Sunday, June 5, 2011

Patty says: Thanks! That was fun!

OK, first, I need to apologize to everyone: Jef and I have done a horrible job of maintaining the blog this spring, and posts have been few and far between.

Jef's been buried in work for I don't know how long, and since he's still got an injured hip*, he's lost one of his best stress relievers and is in no mood to update a log. (I don't have any excuseI've just been surprisingly scattered this spring.)

So anyway. Remember back in January when we started planning to rappel from Lansing's tallest building, Boji Tower? A number of you opened your wallets to pledge money to the Team Lansing Foundation, which received the money raised by the rappellers. We very much appreciated your support; Team Dope on a Rope (the two of us) raised $1,265.

Yesterday was D(escent)-Day.

Jef and I were scheduled to rappel at 1:35 p.m.; by the time we made our way down the building, it was closer to 2:30. It was hot and humid: the photos my Dad took in the two or so hours he was there (two of them illustrate this post) showed the temperature as displayed on the Boji Tower sign rising from 83° to 88°. And did I mention that we were required to wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts?

So. Hot. Humid. Overdressed. Behind schedule.

Worth. Every. Minute.

I really thought I'd have a tough time stepping over the edge of the roof, but when you're concentrating on backing over a railing and getting your foot out from under one of the ropes while wearing a harness that does nothing for your mobility, you just don't have time to second-guess yourself. It didn't hurt that the guy working my rope and double-checking my safety equipment was someone we know and trust.

And then suddenly, there were were: Dangling side by side, nearly 300 feet above Capitol Avenue. Look to the left? There's one of Lansing's prettiest old churches, just over Jef's shoulder. Look to the right? There's one of the buildings where I used to work. Look behind us? There's Michigan's Capitol Building. Look down? Hi, Dad!

We slowly began making our way down the building, stopping frequently to rest our arms, to perch on a windowsill and enjoy the view, to wave to my Dad and, once, to steal a kiss. (I mean, come on. Were we ever going to get an opportunity like that again?)

I honestly don't know how long it took us to descend. We were told it would take five to 15 minutes, and we milked it as long as we could without throwing the event further behind schedule. There's something wonderfully surreal about walking down the outside of a tall building. I was sorry when we finally reached the ground.

But in a whirlwind, it was over. Unclip the carabiners, return the radios, thank the belayers ("Did you guys really kiss while you were up there?" one of them asked) and walk back into the building. Take the elevators back up to the 22nd floor, hand back your helmet, unbuckle your harness and step out of it. Claim your bag full of droppable stuff (cell phones, water bottles), your commemorative photo and your bragging-rights t-shirt. Thank the volunteers.

Take the elevators back down to street level. Step back out into the heat and humidity. Step back into being completely ordinary.

(Sigh.) It was great while it lasted.

*About Jef's hip: They think it's a torn labrum. (Per something I just found online that explains it better than anything I was coming up with, the labrum is the cartilage that surrounds the socket of his hip joint. It forms a ring around the edge of the socket of the hip joint and helps to provide stability by deepening the socket while still allowing flexibility and motion.) He's having ONE MORE TEST tomorrow; if everything goes as expected, they'll be scheduling surgery.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Patty says: It was OK. Really.

(Hi, everyone. Remember me?)

So Jef and I have returned from Boston, where, as I think most of you know by now, Jef did NOT run the Boston Marathon despite qualifying for it last October in Detroit and managing to land one of the coveted entries a day or two later.

(For the few of you who don't know: He's hurt. He slipped on a patch of snow in February and injured his hip and then, based on some bad advice from people who should have known better and excessive optimism on his part, continued to train on it until he had all but crippled himself. He has an MRI on Monday to try to figure out what's wrong so it can be fixed so that, with any luck at all, he can try this again NEXT year.)

Here's the good news:

Because we were standing together at the 23-mile mark (instead of running somewhere in the midst of 26,000+ people and standing at the whatever mile mark watching for a single runner in the midst of 26,000+ people) on Monday, we got to watch Geoffrey Mutai and Moses Musap smoke their way past us en route to the fastest Boston Marathon finishes ever. 

The top four men (including Ryan Hall, who ran the fastest marathon ever by a U.S. runner) all beat the course record set last year, and Mutai finished in 2:03:02 (!). (While that's the fastest marathon ever, it won't be recognized as a world record because Boston's a downhill course.)

We got to see three of the fastest women on the planet battling it out, too. Caroline Kilel of Kenya took the race at 2:22:36, while American Desiree Davila, who was in the lead as they ran past us, finished four seconds behind.

We got to see some old friends and make some new ones, too. I got to enjoy the fact that my MS-impaired gait was mistaken for post-marathon runner's gait (it is, in fact, remarkably similar) on Monday night and Tuesday. We had a great time.

Jef was a really good sport about it all.

But my heart broke every single time I watched him watch someone else limp by on Tuesday wearing a finisher's medal...

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Jef says hip, hip, no hooray

As one lemming said to the other, this March didn't turn out the way I pictured it.

Before I bury the lead by more than that one sentence, let's get it out: I won't be racing the Boston Marathon this year.

Apologies for failing to keep you updated through, oh, basically the entire process. Social protocol says it's not polite to brag, and training was going so well through February that that's what it felt like. Social protocol says the same thing about whining. Of course, writing is basically all about bragging and whining and ignoring social protocol, so it appears I've seriously lost my bearings in terms of running and writing.

But I aim to fix both. With the one, I guess I'll have to wait for some tests to see what to do. With the other, here I go:

Five weeks of not running and the same amount of good physical therapy after the injury came to a head, it was time to try a test run. I had behaved myself, done all the prescribed activities and none of the forbidden ones. Pain levels were down to zero or near- zero, depending on when you asked, and my strength and flexibility in the crucial areas were deemed good. And I was coming down with the flu, a fine check on any temptation to overdo. This was Sunday. I ran a whole mile. Burned up the block at a 9:48 pace, I did. And oh, my goodness, did it hurt. The medical profession likes to ask people to place their pain on a scale of 1 to 10, which I always thought seemed a bit facile for something so subjective. I know it was enough to make me breathe like I was redlining it while my heart rate relaxed at a nice, easy, pace-appropriate level in the 120s. And it hurt the exact same amount from the first step to the final one. Then I iced it and took a shower, and the pain levels were already back to close to zero. Interesting.

So when it was time for the second test run on Thursday, the plan was to double up and run all of two miles, or longer if the pain remained steady like on Sunday. We needed to know if more running would make it better or worse. Maybe it was just a matter of certain idle tissues needed to be warmed up and reacquainted with running. Or maybe I was still pretty hurt.

It didn't stay steady, and it didn't get better. It started the same way, with intense, very localized pain. (Hip pain is odd; there's so much tissue there that you can tell a pain is localized without necessarily being able to name the location. In this case, though, it was easy to identify the bull's-eye as the ball-and-socket area itself.) The pain level increased (I was impressed; there didn't appear to be a lot of room for more) and gradually flooded more and more of the area until the whole right side of my pelvis was lit up - without losing that special stabbing in the socket.

And this time my heart rate bounced along in the high 160s to match my panting, though that may have been due more to the now fully involved flu. Also significant was the non-recovery. Ice, shower, heat, more ice, more heat … 36 hours later, the pain is still right there. Twelve hours later, my physical therapist gave me the talk.

But I knew Thursday, by the time I walked back in the house. Patriots' Day would be spent as a spectator. A spectator at the world's greatest footrace, which isn't what I had in mind but, let's face it, not a bad way to spend a Monday.

After that, we'll see what happens. My sports doctor - and there is none better than Jeff Kovan at MSU Sports Medicine - has hinted at more tests. A very good friend who's also a physical therapist to elite athletes tells me they might do something called a "grind test," about which I know nothing except that it clearly wasn't named by the most skilled public-relations agency. There will probably be some dye injected somewhere and more expensive pictures shot. If it gets too unpleasant, I'll just call my dad and ask him about his colonoscopy.

Then we do what we need to do and it's full speed ahead. There's a triathlon season coming up. And at the end of that season is the Detroit Marathon. I'm already signed up. I'll be 50 next spring, so I only need to run a 3:35 to return to Boston. Which I intend to pad with at least a 20-minute cushion. My hip's a mess, but apparently the ego is just fine.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Jef talks busy schedules and the gods' treatment of hubris

I remember the Chicago Triathlon last August. I did the triple, which meant a supersprint on Saturday, a sprint first thing Sunday morning and then an Olympic-distance triathlon pretty much right after that. With 8,000 racers, the start-finish-transition area was pretty big. Huge. Enough that the racing seemed easy compared to all the work getting from one race to the next.

I’m actually headed back to Chicago, on a train (sans wireless) right now. Tonight (Thurs, March 24, 6:00) I will be the keynote speaker for the Chicago Triathlon Club’s season kickoff party. 
  • (You’re invited even if you’re not a club member, and apologies for not announcing it sooner. It’s at Buddy Guy’s Legends in the South Loop. $20 to cover the food, and we’ll be selling and signing both Frazz books and Trizophrenia.) More info at at

And finally, I’ve got some time to write. Which, boy, do I owe you. In particular, I owe you the latest news on my
Boston Marathon training:
Or, it’s true what they say about gods and hubris

The run-up to Boston is not as good as it could be. It might even be bad.

 My running shoes have not touched pavement since the end of February. They didn’t touch much pavement in December, January and February, either. There was too much ice and snow and slush in the way, and that seems to be the genesis of the problem. That kind of surface overworks the hip stabilizers after a while, leaving you vulnerable to that one time you slip and catch yourself just wrong and find yourself in some trouble.

Life was great. I was hitting my mileage and my target times with ease and it was getting easier, in spite of rough winter and rougher road-commission budget cuts. And then, just as we were about to get into the marrow of the training program, that one slippery tempo run, the slip, the twinge in the hip flexor tissue.

No biggie. This is what I hired a coach for. And coach Luke’s advice: Sounds like bursitis or tendinitis. That was my guess, and Luke told me what I wanted to hear: As the brilliant exercise physiologist Dr. Tim Noakes says, you can pretty much run through any inflammation that’s not Achilles tendon inflammation without further damaging things. Keep running; it’s up to you how much pain you can tolerate.

I seem to be able to tolerate some pain. I don't say this to brag, but the gods do seem to be treating me as guilty of hubris. The gods do not like hubris.

Let me emphasize Luke is not at fault here. If there’s a guilty party, it’s me, for hearing the parts I wanted to hear a little too enthusiastically while dismissing equally valid advice from others – or even from Luke, had I chosen to listen. So I ran the Mid-Michigan Track Club’s annual Tombstone 10, a punishing, hilly winter test of ten 1-mile laps around the Mt. Hope Cemetery in Lansing. Nailed my splits, faster each lap, and never really got close to my lactate threshold (kind of a runner’s redline), even with the steep hills. And the pain didn’t get worse. Tuesday’s speedwork, same thing. No better, no worse. Thursday tempo, same. Sunday’s 20-miler … oops. I was done running for a while. I was done walking normally for a while.

It was time to consult medical help. The running-savvy chiropractor recommended by the elites of the Hansons/Brooks Distance Project deemed my alignment good, and the x-rays and MRI he ordered confirmed Luke’s and my suspicions: No stress fracture, just lots and lots of fluid, presumably (rather obviously, to senses) inflamed. I followed up with a visit to Dr. Jeff Kovan at Michigan State University Sports Medicine. He is a superb physician and an equally nice guy. He has guided me from train wreck to healthy many times before, and he squeezed me in again during a busy time (he is the MSU basketball team’s physician) to take things from there.

The course of prednisone he prescribed may or may not have helped; it definitely wasn’t any kind of magic bullet. Probably no such magic bullet exists. Patience and focused strengthening would be the correct, if more difficult, approach. So my physical therapist and I are doing all the undignified exercises to shore up those abused and failed stability muscles while the damaged stuff heals. I still can’t run, but I’ve been keeping up with the training program, meting out my efforts based on time and heart rate rather than distance and pace. My heart and lungs work fine. I’m just now starting to walk without a limp. My hip flexors might work by Patriots Day, and if they do, I can will my legs to the finish line from there. Three and a half weeks to go.

It does sound bad, doesn’t it? But maybe not.

It’s not what I had planned for Boston – who races Boston to finish it, anyway? – but once I gave in, lowering my standards turned out to be a lot less painless than, say, that dumb 20-miler. You know, it’s Boston. The very best will be there. And while I had to show a certain degree of competence to be allowed in, I’m still a middling-to-decent runner. It’s not like I’m contending for an age-group podium in any marathon, let alone that one. So what am I going to do: Jeopardize my whole triathlon season to finish in the middle of the same huge pack a little sooner?

No. Qualifying was huge. Starting the race will make it real. Completing it will give me permission to proceed to the merch booths and purchase my official Boston Athletic Association bragwear. And when I show up somewhere in my spiffy Boston Marathon jacket and someone asks me what my time was, well, I’ll just try and steer the conversation to personal bests. I have one that got me to Boston. I’m already aiming to notch a new one in Detroit in October. It should go better. My core will hold my hips together better. And even in Michigan, we don’t get a lot of snow, ice and slush in August and September.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Patty doesn't want to hear about it

I know, I know. it's been way too long. It's been almost a montha month!since I last contributed anything to this blog.

(Note to self: Add "Update blog" to Post-it® To-Do list above desk.)

I'm feeling kind of cranky tonight, though, so I think I'm going to vent instead of amusing and edifying you. I'm rapidly compiling a long list of people and places and things that I'm really sick of hearing about, and I'm going to share it with you here. Please understand that I'm not making judgments as to the relative value or importance or newsworthiness of these people, places and thingsthat's not the point here. They've just worn out their welcome and I want them to go away.

In no particular order, my list includes:
  • Airport security and those full-body scanners everyone's getting so worked up about 
  • Moammar Qaddafi and the unrest in Libya
  • Scott Walker and the unrest in Wisconsin
  • Obesity in America
  • Carmelo Anthony
  • Julian Assange
  • Spring training
  • Charlie Sheen
  • The Tea Party
  • The economy
  • The weather
  • Sarah Palin
  • The Oscars
  • Lady Gaga
  • Gas prices
  • Texting
  • Taxes 
Thanks. I feel better now that I've got that out of my system.

Got anything you'd like to add?

Friday, February 11, 2011

Jef finds fun running, running on fumes in Florida

My coaches over the years have had plenty of chances to remind me that training dumb is better than racing dumb, but what's left unspoken is that it can’t hurt to try and do neither one dumb. It’s something for me to shoot for.

I’m apparently not there yet.

Last weekend Patty and I took a very welcome trip to visit some friends in Hollywood, Fla., near Fort Lauderdale. Among (many) other things, I was delighted to be able to run in shorts and a tank top, with actual traction. And I did run. I had two leisurely 6-milers to do on either side of a much-anticipated 18-miler. I couldn’t wait, but I’d have been wise to slow things down a bit – and I don’t mean in the early parts of the run.

No, I behaved myself just fine that way. I warmed up the first mile – 8:15 – and then settled into my 7:50/mi pace and carried on as planned: Hold temptation at bay early, hold fatigue at bay late. But it didn’t work that way. I never really fatigued in the classic sense, but I started slowing after 14 miles with the all-too-familiar sensation of the fuel-gauge needle veering suddenly and determinedly toward E. It’s an awful feeling, not least because it doesn’t feel awful enough. Heart rate: steady. Legs: Fresh enough, but just not moving. It’s very frustrating.

And it wasn’t supposed to be happening. I’d been carrying a belt full of bottles and emptying them on schedule. I wasn’t drinking my usual stuff, true. I left that at home, figuring I’d rather find a running or cycling shop in Florida than have a heart-to-heart discussion with TSA at the airport about the unlabeled powder in my luggage. But there were no such shops terribly close to our friends’ house, and they had a garage refrigerator full of Gatorade. No problem. I’ve run on Gatorade plenty of times. The grocery-store stuff is a little sugary, but if you cut it 50/50 with water, it works well enough.

Except when it doesn’t. Then you finish your run ticking off mid- to upper 8-minute miles and are even grateful when you get stopped by an open drawbridge.

Back at the ranch, I did what I should have taken time to do before the run. I dug the bottles out of the recycling bin and took a closer look at the labels.

Who knew they made a low-calorie Gatorade?

An update:
Huge, HUGE thanks to the readers who have pledged donations to Patty’s and my rappel-down-the-tall-building dope-on-a-rope effort. You have no idea how good that makes us feel. Hopefully you’ll have a better idea soon, when I hand-draw you the thank-you notes that are on my to-do list (behind getting the Frazz strips out on time and maybe juuuuuuust a few items after finally getting a blog entry out there). You guys really are the best.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Jef experiences that '70s week

I liked football once. Starting at Christmas, the year I was 9. That was when my grandfather bought me a set of little plastic NFL helmets with a sheet of stickers so I could match up the graphics and the colors and make my own official helmets, or at least official in a league where the players were Lilliputian and the graphics were crooked and half the facemasks only stayed attached to the helmet on one side.

You have to pick a favorite team when you've got a set like that - it's in the boy code - and I struggled to choose between the New Orleans Saints (I liked their colors) and the Green Bay Packers (I liked the sound of their name). I couldn't have told you anything else about either team. Or, really, about football. But since I had two favorite teams, I figured I should try to find a game on TV.

I found a suitable one just about a year later (There was no NFL Network, nor cable, nor, in my house, more than one channel at all). The Pittsburgh Steelers were playing somebody somewhere, and by the time I found the game it was apparently pretty close. Pittsburgh had the ball, their quarterback threw it to one of his guys and the guy got nailed and the ball bounced out of his hands for an incompl … no, now some other Steelers guy scooped it up just before it hit the ground and ran it in for a touchdown. I made a point to remember his name - though remembering it as Frank O'Harris didn't help much - and settled not only on a favorite football team, but a whole favorite sport.

Just my luck to stumble across the Immaculate Reception, the most exciting play in the history of the National Football League. It was downhill from there. By the time I was playing JV ball in high school, football seemed to be more for the spectators than for the players, and the coaches made it clear that for us players it was anything but play.

Now the Steelers and the Packers are playing in the Super Bowl. The 1970s are back, though my love for football doesn't seem to be. Also back from the '70s is "The Mechanic," a remake of a movie about a professional hit man. I loved that movie. Jason Statham is playing the Charles Bronson role and somebody else is playing the other guy's role (which I guess is significant). That I might watch. I don't know if it will live up to the original. These things often don't.

And now we've just survived what was supposed to be the biggest snowstorm since the Blizzard of '78. Snowpocalypse, they were calling it. Or Snowmageddon, or snOwMG. In this area, anyway, we got buried by more breathless titles that we did by snow.

It's odd enough that so much '70s history decided to return in the span of a week. The fact that the '70s themselves came out looking better? That I never could have predicted.

Farm out, man.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Patty: We're not crazy. Really.

The reaction to our decision last weekend to rappel down Lansing's 23-story Boji Tower in June (and to Wednesday's announcement of said decision) has been mixed, although current sentiment is leaning heavily in favor of "You guys are nuts."

A couple of points of clarification:

1) We're not crazy. Really. The thought of rappelling down a tall building scares the hell out of us, too. That's kind of the point, though.

2) Jef didn't rope us into this (pun intended). Actually, it was my idea.

We're gratified that, two days after telling you about our decision, Team Dope on a Rope is already a third of the way to our fundraising goal. (We need to raise $1,000 for the Team Lansing Foundation, which is working to make the Greater Lansing region a better place. And we think Lansing's a pretty cool place to begin with—after all, we lived there for 20 years.)

If you want to see what we're getting into, there's a three-minute video from last year's event on YouTube. And if you're interested in making a donation to the foundation on our behalf, please visit our pledge page.

Time for me to get back to my to-do list...

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Patty and Jef are going to climb down a big building for fun

OK. The last time I wrote, I promised I'd come up with something more interesting than an accounting of the items I've knocked off my to-do list. Try this:

Jef and I are teaming up to do something sort of stupid for a good cause.

The last time we decided to do something charitably stupid, we supported Special Olympics Michigan by jumping into a lakein February.

When we did this in 2008, the plan was that multiple members of Jef's familyhis mom, his little sister, her husband and our nephewwere going to join us. But when the Polar Plunge was postponed because of the weather (it was too cold for a Polar Plunge), we lost our teammatesSarah and Steve were going to be in the Bahamas (the Bahamas!), Jef's mom had to play a church service (she's a church organist) and Austin couldn't get there without a ride.

The two of us represented the Mallett family in style: Jef wore a swim-appropriate version of Frazz's janitorial garb constructed by his mom, and I wore a t-shirt that Jef and I had vandalized with artwork and sayings appropriate for the occasion. We waited our turn patiently, and we plunged together.

Once we resurfaced and had regained something resembling our normal body temperatures, we agreed it was unnecessary to ever do THAT again.

It's important to note, however, that we did not resolve to never again do something stupid in support of a good cause.

This year, we're going Over the Edge.

We've joined a group of mildly insane, civic-minded citizens who will be rappelling off Lansing's 23-story Boji Tower in June to support the Team Lansing Foundation. To do this, we need to raise $1,000. We're hoping we can get some of you to cough up some of your hard-earned cash to help us meet our fundraising goal. In return, we promise to regale you with stories. Please visit our pledge page if you're willing to encourage our general recklessness.

Jef finds lawyers to be somewhat slippery

One of the big thrills of training is wondering how it will all come together on race day. You often surprise yourself.

One of the big thrills of training during the winter in Michigan, then, I guess is wondering how it will all come together on that magical day when you’re not running in total crap. You never know when that day’s going to be, nor how thorough.

Saturday, I went up to a park north of town and ran three 6-mile laps around Stony Creek Lake.

(For nerds like me who want details, the plan said to work down to a 7:50/mile pace, ideally in some hills. I ran my first mile at 8:35 and dropped it by 5 seconds each mile until I hit 7:50 and then just held it for the rest of the run. Stony Creek wasn’t as hilly as I’d hoped, but it rolled. The run felt easy. Maybe too easy, but then again, I wasn’t that crushed to see the car after that third lap.)

The weather reports said the wind chill was around -11, and lakes don’t block much wind. That sounds a lot like total crap, but it was my best run all week. The Detroit Metroparks do a great job of clearing their pathways, and when temperatures get bitter enough, what snow remains underfoot actually offers up a little bit of traction.

Earlier in the week, I was probably making some sort of cosmic deal: “I can give you some safe footing,” the cosmos may have said, “but it will cost you 25 degrees plus wind chill.” Deal. And Bargain.

Thursday was my tempo run day.

(Again, for us nerds: Warm up 2 miles, run 8 at 7:25-7:30 per mile, then cool down another two.)

I really don’t like running in little circles, but I should have sucked it up and done so. We had had some weather the previous few days. My town does a pretty good job with snow removal, but it’s surrounded by municipalities that might not have the same level of concern. And there’s the matter of crossing major thoroughfares. That’s no problem in the summer, when you just plan a long stretch where you run along the highway on the sidewalk with an eye on traffic for an opportunity to, well, jaywalk. Doesn’t work so well when there’s a lot of snow. And residents and businesses can be hit or miss with regard to sidewalk care.

So Thursday’s supposed steady tempo run was more like intervals on an obstacle course. The final mile was the worst. I was a little knackered by that point, and running along a busy road with bad sidewalks. Really bad sidewalks. One particular stretch, I found myself asking out loud, “What the hell kind of business cares so little about its customers’ and the general public’s safety that they leave their sidewalks in this kind of condition?”

Finding out was a simple matter of looking up, of course, and there was the sign on the building. No joke: It was a law firm specializing in personal-injury litigation.

If the experts are right about laughter and stress, I should have checked my heart-rate monitor. I bet the temperature wasn’t the only thing that plummeted.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Jef says Big Wheel Keep On Turnin'

Planning the summer’s racing schedule in January seems a little like deciding what you want for dessert before you’re even done with your aperitif. Then again, maybe planning your summer today, when I’m putting off my run until the temperature approaches double digits, is like perusing the dessert menu while your aperitif kind of tastes like dirt.

I already had a couple of races on the books: The Boston Marathon and the ironman-distance Rev3 triathlon in Cedar Point, Ohio. I just needed to fill in the ample gaps.

Last year was a bit of a challenge. Not only was the summer filled up with the fallout of moving eastward, but I had signed up for a good amount of triathlons, all of which involved multiple days and only one of which was actually in this state. I promised Patty I’d keep this year’s racing a little more conservative and a little closer to home.

Then I qualified for, and got into, Boston. Oopsie. Then I signed up for the Rev3 because I wanted to see how well I could do that distance a race when I wasn’t finishing up a book at the same time. That’s outside Michigan, too, but close enough to home that it was fine.

Among other races, I really wanted to include a half-ironman in my buildup (also because that’s my favorite distance). I know there are a lot of good half-ironmans out there, but my two very clear favorites are the Musselman and the Savageman. I guarantee you will not find a better triathlon experience anywhere (bonus: Musselman is where we painted the giant Frazz mural along the run course). I’ve raced both multiple times, and I even kind of raced both of them multiple times last year, since they were both kind or cruel enough to offer shorter races on Saturday before the main event Sunday.

The Musselman is ideally timed. And the only reason I’m not listing it as my favorite race ever is because I’m not foolish enough to make absolute claims, except when I am. But the Musselman is also out of the state, in upstate New York, and I was a little hesitant to suggest it to Patty.

When I did, Patty’s response was, “DUUUuuh.” So I need not have worried. She knows how I feel about that race, and she knows that a good contingent of my team here in Metro Detroit (shout-out to Infinite Multisports!) has discovered it as well. And that our new address puts it within an 8-hour drive, which seems to be some kind of arbitrary magic number.

But even without all that, I think she’d have sent me anyway, and here’s why: The microMussel. In addition to the half-iron and the sprint, last year they added a Friday evening race that really is a sprint. It’s pure fun, though taken plenty seriously. You swim about 100 yards, bike maybe a K, and run perhaps a quarter mile. Last year, they had to cancel the division where you used your regular race equipment because of flooding on the course. But they were able to pull off the shorter, and you’re reading this right, tricycle division. This year, there shouldn’t be another freak storm, and they’ll run both the standard micro and the tricycle micro. And a new addition, the unicycle division.

And the answer is yes.

It’s been more than 20 years since I’ve owned a unicycle, but I’m sure I’ll find a good one. And I’ll re-learn it in short order. Thanks to the mighty squirrel-herding dog walks, I’m already something of a goofy novelty in my new neighborhood.

Funny. This past fall I finally acknowledged I was too interested in fall marathons to take up cyclocross. Huzzah! Maybe I was finally done lusting over expensive, time-consuming new sports. And I promised my wife no distant races. Half a year later, a one-wheeled toy is making me into a two-time liar.

I have a good wife. DUUUuuh.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Patty's still getting stuff done

Yet another update: I spent most of the day cleaning out (and shredding) old files, which was seriously needed and seriously overdue (Did I really need to continue to keep our copies of paid bills from our car insurance policies from the early 1990s? I'm thinking not...).

This allowed me to remove not one, but TWO items from the Post-it® To-Do list hanging on the cabinet above the desk. (FranklinCovey® Planners have NOTHING on the Post-it® To-Do list. Seriously.)

And while I haven't yet finished excavating the desk, I found several papers we were missing in the piles and, yes, filed them.

I cooked today, toohomemade chicken soup with rice.

So I'm making excellent progress on the stuff I threw out there for all y'all to see so I could embarrass myself into staying on task. I even swam once last week. (I didn't swim today as planned because I was making too much progress on the files to want to stop, but Jef and I will head to the pool tomorrow.)

So there you have it. And by next week, my goal is to have enough brainpower left at the end of the day (and far fewer undone tasks looming over me) that I might actually be able to write something interesting for you to read instead of just telling you about all the items I've been able to remove from my To-Do list.

Again, thank you!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Patty accomplished a few more things today

Thanks for staying on me and cheering my progress! The box of books we were planning to donate finally went to the Huntington Woods library today, and I'm hoping to get to the pool tomorrow.

I've also made good headway on another of my to-do lists—a collection of 15+ Post-it® notes stuck on the cabinet above the computer. (Since this "list" includes helpful tasks like FILE STUFF and EXCAVATE DESK, I haven't bothered to post it here, although I will if you want me to.)

Tonight, I balanced four months' worth of statements for Jef's business checking account (not one of my favorite activities, as Jef sometimes forgets to record things and often doesn't get around to actually doing the math in his check register), and I balanced two months' worth of statements for our savings account. I'll do a little more banking stuff tomorrow. Now, though, I think I'll get some sleep...

Friday, January 7, 2011

Here Jef goes again

Singer-songwriter Gerry Rafferty died Tuesday after accomplishing what we can all hope for: a life interesting enough for an obituary with a trivia item. When he was with the band Stealers Wheel, Rafferty co-wrote and sang a song called "Stuck in the Middle with You." I knew the song well - I'm the right age to have both rolled my eyes after hearing it too many times as a pre-teen and again to have retched a little as an adult while it played in the background of perhaps the most gratuitously violent scene in movie history†. I even knew - eventually - that it wasn't Bob Dylan who wrote it or was singing it. What I didn't know until the remembrance on NPR (now I've thoroughly revealed my demographic) was why I and the rest of the world thought it sounded a lot like Dylan. It was Rafferty's idea of a joke. Apparently he'd been taking some flak about his voice and style, and he figured goofing was preferable to fighting, so he wrote a song that didn't acknowledge the similarity so much as roll in it. He was as surprised by the hit as a lot of us were by the facts.

People misunderstand songs all the time. I was pushing middle age before I realized the lyrics to "Winter Wonderland" didn't go, "In the meadow we can build a snowman and pretend that he is parched and brown." And I suspect there are still Republican Party members out there who believe Springsteen's "Born in the USA" is the uplifting, patriotic anthem they thought it was when they attached it to Bob Dole's presidential campaign.

So let it be known that I'm fully aware I'm missing the mark while, these days, I've been humming Todd Snider's "Long Year." The song's narrator stumbles into a 12-step meeting and takes a seat at the back. When it's his turn to speak, all he can come up with is, "It's been a long, long year; How did I get here?" While I think the world of Todd's music and Todd himself (he was kind enough to spend a little time with me and I enjoyed it immensely) and can very much relate to most of his music, I've never been much of a drinker or addicted to any chemical or even activity that society deems problematic beyond the colorful Lycra and tendency to talk too long about training and racing.

But if you pick, choose and parse a song the way (say) Dole's camp did, you can find the right words and tone to meet your needs and ignore the rest for a while. And oh, that chorus. It has been a long year, and sometimes I still find myself wondering how it happened and marveling that I hung on. But it's the song's final lines that ring truest. Going by the admittedly arbitrary calendar, my long year is over and the new one is already 1.9 percent in the bag and - just for starters - I'm only now resuming my blog duties and no farther ahead on other work than I was this time a year ago. "Long Year" ends with the narrator heading from the AA meeting straight to the bar to tell his old friends about his awkward day. One of them mentions that all he needs is another drink, which he accepts, tosses down and sings,

"… I thought to myself, 'Well, here we go again' …"

It sounds profoundly sad in the song. When I sing it to myself, it's with a certain amount of apprehension, to be sure. But not sadness. There might even be some eagerness. There's another line coming up in the popular media that seems highly appropriate here, and I doubt that I'm misinterpreting it because it's in a comic strip and I'm the one who wrote it. The line goes, "I don't think he's ever confused comfort with happiness."

I hope that gets a few people through their day with a little less creative editing.

In fact, if that's the best NPR can mention in my obituary, I'll be quite fine with it. But they'll have to wait a while.

Here we go again.
† "Reservoir Dogs", of course. I highly recommend the opening scene in the diner; stick with the movie beyond that and I won't be held responsible.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Patty's grumpy again (it won't last)

The latest update on the to-do list I posted here on December 20:
So I followed Verizon's clear-as-mud instructions for backing up my cell phone contacts. The overwhelming majority of said contacts are now gone. (This is why it's so easy to avoid doing things like this.) Was the fickle finger of fate zapping me for failing to complete this task by 12/31, as was my stated goal? (I was only three days offsheesh!)

Our highly overdue Christmas letter is now written, but the box of books we're donating to the library hasn't yet been delivered to the library. That means I'm batting .800 (.600 if you ding me for backing up my cell phone contacts three days late and largely unsuccessfully).

Also did lots of laundry on my days off (so laundry's no longer on my laundry list of stuff to do) and, in lieu of alphabetizing my spice racks, bought some really nice pull-out shelves at The Great Indoors, got Jef to install them, and got our small pantry cupboard under control. (This was not, in fact, a form of the productive procrastination I'm so good atit was very needed and is a huge improvement.)

Jef and I took the day off today and went to the Detroit Zoo. The last time we went there together, it was hot and crowded. Today, it was cold (29°F or so) and sparse. We spent most of our time in the Arctic Ring of Life, an extremely cool (literally and figuratively) exhibit that houses polar bears, Arctic foxes and seals. When we went to the zoo in August, we saw neither polar bear nor Arctic fox. Today, we saw both. It was terrific—we almost felt sorry for the summer-only zoo visitors.

Happy New Year, everyone.