. After some initial anxiety about how I was doing, I settled in and enjoyed the run and conversation. 

"In my years on the cross-country team, I can proudly say that I was never beaten by a runner from Taft." I went to Taft High School, and Bill went to rival school Reseda High. He was on Reseda's cross-country team. Taft always had good athletic teams, while Reseda was usually the last place team in any sport. During one run, I was making fun of Reseda's teams and he came up with that quote. Even after his death, Bill kept his unbeaten streak intact. I had his photo pinned above my number in the 2007 Munich Marathon. We crossed the finish line in a tie. 

"Are you going to let an old man beat you?" Bill was 12 years older than me. When we'd run together, we'd do a full sprint for the last 100-200 meters of our training runs. This was great training for the last part of a long race. Even with tired legs at the end of a race, it's a real boost to pick up the pace at the very end. Bill would get a step or two ahead of me and then ask if I was going to let myself get beaten by an old man. I was able to keep up with him, but he made it tough. Believe it or not, I say this to myself during almost every training run final sprint.  

"A marathon isn't like running two half-marathons in a row. It's more like running six."  Very true. The first half of a marathon is relatively easy. But the second half of a marathon is like running five half-marathons in a row. 

"I thought you said you couldn't run 10 miles." Before I did my first 10-mile training run, I told Bill that I couldn't possibly do it. We ran together and next thing I knew, I had run 10 miles (16 km) and was getting one of his post-run hugs with that quote. 

As I said before, I ran the 2007 Munich Marathon with Bill's photo pinned above my race number. During the race I had many ongoing conversations with him. Talking with a dead person sounds a bit loopy, but it got me through the race. At the 39 km mark (a metric marathon is 42.2 km) there was a water point with drinks and bananas. I was hungry and stopped for a drink and piece of banana. Big mistake. My legs decided that they had enough running. Just beyond the water point was a corral where people who dropped out of the race were awaiting a ride to the finish area. It was so tempting to stop. But then I heard Bill's voice saying, "You've come too far to quit now. You can do this." As usual, he was right.  I started off at cool-down jog pace and my legs eventually loosened up enough to make it those last 3.2 km. I even set a personal marathon record at age 48. The record was even sweeter sharing it with Bill. 

As long as there are new runners who come to me for advice on how to run a long-distance race, Bill will live on. 

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Russian Textbook World

I've been studying Russian for my job. I recently finished the textbooks for the Defense Language Institute basic course and am now using a friend's old intermediate-level textbooks. All of the books that I've been using were published back in the days of the Soviet Union. It's funny to see old city names like Leningrad and Stalingrad in these books. My Russian textbooks also paint an interesting picture of life in the former USSR.

It seems like all of the Russian language textbook authors got together to create what I call "Russian Textbook World" or RTW. RTW is supposed to represent life in the Soviet Union. Lessons are written from the viewpoint of a Soviet university student. The student lives with his parents, older sister, and younger brother in Moscow. The father is either a pilot, engineer in a factory, doctor, or school director. Mom is a nurse or a teacher. I guess all those statistics about most of the USSR's doctors being women were wrong because RTW women are never doctors. The older sister works in a store or a kindergarten. The younger brother is still in elementary or high school and doesn't have a job yet. The university student, usually male, is studying engineering, chemistry, physics, or medicine. He befriends an American student who's also studying at the university. Our RTW college student likes to show his American friend the sights of Moscow and explain its history. The KGB never hears about our Soviet student socializing with a foreigner and then arresting him, which is what would have happened in the real USSR. That's because there is no KGB in RTW. Grandma and Grandpa are retired and live in a village in another part of Russia.

The typical Soviet family in RTW doesn't have a car. Nobody uses the metro, despite the fact that Moscow has an excellent subway system. Everyone goes to work or school on the bus, the tram, or on foot. If every man is a pilot, engineer, doctor, or school director, I wonder who drives the buses and trams in RTW. Either cycling in Moscow is for the elite, or our family doesn't own any bicycles because nobody in RTW rides a bicycle to work or school.

Don't believe what the Western press says about food shortages or long lines in the grocery stores in the USSR. There are none in RTW. Our typical Moscow family eats very well and never has to wait in line for food. Every day they eat: oatmeal, pancakes, sandwiches, ham, sausage, other meat, eggs, and even some fish. There don't seem to be many fruits and veggies in the RTW diet except for carrots, mushrooms, potatoes, cucumbers, and onions. RTW families drink milk, tea, wine, and water. Dad never goes out and gets drunk pounding shots of vodka with his buddies. In Russian vodka is vodka and water is voda, which is probably why every man that I've met from the former USSR drinks vodka like it's water. RTW really is an alternate universe!

Our RTW family lives in an apartment in a multi-story building. The apartment is large enough for the family and has a living room, hallway, bathroom, kitchen, dining room, study room, and bedrooms. All of the modern conveniences are in the apartment: electricity, gas, telephone, hot water, and even a shower. There are good views from the windows. Every family in RTW has a television and radio, though not all have VCRs. Every RTW family has a friend who just moved to a brand new apartment (also in a multi-story building) who will be having a housewarming party soon. The friend with the new apartment recently bought furniture.

There are various forms of entertainment in RTW. When not going to the theater, a movie, a concert, or a football/soccer game at the local stadium (where Spartak Moscow only plays Dynamo Moscow), the typical RTW family watches TV, listens to radio programs, or goes for a walk in the park. Students often go to the local club with their friends. Sometimes a friend will come to visit. The post office is evidently the place to be in RTW. Whole lessons in Russian language textbooks are all about going to the post office. At the post office in RTW, you don't just mail a letter or package or buy stamps. You can also send telegrams, pick up packages, and make long distance phone calls. Telegrams appear to be the main medium of communication in RTW. Going to the doctor is another pastime. People in RTW get enough coughs, colds, sore throats, fevers, and headaches to keep their doctors very busy.

When people go on vacation in RTW, they take the train to the Black Sea, the Caucausus, the Crimea, or the Baltic. There are evidently no other vacation destinations in RTW. Even though those places must be very crowded with everyone in the USSR spending their summer vacations there, hordes of tourists are never mentioned. These places are always calm and peaceful. Sometimes the kids will visit Grandma and Grandpa in their village for the summer and spend their days hiking in the woods gathering mushrooms and berries.

Nothing bad ever happens in RTW. In my Defense Language Institute books, there were sections in each lesson with newspaper article excerpts. Most of them were about some sort of disaster: car crashes, plane crashes, train crashes and derailments, fires, floods, earthquakes, or volcanic eruptions. The interesting thing is that all of these disasters happened outside the USSR. When there were articles about the USSR, they were usually about Aeroflot's new flights to East Berlin, Sofia, and Prague, a new modern hotel for businessmen in Leningrad (with electricity!), special cruises on Russia's rivers, or how a local tractor factory increased its production.

Would I like to live in RTW? No. I like the real world better. Anyway, if I got on a bus or train in RTW, I'd probably end up having to drive it.