Thursday, January 28, 2010

40th high school reunion - or maybe not

I am still not decided about attending an upcoming 40th Brits High School reunion in South Africa, in early March. I have done such a dreadfully poor job of keeping in touch with my old schoolmates that they are probably not really keen to see me after 40 years. Of course, if I had remained in South Africa my life would have been different. For one thing, I would have remained a fan of cricket, and in my mind baseball would have remained an odd mostly American sport, rather than the absorbing contest between batter and pitcher which I have grown to know and admire. Love? No. Sorry baseball, that is still reserved for cricket. First and enduring love, you know... Even after decades of being cut off from the world of cricket, I can still get completely swept away by the amazing complexity, the finesse and the sheer excitement of this most elegant of team sports. Naturally, had I not immigrated to the USA with Kathleen and the boys 20 years ago my life would have been different in a hundred other ways. To at least a few people in my 1970 high school graduating class I would not now be a complete stranger.

I love it here in Houston and in the USA but as the years go by, the realization sets in that I will never be able to spend much time with old friends, and of course my two brothers and sister. And vice versa. My life here goes by day after day and so does theirs, 8,000 miles away. A text message or even the occasional ‘phone call is no substitute for looking someone in the eye, gripping their hands and being happy when it turns out that they are ok. Yes I do miss the chance to just hang around with them, maybe watching some cricket on the TV, or cooking something nice. And then of course there is my mother - still very fit and active but growing older. How much – or how little – time do we have left together?

There is nothing I can do now to reverse the course of the last 20 years – they are gone forever. Every time I do find myself in South Africa, I am rushed off my feet trying to fit in a dozen different places I have to see and experience first-hand. It is what I do. Yet I do regret not being able to spend more time with my family. They are the only ones you have and you have to nurture those relationships. I’m batting under .200 on this – if you know baseball you’ll know that won’t get you into the hall of fame. In fact it will get you relegated to the minor leagues. I’ve got to do better.

So I guess I should attend the reunion, spend some time with the family and go to a cricket match. It will be palliative at best but better than a kick in the head, as my old boss Martin Pieterse used to say. Like so many other people in my previous life, I wonder what happened to him. This reunion thing is getting me into a very maudlin state of mind.

The prospect of yet another 16-hr flight to Jo’burg fills me with apprehension especially now that further security ‘enhancements’ are in place. I do not mind having pictures taken which would show ‘everything’ – under our clothes we’re all naked so what the hell. Go on and take as many enhanced x-rays as you want. Just give me some warning so I can pull in my stomach. Just don’t ask me to take my stupid shoes off again!

Running update:

Kathleen and I have been pretty consistent on the running front since we got back from Botswana just eight days before Christmas last year. I am doing about 25 to 30 miles per week and so is Kath; she’s even thinking about running the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon in April. We’ve started back with track workouts at Reagan High School on Thursday nights (followed by a vegan BBQ sandwich at Field of Greens) and from next week we’ll also resume running hills on Tuesday nights with the Striders. This Saturday is our first 5-K race in quite a while – the Texas Med 5K. We’ll keep you posted.

I almost forgot - we ran the Chevron Houston half marathon on January 17. It was a near perfect day - Kathleen came in under 2 hrs which she was thrilled with and I ran an unofficial 1:50 something. More than 10 minutes off my personal best but I'm happy with it, considering the much interrupted training program. This year is going to be fun! I might even challenge myself to go for a 5K pr in the fall.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Dropping some elbees

The kitchen scale was kind to me this morning, registering 163 compared with 168 just a week ago, on Dec 31 2009. Down 5 pounds in a week, baby! The causes? Eating less/smaller portions, very little to no snacking between meals, almost no junk food, practically no sugar and more exercise. In addition to the 3 X hour-long workouts with Gamell on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, Kathleen and I have been running every day so far in 2010. A run tonight will bring our streak to 7, but as much as I'm tempted, I won't try to maintain it. Tomorrow (Friday) will be a no run day as usual. We're not 18 or even 38 years old anymore... Last night I went out with Daisy for 5 easy miles along Buffalo Bayou. There seemed to be more rabbits out and about than usual. I wonder if they can sense the impending cold spell, which has now been talked about as much as the boy in a balloon incident. Can it just please get cold now so that we don't have to read one more story about wrapping pipes, taking in the pets etc. People with pets really don't need to be told to bring them in when it gets around 20F.

What is on the menu, you may ask? Well this week we had Red Beans and Rice on Monday, just like everybody in Louisiana. One of my all-time favorites and we make it with not a drop of oil or of course, big chunks of greasy sausage. I do compromise a bit on the rice: Red Beans and Rice is served with white rice, not brown. Even in this mostly vegan household. Another main course was Chickpea noodle soup (from Veganomicon), tasty and satisfying with a nice vegetable broth, some onions, mushrooms, fresh rosemary and thyme from the herb garden, chickpeas from the pressure cooker, soba noodles and brown rice miso. Delicious - and we didn't need anything else with it other than Kathleen's famous green salad. Veganomicon featured heavily this week. We also enjoyed marinated Curried Tofu, which I bake on a pizza stone in the oven, and serve with a little bit of chutney, fresh green beans and chunks of butternut squash steamed in the pressure cooker for 10 minutes. On today's menu: Chickpeas Romesco from Veganomicon as well. We've tried it before and the savory fire-roasted tomato sauce with roasted red peppers and ground almonds is a winner! On Friday it will be whole wheat pasta with a marinara sauce.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Should you run barefoot?

That is the title of an interesting article in today's Parade Magazine, which is inserted into the Sunday edition of our local daily the Houston Chronicle. Nothing really new there except to confirm that running barefoot isn't 'bad for you'; a 2009 review article based on searches of 30 years of running studies did not find any research demonstrating that running shoes make people less prone to injury.

Having purchased a pair of Vibram Five Finger shoes some six months ago (thanks Billy for the tip!), I have been using them for the occasional short run of about a mile or so. This afternoon, I decided to step that up a little, if you'll pardon the pun. Strapped on or rather toed into the Vibrams (it gets easier but not a lot) and set off for 3 miles with Daisy. Running all but barefoot is a weird sensation especially for someone who has run on 'regular' running shoes since 1970. Not that there is a great deal of similarity between my first real running shoes - a pair of (now) legendary Nike Waffle Trainers - and most of the high tech shoes of today. In fact the first generation running shoes dating back to the mid 70's running boom were quite spare with a minimum of cushioning. Those were the days of Frank Shorter (who won the 1972 Olympics Marathon) and 'Boston Billy' Rodgers (4 Boston and 2 New York wins) when a decent marathon pace (for recreational runners) was anything under 8 minutes/mile. Like our running heroes, we were were looking for speed, not necessarily comfort, support or some massive boot-like behemoth on which you could clunk along for 6 hours.

Since those days running shoe technology has just about kept pace with the innovation in personal computers. We quickly started abandoning our 'Apple III-e' model sneakers for 'IBM PC's and a couple of decades later we were running on the shoe equivalent of modern-day computers, marvels of high tech - and priced accordingly. In the process we lost touch with 'real' running, adopting bad habits such as heel striking due to the support & shock absorption delivered by sorbothane and dozens of similar impact absorbing materials.

Running barefoot (or practically barefoot in a pair of Vibrams), pretty much forces one back into a more natural posture, which is on the balls of the feet, employing the body's built-in shock absorbers including the toes, the foot arch, the ankle, the many other foot muscles & tendons, the achilles tendon, calf muscles, the knee and so on...

Of course, how my feet and legs will respond to longer distances in the Vibrams or totally barefoot (which is the long term goal) remains to be seen. So far, so good.

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Year's Day at the local gym

I recently joined a small start-up gym just down the road from where we live on Memorial Drive in west Houston. It is very convenient - literally walking distance from the house, about 2 minutes jogging. Here are a few pics taken by MyFitness at Memorial owner Gamell Bell, during a workout on New Year's Day.

MyFitness at Memorial gym owner Gamell Bell

Ran 5 miles with Daisy, third day in a row to do 5 miles. I think the dog enjoys the running even more than I do. Always on the lookout for rabbits, squirrels and other urban wildlife such as armadillos and possums. It's a jungle out there! Kathleen did 8 miles back to back the last couple of days. We are not used to the cool conditions, but happy to take advantage of such fine running weather! Hopefully it will last through the Houston Marathon on Jan 17.