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?

Goodbye Mr.Chubby: Update

Broke the 170 lb. barrier!

Weighed in this morning at 169.8 (about 77 kg). That’s down 17 lb. since October, and homing in on my trainer-suggested first goal of 163. The holidays may cause blips, but I think I’m pretty well locked in. I’m also on my last dose of Lupron and increasingly feel more up than down, more in control than out. I’m doing  much better when I hit the road for my joggy two-milers three times a week, and I’m toying with stretching one of them a bit to get ready for the Thanksgiving Day 5K that Sweet B and I are signed up for. Things are good.

Rununion, part 3

The big laugh Sunday morning came from the realization that if guys our age had  returned to the the house we visited yesterday when we were living there, they would have been members of the class of 1921. Which to us was so far in the past as to be mythical, hypothetical, and comical.

But today was running day, so onward.

We’re all more or less battered. One of us broke a bone in his neck recently, taking a header over his trail bike’s handlebars on a rough Vermont trail. (Need I say this is the same guy who was tossed off the team 50 years ago for playing intramural hockey?) Having escaped quadriplegia by a hair’s breadth, he’s already out of his neck brace and off his crutches, but not exactly in the pink. We’ve got replacement hips and bad knees and painful feet and weird muscle pulls. Naming no names, I’ll also say that one of us is grossly overweight.

Today, though, we creakily pulled on our running togs and headed for a particular spot near what we used to call “the Sunbowl,” where we ran fartlek workouts on a rolling portion of the golf course. Wonderfully, we were joined by H, who had driven over from Concord with B to do her own scheduled workout and meet people she knew only from old stories.


Heading down to the river.

Our little pod took a slow spin north along one the most beautiful trails most of us have ever run. Old pines towering overhead, soft, needle-cushioned trail beneath, the gentle Connecticut River easing by to our left. After a while, we turned and headed back. In this direction, the trail was part of our competitive course, and leads inexorably to the first half of  Freshman Hill, a long, increasingly steep 200 yards or so, infamous among generations of runners. At the top, you make a tight 180 degree left-handed switchback, steep enough to tap down with your inside hand, and do it all over again (at least you did in our day—they don’t race this part anymore, the wimps), this time on firm grass and, if anything even steeper. Famously killer at speed, and sobering anytime.

We chatted back along the flat and came to a gradual stop at the foot of the hill. Mumblings. Pacings about. Eyeings of what struck us all as near verticality. Mutterings. Excuses (perfectly good ones). And then somehow we were all toiling slowly upward. We gathered again at the switchback, proud of ourselves, breathing hard and trying to ignore complaints from various body parts. More mutterings. Then gradually off, around the turn and slowly, slowly up to the great view on top before catching our breath and eventually sagging our way back down. (B  caught me here and wanted to race me back to the “tippy top.” She won.)

Did we all feel mighty fine? Of course we did. Totally beat, but mighty fine: beautiful setting, old friends, carefully filtered memories, and a sense of accomplishment. So we headed off to the fieldhouse for a reminder of indoor track.

That bit’s for the next post.