june 2015

Julie and Will have been gone since last week (they get home later today), and I've taken it pretty easy since they've been gone, reading a lot, sleeping a lot, and catching up on DVR'd movies and tv shows.

I did leave the house over the weekend to go run a 5K on Saturday morning (got my best time so far, but the course is also the flattest one I've raced so far), but I was back home by 9:30 and spent the rest of the morning taking a nap until lunch.

I've run three of these races now, and I'm starting to form some opinions about the kind of people who do these events, particularly the ones who annoy me. There are two camps who fall into this category, who I call the dog-runners and the run-walkers.

The dog-runners name is pretty easy to figure out: these are folks who run with their dogs. I don't have any problem with dogs, and I think it's cool in the abstract that people are able to bring them along, but in practice, many of these folks seem to run at about the same speed as me, and while their dogs run with them, they don't necessarily run CLOSE to them. Many of these runners seem to prefer to have their dogs run on 6-8 foot leashes, and the dogs seem to naturally want to run parallel to their owners as far away as their leash will let them go. So in practice this means that one individual with their dog can end up taking up around 10-12 feet of roadway, making it very difficult to pass them.

The other category, the run-walkers, have a little less obvious description, and they are the ones I've really come to hate. These are folks who do the race by sprinting for as long as they can, and then walking as fast as they can while catching their breaths, and then starting the cycle again by sprinting. Because I'm still pretty slow, many of these people also end up somewhere near me in the pack, which means for the entire race I'm subjecting to catching up to them and passing them only to have them reappear by my side a minute later and race past me, only to stop a few dozen yards ahead of me when they run out of steam. And then I pass them again, and then they pass me again, and on and on.

I understand why these people exist: many of the couch-to-5K guides will tell you to build up to running a 5K by running for one minute and then walking for three, and gradually changing the ratio of running to walking until you are running the whole way. But these people never really learn how to run; they give up on breaking through the five minute or ten minute barrier that, in my experience, quickly leads to you being able to run for half an hour or more once you get past it. They've figured out that this strategy will let them technically finish the race with an okay time, but in my opinion, this doesn't make them runners: you are a runner if you RUN the whole race, even if you could do the run-walking technique just as quickly as someone who is running the whole way.

Running uses a lot more muscle groups and raises your heartrate to a higher level for an extended period in a way that run-walking does not, and that's really the point of running: to push your body to get stronger in terms of stamina and developing more muscles than the ones you use for walking (for those of you who don't run, I'm specifically referencing your chest, back, and arms, which actually get quite a workout during a long run in a way that they never do walking the equivalent distance).

So if your goal is to become a runner, which is what I assume your goal must be if you're consistently signing up for 5K races, then using the run-walking technique as a way of getting a decent time is really a shortcut that doesn't give you the full benefits of learning to run for that entire period; it's a way of making yourself feel like a runner when actually haven't figured out how to become one yet.

I admit this bothers me because it does take a lot of time and a lot of work to break through that barrier and train your body to be able to run for 2, 3, 4, or more miles at a stretch, but I also believe that anyone who is capable of run-walking a 5K can do this if they put their mind to it and don't give up everytime they push themselves on the first three minutes of their workout and run out of breath. And I'll bet anything that the friends of these people who are real runners have told them this, and have also told them the same thing I have learned: it's all about pacing.

If you're running out of breath after the first three minutes, then SLOW DOWN, but keep a running gait. I guarantee that once you find the right pace, you'll quickly be able to break through the 10 minute or 15 minute barrier and be able to run for as long as you want to. And once you do that, you can start to work on strategies to improve your time in ways that the run-walkers, who are pretty much going as fast as they ever will, won't be able to.

So that's my goal for the next year if I continue to run these 5Ks: get fast enough with my running that once I pass the run-walkers after their initial sprint, I stay ahead of them and don't have them dogging me the entire race. A secondary goal is to get my time under 30 minutes, but those will likely end up being the same thing, because meeting one of those goals will likely mean that I also meet the other.

So. The day before Will and Julie came back from visiting her mother, they went to a local park one last time after dinner, and Will fell and broke his elbow. The week before we're going on our annual beach vacation. They put his arm in a sling and made it as immobile as they could so he could fly home, but he got his real cast on today (he picked a bright green one) and he'll have to have it on for three weeks.

Luckily it's not a bad break, but since it was near a growth plate and they didn't want to take any chances. And it could have been a lot worse—when we were first discussing it with the doctors, they told us it would have to be on for six weeks, which would have meant it was not only on during our vacation, but also for Independence Day and for Will's birthday (which would have also meant that he would have missed almost all of the swimming lessons that we've already paid for).

There's not even a good story to go with it—he only fell about a foot and a half and just unfortunately landed on his arm wrong. But he's been in pretty good spirits about it so far, and he's quickly adjusted to doing everything with his non-dominant hand. The beach will be a bit of a pain, especially because we were hoping to do a lot of swimming with him and teach him how to ride his bike on the hardpacked sand on the beach.

And while the bike riding is definitely out, Julie has found a cast cover that supposedly has a vacuum seal (you have a little thing to suck the air out of it) that he will hopefully be able to wear for short swims or at least playing in the waves. But even if that doesn't work, he'll still have a good time doing all the other stuff that we get to do at the beach.

So my clever plan to order the Apple Watch and then think about it while waiting for it to be shipped and then cancel it if I wasn't ready to buy it yet didn't work out so well for me. Instead of getting a notice that they were preparing my shipment for delivery sometime in July (according to what I'd read online, Apple would send you a preparing for shipment notice several days before they actually shipped it), I instead got an email last week saying that it was being delivered the next day. No preparing for shipment, no chance to cancel, just that it was being delivered the next day.

And of course, because I wasn't expecting it until many weeks after I ordered it (it ended up only taking a couple of weeks to be delivered, which means either their production has ramped up more quickly than expected or that market demand is less than they expected), I didn't order the black band that I wanted (they don't have the black band as one of the default configurations for the Sport model) because I knew that would commit me to buying the Watch instead of potentially canceling my order, I've been walking around for the past few days with the bright blue band, which was the best option of the colors available by default with the Sport model.

And for some reason the black band (I'm just getting the rubber sport version, not leather or anything) is still on backorder, so even though I ordered it as soon as I saw that I was going to be getting my Watch, it might not get here before we get to the beach. But I guess if there's one place that I can get away with wearing the bright blue band for a few days, it's the beach.

I'm going to wait and use it for a few weeks before I write any kind of real review of it, but it is a very nice looking piece of technology, and I'm hoping that I won't regret the decision to get one, especially to get a first generation one. But I doubt I would have been able to hold out an entire year to wait for version two anyway, so I guess it's good that I went ahead and got one instead of agonizing about it for months.


We leave for our vacation tomorrow, so no more posts for a while. We don't actually check into our condo in Hilton Head until Saturday afternoon, but Julie's advisor from college is having his retirement party tomorrow, so we're going to drive up to Davidson for that, spend the night, and then drive to Hilton Head the next day and stay for a week.

It feels weird to be going on vacation so early in the summer (we usually go to the beach in August), but since Will is starting public school this year and the Atlanta schools start in early August, that's not an option now. In some ways it will be good to get away and recharge before getting back to the big project at work that we've been working on since April, but at the same time, leaving in the middle of a big implementation isn't something that I'm really wild about.

Anyway. See you in a week or so.

The trip to Davidson was pretty good. It just happened to be alumni weekend, so there was a lot going on on campus, and it's always fun to go back (we were last there two years ago for our 20th reunion; before that I think it had been at least a decade since we'd been back).

Julie's professor's retirement party was early in the afternoon, so Will and I spent most of it walking around while she caught up with people at the party, and then we went out just the three of us for dinner, followed by a trip to the ice cream place we used to go to when we were students.

The next morning Will and I slept in at the hotel and then went down and got the free breakfast while Julie went to have breakfast with her professor, and then we got on the road before noon so we could get to the realtor's office to pick up our keys before it closed. We were settled into our condo by 5 and took a quick walk down to the beach and had dinner at a Mellow Mushroom before doing our grocery shopping for the week.

As usual, our real vacation didn't start until Sunday because of the travel and packing and unpacking and shopping, etc., so we crashed after getting the groceries put away and got some rest for our first real day at the beach.

I have a lot more stories to tell from our beach week, but I leave again tomorrow for my final business trip of the summer and I won't be back until next week. So I'll resume posting then.

It was a pretty fun week at the beach even though Will couldn't really swim. The cast cover we got (we called it his shark fin) worked pretty well as long as Will wasn't trying to really swim, but it was hit or miss if we went out deeper in the ocean or even in the pool. Still, we spent a lot of time in the waves or in the kiddie pool, and he seemed pretty satisfied with that.

The first day we were there we met another family that we ended up spending a lot of time with. The mom saw Will with his shark fin and asked Julie what happened—it turned out that their oldest son Milo (who was Will's age) had broken his arm right before the last time they came to the beach and they had to deal with the same logistical issues (although they were lucky enough to get a waterproof cast, which we asked about but were told wasn't available).

They also had a two year old named Rocco, and almost every day we went to the beach they would be there, so Will, Milo, and Rocco would play in the waves together. I also went out with the dad (Doug) to watch the NBA finals (they were from northern Ohio, so he was rooting for Cleveland), and both the families went together on a pirate cruise that the kids loved (and which I didn't mind so much, since the parents just sat in the back of the boat under a canopy and got to enjoy the boat ride - we even saw some dolphins).

The kids loved the pirate cruise—they got foam rubber swords, vests with skulls and crossbones, temporary tattoos, and face paintings. There was some sort of narrative component that I didn't really pay attention to—they were supposed to be looking for treasure, but they had to search the water for a lost map attached to a buoy and then fight another pirate named Stinky Pete who had stolen the key to the treasure chest.

That was the part the kids liked the best—a high school kid drove up in a smaller boat and taunted the kids while they all got a few minutes to shoot water cannons at him, and once he gave up the key, they got to open the treasure chest and each take a handful of treasure. Will was very tentative—he carefully selected a couple of items instead of taking an armful like most of the kids did, so one of the girls running the deck gave him an extra handful.

Some other stuff we did with Will on our beach trip: saw the musician that Will likes so much twice (she's a girl named Hannah who plays in a band called the Steppin Stones—she signed his cast), went to the Salty Dog cafe and the nearby lighthouse, played mini golf at two different courses, walked on the beach at night to look for ghost crabs (we didn't find any, but we did get to watch some people setting off fireworks on the beach), ate dinner at a cajun restaurant a few times that we had somehow not discovered on our previous visits (best crawfish etouffee I've had outside of New Orleans), and spent a lot of time looking for shells and animals on the beach (Will even found a living sand dollar that we kept in a bucket for a few hours before returning it to the sea).

Julie and I both went on a few runs again this year. Last year I went out running at night, which was a pretty cool experience, but since I had to do it so late it messed with my schedule. So this year I went runnng in the morning, and although the beach was more crowded than at night (obviously), even at 7 a.m., I still enjoyed it, and I ended up running a bit farther each day, starting with my best guess at a 5K run and escalating from there.

When I went to a conference in May and had a lot of time on my hands (it was moved from Baltimore, where I had dinners set up every night with old friends, to a small golf resort on the Eastern Shore, where there was not much to do besides go to bed early and get up even earlier), I went out running most mornings and did the same thing—pushed myself a little farther every time I ran—so I already knew I could run 50+ minutes without a problem, especially on the flat terrain of the beach, but it was nice to have that reconfirmed with my longest run at Hilton Head.

This year I'm planning to focus on 5Ks—I'd like to improve my time a bit and figure out which ones have courses worth repeating in the future—but I would eventually like to run a couple of 10Ks in preparation for running Atlanta's fabled Peachtree Road Race on July 4. I don't think this will be my default distance, but I think I could run one today if I had to, and it was nice to get a sense from some of these beach runs of what it might take to start training for those.

It was our anniversary at the beach this year, but without a babysitter, we couldn't do our traditional dinner out without Will, so we picked a place that seemed reasonably kid-friendly and took him along with us. It also happened to be in a group of restaurants for which we had a gift certificate from our realty company, so it ended up being our cheapest anniversary dinner as well. It was a little more tourist-y than we had hoped, but the food was fine, we had a great waiter, and Will had a great time and was well-behaved, so it worked out fine.

Afterwards we went back to the New Orleans-themed place where we'd been to dinner once already (and would return to for dinner again later in the week) to get beignets for dessert, which were delicious but which would have been better if we had been able to get a cafe au lait with them (for some reason they only serve their coffee drinks in the morning, but I don't know how you can serve beignets and not offer cafe au lait to go along with them).

On our last day at the beach, after another round of mini golf and a final dinner at one of our favorite spots, Annie O's, we took Will out to fly a kite, something he'd never done before. It was a perfect evening for it: not too hot and the wind was blowing up the beach so strongly that you could let the kite go with only a few feet of slack and it would stay aloft.

We quickly let all the string out and it was very high in the sky, but Will got bored with that pretty quickly, so we ended up reeling it back in and spending most of our time with it only a few feet off the ground, with me running backwards while pulling it along and Will running and jumping and trying to catch its tail.

It was a great last day, which we finished off by going to an ice cream place that we've visited every year we've gone to Hilton Head. I always think we might want to try a different beach sometime—lots of people in Atlanta go down to the smaller beaches south of Jacksonville, or to the Gulf Coast—but we always have such a good time at Hilton Head that it's hard for me to imagine that we'd ever get motivated to go somewhere else.

Almost as soon as we got back from the beach, I left again for another conference, this one in Connecticut. I have only been to Connecticut once before, and it was a year ago for this same conference, so you wouldn't think that I'd have many people to visit there, but as it turns out I have more than a few friends in Massachusetts, and that's close enough to Hartford that I spent every evening of the conference visiting with an old friend and even stayed an extra day and flew out of Boston to stay with a friend who lives near that city.

The first evening I met my friend Scott, who is a lawyer in Springfield. We went to high school together for one year and hung out a lot during that year, but then lost touch heading into college. Somehow we got back in touch via email in the late 90s or early 2000s, but we never actually met up in person—he never seemed to leave Massachusetts, and I never went up there. But when I came to this conference last year, I realized that Springfield, despite being in Massachusetts, was only about half an hour from Hartford, so I emailed him to see if he might be able to meet me for dinner one night, and we met in person for what we figured out was the first time in 25 years.

It was great to see him then, and even though we hadn't seen each other in a year (nor, we realized had we even written each other during that time), it was great to see him again this time. He picked me up from the airport and we drove to Springfield, where he showed me his house (his property is right on the Massachusetts/Connecticut line—his house is in Massachusetts but about five acres of his property is actually in Connecticut) and then his law office. His offices were on two of the higher floors of one of the downtown office buildings with great views of the city, so we walked to the various conference rooms and he pointed out sites and buildings of historical interest.

Then he took me to dinner at a German restaurant in town called Student Prince, which is apparently one of the older and more famous restaurants in the city, and which was awesome. For starters we had the house specialty appetizer fried camembert cheese, which might have been a little bitter if not for the homemade honey mustard (which was much stronger and not as sweet as typically honey mustards), and arugula salads, which came with a heaping helping of bacon on top.

This serves more than just sausages and schnitzel, but how can you go to an authentic German restaurant and not get one of those dishes? So I got the Wurstplate (which should be called the Bestplate) that included housemade bratwurst, knackwurst, and another type of bratwurst with sides of spatzle and housemade sauerkraut. They also had a great drink menu with some good gin-based cocktails and a wide selection of German beers on tap—my mistake here was having a dark beer first with the cheese and salad and the gin drink with the main course when I should have reversed the order. My only minor complaint was that one of the sausages could have used a little more seasoning (I think it was the knackwurst), but the whole meal was amazing and delicious and I'm definitely going back there again if I ever return to Springfield.

After dinner Scott drove me to my hotel in Hartford and we said goodbye. Hopefully it won't be another year before we see each other again, but I'm pretty confident that this conference will return to the same venue next summer, so hopefully it will be no more than a year.

On my second night in Hartford, another friend, John, who happens to live in Springfield came down and met me for dinner. I've also known this guy since high school, although we went to school together for two years, and we were from the same hometown, so we ended up hanging out on breaks and during the summers too (I went to a public boarding high school, so we came from all over the state).

John and I kept in touch over the years (he was in my wedding in Charlottesville, about three years after we had each graduated college), but after he left medical school and ended up in Springfield, we didn't see each other that often. That changed a few years ago when he relocated back to North Carolina, and we tended to see him whenever we made a family visit to the Triangle, also getting to know his wife. As it happened, both families got pregnant at nearly the same time; our son Will and his son David were born within a week of each other.

But three years ago, just as we were pondering the move down to Atlanta, John and his family moved back up to Springfield, and we hadn't seen them since a Christmas visit just before they left for Massachusetts. I didn't get to see the whole family this time (they've since added a daughter), but John met me at my hotel and we walked to a local brew pub and had a nice long dinner while we caught up about our past few years.

John has always been one of those guys who I might not see or write to for years, but when we get together it's just like I saw him last week, and that's how it was this time, too. We talked about possibly trying to arrange vacation schedules so that we could go skiing together sometime (something we've really been wanting to do with Will—I love skiing and he's now at the age where he could take lessons), but even if that doesn't work out, it's nice to know that our long-term connection and friendship will endure despite the distance.

On the last day of the conference, my friend Sarah, who I know from college, drove over from Boston to pick me up from Hartford and take me back to spend a day with her family before flying out of Logan to head back to Atlanta.

The last time I saw Sarah was two years ago at our college reunion, but we've been reasonably good about keeping in touch. I'd never met her daughters or her beau, but I've seen plenty of them on Facebook, so I was excited to see them in real life.

The visit was, in short, completely awesome. It started with a talent show at her youngest daughter's school, in which her daughter sang an a capella version of Donna Summer's "MacArthur Park" while dressed in a 70s style dress and with a cake covered with melting green frosting sitting on the stage next to her (the lyrics reference someone leaving a "cake out in the rain"). I cannot express to you how amazing she was—if Will ends up having half her spirit, smarts, and creativity, I will be a very proud father.

There was much else to love about the talent show—a kid solving a Rubik's cube while being timed, another boy whose performance was taking a small hoop and seeing how fast he could put it over his head and wiggle it down to his feet, two girls who had painted a picture with dragons and fire and volcanoes who explained what was in the picture during their time on stage, and, best of all, a lost and found fashion show, where the kids took turns showing off items that had ended up in lost and found over the previous school year (a couple of things were even reunited with their owners).

That evening I got to participate in what I'm guessing was an average night of family activities: pizza, a serious Boggle session, and an episode of Brain Games on Netflix. I also got to know Sarah's oldest daughter, her boyfriend Tim, and her cats—a great little family. Sarah and the girls went to bed sometime after 9, but I stayed up talking to Tim for another hour or so (note to self that I already should have known: don't talk to a Pats fan about Deflategate and expect there to be any sort of rational response).

On Saturday there was a leisurely breakfast of bagels before we headed into Boston for a few hours in the city before I had to catch my flight. I had been to the city exactly once before in my life, and it was not a good day, and even without that memory, my increasing fandom for the Ravens and my dislike for Red Sox fans means that I'm further predisposed not to like the city, so Sarah wanted to see if she could change that.

And although after living in Atlanta for a while now, northeastern cities are just too crowded and complicated to navigate for me, I did come away with a much better impression of the city itself after spending a few hours walking the Freedom Trail and seeing the Boston Commons, the Public Gardens, and some of the historic buildings (although I was a little dismayed to see that the oldest commercial building in Boston, built in 1718, was now home to a Chipotle). I also loved how many different street musicians and bands we came across—it was a beautiful sunny day with a temperature in the 70s, and it seemed like as soon as we got out of earshot of one performer we'd get in range of another.

I could have stayed with them another week, and I hated to say goodbye—it was the first time I've spent any quality time with Sarah in a while, and I loved getting to know Tim and her daughters (Will was quite taken with them as well, especially the younger one—the two times I called him on Facetime, he immediately wanted to talk to her, and she had a great time walking around and showing him the house using my iPad's camera). It was about the best visit to Boston that I could have hoped for.

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