Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Lessons learned from my last 3 runs

3rd most recent run (Lake Houston 10K on August 25): Yep, you read the date correctly…exactly 1 month ago. In July, a 14-year-old acquaintance invited me to sign up for the Lake Houston 10K/5K. I had not been running consistently, and figured the motivation of a race would help. Rather foolishly, I chose the 10K.

My 10K PR (that’s Personal Record for you non-running folks) is 57:58, acquired during my first-ever 10K, about a year after I started running. On August 25, I finished my 10K in 1:04:20 (a pace of about 10:22 minutes/mile). Far from being disappointed by my time, I was absolutely amazed by it.

After all, since my 2:17 half-marathon PR in March, I had been running only about once, maybe twice, a week. (I must correct my previous statement—my training had actually been extremely consistent…consistently infrequent.) Apparently the race-induced motivation never materialized. Or, if it did, it was quickly buried in data collection preparations. With as little as I’d been running, I was pleasantly surprised I could run 6 miles at all. I did take several walk breaks, starting at around 3.5 miles, but I still finished far quicker than I expected—on a hot muggy day too.

I can’t say I had fun during the whole race—the second half was actually rather unpleasant. But even while I was hot and tired and couldn’t wait for it to be over, I marveled at the remarkable capacity for physical accomplishment God designed into us humans. Three years ago, I couldn’t imagine ever running a 5K. Heck, I didn’t think I’d ever be able to run a single mile! Now, here I was running a 10K, even after having run only twice a week for the last 5 months. It’s not so surprising that a properly trained human could run 6 miles—what’s surprising is that I could do it, given my scant level of conditioning.

Lesson #1: Once you have gained a reasonable level of running fitness, you can maintain it surprisingly well, just by running once or twice a week.

2nd most recent run (two and a half weeks ago, on September 8): Five miles in the dark in a neighboring neighborhood (our neighborhood has lousy running sidewalks), with a silly grin plastered on my face the whole time. On most 5-mile runs, I enjoy the first 3 miles and survive the last 2, knowing I’ll be glad I did it. This time, every step was a pleasure. I haven’t had this much fun on a run since I ran down the New Orleans trolley tracks in the rain. Perhaps then I could credit the specialness of my run to the novelty of the venue, but not now. I don’t know if it was the cool weather, or the darkness, or the 10K’s training effect, or what, but I absolutely had a blast.

It was as if all the gunk that usually clogs my mind and deadens my senses disappeared, leaving me fully in tune with the world around me. Have you ever been very, very scared? The few times it’s happened to me, my senses went on high if the tiniest pinprick would instantly propel me ten feet off the ground. I felt a bit of this same heightened awareness during my nighttime run, except that Joy had replaced the fear.

Lesson #2: Running produces a unique sort of aliveness that I don’t get from anything else.

Most recent run (today): Another neighboring neighborhood with wonderful sidewalks. Ran 2 miles reasonably comfortably, even though I couldn’t listen to my crutch music. (A frantic search through my running bag turned up the IPod Shuffle, but no headphones—apparently my running hiatus had included a raid on the running bag.) During Mile 3, I took three or four 30-second walking breaks, and realized I had badly overestimated my current running capability. I had set off on a 4.25-mile loop, and there were no shortcuts back to the car—I had to finish it. At the 3-mile mark, I walked at least a quarter of a mile, and didn’t care—I just wanted to be done. I eventually started running again, as slow a jog as I could manage. After one more really long walk break, I was nearly there. I decided to “sprint” the last two-tenths of a mile back to my car, just to end on a positive note. I then plopped myself on a bench with my head between my knees (which I never do). Ugh.

Lesson #3: Running twice a month will NOT maintain running fitness, and is a recipe for misery.

Friday, September 21, 2012

How guest blogging ruined my blog

Actually, it’s not so much that guest blogging ruined the blog itself…rather, it ruined my ability to blog. And the problem is not that I allowed some friend, or stranger, to write something unworthy on my own blog. The problem came when I wrote something for another organization’s blog.

Why would this be a problem? Was it because the piece I wrote was so badly written that my reputation was ruined forever? Did I write something so controversial or offensive that Blogspot banned me from my own blog? Did my advisor find my guest post and tell me I’d better stop blogging if I wanted to graduate?

No, not at all. The trouble was this: my guest post was just too good. Well, that might be overstating it…let’s be accurate. I don’t know whether it was any good or not, but I’m certain I spent way too much time editing it. It was my first go at writing something for an established audience, and I didn’t want to embarrass myself (or my university or my advisor). So I spent quite a bit of time on it. I even hauled it to my professor’s Friday night writing group for feedback. (I thought they might enjoy a break from the usual academic menu…methods sections of dissertations can be a bit dry.) Yes, indeed, I shared my grad school failure/drifter story with a bunch of professors. What was I thinking? I still don’t know the answer to that, but I do know their critique improved it tremendously.

By the time my guest post finally posted, it had almost become a pet, and I was rather proud of it. I liked my little story, and thought it a pretty respectable first effort for a rookie writer. I fully intended to submit a couple more guest posts over the summer. Unfortunately, the pains I took perfecting my first post doomed the rest of them. My other guest posts don’t exist. I started them, spent a few sessions editing them, but never finished them. They were okay, but they didn’t seem to have as much life as the original one, so I stopped.

So what? If I never wrote another guest blog for an actual audience, wouldn’t that be okay? Sure. Except that my perfectionism-induced paralysis extended to my own blog. The whole point of this blog was to motivate myself to write on my dissertation. When I found myself spending five consecutive days editing a building description, I realized something had gone terribly wrong. I could justify spending a few hours each month blogging, trusting it would spike my motivation and give me some much-needed writing practice. But I couldn’t justify hours spent editing commas and finding synonyms on Visual Thesaurus.

So, since my blog posts couldn’t be perfect, I quit writing them. This is just my second blog post in the last two months. Now admittedly, the last three weeks of my blogging hiatus are partly due to the fact that I finally started data collection (hooray!), and I’ve spent the last three weeks visiting classes and wading through piles of consent forms. Still, I managed to find a little time for recreational writing—I just didn’t post anything because it wasn’t good enough.

Well, absence brings perspective. I missed my little blog, so I’m back. And I’m back with a new resolve: In the future, I will post my spontaneous ramblings for all to see, and save my perfectionism for my dissertation.

Important notes/disclaimers: This blog post was written, edited, and posted in a single writing session. This blog post was created in fulfillment of my “Next Session Writing Goal” I committed to last night: “Write and post a blog entry”. From now on, I will devote no more than two (2) writing/editing sessions to a single blog post.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Holy Toledo, Milo's retiring! Farewell, and thanks for the memories.

Though the Astros have the worst record in baseball and were 39.5 games behind their opponent the standings, Sunday’s game was special. On September 2, the voice of the Astros, Milo Hamilton, turned 85. At the end of this season, he will finally retire.

When I moved to Houston in 1991, baseball did not interest me a bit, and I had never been to a college or major league game. A friend took me to my first game at the Astrodome, but Milo kept me coming back. 

When I was throwing the Houston Chronicle for a living, I slept at odd hours, including during baseball games. Not wanting to miss out on the fun, I came up with a system. I bought two 120-minutes-per-side cassette tapes, and labeled them Baseball I and Baseball II, each with sides A and B. I also purchased two turn-the-dial timers, the sort you can plug lamps into so potential robbers think you're at home when you're really on vacation. (Have not actually tried this myself, but I hear it’s a good idea.)

For a 7:05 game, I would program the first tape player to come on at 6:30 (had to hear the pregame show), and the second to come on around 8:15 (allowed a little overlap, because my timers weren't digital--had to estimate a bit.) Then I'd go to bed in the late afternoon, and set my alarm clock for 10:00 p.m. I turned the volume on the cassette players all the way down so I couldn't hear anything. The broadcast would play directly into the tape, regardless of the volume setting. At 10:00, I would get up, flip both tapes over to side B, advance my timers to just under 2 hours later, and go back to bed. At 1:00 a.m., I'd get up, grab my cassettes, climb into my 1977 Olds Cutlass, and head to the newspaper warehouse. 

When I arrived, everyone knew not to tell me who won the Astros game. Billy, our truck driver, would look at the front page and the sports page to see whether the Astros article fell above or below the fold. Then he would stack my bundles upside down, or whichever way he needed, to hide the score. I'd roll my papers, stick Baseball I, Side A, into my tape player, and take off. 

There’s nothing like driving through a neighborhood at 4 a.m, blasting the Astros on the radio. Bases loaded, bottom of the 9th, 2 outs, could they come through? Early morning joggers would do a double-take when they passed my car and heard Milo Hamilton shouting, “Holy Toledo, put a blue star on that one!!” 

If the game was a low-scoring one with quick pitchers, it might end around the same time my paper route ended. But the neat thing about baseball is the absence of a time limit. The game could end in the middle of Baseball 2-A, or I might have to flip to Baseball 1-B. Extra innings meant another flip to Baseball 2-B. Once in a while, that wouldn’t be enough and 2-B would end with the game still tied. Very disappointing. 

When I went to grad school, baseball came with me. On the way home from class on Thursday morning, I would stop by the Astrodome for a matinee game (Don’t worry, this was my first stint in grad school, not the current one—I began my PhD several years after the Astrodome’s retirement.) I’d pay $2 for early bird parking, and buy a $4 general admission ticket in the outfield deck. I brought my math books and, more importantly, my headphone radio. Most day games had dollar hot dogs, so no need to buy lunch on the way. Dogs in hand, I searched for the perfect seat. I tried for the left-field side, because my headphones’ built-in radio, by my right ear, seemed to get better reception with my head turned slightly left. (If I had to turn my head, I wanted to see the playing field, not the stands.)  

My fellow Astros fans thought I was a total nerd, and they were probably right. I spent most of the game working on homework. Yes, my eyes may have missed parts of the game, but that was just fine—Milo Hamilton’s voice was in my ear, painting an action-filled picture of every play. I would have missed far more if I’d only watched the game, without listening to Milo. And if you have to do homework, where would you rather do it? In the outfield deck of the Astrodome, enjoying an afternoon of live baseball? Or at home watching baseball on TV? 

Thank you Milo, for teaching me to love baseball. Thank you, Milo, for bringing the game and the players to life. It won’t be the same without you. 

Happy Birthday Milo, and Godspeed.

After the 2010 Astros 5K, I borrowed a pen and got Milo's autograph.
It's not quite as clear as when he signed my ball, but it's still Milo.

The bobblehead we received at Sunday's game.