Saturday, June 30, 2012

My Euro '12 Awards

Now that the European Football (Soccer) Championship, also known as Euro '12, will come to an end tomorrow night, it's time to give my impressions of the tournament. This is not the typical review of who I thought the best teams and players were, or who had the best dives and referee-influencing theatrics. Without further ado...

Battle of the Colors: Italy and defending European champion Spain will meet in the final tomorrow night. Spain is known as La Furia Roja, or The Red Fury and Italy is the Azzuri or Blues. But if the final had ended up being France versus Italy, anyone betting on the Blues would pick the winner because the French team is Les Bleus or the Blues.

Best Fans: Ireland. Even though Ireland lost all of its group stage matches, and didn't score a single goal, Irish fans kept up their singing and support of their team. Honorable mention goes to Greece, which had fans dressed up in capes and Trojan helmets for its quarter final loss against Germany.

Biggest Surprises: Italy making the final after not even making it out of the group stages in the 2010 World Cup. Czech Republic winning its group after a 4-1 loss to Russia in its first game.

Biggest Flop: No, I'm not referring to the best dive and fake injury of the tournament. The Netherlands, which was the 2010 World Cup runner-up to Spain, didn't even make it out of the group stages. The team known as Oranje, or Orange (here we go with colors again), lost all of its group stage games.

Shortest and Longest Last Names: Simon Cox of Ireland and Sokratis Papastahtopoulos of Greece. Sokratis has his first name on his shirt instead of his last.

Needs to Buy a Vowel: Polish names have a tendency for being hard to pronounce because of their lack of vowels. Two Polish players who could use a vowel or two in their last names, or at least a pronunciation key, are Wojciech Szczesny and Jakub Blaszczykowski (who simply has "Kuba" on his shirt). Honorable mention also goes to Croatian players Sime Vrsaljko and Darijo Srna.

Best Looking Goalies:  The best-looking goalie of Euro '12 is Italy's Gianluigi Buffon. He and my husband could pass for distant relatives, which is probably why I think he's good looking. Iker Casillas of Spain is also nice-looking.

Early Surrender: France has a reputation of surrendering early when there's a war or when defending a World Cup title (they won the 1998 World Cup and didn't make it out of the group stage in 2002). This time they made it out of their group into the quarter finals. But within the first 3 minutes of its quarter final match with Spain, France seemed to have given up. Les Bleus lost 2-0, but it could have easily been worse.

Living Off Its Glorious Past: England last had real football glory back in 1966, when it won the World Cup. But judging from the way the fans talk about their team, England has been a big favorite to win every major football championship since then. English teams have been full of great players. But even though they can't seem to get it together in a major championship, the fans still talk about 1966 and England becoming Number One again.

So Close, Yet So Far: Germany seems to have a mental block about winning a major tournament. Its last tournament win was the 1996 European Championships. Even though German trainer Joachim Loew has put together great teams, Germany can't seem to win a title. This year Germany was a heavy favorite to win Euro '12 because of its fast, aggressive, and entertaining style of play. I must admit that I enjoy how Germany plays. Germany also was the only team to win every game in the group stage of  Euro '12. But they got knocked out in the semi-finals by Italy and extended their losing streak to Italy in tournaments to 8 in row. Here is Germany's string of coming oh-so-close to a title. I am including the Bayern Munich team in this because most of Germany's starting lineup is from Bayern: 2006 World Cup--3rd, 2008 European Championship--2nd, Bayern Munich 2010--2nd in Champion's League, 2010 World Cup--3rd, Bayern Munich 2011 lost in Champion's League semi-final, Bayern Munich 2012--2nd in Champion's League, 2012 Euro--lost in semi-final.

Older Athletes Rule: Two of the best players in Euro '12 are the Italians Andrea Pirlo (age 33) and Gianluigi Buffon (age 34). Up through the semi-finals Pirlo has won the Man of the Match award 3 times and has a good chance of winning the award for best player in the tournament. Buffon has made a great comeback from the injury which sidelined him in the 2010 World Cup and has made some spectacular saves. Both Pirlo and Buffon played on Italy's team that won the 2006 World Cup. Thirty-five-year-old Andrei Shevchenko from Ukraine also had a great performance in his team's win against Sweden.

Hair Awards: Shaved heads and Mohawks are becoming passe and are no longer worthy of any special notice. The same goes for players who wear girls' headbands to keep their hair out of their faces. Here are my hair awards for Euro '12:
Best Hair: Mario Balotelli of Italy. His head is shaved except for a small strip down the middle (a mini-Mohawk) that is dyed light blonde and braided. He could puncture a ball with that hair. Balotelli could also play the Hulk with his muscular build and serious demeanor when he scores goals. See this video, which shows a good view of his hair.
Most Brylcreem: Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal. He looks like he uses a whole tube of Brylcreem before every game.
Hair That's Least Likely to Move in a Stiff Wind: Mario Gomez of Germany. Like Ronaldo, Gomez uses a lot of gel in his hair. Even when he's running and sweating, he never has a hair out of place.
Most Hairstyles in the Tournament: Cristiano Ronaldo. He seems to have a different hairstyle for each match. He even changed his hairstyle at halftime of Portugal's match with Germany. Instead of being with the rest of his team and figuring out a strategy for beating Germany, Ronaldo was re-styling his hair. Maybe if he paid less attention to his hair, Portugal would have tied or even won the game.
Best '80s or Southern Redneck Hair: Petr Jiracek of the Czech Republic, who has a mullet. Who knows, maybe mullets are the latest fashion in the Czech Republic these days.
Hair Plugs: Wayne Rooney of England got a recent hair transplant. He gets an honorable mention because it's so strange seeing him with hair after so many years of seeing him bald.

Move Over, Paul: Paul, the football match predicting octopus, died last year. Here is  my post about him during the 2010 World Cup. So far no other animal has been able to replace Paul. The seagulls on the North Sea and a cow somewhere in Germany have all been dismal failures at predicting the outcomes of Germany's matches in Euro '12. But I may have a future in predicting Italy's matches. Before Italy's quarter final match with England, I went out for a long run. As usual, I listened to the tunes on my iPod. At first I heard some Antonello Venditti and Eros Ramazzotti. I thought, "This is a sign that Italy will win." But late in the run three Beatles tunes in a row played. I decided it was going to be a tie and come down to penalty kicks. Sure enough, Italy and England tied in regulation and Italy won on penalty kicks. For the semi-final against Germany I mixed the same number of Eros Ramazzotti and Falco songs into the playlist that I planned to use. Falco is an Austrian group, but they sing in German. I figured that was close enough. During my run, I heard one Ramazzotti song and zero from Falco. I thought that the score would be Italy 1, Gemany 0. The real score was 2:1 for Italy, but I got the goal differential right.

Who Not to Hire as Paul's Replacement: Bastian Schweinsteiger of Germany, who obviously watched too many Westerns while recovering from a recent injury. Before Germany's semi-final match with Italy, Schweinstieger confidently predicted that Italy would be Germany's next big scalp. See the full article here. That big whooshing noise in Warsaw on Thursday night after the game was the sound of German egos deflating. Germany lost to Italy and was out of its customary rhythm for a lot of the game. As the search for a reliable match predictor for the 2014 World Cup continues, Schweinsteiger just ruined his chances of making the short list.

Who Will Win Tomorrow Night? Good question. I like both Italy and Spain, so I would be happy if either team wins. If Spain wins, it will make history by winning 3 major championships in a row (Euro '08, 2010 World Cup, Euro '12). However, I give the edge to Italy because the Azzuri were the only team to score a goal against Spain in Euro '12. The Italians did a great job of frustrating Spain during the group stage match. Italy played with a lot of heart against England and Germany in the knockout rounds. Spain looked good against France but very flat against Portugal in its knockout stage matches. Also, Spain is the defending champion. A European football champion has never successfully defended its title. Italy also gets the edge because its players do a better job of influencing the referees with their dives and theatrics. I guess I'll have to mix some Italian and Spanish songs into tomorrow's running playlist and figure it out from there.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Masochist's Delight (Not Really)

Garmisch is experiencing a summer heat wave. It wasn't super warm this morning in the shade, but it was very humid. It was downright hot in the sun because of heat reflecting off the black asphalt. The plan for my long run today (1:50) was to get out early to beat both the heat and the cyclists that crowd the trail to Austria on warm days. I set out a little later than I wanted to (about 7:45), but still got lucky with the crowds on the trail. During my 55 minutes of going out, I was only passed by one cyclist. On the return leg, there were still not many cyclists. Maybe most of them were still eating breakfast at their guesthouses.

On to today's run. I wanted to run the route that I accidentally discovered last week, but I knew it would be a mistake. That particular route is fairly sunny and hilly. I didn't really want to do hills when it was warm. I opted for the bike trail that eventually goes into Austria because it's the shadiest of my long running routes. It's tree-lined or in the shadow of the mountains for most of the way.

My pace was also very slow. It almost felt like I was going at a cool-down jog. But given the choice between overheating and a snail's pace, I'll run nice and slowly. I probably should be running close to this pace for my long runs anyway.  When I run slowly, I imagine that I'm running with friends of mine who I ran with in Parsberg who were slower than me. At this point in my training, it's all about time on my feet and not speed. The speed will come later as I get used to running longer distances.

When I run in cooler weather, my refueling breaks are every 30 minutes. This coincides with how water points are set up in most long German races. They are on average about 5 km apart. Even though I run 5 km in less than 30 minutes, I use that time because it's a nice round number. But because it was so warm today, I stopped every 20 minutes to take a drink. I was tempted to pour some of my drink over my head, but I wanted to make sure I had enough to last the whole run. Also Gatorade, even when it's diluted, can make hair very sticky and defeat the purpose of pouring water over my head. Yes, I have ended up accidentally pouring sports drink on my head at races.

Today's run was better than I thought it would be. I kept my expectations (and speed) low and decided to, "Sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride." I thought for sure the heat would make my run a real "masochist's delight," but I actually enjoyed myself. My legs didn't really feel tired at the end; and I felt like I could have gone further. This is a good thing because over the next three months I will be going a lot further. I still prefer to train in cooler weather, but I showed that I could handle the heat by being smart. I also know that October will be a lot cooler than June. I really feel that I'm on the right track for the Munich Marathon this October.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Type B Running

If there was a definition in Webster's Dictionary for "Type B runner," it would be my photo. If a Type A personality is someone who is a driven workaholic, I would be around a Type W. I'm not a lazy runner; and I have the self-discipline to run and train for long races. I am very diligent about getting my workouts in every week. But I'm definitely one of the more laid back runners that I know.

When I was a new runner, I kept a log. I got a free log book for subscribing to Runner's World. I would dutifully write down my distance, time, and how I felt about my run. But that phase didn't last very long. Every once in a while I would get the urge to log my mileage, but I would lose interest quickly. I would start "fantasy runs," where I would imagine myself running from one city to another, but only managed to finish one (Prague to Constanta, Romania). As recently as two years ago, I started an Excel spreadsheet on my computer with a fantasy run from Vladivostok to Moscow following the route of the Trans-Siberian Railroad. I actually made it through the middle of last year (and to Lake Baikal). But when I was in the States that year, keeping track of my distance went by the wayside.

There is a little part of me that wishes to keep a log, mainly because it would be interesting to know how far I have run since 1989.  I know runners who have kept logs since their first day of running and know exactly how many miles or kilometers they have run and how long it took them. They write down their resting heart rates, average pulse rate while running, respiration, body temperature, and blood oxygen saturation. Some people write down the weather conditions and even the dollar to Tajikistan somoni exchange rate on that day in their logs. A lot of the new GPS devices even show your route on Google maps. Other people use various online tools and post their workouts for all to see. I have several Facebook friends whose workouts I know better than my own. There's nothing like seeing, "I ran 5.7381 miles in 49 minutes and 27.86 seconds and felt like I was going to throw up afterward" to convince me that I'm fine without a running log.

I also used to be fairly diligent about keeping track of my mile (in the States) and kilometer (in Europe) splits during races. I would click my watch's split button at the distance markers, then go home and write down my split times. But now I keep the times in my head. Here is what usually happens to me. I think about clicking my watch at the kilometer markers. But after about 4 or 5 kilometers, I realize that I forgot to hit the "split" button on my watch. I then look at my watch at the kilometer markers and then mentally calculate my split times. That has happened to me in my last several races. But I still finish the race regardless of whether or not I remember to save my splits on my watch.

If I'm so Type B, why do I wear a watch? There are a couple of reasons why my watch is a necessity. First of all, I run for time instead of distance. There are no distance markers on any of the paths where I live. Since I know my approximate pace through experience, I know how far I run on a given day. I may be off by 100-200 meters, but in the grand scheme of things that doesn't matter. But I when I'm on a 90-minute run, I can't accurately judge when I have gone 45 minutes and need to turn around. The stopwatch on my watch lets me know. I also use the watch for pacing because I have a tendency to go too fast on my long runs. I look at my watch at my various checkpoints to determine if I'm on the right pace or need to slow down. My perceived speed is often different from my actual pace.

Another Type B thing about me is that I don't set time goals for races anymore. I know my usual time range for a given distance. I'm also at an age where I'm not getting any faster. To me a race is a training run in a new and different location. When I used to set time goals, I would be ecstatic when I was faster than my goal and disappointed when I was slower than my goal time. With racing experience I realized that there are variables that can affect time, like the weather or muscle cramps. My goal for races now is simply to do the best I can.  I often see people at longer races (half-marathons and marathons) with strips of paper on their wrists, or writing on their arms, that show the times that they should be at each marker. Knowing how I am, I would forget to look at my wrist or arm to compare my actual times to the ones on the paper or my skin.

People often ask me if I follow a specific training plan. That's another Type B quality that I have. While I do run 4 days a week, I don't follow a formal training plan. I have had the good fortune to have had awesome training partners who passed on their knowledge to me. Even though how I train may seem old school, it works for me. I also have a variable work schedule and a rigid training plan would not work for me. The only thing that's "rigid" about my training plan is my weekly long run. But if I have to skip a long run, it's not a big deal.

Being a relaxed runner also helps me to discover new things. Yesterday I did my long run (1:40). I wanted to go on a route that I had cycled on a few years ago. But I ended up making a wrong turn and discovered a trail that is perfect for long hill runs. It's part of the Eibsee Run route. I didn't panic about the wrong turn; I just followed the trail until it was time to turn around. On the way back I made another wrong turn and ended up going home a different way than I planned. It was a very fun run and I discovered a new place for long training runs. Sometimes having a poor sense of direction (or as I say, "being GPS challenged") can be a good thing.

In my opinion, what has really turned me into a Type B runner is experience. After over 20 years of racing, I know that there will be good races and disappointing ones. There will be great training runs and ones where I will feel awful. My hope is to get the bad runs over with in training and save the good ones for race day. In my opinion, what has made me more relaxed about my running is that I feel like I have accomplished everything that I wanted to as a runner. I have worked my way up from running 5K races to marathons. I have won women's divisions of races, age group awards, and even won a team competition. Now I see myself as a model for what an older runner can accomplish. While others want to run beyond the marathon distance or qualify for the Boston Marathon, neither of those things really appeal to me. Even though I am a Type B runner, I am still quite happy with everything that I have accomplished over the last 20+ years as a runner. The important thing is pride in going out and doing your best regardless if you keep a log, have time goals, follow a training plan to the letter, or are a Type B runner.

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Good, The Bad, The Fun

Training for this October's Munich Marathon is going well so far. Yesterday's run of 1:40 was a tough one, but I made it. During the two days before my long run I was doing a lot of stair climbing at work. One of the buildings where I work is being renovated and we had to remove all of the small things from the rooms.  By 10 a.m. I lost count of the number of trips I made up and down stairs. The next day I had to bring some miscellaneous items to the basement from the second and third floors. No, that building doesn't have an elevator. I started off Sunday morning with tired legs.

My strategy was to go slowly and take it easy. I was slower than usual, which was a good thing. Otherwise I would never have made it. I also opted to go on my flat course instead of the hilly one to save wear and tear on my quads.

The Good: When I started off, my legs felt like they were made of lead. I started questioning my sanity about doing this run. But after a short while the endorphins kicked in and my legs felt good. Another good thing was that I was able to run the whole way even though I started feeling crappy toward the end. My only stops were refueling breaks every 30 minutes. If I start feeling like I want to quit during the marathon, I can draw on this training experience to get me through it. The weather was also cooperative. It was fairly cool with a little bit of light rain. The rain was very refreshing.

The Bad: The last 20 minutes or so were a real struggle. It was the first time this year I had run for this amount of time. My last long run, two weeks ago, was 90 minutes. I had been increasing my time by 10 minutes every two weeks. But the stair climbing from the previous days caught up to me. I told myself just to keep putting one foot in front of the other and I would make it home. Another strategy of dealing with the heavy legs was imagining that I was in the late stages of a marathon and to draw on how I dealt with this feeling in previous marathons.

The Fun: Even though I have made yesterday's run seem like a total torture session, there were several moments where I actually had fun. I started off to Pink Floyd's "On The Run" on the iPod. That's the perfect title for beginning a run. Two of the songs that were on my iPod playlist were Blondie's "Maria" and "Victoria" by the Kinks. I immediately thought of Maria Hoefl-Riesch and Viktoria Rebensburg, who are the two big stars of the German women's ski team and among the very best in the world. Those two songs have nothing to do with either Frau Hoefl-Riesch of Fraulein Rebensburg, but the mind does strange things when all of my blood is going to my legs instead of to my brain. My thoughts then segued into thinking about ski season and having fun on the slopes. More fun happened on a side trail that I took. It was muddy due to recent rain. Some of the mud was deep and almost felt like quicksand. It was a good workout for the quads to lift my feet out of the mud. I also thought it was fun to get a little dirty.

Next week's long run will be another 100 minute one. My legs should be fresher because I won't be doing any heavy stair climbing for two days before it. But I'm sure there will be some fun moments and ones that will help me in my upcoming marathon.