Saturday, July 31, 2010

Running the World

The great thing about running is that you can do it anywhere. You don't need any special equipment except for good shoes and a sports bra with good support (women only for that second item). When going on vacation, you don't have to schlep a lot of equipment or look for a gym. You just put on your running clothes and go out the door.

I almost always brought running clothes when I went on vacation and have run in some interesting places. On a trip to Portugal I found a cross-country trail near my hotel. As I was running, it seemed like everyone else on that trail was zooming by me. Everyone was passing me like I was standing still. Afterward I found out that this trail was used for training by elite runners. There was one group of elite runners from Germany at my hotel. I saw other people walking around with t-shirts from high-level competitions. I didn't feel so bad about being passed after that. When I took trips to Bibione, Italy the running gear came with me. I liked running on the path along the beach before the weather got too hot and the crowds came out to the beach. I've also run in the Austrian Alps.

When I go to the States to visit family and friends, I always pack the running gear. I have run in Boston, San Diego, Los Angeles, Lone Pine (CA), and Novato (CA) while visiting. I had a strange experience in Novato, where I was visiting my cousin. I ran to a park, where there were some nice-looking trails. As I was running on a trail, there was a group of 4 people (2 men, 2 women) in front of me walking abreast who I wanted to pass. Just before I could say, "Excuse me," I tripped on a rock and my hand landed on one of the women's shoulders. She screamed like I had pulled a gun on her. Her companions turned around to see what was happening. I don't think that I look very threatening, but I guess you never know. Maybe that bottle of Gatorade that I was carrying in my waist pack looked like a deadly weapon. ("Hand over your money, or I'll squirt you with my Gatorade.") After apologizing for scaring everyone and explaining what happened, we all went on our way. On my way back, I ran into those people again, but this time from the front. We smiled at each other and then I ran back to my cousin's house.

My most interesting running experience was on the Greek island of Kalymnos. I went out for an early morning run after breakfast and decided to get off the road and go up a hill that had a dirt trail. As I was getting toward the top of the hill, I heard a lot of bells. When I got to the top, there was a huge herd of goats with the herders. It was like something out of a storybook about Greece. I got some funny looks from the goat herders because I'm sure that runners weren't a common sight on that island.

When I go on vacation to Italy next month, I will pack my running gear. I'm sure there are some nice places to run along Lake Garda.

Monday, July 12, 2010

All-Weather Running

Mad dogs and Englishmen may go out in the midday sun, but real runners go out in every conceivable weather condition. If I were to wait for a perfect day to run, which would be overcast and 10-15 C (50-59 F), I would never get out. I have run in blazing summer sun, below freezing temperatures, light rain, heavy rain, freezing rain, snow, and ice. Would I have it any other way? No. I couldn't imagine having to run on a treadmill 90% of the time because of being a weather wimp. A lot of people that I know will only run outdoors when the weather is nice. They're missing out. 

As they say here in Bavaria, "There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing." That holds true for running gear too. I probably have more running gear than "the average bear" because of the weather. If I was still living in Southern California, I would just need shorts, singlets, one pair of lightweight tights, a couple of short-sleeved technical shirts and one long-sleeved shirt. If I spent my time in the gym on the treadmill instead of the great outdoors, I'd just need shorts and singlets. But I would much rather be outdoors and actually going somewhere. Because I run outdoors all year 'round, I have shorts and singlets for warm weather, capris, lightweight (spring/fall) tights, winter tights, long and short-sleeved technical shirts, fleece overshirts, ice spikes, and a Gore-Tex suit that doubles as a rain suit and winter running suit. Imelda Marcos may have spent her money on shoes, but I spend mine on running gear for all seasons. 

It turns out that my best winter running gear comes from German grocery stores. I have gotten great bargains on technical shirts, tights, and fleece overshirts at the grocery store. In fact, my warmest winter tights are my 13 euro specials from the Aldi that I bought about 10 years ago. They're much warmer than tights that I ordered online that cost about four times as much. 

We've had some crazy weather lately. Last Tuesday I set out on a run. There was a misty rain, which felt refreshing after the heat that we've been having. A few minutes into that run, the sky opened up and it started pouring. I was just dressed in shorts and a short-sleeved technical shirt. The shirt was loose, so at least it didn't stick to me. I hate the feeling of wet clothing sticking to me. My shorts, shoes, and socks were also soaking wet. I cut my run a little short to take a route that was less in the open. If I really wanted to, I could have brought a bar of soap and shampoo and had an outdoor shower. But I pressed on with the run and waited until I came home to have a shower. A couple of days later, it was hot and humid again. Who knows what it will be tomorrow. But no matter the weather, I am prepared for it. 

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Octopus Oracle

The biggest celebrity in Germany is not anyone on the football (soccer) team  or an entertainer. Germany's biggest star during this World Cup is an octopus named Paul, who lives at the Sea Life aquarium in Oberhausen. Paul was born in England but moved to Sea Life as a very young octopus. His claim to fame is predicting how the German football team will do in its big matches.

How does Paul predict Germany's wins and losses? Aquarium workers put two clear containers with food in his enclosure. One container has a German flag and the other has Germany's opponent's flag. The container that Paul goes to first to get the food is considered his pick. The container with the German flag is not always on the same side. If Germany is considered the "home" team, it's on one side. When Germany is the "away" team, the German flag container is on the other side. 

Paul's career as an eight-armed oracle started in the 2008 European football championships. He had an 80% accuracy rate. His only error was picking Germany to beat Spain in the final. Spain won 1-0. 

At the World Cup this year Paul's psychic powers improved with age. He predicted all of Germany's wins and losses correctly. His predictions have been televised on German TV for all to see and are commented on by the newscasters. CNN, Eurosport, CBS News, and newspapers all around the world have all run stories about Paul and his game forecasts. In the preliminary round he picked German victories over Australia and Ghana and a loss to Serbia. In the second round he predicted Germany's win over England and in the third round victory over Argentina. When he predicted that Germany would lose to Spain in yesterday's semi-final, there was talk that Paul's psychic powers were on the wane. Many people in Germany thought that since Paul erred in the European championship with Spain, he would also be wrong about the World Cup semi-final. But that was not so as Spain beat Germany 1-0. 

Paul is going to be put to the test predicting the winner of Saturday's third place game between Germany and Uruguay. He will also be asked to pick the winner of the final on Sunday between Spain and the Netherlands. His picks will be televised in all of those countries. 

Now there is talk about turning Paul into calamari for picking Spain over Germany. Some German fans believe that Paul's predictions messed with the German team's heads and caused them to lose to Spain. That could be. But it was also true that Spain was the better team last night, no matter what Paul may have predicted. I hope that Paul is around for the 2012 European championships and the 2014 World Cup instead of being turned into somebody's dinner. It will be interesting to see if his psychic powers stay with him as he ages. 

A Tale of Two Countries

Here is a tale of two countries  from the World Cup: Uruguay and  Germany. When the Uruguayan team made the semi-finals of the World Cup last weekend, there was understandably a lot of celebrating all over the country. The last time the 2-time World  Cup champions (1930 and 1950) made the final four of the World Cup was in 1970. The country of 3.5 million people celebrated their team, which wasn't projected to make it out of the first round. Even when Uruguay lost a close game to the Netherlands in the semi-finals (3 to 2), Uruguayans were proud of how their team played with heart and determination, even when they were down 3-1. If the offsides goal that the Dutch scored was disallowed, like it should have been, Uruguay would have played even with one of the very best teams in the world. This feat was even more amazing because Uruguay played without three of its starters, who were out due to cards or injury. According to what I have been reading, there is still a lot of celebrating in Uruguay. When the team returns to Montevideo after playing the game for 3rd place this Saturday, they will be welcomed home as heroes. No matter how Uruguay does on Saturday, the players can hold their heads high and know that they surpassed everyone's expectations. 

The story was different in Germany. After making it out of group stages, Germany stormed to a 4-1 victory over England followed by a 4-0 win over powerful Argentina to get to the semi-finals. But they were defeated in their semi-final game by Spain 1-0. After those two wins in the earlier stages, Germany became the favorite to win the title. Suddenly the Germans felt that they should just be handed the World Cup trophy since they felt that they were going to win anyway. They had a "nobody can beat us" attitude that became arrogance. But the Germans have a recent history of not being able to win the big game and this curse struck again in the form of a superior Spanish team. After the game, the mood in Germany was like people found out that their whole family just got killed in a disaster.  As soon as the final whistle blew, people went home dejected. They couldn't believe that their team lost, even though being in the final 4 of the World Cup is a big honor. There were no parties celebrating the team after the semi-final loss. Even the team felt like they had failed since their goal in this World Cup was to improve on their 3rd place finish from 4 years ago.  In a display of poor sportsmanship, German captain Philip Lahm stated that he didn't feel like his team should have to play for 3rd place. The German team is scheduled to leave South Africa on Sunday and will be in transit back to Germany while the final game is being played. When they return home, they won't be met by huge crowds that are proud of their team. 

I think that I will cheer for Uruguay in the game for 3rd place on Saturday. Uruguay has nothing to lose and may surprise Germany, just like they surprised their other opponents in the tournament. I'd rather cheer for a team that is thrilled to be in its position than for one who acts like losing in the semi-finals of the World Cup is tantamount to failure.  Germany may just go through the motions of playing since they're so upset about their loss to Spain, while Uruguay will probably play with the heart that got them into the final four. It will be a very interesting game. 

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Arjen Robben and Me

The Dutch football (soccer) player Arjen Robben and I have something in common. What could it be? He's a man and I'm a woman, so that's not it. I have a thick head of hair and he's bald. Arjen is 26 and I'm.................a little bit older. He's one of the best football players in the world and I'm a middle of the pack runner. So what can Arjen and I possibly have in common? The answer is that we both have hamstring problems.  Arjen tore his hamstring during a pre-World Cup practice match, while mine has been bothering me for the last month or so. I'll have to figure out how Arjen recovered enough to be able to play in the later matches of the World Cup. I would think that the stopping, starting, and diving in football (Arjen is a big-time diver) would be worse on a hamstring than running at a steady pace. 

My injury is funny. The muscle is very tight during my first kilometers of running. I have to go very slowly or it will bother me. Once I get past the first couple of kilometers it loosens up and the rest of my run is fine. When I do long runs, I walk instead of stopping to drink. Stopping tightens the muscle again. It doesn't bother me after a run except when I overdo it. I've tried all kinds of things to get it to heal properly. Like the old ads for Wisk detergent and "Ring Around the Collar" ("you've tried soaking them out and scrubbing them out and you've still got ring around the collar"), I've tried stretching, rest, cross-training, massage with my hands, and using my massage stick. I'd really like to have my hamstring at 100% fitness before the Munich half-marathon in October. I've pretty made up my mind that I'd like to do the half-marathon that accompanies the Munich Marathon. 

Onto the World Cup....what's with the players wearing girls' headbands? A lot of people out there already think that football is a gay sport because of all of the dives and fake injuries with their accompanying theatrics. I used to wear those types of headbands when I was in elementary school. They were good for keeping hair out of my face. I'm sure the players wear those headbands for that reason. But you'd think they'd find something a little more masculine. 

I'll be cheering for Uruguay, even though I think that the Netherlands will beat them tonight. I always like to cheer for underdog teams. Even with his girlie headband, Uruguay's Diego Forlan is "easier on the eyes" than the Dutch duo of Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben (I guess I shouldn't say that about Arjen if I want to know his injury recovery secrets). That's as good a reason as any to cheer for Uruguay. Uruguay is a country of just 3.5 million people and the only South American team to make the semi-finals. Germany is storming through the elimination rounds and looks like the team to beat for the overall title. They should beat Spain tomorrow night, though Paul the match-predicting octopus says that Spain will win. Paul has predicted Germany's wins and losses in this World Cup with 100% accuracy (and was 80% accurate in the 2008 European Championships). But Spain would win easily if the match was decided by which team had the best looking players. Both matches should be interesting, whether or not the teams with the better looking players win. Maybe Arjen will block out the pain in his sore hamstring and score the winning goal for the Dutch.