Boston Long

Durgin-Park, the venerable restaurant inside of Boston’s Faneuil Hall, recently closed its doors after almost two hundred years of operation. You read that right; D-P opened for business a few decades after the Revolutionary War, but served its last patron this year, citing “an inability to turn a profit”. For America at least, that’s some serious history. For Beantown on the other hand, that’s par for the course. After all, this week the Boston Marathon completed its 123rd consecutive running.

I am in awe of runners who qualify for – let alone run – the Boston Marathon.  It’s daunting enough to compete for 26.2 miles, but you can’t join the “fun” in Boston unless you complete a qualifying marathon in under 3 hours (men, ages 18-34), or 3.5 hours (women).  Consider, 3 hours is an average pace of 7 min./mile.  To appreciate that, go to the gym, crank up the treadmill to eight or nine miles/hour, and see how long you can maintain it.  Now imagine running that fast for three hours straight, up and down the city streets of Boston.  It’s superhuman.

The Boston is the world’s oldest annual marathon.  Simply achieving the age-specific qualification time is the goal of most elite long-distance runners.  But if that’s all you know about New England’s most-spectated event, you’re missing out on some fascinating race-related trivia.  Here’s a sampling:

  1. The Boston is run every “Patriots’ Day” (the third Monday in April), a holiday to commemorate the start of the American Revolutionary War.  Effectively, the marathon is a nod to freedom.
  2. The Boston was first run in 1897, one hundred years after the first Olympic marathon in Athens, Greece.  That marathon, as most know, was inspired by the fabled run of the Greek soldier Phillipides from Marathon to Athens, announcing a battle victory over the Persians.  Effectively, Phillipides’ run was also a nod to freedom.
  3. The Boston Red Sox play every Patriots’ Day in Fenway Park.  The game finishes in time for the fans to walk a mile east along the Charles River, arriving in Copley Square as the marathon runners are crossing the finish line.
  4. Until 1986, the men’s and women’s winners received a wreath of olive branches and a trophy; no cash prize.  Today?  First place: $150k, Second: $75k, Third: $40k, and Fourth: $25k.  Might want to dust off the running shoes and start training.
  5. Check out Derek Murphy’s “marathon investigation” blog here.  Derrick started his sleuthing five years ago and outed over 250 cheaters, including several who faked their race qualification times in order to run.  Too bad Derrick wasn’t around for the 1980 race, when Rosie Ruiz pulled off the marathon’s most famous heist (see her story here).
  6. In the 2011 race, Geoffrey Mutai of Kenya effectively broke the world marathon record (even though it wasn’t deemed official), finishing in 2:03:03.  Try that pace on a treadmill.  Set the speed at twelve miles/hour and… well… let it spin from a safe distance and just watch.
  7. The Boston draws an average of 30,000 participants each year, cheered on by 500,000 spectators.  The participants are divided into men’s and women’s categories of “elite runners” (i.e. pros), the remaining qualified runners (waves of 10,000), wheelchair-bound, and hand-cyclists.  The Boston even accommodates blind runners.
  8. The Boston is famous for Heartbreak Hill; the incline located a few miles from the finish where runners tend to hit an endurance “wall”.  Why the name? In the 1936 race, Johnny Kelley caught up with rival Tarzan Brown on that hill, giving him a pat on the back as he passed by.  Bad move.  Brown took the gesture as a challenge, found another gear, and went on to win the race.  Brown effectively “broke Kelly’s heart” and the hill gained a name forever.
  9. Halfway through the Boston, the lively women from nearby Wellesley College form a long “Scream Tunnel”, yelling and blowing kisses as the runners pass by.  These ladies are so loud, you’ll know the Scream Tunnel is coming a mile before you get there.
  10. And finally… the Boston Marathon is not really run in Boston; not until the final couple of miles.  Before that, you’re touring twenty-four miles of eight neighboring towns instead.

Remarkably, this year’s Boston Marathon included four finishers in the top hundred from right here in Colorado Springs.  The next day, my cycle instructor casually mentioned she’d run the race before.  Ditto my former boss at Hewlett-Packard.  And my sister-in-law has a good chance of qualifying in the next couple of years.  Superhumans.  As for me?  I do like to run, but I’d be happy enough just to spectate beside those hundreds of thousands of “Boston Strong”.  I’m just sorry I can’t have dinner at Durgin-Park afterwards.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”; and the Mental Floss article, “11 Fast Facts About the Boston Marathon”.

Nature’s Constant Call

It wasn’t supposed to be this difficult.  Merely tweaking a former New Year’s resolution to create a new one should be the proverbial walk in the park.  But clearly, I wasn’t prepared for the, uh, “inconveniences” of my particular undertaking.  So it goes when you commit to drinking a dozen glasses of water a day instead of ten.

(Hey, give me a sec’… I’ll be right back.)

Are you a New Year’s resolution kinda person?  Do you sit down towards the end of the holidays and pen (or pencil, for you not-so-brave) a list of gonna-do’s for the coming year?  Me, I’m on the fence with the whole promises-promises thing.  Sure, turning the calendar from December to January evokes a fresh start; I’m just not convinced I must be “resolute” in the process.  I prefer casual, undocumented, safe-zone agreements.  Gonna eat better. Gonna get to the gym more. Gonna read a bunch of new books.  Whether I blow them out of the water or just achieve slightly better than last year, I win!

The water thing, though.  Why-oh-why did I read my latest fitness club newsletter and choose to drink their Kool-Aid?  (Wait, hang on… the phone’s ringing… it’s Nature again.)

Can you hear it? Does it make you want to…?

Forget the glittering generality of eight-glasses-per-day.  Not only is the rule passé, it holds no water.  Eight glasses is simply too generic for the myriad human bodies out there.  Ditto downing “half your weight in ounces of water” – too generic.  On the other hand, a pile of research and scientific evidence in my newsletter suggested the following: Men should consume 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) of fluids per day, while women should consume 11.5 cups (2.7 liters).

Now then, “fluids” includes all liquids swallowed in a day, so right away we have an appealing math problem.  Fluids from foods = 20% (just go with it), so my 15.5 cups instantly evaporate to 12.4.  A cup of coffee in the morning and a glass of wine in the evening can also be subtracted (don’t believe the dehydration claims – they don’t hold water).  However – and here we pause the calculator – I can’t escape the negative impacts of a) regular exercise (I sweat like a baby rainstorm), b) environment (Colorado = high altitude = dehydration), and c) breathing.  Those three moisture-robbers elevate me back to 12.4 cups.  Maybe I should stop breathing – that’s worth at least the 0.4 cup.

12 cups = 3/4 gallon

Ten cups a day – now that’s navigable waters in my book.  I start the morning with two (supposedly a good habit) as I wash down my multi-vitamin.  I drink another two mid-morning, another two at lunch, another two or three in the afternoon, and one at dinner.  But twelve cups?  How the heck do I jam another two into my schedule?  More importantly, where to I find the extra time to uh, um… (a little patience here, I need to talk to a man about a horse).

Time to get personal (as if we haven’t been already).  When I morphed from child to teenager to full-grown adult, my body parts grew accordingly, EXCEPT my bladder.  That little balloon remains the same size as when I was born – I’m sure of it.  The bladder is a remarkable organ, “capable of expanding from 2 to 6 inches with a capacity of 16 to 24 ounces”.  MY bladder is capable of expanding to 2 inches (a guess) with a capacity of 16 ounces (another guess).  And here’s the best part.  The urge to urinate comes when the bladder is one-quarter full. Whose idea of a cruel joke is THAT?  Do the math on me and I’m only halfway through cup #1 before I’m scheduling time with the porcelain goddess. Speaking of the goddess, uh… (hold tight while I go water the flowers).

About these down-the-hall interruptions: is it just me or does the sound of running water “accelerate” the process?  In my twelve-cups-a-day world, I continue to brush my teeth, make a cup of coffee, refill the dog bowl, refill the bedroom humidifier, and refill water bottles every time I go to the gym.  You’d better believe every one of those tasks has me wanting to go powder my nose – and I really don’t powder my nose if you know what I mean.  Gee whiz (for God’s sake, don’t say WHIZ!), can’t a guy catch a break that doesn’t have the word “bathroom” in front of it?

My fitness newsletter also claimed, “women who are pregnant or are breast-feeding need additional fluids to stay hydrated”.  Bless my stars, I am not a woman. But seriously, twelve cups?  I’ll be moving my laptop into another “office” in my house before I know it.  There’s more to say on this topic but it’s gonna have to wait because… (I need to make a pit stop).

Jack Be Quick

If the lazy days of summer sap your get-up-n-go, here’s an idea. Find a friendly donkey (not a stubborn one). Halter him and attach a solid lead rope – at least fifteen feet worth. Saddle your jack with thirty pounds of gear, including a pick, a shovel, and a gold pan.  Finally, don your running shoes and head out to Fairplay, CO. $50 gets you into the World Championship of Pack Burro Racing.  Welcome to the state sport of Colorado.

Pack burro racing seemed a little ridiculous to me… until I dived into the details.  For starters, its origin is as legendary as the Greeks and the marathon.  Back in the strike-it-rich days, two Colorado gold-miners hit it big in the same location, and supposedly raced back to town (burros in tow) – first miner to the claims office wins.  Here’s another detail: pack burro racing really is a marathon – 28-30 miles up and back with your donkey, making the halfway turn at an elevation of 13,000 ft.  My favorite rule?  No riding.  However, the runner may push, pull, drag, or carry the burro.  Carry the burro?  A thousand pounds of ass?

Capitals, flags, songs, and birds – of course – but I never knew states had official sports, until recently, when California considered its options.  If your first choice for the Golden State is surfing, California’s state assembly agrees with you.  The Wall Street Journal reports the assembly just passed the “bill”, and now the tiff moves to the state senate.  I say tiff because a host of other Cali residents say not so fast.  Those who don’t live near the beach choose skateboarding.  Why skateboarding?  Because surfing is already the state sport of Hawaii.  They also say skateboarding is essentially surfing on wheels.  Maybe.

I grew up in California, but neither surfed nor skateboarded.  Still, I deserve a vote.  I did my share of body-surfing, so know what it’s like to catch a wave.  I did my share of bicycling, so know what it’s like to cruise on wheels.  You can put yourself in either camp, but arguments abound for both.  As one state assemblyman said, “Hawaii may have invented surfing, but California ‘mainstreamed’ the sport”.  Others say, “Surf ranches” and their wave machines bring the sport to the inland areas of the state.  On the other side of the aisle, skateboarding is a sport enjoyed by the masses just about anywhere.  And skateboarding really was invented in California, evolving from crude combinations of roller skates and wooden produce boxes.  Marty McFly should get a vote too.

By coincidence, surfing and skateboarding will join the Olympics in 2020.  The lighting of the torch in Tokyo will surely reignite the debate in California, no matter which sport is chosen.  Or maybe the state will still be arguing one over the other, instead of dealing with – ahem – more important issues of government.

Only a handful of U.S. states claim a sport in their list of symbols.  Some make sense, as in Alaska (dog-mushing), Minnesota (ice hockey), and Wyoming (rodeo).  Others have me saying, “What the heck?”, as in Maryland (jousting), and Delaware (bicycling).  I don’t live in Maryland or Delaware.  Maybe they banned every other sport in those states.  Of course, Marylanders and Delawareans probably feel the same way about Colorado and its pack burro racing.

Admittedly, Colorado could wage a healthy state-sport debate of its own.  The Rocky Mountains alone inspire a half-dozen seemingly better options.  If on water, go with river-rafting or kayaking.  If on snow, go with skiing or snowboarding.  If on land, go with hiking or mountain biking.  Yet none of those acknowledge the state’s rich lore of gold-mining.  None of them combine a human activity with an equestrian one.  Come to think of it, Colorado has enough runners and horses to win the debate, gold-mining legend or not.

According to the Western Pack Burro Association (“Celebrating 70 Years of Hauling Ass”), Colorado’s pack burro racing series still has several to go this year.  The first three are considered the “Triple Crown”, but I can still catch the remaining action in the towns of Leadville, Buena Vista, and Victor.  It’ll be like the running of the bulls in Pamplona!

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Sneakin’ Around

Six years ago, my wife and I visited Ireland for our 25th wedding anniversary. I remember the locals having this uncanny ability to figure out we were Americans, even before we uttered a word. They’d start with, “So where ya from in the States, the both of ya?”, or “What’s the weather like in America now?”, or “Traveled across the pond, did’ja?” It wasn’t until several years later I realized our feet had given us away. Our footwear – bright sneakers with white laces – effectively shouted, “Hello world! We’re from America!” We might have been the only rubber-soled couple in all of Dublin.

Funny people, those Europeans. They wear gym shoes when they’re going to the gym; running shoes when they’re going for a run. That’s about it. We Americans on the other hand (er, other foot), have a decades-long love affair with our “tennis shoes”. We have entire stores dedicated to the soft-soled shoe – Foot Locker, for example – though you’re more likely to find synthetics instead of rubber these days. Walk into a Foot Locker and say, “I need a good walking shoe”, and the salesperson will direct you to every single pair in the store. Americans and their gym shoes: where fashion trumps function.

“Gym shoes” is an awkward, dated description of America’s casual footwear, but we’ve yet to come up with a better name. Once upon a time we called them “tennis shoes”, but today that ask gets you a specialty shoe (for tennis, of course). As kids we wore “Keds”, “Converse” and “Vans”, because they were practical and cheap. 95% of my childhood plodded along in pairs of Keds (with the other 5% in bare feet, or the single pair of dress shoes my parents insisted for church). Today, Keds, Converse, and Vans have made a furious comeback, albeit as a pricey fashion statement.

More recently, Americans claim to be wearing “running shoes”, but how many of us run, really? Maybe we should side with the Brits and wear “trainers” instead. At least we could fib about being “in training”.

The Euros may be quick to judge footwear but trust me; that’s not all they’re looking at. American tourists give themselves away with a host of other fashion statements. If you’re partial to baseball caps, flip-flop sandals, or “athletic shorts” (another item demanding a name change), you’re an American. Speaking of shorts, any shorts in Europe labels you an American. Shorts are “children’s clothing” over there. Care to repack that suitcase? While you’re doing so, white “athletic socks” are a no-no. Euros match their socks to their pants (meaning skip the white pants too). Finally, leave the untucked, oversized, logo’d t-shirts in the drawer. Euro’s aren’t interested in poorly-fitting walking advertisements.

I may be guilty of several items on the “American Tourister” list, but I simply can’t give up my gym shoes. They’re too comfortable and practical, and they’ve become a lot more stylish than the Keds of old. That’s not to say I don’t feel self-conscious wearing them. A good friend – the author of the entertaining blog Brilliant Viewpoint – always insisted her husband wear “nice” shoes, no matter the occasion. Considering her Italian background (and his German), it makes a lot more sense now.

For the record, the American airport is a great place to catalogue footwear. On a recent visit, the traveler shoe pie was split into equal slices (whether males or females): gym shoes, sandals, and dark-soled. heeled, business-casuals. The irony of this airport visit – my wife and I were picking up two teenage visitors from Germany; students staying with us for awhile. As they walked out of the Customs area, my eyes dropped to their feet. What were they wearing? Gym shoes – both of them. Apparently there’s more to America’s global influence than fast food.

Running for Roses

On the treadmill this week, surrounded by dozens of others tackling their workouts, an idea formed in my head. Whether it’s running, sprinting, or even dancing on the treadmill (the new trend these days), there’s a subconscious sense of competition with those around you.  Someone wants to leave the room believing they “won” their workout.

Flash back to state fair or neighborhood carnival memories for a second. Those light-bright terror-filled rides drew me in as a kid, but how about the midway games?  That’s where I dropped some serious cash. Ring toss. Shooting galleries. Fishing pond. Skee ball.

In my book, the most memorable of the midway games was the Roll-A-Ball horse race. A larger-than-average booth with a dozen open stools invited you to have a seat. Along the back was a massive tote-board with horses lined up top to bottom. You had a brief sense of mounting a thoroughbred and trotting into the starting gate. The game began (with an obnoxious bell), and each “jockey” rolled a ball up a small wooden board and into holes.  The further away the hole the faster your horse galloped across the board.  The closer the hole the less the gallop but also the quicker the ball came back to you.  First horse across the finish line won (another obnoxious bell).  Some versions of the game had you shoot targets with water guns instead of Roll-A-Ball.

Here’s a video of the Roll-A-Ball horse race in action.

There’s a ton of frantic energy with Roll-A-Ball.  You play while nervously glancing at the tote-board to see how your horse is coming along. Whenever someone hits a high-score hole their horse surges to the lead. Towards the end you’re aiming for the further holes in a desperate attempt to make up furlongs.  As if the distraction of carnival sounds isn’t enough, thundering hoof beats blare every time a horse makes a move.

With Roll-A-Ball in mind, let’s go back to the gym.  I propose we combine the horse-race concept with the treadmill workout.  Place a big tote board at the front of the room. Assign each treadmill to a runner on the board.  Then create several competitions as everyone works out simultaneously. Who has been running the longest? Who is running the fastest? Who is covering the most distance?  The runners advance across the tote-board according to the individual efforts on the treadmills.  Tote-board results change constantly as runners join or leave the game.

Would people “play”?  You bet they would.  Runners are competitive by nature as they vie to “medal” or win their age category or even just improve their “personal best”.  Runners are entering 5K’s and 10K’s, half-marathons and marathons in record numbers.

Me?  I run because it makes me feel good.  But don’t think I don’t notice the results of my workout spelled out in big, bold numbers on the treadmill display. Total Time. Total Miles. Average Speed. Calories Burned.  Sometimes I race against my former self.  Sometimes I increase my pace to match the faster runner three treadmills over. Sometimes I run longer to outlast the creeper who chose the treadmill right next to me when several others were open.

Competition leads to better workouts so the racing element is a slam-dunk.  Add a “join” option to the treadmill display and you instantly pop up on the tote-board.  Quit whenever your workout is done.  Even if you don’t “win” I’d bet dollars to doughnuts you’d get a better workout than if you were running in isolation.

Mark my words, someone more innovative than me will take this idea and “run with it”.  Gyms will cough up the purchase price because racing games would attract more memberships.  And maybe, just for a moment, runners will feel like they’ve stepped off the treadmill and back into the carnival of their childhood.

Thirst (for) Knowledge

Water.

Two parts hydrogen compounded with one part oxygen.  Transparent, odorless, and tasteless, yet we can’t survive more than a few days without it.  If not for oceans, lakes, ponds; rivers, streams, and creeks; and a whole lot of underground aquifers, we humans would be in a heap of trouble.  With due respect to Harry Potter, water is the elixir of life.

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It’s fair to say most of us don’t drink enough water for optimal health. The long-held belief that eight glasses a day is sufficient has been replaced by the following formula: your body weight in pounds, divided by two, expressed in ounces. For most of us that means even more than eight glasses.  Gulp.

Somewhere along the way of several years of working out, I developed the habit of drinking small amounts of water during exercise, instead of chugging just before or just after.  On the treadmill for instance, I take a slug every time I complete a kilometer.  In the cycle class I drink every time the instructor says to pick up the bottle.  In a road race I never pass up the tables of water cups.  No question; the body works better with a regular intake of water.  Or at least a splash to the face.

Whenever I know I’m not drinking enough water I recall two vivid memories where I reached full-on dehydration status.  The first occurred as a child, when I was driving in the desert with my family.  I let the day go by way too long without taking a drink, and before I knew it my throat was so parched I could barely speak.  The heat of the day surely made it worse.  I pleaded to my grandparents to stop at a gas station (or anywhere with a halfway sanitary drinking fountain), which we eventually did, and I’m sure I took in a quart or more to quench my thirst.  Here’s a little irony: my desert dehydration is a fond memory because I can still hear my grandfather’s distinctive voice, saying, “need to wet your whistle, do ya?”  That was over forty years ago.

My second “parchment” occurred just short of the summit of Pikes Peak here in Colorado Springs – the first time I climbed it.  Pikes Peak is the highest mountain in the southern Front Range of the Rockies, at just over 14,000 feet.  Using the popular Barr trail it’ll take you five or six hours to get to the top.  Despite recommendations to carry a lot of water I only brought one 12-oz. bottle in my pack, which I refilled at a campsite halfway up the mountain.  I was getting by okay until the very last mile, when I ran out of water and my body literally began to shut down.  The combination of the effects of dehydration and altitude was devastating.  I could only walk a hundred yards at a pop, taking a seat on the rocks each time to recover for several minutes.  Mercifully I was close enough to the summit that I finished the hike, but not before realizing I’d been woefully unprepared.  In extreme circumstances the body demands a lot of water.  Certainly more than half your body weight in ounces.

If an elixir is defined as “a magical or medicinal potion”, then water qualifies in my book, and especially here in the high altitude of the Rocky Mountains.  It took a few years for me to gain a little thirst knowledge, but now my water bottle is my constant companion.  On that note, I think I need a drink!

Just Beyond the Spotlight

34.9 million people (including most of Jamaica) watched on Monday night as Usain Bolt claimed track and field legend at the Olympics by winning the Men’s 100m.  It was Bolt’s third straight gold medal in the event; remarkable considering he is eight years older now than when he won it the first time.  Like Michael Phelps and swimming, the hype leading up to Bolt’s latest victory was justified.  NBC covered every one of Bolt’s qualifying heats in prime-time, and delivered a good twenty minutes of back story before the final.  Bolt will be a household name if he is not already.

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The 100m run is one of several Olympic events I never miss.  It is a wondrous display of athletic power, and I’m always on edge to see who will become the “world’s fastest human”.  However, the prime-time Olympic spotlight need also shine on lesser known events and athletes.  Herein lies the oft-overlooked beauty of the Olympics: it is these “others” that emerge with the most inspiring stories.  They are not so much superstars, yet are still among the best at what they do.  A few examples for your consideration:

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Charlotte Dujardin of Great Britain rode to a gold-medal performance in Individual Dressage.  Show Jumping may be the more popular Olympic equestrian event but Dressage is the more difficult (and defined as “the highest expression of horse training).  Dujardin and her Dutch Warmblood horse “Valegro” floated through an almost magical routine, completing one spectacular movement after another.  Dujardin and her mount were graceful, elegant, and significantly better – at least on points – than the silver medalist.  And her story became even more poignant when I learned Dujardin was engaged to be married shortly after receiving the gold medal, while Valegro has earned his last championship (of many) and will be retired from the sport.

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Sanne Wevers of the Netherlands leaped to a gold-medal win on the balance beam in Women’s Gymnastics.  It was the first women’s gymnastics medal of any kind in her country’s history.  Wevers’ routine featured several jaw-dropping maneuvers I’d never seen before, including several spins while balanced precariously on one foot.  The judges were won over by Wever’s creativity and skill.  American television tried desperately to keep the spotlight on our own athletes (who were favored to win), but Wevers was clearly the humble star this night.  And her story was made even more poignant when the cameras turned to her twin sister Leika in the stands – also a member of the Dutch gymnastics team – as she reacted to Sanne’s upset win with tears of disbelief.

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Molly Huddle of the United States ran what should have been a gold-medal performance in the Women’s 10,000m run.  Except she didn’t win the gold medal.  When a group of eight women broke away from the pack after several laps – most of them Kenyans and Ethiopians – Huddle broke away with them.  After twenty-five laps Huddle crossed the finish line in sixth place, breaking the American record for the event by almost nine seconds.  And her story was made even more poignant when I learned Huddle’s finishing time would have been good enough for the gold medal in three of the last four Olympics.

The Games continue for several more days.  More superstars will be at their best on prime-time television.  Just remember to look around and see what else is going on.  There are wonderful stories just beyond the spotlight.

Four in the Forest

Three years ago this month, our community suffered a devastating wildfire the likes of which had never been seen in Colorado history.  Inside of a week, the Black Forest Fire consumed almost 15,000 acres and displaced 38.000 residents.  When the fire was finally contained over 500 homes had been destroyed.  It was an almost unimaginable force of nature, and a miracle that only two residents lost their lives.

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My family and I – and the several horses on our property – were forced to evacuate thirty miles to the north, waiting almost a week to learn the fate of our home.  We couldn’t check our phones for real-time updates.  Instead, we were at the mercy of twice-daily television reports.  We were glued to the screen as the spokesperson would list impacted streets and addresses.  By the grace of God our house was spared, even though the fire came within a mile of our property.  But the beautiful Black Forest now bears a miles-long scar that will be evident for decades, if not hundreds of years.

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The fire was a testament to a higher power, but also to the efforts of the “first-responders”.  Almost 500 firefighters battled the blaze; probably ten times the number manning our local stations.  I am in awe of these professionals, working tirelessly as well as putting their lives on the line for people like myself whom they will never meet.  They are the epitome of heroism.

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A year after the fire our community established “4 Miles in the Forest”, an annual fun run to benefit the Black Forest Fire/Rescue department.  “4 Miles…” attracts several hundred participants, including the firefighters themselves.  It is conducted at Section 16, a square mile of the forest with a trail around the perimeter for walking, running, biking, and horseback riding.  Thanks to an elementary school within the Section the firefighters held the line and saved the entire property.

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When I ran the inaugural “4 miles…”, I was delighted to find I was pacing one of the firefighters most of the way.  He must have been carrying 50 pounds of gear as he ran.  He was being coached by one of his superiors – as if in boot camp.  My own effort was buoyed by the thought that I was accompanied by this truly selfless individual.

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This year’s run was different.  I found myself alone most of the way, well-spaced between the leaders and the walkers.  The solitude gave me time to dwell on the significance of the race: a memorial to a tragic event as well as a testament to those who brought the fire to an end.  As I completed the run, I realized my participation had nothing to do with winning the race or where I placed or how fast I had run.  In fact it had nothing to do with me at all.  Instead my running was a tribute to the selflessness of others; their willingness to fight and protect without reward or recognition.  I know they would come to my rescue again without question.  They are heroes in every sense of the word.

 

exhilarating

Imagine a jog on a quiet trail that wanders through the forest.  Nothing but gentle breezes and sunlight filtering through the trees.  All you can hear are birds in the distance.  Your own little slice of heaven.  Except you’re not breathing very well.  In fact, you’re gasping for air as you run, trying to establish any kind of rhythm and focus, and wondering where the enjoyment is in all of this.  But at some point further down the path a page turns.  Your breathing relaxes and you’re moving easier.  You can focus and you’re feeling good.  What just happened?  You found your “second wind”!  And the sensation is nothing short of exhilarating.

12 - exhilarating

I found my second wind on a recent run.  It’s difficult to pinpoint the moment it kicks in, but it’s similar to driving as you shift from a low gear to a higher one.  Everything feels smoother and more efficient.  In this instance I intended to run several miles but after the first couple of minutes I wanted to quit.  I couldn’t get my breath and I wasn’t getting any satisfaction out of it.  It’s like I wasn’t in the mood to be there at all.  Yet I was familiar enough with the trail to know I was coming to an easier stretch – some downhills and flats, and a scenic tour of the pines.  I figured the least I could do was to complete that portion before I started walking.  Next thing I knew, I was even further down the trail and running with ease. My pace and breathing were controlled and comfortable.  So I completed my run without ever stopping.  There you have it: second wind.

When I run, I like to lose myself in thought because the creative juices seem to flow better. So it was somewhere out on the trail when I realized second wind applies to other aspects of life.  A year or so ago I left a job I held for over fifteen years.  Initially I was not comfortable losing the routine of the daily grind.  The meetings and conference calls and people just vanished.  There was an unsettling feeling of no longer running the rat race. There was the constant question of “what’s going on out there in the world?” as I kept myself busy at home.  But eventually I found a comfort level with my new routine – several smaller commitments instead of a single all-consuming one.  I became at ease with my new circumstances.  Second wind.

This is not an advice column, but second wind may hint at a healthier outlook on life. Push through the “first wind” of a given situation, especially when the going is tough and uncomfortable.  Give yourself the chance to get to the chapter where the pace and the rhythm and the conditions are favorable.  Once you hit that second wind, life suddenly feels exhilarating.

consonance

I belong to a fitness club; one of those national brands where the facility is many floors and many rooms.  It’s so big you sometimes feel like you’ll get lost.

3 - consonance

For the most part I stick to the cardio area because I like the treadmills.  And here’s an interesting observation.  If you choose to work out towards the back of the room you are witness to more than a hundred other machines in front of you: treadmills, steppers, rowers, and cycles, all standing in neat rows and ready to use.  Late on a weekday afternoon when the place is at capacity we have the look and sound of a hive of bees hard at work, each with his or her own task.  We move in different ways and at different speeds, but it’s as if we are working in harmony towards a common goal.  We are in consonance.

Here’s another observation.  Watching others work out can be entertaining.  I am one of those who prefers to keep my eyes and ears open while I huff and puff.  I don’t wear ear buds nor do I bring an iPod.  I don’t get lost in the dozens of televisions (big screens on the wall or small screens on the machines).  Instead, I just observe those around me.  There is an endless variety of behaviors.  Last week I jogged next to a singer.  That was a first.  He was listening to something on his iPod and singing along without a care in the world.  Another day I noticed two women walking side-by-side on the treadmills, lost in conversation with each other.  They were practically turned toward each other as they talked, which made me wonder how they didn’t fall off and whether their mouths or their bodies were getting the better workout.

Invariably I see people staring straight ahead into their little televisions, headphones firmly in place, glazed look in their eyes, lost in some program or music video.  Like my singer friend, the room around them could be on fire and they probably wouldn’t notice.

Inevitably, someone will take a call on their cell phone during a workout.  I’ll give that person about thirty seconds before my body language starts to say “annoyed”.  Anything considered an emergency can be communicated in thirty seconds or less.  Anything that really is an emergency should have the person jumping off their machine and heading out the door.  But most cell phone talk in the gym is worthless, of course.  Do these people prolong their conversations just to make sure the listener knows they are at the gym?

Lastly there are those who simply overdo it.  You know the type.  The super-athlete who cranks up the treadmill so high his legs are a blur and he’s just short of flying off the belt.  The older guy whose breathing is so labored you wonder if he’s about to keel over.  The girl who dresses in bright colors, and you wonder if her slow, deliberate pace on the stair-climber is because she’s tired, or because she simply wants you to notice her.

It used to bother me if someone came to the gym and – like the examples above – showed some indication their workout was not necessarily their first priority.  Now I realize I’m just observing coping mechanisms.  There is a physical component and a mental component to working out, and yes there is sometimes even a social component.  Whatever the ingredients, the unintentional entertainment provided by my “coworkers” is enough to make my workouts faster and more enjoyable.  I thank them for that!