Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Downtown 10K

Mark Aiken high-fives an adoring fan
Photo by Jan Leja

I am pleased to report that Oscar has returned to the world of competitive racing. After a couple of bad experiences in organized race events -- after which he decided to limit his running to non-organized events -- he ran in Sunday's Downtown 10K and recorded a personal record of 47 minutes.

Here's the deal. I have been training pretty seriously for my upcoming marathon. I have trained for all prior marathons simply by going out and running with Oscar. It was a regimen that he loved, but that didn't do much for my chances at improving my marathon times. The fact that I have improved my times with almost every race is just dumb luck. However, when I missed the Boston Marathon qualifying time at last spring's VCM by 2 minutes, I decided I had to get serious. I took out my stopwatch and started doing speedwork and tempo runs this summer with Alison. The problem with timed runs is that they don't really make room for chasing squirrels, peeing on bushes, and sniffing the smells -- all pursuits that my prior training regimens DID allow for. The result: Oscar was not allowed to run with me as much this summer.

He already hates the fact that we don't take him when we run 13 or more miles on Sundays. So, knowing that Sunday was a 12-mile day, I knew we had to bring him even though we had registered for Susan Criscuolo's fundraising event. I figured if anyone gave us a hard time, I'd just sit out the race and run on my own with Oscar. We registered for the 9am race at 745. We asked Susan if she had a problem with Oscar running, which she did not. We ran 6 miles (we're marathon-training, remember?), and pulled up to the starting line with almost perfect timing.

Ali lined up with her usual people, but Oscar and I went all the way to the back; we didn't want to run the risk of getting tangled in the mass start. The gun sounded (actually some guy yelled "Ready, set, go!"), and Oscar and I waited for everyone -- and I mean everyone -- to get out of the way. Then we started.

Oscar, who usually runs at an 8-to-9-minute mile pace, was not waiting around this day. He charged along the entire way. Despite running prior to the 10K and stopping to sniff 2 dogs, drink from 3 puddles, and pee once, we passed about 80 people and ran the whole think in almost 7.5-minute miles. Now if Oscar had shown that he could keep up that sort of pace earlier, he could have come along for some of the tempo runs! I think his desire to stop and be distracted was superseded by his desire to lead. Oscar is not fond of being behind people when he runs.

Sunday's Downtown 10K replaced the popular Smokejack's 10K race that used to take runners up and down the streets of Burlington, but that disappeared when the restaurant closed its business a couple years ago. Sunday's event, organized by Susan Criscuolo and sponsored by Green Mountain Rehab and other local businesses, was a huge success as over 100 runners participated. The event raised over $3000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

And I should also mention that, should I qualify for Boston, I intend to return to the more slackerly and dog-friendly training regimen of non-timed slow and easy runs.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Team PBR enters Fantasy Football 2009

That's right, folks! In addition to my world domination of table tennis and cribbage, add Fantasy Football to the mix. I have joined Marty Courcelle's league -- an organization full of heavy hitters like Marty himself and the much-feared Lori Hennessey, just to name two. I have no idea how Fantasy Football works, what players are what, how games are scored, or -- except for a few members of the New England Patriots -- who even still plays in the National Football League.

Which, in my opinion, makes me one of the favorites to win the League. I know these Fantasy players. Watching 10 games at once every Sunday on the Directv Football Package. Keeping copious notes on all the players. Watching SportsCenter late at night to stay ahead of the curve. Subscribing to Chris Berman's Tweets to receive up-to-the-minute updates.

By contrast, I have no idea what I'm doing. And I like my chances. Go Team PBR!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Tomato Update

At last report, the Aiken tomato patch had been ravaged by tomato blight. Sadly, this situation is still the case; we have had to throw away over 100 tomatoes and many plants. Still, we have salvaged enough tomatoes to make 2009 our best year yet for the juicy red vegetable/fruits.

We are disappointed, of course, to have to let go of our earlier visions of the canned tomatoes and sauces that we had planned to open up later this winter. Still, I have always felt -- and continue to feel -- that there is not much that can beat a garden-fresh tomato. The little orange "Sun Gold" cherry-sized tomatoes have been our cash crop this year -- just two plants yielded hundreds of these things, and they have livened up our salads (and I've eaten lots of them like grapes!). The medium-sized prudens variety -- which proved to be especially susceptible to the blight -- are a good all-purpose tomato. The black krims are a weird-looking tomato, but super juicy, and my favorite are the gigantic brandywines, which are simply made to be sliced up and put on a sandwich with turkey, Vermont cheddar, and cucumber slices. Yummm!

I'm glad I got to enjoy tomatoes from the garden this summer, but I'll look forward to next year. Hopefully then we'll get the tomato-landslide we were hoping for this year.