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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

RUNNING MARATHONS

In 1974 I decided I needed to lose a few pounds. I was feeling a bit sluggish since I had entered my 30’s and wasn’t doing much to stay in shape. I had no clue about exercising until one Sunday morning while reading the newspaper between bites of a couple doughnuts and coffee, I saw an article about a couple in their late 30’s from Leavenworth, Kansas who raved about the success they had getting in shape through running.

The formula they used was simple: They started slowly and worked their way up as they gained strength and distance through their daily runs. They reached a point where they could run five miles out and back from their home. They lost weight, felt better, and had a nice improvement in their blood pressure readings, glucose, and other tests. It was exactly what I needed as an inspiration.

I met some other people who were like me and the Leavenworth couple in their desire to get in shape. We started running together entering 5 and 10 kilometer races and having a good time doing it. The running boom of the 1970’s was under way in America and we were part of it.

As interest intensified, races became gigantic by the standards of the day. In 1970, the first year of the New York Marathon, only 127 runners entered the race while 55 finished. By 2013, the number of runners had increased to 50,750; quite a jump from the lonely 55 who raced to the finish line in 1970.
  
"New York New York; it's a helluva town!" (Verrazano 
Narrows Bridge)
In 1978 about ten of us from Kansas City made the trip to New York to give the Marathon a shot. At that time I had been emceeing and running half marathons and 10K’s for a few years.  Some of those races had as many as 2,000 runners. That was pretty big by Missouri-Kansas standards but small time in the Big Apple so when I arrived on Staten Island for the start of the New York Marathon, it was a bit overwhelming to see 17,000 other runners ready to go. I knew at once that the race would be fun but with no opportunity to run a personal best time in a field that large.

My observation was correct as the premier runners were in the front row at the start while we lower echelon guys were far back in the pack. It took me eight minutes to get to the STARTING line! I managed to finish in a respectable 3 hours and 18 minutes to finish in 1,746th place.  It was so much fun, our group returned in 1979.

Now that I have whetted your appetite for running I’m sure you are ready to “lace ‘em up” and go for a run to use up some of that adrenaline. Don’t be fooled; anyone who takes up running with a goal of doing a marathon needs to train accordingly or they are in for a big disappointment. Running 26.2 miles takes a lot out of you so it’s best to be in shape.

When I say training for a marathon, I mean plenty of running including a weekly 20 mile run with some hard-easy running  in between and one or two days off for recovery time. REI has outlined a good schedule at http://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/training-for-your-first-marathon.html.

My main goal in running marathons was to break the three hour barrier. When I saw the Fiesta Bowl Marathon scheduled for Scottsdale, Arizona on December 1,1979, I sensed an opportunity.

The course looked easy. It started about two miles west of Scottsdale Road on Dynamite and gradually descended south down Scottsdale Road to the area of Frank Lloyd Wright. It then went east to Pima Road then south to the finish at Scottsdale Community College. The weather was perfect: about 40 degrees at the 7:00 a.m. start and warming up to about 50 by the finish. There was no traffic since all the roads were rural two lanes in those days and the 101 did not exist yet. Our only observers were the few horses standing in the pasture of what used to be Chauncey’s Ranch on Scottsdale Road.

I felt fine all the way; I had no problem with hitting the proverbial “wall” but I still missed my goal of breaking three hours by four minutes and five seconds. As the French would say “C’est la vie.”  “Such is life.” I missed my chance.

I never ran another marathon. Scottsdale was number nine and I figured enough was enough.  Today, I don’t run as much as I once did but I still think of the couple from Leavenworth who were instrumental in my getting involved in the running community.

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Tuesday, March 03, 2015

ENJOYING THE APPEAL OF SOUTHWEST LIVING

For those who live in areas where winters are long, cold and cloudy, or have snow on the ground most of the time, it sounds like you need a winter vacation to break up that yearly uncomfortable routine. It’s not an impossibility if you book a vacation somewhere in the southwestern United States, preferably Arizona. There are reasons that thousands of people either have second homes in The Grand Canyon State or rent properties there during the winter, especially in the Phoenix-Scottsdale area.

The average daytime temperature is 73 degrees between November and March. During that same period, Chicago averages 26 degrees, Montreal averages 24 degrees, and Minneapolis averages 16 degrees. This begs the question: Would I rather (a) freeze in the north all winter under a pile of blankets with basically no interesting outdoor activity or (b) try to spend some time in the Phoenix-Scottsdale area playing outdoors under clear skies and balmy temperatures? If you said (b) you are in for a great taste of the Southwest which could include the following paragraphs and more.

A popular activity for many visitors is a Jeep tour through the desert. The four wheel drive Jeeps travel rough back roads while guides explain details about the habitat. Many tours also offer a desert cook out to complement the experience. I have been on these tours and can tell you from personal experiences, they are a great time.
 
Have you ever dreamed of wearing shorts in December and January? You won’t do that in cold northern cities but it is typical in Arizona.  Be sure to bring your tennis racket and golf clubs if you play those sports and if you enjoy attending a PGA Tour golf event, there is the Phoenix Open. Do you like to hike or jog? The area is full of great trails along with every hiker’s dream: climbing Camelback Mountain.

How about spring training baseball? Games begin in early March for the 15 major league teams who train in the Phoenix-Scottsdale area. While your friends back home are still enduring winter you can watch major league baseball in the warm sun of Arizona.

For those who enjoy more subtle activities, there are museums such as the Heard Museum which explores American Indian Cultures of the Southwest. The Musical Instrument Museum celebrates the cultures of the world through music. Also notable are the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art and the Phoenix Art Museum. For a really unique experience, there is the Butterfly Wonderland located on the Salt River Indian Reservation just east of Scottsdale. It is the largest butterfly pavilion in America.

When dinner time arrives, you can choose from a variety of cuisines including popular Mexican restaurants, many of which have outdoor patios for eating or having a cocktail as you watch a beautiful sunset on the Sonoran Desert. There is more but the above is enough to keep you happily busy if you decide to leave winter behind either for a short stay in the Southwest or for the entire season.

Winter golf in Arizona
 Let’s compare the Sonoran lifestyle you could be enjoying this winter to that of your friends huddling together next to a potbellied stove somewhere in the northern climes: you are driving a convertible with the top down in Scottsdale. They are driving a snow covered SUV with the heater turned to “high.” You are having dinner and a cocktail on the outdoor terrace of a high end restaurant. They are eating a microwave hot dog at home because the roads are too icy to go out. After dinner you are going to the Musical Instrument Museum to see a show. They are hoping the roads are clear enough to get to the smoky bowling alley where they attend their mixed couples beer league. The next morning you dress in a tee shirt and shorts and go for a morning run. They put on a parka, wool trousers and boots to brave the cold while they chip ice off their windshields.

Please don’t misunderstand; we all have our favorite activities and if you enjoy being outdoors in a freezing winter climate, that’s entirely up to you. I have known people who take vacations in the winter to go skiing or ice skating in places like Colorado. As for me, that is never going to happen. If I have the choice of living in a place that includes sun, sand, and cactus versus snow drifts, ice, and salted roads, you can win a bet if you pick me to take the former.

To paraphrase the late writer Thomas Wolfe: “You can’t go home again once you have had a taste of the Southwest.”

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