Monday, July 30, 2012

Everything Has Its Price

Sometimes life forces each of us to face uncomfortable questions, but I never expected such a moment to occur at the grocery store.  It happened last weekend, walking out of Fred Meyer’s, looking at the receipt and unable to duck the obvious: “How did we spend $17 on grapes?!?”  Really, is that even possible?  Or have we entered an alternate universe where different laws of economics apply?  It wasn’t like we rolled out of the store with a wooden vat filled to the brim, ready to be stomped into wine in celebration of our small-village Italian heritage.  We bought two bunches, one red, one green.  And it cost $17.  There is a lesson to be gleaned there about household budgeting.

But rather than focus on important monetary lessons, I’ll focus instead on turning this blog into an insufferable online training log.  I noted in my last post that I’ve decided to do the Equinox again, a race with 3,000+ feet of climbing and descending, and that as a result, C and I travelled to Reno to do a training run.  Well, a week ago we realized that Anchorage is actually closer to the race course itself than to Nevada, so C and I took a weekend trip to Fairbanks and did a 15.5 mile run up and down Ester Dome.  The profile of that run looked something like this:

The run felt good, but came at a price.  To break up the drive north, we decided to camp in Cantwell.  In a sad comment on the frequency of our camping trips these days, we had not used our tent since our trip last year to McCarthy.  Following that trip, it became clear that the tent poles needed restringing, so we restrung them.  But we didn’t put them back into the tent stuff sack, a fact we discovered when it came time to set up the tent on our way to Fairbanks.  So we felled a dozen or more trees and bucked the timber into manageable logs, which we quickly stacked into a formidable wall.  We strung the fly into place minutes (really) before it started to rain.  It alternated between a drizzle and a hard rain for the course of the night, but we stayed dry.  No complaints with respect to the rain.  Lots of complaints with respect to the mosquitoes.
(C, looking out from our improvised tent)

I think I act like a non-lethal bug zapper, attracting bugs but unable to ring the death knell.  I slept with a head net, which was useless since the net rested snuggly against my skin.  The bites could not be counted.  I hardly slept at all, being driven slowly to madness by the incessant whine of swarming bugs.  Did you know that individual mosquitoes buzz at unique pitches?  I got to know several of them by sound.  C didn’t get a single bite, safe sleeping next to her mosquito magnet.

I certainly did not want to risk another night of bug bites, so we couldn’t go and run the Equinox course again.  But trips to Nevada are expensive.  So what is the alternative?  Well, it turns out that Anchorage has mountains.  So we found a run at home that looked like this:

And now my legs are tired.  I think I’ll rest them by counting grapes before we move them into a safe-deposit box.  If they keep, I may have just found a new source of retirement income.  

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Dog Days

Ah, July.  The month has settled on us here in Anchorage like a homemade quilt, bringing with it an average temperature of 52.7 degrees and the potential to set the record for the coldest July on record.  The public is ecstatic.  The weather now dominates casual conversation, which may explain why I am leading with it as part of this post.

But July brings with it much more than the potential for termination dust and a hard frost.  July marks the return of the most spectated sporting event in the world.  Having seen the blog viewing statistics for my corner of the web, I know that the majority of the few of you who are likely to read these words reside in the U.S., which means you may be surprised to learn that it isn't the Superbowl.  The rest of you might be surprised to learn it isn't the World Cup, or whatever the equivalent is for cricket or rugby.  No, more spectators turn out each July to watch approximately 200 men pedal their bikes around France than turn out for any other single event, thanks in large part to the fact that attendance doesn't require a ticket (read: is free), the race stretches over some 20 days, and (if the images on TV are any indication) attendance amounts to little more than getting drunk and having a picnic atop a glorious mountain in the Alps.  Go figure.

In case you haven't been paying attention to the race, and at the risk of spoiling it for you if you've been DVRing each stage with plans to watch the whole thing in one marathon session once the real cold of August arrives, I'll let you know that Britain is poised to have its first Tour de France champion.  Bradley Wiggins donned the yellow jersey signifying race leader early, and has solidified his position.  As they say, it is a three week race and anything can happen, but barring disaster it seems exceedingly likely we will see the Union Jack flying in Paris a week hence.

I for one look forward to a British champion, if for no other reason because we are likely to be graced by the beauty of the Queen's English for weeks to come in post-race interviews.  If C and I learned nothing else on our trip to London last year, it is that the British are a polite and cordial people.  Indeed, as the current race leader, Wiggins has already shown the world how much better he wields the English language than his counterparts across the Atlantic.  For example, observe the crass manner in which Lance Armstrong, a yank best known for riding a bike and dating Sheryl Crow, responded to the (most recent) accusation that he relied on performance enhancing drugs in order to win seven Tour titles:

"I have never doped, and, unlike many of my accusers, I have competed as an endurance athlete for 25 years with no spike in performance, passed more than 500 drug tests and never failed one."

The man clearly has no sense of lyricism, no love of alliteration, no understanding of history.  Indeed, his cold and calculating use of the language suggests the reliance on bought and paid for legal assistance.  In comparison, Bradley Wiggins, when confronted with a question requesting a response to those drawing parallels between Sky (Wiggins' team) and U.S. Postal (Armstrong's old team), replete with all of the implications that since U.S. Postal was doped to the gills so then must be Wiggins and Sky, showed how a gentleman formulates an answer, weaving words together as befits a citizen of the city housing Shakespeare's Globe:
"I say they're just f***ing wankers. I cannot be doing with people like that.  It justifies their own bone-idleness because they can't imagine applying themselves to do anything in their lives.  It's easy for them to sit under a pseudonym on Twitter and write that sort of s***, rather than get off their arses in their own lives, and apply themselves and work hard at something and achieve something.  And that's ultimately it.  C***s."
You'll see that I have censored some of the more poetic language for the U.S. readers who may not be used to such artful metaphor.  After that outburst, Wiggins tossed the microphone off of the table and left the room.  
Can you imagine if Tiger Woods, Lebron James, or, for that matter, Lance Armstrong let loose with a "c***" at a press event?  The airwaves would be plastered with apologies within the hour, sponsors would be lining up to demand refund of fees advanced, and shame would rain from states blue and red.  The outfall from Wiggins' tirade?  None that I can discern from the press reports.  I'm now considering a move to Europe, with the hope and expectation that I may one day confront my critics by calling them all c***s and being done with it.
Pending that move, however, I've decided to make the most of having to carefully craft my outbursts with the precision of a legal team (that is, after all, my job), and commit to running the Equinox marathon this September in Fairbanks.  I ran the full thing once before, in 2005, at survival pace, and I'm hoping to get in enough training to do the run at race-pace this time.  The Equinox is complicated by its profile:

As such, training runs need more than just distance.  They need ups and downs to get used to the climbing and the pounding of the descent.  I looked around to find a suitable training run and found a track with this profile:

Close enough.  Problem was, the run corresponding with that profile was in Reno.  So, C and I packed our running shoes and went to Nevada for the 4th of July.  Conveniently, C's family lives there now, so we had somewhere to shower.  And it was warmer than 52.7 degrees, so we were freed from the smothering burden of having to talk about the weather with everyone we met.
Parting shot: