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.