Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Opera Can be Hazardous to one's Driving Record

Last night I was on my way home from Ann Arbor (where I had been to see "Julie & Julia"). I was motoring west along I-94 to Chelsea and I had the Met Opera station cued up on Sirius. I was really rocking "Glitter and be Gay" and I got to the end where I was supposed to hit a high E flat, and my voice totally cracked with a screech. I stopped, composed myself, and then sang the the ascending line to the E flat again except when I got to the note I shifted my palate and pushed most of the air into my sinuses. The back of my throat was lifted impossibly high, but it worked and I got the note out, with vibrato, even. Hello whistle register! Emboldened by this feat (it's been a long time since I cranked out a high E flat) I sang the closing line of the aria several times, getting the feel of the notes, making slight adjustments to my jaw and palate to improve the quality of the sound, not that there's much one can do that far above the staff. That's essentially "grip it and rip it" territory. Things are apt to happen one doesn't have control over. The breath takes on a life of its own. I just go along for the ride.

Anyway. So I was really getting into it and I was not paying attention to anything else...and that's when the spotlight and pretty lights came on behind me. State trooper alert! I just sighed and thought, "well, it was bound to happen again some time." I have gotten pulled over for speeding so many times that it just doesn't faze me any more. I pulled off on the shoulder and waited for the inevitable. The officer came to the passenger-side window and rapped on it with his flashlight (omg it's like I'm on an episode of COPS!). This is what ensued:

"Good evening, ma'am. May I have your license, registration and proof of insurance?"

I fumbled all of these documents together and handed them to him in a little bundle.

"Do you know why I pulled you over tonight?"

"I was probably speeding." personal rule #1: just admit it. we all know what's going on here.

"That's correct. Do you have any idea how fast you were going?"

"Um...probably around 80 mph?" personal rule #2: don't even bother pretending I don't know how fast I was going. I ALWAYS know how fast I'm going. except when I get really wrapped up in singing opera...

At this the officer burst out laughing. He said, ""I clocked you going a 60 mph construction zone."

"Oh dear..."

"How's your driving record?"

"Not good." personal rule #3: just admit this, too, because he'll find out as soon as he runs your license.

"When was the last time you got a ticket?"

"Four years ago." September 2005, on U.S. 141 South in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

"Where are you heading?"

"Chelsea." I was less than a mile from my exit, too!

"OK, well, just hang on and I'll be right back."

I immediately fired off a text message: "I just got pulled over for speeding."

The advice I got: "Cry."

I can't. I never have, even the first time I got pulled over. After so many speeding tickets I have found that the best tactic is to be affable, jovial, and honest. No silly sob stories, no barely believable excuses. (It doesn't hurt to smile, either.) If I get a ticket, so be it. It's not the end of the world. I've mostly reformed my ways since I acquired my Jetta in 2007 anyway.

The trooper was back. He was still chuckling. He handed my things back to me and said, "I'm going to let you go with just a warning tonight...80 mph...heh heh heh...This is a construction zone, you know."

"I know...I was just...singing opera and I got carried away!"

"Just be more careful, OK?" He was still laughing at me.

I merged back onto the freeway for the final mile to my exit and I was home five minutes later.

This has happened before on numerous occasions. Not the getting pulled over part, but the part where I'm singing an aria in the car and I look down and I'm going 90 MPH. It usually occurs when I sing something vocally challenging, such as "Glitter and be Gay" or "Come scoglio" or "Mi tradi quell'alma ingrata" or "Sempre libera," all of which require intense focus and effort. I tend to completely lose myself in the music. When I come to I realize I'm rocketing along the road and I can't remember driving the last two miles.

Singing opera arias in the car: as dangerous as a cell phone? Only a soprano knows for sure...

Friday, September 25, 2009


You know you're a runner when someone asks you what you're doing this weekend and the first thing you say is, "Well, I have to run 18 miles on Saturday morning..." and then you completely draw a blank on anything else.

Actually, that's not exactly true; this is my "Weekend Indie Rock Doubleheader of Awesomeness," in which I not only have Grizzly Bear in Ann Arbor tomorrow night, but tonight I am attending a sold-out show of the one, the only, the incomparable, the wonderful Sufjan Stevens. Thanks to the miracle of Craigslist, I scored a ticket to this show only a couple of days ago. To say I am excited WOULD BE THE UNDERSTATEMENT OF THE DECADE.

Best wishes to Viper in his quest to break the four-hour barrier at the Akron Marathon tomorrow!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

It's all Relative

I'm watching "The Office" (one of my favorite shows) as we speak. This dialogue was just uttered:

Jim: "I didn't tell Michael because...I thought he'd try to help. Example: he handed out Jello shots at the 23rd mile of the Steamtown Marathon."

He said that as if it were a bad thing...all I know is, one of my favorite memories of last year's Detroit Marathon was tossing back that shot of warm beer at mile 24.

Five weeks to NYC, folks.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


Yesterday I went out for a run when I got home from work. I was supposed to do 9 miles, and I was only able to do 6 in the morning. My GI tract, still upset about the amount of food I dumped into it at dinner on Tuesday, had other plans for me and I was forced to return (sprint) home. Therefore, in the spirit of adhering to my schedule, I returned to the sidewalks for those remaining 3 miles. It was a beautiful late summer afternoon, about 72 degrees and sunny. I was working on about an 8:00/mile pace (aided by my song obsession of the moment, "Dominos," again). On the sidewalk about 100 feet in front of me I saw a woman walking with her back to me. As I got closer, the small black smudge I saw next to her arm resolved itself into a cat. She was carrying a cat. I've done this particular walk myself: cat escapes, must be found and retrieved and brought home cradled in my arms. I had a sinking feeling as I approached. I just knew what was about to happen. I should have slowed down, or said something, or done something, rather than just barreling up behind the woman, because the moment that cat saw me it propelled itself violently out of the woman's arms into the air. I know exactly how that feels. The cat uses your skin as its launch pad. I have scars on my left forearm where Darwin leaped out of my arms once.

The cat landed easily on the front walk of the woman's house, sat down, and looked no worse for wear. She looked around, startled. As I went by, I did the only thing I could, which seems inadequate and lame even now, which was to say, "I'm sorry!" I have a feeling it was more of a yell since I had my iPod headphones jammed into my ears and the music turned up and I couldn't really hear myself.


I finished off my 3.23 miles shortly afterward and then made myself pasta alla Norma (pasta with eggplant and tomatoes) for dinner using eggplant from my farm share. It was absolutely delicious.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Thursday Thoughts: 300

No, this is not about an overly oiled Gerard Butler in a loincloth1 (as much as I wish it was). This is my three hundredth post for my humble little blog. Shocking, I know.

You know you're a runner when...your phone (in this case, the wondrous iPhone) has Gu residue on it from being stuffed into a waist pack for a long run. Or anything else which one might cram into a pack on a long run. Sticky Gu smears (or the fuel supplement of your choice) are just part of being a runner, I guess.

Also: YKYARW...

You pull something out of your jacket pocket and safety pins sprinkle the ground like fairy dust.

Bonus running dork points if said jacket is a jacket from a marathon you ran.

Double bonus running dork points if you're wearing said marathon souvenir jacket as part of your work ensemble for the day...and you work in an office building.

I think I win for the day. And yes, I fully acknowledge this was a contest only I was playing, and yes, I am a complete running dork. I think y'all knew that already.

I have "new shoes syndrome," that unavoidable malady all runners experience a few times a year. I recently acquired my third pair of Brooks Adrenaline 9s (and yes, once again they are men's size 10 shoes, please hold the big feet comments) and have begun to break them in. These are the shoes which I will wear in the NYC Marathon. Right now they are, to put it lightly, blindingly white. I feel incredibly self-conscious. I need to get these babies dirtied up, stat. Of course this is what happened the last time I had brand-new shoes...I'm not anxious to repeat the sudden-death overtime dirtying experience, but I believe 16 miles of Dexter country roads with my training group Saturday morning should lightly dust them with a respectable sheen of dirt.

Tonight's RF501 group workout: 6.68 miles of HILLS. Whew. Yes, we have a few hills in Michigan. We use one of them for our hill workouts. It may be seen here. That's me at the bottom in the orange shirt.

Registration fee for the 2010 Boston Marathon: $130 (applied to card only when qualifying time has been verified).

Registering for the freaking BOSTON MARATHON: PRICELESS.

1: Confidential to Mr. E: Remember the Beastmaster drinking game where one of the cues to drink was "excessive oil"? Yeah, I know you do...don't deny it. :) See also "hawk vision" and "unnecessary swordplay." And the catchall "things that make no sense," which was pretty much the entire movie...

Also: GQH, somehow Lansing survived the great Angry Librarian Invasion of 2009. No cars were overturned, no mobs of rampaging librarians set fire to couches in the middle of the street. The madness is over...FOR NOW...

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Mackinac Bridge Run

Me and Mighty Mac.

Some of y'all might be aware that I was selected via lottery for this year's Mackinac Bridge Run.
What I did not mention until now is that I was also appointed by the Governor's Council on Physical Fitness, Health and Sports to serve as a Fitness Ambassador for the 2009 Bridge Run. I was one of ten people selected as ambassadors this year. When I submitted my entry for the lottery in January I filled out a lengthy questionnaire regarding my athletic endeavors. The folks in Lansing must have read something they liked because I was told not long after the bridge run lottery about being tapped as a fitness ambassador. The official announcement came out in mid-August while I was on vacation. I returned home to find an article in my hometown newspaper:

Look, it's me! In the newspaper! The picture was from last year's Run for the Rolls.

All right, I admit to being a wee bit tickled by this. OK, a lot. OK, it was totally rad. Wait, I just dated myself as a Generation X-er who grew up in California. I was...very honored and deeply humbled. I didn't think my story was that impressive when compared to my fellow ambassadors. I just decided three years ago I had to change my lifestyle...I never, ever expected my efforts to lead to losing 65 pounds and qualifying for the Boston Marathon. When I began running in earnest I was barely aware that the Boston Marathon existed and running a marathon myself was COMPLETELY OUTSIDE THE REALM OF POSSIBILITY. Naturally I am HYPER-aware of its existence now because I WILL BE RUNNING IT IN APRIL 2010 (omg!).

I headed "up north" (as we say in Michigan) on Saturday afternoon. In the morning I had a superb 14-mile run on my beloved yet neglected country roads which was as pleasant and relaxing as a 14-mile run can be.

After arriving in Mackinaw City on Saturday afternoon, FK and I found a place to eat dinner:

Oh jeez...they had Short's Brewing Huma Lupa Licious! One of the more formidable India pale ales out there! My inner hophead was so hoppy...I mean happy...

Monday morning I set my alarm for 4:30 AM, yes, that's 0430, not a glimmer of dawn on the horizon, the nearly full moon still shining brightly, hardly anyone reasonably sane up and about at that hour except for approximately 330 runner types converging on the Mackinaw City Recreation Center for transport on school buses across the bridge to St. Ignace. Speaking of school buses, even though it's been 20 years since I rode one to high school, how come it still smelled the same? L'eau de school bus? Curious...

Once I was deposited on the north side of the bridge around 5:15, there was not much to do except stand around and wait for the 6:45 start of the run.

It's totally dark because, well, it's pretty much still the middle of the night.

I found my RF501 training group teammate LF in the crowd.

Eventually, the eastern sky began to lighten and the runners assembled to begin the run. The Governor of Michigan, Jennifer Granholm, was on hand to send off the runners. After everyone else had departed, the Fitness Ambassadors were able to meet the Governor and pose for a photo op.

It's the 2009 Bridge Run Fitness Ambassadors!

And then it was time to go:

4.3 miles of bridge await.

This was not a race, just a friendly ramble across the bridge. A...noncompetitive group run?? When was the last time I did that? I told myself to just enjoy the moment, take it easy, talk to my fellow runners, look at the scenery, this was a unique experience, no need to rush.

Approaching the north tower, almost halfway across.

Sunrise over the Straits of Mackinac.

Closing in on the finish line. Thanks to LF for the awesome picture.

After the run, enjoying myself.

I finished the 4.3 miles in about 37:45. I had Garmy on, of course, but forgot to stop it once I finished. I asked one of my fellow Fitness Ambassadors who had crossed the line with me what she had for a time. Even though this was a noncompetitive run, it was still a run, and I wanted to count it toward my weekly mileage.

Once some more official pictures had been taken, everyone was free to go their separate ways. I walked back to my hotel, which was not even five minutes away from where the run ended, and then FK and I got some breakfast and hit the long road back to Detroit. The crowd of thousands there for the Bridge Walk was thronging the city and I was beginning to get agitated and irritated because I do not like large mobs of people. Trying to drive in large disorganized mobs of people and insane traffic jams makes me even more anxious. I finally pulled a U-turn, backtracked, and found the correct on-ramp to the southbound freeway and then I was home free.

So, the Mackinac Bridge Run. It was a first in my running career. Will I do it again? I don't know. I do enough officially endorsed races during the year to be able to put my name in for the bridge run lottery. If I do decide I want to do it again, it will not be for a few years.

My most urgent concern right now is that registration for the 2010 Boston Marathon opened today! What the hell am I waiting for?

Friday, September 4, 2009

Venus Rising

The dark mornings beckon once again, sunrise slipping further into the day as summer recedes. I went from running in the cool blue light of dawn to finding my way by streetlight. This is as it should be. I feel more at home in the dark, in the still cold air, the silent streets. I have a new companion in the mornings: Venus, whose brilliant, steady light hangs low in the eastern sky and greets me when I leave my house. She shines brightly even as the sunrise begins to lighten the horizon. Orion is there, too, coming up from the southeast. Orion, my winter friend, I will see you high overhead soon enough.

Fall is coming, its harbinger the string of unusually low nighttime temperatures we have had for the past week. Overnight lows dipped into the forties, which made for excellent running weather at 6:00 AM. I went out Monday in pants and a long-sleeved shirt; I could easily have added a hat and gloves to my outfit. I ran the mile to the track for my warm-up and once I arrived I did my intervals in lightless circles until the world brightened enough for me to read Garmy without backlighting. I did eight 400m repeats that day, hard and fast, aiming for a time between 1:30 and 1:35 for each. I failed on the first one (1:42) but found my feet after that and did the rest in 1:30-1:33, ending with a 1:32 average. It was highly satisfying.

Wednesday I delayed my 8 mile run to the afternoon and headed west with the sun glaring directly into my eyes. I discovered almost immediately that a particular song on my iPod is perfectly calibrated for me to run a 7:59 mile.

The Big Pink: "Dominos."

This song is my "My Girls" for the second half of the year. As "My Girls" and "Summertime Clothes" were for my winter/spring training for Cleveland, "Dominos" is for my summer/fall training for NYC. I LOVE LOVE LOVE this song. I've worn out the bytes with repeat plays in iTunes. Have I mentioned that I am obsessed with this song?

Also: The Horrors, "Sea Within A Sea." Another one that's getting extremely heavy rotation. TC said this song made him "want to drown" and I was all "oh honey you haven't heard anything yet." (Most of my music falls into a genre I affectionately call "depression rock." Not that I'm depressed, I guess I just prefer minor keys, darkly colored harmonies, and bleak subject matter.) "Sea Within A Sea" really takes off at the 3:40 mark, I think...

Just to prove that not all of my music is depression rock, here's another song which I've been wearing out lately: Taken By Trees, "Watch the Waves." See? Isn't that perky and happy? I was listening to this song on repeat while I wrote this post. It seemed appropriate. :)

And Grizzly Bear, "About Face," from Veckatimest, which has become one of my favorite albums of 2009. Also from Veckatimest, "Ready, Able," which is another truly awesome song but is more of the depression rock variety. I'm going to hear Grizzly Bear in concert at the end of the month and I'M SO EXCITED I MIGHT JUST PEE MY PANTS. I was similarly excited last Saturday to see one of my favorite bands, Great Lake Swimmers, live. I sighed and cried and sang my way through the concert and it totally made up for the disappointment of having the Depeche Mode concert canceled on me while I was on vacation. You know, the concert I bought a ticket for in March? The concert I organized my entire vacation around? The concert by my favorite band OF ALL TIME? Yeah, that one. To say I was upset would be the understatement of the decade.

Anyway. "Dominos" pushed me through the first mile of my run, and then I backed off because I didn't want to flame out too early. However, I was feeling so good as I cruised through miles 6 and 7 that when mile 8 rolled around I was like "let's turn this thing back up" and went back to "Dominos." Could I run a sub-8:00 mile as my last mile? To keep my feet turning over at the right speed I had to shorten my stride and increase my cadence, which had the curious effect of making my perceived effort decrease until I felt even better than I had during the previous few miles. I finished the run in high spirits with an 8:19/mile average. My running mojo, I has it!

I has it again last night at my RF501 group workout at the track in Dexter. 8 x 800m and I killed it. Eight good intervals, 3:33 average (7:06/mile pace) which is what I was mostly aiming for. Today is rest day and then tomorrow I have 14 miles on the schedule. Monday is the Mackinac Bridge Run up north. Busy, busy, busy...

My official participant handbook for the NYC Marathon arrived in the mail and HOLY CRAP that's a lot of information...EIGHT WEEKS TO GO!

I can't leave y'all without two more excellent examples of my beloved depression rock:

The XX, "Crystalised"
Papercuts, "Future Primitive"

Have a great holiday weekend, everyone!