Saturday, May 30, 2009

Best baseball in town

Best baseball in Houston? At Reckling Park, where Rice, Kansas State, Xavier and Sam Houston State University are hard at it in a regional NCAA tournament. The Astros? Who wants to shell out good money to see a totally mediocre team play (and mostly lose), not to mention being fleeced by the outrageous concession prices.

Anyway Kathleen, Lyndon and I took in the action last night, when Rice came through on the winning side against a scrappy Sam Houston State team. Subsequently, Rice lost to Kansas City tonight, and Sam Houston was eliminated with a loss to Xavier. This means that Rice will play an elimination game against Xavier tomorrow (Sunday). If they prevail, they will have to beat Kansas State twice to come out on top. It will be a struggle for Rice to make it through to the super regional in Baton Rouge, but they've come through the losers bracket before.

Here are some pics from the game, starting with a pitching sequence 'starring' winning pitcher Mike Ojala. Ojala, who is pitching with a torn ulnar ligament, pitched a pretty steady 7 innings and was well supported by the Rice bullpen, which has been shaky lately.

Nicely balanced prior to the delivery.

Rearing back with meaning

Just about to let the ball go

On its way...

Starting the follow-through

Finishing it up

Well, almost

And here is the ball almost in the catcher's mitt

Yes there was an opposing pitcher as well; Sam Houston's Sean Weatherford. He was tagged with an "L".

Rice's living legend of a coach, Wayne Graham, comes out for a quick chat. He didn't have much to say, just checking on the well-being of the pitcher.

Following on a very close play at home, when a Rice player was called safe, Sam Houston's coach Mark Johnson had a few choice comments for the umpire.

Predictably, he lost the argument

Amongst the spectators was Houston Texans coach Gary Kubiak

Rice's Chad Mozingo looking at a called strike

Reckling Park was looking particularly good yesterday afternoon

One more shot of Reckling, a little bit later

With the Nikon D-300 Picture Control set to 'Vivid' with 3+ saturation, Reckling looks rather funky

Friday, May 29, 2009

US Vets 5K pics

Kathleen and I had a good day recently at the US Vets 5K which was run here in Terry Hershey Park, just a few miles from our home. Here are some pics from the day.

Kathleen receiving her age group trophy from Race Director Omar Sesay. Nice smile!

And ditto for yours truly.

It was Veterans Day so a shot of Old Glory is in order

Concentration showing as Kathleen crosses a bridge over Buffalo Bayou. These wooden bridges are known to get very slippery in the mornings. I experienced significant schadenfreude a while ago when a biker barged by me from behind right before a bridge, slipped and then crashed unceremoniously. He was ok, just embarrassed as hell.

A few steps further...

Battling away on the inbound leg, fatigue starting to show.

Like so many runners, there's never a good pic taken of me while running, always making weird faces, gasping or otherwise contorting the mug.

Kathleen looks a lot more composed, and showing pretty good form.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Botswana Safari Photographs

I was up very early this morning - lots to do as I had some work to finish up and then packing for what will hopefully be a nice long 4-day weekend on Anna Maria Island, along Florida's west coast. Kathleen and I will be racing a 5K in Sarasota on Saturday morning, otherwise we will be spending some time on the beach, touring, relaxing, whatever. And no doubt scouting around for somewhere to find vegan food for yours truly. It won't be easy - there is a notable dearth of entries in for vegan restaurants/establishments in the area. Perish the thought that I'll have to spend the weekend eating baked potatoes and (plain) baked beans. Salad bar here we come!

As for progress on the path to finding those pesky missing abs, I've dropped almost 5 lbs over the last 11 days, down to 158 this morning. For the first time in many years, I am now (barely but consistently) under 160 any time of the day. Sooner or later the weight loss will start to help (as in improve!) my running, which is key. It is all about motivation.

Our two sons just returned last week from a 10-day trip to Botswana. Here are a couple of links to a few of their photographs, amongst others of lions, elephant & wild dog. The lion with the wound in his neck (part of the 2-brother coalition affectionately known as the Border Boys) was entangled in a trap in Namibia a couple of years ago. Looks like the wound has never closed up.

Most of the predator pics were taken in the Linyanti Concession, and the others in the western part of the Okavango Delta (Abu Camp) as well as in the central Delta (Xigera Camp).

There are 2 short Flickr slide shows, split into the first 4 days of the trip, and the last 5 days.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Hardware for the whole family

This morning, Kathleen and I both earned a trophy in a 5K race here on the west side of Houston. She came in third (25:47) and I placed second (21:53) in our respective age groups, in the US Vets 5K, which was run under warm and muggy conditions, with about 300 people vying for position along the trails of Terry Hershey Park. We caught a break, with many of the faster local runners being in Corpus Christi, TX for the popular Beach to Bay Relay marathon. Even so, Kathleen and I had to hold off some stiff competition, with twice as many runners as last year participating.

Earlier last week, the race was re-located from Bear Creek Park, which is still flooded, to Terry Hershey Park. The United States Veterans Initiative-Houston (U.S. VETS – Houston) celebrated Armed Forces Day by putting on this 5K Fun Run. Proceeds from the race will be used to provide safe, sober, clinically supported housing and employment assistance for homeless veterans. Race Director Omar Sesay and his crew including Mark Coleman did a fine job: good organization despite the last minute change of venue, lots of prizes and trophies, and excellent refreshments. We'll be back next year!

My time was still well off my April 2009 PR, but a big improvement on last week. Incidentally, I am testing new highs on my maximum heart rate; during today's run it reached 177. I may have to tweak my target heart rates to fine-tune the effort-based training plan.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

15 lbs or bust

It's that time of year again. Yes it is almost summer. Beach time, outdoors time, running without a shirt time. Which means - at least in my case - renewed focus on finding my now long lost abs, last seen in these parts about 26 years ago. There is a 'last best' chance to do almost anything, and I'm thinking this off-and-on project may become completely quixotic if I don't do something now. I had a reminder last night about the aging thing. Yes I know age is just a number and it's not slowing me down in any way, at least not yet. I am still setting personal best times in the half marathon (Nov 2008) and the 5K (April 2009) and I think I definitely have some improvement to do yet. But back to being reminded about the relentless passage of time: a very well meaning and in every way superb human being 'congratulated' me last night for being such a good runner, in the 60+ age group... Ouch. I am still 3 years and a bit away from reaching that particular mile stone, so this compliment was not quite what I had in mind, just a couple of weeks before my next birthday. It's like asking someone to guess your age, and then they tack on 5+ years more than what you think you look...

So before I turn to mush, I really have to do something about this pesky accumulation of abdominal fat, a.k.a. middle-aged tire, muffin top, love handles, call it what you will. I know exactly where the problem is. And it's not a lack of exercise. Just have to cut down on those portion sizes a little bit, omit the between-meal snacking and so on. Fifteen pounds is not a lot, but it seems very daunting when you realize that it will take you back to what you weighed in your college years. For one thing, I suspect my long lost abs are hiding there at about 150 lbs, and who knows what else I may uncover in the next couple of months. Does July sound like a good time for another attempt at a 5K PR? I think so.

Running has been going quite well and I'm thinking this effort-based deal might work. On Sunday (first run after injury lay-off) I did 6 miles at 75% to 80% of maximum HR. On Monday another 6 miles at 75% to 85% which is 140 to 150 bpm. By Tuesday I did not have much left and pretty much abandoned a track workout after struggling through the first of three planned miles at what was supposed to be a VO2 max effort (160+ bpm). I added one easy mile and settled for 3 total. By Wednesday night I had recovered enough to do a good trail run at Memorial Park with the Striders, including about 4 miles of hard running with my HR hovering between 150 to 160, or 85% to 90% of maximum. Taking today and tomorrow off altogether, being a mini-taper before a Saturday morning 5K race. My weight was down to 160 lbs this morning. Usually, that is where I go into a candy-fueled eating binge, just not this time.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Effort-based running

For several years now, I hardly ever would go for a run without strapping on a Garmin. Occasionally I'd forget to recharge it, and it would give me the 'battery low' warning the second I switched it on. Drat. Running with a regular 100-lap triathlon watch just isn't the same. It's as if you don't really know where you are, how long you've been gone and of course, how far you've run. Even though I run the same routes day after day and weekend after weekend, the Garmin makes it 'real' every time it clicks off one more mile at all the predictable spots. It's a useful tool but I'm ready to try something else, which is effort-based running. Rather than my training runs being pace-driven, which is almost invariably the result of wearing a Garmin, I'm going to run by effort, as measured by heart rate. Yes it's another gadget but not nearly as 'controlling' as the Garmin. Essentially I would decide to run a specific workout at say 75% to 80% effort, which is right at my anaerobic threshold, and then go ahead and run at a pace which elevates my HR to between 140 to 150 beats per second. Or if I were planning a VO2 Max workout, I'd run at 90% plus effort, elevating my heart rate above 158. What makes effort-based training effective is that true effort can be guaged irrespective of the difficulty of the course, the ambient temperature, wind etc. So you are less likely to run too slow when conditions are ideal, and you can easily see when your effort is too hard, which would help prevent over-training.

Interestingly, during last Saturday's 5K race, my HR was pretty consistent at a few beats over 170, which I had hitherto considered to be my max HR. Clearly that is not the case. Next Saturday I think I will shoot for 175...

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Getting back to running

My post-Boston running hiatus is over. Yesterday Kathleen and I drove out to Clear Lake - about 50 miles from where we live via I-10 and I-45 - to run the Summer Kickoff 5K. It is a long way to go for a 3-mile fun run, but Kathleen knows the race directors and this is a race we've been wanting to check out for a while now. We were not disappointed. The race organization is top-notch, the course fast and flat and the post-race refreshments were excellent. One really needed to run much further than 5K to 'deserve' the bountiful array of fruit, bagels, sweet pastries and sandwiches. And an icy cold towel at the finish was a nice touch. As for the running part of the race, we did ok but not great; I did not expect to be competitive as this was only my second run in about 12 days. Kathleen is getting back into shape, she was just a few seconds behind the 3rd place runner and she should be able to place in many of the local runs with a bit more speed work.

The lower back injury caused by one of the plyometrics exercises in the P90X program turned out to very pesky and despite three chiropractic adjustments, I am still feeling it today. Just to make sure that there's no real problem, I will be seeing an orthopedic specialist tomorrow. Maybe it will be a good idea to put the P90X program on hold for a while, and revert to my tried and trusted core workout, some lifting and a variety of other exercises using a physio ball and stretch bands.

Otherwise it has been rather quiet around here with the two boys being away in Africa. It looks like their Botswana safari was a blast - they saw leopard, lions and wild dogs in just the first three days. I am looking forward to publishing some of their best pics here, hopefully by some time next week.

Kathleen and I have made plans to slip away to Anna Maria Island near Tampa FL for the Memorial Day weekend. I first learned about this vacation spot from fellow blogger John King and I am really looking forward to a few days of doing pretty much nothing. Except of course for some running on the beach, and maybe a little fishing.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Getting started with P90X

By Monday this week I had made it to Day 3 of the P90X program, which starts with Chest & shoulders (tough!); Plyometrics (diabolical!) and then Shoulders & arms (manageable). Unfortunately I have not made it any further yet, having to abandon any thoughts of continuing on to the Yoga section and beyond, due to a lower back injury. I felt something give a little during one of the plyometrics hops, so I wasn't too surprised when my spine was kinked by Tuesday morning.

Hopefully I will be able to pick up the program again by Saturday or Sunday. I have every intention of completing all 90 days of it!

In the interim, I've also not been able to run, which of course bothers me more than anything else. Hope to turn that around by the weekend too. I need to get going in a hurry because Kathleen and I have signed up for three 5K races over the next few weekends, starting on May 9 with the Summer Kickoff 5K in Clear Lake.

We had a nasty surprise on Tuesday morning when heavy rainfall caused a nearby creek to spill water into Memorial Drive which rushed down the main road through our townhouse complex. By 700A that morning we were looking out on what appeared to be a small river flowing down the road. Unfortunately it was not without consequences: our sons' cars (neither of which is worth that much but still in pretty good shape) were parked in the worst spot where the water reached a depth of probably close to 3 feet. The result: several inches of water inside both cars. We're still assessing the damage but it doesn't look good. In more than 10 years of living here, we have never even had an accumulation of inches of water in the driveway, never mind feet... And that was through Tropical Storm Allison, Hurricane Ike & many massive downpours over the years.

The 'river' which had taken over our complex driveway flowed all the way down towards the other end of the complex, where it drained back into a bayou.

The townhouse board president and I surveying the scene of water pouring into the complex

The cars which got flooded were parked on the right hand side of the road, where the water happened to be the deepest.

Both of these cars were severely damaged due to several inches of water pooling on the floorboards.