29 June 2009

Monday Grabbag

I'm once again at ORD, ensconced in the Red Carpet Club, enjoying free wireless and crappy snacks while waiting for my flight. Quick three-day turn for work. Had to get here several hours in advance of my flight to accomodate the fact that we have four drivers, three cars, and four divergent schedules. So I took one for the team so that Our Lady of BYU could have my car while I'm gone.

So it's Monday Grabbag Day here in the Den. A quick take on some of the day's good and bad. So here's the good:

- My four and a half flight this afternoon is on an airplane that seats 182 people. It's booked to 79. And First is half empty so all the better. Good for me and my fellow pax - not so good for the bottom line of Mother United.

- It's a four-day work week and we've got a good 4th of July weekend planned.

- Bernie Madoff got the proverbial book thrown, no, slammed in his face as his judge wailed on him, sentencing him to the maximum on all eleven counts, for a grand total of 150 years as a guest of the state. That will go well for him. Score one for the American judicial system.

And now for the bad:

- The children (and I use that term so very, very loosely) of that late crazed train wreck Michael Jackson are now under the guardianship of their paternal grandmother. Let's think about that - if you believe the Jackson story, this is the woman who stood by while her husband beat the living daylights out of their children for years, which no doubt added to the crazy that was her late son. So a judge decides let's hand these kids over to her. What's the thinking there? I mean after years in Neverland, was the judge thinking, 'Hey, how much worse could it get?' Remember that point the American judicial system earned for the Madoff sentencing, scratch it. This smooth move just took it away. I am disgusted but not shocked, sadly.

Finally, the Boy is now reading my journals from my two-year mission. It's been fun to have him reading it and asking me all sorts of questions. It's allowed me to recall an amazing time of my life. But it's also got me thinking about this blog and the legacy it will leave. I really don't think I'll change a thing. It's a snapshot of who I am. And I'm cool with that. Now to find a way to get the blog published in book form...

25 June 2009

Celebrity Death=Media Nirvana

I was reminded earlier today why I really just prefer to get my news from the web and the BBC. I was in the office today and had gone down to the cafeteria to get a bit of lunch. I knew something was up when I went to sit down and noticed all heads riveted to the plasma screens that are positioned throughout our cafeteria. It took less than a second to see we had a celebrity death. CNN was going out of its collective mind, covering the death of Farrah Fawcett. The anchor was full of fake sincerity as he spoke of her passing and then reveled in loop after loop of footage from her prime to her rather tragic ending. It was twenty minutes of the same loop before I got up and left to return to the peace of my cube. I was fairly appalled by a couple of things - A) the coverage being afforded the death of a B-list celebrity whose heyday was 30 years ago and 2) the amount of coverage this was getting.

To be sure, she was a beautiful woman who in her prime made quite an impression on a whole generation of men, young and old alike, and I should know as I was one of those impressed young men. But that was thirty years ago. Sure, her death from a rare form of cancer was tragic. What death from cancer isn't? Even more tragic has been the media coverage of her battle with the disease and their collective reaction to her death. The loops of film juxtaposing photos from her peak of fame (you know the one I'm talking about - red swimsuit and the mane of hair) to photos of her in her last months as she fought a ravaging disease. It's galling to see someone robbed of their dignity like that.

The soulless anchors had barely caught their breath from covering Fawcett's passing when the Mother Lode was struck. Michael Jackson. Dead. Heart Attack. Farrah who? Instantly pushed to the side because now it was time to cover the death of the King of Pop. Or King of One Heck of a Booking Photo:

Unbelievable. I heard the news on NPR in the car on the way home. Even NPR felt compelled to mention his death but mercifully it's pledge season and there's no interrupting a public radio pledge drive. It's my opinion that not even Armageddon will get in the way of a public radio pledge drive. I was never so glad to hear more about a corn-based mug in all my life if it meant I didn't have to hear anything else about MJ's death. I cannot understand the hysteria associated with this has-been. Again, 1982, "Thriller" that was his peak. Nearly thirty years ago. Now he's remembered for being crazy, pedophelia, being crazy, financial indebtedness, more crazy, plastic surgery, and more crazy. And yet, already the TV news magazine two-hour salutes are already on air tonight. It's enough already. Maybe he'll finally get a break from the crazy.

So I've resolved to not go anywhere near a TV for the next few days. The media frenzy is more than I can take. All we need now is an epic natural disaster and frankly I think we'll probably see an anchor's head blow up on screen from overload.

20 June 2009

Not the perfect 5K

We've been bemoaning the fact that June has been fairly cold even by Chicagoland standards and have been wishing for summer. Mother Nature got her summer engines revving earlier this week with all manner of rain, weird thunderstorms, and the threat of tornados (it made flying into ORD nigh unto impossible - just ask my buddy Mark who spent a whole day trying to flee San Francisco yesterday. He'll tell you it didn't go well.) After the fusilade of storms Mother Nature dumped summer on us this morning. Frankly, the old broad could have waited until tomorrow to do so since I ran my first official 5K of the season this morning.

I ran the Fox River 5K again out in Batavia. It was my first 5K ever last year. I was pretty excited to be back. It's a nice run along the Fox River. Say what you will about the political mess that is Illinois, but the urban planners have done a killer job planning trails/parks in the 'burbs. Here's a pre-race shot:
At this stage, the black shirt seemed like a good idea

It looked like a good field of runners and walkers, like last year. It was an 0800 start so it seemed like it would still be fairly cool, temperature-wise. Based on the amount of skin seen at the starting line, please note it was not cool.

It was in the low to mid-80's at this point and the humidity was heavy. Not a lot of breeze going to bust through the humidity either. No matter because when the starter pistol fired, we were off.
I'm somewhere in the herd

I like this race. No drama and it's a scenic run. I started out strong for me but started to feel the heat quicker than I anticipated so I dialed it back. So did a several other runners. My lone complaint about this race is that the course is on a public trail that is popular with bicyclists. Ideally the course could be blocked off for the morning of the race. Or better yet, the beligerent elderly people that were on their retirement home bike ride this morning could have taken doubled up on the prune juice. Or something to get them to ease up. When faced with a wall of runners coming their way, did they yield? No. They simply plowed on through and acted appalled as runners yelled at them. Really, people, are you that clueless? Or did you have the hearing aids turned off? I'm all for you maintaining good bone health, but somebody needed to break a hip this morning and get off the trail. I'm just saying.

The second half of the loop runs you right along the Fox River and it's beautiful so that made it a little easier to slog through the heat (note to self - the black shirt is not effective for keeping cool). As I rounded the corner for the last few hundred yards to the finish line, the theme to "Rocky" came on the iPod and darn it all, if I didn't pick up the pace. What is it about that song?! The stunningly patient SML, and all around great race crew queen, got this picture as I was coming in to the finish:

I wasn't happy with my time, to be honest. It was a couple of minutes longer than the training run I had done in DC on Thursday and I'd run several 5K's faster last year. I'd like to throw the blame at the feet of Mother Nature and her gift o'heat, but I realize that I should have trained a little bit better. Well, I have another opportunity next Saturday as there's another 5K to run. Let's see what Mother Nature tosses our way.

19 June 2009

Talent on display

The good people at dictionary.com define the word talent as follows: -noun- a special natural ability or aptitude; a capacity for achievement or success; as well as several other things, including an ancient unit of weight, which is completely NOT germane to the topic, but I digress. I've seen talent on display tonight in the cinematic form of "Up."

The Boy and I were lone men in the Garden of Eden tonight, as it were, as the ladies of the casa were out tonight, so we decided to grab a sandwich at Potbelly's and see a movie. Since the "Transformers" sequel doesn't arrive for another five days, we found ourselves with limited options, so we decided to give "Up" a go. Pixar has done it again, even under the heavy hand of their evil dark lord owner, Disney. This movie is clever, funny, touching, and incredibly well-done. It exudes talent. From the writer(s) who came up with the story to those who worked to design it and especially those who did the film's music, you could not help but admire the talent and skill they possessed. The Boy and I laughed a lot throughout the movie and had a great time as father and son. It's a keeper when it comes out on DVD. Go see it if you haven't already. It will lift your spirits.

I will say, however, that the Disney (Parental) Killing Machine that I have referenced before in other posts is present as usual. I know I manage to irritate a veritable army of Disney-lovers, and you know who you are, who follow/read the blog when I bring this up, but, people, C'MON, once again, we've got a dead parent figure, as well as an absent father with a girlfriend/stepmom-whatever and a bummed out kid. When, I ask you, will the Disney people stop trying to work out their parental issues on screen? Seriously, is it some kind of cheap therapy? BTW, Disney Killing Machine - it is not cheap, either. Movies are $10 a pop here in Chicagoland. Please use some of the profits that you are RAKING in and get on a shrink's couch. Please.

Not only was talent richly displayed in the movie, I also happened upon a pretty cool display of musical talent tonight. Check out this piano/cello combo platter arrangement of songs from Coldplay and Taylor Swift. Before you run screaming from the room, give it a watch/listen. The last two minutes are lame so feel free to flee at that point, but check it out:

I see and hear musical talent like that and I want to beat myself senseless for not pursuing the piano. I wouldn't begin to presume that I have even an iota of musical talent but I hear an arrangement like that and wish I had stuck with the piano. Just to be able to make music is pretty impressive and to do something like this, pretty cool.

Well, maybe I'll sit down in front of our piano one of these days and try it again. Who knows! In the meantime, here's to my talent of hack running. I have my first official 5K of the season in the morning - the Fox River 5K. I ran it last year and loved it, so I'm back. It's been raining a ton so it's going to be a muddy run and probably grossly humid and it will be fun. Kind of like this night - it's been good to be with the Boy and it's been good to feel like a Dad again tonight.

15 June 2009

When awkward is awesome

The stunningly patient SML continues to surprise me, even after twenty-plus years of marriage, with her sense of humor. For example, the other day she told me about a website that I had to check out...awkward something or other. I remembered what it was early this morning...AwkwardFamilyPhotos. You need to check this site out.Now.Right.Now.

Do not make the mistake of drinking something while checking this site out. You will blow it our your nose from laughter. And that's going to make a mess of your monitor. This is the one that did it for me - I lost half a can of Diet Sprite onto my monitor:
This much I know...you may have something, but it isn't confidence.

Then there is something like this:
My help, what is going on here? I don't know what is worse...the birth of a serial killer or the priest in shorts!

These gems are just the tip of the iceberg. The taglines on the photos are a gold mine. This has made my Monday. It's been a great way to start the week. My wife deserves a night out for pointing me in the direction of this website.

So now I need to go for a run to try and loosen up my aching sides. I've laughed too hard!

12 June 2009

A view from Normal

Normal, IL., that is. The stunningly patient SML and I find ourselves in the bustling (not) metropolis of Normal, IL., this weekend to be a part of the Illinois Special Olympics Summer Games. CAL is also here but just not with us. We are here as a part of a larger contingent of about 150 from our Church, who are all here to volunteer as a part of a summer youth conference. They are spending two days with the special olympians. We're here to simply help out.

We are not with them tonight. The kids are all staying at a YWCA with some of the other chaperones, but we drew the line at a restless, sleepless night of bunking on a gym floor, trying to keep the kids separated. So we are glad to be at a hotel - the lovely Courtyard Normal after a really long day - but a good one.

We left Chicagoland this morning and got here about 930AM. After getting sorted, we headed over to Illinois State University, the venue for the Games. With a few of the kids, we were assigned to working the awards at the standing long jump. We would be handing out awards to about 240 athletes. We quickly discovered that the Games had one problem - too many volunteers. So we found that we repeated a lot of tasks through many people in order to give everyone a chance to serve the athletes. In the end, it seemed to work out.

Now, a word or two about the experience. I've railed at length before about how outrageous I think it is that we've created a world, particularly in youth sports, where everyone gets a trophy, regardless of their participation. How many of our children have token trophies simply because they made it to all their games? Far too many if you ask me. Anyway, I am more than willing to eat my words when it comes to the athletes at these games. Each one of them deserves every ribbon or medal that they are given. It's clear that some of have trained and worked hard while others are there for the social interaction. Every one of these athletes brought a smile to my face, and more than a couple of tears. The stunningly patient SML and I both found ourselves with tears in our eyes as medals were placed around our winners' necks. Their joy was contagious and infectious. The high-fives flew as did the occasional unexpected hug. Watching their excitement made you feel like the world is actually OK.

Looking forward to another day at the Games and time with our Church youth. More opportunities to see that world is OK. But for, now, man I'm glad we've got a king-sized bed in a hotel room to fall into rather than the gym floor!

08 June 2009

The Kettle Moraine 100 Endurance Run - oh man

After being up for 40 hours, I was in absolutely no condition last night to complete a sentence (which I could not do), let alone put down some thoughts about the adventure that was crewing the Kettle Moraine 100 Endurance 100 Run. Simply put, I had an amazing experience, but let me make it clear lest anyone mistake me for an endurance athlete - I didn't run 100 miles. I crewed it for my friend Jeff and ran eight miles of it with him and it was just awesome.

What the heck is the Kettle Moraine 100 Endurance Run? Well, it's a 100 mile endurance run. Run by individual runners. Seriously. 1-0-0 miles. The race also hosts a 100K and a 100 mile relay. It's run in the beautiful Kettle Moraine State Forest in Wisconsin. It's a gorgeous place and it offers up a "challenging" trail run. Challenging is an understatement.

With Jeff's normal crew chief (his wife) out of town, I had opened my fat yap and volunteered to crew for him. Bear in mind, I had zero previous experience in crewing a race. Five completed 5K's and a subscription to "Runner's World" does not an expert make, can I just tell you - it makes for a bit of bumbling dolt, but hey, desperate times make for desperate actions. So Jeff took a bet on me and put me through a crash course in crewing an endurance run. Here's a few things I learned:

- Lack of skin elasticity is a sign of dehydration
- Disorientation can be fun, especially in conversation
- Blisters are real buggers
- Soup is a miracle drug at 62 miles, not so much at 85 miles
- Running in temps in the upper 50's is a treat
- A combo of water, powdered Propel and Hammer Gel is an even greater miracle drug than soup
- Trail running beats the living snot out of the soles of your feet

And those were just a few of my insights from this little weekend event. I got up at 2AM on Saturday in order to meet Jeff at 230AM, so we could hightail it up north to the race. We got there in plenty of time, allowing us some time to relax before things got under way. This is a low-key, laid back race - not a lot of drama and no prima donnas. You don't have a pile of elite runners jockeying for an early start time. The race director is a good guy who seemed to know everyone running and made sure everyone felt supported. Anyway, things started to get going around 5AM as people started arriving:

The air was fairly electric with energy and it was easy to get caught up in it. I know I did, in spite of being just this side of frantic, thinking about all the things I could screw up and have a negative impact on Jeff's run. The last thing I wanted to do was to have to call his wife and say, "Um...yeah, I missed an aid station and we lost him" Or some such foolishness. Anyway, before we knew it, it was 6AM and the runners were at the starting line and on their way out:
Jeff is in the center background in the white hat

I would not see him again for another seven miles. I left the starting line and jumped in the car to head to the first aid station. I had my two bags, chock full o'stuff, and at each station, I would have those bags at my side, drinks prepped and ready, along with anything else he might need. A word about the aid stations - great. The volunteers could not have been better and man were these places stacked - anything the runner needed to refuel or hydrate appropriately. And the volunteers were just so supportive. The stations were also a great place to get to know other crew. Most of these runners had run multiple endurance events and their crew were experienced folks. They were very helpful to dolts like me.

This would be my routine for most of the day. Meeting my runner at each aid station. It got easier pretty quickly, in terms of having things at the ready and sensing where his head was at and what he needed. His times were really good too and the weather was cooperating. Cool but good for running. It did rain for a bit in the early afternoon. Here's how it looked at one of the aid stations:

The time at the aid stations gave me an opportunity to think about the athleticism of these runners. It takes a unique breed to be able to do this - to run for such a long distance. To stay motivated, to not think about the pain, to be so focused on a goal. I was in awe. And they were having a good time - you could see it and feel it.

Jeff had asked me to run about eight miles of the run with him. At mile 62, 100 mile runs are permitted to pick up a pacer. That pacer could run the balance of the race (that's the 38 mile fun run - spank me - how is that fun?) or a certain section. So I was to run 62 to 70 with him. Another friend would run the balance of the race with him after that. I'd been really careful about how I'd eaten all day as I was not going to screw this up for him. When he came across the 62 mile mark at about 715PM, I was ready. We took off at an easy pace, walking the uphills in order to save his quads. I was impressed by the camaraderie along the trail. Runners cheered one another on as they passed each other. It was pretty cool. I was probably too cheerful in my greetings to the runners, given that I'd not been running for 62 plus miles. (Note to self - dial that down in future races.) Before I knew it, we were at the end of my leg:

There was still plenty of race to go. At this point, it was getting fairly chilly and the race pace had slowed dramatically. I was overwhelmed by the runners who did not have crew and who were doing this completely on their own. What drive! At 2AM, they'd been running for 20 hours. Volunteers still going strong. This was one of the stations at about that time:

Around 430AM Sunday, after 86 miles of running (86!), the race came to an honorable end for us. It was clear that his body was done. So he called it. How can you argue with that? He had just run 86 miles. He knew his tank was dry. I was just amazed by all that he had done. Very few people can say they've done something like that.

So we loaded him in the car and we headed home. Neither of us had showered so it's an understatement to say that car was ripe. As we drove home, I was so wishing we still had our hot tub - the one we left in California. I also was wishing we had a full bathroom on the first floor of the house. I was not eager to go up the stairs.

Anyway, what a great dang day. I'm hooked. I'll crew another one anytime and I'll run some of it. My hat's off to Jeff. Awesome, my friend. Awesome.

04 June 2009

What have I done?

Do you sometimes find yourself in a situation where you say, "What have I done?" I'm not quite sure I'm there but fear I am on the precipice. Here's the deal:

One of my good friends, I've mentioned him here in the Den before, Jeff is an ultra-marathoner. By ultra-marathoner, I mean he runs 100 mile marathons. And not on flat surfaces, but trail running. I had mentioned to him that I'd like to crew one of his races. Well, that time has come. He's racing the Kettle Moraine 100 in Wisconsin this weekend and I will be his crew of one (1) for the 24 hours plus of running. After reading the 45-page manual, I went over to his house last night and we went through all that I need to do; hence, my position on the precipice. Or the fact that he wants me to pick him up at mile 62 and run eight miles with him. Yeah, I think that may be it. No, I know that's it. Mile 62 is critical for him - just have to get him through that eight mile stretch. Yikes.

Here's the deal - that's a distance I've net yet run. Certainly not in the early evening and certainly not on a trail carved by glaciers how many millions of years ago. So I ran a 5K tonight to prepare - oh man, I better be ready. We start at 6AM on Saturday.