Hills? We Have Hills In Florida?

I have a few road race traditions I follow, and one of them is a race on Memorial Day. Except this year, the race was moved to a new venue. A new, pain-inducing venue.

For almost 30 years, this 5K was a nice, mostly flat, fast course through a small, wealthy bedroom community north of here. Lots of shade, some waterfront views, and one small elevation change. And a collection of weird food selections at the end. Think cold pizza, yogurt, and fresh fruit. You know, a typical breakfast of champions, and let’s be honest, not what most of us were eating for Memorial Day barbecues. No chance of eating the same thing twice in a day.

I guess that nice little community got tired of us.

The race got kicked out. But it found a new home. The start/finish area is in a beautiful park setting along the Intracoastal, with a long dock, real restrooms, and plenty of parking. And it was only about two miles from the previous venue.

Sounds good? It was — until the the start/finish line was revealed. Both were uphill. And it did not get better from there. Four additional hills featured in this race. I had no idea the course would look like this. I was fortunate that my workouts include bridge running, but after the uphill start and the next climb (about 3/4 mile from the start) it was obvious that not everyone was prepared for the upward slog. And going downhill hurts, by the way. Sure, gravity does some of the work for you, but it’s still a shin-killer.

And those of you who actually live in mountain country, or places with real hills, can stop rolling your eyes and referring to our hills as old asphalt-covered sand dunes. For the record, that is likely what these were. We get you don’t take them seriously. Just humor the flat-land runners for now.

I am proud of that last race of the season (I know a few of you are shocked, but here in Florida June, July, and August are just painful months for road-racing). Seventeen runners in my age group and I was ninth. No water stations due to pandemic rules, but I carried my own. The local Boy Scout troop did an admirable job cooking a pancake breakfast, though I think they underestimated just how much some hungry runners can scarf down when they aren’t handing over money for the meal.

I assume this race has been moved to this venue for good. I won’t dread it the next time. Just add a few more bridge runs beforehand.

The Only Voice In My Head Is My Own…And We Argue

I’ve been working from home for 14 months, and I’ll admit this much: I hated it in the beginning.

I am a child of the office age, not the technology age. I started working in the late seventies; we had clunky word processors masquerading as computers, but mostly it was pens, notepads and phones (push-button at that point, though even that was relatively new; I still recall rotary phones and phone booths. Don’t make me go there, young’uns).

I was the last person to quit my office, and it was painful. I figured if everyone else was working from home under COVID restrictions, I could stay in the office alone, right? No, I couldn’t, as we were not deemed essential employees. So off to the home office in March, 2020.

I’ve never gone back. Never plan to go back. I’d smother at least a few of my coworkers at this point. I have been more productive from home than I ever thought possible, thanks to fewer interruptions and the ability to schedule work in my day, instead of dealing with CMS (Chronic Meeting Syndrome). I can start early if I need to, finish later if I want to, and run or bike in the middle of the day. A doctor’s appointment is no longer a time issue. A lunch break can include vacuuming rugs or folding laundry or running out to pick up a prescription. It’s telling a service person, “Sure, come over anytime to fix/inspect/replace whatever. I am home.” And not one single cold since work from home started, thanks to avoiding two employees in particular who felt obligated to come to work coughing, sweating, and sick to the point of collapse because it was so important for them. The truth: they had blown off all their PTO on other things and had none left.

The bad part about working from home: Zoom™ meetings with or without video. Not a fan, though I don’t blame the Zoom creators. Some people just are not video-camera material. I happen to be one of them. I have a state-of-the-art computer; there just isn’t enough plastic surgery or cosmetics to make me look good in pictures. And even without video, some folks don’t know how to mute their phones, or keep the family and personal stuff out of their office. Kids, dogs, the TV, the spouse, the neighbors are all fair game on Zoom calls because “it’s not like it’s the real office.”

I miss interaction with people I liked, but not much. I have other people outside work to see. I have returned to competing. I do not miss morning rush hour and driving and honking at crawling drivers in the left lane. I understand people who want and need to go back and hate that they cannot go back because child care and school virtual learning make it impossible to return. I am happy to work from right here, drive and consume less, not contribute to the carbon footprint and argue with the only occasional opposing voice — my own.

It’s Back To Business, Even If It’s Not The Usual

It’s good to be competing again. I have a race every weekend in May (including yesterday), with the exception of Mother’s Day weekend. I don’t have kids; I figure I just need a break somewhere.

It’s good to see friends again, even though it is masked and hugs are only a sometimes thing. I’m good with an elbow bump. It’s the thought and the contact that count.

It’s good to train with a purpose. I am always up for a run, swim, bike session, or weight workout, but it’s easier with a goal.

And I hate to admit this, but it is fun to shop for workout gear again. I hate to shop; I think “retail therapy” is torture and would almost prefer a tooth-pulling to time wandering in a department store. But workout clothes are in a different realm. My closet is totally out of balance when you look at the workout vs. everyday wardrobe. In fact, I need to clean out the workout side; I have some new things coming and there isn’t room for them at the moment.

In the same thought, it is good to shop for things you didn’t know you needed. I always hated coming home from events with wet or towel-wrapped hair. Who knew there was such a thing as a rechargeable blow dryer? I have it and I love it.

I was surprised to see some wearing down on my running shoes; I have two pairs, and the ones I use for races are showing signs of use. While shoes are expensive to replace, it’s also nice to know they’re actually getting used.

I use a paper spiral calendar notebook for scheduling races, and last year was a big ugly blank, for the most part. My shiny new one is filling in fast, as more races go in-person, or at least offer the option.

It’s not all normal. Masks at the start and finish are required, as are temperature checks and at least some attempt at social distancing. I am all for maintaining the precautions as long as it takes, along with vaccinations, until the pandemic that has poisoned our politics and personal relationships, eradicated whole economic sectors and jobs, taken hundreds of thousands of lives, and changed much more permanently is as much a thing of the past as we can make it.

We will be able to look at this time with some humor — the toilet paper hoarding, the combination of stuck at home and having the time still did not equal a clean house, and the wrongheaded attempts by kitchen newbies to understand how yeast, flour, and water, combined the right way, turn into bread — but also recall how neighbors helped neighbors with groceries, money, and conversation. How people got to know each other strolling around their own streets and the way complete strangers pitched in at food banks, grocery giveaways, and voter registration drives. We learned how to be human with each other, and there’s hope this is one pandemic lesson that will outlast the virus.

Well, That Was Ugly (for a day)

I have now received both of my COVID shots. Yay, me.

First shot a month ago produced mild symptoms, mostly a sore arm. Second shot was worse than the first. I felt well enough a few hours after to go on an afternoon run. Felt fine to cook and eat dinner. THEN it hit. Feverish, body aches, and chills so severe I needed a winter blanket and comforter to warm up overnight. Very little sleep that night, and when I did get up, it felt like walking barefoot on an ice rink. I looked at the thermostat (it was normal) and then wondered why the &%!$ the weatherman misjudged the overnight temperatures. Nope…just me.

The symptoms lasted about a day; there was not enough hot tea or soup in the house to calm the chills. They departed on their own, and I was fine after 24 hours.

I am very glad I did this, and for the greater realm of humanity, I did this for you. So I hopefully cannot either get or pass the virus to anyone you know. So they don’t get sick and suffer, and possibly die. So they don’t miss time from work, school, activities, and loved ones. I still mask up and social distance, even though I have gone back to competing again. We can live and love and resume activities, but in a way that respects not only each other, but the fact that the virus dictates how things happen, and science dictates how we change the course of how things happen. Not herbal supplements, finger-pointing blame games, bleach imbibing, or casting aside all ideas of sanity and reason by declaring personal rights as more pivotal than public health. The experts with M.D., Ph.D. and other letters designating advanced education should be our guides, not politicians pandering to their ignorant and chanting masses, many of whom don’t believe in vaccinations, but believe that their way is the only way, and any other way is a path to Hell.

Turn off the crazy, if you can. Find reason and meaning and get your shot on behalf of the planet. We’d like you to stick around.

What’s Normal? Where Is It? Can I Run There?

Americans, more than anyone else, seem to be a nervous, edgy, need-it-now society.

That sounds better than saying we’re selfish, impatient, and thoughtless, right?

We miss our old normal, whatever that was. When we could eat, travel, and work anywhere, see anyone anytime we wanted to, without a mask (and without expecting other people to do the same). When did we start wondering if that guy over there got vaccinated or if the person coughing in the next aisle brought more than their grocery list to the store and breathed on the tomatoes? Whether the maskless woman coming in just forgot hers or forgot the rest of us matter and her rights don’t constitute the center of the known universe.

It’s been a year since COVID-19 entered the lexicon, killing over a half-million of us, sickening far more, costing jobs, changing lives, and sometimes forever ruining our ability to communicate with friends and family whose opinions differ from ours as to the severity of the virus — or to some cave-dwelling dim bulbs, whether the virus exists at all or it’s an imaginary creation of a government they didn’t elect and don’t respect.

Normal is slowly coming back. I’ve done some in-person racing. I don’t dislike virtual races; they’re fine for other people, but I am not personally a fan of them. I have a few more on the calendar before I end my season in June. It’s been wonderful to see the face I missed for months on end, with no live racing options available. But I race under COVID-19 protocols as laid out by the race directors. Outside of racing, I wear a mask in public, mandated or not, stay socially distant, don’t travel, and don’t shop unless I have to do so.

I don’t know where the new or next normal is. I think it will arrive slowly and in stages. Some of the precautions should become permanent, like frequent hand-washing and sanitizing surfaces. Working from home isn’t that bad; frankly, I stand a good chance of doing ugly things to some of the people I work with if forced to endure them in an actual office setting. At least from home, I can shut them out and actually get work done rather than deal with the chit-chat train and the idiot interruptions during the average office day. Plus the midday workouts, stop-and-drop-in a load of laundry, or tidying the bathrooms is helpful to my schedule. I’m not solitary by nature, but years of solo workouts have taught me to exist within myself and that while human contact is necessary it’s the quality of it, not the quantity, that counts.

Patience, folks. Keep wearing those masks, do the distance when possible, get vaccinated (I got my first shot; second one is in two weeks, and thank you, Dolly Parton, for handing over a whole lot of money to make it happen for Moderna) and we will get through this. And there will be running, cycling, swimming, yoga, team sports and tears of joy on the other side.

Logs, Charts, Plans, Advice: 14 Months And Counting

The National Senior Games are scheduled for May, 2022. I think it’s too soon to worry and panic, as I’ve said before. But not too soon to train, plan, and seek good advice.

I have a monthly workout chart up on the wall, a 26-week training plan next to it. There is such a thing as a 52-week training planner, but I was mentally boggled by the size and complexity of the workouts, O2 levels, heart rates, exertion percentages and all the other bits of technical flotsam included in the charts. I wasn’t looking for a workout plan designed for a mathematician or engineer. I wanted something I could actually read and follow.

I also culled some sensible food advice, such as a list of good plant-based protein sources, and how much of each constitutes a serving. Some of them on the list are things I already like, such as beans, peanut butter, broccoli, and edamame. Quinoa is on the list, and I am getting used to it. Kale is on the list, and…just no. The problem with kale is that it tastes like kale, and no matter how small the amount of it in any given dish, it makes everything taste like kale. There isn’t even enough chocolate to hide kale.

The training may not be the hardest part of all this. Giving myself a rest day, getting enough sleep and keeping my stress levels down may be the greater challenges. Curiously, staying healthy in these pandemic times appears to be something I’m good at; no colds for the last year, since I left an office environment to work from home. But I credit that success to being without the two “essential” employees from my office, both of whom constantly came to work sick. Both of them thought the place would collapse without them. Both of them paid the price with chronic colds, never getting better from one before one of their sick kids gave them another. Of course, both of them believed if they sat in their offices with their doors closed, no one else would get sick. Because their germs didn’t live on surfaces or travel through the A/C ducts, of course.

I have a plan in place for training, no travel in the near future (at least until I am vaccinated) and as the competition schedule returns to semi-normal, tossing in a few races here and there to stay sharp. I hope to keep reading all of your blogs and advice as I go forward; my plan always has space for stories from the “been there, done that” crowd.

How Four Turned Into Eight

A few months back, I mentioned the National Senior Games, and that I planned to do four events: swimming, cycling, running, and triathlon.

The actual scheduled (pending specifics on what swimming events are which days) is now out. It’s turned into eight event days: three days of swimming, surrounded by a triathlon, 10K run, and 10K, 20K and 40K cycling events.

Oy vey.

It’s doable, I am telling myself at the moment. It’s fourteen months away. Plenty of time to work out worry and panic prepare. I can do this. The events are spread over 11 days. There is time off built in. No hotel stays needed, though there is a lot of driving.

On the one hand, I’m stepping into a big pile of unknown on this. I’ve competed two and three weekends in a row, but never something like this.

On the other hand, I may never get another opportunity to do this.

On the one hand, I hurt thinking about it. On the other hand, I’d hurt more if I didn’t do it. It means the next fourteen months have very little else in the way of commitments or outside activities. It also means having a really handy excuse not to do things I hate (“Oh, sorry, can’t go there/do that; I have training in the morning/this evening/all weekend.”).

At the moment, the little square paper with the schedule is staring up at me from the desk, like an orderly reminder with little shaded boxes and numbers and “X” marks and dates. It’s a conscience and a call to do both the impossible and idiotic.

Suffering Has No Age Limit When It Comes To The Cold

If you live just about anywhere in the U.S. (except for Florida, where I am), it’s been an awful couple of weather weeks.

It’s worse than cold. It’s snow, ice, wind, and temperatures no one expected in places no one has see this kind of weather in years, if ever. It’s a literal killer winter storm that’s taken the lives of children in their freezing homes, old people on breathing machines, families trying to stay warm in their cars. They died in house fires, from carbon monoxide poisoning, on the roads escaping the storm or heading into it to help others, and from lack of necessary medical care, such as dialysis, oxygen, or medication for chronic conditions.

While the seniors among us seem to suffer disproportionately in times of disaster, Winter Storm Uri, as it is now known, wasn’t picky about its victims. Nearly 70 dead in Texas alone, the youngest age seven and the oldest age 86. In the ruins of lives and homes, the state government has batted the blame from agency to agency, blaming everything from the unexpected weather (because the forecast for this storm, available days in advance, apparently was not important or just fake news) to the green new energy power used by the state (because unlike Texas’ non-winterized turbines, the properly maintained machinery used in Canada, Siberia, and Norway work just fine in even colder temperatures) to the unprepared power company (run by people selected by the state government, which chose the cheapest energy solution rather than the safest one).

Texas is the bulls-eye example of what happens when a state government forgets that it’s the people who have the real power. Individuals and small companies are stepping in and stepping up to help communities with food, water, blankets, and firewood. States are helping by sending power crews to fix downed power lines. Hospitals already overwhelmed by coronavirus cases are making room where they can for patients moved from other facilities closed due to lack of power and water. If you want to help states across the country, you can donate to the Red Cross here. If you specifically want to assist the state of Texas, this link is for the Houston area, and this link is for other areas. One of the world’s most respected chefs, Jose Andres, led his World Central Kitchen into Texas to feed people, as he does anywhere in the world where there’s a need. You can donate to his organization here.

Disasters like this don’t stop to ask your date of birth, your race, or your political party. They just barrel through your hometown and take down everything, including its heart and soul. But there’s always some good folks showing up as the feed-and-clean crew, ready to help.

The Swan Song Half Was Almost A Washout

Well, it’s all over but the soreness tomorrow. I have to say I feel decent at the moment. Not sorry I did those 13.1 miles, but not planning on another one. In fact, I told The Husband he is welcome to drag a rusty knife across my throat if I so much as mention the idea.

I am glad I did this one (it was on my bucket list) and the timing was good, given the lack of live races during the pandemic. And for the first eight miles, the weather actually cooperated. Mid-70s, overcast, and then…Mother Nature went into full rage mode.

I’ve lived in Florida over 40 years, and never can I recall seeing (or running in) rain like that. The skies let loose like we haven’t had rain in months (actually, it is the dry season, and we haven’t). The race course flooded fast, running shoes became sodden weights, and the power of water from above actually stung your skin and eyes. Troopers (or fools) that we are, we kept going, and as far as I know, most everyone finished.

Then I had to drive home, mostly in that rain. We’re talking a whiteout deluge where the location of other cars, road signs and foliage cannot be accurately determined. I am grateful to my dealership for those new tires, recently installed, that kept me on the road, even if the water’s roar beneath them was unsettling. I am grateful that I had the forethought to toss a full set of clean, dry clothes in the trunk so I had something to change into before heading into a Wawa near the race venue for very large and very cold soda beverage for the road. I got the largest one that would fit into my drink holder. I gave up diet soda years ago, but just this once, I thought I was worthy and deserving (for the record, I do not buy it, nor keep it in the house).

But mostly, I am grateful for one more chance at a half-marathon. I am done with that distance now, moving on to concentrate on triathlons, swimming and shorter race distances, including some trail racing. It’s been a good, if painful ride, and I took the opportunity to do what so many others cannot or will not do. I respect anyone who looks at that distance, or its bigger cousins the marathon and ultras and says, “Oh, hell no!” It’s not easy, and training is often miserable. But the payback is lording it over your couch potato friends. Because what we lack in humility we make up for hubris — and good health.