Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Morning in Barcelona - 10K

I got up this morning and went out for 10K on the beach between Premiá del Mar and Masnou. It was such a beautiful run. I haven't run by the Mediterranean Sea since I left here in 2004. The sea was an indescribable blue and the sunlight coming off the sea was so brilliant that it hurt to look at it.

I say all of this to make those of you who a freezing in DC envious. It's a sick little game but it's all I have, really.

We had a wonderful Christmas Eve dinner with the whole family of my Brother in Law, Rafa, and his wife, Monstse. There were 18 people in this tiny apartment, yelling and passing stuff over each other. They were in each other's stuff, people argued and made up continuously, and it was generally a madhouse. I loved it. I miss that about Spain. Everyone was really happy to see us. In the entire evening there was only one political discussion: Rafa asked me if I was happy that Obama won. I said, yeah. That's a nice change from DC, where every discussion is about politics.

In fact, I'm having one of those visits where I'm convinced that I want to live here again, someday. I hate seeing how fast my nieces have grown up and gotten married, when it seems like the last time I saw them all of them were little girls. Of course, there are difficulties here-- the economy here stinks, as it does everywhere else. But Spain, and Barcelona in particular, was running a little close to the edge even before the global economy started going down the toilet.

Sònia and I talked about maybe moving back here when the global economy improves. So maybe Sònia and I will retire here. I can see that happening.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

How to Buy Christmas Presents for a Guy

This holiday season there has been a video going around called "Beware of the Doghouse". It shows the plight of some poor guy who gets his girlfriend the wrong present and ends up banished to the ranks of the insensitive males. I think I've managed to avoid this for the most part. But I can tell you that buying presents for our partners has to be one of the most stressful parts of an already very stressful holiday season.

There are a lot of guides for what to buy a man for Christmas. Conveniently, these guides are written by folks who have something to sell, mostly expensive electronic gear. I love electronic gadgets. But I don't want to get one from my wife (sorry, Sonia). I have a Computer Science degree from the Naval Academy with a specialization in Artificial Intelligence. Electronic gee-gaws are kind of my specialty. Chances are good that I know exactly which electronic gadget I want and the chances are low that my mate will pick exactly that one.

And even if she did, what would be the point of that? We don't get into relationships to see the world we have always seen. We do it so someone else will be there to point out the stuff we never would have seen. I, like most guys, have huge blind spots. The male of the species generally picks a couple of things to get into and digs a rut. My ruts are running, computers, and guitar playing. Had I, through some tragedy, never met and married Sonia, I would have spent my life geeking out on those three things.

But Sonia shows me things about the world that I never would have bothered to think about. Authors I never had heard of. Music I never would have listened to. Cheesy sit-coms I never really would have gotten into until I saw them through the eyes of an immigrant observer. And this is the point today: buy stuff that is in the guy's blind spots. The stuff he would walk past in the store, not because he didn't like it, but because it wasn't in one of his ruts. So don't just try to figure out what the guy might like and then go buy just that: he could do that. Give him the stuff that he doesn't even know he likes yet.

And if that doesn't work, get him the box set of the original Star Trek. Every guy wants that.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Jingle Bells All The Way 10K: 46:27 (The Horror!)

Man, was it cold this morning. One of the women I work with, Allison, put together a roadracing team called "Disaster Blasters". So we all signed up for the Jingle Bells All The Way 10K.

Last year I ran this race in 51:45, so I'm happy that my time came down. But this race was marked by tragedy for me. You see, the race was going fine. I stretched out and really pushed the last few miles, turning in the first and fifth miles in 7:08-- not my old sub-sevens, but good.

I approached the finish line and really cranked it up. Then over the loudspeaker I heard one of the most blood-curdling, horrible, nasty things anyone has ever said about me:

"And here comes Tim Allen: One of our Masters racers."

Oh god, it's come to this. In this race I'm considered a masters racer. I half expected one of the volunteers to come bring me my cane as I crossed the finish line. I looked at all of the bright, clean-limbed youth I was finishing with and wondered if they could hear my Depends adult undergarments crinkling under my running pants. I felt about as cool as Elmer Fudd.

Sigh. I guess I'll go soak my bunions and see if I can remember my last name so I can look up my official results.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Long distance running as a meditation practice - 22 miles

I woke up at 4:45 am this morning and decided to go for my normal 22 mile run. I had been debating over taking a week off because I did the marathon last week. But a funny thing has happened: I miss the long run when I can't get to it. So I went running.

This run was cool for a couple of reasons. I got to break in my new $30 Montrails I bought at Rogue Runners in Austin. And I also got to run this loop (Washington, DC: Woodley Park, down Rock Creek Parkway to the Capital Crescent Trailhead, up the Crescent to where it meets the RCP again, back down the RCP to Woodley Park and home) for the first time with my new Garmin 305 GPS unit my mom got for me. Really, running is not about gadgets. But I wanted to map out this route with the GPS partially because I was not sure that my 22 mile loop was 22 miles long. Turns out that it is almost exactly 22 miles. That was nice to have confirmed.

But there was one other thing that made this run great. I think the main reason I miss the long run when I don't do it is that it is the one time of the week when I run for a long enough time to shut off my brain and just be where I am for a few hours.

I have tried sitting meditation quite a few times. I have never gotten very comfortable with it. Part of it is the difficulty I have in just concentrating on the moment without rattling through thoughts-- however, I understand that this is part of the meditation practice. I explained to a friend of mine that if I meditated for a half an hour my mind would wander off the ranch fifty times. I would have to pull it back to my breathing fifty times in that half an hour. My friend said, "what a wonderful practice". And he was right, that practice of recapturing my sense of presence is good.

However, my real problem with sitting practice is that, as the father of a seven year old, I'm just sleep deprived all the time. I expect this situation to improve, oh, shortly before I die. So usually when I sit to meditate, about five minutes in, I'm fighting off sleep. And that's just crazy-making.

But running... I find that the regular rhythm and the proximity to natural sources of noise help me concentrate on where I am. I regularly use noise as my focal point. If I can really fixate on the sound of where I am, I know I am truly present. The reason for this for me is that so much of what goes through my head is sound-- catches of songs I've been thinking about, or bits of conversations, or a little self-criticism. My monkeys are noisy.

So I run and listen to my footsteps, and I breath and listen to my breathing, and I listen to Rock Creek.

This run started in the dark, and I ran for more than an hour before there was appreciable light. And it was cold, right at 37F. So not many people were on the trail. I saw a total of ten souls, and five of them were deer. I saw four deer just crossing Rock Creek Parkway. They're so used to people now that I don't think they get scared. They just watched me run past, then dashed off into the woods.

I did find my speed sagging a lot on this run. I found a good trick to pick up some speed-- I concentrate on my turnover. I tried to concentrate on quick turnover, and not on going fast. I did this, and after 19 miles, I was doing 9:30 miles, which is a good pace for me. I reckon if I can work on a good turnover, my stride will take care of itself and I'll be able to maintain speed.

All in all a very satisfying run.