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.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Pet Peeves

When I lived in Parsberg, I did most of my runs in the local woods. I'd see lots of animals there: deer, huge wild rabbits, foxes, and an occasional wild boar. It was always a surprise to see the different critters while on the run. They would usually run away when they sensed me. The rabbits, which I often called, "Vorpal bunnies," were especially fast. I used to say that they had to be fast to escape being cooked. One time I got to within a couple of meters of a large deer on a trail. We both looked at each other before he bolted away. The time I saw a mother boar with her babies, I made sure to give them a wide berth. But they were more interested in foraging for whatever they eat, which was a good thing. The foxes always ran away. They were more afraid of me than I was of them, which was a sign that they weren't rabid.

These days I don't see any wild animals except for a rabbit once in a while. But I do see lots of sheep and cows. There is a sheep pasture where I begin and end most of my runs. I also see cows on several of the trails in the late spring through early fall. I'm often "up close and personal" with the cows and the tourists who want to photograph them.

But the wild and farm animals are easy to deal with compared to domestic ones and their owners. In Germany dogs are supposed to be on a leash when they're out for a walk. One would think that the Germans, who usually follow every rule to the letter and insist that others do so, would keep their dogs on a leash. Wrong! They like to let Bello (the German equivalent of Fido or Rover) run free while holding an empty leash in their hands. Most of the time the dogs just sniff harmlessly and then go on their way, or they ignore me. But there are little dogs that like nothing better than jumping on an unsuspecting runner. What do the owners do? Nothing.

One dog owner even had the nerve to blame me for startling his otherwise friendly dog. I had started off on my run and slowed my pace when I saw the dog coming my way and barking furiously. Bello jumped on me. The owner said that his dog was very friendly but went into attack mode because my movement startled him. When I saw the leash in the owner's hand, I asked him why Bello wasn't on a leash. He said that his nice, friendly dog didn't need to be on one and that I shouldn't have startled the poor thing.

My other pet peeve is the dog owners who have little Fifi on an extendable leash who stand on one side of the path and their dog is on the other side. I either have to say, "Ich komme vorbei" (I'm passing) or jump over the leash. The dog's owner acts annoyed that he either has to move to Fifi's side of the trail or move Fifi to his side. Have these people never learned trail etiquette? I also encounter these types of dog owners when I ride my bike on the same trail. When I ring my bell, those people give me a look like I'm out to shoot their dogs instead of just pass by. Whatever happened to staying on one side of the trail?

I will take the wild animals of Parsberg over Bello, Fifi, and their owners any day.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Path Less Traveled

Yesterday I went for a 1:40 run on my flat route, which is a walking/bike path that parallels the main road that goes into Austria. I like that particular route because it prepares me for the flatness of Munich. I'm training for the half-marathon that will accompany the Munich Marathon this October. The down side of the flat route is that it can get noisy from all of the Sunday tourist traffic. The road that goes into Austria is a busy one. 

When I got to a point where there was a dirt trail that led away from the main road, I decided to try it and see where it went. It was obvious that this hiking and mountain biking path was little-used, which was a nice change from the path along the main road. This path started off relatively flat, but then went gradually uphill. It wasn't anywhere near as steep as the path that I use when I'm training for hilly races. When I got a short distance in, all of the car sounds faded. The only sounds were the music from my iPod and the Loisach River running over the rocks. This particular path parallels the Loisach. It was great to hear the sounds of nature instead of vehicles. A wild animal or two would have added to the atmosphere. I really treasure moments like these when I can totally get away from the city streets and other people. 

I ran in for about 1.5 kilometers, then it was time to turn around and head home. It would have been nice if I could have gone to the trail's end; but I would have paid for it with very sore muscles the next day. I didn't know how much longer the trail continued. It may have gone all the way into Austria for all I knew. But it's always nice to have a new and different place to run, and it's even more fun to explore new trails. On one hand, it would be nice to run on this particular trail regularly. But it might not be the smartest move to do it alone, since it's used so infrequently. It would probably be best to stick to the main road and do "the path less traveled" occasionally or with a partner. 

Today I took a wrong turn on my 5 kilometer recovery run. I started doing short, easy runs the day after my long run. The reason is that my legs are a little bit tired after a long run. Doing a short run with tired legs prepares me for the experience of those last few kilometers in a long race when the legs start to feel like they're made of lead. Since I've trained for that feeling, I know that I can handle it in a race situation. Back to my run today...I ran my 5 km route in the opposite direction, which I had never done before. At one point I had the options of going straight or turning right. Going straight seemed to be the logical thing to do. The road to the right looked like it dead-ended in someone's driveway. But after about 100 meters, I noticed a sawmill on my right. It just didn't look familiar. On my left there was another unfamiliar building. I then realized that I should have turned right, so I turned back and got onto the correct path. When I've run that path in my usual way, I never noticed the turnoff to the sawmill. I was so focused on where I was supposed to go, and my music, that I never even looked for other branches from that path. It looks like my day wasn't wasted because I discovered something new. 

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Grand Experiment (of One)

One of my former training partners says that running is an "experiment of one." It truly is. We runners design our training programs to fit our bodies and needs. Each of us is unique with our own way of doing things. Some runners can run every day, while others focus on doing three quality runs a week. I know runners who religiously follow a particular regimen to the letter and others who decide how far they will run based on how they're feeling that day. There are runners who run for a particular distance without keeping their time and those who run for a particular length of time without measuring the distance. 

My particular running schedule comes from various plans that I read in "Runner's World," taking advice from more experienced runners,  plus my own trial and error. If something seemed interesting, then I would try it and see how it worked. If I liked it, then I added it to my program. If it didn't work for me, then I didn't do it again. I've found that running 4 days a week works best for me. I have one long run, one short (5 km) run, and two medium length runs every week. One of the medium runs includes hills and the other is in the valley, where it's flat. These days I've been alternating my long runs in the hills and on a flat route. I don't follow a set plan, other than the weekly long run. This flexibility works for me, because I have a lot of self-discipline and am internally motivated. I'm able to easily change my running schedule based on any changes in my work schedule. My training plan may not work for someone who is just starting out running or who lacks self-discipline. 

When I want to run a marathon or half-marathon, I get out the calendar and plan out my long runs. I tend to plan more long runs than most training programs use, which often puts me ahead of "where I should be" at a given point in time. There are a couple of reasons for this: 1) The only way to prepare the body for the marathon or half-marathon experience is to do long runs. If I do enough long runs in training, and gain more experience by doing them, I'm better prepared for anything that might happen in a race. I'm also more confident in my ability to go the distance.  2) If I get sick, injured, feel like my body needs a little break, or go for a hike or bike ride instead of a run, I know I will still get in enough long runs to be fully prepared for the race. I can skip a long run now and then without feeling guilty. 

I never understood the training programs which take a person from "Zero to Marathon in 12 Weeks." Some people swear by them; and runners using them have finished marathons. But they're not for me. First of all, they build up the mileage too quickly for my knees. It takes me longer than a lot of people to train for a long race because of tendinitis in my knees. If I build up gradually, I don't have any problems. The other problem is that they only have one (or two maximum) runs in the 18-20 mile (30-32 km) range. As I said in the preceding paragraph, that's not enough to really prepare the body for a marathon. 

When I had a blog on Yahoo 360, there was a woman who followed a 16 week marathon training program to the letter. It seemed like she just couldn't deviate from the plan no matter what was occurring in her life. She ran strictly for mileage and would have her husband drive a course to get the mileage exact. I read her blog on 360, mainly because I was fascinated that someone could be so rigid in following a program. This woman did every single workout exactly as it was written in the plan. To her credit, she finished the marathon, so following that program worked for her. But her way just wouldn't work for me. 

The thing about running is that it just doesn't matter how long or far you run, or if you strictly adhere to a particular plan or have more flexible workouts. What matters is that the program that you choose to follow works for you.