I got short legs

I spent a pleasant 90 minutes yesterday evening enjoying drinks (for the record, I had water) and nibbles with the majority of my Green Mountain Relay team, plus one interloper/potential spy from the Hash House Harriers’ team (girlfriend of one of our team members, and pretty darned charming — as spies so often are).

We assembled on the 14th floor of the Library Hotel on 41st St and Madison, in the Bookmarks cafe (notice a theme?), with a little table and benches under the skylights. We were sternly warned beforehand that if we all didn’t get there at 6:30 we’d lose our special area and have to drink with the riffraff at the bar (which was noisy, which means I’d have no chance of being heard).

This meant that I had to take a train that got me into Grand Central at just before 6:00, which then meant I had to kill time. So I wandered the streets, walking to the 41st St. branch of the NY Public Library to gawk. Then I couldn’t take these mindless perambulations anymore and just went on up. I got there at 6:20 and saw, sitting in our space, a bunch of fat, pasty complexioned people in conservative business attire. “Oh, shit,” I thought. “Are these my teammates?”

It turns out they were cubicle jockeys who were squatting our reserved space. The hostess summarily booted them out. So I got to sit alone, awkwardly (because that’s how I roll), awaiting the hopefully not fat, pasty-faced arrivals. They trickled in, all looking fit as fiddles, and I recognized the two I’d met about a year ago at our Blogging Runners meetup.

Anyway, it was nice and they were nice, as I’d no doubt they would be, since at least one of the team captains, TK, seems a good judge of character (she likes me, doesn’t she?). And I know the other captain, [B.], is at least generous, as he paid the bill, and also has a sense of humor; we already have an inside joke involving Zamfir, Master of the Pan Flute. Yes, I think this will be fun. Once I sort out the logistics of how I’m going to feed myself and maintain an acceptable level of personal hygiene during this odyssey, I should be good.

The “legs” in the title of this post refer to the three sections of the race that have been assigned to me, not my actual legs. My legs aren’t long, but I wouldn’t say they’re short either. I’d say they’re just right. And very sturdy. Sturdiness is going to count for a lot in about a month.

My “leg” is Leg 4. Which means I’m Runner 4. But everyone seems to just say “You’ve got Leg 4.” The way the relay works for a 12 person team (there are “ultra” teams made up of 6 people, but that’s too much fucking running) is that you each get one leg consisting of three separate legs, or the distances of the entire 200 mile race that you’ll contribute to by racing your little heart out along them.

So, let’s review: there are 12 runners and each of us runs three race distances staggered throughout a total of 36 sections of the race, and our collective three legs are also known as a “leg.”

Still with me? Okay, now, to further complicate things, the legs (meaning the collection of three) are given a rating from 1-12 based on their overall difficulty, as determined by distance and elevation gain. Difficulty score 1 is the easiest and Difficulty score 12 is the hardest. My leg, Leg 4, is also conveniently rated “4” in difficulty. I initially wasn’t happy with this, since I’m an overachiever and like to work hard and didn’t want anyone feeling that I either wasn’t pulling my weight or — worse (and I worry about this) — giving me a lameass leg because I’m old(er).

But after some thought, and examination of my, um, legs, I realized that what they gave me is perfect, both in terms of what my strengths are as a runner in general and the distances I have been racing lately. (Incidentally, there’s one leg that ends at a brewery. I didn’t get that one.) Here’s the breakdown of my legs’ vitals:

Leg 4 (section 4): 6.6 miles, Difficulty: Hard, Elevation: -657/+633
Leg 4 (section 16: 4.0 miles, Difficulty: Medium, Elevation: -247/+354
Leg 4 (section 28): 2.9 miles, Difficulty: Easy, Elevation: -309/+197

I warned them that I am a godawful downhill racer and actually preferred uphills given the choice. I’m only doing 13.5 miles total, but that’s fine because I think I’ll be able to actually race all of them at a decent effort given how they’re ordered. I had planned to run the first, whatever I ended up getting, in the 80-85% HR range so I don’t fry myself, and then focus on cleaning up in the final two with a full effort second race and whatever I’ve got left for the third. Heck, it’s less than 3 miles!

The subject of the Mini 10K race, which is week before the relay event, came up and there was much excitement, with at least one team member having decided to spectate rather than run it given the presence of Paula Radcliffe and Kara Goucher, who will be doing it as a fun run since they’ll both be fairly pregnant by then. I admitted that I’m planning to race that one like a rabid animal (since now I have team scoring to think about), regardless of the physical commitment I have a week later. No eyebrows were raised in worry or judgment.

Too soon?

I guess bad marathons really are like childbirth: you forget the extreme pain and suffering after awhile and start yearning to pop another one out.

My marathon plans (or lack thereof) for the spring have not changed. In fact, now that the big spring races are around the corner and running bloggers are started to post things like “just eight weeks to Boston…” I find I’m relieved not to be among the worriers.

One decision we did make about the spring was to bag the idea of running the New Jersey Half again. I’m annoyed with this race. Not only have they jacked the fees up to the $100 range (for a half!), but they sin in other ways. Their web site looks like it was put together by a 12-year-old. They don’t respond to emails. Their explanation of how to defer an entry to next year is written like something off of Engrish Funny. And you can no longer park anywhere near the course. You have to go stand in a parking lot and wait for their buses (which were late last year). So, screw you, New Jersey. I’m entered for the full marathon this year, which I’ll defer until next year and decide then if I want to run the full or write it off as a loss.

Just for fun, I’m including this quote from the NJ site, in which they attempt to describe a change to the course:

Approximately 4.3 miles of the southern end of the 2009 course, in Elberon, will not exist in 2010. It has been replaced by approximately 4.3 mile in Oceanport.

Sorry, I’m a writer and editor. This sort of thing makes me crazy. When you say something “will not exist in 2010,” it reads as if the race director has metaphysical powers and has transported entire neighborhoods into a yawning cosmic void. Probably the same one into which my deferral request will be cast.

Instead, we’re going to give the Providence, RI half marathon a spin. It’s the same weekend, but it’s in Providence! I haven’t been there since sometime in the mid-1980s. I remember it was a cute city and I had a great breakfast at the Newport Creamery (it’s still there!). Affordable hotels abound just blocks from the start/finish and it’s close enough that we can drive home after the race. And it’s only $55.

Change of plan: We’re running Long Island. $50 and it’s 40 mins from our house. No hotel, no long drives…and it’s flat!

As for the fall, I’m already forgetting my past agonies and considering a full marathon again. Specifically, the Richmond, VA marathon. It’s well-established and large enough that I could easily find people to run with, but not so huge as to be overwhelming. We could also combine it with a trip to see a friend of Jonathan’s who lives in Maryland. My idea is to use the Westchester Half in October as a tune-up race or Mpace training run, and then do the full in VA five weeks later.

The other possibility is making the Westchester Half my goal race for the fall, then plan to run the New York Marathon as a fun run a month later. But I don’t know that I’d be satisfied with doing that. The sheer size of the NY race and the logistics of just getting to the start line have always been daunting. I’m not sure whether going in with the attitude that I’ll run it for the scenery and experience would help make those things more tolerable or have the opposite effect, making the venture seem like a complete waste of time and effort. I’m leaning against the idea, but I’ve got months to decide.

I’m surprised that I’m thinking about a full race again this soon. The last two races, and a few good workouts, are having their intended effect, I suppose. That being to renew my confidence that I’m not necessarily doomed to a future of hideous marathon implosions. Still, it’s weird to be hearing the siren call of the marathon already.

To wear: whatnot

The weather forecast for tomorrow’s race over the past 10 days has evolved from cool and rainy, to cold and cloudy, to freezing and sunny. I can’t get any read on the wind situation, as it seems to shift (like the wind!) every time I check, going from reasonable to downright ugly. But it’s going to do whatever it’s going to do, regardless of how much I worry.

I won’t be running in a Mr. Peanut costume tomorrow, so I won’t be easy to spot. But if you’d like to try, here’s my planned ensemble: black shorts, a bright orange tee shirt, black armwarmers, cheap black gloves (which I’ll abandon by mile 3 or so) and my orange “Kentucky racers” (courtesy of my virtual running pal, Tracy, who spends her days experiencing New Running Shoe Smell). I’ll start off with my Ted Corbitt Memorial 15K white cotton longsleeve, which I’ll also abandon early on.

I should also note that my experiment with living life as a blonde is drawing to a close after a year of fun with chemicals. I’m now more solidly on the brown side and will probably stay that way since the time and expense of maintaining my flaxen locks has become too burdensome. I’ll update the blog photo once I get a shot where I don’t look like Richard Lewis.

This will be my first outing with armwarmers, which I admit I felt a little douchey about buying, but when I have them on they actually look kind of cool, and they make my arms look less porcine, which is always a bonus.

The forecasted temps are actually ideal for me. I race best when it’s just above freezing, and start to get too warm if it gets anywhere near 50. But I know a windchill of 27 at the start is too cold for just a short sleeve shirt, and I didn’t bring any technical clothing I’m willing to throw away. If I wear a long sleeve tech shirt, though, I’ll be sweating by the end, when the temps are expected to be right around 40.

Armwarmer bonus: Extra storage space. I will take five gels during the race. I can fit four in my shorts’ pockets. Now I can stick the fifth one in the sleeve of my armwarmer rather than carrying in my hand it all the way to mile 3. Hooray!

“Yes, I am a freak. Be glad your husband isn’t.”

We just did a 3.5 mile run around Capitol Park, which our hotel is on the corner of. Along the way, we talked shop with a friendly woman from Philly (45-49 AG, by my sly extraction of information regarding qualifying for Boston). She’s trying for a qualifier tomorrow and I think she’ll make it, at least if her recent times are any indication.

I was happy to note that my heart rate (both while resting and running) seems back to its normal self. So no red flags are waving (or, like in the spring, actually whacking me) in my face.

On the way back up to our room we shared the elevator with four women about my age. One of them exclaimed, “Oh! You have the watch I just gave my husband. How do you like it?”

*Elevator bleat!*

“I do like it,” I replied. “But they removed some key features from the previous model.”

*Elevator bleat!*

She looked disappointed. “Really? Like what?”

*Elevator bleat!*

“Well,” I replied, slipping into full freak mode, despite my best efforts. “You can’t review your run during a session like you could before.”

*Elevator bleat!*

“You mean you can’t review the run afterwards?”

*Elevator bleat!*

“No. I mean, like, if you want to check your splits…” I noticed all four women looked confused. “You know,” I blundered onward, “Like while doing intervals on the track.” Awkward pause. “You, um, can’t do that anymore.”

*Elevator bleat!*

All heads nodded, yet still obviously perplexed. Jonathan sighed. I examined the elevator floor.

*Bleat! … Bleat! … Bleat!*

Ah. Freedom.

WhyMall?

The trip from our humble domicile to Sacramento was relatively pain-free. But it was long, especially since we decided to pick up our race packets yesterday so we wouldn’t have to deal with it today.

The plan today is to do some shopping for dinner this evening. I’m a control freak (which is probably obvious to anyone who’s read more than three of my posts) and have no interest in attending the giant pasta feeds most races put on. My thought is:  I made it this far without catching a bug; how would I feel if I got food poisoning the night before the race?

The solution is to stay in a place that has at least a fridge and microwave in the room. This time we got lucky and I secured a kitchenette, so I can actually cook. All of this comes in handy for the post-race feed, which involves our lying around in front of the television, consuming all of the “bad” foods (and huge amounts of beer and wine) that we can’t have in any regular or extreme way during training.

Our room is perfect in other ways too. Our bedroom (which is separate from our living area) is backed up to a giant electrical closet, far from the elevators and on the ninth floor. The hotel also made me sign their No Party Policy. In our last hotel, our neighbors were up at 1:30AM watching television and engaging in a discourse over it that was loud enough for me to make out the substance of their exchange. Before that, we shared a wall with what must have been the winners for Loudest Scene at the National Porn Awards.

Anyhoo. Here I am, up early and still on New York time. Despite how incredibly busy work was prior to leaving, I managed to pack everything I needed. I did discover, once on the plane, that while I managed to pack my little computer, I’d stupidly turned it on beforehand. So I had no battery life left. I’d planned to do some writing and editing, and it would have been nice to have had the option of frittering away the 6.5 hours playing mindless games, but it was not to be.

Fortunately, I also brought a book. But I couldn’t dip into that without first engaging in my traditional perusal of the SkyMall catalogue. I can make a game out of this activity: What’s the most expensive item? Least expensive? How many of them make dubious claims based on shoddy science? Are there any that look outright dangerous? That sort of thing.

If I can find something that hits the trifecta — extravagant, unnecessary and inconvenient — well, that’s the winning item. Nothing I found quite hit that lofty mark, although the second one below comes awfully close. Here are the highlights:

“Have you ever wanted to make or receive a phone call underwater?” No, but I’ll bet Ted Kennedy did. For just $1,790 (cell phone not included), you can yammer away underwater with colleagues, family or illicit lovers while diving for clams or engaging in recovery of drowning victims.  “Honey, can you pick up bread on the way home? The dive’s going great, except my tank is…low…glug glug glug…”

“Produce your own water!” For $999 you can have an enormous, hideous contraption (in one of three cheerful primary colors) that — get this — actually makes water. We’re talking seven gallons a day! At just $0.20 per gallon. Or you could do what we do at my house: just turn on one of several taps we have, conveniently located right where we need them; we even have several outside.

Does anyone like bidets? I don’t. I won’t go into crass detail, much as I’d love to, but bidets are just weird. So the idea of buying my very own travel bidet seems like something I’d only do if I wanted to take a great trip abroad and ruin it. I especially appreciate the copywriter’s clever double entendre: “Enjoy the confidence…no matter where you go.” Also: $44.95? I could buy a turkey baster for $9.99 and get the same effect.

And finally, in the “I don’t think we should take the kids to any more barbecues at Bill and Mindy’s house” category, it’s the Zombie of Montclaire Moors statue. I think it speaks for itself. Note: No Rush Delivery!

At the moment, I’m preparing to go out and run 3 miles around Capitol Park, just to see how cold it’s going to feel tomorrow morning. Then it’s a day of list-making, light shopping, an attempt at napping, dinner and early to bed.

Of hamstrings and advanced planning

Just an update as I try to unwind for a few minutes from the latest work-related debacle.

My hamstring is better after several days of self restraint. I’ve done almost as much walking as I have running in the few days since it went “Oh, snap! You dih’in’t!” on Sunday. This morning had me running a slightly zippier 9:30 pace, including an experimental zoom at 7:15 pace for about 45 seconds at the end of the run. All systems seem go.

Tomorrow I’ll further test Hammy’s tolerance with a tempo run on the track. I’ll do a two mile warmup to get there, then another good mile or so of speeding up to see if it starts to rattle. If it’s okay, I’ll try two at tempo pace and see if there are any complaints. Then I’ll try another two, then do some recovery miles afterward to head home for a bath, a bagel and some gratitude for my body’s ability to heal itself. And if it doesn’t go well, I’ll cut things short and continue to rest.

In other news, I appreciated all the feedback on where to go for spring 2010. I’m traveled out after this year and upon reviewing the various options realized that any race I would travel (meaning “fly”) to would present the same relative chances of good or bad weather than anything I’d find closer to home. Since I need to fix about 3,000 issues with my house next year, I’ve decided I’m going local for 2010 at least for the spring, to save money and cut down on time off from work, for which I do not get paid, lucky freelancer that I am.

I’ll target the 2010 NJ Marathon (May 2) for my goal race in terms of training and taper timing. I’ve run the half marathon there twice and it was the site of my two fastest half marathons (and many PRs at shorter distances in the process) to date. What amazes me (and I should have absorbed this lesson by now) is how fast the hotels there fill up for a race that’s half a year off.

The host hotel, right on the start/finish line, is full up, as is the fancy schmancy boutique hotel ($400+ a night) two blocks from the start. Everything else is miles away. Fortunately, there are still rooms available at the Holiday Inn Express and Suites in West Long Branch on Rt. 36. This place is not on the hotels listed on the marathon’s web site, by the way. But it’s less than a mile from Monmouth Racetrack (where the parking and shuttles are) and the rooms have a fridge and microwave. Perfect!

Since Jonathan wants more training time after the Sacramento race in December, he won’t run New Jersey with me. Instead, it looks likely that he’ll do the Buffalo Marathon a month later. That’s a mere 6.5 hours away by car, no airplanes required. We know someone who’s run it three times and liked it (and his times were remarkably consistent with performances elsewhere from year to year, so the course and conditions don’t appear to be a killer). Plus, I can register too and keep it as a backup if something goes awry in New Jersey. Even if it doesn’t, I can always run it as a fun run. Or, if I’m feeling like a fully recovered bad ass, do my best Mary Akor impersonation and race that one too.

So that’s the plan so far. I’m keeping your suggestions in a list for future reference, and I see others researching spring races have hit this site in web searches. So it’s all valuable stuff.

Help me pick my spring 2010 marathon

I tend to have years that are either “off” or “on” in terms of heavy travel. One year we’ll travel a lot and neglect the house (which is a 1928 colonial in perpetual decline). The next, we’ll stay home and put money into our crumbling domicile. 2009 was an “on” year for travel. Next year will be mostly “off.” But that doesn’t preclude some travel for a spring marathon. I would like to limit it to a long weekend and keep it close enough that it can be driven to in a day (10 hours is the max I can tolerate) or easily flown to from NYC area airports. I accept that we’ll probably need to change planes along the way.

I’ve been researching and I’ve narrowed things down to a few races that look good in terms of location, size, weather/course and reputation/reviews. Since I like cooler weather races I’m looking for mid-to-late May as the outside date. But I’m not averse to doing something earlier, such as in mid-to-late March or April. The ones I’m researching are listed below in the poll.

Note that I haven’t included the Long Branch New Jersey marathon because the weather can be so unpredictable. But I may keep it around as a backup race. Weather considerations are the biggest reason that I’ve not included a lot of New England races that would normally be on my radar.

So, where should I run? If not one of these, what races do you like that are accessible from New England, and why do you recommend them?

Edited: I didn’t think I’d have to be this pedantic, but if you voted “Other” can you please offer a brief comment on which “other” race you have in mind and why?

Fall Training: Week 5

09fall-training-05Having recovered from the difficult previous week, I decided to have another go at running some miles at marathon effort before leaving South Africa. This run went much better than Friday’s semi-disaster, as it was again in the low 60s and the sun was behind the clouds.

Despite a weekend of drinking, staying up late and stuffing myself, I felt pretty good for this run. Although I have to admit that I was looking forward to getting home and swearing off shortbread biscuits, chocolate and buckets of wine and beer. At least until after I run CIM in December.

Tuesday and Wednesday were consumed with getting home and getting ready for my reentry into work and serious training again.

I guess I managed to kill a few brain cells with all that fabulous local wine and beer because on Thursday I went out and hammered a workout that was supposed to be on the easy side. My Thursday speed session should have been run at recovery pace, with the exception of the 8:00 at speedy effort. Instead, I ran the whole thing at moderate-to-hard effort. My legs felt great and I just forgot that I wasn’t supposed to run this hard for these workouts.

Not surprisingly, I was tired on the subsequent recovery runs. I cut the Saturday run short by a mile and ran it at a slow jog pace to try to save my legs for Sunday’s race.

I went into the Westchester Half on Sunday expecting…well, not really expecting anything. I didn’t know if I’d do badly, well, or somewhere inbetween. As it turns out, I did very well under the circumstances. Maybe those lighter mileage weeks gave me the rest I needed to race well. Or maybe it was the wine, chocolate and beer.

Between this and the Whale half, I’m feeling good about my current level of fitness. The next few weeks of training — under what I hope will be healthier, more amenable conditions — should yield more clues as to where I am.

Fall Training: Weeks 3 and 4

09fall-training-03The next couple of training logs are more for the record than for extensive analysis. I knew my training would be compromised  on the trip to South Africa. Doesn’t that make me sound humorless and obsessed? I know!

If anything, I’m amazed that I managed to run as much as I did, considering that I was drinking to excess nearly every night and part of coordinated holiday movements of six people. Although my mileage was roughly half of the planned mileage for these weeks, I did prioritize the harder miles and dumped recovery miles.

The conditions in South Africa were tough. For one, it was windy to extremely windy most days. I did some of my harder runs into a 15-30mph headwind and the paces reflect that invisible resistance.

Also, as they’re between winter and spring at the moment, the temperatures and humidity swung wildly every few days. One day it would be in the 60s and two days later it was in the 80s. And the sun there is hot. I’m sure that sounds silly, but the proximity to the equator really makes you feel like you’re baking, and I tanned three shades darker in just a week.

Finally, the place has huge hills. If you want to train for Boston or Steamtown, this is the place to go. The hills are up to a mile long and, while the grades aren’t extreme, they are steady.

Week 3 was broken up with travel. Prior to flying there on Wednesday, I did a 15 mile progression run. This went very well. As usual, I wasn’t thrilled with the paces, but I realized I had weeks of training to improve.

Later in the week I focused on trying to recover from 36 hours of travel and some upheaval as we had to suddenly change rental cottages, as the first was next to a grocery store with loud refrigeration units running all night; in the second cottage we would be burgled as the next week’s excitement. Anyway, on Friday we drove 45 minutes to Hermanus on the coast and ran the last three-odd miles of the half marathon course, then had an early dinner out among the Whale Festival revelers.

Saturday was the race, the Whale Half Marathon. A joke race, as Jonathan called it. Despite insane wind and huge hills, we both did well.

On Sunday I went for a little recovery run on my own, during which I met the second love of my life, a female dog named Harvey.

09fall-training-04Week 4 featured some harder efforts, the first of which was an 11 mile tempo run, with the harder miles run straight into a stiff headwind. The next day we went on a 9 mile hike, which was tiring not so much because of the distance or terrain but because of the speed at which we were going. We were hiking very slowly, probably at about half the pace that we could have managed on our own, and by the end of the day I had what felt like “museum legs” — that unique sort of fatigue that sets in after hours of strolling around on marble floors.

We took the next day off to deal with the aftermath of having been burgled and getting our car stolen the evening after the hike. We also needed to get ready for the arrival of two friends of Jonathan’s from his days living here 30 years ago who’d be staying with us for two nights.

The morning before their arrival we went out to do one of my more important workouts — a 21 miler with the last 10 at marathon effort. This was one of the few workouts I’ve actually had to abandon. It was a hot day and we had no way of carrying or obtaining drinkable water, plus we got a late start. By midway through the run the sun was at its strongest and it was about 85 degrees. There was no shade. I did okay for most of the hard miles, but by mile 16 my HR was soaring and my paces were dropping off. Then I started exhibiting the early stages of heat illness with just three miles to go.

I ended up lying under a tree while Jonathan ran back to the cottage (he’d been running an easy pace to my very hard pace) for the car and water. It was the smart thing to do, but a little scary. I was mad at myself because my instincts had told me that we should take the extra half hour to drive to the midway point with some water, but I ignored them.

I was totally fried by this workout for the next couple days, so took the weekend off. We still had several days of holiday making left and I wanted to enjoy the time with family and friends. I had one last hard workout planned before leaving the following week.

Watching out for ticks and tik

Well, as suspected, my training has gone somewhat to hell since I’ve been here. I certainly am not running the miles planned, although I’ve made an effort to get the important workouts (or something resembling them) done.

On Tuesday we did a 14 miler along a dirt road called Riviersonderend, which translates roughly into “Endless River.” Since we are in such an isolated place and had to do different workouts, we spent some time beforehand planning how to ensure that we’d be within a mile or so of each other. Jonathan had to do 8 1K repeats and rests and some easy running. I had to do 5 tempo miles in a midlength effort. So we worked out a 7 mile out/7 mile back plan, where he’d eventually catch up to me and pass me coming and going, then I’d catch up to him and we’d run the last few miles together.

What we didn’t count on was another day of brutal headwinds and big hills. Worse, we were in full sun and it was warmer. So those 5 miles were tough and I was again glad to be training by effort rather than pace, since I was averaging 8:00 miles again. I have been told by the locals that a woman running alone is safe, and I have not doubted this while looping through the town, especially with my little borrowed Doberman at my side. Once out on deserted roads with only a farmhouse every few miles, I’ve not been so sure. But Tuesday was fine and the few interactions I did have were comfortable (although I did wonder why two boys who looked about 14 were driving a giant tractor).

Speaking of the Doberman, it seems the owners who were out of town are back and again properly caring for her, so I’ve not seen her wandering the neighborhood anymore. I may go ask if I can borrow her if I do another solo town run again.

The rest of the day was spent consuming recovery-friendly hot chocolate and quiche, followed by a stroll around nearby Genanendal, site of (again, this was what I was told) the oldest missionary settlement in Africa, in this case Moravians from the early 18th century. Something I really like about South Africa is that the flip side of its second-world flakiness is the flexibility that goes along with it. In Switzerland, if you turn up at a cafe at 3:58 and it’s closing at 4:00, they’ll turn you away. Here, they’ll serve you and tell you not to rush, and they really mean it. Or, another example: restaurants often run out of dishes (ask me about the pizzeria that, on a busy Saturday night, had to stop serving because they ran out of cheese!), but the ones they do serve can be out of this world, like the crackling pig I had last night.

Genanendal is also worth noting as we noted on Google Earth that it has a running track. Or, at least, it once had something resembling a running track. Now it’s a molehill-pocked, overgrown loop surrounding a slightly less ratty rugby field, populated with wild dogs. We decided not to run there, despite my being innoculated against rabies.

Next up on the itinerary was a much-anticipated group hike, a 14k from Greyton to McGregor, through the foothills of the Overbergs. I have pictures but forgot my connector cable, so they’ll have to be added later. Most impressive was the presence of Jonathan’s 78-year-old mother, Margaret, who, while not skipping up and down the trails, nonetheless performed like a trooper and made it to the end of the trail without complaint despite two minor tumbles along the way. The English are a hardy folk.

It was a great time, actually. I got to know a few Greytonites, all retirees and most of them transplants, including Paul, who shared his mishap-laden stories of travel in the States and, most shockingly, his total ignorance of Elvis Costello (despite being a huge fan tof Diana Krall, he’d never heard of the guy); Ulrich, a retired professor of German Literature and escapee from East Germany, with whom I had a detailed discussion of Caster Semenya; Claus, a retired Swiss engineer with a penchant for photographing flowers while apologizing for not knowing what any of them are. We got a ride home from Andrew, another cheerful, good-natured Brit, and his lead-footed Londoner girlfriend, Susan.

The hike itself was fantastic, taking us from cultivated wine country into semi-arid desert. Along the way were natural falls and pools, wild lilies the size of saucepans and more wildflower varieties than I could count. No baboons, snakes, spiders, leopards or Lyme-carrying ticks, though.

After quick showers the four of us youngsters, myself, Jonathan, Rob and Phil, headed out for a restorative meal in town in R&P’s rental. And then, upon our return, our adventure began. The first thing we noticed was that the entire side of our own rental car was scraped and dented. Next, upon entering our rented house, inside doors that had been closed were now opened. A survey revealed random items taken: Rob’s camera and cellphones, Phil’s iPod, Jonathan’s Adidas racing shoes and, most oddly, yogurt, tea biscuits, Nutella and biscotti. But not the wine, beer or gin. Nor the laptops, expensive running watches or my jewelry case.

With no sign of forced entry, we all sat around worrying that a key was floating out there somewhere. But we finally found a window that was unlocked, probably from prior to our check-in, although there’s always the possibility it was opened by a clever thief with a knife. Also, a deck chair in front of the window was shoved to the side, making it the obvious point of entry. I will say that the police were responsive, as was the security company when we called. The biggest nuisance was the rental car. Again, don’t ask. A day was wasted dealing with that mess. At this point, we’re out a substantial sum due to arcane car rental mores coupled with Avis’s bait and switch policies. Strongly worded letters to the Avis corporate offices and various regulating bodies will follow. Probably with no effect. Don’t rent from Avis!

The agent responsible for managing the house told us that it was probably the work of local teens looking for things to sell for “TIC” (or “tik”), the local variety of crystal meth. How horrible to know this blight has now spread to one of the countries on the planet that can least afford another big social problem. School’s out, which means the kids are idle, and the property crime is up as a result.

So, what a huge fucking drag this has been, a bruise on an otherwise lovely trip. My visits to SA are never complete without a moment when I say to myself, “I’m never doing ‘x’ here again.” The first time it was sitting alone on a beach in Cape Town. The second time it was flying South African Airways. This time it’s…well, I don’t know what exactly.

Jonathan has two friends from his university days, Brand and Ronel, arriving tomorrow evening from Johannesburg. We’ll forget about the events of the last 24 hours and focus on spending time with them. I’ve got a hard 21 miler scheduled this weekend and had hoped to do it before they come tomorrow, but we’ll play it by ear. At this point, I’m inhaling G&Ts in absence of Xanax.

Africa. A nice place to visit until something goes horribly wrong. Which it will if you give it a few days.

Today’s final note: One of the headlines in the Cape Town Times today is “Seeking solutions to baboon-related issues.”

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