Monday, December 31, 2012

HC SVNT DRACONES

To close my portion of our family's annual newsletter, I wrote:

This year [2012] was certainly not what I expected it would be looking forward from December 31, 2011, and in some ways it was a "lost year."

Now here I sit on December 31, 2012, looking forward at 2013, unsure how I should couch my expectations for the next 365 days.  Some friends are firmly in the "2012 wore out its welcome in June, and 2013 can't get here fast enough" camp and others are hoping that 2012 does not end because it was such a banner year.  Just to be clear, we want to stick those people's hands in hot water while they are asleep.

Is there a box to check that says "I hope things get better in 2013" while simultaneously saying "I hope things don't get worse in 2013"?

An optimism option that describes this situation: The boat is rocking, but still making some forward progress.  Putting up the sail could make the boat go faster, but it also risks cap-sizing the boat completely.

Explorers and cartographers in history would mark unexplored portions of maps with "Here Be Dragons."  They had experienced enough to know that the then-already-explored oceans were dangerous and unpredictable, and heretofore unknown oceans would likely be similar - and potentially worse.  These philosopher-explorers marked those parts of the globe - nearly 50% of it sometimes - with the worst "potentially worse" they could think off: the home of devastating, terrifying mythical beasts.

And then they got into their boats and headed off to see what color the dragons were.

The pull of knowing what is just around the continent or the turn of the calendar page cannot be denied.
 
So here I sit, in my dinghy, ready to take on dragons. 

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Streaking On The 'Mill

When an candidate is elected to the U.S. Senate or House of Representatives, the Member-elect attends a week-long boot-camp on "How to be a Member of Congress."  One piece of advice the House and Senate Leadership offers new Members is to purposefully miss an inconsequential vote (i.e. putting Joe the Schmo on the next Forever stamp) early on in their first (and each subsequent) term.

Otherwise, as a consequence of being an over-achieving new Member, they start a vote-attendance streak and once long, that streak is hard to break.  Stories abound of Members doing all manner of flight itinerary gymnastics in order to attend even the most meaningless votes simply to keep the streak alive.

That was me on Friday, trying to do all sorts of running route gymnastics to avoid running on the treadmill.  Most of us will go to pretty substantial lengths to avoid the 'mill, but as each snow flake buried my outdoor speed workout just a bit more, I realized I hadn't run on a treadmill since August or September of 2011.  That's at least 14 months.  While a welcome streak for someone who doesn't love running inside, how far was I willing to go in less-than-ideal conditions to keep it alive?

It turns out, not very far.  It's pretty simple math: I value my non-torn hamstrings more than I do a streak of not running on the treadmill.  [Or I value my collar-bone more than I do riding outside in the snow.  Or...or...or.]

Although, simple math or not, I do know myself pretty well.  I left every stitch of cold weather running gear at home.  Just in case I got a "good" idea.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Then One Foggy Christmas Eve Santa Came To Say C'MON

The past few weeks I have been looking for the perfect way to say Merry Christmas the KEB-way.  Clearly, I should have known that I needed to look no further than DMX.



Merry C'MON C'MON Christmas UNH! to everyone. WHAT?!? - KEB

P.S. Here is how the merry wishes almost were delivered.  I couldn't bear to cut The Griswald Family and Skrillex entirely.



And if you like music-synced Christmas light displays, this one is absolutely classic.


Sunday, December 23, 2012

We're All A Few Nuts

My family is not really all that into the culinary arts.  We have a few go-to dishes that we do well enough to make us look like kitchen rockstars.  One of them we also give as Christmas gifts.

Beebes 1, Santa 0.

If you get a gift from us, these will either look familiar or are going to look familiar come December 25.  In the later case: SURPRISE!

Candied Pecans (or Almonds)
** We have tried walnuts, but they contain a lot of natural oil, which softens during baking and never hardens.  The final product is chewy instead of crunchy.


1 lb. shelled almonds  **we use 1 lb. 6 oz. bags of pecans with the same amount of ingredients below

Less than half the total haul

1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup cold water
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon


Combine all ingredients except nuts, in a pan.  Bring to a boil.  Remove from heat and stir in nuts.


Using a slotted spoon to transfer nuts to a wax-paper-lined cookie sheet and reserve sauce.

 

Initially the sauced nuts will look wet, not "candied."

Thoroughly sauced nuts.

Bake at 350 degrees F for 20 min, stirring (with a spatula to loosen nuts from the wax paper) every 5 min and basting sparingly with reserved sauce after 10 and 15 mins.

After 5 min, very little sticking

Drizzle drizzle drizzle

By the 15 min stirring the "candied" sugar crust will start to appear.

After 15 min, sticking to the wax paper is normal

Transfer nuts to separate wax-paper-lined cookie sheet to cool.

Almonds cool to look like this.


We mix almonds and pecans before packaging.

Minus what we saved for ourselves....

Off-season diet approved.  I promise.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

At World's End

Rumor has it that the world is going to end tomorrow.  Saturday is going to be the most leisurely sleep-in of all time.  Although I do hope the pending apocalypse holds off until after morning masters.  I've got swim technique to work on and precious few swim workouts remaining before the Big Sleep-In.

Which got me thinking (a bit morbidly) about if the world were actually going to end, what I would classify as my best workout of all time, or would want to be my last workout of all time.

For me the answer is pretty easy because I even remember thinking "this is the best workout of my life" while still running.

It was either the winter of 2007 or the winter of 2009, with a 70/30 lean toward 2007.  No matter which year it actually was, I worked a 9 AM to "whenever Congress adjourned for the day" PM desk job which required tranquilizing myself before and after with physical activity so as to not do something drastic, like quit my job.  That day I left work at a reasonable hour (let's say 6:30 pm) to see Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (if it was 2007) or the Half-Blood Prince (f it was 2009) in IMAX at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.  Both of these films have running times of 2.5+ hrs, and I remember I stepped out of the door of my gym to run at 10:30 pm.

I only know that I ran a smidge over 9 miles because the route I took was taken hundreds of times over the years I lived in DC.  To this day I don't remember - or care - how long that particular round took me or how fast I went.

Sometime during the movie it had started to snow and continued to do so as I ran - big, floaty flakes that flow along with the wind, if there is any.  That night there wasn't a whiff so the flakes took a leisurely route to the ground, interrupted only by the top of my head and shoulders and redirected only by the disturbance of my movement through space.  The night was that warm cold which distinguishes wind-less snow falls from more serious inclement weather, and as my footing's sake would have it, the pavement has been bare before the flakes began accumulating.

I ran west along the National Mall, south around the National Mint toward the Jefferson Monument, over the 14th Street bridge into Virginia, and north along the Potomac on the Mt. Vernon Trail, to the Memorial Bridge.  Instead of crossing back to DC, I slipped west along the main approach to Arlington National Cemetery, turning north on the path toward the Iwo Jima Memorial, and continued up and around metal men trying to right an American Flag, including the small, but dream-crushing hill that marks the last hundred yards of the Marine Corps Marathon.  I retraced my steps back to the Memorial Bridge, skirting north around Lincoln, and headed past the White House to reach the Washington Monument and the U.S. Capitol (and my gym) beyond. 

Anyone who knows this route can tell you nearly every step is within a National park.  Meant for pedestrians, these parks have no ambient, street or traffic lights, and at 10:30 pm on a weeknight, were completely deserted.  The few roads I followed or crossed were empty aside from a stray taxi because DC pretty much retreats to the bunker at the first flake.

With a cloudless sky, the city's light pollution escaped upward and was not reflected back to create the normal gray-ish dark.  I ran in a much truer dark, guided by the twinkling reflection of the skyline in the Potomac and the physical memory of repetition and routine.

The snow further insulated me from what little noise there was except my own breathing and steady, but whispering, footballs.  The wet hiss of tires on pavement and the Styrofoam squinching of tires on snow were deadened so even the random passing vehicle barely registered.  I just flowed along in my own cotton-lined bubble.

In other words, I ran undisturbed through the perfect winter night scene.  It was my best and I would be satisfied for it to be my last.

How about you?  What was your best?  Which would you want to be your last?

Happy End of the World!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Letters To The Editors Of Winter

Dear Designers of Winter Running Tights With Off-Center Pockets -

A pocket in winter running tights, that is off-center and only attached along one edge serves no purpose except to pull down the tights when any object containing actual mass is put in it.  You leave me with a perplexing choice: don't eat or be naked.  

I choose: neither.

Gel stays in, pants stay up
Stays put even with normal running hands

Sincerely,

Onto Your Game And Beating You At It


Dear Park Administrators -

Just because you close a public restroom for the winter doesn't mean people will stop having to go to the bathroom.  It doesn't mean people will stop going to the bathroom, either.

That's just the facts, ma'am.

Sincerely,

A Pop-a-squatter

Monday, December 10, 2012

Intestinal Fortitude Audit

All day I have been brain-storming about blog topics.  I did not want to just wave "it finally snowed!" around like a white flag of inspirational surrender, and it's hard to see washing your bike in the garage as a ground-breakingly humorous activity.

And then I went to the pool tonight in a fog of frustration and cognitive dissonance, and fit of good ol' scientific experimentation and brute-force problem solving.  Good luck and timing smiled on me (or so it seems now; ask me again in a month) and when I left the pool, a plan was in place for the next few weeks.  Only one question remains now that I'm back at home: do I have the guts?

If you've ever tried to rework your stroke you know just how much of a mind-fuck it can be.  The new physical and mental cues are so discombobulating that movement patterns could be better, worse, or the same, and you would swear that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone.  The more focus is put on any one part, the faster all the other parts come apart at the seams and we should definitely all be wearing tin foil helmets to protect ourselves from the aliens.

See what I mean?

At the pool tonight, still lost in my fog and fit, I ran into my friendly, local masters coach.  She started all of this, and for good reason, because after surreptitiously filming me, she gently broke it to me that I don't look like Michael Phelps when I swim.  Which obviously is the most disturbing conspiracy of them all. 

I explained tonight that I had lost the swimming stroke plot, and was about to lose my own plot if I kept doing drills by myself, no matter how often or dedicated, with no feedback, or tried to dovetail a stroke change with swim practices at regular speed.  I joked about wanting to learn how age-group swimmers do, practicing technique every day under the same coach's eye, getting repeated and immediate feedback. 

And long story short, that is exactly what is going to happen.  For at least the next two weeks I am going to swim (during regular practices, but not partaking in them) under constant and watchful eyes.

The "do I have the guts" aspect is taking a total leave of absence from structured interval training, or really non-technique based swim training of any kind, for, well, kinda however long it takes. 

I know this technique change needs to happen.  The "total leave" is only one way to bring about that change.  But is it the best one?

I think that this kind of (short-term) arrangement is probably what my body needs to have the best chance at learning something new/better.  I want to give myself the best possible chance to swim faster/better/more efficiently/easier (take your pick), but at the expense of endurance and intensity and forward progress - not to mention sanity?  Two steps back to take ten steps forward?  Maybe ten steps forward only requires one or none steps back?  Can I feel like I have a better handle on the situation if I let go of the handle a smidge?

Jordan Rapp posted a blog several years ago (of an article from several years before that) which speaks to this issue: Call Me Ishmael.  The fact that his post is also about swimming is purely coincidental.  I have referenced and sent this post to friends and athletes numerous times because I believe the underlying message of "having the guts to make the risky decisions to do what needs to be done to change the things that need to change" is important.  I even re-read this post when I come up against similar decisions and situations because it comforts me to know that someone else has been there and survived the consequences, be they good or bad.

Jordan has already made the decision in his post's timeline of events, but he writes about it and the process with such assuredness.  It is not always that clear-cut or easy!  Sometimes we don't make the risky decision until it is the last possible choice.  Tonight I actually told my mom "I've thought about doing this before, but I've never had the guts."  

The potentially right way can seem decidedly wrong (or crazy), but also strangely right, in an indescribable way.  [I know there are people out there thinking "two or three weeks off structured swimming is a risk?  Puh-lease.  Of course you choose to dedicate 100% to your technique, it's a logical investment."  Easy for you to say - on your own blog.]  Chances are these times are exactly when the phrase "my gut just tells me it's right" gets used.

Our gut leads the way, but do we have the guts to follow it?

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Like The Ceiling Can't Hold Us

Second longest long run since September 11, 2011, completed with Can't Hold Us on semi-repeat.


Imagine me celebrating internally while running like how Macklemore "dances" and then literally takes over the tiny desk during their NPR Tiny Desk Concert and you'd be about right.

I Pray For Global Warming On Sundays

Lately I have been doing my long rides on Sundays.  Since I'm up here in Wisconsin, I'm taking it one day at a time whether I ride outside or inside.  So far the weather has held extremely well; only one ride inside since October 22.

This past Sunday, the weather was particularly agreeable - especially considering it was the 2nd of December.  I rocked out in a long-sleeve jersey, gloves, and a thin vest, mostly to zip up during the long, 3-5 mile descents around Blue Mounds State Park, and zip down when I turned around and doggedly ascended those descents.

It was so nice that I finally stopped and took pictures at the all the places where for the last two months I have been thinking "I should stop and take a picture."  Photo Credits © Global Warming


The Horribly Hilly Hundreds is a local bike ride of...many horribly hilly miles.  The stretch alongside this sign leads up the backside of Blue Mounds State Park, the peak of which is just right of the tree branches.  It's not the steepest local hill or the longest local hill, but I'm pretty sure it's the longest and steepest local hill.  Chicago's summer Olympic bid centered the road races around Mt. Horeb and this Park.



The idyllic hill-side dairy farm straight off the side of a milk carton.


Somewhere in this picture is a deer.  Or two.



I will always stop to take pictures of perfect reflections in water.  Always.  I drew the line at hiking down to the waterline in my bike shoes.





A corner ridden from dark into the light, at speed.



A leprechaun-green S-curve on a running trail, when the rest of the trail looks like this ↓.





A hundred-year old barn and silo, its ceramic-coated cement blocks glinting bronze in the late afternoon sun.



I did find snow, man-made on top of a ski hill.  The weather forecast says it will be joined by real snow this coming Sunday.  It seems my prayers have run out.

Monday, December 3, 2012

What Could Be Better Than Cookies?

Spreadable ground-up cookies, of course!

Loyal reader and my second-favorite government employee, BR, recommended to me a delicious snack product, Biscoff Spread.  His recommendation was so strong he actually took me to a grocery store to buy me my first jar.  And then I had to go back and buy a second jar to take pictures, because it was so good the first one didn't last until the photo shoot.


What is Biscoff Spread?  Literally spreadable ground-up cookies.


Biscoff comes in smooth and chunky, but as with peanut butter, the correct choice is crunchy.


How does one enjoy Biscoff?  On everything.  Himself a formidable cyclist, BR enjoys toast with Nutella and Biscoff together, and although I didn't try that, I imagine a human body could power itself for a goodly number of hours on such a calorically dense snack.

Nutella and Biscoff have pretty similar nutritive value - which is to say, sugar and fat.  One is chocolate-y and hazelnut-y, one is cinnamon-y and kind-of-like-the-crunchy-part-of-a-Kit-Kat-y.   Both are delicious and excellent consumed on a spoon, straight from jar.

Now if someone would just put it in a gel pack.
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