You have to start somewhere.

He looks a little gassy.

Once, on a weekend backpacking trip when I was twelve, my Scoutmaster quoted Napoleon Bonaparte to us: “An army marches on its stomach.”  His (the Scoutmaster’s, not Napoleon’s) point was that we should carry baby wipes with us to wash our hands after defecating in the woods.  I don’t think that was exactly what the man who conquered Europe had in mind, but then again, I’m not a military historian.  In any case, the reason I’m repeating it now is that I just got back from my first race of 2010, Pretzel City Sports‘ Chilly Cheeks, and as in the past, GI trouble kept me from having a great race.

Melanie did her part.

Wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.  The first problem was that we decided to trust a lowly computer over god-like Pretzel City race director Ron Horn when we followed a GPS system rather than Ron’s directions, landing us along some desolate section of the Northeast Extension.  Yet, we were undaunted.

Do I look daunted? No.

Long story short, we showed up with just enough time to park semi-illegally, sprint to the Port-A-John (my old friend), and then jog to the start, where someone was holding our numbers for us.  I wormed my way up toward the front and went out way too hard, trying to pass as many people as possible before the course went down to single-track.  This turned out to be a bad idea, as I quickly began to feel like lactic acid was pooling, and in my forearms of all places.  My stomach went next, apparently still upset from having been filled with coffee but not allowed to empty its contents for a (very) full two hours.  I rallied toward the end to pass a couple people, finishing 22nd out of about 700 (by Ron’s estimate) overall.  Not shabby by any means, but not fast enough to win an age group award.  No matter; we got beers anyway.

Franziskaner is the happiest of beers.

When the woman (whose life has clearly been untouched by the pure joy of open-mouth smiling) who took this picture saw it, she said to Matt, “You look good” and then, turning to me, “You look stupid… I’m just kidding… no I’m not.”  “Whatever,” I said, “See you next Tuesday.”  Okay, I really didn’t, but I thought it… about three hours later when I was replaying it in my head.  Damn you, brain!

Anyway, so the race is in Reading, which I consider to be part of Pennsyltucky, although Wikipedia disagrees.  For those who have never known the distinct pleasure of residing in the Keystone State, everything outside of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh is fairly wacky.  This sometimes turns out to be wonderful, as when you have a trail race that ends at the Liederkranz German Singing & Sports Club:

Not a functional fireplace.

Where the house band plays (and I am NOT making this up) a mean bluegrass cover of Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time”:

I would not make a good concert photographer.
I need more banjo!

What more can you say about that?  Nothing.

So the beginning of my racing year wasn’t quite as auspicious as I had hoped it might be, but I performed better than I felt, so I guess there’s something to be said for that.  I plan to do at least two more Pretzel City races between now and Boston and after that… this year I want to make my first foray into ultramarathoning.  There are some 50k races in California I’ve been eyeing, and there are a few mid-Atlantic ones in the late summer and fall that I could tackle as well.  The long-term plan is to do Western States.  Why not dream big?

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Get back on the damn horse.

My bad.  I accidentally let this blog lapse for, um, about five months.  For that I apologize to you, my loyal readers.  And by “my loyal readers” I mean “Grandma.” (Hi, Grandma!)

I’m telling you, I had the best intentions of updating regularly all through what I knew was going to be a busy semester.  So to bring everyone up to speed, here’s a quick rundown of what I’ve been up to since my last post on 17 August 2009:

1. Ironman Canada

This really deserved its own entry (or five) given how important an event it was to me.  I flew out to Seattle, home of my best friend/pseudo sibling Evie, and we drove up to the race site in Penticton, British Columbia.  Along the way we stopped in Leavenworth, WA, which is a faux-German town in the middle of central Washington because… why the hell not?

Of course there's a Starbucks there, just like in Old Bohemia.

On that note, we took a lot of pictures of us pointing at things.

Leavenworth is the kind of town that makes you want to point at things.

Where were we?  Oh yeah, on the road to Penticton.  This picture pretty much summarizes the travelling portion of the trip:

Expressive faces.

Martha was less than excited, I had my mouth open a lot, and Evie, uh, really enjoys driving.  Also, I’m wearing my homemade “Wise Latina Woman” t-shirt, which was way more topical back in August, but nevertheless confused the hell out of most of the Canadian officials.

We had a pretty good time in Penticton.  See?

At the swankiest McDonald's ever.
Evie and Martha got real excited.
I found this mural rather inspiring.

And as for the race itself?  I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun competing.  I stayed strong during the swim, passed hordes of people with much fancier frames during the bike, and although I struggled a little during the run, I rallied at mile twenty and put in a fast finish.

It's almost over!

I crossed the finish line in 11:22:01, over an hour faster than anticipated.  So needless to say, I felt really good about my performance, and I already have my eye on doing another one in 2011.

2. Exams

Unfortunately (or maybe not) this one comes with far fewer illustrative photos.  Basically, I chewed through a couple hundred books, wrote thirty pages on them over the course of two weeks (during which time I also cooked Thanksgiving dinner for nine) and then gave an oral defense of my essays in front of a panel of four faculty, one of whom was present by phone.  Any way you slice it, the experience was exhausting and soul-crushing, but in the end I passed… with distinction.  All along I had said that I would be absolutely content to barely pass, so long as I didn’t have to go through the experience ever again.  Yet somehow, my committee was impressed enough with my written and oral answers that they passed me, and then some.  I’m still somewhat surprised by this, but who am I to argue?

3. Tea Parties

No, not the insufferable political kind.  Every December my friend Becky hosts a holiday/birthday party in San Diego which, seven years on, still draws a sizable crowd of Bonita Vista alumni:

7.5-year reunion?

As a good guest, I like to show up early to help out.

Ee-yuh.

When Becky started out having these parties, we were still in high school and, being the good kids that we were, alcohol could not be served.  So we had tea, and a lovely selection of finger foods and desserts.  These days, the turkey roll-ups and tartlets remain, but we’ve graduated to more adult libations.  And since Becky is such a local mover and shaker, she now hosts at her very own condo (she bought it this year) rather than her parents’ very lovely (and very pink) house in Bonita.

But why, you’re probably wondering, are you dressed like a Folsom Street pirate balladeer? That’s an excellent question.  As part of a personal tradition stretching back to our high school days, I “dress up” for the tea.  Sometimes this means a particular costume, but more often it’s simply a pre-party search for the most ridiculous thrift store duds I can find, and I’m usually not alone.

Bird and lights courtesy of Target.

We actually found the teal jumpsuit during a trip to the Salvo in June when Evie and I happened to both be home in June, and we met up with Becky and Sarah (pictured).  Anyway, after the party we hit up The Lamplighter for some karaoke awesomeness.  Sarah changed into a post-party outfit, but the Bump-It stayed in her hair.

Whoa-oh-oh, she's a lady.

And then, to round out the night, we went to Denny’s.  For some reason, they now feature a selection of items under the heading “Rockstar Favorites,” which includes Jewel’s Acoustic Smoked Chicken Quesadilla, Los Lonely Boys’ Texican Burger, and the Hooburrito.  Remember Hoobastank?  You probably tried really hard to suppress all memory of them.  Well, they’re back!  In burrito form.

What makes it an acoustic quesadilla?

Martha ordered the Hooburrito, which features chicken fingers and BBQ sauce.  She was not happy.

Smile, Martha.

All in all, a pretty full night, and only one of many adventures had over the holidays.  I also rode a bike (not mine) from Orlando to Fort Lauderdale, worked with Habitat for Humanity, and fulfilled my civic duty by alternately sitting an standing at a government building downtown (aka jury duty).  But this post is insanely long as it is, so we’ll save those stories for another day.

Trail Running, or, Hiking… TO THE EXTREME!!

This spring I took a stab at something rather new to me: trail running.  My first was Pretzel City Sports’ Ugly Mudder back in February, followed by the Mt. Penn Mudfest in April, and I was pretty much hooked from the beginning.  In trail running the ham hock legs I got from years of rowing, squats, and running up and down the bleachers at Memorial Stadium are a boon instead of a liability, which is a welcome change from most other racing formats.  It’s also nice to race outside the city, as much as I like being able to roll out of bed and jog down the hill to the start line, which by virtue of living in Fairmount I’m able to do for both the Distance Run and the Philadelphia Marathon, as well as for the apparently infinite number of 5-and-10k run/walks that dominate the summer calendar.  What I like most about running trails, though, is how absolutely in the moment you have to be.  Thinking one step ahead–har har–you chart a path through rocks, mud patches, and fallen trees.  Bounding from boulder to boulder down a steep hill feels like flying, though the next day you’re likely to feel it in your metatarsals as soon as you swing your feet out of bed and onto the floor.  In short, the physical balance and mental focus that trail running gives it a quality that seems, to my untutored mind, rather zen-like.

The Wissahickon 10k Trail Classic this past Saturday was for me, however, far from a zen experience.  Getting ready to leave for the course, I looked at the race brochure to double-check the start location, and discovered to my dismay that it was approximately six miles (and one sizable hill) further north than I had anticipated.  With an hour to go, I grabbed my Raleigh beater and bolted out the door.  Forty minutes later, after climbing Ridge Ave and running down a section of trail with my bike banging against my shoulder, I made it, picked up my race number, and set my mind to taking care of some, er, pre-run business.  That’s when I saw the line for the Port-a-John.  My heart would have sunk into my bowels had there been any extra room down there.  With the start time fast approaching, I ditched the potty line, hoping that I could make it six miles without soiling myself.  In any case, several days of rain had muddied the course enough that likely no one would notice if I did.

Needless to say, my rush to the race course and stomach issues made for something of a difficult race.  I finished respectably–31 out of 447–but I felt like under better conditions I could have been faster.  The especially frustrating part is that said conditions were entirely of my own making.  But at least I didn’t crap my pants.

And now for something completely different!

I tried to find an Italian Idiom of the Day related to running, races, or even the stomach, but nothing appealed to me.  So here’s one inspired by the twentieth century America book list I’ve been writing:

mettere all’indiceto blacklist (indice = forefinger)

Durante il maccartismo molta gente del cinema venne messa all’indice.  During the McCarthy era, a lot of people in the movie industry were blacklisted.

BONUS: There we also got the Italian word for McCarthyism (maccartismo), as well as the conjugation of venire (to come) in the passato remoto, or literary past tense.  Aren’t languages neat?