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.