Archive for the ‘Life & Running’ Category

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
– Edmund Burke

new-yorker-blitt_feb-2016
America, you just got grabbed by the pu**y.

I’m rarely at a loss for words, especially written ones. Even in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings, I had clarity into my own thoughts. But as much of a shock and tragedy as Boston was, it was a firecracker compared to the atomic bomb of this year’s presidential election, a bomb that left me (and so many others) speechless.

On the bright side, being speechless gave me time to process the 7 stages of grief—once, twice, maybe three times. Actually, my grief was limited to the first 6 stages since I have yet to—and may never—reach the “hopeful acceptance” stage. And it’s tough to turn the page and write about the race I just ran when there’s a body lying in the middle of the room.

So despite everything that’s been written already, I felt compelled to share my own post-election autopsy on President Obama’s America—how we got here and, more importantly, how we get out. There’s been a lot of angry finger-pointing the past two weeks as the nation comes to grips with its Trumpster fire. But if we honestly want the answers we all feel we deserve, there’s really only one place each and every one of us should look…

* If you couldn’t be bothered to vote, look in the mirror. And if someone can explain to me why Americans can be fined or imprisoned for evading jury duty but not for failing to vote for the leader of the free world, I’m all ears.

* If you did vote, but fancying yourself a rebel opted for one of the deer-in-headlights third-party candidates, look in the mirror. Because wow, you sure did stick it to the establishment! In elections as in life, perfect is the enemy of the good, and your pipe dreams of a political revolution that promises every American free tuition, universal health care and paid family leave to binge-watch Netflix just set this country back 50 years—if we’re lucky. There’s a reason our president-elect chose The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” as his campaign theme music.

I’m in 100% agreement with the common-sense viewpoint that government should work for the people who empower it. But understanding time & place is essential—when you look up from your deck chair on the Titanic and see choppy waters to one side and an enormous iceberg dead ahead, seasickness is the least of your worries. That iceberg doesn’t give a damn about you, and closing your eyes doesn’t change the fact you’re going down with the ship.

* If you’re embracing a smug mindset of “I live in California (or Oregon, or Washington…), we got it right and this is all of y’all’s fault”, look in the mirror. Right now you may be earning $150,000 a year coding an app to deliver vegan meals to other Silicon Valley shut-ins—but thanks to the Electoral College (see below) and your living in the land of the like-minded liberal, you and your vote are of less consequence than the fellow working the 5:00am shift in an auto parts factory in small-town Ohio, or the lady juggling two manual labor jobs and two kids in rural Iowa, whose livelihood & future are both on the line. So don’t be that smugly American nobody likes.

* If your activism consists of hashtagging your Facebook posts and tweets with #NotMyPresident, look in the mirror. Because he is, he will be for the next four years, and it’s time to own that fact. As our current President said during his keynote address to the 2004 Democratic National Convention, “There is not a liberal America and a conservative America… there is not a black America and a white America and latino America and asian America—there’s the United States of America.” And unless my current home state of California or my former home state of Texas secede from the Union, Donald Trump will be the President of that America. Now it’s up to us to hold him to his oath of office for every minute of the next +/– 1,400 days. Because a hashtag never solved anything.

* On that note, if you find yourself—consciously or not—subscribing to an “us vs. them” mentality, look in the mirror. As much as I understand and respect the level-headed assurances from POTUS and FLOTUS that “we’re on the same team”, rose-colored glasses aren’t going to fix our national myopia. One of the greatest threats to our country right now is its own divisive rhetoric, and simply living on the same floating land mass doesn’t qualify us as “United” States. Granted, painting others with a broad brush is much simpler than trying to grok their perspective, and easily done in 140 characters. But it’s also lazy, dangerous and disqualifying, not to mention a yuge reason we’re in this mess.

paul-noth_sheep

(c) 2016 Paul Noth

* If you’re willing to sit back and let extremism become the new normal—to empower a man who will enter office as the least popular president in recent history, who has more pending lawsuits against him than years on this planet, who has repeatedly espoused racist, misogynistic, xenophobic and Islamophobic views to anyone who will listen and whose presidential appointees reflect that same worldview, whose outsized arrogance & ignorance threaten not just the country but the planet, who pathologically treats the truth as though it were a Zika-infected mosquito, and who has exactly zero experience to prepare him for the most important job on the planet, a job to which we as a nation just promoted him—look in the mirror.

* If you’re trying to play the good patriot by assuring your friends, colleagues and children that “This is how democracy works,” look in the mirror. America is not and never has been a democracy, so can we stop using the word unless we’re discussing ancient Greece? If we were a democracy then Hillary Clinton—whose historic lead in the popular vote is approaching two million votes as of this writing—would be our next President. Instead, we owe our current situation to the Electoral College, an antiquated relic of a government institution that even our president-elect himself in 2012 called (in a tweet, of course) “a disaster for democracy.”

So if you agree with me or our president-elect, I urge you to actively support outgoing California Senator Barbara Boxer, who has introduced long-overdue legislation to repeal the Electoral College. Because until we can assure every American that their vote counts, voter apathy will persist and presidential elections like this one will leave even those who do vote feeling disenfranchised. Not exactly the American dream we’re all promised.

* And to the 44% of Americans who admit to getting their news from Facebook: if you blame Mark Zuckerberg for our nation’s current predicament because you’re addicted to his echo chamber, or because the Facebook “news” stories you liked, shared or angry emoji’ed turned out to be as reliable as a Nessie sighting, look in the mirror. Expecting the same website that makes money hand over fist feeding you mindless kitten videos, tone-deaf vacation photos and—yes—fake news stories to double as your trusted news source, is like expecting your dentist to take a little off the back while you’re already in the chair. Facebook may let us share the life we want others to think we lead, but let’s not fool ourselves—it’s not making us any smarter. And right now, a lot more smarter and a lot fewer kitten videos wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

* If you’re comfortable ascribing Hillary Clinton’s defeat to America’s deep-seated racism and xenophobia, look in the mirror. And take a closer look at blue-collar towns like Kenosha, Wisconsin or Warren, Ohio or even Scranton, Pennsylvania, where Clinton’s grandfather worked in a textile mill. Towns like these and dozens more voted for Barack Hussein Obama not once but twice, and yet this year they switched teams and voted for Donald Trump. Are we to believe that large swaths of the nation suddenly turned into overt nationalists motivated by bigotry, like zombies transformed by a virus into mindless cannibals? Or that all the racists came out to vote while the good folks stayed home?

Inarguably there’s a dark and {ahem} deplorable streak of racism in this country begging to be heard, one we all need to reject out of hand every chance we get. And leaders who recklessly spew inflammatory rhetoric empower this hate speech, giving it a voice it otherwise wouldn’t have. The mere notion of a Muslim registry or “deportation force”—a reprehensible rumor the president-elect has done nothing to disavow—casts two middle fingers toward the Constitution. And thanks to a doctorate in Cancer Biology not earned at Trump University, I can assure incoming national security advisor Michael Flynn that Islam is not a “cancer”. We the People cannot and should not tolerate an all-White House in the year 2016.

But to attribute the results of this election to racism is to miss the point: for millions of Americans of all creeds and colors, the government simply isn’t working. This single talking point was the central focus of Bernie Sanders’ campaign—he recognized that desperate times call for desperate measures. Even progressive poster boy Michael Moore recognized the desperation seeping from the country’s pores, so much so that he correctly predicted a victory for Donald Trump. And those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

* And if you did vote Trump for legitimate non-racist reasons, look in the mirror. It’s time to move beyond a binary “We won, you lost” mindset—the country needs you to be just as vigilant as the rest of us. Who better than the president-elect’s supporters to hold him accountable for his willful ignorance and his racist, misogynistic, homophobic, xenophobic and Islamophobic statements and appointments? Do your patriotic duty and hold his feet to the fire—just don’t be surprised when he breaks out the kerosene and your own arm bursts into flames.

paul-noth_circle-of-trump

(c) 2016 Paul Noth

* If you’re white (like me) and have at any point caught yourself self-congratulating for having gay friends or lesbian friends or black friends or Mexican friends or Muslim friends, look in the mirror. And be ready to come out swinging for them over the next four years.

* If despite every racist red flag and early warning siren coming out of Trump HQ in the past two weeks, you’ve already risen above it all to resume posting mindless kitten videos, tone-deaf vacation photos and self-absorbed personal updates on social media, look in the mirror. And be afraid, be very afraid—because you have much deeper concerns that what is and isn’t a fake news story. In fact, our outgoing President may want to seize this opportunity to publish a self-help sequel to his 2006 bestseller—let’s call it “The Audacity of Fear”.

* If you’re perfectly happy to accept what friends, Facebook and your own misinformed opinions tell you, look in the mirror. And while you’re looking, notice that shiny round skull conveniently positioned above your eyes? Beneath that dome lies the reason we spend our days building electric cars and studying the human genome, not napping in a sunbeam on the floor or cleaning ourselves with our tongue. There’s no more important three pounds anywhere on your body than inside your skull—so use it or lose it.

* And speaking of using your brain—I’m the first to admit Hillary Clinton was a highly flawed candidate. But if you think a thin-skinned 70-year-old businessman who just paid out $25 million to avoid trial on fraud charges, who filed for bankruptcy six times, who has never expressed any interest in public service and who has in fact spent his adult life fighting only for himself at the expense of everyone else, suddenly develops the temperament to care about the white working class that propelled him to the Presidency, look in the mirror—because you may find some lobotomy scars. And when you’re done I have a wall to sell you (since someone will need to pay for it).

* If you brushed aside the president-elect and his angry band of “deplorables”, while assuming that witty, well-spoken liberals like John Oliver, Samantha Bee and Trevor Noah would protect you from the dawn of Nazi America, look in the mirror. I loved the “Drumpf” skit and “Donald Trump wants to bang his daughter” segments as much as the next guy, but it’s disconcerting when sources that clearly advertise themselves as fake news provide much sharper insight and analysis than legitimate news outlets—and when a satirical cartoon from the turn of the century turns out to be our nation’s Nostradamus.

* And if, after the past two weeks you can honestly still say, “I don’t understand how anyone could vote for Donald Trump,” look in the mirror. Then look again. And start asking that question of people around you—respectfully. Spend less time on social media and more time on {shudder} conservative sites such as Fox News. Hear what the other side is hearing, and listen to what the other side is saying. The president-elect won over 60 million votes, and our responsibility as an informed electorate is to understand why. As sanity spokewoman Elizabeth Warren noted, “We have a right to be heard, but we also have an obligation to listen.” Until liberals take a long hard look in our cracked mirrors, we won’t be shattering that highest of glass ceilings.

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(c) 2016 Paul Noth

One final note: the most frightening thing to me about a very frightening year isn’t even Donald Trump’s elevation to the Presidency. It’s the fact that the Oxford Dictionaries already selected post-truth—”relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”—as its word of the year. (Granted, this is better than the “face with tears of joy” emoji it selected in 2015.) Call me naïve, but as a scientist with three pounds of fully functioning neurons resting on my shoulders, I refuse to accept the idea we live in a post-truth world. Truth still makes a difference.

Because as Daniel Patrick Moynihan pointed out, “everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts”. We can deny the reality of climate change until the sea cows come home, but climate change don’t give a shit, and hiding our head under the couch like the family dog doesn’t change the fact that our backside is clearly visible to the rest of the world.

So do the country a favor and think for yourself. Just don’t let Mark Zuckerberg catch you in the act.

Happy Thanksgiving!

TL;DR version:TL;DR emojis for post-election recap
I won’t barrage you with links to sites like the ACLU and Planned Parenthood, since you can easily find them yourselves if you truly want to act on your anger and despair and DO SOMETHING. But I will leave you with the contact information for all 50 U.S. senators and for your U.S. Representative(s), in case you’d like to call them up and (politely, respectfully) share your opinion on the state of the union.

When you see someone putting on his Big Boots, you can be pretty sure that an Adventure is going to happen.
– Winnie the Pooh

Purple & gold celebration

“How far do you want to run?” I asked.

“A really long way,” was the reply, “Because I don’t get tired. How long would it take us to run 100 miles?”

I thought about the question. I could give my indefatigable companion an honest yet unproductive answer. Instead, I opted for a more open-ended response: “Let’s start running and see how we feel,” I said. “I’m not sure we’ll have time for 100 miles today.”

Today had already been a full & productive day by most standards. With summer still two weeks away, the mercury in the East Bay had already topped out at 100°F. And yet technically speaking, this would be our second run of the day. Our morning had begun with a spontaneous “interval” session around the neighborhood—brief sprints of 50 or so yards punctuated by frequent stops, the Nephew taking advantage of these stops to bend down and pocket a handful of seemingly nondescript pebbles, while I caught my breath and watched in amusement.

We’d returned home from that impromptu sprint workout sweaty and triumphant, his shorts hanging two inches lower and clacking away like a walking bag of marbles thanks to all the rocks he’d pocketed.

After lunch, Katie joined us for an early-afternoon outing of batting practice and ‘90s arcade games at the nearby batting cages. We hesitated outside the slowest of the facility’s batting cages, the sharp THUMP! of fastball hitting backstop greeting our ears as an older boy waved helplessly at a passing pitch.

Throwing

Katie and I looked at each other, concerned that even the slowest cage may be too fast for a newly minted second-grader. The Nephew seemed unimpressed. In he went, and after lowering the height of the pitches to accommodate his smaller frame, there we stood outside the fence watching with fascination as pitch after pitch leaped off his bat, its owner eagerly scooting forward in the batter’s box (despite my protests) to greet the ball sooner.

In the parlance of his hometown, the Nephew is hella athletic for his age, with precocious eye-hand coordination that makes him the clear choice for leadoff hitter on his little-league baseball team. And it’s amazing how fast his basketball skills developed from “cute” to “formidable” in the span of one year, despite his lack of a significant growth spurt during that time. Watching him bury running bank shots, his forward momentum helping him get the ball over the rim, on a standard ten-foot basket in the first grade gave me goosebumps.

But next-gen Steph Curry or not, I assumed that when the time came for me to squeeze in my own training run later that day in the heat, the Nephew would be perfectly happy to crash in front of the TV. After all, what 7-year-old wants to go running when there’s no ball involved, much less twice in one day? I figured he’d be about as likely to welcome more running as he would be to sit still during dinner. So I was surprised when he insisted on joining me, still crackling with energy and intent on racking up 100 miles by dinnertime.

Tweaking my own expectations a bit, I laced up my running shoes, strapped my Garmin (GPS unit) to my wrist to measure our mileage, and the two of us set out toward the neighborhood sports park. The plan, formulated by Katie and me, would be to run around the sports park until the Nephew inevitably got bored/hungry/tired, then drop him back off at his house before continuing on to finish my scheduled 10-mile run. The perfect plan! {cue mad scientist laugh} Or so it seemed, at least to the naïve adults who crafted it.

Prisma-rrific

(With thanks to the Prisma app)

Before his front door was out of sight, the Nephew had already stopped twice — once to pick up a discarded bolt and again to tear open a plastic-bagged advertisement for lawn care services, laying claim to the tiny rocks used to weigh down the bag and prevent its blowing away. He jammed the ad down in one pocket and dropped the pebbles in the other, intent on adding them to the two dozen or so he’d collected that morning.

Somehow, without further distraction we reached our destination. Like most cookie-cutter sports parks in suburban America, this one was organized into multiple baseball & soccer fields, concession stands to serve the summer crowds and rows of colorful flowers to keep even the littlest spectators entertained. We set off in a clockwise loop around the complex, with the Nephew leaving the paved path and darting across the grass, because what fun is running on concrete when there’s so much grass available?

Happily we ran through the sparsely populated park, cutting through the empty parking lot which this late in the day lacked the usual hustle-and-bustle of little league activity and childhood in progress. My companion paused at regular intervals to rest, assuring me that “After I rest, I can run fast again.” But I agreed with him that this was just a run and not a race, since it wouldn’t be good to stop during a race.

Taiwan

Keeping cool in the Taipei heat (left); a first-rate photobomb, courtesy of the Niece & Nephew (right)

With the calendar approaching the longest day of the year, the sun remained high in the East Bay sky. The sweltering day had cooled off and surrendered to what was now a perfect evening for running. But more than that, it was a perfect evening for stopping. And we took full advantage:

  • We stopped to watch two teenagers hit baseballs.
  • We stopped to check out the scoreboard mounted beyond the outfield wall, its lit facade displaying a score of 0-0 to no one in particular.
  • We stopped to watch two boys and (presumably) their mother coast by slowly on bikes, the mom scolding one boy for ignoring her orders. “He’s in trouble,” the Nephew—speaking from experience—noted matter-of-factly.
  • We stopped so he could kick a semi-deflated ball over the low chain-link fence several times, and so the adult in me could dissuade him from carrying it home with us.
  • We stopped so he could pick up a discarded potato chip bag and recycle it.
  • We stopped to drink from the water fountain… after all it was still a warm evening, and running makes you thirsty!

“Are you tired?” he’d ask every so often. “Nope,” I’d answer honestly, “But I do this a lot more than you.”

Victoria Harbour

Surveying Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong

  • We stopped probably a dozen times to look at the posted sign showing a map of the park (a perfect excuse to rest, I realized), decide on a route and then quickly deviate from that route ten steps later.
  • We stopped at one end of the two football fields to touch the crooked goalposts, then race back across the semi-overgrown field to touch the opposite goalposts.
  • We stopped just because.
  • We stopped so he could pick up a discarded water bottle and, before I could protest, toss it over a tall fence with a “BEWARE OF THE DOG” sign nailed to the wooden pickets. Beware of the boy, I thought wryly.
  • We stopped to watch two pitches of an adult softball league game. Nothing interesting of note there, so we moved on.

I kept a close eye on my charge, urging him to let me know when he felt hungry or tired. Yet onward he ran with me trailing behind. “I’m not tired, but my legs are tired,” he reported as we stopped to study and re-study the map of the park.

Watching

His mom said it best: “Objectively, he’s a very good athlete.”

“I have to push myself,” he offered another time, before promptly pausing for another walk break. It reminded me of the time several years earlier when I’d first explained to him at dinner that Katie and I were vegetarians. “Me too,” he’d agreed earnestly, emphasizing his point with a wave of the oversized duck leg he was gnawing.

  • We stopped so he could walk the curb like a tightrope walker, trying to avoid brushing up against the bright pink flowers and then, when he couldn’t, creating the rule that as long as he touched them for less than five seconds they couldn’t hurt him. As he pushed his way past the branches overhanging the curb, pink petals fluttered to the ground in his wake. And his first encounter with a thorn quickly ended that game.
  • We stopped to watch a dad pitch to his son and bark at him in clipped Japanese after every swing, whether the boy made contact or not.
  • We stopped so he could try to sneak up on some seemingly unsuspecting squirrels who were, in fact, very much onto his game. Scurrying up the closest tree, the two playful park residents easily scampered out of his reach as he moved to surprise them.
  • We stopped so he could ask me which of the two side-by-side playgrounds I preferred, and we agreed that the one with the adult swings (i.e. no harnesses) was far and away the better of the two.

By stops and starts, across grass and concrete the miles faithfully ticked by. When we reached mile 3 my smaller half asked, “Is this one of your longest practice runs?”

Star Wars boy

Wookie experts agree he’s a huggable kid, as long as you don’t get on his Dark Side

  • We stopped so that, at his pleading, I could transfer the Garmin to his tiny wrist. I explained that the red button started the timer while he was running and stopped it while he was walking (a strategy I’d been following to that point). Gesturing at the screen he asked, “How many of these does it take to make a mile?” And it struck me — decimals are a foreign concept to 7-year-olds. So I taught him that once those last two numbers passed 99, the mile would end and a new one would begin. So our last mile quickly became an exercise in staccato-style sprints, each one culminating in his looking at the GPS and announcing, “It went up by 2! It went up by 2 again! It went up by 2 AGAIN!”
  • And just as we were exiting the park on our way home, we stopped one last time so he could turn and run back to the water fountain — not to drink, but to douse his head with water so the others waiting at home would think he was totally sweaty.

Watching his wrist intently the Nephew led us toward home, the Garmin chiming for the fourth and final time just as we reached his front yard. Beaming proudly, he announced to the adults waiting at the door that he’d just run 4 miles. I congratulated him on his longest run ever. “I think I’ve gotten my exercise for the day,” he agreed with a weary smile.

(And about those adults waiting at the door—apparently we’d been gone for 1½ hours, during which time Katie had set out to look for us. Not being a parent, I’d become so engrossed in our carefree uncle-nephew bonding time that I’d been oblivious to common-sense parental considerations like dinner time, shower time, bed time, the fact it was a school night, etc. The fact that we’d encountered not one other kid his age during our run probably should have clued me in but hey, hindsight is 20/20!)

June7route_GE_BCH

Garmin tracing of our 4-mile route—landmarks have been omitted to protect the guilty

In the end, our meandering route resembled a Sunday “Family Circus” cartoon—across the lawn, over the fence, through the neighbor’s flowers… it was spontaneous, it was unpredictable, it was frustrating yet freeing in its lack of structure. It was nothing like my usual training run. And it was fun.

Conventional running wisdom tells us here’s the start line, there’s the finish, get from here to there by the shortest route possible, don’t stray, don’t meander, don’t roam. Every training run should serve a purpose, or else file it under “junk” miles and don’t waste your time. Coloring outside the lines—particularly if you’re a road runner—is actively discouraged. And more often than not, we oblige.

And yet signs of pushback have surfaced within the running community. The sport’s rigid adherence to protocol and “one size fits all” mindset have helped fuel the rise of more whimsical options like runDisney, as well as the recent explosion in popularity of mud runs and obstacle course races. At the same time, increasing numbers of conventional runners are eschewing concrete for dirt—truth is, there’s no better playground than Mother Nature’s backyard.

Orange you glad he's running?

In my head I run like this, but the race photos tell a different story

As we mature, so do our hobbies—running evolves from play into sport into highly regimented activity. Strict training schedules tell us what we should run, frenetic daily schedules dictate when we should run, and wearable technology provides constant feedback on how well we’re running.

And the why? That one’s in the eye of the beholder. Like everything else the why evolves with age—from getting in shape, to completing our first half marathon, to chasing personal bests, to (re-)qualifying for Boston, to staying in shape. Grown-up goals framed on the backdrop of ever-increasing grown-up demands.

But once upon a time—before tempo runs, before specialized shoes and before personalized GPS data—there was a much simpler & more lighthearted why. Watching my Nephew run, his unchoreographed strides offered a moving reminder of that original why.

Because nothing instills joy like recess without rules. Because running always gets us where we want to go. Because there’s no such thing as “junk” miles. Because we really are born to run. And because running, at its core, is child’s play.

A day like ours deserved a happy ending, and I’m happy to report it got one, with our exhausted hero falling into a deep slumber almost before his head touched the pillow. And with that my work—scratch that, my play here was done.

Whether my Garmin said so or not.

Santa Monica Pier