Home Stretch

Yesterday was my last long training run before next week’s race. 16km. Some easy runs next week just to keep up the routine, but nothing too long or hard. I went to the river again to watch the balloons, and once again they went somewhere else. Sigh. 

I did a short run this morning with my daughter, who is also running the race, and with her daughter. I love these 3 generation things even though I don’t see much of them after we start. I think it is the idea that they are still willing to go out with me that I like so much. 

The race is on a flat course parts of which I have run many times. It’s out and back, so no course complexities to worry about. The weather should be beautiful, just like it was today. So, the hard part will be finding a place to park. Aside from that, just go out and have fun with a few thousand of your best friends. 

Running as You Age

Recently, I read an interesting article in the NY Times called Why Runners Get Slower With Age by Gretchen Reynolds. Several reasons were listed including core and leg strength and reduced endurance capacity. But, I was particularly drawn to the statement that a runner’s speed and stride length decrease as the runner ages. I’m skeptical about the reported 20% per decade reduction (6 decades and you are effectively no longer moving; yes, I know each 20% is smaller, but after 6 decades your stride would be 26% of what it was originally; if I started at 36″, that would be 9.4 inches; my feet are longer than that), but convinced that it happens.

Here’s the effect. Suppose you used to have a 36″ stride and it has shortened over some number of years to 30″ (that’s less than 20%). A 3′ stride means 1760 steps in a mile. With your new 2.5′ stride, it now takes 2122 steps to cover a mile, and those extra 352 steps take time. How much time? Suppose you started with a 10 minute per mile pace. Then each step took .34 seconds. If you kept the .34 sec per step rate (unrealistic since your pace also slows), then those 352 steps would take 120 seconds—suddenly your pace is 12 minutes per mile.

I don’t like to admit it, but this is just what has happened. Some of the reasons, like reduced endurance capacity and reduced oxygen uptake and lung capacity are annoying because I don’t know how to do anything about them. I like blaming core strength and leg strength and stride length because, with my running experience, I know exactly what to do about them.

I started running at the beginning of my first year in high school. That would have been mid September in 1956. So, another thing that happened last week was that I finished my 59th year of running–enough experience to know what to do about those small issues.

In the last week, I’ve been stretching my stride just a little. You do that by dropping your hips a tiny amount and lifting you knees a little more. Tiny adjustments, not exaggerated adjustments; a 1/4 inch, not 3 inches. Darned if it doesn’t work. Substantial improvements in my (still very slow) pace and nice reductions in my 8 km (5 mile) time. Even old folks can improve–it isn’t all down hill all the time.

Where Were You?

This is a question we ask each other about events that are so horrendous (in our view) that we vow we will never forget, even though we do. 9/11 is one such event. It is one of three such events that have (almost) occurred within my lifetime. It it the only one where I can say exactly where I was. (Not quite true, but close enough.)

The other two events were the assassination of JFK in 1963, and Pearl Harbor Day in 1941. In the case of the JFK assassination, I know approximately where I was, but not exactly. In the case of Pearl Harbor Day, I do know exactly where I was, but I don’t know the location of the womb I was residing in.

We are struck by these events and vow permanent memory, and we assume that they had the same effect on everyone, not realizing how culture-centric they are. But, the events are centered on us and do not have the same significance to other people in the world, just as their horrendous events do not affect us in the same way that they are a affected. You can bet that the people of Hiroshima talked for decades about where they were on August 6. But, they probably don’t spend too much time on where they were on 11/9 (different date format).

On 9/11, I was in England, having arrived there that morning. It was a big deal in England. The government put a Book of Remembrance in every post office so that the citizens could record their feelings. We had many conversations about the events. (We couldn’t hide because my wife grew up in west Texas and sounds like it.) Every conversation, with one exception, had the same two parts. Part A was “Oh, how terrible. We’re with you all the way.” Part B was “We certainly hope that your President doesn’t go and do something stupid on his own.” Part B was not an unreasonable fear given that our President was, and is, known for letting his swagger get in the way of his thinking. The one conversation that was different was with a postal worker from India; it had Parts A and B and also Part C: “Well, you know that terrorist attacks are a daily occurrence in India.” We will remember the 9/11 events for a long time. but, why this event and not others?

Why do some events rise in our consciousness while others not so much? Why the 9/11 bombings, but not the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City–the 20th anniversary of that bombing was in April of this year? Why not the Boston Marathon bombing? It has already started to fade from our consciousness. Do we get exercised about 9/11 because the perps were foreigners, but not about the Murrah Building bomber because he was one of us? Do we not remember the Waco siege 2 years before (the reason for the Murrah Building bombing) because it was done by us?

Why do we get exercised about school shootings, but it doesn’t seem to last? After the Sandy Hook shootings we got really upset, but it lasted less than a month. It lasted exactly until the Congress said officially that they were not going to do anything. It was reported later that there had been 74 school shootings in the 78 weeks after Sandy Hook–that it is a once a week occurrence. That number was challenged, and factcheck.org looked at it carefully. They determined that the number was greatly exaggerated. There were, in fact, only 34 mass shootings at schools in that period. Not one a week. Not quite one every other week. I feel much better now that that has been clarified. Why do we not get excited about this? Maybe it’s because we know in our hearts that we will never, ever have the courage to do anything about it.

Where were you?

Daughter of the Regiment

We generally go to 3 of the 5 operas in Santa Fe each summer. After two heavy tragedies, last night’s Daughter of the Regiment, a comic opera in the French style, was a welcome change. The plot is inconsequential except for the excuses to sing in a variety of formats. The tenor, Tonio, has  a lot of good parts, but this opera in known for the famous tenor aria often called the Nine High Cs aria for a reason you can probably guess. Most of the aria is pitched about a fifth below the C and the tenor teases you by popping up to the C for one note and then quickly dropping back (which, in my view as a tenor, is not all that hard). The last C, however, is a long held note, and the tenor last night, Alek Schrader, did a beautiful job.

For you non-tenors, the C in question is the one above middle C in the piano. This is generally right at the top of the range for real tenors. For those people singing tenor who were drafted from the Baritone section, it is generally well above the top of the range.

Tonio is paired with Marie, the daughter of the regiment (she was found as a baby on the battlefield and was raised by the regiment). Last night’s Marie was Anna Christy who played the part beautifully. This part has been sung by many distinguished singers including  Lily Pons in the 40s, Joan Sutherland (against Luciano Pavarotti) in the 60s, and more recently Natalie Dessay.

This was Donizetti’s first opera after he arrived in Parisin 1840. It didn’t do well when it opened but eventually it became popular. The regiment in question is french and there is lots of martial music (the regiment boasted of itself that it was the best regiment in the French Army because it had an open line of credit at every bar in France). The opera eventually became so popular it was performed every Bastille Day for many years.

Once again the evening was beautiful. All the rain was earlier in the day, so we enjoyed our tailgate picnic before the performance. We drifted into the theater just before the opera started, and were treated to a beautiful production. It was everything a Santa Fe Opera evening can be.

Cold Mountain

The Santa Fe opera is producing the World Premier of Cold Mountain by Jennifer Higdon with libretto by Gene Scheer. We saw it last Saturday.

It is, in many ways, a very modern production. Dissonant music. A set consisting of a “pile of scrap lumber”, sort of like a giant pick-up-sticks. The set was intended to convey the destruction of the South after the war was mostly over, and it did a good job of that. Interesting lighting and spectacular projections (i’ve never seen anything like that). There was some sort of invisible screen at the front of the stage on which they projected things like a starry sky and falling snow. The screen must have been there all the time, but it was neither visually nor acoustically in the way. Spectacular, but not at all like projecting things on big screens like the side of a building.

I had never read the book, so I started at the beginning of the week. I don’t have much reading time and am a pretty slow reader, anyway, so I only got through about 130 pages by opera time. My impression was the book presented colorful, poetic, and interesting impressions of the characters, but there wasn’t anything I would have put in an opera. That only shows you how much I know about being a librettist–several episodes from the early part of the book appeared in the opera.

Cold Mountain is in southwest North Carolina. At the time of the civil war, it was very remote, and by the end of the war, life was very hard there. Not knowing where it i located, I looked it up with a mapping program. From looking at the map, one could guess that things haven’t changed too much since the war. There are still very few roads, but some of them are now paved. Much of it is National Forest land and few people live there even today. I imagine life is still difficult and government still has difficulty being relevant.

Saturday was another beautiful summer evening. We drove our little motorhome up to stay in our friends’ driveway so we wouldn’t have to spend the hour or so to drive home after the opera–I’m getting too old to like getting home and going to bed after midnight, so the driveway surfing option was very attractive and worked out well. Getting up and going to breakfast with our friends was also very nice. I think we’ll do it again this week when we go to see “Daughter of the Regiment.”

Cold Mountain is a very intense opera. It took so much concentration on the singers that it was midway through the first act before I realized I hadn’t really been paying any attention to the orchestra. It takes work, but I think a second hearing would be very enjoyable. There were also a couple of male chorus pieces that were spectacular. If you get a chance to see it, you should do so!


Rigoletto tonight in Santa Fe.

It’s a hot summer day here and in Santa Fe where we are headed for a performance of Rigoletto. We do this about 3 times every summer. Drive to Santa Fe, meet our opera-going friends at their house and drive to the theater together. We have a tradition of a tailgate picnic in the parking lot. The last few years, we have indulged in the gourmet picnics offered through the opera, so we sit in the parking lot with a table cloth covered card table, sipping a chilled glass of wine and eating a wonderful picnic meal. There is a lecture about the opera at 7–always worth attending even if you know the opera, and then the performance begins at 8.

Rigoletto seems to have come out of the same nineteenth century tradition that produced melodramas in the American west. It is almost comically tragic. The tragic end occurs in the midst of a raging storm. One of the interesting things about the Santa Fe theater is that it is partly open. You can see through the stage to the mountains to the west. And, although it is currently very hot, there is a strong possibility that there will be a thunder storm around 10 pm, just when it would be needed in the plot.

Whether the natural storm materializes or not, there will be raging and storm clouds in the theater, and it will be a great entertainment.