Sunday, January 27, 2008

Another Half Marathon Ahead

Looks like another weekend road trip is on - I'm now registered for the Mercedes Half Marathon in Birmingham on February 10th. I feel more ready and relaxed for this one than I felt for the Mississippi Blues event a few weeks ago. I've continued my training plan and made a few more long runs. Which leads me to this rant about dogs....

All you runners and cyclists will relate to this problem. I planned my recent 8-mile run as an out and back with a water stop and turnaround point at a nearby public park and boat launch here the Ross Barnett Reservoir. While running in the park a car passed me and stopped up ahead in a parking lot. I noticed it was a man and a huge black and white Harlequin Great Dane. I ran past them before they got out and proceeded to my water stop at the bottom of the hill by the boat launch. On my way back by, I see the man is bent over the back seat as if he's cleaning the carpet, and the huge dog is trotting around the park loose. I'm now thinking surely this dog is nice and friendly or he wouldn't be running free. Do I keep running past him and bet the skin of my arm or leg that he'll leave me alone? Just then a guy on a bicycle comes by and the dog pays little attention. Good. The dog must be well-trained. So here I go, walking, not running, past the dog and his master still buried in the back seat of his car. Now the dog thinks he's spotted something interesting - me - and I can barely hear a low growl. The guy gets out of his car and shouts at the dog "Rommel!". Rommel takes a few steps closer to me and growls again, so master yells at him and grabs him by the collar. I move on down the road, wishing the park patrol would come by so I could report this guy.

There is no reason anyone should have to feel intimidated by a dog of any size while using a public park or street. I am a dog owner and animal lover by nature but I am not so fond of people who allow their pets to run free. Everyone thinks their own dog won't bite anyone, but that view frequently changes to "he never attacked anyone before". A roommate and I once had a well behaved German Shepherd who welcomed everyone with a wagging tail and lick on the hand. Then one day he decided he didn't like a certain visitor and the lick became a bite. Not a serious bite, but enough to make us keep him restrained from then on.

I dislike people who let dogs run loose almost as much as those post-teen pre-adults with loud exhaust pipes. End of rant.

Mounds of the Southern Delta

Wifeunit and I are game for almost any weekend excursion, and recently took the opportunity to join about 20 others for a guided tour of several Indian Mounds in the southern Mississippi Delta. We were led by a local expert from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, following in a convoy of cars winding around country roads, stopping on the shoulder to peer at what locals might regard as a "big ole dirt pile". I think the most fascinating thing I learned was how common the mounds are, and at least in Mississippi how many are not protected and exist on private property. At one site the mounds were near the road in a recently plowed field, allowing us to find pieces of pottery just off the shoulder.

The field trip was a nice way to spend a Saturday mostly outdoors, and to me, way better than watching TV or shopping.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Mississippi Blues Marathon (and Half)

Here's a few photos of my first half marathon, the inaugural Mississippi Blues Marathon. I was really impressed with the way the race was organized. I've read some really good reviews from around the country and I appreciate every kind word for this home town event. The volunteers were fantastic as were the people who came out to cheer us on. Read better reviews than mine at The Athena Diaries and Bill Anders' Photos & Tri-rambles. Thanks to everyone, especially Wifeunit for her constant support and the way she seems to enjoy my hobbies.

Pictured below are some Jackson, Ms area triathlon friends hanging out before the race - another reason I like this stuff so much - the people.

Here I go at about mile 11, not feeling too sporty, but there was an incredible amount of support along the course. I didn't even know these guys.

Here's the guy many of you have heard about, looking good in pink at mile 24.

I owe a special thanks to the runner below, MC, 10th female finisher overall, who got me started in a fitness lifestyle and continues to make me challenge myself.

After the race, another supporter and friend, and better runner than me, KayVee.

New Year's Eve 2007

Here's part of the group I mentioned last year, with more party hats and toys. We made our last trip of 2007 down to the Gulf Coast again for this annual celebration. It was great as usual! Next time we go down will be for Pascagoula Mardi Gras.

Christmas Adventure

My family finally broke with tradition after decades of spending Christmas Eve and/or Christmas Day at Mom's house. ML and Harry from the Gulf Coast had problems boarding Lilly, the (big boxer) dog, so we agreed to move our Christmas celebration up to Saturday, December 15. This news promptly put Wifeunit in action: Time to plan another road trip! So after tending to some gift-giving, we would be free for several days of time to ourselves.

Gift giving includes my favorite little treat, Oma's Own Peanut Brittle. I happen to know Chef Rene, the creator of this culinary masterpiece, and gladly vouch for the outstanding quality of his product. Though his website does not mention this, I am told that the peanut brittle is sometimes prepared while recordings of Beethoven symphonies are played, possibly another secret flavor enhancement.

Our Christmas adventure destination was Hot Springs, Arkansas, a mere 5 hour drive away. I really don't mind driving on these trips, particularly when it's on a route I've never taken before. You never know what interesting things you may find on the road.

This sign is actually in Flowood, Ms. not far from my home. I think I know what is meant by "clean dirt", but it still seems a little strange.

Farther along on Louisiana Highway 65 north of Tallulah is the little town of Transylvania. Maybe it's a great place for a Halloween visit. It's really just a small farm community near the Mississippi River with a distinctive name. I like the bat touch.

Driving on a beautiful December afternoon through the flat expanse of northeast Louisiana and southeast Arkansas is a great chance to break the boredom by counting hawks. We counted 64 Red Tailed Hawks, along with several Kestrels and a few Northern Harriers.

We checked in at our hotel, the Embassy Suites in Hot Springs before dark. Not being certain what restaurants would be open during our stay, we were determined to experience some "fine dining" before Christmas Eve left us with just a room service menu. We even dressed for the occasion - including coat and tie for me - just to celebrate. We chose the Belle Arti Italian Ristorante on Central Avenue, the main drag through Hot Springs' Bathhouse Row and the National Park. The food was great, the service good and there was even a pianist sharing his versions of Christmas music. We could have skipped the fancy clothes, though. Soon after we ordered, a young couple was seated near us, he wearing a camo T-shirt and hunting cap and she with a gym jacket. She eventually made him take off his cap. Oh well, we still felt special and really enjoyed our meal.

For Monday, Wifeunit scheduled a spa visit for both of us. I would get the "Gentleman's Package", a hot tub bath, massage and pedicure, while she had the full menu including something involving seaweed. That was nice and a first for me. I might try it again sometime.

Hot Springs at Christmas was very nice. The weather was cold and clear, and we walked around the shops and down the park terrace trails. Of course we had to see the cheesy tourist attraction, the Josephine Tussaud Wax Museum. It was bad enough to almost creep me out, but kind of fun. I still had to keep my half-marathon training going, so early Monday I ran from the hotel to about halfway up Hot Springs Mountain. On Wednesday I set my sights on reaching the tower on top of the mountain. It was difficult and I had to walk a few times, but coming down was exhilirating. It was about a six mile out and back, and I coasted down the mountain all the way to the hotel.

We had our Christmas Dinner at the hotel, a "reservations only" special menu. My selection was prime rib and it was yummy. At night we watched movies in the room, "Ratatouille" and the latest Harry Potter. The trip was almost perfectly relaxing, except that it rained the entire way home. I recommend a trip like this just for a chance to relax and be pampered. It's not an exciting place or particularly special, but it has some nice features and the mountains are pretty. I think we'll go back someday.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Business in New York

The image was taken from Rob Gardiner's site, NYCLondon

I have a wonderful job. It's the only job in Mississippi or even close by that is suited to my unique mix of education and experience. It is very stressful at times, rarely boring, and rewarding in many ways. One of those ways is the requirement for me to travel to places I probably would not go at my own expense. So I really felt rewarded to be included in a group from our company making a trip to New York City.

I barely recall visiting the New York City area as a child, so that doesn't count. This was my first real trip to the Big Apple. We stayed on 42nd Street at the Tudor Hotel and it was fabulous. Getting settled in my room I went to the windows, (I was in a corner room) and opened the blinds to the lights of the city forming a dazzling canyon in two directions. I wasn't very high by New York standards, but the 17th floor is pretty rare at most Holiday Inns.

Before our first meeting on Tuesday morning I found myself scurrying around the sidewalks of Manhattan in the cold wind, Madison Avenue, 42nd Street, etc. looking for a Kinkos or Staples to buy a computer gadget. Dressed in a suit and tie with a warm overcoat, I felt like I fit right in with all the people rushing around. I remember waiting to cross 3rd Avenue and being totally amazed at the traffic speeding by - 6 lanes of 40 mph taxis going the same direction - then they stop, we walk across - quickly.

We ate at wonderful restaurants, most notably The Palm Club, a loud, crazy place with cartoons and caricatures on every wall. With a few hours to spare one afternoon, a few of us wandered about and saw Rockefeller Plaza with the big Christmas Tree lit and skaters circulating on the ice rink. We visited the storefront windows with holiday themes and characters. It was a fine experience!

Swimming in New Orleans

Less than two weeks after returning from our Tennessee trip, we were back on the road, heading south to New Orleans. The occasion was the Southern Masters Short Course Meters Championships at Tulane University. This is the same event that has been held at Delta State in past years, but the new SMS board polled the membership and found most were in favor of changing to a rotation between Delta State and New Orleans.

We had originally planned to arrive in New Orleans early Friday afternoon since I entered the 1500 meter freestyle event scheduled for 7 pm. High priority issues at work kept me until 4 pm, so we didn't arrive at our hotel until after 8. We stayed at Le Richelieu, our honeymoon hotel. It's a small, very old building with few modern features on the edge of the French Quarter near the French Market and Esplanade. It's also very quiet and has a cozy atmosphere.

We met the rest of our group, my Flowood Fighting Flounders teammates, and enjoyed a late-night meal at Tony Moran's Restaurant. Kate and Paul, two of our four FFF team members had been at the swim meet for the 1500 meter event. Our fourth member, KB, was visiting family and would meet us at the pool on Saturday.

A good crowd of over 120 swimmers represented about 20 masters swim teams from as far as Dallas and Fort Myers. We were getting set to swim the mixed 200 relay when KB began to feel bad, complaining of numbness in his arm and weakness. KB had only been swimming with us a few times at practice. He is in his late 60's and seems quite fit, but back problems limited his participation. We quickly scratched from the relay event and Kate had KB take some aspirin she had in her gear. We returned to the hotel and later learned from KB's family that he had suffered a heart attack and underwent surgery at Tulane University Hospital that afternoon. The doctor credited Kate's aspirin with possibly saving his life and certainly lessening the damage.

Paul and Kate left New Orleans that afternoon but Wifeunit and I stayed another night since I was swimming two more events on Sunday. We ate again at Tony Moran's that evening since Irene's had what is their usual 90 minute wait for a table. We ate a nice breakfast Sunday morning at the hotel's tiny restaurant, I swam some more at the meet, and we headed home at 1 pm. A whirlwind weekend and great time with the FFF team.