Monday, January 22, 2007

Born to run again

Fine. I admit it.

You got me, Apple Inc.

I love the Nano and the Nike+ gadgetry. I find myself excited to run nearly everyday, even if my legs are still sore from the previous day's workout. Unfortunately, I've had only one chance to take the whole operation on an outdoor run, and that was a trip to a local high school track to calibrate the system.

Man, was that a shock. It was a mild enough morning -- probably mid-50s -- and I was well dressed in nylon pants, a breathable long-sleeved shirt and a fleece vest. I even put a hat on to keep myself warm enough. I stretched and started off with a light jog to warm up. When I found the starting point for the 400 meters, I set the iPod to calibrate and took off at a steady, comfortable pace.

It wasn't long before the pace became more difficult than I'd imagined. The far turn seemed to tilt uphill while I also encountered a headwind now that I no longer had the building as a buffer. I pushed on through the turn and down the stretch, completing the calibration easily enough. I walked another lap before starting to run again, curious as to how accurate the reading would be.

After running another 400 meters, I pressed the center button for an update. "Total distance: point 2-5 miles," the lady said. Excellent.

"Current pace: 8:53 per mile."

What the hell?!?

No wonder that first lap felt so strenuous. Clearly, I am terrible at setting my own pace off of the treadmill. No wonder I struggle to cover even a half-mile anywhere but on a moving platform with televisions in front of me.

The calibration confirmed, however, that the readings on the treadmills at our fitness center are way off, either in their own calibration, or in my pace. When the treadmill says I've run a mile, the iPod says I've covered a mile and a tenth, if not more. The treadmill says my pace is 10 minutes per mile, but the iPod says it's closer to 9:50. It's certainly possible that my gait is not that refined, but it's still a surprising difference.

After a couple days off last week because of soreness in my legs, I've run two days in a row this
week. Yesterday, I set the iPod for a two-mile run and gradually increased the speed of the treadmill, covering 2.2 miles (with a cooldown) in about 22 minutes. This morning, I returned to the OK Go workout, but found myself laboring through the longer intervals, my legs burning with every stride. I slowed down to a walk for one of the recovery periods, and took the sprints on the back end at a slower pace than I'd intended. Tomorrow, the plan is for another rather leisurely two-mile jog, but I may take the day off if my legs remain sore. I'd like to try to do five days straight through Thursday before I take the weekend off while I'm in Pittsburgh for work.

Go go Gadget legs.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Marking an anniversary

Singing "Oklahoma Hills" with Laura Cantrell

It was one year ago today that The Nebraska Project, part of the New York Guitar Festival, gave me the good fortune of running into Bruce Springsteen.

The event opened last year's festival and featured a wide range of artists performing songs off of Springsteen's 1982 album, Nebraska. (He recorded the record in 1981, so the project was billed as the 25th anniversary of the album's birth.) I went to see some of the names I knew -- Jesse Harris, Jen Chapin, Laura Cantrell -- but also knowing, in the back of my mind, that Bruce might just make an appearance.

While I was out in the crowd getting some shots of one of the performers, my cell phone began ringing. It was Casey, not 20 feet away from me, standing in a less-crowded area against a wall. I walked over to her, and she excitedly pointed to a man I had just passed.

"He's here! You just passed him!"

I doubled back and, barely understanding my own words or actions, went up to him, shook his hand, and thanked him for doing what he does. I smiled and said hello to Patti, too, and then left them to watch the show. They stood together, closely, watching the artists put their own spin on his words and music. One of them, Mark Anthony Thompson (who has released some albums under the name Chocolate Genius, Inc.), later went on tour with Bruce and the Seeger Sessions Band later last year. It was at the New York Guitar Festival where Thompson met Springsteen, just as I did.

Bruce was kind and gracious, smiling at me and saying hello. He also seemed reserved, not wanting to be bothered, and I didn't press for anything more than a handshake and a hello. Had I not caught him when he was walking in, I would not have felt right walking up to him as he and Patti listened to the show, and I might have refrained, never getting the chance to meet him. Things just happened to work out that night.

This year, the opening event is being billed as The American Beauty Project. Another wide range of artists will revisit American Beauty and Workingman's Dead by the Grateful Dead. We'll probably go, at least on Saturday, to see some good music and hear some classic songs, but I don't expect to have the pleasure of meeting any of the original artists this year, and that's fine by me.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Grown-up things

Just before the New Year, we got the renewal bill for our renters' insurance. Surprised at the higher rate, we started shopping around for another company. (It was after we found a figure $200 cheaper than what our current company was charging, we realized that our current policy had been upgraded to cover $40,000 more worth of property, an upgrade we hadn't asked for nor which was highlighted for us.)

Still, we decided to go with the new company anyway. It's a company I have no problems with ... at least I hadn't. That's what you get when a lizard does things for you.

A few days ago, an envelope came in the mail from the new insurers. I was confused.

It was a thin envelope.

Just as it was during the college application process, a thin envelope is not good when it comes to insurance. Inside was a short, one-page letter informing us that our policy had been rejected because, it said, of our proximity to "coastal waters." (It also spelled "coastal" incorrectly -- "COSTAL" -- and "within" as well -- "WIHTIN." In retrospect, I'm glad we're not represented by a company that cannot find the spellcheck option on its word processing program.)

I called the umbrella company to see if there was another insurer in their midst that would cover us. I was told that no one at the Reptile would take us because we live 894 feet from the Hudson River.

What irks me is that, with today's online mapping technology (pick one), it takes mere moments to punch in our address and find out where we live. Why, when I was on the phone with the agent, could he not have put me on hold for 30 seconds to do that search? While we'll just go back to our previous company, I still think I'll file a complaint with the New Jersey board of insurers (or whatever it said on our cancellation letter), just to point that out.

And to point out another thing. While it's true that we live close -- within 900 feet, apparently -- to the Hudson, and we're far enough south that it's still tidal at that point, we're also on a hill. In a second-floor apartment. On what I can only imagine is bedrock, considering the cliffs that rise another few hundred feet away from us (and away from the river). I'd estimate that we're at least 60 feet above the waterline -- and sea level, for that matter. So if we were to be flooded out of our apartment, there would be much greater issues than whether our insurance company would be able to review our claim. For one thing, The Day After Tomorrow might be considered a soothsaying documentary rather than a fictional (attempt at a) blockbuster. For another, the company that insured us would be underwater in San Diego, and the larger company would likely have oceanfront property at its inland Virginia location.

Whatever. They won't get our money. Well, except the $149 I paid by credit card that will cover us until February 10. By then, we'll be back with our previous company (hopefully at a rate similar to what our previous coverage was, before the 40K bump) and carrying on, as Tim Gunn might say if he had anything to do with this, which he doesn't.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Nano Nano

I don't consider myself a techie guy by any means, and I'm certainly never been one to be the first to own the latest hot thing. Case in point: I didn't buy my first iPod until last May.

And now I've gone and bought my second.

It was the day we got back from Boston after the New Year's party, January 2. We had barely unloaded the car when we sat back down and trekked out to Garden State Plaza to have lunch and hit Best Buy. After thinking about it for a few weeks, I'd decided that I would indeed be purchasing my second iPod, a Nano, and then shelling out for a new pair of Nikes and the Nike+ iPod accessories, the chip and receiver that allows you to track your workout and download mixes and all those other cool things.

The sneakers and chip came yesterday, so today was the first opportunity I had to try everything out. I had only used the iPod once in the week since I'd bought it, and that was for a treadmill run on Monday, listening to a simple shuffling of upbeat songs I'd added over the weekend. So last night, I bought the workout mix entitled, "Mastering the Treadmill with OK Go."

I should say that I'm pretty new to treadmill running. I competed in cross country in high school, figuring I could run 3.1 miles enough to earn a varsity letter. I realized after two years of high school that I had little chance of earning a letter in baseball, but distance running might do it for me. Plus, if I ever decided to get myself a varsity jacket, that winged foot was a pretty cool logo on the back in which to have my graduation year. (I never did get the jacket, though I did seriously consider it. Glad I didn't, in the end, because it wouldn't have gotten much wear after the winter of 1993-94. I definitely wouldn't have been That Guy Who Wears his Varsity Letter Jacket After Graduating High School.)

After my last race, I pretty much stopped running regularly. From the fall of 1997 to about 2003, I tried to get back into it, but never did it more than three or four times before losing interest. In the two years from 2003-05, I'd be back into it in spurts, then something would come up -- a cold, a trip, a string of busy nights that kept me up late -- and I'd be sedentary for a few weeks (or months) at a time.

When we moved to our current apartment in the fall of 2004, it took me a few months before I became comfortable enough to explore the modest but decently equipped fitness room on site. I became adept at the elliptical trainers, then added in various weight machines. Finally, last year, I decided I needed to give the treadmill a run. (Rim shot.)

I never managed to cover more than a mile and a half at a time. Yet when I went down there this morning, the plan was to start the OK Go workout and play the 30-minute session through to its completion.

It starts out easily enough, with walking intervals interspersed with light jogs. It gets serious when you start the ladder progression -- running intervals of 30 seconds, a minute, 90 seconds and two minutes (and then back down) at a pace you consider your max followed by a minute or two (or four, after the longer periods) of a steady jog for recovery. Damian Kulash provides the voiceovers, calmly instructing you to speed up and slow down, while adding bursts of encouragement. When he's not talking, several upbeat OK Go songs push you through the runs, with slightly relaxed beats during the recovery periods. I found myself chuckling at times, such as when their most popular (and most treadmill-associated) song, "Here It Goes Again," came up when I expected it to: at the start of the climactic two-minute run. Another well-planned song sync came in one of the later speed intervals, just when you might wonder just what you've gotten yourself into. That's when the chorus blares, "Seemed like a good idea at the time."

In the end, I managed to make it through the entire 30-minute workout at a pretty good pace. The treadmill readout said I'd covered about 2.8 miles and burned 380 calories (estimates, since I didn't exactly take the time to write them down). When I clicked the Nano, however, to hear its readout, I was told I covered 3.1 miles and burned 420 calories, while averaging about a 10:30 mile. So either the worn-out, public treadmill's calibration is a bit off, or I need to calibrate the Nike+ sensor for my pace. I'm kind of hoping it's the treadmill, however. If I actually ran 3.1 miles today, I'm in better shape than I thought and might not be so far from entering a 5K.

It seems like a good idea at this time, anyway.