Saturday, December 10, 2011

Slip and Slide

Those of us over 40 probably remember the Wham-O Slip and Slide. It was a plastic sheet that you hooked up to your garden hose. There were little water jets inside it that wet the plastic surface. Once it got thoroughly wet, you could slide down the length of it. I never had one as a kid, but I remember watching the commercials and wanting one. I used to think that I was a deprived child because I never had a Slip and Slide. Here is a vintage Slip and Slide commercial:

The Slip and Slide is probably banned now because it's probably considered a safety hazard. I'm sure that back in the day someone got hurt using it and that was the end. Or there could be a new version that's not nearly as fun as the original with a thickly padded bottom and sides to prevent any injuries. The new version probably has a built-in water heater to prevent the little darlings from getting chilled from the cold hose water.

On my run yesterday I felt like I was on a Slip and Slide. We had some rain and snow recently coupled with below freezing nights and above freezing days. All of the rain and melted snow has turned to ice on the multi-use trail that I like running on. The thicker ice is actually easier to run on than the thin black ice (at least it's easier to see), but it's all slippery nonetheless. There isn't enough ice to warrant using my spikes. I'm actually a bit leery about using the spikes this year after my experience with them last year. Every time I used them last year, I got calf cramps that were bad enough to force me to stop running. For now I shorten my stride, slow my pace, and try not to slide too much. So far I've done a good job staying on my feet.

I may not have had a Wham-O Slip and Slide when I was a kid. But I'm losing that sense of childhood deprivation because I'm doing plenty of slipping and sliding on the icy trails.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Happy 20th Anniversary (one day late)

Yesterday was the 20th anniversary of my first half-marathon. Somehow I got it in my head that I ran it on 9 December 1991. But I dug out my shirt from that race and it said 8 December.

I remember that race, and the preparation leading up to it, like it was yesterday. I had run my first 10K race in June 1991 and my second two months later. Just before the first 10K race, I had started running with the San Diego Marathon Clinic (SDMC). Through SDMC, which met on Sunday mornings, I met a lot of runners who were experienced at running half-marathons and marathons. They gave me the motivation to go for a half-marathon. After finishing my second 10K, I got an application for the San Diego Half-Marathon, which was the companion race to the San Diego Marathon. I filled out the application and sent in my entry fee. Remember, this was in the days before online registration. From reading books on running, I figured that four months was plenty of time to go from the 10K to half-marathon level. My longest runs up to that point were about 8 miles (13 km), so it was a matter of adding those extra 5 miles/8 km.

Through the SDMC I met Bill, who became a friend, running partner, and coach/mentor. He had run a lot of marathons and just about all of the local races. Bill loved helping new runners train for races. I learned almost everything that I know about long distance running from Bill on those Sunday mornings. When I told Bill that I wanted to train for the SD Half-Marathon, we started running together starting with 8-milers. When I was ready to move up to doing 10-milers (about 16 km), I was convinced that I wouldn't be able to do it. But, thanks to Bill, I made it. After my first 10-miler, he told me, "I thought you said you couldn't run 10 miles." During the last 100-200 meters of our long training runs, Bill had me practice what he called the half-marathon finish. We would go into a full sprint, with him saying, "Are you going to let an old man beat you?" (He was 12 years older than me.)  To this day, when I do my final sprint at the end of a long run, Bill's voice is in my head asking if I'm going to let an old man win. Bill and I did my first 12-miler (just under 20 km) together. He had an injury, so we walked a lot of it. I started having doubts about being able to do a half-marathon because of the walking breaks. But the next week Bill led a small group of women on a 12-miler. Most of us in the group were training for our first half-marathon and we got a lot of good advice. I felt like Bill was picking on me with a lot of, "Stop looking at your watch," "You think too much. Stop thinking and just run," "Relax your shoulders, you're breaking form," and "Bring your hands down." Bill didn't give any of the other women corrections. After 12 miles of being singled out for everything under the sun, I asked Bill why he was picking on me and not on the others in our little group. He told me that I was the most talented runner of the bunch and wanted to bring out my best.

Race day dawned cold and overcast. In other words, it was an ideal day for a long race. The race itself couldn't have gone any better. One of the SDMC women who ran with me during the second 12-miler was with me at the start. She took off and started to leave me in the dust. I told her, "Remember what Bill said about starting slowly." She told me that she felt so good and wanted to go out quickly. I ended up passing her at around the halfway point. I made it a point to start slowly for the first two miles (about 3 km) and picked up speed at each mile split. I had a time goal of 2 hours and as I kept going, I knew that I would easily meet it. When I hit the 8-mile marker, I told myself that I needed to imagine myself starting to run around Miramar Lake, which is exactly a 5-mile route, and then I would be finished. Somewhere between the 10 and 11-mile marks, I saw Bill. He was running the full marathon and was running on the opposite side of the road toward me. I told him that I was doing great and gave a thumbs-up.  When I saw him the following Sunday at SDMC, he confessed that he was struggling with running the marathon and was tempted to jump in and run to the finish line with me. But he thought that it was better for me to have my "moment of glory" on my own. At the last water point, somewhere between 11 and 12 miles, a woman came up to me and started complaining about the course (too hilly) and the weather (too cold and damp). She said that she would never run this race again. I told her that this was my first half-marathon and I was enjoying every minute of it. Even though I wasn't planning to get a drink at that point, I pulled out at the water table and got a cup of water just to get away from her. I wasn't going to let someone's whining ruin my fantastic experience. The finish was a slight downhill. I got my finisher's medal and felt like I just won an Olympic medal. My time was 1 hour, 50 minutes, and 37 seconds. Needless to say, I was on Cloud Nine driving home.

My first half-marathon medal had a place of honor in a frame on the mantle in our house in San Diego. When I moved to Germany, it came with me.To paraphrase the triathlete Mark Allen, that medal didn't just symbolize that I finished a long race. It's really a symbol of the training and effort that I put in to earn it. Even though I'm now a veteran of 15 half-marathons, my first one will always be special.

Friday, November 4, 2011

German vs American Runners

Now that I've been running on the roads and trails in both Parsberg/Lupburg and Garmisch for almost 20 years, it's easy for me to look at a fellow runner and pick out whether he or she is German or American.  It has nothing to do with running style. Germans and Americans are both fast or slow, look smooth or choppy, and do long or short runs. Like American runners, German runners come in all shapes and sizes. The main difference between German and American runners is their clothing.

The easiest way to differentiate between American and German runners is their socks. One look at a runner's socks, and you know right away if he or she is German or American. We American runners like white, or off-white, socks. My mother used to tell me that you're supposed to wear white socks when doing any sort of athletic endeavor. Wearing colored socks would lead to stinky feet, stained feet from the socks' dye mixing with sweat, foot fungus, or even gangrene. Geman runners obviously have different mothers because 99% of them wear dark (usually black) socks. Maybe the cold German climate prevents the growth of foot fungus, or black German socks are made with special fibers that prevent odor or gangrene. Hmmmm....if that's true, maybe I should start running in dark socks instead of my off-white Thor-Los.

When the weather starts cooling off, Americans and Germans differ in which part of the body gets more coverage. Americans will wear shorts with a long-sleeved shirt. Germans wear short sleeves and long tights or running pants. When I was a new runner, I was told that it was more important to keep the upper body warm. Germans must be told to keep their legs warm and not worry so much about their upper bodies. I've run in shorts and long sleeves for so long, I don't know if I would feel comfortable with long pants and short sleeves.

Another way to figure out if a runner is American or German is to see if his or her clothing matches. Many experienced American runners just don't care if their shorts and tops match. They go out in whichever shorts and shirts are at the top of the stack in the closet. One of the criteria for being a real runner is that it doesn't matter if your clothing matches. I've been known to wear such combinations as purple shorts with an orange shirt. German runners seem to be more fashion-conscious. Tops and bottoms always match. German runners in Parsberg were partial to long running pants and matching jackets, even when it was fairly warm. Here in Garmisch runners wear shorts, capris, or tights with shirts that have the same color scheme. Even their shoes have the same colors as the rest of their clothing. German running clothing is expensive compared to its American counterpart. Maybe a German runner feels that if he's spending a lot of money for his clothing, he wants to look good on the trail.

One of the games that I like to play with myself while out running is guessing the nationality of the other runners that I see. This mental game would be a lot more challenging if only the Germans would start wearing white socks. Until that time comes, it will be easy picking out the Americans and Germans on the trail.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Cool Runnings

This past week my running has been great. I think the main factor is the weather. When I get out in the mornings, it's nice and cool. In fact, I've had to bring out the winter running gear! The mercury has been at or around the freezing mark in the mornings. There's something about running in the cold that's invigorating.  One of my oldest friends would tell me that I'm a masochist for running in the cold. But as the title of a Chris Rea song goes, "I don't know what it is, but I love it."

I remember my first "cold weather" run back in 1990. My husband was working in England and I joined him. On one of my first days there I set out for a run. Being from San Diego at the time, England felt so cold and damp! In San Diego I would wear tights and long sleeves when it was between 10 and 15 C (50 to 59 F), just like all of the others in my running group. That January morning in England it was about 6 C (43 F) and I piled on the layers. I had (from the bottom up): tights (with stirrups no less!) with sweatpants over them, a t-shirt, long-sleeved shirt, sweatshirt, lightweight jacket, gloves, and a hat. Partway through my run I stripped off most of the layers and ended up carrying a lot of clothing back to the guesthouse where I was staying. I quickly learned that "less is more" when it comes to cold-weather running.  A couple of good high-tech layers are much better than lots of layers of cotton in cold weather.

Now when the mercury starts to drop toward the freezing mark, I wear tights, a long-sleeved technical shirt, and a fleece overshirt. I only wear my jacket when it's below freezing. I'll start off with lightweight glove liners, but will usually end up taking them off. The same with a hat. When it gets to about -10 C (14 F) I'll wear Gore-Tex pants over lighter weight tights and bring out the fleece gloves. I  feel a bit like a female version of the Michelin Man when I run on cold fall and winter mornings.

Another reason why I'm running so well now is that my hamstring issues are gone. Once in a while I'll feel something in the butt crease/top of the hamstring. But for the most part I have been running pain-free, even with increased speed. It feels so good to be injury-free! I have had the hamstring problems for over a year and it feels great to be rid of them, or at least 98% rid of them.

Since I got back from the States in September I have also been getting back to my Pilates and weight lifting routines to strengthen my core and arms. OK, I'm not really lifting weights; I'm using resistance bands. But the effect is the same as weight lifting. I can tell that I'm getting stronger because I can do more of the Pilates exercises, arm exercises, and push-ups than I did before. After every run I massage my legs with my Stick, which helps them to recover faster. We older runners need all of the tricks we can find for faster recovery!

 Once winter sets in with the ice and snow, I'll have to slow down in order to keep from breaking something. But until then, I'll enjoy the fall mornings and speedy "cool runnings."

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Halloween Safety (or Paranoia)

Earlier this week I received a couple of flyers in my work e-mail about Halloween safety. Every year about this time the Safety Office puts out information about trick-or-treating on base. This year we got two flyers: one from the Safety Office and the other from the Teen Center. The Safety Office flyer was a Word document with information about trick-or-treating hours and standard safety tips. The Teen Center flyer was a cute Power Point presentation with safety tips mixed in with cartoon ghosts, witches, and goblins.

Most of the information in both flyers was common sense. For example, it says that kids should be visible and carry a flashlight or glow stick and they should wear costumes that fit properly. Cars aren't allowed in the on-base housing area during trick-or-treat hours. However, if kids wearing dark costumes wander to other areas on the base, it's a good thing for drivers to be able to see them. It also takes a lot of the fun out of trick-or-treating when you're constantly tripping over your costume.

However, there were a few things in the flyers that I found a bit odd. Maybe I've been spending too much time on the Free Range Kids blog (, but these particular tips seemed to play into American parents' fears of kidnappers and possible dangers. The first one was to have parents inspect the candy and other "loot" when the kids get home. My son does this anyway to separate the "good" candy from the "lame." I watch him, mainly to see if there is a lot of chocolate candy. It works out well because he's a Gummi Bear man and I like chocolate. The premise behind this is all of the media stories about strangers poisoning Halloween candy and then giving it out. Every year there seem to be stories about apples with razor blades or poisoned candy. I remember them from my childhood. To further feed this fear, Stateside hospitals will x-ray Halloween candy for free to reasssure anxious parents. According to Snopes, there have been very few cases where kids were poisoned on Halloween. Those cases were not random poisonings by strangers, but premeditated acts by someone the children knew. Yet the fear persists that every other person that a child visits on Halloween night will put poison, razor blades, or needles in the candy.

One of the items on the flyer from the Safety Office said that kids shouldn't carry sharp objects like knives, swords, or brooms while trick-or-treating. Brooms??? I can see why a six-year-old knight shouldn't carry a real sword  and understand why it's best that a young Ninja warrior leaves Mom's French chef knife at home. But when did a broom get designated a "sharp object?" Most girls who dress up as witches would "ride" their brooms, but I can see boys engaging in horseplay and doing swordfights with brooms or pretending that they're machine guns. They may even whack a friend with either the handle or bristles. But come to think of it, I just can't imagine why a boy would want to carry a broom on Halloween. I don't know too many boys who want to dress up as janitors or members of the Norwegian curling team. While I have heard of many deaths by swords or knives (I've read enough medieval history in my time), I haven't read anything about real deaths by brooms. There are urban legends about teenage girls who supposedly died while masturbating with a broom handle, but they are just that.

As I mentioned before, the Power Point presentation was very cute. But there was one slide that played to the US obsession and paranoia about children being kidnapped by strangers. That slide said that kids shouldn't trick or treat alone. Young kids should be accompanied by an adult and older kids should go with at least one buddy. To me, that's plain common sense because there is safety in numbers. There was a little box that appeared on that slide which said that kids who are in a group have a reduced risk of being kidnapped. It was implied that any child out alone would be kidnapped. Believe it or not, there are not predators and kidnappers on every corner and hiding in every bush. Halloween would be one of the worst times to snatch a child because there are so many people around. It's one of the few times (at least in the States) that there are a lot of people out on the streets. Out of all of the child abductions in the States, an extremely small percentage are committed by strangers. The rest are committed by someone who the child knows and trusts.

Even if I wanted to snatch a child on Halloween, it would be an extremely difficult endeavor. First of all, the on-base housing area, where all of the trick or treating takes place (it hasn't spread to the local German community yet), is self-contained and very small. All of the residents know each other. They also know many families who live off-base. The kids also know each other plus the American kids who live off-base. If I were to make off with a kid, first of all, someone would stop me and ask what I'm doing with Major Smith's son. On Halloween night, there are a lot of people in the housing area walking about, giving out candy from their cars, or hanging around talking with other adults. Local Germans are also invited to come on base to trick or treat. In other words, there are a lot of potential witnesses. If I were planning to commit a crime I certainly don't want witnesses. Then there's the matter of exiting the housing area with a screaming, kicking child. The military police are at the housing area entrance/exit to give the kids glow sticks and candy, prevent people from driving into the housing area (it's closed to cars during trick or treat hours), and ensure that everything is orderly. The MPs would certainly notice something amiss if I were to try and leave the housing area with a kid who's making a big fuss. Even if a child was trick or treating alone in the on-base housing area, he stands a higher chance of being abducted by space aliens than by a flesh and blood stranger.

I'm all for kids having a safe and fun Halloween experience. Like in previous years, either my husband or me will drive my son and some of his friends to the base. While the boys score as many treats as they can, whoever brings the kids will talk with the other adults and maybe have a cup of Gluehwein (hot spiced red wine). When we get home, we'll check out the number of Gummi Bear packets and chocolates. But we definitely won't be paranoid about poisoned candy, broom-related deaths, or kidnappers.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Little Running

It has been a while since I actually wrote something about running. I've been focusing more on the "and life" side of things. The main reason is there hasn't been anything remarkable about my running lately.

After three weeks in the States, where I only ran three times and did the elliptical trainer twice, I put on some weight. Much as I would have liked to, I couldn't blame it on drying my pants in the dryer instead of on a clothesline or female hormonal cycles. When I went back to work a couple of weeks ago, my work uniform was tight. Since the uniform company does the laundering, I couldn't be in denial any longer. Nope, it was from eating too much good (and not so good for you) food and a decreased activity level.

My running was already at a fairly low level due to hamstring problems that I've had for the past year. After my half-marathon last October, I should have taken some time off to rest it. But I didn't. I trained through it for my half-marathon last June, then decided to really take it easy. I had a 10K race in mind in Wolfratshausen (about halfway between Garmisch and Munich) in October, but realized after coming back from the States that it wasn't realistic to do it. Now I'm taking things easier and really enjoying my runs instead of viewing them as training for my next race.

The one good thing about my long break is that it allowed my hamstring problems to improve. While the muscles haven't healed 100%, they are much better than they were before my trip. It used to be that I would feel soreness in the butt crease on my right side that would radiate down my hamstring. I would run through it because I was so used to it. Now I just feel a slight soreness in the butt crease that gets better each time I run. There is no more soreness radiating down my leg. I've been keeping my runs in the 5-6 km range, though I'm starting to increase my longer runs to about 7 or 8 km.

I can tell that I'm losing the weight that I gained in the States. My clothing isn't so tight anymore. I'm also getting my speed back. When I first came back, I was very slow and sluggish. Part of that was because of warm weather, but it was also due to carrying a couple of extra kilograms. With the cooler weather and losing my "States weight," I'm feeling faster again. I still wouldn't call myself a speed demon by any stretch of the imagination. But I'm quickly getting back to where I was.

There are several choices of races to do next year. If I'm feeling 100% healthy with no muscle issues, I may try for the Munich Marathon in October 2012. If I don't do the marathon, I can do my usual City Run half-marathon in June, the half-marathon that accompanies the marathon in October, the Wolfratshausen 10K, or the Eibsee Run in October. I could also do a combination of any of those races. I'll see how I'm doing after ski season.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Josef Stalin and Parenting

The following is a continuation of a comment that I made on the Free Range Kids blog yesterday. Here is the link to the original post on FRK: My comment is toward the end under the name "gap.runner." It's the second comment that I made to that post.

What does Josef Stalin have to do with parenting? At first glance, it would seem that the two are opposites. Josef Stalin was an evil dictator who was responsible for the death of about 20 million of his fellow Soviet citizens. It doesn't get more evil than saying, "One death is a tragedy, one million a statistic" in reference to the number of people who died during Stalin's reign in Soviet prison camps and of starvation in the Ukraine during forced collectivization. Parents are generally viewed as nurturing people who want the best for their children (though their children can sometimes view them as dictators), which is the opposite of how Stalin was.

A couple of days ago Lenore Skenazy, the author of the Free Range Kids (FRK) site, posted a story about the perception that people in the States have that children are constantly being abducted by strangers. In fact, very few kids are kidnapped and murdered by strangers (see the link above). The vast majority of abducted kids are taken by parents in custody disputes or by others that the child knows. Even though stranger abduction is very rare, it gets a lot of airplay in the media because it's such a rare event. These news stories also play to every parent's worst fear and make them afraid to let their children do things that they did as kids, such as walk or cycle to school alone.

There is a climate of fear in the States with parenting that would make Comrade Stalin very proud. Sometimes I think that the media has taken a page out of Stalin's playbook to reinforce the fears that parents have. Very rare events like stranger abduction, choking on button batteries, poisoned Halloween candy, and pedophiles in public bathrooms are played up in the news media. Mundane events, such as kids walking to school or taking a bus in town by themselves and arriving at their destinations safe and sound, are not broadcast at all. The perception is that the world is a dangerous place and children should never be without a parent in sight. I think if Comrade Stalin were alive today, the current media would expand on his quote that I cited above. It would go something like this, "One abducted child’s death is a tragedy that needs to be exploited for all it’s worth in order to instill fear and reinforce helicopter parenting; one million children walking, cycling, or taking public transportation by themselves without any incidents is a statistic that must be ignored or downplayed because it goes against the prevailing societal norms.”

Just as Soviets in Stalin's time feared a midnight knock on the door from the KGB, parents now live in fear whether they are helicopter parents or more free-range. Helicopter parents see pedophiles and kidnappers on every street corner and behind every bush. They are afraid to let their kids out of their sight because if they did, their children would be abducted and vanish without a trace in the blink of an eye. These are the parents who accompany their children everywhere and don't even let their children do sleepovers because the host parents could be pedophiles. Parents who are free-range (not negligent, but those who give their kids developmentally-appropriate independence) also have fears. Back in Stalin's time, there was a system of informants who denounced their friends, co-workers, neighbors, and even family members to the authorities. Free-range parents have been turned in to the police or Child Protective Services (CPS) for letting their kids walk to the store alone or leaving them in the car alone for a short time. Several free-rangers who are regulars on the FRK site say that they have either run into busybodies who turned them in to CPS or the police because their kids were unaccompanied by an adult while playing with other kids in their neighborhoods!

When Stalin ran the USSR, those who didn't follow the prevailing social norms were sent off to Siberian or northern Russian prison camps. While free-range parents don't get shipped off to the Soviet gulag, there have been many cases of parents and kids being detained or threatened by the police for innocent activities. For example, Ms. Skenazy wrote about an incident where her son took a commuter train by himself at age 10 to visit a friend and was detained by the police at his destination for riding alone. This was part of  a post about a 10-year-old Tennessee girl whose mother was threatened with child neglect for the heinous crime of letting the daughter ride her bike to school alone. Here is the link:

There is another parenting fear: the fear of their child being left behind his peers. This fear starts very early. Toy makers and the media feed into this fear and tell parents that if they don't buy a certain toy, their child is destined to be the night janitor at McDonald's. And parents buy into it. They believe that their child must be fluent in Mandarin, be able to compose a symphony, and be able to read St. Augustine in the original Latin by age 3. If their child is "retarded" and doesn't do all of those things, forget about Harvard or Yale. Parents really need to trust themselves and let their children develop on their own timetables. In many cases, doing something early is not always better. Kids in the States are pushed to read at an early age. Finnish kids start school at age 7 and don't learn their alphabet or how to read until they're in first grade. One would think that the kids in Finland are miles behind the rest of the world. Au contraire. On international reading tests given to kids in industrial nations, Finland is one of the top-ranked countries. The US is way below Finland, despite its emphasis pushing kids to achieve at an early age.

It would be great if the media would devote less airtime to rare, yet sensational, events and spend more time talking about how safe it really is for kids to walk, ride their bikes, or take public transportation by themselves to wherever they're going. We all did those things when we were kids and are still alive. I imagine newscasts that say, "The 972 kids in Springfield who walked or rode their bikes to school today without a parent all made it there and back home again without any incidents," would be very boring. But I believe that parents need to hear more stories like that in order to realize that the world really is a safe place for their kids. Until that day comes, the best pieces of parenting advice are: turn off the TV, let your child develop at his own pace, and lose the fear and trust your instincts and about what is appropriate for your particular children.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

East and West

I've been "off the air" for the past 4 weeks because of having limited Internet access during my trip to the States. Here are some random thoughts about my vacation:

* If I had the choice to live in either Los Angeles or New York City, I would take NYC. The LA freeways and drivers are downright scary. I feel much safer on the subway in NYC. In LA you have to drive everywhere, while in NYC you can walk or take the subway. The trains, especially the expresses, are very fast and efficient.  The NYC subway system is very easy to use and goes just about anywhere in the city. My brother is a real subway expert and goes back and forth between the local and express trains. He owns a car, but takes the subway in the city. In my brother's neighborhood, there are stores within walking distance of his apartment, so a car really isn't necessary. The one down side of living in NYC is that the grocery stores are outrageously expensive.

* Because California is built around cars, there are gas stations on almost every corner. Maybe I was in the wrong neighborhoods in NYC, or the gas stations there are camoflauged, but I didn't see any gas stations there. But there have to be gas stations somewhere in NYC because people own cars and the taxi drivers need something to power their vehicles.

* I loved the variety of buildings in NYC. Many of the buildings have little statues or gargoyles on them. I could easily spend a month there doing nothing but photographing the buildings and all of their little details.

* New York City is a walking city. There are so many people out walking. One of the things that I noticed about NYC is that there are very few obese people. Because the majority of people ride the subway (and have to take stairs to get to and from the trains because there aren't any elevators), then have to walk from the subway stop to their final destinations, they are getting a little bit of exercise. In California it seems like there are a lot more obese people and people riding on Rascals. People only walk from their cars to the stores. Even the department and grocery stores provide Rascals for their customers. I only saw one person in NYC riding on a Rascal and he looked like he was about 90 years old. Everyone else was on foot.

* The most over-the-top thing that I saw on my trip was at one of the malls in Los Angeles. An older woman was pushing an umbrella stroller with mosquito netting. The stroller was festooned with little fairy figures. When I looked in the stroller, there was a Chihuahua lying in it. My stepmother, who was with me, asked the other lady if the dog was named Tinker Bell. The lady said that the dog's name was Twinkles. At least that name fit, though it would have been funny if it was named Killer. I've seen little dogs in bike baskets, but never in strollers at the mall.

* The number of Germans who love going to Death Valley in the summer never ceases to amaze me. Even though was 50 C (122 F) in the shade, the Germans that I met in Lone Pine all had to go to Death Valley. There's something about the desert that attracts the Germans. Maybe it's because the desert is very different from Germany, maybe it's because the lowest point in the USA is in Death Valley, or maybe simply because it's warmer than Germany will ever be and Germans are real sun and heat worshipers. Whatever the reason, it's a "must see" on a German's California itinerary. If I were to plan a trip to Death Valley, it would be in the winter, spring, or fall when the weather was bearable.

* Carmine's in NYC is not just a restaurant, it's an experience.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

How I Won't Spend My Summer Vacation

I've been a Facebook member for about 8 months. The part that I've really liked about it is being able to reconnect with old friends and connect with fellow enthusiasts of Romanian gymnastics. But I find a lot of Facebook to be rather silly. For example, several of my friends like to tell the world what they had for dinner. I just don't get that one. My life is not so dull that my only excitement is dinner. Maybe I'm just an old cynic, but I really don't care what other people have for dinner unless it's a super spectacular, one-of-a-kind meal. Others like to give minute-by-minute updates while they're traveling. They have mobile phones with Internet access and take full advantage of it. What happened to reading a book while waiting at the airport?

I leave tomorrow for the USA. Here is what you won't be hearing from me during my trip:

* Reports from the airport. Does somebody really have the need to know how I'm spending every second at the airport? I figure that people will know that I made it to my destination when they don't see any plane crash reports on the news. Is buying a magazine at the book shop, eating a meal, or using the toilet at the airport really that newsworthy?

* Food reports. OK, I'll give in a bit on this one. The usual choices on an overseas flight are (inedible) chicken or pasta, so I'll have one or the other of those. A few years ago my brother flew on Aeroflot, which is obviously an airline that wants to make things easy for the Facebook crowd to report their in-flight meals. Aeroflot offered a meal choice of beef or beef. I'm flying to the States on Lufthansa, which likes to continuously serve food in order to keep the passengers seated and docile. Passengers who are busy stuffing their faces are less likely to bother the flight attendants or "go postal."

* Restaurant reports. My Facebook wall won't be covered with, "I went to (insert the name here) restaurant with (insert all names here)" postings. I eat to live and don't live to eat. Food to me is fuel for my body and not something that is a big production. People in the States love to entertain visitors and friends by going out to dinner. I'd rather spend the time with them talking in their homes or out and about somewhere. A simple barbecue in the backyard is more enticing than going to a restaurant. I like to know what's in my food. Restaurant food is loaded with a lot of hidden fats, sodium, and sugars that I really don't need, especially when I won't be exercising as much as usual.

* Up-to-the-minute photos. Since I'm leaving my laptop at home, and won't be bringing a phone with Internet access (it doesn't work in the States anyway), downloading photos from my camera will have to wait until I'm back home.

* Reports about every place that I went. I may mention when I'm in a new city if I happen to have easy access to a computer. But I won't be posting, "Went to the zoo, then to the beach, then went to Paco's Taco Shop." If I go someplace very special, I'll probably end up writing a full blog entry about it later instead of taking away from the moment and pausing to post it on my Facebook page.

* If I come in late from somewhere, the first thing that I'll do when I get to wherever I'll be sleeping is getting ready for bed. I'll be tired and will have sleep, and not Facebook, on my mind.  I won't be coming in and typing, "It's 2 a.m. and I just got home from (insert the place here)." That's another thing that I don't understand about Facebook users. Why not just wait until waking up the next morning to post something on the Facebook wall?

Will I continue to use Facebook? Probably, because I can find out what my friends are doing. As I said before, it has helped me stay in touch with friends. Most people don't use e-mail anymore, they use Facebook. Also, I'll be able to know what my friends had for dinner, where they went, and what time they came home.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Azeri Entertainment at the Gym

On Sunday it was pouring rain, so I had to run on the treadmill at the gym. When I use the treadmill, I watch one of the TVs while listening to the music on my iPod. Most of the time I watch whatever is on the TV in front of my treadmill. But that TV was showing what I call "lame CNN," or the Stateside version of CNN. I prefer CNN International because it has a more worldwide focus. Stateside CNN is very US-centric and sensationalistic, like any other American newscast.

The TV next to the one with "lame CNN" was on a Ukrainian channel that was showing a news report. When the news ended, a show called, "Catastrophe" came on. "Catastrophe" shows various disasters like plane crashes, train derailments, building collapses, etc. But it seems to focus on how people miraculously survived those particular disasters, at least that's what I got from watching without sound. As I was watching "Catastrophe," a man started using a treadmill to my right and decided to change the channel. I was a little miffed because he didn't ask if he could change the channel. He probably figured that I was watching the TV with CNN, which was directly in front of my treadmill. But I was starting to get into "Catastrophe" and also getting some practice reading Cyrillic characters (I have been slacking off on my Russian studies lately, and  I know that Ukrainian is a different language than Russian. But they both use the Cyrillic alphabet.). I couldn't really complain since I was just watching the pictures on the TV and listening to music.

My fellow treadmill user changed the channel to Lider TV, which is a channel from Azerbaijan. For those who don't know where Azerbaijan is, it's located on the west side of the Caspian Sea near Armenia and Georgia. Azerbaijan is a former Soviet republic with the world's nicest people. I think that Azerbaijan means, "Land of the World's Friendliest People" in the Azeri language because the Azeri students I work with are very open and friendly.

The program on Lider TV that the other person on the treadmill wanted to watch was a very bad movie. It was the most low-budget movie that I've seen in a long time. It was sepia-toned, like a silent movie from 100 years ago. There seemed to be one camera angle. It was like the director never advanced beyond old silent movie filming techniques. The main characters in this film were members of a tribe in a jungle. All of the men in the movie had bad wigs with black shoulder-length hair. Their beards and mustaches were obvious fakes. Most of the men in the movie wore what looked like grass skirts, though there were a few who wore leopard print skirts. The few women of the tribe wore leopard print tops with their grass skirts. The chief wore a crown and the other men wore Viking helmets with horns, though several men wore headbands with Viking horns (they must have run out of money to buy helmets for all of the actors). But the best part of all was the tribesmen's teeth. They were supposed to look like fangs but ended up looking just like the plastic novelty teeth that my son gave out as party favors at his 10th birthday party.

There wasn't much action in this movie. The men did a lot of dancing around a fire and talking with each other. Sometimes they danced with spears and sometimes without them. At one point in the movie there was a dragon, which was really two people in a dragon costume. The tribespeople saw the dragon coming and fled as quickly as they could from it. What made that scene so comical was that the people in the dragon costume seemed to be moving out of synch with each other and extremely slowly. The tribe could have casually sauntered away from the dragon and still escaped from it. This movie really held my attention because it was so bad. I'm sure that if I could have heard and understood the dialogue, it would have been just as awful as the costumes. Sometimes it's best to just watch the action and listen to music. When I'm on the treadmill, it seems like I check the timer every 5 seconds because it gets pretty boring running in one place, even with music and silent TV. But I really got caught up in the hokeyness of that movie and actually kept my eyes on it instead of the treadmill timer. Maybe I just need to watch bad, low-budget foreign movies to keep indoor workouts halfway entertaining.

Another thing that I noticed about watching Azeri TV is the number of Western products that were advertised during the commercial breaks. I saw ads for: Nivea lotion, Dreft laundry liquid, Coca-Cola, and Pampers disposable diapers. It seems like as soon as Azerbaijan became independent from the Soviet Union, Western companies started selling their products there.

I'm hoping for some good weather so that I can run outdoors. But if I end up using the treadmill in the gym, I'll have to check out Lider TV's Low Budget Cinema to help pass the time.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Old Science Fiction Movies and Free Range Parenting

My son has been on a kick of watching science fiction and monster movies from the 1950s. It started a couple of months ago, when he got a small canister of "alien slime" with a Donald Duck comic book. I told him that it reminded me of The Blob. Shortly afterward I got The Blob from the library and we saw it together. His reaction was, "Can you get more movies like that one?" So far we've seen: Godzilla (Gojira), It Came From Outer Space, The Creature From the Black Lagoon and its two sequels, and The Day the Earth Stood Still. I have a two-movie DVD of War of the Worlds and When Worlds Collide in my queue. One thing that I have insisted on with these movies is that they are the originals from the 1950s and not more modern remakes. 

 Yesterday I saw The Day the Earth Stood Still, which was made in 1951. Here's a quick summary from the imdb website: An alien (Klaatu) with his mighty robot (Gort) land their spacecraft on Cold War-era Earth just after the end of World War II. They bring an important message to the planet that Klaatu wishes to tell to representatives of all nations. However, communication turns out to be difficult, so, after learning something about the natives, Klaatu decides on an alternative approach. Written by Bruce Janson   

So how does a movie about an alien and his robot coming to Washington, DC relate to free range parenting? There are several scenes which would not slip through the censors now because they would be too "horrific" for helicopter parents. Klaatu assumes human form and rents a room in a local boarding house, where he befriends Helen and her son Bobby. Bobby looks like he's about 9 years old. In one scene Helen and her fiance made plans to go out somewhere for the day, but there is nobody to watch Bobby. They may have to scrap their plans or bring Bobby with them.  Klaatu offers to watch Bobby. Helen and her fiance think that's a wonderful idea. They don't have to cancel their plans and Bobby will be taken care of. Klaatu even asks Bobby to help give him a tour of the city. But wait...Helen is trusting her son to a single, childless man who she doesn't really know very well to watch her son. There were no thoughts of Klaatu being a pedophile, predator, pervert, or potential abductor. Can you imagine that scenario happening now?

In another scene, Helen goes out at night and leaves Bobby alone in his room in the boarding house. She tells him to remember to brush his teeth before going to bed. No "good" mother in her right mind today would leave a 9-year-old home alone, especially at night. OK, there are the other boarders in the house. But Bobby is without his mother. Today she would probably be turned in to Child Protective Services for leaving a child unsupervised at home. In a continuation of this scene, Bobby follows Klaatu to his spaceship. So not only was Bobby home alone, he then went out at night on his own to see where Klaatu was going. Nobody noticed Bobby or questioned him about where his parents were. Nobody reported Helen for letting her son go out alone at night. 

Toward the end of the movie, Klaatu and Helen are in a taxi, being chased by the police. How did the police find out where Klaatu and Helen were? There were two boys playing outside by the boarding house without any adults in sight. The police asked the boys which way the taxi went. They didn't ask them where their parents were or why they were outside at night without supervision. 

But some things still are the same. Instead of the today's climate of fear about pedophiles and child abductions, people in the 1950s were afraid of Communists. Talk of the Red Menace in the 1950s seemed as prevalent as news reports of sex offenders and kidnappers now. In the film there were no Communists, but the flying saucer and "spaceman" (Klaatu) were the objects of fear. People were afraid to go anywhere because of the possibility of running into Klaatu. There was even one scene where people were told to turn on their lights but not go out after dark for fear of being taken into the flying saucer by Klaatu or being destroyed by his robot Gort. There is mass hysteria and fear. A reporter interviews people who are in the park where Klaatu's ship landed. Klaatu is there with Bobby. The people that the reporter interviews all say that they're afraid of the spaceman and what he could do. Bobby thinks that the flying saucer is cool. Then the reporter asks Klaatu if he's afraid of the spaceman like everyone else. His response was one of the best lines in the movie and sums up free range parenting. 
Reporter: I suppose you are just as scared as the rest of us. Klaatu: In a different way, perhaps. I am fearful when I see people substituting fear for reason. 
After Klaatu's response the reporter quickly moves away because he obviously didn't like what he heard. Klaatu's answer didn't fit into the climate of fear that ran through the population. Today's helicopter parents are like the people in the movie. They believe that pedophiles and kidnappers are everywhere. Even when they are given the facts about the likelihood of their child being abducted by a stranger, they continue to parent through fear. Free range parenting fits into the theme of The Day the Earth Stood Still because a big part of it is about going against the climate of fear through reason. I want my son to grow up without fearing everyone in the world and thinking that harm will come to him every time he steps out the door.

Tonight's movie feature will be The Thing From Another World. 

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Recovery Mode

The recovery from my latest half-marathon is going slowly. The ongoing problem with my right hamstring decided to flare up after the race. During the race it didn't bother me at all. But afterward....Ouch! A big part of the problem is that I never really let it heal all the way after my half-marathon last October. Now I'm taking it easy and gradually increasing my kilometers. If I go slowly it doesn't bother me. My plan is to take things easy and really let that muscle recover. While I would usually be getting back to full workouts at this point after a half-marathon, I'm only running for 30 minutes at a fairly slow pace. When I can go 30 minutes and not feel anymore aches in my butt (top of the hamstring) or the back of my thigh, then I'll increase my mileage and pace.

When an injury occurs, that's the body's way of saying to take a break. I've been doing a lot of hard training for the past four years. In that time I've run 5 half-marathons, a full marathon, and other races at shorter distances. Now it's time for a little break. I know that it's temporary and that I'll soon be chomping at the bit to do another long race. But it would be great to be totally pain free. I'll also do some cross-training, like hiking or cycling, in order to stay in shape but let my hamstring rest.

I don't really have any big race plans for the rest of the year. There's a 5K in San Diego that I may do when I'm there next month. I can sign up on race day, so I'll make the decision to run it at the last minute. It will depend if I'm still jet lagged, the weather, and my plans for that day. Another race that I'm thinking about doing is an October 10K in Wolfratshausen, which is about halfway between Garmisch and Munich. It looks fairly flat, which is good because I haven't been training as much in the hills compared to previous years.

Even if I don't do anymore races this year, I'll still run for the joy of it. The important thing is getting my right hamstring back to 100% fitness and being able to run without aches or pains. I plan to be the old lady at races who everyone beats but is still admired for still being able to run. In the grand scheme of things, a short break will help my future performances and get me to the finish line when I'm 95 years old.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Munich City Run IV: Random Thoughts

One would think that after running the same half-marathon 4 times in the past 5 years, there wouldn't be anything new and different to write about it. But every year is a unique experience.

The Munich City Run always reminds me of a big Halloween party. The shirt which you're required to wear is orange. Each year it changes slightly, but the main color is still orange. Instead of a number, runners wear the shirt. Most Germans like to wear black shorts when they race. I do too. That's one of my race rituals. For those readers who aren't from the States, orange and black are the two main Halloween colors.  By the way, this year's shirt had a blue stripe on each side and white sleeves. It's a bit goofy-looking, but it's a good technical shirt.

When I'm in the starting corral, I usually end up being nose-to-armpit with some guy who decided to wait until after the race to take his monthly shower. This year I had the (mis)fortune of standing by a guy who decided to stand facing sideways instead of toward the front. He didn't just stand facing sideways; he also had his feet wide apart. In addition, he was talking with his friends, gesticulating wildly while doing so, and also moving around. Judging by the number of times that he bumped into his neighbors with his hands, elbows, or feet, he was totally oblivious to everyone around him. That guy needed a lesson in racing etiquette. The good thing is that he didn't stink.

The post-race refreshments at the City Run keep getting weaker and weaker. This year there were some bottled drinks (mineral water with different juices, or plain mineral water), apples, and Power Bars. There was also alcohol-free beer. In previous years there were big pretzels and various types of fruit at the finish area. The goodie bag was really weak. I just got my t-shirt, a brochure with information about the race, and 4 pieces of Traubenzucker (candy that's like a Sweet Tart). The good thing was that there were plenty of refreshments in the finish area. I've been to races where the organizers ran out of refreshments because of poor planning. A large quantity of a few things is much better than nothing.

At most races with a finisher's medal, the medals are given to the runners just past the finish line. After I finished, I saw some runners with medals and others without them. I thought that maybe the top finishers got them. Then I happened to look over to my left while walking through the refreshment area and saw a woman handing out medals. It was a strange location for giving out medals and probably left a lot of deserving finishers without one. I have no idea why the medals were being given out so far from the finish line.

When I was on the U-Bahn (subway) after the race, the woman across from me was still wearing her medal and admiring it. She was turning it so that the front part was facing out and kept picking it up and looking at it with a smile on her face. It turned out that this was her first half-marathon. I remember when I ran my first half-marathon and got a finisher's medal. I felt like I had just won an Olympic medal. When I drove home from that race, I proudly wore my medal. It was cool to see that other first-time half-marathoners have the same reaction that I did all those years ago.  This woman looked like she was in her 50s or early 60s, which made her accomplishment even greater.

My time of 1:57:44 was good enough for 431st place out of 1386 women and 27th out of 118 in my age group (W 50-54). As my son said, "Mom, you were better than average." I don't know how I did overall  because the men's and women's results were listed separately. There were 4152 men who finished the race.  It seems like more and more women are doing long races in Germany. The first time I ran the Munich Marathon in 1993, it seemed like a 10:1 ratio of men to women. Even small local races had a much higher number of men than women. Now German women are realizing that, contrary to popular belief, running really isn't bad for them.

I always get disoriented going from the finish line back to the changing tent. It must have something to do with all of my blood being in my legs instead of my brain. The short way back to the tents is blocked off and everyone must follow a certain path through the refreshment area. Everything looks unfamiliar. This year there was also a walled-off construction site that I had to walk around to get to the tent, which made the way back even longer.  It felt like I walked another 5 km to find the tents. At least this year I knew where the U-Bahn stop was.

I haven't figured out what my next race will be. I'm looking at a 5K in San Diego the weekend that I'm there and also a 10K in October in Wolfratshausen (between Garmisch and Munich). For now I'm going to have a nice recovery period.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Munich City Run Half-Marathon IV

This was the 4th time that I ran the Muenchener Stadtlauf (Munich City Run) half-marathon. My time of 1:57:44 was not what I was hoping for, but it was still respectable. In fact, it was a decent time by my standards because of a couple of factors:
1) Injuries that I had earlier this year. I had problems with the calf muscles in both legs over the winter and it took a while for them to heal. Even as recently as three months ago, I didn't think that I would be able to do this race. My training was accelerated because of the injuries.
2) The weather. It seems like the weather always gets warm on City Run day. Today is the start of a warm spell that's supposed to last most of the coming week. In addition, it was very humid. Ever run through Jell-O? That's what running in high humidity is like. I took a few extra walking breaks to drink, which also affected my time.

 I set off for Munich at about 5:10 in the morning. My goal was to get there earlier than last year. The sign--in system that was initiated last year was very inefficient with long lines. Last year I felt like I barely had time to do some quick warm-up stretches, use the porta-potty, then get to the start. This year I got the U-Bahn (subway) train at 6:20 instead of at 6:40 (the trains run every 20 minutes on early Sunday mornings). What a difference 20 minutes makes! There were no lines at all when I picked up my shirt. I had lots of time to warm up, use the toilet, and even use my massage stick.

The morning started off rainy. It rained during most of my drive between Garmisch and Munich. It even rained in Munich after I arrived. But it stopped about 30 minutes before race time and the mercury started to rise. I was half hoping that it would rain during part of the race because it would have been refreshing.

Because of the humidity, I felt sluggish the whole time. When running in high humidity, it's hard for the body to cool itself. This leads to sluggishness. I carried a 0.75 liter bottle of diluted Gatorade and drank almost all of it during the race. I could also tell that I was affected by the humidity because my hands started to swell during the last 5-6 km. During the second half of the race, the sun was also starting to come out, which added to my weather woes. I decided to take it easy for those last few km. There was no point in collapsing so close to the finish, dramatic as that may be. In fact, at the 20 km mark, there was an ambulance going by. My thought was, "I may be slow today, but at least I'm not in the back of that ambulance."

The good thing about taking things slower is that none of my problems flared up. I had zero calf muscle problems during the race. My hamstring issues were also non-existent. However, I did get a cramp in the arch of my right foot during my post-run stretching and my left calf started to cramp as I was walking back to the changing tent to get my bag. After a quick stretch both cramps were gone, never to return.

This year was the first year that finishers' medals were given out. It's a generic medal, but I felt like I deserved one this year. It's silver-colored, very shiny, and says, "BMW, SportScheck Stadtlauf 2011" on the front and, "26 Juni 2011 Stadtlauf Muenchen" on the back. No pictures except for a small BMW logo on the front. BMW and the German sporting goods chain SportScheck are the two main sponsors of the City Run series. There's space to have your name and finishing time engraved on the back.

My next post will be some random thoughts about the race.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Why Moms Should Become Runners

Since the 1980s it seems like parenting in the States has become a real competitive sport. Every parent has a super high-achieving child who is destined for an Ivy League university. It's very typical for an American mother to talk about her child this way: "Herkie is in 2nd grade, gets straight As, reads at a 5th grade level and is at an 8th grade level in math. He just finished reading 'War and Peace' and can do some of his older brother's trigonometry problems. Herkie also plays the bassoon, speaks Mandarin, has a black belt in karate, volunteers at the local homeless shelter, and is the youngest kid on his travel Little League team." Whew! One has to wonder when poor Herkie gets some time just to be a kid.

Another aspect of the US competitive parenting culture is judging other parents. We get brownie points for thinking that another parent is bad. A child throws a tantrum in the grocery store because his mother wouldn't let him get a candy bar at the checkout counter. His mother is obviously a Bad Mother; otherwise her child would understand the meaning of the word, "No" and calmly accept not getting the candy. We forget that there may be extenuating circumstances for the kid pitching a fit, like being close to nap time. Instead, we automatically think that the mother can't control her child and we would obviously be better. We also judge other parents as Bad because they do things differently. For example, it's normal in Germany for kids to walk to school starting in first grade. But in the States a parent is judged as being negligent by other parents for letting a 7-year-old walk 100 meters to school on her own. American moms would judge the Germans as negligent parents who risk their children's lives. The German moms would judge the Americans as being too overprotective. Stay-at-home moms judge working moms as being bad, and vice versa.

As I've been out on my morning training runs, I've come to the conclusion that mothers need to become runners. Runners are the most non-judgmental people that I know. When I'm out running, I see people going at different speeds. Some of us are fast while others go at a cool-down jog pace. But everyone out there running is doing his or her best and is simply a fellow runner. We all get to our goal at our own pace and nobody tells us that we're too fast or slow. Some of my former running partners in Parsberg would apologize for being slower than me. But I would tell them that it just didn't matter because we were runners together. We runners also don't judge each other on the types of races that we  prefer. Some of us love running marathons, while others of us are happy doing 5 and 10 km races. A runner who does 5K races is just as "real" a runner as a marathoner.

Runners also applaud each other's achievements instead of trying to tear each other down. When a runner finishes a marathon or places overall or in his age group in a race, that achievement is celebrated. We don't play "can you top this" with our running.  I remember when a friend of mine from Parsberg finished her first marathon (Munich) in over 5 hours. Her time was about an hour slower than I would run a marathon. But I just couldn't imagine myself telling her that she was slow and that I can run a marathon faster and was therefore a better runner. That would have been horribly rude to judge her solely on her finishing time.  Instead, I was so happy and proud for her because we trained together and I helped her to prepare for it. My friend running her first marathon motivated me to train for another marathon after almost a 10 year absence from that distance. Finishing a marathon is a huge accomplishment in itself.  If you're not an elite-level runner, the finishing time is secondary. I used to say that I got the same finisher's medal as the winner but just didn't get the prize money.

While the Boston Marathon would be the runner's equivalent of going to an Ivy League university, most runners will never qualify to run in it. Does that make their running achievements as any less valuable? Not at all. I'll probably never qualify for the Boston Marathon. But I'm happy with everything that I have accomplished as a runner. Most runners feel the same way.

Like runners, parents are doing the best they can. Maybe moms should be runners to learn that we're all fellow parents who are finding our own way in how we bring up our kids. The finish line for a parent is a child who is independent and equipped to leave the nest. It doesn't matter how quickly or slowly our children cross the proverbial finish line. The important thing is that they do.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

I'd Rather Be Uncool

I'm not a believer in corporal punishment for children. But in the case of the kid in these two commercials for the Toyota Highlander, which were posted on the Free Range kids site, I'd easily make an exception. That kid needs to be slapped and put in his place.

These commercials are wrong in so many ways. First of all, they assume that a factor in parents being considered "cool" or "lame" by their children is the car that they drive. With preteens and teenagers, it just doesn't matter what cars their parents drive. When kids get to a certain age, their parents are automatically considered "lame." That's called being a teenager. If parents are too cool, then they are being the child's friends instead of his parents. Parents are supposed to be a child's parents and not his best friend.

Toyota also sends the message that kids are smarter than their parents and therefore should be the ones to pick out the family car. I've always hated movies or TV programs with smart-ass kids who save the world because the adults around them are too incompetent. These commercials remind me of those shows. The kid obviously knows what's cool while his dad doesn't. But guess what, boy? Dad may be an incompetent buffoon and the child's slave (in the second ad), but he's the one paying for the car, gas, maintenance, and insurance. When you're old enough to buy a car and keep it filled, maintained, and insured, then you can choose the car. Until then, you just have to suck it up and ride in whatever your parents decided to buy.

Both ads also give the disturbing message that the attractive blond-haired, blue-eyed rich kid is the cool guy in his school. He has to be rich if his parents bought an SUV and can afford the gas for it, right? The girl in the second ad who gets the ride also has blonde hair and blue eyes. The kid in the first ad with the lame parents and car has dark hair and brown eyes. Popularity and coolness should not be a function of money or hair color. My fantasy ending for the second ad was much different. It would be the  kids in line seeing another kid with an even cooler car and all running over to line up to ride in it, leaving the Highlander kid all alone. It would serve him right for trying to charge the other kids an admission fee for the "privilege" of riding in his dad's new car.

Another thing that I thought was disturbing in the first ad was the kid in the Highlander wearing headphones and promoting the entertainment system. The kid is sitting in the car watching TV instead of engaging his parents in conversation or doing something to entertain himself. It looks like he's on a short drive on a suburban street instead of on a long highway drive. Does he really need to watch TV while driving through the suburbs? I realize that a lot of American cars now come with entertainment systems. They can be useful for very long road trips. But do the kids really need to be watching TV every minute of the day? Last year I took a trip to Italy. My son entertained himself by reading or playing with his Nintendo. We also had a lot of opportunities to talk about the scenery (Austrian and Italian castles, apple orchards). He was not bored on the 4-hour drive. When I take short drives with my son, I turn off the radio and spend the time talking to him. What a concept!

The last disturbing thing was that the kids all considered it cool to ride in a car instead of a bus. The kids who got rejected for a ride in the Highlander were viewed as "losers" and had to take the bus. It really shows the influence of the car culture in the States. In Germany there's the opposite perception of riding in a car at the secondary school level. The wimps or lazy kids are the ones who are driven to school by their parents in good weather. It is much more cool (and grown-up) to take the train, ride the public bus, ride a bike, or walk to school. Here in Garmisch cool bicycles, and not cars, are considered a status symbol with the kids.

I must admit that my very first thought after viewing those commercials was, "Why would anyone in their right mind want to buy a big gas-guzzling SUV these days?" With gas in the States being about $4 a gallon, and European prices being about twice as high, one would think that a small car with good fuel economy would be a more sensible and "cooler" choice. When I went to Italy last year, my husband  filled the tank of our Skoda (by the way, my son had no say in its purchase) before leaving Garmisch. We drove to the southern part of Lake Garda, drove around the Garda area, and came home without having to fill up. I also can't imagine a vehicle like the Highlander in Europe with its narrow roads and parking places that were designed for cars the size of a Smart. Trying to maneuver a Highlander through narrow European streets would challenge the best driver.

I'd rather be uncool with my Skoda and bicycle and save my gas money for other things. Just because I'm a parent doesn't mean I have to be lame and drive an impractical and environmentally-unfriendly vehicle.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Two Hours and Two Weeks

Today was my last really long run before the Munich City Run. I ran for two hours. During this run I took short walking breaks every 30 minutes to practice refueling.  Only two more weeks to go. It always seems like race day is so far away and then it suddenly it's around the corner.

My run today was super. I started off a little slowly and had a strong finish. The whole time I felt really strong and confident. That's exactly how I'd like the race to go. While I was running I felt my late running partner Bill's presence. He was the one who trained me for my first half-marathon. I still follow his advice because it has worked very well for me over the years. Today was one of those days that I wished was race day. I didn't have any problems with either my calves or right hamstring. Woo-hoo! The only down side was that I got hungry a little over halfway through the run. Normally the combination of Gummi Bears and diluted Gatorade helps to cut the hunger, but it didn't this time. If I get hungry during the race, at least I had practice dealing with that feeling. When I got home I wolfed down a Power Bar.

I really feel like I'm peaking at just the right time. A while back I was slower and felt like my speed wasn't coming back. But it did and at the right time. Just about all of my training runs this past month have been good. There were times during the recent warm spells when I felt sluggish and had "bad" runs. At least I had the bad runs in training and not on race day. I'm really having a good feeling about Munich, especially if race day is anything like today.

Next week's long run will be 90 minutes. After that it will just be 5 km runs during the week to keep the legs loose. I found over the years that a one-week tapering period for a half-marathon works best for me.

The one thing that I'm hoping for in two weeks is cool weather. The race starts at 8 am, so it should start off fairly cool. June in Germany is unpredictable. It could be really hot, or it could be cool and rainy. But for the next two weeks my big wish is that my training continues to go well.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Deutsche Schule (German School) Part 2

Last October I wrote this post about why my son is in German school instead of the American school on base.  The more I think about the decision that I made back in 2005 to enroll my son in Geman school, the happier I am with it. I think that many American helicopter parents would be shocked at what German kids do in their schools. Some of the things that German kids do in school would be a helicopter parent's worst nightmare. Kids here are encouraged to be independent and responsible for themselves at an early age.

When my son was in kindergarten (preschool), I was required to pick him up. If a friend who didn't have children in the kindergarten was picking him up, I had to write a note informing the teacher. If he was going home with a classmate, I just had to tell the teacher. But once kids get into school, the teachers let the kids go on their own. When my son was in first grade, he was planning to go home with a friend in another class. I told the teacher when I dropped him off in the morning. Her response was, "He's in school now. You don't need to tell me." Kids here walk to school and back home on their own starting in first grade. During their last year of kindergarten they learn about traffic safety and practice crossing streets with a policeman and  their teachers. In fact, when I was picking my son up from school today, I saw a group of kindergartners with their teachers practicing street crossing.

In second grade my son's class was studying the "food wheel," which is the German equivalent of the US food pyramid. When the teacher talked about different fruits, the class walked to the Friday open market in the town pedestrian zone. When everyone got to the market, the class was split into five groups. Each group had a list of fruit that they were supposed to buy along with money that the parents had provided. The teacher set the groups loose in the market and told them to meet back at a certain place with their fruit. Imagine groups of 7 and 8-year-olds by themselves in an open market with only one teacher. After the kids walked back to class, they cut up their fruit with real knives and made a fruit salad. A week or two later the class talked about vegetables. Again, the kids went in groups to the open market to buy vegetables. When they got back to class that day, they made vegetable soup. I can't imagine this sort of activity in an American school. I'm sure that each group would require at least one parent supervising the kids. The kids probably wouldn't be allowed to handle the money or the sharp knives. The kids practiced real world math skills by subtracting the cost of their fruits and vegetables from the amount of money they started with. They also practiced reading recipes and handling kitchen equipment. In addition, they practiced being responsible by meeting the teacher at a designated time and place.

German kids seem to take more school field trips than Americans. At the beginning and ending of every school year, each class goes on a hike. From third grade on, only teachers accompany the class. As the kids get older, the hikes get longer. If the weather is bad, the kids still go hiking; they just wear their rain gear. Every year my son's classes have gone to the local theater to see a play. In third grade my son's class studied the history of Garmisch. The class went to various sites in town and learned their history. Next month my son's music class will walk to one of the local churches to see the organ. What's interesting about German schools is that parents don't have to sign permission slips for field trips. The teacher sends a notice home about an upcoming trip which explains when and what it is and if the kids need to bring anything (money, snack).

My son's favorite school activity was a 5-day, 4-night trip to the Schullandheim, which is a big farmhouse somewhere between Garmisch and Munich. Fifth graders in all of the area's Gymnasiums go there. The class is accompanied by two teachers and the five 10th graders who are assigned to that class to help the new 5th graders get oriented to the school. The 5th graders sleep six to a room; the teachers and 10th graders have separate sleeping areas. Each group of six has its own bathroom. The groups are responsible for keeping their rooms and the bathrooms clean. In the morning there were planned activities: different types of hikes, helping out at the farm next door, or baking cookies. Afternoons were for free play or reading. I can't imagine anything like this in the States. Let's see, there are: kids sleeping without an adult in the room, boys tackling each other when playing American football and soccer during afternoon free play time, kids getting dirty and wet, kids staying up as late as they wanted, and only two adults supervising approximately 25 kids.

As I said above, kids start walking to school by themselves in first grade. In 4th grade they have a class in bike safety. Once they pass a written and performance test, they can ride their bikes to school on their own. Secondary school starts in 5th grade. Many of the smaller towns and villages don't have a secondary school.
Secondary school students from those areas either take the train or ride a public bus to school. In larger cities, like Munich, kids ride the U-Bahn (subway) to school by themselves starting in 5th grade. My son's school is about 2.5 kilometers from my house. When the weather is nice, he and his friends meet up and ride their bikes to school and back home. They call each other and make the arrangements themselves.

I like the fact that the schools here encourage independence. When my son finishes school, I can be assured that he will be a confident and competent young man because of his school experiences.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Running Song Titles

The last couple of days have been great. Just when I thought that I was going to be slow and not get my speed back before Munich, I really knocked a lot of time off of my usual routes. The nice cool weather really helped. Last week it was warm and very humid. Yesterday and today it was cool and overcast. Last week I did my hill course in 40:40. Yesterday the same run only took 38:37! Last Friday my short, flat route took me 31:53. Today I did it in 31:06. The best thing was that I didn't feel like I was pushing myself. It was very easy to hold my pace. On Sunday I'll have to remember to hold back on my long (1:50:00) run. I'm feeling so ready for Munich. Only 23 more days.

While I was running today, Meat Loaf's "Bat Out of Hell" came on the iPod. I really felt like a bat out of Hell because of my torrid pace. That reminded me of other song titles that sum up my running experience. Some of you readers may have seen some of these before. A while ago a friend and I came up with song titles that describe running. The catch was that the titles couldn't have the word "run" or any derivative of it. Here are some of them:

Hurts So Good (John Mellencamp): How you feel after crossing the finish line of a marathon and getting a finisher's medal placed around your neck.
The Long and Winding Road (The Beatles): Running on any trail in Bavaria.
Take the Long Way Home (Supertramp): What you do when a training run is going really well.
Comfortably Numb (Pink Floyd): How you feel during those last 5 km of a marathon.
Hungry Like the Wolf (Duran Duran): Your appetite after either a long run or race.
Bat Out Of Hell (Meat Loaf): How you feel when you're going all-out.
Accleerate (REM): What you do about 100 meters from the finish line.
Certain Kind of Fool (The Eagles): The type of person who enjoys long distance running.
Homeward Bound (Simon and Garfunkel): The return leg of an out-and-back course.
It's Raining Again (Supertramp): Running in Germany.
The Road to Hell (Chris Rea): What you feel like you're running on when the weather's hot.
Life In the Fast Lane (The Eagles): Track workouts.
The Metro (Berlin): What you're thinking about riding on to the marathon finish.
Do It Again (Steely Dan): 6 X 800 meter repeats on the track.
Eyes On the Ground (The Connells): Where you need to look when running on trails in order to avoid tripping over obstacles.
High (James Blunt): That feeling when crossing the finish line of a marathon or half-marathon or after a great training run.
Already Gone (The Eagles): Where the rest of the runners are in one of your pre-race nightmares where you've missed the start of the race.
Feeling Stronger Every Day (Chicago): What's supposed to happen, both mentally and physically, when you're training for a race.
Take It Easy (The Eagles): How you're supposed to pace yourself on long training runs.
Talent Is An Asset (Sparks): That's true, but you also need training and determination to make it to the finish line.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

7.9 From the Bulgarian Judge

Today's run was 1:40, the same as last week. My pace was slightly faster than last week's and I generally felt good throughout the run. I started slowly and finished on a fast note. It was one of those days where I wished that today was race day instead of it being five weeks off. The weather started off on the warm and humid side. I ended up having to take my first drink at around 22 minutes instead of at the normal 30-minute point. After that I ran mostly in the shade and took my normal stops at 30, 60, and 90 minutes. The weather also started to cool off as clouds moved in. Toward the end of my run it sprinkled

For the next two weeks I'll run for 1:50. Then it will be the last big run for exactly two hours. Since I started running for 90 minutes earlier this month, I've gone on a flatter course that more closely resembles Munich than the hillier course that I also train on. I'll also keep my "Diabetic's Delight" refueling combination for the race. A Diabetic's Delight is Gummi Bears and diluted Gatorade. Gummi Bears seem to stave off the hunger better than Power Bars or Shot Blox.

I would like to say that today's run was uneventful, but it wasn't. As I was heading downhill on a side trail off the bike path that parallels the main road to Austria, I tripped over a large rock and fell. It was just after I turned for home on an out-and-back course, so I was almost as far from home as I could be. At least the trail was empty, so I didn't have to worry about any injuries to my pride in addition to physical ones. That's what I get for daydreaming! The combination of daydreaming, a naturally short stride, and not lifting my feet high enough on longer runs when trying to keep a slower pace was a "perfect storm" for a fall.  I landed on my right side with the impact on the outside of my right leg and forearm and also on both hands. The first thing that I noticed was all of the mud on my arm, leg, and hands. This past week there have been daily thundershowers, which made the trail muddy. The mud just didn't want to come off, even with with using my shirt to wipe off. I looked more like a mountain biker who had finished a long muddy trail ride than a runner. After checking for blood under the mud, and finding none, I carried on with my run. I was able to run back home without any problems or anything hurting. When I got home I cleaned up and found bruises on my forearm, the outside of my right knee, and on my butt around where the top of the IT band would be. I figured that fall would rate a 7.9 from the Bulgarian judge with most of the deductions for having unpointed toes and zero blood.

Next week I won't be running on that trail. It has nothing to do with taking a fall. That trail isn't long enough for me to run in for 55 minutes. When I do runs between 90 and 100 minutes and don't need to run hills, I'll be back on it.

Monday, May 16, 2011

How I Know I'm a Real Runner

There have been many lists over the years in running books, magazines, and websites about how you know if you're a real runner. Here is my list. It's more applicable to distance runners, at least in my opinion.

* Energy bars or gels, sport drinks, and ibuprofen are their own separate food groups.
* The ice in the freezer is not for keeping drinks cold. It's for putting on sore spots after a long run.
* Ice is a miracle substance.
* Gummi Bears are not junk food. They are a great fuel source on long runs.
* You don't care if your shorts and shirt match when you go out for a run. You wear whatever is at the top of the pile.
* You forget to pick up milk on the way home from work but remember the time of your first 5K race back in 1989 (30:17).
* Songs are divided into two categories: those that are good to run to and those that aren't.
* You get more excited about the latest model from Ascics (or Nike, Saucony, New Balance, etc.) than over Jimmy Choos.
* Running in the rain is good training. If it's raining on race day (always a good possibility in Germany), you're prepared for it.
* You make fun of people who buy 6 of the same item because they're on sale. But you think it's perfectly normal to buy 6 pairs of your favorite running shoes when you hear that they're being discontinued.
* A massage stick is an essential item.
* You know what your IT band is and where it's located.
* You own more race t-shirts, technical shirts, running shorts, and tights than any other type of clothing.
* Murphy's Law of warm weather running: Any spots where you didn't put Vaseline on before running will get chafed. It doesn't matter if they never got chafed in the past.
* You think that a preschooler wiping his nose on his sleeve is disgusting. But you use your shirt, glove, or jacket as a Kleenex while on the run and think nothing of it.
* You actually want to be older. Last week's 10K time which placed you 6th in your age group would have been good enough for 2nd place in the next age group.
* You buy your regular clothing on sale or in the bargain bin, but don't have any qualms about paying full price for running shoes.
* Five km (3.1 miles) is a good warm-up.
* You own more items that go in the delicate wash cycle than a Victoria's Secret model.
* After making airline reservations to the States, the first thing you do is check the race calendar in the cities where you're staying.
* You think that a finisher's medal for a 5K race is over the top.
* You think that Fantasy Football or Baseball are stupid, but believe that a Fantasy Run is a cool idea and good motivation.
* A 10-mile (16 km) run is a great way to spend a Sunday morning.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Wacky Weather Week and Running In Segments

This week the weather has been crazy.  I had to run in the afternoons on Wednesday and Friday because of being on the early shift all week. We had a warm spell and I felt really sluggish on my shorter runs because of the warm temperatures and humidity. On Friday I stopped every 15 minutes for a drink, and I only ran about 6 km. It was in the low 20s C (70s F), but it felt much hotter because most of my route was in the sun. Because of the humidity, it felt like I was running through Jell-O. I was also slower than usual, but that's to be expected when the mercury rises.

Today it was about 5 C (41 F) and had rained earlier in the morning. Since it was threatening to rain again, I wore my rain suit over a pair of lightweight tights and a long-sleeved technical shirt. What's the best way to insure that it won't rain during a long run? Wear a rain suit. I spent most of my run wishing that I had left the suit at home. My Gore-Tex suit is great for keeping me dry, but I bake in it. It has been a very trusty running suit though. I bought it at half price just before moving to Germany in 1992. It was on the 50% off rack because it was the previous year's model. A couple of the pocket zippers no longer work, and the Velcro on the jacket's wrists has been sewn back on a couple of times. In addition to wearing it in the rain, it's also my winter running suit. Needless to say, the jacket has been used a lot over here. I mainly wear the pants in either very cold weather or rain.

Today's run of 1:40 was a good one. I'm right where I want to be at this point before the Munich City Run half-marathon (26 June). The calf problems that plagued me earlier this year have disappeared. It was an almost perfect run. I started slowly and picked up the pace as the run went on. My finish was fast. It's always fun to end a run with a short sprint and my late running partner Bill's voice in my ear saying, "Let's practice our half-marathon finish" and "Are you going to let an old man beat you?" When I finished in my driveway, I could almost feel one of Bill's post-run hugs. He always gave hugs to the women in our group after a long training run.  My right knee is bothering me a little bit. But I'll put some ice on it and it should feel fine again.

One of the tricks that I learned from Bill is breaking up long runs into smaller segments. Bill used to say that a marathon was not one 26-mile run. It was really running 1 mile 26 times. For those readers who use the metric system, it would be running 1 kilometer 42 times. I do that trick with my long runs. Instead of saying that I'm going to run 50 minutes out and then 50 back, I break up my runs into segments. There are certain landmarks that I use for my checkpoints. The checkpoints are between 3 and 10 minutes apart. That system really helps on the return leg of a long run, when my legs are tired and starting to feel like they're made of lead instead of bone and muscle. Instead of thinking that I have 43 more minutes to go, I tell myself that it's only 6 minutes until I cross the main road, between 6 and 7 minutes until I re-cross the main road and go through part of the town of Grainau, then about 9 minutes from there to the Aldi market, then 4 minutes until the turn onto the road that takes me to the bike trail that leads back home. Even the bike trail is broken up into segments because partway through I have to cross a small road. The road is a natural checkpoint.

This next week is also supposed to be another strange one. It will start off cool and rainy and will end sunny and warm. The Alps are definitely not Southern California, where the weather is usually warm and doesn't change much. At least I'll be back on my normal work schedule this week and will be able to run in the mornings when it's nice and cool. Next week's long run will be another one at 1:40.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The 90-Minute Mark

Today I ran for 90 minutes and felt pretty good afterward. I've caught up to where I want to be at this point before the Munich City Run. My legs actually feel better today than they did last week, when I ran 80 minutes. There are two good reasons for that: 1) I started wearing new shoes earlier this week. It was time for the old ones to be retired; and 2) Last week I ran on a hilly course and went faster than I probably should have. Today I went on a flat course, which is more like how Munich will be. I also took the first half of the run very slowly and really forced myself to keep the pace slow.

My run was close to perfect. I started off slowly and held the slow pace for the first half. One of my problems is that I start turning on the speed too soon on my long runs. I'll look at my watch at an early checkpoint, tell myself that I'm slow, then speed up too much. My former running partner Bill used to tell me that the word "slow" was not part of my vocabulary. Today I gradually increased the pace as the run went on instead of starting quickly. I even had enough energy for a fast final 200 meters. After I finished, I still felt like I could have run some more.

My son took the last of our Gummi Bears with him when he went skiing today. I've been using Gummi Bears as fuel along with diluted Gatorade for about a year. Instead of the Gummis, I brought a Power Bar with me. Gummi Bears must expand in my stomach because they seem to cut the hunger pretty well. Even with taking bites of the Power Bar, I was still hungry. In the past I would get hungry at the one-hour mark. When I felt hungry today, I looked at my watch. It said 58 minutes, which is close enough to an hour. But even after a couple of bites of Power Bar and a good drink of Gatorade, I was still starving. It didn't help matters at the 1:14 mark when Duran Duran's "Hungry Like The Wolf" started playing on my iPod. I told myself that I was close to home to keep my mind off of my hunger.  I felt like the plant in "Little Shop of Horrors" that kept saying, "Feed me!" When I got home I finished the Power Bar and Gatorade and felt less hungry.

A couple of months ago I would never have thought that I would make it to this point because of calf problems. At one point during today's run I felt a small twinge in my left calf, but it went away within about 20 seconds. Now I'm feeling that I'll be able to do the City Run next month without any problems. As it gets closer to race day, I'll go online and register for it. Next week's long run will also be 90 minutes on the same course.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Helicopter Dad

Whenever I hear about "helicopter parenting" in the States, I usually think of mothers. There are magazine articles, blogs, TV programs, and even books about helicopter moms. My impression of fathers is that they're the ones who give the kids a little more free rein than mothers do. But earlier today I saw a helicopter dad.

Before getting into what I saw this afternoon, let me explain how the base where I work is set up. There are actually two sides that are separated by a busy street and a bridge. The side where I work on Saturdays has the gym, chapel, offices, classrooms, one student dormitory building, and the Armed Forces hotel. Most soldiers and US civilians who visit Garmisch stay at that hotel. The other side has the PX, Commissary, gas station, bank, and all of the other standard base facilities. On Saturdays during my lunch hour I walk over to the the other side to get a little bit of fresh air and exercise and also to stretch my legs. I often see families who are staying at the American hotel walking between the two sides of the base.

As I was walking toward the traffic light where I cross the street to get to the other part of the base, I saw an American man with a military haircut with two girls. The girls, who were his daughters, looked to be about 7 and 9 years old. We got to the traffic light, which was red, at about the same time. The father told the daughters that everyone must hold  hands when crossing the street. The light for us turned green and we all started across the street. As we were crossing, a car pulled up to the intersection and stopped at the light. The father told the girls to watch out for the speedy driver (who had stopped by that time). When we all got across the street, it was time to cross the bridge. On both sides of the bridge there is a railing with bars that's a little over a meter high. The bars are so close together that an anorexic toddler would have a hard time fitting between them. But as we all got to the bridge, the father told the daughters to stay away from the railing because it was dangerous and they could fall into the river. When we reached the base gate, we went through the pedestrian entrance, which is roped off from the vehicle entrance and cars can't get into it. That didn't matter to this dad. He told the girls to walk as far over to the side as possible so that they wouldn't get hit by a car.

To give this father a break, he may have just returned from Iraq or Afghanistan. If so, he probably saw plenty of things that would make him feel that the world is a dangerous place, especially for young girls. This father obviously loves his daughters very much and wants to protect them. But Garmish-Partenkirchen is a far cry from downtown Baghdad or Kabul. I can understand that man wanting his daughters close by, especially if they are tourists and aren't familiar with the city. When I'm in an unfamiliar city with my son, I like him close by, or I at least want to see where he is. But the father I saw today made it seem that everything in the short walk (about 100 meters) from the traffic light to the base entrance gate was scary. I felt a little sad for those girls. They will grow up believing it's normal to view the world as a place full of dangers.

If anyone was wondering, I didn't say anything to the father. I wouldn't want someone coming up to me and telling me that my parenting style was "wrong". Even though I disagreed with how that man was telling his daughters about everything being dangerous, he deserved the same courtesy.