Monday, December 06, 2004

You Know His Name

You could hear him
before you saw him.

He had a high pitched
voice that cut
the air as a knife.

Was he hard of hearing
or did he just want
to be heard.

It seems the volume
made up for an insecurity

He wanted the world
to know he was present

He did count for something
and his voice proved it so.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Government Program Run by Idiots in the Pocket of Big Tobacco

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA), an arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, has issued guidelines listing prohibited and allowed items which can be placed in your carry-on and checked baggage during air travel. During the early days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks many of us experienced the confiscation of toenail clippers, eyebrow pencils and other dangerous implements. With the Government's steady hand, we now have some guidelines which we can all understand. And, we can travel reassured. Or, can we?

Preparatory to a recent trip to Europe I went on the website for the TSA to make certain I was not going to inadvertently include some prohibited items in my carry-0n or checked bags. That was an issue because I was taking my bicycle to Europe and including small compressed air cartridges to inflate my tires. The compressed air cartridges slipped through okay. What amazed me, however was to discover that the TSA allowed lighters and matches in carry-on baggage. Specifically, the TSA states:

"Up to 2 lighters or 4 books of safety matches are allowed in your carry-on baggage. Disposable lighters and absorbed liquid lighters are allowed in your carry-on baggage. Strike anywhere matches are NOT permitted. If you are uncertain as to whether your lighter is prohibited, please refrain from bringing it to the airport."

Thankfully, Richard Reid, the terrorist who unsuccessfully attempted to light his shoe bomb with matches on American Airlines flight 63 from Paris to Miami, has not read the TSA bulletin. With a couple of Bic lighters in his pocket he might have been successful.

What could conceiveably motivate the TSA to permit lighters and matches to be brought into the passenger compartments of airplanes? Could it be that people are compelled to light birthday candles as soon as they exit the airplanes. Maybe, passengers want to start a small campfire in the terminal. Perhaps they are lighting matches to sterilze needles to remove pesky slivers shortly after exiting their flights.

Nope. None of the above. Lighters and matches are necessary carry-on items for people addicted to cigarettes who have to rush to the exits to light up as soon as possible after leaving their aircraft. They couldn't wait for their checked bags before lighting up. No, that would cause too much stress. A prolonged nicotine fit would result.

What could have motivated the TSA? Could it have been pressure from the tobacco companies and their cohorts in the Bush Administration and on Capitol Hill? It was either that, or a malevolent TSA employee who hopes that the next Richard Reid is successful.

Whatever you can do, or dream
you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and
magic in it.


Monday, August 30, 2004

I have just returned from England where I participated in the UK Half Ironman. For the uninitiated, a half Ironman event includes a 1.2 mile swim, a 56 mile bike and a 13.1 mile run. It was a fabulous event, held on and around the grounds of Sherbourne Castle adjacent to the village of Sherbourne in Dorset, southwest of London. Sir Walter Raleigh began construction of the castle in 1594. Upon his demise it was acquired by the Digby family who have owned the property since 1615.

Training for a half Ironman is less than half as difficult as training for a full Ironman. (See my post below for last year's full Ironman report.) The level of aerobic fitness necessary to compete effectively is much less than that necessary for a full Ironman. During the training process I seldom worked out more than 7 hours a week. That included a longer day on Saturday or Sunday. I think that once you have a solid aerobic base it does not take much additional effort to go further and faster. My longest run in preparation for the Half Ironman was 90 minutes and my longest bike ride was 2 hours. I did do some swims that were 1.2 miles. Those were mostly steady swims in the lake to just get the feel of swimming non-stop for 40 minutes or so.

In the race itself I was pleased to finish 4th in my age group. There were 13 individuals in my age group, which is less than typically shows up for one of these events. A recent event in Napa Valley had nearly 40 participants. My time was 5:57:04. I was particularly pleased with my 2:03 half marathon time, and my bike split of 2:57. My swim was slow due to a bad start and congestion at the start and along the course. The swim had two waves of 900 plus each and a real bottleneck at the start and at a couple of points along the course. I had swum the course in 33 minutes Wednesday before the Sunday race and was expecting a 36 to 40 minute swim in congestion. At it turned out, my swim split was 48. I was disappointed when I exited the water and headed for T1 (the vernacular for the first transition from the swim to the bike), because I knew that winning my age group was not in the cards with that swim time. Nevertheless, I beavered on and reset my goals to break 6 hours.

Initially on the bike it was very rough. The roads were generally rougher than anything I have experienced in a US race. Within the first mile I had lost my Hammer Gel bottle off my top bar and my electrolyte tabs from the baggie in my aero drink top. I was bouncing around. Things settled down and the pace was steady and strong. On the back side of the first loop there was a big downhill, which I love. In my aero bars I was flying, reaching 50.1 miles per hour, the fastest I have ridden a bicycle. At that moment, my bike started to cavitate. I have previously experience high speed vibration which is very intimidating on a finely tuned bike. This vibration was so severe that I was afraid I was going to lose all control of my bike and fly off the road. I was passing people and vibrating and it was very scary. My brakes wouldn't work. Finally I slowed and regained control. The balance of the race went fine. I did hold back on the second downhill, and didn't exceed 32 miles per hour. No vibration that time. After the race I discovered that I had broken a front spoke. I was very lucky. I think the fact that my wheels are deep dish carbon helped. If they had been aluminum they probably would have warped and lead to a serious accident. Regardless, I am having new spokes installed and thinking about new wheels for my bike.

The run was great. My legs were strong and my pace was steady. At a certain point I could see that I was going to come in under 6 hours so relaxed a bit. I felt great after the race and there was essentially no recovery time necessary. Now, I feel fit and ready for the next race. There are three before season end. I look forward to them.

It has been a great season so far. The UK Half Ironman was a joy to compete in. Next year I may consider the Half Ironman in South Africa or St. Croix. Maybe I will do England again.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

The entrepreneur is essentially
a visualizer and actualizer...
He can visualize something,
and when he visualizes it
he sees exactly how to make it happen.

- Robert L. Schwartz

Monday, January 12, 2004

Running around the World

One of the side benefits of being involved in a global enterprise is the opportunity to experience so many of the world’s wonderful large cities. I have been fortunate these past several years to have a position which allows me to travel the globe for business. This business requirement fulfills a peripatetic urge and a yearning since childhood to learn about and experience the many and myriad parts of our world.

I have been a runner since high school. After a lackluster athletic career stalled by the pursuit of fun, girls and beer I was encouraged to turn out for track my senior year of high school by the coach, Archie Andreotti. I was 6’ 2” tall and weighed 185, and was fresh from years of farm labor and endless days “bucking bales.” The spring of 1962 Archie decided I had the size and build to run the 880. In those days everything was in yards and the half-mile was a middle distance race. In a few short years it became a sprint but it was a distance race at Ellensburg High School in central Washington State.

It was a very painful spring. I had my first shin splints. I hobbled with an ache and burn that was more intense than I had every experienced. I had a wonderful pair of blue Kangaroo spikes. They were light and with them on my feet I felt I ran like the wind. At a track meet in the neighboring town Archie told me just moments before the meet began that he was going to have me run the mile. I had no time for preparation. I went out like a shot and run my 880 race and then faded to finish 200 yards behind. Archie knew what he was doing. I realized that the 880 was a shorter race and my performance picked up. I was not competitively fast for my time, although I was proud to run a 2:03 in one race.

I left running for many years, diverted this time by the life of the mind, politics, girls and indolence. I picked it up again for a couple of years in the mid 70’s, running in Central Park in New York City with a pair of Adidas. In 1985 I started running regularly. I got into a steady groove of 25 to 30 miles per week. Several times a year I ran in 10K and 8K local races. I loved the energy and of being with all those runners. With a busy travel schedule, my training regime would sometimes suffer. But, by and large, running has been a prescription for health and well being that allowed me to experience the great cities of the world in new and interesting ways. After a long flight half way around the world a run the best antidote for jet lag. It wakes me up, resets my internal clock and helps me make it through the new business day.

Running through foreign territory is a great way to see the sights. You can cover a lot of territory in a short time and be a tourist in the midst of a hectic business schedule. You learn with time the best hotels to stay in. They have great work out facilities and are close to an interesting running course. Obviously, that is not always possible. Sometimes you just have to make do.

Running in London in Hyde Park is one of my favorites. There is a nice run along the Thames, but Hyde Park is the best, with its almost five mile circumference broad walkway. If you stay close to the park, and there are many wonderful hotels that afford you that opportunity, you can be in the park minutes from your room. I always do a double take as I start out the first time as I have a tendency to look the wrong way for on coming traffic as I dart toward the park. You have some wonderful options in Hyde Park with its crisscross of paths so you can vary your course. There is a lake in the middle of the park that you can run around. It reminds you a bit of the reservoir in Central Park, although I have never seen a dead body in the Hyde Park lake. That distinction is reserved for New York City. Swans are also a rare sight in the reservoir.

Paris has to be run early in the morning. The broad boulevards and rapid traffic flow make it difficult to navigate once the city is stirring. I have had liberating runs down those broad open streets at first light in the morning. You have a feeling that the city is at your fingertips. Up the Champs Ellysee and around the Arch de Triumph, across the front of the Loive and in front of the fancy shops on Rue Montaigne. If you stay in a central hotel on the Right or Left Banks, the best runs are along the Seine. You can run each bank of the river, past the Bateau Mouche, Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame.
The best long runs are in the Bois de Bologne. You can run through the forest and around the lake and easily get in a ten mile run. It is a bit removed from city center but a quick subway ride gets you there.

There is a wonderful mid city run in Rome. I like to stay at a hotel near the top of the Spanish steps so if I have a moment I can wander down the Via Condotti and window shop and people watch. Just up the road from the top of the Spanish steps is the beautiful Villa Borghese. You can circle through and around the Borghese and past swans in the ponds. From the edge of the Borghese you can look out over Rome and see St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican. It is rich with history and you return to your hotel not only invigorated, but with a sense of awe for the past.

I have run in many other European cities including Stockholm, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Moscow, Cannes and St. Tropez, and Vienna among others. Sometimes you are stuck in the middle of a city like Milan and are forced to run around the block with no time or hope for a scenic and uplifting run. You just dodge traffic and hope for an endorphin blast that carries you through the day. I love running along the river in Salzburg. It is one of the beautiful cities of the world and path along the river goes for miles. Another favorite course runs along the lake in Geneva. The backdrop provided by the city and the mountains makes it one of the serene runs in the world. That was especially the case one morning when a handful of people where performing Tai Chi Chuan on the water’s edge.

It is a great leap from Lake Geneva’s edge to the Forbidden City and Tianiamum Square. Invariably, you will see the morning Tai Chi ritual played out on your runs in Beijing. Here again, you must get out early to run the streets before the cacophony of motorbikes and fumes overtake you. You feel a bit like the odd duck in some foreign cities as you run through the streets. I certainly had that feeling early one morning in Hanoi as I ran past the bicycles piled high with chickens, pigs and all manner of commerce. There is a great run in Hanoi around the lake in the center of the city. You should stay in the Metropole Hotel. It is a short few blocks from the lake and the run takes you past remnants of the French colonial past. The broad boulevards and villas are perfectly French. Hanoi is filed with sidewalk restaurants. These are truly sidewalk restaurants. They amount to little more than a small grill on the edge of the sidewalk. Two or three customers perch on the edge of the sidewalk for lunch. A dozen barbers line another street. Each is equipped with a chair, and the necessary scissors and combs.

Early morning runs are the rule of the road in Southeast Asia. Traffic is too intense to do otherwise. Even at first light, it difficult to manage a decent run in many cities. Phnom Penh is fascinating. You run past Monks in saffron robes walking serenely down the streets. For good luck you can release a bird from its bamboo cage for a few coins.
Bangkok’s traffic is easily the worst in the world. In the middle of the city is a park that you can run through and around. That is the case in many cities. You can often find a small park that you can run around and around. Although boring, it beats leaping for your life in traffic, either vehicular or human.

I regularly run in Seattle. The climate is temperate year around. While we have a famous number of rainy days, we seldom experience any humidity. Only Washington, DC, rivals Southeast Asian humidity in August. In Singapore, almost exactly on the Equator, I run the moment the sun pops over the horizon. That allows for a six mile run before the heat and humidity becomes overpowering for those of us untrained for warm, humid climates. Singapore’s best run in through the Botanical Garden. It has looping paths and is a fun run. Periodically you will see a six-foot snake hanging from a tree. When I arrive back at my hotel I am drenched.

Sometimes, the best or only run is on the hotel treadmill. I met a New York investment banker, previously posted in Hong Kong who trained for the New York marathon on a treadmill in the Mandarin Hotel. They have four. I prefer them on the Hong Kong side. In Kowloon you can run along the water in front of the Regent Hotel. The view across the harbor is one of the most impressive in the world. I ran in zero degree weather in Stockholm one January. The hotel treadmill would have been a better bet.

In Shanghai there is a good course along the Bund, the river that separates the city. On one side is the beautiful old Shanghai with architecture from early 20th Century Europe. You can see the influence of the Germans, French and others that made Shanghai the preeminent trading city of Asia. With Hong Kong now part of China, Shanghai is once again in ascendance. You see that new vitality in the flashy high rise buildings across the river. Although many are nearly empty, you can stay in an eighty-eight story Hyatt.

One of my favorite runs in the world is in Tokyo. A short distance from most of the hotels is the Imperial Palace. It is in the middle of the city. You circle the Imperial Palace. It is about four miles. The run has some elevation. You see other runners and some mornings you may see Ambassador Foley out on his bicycle. You pass several entrances to the Palace. The run circles the moat. The sheer stone walls of the moat have an ancient look. There is a sense of antiquity in the middle of modern Tokyo. You feel that in some other places in the world. Rome, probably most of all.

Osaka has a small park close to central hotels that make for a safe morning run. Running in Kyoto is wonderful. You can circle through the old Palace grounds and then head for the river. There is a great pathway along the river that allows you to stretch your legs for a long run. Regardless of your purpose for being in Kyoto, you cannot miss seeing the several Zen temples. They are a mandatory detour from whatever business you are attending to.

The best running courses inspire your stride. The majesty of the scenery transports you so that you have an extra spring. It seems that the endorphins are elevated a bit with the grandeur of being in such a beautiful place. Running along Sydney Harbor, past the soaring Opera House, and into the Botanical Gardens is one of those runs. It is one of the special runs in the world. There some variations on how you wend your way through the Botanical Gardens. Regardless, you return to your hotel invigorated and full of energy. It is a long way to Australia. A Sydney harbor run does wonders for readjusting your internal clock and fighting those mid-afternoon flashes of jet lag fog.

In Melbourne there is a great run along the river. I feel that Melbourne is like San Francisco and Sydney more like Los Angeles. One is more sophisticated and refined. The other is more brash.

Many hotels have maps especially prepared for joggers. I have found that most of them are poorly done. In fact, some, I am convinced, are prepared by non-joggers. Distances are often incorrect. Street markers are difficult to discern. I just head out on my own and try to figure it out. I will admit to getting lost a few times. In some cities, particularly in Asia where there may be an absence of English language signage, the character-based language can look opaquely identical to my untrained eye. I have circled a few blocks and looked in vain for a familiar landmark. Usually, before some panic sets in I have picked up a geographic marker that gets me back on track. I have made a mistake or two. In Norway once, a planned for six mile run turned into twelve miles when I missed a turn and had to take the long way back, arriving just before the last light of their long summer day.

Back in the United States, I have had many wonderful runs. New York City, Boston, Washington, DC and Chicago are great runners cities. I like running on the beach in Santa Monica and along the Bay in San Francisco, but the East Coast runs are the best for my touring sensibilities. New York is the mother lode in a way. Even those Boston with is marathon has the history, New York has captured some extra magic with its marathon.
In New York City I always try to stay in a hotel close to Central Park. That is sometimes difficult. With last minute business travel a hotel room is New York can become almost non-existent. Once, we tried over 70 hotels before locating a room. Of course, that was the week after Thanksgiving and the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree was about to be lit. I usually just pop into the park and head up toward the reservoir. It is one of the most
majestic runs in the world, as you circle the north end of the reservoir run. The New York skyline frames Central Park. At all hours, the park is filled with runners. You can do runs of different distances by various courses. From the south end of the park to the reservoir and around is approximately 5 miles. Sometimes in New York City I will run along East River. That is a poor second choice given the fumes from the cars on the FDR Drive.

In Boston, I run along the Charles River. In Chicago, I run up Michigan Avenue and then along the Lake. In Philadelphia it is fun to run up the boulevard that leads to the Art Institute and then run up the steps and imagine for a moment that you are “Rocky.” Washington, DC has several runs that fill you with patriotic reflection. I like running through the Mall, along the reflecting pool, back toward the Washington Monument and around the White House. Running up Rock Creek Park is another good run as it extends from the path along the Potomac. Running up the C & O Canal allows you to feel you are out of the city and you can pick up the path in Georgetown and quickly be away from its ersatz hipness.

My favorites are in my hometown, Seattle. Of course, I love Seattle and its majestic scenery and over the last many years I have located all the running courses that a native discovers with time and experience. Running along the water’s edge is naturally, I think, both invigorating and peaceful. Seattle offers a lot of that. There is a great running path that circles Seward Park along Lake Washington. You run along Lake Washington from Seward Park to Madison Park on a pathway that parallels Lake Washington Boulevard. It is a beautiful run, with Mt. Rainier visible on a clear day. Each year in June the Shore Run follows that course for 6.7 miles. Green Lake is the joggers mecca in Seattle. It is our equivalent of the reservoir run in New York City. The Seattle runner’s shoe and equipment store is located across the street from Green Lake. There is an inner and outer course. The inner course is 2.8 miles. The outer course is 4.0 miles. There is a beautiful run on Elliott Bay, along Seattle’s waterfront Myrtle Edwards Park, with Puget Sound and Olympic Mountains in the background. The Burke Gilman trail in the northern part of the city follows Lake Washington as well. You never run out of good runs in Seattle.

I have covered lots of miles in cities round the world. I have seen some wonderful sights and seen things that you miss as a typical business visitor or even as a tourist. Fortunately, it doesn’t require a lot of space to take your running gear on the road. I usually just pack my shoes, a couple of pairs of socks, my shorts and a polypropolene shirt. The poly shirt dries fast. On a trip with multiple cities in hot and humid climates things get a bit ripe when you pack a wet t-shirt.

Make the time to go for a run on your next trip. It is the best natural antidote for jet lag and it opens wonderful new vistas outside your hotel room and business meetings. It allows you to really see the world. So, do it, and have fun.

Sunday, January 11, 2004

"I can't dance and I am too short to yo-yo"

Peter Allison
Completing the Ironman event in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, this last June 29, 2003, was an amazing and life-changing experience. My time was 14:17:18. I had hoped for a time approximately 2 hours less than that. Circumstances of the day derailed that plan. I exited the water in 1:25 which was my target time for the 2.4 mile swim. I had spent a lot of training time on my swimming, in large part because I wanted to feel very comfortable with that, the most daunting part of the Ironman. Something about a 2.4 mile open water swim that is intimidating. It is not like swimming in a 25 meter pool, with lane lines. You swim or you drown. And, it is important to exit the water very relaxed as there is a 112 mile bike ride and a 26.2 mile run yet to complete.

When I came out of the water I felt great. It had been a wonderful swim. My coach, Michael Ross, has encouraged me to stand on the shore and wait for the approximately 2000 competitors to take off with the gun. He said, "Wait 30 seconds after everyone is in the water and then go." As difficult as that was, that is exactly what I did. I waited and then entered the water. Consequently, I avoided the chaos off the start and was able to sight ahead and swim around people. I passed 700 people on the swim and was only kicked once, by a breast stroker who hammered me in the ribs.

The transition was smooth and quick. The wetsuit strippers are unique to Ironman events. At every other tri you have to remove and sometimes struggle to remove your wetsuit. I us lots of PAM, the non-stick frying pan spray and that really works to make your wetsuit slide right off. I had a tube of Chamois Butter (Butt Butter) in my transition bag but for some reason (speed perhaps) I didn't put any in my shorts. That was, in retrospect, a big mistake. Out of the transition zone on my bike I was cheered on by my friend John Bockmeyer who yelled, "Looking great....the bike is your strong suit....go for it." It was a great send off out of the shoot. Just around the corner and up the road I saw Dia, the love of my life, who yelled, "Yeah Ron, you're doing great. Your swim was awesome!"

And I was off and up the road with 112 miles to go.

I love my bike. I have been a titanium bike guy for five years...since I bought my first Litespeed road bike. I like the feel. My triathlon bike is a Litespeed Sabre that I found on eBay. It was a great buy with only 1000 miles on the frame and one season of triathlon use. It was complete but for wheels. I added Spinergy Carbon SS's, with Continental Force tires (the front is slightly smaller at 22mm than the rear at 23mm). The bike is a thrill to ride, although not as comfortable as my road bike on a long ride. I am fast and strong on my bike, so I expected to have a good bike split. My aim was to do the bike easily at 6 hours. With a marathon at 4.5 hours I would have a 12 hour time which is very respectable. Well, such was not to be the case.

In an Ironman, once you have built your aerobic base, it becomes clear that the race itself is all about pacing, nutrition and hydration. During training I did a number of five hour bricks. A brick is a bike ride followed immediately by a run. I would do three hours on the bike and follow that with a two hour run. It is quite a work out. And, it is good practice for the actual event as you must learn about pacing, nutrition and hydration.

I had a very strict plan for hydration and nutrition. I set my watch to beep every 12 minutes and I drank on cue and ate my bars and hammer gel (my preferred brand). Unfortuntely, the weather did not cooperate. It had been averaging in the 78 to 82 range in the days leading up to the race. Race day, the temperature in the shade on the bike course was as high as 104. On the blacktop it had to be as high as 120. It was unbelieveable. It became impossible for me to hydrate. Many people dropped out of the race. In fact, the DNF rate for Coeur d'Alene was the highest in Ironman history. It is amazing how your strength drops with dehydration. My training buddy, Kevin Conroy, caught up with me on the bike at about mile 100 and said he was spinning at 65 rpm. I said I was doing the same and happy to be doing that. Typically we spin at 90 plus.

I had a bike split of 7:14. It was tough. I had gastrointestinal problems beginning at mile 80 on the bike, and they lasted through most of the run. But, on the run, I was able to bring my temperature down. I put ice under my cap and drank water every mile and rehydrated as the temperature dropped. My legs were strong and my endurance intact.

During training I had spent a lot of time on core strength and endurance muscle work. My base was very secure. I had never trained in the heat. I ran the entire marathon, walking through the aid stations every mile. In many ways, in an Ironman, you think of the run as 26 one mile runs. That makes it easier. Those aid stations come pretty frequently at that rate. I finished with a very strong kick. My run split was 5:22. It was my first marathon ever. I expected to be much faster, but was just happy to finish. Recently I did a 1/2 marathon in 2:02 with ease. I have run a 1/2 in 1:48 and feel that I can run one faster than that. Running a marathon in faster time after biking 112 miles and swimming 2.4 miles is another matter.

As I ran the marathon, on four occasions I passed my family who was positioned on the course to spray me with water and yell encouragement. They were fantastic. It really does add spring to your step. That spring was, however, gone just moments after the finish. After going to the medical tent for some chicken soup I had to be helped into our SUV. My legs were no help. Climbing the stairs to our rented house was an ordeal.

Would I do it again? Now, with some time passed, absolutely. The training and the conditioning that comes with it is incredible. I would love to qualify for the world championship in Kona. That takes some luck and effort. This year I plan on doing a half Ironman. Maybe I will qualify. I will do several smaller events as well. I look forward to competing in these events for years to come. The comeraderie is wonderful. The feeling of accomplishment is great. It feels so good to do it. In fact, it is a bit addictive.

I just got home from doing some laps at the pool. It was good.