Shrug and chuckle

Getting old is a revelation. Stuff happens. Some of it is even good. Better yet, some of it is kind of funny.

My general condition is actually improving. I’m down under 160 lb. (72kg), approaching my proximate goal of 155 (We’ll see what happens once I get there…I ran at 143 in my 30s.) I’ve been staggering around in the dark over the winter, getting in a fair amount of slow mileage. Paul and I are still walking every morning, and I often sneak in another plod in the afternoon.

But a few days ago, it was warm enough to imagine the coming of spring, and I headed out for a shuffle unburdened by long pants and jackets and hats and gloves and buffs. I just went. And for a while it felt good. And then it didn’t. Somewhere just past 2.5 of a projected 3, I stopped, realizing my old bod must be operating under new rules with regard to how long I should wait to run after eating.

Stopping, except for a necessary equipment adjustment or an actual injury, is something most runners just don’t do. I certainly don’t. This was a major personal embarrassment, a failure of character, a Real Flaw.

Then I got home, did some digital button-pushing, and discovered that my first mile had been a 7:17. Well, 7:17 used to be a warm-up pace, but these days it qualifies as blinding speed. It’s both way faster than I thought I could go (Wow!) and—obviously—way faster than I should have been going (You idiot!). The real issue, though, is that I seem to have lost all sense of pace. People who run a lot develop a pretty decent built-in feel for how fast they’re going. But though I’m working on it, I’m no longer a person who runs a lot, and my ability to do this has clearly atrophied. Why wouldn’t it…every other part of me seems to have. (My brain’s been fried for years.)

What can you do?

Basically nothing. Just shrug and chuckle.



Coffee Hound

I’ve always been a tea guy. Un-American, I know, but since high school, I’ve been drinking highly sugared tea, usually with lemon rather than milk. Lots of tea. Lots of sugar. Coffee, which my mother drank black and very strong, never appealed. Like everybody else in those days, she made it in a percolator. And the coffee itself was probably whatever was on sale at the grocery that week. I didn’t like it at all, even with the standard milk and sugar she eschewed.

Last winter, after I got home from Mayo, I realized two things: how flabby-assed fat I was, and just how much sugar my multiple large mugs of tea were delivering, I stopped cold turkey. It was hard, and the unsweetened herbal tea I tried to replace it with did not satisfy. I turned to my friends for help.

A few of them had gotten in early decades ago on what’s called “second wave” coffee, the movement that spawned both the excellent Peet’s and the unfortunate Starbucks. They’ve moved on to “third wave” roasters, mostly small outfits with maniacal concern for proper sourcing, roasting, and brewing. I began to ask questions, and to taste. The rituals that accompanied their coffee brewing intrigued me. A Chemex here, a french press there, here a cold brew, there a miniature espresso machine, EIEIO.

And then some of the coffee itself began to grow on me.

…and a year or so later, here I am, brewing cups of Yirgacheffe in one of these:


Gosh, what I’ve been missing! Especially that first sip every morning! Black, of course…Here I am, mom.

And I’m down just shy of 30 pounds.


Hispanic am I

My grandfather’s name was Bonafacio Alvarez. He was born in the town of Aviles, in the province of Asturias, Spain, in 1890. Times were terrible and his family was dirt poor. As a boy of 14 or so, he came by himself to Cuba, where everyone spoke Spanish, and found work there in a sort of general store. In 1917, he got on a boat and then a train, again alone, and came to the United States, where nobody spoke Spanish, and made his way for reasons I’ve never known to Waterbury, Connecticut, where he met and married my grandmother and got a job at the Anaconda American Brass on Freight Street. He was a maintenance electrician there for 40 years. He spoke English with a heavy accent, took all the overtime he could get, helped raise two boys, learned more about American history and geography than most natural-borns I know, and like millions and millions of others did his best to be a good, solid American. 

By the time I was in my last two years of high school, he was retired, and I remember that he came to a few little dual cross-country meets with my dad. In the summer of, I think, 1964, I was asked to run in an invitational high-school mile at some sort of athletic festival they were putting on at what was then Central Connecticut State Teachers College. My dad brought his dad along to watch. There was a big crowd—by far the biggest I ran in front of while I was in high school—and it was a good race. In the last lap, I made a move on the final turn to try and steal a win from a couple of guys who I was pretty sure had better kicks. It didn’t work. I couldn’t separate myself enough, they did have better kicks, they overhauled me in the final straight, and I finished third.

When I eventually climbed up into the stands to find my two fans, my grandfather was smiling and chuckling and doing everything but dancing a jig, incluidng uttering his standard phrase of amazement, “Jingoes, boy!” This was very uncharacteristic behavior from a very reserved, stoic man. Especially, I thought in my self-centered way, because I had lost.

I looked at my father, who said, “They announced your name.”

It turned out that when I took that lead going into the turn, the PA announcer did what PA announcers do, he got all excited and essentially narrated my kick around the curve. I didn’t hear it. But my grandfather did. And the marginal, hard-working, heads-down immigrant who had missed  the hoopla surrounding his son’s football games because of work, had never before heard our family name, his name, announced publicly like that, let alone accompanied by a cheer or two. It was a kind of validation for him. At the time, I thought this was amusing. Sweet, and undeniably cool for me, but mostly funny. 

I find it funny no longer. A hard-working grandfather with a heavy Spanish accent?

Who came here, like tens of millions of others, without permission?

Probably should be sent back where he came from, no?.

No. Rational immigration policy? Yes, of course. Family-splitting mass deportation? No. I know which side of the metaphorical wall of decency I’m on. It’s in my bones.

And my name.

I stand with los abuelos.

Skinny speed-demon

So. I’m going to try to get back to regular posting, if only as a discipline.

The big news this week is that I’m within striking distance of breaking the 160-lb. barrier. Devoted readers (both of you) will recall I came home from Mayo at the end of 2015 weighing in at 186, wearing Levis with the flabby and embarrassing waist measurement of 36 inches. But the cancer was gone, and I was determined not to remain fat.

Two things happened this week. I weighed in at 160.1. And I bought two new pairs of 501s. 32s.

I’m running every-other morning, weather even remotely permitting. I was doing it in the pitch-black of January, and I’m doing it now. Only three miles for now. It doesn’t feel smooth yet, I don’t push it, and average mile times are closely related to the weather. Yesterday morning it was 9:11.

I have a goal I’m not at all sure I’ll reach: to run a competitive mile indoors next January under 7:00. Lots more on that to come.

I’ve got some other goals, too. They’re for the next post.

Out of the blue

Years back, I wrote a post about being almost magically saved from a dog attack. I was out running early today and grunted past a spot that often reminds me of another somewhat less dramatic appearance of a sort of savior.

My first day of cross-country workouts at the beginning of my junior year in high school. I’ve been persuaded to go out for the team because I’d done well in an intramural meet in the spring, but I know nothing at all about the sport. We’ve been sent out on a 1.5 mile loop. We’re perhaps a quarter of a mile into it and I’m laboring along 50 or 60 yards behind the veteran we all expect will be our number one runner. Seemingly from nowhere, a graduated runner I know only slightly appears from I know not where, in street clothes, on my right shoulder.

“Drop your arms,” he says, striding along with me. “Swing them like this.”

Then, rapid fire: “Hold your hands like this. Drop your chin. Breathe through both your nose and mouth. Relax.”

Finally, he points to the runner out front. “You’re better than he is. Go get him.”

Then he drops off my shoulder and peels away. Gone. And to my knowledge, I’ve never seen Bill Brown again.

As for the runner ahead, I went and got him.

Life is funny. It was a fluke that I learned I had some ability to run, and without this deus ex machina assistance, I might well have just shuffled dumbly along in the ruck for a season and turned gratefully and permanently back to baseball in the spring. Which is another story altogether.

Ya gotta have goals

Thirty-some years ago ago, I plugged the time for my most recent 10K into a formula that applied regression analysis to give me a likely marathon time. Which was handy, because it spared me the effort of actually racing a marathon.

I have just discovered that there are now all sorts of calculators on the web that do a different but similar thing: they take your current, old-guy time and—theoretically, at least—convert it to its equivalent when you were young and quick.

So I plugged in what I thought I might be able to manage over a mile by April or May (9:00) pushed the button, and learned that the equivalent is (was?) 6:40. Which would really have stunk when I was a yoot. How about 7:00, which was somewhere in the area the last time I ran a slightly backed-off actual timed mile back when I was a sprightly 60? The equivalent is 5:10. Which also would have stunk. So how fast does this thing say I have to run to manage something remotely respectable? Six minutes! This means four laps of 90 seconds each. Can I ever do this? Ha-ha. I’ll be thrilled if I can get to that 9-minute mile.

Which, of course, I’ll tell people was a 6:40.

A sweet thing

This really nice article from the Hartford Courant from a while back is about Dennis Lobo, father of Rebecca,  UConn Women’s Basketball’s first transcendent star, a class act in every way, and a big, big name in our house. Granby High School has just named its track for him. Here’s a story:

In the fall of 1995, seven months or so after the University of Connecticut won that first championship, led by Rebecca, who was the national player-of-the-year, our daughter was a freshman cross-country runner for her high school. She was injured for a big invitational meet, but went along to lend moral support. It’s tedious to be at a meet and not be running. Her teammates were stretching, jogging the course, checking footing, and getting ready to race while she sat against a tree and tried to do a little homework. Eventually she noticed a bit of a flurry at some distance, a crowd gathering for no obvious reason. She wandered over and found … Rebecca Lobo, chatting with runners and signing autographs. Dennis Lobo, Rebecca’s cross-country coach father, had brought her along to the meet.


To H at age 14, Rebecca Lobo was a god-like figure, the peerless exemplar of everything she admired and wanted to be. When Rebecca turned to her and said hello, she was, literally, speechless. She tried to respond, but couldn’t talk. Awe struck her dumb. She remembers Rebecca trying to loosen her up, asking a few questions, making a few comments, but all she could do was nod or shake her head. She did get an autograph, and was able to gulp, “Thank you,” but that was it. Her chance to talk with her ideal, and she couldn’t unstick her tongue.

When she got home, she walked in the door, said to her mother, “Guess who I met at the meet?” and then burst into tears of intense emotion. As unlikely as it seemed, her mom knew immediately the only person who could have elicited this response. “Did you meet Rebecca?,” she asked.

And the story came out, amid tears, hugs, exclamations, and, eventually smiles and laughter.

These days H is  pretty impressive herself. But I think if she ran into Rebecca today, she’d still be briefly speechless. What do you say to someone whose mere presence once stopped your tongue? Whose effort and character helped reinforce your own? Who has remained utterly admirable through triumph and hardship? Probably, another “Thank you” would be about right.

An opinion straight from the ’60s

A chilly morning out there today, and the first time in a couple of years that I’ve been shuffling around in the refrigerated early-morning dark. (Progress!!). I continue to believe that the best things you can wear on your hands for cold-weather running are either those cheap, dark brown cotton gardening gloves or, for colder days (or old-man circulation), a retired pair of ragg wool socks. That worn-through heel doesn’t matter a bit.

(On that hill experiment I wrote about in the last post: I didn’t really expect to be ready, but I didn’t expect to be that not ready. I’ll try again in the spring.)


A little over three miles from our house, well out of town and around a rising right-hand turn on a dirt road, there’s my version of the runner’s perfect hill. The turn comes after a sweet riverside flat that sets you up to launch smoothly into an uphill half-mile that’s at exactly the right pitch. It’s not steep steep. Let’s call it stern. It allows you to maintain the slightly modified basics of your normal stride, but it requires more effort, more concentration, and more drive. It’s a solid test, and if you lean in and work hard, it pays you back in strength, stamina, and confidence. Decades ago, I ran repeats here once or twice a week as a transition between periods of aerobic base training and sharpening for competition. It was magic.

I’ve been thinking again about this hill. Until pretty recently I’d gradually been giving up on all sorts of things. My body seemed to require it, and my spirit was caving in. My spirit has had it with that shit, and it’s reasserting itself. Of course, pushing 70, I’m fading in I can’t even begin to count the ways. But why make it easy? Lu finally gets off my back in a couple of months. I’m shedding flab (down 18 pounds in a couple of months), working seriously in the gym and feeling reasonably strong and supple. And now I’m actually beginning to feel good on my lengthening runs. I feel like seeing how far all this can take me. So this week I’m going to head out to that rising right-hand turn and (gently, gently) renew acquaintances.

The Lydiard Letter

Holy moly! I’ve gotten close to the bottom of the barrel in the gradually emptying storage space in Weezie’s room. But the other day, Gold!

In the middle of a miscellaneous pile, a letter from Arthur Lydiard, in my mind the greatest middle-distance and distance coach in history, dated October 9, 1978, right in my wheelhouse as a runner. It reminded me of writing to the great man, a New Zealander, who had coached Peter Snell and many other greats, as the result of a small ad in Runner’s World. I told him what a difference his ideas had made in my training and results, and to ask if he thought I was worthy of his coaching me by mail.

He wrote (as I’m sure he wrote to all who responded): “I am prepared at any time, to correspond with you upon a regular basis. The overall aim being to teach you how to continue training yourself to gain optimum results.

“The results will depend upon your sincere application of the training in relation to your available time to train and potential.”

I remember being over the moon. My sincerity was total. My available time was considerable, since I was essentially unemployed. And my potential was reasonable, judged by recent results—achieved using the approach that I’d gotten from his book—that were almost unbelievably superior to anything I’d managed in college, ten years before. (It’s kind of cool knowing you would have kicked your own ass in what was supposed to have been your prime.)

His fee was a modest $240 per year. $20 per month. Less than a dollar a day. Unfortunately (see employment status, above), I couldn’t afford it.

I managed okay (I had that great book, after all) but wouldn’t it have been fantastic?