Saturday, October 22, 2016

Cubs Win!

Every Cubs fan is ten years old tonight.

For the first time since 1945, the Cubs are in a World Series.  They haven't won one since 1908.  In that year, Harriet Tubman was still alive.  So was Mark Twain.  And Leo Tolstoy. And Geronimo. And Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

My high school was founded that year.

It's just baseball, yes, and I have philosophical objections to the culture of professional sports in this country and elsewhere.

But let me repeat: in this, the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand and Sixteen, the Cubs are in the World Series. For all the years since '08, for all the years they had great players like Ernie Banks and Billy Williams and Ron Santo and Ryne Sandberg, this time, they finally, finally made it. 

For fans who remember 1945 and bovid mammals of the genus Capra; for those who recall the implosions of 1969 and 1984 and 2003, this time, they did it (Yeah, there were a couple other times they were in the playoffs since '84, but those never felt like their year).  This time, they finally did it.

I remember, in the 70s, my mother taking me and my brother and our friends to the Cubs games, especially on Fridays, which was Ladies' Day and tickets were cheap (Fridays didn't become popular until the 80s).  It was the era of Reggie Jackson and the Pirates and the Big Red Machine of Cincinnati.

There were peanuts outside and hot dogs inside and vendors selling Old Style beer (which of course we didn't drink). There were Andy Frain ushers and no one had even thought about putting seats on the roofs of buildings across the street. There was that deliciously analog giant scoreboard in center field.  (And, of course, there were no big screen high definition TVs.).

I remember our neighbor's cousin from Japan coming to see a baseball game in America and being wowed by Wrigley Field.

I remember some of the coldest spring days of my life sitting along the unreserved seats of left field.

I remember when the Cubs scored 22 runs in a single game. And lost. (I also remember when WGN replayed the game just because it was so awesome.).

I remember when they installed lights and being relieved they architecturally matched the stadium.

I remember commemorating the 50th anniversary of my high school's new building and the seventy-fifth anniversary of its founding by walking down Addison to see the Cubs play.

And I remember when Hank Aaron came for his first appearance in Chicago after breaking Babe Ruth's home run record and the entire stadium stood and gave him a standing ovation even though he was on the other team. 

I remember Jack Brickhouse and being kind of disappointed when he retired and was replaced by Harry Caray who, of course, had covered the White Sox, which was just wrong.

I remember friends being fans of the Reds and the Pirates and the Dodgers and the White Sox, which was just wrong. (For the record, I was not opposed to their winning the World Series a couple years back.  I don't like their new stadium, though.  Or the fact that they took Comiskey off the name).

I totally shouldn't care about professional athletes making millions for their billionaire employers for mediocre performances over the course of a century.  And part of me doesn't.

But it's the Cubs.  And today, every Chicagoan who remembers is ten years old again.  And tonight, that's sublime.

Even if they don't beat Cleveland.  But they will. Unless they don't.  In which case they will do so in the most heart-breakingly way possible. Because they're the Cubs.

And it's what they do.

And there will be a next year.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Busy Writing and Running Summer

Well, it's been a busy summer writing-wise.  I'm letting a draft of a middle grade sci-fi adventure cure for a bit and also completed a work-for-hire project, and two-and-a-half nonfiction projects. (The half is still in-progress :-)).

Circa 1995.  No hills :-).
After the Cap Tex Tri weather debacle, I reconsidered my original plan to try the Austin Half-Ironman (or Ironman 70.3 as they're calling the things these days).   I'd wanted to do a couple Olympic distance races this summer (the other would've been the Tri Rock Austin Triathlon over Labor Day weekend) to get the kinks out before going for the longer distance.

Unfortunately, the schedule didn't quite work out (and I'm going to be doing some school and bookstore visits in October, prime training time :-)).  Also, this allows me to delay buying a new bike -- my current one is a 1989 Trek that is fine, but riding 50+ miles around the Hill Country, I can see where handlebar shifters would be useful :-).

So I decided to dive back in to the Austin Distance Challenge and take up the Austin Runners Club on the marathon training (which would also help with next year's triathlons).  My goal is a personal best or possibly Boston Marathon qualifying. (With the age-group corrections, BM qualifying has finally caught up with my PB :-)).

The ARC program is based on the Runner's World "Run Less, Run Faster" program, which has you run three days a week and do other cardio work two days a week.  One of the days is a track workout, one is a tempo run and the third is a long run, with pace times based on a one mile time trial we did a couple weeks ago. I have no idea if it will work, but I like it because I want to keep up the biking and running as well.

After the long run
I just completed the first week of the program and didn't actually hit any of my goal times, but I've never actually tried running for time, so at least the effort is interesting.  I ran a trial mile of 7:10, slightly slower than my 6:50 from last spring and a lot slower than my PB of 5:55 (granted, twenty years ago :-)).

From this, the track workout was supposed to be 4x1000 m at 4:09; my times were 4:20; 4:14; 4:15; and 4:22, so not terrible.  The tempo workout was supposed to be 4 miles at a 7:38 pace and my actual pace was 7:46. I figured it would be a challenge to hit those marks but was glad to have been close.  

The long run was supposed to be 11 miles at 8:57, which I though I could do, no problem, since I'd done my half marathons last year at around 8:24.  But with the humidity and heat (in August, hydration tends to be my biggest problem) and having only three hours of sleep (due to small feline mammals), I only did seven miles at a 9:07 pace.

Based on limited data, I like the program because it's not just about racking up mileage, which was getting a bit old. Also, the track workouts are not far from where I live :-). 

Anyway, I'm looking forward to the challenge of a new marathon best time, at the 2017 Austin Marathon!

Setting my PB on a wintry spring day


Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Capital of Texas Triathlon/Duathlon/10K/5K

So my plan to do my first triathlon in twenty years on Monday didn't turn out so well.

It rained.

A lot. But not so much in town.

At Camp Mabry, just north of central Austin, we got less than an inch of rain last Thursday. At Bergstrom Airport, just south and east of downtown, they got about nine inches.  And it was much worse farther east, along the Colorado River (which also runs through Austin).

On Friday and Saturday, it rained in the Hill Country.  West of Austin.  Upriver.

On Sunday, there was the CapTexTri expo and packet pickup and bike dropoff.
Swag!  My first cowboy hat since I was around seven.
Bike drop off.  I got there early.
Packet pickup
Coveting my neighbor's bike, Part I.
It was clear and sunny.  But because of all the rain, the LCRA opened at least one floodgate from the Tom Miller Dam, releasing water into Lady Bird Lake.  Which was where the swim portion of the CapTexTri was supposed to take place.

At the course talk at the expo, they announced that there was a flow of about 3 mph and they were considering changing the course so that it ran point to point (downriver).
Course talk.  Could've used a projector.

Later that day, they announced the swim was canceled.  Which was disappointing, but I've weathered a couple of triathlons in Chicago where that had happened and one when it probably should've.

Monday, race day, I awoke at 5 AM, fed the cats, ate breakfast and drank coffee, and then I heard rain.  Lots of rain.

Nevertheless (discovering, to my chagrin, that I am apparently an optimist), I headed out.  When I arrived at the transition area, I was told it was closed, and that we should shelter at Palmer Events Center or its garage.  This was around 6-620.

In the garage and on the deck of the Palmer Events Center, folks seemed to take things in stride and with humor.  Some people were concerned about hairpin turns on a wet course, but were generally willing to take it slow.
Sheltering in the garage

We heard a tentative plan to cut short the bike portion to 20k, but the rain and lightning continued. Finally, at around 830, race officials called off the bike portion entirely because of flooding on the course. 
Still a bit lightning-y
They announced that Olympic distance participants could do a 10k, while sprint participants could do a 5k and that start time would be at 10 am. Most folks removed their bikes and went home or back to their hotels. There was some grumbling -- last year the event had been cut short due to flooding, as well, and I gather there had been similar problems in 2014, too.
Athletes clearing out the transition area
I took my bike back to my car, but decided that I'd gotten up at five that morning to run a race and so, I was going to do one.  Besides, I didn't want to waste all those carbs I'd eaten in the past few days. :-).

At ten o'clock, the rain pretty much stopped.  And then we were off!  By 10:15, the sun came out.  No, really. 
Everyone who's still there seems in good humor :-)
And we're off!

Turned out, there were only about 200 of us who stuck around for the 10k, with another 150 for the 5k (out of around 3000 original participants), but everyone seemed to be having a good time.  I was pretty happy with my race -- I'm not sure it was exactly 10k, but I still did one of my better overall times and paces. At least this century :-).
The view from the Biergarten.  Note the utter absence of rain.
Sunny skies.
On the whole, it was a bit surreal but fun, although in the moment sometimes frustrating.  And, in retrospect, kind of funny.  I think the organizers did a good job under trying conditions and kept us pretty well informed via social media.  So, thanks (And I am really glad I wasn't in charge :-)).  Thanks also to all the volunteers who stuck around to the bitter end.

 Oh, and I actually ended up getting a bit of a tan.

Coveting my neighbor's bike, Part II
Epilogue: Late Monday, the Austin Fire Department closed Lady Bird Lake and Lake Austin to all boat traffic.

And they're giving us a discount for the 2017 race. :-).

Here's what the lake looked like Tuesday morning (Normally, there is no current at all):


Saturday, May 28, 2016

Capital of Texas Triathlon Preview

Monday I'm going to be running in the 25th Capital of Texas Triathlon!  It's my first triathlon (Olympic distance) in twenty years and I'm pretty jazzed.
Steely-eyed determination 20 years ago. :-)

One of the great things about triathlons (and running races in general) is that you get to occupy unusual spaces: the last ones I did were Leon's Triathlon in Hammond, Indiana, a couple of Bud Light triathlons and others in Chicago. Leon's had a swim in Wolf Lake (shudder), followed by a cycle leg on an elevated highway that ran past the old U.S. Steel plant, and a run leg through an industrial downtown.  The Chicago ones were on the lakefront, just north of Navy Pier, with a bike on Lake Shore Drive and a run along the lake.

2013 CapTexTri
The CapTexTri also has a great location in downtown Austin, with a 1.5k swim in Lady Bird Lake; a 40k (24.8 mile) bike on a quadruple loop through downtown Austin, including Congress Avenue and Cesar Chavez; and a 10k (6.2 mile) run through Zilker Park.

The only thing I'm not too keen on is the bike route, since it requires you to do the same loop four times with a bunch of corresponding hairpin turns.  I don't like loop routes because I always think of how many more times I have to do the thing...Still, going up and down Congress Avenue without any cars is going to be pretty cool. As long as there are no poles in the middle of the road, I should be okay. :-).

Don't ask.

I feel fairly good about my training.  I've maintained good running mileage after the Austin Marathon and Austin Distance Festival and got some good workouts in even while traveling doing school visits.
On Stone Arch Bridge in Minneapolis
The swim is probably my weakest event -- I could stand to do more work on technique and probably do more open water swimming, but the distance won't be an issue.  Also, Lady Bird Lake isn't going to have waves (I seem to recall a couple of triathlons in Chicago with 3-4 foot waves on Lake Michigan (and this was on the near side of the breakwater).  Also, I won't have to deal with a wet suit.  My biggest concern is to not get kicked in the face. :-).
Lady Bird Lake during 2013 CapTexTri
The bike I'm feeling good about as well.  I'll be using the bike I used for my triathlons back in the day - a Trek 1000 I bought when I was in grad school for $450 (a guy at one bicycle shop here tried to sell me a new one, asking if I had a "nostalgic attachment" to it.). I do, but I also don't think a new bike is going to drastically transform my performance.  At least not $2000 worth :-). (A guy at another bike shop told me the Trek 1000 was his first road bike and he wished he still had it.  It's possible he was being kind :-)).

Tomorrow is packet pick-up, bike drop-off, and a chance to scope out the transition area, which I'll need because I can't see without my glasses...:-)

Oh, well.  Qapla!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Austin Distance Challenge!

The famous Distance Challenge fridge magnets
It's been a few months, but I finally have some time to sit down and blog my having completed the Austin Distance Challenge (long course), sponsored by the Austin Runners Club.  I'd done most of the events before, but decided to do the challenge itself (six races, culminating in the Austin Marathon), because I wanted to put more structure into my training for the marathon. I'd done several in the 90s, but this was my second of the century and I wanted to do better than my last one (2013).

The first race was the Run Free Texas 80s 8k (for those who don't think in metric, that's about five miles) up in Cedar Park.  Naturally enough, there were a couple of DeLoreans, each outfitted with a flux capacitor.  Time travel being what it is, they were obviously the same car but from different time periods. :-).  The course was through residential neighborhoods and parks and had some rolling hills -- nice for a beginning of the season race.

Back to the Future!
The second race of the Challenge was the Run for the Water Ten Miler.  The course was along Lady Bird Lake and up through Tarrytown and then back downtown, There were some great hills on this course and let me know I needed more hill work...And, ironically enough, it was raining. :-)
Rain and hills
Race three was the Decker Challenge, a half marathon in early December with a course around Decker Lake.  It's notorious for hills and really bad weather.  (The last time I ran it, it was in the 40s and pouring rain).  If anything, last year, it was a bit too warm.  The hills were pretty brutal, though. 
My face when attacking the hills
But Santa was there!
After that, we had a month break until the Rogue Distance Festival 30k (about 18.6 miles) in early January.  This one was fairly cold and probably my least favorite of the events.  It was up in Cedar Park again and ran through residential neighborhoods which was fine.  There was an issue with marking the course, though, so most of us got off track, which meant the mile markers were out of order so it was impossible to figure out a pace. (I think at some point, we were going in circles -- and ended up going about a mile farther than we should've.).  Still, it was my longest run before the marathon and I was kind of glad it happened that way. 
Yay!  I'm done! :-)
With four events done, it was all downhill from there.  Literally.  The 3M Half Marathon starts up in the Great Hills area and runs a straight line down to downtown. It also has a swag bag filled with useful (and not so useful) 3M products.:-)
Leo checks out the swag bag
This one also started out pretty cold and way too early :-). 

Before dawn, in the warm car before the cold race.
I really enjoyed this one, though, and it was a nice preview of many of the neighborhoods on the marathon route.
The piece de resistance, of course, was the Austin Marathon in mid-February.  I like the course, but the first time I ran the Austin Marathon, it was all downhill, starting up north and snaking its way downtown.  Now, there's a good bit of uphill until around mile 18.  I still like the course, though, and it's not like the hills from the Decker Challenge or the Run for the Water races.

I was pretty happy with my time -- my second fastest of the century!  I did it in under 4 hours, which had been my goal.  Next year, I'll work more on speed, but this time, I just wanted to not have my quads seize up in the last two miles :-).

Running through UT campus
Made it! Best time of the century!
Anyway, thanks to everyone involved in putting on the races and the challenge itself: organizers, volunteers, emergency personnel, and all the rest!  You keep Austin running!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Midwest Schools and Bookstores

I'm just back from a twelve day trip up to Chicago, Milwaukee, and Minneapolis-St. Paul, where I did a bit of research and visited a bunch of schools and children's indie bookstores.

The trip started inauspiciously, when my flight was canceled because the wind blew the plane onto a belt conveyor.

Eventually, I made it to Chicago, though, where the weather looked like this:
Still, I had arrived ahead of time so I could go down to the Museum of Science and Industry, which has a World War II German u-boat and a chicken incubator.
Next two days were the actual school visits, arranged at Henry Puffer Elementary  and Liberty Elementary by Anderson's Book Shop and at Attea Glenview School and Rondout School by The Book Stall.  Afterwards, I got to hang out with Robert from The Book Stall and stopped by for a couple of pics.
Posing with posters


Then I was off to Milwaukee for a school visit at Atwater Elementary arranged through the Boswell Book Company.
It was my first time I'd ever been to Milwaukee, but sadly didn't have a chance to sightsee, because it was off to Minneapolis-St. Paul for three days of school visits.

Visits at North Trail Elementary and Brimhall Elementary were through Addendum Books; those at Crestview Elementary and Little Canada Elementary were through the Red Balloon Bookshop; and at Valley View Middle School, through Wild Rumpus Books.

I had some free time, so I went over to Addendum Books for some pics and had a fun lunch with Katherine and Marcus, the proprietors.

In front of the "Purple Rain" wall

Since I was there over the weekend, I spoke at Red Balloon for the Minnesota SCBWI about Research and the Suspension of disbelief.

I also had the chance to go run a couple times on the Mississippi Riverfront trail and visit the Science Museum of Minnesota.

After Monday's school visit I had a fun lunch with Drew and Jordan of Wild Rumpus Books at Pizzeria Lola (a separate Pizza-a-Day Diet post will be forthcoming).  Then I visited the bookstore, where I met the menagerie.
Copper oven and decorative birch logs
Then I was back to Chicago and spent a day at the Field Museum of Natural History and showed Madeline Smoot of CBAY Books a bit of the city!


Many thanks to all the librarians and booksellers and Blue Slip Media and everyone else who made this happen.  Thanks also to Quinette Cook and all the folks from MN SCBWI who came out for the workshop.  It was great fun meeting you!

For information on how to book me for school visits for the 2016-2017 school year, contact Carmen Oliver at The Booking Biz.

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