20 February, 2015

Baby It's Cold Outside

My Take: The Felixometer - the domestic cat as thermometer.

Must be old age - it seems very hard to justify the amount of time/hassle getting girded against the cold for a run these recent days, when wind chills drop south of -30 degrees C. Thank heavens for the new Milton velodrome; I've been able to take in a few of the Drop In lapping sessions since getting certified, and it is a thrill & a half. This week our 6:30am morning ride was spiced up with the local media interviewing some Canadian cycling royalty, as Olympic medalists Steve Bauer and Curt Harnett took many journalists around the boards for a taste of the thrills in store.
I'm beginning to think we can tone down the publicity for a while: time slots are filling so fast that pretty much every session is sold out as soon as it goes online. Good problem to have, I suppose!
As Harnett waxes on for the cameras, I'm either pulling away or about to be lapped...

28 December, 2014

NSFW Santa & Our Shameless Suburban Side Show

With the holidays now upon us, it's really hitting home how much I miss our former neighbour, Troy. Like most decent community members, he was always quick with a smile and a wave; he kept his property in good order; his kids were never too loud past midnight. Troy was pretty quiet, too - he even switched off his Harley at the top of our street, silently coasting past our homes and into his garage like he was on a giant chromed mouse.

Our new neighbours are great folks, too - really sweet people - but they can never quite make me smile the way Troy inadvertently did every Christmas season. He usually opted for a tasteful wreath, a couple of colourful floods, some cut-out paper snowflakes on his windows; nothing too showy or... deliberately obscene. But the final three, hilarious years he lived across the street from us, he set up an inflatable lawn display featuring a Santa character methodically rising and lowering inside his chimney in a glacially-paced game of peek-a-boo with a Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer figure facing him. This hardly merited a second glance, unless, given the right meteorological conditions, this slo-mo pas de deux got animated in ways far more enchanting than its designers ever could have imagined.

When weather turned sour and the breezes kicked up, it became a family tradition for us to gather around our front window, cradling hot cocoas, blankets on our laps and Bing Crosby on the stereo, and watch Troy's display metamorphose before our eyes. As divine good luck would have it, Troy's air-filled icons were aligned to the prevailing nor'westers that sometimes came barreling down our street. These gave Rudolph almighty slaps on his back, folding him forward. Each time Santa emerged from his huge bricked sheath, the flailing reindeer would crumple straight into Santa's waiting arms and groin. With just the right gusts this pneumatic love fest would then commence bucking rhythmically, transforming this innocent commingling into a raunchy tussle.

With the dutiful indifference of a porn star, the smiling red-nosed playmate would plunge down on his master, hammering at his waistline briefly, teasingly, before Santa waggled back down his chimney lest an unseen Mrs. Claus should catch them in flagrante delicto. On a good day the wind and their stamina would last well into the evening, sending us off to bed with visions of things far different than sugar plums dancing in our heads, as we tried to fall asleep while laughing out loud.

Not an actual recording of Troy's lawn. Animated for your perverse pleasure with Adobe Photoshop & Premiere

Each morning we'd wake to the same sight – deflated fabric lay scattered across Troy's yard, barely hinting at the sexual bacchanalia that sizzled on this snowy lawn the night before. Collapsed across the privet as if sleeping off a bender, the jolly old elf's frozen grin and Rudolph's tumescent schnoz suggested both were in a state of perpetual arousal, eagerly dreaming of the next chance to consummate their elicit paring.

Troy may never know what happened each time he plugged in that little puttering compressor of his, but we thank our lucky stars it filled his streetfront porn stars with the Spirit of Christmas Perversion.

24 October, 2014

Marathon Training Interruptus & my Great Wall adventure

     Most sane people don't deliberately insert a two-week break in their marathon training programs; certainly not without expecting some tears come race day. But if this hiatus comes early enough in the plan perhaps it is not the end of the world - especially if it takes you to the ends of your world.
     I needed to be in Beijing for a couple of weeks over July and August to supervise an animated co-production with a partner university. Our generous hosts ensured we were ushered around to some classic city sites and our small crew of student interns had the times of our lives. But Beijing's notorious smog meant that my running gear remained stowed for the most part, the Air Quality Index seemingly always hovering between 180-300. Besides a brief blue-sky window of opportunity one day when I snuck in a few short kilometers around the campus, the sum total of my workouts was confined to elbowing aside elders gumming up the stairs to the emperors' Summer Palace, pedaling around Kunming Lake aboard a paddle-boat that felt tethered to the dock, and wandering the endless hallways in the capital city's warren of subway lines.
Beijing - time to lay low
Meanwhile, back at the ranch in lucky old Canada...
      I was, in the words of a desperate billiards player, due for a run (pun not intended, but apt).
     As if someone heard me, the following day we were shuttled 120 kms NE of Beijing to Gubei – a picturesque town that developers term 'The Water City' but displaced residents know better as 'The Site Where Graft and Secret Consortiums Uprooted Our Families.' This is a gateway to Simatai, one of the more rugged segments of China's Great Wall. We arrived at the outskirts of the village mid-morning expecting the usual throngs of tourists and instead found ourselves in a ghost town; a beautiful, newly-built replica of Ming dynasty architecture that was largely uninhabited. Store fronts were still being cleared of building debris, wire pigtails sprouted from the walls of freshly-hewn stone. Vines obediently wound their way up to the first of many looms waiting to train their paths, while everywhere signs were still being screwed onto posts. Our accidental timing put us in a trough ahead of the waves of humanity that soon would crest this village's meandering walkways. For now, though, we had this amazing, silent space all to ourselves.
     Always in the distance, through the day's hot haze, we could see the Great Wall's iconic watchtowers taking form as we walked closer. The ragged path they traced along the ridge top seemed to get steeper and more unlikely by the minute. One could not help but think, How? Even more to the point: Why?! In deference to those in our party who were disinclined to inclines, we took the cable car that rose halfway up the massive ridge to the north. Once there, an empty trail snaked its way up to the eighth of a dozen or so watchtowers. As a group we weren't fast, but I mentally checked off hill work on my list of overdue workouts.
     The wall itself was, of course, amazing – something everyone should experience if they ever get the chance. This region's vistas, clouded by Beijing's residual smog, were layered with rugged edges like dragon's teeth. The wall's undulations made California's Marin County fire roads look like a kiddie ride; were I part of a Mongolian horde looking up at these sheer man-made cliffs, I would definitely throw in the towel and head back for a home-cooked meal. 
        Pillage and plunder was the last thing on my mind as I doffed my hiking clothes (run shorts underneath!) and with a quick salute to my students I launched myself eastward, rising further still into the hazy sky. As soon as I passed through the first watchtower I was suddenly, absolutely alone, not a soul in sight anywhere... so of course I kept running! The centuries-old cobbles kept my attention for the most part, but as I slowed on some of the steeper sections (onto all fours on one set of stairs) I could look out at the vistas and marvel at their natural beauty and at the sheer audacity behind this ribbon of rocks and bricks I was using. 
      Here I was stretching my legs on one of the most stunning. iconic pathways the world has ever known, and for this brief time I had it all to myself. Or so I thought. 
Just as I came to the 12th watchtower, I saw that the far doorway was barricaded, signs up warning of dangers ahead. I had reached the end of the line, beyond which the famous Heavenly Ladder, Sky Bridge, and Fairy Tower snaked their way precipitously higher. 
Hikers more intrepid than me have perished beyond here, so the gummint said No more!
Just as I reached the barricade, thinking I would rest a minute in my solitude, taking in this profound communion between nature and human history, a man's voice not more than a metre behind me called for me to stop. I wheeled around, my spiritual reverie shattered, and saw a soldier squatting behind an archway. He apparently was stationed here to prevent people like me from going further - if we had plans to do so. Which I didn't.
Judging by both of our reactions, neither expected the other – him because I ran up, on silent shoes, likely not panting quite as much as some of the tourists he so rarely sees, and me because, well, I thought I was having a Private Bloody Moment To Myself. Skipping anything intelligent, I blurted out in my finest King's English, Oh... hi!, turned on my heels, and headed back to the rest of the world. On the plus side, I see it as good that I surprised him – he had no chance to pick up the Kalashnikov that apparently more than one trekker has seen soldiers brandishing at this lofty cul de sac. That would be something: Sorry sir, I am obliged to shoot you if you insist on going further. We do not want you to risk hurting yourself.

07 June, 2014

mmmmm... That 'New Track' Smell...

Not only is our region blessed with some terrific trail running just beyond our subdivision, but now a nearby public high school has laid down an 8-lane run track. It is so new that when I went for an exploratory run this past week I found its red top coat had just finished curing, and I was one of the first to ever run on it; the chalk lines for the as-yet-unpainted stripes had been just laid down.
Eight lanes, no waiting -- and no excuses not to do speed work...
sure, it's quiet now; in time the dog walkers, the skateboarders, the tottering old coots, and arm-swinging, Fuel-belt toting inside-lane yakkers will discover it. Until then: an awesome public space!

crunchy on the outside, cushy-squishy underneath!
I quickly laced up and set off around the pristine, primer-coloured oval, feeling quite studly through my first eight, ten strides. As I got up to 'speed' (which for me, entails 'quotation marks' due to how relative my 'speed' is to a state of actual 'speediness') I found my panting lungs exchanging huge, loud volumes of whatever odoriferous solvents lingered from the new surface's treatment. In a trice I was whisked back to memories of my dad driving up in his spanking new '66 Buick (all fun and games until finding out that our inaugural ride around the block hinged on us taking our shoes off before entering.)
Google sat. view - several months outdated - under my GPS plot; actual run experience was much less crude.
By the time I hit the backstretch I found myself already doing the math in my head - that special calculus instinctively conjured up by undertrained athletes everywhere - that results in compromises and deals with the devil to make this end sooner than planned. This unsullied course was not going to gift me any shortcuts to fitness; my slow road back from autumn/winter injuries now stretched out further into the horizon than I'd thought possible. After a few 400m intervals I was completely spent.

So much was going right, too: it was a gorgeous, late spring afternoon; there were no adolescent malcontents idly cracking armpit farts in the stone bleachers as I passed; I did not have that second burger that beckoned to me at lunch beforehand. As I returned to my car, sweat dripping off the tip of my nose, I laughed at my enthusiasm from a half hour earlier. Sure, I'll be back... and if I never quite match the paces I once had, I just hope the armpit fart-crackers won't have found me. 

25 April, 2014

Die! You Gravy Sucking Pig

There you lie, the last of your kind, on the north side of an apartment building in Waterloo, cowering under this pathetic whithered shroud of last year's pine needles. Dusted from the filth of your unending winter bender, you lie there inert and cool to the touch, crusty like an unwashed rummy sleeping off his last mouthful of distilled damnation.* Your reign was the stuff of Shakespearean legend - relentless, aggressive, driven by hubris: Fie on you, foul pile - even as the hounds of spring doth curse your alabaster shores with their yellow nectar. Sure enough, in the end you too will eventually evaporate and wind up as some mere cloud of vapour; with any luck you will drift far from here and condense on the inside of a toilet bowl in a god-forsaken overcrowded frat house some Friday night next autumn.

Melt as slowly as you like in the shadows, you bastard - I, for one, would happily wait around to kick the dust of summer square into your tiny trickle of tears... but I prefer to rush home and put on shorts. Goosebumps be damned.

Wow. That felt good. And to think I even enjoyed cross-country skiing this past December...

*Thanks to Matt Johnson, "Perfect."

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.