Friday, March 30, 2012

Top Ten Running Moments

I think that every runner has his or her top 10 running moments. In all of the races that I've done since 1989, it was hard to narrow down the list. It was also hard to rank them because some of them were very close. Numbers 2 to 4 were especially difficult to put in order. On another day I may have them in a different order. Without further ado...

10. 2005 Munich Marathon (Munich, Germany). I didn't run Munich that year, but my friend Kim did. I ran a lot of long runs with her as she trained for it, passing along bits of my experience with marathons and advice from my former running partners. When Kim finished the race and achieved her two goals (not to finish last and to finish before the 6-hour time limit), I had the feeling that a coach would have when her athlete wins an Olympic medal. Training with Kim also gave me motivation to train for another marathon. Before I started running with Kim, she said that she was looking for a Sunday morning training partner. I told her that I'd be happy to run with her and we made arrangements to meet at her house the following Sunday. On that Sunday I knocked on Kim's door, ready to run. It turns out that I got her out of bed. She didn't think that I would really show up to run. But she got dressed and we ran together that morning. That turned out to be the first of our many runs together.

9. 1992 San Dieguito Half-Marathon (Rancho Santa Fe, CA). My half-marathon personal record (PR), which I set at this race, still stands. San Dieguito is a tough course that is all rolling hills and an uphill finish. My late running partner Bill prepared me for San Dieguito. But somewhere in the very last part I started walking. I was on track for a PR at that point, but figured I wouldn't get it because of my walking break. It was at that point that I heard Bill's voice in my head telling me, "You're wearing a black shirt, so stop being such a wimp and get your butt going." (I wore a black t-shirt to feel "tough".)  I started running again and ended up finishing with a PR. This experience really showed me that even when things got difficult, I had the mental and physical toughness to work through it and keep going.

8. 1989 Thanks for Giving 5K (San Diego, CA). This race was special because it was the only one that my husband and I ran together. We stayed together the whole way until just before the finish line, where he finished two steps ahead of me.

7. 2007 Munich City Run Half-Marathon. This was the first half-marathon that I ran after a 3-year absence from long races. I spent those 3 years running 5 and 10 km races to give my body a break from hard long-distance training. I did a lot better than I expected to after a long break from half-marathons. Because of my performance in that race, I trained for and ran the Munich Marathon later that year. I now do the City Run almost every year.

6. 2004 Mainly Masters 10K (San Diego, CA). This was a 10 km race for runners age 40 and over. I won my division (W 45-49), but that's not why it was a special race. It was the race in which I finally broke 50 minutes for a 10 km race. I had been very close to the 50-minute mark since running 50:12 in a race in 1991, but never seemed to be able to break it. I paced myself well and ended up finishing in 49:55. The course was flat and perfect for a PR.

5. 2005 7-Minute Mile (Hohenfels, Germany). Like trying to break 50 minutes for a 10 km race, a 7-minute mile (1600  meters) was another goal. Since 1992, when I ran a 7:20 mile, I had been trying to run a mile in under 7 minutes. I had come tantalizingly close with mile times of 7:08, 7:05, and 7:02. Finally my friend Charlie, a former elite-level runner, offered to pace me. We did track workouts together and I was able to hold the right pace. When it came time to do the actual test, Charlie paced me. But at the start of the 4th lap (a mile is 4 laps of a standard track), my hamstring acted up so we aborted the attempt. A few days later I went back to the track on my own, determined to redeem myself. The first two laps were at the right pace, but the third lap was slow and I was behind where I should have been. Going into the last lap, I told myself it was now or never. I heard the line, "Gonna show you what I'm made of" from Don Henley's "The Boys of Summer." I gave everything that I had on that last lap. When I stopped my watch, it showed a time of 6:55.40.

4. 2005 Hohenfels Box Run 10K (Hohenfels, Germany). That was the year my team won the team title in this race. The year before we were second by 20 seconds and we were fired up to win. Charlie, Lee, Frank, Jack and I really gave it our all. It was an indescribable feeling to stand on stage with my teammates to receive the first place trophy. I was also the 3rd place woman overall and 2nd in my age group. But the team award superceded the individual honors. I call this race my "1-2-3-4 finish" because of being part of the 1st place team, 2nd in my age group, 3rd woman overall, and the 4th finisher from my team.

3. 2007 Munich Marathon. This was special for two reasons. First of all, it was my first marathon since 1996 (also in Munich). Secondly, I ran with a photo of my former running partner Bill pinned to my shirt. Bill trained me for my first half-marathon and motivated me to try for a marathon. For this marathon I trained "smarter, not harder" and it paid off with a new marathon PR. I took 5 minutes off of my old PR and had the most fun ever running a marathon. During the race I had imaginary conversations with Bill. One of these conversations got me through a rough patch at the 39 km mark, when my legs turned to lead and I wanted to stop. I have worn Bill's photo in subsequent races as a good luck charm.

2. 1991 San Diego Half-Marathon (Carlsbad, CA). This was my first half-marathon. Bill and I ran together on many Sundays before the race. I soaked up everything he told me about running a half-marathon and performed better than I expected to. My time of 1:50:37 was much better than the goal of 2 hours that I set for myself. I ran a perfect race that day, starting slowly and increasing my speed at each mile. I felt like I was flying during the last mile, which was mostly downhill. When I got my finisher's medal, I felt like I  received an Olympic gold medal. I was on Cloud 9! After that race I told Bill that I wanted to run a marathon. His advice was to get a few more half-marathons under my belt before doing a marathon, which I did.

1. 1993 Munich Marathon. This was my first marathon, which I finished in a respectable 4 hours and 17 minutes. I trained following advice that I got from Bill and Pat. Pat was another former running partner (she currently lives in Nebraska) who ran ultra marathons at that time. Even though I had moved to Germany, I kept in touch with her and got great advice for my first marathon. One piece of advice that Pat gave me was that there would be a point during the marathon when I would feel crappy. She said to give myself affirmations to get through it. Pat told me that she used to sing at the 20-mile (32 km) mark of marathons, which would make the other runners around her upset and even mad. Maybe they didn't like her singing. When I got to the 32 km mark, I started singing, "I Feel Pretty" from "West Side Story." It was a combination of singing and affirmations, right? It was better than what I thought I would be doing at that point (blubbering incoherently or asking where the nearest subway stop was). When I made the turn into the Olympic Stadium tunnel, I felt like the Olympic marathoners in 1972 must have felt when they knew that they were in the home stretch. Nothing could compare to crossing the finish line. I let out a big, "Yessssss!!!" The race volunteer who put my finisher's medal around my neck gave me a strange look until I told him that it was my first marathon. I got a nice hug from my husband at the finish. When I got home, the first thing I did was call Bill and Pat to tell them that I was offically a marathoner.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Frequently Asked Questions

There are certain questions that people have asked me over the course of my life. I thought that I would share some of them.

Back in my pre-Germany life I was an American Sign Language interpreter. I mainly worked in a community college and a lot of students, mainly the Hearing ones, asked me questions about my job. I think that the most common question that I got was,
"You work with the Deaf. Can you read Braille?" The short answer is no. I did work with some deaf-blind students who could read Braille. One deaf-blind woman that I worked with was a real speed demon with her portable Braille writer. But I worked with the Deaf and not the blind. Even if I did work with blind people, being able to read Braille wouldn't be required. People would often ask me if I could hear or read lips. Yes, I can hear. Otherwise, I wouldn't have been able to interpret what an instructor was saying. No, I can't read lips unless it's something very obvious.
Another common statement that people would make was,
"That's so nice of you to volunteer to help this person." I did do some unpaid interpreting when I was doing my practicum. But after I finished my training program, I was paid for my services. Even after almost 20 years away from interpreting, I miss it. It was a challenging job where every day was different. If I had the opportunity to do it again, I would in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, Sign Language interpreting didn't like me. I ended up developing painful tendinitis in my wrist and elbow.

I get a lot of interesting questions as a runner. One of my favorites, when I tell someone about a race is,
"Did you run the whole way?" The answer is yes, especially if the race is a shorter one. In longer races (half-marathons and marathons) I will walk through the water points.  Another good question is,
"How do you know you're going the right way?" Since I'm a middle-of-the-pack runner, I follow the people in front of me and hope they're all going the right way. In over 20 years of racing  that strategy has worked well because I made it to the finish line in all of my races. New runners often ask me,
"Are you on a special diet?" and "Do you carbo load before races?" The answer to both of those questions is no. I eat a healthy diet with some treats. The night before a race I eat something familiar to avoid digestive problems. Sometimes my race eve meal happens to be pasta. I do, however, believe that ice cream should be its own food group. I often tell people half in jest that the real reason I run is so I can eat ice cream.
After a race some people will ask, "Did you win?" There were a couple of small on-base races where I won the women's division. But I normally don't win anything in most races except for an occasionial age group award or a prize in a post-race drawing. To me winning is crossing the finish line after giving my best possible effort.
When I first came to Germany, I lost count of the number of times people told me that I shouldn't be running because it's bad for women. But I also got a lot of questions from new runners about training, my mileage, shoes, and strategies for running various distances.

The most frequent question that I get at work is,
"Is the water here safe to drink?" The people who ask that question tend to come from places where most sane people would be scared to drink the tap water. But the water here is very good and safe to drink. I tell the students that I work with that I drink the tap water all the time and that my greenish glow and mutant eye in the middle of my forehead have nothing to do with the water. Seriously, I neither have a third eye nor glow in the dark.
"How do I wash my clothing?" is another frequently asked question, usually by men. Many married men from some countries have never done laundry. Their mothers did it for them until they got married, when their wives took over that chore. Because I'm a woman, I must be an automatic laundry expert.
I think the favorite question that I have been asked was,
"Can we get more hookers in the showers?" Yes, the school I work for supplies everything for its students, including ladies of the evening. That may sound utopian for the men, but the student who asked me that really wanted more hooks for hanging his clothing and towels while he was taking a shower. I didn't have the heart to tell the student the meaning of the word "hooker" since he seemed self-conscious about his English skills.
My very favorite question is one that I was never asked. One of my co-workers used to work for the on-base hotel that caters to the armed forces and government civilians. She worked in the reservations department and got all sorts of questions. People would often ask her,
"Where is the best place to see the kangaroos?" Kangaroos? In Garmisch? What have I been missing all these years? A lot of people evidently confuse Austria with Australia, despite the fact that they are in very different parts of the world. At least they know that Garmisch is near the Austrian border. Australia is the land of kangaroos, the Great Barrier Reef, aborigines, and Crocodile Dundee. Austria is known for Mozart, Viennese palaces, beautiful Alpine scenery, The Sound of Music, lots of ski resorts, and even more great ski racers. I would venture to guess that the best place to see kangaroos in Austria is the Vienna Zoo.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Good Impressions Part 2

Now onto the men. It was really hard to narrow the list down to 10 men who impressed me this season. There were so many across all five disciplines. I paid more attention to the men this year because the race for the overall Crystal Globe and most of the smaller Globes will come down to the finals, which start early next week. The women's Globes, except for giant slalom, were locked up early, which takes away a lot of the excitement of the season and finals. Anyway, on to the men. Again, they're in alphabetical order.

Max Blardone (Italy): Max has had two wins in giant slalom this season and has also been on the podium. He has always been one of the better men in GS, but this season he has really put it all together and is having a great year. Max also has one of the best victory celebrations. He forms his ski poles into a bow and arrow and shoots one of the poles into the crowd.

Didier Cuche (Switzerland): Like a fine wine, Didier gets better with age. At 37 he is still winning races. Didier is a great role model for what an older athlete can accomplish. He will retire at the end of the season and will be missed. Didier's post-run celebration is also entertaining. He loosens one ski, kicks it into the air so it flips over a couple of times, then catches it.

Beat Feuz (Switzerland): Beat is achieving the potential that he showed as a junior skier by leading the World Cup overall standings. He is a speed specialist, but was also good enough in the combined event (1 run downhill, 1 run slalom) to be on the podium in all 4 of those races. I also admire his sportsmanship. He always seems to be smiling and complimenting his teammates.

Max Franz (Austria): Before the season started, I didn't hold much hope for the young Austrians. But Max has been a real surprise and gem for the Austrian Power Team. He is young (22) and has had quite a few top-15 results this season. What is amazing is that early in the season he got good results with a high start number. Just last week he had his best finish, a 5th in Super-G. He is definitely one to watch in the speed events. The Austrian legacy of great men in the speed events continues.

Marcel Hirscher (Austria): Marcel has won 8 slalom and giant slalom races this season. At age 22, his career is just getting started. He and Beat Feuz are in a very exciting duel for the overall Crystal Globe that will come down to the finals. I really admire Marcel's nerves of steel. He was embroiled in a cheating scandal earlier this season but was cleared. A lesser skier would have let the pressure of it get to him. But Marcel just kept on winning. If he wins the Globes for both slalom and GS, he will become only the 7th man to accomplish that feat. I can only imagine how great Marcel will be once he hits his physical peak.

Kjetil Jansrud (Norway): On a word association test, the usual answer to, "Great Norwegian all-around skier" would be Kjetil's teammate Aksel Lund Svindal. But this season Kjetil is only one of four men to score points in all 5 disciplines. Kjetil has been known as a giant slalom specialist, but this season he has been on the podium in speed events and even won one. In the next couple of years he could be a real contender for the overall Globe.

Klaus Kroell (Austria): Klaus has been a very consistent performer for Austria in the speed events. He is the top contender for the downhill Globe. His performances this year have been a real inspiration to his younger teammates like Max Franz and Joachim Puchner. Klaus is also very friendly. I rode up to the ski area in the gondola with him. He happily chatted with all of us in the gondola.

Alexix Pinturault (France): Alexis is the latest addition to the strong French technical team. He is also very young (turning 21 later this month) but is already achieving the potential that he showed as a junior with two 2nd places (GS and combined) and a win at the Moscow City Event. Alexis is also very good in slalom and has some top-10 finishes this season. He tends to have a problem putting together two good runs, but he will become more consistent with experience. I see him being a real superstar in the technical events and a great challenger to Hirscher.

Ben Thomsen (Canada): Ben's most impressive finish was 5th place in the Chamonix downhill with start number 50. He follwed that up the next week with a second place finish in the Sochi downhill.  Erik Guay, Jan Hudec, and now Ben give the Canadians a triple threat in downhill races. Ben is also young and looks to have a bright future.

Naoki Yuasa (Japan): Despite being from a two-man ski team, Naoki has been very impressive this season. He has broken into the top 10 and even into the top 5 in slalom races. Naoki also skis on Hart skis, which is a manufacturer of freestyle skis. But they obviously work very well for him. I personally think it's great when a skier from a small team does well against the "big boys."

Honorable Mentions: As I said above, it was hard to limit this list to ten men. Some of the other men who were exciting to watch this season were: Fritz Dopfer (Germany), Marcel Mathis (Austria), Bode Miller (USA), Joachim Puchner (Austria), and Benjamin Raich (Austria).

Good Impressions Part 1

The 2011/12 World Cup skiing season is coming to a close. The finals start with downhill training on Monday. It has been a long season. This post and the next one will be about the skiers who impressed me this season. I'll start with the women and the next post will be the men. The order will be alphabetical rather than by how much I was impressed by them. For the most part, I was impressed by the skiers' performances. But in a couple of cases it was their sportsmanship that made them great this season. There were 9 women who made my list this season:

Stacey Cook (USA): Stacey has been very consistent in the downhill event. It's only a matter of time before she gets her first World Cup podium. My son met her at the races in Garmisch last month and said that she was one of the two friendliest women (the other was Germany's Viktoria Rebensburg).

Lena Duerr (Germany): She has had several good results in technical races this season. She tends to have one great run and one not-so-good run. When Lena gets more consistent and able to put two good runs together, she will be a contender for a Crystal Globe. Lena is part of the young German squad that will only get better with age and experience.

Anna Fenninger (Austria): Anna is primarily known as a speed specialist. But she was one of only five women who scored points in all 5 Alpine disciplines this season. She is still young and has a bright future ahead of her. She could be a real contender for the overall Crystal Globe.

Marie-Michele Gagnon (Canada): Mitch, as she is called, kept getting better and better as the season progressed. If she continues to ski so well, she will earn her first World Cup podium spot very soon. It's great to see a skier who's not from a large team do well in World Cup competition. Mitch is also very young and has a lot of star potential in the technical events.

Michaela Kirchgasser (Austria): Michaela had her best season this year, including a slalom win. Her win, like those of her teammate Marlies Schild, was very decisive. Michaela has really improved a lot and is a steady performer for the Austria Power Team.

Daniela Merighetti (Italy): Daniela showed that her victory in Cortina wasn't a fluke with her close 3rd place finish in Bansko. What really impressed me about Daniela though was her attitude toward her team. When she was asked how she would celebrate her win, she said that she wanted to celebrate with her team. It sounds like the Italian ladies are a very close-knit group.

Marlies Schild (Austria): Marlies is almost 32 and shows no signs of slowing down. Slalom is a discipline that is won by hundredths of a second. Marlies won several races this year by over a second. She is set to tie, or even break, Vreni Schneider's record for the most slalom wins this season. Marlies keeps on winning, yet she is a very humble champion. On the rare occasions when someone does beat her, she gives the winner sincere congratulations.

Mikaela Shiffrin (USA): Mikaela is only 16 and is a real prodigy on skis. When she's on, she's fantastic. She already has a 3rd place this year and a couple of top-10 finishes in slalom. That's amazing for someone in her first year on the World Cup. Like Lena Duerr, she often has problems putting together two good runs. But the consistency will come with experience. She has the potential to become a real superstar in slalom.

Tina Weirather (Liechtenstein): One wouldn't think that a petite skier like Tina would be a good downhiller. The best downhillers tend to be Amazons like Lindsey Vonn and Maria Hoefl-Riesch. But Tina seemed to have come out of nowhere to become one of the best downhillers this season. Tina also showed in Bansko that she is good in Super-G, placing second to Vonn by only 0.02 seconds. She certainly has the pedigree to be great because her mother is the legendary Hanni Wenzel and her father was also a ski racer. Tina trains with the Swiss team and should get her first victory very soon. She already has several podiums in downhill and Super-G this season.

The Bad Luck Club: The Swiss women have been really riddled with injuries this season. Six of their nine women have had to end the season prematurely because of injuries. I wish all of the Swiss ladies a speedy recovery and hope that they come back strong next season.

Friday, March 2, 2012

More Random Thoughts

Here are some more random thoughts while on the run or ski slope...

Frank Zappa Lives: There has been a lot of snow in Garmisch this winter, especially over the last month. People here take their dogs out for walks, even in the winter. When the dogs "answer the call of nature," they leave yellow spots in the snow. Whenever I see one of those yellow blots in the snow, the first thing that comes to mind is the classic line, "Watch out where the huskies go, and don't you eat that yellow snow" from Frank Zappa's "Don't Eat the Yellow Snow."

Murphy's Law of Late Winter/Early Spring Running: If there is a puddle or thin ice with water underneath, you will end up stepping in it and getting your feet soaked. This usually happens in the early part of a run. There's nothing like the feeling of wet, soggy socks when it's still fairly cold out. I do my best to put a positive spin on cold, wet feet by telling myself that it's good preparation for if it rains on race day. The whole idea of training is to prepare myself for anything that will come up on race day.

Looking Good for that Athletic Endeavor: I don't understand why women put on full makeup before doing something athletic. It's just going to be sweated off and will look worse than no makeup at all. Maybe I can understand having makeup on for skiing because some women are more into looking good than skiing well. They spend more time hanging out in the lodge than actually skiing. But why would anyone in their right mind put on full makeup before a running race? A runner is practically guaranteed to sweat. I can't imagine running with mascara dripping into my eyes. I run and ski with my face au naturel and leave the makeup for work or going out. I actually prefer the natural color that I get in my cheeks from the exercise, sun, and fresh air over the artificial color of makeup.

Fragrance and Exercise Don't Mix:
Along with makeup, I don't get why people put on heavy perfume or cologne before exercising. It's not like the perfume/cologne will hide the sweat smell. In fact, there's almost nothing worse than a mixture of body odor and fragrance. The very worst thing is riding in a closed gondola with someone who bathed in fragrance just before heading up to the ski hill.

Eau de B.O.: For the record, I shower every day. But there are still many Europeans who don't believe in daily showers or bathing. Some of these folks seem to shower once a week or even monthly. They're the ones I usually end up nose-to-armpit with in the starting area of a race (one of the disadvantages of being short). I realize that I don't exactly smell like a bouquet of roses after running a long race, especially one in warm weather. But at least I don't stink beforehand. I can only imagine how the people with pre-race B.O. (body odor) smell after a race. I definitely wouldn't want to be in a closed space with them! A shower the night before race day would be a real kindness to the other runners.

Where's Miss Manners When You Need Her: There are certain unwritten rules about riding on a chair lift. One is to keep your hands and other body parts to yourself. For most people there is plenty of space. But I seem to end up sitting next to people who obviously don't understand these rules. Today I was on the 6-man chair at my local ski area. On my right was a British man who was into gesticulating wildly with his left hand. I lost count of the number of times I got poked with his elbow. He was totally oblivious to the fact that he was poking another person. Not only that, he was sitting partway in my seat. I was getting squished between him and my husband. At least he didn't have body odor or wear cologne.