Sport

Surf n Santa 5 Miler

My last competitive run of the year and I hadn’t done much running for a few weeks due to our Thanksgiving break and some generally crappy weather, however I hadn’t bargained on the power of cold weather and the promise of free beer for improving one’s speed on race day.

The Surf n Santa is a five mile jaunt along the oceanfront and through the Christmas lights, with participants dressed in their best festive fancy dress.  I was an elf, pursued for much of the race by The Grinch.  I’m pleased to say I put in one of my best results (I thought it was a personal record but apparently I managed a similar time once before, go me!).  My overall time was 46:52, putting me 972 out of 4208 participants, 57th of 428 in my age group, and 410th of 2736 females.  And I got several free pints of Winter Lager for my efforts at a cracking Christmas party afterwards!

Now hanging up my competitive running shoes until my second go at the Shamrock 8K in March – and also hanging my Surf N Santa medal on the Christmas tree!

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SPCA 5K for the Animals

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I’ve been training slowly and steadily over the summer months, with the emphasis more on the “slowly” as the weather has been incredibly humid and hot, which means it’s felt like I’ve been wading through treacle.  In turn, this has meant my runs have been comparatively slow over the past couple of months and I really started to wonder whether I was losing my ability to run as my finish times have got longer.  However, the humidity suddenly lifted a couple of weeks ago, and whaddya know, so did my times!  In reality, I’ve had to work harder to maintain my usual pace during the summer weather, which means I’ve got fitter without realising or appreciating it.

So today I took part in the local SPCA’s 5K for the Animals, along the boardwalk at the oceanfront.  Whilst gloriously sunny, the temperature took a dip overnight, down to about 18c (which I realise sounds tropical to my British-based buddies, but when you’ve not felt anything below 25c for many months, it’s a bit of a shock, let me tell you).  Being a race for an animal charity, dogs were permitted to join in, which made the starting line a little eventful with a handful of particularly overexcited canines.  Once I passed them, the boardwalk opened out and I enjoyed a mainly calm and peaceful run in the sunshine with an uninterrupted view of the Atlantic to my side.  At the very end of the race, a lorry appeared out of nowhere and entered the pedestrianised boardwalk, meaning we had to slow down, jog behind it, and then take an unplanned detour to reach the finish line.  Taking this into account, I’m very pleased to say that I still managed a 5K personal best of 27:50, so my months of training (plodding) in sticky weather definitely paid off!  I finished 4th of the females in my age group, 10th female overall, and 30th finisher overall out of 274.  I think the promise of a pumpkin spice latte and a cuddle with an 8 week old kitten at the finish line spurred me on a little too….

No time to hang up my running shoes though.  Next weekend I’m running my first 10K race.  Last week I managed to smash my personal best time for 10K, finally getting it under an hour at 59:18.  As I’ll be running in costume with a lot of other crazy people, I don’t necessarily expect to beat this, however I will be wearing a cape so who knows …

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San Diego go go!!

We seemed to pack a huge amount into a few short days in San Diego.  For some reason we had thought we’d use this time as a chance to relax and recharge after our road trip, however we actually ended up walking an average of about five or six hours a day.  Which is kind of relaxing for us, I guess.  Especially when you’re so busy pootling between lovely places that you don’t notice the miles you’ve covered.

San Diego is a gorgeous city (I may have mentioned that previously).  It’s also very easy to get around without a car (which I think we proved rather convincingly and which gives it top marks in my book).  It has great beaches and a harbor and lots of lovely eaty drinky places and maybe I should be working for their marketing office?  Anyway, besides hanging around the eaty drinky places we also found time to visit the USS Midway which is a retired Naval aircraft carrier.  It was really interesting and gave the husband even more reminders of what he’s missing back home.  We also visited the Zoo where I met my soulmate.  His name is Otis and he’s two years younger than me.  He also happens to be a hippo.  I would happily have spent my admission fee just to spend the whole day alone with him.  As it was, I had to tear myself away occasionally to see some other beasts, including the big cats (who were all pretty cool, as they behave exactly like small domestic cats) and the pandas (who were a mite underwhelming as they aren’t real and are actually just humans in black and white fur suits, we all know that don’t we?).

The other highlight of the trip was a game of baseball at the San Diego Padres’ home of Petco Park.  I’ve been accidentally watching a bit of Major League baseball on the TV recently and somehow started enjoying it.  The Padres had lost the previous two nights’ games to the Pittsburgh Pirates so I wasn’t holding out any great hopes.  Well the Padres pulled it out of the bag with a convincing win on their third and final night.  The game was a bit of a side note really, though, as we indulged in what appears to be the tradition of pottering about the stadium, sitting in random seats at various times, visiting the rooftop bar, and finally getting round to eating a pretzel (it’s only taken two years and, at the end of the day, it’s just a posh bit of bread but actually quite nice with a beer in the sunshine).  Mission accomplished.

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Another 5K, you say? Ah, go on then

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So, after the recent success of my 8K, I was planning to move onwards and upwards to the 10K in October.  However, the inaugural ODU Big Blue 5K came to our attention and was too good an opportunity to miss.  For our entry fee, we got to see a college baseball game the night before the race (and it’s true what they say about the excellence of college sports; we saw so much more action in this one game than in all the major and minor league ones we have seen in the past), plus a college football game after the race and as much food and beer as we could manage.  I always like it when my money goes towards things to reward me at the end of my race, rather than towards mud or paint to pelt me with during the race.

It was an uncharacteristically boiling April day, with temperatures hovering around 28c, so I was glad of the water stops along the route (although not quite as glad as the husband was to see the ODU cheerleaders along the route ….).  I finished in a time of 28:12, which is somewhere around my personal best (I’m a bit hazy on my record-keeping); I came 368th out of 1863 finishers, and 110th out of 1069 females.  A spectacular day out in all respects.

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Ride ’em Cowboy

When we moved to the USA, we decided to see some typical American sports and so far we have been to baseball and ice hockey matches, and seen plenty of American Football on the TV.  One sport that did not cross our minds,  however, was Professional Bull Riding.

I caught some of this sport on TV a couple of weeks back and I was totally enthralled.  I could not tear my eyes away from the TV.  So when I found out that the PBR cowboys were coming to a town near us, I knew we had to go and see them in the flesh.  Well, they did not disappoint.

What I really like about PBR is the simplicity of the rules.  Bulls are quite feisty creatures, shall we say, so the single aim of the game is to stay on the back of the bull for eight seconds.  At this point, if the rider hasn’t already been thrown off and trampled underfoot, he will jump off and get out of the way as quickly as possible.  He then gets a score.  They all seemed to be scored around 85 or 86; I assume this is out of 100, and I really have no idea exactly what they were being scored on, in fact it’s probably just as confusing as the Olympic figure skating scoring system and I really don’t want to get into trying to decipher that again.  (Although I have just checked online and discovered that apparently two judges score the rider and two judges score the bull!)  Anyway, we were watching one of the very lowly first rounds of the annual championships, were they were deciding which riders would qualify to compete later on, but once you get to the finals there is big money at stake.  I saw one competition where the rider would win $1,000,000 for staying on his bull (sadly, he didn’t manage it).  Unlike some other American sports, the “world championships” in PBR do actually include competitors from countries other than the US, primarily Brazil, Canada, Mexico and Australia.

Most riders only seemed to stay on for about 2 or 3 seconds and then we had the fun of watching several men trying to coax the bull back into its pen without getting themselves flattened.  Amazingly, only one rider got injured when his bull stamped on his chest, apparently only giving him minor injuries (!!) but nothing out of the ordinary, so we were led to believe.

In between the bull rides, we were treated to The Entertainer, who was surely an inspiration for Brokeback Mountain, knows how to handle a lasso and can twerk as well as Miley Cyrus.  Presumably there are not many other jobs that call for all of those skills so he has certainly found his calling.

Aside from staying on the back of the bull, the only other rule we were told about was that if a cowboy gets thrown over the railings then the crowd gets to keep him.  Sadly we didn’t get to test out this rule.  Maybe next time …. ?

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8k? Done!

So the day finally arrived!  The weather has been very up and down of late, with three major snowstorms hitting nearby in the last couple of months and we have had several weeks where the temperature has gone from 20c to -2c within 24 hours.  However, St Patrick definitely pulled it out of the bag and gave us a lovely warm, dry and sunny day for our 8K race.  (This is all the more awesome because it has been freezing cold and raining again for the two days since the race….)

The race started at 7.45am which meant dragging ourselves out of bed and getting dressed in our shorts in the dark, however we were rewarded by the chance to see the sunrise at the oceanfront which, although a little cloudy, still looked pretty spectacular and set the tone for the rest of the morning.

When I originally signed up for this race, I was required to submit a predicted finish time, which I put at around 58 minutes, in the hope that I could realistically finish it in under an hour.  We ended up changing this predicted time to 50 minutes, which I thought was a little optimistic, having only bettered this time once or twice and completely wearing myself out in the process, but decided to go with it and see what I could do.  Being at the oceanfront, the course was completely flat and quite roomy, despite the thousands of participants, as we were running along a four-lane width of road for most of it, so there was no problem in overtaking slower participants.  I had been a little concerned as I’d had some knee pain during my final week and I had run a practice 5k that had totally worn me out, so I was just hoping to finish the race in a not-too-embarrassing time and in one piece.  Amazingly, my knee pain disappeared for the race (it has since come back!) and my usual hip problem (which manifests itself around the 5k mark) didn’t materialise at all.  Furthermore, I usually run out of breath within a couple of km and have to resort to hand signals only as it is really a choice between speaking or breathing from that point onwards.  On race day, however, I could talk fairly easily for the majority of the race, despite assurances that we were running at our usual (breathless for me) pace.  I sprinted the last hundred metres or so and was totally worn out at the finish though.  However, it was worth it!  The official timing was 48 minutes and 29 seconds, which is equal to my personal best, and my results were:

2197 out of 8310 finishers

146 out of 783 in my age group

917 out of 5157 womenImage

I have to say that I was probably spurred on by the promise of free beer, food and music at the finish line.  That is the first time in my life I have ever done stretches and a cool down while holding a pint of beer!  Next goal is the 10k in October….

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5K? OK

I’ve run my first ever 5K YIPPEE!  I know it’s not a huge distance by any means, but it is the very first time I have managed to do any kind of running event so it was a pretty big deal for me.  Three months ago I couldn’t run at all.  I’m very competent on all sorts of gym equipment and at lots of classes including spin, and I’m not averse to jumping on the bike and pootling out for a few miles, but for some reason running has always been really difficult for me.  Back in August I started out on the treadmill so I could accurately monitor my speed and distance and gradually increase both of these measurements.  What I discovered, apart from the (not really surprising) fact that all my other cardio work had already put in some valuable groundwork in improving my aerobic capacity, is that running on the treadmill is incredibly tedious.  Over time, I’ve discovered that I have the physical capacity to run some not bad distances, but I don’t have the mental capacity for it.  I get really, really bored doing it.  This boredom is at its absolute worst when I’m stuck inside on a treadmill staring at a wall two feet in front of me that doesn’t change (not least because I have trouble focusing on a wall that close).  Gyms always provide TVs to watch but I can’t manage to run when I’m staring upwards.  In fact it works best when I can look at a spot about four to six feet ahead of me on the ground.  Which is impossible when you’re on a treadmill.

So as soon as I had built up a bit of stamina (and knew I wasn’t going to risk collapsing in a heap a mile from home), I got out into the fresh air instead.  We’re very fortunate to live somewhere that has totally flat terrain, virtually no rain, and generally acceptable temperatures all year round, so I had to take advantage of all these benefits in order to build up my distances to the full 5K and then to work on my speed.  In August it was still incredibly hot and humid so most runs were started by about 7am; although this didn’t prevent me from looking like a drowned rat by the time I’d finished, it did at least mean I wasn’t completely going to pass out from the heat.  By mid-September the weather was becoming far more amenable and so I could go out at a far more sociable hour of 9am.  I have to say, early morning runs are definitely the best for me; I run as soon as I am out of bed and dressed so I have no food in me that might wish to make a reappearance and, most importantly, before my brain figures out what my body is doing.   Then by breakfast time I can feel really smug that I’ve done my required exercise, have a shower and get on with the rest of the day.  If I leave it until later to have a run, I spend the whole day brooding about it.

A benefit of running outside in the real world is the constantly changing scenery, instead of that gym wall two feet away.  However, I’ve found that if I keep the same route all the time, I still get incredibly bored.  So most days before my run, I can be found on http://www.walkjogrun.net/ plotting yet another different route to keep me interested.  This website is also incredibly useful for working out my speed afterwards.  Being a Luddite, I don’t have any truck with smartphones and their apps (plus, have you seen the size of the pocket in the back of my shorts? I’m lucky I can just about fit my doorkey in it) so I rely on some old-fashioned technology.  I look at the time on my watch when I start running and I look at it again when I finish.  Then I work out how long it took me, put that detail into the website and it tells me my speed.  However my smartest bit of training kit is definitely my husband.  He is a pretty good pacemaker (I have to say, I have no idea how fast I’m running at any given time, I just know it hurts or I’m bored and therefore I want to get it over with) so he keeps me on track and has gradually increased my overall pace without breaking me in the process.  He also wears a ridiculously bright orange T shirt so I am unable to lose him at any point.

Even with the changing scenery and the company, I still get really bored during my run, in fact the main thing that keeps me going is the fact that if I stopped then I’d be several miles from home and would still have to get back, so the quicker I get on with it the quicker I’ll be on the sofa again.  So my final widget for keeping me going is my music.  I’ve tried running without it and it’s so much harder.  There are certain songs that really spur me on when I’m tired and desperate to finish.  In no particular order, here are some of the songs that work for me:

  • Irene Cara – Flashdance
  • Busted – Air Hostess
  • Matchbox Twenty – Our Song
  • My Chemical Romance – Welcome to the Black Parade

And I must have been doing something right because over the course of three months I went from half-jogging/half-walking a mile, to getting round the whole 5km (which is just over three miles) in about 40 minutes, to my best ever time of 26 minutes.  I should probably mention here, I am aware that what I’m terming “running” is probably many other people’s definition of “jogging”, but as far as I’m concerned, I have managed to shave more than a third off my original time, therefore I am going much faster than I was, therefore it counts as “running” for me.

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So anyway, race day itself was interesting.  The biggest thing for me was the fact that there were other people there.  I mean, I knew in the abstract that there would be people besides myself there, but I really hadn’t considered what that actually meant.  I’m very used to running alone.  The  husband doesn’t count as another person, he’s just an extension of me really, besides we both have our headphones in and just communicate with hand signals – him to point when we are making a turn, me usually to signal “get lost” or, er, something like that.  We occasionally pass other people, and I have now perfected the runner’s head nod and half wave that seem to be required, but we do not actually have to interact with anybody else.  That would be unthinkable.  So to be in the middle of a crowd of thousands running around a muddy forest on race day was quite a shock to the system, especially when attempting to overtake a large number of them and avoiding falling into a puddle at the same time.  And this is before we get onto the “friendly volunteers” who were stationed at regular intervals to throw coloured paint at us. I think that’s supposed to put the “fun” into “fun run”.

Anyway, despite the muddy and uneven terrain, frequent traffic jams and paint attacks, on the day I finished in 27 minutes.  I’ve signed up for an 8K in March so I’ve now started extending my runs and I’m up to nearly 6.5km already.  Then, if my hip holds out (it starts to get very grumbly around 4.5km so I don’t know how it will fare over longer distances) I’m looking at doing a 10K next October.  Wish me luck!

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The Tides are High

Today did not start in a promising fashion. We went to the DMV (where good car owners go to die….of boredom and frustration), then to the dentist and then to the garage to get the car checked over. The husband sure knows how to show a girl a good time. Could the day get any better?

Thankfully yes. We went to our first baseball game, courtesy of the Norfolk Tides. It felt really …… American. I actually thought I was on a film set as we had the marching band, national anthem, hot dogs (they even had veggie ones, along with a half decent selection of ales), sunshine and all the other happy cliches.

Now I really didn’t want to be making jokey comparisons with rounders but I have to say it was not that dissimilar to my experiences in the rounders squad at junior school, especially the lack of any action whatsoever for the first 15 minutes or so. Baseball seems to have more relaxed rules than rounders though, like the fact that you can keep running past a base and then change your mind and come back to where you were without being bowled out. So how does that work then?

Baseball isn’t quite as exciting or filled with high octane thrills as ice hockey, mainly because it lacks the fast pace and general violence. There are, however, two real high points of baseball. First there are the times when a ball gets hit into the crowd, when the place turns into a human pinball machine until someone catches the ball (hopefully with their hands although we did see one unfortunate soul get it right in the kisser). Secondly, if the bowler catches sight of a member of the opposing team trying to sneak over to the next base while he is trying to bowl, very often the bowler will whip round and chuck the ball full pelt at him to stop him. It was rather reminiscent of an irate teacher with a particularly good aim with a blackboard eraser.

Overall, American sport is a completely different beast to the British stuff. In the UK we will give a game our full attention for 40 or 45 minutes – and it will be full on and action-packed – then everyone dashes off for toilets, bar or food, then back to give the second half their full attention. Job done, off home within two hours. In the USA, sports games of all varieties go on for 3 or 4 hours but nothing much really happens, therefore nobody really concentrates a great deal and people are forever pottering in and out. It’s almost like the sport is an afterthought to a nice day out in the sunshine. It seemed to me that there were more people at the concession stands than in the seats during tonight’s game. In fact the rest of the people sitting in our row didn’t even bother turning up until about an hour into the game. Whole civilisations could have risen and fallen again in the time it takes an American sporting event to take place. I’m tired just talking about it.

I will say one more thing though. Earlier this week I had decided to become a Park Ranger. (It’s the uniform and the chance to hang around lighthouses and green spaces that swung it for me.) Tonight I have changed my mind. My aim now is to become the mascot for the Norfolk Tides. He’s already using most of my dance moves and he has my walk. I could do a far better job than he does. Maybe I could chivvy the players along a bit too, get the matches down to only a couple of hours……?

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Bowled Over

It was the Superbowl on Sunday.  You’ll probably know what that is, but if not then you really won’t care.  It’s pretty much the biggest sporting event in the American calendar.  The main things that you need to know about it, at least as far as I can tell, are:

–          It takes about 40 minutes to play each 15 minute quarter of play.  Not surprisingly, there are four quarters, so what should take an hour to do actually takes around two and a half hours, plus a few other interruptions, so you’re never quite sure exactly how long it will last.   If you’ve ever struggled to understand the Whovian concept of “wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff” then just watch a Superbowl game and you will know exactly what it means.

–          The game is secondary to the adverts (not just my opinion; I’ve heard a lot of Americans say this too).  As the Superbowl is one of the most watched TV programmes, advertisers pay millions for the commercial slots, and as a result you get some of the best adverts you will see all year.  It’s worth checking out the Budweiser Clydesdales one and also the Doritos Goat if you can.  The adverts are shown roughly every couple of minutes (and play stops for this every time) but strangely during the half hour power cut no adverts were shown and instead we were treated to the commentators droning on and on.

–          The half time entertainment is also one of the major highlights, this year being a show by Beyonce.  What I mainly learned from this is that, whilst a 15 minute medley of Single Ladies/Independent Women (I preferred the Elbow version)/Crazy In Love is fine, I could not sit through a whole Beyonce concert.  So, if you were thinking of getting me a ticket for the world tour, I wouldn’t bother.

I have to say, I did enjoy it as a kind of special event, I think largely because I knew I didn’t have to get up for work in the morning or watch it again for another year (although these points still didn’t stop me shouting “for the love of God, GET ON WITH IT!!!” as they took 15 minutes to play the last minute and a half of actual time).  If you go into it knowing that it bears absolutely no relation or comparison to rugby whatsoever then it’s not bad – rather like a cup of Mellow Birds can be a quite enjoyable hot drink if you don’t actually want coffee.  Otherwise you can spend the whole match grumbling.  Although that is strangely quite satisfying.  There were a couple of exciting moments, like when Jacoby Jones managed a 108 yard touchdown (he ran pretty much the entire length of the pitch without being tackled) but in no universe will that ever compare to a Shane Williams try at the Millennium Stadium.

Roll on next year’s Superbowl!!!

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You’re so fine, you blow my mind, ice hockey

It seems that everyone is taking up some kind of activity to keep fit or get in shape for the New Year. So I decided to take up sport 🙂 . This weekend I attended my first proper American sporting event. I went to an ice hockey game once about 15 years ago, to see Manchester Storm. I’ve just looked them up and apparently they went out of business due to lack of income over ten years ago. Shame. Not the sort of scenario I can see happening to an ice hockey team on this side of the Atlantic.

Anyway, this time around I had the pleasure of seeing Norfolk Admirals against Syracuse Crunch (a rather appetising name for a chocolate bar if you ask me. Certainly more appealing than the Hershey Bears anyway).
I know pretty much nothing about ice hockey. Actually, that’s probably a bit of an understatement. So it was fun trying to guess the rules as the game went along. I have since looked at a basic guide to the rules and it pretty much confirms my understanding, i.e. that there aren’t really that many rules and the objective is pretty much just to zip around the ice as fast as possible and attempt to score as many goals as possible. There are three periods of play, each lasting twenty minutes. What?? Seriously, who came up with that? Two or four, fine, but three? That’s just a teensy bit lopsided if you ask me, seeing as each team gets two goes at one end and only one at the other. So why not just stay at the same end for each period then? Also in the event of a tie they have one five minute period of extra time, however instead of playing the whole five minutes (because it’s such a long time) they stop as soon as one team scores a goal. To be fair, by that point it has been such a long night that everyone is desperate to get home. No really. I mean, there may only be sixty minutes of play, not the eighty or ninety we are used to in British sports, but the play periods are punctuated by other events – various competitions designed to relieve the spectators of as much money as possible, mainly – not just in between the three periods but also in the middle of them at seemingly random times. If there is a nanosecond of stoppage time then an advert will be shown on the big screen or read out by the announcer. Which all goes to reinforce my view that this nation has the collective attention span of a gnat. I don’t know how they would manage to sit through a whole half of football or rugby. The upshot of all these advertising/moneymaking episodes in amongst the play is that an hour’s worth of sport takes three hours to complete. Phew.

It seemed to me that players were substituted in an entirely random manner and whenever they felt like it. In fact I have just checked the official rules and this does seem to be the case. What this meant was that the game would be in mid-play and suddenly one entire team would skate off and be completely replaced by their team mates with no warning. Slightly strange.

As you can imagine, it’s a pretty high speed game and I had little time to discern many other rules as I was too busy just trying to follow the puck around the rink. The velocity of the game makes it extra exciting as there are frequent face-plants on the glass / general ungainly crashes onto the ice as the players fight for control of the puck. The goals are really small (technically four by six feet, apparently) so I wondered why the goalies didn’t simply kneel down in front of them, as their shinpads would cover the entire goal area. Oh well.

By far the most exciting part of the game, however, are the fights. Every so often a couple of opposing players will get fed up and rip off their gloves and have a little bit of a punch up. The referees stand back and let them get on with it until there is bloodshed. The crowd loves it – the fights get even bigger cheers than the goalscoring does. Also the word FIGHT!! flashes up on the big screen in much the same manner as the word TRY might do during a British rugby match. Fabulous. More sports should encourage this type of violence.

I’m going to try baseball next. As a spectator, obviously. We’ll have to see if it can live up to the high octane thrills of this weekend’s ice hockey.

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