Wednesday, July 27, 2011

That's what she said

I’ve always been a fan of running in the summer rain, but when thunder and lightening show up to the party, I turn into a total scaredy cat.

So the other day, when the forecast called for an afternoon thunderstorm, I opted to employ my contingency plan: the elliptical.

I was about 20 minutes in to my plan B workout when…dun, dun, duunnnnnn…a mid-storm power outage killed the lights and all of the electronic exercise machines.

“Uhhhhhhh,” groaned the extremely tan, extremely wrinkly woman to my right.

Of course, this was the ONE time I didn’t have my iPod. So as the back-up generator kicked in and brought the machines—but not the lights or the TVs—back to life, I was forced to interact with Whiny Wendy.

Actually, I guess Whiny Juanita would be a more appropriate sarcastic nickname for this particular woman, since her accent would suggest some sort of Latino nationality.

“Oh jeeeeeeeeez,” she went on. “How loooooonggg is it gonna take them to feeeeeeex theeeees?”

I really wasn’t in the mood for conversation, so I tested out the “non-response method” for a few seconds. But I could feel her pleading eyes staring in my direction, and they weren’t going to move until I had supplied a satisfactory answer.

“Um, well, last time this happened I think it took, like, five minutes,” I finally replied.

“Fiiiiiiiiiiiivaah meeeeenutes? I neeeeeeedd my TeeeeeVeeeeeee when I workooouuuuutttt!”

“Me too,” I muttered under my breath.

I don’t know what it was about her voice that annoyed me so much, but I knew that if one more high pitched, overly annunciated word came out of her mouth, there was a 95 percent chance that I would involuntarily slap her in the face.

But at that very moment, I received a critical dose of comic relief from a pair of old-timers whose lifting workout had been interrupted by the blackout.

“Come on, Jerry, we don’t have all day. Martha’s aqua-cise class gets out in 20 minutes, and if she has to wait for me, I’ll be in big trouble,” said the first guy.

“Sorry Frank, I just can’t do it in the dark,” replied the second guy.

“That’s what she said!” quipped the first guy, with spot-on comedic timing.

I bit my lip as I tried in vain to suppress my giggles. But I just couldn’t help myself—it was the best-executed “that’s what she said” joke that I’d heard in a long time.

Guy number two, however, was not nearly as amused by his friend’s impeccable wit as I was.

“Frank, that was absolutely terrible,” he said in a tone that made him sound like a disappointed father. “I can’t believe you just said that.”

I almost piped up with something like, “Ah, relax Jerry. Don’t be such a buzzkill.”

But before I could say anything, the lights came back on and the latest episode of Sports Center was blasting into my headphones. I guess the sound on the built-in TVs automatically resets to maximum volume following a power outage.

Of course, not even that could drown out Juanita’s excessively emotional reaction to the electrical reboot.

“Well, thaaaaaaaannnk God,” she declared. “Eeeeett’s abouuuuuuuttt tiiiiimmee!”

Ay, Dios mio.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Little shop of horrors

Last summer, when I was still a poor college student desperate for beer—er, food money, I accepted a position as a part-time retail associate at a sporting goods store. (As a side note, I would just like to point out that using the word “associate” in conjunction with any job title really helps inflate its perceived professional value. Like right now, instead of referring to myself as a newspaper reporter, I prefer calling myself a “reporting associate.” See what I mean?)

I was thankful for the job, as I had spent several weeks trying to get hired for any of several positions for which I was massively overqualified. I was thrilled to beat out a slew of 15-year-old boys for an opportunity to acquire some valuable experience in the area of price gun operation.

The problem was, I may or may not have told a couple of little white lies to beef up my résumé. Gone are the days when any old Joe Blow could just walk into a business establishment and get a minimum wage job. Now you need things like “experience” to give you an edge over the competition.

I used my status as a collegiate athlete as a platform for my fibbery.

“Well, I’m around college athletes like, pretty much every day,” I told the manager. “So yeah, I definitely know a lot about sports and sporting equipment.”

It must have worked, because I got hired. In reality, I knew nothing about any sport other than running, so racing flats were pretty much the extent of my sporting equipment expertise. But I figured I could handle selling a glove or two to a few harmless little league parents. Wrong.

I knew I was in trouble the moment I saw her sprint through the front door of the store. She was visibly stressed, her face flushed and sweaty. She was decked out in baseball fan gear, culminating with the compact-disc-sized photo button pinned to her t-shirt. In the photo: a roughly eight-year-old boy posing with a baseball bat and flashing a smile that was short a few teeth.

“He forgot his bat, he forgot his bat!” she screamed as she speed-waddled up to the cash register.

Oh boy. I shot a pleading look to Tom, the other kid on duty that night. He just smiled, as if to say, “No way. This one’s all yours.”

“I NEED to buy Carter a new bat RIGHT NOW,” the woman said. “It has to be EXACTLY like the one he left at home—I don’t want him to be thrown off by something different. Hurry up! His game starts in TWENTY MINUTES!”

I led Psycho Mom to the bat section, where I calmly asked her what kind of bat she was looking for.

“I DON’T KNOW!” she screamed. “Isn’t that YOUR job?!?”

Before I had a chance to remind her that I was a minimum-wage retail employee—not an effing psychic—she was pulling bats off the rack like she was Lindsay Lohan and the world’s last Long Island iced tea was stashed at the back of that bat tower.

“No, no, no…” she chanted as she discarded each incorrect bat—on the floor.

I stood there in horror, unsure of what to do. What do you say to someone who is destroying your store and acting like a complete lunatic?

In my head, I said things like, “Oh, don’t worry about making a mess—I’ll get it. You just go right ahead and tear apart any rack and/or display you want.” Or: “Bitch, are you cuh-razy?”

When she finally found the one she was looking for, she abruptly stood up and proceeded to speed-waddle all the way back to the register.

She drummed her fingers as I cut the tag off of the bat and scanned it into the system.

“Will that be all for you today?” I asked.

“Yes, yes, just hurry and ring me up,” she said as she thrust a credit card in my face.

I swiped the card and handed it back to her.

“Receipt with you or in the—”

Before I could finish my sentence, she had shuffled out the door, bat in hand.

“Bag,” I said, before bursting into a fit of uncontrollable laughter.

And that, my friends, is why I’ll never work in retail again, and my kids will run cross country.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Quick quiz

This month, the folks at Runner’s World ramped up their effort to appeal to the Teen People reader demographic by including a multiple-choice personality quiz. (Really. See page 54.) So, taking a cue from the longstanding leader in running journalism, I too have developed a little quizzy quiz in hopes of drawing interest from some of the younger members of the running community. But don’t worry, even if you’ve never heard of Selena Gomez, I’m pretty sure you’ll find my questionnaire both entertaining and insightful.

What kind of runner are you?

1.) It’s Friday night, and your best friend is having a barbecue at the mansion she is housesitting while her rich neighbors are on vacation in Bora Bora. It has a pool—with a slide! You really want to go, but you have a 10K road race in the morning. What do you do?

(a) Respectfully decline her invitation. You know you’ll lose your racing focus if you are distracted by loud music, water polo and fruity cocktails.
(b) Go to the party for exactly one hour, limiting yourself to exactly one piña colada. Then return home in time to lay out your racing gear and go through your ritual visualization exercise.
(c) Pool? Water slide? Shirtless dudes? Screw the race—it’s time to par-tay!

2.) You are four intervals into a 10 x 400-meters workout. It’s 90 degrees on the track and you feel like your heart is pumping hot molten lava through your veins. If you attempt to finish the workout, you will probably either collapse or spontaneously combust. What do you do?

(a) Buck up and finish anyway. You always follow through on your workout plans, come hail or high water.
(b) Complete one more lap and then finish with a one-mile tempo run straight to the city pool, where you jump in fully clothed and drenched in sweat, scaring dozens of small children.
(c) Call it good and head to DQ for a lemon-lime Misty Freeze.

3.) One of your old high school cross country teammates is coming through town on her way to a Nickelback concert in Seattle. She leaves you a voicemail wondering if you would like to take her on a run while she’s there. You are training for a seven-mile trail race at the end of the month, and you were planning to do hill repeats this afternoon. What do you do?

(a) Make up an excuse and blow her off. She’s slow, and Nickelback is a terrible band anyway.
(b) Do a short hill workout in the morning and then take her on a leisurely jog along the river.
(c) Save the hills for tomorrow and take your friend on a “run” from bar to bar.

4.) It’s race day! What are you wearing?

(a) Bright green singlet (tech fabric, of course), matching green racing flats, black spandex shorts (for muscle compression and aerodynamic efficiency), arm warmers, hundred-dollar sport sunglasses, GU/water belt. Let’s. Do. This.
(b) Your favorite pair of Nike running shorts (which you scored for 12 bucks at the Sports Authority sidewalk sale last year), a black tank top and your Asics trainers.
(c) Basketball shorts, an old cut-off t-shirt and your cross-trainers from ninth-grade P.E.

5.) What would you do for a Klondike Bar?

(a) Nothing. I would never poison my body with a frozen chunk of sugar and saturated fat.
(b) Beg, borrow and/or steal.
(c) I don’t know, but once I got it, I would trade it in for an Otter Pop—the unquestionable king of summertime treats.


Mostly a’s – The Dashing D-Bag
You won’t let anyone or anything get in the way of your obsessive running habit. You are willing to trade your relationships, social life and personal reputation for training and racing success. Unless you want to end up alone, unhappy and/or in a loony bin, you need to seriously rethink your priorities. Wake up and smell the Klondikes!

Mostly b’s – The Middle-of-the-Road-Runner
You’re serious about running, and you enjoy being successful at it. You also realize that there are other enjoyable aspects of a healthy, balanced life—like piña coladas and social interaction.

Mostly c’s – The Shuffling Slacker
You’ll go for a run if it fits into your busy social calendar, but it’s definitely not at the top of your to-do list. Which is fine—although you might want to go easy on the beer and Otter Pops.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The idiot's guide to conversing with non-runners

As regular (or regular-ish) runners, we like to talk about running. A lot. Sometimes we even forget that there are, in fact, other things to talk about. Like the national debt crisis. Or the Casey Anthony verdict. Or, if you’re my mom, the Canadian neighbors’ growing collection of lawn ornaments.

While it’s OK to talk running with other avid runners, it is generally less acceptable to burden members of the non-running population with longwinded stories about your personal training and racing experiences.

Have your family, friends and casual acquaintances consistently avoided interacting with you in a social capacity? It’s probably because they cannot stand the thought of having to sit through one more of your extensive monologues on the merits of pace progression runs.

It’s not your fault. You love running, and you enjoy sharing that passion with people you know and care about. But if you want to reclaim your social life and shed your image as a total running geek, you need to ditch that pacing slide-rule and learn how to converse like a normal human.

I have created the following compilation of hypothetical conversations—complete with common mistakes and suggested alternatives—for your educational pleasure.

Scenario 1 – The marathon play-by-play

Runner: So I ran a marathon in Oregon last weekend.

Normie: Oh, wow. Those are, like, over 20 miles, right?

Runner: Yeah, 26.2 actually. And I’ll tell you what, that last .2 is a real doozy.

Normie: [uncertain of whether that was a joke, but forcing laughter just in case] Ha. Ha.

Runner: Yeah, but I’ll tell you what wasn’t funny—no water station after that 1.5-mile, 5 percent-grade hill climb at mile 18.

Normie: [rapidly losing interest and beginning to scan the room for someone else (anyone else!) to talk to] Uh huh, that sounds terrible.

Runner: Oh, believe me, it was. Especially considering I had maintained an average pace of 7:02 per mile up until that point. But then things really started to fall apart…shin splints, plantar fasciitis, nipple chafage—it was like everything that could go wrong, did.

Normie: [with a look of utter disgust] Nipple chafage?

Remember, once the phrase “nipple chafage” has been introduced in the conversation, there is little that can be done to salvage the interaction. Your poor listener will probably go to great lengths to avoid talking to you in all future social situations. Here is an example of how to properly handle this particular scenario:

Runner: So I ran a marathon in Oregon last weekend.

Normie: Oh, wow. Those are, like, over 20 miles, right?

Runner: Yep, it’s definitely not a sprint. Have you ever run a race?

Normie: I once lost a bet and ran a Halloween 5K in a Gumby suit.

Runner: That’s hilarious! How did it go?

Scenario 2 – The unsolicited nutritional advice

Normie: Dude, the hor d’oeuvres at this party are duh-licious! Have you tried the shrimp wontons yet?

Runner: Actually, I’ve been trying to stay away from fried foods. They are full of trans fat and have been linked to health problems like cancer and obesity.

Normie: Um, OK, but they’re tasty.

Runner: So are baked pita chips and hummus. Plus, the protein is great for muscle recovery.

Nobody likes a self-righteous food patrolman. Save your criticism about other peoples’ dietary preferences for a long run with your training buddies. You can sing the praises of Greek yogurt all you want without unknowingly projecting any judgmental undertones. Here’s a better way to navigate this kind of situation:

Normie: Dude, the hor d’oeuvres at this party are duh-licious! Have you tried the shrimp wontons yet?

Runner: Not yet, man. I sort of killed the veggie tray, and I’m feeling a little bloated.

Normie: Sweet, more wontons for me!

Scenario 3 – The extended injury report

Normie: So how’s the running going?

Runner: Not so good, actually. I have a stress reaction in my left tibia, so I’m out for at least three weeks.

Normie: Aww, bummer, dude. When did that happen?

Runner: Well, I’ve felt pain for awhile, but I finally asked the doctor about it a couple of weeks ago. When nothing turned up on the MRI, he figured it was probably a stress reaction instead of a stress fracture. It was my own fault, I guess. I had increased the length of my long run by 15 miles in three weeks, and I was bumping up my mileage by over 20 percent a week for a month straight.

Normie: [struggling to keep pretending he cares] Oh…

Runner: Yeah, but I’ve been able to do some cross training in the pool, which has been good for me—you know, working all those muscles that I wouldn’t use otherwise. I’m actually thinking about ordering my own aqua running belt and staying with it after my leg has healed. I figure it might be a nice training supplement, you know?

To someone who has absolutely no experience with running injuries, everything after “MRI” sounded like an Ozzy Osbourne monologue. Once you find yourself talking about things like the percentage increase of your weekly mileage, you have gone too far. Here is how you should have handled this conversation:

Normie: So how’s the running going?

Runner: Not so good, actually. I messed up my leg, so I’m out for a few weeks.

Normie: Aww, bummer, dude. When did that happen?

Runner: I just found out about it a few days ago. But oh well, I probably needed a break anyway, right?

Normie: Yeah, man, you run way too much! Your legs will probably enjoy the rest. Since you can’t run, we should catch a flick sometime.

Runner: Cool, I’ll give you a call this weekend.