Sunday, February 27, 2011

Krewe du Vieux: Mardi Gras Begins!

Last weekend I made it out to the Krewe du Vieux parade.  One thing I've come to learn as I've seen more and more Mardi Gras parades is that the experiences from parade to parade can be wildly different depending on both the parade itself and where you are when you see it.  Krewe du Vieux is a walking parade with small horse drawn floats and is known as one of the more 'adult' parades.  We elected to watch it in the Marigny, an area where Mardi Gras costume making is a year long activity.  The combination of the parade and location made for a very different experience than at the bigger motorized parades.

At what age do kids learn what sperm are?

This is very bad spectator etiquette.  There's no reason to dig through horse poo and broken glass to get beads. 

Some friends were kind enough to let a group of people stay at their house the night of the parade; a kindness we repaid by drawing on everything they owned with sidewalk chalk.  
Fence Silhouette Theater
One of the benefits of not having grass.  

Monday, February 21, 2011

A Walk in the Park (w/ Holly & Gibby)

Last month it was a wittle baby, this month it was a couple'a young lovebirds.  My 2011 is starting off with a battery of photographic firsts.  What's next?

A few from my trip through Audubon Park with Holly and Gibby.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Jello Shots at Mile 12

At about this time last week I was eating the first of several servings of rice I'd consume in preparation for my run the next day.  I was definitely ready for certain aspects of the week to be over with.  The strict adherence to a pre race diet, including a week long abstention from alcohol, gets old pretty quick.  But I figured I should take whatever short term steps possible to offset the lack of long term planning for what would be my first organized "race."

A full marathon is 26.2 miles, making the half 13.1.  On Saturday I was actually more nervous about how I was going to get to the start of the race than I was about finishing it.  Among the pros and cons of New Orleans, street quality and city planning is definitely one of the latter.  Luckily I have a charming wife that agreed to wake up well before dawn on her Sunday to navigate back roads and drop me off a couple of blocks from the start location.  The race began in a spot sandwiched between the river and a bunch of streets that were going to be closed to traffic by 6am.  Great idea course designers; make everybody walk 1.5 miles before running 26.  

Interesting fact:  February in the northern hemisphere falls into the season called "winter," during which, average temperatures are what they call "cold."  Even in steamy NOLA, it is cold in mid February, especially when the sun has been focused on the other side of the planet for the last 12 hours or so.  I jumped out of the car and began trailing other people with race bibs on their shirts.  It was 05:45 hours, 38 degrees out, no sunlight, with me wearing shorts and a t-shirt.  One hour and a quarter until start time.  

The atmosphere in the starting area overpowered the misery of the cold and of being awake way too early.  Thousands of people milling around in a big graveled area; food and drink tables set up along one fence, portable toilets on another, a line of gear check trucks forming a third wall.  A jazz band played the New Orleans standards to a crowd of people eating bananas and Powerbars.  34,000 legs with massive glycogen buildups, waiting to be ignited and burned off over the next few hours.  I wonder how much of that energy I burned off shivering in the hour before sunrise...  

The runners were placed in starting positions based on the anticipated finish time they provided during registration.  I was back with the people that expected to average ten minute miles.  I had no idea how I'd do.  Part of the reason you're supposed to train is so you know what to expect; what foods you can eat before long runs, what clothing to wear, what to consume during the run, and of course, how fast you can go.  Seeing as I had done a total of eight runs and only decided two weeks beforehand to actually do the half marathon, I was going to be jogging blind on some of these things.  I definitely figured out what not to eat before running during a training outing (too much grease, fiber, and hot coffee right before a run makes for a miserable experience).  Aside from that, crap I read on the internet was going to be my training and help get me through as smoothly as possible.  

Shortly after the sun rose, the national anthem was sung, and the first runners were released.  Little by little, my group started walking toward the starting line for our start.  15 minutes after the fast guys started, I finally crossed the line and began.  Now, they say to start off slowly so as not to burn through your energy too early.  I understood that perfectly well.  But the thick pack of runners in which I was stuck was really taking that to heart.  I stayed with most of them and matched their pace until I approached the first mile marker and race clock.  The time was almost 25 minutes, and I had started around 15, so I now knew what a ten minute mile pace was, and also knew that I could do better.  I made my way to the edge of the mass of people and started passing.  Group by group, I kept going around them while gently pushing my pace.  The first mile was easy.  The second mile was easy.  Third mile, yup, easy.  

The pain in my right knee that usually bothers me came around mile four, but wasn't too terrible and went numb by mile six.  I ran mile two faster than mile one, mile three faster than two, and kept increasing the pace through mile seven, at which point I leveled off through mile ten.  It all went so quickly and the scenery was changing so much that as I try to remember more specific parts of the run I'm kind of at a loss.  I felt good throughout most of it, the weather warmed up a bit and was perfect for running, and the crowds and bands along the way helped keep everybody moving.  Most of it just seemed pleasant and easy.  

Then came the last three mile stretch down Esplanade.  I could feel my leg muscles giving up at mile 11.  That was the point where it became a fight between mental stubbornness and physical reality.  Physical reality says that you've burned through all your energy and should stop for rest and replenishment of vital materials.  Mental stubbornness says "screw you legs, I'm in control, keep moving."  I have no shortage of stubbornness, so I managed to keep running, but my pace during the last two miles was quite a bit slower than before.  I also managed to not take some of the jello shots that a spectator was handing out at mile 12.  Alcohol helps you perform better physically, right?  

It was a good feeling to cross the finish line, get a little medal, pick up a bagel and some water.  I could finally give my legs the rest they had been demanding.  This run ended in City Park, where they had ample space to let the runners and their groupies meet up and relax after the finish.  I wandered around for a while, had a snack, picked up my two complimentary beers.  It wasn't even 9:30am on a gorgeous February morning.  

I was quickly struck by that feeling of "what's next?"  Ok, so I finished, that's it?  I managed to do it in 1:53, which I was happy with.  There's the mental high that comes with finishing something, but that's immediately followed by the want to do something bigger and better.  The path out of the park to meet my ride home took me alongside the finish line to the full marathon.  I saw a couple of people cross the finish line.  One of them was a 46 year old, finishing around 2:45.  I don't know yet if that's inspiring or disheartening.  A guy almost twice my age running faster than I would likely be able to do if I were in peak condition right now.  I'll have to vote for inspiring.  People are capable of doing difficult and amazing things.  Recognizing that ability in others should help you discover that ability within yourself.

It's been almost a week since I finished those 13ish miles.  I'm fighting the knee pain that I've felt on the couple of short jogs I did this week.  Time to get a new pair of shoes and a few days of rest.  I've got plenty of time to work my way up to 26.2 for next year's race.   

Photos and a video of me finishing the half.  I'm the sweaty pale guy in a white t-shirt.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Life's an experiment

This Sunday will bring up the end of a week full of life experiments.  Things just sort of happened to overlap, but it's making for an interesting and enjoyable week.  What "experiments" am I talking about?

(1) No TV except for Jeopardy.  I pushed for 30 days, but I'm not the only decision maker around here, so a week was a compromise.  We don't really watch that much TV anyway, I've refused to get cable, but it's almost always on when we're home.  The silence takes some getting used to, but after only three days I've already shed that feeling of being "lost" without background noise.  Jeopardy was also a compromise.  It happens to be on around when we get home and are eating dinner.  Tonight we missed it anyway, so for once we sat at our dinner table and talked while eating (and fighting off our cats).  It was actually a more pleasant experience than making fun of people on TV (or ourselves) for not knowing trivia.  I've been falling asleep in bed reading instead of the usual falling asleep on the couch watching a movie.  And as it's much easier to pass out without noises and flashing lights, I've been getting more sleep without sacrificing any meaningful part of the day.  Take a minute to think about what you watch on TV.  Does the majority of it really add anything to your life...?

(2)  Running a half marathon this weekend.  Never done that.  Never done any sort of organized race before.  Nor did I really train for this thing other than going out and running until I felt like stopping a few times.  One of those was mapped out as 14 miles, so I should be able to wing the half marathon ok, but I decided I probably shouldn't push my luck on jumping into a full one so unprepared.  I've never been a distance runner, so why get into this?  Why not?  To say that I did?  Good enough for me.  Maybe it's just to say that I've done something that was challenging and painful.  Maybe I just fell like paying a hundred bucks for a cheap t-shirt, a medal, and two "free" beers at the end of the race.

(3)  No alcohol week.  I had already set goals to cut back on the boozing, both for health and finance reasons.  It's way too easy to come home after work and go through a bottle of wine between two people.  Both to avoid that cost and to make sure I don't feel awful while running this weekend, I figured I'd give it a break and give some time to get everything out of my system.

I'll probably be writing again on Sunday to talk about how sore I am and how slow I ran, and I might be doing so while enjoying a glass of cheap whiskey, but if things continue as they are, it will have been a very good week.

p.s. I'm trying to get others to do life experiments, too.  My cat, however, has no willpower and only lasted about six seconds with his "no sleeping in cardboard boxes for a day" challenge.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Keep moving forward

Since my camera tends to go with me everywhere, sometimes I don't even remember what pictures I've taken.  I'll be clearing out old files and come across folders I had completely forgotten about.  It's kinda fun to rediscover old photos, reprocess them, repost them.  You get to laugh at how little you knew then, appreciate how much you've learned, and look forward to how much more you'll know when you're looking back another year from now.  

Wednesday, February 2, 2011