Tag Archives: Parliament

New Adventure …. but first

I’ve been a rather negligent blogger. My excuse for the first couple weeks of the year is pretty simple:

I was lazy.

For those that actually remember my post about the odyssey that was mine and Kalin’s return to Ottawa, I was coming back to a rather uncertain future. I started 2013 like I started 2012, without a job and no irons in the fire, either. Out of nowhere, though, my old job called and asked me to come back. After some negotiation, I returned to the Office of the Speaker of the Senate on February 4th. At the same time, I began training for the next big challenge: the Ottawa Marathon.

Between Parliament Hill hours and the time suck that is marathon training, the blogging fell to the back burner.

Training for the marathon was gruelling. For those outside the Ottawa area, it was a really long winter this year. We didn’t get consistent spring weather until the beginning of May. There would be a Sunday here or there where I could break out the shorts, but most runs involved three layers into late April and some of those that didn’t were only because I was an idiot when I packed my bag in the morning.

Many of the evening runs were in inclement weather. Snow, freezing rain, normal rain, high winds. Everything but calm. Some runs had us jumping over snow drifts and puddles. We’d call these runs “character builders”. By the end, I was hoping the character I was building was Destro so I could build a weather machine. Needless to say, I’m cured of any desire of doing a Spartan Race or a Tough Mudder. Getting to the start line of this year’s marathon had enough physical obstacles to scratch that itch.

For 16 weeks, I managed to stay mostly healthy (had a bout of the flu which sidelined me for a weekend when we started to taper down) and injury free. I paced the 4:15 finish group. Most nights it was just a half dozen, much smaller group than my 2 hr half marathon groups. Some nights it was so small, I’d run with the 4 hr group.

I probably stayed in my Brooks Pure Cadence shoes too long before I replaced them with the latest version. My ankles were killing me the morning after my runs. Luckily, Adidas Boost had a launch event at the Slater St. Running Room. I got to take a pair on a full run, it was hills night and we were doing 8 that evening. The next morning, for the first time in two months, I felt relatively well. I tried them again that evening on an 8K steady run. Friday morning, felt great. Friday afternoon, bought a pair. The last pair of men’s 10.5s of the promotional inventory, meaning the last of the size until the shoes officially launched in June.

Race day came and you couldn’t have asked for better weather for a first time race. It was overcast and in the high teens for most of the morning. It was so cool, many of the runners who had done the previous year’s Army Run wore the thin white jackets they gave the finishers instead of solar blankets. They were pretty handy as throw away starter jackets on a cool morning. Wish I had thought of that. I didn’t bother bringing anything that I couldn’t bring on the course. The post race plan was to meet Kalin, who at the last minute decided to run the half marathon (and did a personal best … my girlfriend is awesome), at the aboriginal veterans statue and get back to my place. Downtown on race day is a bonkers sea of humanity with a combined 16,000 runners in along with all the volunteers and the people there to cheer us on.

Any worries I had a about Boston scaring off spectators were quickly abated. If anything, there were more. Even the desolate stretch of the Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway where there was literally no one cheering during my last two half marathons had people cheering us on.

Like my last race, I had my playlist ready. This time, I intentionally put it on shuffle. The race was going to take as long as it was going to take and there was no point in using songs as benchmarks. I hadn’t actually run a full 42.2 k before. The furthest the Running Room’s training program takes you is 32k. You do it once, taper a bit, and then go back up to 32k before tapering down for race day. Since it was my first run that long, I just filled up my playlist with 4 hours, 20 mins of music and hoped I wouldn’t hear a song twice.

As if by fate, the song that shuffled on as the 32K marker came into sight …. a Shooter Jennings cover of Hank Williams Sr.’s “I’m so lonely I could die”. I have no clue how that even got on my iPhone, more or less my marathon playlist. Most. Depressing. Song. Ever. It’s also probably the worst possible song as you start to cross the distance threshold of your longest distance ever.

Needless to say, it took me out of my race mindset for a minute while I fiddled to skip it. I tripped to use Siri to skip it with a voice command, but this genius decided it might be a good idea to run with the iPhone in airplane mode and Siri is useless if she isn’t connected to the Internet. With a couple of button pushes and swipes, Shooter was shot and replaced by Eminem’s “Won’t back down”.

With that crisis solved, it was time to finish the race. Having passed the 32K mark, my brain reorientated itself to see the distance markers as a de facto countdown. 32K wasn’t 32K. It was 10K left.

As the last ten kilometres snaked through Rockcliffer, Beechwood, and New Edinburgh back to the downtown, the crowds got thicker. As we crossed Rideau St. onto Colonel By for the home stretch to the finish line, the cheers grew louder. The entrance to Colonel By reminded me of the the entrance to a stadium. It was time time to kick it into high gear.

After my last walk break, I gradually increased my pace. It was around 4min/k for the last couple hundred metres. I looked up at the finish line as I crossed. The clock read 4:14, already below my goal. My chip time: 4:11.

20x30-OTDA4025

A friend would later ask me what I thought as I crossed the finish line. Given the long journey from obesity to Marathon Man, was it emotional? Did I think back on all that I had accomplished? Did I feel triumphant? Nostalgic?

My response:  Thank God, it’s over.

I made it through the recovery area gauntlet, grabbing whatever freebies were on offer. Just after getting my finisher’s medal, I ran into Marina, Slater St. Running Room’s unofficial den mother, who was volunteering handing out medals. She gave me a huge, and well needed hug.  I made my way to the aboriginal veterans statue to wait for Kalin. Since the half marathon is a much, much larger event, they have a staggered start and send the runners out in waves. This year it was three waves. I have to admit to being a worried boyfriend. Kalin only decided to do this race a few days earlier. My worry soon turned to relief as she emerged from the recovery area with one of the biggest smile’s on her face that I had ever seen. As we held each other, I asked how she felt. “Great,” she replied. “I PB’d.” Despite not race training, she did, however, go to Greco as often as she could and had greatly improved her strength and endurance. It paid off. She would tell me that as she was hitting the 20K mark, she broke out in tears. The good ones, though. A year earlier, she ran her first post-cancer 5K. Now she was finishing a half marathon and feeling great. She realized this is what healthy felt like and was overcome with joy.

Like I said before, my girlfriend is awesome.

With that challenge done, it’s onto the new adventure. With my contract with the Speaker’s Office completed on June 28th, I’ve moved back to Fredericton to join my father’s firm. It’s the end of my first week here. In the coming weeks, I’ll have to find a new gym and get my half marathon training for the Army Run going in earnest. Going to miss the gang at Greco and Slater St., but seven months of no employment and living off savings and credit cards takes a while to recover from. It was time for a change from contract to contract living.

Don’t worry, Kalin and I are still together. I count myself lucky to have found a girl from my hometown, even if we met in Ottawa. We both want to eventually settle here, so we see my move as serving as the advance guard. We already have the visits planned up to the end of the end of the year.

I’ll keep you posted on how things are going from Freddy Beach, but in the meantime …

Allons-y!

Refuse to live in fear

The unthinkable has happened. I’m rooting for Boston.

I’ve always loved the city. It’s the sports teams I can’t stand. The Bruins were my sister’s team growing up, so they were caught in the middle of our sibling rivalry. The Red Sox and Patriots were the perennial losers of my youth. I could legally buy a beer in America well before either of those teams gave me a reason to support them. I just don’t care about professional basketball enough to root for any team, more or less the Celtics.

For much of my grad school days, Boston was my point of entry into the USA. Fredericton had a twice daily Delta flight to Logan airport and, between the early departure and the time zone difference, the morning flight would get me there early enough I was often the first person to go through US customs and immigration. My international student friends will understand how much easier it is to go through customs when there’s only a couple of people behind you and not two dozen plane loads.

The connection flight to Washington would be a few hours later, so I was rarely in a rush and could actually enjoy the airport. The staff was always amongst the friendliest airport staff I have ever encountered. Returning from a semester in the District, the Boston accent was the surest sign that home was near. Logan’s only flaw: the flights to Atlantic Canada flew out of the domestic terminal, and not the international terminal, so no duty free booze and stogies for me.

I’m from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick so the connection to Boston runs deep. The first major influx of Anglophone settlers the Maritimes were Loyalists from New England. Following the Halifax Explosion in 1917, workers from Boston came to the city of my birth to help with relief efforts. To this day, almost a century later, Nova Scotia sends a Christmas tree to Boston as a gesture of gratitude. Before “going down the road” meant traveling to Ontario and Alberta looking for work, it meant going to the “Boston States”.

Watching the news break live with what happened at the Boston Marathon reminded me of how I felt when I would hear that a soldier had died during our Afghanistan mission. I have many friends in the Canadian Army, and it seemed at least one would be deployed at any particular point. My guts would wrench for hours, even days, until I found out they were safe. Relief was momentary. While my friend was safe, someone else’s friend, maybe one of my neighbours, was gone.

That’s pretty much what it was like on Monday. As one friend after another checked in via Facebook and Twitter to tell us they were okay, the thoughts turned to those who were not okay. One hundred seventy-five injured. Three dead.  One of them was an eight year old. That’s a year younger than my nephew.

Hey, Mr. Badass mass murderer, what the fuck did an eight year old ever do to you?

As you can tell, sometimes when the sadness passes, it’s replaced by anger and outrage.

Shadows and darkness only exist because of light. A shadow tried to cast itself over Boston, but the lights drove it back. The lights were the runners that crossed the finish line and kept running to the hospital to donate blood or the ones in the recovery area that helped. The lights were the first responders and volunteers on the scene. The lights were the bystanders and spectators there to watch who stayed to help the injured around them. The light was Boston Cowboy. The lights were people who saw the danger and ran toward it. Random people sucked back their fear and summoned the courage to help.

I used to be one of those people. In what seems like a lifetime ago, I volunteered to cover many a sporting event in Fredericton with St. John Ambulance. I understand how much time volunteers sacrifice to get the training required to keep us safe on race day. Many days and nights were spent in hockey rinks, in school gyms, and along roadsides treating sports related injuries. When you’re in those courses, you think you’ll never be able to remember “all that stuff”. You practice and practice and when you’re called to the scene, the training takes over and you do what is needed.

It’s often a thankless task. There’s no money in it. I’ve worked on events where organizers publicly thanked the wrong organization. You sit back and take it because you believe in service for its own sake.

Now, as the person participating in the event, I’ve seen the volunteers at work for us. Thankfully, I haven’t required their medical services on race day … yet. I have seen them form a phalanx around an injured runner so the first aiders could safely treat them and remove them from the course.  The water and cheer stations? All volunteers.

Marathons can only exist because communities support them. There are a lot of road races in Ottawa. Many of these require road closures. In the case of Ottawa Race Weekend, a 42.2 km course that runs through two cities in two separate provinces requires a lot of road closures. I learned this hard way after Christian’s first half marathon. The plan was to gather at the Greek Souvlaki House (since closed) on the corner of Prince of Wales and Riverside. From my apartment on Slater St, the drive would normally take 15 minutes. That day it took 90.

If our communities didn’t have patience and tolerance, we wouldn’t be able to have races. If the community stayed home on race day and didn’t come out to cheer on perfect strangers, it would be a pretty lonely, miserable race. The race itself can be a lonely experience. Any runner will tell you, if not for the strangers who show up to shout words of encouragement to random runners, they might have quit. It just wouldn’t be the same without seeing signs like “Chuck Norris Never Ran a Marathon”, “My Mascara Runs Faster Than You”, and “Worst. Parade. Ever”.

I’ll be keeping up my training for this year’s Ottawa Marathon. I’m not going to resort to clichés like, “If I don’t run, the terrorist wins.” I just refuse to live in fear of the unknown. I have lived and worked in two national capitals. When I decided to take up grad studies in Washington, DC, it still had the highest homicide rate in the United States. I still went. Not going to lie. There were a few close calls. I was working on Parliament Hill when the Toronto 18 were arrested. Their plan was to storm the Hill, behead the PM, and hold the House of Commons hostage until we left Afghanistan, gave Israel back to the Palestinians, and made Yahoo the default search browser on Internet Explorer.

By virtue of the fact I work in the same building as the Prime Minister, there’s an element of risk involved in my job. I accept that. Parliament belongs to the people, not the politicians. They just work here. To maintain access to the Hill for our citizens, we have to trade off a bit of our security. Everyone here accepts that. We are not ignorant of the danger. We just don’t let it keep us from doing our jobs.

I know from this experience what race organizers around the world are now going through. How do you adequately secure a 42.2 course through a city? Unfortunately, the answer is not much. There are probably improvements that can be made to any race course, but these are public streets we run on. We need the public to come out to cheer us on. We need them to feel safe to come out, but at the same time not scare them away with the very measures that were put in place to make them feel safe.

Security can’t be everywhere at once. Even in a police state, crime happens.  Citizens need to be vigilant. Don’t be afraid to report that mysterious backpack by the garbage can to the authorities.

Any place where the public gather is a potential target. We can live in fear or we can just live.  I know what those who have been taken from us would want us to do.

Allons-y!

Two Medal Sunday, Part 2 – Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal

Where last left our intrepid hero

How does one follow-up a sub-2 hour finish in their first half-marathon?

Most people would go home, crack open a beer, and chill out. Let the body recover while you revel in your well-earned sense of accomplishment.

I did two of those three. Chill out and recovery would have to wait for the evening. I had another medal to collect:

the Queen’s Diamond Jublilee Medal

I have to admit I was rather stunned to hear that my old boss, the Honourable Noël A. Kinsella, Speaker of the Senate, had nominated me for the medal.  Until I started writing this blog, I wasn’t exactly boastful of my own accomplishments in large part because they were in the service of someone else. In fact, I started writing this blog not to promote what I was doing but to give myself a weekly dose of humility.

Well, that and I have some family members on Facebook that notorious gossip hounds and wanted to prevent the inevitable phone calls to my parents wondering if I had “caught the diabetes”. One of the things I’ve learned in politics over the years is to get ahead of the story and set the narrative, even if it is a good news one. Especially if it is a good news one.

In addition to my twelve years of parliamentary service with the Speaker, I’ve done a lot of pro-bono work for some struggling non-profits who have been languishing and need revitalizing. A lot of these have been Catholic charities, the leadership of these has been getting older (like collecting pensions older) and a certain amount of lethargy has set in. While I could charge for these services, a dollar collected is a dollar not going to their programmes which would be counterproductive to my aims with these groups. I’ve also acted as an unofficial advisor to a few non-Catholic organizations over the years. They know who they are.

The Speaker also wanted to recognize my new-found passion for physical fitness. He was also particularly moved by the fact that I took the story public with this blog and, later, the Running Room magazine article.

So after I emerged from the recovery area and waded through the throngs of people in Confederation Park , Kalin and I rushed back to the apartment. By the time we got back, I was pretty spent. Since the race grounds were pure crowds and chaos, I held off on doing some post-run stretches until we got back. Someone got a little snap happy with the camera.

I was really thankful to be bumped into the first wave. The medal ceremony was to be held in the Senate Chamber at 1:30 pm, little more than two hours after finishing the race. The early start gave us a little breathing room. Frankly, I’m not sure if I would have made it on time otherwise. It even gave me the chance to have a quick beer afterward. I had a can of Michelob Ultra. They were doing a promotion at the race and were giving them away four at a time. Between Kalin and myself, I had eight cold ones in the fridge. It’s the best beer I ever drank after running a half-marathon.

I know, it’s the only beer I ever drank after running a half-marathon.

As I sat for a minute to soak in what I had just accomplished, another sign of that accomplishment began to set in: tense muscles. Relaxation would have to wait, I told myself. If I don’t get up now, I’m down for the day.

I lifted myself up and headed to the shower. I washed and shaved as quickly as I could and then threw on the suit. The new suit. The one I ordered from Indochino. Fit like a charm.

As we left my building, one thing was abundantly clear: me and steps were not going to get along this afternoon.

With just a brief stop to meet up with Vicky, we made it to Centre Block on time. We had to fight some crowded sidewalks and jammed up intersections to do it, but we made. After being scanned in by security, something new now that I’m not an employee, I slowly made my way up the marble steps to the Senate foyer. With every step I thought to myself…

I should have taken the elevator.

Ow.

Ow.

Ow.

While we made it on time, the ceremony was delayed because someone did not. Take a guess who that was. Someone learned the hard way that Race Weekend traffic is a bitch. I learned it the hard way a few years ago when Christian ran his first half and it took me 90 minutes to get the Greek Souvlaki House on the corner of Riverside and Prince Wales from Slater St.

The ceremony itself was quite lovely and I was honoured to hear my name called among the many that were honoured that day. I was very thankful that Kalin and Vicky could attend with me. There were a few others I would have invited, but knew they had other commitments that weekend.

That I was getting it from Speaker Kinsella was all the more fitting. He was more than an employer for the last 12 years. He was also a mentor and huge supporter of my academic pursuits. He even trusted me with his students and to occasionally fill in for him at a conference when he was double booked.

After the ceremony had concluded, there was a group photo of the recipients. At this point, the effects of the race were taking its toll on my body. I had to hold back making old man noises as I got out of my chair. As I lined up with my fellow recipients, Peter Quail, the former head of the Canadian branch of the Knights of Malta, looked at me and said in his heavy British accent, “My, you’re looking solemn today, Dr. Read.”

I explained what I had done earlier in the day. He was rather shocked I was even able to stand.

We stayed for the reception for a bit so I could some get some liquids into me. Instead of the usual white wine I would drink at our receptions when I worked there, I was sucking back Perrier mineral water like it was  …. umm … regular water. For those that don’t know, the mineral in mineral water is mostly sodium, a very valuable electrolyte after physical activity.

I also got to show off my race bling to the my former coworkers. Everyone had fun with the fact that the maple leaf in the medal spins. I really enjoyed the chance to show off the Speaker’s quarters to Kalin, which is not on the public tour. She really digs history and architecture, so she was like a kid in a candy shop. When I showed her the Speaker’s mace and the constitution table, I had to talk her into having her picture taken with the table. She had such reverence for what these artifacts represented she thought it was inappropriate.

The reception was a nice opportunity to catch up with the Speaker and my old colleagues. It was a great afternoon. We stayed as long as I could literally remain standing and then headed back to the apartment. I could feel the energy from my post-race nutrition leave my body. We would have liked to have been able to swing by the Highlander and shown off the race bling and medal, but a) it looked as if it was going to rain and neither of us had an umbrella and b)there’s no such thing as a quick visit to the Highlander for us. It’s not that we’re alcoholics. They go to meetings. We have a lot of friends that work there.

We made it back to the apartment and changed into comfy clothes, but not before a few more pictures.

The recipient.

And then a self portrait of Kalin and I.

 This photo ended up scaring the bejeesus out of her mother. When Kalin sent it to her, she thought it was a professional photo … and an engagement photo. Kalin calmed her down when she explained how it was just a selfie on my iPhone.

Changing into the comfy clothes for me meant finally wearing the race shirt. Some of my running friends subscribe to the theory that you never wear the race shirt until after the race. The belief is it’s bad luck because you haven’t earned it until after the race. I didn’t subscribe to that during my 5K days, mostly because with my declining weight the race shirt was often the only one I had that fit adequately. I decided not to mock the running Gods for the half.

After dinner, the sun came back out so we went down to the terrace with some drinks.  I smoked my first cigar since beginning my training. We ended up having a delightful conversation with one of my older neighbours, a delightful gentleman who is a retired Lt. Colonel from the Van Doos. He actually ran one of the first Ottawa Marathons before there was even a race weekend.

So that’s the story about Two Medal Sunday. Now that I’ve given my legs a bit of rest, I’m already getting ready for my next half-marathon, the Army Run in September, and am again pace leading the 2 hour group for the clinic.  I’ll be back at Greco on Monday for a workout. As much as I enjoyed picking up two medals in a day, one is more than enough.

The weekend’s accomplishments were great, but no excuse to rest on my laurels. The journey continues.

Allons-y!

In whatever nature throws at us

Wednesday was a crazy practice run.

That shit cray?

Yes, Kanye, that shit cray.

Now don’t interrupt me again. This ain’t Taylor Swift you’re pestering. Storm my stage and interrupt me and I will knock you on your arse.

We had gotten through two days of rain when I set out for the Running Room. Since I don’t do Greco in the morning on Wednesdays, I get a little stir crazy and usually head out early and grab tea at Bridgehead before the run. It also gives me a chance to hang out with Kalin for a bit before we split up into our separate clinics.

It was Kalin’s first run since the accident. She was looking forward to it. She was only able to complete one 10 minute interval before her ankle flared up, but that’s 10 more minutes than she would have done otherwise. Her history in sports has helped speed her recovery greatly. I have no doubt she will do well Ottawa Race Weekend. It might not be as well as she wanted to do before she was hit, but considering she’ll be racing just a little over a month after she was hit by a car just making it to the start line is an accomplishment.

Since her accident, we’ve been both extremely cautious pedestrians. She actually chased down a driver who almost clipped her again outside of Loblaws this week. I accosted a cyclist yesterday who seemed to think traffic signals didn’t apply to him.

By the way, as bad as the drivers are in this town, what the fuck is with the cyclists? It’s a pretty common occurrence in my neighbourhood to watch cyclists run red lights or stop signs. I had a physical altercation with such a cyclist last summer. He ran a red and almost collided with me on the crosswalk. I was on my feet in the end. He was on his ass. Then there’s the Lance Armstrong wannabes along the pathways. One was so rude to my runners one Sunday morning, Easter Sunday actually, I offered to make his bicycle seat a permanent part of his anatomy.

A month ago, I watched a cyclist almost get hit by a car just a block from my apartment building. The cyclist failed to even slow down, more or less stop at the stop sign. Luckily the car stopped and, for the driver’s trouble, he was accosted by the cyclist for not potentially killing them. I had to interject and shout, “Hey, you’re the asshole who didn’t stop at a stop sign!”

The cyclists in this town don’t think the traffic laws apply to them. Not only do they apply, so do the laws of physics. In car vs. bicycle collision, the operator of the car walks away every time.

Back to Thursday, Kalin and I were crossing Wellington St. in front of the Chateau Laurier when a cyclist, a true devotee to the religion with his spandex and helmet, failed to stop at the line for the red light. He did stop mere inches from me. “See that?” I asked pointing to the red light above me that was facing him.

“Oui”

“Obey it!” Maybe it was the Christian vibes from the right-to-lifers still lingering around the parliamentary precinct following the annual March for Life or the mere fact there were a couple of hundred potential witnesses who could testify at my trial, I resisted the natural temptation to demonstrate what happens when cyclist meets fist.

Pedestrians aren’t saints, either. We’re not surrounded with I’ve seen some use the segregated bike lane on Laurier as their personal sidewalk overflow. The bottom line is: obey the rules and we all get along in the shared space that is our city.

Back to the chaos of Wednesday, my half marathon clinic was doing speed drills again. We were barely done the first mile-long interval when the rain started again. It was a pounding rain, too. As we were proceeded through our drills, distant thunder grew closer. Lightning soon followed.

Once we finished the final lap of our third mile, the storm was fully upon us. Not since I ran in an F-0 tornado last year had I run in such terrible weather.  Ironically, one of the participants from the clinic that ran in that tornado was running with me Wednesday night. She’s a nice girl, but she might be a bit of a jinx.

The rain was coming down in sheets. The thunder was rumbling like a truck barrelling down the highway. Chain lightning arched a crossed the sky.

It was time to JFDI and GTFO.

I didn’t bother leading them on a walk lap after the fast mile was done.  Instead, we collected our gear and went right into our steady run back to the store. With it so miserable out, the steady run was closer to a tempo run. As you can tell from the map (click the link above), we also took a shorter route back to the store. As we ran up O’Connor, we encountered the odd pedestrian or cyclist braving the weather. One pack of hipsters took one look at us and said, “Whoa, these guys are hardcore.”

Yes, we were hardcore, but I was the only guy. Other than myself, there were only two men in my group Wednesday night and both finished early due to injuries flaring up.

Once at the store, I didn’t see much point in getting changed into dry clothes. It was raining so hard the running shell I brought as a jacket would be quickly soaked through, along with whatever I wore under it. I was already soaked to the bone. There wasn’t a single square inch of dry left on me. At that point, I figured it was best to just get home and get under a hot shower. Changing would have only delayed the inevitable.

I made a brief stop at Bridgehead for some tea to warm up the insides for the walk home. I should have just run home, but truth be told, I hadn’t had dinner yet so my tank was pretty empty. I walked as fast as my cold, wet, and tired legs could take me.

On the walk home, I ran into Vicky’s boss, the Honourable Rose-May Poirier. She looked at me and said, “Michael, you’re going to get soaked!”

I looked myself up and down, including my raisin-like finger tips, chuckled and replied, “With all due respect, Senator, I think I’m already there.”

By the time I got back to my apartment, my hands were so numb that I was having trouble typing text messages on my iPhone. The pruned finger tips didn’t help. I showered and ordered some dinner.

I’d like to say that I got up the next morning and, like a boss, went to my usual Extreme Lean class at Greco. I would like to say that, but I can’t. I forgot to set my alarm and woke up too late to get there. My late dinner also meant that I didn’t sleep very well. I’ve been there pretty religiously this year, so I think I can take a day.

We started off with such great weather this week. Sunday’s 18K LSD was gorgeous. The sun was out, the heat was in the low teens. Perfect running weather. The route was a nice mix concrete sidewalks, asphalt roads, and trails, both gravelled and ungravelled. We ran through the conservation area in Rockcliffe park and it’s very narrow wooded trails along Lake MacKay.

I even got my first sunburn of the year. It’s evolved into nice farmer’s tan that is dark brown until the mid-bicep where it reverts back to white. Thankfully, the same is not true for my lower half. You can imagine what my predilection for running in shorts and knee-high compression socks could generate in tan lines.

It was pretty humid Tuesday for our 6K tempo run.  It seemed to take forever for my Garmin to get a signal so I let the 2:15 and 2:30 groups go ahead. It gave my runners some early confidence boosting to pass them. I didn’t dress properly for the weather and wore a top that was too loose for the weather. Longtime readers will know what that’s a recipe for: nipple chafing.

Yep, I did it again. It was just some slight chafing and has already healed.

We pretty much ran the gamut of weather this week.  We’re ending the week as we began it, with a gloriously sunny day.

As I’ve said before and will say again, I will train in whatever nature throws at us so I can race in whatever nature throws at us.

Even if it includes cars and cyclists.

Allons-y!

So You Say You Want A Resolution III – Give Back

You called in the pros.

You surrounded yourself with friends that are good for you.

Now it’s time to JFDI.

Just

Fucking

Do

It.

Take the plans others have tailored to your goals and execute them. Follow your exercise plan. Do not deviate from the nutrition plan.

You’ll se some pretty dramatic results at first. The lifestyle changes you’ve made will be such a sudden shock to the system, don’t be surprised if you drop 5 lbs. that first week.

Word of caution, early results are atypical. As your body adjusts, you week to week loss will be an average of 1-2 lbs. Some weeks you may not lose a pound. Some weeks will be setbacks. (NB: I’ve found it helpful to buy my own scale that also does the body fat percentage. Declining BFP in a week where weight increased will show some of those setbacks are due to muscle gain outstripping fat loss).

As the good weeks outnumber the bad, soon the clothes won’t fit and tailoring will have gone from a rear guard action to an exercise in futility.

It’s time to replace the wardrobe.

I actually had to do this twice. I did a mini-replacement in the spring to get through my university commencement and spring sitting of Parliament. By the time fall came, actually by the time summer arrived, that stuff was too big. I did the wholesale replacement of the business wear in the fall and then went on my casual shopping spree in late November.

As you buy new clothes, you’ll have to make room in the closet for the new stuff. What to do with old stuff?

In the age of EBay, Craigslist, and the like, there will be the temptation to sell off your stuff.

Take my advice: don’t.

First, you have so much to sell and so many of the potential buyers are looking for something for nothing, it’s more trouble than its worth.

Second, there will be so many people invested in your success, you will never be able to pay them back directly. Sure, the professional you hire to come up with a plan will be rewarded and they will have earned every nickel, but what of the Christians and Vickys? They helped you because they’re your friends and they saw you for what you could be even if you didn’t. How are you going to pay them back?

The simple answer is: you can’t. The debt you owe them makes Chewbacca’s Wookie life debt seem like a bummed cigarette in comparison. It is because of these people that your immediate life is better. When people ask how are you doing, you’ll sound like a Charlie Sheen interview from spring 2011. You’ve added years to your lifespan. You more than look awesome. You are awesome.

That’s not a debt one easily quantifies. Go ahead, try.

You can start by trying to help them realize their own goals. Vicky and I are about to embark on new challenge together. We’ll be training together for the half-marathon for the Tamarack Homes Ottawa Race Weekend.  We’ve already registered for race day and the Running Room’s Half Marathon clinic. We also workout together at GrecoLeanandFit. I hope to be the positive force in her life in the next year that she has been in mine this past year.

BTW, if you’re interested in any Ottawa Race weekend events, register soon. There’s 9000 places per event and they all sell out months in advance. The reason why Vicky was cheering me on for last year’s 5K was by the time she found out she was going to be in town that weekend, the race had sold out. That was almost two months before race day.

My friend Christian is a more difficult kettle of fish. He’s already the accomplished runner and is in great shape.

For that matter, in these recent posts I’ve thus far failed to mention my friends Chris and Brittany, whose wedding this summer gave me the added goal of looking good in a tuxedo?

Or of my parents and grandparents who inculcated the character in me to tackle this challenge?

You start to see the point.

Since I can never repay the debts I owe, I pay them forward.

Yes, it sounds corny, but it’s pretty straightforward.

When it came to what to do with those fat clothes, I waited for Moore’s annual suit drive to donate my business wear and tossed most of my spring and summer casual wear into a charity bin.

the Charity Pile

As that great villain, the Canadian winter, began to rear its ugly head again in Ottawa, I bagged up my winter wear and called the Shepard’s of Good Hope here in Ottawa. They’re in constant need of winter clothes of all sizes to help the homeless survive winter and will come to pick up your stuff. A little known fact, Ottawa is the coldest national capital on earth.

There are many worthy charities in your area that can make good use of your soon to be oversized stuff.

Google them.

Contact them.

Give them your shit. In the spirit of George Carlin, once it no longer fits, it’s not stuff anymore. It’s shit.

It’s of no use to you, give it to someone who will put it to use.

For runners, it’s actually quite easy. Most of the races out there benefit a charity or two. In the four races I ran this year, 9 charities have benefited. If you agree to raise a certain amount for the charity, they will waive your entrance fee. Some charities sponsor runners that fundraise for them. If you agree to raise a certain amount, Team Diabetes will not only pay your registration fee, but the travel and accommodations for international events.  Raise money for Charity. See the world. Run. Downside? None.

While they are all worthy events, the Run for the Cure was the most personal for me as both of my grandmothers have been afflicted with breast cancer. It was really fun event and a great goal race for my 5K clinic. My paternal grandfather, Thomas Read, also died of cancer. Taking part in a run that raises money for a cause you believe in is but another way to combine your new passion for fitness with your duty to pay it forward.

To recap:

Call in the pros.

Surround yourself with Christians and Vickys.

JFDI

One foot in front of the other.

Pay it forward.

And …

Wait for it …

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!

Week 46 – Winter has come

Winter is now upon us in Ottawa.  We had our first snow this week.  Just enough cause the usual first snow panic and chaos.  It’s been cold enough to stick around the last couple of days, but tomorrow it’s going to warm up again and we’ll have a reprieve for a few days.

The sneak preview of winter allowed me a chance to have my first winter run.  It was mild enough that the path along the canal remained clear.  It was a little wet with snow melt from the salt the NCC put down, but still warm enough that it hadn’t frozen to ice.  My running friends have so been proven right: the NCC does a better job at clearing the canal paths than the city does at clearing the sidewalks.

The combination of the weather and the removal of the OccupyOttawa brats from Confederation Park kept the cyclist traffic down.  I don’t have problems with sharing the trail with cyclists, per se, but the hippie college crowd has to realize their dark earth tone clothing and retro-bikes sans reflectors makes them virtually invisible at night.

Get a lamp. The life you save will be your own.

Now that they don’t have a nightly klavern to attend, the trail has been largely bike free after dark.  The difference was immediately noticeable.  There was one biker I would see every night I was on the canal during the siege of Confederation Park I would call Neon Ghost Rider.  His bike was decked out with LED Christmas lights of various colours and could be seen for miles.  No Occupy, no Neon Ghost Rider.

For readers not used to my tongue and cheek sarcasm, I didn’t have a big problem with the whole occupation of Confederation Park.  We Running Room types use that park as a start point for most of our practice runs.  We gather at the fountain, brief the runners on the night’s run and route and head out.  My group is small enough that I could take them right to the canal trail to do that. Larger clinics, not so much.

In some ways, the Occupy Movement was a step up in the usual crowd that hangs out there.   Without going into too much detail, a few weeks before the occupation my clinic was inadvertently treated to a live sex show by a couple of the city’s homeless.

It was forecasted to be cold enough Wednesday night that I packed my new winter gear, specifically the fleece-lined pants and my new coat.  Both performed excellently.  Truth be told, it was probably still too warm for them.  I decided to go light on the inner layers to compensate.

My made to measured tailored suit from Holt Renfrew arrived this week.  Since it’s about six weeks from order date to delivery, it arrived a little big.  I wrote a few weeks ago about being down to a 38.  I was measured for that suit a few weeks prior.  I almost put the whole thing off when they told me it was six weeks until delivery. It was a sale on a custom suit the weekend of my birthday. I couldn’t help it.  On the plus side, since it is a tailored suit, the additional alterations are included in the price.

I’m pretty much done buying suits.  Besides the tailored suit, I also picked up a pair of suits from Beyond the Rack.  They had Jones New York suits that are regularly $800 for less than $200.  I picked up two.  Despite the name of the brand, they’re actually made in Canada.  In fact, the one I bought at the Bay during their Bay Days sale earlier this month is now the only made in Canada suit I own.

What I really need still is casual wear.  I now have a couple of shirts and sweaters, but as we near the end of the Parliamentary sitting, I’m going to need more.  With winter upon us, clothes, particularly pants, get dirtier quicker.  Since I have to pay for laundry, a couple small loads a week will be a major hit on the pocket book.

Speaking of clothes, it’s time to clean out the closet and drawers again.  Most, if not all, of my winter sweaters are too big and I have a lot of casual shirts that Moore’s clothing drive didn’t want.  Didn’t mind wearing the oversize t-shirts in the summer around the barbecue, but now they’re taking space away from increasing collection of athletic gear. I’m sure there’s a charity in desperate need of warm clothes this time of year, so it’s time.

Looking at the title this week, it’s hard to believe that a year is almost up.  It’s been a remarkable journey. With the holidays coming, it’s going to be important to stick to the plan.  Christmas parties are notorious for crappy, unhealthy hors d’ouerves.  The receptions my office hosts are among the chief culprit.  Try as I might, getting a veggie tray added to the offerings has been an uphill battle.  Since I’m leaving soon, it’s one of the few battles I’ve given up on.  Tried my best, but it will soon be someone else’s problem.

While the end of the year may be cause for reflection, I plan to spend the last few weeks looking more forward than back.

Allons-y!