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May 2 14

Where I have a new favorite tantrum

by John

As one of the (many) reasons of this blog is to preserve those memories which, given time, may depart for forever, I thought I’d share a particularly entertaining tantrum.

We ditched cable a long, long time ago . . . this has its pros and cons.

  • Pro: our monthly bills went down by a significant chunk (even after we factored in subscriptions to Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime).
  • Con: the kids, now can basically watch whatever they want to watch, whenever they want to watch it.
  • Pro: our kids seldom see an advertisement, meaning that they’re only ever exposed to the “latest & greatest” toys at the toy department of Target.
  • Con: we still go to Target.
  • Pro: Every show that is on the air, that I want to watch, is carried by Hulu and is available the day after it airs.
  • Con: The Hulu app for Roku sucks and will sometimes just force the device to reboot at a climatic part of an episode.
  • Pro: I barely am able to stay awake to have time to watch anything on TV anyway.
  • Pro: I can watch horror movies where scantily clad, buxom “actresses” drink themselves silly & act out fantasies involving bathtubs and whipped cream.
  • Con: the Netflix “recently watched” queue is incredibly difficult to hack in order to hide my tracks.

My children, like most all children, are creatures of habit. When it’s time to pick something to watch, they choose familiarity — the only time they’ll choose something new-to-them is, well, if they’re carefully guided along that path.

Spy Kids is in heavy rotation, at the current moment. As far as kid movies go, I’m ok with this — it’s silly, it’s action packed . . . it’s among the lesser of many more evil options. But, however much I might not mind when my kids choose to watch one of the Spy Kids movies, I’d never sit down and say “hey, let’s watch Spy Kids.”

So, the other night, we put the kids to bed, but they were still wide awake. We turn on the Roku and start an episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. Within the first few minutes, a little voice rings out from my daughter’s room, “What are you watching?”

“A TV show,” we respond.

“Are you watching Spy Kids?”

“Yes, we’re watching Spy Kids,” comes as a sarcastic response.

Sarcasm is lost on the young ones.

The next thing we know, The La is in our room, demanding to watch Spy Kids and nothing will appease her, save for us putting on Spy Kids for her to watch. And, of course, doing so would have meant that she would win.

The only way we were able to resolve this was to turn off the TV, entirely, so that nobody watched anything until Leila calmed herself down and fell asleep. Which was after Duffy & I had fallen asleep.

So now, once we put the kids to bed and the Hulu queue awaits, I always start the “what to watch” discussion with “let’s watch Spy Kids.”

And, if Leila was awake and listening? Protest. Immediate protest.

But, then again, as parents, well, aren’t there times that you want to eat candy and watch their crappy television shows when they can’t, as some sort of karmic payback for whatever they’ve put you through that day?

May 1 14

Where I contemplate this “fitness game”

by John

I really didn’t like the movie The Legend of Bagger Vance — I watched it in an airplane and, well, maybe it’s because I’m not a golfer, but the movie just seemed pointless to me. But, one moment of the movie stuck with me — Matt Damon’s character is talking to some kid about why he loves golf, about how it’s a game, essentially, against yourself. Sure, you play against other people – but, when it comes down to it, you’re the only one who matters when it comes to your own game. And a few recent events have me applying that logic to myself, as a non-golfer1.

In the past few weeks, I have been frustrated and elated more times than I can count. One day, I’ll manage more reps, in a set, of a given exercise than I’ve ever managed before (pure elation) — and then, after a day of rest, I won’t be able to complete the previous workout’s warm-up set (frustration). Frustration in having to walk during a race, to see any time goals that I had set on myself pass followed by the elation of running a damn-near-perfect-for-me race.

But, more than my own struggles & triumphs, there is what’s going on around me.

  • A college classmate completed the Boston Marathon in less than 3 hours . . . which means that not only did he qualify for the Boston Marathon (meaning he completed a qualifying marathon in less than 3:10:00), he ran the difficult Boston course faster than he’d ever run 26.2 before . . . this with me still trying to break four hours in the same distance. If I run as fast as I can, for a mile, I’d likely complete said mile between six and seven minutes. This college classmate did that, and then ran another 25.2 miles at the same speed. I would need to chop a good two minutes, per mile, off of my “just go out to run” pace in order to match this. If you’re not a runner . . . well, chopping 15 seconds per mile off of your pace is no small feat. Chopping 15 seconds per mile off your pace is cause for celebration. Two minutes per mile? Well, it just tells me that this college classmate is in another class of runners than I am.
  • I see countless people following the Couch to 5k training program — a program that I, myself, followed, back before I was Daddy Runs a Lot. I find myself answering pacing and posture questions that seem second-nature to me . . . but, well, I’ve been through all of that before. Obviously, I help where I can — but it’s strange to be taken back to “just getting off the ground” when it comes to running.
  • I’m in this funky bodyweight resistance routine lately2 — I want to be able to do some freaky things with my body: handstands, pullups, planches, pistols, one-arm-push-ups, muscle-ups, front-levers. Some days, I’ll have a good workout & manage to do things that I was never able to manage before. The next workout, well, there are times when it feels like I’m starting over again. The path, to be able to do any one of these exercises, is long. It’s so very frustrating to want to be at the end, but to have to acknowledge that every step along the trail takes you closer to the end — even if those are teeny-tiny steps.
  • The other day, one of the regulars at the gym came up to me. “I tried one of those funky push-ups that you do.” (I think he was referring to pseudo-planche push-ups, as those are the oddest of the push-up exercises that I do) “I made it down and wondered why you got all sweaty doing yours, and then I tried to push myself up, but I was stuck. I had to flop around just to get myself standing. What muscles do those things work?”

    My only response was “all of the muscles.”

    He went on to talk about thinking about trying “that weird one-legged squat you do” (A pistol squat) but I can’t figure out how you don’t fall over.

    This man bench-presses twice what I’m able to bench-press and can squat significantly more weight than one-rep-maximum squat.

  • Crossfit is big right now — I have friends, left and right, who are incredibly successful transforming their bodies and workout routines with Crossfit. But, with Crossfit comes the Crossfit Games — basically, a “best of the best” within those who truly excel at Crossfit — but many of the exercises demonstrated in the Crossfit Games are more advanced than these friends’ best efforts at present. And these friends are really, really fucking good at what they do.

All this just reminds me that we’re all on our own course, we’re working toward our own goals – it doesn’t matter what other people are doing.

This isn’t to say that one should keep from thinking of “being among the elite.” When I write (be it a song or fiction or a silly little blog post), I like to think of myself getting break after break and becoming a famous songwriter, or playwright, or novelist. And when I’m running, I like to think of myself winning the New York Marathon. I think it’s important for our dreams to break through any glass ceilings. But, when our imaginations return to the ground, it’s important to keep things in perspective. Are you making progress to your goals? Are you pushing yourself? Do you have your goals in mind? Are you ignoring what you need to ignore and doing what is best for you (because, really, you’re the only one who can determine that)?

If you’re doing all of those things — well, you’re doing quite well in this game we’re all playing against ourselves. If you’re one of those people who enters every race or competition with the true hope of winning it . . . well, good for you — just know that I’m playing a different game than you are.

1 I’ve been golfing twice in my life. The first time, I shot a 106 and thought I was a natural . . . after-all, isn’t “100” what “weekend golfers” usually strive for? The next time I went, on the same course, with near perfect weather conditions, I shot a 140. Now, I have a bum elbow that makes a golf swing….awkward. While I like being outside, I have very little desire to actually learn to play the game, or get better at the game, or to find another activity that would eat up hours of my week.
2 I work out in a great big Planet Fitness — as with most of the “factory gyms,” most of the place is dedicated to cardio equipment. I ignore that. Lots of space is dedicated to muscle-isolation exercise machines. I ignore those, too. There is a small, core group of regulars that congregates at the back of the gym with the free-weights — among these, there are lots of “appreciative nods” as people watch the silly routine I do.
Apr 30 14

Where I sound my barbaric yawp

by John

I didn’t look very carefully at my calendar when I booked my races for this spring. The Garden Spot Village Marathon, I wanted to do because it was half of the “Road Apple Award.” If one completes that race (either the full or the half marathon) in the spring and then the Bird-In-Hand Half Marathon in the fall, one gets a plaque to hang on the their wall to show off their sheer insanity to houseguests. On the plaque? Petrified horse poop1. So, I signed up for the race because that plaque is awesome — I’m not one for “race bling,” but that, well, I was already looking for an excuse to sign up for a full marathon, and I enjoyed running the half marathon last year, so the promise of the plaque was just too much to say “no” to.

The Movie Madness Half Marathon is a race that my sister tried to get me to sign up for the previous year — and I didn’t, for some reason or other . . . but, when the notice came out this year, I signed up immediately. I didn’t realize that the race was exactly a week after the full marathon, at the time. I also didn’t realize that the race was on Easter Saturday.

For those who might not know, I’m an organist at a Greek Orthodox Cathedral. Holy Week is a LONG week for me. Running a half marathon on Saturday morning means that my schedule had me:

  • Good Friday:
    • Rehearse with the choir from 6-7
    • Play Good Friday Service, get home between 10:30 and 11pm
  • Easter Saturday:
    • Wake at 4:30 to prepare self for half-marathon
    • Pick up packet at 6:30
    • Start run at 8
    • Run
    • Head home, play with the kids, eat something, cook for Easter dinner
    • Shower and dress
    • Get self to church by 9pm to rehearse with the choir
    • Play Easter service from midnight, hope to be home by 3am
  • Easter Sunday:
    • Wake with the kids
    • Finish whatever I was cooking
    • Party & celebrate Easter.
    • Fall asleep at, roughly, 8pm

But, I paid my entry fee and I felt that I needed to run this one. So, run I did.

Now, I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t disappointed with my performance in the Garden Spot Village Marathon. Despite the things I should be proud of: I set a personal record in the distance, I managed to chop a full hour off of the time of my first marathon, and I managed 26.2 hilly fucking miles2. I should be proud of myself. But, I wasn’t — I didn’t really care about breaking the four hour mark – as long as I ran the best race I could, I’d have been happy. Injury got in the way, and I was discouraged.

My original plan was, assuming that I performed well during the full-marathon, to dress up and “have some fun” with the Movie Madness Half — it’d be a glorified recovery run for me and they encouraged people to run, dressed as movie characters. If I didn’t do well during the full, I’d take the half marathon as a serious race and allow myself some mental recovery. I really planned on the latter approach, but as the week went along, I figured “why not do both.”

Being bald with a beard, I could only think of two costumes that would work, that I’d be able to run while wearing. The first was Forrest Gump — if I put on a red hat, you wouldn’t tell I was bald, and I could dress as the “run for three years” guy. But, the other was as an extra from Braveheart — throw some blue make-up on my face, wear a kilt, and go about.


A six-foot-something bald man, buying blue eye-shadow, at Walmart, late at night, on Good Friday, does not warrant as many odd looks as one might expect.



I woke early (I’d say “bright,” but the sun wasn’t out yet), and, because I was going to be running without a shirt, did a progression of push-ups, trying to eek out a little bit of “pump” for the pictures. Vanity, thy name is John. After early morning exercises, I went about my pre-race routine: shower, dress (compression shorts under the kilt – nobody needs to see more than that), coffee & toast with peanut butter, and then put on make-up. And then I stole one of my son’s foam swords from the play room. I got to the race location early — I realized that I probably could have slept a full hour longer (this race was less than 300 runners in size, so packet pick up was an absolute breeze), but I think I did better being there early than if I were stressing about making it to the start on time.

About one-in-fifteen runners appeared to come in dress . . . the eventual “Best Costume” winner was a take on Wonder Woman — a handmade getup that was, really, well-done. I chit-chatted with other runners until “Lights, Camera, Action” and we were off.

The course, itself, was a “there & back again” route — a huge downhill between miles 2 & 3 meant a huge uphill between miles 11 & 12 — I kept that in the back of my mind as I went. Along the path, there were spectators about, and very regular & enthusiastic aid stations. The weather was perfect (chilly with a very mild breeze, but absolutely sunny – perfect running weather). There was about a 2 mile stretch of road (meaning 4 when you count the roads coming back) that was mostly packed-dirt, meaning post-winter potholes and loose gravel were about . . . so you ended up spending more time paying attention to the road than to your surroundings, which is a shame, as the road went along a very scenic river at the time.

On the Course

I hit mile marker 6 before I saw anyone coming back the other way . . . it was only at this time that I realized that I was truly running a fast-for-me race. For a “head out and back,” the sooner you see the eventual winner, the more discouraging it is. The eventual winner, though, was “only” a mile in front of me — for someone who is used to seeing a winning time almost precisely half of my his time, this meant that I was either on a slow course or I was running well (in truth, it was a bit of both). I hit the turnaround and realized that I still felt really good — so I turned things up a notch. I also played to the crowd on my way back, pulling out the sword and yelling “FREEDOM” as I approached anyone who seemed to get who I was.

I continued heading as strong as I could until the last hill. I could only declare the hill as “brutal.” It wasn’t necessarily the incline — it was the incline at the end of the race, on top of the fact that a steep incline at the end of a race is what had me discouraged last time.

But as I ran up the incline (I didn’t allow myself to walk), I started passing people who had passed me early on. And then I made it to the top. Once the path leveled out, I still had plenty of wind, so I pushed my pace.

And then I saw Super Man.

I decided that I needed to pass Super Man before the end. I was running faster from mile 12 . . . but what I didn’t think would happen is that he would pick up his own pace at mile marker 13 (as I normally do). Despite my all-out sprint, Superman crossed the finish about 6 seconds before me.

But, my time at the finish? It knocked over 4 minutes off my previous best at the distance. More than that, I truly enjoyed the run – the whole time. It was a blast.

Approaching the Finish

And I got a new Facebook Profile picture out of it & everything.

1 Both races head through the heart of Amish country, and it’s far from uncommon to see horse-pulled buggies on the route . . . and, of course, horses leave presents on the road; these are known as “road apples.” Stepping on a fresh road apple, while wearing Vibrams is not advised.
2 Runkeeper listed the actual distance as 26.51 miles. When push comes to shove, really, three-tenths of a mile makes absolutely no difference . . . except when you’re forcing yourself to run. I make a habit of not looking at my phone as I run — the mile markers along the course are more than enough for me, and if I’m looking at my phone, I’m obsessing about stuff that I shouldn’t be obsessing about while running. But, right after mile marker 25, I managed to get myself running again. With fear that my hamstring would seize in cramps with every step . . . I hit mile marker 26, still running, thinking “just half a mile, I can even do that if I’m cramping.” But then 26.2 came. And then 26.25, and I still didn’t see the finish line. For those last three-tenths of a mile, I felt like I was in some sort of purgatory.
Apr 24 14

Where I resolve to be a better dog owner by landing face-first in mulch

by John

I have two dogs. These are old, crotchety dogs who are set in their ways. And, they’re about as different, personality-wise, as can be.


Hobbes had Duffy before I met her. He’s a Cairn Terrier stowaway from Texas. He likes warm. He likes quiet. If you’re good with math, the transitive property will tell you he loves my kids when they’re asleep, because he steals all of their warms.

Hobbes does not like winter. Winter is cold. Winter is snowy and rainy and wet and yucky.

More than anything, though, Hobbes likes his walk, especially first thing in the morning. He checks his pee-mail, he gets to explore. He gets an excuse to cuddle up for the rest of the morning. Winter and walks, however, don’t always agree — especially with his absolute hatred of the cold. There are mornings that are too cold for Hobbes. And, considering that Hobbes is a dog that, flying in the face of stereotypical dog behavior, only eats when he’s hungry, mornings, lately, have included me sleeping in, cuddled up with this blonde ball of grump. Hobbes will only be roused, in the morning, by the promise of a walk or an empty bed.


Snickelfritz, on the other hand, is a slightly younger, yet still-elderly, border terrier. He likes to play. He likes to bark. He likes a little bit of chaos. Perhaps more than Hobbes likes his walks, Snick loves his food. Once he determines that it’s time to wake, any rousing on the bed means “it’s breakfast time,” and he’ll whine. And Snick has this whine that feels like it should only be audible to other dogs1, but it’s perfectly hearable by Duffy and me. And it’s annoying. It’s so annoying that I’ll get out of bed and pour food in his bowl just to make it stop.

And then I’ll head back to bed and resume cuddling with the grumpy dog who has no interest in eating breakfast because he’s not getting out of bed unless you’re going to walk him.

Now that the weather is warming up, though, I’m resolving to be better about getting them to walk. As I said, for Hobbes, this is the one event that will warrant him actually getting out of bed. For Snick, a walk is acceptable only as the price to pay for breakfast. He hates walking, but not so much that he will refuse to go, as he knows there’s food at the end.

Me? I work out plenty – I don’t need the walk. But a walk, early in the morning, does allow a convenient method for collecting my thoughts before the day starts getting too crazy. But my dogs should walk more2, if, for no other reason, that it’s easier to convince Hobbes to eat breakfast if he’s walked & therefore, already out of bed. As he’s old – I worry about him eating enough, though I believe the kids do a pretty good job of keeping him fed.

So I woke this morning to walk them. I wanted to stop, half-way through the walk, though, and start taking my bodyweight training to the playground at the local park . . . it just seemed right. The reason I’m working out as I’m working out is because I can to it just about anywhere — most of the exercises I’m doing, I need, only, myself. Dips need parallel bars. Pull-ups need something for me to pull myself up to — while I have a dip station and a pull-up bar at home, it’s just easier for me to work out when I’m not at home — at home, it’s difficult for me to get into the right mindset. And the playground has everything I need3.

So, this morning, I set my alarm and got up. Snickelfritz, hearing the alarm, woke and was raring to go – because, well, once someone is moving, it’s time for breakfast. But, we didn’t get breakfast right away, so he was all sorts of confuzzled. I got dressed in sweatpants, sneakers, and a tshirt, picked up a grumpy Hobbes (who got considerably less grumpy as soon as he started realizing that a walk was in his future) and walked downstairs to put the dogs on leashes.

As soon as I stepped outside, though, I realized that it was C-O-L-D. I contemplated whether this was “too cold” for Hobbes, decided that, no, it wasn’t, but that I, at least, needed a coat. So I started to walk back inside to which my 13 pound cairn terrier, thinking I was calling off the walk, protested by making me drag him. Seriously, this is a 13 pound dog, but he held his legs straight against the ground — I don’t know how he created such leverage, but it was pretty impressive. I guess it’s fair to say that he, at least, didn’t think it was “too cold” for him.

I promised Hobbes, right then, that I’d be far better about taking him for walks most any day that it’s not raining (when it does rain, even Hobbes will seem to say “it’s ok, we can skip a walk right now.”).

Of course, through all of this, my ulterior motive to get a quick strength training workout in was ruined when I actually got to the playground. It was cold — I got onto parallel bars to start doing some dips to warm myself up when I realized that I had no grip strength. Well, maybe I did, but I couldn’t feel my fingers . . . just too damn cold.

But, once the weather is warm enough for me to hold onto metal bars, I’ll be doing dips and pull-ups and back-levers. Unless I break my nose after falling while trying to do some silly gymnastics move.

1 In a tragic bit of irony, Hobbes, a dog, cannot hear this whine, despite the audible range. As Hobbes, in his growing old, has become stone deaf.
2 I should note that we have a fenced-in yard and a dog door . . . so the dogs do have a convenient method of taking care of things when nature calls.
3 Also, the playground is heavily mulched, which is a far softer surface than the concrete of my basement. One of the bodyweight exercises that I’m trying to work to is the Back Lever. I have serious issues even attempting the move, however, and I believe it’s far more due to confidence than strength. A mulched surface is far more forgiving if when I fall flat on my face in trying to build up rotational strength in my shoulder.
Apr 22 14

Where bananas flood my youthful memories

by John

Bananas. I love them, and I always have. My kids, also, love bananas. When I was a child, however, the dream of the perfect banana taunted me — brilliantly yellow without anything close to resembling a brown spot on the skin. I’d peel it and there would be no strands, whatsoever, because the perfect banana wouldn’t have such silliness. It would be sweet and not mushy. It must exist.

I’m grown now. I can tell you that “sweet” comes from “ripe,” and “ripe” doesn’t happen without the brown parts, or the yucky parts. If you see a perfectly yellow banana, it will only look yellow when it’s by itself, it’s unripe and will look green next to most anything resembling a ripe banana. Even if you manage to peel this “perfect banana,” you’ll end up with half of the peel sticking to the fruit, tons of those little annoying string things, and it will taste like starch.

But, when I was a kid, I blamed my parents — they just wouldn’t give me the perfect banana. They didn’t understand that, by the time a banana had a brown spot, it was, effectively, ruined. When I snuck a banana that wasn’t anywhere near ripe, and I had to deal with a starchy, unsweet, stick, my parents, obviously, bought the wrong kind of fruit.

Now, I’m an adult, or something. And I seldom eat bananas. Well, I should say that I seldom chose to eat bananas. With the kids, well, bananas find their way to me, whether I want them or not.

Because, you see, my children have the idea of the perfect banana.

“No – one without any yucky parts” I hear, oh so often, as I start to peel it.

“It’s yucky” I hear, when the banana is not yet ripe.

When there is a soft spot on the banana, itself, oh, the sky is falling. Sometimes, I might be able to scoop out the soft spot and, by some miracle of physics & unicorn piss, the banana will hold structural integrity, with a portion removed . . . in those cases, just maybe, my kids will eat the banana.

But should the banana break – be it from the removal of a soft spot or, you know, just because there is a good reason that bananas aren’t chosen as building material, that’s when we head to tantrum city. From this point, at a computer, far away from my children, tantrum city is a splendid place to travel. It’s silly — it’s where logic stands on its head. Of course, when visiting tantrum city, I might as well try to fart rainbows as try to be a reasonable parent.

It’s my fault that bananas break. And a broken banana, obviously, has my child ruined. Just as a starchy, unripe banana was, absolutely, my parents’ fault when I was the same age as my kids.

Apr 14 14

Where the wheels fall off at the end of a marathon

by John
Garden Spot Village Marathon

According to all of the training guides, I had underprepared. In the running world, “long runs” are supposed to happen once a week or so — it’s never necessary to run the whole distance you’re set to run, but you should feel comfortable having run about 2/3 of the distance . . . for that last third, you can rely on your nerves and adrenaline and chutzpah and whatever it is that keeps an endurance athlete going. The problem is, long runs require a long time, and time has been at a premium — and because I’m a moron a purist, I won’t run on the dreadmill. The marathon came, and I had runs between 40 & 55% of the full marathon distance under me.

Smiling Pre-Race

But I’m me – I wasn’t worried. I would finish.

Sometime in 2014, I want to run a marathon in under 4 hours . . . but, with this being my first take at the distance in over two & a half years, I was going to be happy to “finish strong1“. Basically, I wanted to go out and treat the Garden Spot Village Marathon like “just another long run.” Just a long run that happened to be 26.2 miles in length.

As per my past behavior, I did not scope the course, but I did study the course map & elevation profile carefully. There was a big hill just before the 10k mark. There was another hill between miles 22 & 23 of the same elevation, but with a much steeper incline and decline. The thought in the back of my head was “if I get to the top of the hill with my legs still going, I should be able to coast to the end.”

I started pretty well — within the first mile, I had weaved my way, into & out of the crowd, to find “my pace,” which is always good — at the beginning of any big event, I typically spend far too much energy over the better part of two miles just being able to run my own race. By that first mile marker, I was on my own.

I passed the 4-hour marathon pace crew.

I passed the 3:55 marathon pace crew.

I climbed the hill at the 10k mark and passed the 1:55 half-marathon pace crew.

I hit the “runners high.” Honestly, I can’t tell you too much about miles 8-17. I remember passing each mile marker, thinking “Ok, I feel good.” I wasn’t even looking at my phone to see what pace I was running — I was on autopilot and it felt great.

As we approached mile 20, I consciously started to slow myself down. I still had plenty “in the tank,” but I knew the steep climb was coming – and, dammit, I wanted to be running at the top.

Mile 22 came. The summit came. I was still running.

Then mile marker 23 hit.

In the past, I’ve always claimed that a half marathon is, really, only a 10 mile run — you can coast the last 5k. And a marathon? It’s “only” a 20 mile run . . . and then it’s “just” a 10k. Of course, I was lying to myself.

What felled me is that I had spent too much time thinking about getting up the hill — I got up the hill without issue. But, it was steep going downhill, and, unlike riding a bike, going downhill requires just as much effort when you’re running as going uphill – except, to keep myself in check, I shift my weight back – instead of leaning slightly forward as I stride, I actually stand almost straight up. It was on one of these steps, right after the 23rd mile marker, that my right hamstring seized.

I immediately stopped running, got myself into a squat position, and the kink worked itself out. I started running again, and, within half a mile, it was right back. Again, I stopped, squatted, and got myself back into shape.

The 3:55 marathon pace runner passed me.

The 4 hour marathon pace runner passed me.

I passed a water station and guzzled two small cups of water, run/hopping with the pain in my leg.

I turned a corner and the leg seized yet again.

I lied down to stretch my leg out. Someone came running over from the last water station, a radio in her hand.

With less than a 5k between me & the end of the race, I very nearly had her call for a vehicle.

But I got up. When I tried to run, my leg would seize. When I walked, as long as I favored the limb, I was mostly ok.

A woman with whom I had been running much of the early part of the race caught up to me — on the uphills, I’d pass her, then she’d catch up on the corresponding downhill. Our flat-elevation cadences were just about perfectly in-synch. She tried to pep talk me into running. I tried. I couldn’t.

Others whom I had passed and shared a story or a pep talk or a smile or whatever passed me. I couldn’t go with them.

Mile marker 25 passed and I felt the knot dissipate – almost like the magic trick where a magician will pull two ends of a string and the knot in the middle just disappears.

Gingerly, I ran a few steps. And then a few more. And then a few more.

And then there was mile marker 26.

And then there was the finish.

Garden Spot Village Marathon Medal

It was a beautiful day for a run, and the volunteers on the course were among the best I had ever encountered in a race. I crossed the finish line.

Despite walking most of the last 5k, I bested my previous best time for the distance. Heck, I officially knocked a full hour off of my first marathon time (and I’d argue that this marathon was far more difficult than any of the previous marathons I had run).

Injuries suck. Finishing feels great.

1 Foreshadow alert: I did not finish strong.
Apr 7 14

Where I geek my way into a fun weekend.

by John

It started with an NPR story. I was on my way to work & they talked about a day-long party where all of the Lord of The Rings movies would be played where everybody would eat like Hobbits. Seriously, it seemed right up my alley.

I filed the story in my memory banks, thought about how much fun it would be, and then . . . sat.

But time passed, and passed, and passed, and passed . . . and I still thought about how much fun it would be.

So I looked at the calendar, found a weekend where I was not booked (this proved to be among the hardest parts of the entire exercise) and said “that’s it, this is when we’re doing it.” Evites went out — and, it’s only then that things become official.

I fretted about the menu for some time — foods inspired by the books . . . for a yet-to-be-determined number of people. My own issues with food (trying to “eat clean” and “be healthy” and ensure that “every calorie counts) aside, I knew it would be an undertaking. And I knew my approach to my diet would just be thrown out the window, for the weekend — and I was, somehow, ok with that.

The Menu & Timeline

  • 8am: coffee & tea
  • 9am: Breakfast (and start the movies). Frodo’s Scones & Gimli’s seedcake
  • 10am: Second Breakfast. Scotch Eggs Strider, Rosie’s Bread.
  • 11am: Elevensies. Lembas Bread
  • 1pm: Lunch. Po-Tay-Toe Soup, Cheddar Soup
  • 3pm: Tea. Bilbo’s Tea Cake, Mulled Cider
  • 5pm: Dinner. Rosie’s Shire Pie.
  • 6pm: Supper. Balin’s Spiced Beef.
  • Dessert (whenever/however): Blueberry Tarts, Smaug’s Gems.

Out-of-town guests started arriving Friday night — fortunately, we did most of the cleaning before anyone was over — but, my guests had to deal with me cooking and baking and prepping into the night. I hardboiled eggs, I marinated meat, I prepared the shire pie. I made enough scones, and seed cake, and tea cake, and tarts, and cookies to feed a crowd (note: I needed more of all of these). But, I was in my element.

I ended up drinking wine and playing piano with the out-of-town guests until 3 in the morning . . . well, I thought it was just past midnight, but you know what they say about time flying when you’re having fun. When I realized it was 3am . . . well, I knew I was in trouble. See, I wanted to run (did you see the menu?!) before showering before people arrived.

I woke at 6:30 and managed a quick two miles.

And then the day started.

Guests started arriving quickly. I’m afraid that most of the first few hours, I wasn’t the most social of hosts, as I was busy preparing/cooking the Scotch eggs, and then the soups. But I had a houseful of happy people. Kids were playing video games in the basement, or were watching Disney movies in the toy room. At one time, a parade of girls marched through, all of them dressed up like princesses and wearing fairy wings.

There was lots of laughter.

And, once I was able to serve the soups, things went onto auto-pilot for me, and I actually got to hang out with my guests and watch the movies! As to be expected, large gatherings started to happen outside of the movie-room, as that was the best place to sit down & chat, allowing those who wanted to watch the movies, well, to watch the movies (surprisingly, it was the older kids who were most steadfast in their desire to keep up with the goings-on of Frodo & the Fellowship).

I have friends who have gotten very, very good at home brewing, and there was tipple enough for all . . . and then some. Seriously yummy beer. Which lead to a seriously tipsy John by the end of the night.

People came & went as a full day on a random Saturday isn’t always, you know, available for a family. But people had a good time. And when the movies were ending, most everyone in the house stopped in to watch The Ring’s destruction and the return to the Shire.

Then we played Cards Against Humanity. And drank Angry Balls (cider & fireball whiskey). I was wearing my kilt. Somehow, I made it to the morning in one piece.

And then, since most of the crowd that spent the night ran, we ran.

Looking back, there is little that I would have done differently. Despite cooking and cooking and then more cooking, I didn’t have enough food for the crowd — we ended up ordering pizzas after serving the spiced beef. The shire pie & tea cake1, especially, I should have doubled…or tripled the recipes. And short work was made of the chocolate chip scones. Finding the right “doneness” of the Scotch eggs proved to be difficult — slicing them open when I was done, and then, sometimes, throwing the half-eggs back into the fryer proved to be necessary.

When I’m cooking a lot of food, much of it for the first time, I’m always prepared for something to flop (I’m especially reminded of a Weight-Watchers-friendly Chinese food feast that I attempted years ago, and throwing a bit of a tantrum over a “healthy” General Tso’s chicken that just wasn’t edible), but there wasn’t anything that I think didn’t pass muster here. I wasn’t a huge fan of the seed cake, but others seemed to like it. I don’t like chocolate, so the chocolate chip scones, well, I didn’t even approach them – but, as I said, short work was made of them. Smaug’s Gems (again, chocolate, so I didn’t do anything with them) appeared to be an acquired taste — not overly sweet, and with a whole lot of whiskey to them, but for those who liked them, they really liked them. As I started baking, I realized that I completely neglected to buy lavender — so the lavender muffins never materialized . . . but I’m someone who always tries to find the things that could have been better . . . and, well, I think everything went quite well. Heck, I’m pretty sure I’m going to start adding Scotch eggs to my breakfast routine, especially on days that I lift or run early, and the shire pie may become the new casserole of choice (replacing the chicken tortilla casserole that we make when we know we’ll need meals for a few days but not necessarily want to cook meals for a few days).

A dishwasher that won’t drain water had us constantly doing dishes . . . but that’s a mere minor inconvenience.

All in all, a good time was had. Duffy and I used to throw full-weekend parties, often . . . and then kids came. I think we both had no small amount of trepidation when it came to this weekend . . . but it worked well. We had activity enough for kids of all ages. And, you know, when you’re rocking out with your geek out, let that geek flag fly.

Now, though, I need a nap. And to head back to “clean eating,” at least until my marathon this Saturday.

1 The tea cake was the one thing that I knew would turn out, as I took the recipe and made cookies from it over Christmas . . . though, to be fair, I tried to make it, as a cake, about two months ago and it just completely flopped — this weekend, it was delectable.
Apr 1 14

Where I freak out a little bit about an upcoming marathon

by John

If you’re new here, there it probably isn’t too much of a surprise to know that I have a marathon on the horizon — I mean, you come to a place like “Daddy Runs a Lot” you expect posts about a father who runs. A lot. And a marathon is a lot of running.

But, this winter, I haven’t been running all that much. I hate running on the dreadmill, and the near-constant presence of ice on the roads has kept me inside . . . I’m working out, for sure, but I just haven’t been running as much as someone who is training for a marathon should be running. So, yesterday, I decided to test myself.

In 2011, I ran my first marathon — the Harrisburg Marathon. I had trained quite well, including several 22 mile runs — but I didn’t scope the course properly. Everything I read talked about how flat the course was . . . and up to the halfway point, I agreed – the course was quite flat. I was running fast (well, fast for me at the time, and certainly faster than I should have been running), and then I hit the 18 mile mark. The course ran straight through Wildwood Park in Harrisburg, with significant hills. I was going too fast. I was running too confidently. The hills, almost literally, swept my legs out from under me.

I finished the race, but I ended up walking most of the last 10k. I just had nothing left.

So, yesterday, after a brutally cold weekend that included a late March snow/freezing-rain/ice storm, I found perfect Spring-in-Pennsylvania weather. And a few hours to kill. So I ran. And I took myself to that park which was the bane of that first marathon. I ran the hills. And then I looped back and ran them again. And again. And again.

All told, I ended up running 12.5 miles, but I had plenty left “in the tank” at the end of everything . . . I stopped because I had another commitment, so I just didn’t have another half-hour to commit to another loop around the park.

Looking at the elevation profile of the run I’m committed to, there are two significant climbs – the first in the first 10k (which, hopefully, will allow me to prepare my legs), and then one just before the final 5k (seriously, the highpoint is almost exactly at the 23 mile mark, so the last 5k is, literally “all downhill” – hopefully I’ll be running and not rolling).

I keep telling myself that “I’ve got this,” despite not being out on the road as often as I’d like, but yesterday’s run certainly helped me believe what I’ve been saying to myself.

Mar 27 14

Where I recall watching a movie with my son

by John

In my last post my friend Lisa, from libelletage mentioned how it’s great to look back at parenting posts to remember just what kids were like. I smiled when I read the comment, and started thinking of my favorite memories of my kids. And I realized that there’s one that I haven’t shared here. But I need to.

We can argue nature versus nurture for what kids grow to love when they’re kids — there’s certainly a tremendous amount of influence that we, as parents, have over their children. But, I think some loves just are born, intrinsically . . . with an adopted child, well, we don’t have a lot of input into what the birth parents enjoyed — but I was certainly happy the day that I started watching Star Wars on the TV & CJ sat down, transfixed.

The kid, simply is a Star Wars kid. Soon after I realized that I could use the movie as a babysitter to distract my young son while I dealt with my daughter, CJ started getting into Lego Star Wars on the Wii (which was awesome at first, because you just had to give him a Wiimote in control of a character that had a blaster & he was happy just shooting the blaster randomly . . . now, he actually plays the game, which is great & everything, but if he can’t get through a part, he’ll ask for help, meaning that I have to keep within hailing distance once I turn the game on).

Though I loved having a Star Wars kid, there are times that, simply, you have too much of a good thing in your life1. And I couldn’t sit through another Star Wars movie. So I put in the Iron Giant.

CJ couldn’t have been much more than one at the time — he was walking, but absolutely not talking2. Leila was very little, and I believe was napping through much of the movie (I ended up placing her in the pack & play more often than not because her “not entirely steady on his feet” brother couldn’t really be trusted to not trip over her if she was anywhere near him.

Throughout the movie, I was doing laundry, changing diapers . . . I may have napped for a little bit. CJ did the typical toddler thing, looking at the screen every now & then, but playing with toys, asking to be picked up, generally treating the movie as background noise.

Then the movie ended **spoiler alert for a movie that was released 15 years ago, but is entirely under-appreciated**. The Giant sacrificed himself, and the redeeming quality of the “jumpy” bolt that seemed to be screaming “it’s going to take awhile, but I’m putting myself back together,” would be lost on a one-year-old.

I questioned how much of the movie my son was picking up, but answered myself about 5 minutes later. He napped, then snacked, just before the movie, so it wasn’t “I’m sleepy,” and it wasn’t “I’m hungry,” but he started bawling. Uncontrollable crying. For 45 minutes.

He wasn’t hungry. He wasn’t sleepy. His diaper didn’t need to be changed. I’m convinced that he was crying for the giant.

So we watched Star Wars again to cheer him up.

1 Fortunately, when it comes to Star Wars, it takes an incredibly short amount of time for the awesomeness to reset.
2 I worried, for ages, about CJ’s speech — he started walking early, and shows plenty of signs of “being smart,” but his speech was delayed, so I worried, and hoped he would start talking. Now, there are times that I curse myself for those hopes.
Mar 25 14

Where I notice subtleties in the behavior of my children

by John

Not long ago, I wrote about “uppy.” My kids enjoy it when I carry them about, and I’ve gotten really good at lifting and carrying both children at the same time. Heck, if I have somewhere that I need to be, this is my preferred method of foot transportation, because it means that I can walk at my own pace (which is considerably faster than the toddler constant of dilly-dally). Monday, during the preschool drop-off, we parked, I got both children out of their carseats, and asked “who wants uppy?” Both children said “me,” so I picked them up and worked my way to preschool.

But as we got close to the actual school, CJ started seeing his friends. And, suddenly, he wanted to walk.

I wonder if the days of cuddles with the cuddlier of my children are limited.

Leila is finally turning the corner with potty training. We still have accidents, but I feel like we’re getting close to the end of them. Now, though, when she thoroughly fills the toilet, she’s taken to saying “my poop is like daddy’s.”

I don’t know what to make of this.

I’ve taken to doing handstands & headstands in an effort to getting used to being upside down, which will aid in my doing handstand push-ups. My kids find this hilarious, but it’s going to kill me when one of them pulls off a perfectly executed handstand before me. And I know that’s going to happen — they have a LOT less mass to balance.

I typically sleep in my underwear or pajama pants — seldom do I wear a shirt to bed. This means that, at night or in the morning, I hang about, in my house, wearing little. Leila has taken to sucking in her tummy whenever I’m getting her dressed so that she “is like daddy.” I don’t know if this is a testament to my fat-loss, or if I subconsciously suck in my stomach whenever I’m not wearing a shirt.

As someone who can hear a song time and time and time again & barely know any of the words to it (I pay attention to the music, itself), it’s kind of scary how well my kids know the lyrics to the songs they like. They both seem to know every word to every song in Frozen. Whenever I have them alone in my truck, I just tell Siri to “Play Artist, The Beatles” and that’s what we listen to.

The other day, Leila was singing “Letter B”, to “Let It Be” which made me giddy. And at the end of the same trip, CJ asked me who Jude was, and why wasn’t she paying attention? Because, if Jude were paying attention, you wouldn’t have to call “hey” all of the time.

Tantrums as I get the kids ready for preschool are pretty commonplace. But the last made me chuckle: I was getting everything ready, and, as it was a Monday, I had symphony practice that night, so I had to put my bass in the truck. When Leila saw me pick up Lenore, she asked if I was going to make music.

I explained that, yes, that night I was going to play music. She wanted me to take Lenore out, right then, and play. I really, really hope this is the start to true music appreciation.