RoadRunner, I’m in Love With Massachusetts – Advent Day 6

Until about 6 months ago, I’d never heard of Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers. Then, Wilco does a night of covers at Solid Sound 2013, and once I’d gotten over the brilliance of “Get Lucky”, I picked a new favorite song. Roadrunner, with its name check of Stop and Shop (Groceries) and cold weather, and driving past neon lights full of angst.

Obsession again, would’ve worn out a cassette tape of the concert if we were still living back in 1987. Then, my internet man-crush on the cataloger of complete world knowledge doubles back on itself, with John Hodgman getting involved with the Bay State’s legislative process to make Roadrunner the official state song of Massachusetts.

Oh, yeah – running.

One of the joys of my work is that I get to go talk to folks who are like wicked smart on a pretty frequent basis. Friday, I got to head up to MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory for a day of getting my mind blown. On my way out, a colleague who knows I like to go strange places and run says “Hey, are you running this afternoon?”

“Sure”, I say.

So, we trundle off to the base gym, change, and he points me over to the MinuteMan Trail.

And for the next 40 minutes, I, like Jonathan Richman and John Hodgman, was in love with Massachusetts.

New England late fall is gloriously gloomy – dark early, grey skies, biting cold – and yesterday was about as textbook as it gets. Whisps of fog blew across the ancient track, past the spot where Paul Revere was captured by the British, past stone walls older than the country, and past anything other than the sheer joy of oxygen, gravel crunching underfoot, and feeling coming back into my cold fingers. The ghosts of the Regulars and Minutemen came into mind from the fog, and the hoofbeats of horses carrying news of a single lantern were echoed in my sneakers.

Running in a new place is a joy. No better way to get a feeling for a location. I’ve had the pleasure of traveling all over the world, and my finest memories tend to revolve around sneakers and exploring. Even places I know take on a new look when the ground’s passing underfoot at 80 steps/minute.

Finished up the run as the last light faded and the fog turned into rain. And spent a quality drive out of the state with rock ‘n’ roll cranking out of the speakers.

(At the risk of too much Masshole-ism, don’t forget to listen to “Case Your State“, which is NSFKids, but is comedic genius.)

Not Having Anywhere in Particular to Go – Advent Day 5

Misty day – started clear, and I sat at my desk watching a warm front blow in off of the North Atlantic, bringing with it drizzle, then mist, then quality Yankee fog. By the end of the day, New London was a glow out the window, and the foghorn at the Coast Guard station had begun to blow.

There’s a fine tradition in the sea services that the extra money in the first paycheck that comes with a promotion gets spent on buying drinks for one’s shipmates. Usually, it’s called a “wetting down”, and it comes from the old Navy days when one used to have gold embroidered stripes around the cuff to mark rank, and used to end with the newly promoted officer in the ocean. Today, the swim is usually avoided out of courtesy to the person buying the drinks, but the trip to the pub is still pretty much a requirement.

Anyway, we had a guy get promoted in our shop, and he was buying at a bar down on the New London waterfront. So, rather than jumping in the car, I pulled one of the spare bikes out of our building’s basement, and strolled down to the shindig.

And the simple act of using the bike as pure transportation, unhurried and unburdened, was great.

Beer was drunk, toasts were given, stories told, and I headed back to the office to pick up the car and head home.

Office Showers – Advent Day 3

As I’m sure long-term reader(s) of this blog will recognize, I’ve got to be in contention for the luckiest guy around. Loving wife, awesome kids, a great community, and worthwhile work. Absolutely no complaints on my part.

I attribute a big bit of my happiness to having only once worked in an office without shower facilities in the building. (That job was in Houston, too, which should have been clue #1 that things wouldn’t work out, but that was also back when I thought everything was better in Texas)

Office showers have been like the third thing I’ve checked on when considering most of my jobs. (The first two being if the work is interesting, and if I can continue to keep my wife in the manner to which she’s become accustomed)

For me, there’s three things that office showers make possible:

  • Lunchtime Workouts
  • Bike Commuting
  • Jeans
  • Lunchtime Workouts Bring a sandwich to eat while crunching tasking, and when office chatter dies down, strap on the sneakers and bang out 3 or 4 miles. Shower and seated back at the desk in 45 minutes with the patience to be productive at an afternoon conference call.

    Bike Commuting There are people like Bikeyface who can ride to work on elegant commuter bikes wearing real clothes. Part of me wishes I was one of them. But part of me also likes living in the semi-burbs / semi-rural / semi-forgotten wilds of eastern Connecticut providing scenery for the folks on the Acela or the United Express connector between Logan and LGA. Free-range chickens and children are passions of mine. I’m even tempted to move into one of the cool 19th century houses in New London, ‘cept I’ve still got kids in public school.

    Plus, I sweat. A Lot.

    So, the work shower is key. Ride in, shower off, look and smell good, with the glow of smugness that comes from a workout before coffee.

    Jeans Being an engineer is interesting. It’s a profession, for sure, but it doesn’t come with a lot of the trappings of other professions, like having to wear matching clothes or ties. But, unless you’re crazy brilliant* or doing real field work**, it really is expected that you’ll wear slacks and a shirt with buttons. Ironing used to be expected, but modern no-iron fabrics are a miracle.

    I prefer to commute in jeans and sneakers when I drive. So, having a shower and locker at the office means that I’ve got a place to change when I get to the office, so even when I leave the house looking like it’s Saturday morning and I’m not planning on seeing anyone, I can be showered, shaved, and pressed about 5 minutes after getting to the office, and can change again for little league, scouts, or soccer before I leave the office.

    * I’ve met many, many “crazy brilliant” engineers. Folks who are  quite literally the smartest dude in the room on some obscure but critical nugget of how to make something work. Most of them appear mostly normal, but there have been a couple who have either given up on appearance and hygiene, or who occupy another astral plane in which their area of expertise is easy but things like clothes and food aren’t, strictly speaking, necessary.

    ** “Real Field Work” is why I like being an engineer***. Because everyone loves trucks and cranes and towers and engines and loud stuff and explosives and the smell of diesel and being out in the weather and the beauty of seeing an idea actually come to fruition. But it’s hell on clothes. Usually, as an engineer, you can get away with wearing jeans any time you have to wear steel toed boots; however, I’ve found it’s usually cheaper to treat khaki pants and polo shirts as semi-disposable than it is to do that with good denim.

    *** “Real Field Work” is made more enjoyable because it’s an interlude to office and lab work. The men and women who are out there every day are made of much, much sterner stuff than I am.

    Pushups – Advent Day 2

    Pushups. Bleh.

    My first real introduction to pushups was down in Pensacola in 1994, where my Drill Instructor spent much, much, much time personally ensuring that I was doing them properly, and doing enough of them so that (Briefly), I could look like a steely-eyed killer worthy of a commission in his Navy.

    I’m trying to love them again. Trying, trying trying.

    It’s almost a perfect exercise – fully engages the core, balances out the emphasis on the glutes that running and cycling give, and working the arms that pretty much lay uselessly next to me while I run or bike.

    So, I’ve been doing them. Most every day. And it hurts. And it’s frustrating that I’ve got the upper body strength of a 9 year old. But, I’ll keep working it.

    Friends Push – Advent Day 1

    Sunday dawned grey and misty. Not terribly cold, not dry, not wet. Yay.
    image

    I’m rounding a corner mentally. Work’s back to being a place I want to be, home is good, and volunteer life is excellent – I’m at a place where I feel I can say “no” on occasion, and have a network of other volunteers with which we’re really clicking.

    And part of the rounded corner is routine. I’ve needed for a long time to make getting out a top priority, and seem to have rounded the corner on keeping it there.

    A big part of that has been using friends and colleagues to stay motivated. Sunday morning, Steve R. was my motivation to be standing in the Haley Farm parking lot at 0630.

    Steve is one of my heroes. A couple of years ago, we were both training for a marathon, and Steve had just started cycling. Now, he’s faster than I am in every possible medium, and much, much better than I am for just getting out there.

    Anyhoo, we did the traditional loop – Haley to Bluff out to the point, back to Bluff parking lot, and back to Haley. And, having Steve there kept me moving – longest run since I gave up on Hartford Marathon back in September.

    Yay Steve!

    24 to go.

    Spinning, spinning, spinning

    Unlike Dianna, I avoided running in Snowmageddon 2014-01 this morning, and headed over to the YMCA to hit the 0515 Spin class. Good times.

    I will accept a certain amount of guilt about heading over for spin class instead of, say, actually riding a bicycle on the actual road, with some insulation and some reflective materials, except for:

  • There’s like three hours total of daylight up here at the high latitudes
  • Unlike when I run, when I ride I do generate at least enough wind to get some effective windchill
  • While drivers up here are pretty accommodating when it comes to cyclists, there does seem to be an open season between November and February where drivers seem empowered to act like jerks
  • It’s cold as balls
  • Which is why I head to spin.

    The 0515 spin instructor, Noreen, is AWESOME for being up at the crack of dawn. She’s usually got some pumping tunes, and hits exactly the right tone – reassuring and competent, which is what you want at 0515.

    I’ve heard my wife talk about some of the other instructors who cover the classes later in the day and say things like “high energy” and “perky” – this early in the morning, instead of being motivating, I’m guessing that I’d probably throw a water bottle instead of responding well.

    Playlist is excellent – good, solid rock and/or roll, with a couple of throw-aways (I’m sexy and i know it). And, every month or so, we do “Dark side of the Moon”, usually on a Friday morning. It’s dark in the spin room, and lit with blacklight, so the combination of still being mostly asleep, fluorescent lights, oxygen deprivation, and eventual endorphins – wow.  Almost as good as beer.

    So, I’m there for about the next 4 or 5 months, Monday and Friday…

    Follow us for the funky behavior

    Thanksgiving.

    May be my absolute favorite holiday EVAH.

    Good food, time with good friends and good memories of other friends, and none of the guilt about gifts associated with Christmas. No bad music.

    We had the office Thanksgiving lunch today – community turkey and potluck sides, and way, way, way too much dessert. Tryptophan coma after lunch, which was OK as I was clicking through some annual training for the dozenth time.

    About 3:45, the sun was almost gone, so I realized that if I was going to have any sort of workout, I had to hit the road. Perfect late fall run – high 30′s, sky spitting moisture, and every shade of grey from silver through soot.

    The beginning of the evening commute traffic hissed along the road, headlights and taillights blending into each other.

    Then – the transcendent.

    I passed a grove of trees for the umpteenth time, and finally realized that the two straight rows of cedars marked an ancient street – almost an alley, but lined with green and carpeted with needles, connecting one main street with another marked as a dead end.

    Dead end to cars, maybe, but a throughway for foot and bike traffic.

    100 yards of unexpected trail running, and a good run becomes a great run.

    Thanksgiving.

    Posted in Run

    Clarity

    There’s nothing quite like the first few really clear, cold mornings in New England. The leaves are off the trees, and clear sky stretches from horizon to horizon. Late autumn mornings start slowly and drag on, until the sun creeps far enough above the horizon to throw everything into sharp resolve – shadows snapped sharp, the cold air making the bright visuals stand out.

    image

    Woke up early enough this morning to take the mountain bike out to Bluff Point for a loop. It’s been a long, long while since I’d ridden fat tires on loose soil, and for a little while, I was 13 again, barreling through the trees, branches whipping and grabbing my clothes. I don’t know if it was just enthusiasm, but I was clearing stuff I hadn’t previously cleared, and on a couple of the downhills, just felt absolutely like flying.

    The ride was too short (Stupid work). But the bike’s in the car, and there’s only 30 days of less daylight until we start heading back to the endless days of endless light we call summer around here.

    Great things afoot at the Jank household – need to write more later.

    Baggage

    I didn’t run the Hartford Marathon.

    Training was going great through the New Haven Road Race – mileage was adding up easy, weight was coming off, life was good.

    Then, the summer ended, opportunities in the form of a couple of new job opportunities arose, obligations with social commitments grew, and training just kind of fell by the wayside. Not enough to where I couldn’t have gutted it out and ran another 4:30 marathon. But enough to where I really didn’t want to devote an entire day to another mediocre marathon.

    So I bailed. Just flat out didn’t show up.

    I regretted not getting to see Dianna and my buddy Doug run, and regretted not getting the sweetest beer in the world in the tent at the end of a long race. But, I got to move tables with my Cub Scout pack. Got to enjoy a fall day with my lovely bride. And a last (and first for this year) dinner at Abbott’s for the year.

    And y’know what? In hindsight, I’m glad I bailed.

    Not sure if I’m going to register for another marathon for a while. I may train for a few smaller ones that I could run if training goes well, but for the time being, I’ve decided that there’s enough in my life. Running and biking is part of that; committing to a giant race doesn’t have to be.