08 March, 2014

One Way to Improve My Running (Snow)Shoes...

... would be to lose the horseshoe-shaped rims at the rear that form indentations in the heels. During warmer snowy weather - when most sane folks are tobogganing instead of racking up mileage - I can't get in more than a few strides without the soles packing full of snow and actually forming incredible lumps under the heels.

Traipsing like a sullen runway model in stilettos, I try telling myself these times are perfect to work on my forefoot strikes. But that's pointless because within a few more strides I am landing on the tips of my toes the way a ballet dancer would if it was Swan Lake danced on top of snowmen.
Dramatization: Not Real Heel Build-Up... It Just Feels Like This
Mizuno: I love you - if you were not a corporation I would kiss you, your shoes are so nice. But really, even if you have to resort to implanting tiny ultrasound transmitters to break up the clumps, or coat the soles in some toxic snow repellent tested on orphaned baby black rhinos' eyes, please just do whatever's necessary for me to run level more than seven months each year!

Okay, so maybe the rhinos were a bit much, but still... you try running with these in the snow and we'll see who's a diva.

02 March, 2014

Never Trust a Movie Producer...

... especially when they commission movie posters like these.

And this is just taken from a random look at current releases. I'm too pissed to look any further back; I'm fed up from years of this.

You numbskulls somehow survive in a visual line of work with alignment skills that, in First Grade, would earn you a phone call home and a battery of tests. Take a look at how the names don't match the people.
Sure, there must be some arcane system of priorities & pay scales that you think you must cleave to, where reading-left-to-right dictates that text on your promos must be arranged in one manner & visuals in another.

Above: No, it's not some 1960s Disney screwball switcheroo caper, just stupid labeling graphics. Tried twice & failed. 

I get that. But you turds don't seem to get that the rest of the world is conditioned by certain communication conventions that don't like to be upset by your petty little $$ games.

Look at other posters around you for more successful arrangements. Don't make me have to come down to LA to set you straight because I won't be happy. So easy to rectify with a little thought, so sad that you don't have it in you.

Above: Will the real Ice Cube please stand up? Or at least wave so we know which one is you?


B-List actors, C-List graphics. Couldn't quite pull it off, could ya?

They cared about the stars, the costumes, the script.The promo? Pfffttt!

That felt good. I may still head out to watch a movie with a bone-headed poster, but the popcorn had better be good because when the lights go down it's starting off with one strike against it already.

01 February, 2014

My Fairly O.K. Corral Experience

Reminiscence: Around the Bay 30k - Random Thoughts on v.2013

Since I am not entering it this year after three straight, I thought I'd take this time (in which I am not out in the cold and snow training for it) to look back on 2013's edition.
    Going into this I was feeling fairly chuffed to have qualified for the 'B' starting corral. For the uninitiated, running corrals herd participants like sheep into small spaces near the front end of a race start so they can spend a few moments under the impression that they are faster than they really are. This was to be my first bona fide corral start, and I relished the little dream I'd nurtured of not having to wade through, over, and around the myriad joggers, yakkers, and elbow-flingers who inevitably materialize in front of me just before the starting horn.
Corrals are nothing new in road racing. Photo taken from 1910 Around the Bay race. Following this particular event, race directors decided to swap future corral allocations so that the faster competitors would start in front of slower ones. The sheep set out quickly enough, but were hampered by the street car tracks and lack of grass at the aid stations.
Finally, I had arrived.

It wasn't like I was elite or anything, and I didn't wade forward through the massed hoi-polloi waving my colour-coded number bib over my head like I did in high school with that one trig exam that I aced. Still, I confess to feeling a small burble of smugness tingle within and I'm pretty sure it wasn't the morning's bagel & jam coming back up on me.

    In reality, yes, once the race began things were different - just not exactly better. Where before I might be held up for a few strides until I got around Mr. Overdressed, or the Chatty Cathys, and slip into the open gaps of their frontal wakes, here I was surrounded, tightly, for what seemed like a quarter of the race. I was now haunted, shadowed by a swarm of runners who were pretty much going the same speed as me. If it was exactly the same speed, I guess that would be fine, but there were tiny differences that caused ebbs and flows of clearance; small openings never became bigger and heels a half stride ahead of me were constantly, nearly clipped. Any time this giant improv group ever slowed down or sped up, I was forced to conform. Wow!

    Conclusion: it's a wash for me. Sure, with no corrals there are more “obstacles,” but with corrals: fewer options for navigating the ones that arise. My choices? 1) quit running; 2) race like a scalded banshee, turn Elite, and get front row starts; 3) pretend it doesn't matter and "go with the flow." Given that 1) seems boring & unhealthy, and 2) requires injections of so many expensive, harmful and illegal substances that my syringe would be the size of a fire extinguisher, it appears the writing's on the wall: it's time to just Zen down, queue up, zone out and run as if this doesn't matter in the big scheme of things. Because it doesn't.

As for the race: Spirit: Willing, Flesh: Weak

And by weak, I don't just mean my pace slowed along York Street to the finish after the notorious Northshore hills; it means that long before then my will power to summon my inner stud from beneath its sheath of protective wintery blubber failed at every turn - starting with the twirls of my fork as I coiled and crammed countless lengths of pasta down my pie hole from October until the Friday night before the race.
As for my plantar fasciitis, which really got my attention after this race: when I stop to think about it - especially in a Darwinian natural-selection sort of way - it is sort of perplexing how some running injuries can actually feel better once you get running & warmed up. Taken to a reductio absurdum level, does this may mean that if one could somehow keep running non-stop - 24/7 - then one might never experience the very injury they are supposedly harbouring? Time to go lie down.

18 December, 2013

Good Return to Running: Windchill's Below 20 Below...

... and not a dog walker in sight!

The neighbourhood pooches must be making do (and doo, no doubt) closer to home these days now that the temps and the snow are both dropping faster than a face-down slice of buttered toast. For all of the cabin fever they must be feeling, I've got to take a moment & give thanks to the shut-ins, two-legged & four-, for giving me a clear run at testing out my legs after my 58 day run hiatus*. I stumbled my way in frosty solitude, clumsily sussing out the greasy "paths" while wearing my trusty Yaktrax. Regardless, it felt great to be out running again - all systems a 'go' by the looks of it. Move along... no complaints here. 

With any luck these unseasonably cold & blustery days will subside soon & we can all resume our usual routine of jump leash & dodge dog and all will be as it should in the world. Bring it on!

* Oh yes, the running vis-a-vis the hernia: finally met with the surgeon and he's taking the wait & see/feel approach - until something's externally obvious, he's loathe to go cutting and poking around regardless of how accurate the MRI may seem to be. Bottom line: the lay-off waiting for his appointment allowed the pain to subside enough that I didn't need him to tell me twice to resume running and cycling. Huzzah!

19 November, 2013

Turning the Corner on Bike Lanes

A two-dimensional solution to a three-dimensional problem

It's possible that many municipal workers and civil engineers become entranced with the plan views on their blueprints and don't consider the real-world applications of their decisions. A case in point that I see everywhere is the first bike lane marking that appears outside an intersection. I maintain that these are placed too close to the intersections to be of any use for those turning onto the marked roadway, likely just because someone with a two dimensional overhead drawing saw that new traffic may enter a given road at an intersection and determined that the logical spot for the bike/chevrons graphic is, of course, just at the exit of the intersection. 

The trouble is that, from the driver's perspective, the visuals are hopelessly distorted - made abstract - by the driver's position when negotiating the turn. If the driver is looking well ahead, where he/she should be, the bike lane marking is certainly not recognizable for what it represents (assuming it isn't missed all together.) 

The proposal: Just move the first post-intersection bike lane graphics further down the road, so that drivers can find them once they have finished the relatively intense action of navigating the turn (No pedestrians, cyclists, or other vehicles hit? Check!) and are able to properly process any new information that comes from driving straight forward. Easy peasy. 

This example is for a left-turning driver, but I'd posit that the same issue applies to right-turning. 

I'm not saying adopting this will make cycling any safer, but it will certainly help municipalities communicate most effectively on their limited budgets. These suckers can cost over $100/apiece, so bang for the buck really matters. May as well ensure every driver sees every marking.

29 October, 2013

Thinking of a Better World - Thought #1

As a public service - and in an effort to turn a new leaf - I vow that I will from here on always try to see the bright side in my relentless travails, and I will share these as they occur to me. 

From this morning:
For us guys: a simple New Yorker comic panel on the wall, turned sideways and lined up with the pillow on the prostate exam table, would help.

04 October, 2013

The Winter (and Spring) of Our Discontent (UPDATED)

UPDATE at bottom. Title is now more like The Winter (and Spring) Whole Freakin' Year of Our Discontent

If I had a dollar for every time that I cursed the weather this past winter I could finally afford a better-driving car - or at the very least replace that flat tire we've been driving around on since last November.
The sheer length and depth of steely cold that blanketed our region for what seemed like six solid months took me by surprise and caused no end of frozen eyelids, stuck nostrils, numb fingers, and chronic slow jaw. Worst of all, I blame it for my first running injury since tripping over that one kid's butt cheeks when he rolled in front of me as we rushed to escape the bucket of water tipping over our heads at the splash pad. (Doing that one over again, I'd probably just take the soaking since nothing could match the scolding I got from all the mothers watching - as if I was the first dad who'd ever done such a thing.)

Over the course of several weeks Plantar Fasciitis (PF) insidiously sank its pins and needles into that nameless spot it favours, just ahead of my left heel. I had wrapped up my training for the Around the Bay 30 km race in March and still managed to eke out a modest PB. For better or worse PF tends to disappear once a runner warms up, allowing said runner's optimism (to say nothing of distance and pace) to soar, which only further inflames the tissues and ensures more mornings of tender exits from bed.

Perhaps it was my aging old-fart body fed up with The Big Freeze of 2013; it could have been old-fashioned laziness; carelessness; false confidence in my base fitness and resilience... whatever the excuse, I swore off my routine of post-run stretching so I could get inside sooner and for this reason alone I think I brought on the PF. My own worst enemy, I went from nearly 90 kms/week to zero faster than you could say stupid age grouper who should know better. As the wind chills finally subsided from sub-human to merely sub-zero I tried to venture back onto the roads only to find PF's trademark painful numbness waiting to greet me the morning after like a meaty hangover. 

With the incredulity of a cowboy whose horse ran off with the saddle, my life slowed to a hobbling walk. I faced an uncertain future. Will I ever run again? And if I could, would it ever be as quickly? Is this the beginning of my own Great Downward Slide of decline, and if so, does this mean no more gaudily-coloured shoes? Worst of all: when I could ever eat another PB&J guilt-free? 

They say time is a great healer, but there's not much accounting for all of the collateral damage that occurs in its passage. While waiting for the PF to slowly meander out of my life I explored my alternatives. Swim training was out of the question because I was already grouchy enough. Cycling on the garage trainer was scotched by another first when that intimate affliction that begins with 'h' and rhymes with asteroids befell my netherdistrikt. Thinking that the universe was trying to tell me something, like... say, "Time to ditch the Spandex and take another look at bird watching," I cross-trained almost exclusively by crawling the walls from morning until night.

Then it happened.

One July morning I made it all the way from bed to bathroom to second slice of toast in the kitchen before I realized: I don't feel a thing. Not in a frosh-week sort of way, either - my feet simply felt blissfully unremarkable. I sluggishly emerged from my home within a few days, anxious to reacquaint with my territory the way a bear might on wrapping up its hibernation. The sunlight, the wind and the birds had re-jigged into summer mode, waiting for me like I owed them money. It was hard to jog - not from muscular atrophy (though that likely explains why my socks kept sliding down) but because of second-guessing every footfall, overthinking every tentative stride. I was convinced PF was just waiting to  jump out from behind the next bush to trip me. But it never did. With no fanfare whatsoever my body simply said it was go time, and after all of my frustration, who was I to argue? The Old Dog, New Tricks World Tour can now resume. And this coming winter there's no reason for me to play the victim role like I'm living in some Hans Christian Anderson tale. I'll be sure to find a warm way to get in my post-run stretches - I'm already sizing up a couple of the neighbour's cats to slip inside my jacket. I figure it's worth a shot; if it's not effective at least it should be interesting, and it sure beats PF.

*UPDATE: Who's the Ironman now, huh, tough guy?! I haven't run for over three weeks. The ODNT World Tour has ground to a halt, on hiatus until further notice. It turns out the hernia repair I had when I was 17 months old wasn't the last one I'd need before I cashed in my chips.
Make up your damned minds, already! Do you want to see the scar or do I blow out my candles?  
In '61, if what my older sisters tell me is true, I think I caused my first hernia by trying too hard to fart so they could keep lighting blue angels off my ass as I bent over the side of the bathtub. While the downside was they had a big box of matches, the upside was that my backside quickly caught fire (they were laughing so hard at my pyroflatulence that they couldn't hold the matches still) so Mom came running and doused my diaper, effectively limiting the extent of my hernia. So they say...
I suppose there's no point calling it warranty work at this late date. Looks like we got a smoking deal on the anesthetic anyhow, so who am I to complain? And they certainly didn't skimp on the stuff; I can only recall being three sheets to the wind and trying to breastfeed off every nurse on the floor. Good times...
This go round, a good half-century later, the soreness set in a few days after I moved two sofas to our basement with the intermittent help of my teenaged son. When I say intermittent, I don't mean he was coming and going throughout the ordeal - he simply wasn't always lifting when I was. Hardly ever, in fact. It seems we had different definitions of what, exactly, is meant by someone saying, "Okay... ready... NOW!" I was tugging and pulling in vain like some Arthurian wanker trying to yank the damned sword from the damned stone, and one time, frustrated that we were making no progress and we had so very far still to go, I looked around behind the sofa base and saw my pride and joy standing aside impassively, arms folded, clearly waiting to hear a sensible plan. It is not like my hulking offspring didn't want to help, he's just smarter than me and - like any self-respecting teen - didn't want to make an effort if it wasn't guaranteed to yield results. I couldn't promise that. I knew from years of shoving these gargantuan crusts of furniture up and down the throats of houses and apartments that we sometimes have to lift and get after it and make it up as we go. It is only when we are fully supporting the weight that the veils are lifted, and we see the taunting relationship between the true dimensions of our loads, the extents of our Duchamps staircase descents, and our cockeyed plans for both. The bottom line is that I learned as much about my own limits of communication that day as I did about the chronic weakness in my abdominal walls.

The sofas are now in the basement, where they shall remain until needed for setting up that promised colonization on Mars. With any luck I'll be scheduled for surgery before then.
In the meantime... the discontent continues as I soften back to the squishy state I was in five years ago. Maybe this detraining is actually that chance I've secretly coveted to catch up on some tv series I've missed out on. Hey, I've got two sofas to choose from!

06 September, 2013

There for the Taking, Part Deux - a bike route I love

The Situation:

When it comes to wedging a quick, intense interval spin into a busy day, many cyclists find nothing beats hooking their bikes onto a trainer in the basement or garage, switching on a small wind tunnel of fans, tuning into a long-neglected movie, blasting some motivational OOnkathumpaOOnkathumpa music, and pedalling madly until they get fit... but get nowhere.
The trouble is that - for my way of thinking - outside of staring at a black line in a swimming pool there is just about nothing less interesting to do with one's time. Waiting in my dentist's office doesn't count because I am at least diverted by my impending sense of doom.
Sure, fitness happens this way; pay the dues and all that. It's this very sort of sacrifice that gives our finish line photo faces those spiteful Mona Lisa smiles/grimaces that say, Yep, I frikkin' killed myself with boredom to get here - damn straight I deserve nothing less than this 23rd out of 77! 
With enough perks and crutches and electronics surrounding me to keep my mind off the bitter reality that I am perched on a skinny saddle cranking away purely for fitness' sake - for my stupid body that can't recall the concept of "muscle" - sweating like a camel hauling stones up the side of a pyramid, on the verge of woofing my breakfast all over my handlebars, I can rationalize riding this route through The Black Hole to Health.

Yet again.

Weather Permitting...

... I ride to a small slice of heaven amidst the (sub)urban jungle I live in - the same one I like to run at: a Provincial Park beside a creek protected from development. Not only is it within city limits, it is only a six minute ride from where I live. The ring road, for automobile access, handily measures out to a 5 km loop, with a whopping 20m of elevation change. It's paved, it's smooth, it's wide, and I have it all to myself. Mine. For me. Alllll mine.

If I get there before the 8:00am opening time my only real concern is dodging the snails caught napping on the warm pavement when they are "in season" - zero worries about cars, few worries about dog walkers. (Each of us - me, dog, walker - thinking, What the hell are they doing here?)

This is literally beside one of the busiest 6-lane highways in our region of southern Ontario, the Queen Elizabeth Way. In fact, I can hear the thunder of the traffic (commuters already clogging the highway at 6:30am, their blood pressure as high as mine but for a vastly different reason) and yet I never have to worry about what's coming over my shoulder.
Hmmm... that's worth repeating:

I never have to worry about what's coming over my shoulder. 

Just hammer hammer hammer, then ride less than 3 kms home. For this, I get natural air-conditioning, the enchanting gyroscopics of riding an open road, fresh air to breathe (prevailing winds almost always feed toward the highway, not from it), maintain my bike handling skills, and thousands of metres of bushes and shrubs in which to woof my breakfast. Yep, life don't get any better than that...
You can appreciate the proximity to the 403 highway from this overhead view.  

The starting point/turnaround hairpin. The childrens' "play barn" is to the left in the middle-distance.
Office towers are to the right!

The lane widths are similar to an average street, each direction running separately. 
The return lane can be seen to the left.

 Several intersections occur to access various parking lots. But at 6:30am... no traffic!

Running parallel to the roadway, I flatter myself by pacing the vehicles
(only briefly... as they pull out from assorted driveways)  

The road surface, I've got to say, is uniformly excellent. Snails notwithstanding. 

Just past the curve ahead is the far turnaround hairpin.
The highway's exit ramp light standards can be seen over the embankment. So close, so far...

The "out" lane is in the foreground, seen from the return lane. 
Yes, being Canada, one's never far from the ubiquitous Tim Horton's.
On one side: a franchise donut shop; on the other: chickens, sheep, cows, peacocks.
With me in the middle, on the aero bars, a big stupid smile on my face. 

The original start/turnaround again, viewed from behind.
You can do as many laps as time and your constitution permits. 
Did I say there is no traffic?!

04 May, 2013

An Open Letter to the Sociopath Tailgating Me

Sure, go ahead and read this while you're driving, it's not like it will make you any more dangerous.

You know who you are: the distant speck in my mirror at 10:39:28 a.m. that transmogrifies by 10:39:51 a.m. into what seems like a spare vehicle strapped to my trunk, your headlights so close they are blocked from view. Judging by your flagrant disregard for not just the law, but basic human welfare, I bet it's safe to assume this situation makes me your worst sort of nightmare; a rolling roadblock who seemingly shares none of your desperate need to attain near-earth-orbit velocity. Since you are close enough to read my speedometer over my shoulder, please have a look to confirm I am already travelling double-digits over the speed limit as I try to complete my own pass on someone more law-abiding than even I am. 

Trying to strike that delicate balance between pleasing unpleasable people like you and pleasing that officer up ahead who's aiming a radar gun at me would probably be easier if I could just make myself invisible. That's it - something James Bond could likely pull off. In fact, at times like this I often wonder, What would James Bond do? Something explosive usually pops to mind, but that's like a cop-out (no matter how gratifying), plus I'd worry about it affecting that innocent 18-wheeler dude sandwiching us along the guardrail lane. Same goes for an oil slick: skewy vehicles and highway speeds often spawn 6 o'clock news highlights. Now, an ejector seat for your sort might be just the ticket. If I could just figure out how to trigger it when you start up your motor in the garage...

08 March, 2013

Taking a Measure of Society's Maturity - Part Deux: Nearly Edible Crap

You would think that by the time we are old enough to own and operate a dishwasher of our own that we could distinguish between candies and blobs of soap; after all, the functioning of our society's systems - financial, political, transportation - are counting on at least that level of discernment.

Yet one need only look at the current trend in the dishwasher soap tablets field (didn't know that existed? CUT TO: bright room full of lab-coated scientists with glasses pretending to jot down notes on clipboards. Trust me, it exists.) to spot a blatant clue that those affluent enough to own and operate a machine to wash their dishes are also childish and gullible enough to fall under the spell of a shiny morsel of multi-coloured detergent as if it were a bon-bon in a glass jar at a confectioner's shop. Now, I realize that one needs to cut these marketeers a bit of slack. You try selling something that's about as sexy as a compost bag - you'll quickly find yourself lying awake at night, desperately scrolling through a mental Rolodex of dancing dogs, inane jingles, and ivory-toothed supermodels in vain attempts to conjure up an irresistible message. The more mundane, the more the pain - be it soap, toothpaste, toilet paper, it doesn't matter. One thing's for certain, though: the road to becoming a Walmart Greeter is littered with the ground up souls of ad execs looking for The Angle, that one special hook to catch the consumer prey right in their weak spot.

Exhibit A:
Found left on our doorstep - for sure a more socially-acceptable form of anonymous abandonment than, say, a flaming paper bag of dog poo, but still something that I had misgivings about bringing inside. Nevertheless, being that it was a Friday night, and that I was on my second glass of Beaujolais, I brought in these freakish cleanser pouches, holding their gaudily-coloured package out from my body the way one might carry a dead o'possum from one side of a road to another.

Any advantage? You be the judge.
All I know is that the runaway popularity of these convenient, no mess wads of stuff shows us they are popular. Then again, that's as telling as looking at a film's Box Office Totals to judge its quality.

According to news agency Reuters, the manufacturer, Proctor & Gamble, is quoted as boasting that it took "eight years of research, with 75 technical staff working on the project full-time, to come up with [these suckers]." Kinda makes it worth bending over, now doesn't it?

The trouble is, kids have been mistaking them for candy, and "the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) issued a warning last week that people should keep highly concentrated, single-dose packs of detergent high up and out of the reach of children... According to the AAPCC, some young children who swallowed the small packets required hospitalization."

This sort of nonsense is pervasive enough in this culture to, I think, qualify it as yet another sign of the impending Apocalypse. Overreaction on my part? Take a glance at your pet's food dish first and then get back to me. Time to take a deep breath and embrace your adulthood before you reach for your wallet, folks.