Friday, February 26, 2010

Run, stressed boy, run!

In August of 2008, my employer asked me if I would be willing to move to Amsterdam for 6 to 9 months to hire, train, and manage a support team focused on EU customers. After several long talks with my Wife, I agreed and we both flew out in November 2008. I hired someone from Hungary, Italy, and France to get a good mix of native languages that they could support in addition to English. Training went well, sales reps are excited to be able to tout local language support and things were generally upbeat.

We were at a sporting goods store and I saw a flyer for a 12K race at a nearby beachfront town called Zandvoort in March of 2009. With a bit of ramping up (and commitment on the treadmill) it sounds totally reachable - so I sign up. This is my first race and I am very excited, we reserved a B&B for the weekend of the race at Zandvoort which about 20 miles west of Amsterdam. I hit the treadmill religiously and learn that I have an ITB issue I need to keep in control, what REAL blisters are, what music gets me pumped up - all the things that you learn as you make a transition from "occasional runner in the gym" to "prepping to run for real".

Most agree that the economic conditions were painful in 2008 and 2009. The CEO of the company was replaced .. and then replaced again over the course of a couple of months. In February I was told that I would not be staying through July as planned but was to come back in April. More importantly, the new CEO decided to shut down EU Operations in my office. This means firing the team I just hired and trained - people who had left their home country just a few months earlier to come work for me.

I was a mess. I stopped working out and pretty much ate junk food all the time. People would ask me how I was dealing with it and I would say "I don't care if you are building a Lego castle for 6 months, if someone comes along and kicks it all down - it hurts. And I am dealing with people's lives here. I'm not in a good place."

After announcing to Wife I am not going to race since we have to pack and I have to close down the office I just built, she reminds me that we have a room reserved and that we should at least go and try to clear our heads- even if I don't run. It sort of makes sense, so I agree and the day before the race we go out there.

She notes that I should at least show UP to the race, just to watch, even if I don't feel like running - and maybe I should wear my gear just in case I feel like running part of the way or something. She continues to make sense, so I put on my running gear and go.

Arriving at the race location I get my numbered bib and look around. There is a lot of energy- dancers, drummers, all kinds of activity so I sit down and start stretching.

The race course is separated into three parts. Zandvoort is known for Formula 1 racing and our race begins on the race track for the cars! It does a loop around the track, then up to a beach where it proceeds for a ways and then back through downtown to finish at the track across the finish line (where the Formula 1 cars would finish with the checkered flag.)

I decide to at least run the race-track portion and get into the starting bin with all the other runners. The door opens and we all go. I am not used to running without music but something about being in a crowd keeps me going. The course leaves the racetrack area and toward the beach - I am hurting but don't want to "just quit" after all - I keep going.

I tell myself that I'll run up the beach and bow out at downtown. I see Wife sitting on a log on the beach snapping pictures and try to smile. I keep going.

I get up a hill leading to downtown and see people everywhere. Dutch is the native language of Holland and I can't understand a word they are saying, but I have my name printed on my bib and every once and a while I can hear someone call out my name in encouragement - it works. I keep going.

With about a mile left my ITB is hurting badly and I start to walk. A woman who had to be in her 60s slows down, pats me on the back and says something to me in Dutch. I have no idea what she said, but the message is clear: "Don't give up." I keep going.

Entering the race track area there is a chaos of sound. I start jogging, and then running. The next thing I know I see the finish line and all the pain is gone. I pick up the pace and smile when I hear the announcer say my name.

I go through the exit area and they give me a medal - something I was not expecting at all since this is my first race and I had no idea that there was swag at the end. I move to the side and put my hands in my face as a flood of emotion brought on by the events of the past five months just slams me.

After pulling myself together, I find Wife who tells me I deserve a pint. It's quite possibly the best idea I have heard all year.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Red light. Green light

(Context note: this was in January 2010, not too long before this writing.)

I've been regular with my morning runs but, due to weather, I opted to run after work instead.

The first thing I notice is that there is so much more activity at 6 PM rather than 6 AM. People are walking their dogs, coming home from work, or going out to dinner - and this all translates to me having to pay more attention. Every driveway and intersection needs to be approached with caution so I don't get clobbered by someone who is on their cell phone.

There are also a lot more distractions such as the smell of one of my favorite Indian restaurants taking me out of the zone and forcing me to dream of diving into a tub of lamb vindaloo.

While in the last mile of my four mile run I press the crosswalk button at an intersection that's one of the run-offs of freeway traffic. The "walk" man on the signal lights up and I take a step into the cross walk, look to my left and jump back quickly as a plum-colored mini-van careens into a right turn through the red. I take a deep breath and thank myself for paying attention.

I start to enter the crosswalk again and see a second vehicle accelerating toward the intersection. I back up and hold my hands up as if to say, "HUH?!", but as the vehicle approaches I realise something: it's a cop.

The cop flips on his lights and siren and goes tearing off after the mini-van. I finish my run strong, knowing that sometimes justice is served.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Brief hiatus from posting

Greetings to whoever is reading this!

Work and life have precluded me from doing much writing lately so I wanted to post a quick update that I am still alive and have this on my to-do list.

I am considering the topic of 'running' in general because in my training for the San Francisco Marathon this summer some strange things have happened.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Effective jingle work from the people at Starburst

It’s 2007 in Kusadasi (aka Ephesus) and we are in a group of about a dozen others being led through the ruins by a middle-aged woman with red hair and a loud voice. She talks about the age of some of the buildings, identity of the statues and meanings of the various designs. Most people are listening half-heartedly, but I try to pay attention and soak in as much as possible.

We reach the ancient library and I start to tune into the fact that our tour guide may be phoning it in. She doesn’t mention that this library was actually constructed as tomb, which was unique in that it was within city limits and, well, the guy’s burial chamber served as the repository for thousands of scrolls. It’s at this point that I notice a particular speech pattern in her delivery of: state a fact, ask if you believe that fact, and then repeat the fact. For example, “There were once thirty thousand people living here. Can you believe there were thirty thousand people living here? Well, that’s how many people lived here – thirty thousand people.” I split off from the group.

We walk to the local amphitheater and I eavesdrop on another tour guide. Evidently, only acoustic performances are allowed there after some damage was done by a concert with electric amps. It seems the ancient stones don’t like the massive vibrations of modern rock music.

I hear my wife yell to me from the back row at the top of one of the aisles. I yell back and it’s amazing how the acoustics just carry the distance. She asks me to sing something while she records with her camera. Now, I am not a singer-dancer type. Others turn their cameras on to record the acoustics as well and I freeze up. I can’t think of any songs I know the words too – complete music amnesia.

She continues to urge me to start singing, so I start in on the first thing that pops to my head: a commercial for a type of Lifesavers candy that is berry and cream flavor. They have this kind of creepy guy that plays a 1800s British lad that does this song and dance for berries and cream called the Little Lad Dance. The lyrics are:

Berries and cream, berries and cream
I’m a little lad who wants berries and cream

People seem confused but at least satisfied that someone did something, so I count it in the win column. If I could go back in time, I would probably sing a Brak song instead, but I am still happy I got a chance to perform in a coliseum without being chased by wild animals.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

I may not be there yet, but I'm closer than I was yesterday

(Context: This was around 1996, in the days before airport security was as stringent as it is now.)

We are at Sacramento Airport and my fiancée has her ticket and is getting ready to go through security. She lives in Seattle and I live in the San Francisco area so the parting is emotionally charged – we know we aren’t going to be seeing each other face-to-face again for some time.

The clock ticks and it’s time for her to start making her way toward the gate. We come to a set of escalators and there is a woman stationed there that is stopping people. She is asking them if they have a ticket to board a flight, which I do not.

She says, “She can go, YOU stay down here,” and I wonder why this woman is so angry.

I ask, “I only want to walk her to the security point, are there any exceptions?”

Her lips turn into an honest-to-goodness sneer and asks, “Exceptions like what? Like you’re in love?”

Her words are dripping with sarcasm and disdain. We share a last embrace and I watch my fiancée ride the escalator up and then walk out of sight. I stand there in shock and just stare at the grumpy woman.

I mill around and consider asking for her supervisor’s name. She continues to stop random people, but not everyone. My anger builds and builds until I realize something.

For her not to have a grain of empathy for me, she must not have any similar feeling to relate to. She’s never had to tear herself away from a loved one getting on a plane and flying to a far off place. It’s likely that the only satisfaction she has at the end of the day is knowing that she kept all the lowly non-ticket holders like myself from seeing what lies at the top of the escalator.

Suddenly, I feel bad for her. I walk past her and smile sadly saying, “I’m sorry.”

It sets off something inside her. She yells, “Sorry for what?! Sorry for what?!” but I am already walking away. I turn back to see her eyes turn from anger to a little bit of pain and confusion. It lasts for maybe two seconds and then the shields slam down again, her sneer returns and she purposefully turns to face a long hallway that is completely empty.

I continue back to my car- frustrated, angry and forlorn. I take solace in knowing that, even though my fiancée lives far away, I never have to feel like I am all alone staring down a vast florescent-lit empty hallway.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Good sliding versus Bad sliding

(Context note: This was January 2008.)

After many months of discussing going up snowboarding, I found a great deal through Sliding On The Cheap  and got a package with room, lift tickets and some restaurant coupons. (If you like to ski or snowboard I highly recommend signing up for their email list to save a buck.)

In a previous post, I mentioned that I don’t like driving in icy road conditions and let Wife drive if at all possible. I let her handle the driving and I manage the stereo, snacks and comic relief. We arrive Friday evening, have a blast Saturday and drive back Sunday morning.

After sleeping in and lazily eating breakfast we realize that there is a storm coming in and we will be racing it over the summit. As we approach the grade, there are workers forcing people to pull over and put on chains.

I look to Wife to take care of this since I assume this falls squarely in the “driving in icy conditions” category, which is her domain. She looks at me and asks, “Where are the instructions for these things?”

I do not like the sound of that. My gut starts to churn and my breathing gets faster as I begin the first stages of freaking out. After some messing around, we get the chains on and are waved through to go up the hill. Traffic proceeds slowly but nicely up the windy mountain freeway.

After traffic comes to a brief stop, Wife steps on the gas and the tires just spin in place. She checks that she is in a low gear, slowly steps on the gas again and the tires spin and the car stars sliding toward the mountain. I begin phase two of freaking out which is also known as “wanting out of there so bad that I am contemplating just running for it.”

All traffic in both directions is stopped as we try to figure out what to do next. I feel like I did when I was a city boy that had just moved to the mountains. Two truckers come marching up to the car and assess the situation without asking if they are needed. The one with the Budweiser ball-cap looks at me and laughs. He says, “Those chain monkeys at the bottom of the hill put the chains on the wrong tires! They need to go on the front!”

I could have fessed up. I could have taken accountability for the major mistake, but I ended up saying, “Oh, man. I can’t believe that.”

They take matters into their own hands and get the chains on the front tires even though we are in an awkward position. I had visions of the car suddenly sliding into one of the men and crushing them – thankfully nothing like that happened. We got over the summit and down the hill and the chains started breaking off. At my insistence we just kept driving, ruining the set of chains in the process.

Sunday evening we got to tell people about how great the mountain was – sunshine, new snow, no crowds. People would mention that they heard traffic was horrible and I only mentioned to a select few the full story.

(I’ll say it now, if anyone was affected by the traffic that day, I am sorry. That was me. Won’t happen again.)