Saturday, December 13, 2008

It Isn't Easy Being Green

It's hard to believe I've taken a few month hiatus from posting here, and the best thing I can come up with is a story about the Mucinex mascot. Luckily for you, I failed to find the exact image of him that I used for my art class graphic duplication exercise. In case you aren't familiar with this character, he is the personified version of the material that is produced from congestion. Who would bring that in to a class full of kindergartners, you ask? Well, the enrichment program I work at in Chinatown provides very few materials, so I have to scrounge and brainstorm on my own. Advertising circulars are abundunt on my doorstep, so I came across this cute image of Mr. M. looking very green with a crabby expression spread across his broad face. Apparently his host had taken the medication and sent him packing in the middle of the night. Poor guy never had a chance to even dress properly. I handed this picture to each of my 6 four and five years olds today for our first lesson on copying images. I ask them to tell me if they know who this guy is. At first there is a lot of head shaking. Then finally one of my four year old twins screams out 'Kung Fu Panda!' I can't control a laugh. Then I go over all the elements in the image with them, and remind them to include all the details, like his pajamas, his pillow tucked under his arm, the moon in the background. After a few minutes, one of the girls hands me her finished product. She has drawn to near perfection only the details, but has neglected to draw the actual character inhabiting them. I tell her that's OK, she can draw him underneath the details, at the bottom of the page. She laughs and says, 'But I don't want to draw him in his underwear!' How can you not love the way their little minds work? Of course, why would she bother to draw his pajamas a second time when they were all perfectly composed up above?

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

It's 'Pick a Caption' time!

Pick your favorite caption to this recent New Yorker magazine cartoon. (Hint: one of the choices was composed by this blogger).

Frankly, Mr. Johnson, our law firm just doesn't need a
Classical linguist at this time.

So why did you leave Red Lobster?

So you think you're ready for the corner tank?

Friday, September 12, 2008

Sometimes you've just got to bark like a dog

I can't seem to find a running partner no matter how hard I try. I didn't even realize how dire the situation had grown until one day during the first few minutes into my run around Central Park. It was a clear, low humidity day, I was rested with no apparent obstacles to prevent me from completing my run, and my mind just said 'enough'. I didn't argue, because I had been a really faithful athlete over these past few months of adapting to hillier terrain and the more aggressive lifestyle of a city person. I walked slowly back out of the park. On my way I passed a man standing holding his tall Boxer dog's leash. The dog had the face of an old man, and stared at me intently as I approached and then passed them. As I expected he would, the dog barked and lunged at me as I passed. I kind of laughed nervously, like the dog was chiding me for quitting my run. The man apologised profusely, and said the dog is just a puppy, and was only playing. That's my favorite line. As I crossed Columbus avenue, it dawned on me that I had been doing all of my training solo for a while. Hard tempo runs, hilly 12 mile park loops, 5 am reservoir sprints, and Harlem track 800 intervals. I needed to drag someone along to share the suffering! That evening I composed the perfect ad specifying the ideal running partner I was seeking. I didn't mince words, as grandma Blanche would have said. I outlined the paces required for my potential RP (running partner), and warned that I was strict about following the watch. No sense wasting my time with a dilly-dallier who was not on the same page as I was. Satisfied with my ad, I posted it on craigslist, and the very next day got a response from 'nybling'. He said I sounded like a cool person (!) and won't have trouble keeping the pace. He also stated he'd never run more than 4 miles before, but knew he could handle the distance. I trusted his confidence, and proceeded to set up a running date. He said that sounded great, he was pretty sure he could run the full 6 miles I'd planned. That was it. He could build his miles on his own, I needed a steady partner. I told him to contact me when the training wheels had come off (ok, I was not that harsh), and he seemed relieved to get out of our run. The next day I headed to the park, team of one. No matter. Lately I've been having unspoken competitions with runners trying to pass me. It's the closest thing to a running partner I can find. This day was pouring rain. Few people were out, which was a nice change, since usually it's a struggle to keep from bumping into the throngs of cyclists, runners, walkers and general park enthusiasts that share the same 6 mile loop as me. As I'm coming off of the big hill past Lasker pool, I hear some squishy sneakers running up my back. I'm wondering if they're my own, and look over my shoulder to check if there's a person in them. Sure enough, despite the pouring rain, there's no one else in sight except this one runner holding a big plastic bottle of some yellow fluid and gaining quickly on me. How odd. I was hoping to be able to run leisurely. Marathon man passes me, and then I decide the park is mine today, and I whip past him in response. Triumphant, I continue building a nice lead. Then it dawns on me that if I really wanted an RP I'd be more sociable, and instead of trying to beat everyone, I'd start talking to them. Oh well. Maybe next time I'll put this insight to good use. I run another 5 miles without seeing Marathon man. I pass other runners, the blind man who I saw walking in the opposite direction as me when I entered the park. Wow, he's doing an impressive pace I calculate. My clothes are soaked, and I'm looking forward to seeing the fountain where I exit the park. Suddenly I hear the squishy shoes again. I look over my shoulder, and Marathon man catches and passes me. I don't mind. Then I hear a strange sound. Like someone barking soft little woofs. There's a young woman sitting in the middle of the road in the pouring rain, kind of gasping or woofing. I didn't really get it, but it seemed very odd. I slowed down, and Marathon man stopped to investigate. I figured he'd handle that situation, and I'd complete my nice little loop without interruption. That woman wasn't crying, she had a calm expression on her face. I think she was just crazy. If that man didn't stop I would have stopped. I decided to turn around and make sure she was ok when I finished my run. Once I turned around, I instantly felt tired. I couldn't remember how far away that woman was, but it didn't seem like more than a mile. Cars were passing every now and then, and I hoped that they saw her. Just when I thought I'd never see her again, there she was this time standing in the middle of the road. I stopped and walked slowly up to her. 'Are you ok?' I asked. She looked at me with a slight look of disgust and started walking away. 'Are you the one that was sitting on the ground?' I asked. 'No, no', she answered and started moving quickly away from me and off the road towards the grass. 'I came back to help you', I said, hoping that might convince her that my offer was genuine. She wanted nothing to do with me. My gut told me that she had serious emotional issues. The sad part is, I'm sure this woman has a boyfriend. But I digress. I walked the half mile through the park to my exit spot. It was still raining, my beautifully straightened hair from earlier was a ratty mass of tangles, and I had bits of leaves and dirt all over my legs. Life in the city can be very sad and lonely. I've had some really close calls with wondering how I could go on with some of the acute disappointments I've experienced since moving here. Maybe sitting down and barking on the road once in a while is a good way to clear the cobwebs. I really can't ever picture myself doing that, but I'm sure if I did I would feel better.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

My Kids

My world of 'intuitive living' officially ended 06/17/08. That was the first day the bootcamp teaching program that I enrolled in begun. I had to say good-bye to many habits that I had grown quite fond of- sleeping 8, 9, and shamefully sometimes 10 hours a night; leisurely grinding my own coffee beans and enjoying sipping from my yellow Falmouth mug whilst sitting on the floor and gazing at the dog walkers strolling past my building; running. The latter habit was the most shocking to lose. During that first week of teacher-training, one night I set my alarm for 4:30 am to squeeze in a run before a 9 hour day of graduate classes. The alarm went off and I realized that I had to complete a paper in that time. Something finally took priority over running. I didn't like my new schedule one bit. I felt under a microscope in my classes, with the constant threat of forced group discussions lurking in every corner. I was a fish out of water, suffocating in my desire to learn in solitude. After the first two weeks, 5 pounds lighter and sufficiently sleep-deprived, we had all completed 6 graduate credits. That was a nice little reward. I was dying to go out for a run. The next morning I showed up for my summer school placement, where I would be an observing teacher in a classroom with a cooperating teacher. I showed up with 3 other fellows. They didn't have as many kids as they expected enrolled, and one of us had to go home. I volunteered. Walking down Amsterdam and eying the Dunkin Donuts, I wondered if that was the end of my teaching career. Shouldn't a new teacher jump on every opportunity to learn her trade? I felt strange, doubting my own commitment to this new profession. But I was thrilled that I finally had time to go for a run. Despite the heat and humidity, I was smiling throughout my six mile loop of the park. I passed the Central Park police precinct and smelled a strong odor of Neccos candies or a million carnations. What was that? Whatever it was, I wouldn't be smelling it for long. I got a call from my field advisor (we had many advisors) telling me that they could now take me at my placement school, and I was to show up the next morning. Now it was all starting to feel real. As I walked down the street the next morning to the school,I had that jittery, first-day-of-school feeling, but in a grown-up way. I was excited to meet my new kids. I walked into Ms. H's class. Right away I could tell she was a strong teacher, with strong ideas about how to teach. She greeted me coolly, and said under her breath that there was a gentleman placed with her the other day, and she even wore her best perfume, but he didn't return. Her humor made me laugh, and I knew I was going to like her. She introduced me to the children, and they all took turns greeting me. After a mini-lesson in setting up a graphic organizer to pull out the main idea and details of a story, Ms. H. had the kids go back to their seats to get to work. I'm always shocked by the content of 2nd grade curriculum. A graphic organizer? I think I just learned what that was- last year. So 7-yr-olds can grasp this concept? I think we need a new reality show- 'Are you smarter than a second grader?' Half the class was missing their front teeth. It's impossible to get mad at someone who has no front teeth. I brought a chair over to help Fahema with paragraph format. I opened her text book to a random page to show her how it looked. There was a photo of a lobster facing us. As she was writing her paragraph, she kept looking back at the book for reference. In her tiny smurf voice, she said, 'That lobster is freaking me out.' They're so cute!! But I wasn't suppossed to be appreciating their cuteness, I was suppossed to be learning how to help them succeed academically. Fahema seemed to not need my help. I moved on to another table. Fernando hadn't started yet. I asked him if he knew what the main idea was. He answered me by telling me in Spanish that he is a grandfather. I impressed his friend by answering in English that he is too young to be a grandfather. He still didn't get to work, until Ms. H. came by and questioned why he had nothing written on his paper. I felt guilty for not staying on task. Funny, but I felt myself turning into a second grader in that class. I think the kids started catching on to this, and they would look out for me so I wouldn't get into trouble with the teacher. One day when they dealt out bag lunches for the upcoming field trip to the transit museum, I was given a peanut butter and jelly sandwich lunch. Ms. H. asked all the children to put their lunches in their backpacks, and to keep them on task, she told them she wanted it done by the time she counted down from 20 (this is a very effective trick for getting others to do what you want in a timely fashion. I am waiting for an appropriate opportunity to use this on my friends). Felipe noticed that my bag lunch was still sitting on the desk. He called over to me, 'Ms. S., you can put your lunch in my backpack if you want.' Those kids started really mattering to me, and eventhough I didn't think I knew enough about teaching to be a real teacher, I did feel confident that if we could go on field trips every day, I'd be the best teacher in the world. The last day of summer school, the kids surprised me by each presenting me with a hand drawn card with a letter thanking me for helping them with their reading and writing. Martin drew a picture of a shark with blood on its teeth and two people in its mouth- one was Ms. S., and the other was him, with an arrow explaining that he was saving Ms. S.
Aw! So now summer school is over, and Ms. S. is unemployed. She's been pounding the pavement, but somehow that great teacher shortage seems to have been a myth. I'm almost hoping so, as the thought of having my very own class with no Ms. H. to help with the discipline and keeping us on task is quite daunting.

Friday, June 06, 2008

All of my Running Partners are Stars

Tomorrow morning I will be running in a race in Central Park that will include the entire American women's Olympic marathon team, about ten other women from around the world who have run under 33 minutes for a 10k (that's a 5:30 minute per mile pace for six and 2/10ths of a mile), and about 3,000 'normal' female runners that want to challenge themselves. I'd be more nervous I think if I were of the elite women's caliber. I can't imagine running a race knowing that my salary was at stake if I didn't finish first.
Wednesday I was doing a casual five mile run around the bridle path in Central Park, and I look up and see Hilda Kibet jogging in the opposite direction. Not a household name to be sure, not in New York households, anyway, and if I weren't such a 'fast-women' stalker, I'd probably not have any idea who she was either. But I recognized her from a recent running journal photo. She was winning the Nike 1/2 marathon run on the streets of Manhattan last Summer. She looked ecstatic to be winning, and her smile was infectious. As I saw her this day, I called out her name. We exchanged greetings, and I asked if I could join her. She welcomed me, and off we trotted as if it were the most normal thing in the world. And really, it was. Two women passionate about their sport, sharing a social bond. After a few steps, I was struck with the realization that I was running with one of the fastest women in the world. Maybe she wanted to be alone. I asked her if it was really OK that I was running with her. She seemed perplexed by my concern. I added that maybe she wanted a little privacy, as I imagined annoying runners bombarding her with requests to run with her all day long. She assured me that she preferred the company. Admittedly, I was too starstruck to offer much conversation at first, but my partner seemed very willing to entertain all the questions that a mortal runner would want to know, and after a while, I started to feel like we were equals. I mentioned to her that the photos that were taken of her at the end of the Nike 1/2 marathon were really striking, and it was great to see a runner so happy during a race. She laughed and told me that she was celebrating before the race was over, high-fiving people and dancing as she was sprinting, and didn't realize that her nearest opponent (Catherine Ndereba), was very close to her, and she nearly jeopardized her win. That sobered her up and she promptly stopped smiling and beat her rival by a mere second. I was happy to hear that story, and told her my old coach Bob Glover used to yell at us for waving and smiling at him during a race. 'That's disgusting!' he'd scold us, 'you don't see the Kenyans smiling!' Thankfully, Hilda crushed that theory. Though I fully agree with this. If you're doing anything but focusing 100% on the race, you're probably not going to run your best. Or maybe not. Maybe you do need to have those relaxing, celebratory moments during a race where you are being human. I don't know. I can't see it working for me. Racing really is a matter of enduring discomfort. We discussed the tireless workouts that Toby gives, interval after interval, and just when you thought this workout must surely be over, he whips out another combination. We agreed the benefits are really more mental than physical. If during those workouts you think to yourself, 'There's no physical possibility for me to do one more mile repeat', and then he has you do another, and you prove yourself wrong.. Well, then you can imagine how that translates to the possiblities open to you for faster times during a race.
When we had arrived at the section of the park where Hilda had to return to her hotel, we said good-bye, and I was wondering where I was. Not that it mattered. It was a gift to have run with that woman. While heading up some long hill back home in the outer loop of the park, I started thinking about how there is really more about us that is similar than not. We will both be nervous and anxious and want to run our best Saturday morning. We may both even run a pr, though hers will be at least ten minutes faster than mine. I was also struck with the fact that here was this woman who had just run a 30:55 10k the previous week and not one single person recognized her during our run! But maybe that's the way it's suppossed to be. Is one person more special and worthy of recognition than another simply because she was born with better genes? Would I have been so happy to have met her and run with her if she was an ordinary 55 minute 10k runner? Yes, I would have been, because I love Kenyans and their sing-song way of talking, and their comfort level with socializing with strangers. It also wouldn't be far off to say that there is a possibility that in the deep recesses of my mind, I'm thinking that if I spend enough tme with Kenyans, learn their language, train with them, live with them, that maybe some of their inherent running speed will find its way into my legs. They say that friends and spouses start to mimic each other in appearance and behavior after a while. And if there is no truth whatsoever to this speed by association theory, I will still feel blessed to have gotten to know these wonderful people.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Stop Feeding them Cinnamon!

At the risk of ruining a lifetime reputation as a 'nice person', I have to share my unkind thoughts on the troll-like presence of a new generation in New York City. Introducing: Population mini-dog. Where ever you turn, there's a perfectly reasonable looking adult tethered to a toenail clicking, eye-bulging, frequently yapping micro-breed canine. Maybe it's more apparent to me as a runner, since much of my time is spent running miles around Central Park, and what more natural environment is there for a leashed little ball of wiry straw and yippability? That's the problem. They don't fit in. They haven't earned their presence. With real estate close to $1800 per square foot for a condo on the Upper West Side, what possible contribution can this homely creature make to justify his place in my park? And make he does! As my Wantagh cousins used to ask upon someone's return from walking their Great Dane Brutus, 'Did he make?' I'll leave that territory alone, because I must say, the owners of these little pitzkeles are really pretty consistent about cleaning up after them. Believe it or not, I am actually a huge animal lover, and stopped eating red meat for ethical reasons related to this love. And a huge wave of guilt washes over me every time I see one of these hideous little dogs prancing down the street, oblivious to his own objectionability. It's truly not his fault he wasn't born of larger stature, and who am I to judge him unfavorably? But my guilt is wasted, as most of these dogs were a genuine investment by someone who cherishes them. This is the part that completely confounds me. What is there to love about a smooshed faced, aggressive bundle of yips and excrement? There's an Israeli saying that translates to: In taste and smell, there is no argument. But could so many New Yorkers have such bad taste?
OK, while researching for this posting, I must admit, that SOME of these dogs I found kind of.. well, I hate to admit it, and really, very few.. but some were kind of.. cute, OK? None that I posted here, but in general- dogs are cool. They never look down their noses at you for having a frizzy hair day or running a slow 5k.
But if any of my readers finds any of these photos appealing in any way, you may just want to keep that to yourself.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

New library card, new neighborhood

How do I know I'm no longer living upstate? Because instead of the allotted 60 minutes on the public library computer, I now only have 45 minutes. And the faces surrounding me are exotic and beautiful, some young some old, some haggard from years of surviving the streets of Manhattan, some fresh from their lack of existence. Though there is a separate section for computer use for youth, what are these young people doing using the adult computers?? Maybe they're not that young at all, it's just my memory of youth. The last time I really hung out in NYC libraries was when I was in Junior High School, and I had this obsession with collecting obscure photos of Brooke Shields. I'd sneak a bound stack of magazines like American Home from 1978 that I knew she was on the cover of, and stealthily tear it out when no one was in earshot. My sizable collection ended up in some storage closet in the dorm of a Tel Aviv university. Could still be there, along with the Brooke Doll, and Brooke Books, which actually sold on ebay recently for a grand. OK, a REALLY small person just took the computer next to me. He couldn't be more than 9. Which reminds me also that it's really smart to have a separate section for kids, as libraries tend to attract really weird and possibly dangerous adults. This one looks pretty safe, (I'm referring to the library, not the kid; Though he looked pretty safe, too.) but you can never fully let your guard down. Sunday I was enjoying a beautiful sunny day walking around the upper west side, checking out the street fair with the roasted corn, and this creepy middle-aged man said as he was passing me by, 'Hi miss, can I pet your doggy?' Needless to say, I don't have a dog. So here I am, living in the big apple, and I'm so content to be here. This is my world.

And I'd like to say a prayer for the people of Myanmar. I can't think about the magnitude of that disaster without tears coming to my eyes. 22,000 people were killed as a result of this terrible cyclone, and thousands more displaced, without homes, clean water or food. What can you wish for the survivors that will help them through the loss of loved ones and the threat of loss of their own lives? I wish them hope and future prosperity, and to know that many people around the world are wishing them the same. May the people of Myanmar be blessed with future healing and strength.

Friday, April 18, 2008

I'm Routing for Blake

Any of you diehard running fans will know that I'm referring to Blake Russell, who is one of the 150 American women who qualified to compete in the Olympic trials this Sunday in Boston. The top three finishers will be sent to Beijing to represent us in the actual Olympics. Why does this runner get my vote? Well, the last marathon trials was four years ago, and she took the bold approach of running alone for the first 2/3's or so of that race. She ended up finishing a heatbreakingly close forth place (a mere 35 seconds behind the third woman). In an interview later on, she was quoted as saying she'd almost rather finish 15th than 4th in this race. I'm sure her thirst for this win is stronger than the rest of the field, since she's been closer than any of them to placing on the team. To help her stay focused, I'm going to put someone else's lyrics here. Mr. Mathers from Detroit seems to know a little about wanting something very badly too.

Album: 8 Mile Soundtrack (2002)Song: Lose Yourself
Look, if you had one shot, one opportunity To seize everything you ever wanted…One moment Would you capture it or just let it slip?
His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy There’s vomit on his sweater already, mom’s spaghetti He’s nervous, but on the surface he looks calm and ready To drop bombs, but he keeps on forgetting What he wrote down, the whole crowd goes so loud He opens his mouth, but the words won’t come out He’s chokin, how everybody’s jokin now The clock’s run out, time’s up over, bloah! Snap back to reality, Oh there goes gravity Oh, there goes Rabbit, he choked He’s so mad, but he won’t give up that easyIs he? No He won’t have it , he knows his whole back city’s ropes It don’t matter, he’s dope He knows that, but he’s broke He’s so stacked that he knows When he goes back to his mobile home, that’s when it’s Back to the lab again yo This whole rap shit He better go capture this moment and hope it don’t pass him
Chorus X2
You better lose yourself in the music, the moment You own it, you better never let it go You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow This opportunity comes once in a lifetime yo
The soul’s escaping, through this hole that it’s gaping This world is mine for the taking Make me king, as we move toward a, new world order A normal life is borin, but superstardom’s close to post mortar It only grows harder, only grows hotter He blows its all over, these hoes is all on him Coast to coast shows, he’s know as the globetrotter Lonely roads, God only knows He’s grown farther from home, he’s no father He goes home and barely knows his own daughter But hold your nose cuz here goes the cold waterThese ho's don’t want him no mo, he’s cold productThey moved on to the next schmoe who flows He nose dove and sold nada So the soap opera is told and unfolds I suppose it’s old potna, but the beat goes on Da da dum da dum da da
Chorus X2
No more games, I’ma change what you call rage Tear this mothaf***in roof off like 2 dogs caged I was playin in the beginnin, the mood all changed I been chewed up and spit out and booed off stage But I kept rhymin and stepwritin the next cypher Best believe somebody’s payin the pied piper All the pain inside amplified by the fact That I can’t get by with my 9 to 5 And I can’t provide the right type of life for my family Cuz man, these goddam food stamps don’t buy diapers And it’s no movie, there’s no Mekhi Phifer, this is my life And these times are so hard and it’s getting even harder Tryin to feed and water my seed, plusTeeter totter, caught up between bein a father and a prima donna Baby mama drama’s screamin on and Too much for me to wanna Stay in one spot, another day of monotomyHas gotten me to the point, I’m like a snail I’ve got to formulate a plot fore I end up in jail or shot Success is my only mothaf***in option, failure’s not Mom, I love you, but this trailer has got to go I cannot grow old in Salem’s lot So here I go is my shot. Feet fail me not cuz maybe the only opportunity that I got
Chorus X2
You can do anything you set your mind to, man

Friday, March 21, 2008

My Father Was Right

'Do wind sprints', he advised one day a few summers ago as I was telling him about my then goal to run a certain time for the NYC marathon. My father was an 800 meter runner in Brooklyn in the '50s, and has told me that there was a back page Daily News photo of him beating two guys named Lipschitz and Rosenblatt (who knew there were so many good Jewish runners?) My father is very intelligent and competitive, making him a ruthless Trivial Pursuit opponent. And though I believe he was a fast sprinter five decades ago, I didn't really think his training advise was going to benefit a marathoner. Physiologically, the most important system for a long distance runner to develop is their aerobic capacity. Sprints were anaerobic. The very idea of running a faster than mile pace sprint made my already tired leg muscles spasm. So I continued following the training plan I carved out for myself, ran personal records in the 10k, 1/2 marathon, and did pretty well for my first marathon. But I still had not broken 20 minutes for the 5k. That's something I've been trying to do for the past eight years. A 6:26 pace for 3.1 miles. I came within 30 seconds of it in 2001, and in 2005 within 32 seconds. There's a delicate balance between fanaticism and passion that you have to juggle to keep these goals alive and exciting. My method has been a tactical one of stark patience and determination, combined with some extremely challenging workouts. I believe I am on the path to breaking 20 minutes, and each year of training I'm slightly closer. I've incorporated all the major types of training needed to reach my goal- working on both my aerobic and anaerobic systems, keeping a long run in my weekly workouts, eating a balanced diet, etc. This week I found an article in Running Times magazine about leg speed by Greg McMillan. He said that by doing short intervals of 90% of your top speed with a long enough recovery to clear any lactic acid from your muscles, you will, quite simply, get faster. After reading the article, and the science behind the reasoning, I felt confident that this workout was going to be the possible missing link to my training. I went out the next day to execute my first leg speed workout. Three mile warm up, then 10 x 20-second intervals at nearly all-out sprint pace. Short enough to not fatigue my legs, and therefore maintain form and get muscle memory for fast leg turnover. A 20-second interval feels a little like a joke to me. Just the other day I had struggled with my one mile repeats, hating every labored step of the last three minutes. This appetizer was over before the waiter came back to ask if I'd enjoyed it. And yes, I had. To me, running at a slow pace is healthful, a good habit, sociable- but not beautiful. Running fast is a thing of great beauty. By the time I was done with my final interval, I couldn't believe I'd already knocked off six miles. I had planned on running an additional four miles to bring my days' mileage up to ten. My breathing felt even and smooth as I went through the first of the four miles. My normal running pace when I'm not doing a special workout is around 9 minutes per mile. I glanced at my watch to check what pace I had done that mile in. 7:52! How was that possible? Now, I've run enough years to know that it takes a few weeks at least to witness the training effects of a new workout. But this was astonishing! How could I have run that mile in under an 8 minute pace without my breathing changing? The next three miles were the same result, all under 8. So maybe it was a fluke (there are none in running; you get exactly what you put into it).
I have a good feeling about this year.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

More Kimchee, please

A few weeks ago, I finally made my way over to my Bruderhofer friend's home. They had been inviting me for weeks, months even, via a friendly voicemail. 'Hello Tamar, this is Caroline Kurtz. Just wanted to let you know that we'll be having a Mexican culture evening, and you're invited for supper.' Since there is only one phone amongst this commune of 300 or so people, I couldn't really return the call. The day I visited them, they prepared a beautiful pot pie, with two decorative hearts made from the crust in honour of Valentine's day. They had saved these Israeli songs that I had brought over last Summer, and to my amazement, they not only remembered the tunes but also the words. These are singing people, a sort of Christian version of the pioneering kibbutzniks in Israel who spent many a desert evening around a campfire singing the old Zionist songs at the kumsitz. I was most impressed with their daughter Grete who had decided for her senior class project to teach herself Korean. I told her I'd look out for Koreans in my travels, knowing that in my secular lifestyle, the chances of me encountering one were far greater than one stumbling onto their isolated compound. Some selfish motives were also at play, as when given the slightest nudge towards an opportunity to learn about a different culture, I am off and running. So within hours of my hunt, I find my first specimen of desire. Well, it's not human, but rather an article in the New York Times about how the South Korean government has finally, for the first time in history, agreed to send one of their engineers into space to become the first Korean astronaut on April 8, to the ISS (International Space Station). And since Koreans are very attached to their native condiment, kimchee, a multi-million dollar project was put into place to produce and package a special edition kimchee that would be safe in space. Kimchee, for those not familiar, is a very spicy fermented cabbage, usually found in jars in Asian markets. According to the article, for this culture, a day without kimchee is a sad day indeed. I can kind of relate to the pickled food addictions. I remember when my brother Josh introduced me to pickled okra. I couldn't believe I had lived as many years as I did without ever having tasted this mouth-watering food! I ate it every day for a month. Then I ran out. I hastily searched some local farmer's markets, and found a new jar. This one was terrible. All vinegar. I was over my pickled okra fetish. But after reading this article, I was determined to test this postulate. Surprisingly, we have an Asian market in a neighboring town. I didn't know what country the employees there were from, but I had a hunch. I walk in nonchalantly, barely containing a grin at my anticipated mission. I head over to the dried fruit section. My dried peaches are gone! This happens every year, yet I'm always shocked and dismayed. This market is the only place that carries these incredibly potent and delicious dried peaches, and they simply run out every March and don't re-order til the following year. I settle on some unknown darker orange fleshed fruit called a 'sharon' fruit. I suspect it's a persimmon. Then I walk over to the sushi display. There are various other delicacies made on the premises. I see a container of kimchee sold by the pound. Wow, it's really expensive. I pass on it. I bring my few items to the check out. The man standing there is the one who is always there. He doesn't smile, and never has. At least not that I've seen. I had a conversation with him the previous year when I tried to find out when they would be re-ordering the dried peaches. It didn't go very well, and he seemed very indifferent. Still, as he rung up my items, I sussed out an opening for me to talk to him. He told me my total. I got out my credit card, and casually asked him where he was from. 'Korea,' he answered. I asked him if he'd heard about this man, who was chosen from a competition of 36,000, to be sent to outer space. He backed up and looked off to the side, trying to gather the words he needed. He told me that he had heard of this, and in fact they had also chosen a woman to pose as an alternate in case something happened to the man. I believe that's what he was trying to convey to me, as it seemed this was the first time in a very long time that he was put in a position to use his English. I was so glad that he had already known this information, because it would have been very tricky for me to convey this via pantomime, and what's more, he didn't appear to be the sort who would have enjoyed the display. Then I mentioned the bit about the kimchee. And how they spent lots of money perfecting a version that would not be harmful in space due to the bacteria. He made sure that I knew that it was good bacteria, lest I think his people were enjoying hazardous snacks. I conceded that it was good on earth, but the effects of radiation in space could render it dangerous, and that was the reason behind the costly research. We both stood there nodding, like we had just solved some weighty political issue. As he gave me my receipt, I said, 'Millions of dollars spent on this kimchee.' He had already gone back to his work behind the counter. I wasn't even sure if he had understood what I'd said. Then as I walked away, he looked up and said to me, 'Koreans have to have kimchee.' We both laughed hard. The sushi chef looked alarmed at this unfamiliar sound coming from behind the counter.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Men: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Armed with my exciting, never before performed by me speed workout, I strutted myself down to my running hole. Yes, the warming effects have been good to me and my running friends, and have rendered our precious trail runnable once again. We'll worry about our polar friends another day.
As I approach the trail, I see in the distance a man who I had deemed a pervert long ago. So long ago, in fact that I'm not too sure what earned him this lowly title, but the feeling I get when I see him does not lie. Whatever perverse act he performed however long ago will not be forgotten in my impressionable psyche.
Smoothly I veer off to a side entrance to avoid contact with this bulky white-bearded person. I start my run, knowing that I will pass him and his buddy as they talk casually in the parking lot. I keep my focus straight ahead so as not to invite any comments. Of course this fails. Like Poe's black cat, pervy is drawn to my loathing. His face lights up at the sight of me, he leans past his friend to make sure his witty comment will be heard, and yells out, 'You're DAWDling!' with his repulsive curmudgeon geniality. I wasn't sure what he said, and replied in my coolest tone, 'I'm sorry?' He doesn't miss a beat. 'You're DAWDling there, pick it up!' As I pass him I say loudly so he will know in the future that conversing with me is not meant to be a pleasant affair, 'OK, I'll be sure to do that.'
I don't know why I feel so extremely annoyed. I guess because I really despise this man, and his ignorance to my reaction to him makes it seem like he's intentionally goading me. Which is more annoying than unintentional ignorance. I think. Anyway, I realize that I need to lighten up, forget the perv and start focusing on a far greater pain: The three sets of two-mile repeats that I intend to do.
So I do my two mile warm up, and start in with the first interval. The pace isn't too hard, but I've just reached the mile mark, and am already 23 seconds too slow. My watch reads 7:43. Time to pick up the pace. I guess this will hurt after all. As I head towards the mile and a half mark, I hear someone on a bicycle slowing pedalling behind me. Then he shouts out, 'ON your left', a little too loudly and suddenly, and I jump in a startled response. Now I'm annoyed again. First perv attacks me with his corny humor, and now another insensitive clod has increased my heart rate for no good reason. When he catches up to me, he pedals alongside me. Oh great. 'I'm looking for my friend, maybe you've seen him?' Somehow I'm capable of a full sentence. 'Sorry, I'm doing a speed workout.' This has no effect on him. 'He's a big guy.' I realize this man won't leave until I give him his desired information. I remember seeing him now at my turn around point. He actually followed me on my interval run to get information from me! 'Does he have a big white beard?' 'Yeah, that's him!' 'I saw him in the parking lot'. I tried to pick up the pace, thinking my assistance was no longer needed. Silly me. 'Which way did he go?' 'He was in the parking lot doing absolutely nothing.' The guy was satisfied. He turned around and thanked me. 'Oh, you're so welcome,' I managed in my sweetest voice. It's situations like these that make me really appreciate sarcasm. You know, when you're half dead from running a race pace, and random people come up to you to get detailed information about their biking partners.
I was starting to feel very fatigued, and fully planning on blaming any loss in time on these two clowns. I was shocked when I finished this mile in 7:12. The rest of the workout played out like a dream, giving me at the end exactly what I'd set out to do: 3 sets of 2-mile repeats averaging a 7:20 per mile pace.
As I walked up my driveway, I see two unknown men surveying something outside my house. They're from my landlord's business, and they greet me pleasantly with the news that tomorrow I'll be out of water for a few hours. I go inside to my dark apartment, and glance up at the light socket that's been unusable for a few weeks now. The bulb melted into it, and I tried to take most of it out, but then was left with a partially removed bulb. I left the broken bulb and the burnt pieces I'd managed to remove on the mantle nearby. I'm not sure why I was saving all of that, maybe I thought it would help whoever ended up fixing this problem understand how this occurred. It made a curious little pile for my friends to glance at upon their entrance into my home.
I didn't want to call the landlord to fix it because I figured I could do it myself, and also I really hate unexpected visitors. Strange, I know. Living in the country has given me some queer ways. But knowing these guys were right outside my door, I bounded back out and told them my situation, thinking they could take care of it right now. Sure enough, they came in, knew exactly what to do.. I watched them in total fascination, as I'd tried to do the same thing and didn't succeed. I even asked the guy how he was able to do it and I couldn't. He said with a smile, 'Cause you're a girl!' Somehow, coming from him, I felt flattered. I am a girl. How long had it been since I'd thought that about myself? I'm always trying to conquer the world, an attribute that certainly doesn't FEEL girlish. I liked the sounds of that. Then one of the guys did an astonishing thing! He quietly scooped up the little pile of broken pieces I'd left on the mantle! HE WAS CLEANING UP MY MESS! I was so touched by that gesture. After they left, I thought about how these guys just came right in and took care of the matter at hand. Manly men. I liked that! Who knew? Definitely something to consider for future reference.
Finally, I made my way out to the library to do some math work. Don't ask. After an hour, I felt it was time for lunch. I walked to the local pizzeria. I used to go to this place when I worked at the phone company. I love these guys too, with their Italian accents; they always treat me like family. They had this incredible looking freshly made pie with fresh basil and garlic on it. I ordered a slice, and then sat at a table to eat it. That was one of the best pieces of pizza I ever ate. It tasted like a four course gourmet meal in one triangle.
Who are the people in your neighborhood?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

When is a loss real?

Death is surreal by virtue of its timing. It can only occur once, so therefore you can never relay to curious friends and neighbors how it felt, if it was your own; If it was not your own, you're still in that unexperienced realm of not knowing how to react. Many feel nothing initially. During the men's marathon trials on November 3, 2007, according to USATF, 131 of the fastest American male marathoners got on the starting line at 7:35 am in front of NYC's Rockefeller Center to compete for one of three spots for the American team that would be sent to Bejing for this summer's Olympic marathon. The results roster shows the dry facts. Of those 131 competitors, 104 finished, 26 received DNF (did not finish), 3 received DNS (I'm assuming this is 'did not start'), and the last on the list, bib #13 Ryan Shay, had an empty space where his finisher's designation was suppossed to be. The assumption is that a competitor is not suppossed to die during the competition, and therefore an appropriate acronym has not been created. My reaction to the news of his sudden death, I'm sure, was not too different from that of other competitive runners. A bit of unreality about it. How can someone in such phenomenal condition, and who had years of experience putting his body through exactly the same or tougher stress than this event, suddenly cease to exist? Only 5.5 miles into the event? As a fellow runner who is passionate about running and racing, there is an immediate sympathy. But not having met the guy personally, well, it's kind of an impersonal sympathy. So when my friend Valerie asked me if I had read the article in Runner's World about the incident, and highlighting Shay's life, I kind of shrugged it off. 'No, but I read a lot of the newspaper coverage after it happened.' She said it was really good. I kind of forgot about it, probably in no small part due to the difficulty of the training run we were doing that day. Another hilly course to torture Tamar's hill-worn legs. At least this one was in Sullivan County.
That night I flipped through that issue of Runner's World. May as well go over whatever I missed before I recycle it. I came across the article. I really wasn't feeling in the mood to read it, didn't think it had anything to tell me that I didn't already know. I started reading it. I didn't feel anything when they talked about how tough a competitor he was, what a hard worker he was, how his devoted wife waited at the seven mile mark in Central Park for him to come through, and he didn't. These were all just disconnected details of the life of a grounded, competitive athlete. None of this had anything to do with me. Then I read that his family held a memorial run around Central Lake High track, where Ryan had gone to school. People were invited to walk, jog, or run on the track; whatever distance they wanted to cover was fine. A father and daughter came to show their respects. The girl had met Ryan at a local race, and he had encouraged her to pursue her dream of competing. They wanted to honor him by completing 20.7 miles on the track. They wanted to cover the territory that his untimely death did not allow him to.
As a passionately competitive runner, I understand, live, and breath those numbers all the time. The intricate web of numbers to calculate, manipulate, and masticate is forever revolving in my head as I plod forward to turn the seasons of training into a now decades old dream. I've often thought about the obstacles that would try to stop me in mid-run. A machete. (I think I've been reading too much of the Kenyan crisis, but this is a remote fear.) A deer in mating season jumping in front of me. Falling flat on my face on some ice. And if any of these maladies should befall me and cause my ultimate demise, would someone be there to finish my run? That journal entry space would demand it. So yes, this was the point in the article, and in the whole death of the runner story, that brought out those tough-guy tears. The idea that someone will complete your dream for you is really all we need in this world.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Winter friendships

It's Tuesday, and where am I supposed to do my mile repeats? The track is covered in frozen snow, the trail is a deathtrap of patchy black ice. All I need is a 1600 meter stretch of flat ground, and I'll be happy. The answer is so obvious, it escapes me. There's a back road right next to the trail that fits my criteria perfectly. It's a quiet residential road that parallels my precious trail. My friend Marty announces that he will only be doing part of this workout with me, as he needs to save his energy for a race this coming weekend. No complaints from me. Truthfully, I get anxious at the thought of another human next to me as I struggle to adapt to the stress of the faster paced mile. I know it's good for me, I know it will make me a stronger runner mentally, I know all the great runners practice running fast in training with groups of people next to them.. But I really just find it overwhelming. What if the person starts to talk to me? What if the person picks up the pace? What if their foot grazes my foot and sends me crashing to the ground? No, I really prefer my own company when it comes to doing the bitterly difficult workouts. But I relented and agreed to let Marty run with me today. I was relieved at his announcement of only joining me for part of the workout. We warm up with an easy paced two miles, and then start with the first mile repeat. I set the pace. We're striving for a 7:10-7:15 mile. The first couple of minutes go by. My breathing is steady, Marty's keeping his thoughts to himself; everything is so far not too terrible. We get to the turn around point, and head for the second half of this first mile. My breathing has become more labored, and I'm feeling the effects of the endless hills of Goshen from last week. I'm surprised that Marty is keeping up with me. How can he keep up with me? He doesn't do any speed, and I've been doing speed for a few weeks now. Then he has the audacity to lead! I remind myself that he will be cutting this workout short, while I still have another three of these things to complete. We pass a house with a green cutout Styrofoam letter 'J' lying on the lawn. My ability to hold this pace is running out. I note the numbers of the mailboxes that we pass. They are descending. I tell myself this mile will be over by the time we reach mailbox number 5. This ends up being true. I press my stop button on my watch. 6:58. Well! Now it's OK that I was feeling tired, I was going a little too fast. Marty puts his hands up and says that's it for him. I laugh, as I knew he was going to say that. I try and stay focused, as I only have 20 more seconds before I have to start my next mile. I say good-bye to Marty, and start mile two. I'm happy to be alone again. But I know I won't go as fast. Freedom versus community. They both have their contributions, but this is an argument not suitable for an oxygen depleted brain. I return to simple thought units. Mailbox number 33. There's the green letter 'J'. I pass that house. I hear a female Brooklyn accent call after me. "Hello. How are you." The voice sounded tired, like its owner had been trying for hours to strike up a conversation with passers-by to no avail. I did something I've never done while running mile repeats. I smiled. I almost laughed, but I was just too tired, and couldn't get it together. On my turn-around, still running at the faster speed, I determined to scan the area to locate the owner of that voice. As I approached the house, I see no one. I passed, and again the voice called out, "Hello, how are you, how is your day going?" It kind of sounded like an adult playing a prank. The accent made me want to laugh again, but I still couldn't. I finished that mile, took my minute recovery walk, and got right back into the next repeat. Just as I passed the voice's house, a woman comes out, peeks her head out of her front door, says, "Hello, I like your shirt and your gloves.." I think she was listing other things she liked about me, but I couldn't stop to chat because I was still doing my mile. Now, I must have the ugliest pair of running gloves in Orange County. They're oversized wool workman's gloves with leather pads that I bought at the gas station for $2.99. Was this woman making fun of me? I knew the gloves looked ridiculous, but they really kept my hands warm. I finished up my workout feeling a bit tired. I never saw that woman again. I was disappointed. I wanted to see if she would notice my new pink athletic gloves I bought that week . I only wore them once. I really hated them. I kept worrying about getting them dirty, and wouldn't even wipe the sweat off my forehead with them. It felt great to put my hideous wool man-gloves back on the next day. Nothing like an old work glove to remind you of who you really are.