Monthly Archives: December, 2011

Week 51 – Home I’ll be, Part 2

Fredericton

(expletive)

I’m still in Fredericton.

Forgive the Captain Willard moment.  I’m actually enjoying my vacation back home.  It’s a much needed break from the pressure cooker that is Parliament in the weeks leading up to the Christmas break. I usually take off within a few hours of Parliament rising.  This year I waited until Monday so I could get in another Running Room clinic night and Sunday practice run with my 5K clinic. Even with a couple of days to get ready, it’s still like the scene in Spaceballs where the ship comes to an emergency stop while travelling at ludicrous speed.

My Christmas vacation usually takes three distinct phases:

Phase 1 – Prepare for Christmas. This is the aforementioned Christmas shopping.  Luggage restrictions make it impossible to get my shopping done in Ottawa.  I also like to coordinate with my sister and parents what was already purchased for the nephews.  I also knew what Santa Claus was giving them.  For the wee ones who may be reading this, I am an Agent of S.A.N.T.A. I am part of an intricate network, like Uatu the Watcher, who observes and reports to inform  the man up north’s naughty and nice list.  For all the hype I made of my dread of the mall this time of year, I ended up spending more on supplements to get me through 2 weeks at home than I did at the mall on presents. For the nephews, I actually used the Claus’ suggestion of an art set for Wes and a chemistry set for Andrew, both of which I found at a pair of stores owned by my friend, Luke Randall, Endeavours and ThinkPlay. I don’t know why I bother going to the mall as I usually end up buying the boys’ presents at Luke’s than anywhere else.

Did they like their presents? You decide:

 

There’s also the health aspect in preparing for Christmas.  As I mentioned, I have to stock up on supplies to keep nutrition plan compliant. While mom is more than happy to offer to pick some things up at the grocery store for me so it’s here when I get home, I’m loathe to give her the full list of what I need.  The good son, I am, I don’t want her running around town looking for brand X supplement when I know where to go to get the brand I want at a reasonable price. So I have her get the simple stuff that she was going to buy for the house anyway like frozen berries and yogurt and I’ll get the rest.  I still have half a jug of whey protein at home from my summer trip, but I didn’t want to brave the holiday hordes at Costco for the rest, so I went to GNC for the veggie greens, fish oil and protein bars. I spent about $150 after tax for two weeks of supplies. The leftovers will be stashed until my next visit.


Of course, no visit to Fredericton is complete without the return to the old haunts.  I made more than one stop at the Garrison District Ale House. The food there is great and they have the biggest beer menu in town. Of course, the only beer I care about this time of year is Picaroons Winter Warmer, from our local microbrewery which won the award for best brewery in Canada this year.  I lucked out this year that the Boyce Farmer’s Market is actually open twice this year during my vacation. Last year, Christmas and New Year’s both landed on Saturdays. There was a special Christmas Eve market on the Friday and then it was closed until January 7th. I flew back to Ottawa on January 2nd.

Phase 2 – Survive Christmas.  Christmas at the Read household is a three day affair.  Since my sister has a young family, we go to the early Christmas Eve mass at her parish on Fredericton’s north side, St. Theresa’s.  The competition for seats can be quite fierce, so we go early for the early mass. The tradition at St. Theresa’s is that the children bring bells  and ring them every time they say “Amen” during the mass. My ears rang for hours afterward.

After mass, we gather at my parent’s place for dinner and give my nephews their Christmas presents from us. When we got back to the house, we discovered Santa had come early for myself and my parents.  This stressed my nephews to no end. Suddenly they were scared Santa had passed over their house because they were not home in bed.  I had to download the NORAD Santa app for my iPhone to show them that he was still on his way.  I guess he delivers to employees first ;).

On the food front, I was mostly responsible.  Our Christmas Eve dinner is a smorgasbord of meat. It consists Mom’s sweet and sour meatballs, cabbage rolls, and meat pie. Dessert is a five layer blueberry tart.  I kept my portions reasonable.

I made my parents post-run Christmas morning brunch of whole wheat French toast with organic hot Italian sausage and hash browns.  The hash browns were an indulgence, but I added onions I threw in some onions that were leftover from when we barbecued steaks earlier in the week so there were veggies.

Hey, I ran 5K in -20 windchill.  I earned that brunch. http://connect.garmin.com:80/activity/embed/136307218

Christmas dinner was the traditional turkey and all the fixings. Mom cooked me some sweet potatoes along with the rest of the veggies so I was spared the simple starches of their white cousins.  My brother-in-law’s mother made the turkey. His grandmother made the stuffing, of which I had only a spoonful. My sister made dessert, a gingerbread cake with lemon sauce. I would like to say I had a only little bit of dessert, but my sister’s definition of small portion and mine are two different things.  She was the natural athlete in the family, so she can get away with it.

Phase 3 – Recover from Christmas.  The nephews can be pretty rambunctious.  They’re 9 and 6 and love to wrestle with their Uncle Michael. Andrew even brought boxing gloves to our house this morning. Since my parents thought it was a good idea for the boys to sleep over Christmas night, I was under pretty much constant assault from mid-afternoon Christmas Day until lunchtime Boxing Day. They are savage and relentless. Needless to say, I was battered and bruised and needed time to heal up. I thought the mall was going to be killer.

Andrew has developed the Read sense of humour. He drew a picture this morning of small person wearing big, red gloves hitting a larger person a little below the waistline. He handed it to me and said, “This is what I’m going to do to you.”

My response, “If you ever want to have a cousin, aim higher.”

Part of the recovery means getting back into the exercise routine that I allowed to lapse over the holiday weekend. It’s a little difficult to keep the routine of waking up at 5:00 am and walk to the gym when the gym is now 5k away along a highway with no sidewalk. I’ve gotten my usual runs in.  After posting last week’s blog on Friday, I went for a run in a snowstorm and enjoyed it immensely. http://connect.garmin.com:80/activity/embed/135991133 Sunday, Christmas Day, I went for the aforementioned morning run in -20. There is something oddly invigorating about a cold weather run.

On Wednesday, I ran with the local 5K Running Room clinic. They were MIA last week because they had the opportunity to drill with the track coach at University of New Brunswick. In a funny twist, it turns  out the instructor for the local clinic is the wife of a classmate of mine from high school. Fredericton is a very small town.  It was a cold, rainy night and  didn’t know the route, so I kept this one slow and paced myself with the group. http://connect.garmin.com:80/activity/embed/137213530

Both Mom and my sister got me guest passes to Goodlife so I could go the gym while I was home.  These were actually my first solo non-run, non-swim workouts since I started this journey and, Good Lord, working out alone is capital B Boring. I clocked some time on the elliptical to warm up and then did a couple rounds of the circuit machines. It was a good workout, but just dull. There were a lot of little things that made me miss the gang at Grecoleanandfit. They gave me a shower towel out of courtesy, but it was going to be $5 if I took out a membership. I guess Loblaws, the owners of Goodlife, take their marketing cues from crack dealers. The water fountains were on the municipal system.  If I wanted filtered water, there were plenty of Aquafina bottles for sale. There were also no spare toiletries or comb in the change room.  The water and toiletries I can understand, but paying for towels? Really? Fail. It’s not like I’m the big city guy coming to Palookaville telling the yokels how to run their business. I’m the local guy coming home and using a national chain, yet it feels like I’m slumming it.  I guess the locals at Free Form Fitness and Greco have spoiled me this year into thinking little things like towels included in your fees or can of body spray if you forget your deodorant is the way it’s supposed to be. In the end, they were free workouts and unlike the last time I was given a free pass to Goodlife, I didn’t have to go through a sales pitch every time I showed up for a workout.

Unrelated note: if your parents named you after a totalitarian dictator, it’s not shameful to have your name legally changed as an adult. It’s smart. You’ll find life a lot easier, especially if you’re in sales. Just saying.

Haven’t decided on New Year’s Eve yet. I know. It’s tomorrow. As Dave Attell would say, “There’s people who have a problem with drinking and driving. I call them cops.” New Maryland’s geographic location vis-a-vis Fredericton makes it a perfect location for the Fredericton City police to stage a New Years Eve checkpoint at the city limits and they do. Every year. This means if I want to drink the car stays home I and I cab it.  There’s a few events in town that I wouldn’t mind going to, but between tickets and cabs it’s going to be $100 before I have a drink. Oh, if I go out, there will be drinking. Given the situation that’s waiting for me back in Ottawa, that money might best be saved for other purposes like the necessities of life or my registration for my half-marathon clinic.

I’ve actually gotten out of the habit of going out on New Year’s Eve. The last few have been non-events for me.  For some reason, I usually pick up a bug and get sick. Usually it’s whatever my nephews have picked up from school.

Remember, young parents, once they hit school, they bring home more than report cards and art projects.

I figure other years, I picked it up while travelling. Last year, God, himself, struck me down for having the gall to chill out in my parents’ hot tub during a snowstorm. I was out like a light by 10 o’clock. The sound of fireworks on the television coverage of Times Square in New York woke me up and told me it was time to move from the couch to bed.

2010

I have once again tempted fate this year, hopping in almost immediately upon my return home. I event repeated this when we had a second storm. So far, I have not felt His wrath. I even smoked a cigar, a Montecristo Churchill, a going away gift from the office.

Before you ask: yes, I’m wearing a bathing suit. Get your mind out of the gutter.

BTW, how are those for before and after shots?

It seems like any plans I make for the night have had fate intervene and expectations dashed, so I will make none of the former to increase the likelihood of the latter being exceeded. Besides, I have a run in the morning. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve run hungover, but I would really like to PB on this one, even if its unofficial, since it’s the last 5K race I run for a while.

My real new year begins at the end of next week. As you can see from the title, I’m starting week 51. For those not up on math,that makes just another week before my year’s journey is complete. That will be more of cause for celebration than the arbitrary passing of a date on a calendar.

Sure, the year is not starting on the best of notes, but I intend for my coming period of unemployment to be like Hobbes’ state of nature: nasty, brutish, and, most importantly, short. I’m sure if I throw the vigour into the job search that I threw into this journey, I will be just as successful.

That written, some cutbacks will be necessary in the short term.  There’s a Beyond the Rack purchase of suits that arrived a week and a half late that will be heading back as soon as I get to the apartment. When I received an email update that it was still pending, I called and tried to cancel it but in the couple of hours between the email going out and my phone call it had arrived at the warehouse, been packed for shipping and was awaiting pick-up.

The operator gave me the good news: I was getting a free upgrade to express shipping so it would be at my apartment in Ottawa before Christmas.

Dude, I’m calling from Fredericton … New Brunswick. I won’t be back until the new year. Oh well, the ten business day return policy will not have expired by the time I get back and three federal, therefore Canada Post, holidays between then and my return will be helpful.

Until the work situation is sorted out, the clothing purchases are on hold.  I bought a little bit more athletic gear with a Running Room gift card that was a gift from my sister and brother-in-law, but that’s the final purchase for a while.  My pre-Christmas shopping trip  and late summer and early fall purchases have me well stocked for winter wear. I was tempted by some items that were 50% off at Robert Simmons, but decided against it. My suit and shirt collection is sufficient until the paycheques start rolling in. I really don’t need to worry about clothes again until summer. Pretty much everything I bought for last summer is now too big. Even the aspirational Speedos are now baggy, and I don’t mean that in a pervy way. I’ll worry about that in May.

Until then ….

Allons-y!

Week 50 – Home I’ll be

Thanks for all the thoughts and well wishes over the last week. It has been a little trying, but I know I will get over this slump. Not in the best spot, but nowhere near crisis yet. The important thing is to not use the current stress as an excuse to backslide. That would just add tragedy to the end of a year that has been one triumph after another. I’m already making plans on the employment front, so hopefully something will come up soon.

In the meantime, it’s Christmas with my family and friends in New Brunswick. More so than my previous trips back east, I need this one. The last few weeks of the Senate sitting can be a little nutty. We’re often sitting late, sometimes just to receive bills passed by the House of Commons. Last week we sat late every night. I didn’t have to stay late at the office on Wednesday because of my responsibilities to my running clinic, but every other night 11 pm was probably the earliest I saw my apartment.

This can be pretty dangerous on the weight loss front. I’ve always made my stupid food choices after late sittings. Dinner was sometimes well after midnight, twelve hours after my last substantial meal. This year, I was prepared. The first time I was asked to stay at the office late, I asked for a 30 minute warning when my co-worker was going to leave so I could run out to the Freshii on Sparks St. to get a health dinner. Even though they agreed, when the time came, she left without the agreed upon warning. Thankfully, we only sat until a little past 8 pm and office fridge was loaded with some healthier hors d’ouvres from the previous night’s reception. Strange how it’s the healthy hors d’ouvres that were left over, isn’t it?

The takeaway, pardon the pun, was I can only rely on myself to keep responsible food choices. Knowing what was in store for me for the last week, I prepared for the storm. Even though I had enough meals from the Red Apron to get me though lunches until I left, I made an extra trip to stock up so I could have enough to bring an extra one for dinner and still have a few leftover when I get back. Remember, one of the issues that arose from my summer travels was the need to have food in the apartment for after I get back from my trips. Since I cleaned the apartment of the fresh veggies before I left, it will be great to have some decent meals waiting for me when I return.

For the first time in years it was an uneventful trip home for Christmas. Last year, I made the mistake of not taking the direct flight to Fredericton. While it saved my parents a couple hundred dollars, the combined delays out of Ottawa and Montreal added three hours to my travel time. At least half of the extra time was spent trapped in a Dash 8 on the runway of the Montreal airport waiting for them to load the luggage as four regional flights were departing the same gate area at the same time. All the while, the baby in the row ahead of me wouldn’t stop crying.

Parents, do the traveling public a favour and have the grandparents visit you for the holidays. I understand Jr. is the most precious thing in the history of precious things. I felt the same way about my nephews at that age. The thing is, we understand crying is the only way for Jr. to communicate at that age.  It’s still the most annoying, grating noise in the history of annoying, grating noises. It’s supposed to be.  Evolution has hardwired us to be annoyed so we respond to our offspring’s problem and ensure the survival of the species. We get it. Think of  Jr.s well being, as well, and the germs you subjecting him or her too. Air travel is kind of like what McCoy said of space in the recent Star Trek reboot: disease and danger wrapped in darkness and silence.

Forgive yet another aside. As you may guess, crying babies and small airplanes are not my cup of tea.

It wasn’t the worst trip home for the holidays. That was a 22 hour drive from Hell with a seven hour delay in a Canadian Tire in Donnaconna, Quebec. It ranks up there, though. The return last year was actually worse. This time I flew to Moncton via Porter Airlines. Dad has an office there, so he could plan a work day there and pick me up when my flight arrived around supper time. Since they had a 50% off sale back in November, I could book the round trip for two-thirds of what Air Canada wanted for a one-way direct flight to Fredericton.

I’m a late convert to Porter, but a convert nonetheless. They had me at “hello”. The “hello” was at the Porter Lounge. Free coffee. Free almonds. Free wifi. Sold. What can I say? Everyone has a price and I’m incredibly cheap. On the flight itself were complimentary wine and beer as well as sandwiches. Real sandwiches with real whole grain bread and real chicken breast. The sandwiches were snack size, but more substantial than anything Air Canada offered on a domestic flight to the New Brunswick in this century.

Since for reasons mentioned in last week’s post I didn’t do my Christmas shopping prior to my return, my first stop on Tuesday was the mall. Regent Mall. The first stop, however, was not for presents. It was GNC for supplements and protein bars to get me through the two weeks I’ll be home. Since the chain has essentially abandoned downtown Ottawa, it was my first trip. Even after signing up for their Gold Card discount, I racked up $150 bill.

The next stops that day shall remain classified, lest my nephews finally read this blog and start guessing what will be under the tree for them. Apparently, they have become quite the snoops. Must get it from their mother. She was the little devil in our family who would scour every nook and cranny of our home in Cape Breton and later New Maryland looking for yet-to-be-wrapped presents. I was never like that. Never.

Okay, maybe I tagged along.

Okay, maybe I once woke everyone up at 4 am to open our presents. Santa and those reindeer woke me up and I couldn’t get back to sleep.

BTW, Yes, there is a Santa Claus. He smoked my cigars and drank my scotch. Here’s the proof:

Before

After

Of course, I am running into many friends and acquaintances while I’m home. It’s great to see them. Some of them are passing through on the holidays, themselves. I’ve been getting a lot of compliments on the weight loss and the blog. It still hasn’t gotten old.

I’m keeping up with my running while I’m home. I went to Fredericton’s Running Room Wednesday night. Ran in some freezing rain. Pretty much my sloppiest run, weather-wise. Since no one from their 5K clinic showed up, I ran with the 10K clinic. They were supposed to do 8K that night, but cut it back to 6K which was two laps around the Sunshine Gardens neighbourhood.

http://connect.garmin.com:80/activity/embed/135751238

As you can see, I’m still enjoying the Garmin and it’s functionality vs. the Nike+. I forgot the heart rate monitor for this run, but I was pretty chatty with my running partners so I know I was around my optimum heart rate.

Since the next two Sundays fall on holidays and I don’t have clinic duties, I’m going to have a few runs on my own to get ready for the Resolution Run. My parents are looking forward to watching me run for the first time. The running is something we’ve talked about, but they’ve never had the chance to see it. Of course, Dad’s caveat is if it’s -20, I’m on my own.

Well, Dad, the long term forecast says sunny and -1. Guess you’re coming to the Exhibition Grounds with me.

Allons-y!

Week 49 – Packing

Made it through the marathon of events on Friday with my waistline intact.  The anticipated events of the day were further complicated when I arrived Friday morning and informed the Speaker’s driver has been stricken with pneumonia and unable to perform his duties.

The fill-in guy?

Me.

Not a problem. Until 5:30 when I have to leave for the Running Room for my 5K clinic.  Thankfully, another staff member was willing to stay until the Speaker wanted to leave.  Thanks, JP.

Overconsumption of alcohol  at my building’s end of year party helped in this regard.  Without going into the gory details, lets’ just say some junk didn’t stay in my digestive system long enough to be converted to fat.  Same for my post-run brown rice sushi. I’m sure if this was a routine occurence, I would be diagnosed with an eating disorder.

No worries of that happening. I don’t intend on getting that polluted for a long time.  Frankly, I didn’t intend on getting that wasted Friday either.  A quick drink became a few drinks quickly. Next thing I know, it’s 3 am.

Needless to say, Saturday was a write-off.  Other than a few errands, it was a productive day of couch surfing.

Sunday’s run helped finally lifted the fog.  There is something about running in the crisp, cold morning air of December that cures so many ailments.

I’ve been doing a lot of packing lately.  On Monday, I’m heading home for the holidays, back to New Brunswick. I’m using Porter Airlines for the first time. Flying to Moncton, where Dad will pick me up and we’ll head to Fredericton.   I have an uncle who lives near the airport, so I’m in no danger of being stranded alone if Moncton lives up to its reputation of being the buckle of the Maritimes’ snow belt that night.

It being the holidays, there are luggage restrictions: 1 piece of checked luggage, 1 carry on. Since I’ll be home for two weeks and plan to run often, including the Resolution Run on New Year’s Day, I’m going to get rather creative at packing. This is not the first time and not unique to Porter this time of year.  I stopped buying presents before I travel a long time ago.  When I lived in DC, I might buy a couple of unique Washington items for my nephews like when I bought these in my first year:

The Christmas presents from my first year in Washington, DC. 2005

Other than stuff like that, I prefer to do my shopping at home.  Less likely to get lost in transit.  My preferred method is actually online shopping. I love ordering the stuff from here in Ottawa, having it shipped to my parents’ house and have it waiting for me to wrap it.  The obvious problem is that since I don’t live at home anymore, I’m clueless as to what my nephews already have or that their parents or grandparents have already bought them.

I’m going to brave the mall of Fredericton.  By the way, Fredericton friends, is the Brookside Mall still a mall? I haven’t been there in over a decade. Everytime I arrive at the one southside mall remaining, Regent Mall, I can’t help but hear the Saint Crispin’s Day Speech from Shakespeare’s Henry V.

Yes, I equate going to the mall in the last few days of December before Christmas with girding for war.

Don’t you?

It’s not just my luggage I am packing.  It’s my office, too. On December 31st, my contract with the Honourable Noel A. Kinsella expires.  I was informed some time ago that it would not be renewed. Thus, an adventure that began in 1998 when I took his Introduction to Human Rights course at St. Thomas comes to an end.  Together, we have elected Premiers, Party Leaders, and Prime Ministers. His support has helped me complete two Masters degrees (even if the second was a technicality, I still have the diploma) and a Doctorate. Even the adventures of the past year would not have been possible without his support.

I have some job applications in queue. Hopefully, one will show fruition shortly.

Crap news aside, another 5K clinic comes to a close.  While there are two weeks left after tonight’s session, my travel plans mean I will not be able to finish with my students. It’s unfortunate, but unavoidable.  To stay would mean travelling on Christmas Eve and returning on the no later than the 9th. That was a crap shoot I was not prepared to take. Frankly, given the news in the last few paragraphs, I need more than a couple of days of hearth and home.  As it is, not knowing back in November when or if I had to be back on the job, conservatively booked my return for Januaury 3rd. I took the clinic out for a drink at the Royal Oak last night for an early end of clinic celebration.  We had some members of the Learn to Run and Half-Marathon clincs join us.  It was good night.  The walk home in the cold rain I could have done without.

As it gets closer to race day, even if it is a fun run, I get more excited.  As I’ve written previously, I’m especially excited for this one because it will be in my hometown.  My parents will finally get to see me in a race.  It’s also my last 5K race before I start the half-marathon training.  Can’t wait.

Allons-y!

Week 48 – So many parties, so little time

Crazy week since the last post.

It’s that time of year. The holidays approach like the Imperial Fleet attacking the Rebels at Hoth.

I can’t wait for them to arrive.  I’m looking forward to heading back to New Brunswick for a couple of weeks to see the family and friends.

It’s the lead-up that’s killer.   Receptions and parties galore.  Again, there’s the one’s we host to which I have to go.  There’s some I want to go because I know I will run into friends.  Then there’s the mandatory ones, like my party’s Christmas party.  It’s usually a pretty fun event.  This year was no exception.  The only problem was it was the last event in a series of events that day which included my 5K clinic.  After the Senate rose for the day yesterday, I did a quick walk through of the Senate caucus and staff Christmas party and the Canadian Wireless Association Christmas party before heading to the store to get ready for the clinic.

Quick visit to the change room and Clark Kent became Superman.  Ran 4.2 k with clinic. Quick change back and off to the party.  Sat with some pretty nice people.  One fellow was from up north, Iqaluit.  We ended up talking hunting.  He showed me pictures of walrus tusks and I showed him some pictures of my friends’ polar bear rug.

With a 5:30 wake-up for a workout approaching, I couldn’t stay very long after the meal was done. The pre-dinner run didn’t help the energy levels much.  Had a brief surge of adrenaline when I got home and unpacked my backpack to find my Garmin missing.  In my rush get back into Clark Kent mode, I left it behind at the store.  Thankfully, a quick Facebook message to the manager and it turned up.

Phew! That could have been a very expensive mistake.

Going to be a similar situation tomorrow night. It’s the Speaker’s Christmas Party tomorrow. I have to duck out halfway through for my clinic, on the way to which I’ll stop by Greco for the grand opening of the Sparks St. location.  After the run, I hope to grab some Freshii and make it back to my building in time to catch the end of it’s Christmas social.

Of course, one the pitfalls of this time of year is the abundance of utter crap in terms of food choices at these events.  I try to avoid the temptation by eating healthy before I go so I don’t get hungry and gorge on junk food while I’m there.  It’s worked so far.  My wieight has remained relatively stable throughout the party season so far. Even when the weight is up a bit, my body fat percentage has been in steady decline.  Even tonight, I plan on having my afternoon snack just before the Speaker’s party and then grab a good meal in between events. Hopefully, it’ll be enough to keep the appetite at bay and keep my energy level up. 

Longtime readers will know one of few consequences of this journey has been the death of the night owl I used to be.  I can barely make it past 11 most nights.  I’m not sure if this is necessarily a negative consequence, though.  When I’m awake, I’m rarely tired.  Compared to the man I was a year ago, I feel supercharged.  Like most cars, though, the bigger the engine, the quicker the fuel burns.  Hey, I’ve gone from being a mini-van to an Aston Martin, so what do I have to bitch about?

In the end, not much.

The 5K clinic is still going well.  A little sad, though, I won’t be there for the end.  Winter travel schedules being what they are, I couldn’t arrange my holidays in such a way that I could keep my clinic commitment for those last two sessions, as well as the Resolution Run.  The Ottawa Resolution Run sold out so fast, it hastened the decision to stay in Fredericton.  It will be nice to do a run in my hometown for a change. My folks will actually be there to cheer me on.  It isn’t a timed run, but I would still like to do a personal best since it will likely be my last 5k run before I start half-marathon training. For the first time since I started grad school, I’m looking forward to being a student again.

Allons-y!

Week 47 – Adventures in Shoppingland

Another season, another shopping spree, another charity pile.

For those not in the Ottawa area and/or unable to look out a window this morning, the cold weather is finally upon us. It’s even snowing on this blog.  That’s how hard it snows in Canada.

(It’s actually a setting in WordPress for the Christmas season. Pretty neat?)

With winter hitting like paratroopers on D-Day, I am in desperate need of warm weather casual wear.

Actually, I was in desperate need of warm weather casual wear. The most recent sweater I owned was a Christmas gift from last year.  It was only two sizes too big.  With the cold weather coming fast, I figure my sweaters are best put to use keeping the poor and homeless warm.  I cleaned out my closet and drawers of the warm stuff and everything else that Moore’s wouldn’t take back in September.  I called Shepards of Good Hope on Monday and they were only too glad to pick them up.  I filled up two garbage bags worth of the stuff and left them at the front desk of my building for pick-up.

Vicky and I went shopping last weekend.  We’re pretty frank with each other when it comes to what each other looks good in.  As I wrote before, this stuff is expensive and the window of opportunity to return anything is short.  With the holidays coming and crowds at the mall now elevated to horde status, neither of us wants to waste time trying on stuff that one of thinks only looks good on the rack.

Brutal honesty is better than a polite fib any day.

I have developed this tendency to replace an entire season in one outing.  I just want to get it over with.  I don’t mind shopping, in general, but I’ve never liked shopping this time of year. Once Advent begins, I won’t go to Walmart until after Christmas.  Now that I live in a city where the nearest Walmart is 45 minute bus ride away, that habit is really easy to maintain. Since I have to travel to be with my family for the holidays, I find it easier to shop online and select my father’s office as my delivery address.

It was a pretty productive trip.  I bought pretty much enough to get me through the winter in one shot.  I’m pretty sure besides the honest advice one of the reasons why Vicky loves shopping with me is I tend to need more therefore I buy more and inevitably spend more, thus making her feel less guilty for her purchases.

Since holiday sales have started earlier on this side our border with the United States to keep us Canucks with our near-parity dollars at home, I can at least say I didn’t pay full price for everything. A couple of items were full price, but I couldn’t exactly wait for a store to mark down the winter boots.  That doesn’t happen until spring, and it’s snowing today.  I was incredibly lucky a couple of years back to be living in the US during their Thanksgiving.  I think 2008 was the first year stores extended their Black Friday specials to their websites.  I worked out a pretty good system.  In the days leading up to the blessed occasion, as stores would advertise their specials I would place them on my wish list.  I’d get out of bed early Friday morning and move the wish list to the shopping cart, go through checkout, and be back in bed within the hour. One of my picks was a rather expensive pair of winter boots, regular price $325, that bought for a relatively mere $75.

I’m the SEAL Team 6 of shopping: identify target, engage, achieve objective, return to base, leaving only dead men to tell no tales.

Okay, maybe not that dramatic.  You get the idea.

I picked up my new suit from Holt Renfrew last night.  My first tailored suit ever.

Read .... Michael Read

Feels great to wear something that fits so perfectly.  As I put it on, I could hear Jack White’s fuzzy guitar riff and Alicia Keys sweet wail from the last Bond movie in my head.  Daniel Craig, eat your heart out.  There’s a new guy on the block who’s better than all the Bonds … except Connery.  There are few people that I would settle for being in second place to. There’s Connery and … Okay, it’s a list of one.

One purchase made this past week wasn’t so productive. I bought my first GPS running watch this week.

I also returned my first GPS running watch this week.

Another crime of opportunity by a gadget geek.  The Running Room had a customer appreciation sale, 20% off everything.  My instructor discount on tech gear is only 15%.  It was probably the best deal I would get before my current clinic ends and I return to student in February for the half-marathon clinic.  I have a Timex which usually does me quite well on the training runs, but during races I have  failed to hear it over the iPod or inadvertantly ignored it.  That’s not to say, fancy expensive = better, but it was at least worth a try.

Unlike my friend Christian, I like the running gadgets and technology.  While it is partly to satisfy my inner gadget geekery, much of it is for practical reasons.  For example, I wear the fancy compression gear because, until recently, every part of me was fairly floppy.  As a previous entry illustrated, floppy leads to rubbing.  Rubbing leads to chafing. Chafing leads to screaming like a girl when you go for a swim in a salt water pool with your best friend. Even though I’m now less floppy, I’m still floppy in those particular areas when I run.  The nice Lululemon shirts are fine for my Greco workouts where I might be bouncing up and down for no more than 90 seconds at a time, on a 5K run they might as well be fine grade sandpaper.

I first went with the Nike+ GPS watch made by Tom Tom.  Seemed like a good idea.  I was already using the Nike + GPS app on my iPod with the shoe dongle, so I could stick with the same system for tracking my runs.  I also liked the form factor.  It wasn’t as big and bulky as its competitors.  It was small enough that I could wear it to work and no one would be the wiser.

Like George Costanza, my first instinct was wrong.

Upon field testing, though, two small flaws revealed themselves which when combined were real deal breakers.

1. You have to set it up on your computer and there are very few adjustments you can make on the watch itself.  This would normally not be a problem.  Set it at home for the run intervals for that night’s clinic and not a problem.  After a couple of weeks it’s 10 and 1 intervals for the remainder anyway. The problem is actually between clinics, some of the alumni want to stick with the 10 and 1 while others tend to want to scale it back after their goal race while they’re waiting to do the next clinic.  On those occasions, you don’t know what the intervals will be until you arrive.

2. It has the wimpiest alert ever.  It’s so bloody weak, I originally thought I forgot to turn it on.  Turns out I did turn it on, but it’s just not loud enough.  There’s also no volume control.  The alert is either “on” or “off”. I could barely hear it over the ambient noise during my Sunday run, so hearing it over my iPod while listening to music will be impossible .

The funny thing is, normally when I buy gadgets I read the reviews.  I am not an early adopter.  The iPod was in its 4th Generation when I finally bought one.  When its battery life had whittled down to 40 minutes after years of faithful service, I replaced it with a 4th generation iPod Touch.  When I finally broke down and bought an iPhone, it was the … wait for it … 4S. I probably would have broke down earlier when the 4 was released, but since work supplies me with a Blackberry I didn’t see the need for a personal phone until recently.  Long story short, I’m no one’s de facto beta tester.

While the issue of the computer only set-up was raised, no review I read seemed to realize the negative implication. I guess reviewers just assumed they would now what their intervals be when they left the house for the day.  Not a single review mentioned the crappy alert volume. I can get around the first one, but the second is a deal breaker. Full stop.

Thanks, Internets.  Thanks a lot.

So now I am the owner of a Garmin Forerunner 610 (ask me in a few weeks if I’m the “proud” owner).  Yes, I could have gotten one of the older models cheaper (Amazon had a door crasher on the 410 less than 24hrs after my purchase), but the 610 has a few things going for it that the others do not:

1. Form factor – a. it’s smaller than the older models.  The watch face isn’t as large and doesn’t look like Dick Tracy’s wrist watch radio.

Did I just date myself?

b. The face is touchscreen and there are very few buttons.  No one will mistake it for a wristwatch calculator.

Did I just date myself…again?

2. Vibration alerts. You can set it to vibrate as well as beep and light up when you do intervals.  Even if the beep alert was as wimpy as the Nike+ watch, I have the vibration as back-up. It’s a pretty aggressive vibrate alert, too.  Not rip my hand off aggressive, but aggressive enough I’ll definitely notice it.

That written, I’m still using the Nike+ on my iPhone with the shoe dongle.  I figure one can compliment the other.  The downside of all the watches, both Nike+ and Garmin, is that it doesn’t have the instant gratification of the iPhone/iPod app.  Once I end the workout, it automatically sends the data to the website and I can look at it, the map it generates, etc. all before I get home.  The watches have to be synced directly with the computer either through USB (Nike+) or bluetooth (Garmin). I’m going to run with my phone on me for emergency purposes, regardless, it might as well track the runs.

In all honesty, if the iPod app just had an interval feature I wouldn’t have bought either.

In terms of the tracking information, the Garmin wins hands down.  If you are  interested in looking at your performance, the Garmin provides more data points than Nike+. The mapping feature allows you to choose between Google and Bing as your map provider.  I’m sure this is an important feature, I’m just not sure why.  I also like that I can customize the workouts on the Garmin.  In under a minute, I can program the upcoming week’s run into my watch.  For example, I can program 2 intervals of 10 minutes running with the 1 minute walk breaks followed by a third interval of four minutes for next week’s runs. On my Timex, I’d be literally watching the clock on that third interval for four minutes to elapse. Not a fun way to run at night.

Even though it is the easier of the two to use, I can’t recommend the Nike+ watch.  I’m sure it’s fine at tracking, and better than just using the iPod app  but, as an instructor, I require something more versatile. I would actually keep my Timex over the Nike+.

My current rankings:

  1. Garmin
  2. Timex
  3. Nike+GPS watch
  4. Nike+GPS iPod app

While I still like the app and will still use it, the lack of intervals will mean the “+” will be more than brand recognition. It will be + some other device, in this case a watch or otherwise.  If you just want a watch that does intervals, a Timex will do. The Nike+GPS watch tries to be the middle option, laps and intervals for those that want the Timex features but what it gains in simplicity of use, it loses in versatility. The price point for what you get isn’t that stellar either.  An older model Garmin which does everything the Nike+ does and more retails for $30 less.

It’s too early to give the Garmin more than a qualified recommendation. I’m still playing with it and learning the ins and outs.  Right now, I can say it is the best one of I have used thus far. We’ll see in future posts if my praise becomes more effusive.  Since I’m kind of prone to bitching about stuff that doesn’t work properly, if I never mention it again it’s probably a good thing.

The 5K clinic is entering it’s second half.  I will only be here for three of those weeks before I take off to Fredericton for the holidays.  With the exception of this Wednesday, my group is pretty consistent in attendance.  A combination of rain all day turning to cold rather quickly scared off most of my students. Okay, all of my students, except one: Vicky. She’s actually the only one who so far has not missed a single run.  I know a couple were a struggle.  I was at the party the night before, too, and was dragging my arse just as bad Sunday morning. Vicky in bad form is still faster than they rest of the class.

The rest of the class, that is, except her instructor 😉

Allons-y!