Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Canandaigua Academy Class of 1969

Last week I attended the 40th High School Reunion of the Canandaigua Academy Class of 1969 which is the public high school for Canandaigua, New York in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. The Academy was a private school back in the 19th century when Stephen Douglas attended. I guess Illinois wasn’t good enough for him.

The reunion was fun. There were about 320 in our graduating class and we had over seventy classmates return with their guests for the reunion. It was a simple affair. Drinks and dinner, and plenty of time to get reacquainted with folks who in some cases we hadn’t seen in forty years.

At the tenth reunion we talked about our marriages and new careers that were just beginning. By the 20th, the kids, whether they were babies or grade-schoolers or challenging teenagers, dominated the conversations.

At this reunion there was a lot less talk about work or children. There were some proud grandparents, of course, but mostly it seemed we spent our short time together trying to remember what it was like to be eighteen and heading out into the world for the first time.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Channel Swim - Part 2

Todd's wife Jennifer tweetered his progress on his attempt to swim the channel:

1. Jennifer is tweeting today for me. I'm on the boat and ready to go.about 14 hours ago from txt

2. He's in the water now!about 13 hours ago from txt

3. A little over 1 hour in and just getting warmed up. It's daylight now!about 13 hours ago

4. 2 hrs in going strong. Weather is ideal.about 12 hours ago from txt

5. Almost 9 miles in, slowing down some, he said he feels floaty. Still swimming.about 8 hours ago from txt

6. Still going, getting close to the second shipping channel.about 7 hours ago from txt

7. 7.5 miles to go, swimming in the toughest part. Gotta keep him moving.about 6 hours ago from txt

8. Still going and Coach Craig is kicking his ass all the way to France. Hopefully only 6 miles to go!about 5 hours ago from txt

9. A swimmer & his crew that just finished made sure to bring their boat next to Todd to cheer him on. Very cool.about 4 hours ago from txt

10. In the final stretch off the coast of France. Getting really tough but he's still going.about 3 hours ago from txt

11. Less than 1 mile away! He's really having to push through mentally but he's making it.about 2 hours ago from txt

12. He just set foot on the beach in France! Swim time was 13 hours 35 minutes.5 minutes ago from txt

Awesome, Todd! Way to go!

Channel Swim - Part 1

Todd Paul is an endurance athlete from Evanston who has been training with my tri coach, Craig Strong. Below is Craig’s report on Todd’s pending English Channel swim


To everyone waiting to hear about Todd Paul’s English Channel swim here is an update. Unfortunately, we have to wait a bit longer than hoped. His first opportunity to go would have been as early as this Friday or Saturday at the latest. However, there are still a few swimmers ahead of Todd in his wave. Channel crossings are a bit complicated and very much regulated. There are about 4 boats that are used by channel crossers and crossings occur over a 10 dayish window two times per year – spring and fallish (our seasons). He has until October 1st to make this window. He has been given the word by his captain that he is going on Monday at 5 am (UK time) – this is of course weather dependent. The time that he will go is almost more nerve racking then the swim itself. It’s just not something that we can control. It’s a waiting game – all agreed this part not too much fun.

The channel swim is regulated as I mentioned. Swimmers need to hire a captain and boat, an observer, they can only use a “normal” swimsuit (not past the groin) and no thermal caps. He will wear two latex caps (allowed), his speedo, and as much Vaseline as we can apply to him prior to the swim. He will get on the boat at the harbor and be taken to one of a few beaches in Dover used for swimmers crossing. He’ll have to get out of the boat, swim to shore – stand up on shore – then hop in and start. Upon arriving in France, he will most likely come up on large rocks – it could be night by that time. He will have to climb out of the water and raise his arms above his head in victory (if he can’t raise his arms – it doesn’t count).

AM workout – Todd and I waded into the English Channel about waist deep and stood for about 45 minutes talking mental strategies. I of course was in my wetsuit (comfy) and Todd (no Vaseline) was acclimating to the 60 – low degree water. After standing there for so long we swam for about 30 minutes both of us getting an ice cream headache (we forgot swim caps).

PM workout – I chased Todd around the pool for about 1,500 meters as he completed a 5,000 meter workout (4 x 1,000’s – tapering). I did run for 30 minutes after my swim if that makes up for cutting out 3,500 mtrs of swimming (don’t want to wear out the shoulders prior to Monday). Stunning is Todd’s speed and endurance after only a year of training. I can now only keep up with him in open water in a wetsuit (if he isn’t wearing one) pool swimming is a bit different.

This trip is like training camp for me. I feel like I’m back in Florida with the University team doing double workouts. No worries for me overdoing it – I am taking heavy amounts of an anti-inflammatory in the evenings – a British thing called IPA and my nutrition is wonderful – fish and chips (more ketchup please!!).

There have been few successful crossing attempts this year do to weather and other circumstances (knock wood). Bill Bradley, a famous “show up and suffer” athlete was just pulled from the water after 6 hrs of swimming unfortunately (he did just complete RAAM one of the most intense possible cycling events and Badwater the toughest running race possible). So, needless to say the anxiety level here is a bit higher than one would like. About 1 in 6 attempts make it across. There is a swimmer looking to set the channel record swimming on Saturday with a different boat and captain. We are looking forward to hear how her attempt goes.

Todd has been in constant contact with his boat captain and has a LOT of confidence in him which is absolutely necessary. The captain seems to be saying all the right things and is very experienced and knowledgeable. Todd is accompanied by a good friend James who started this endeavor with him, his wife, parents, and me.

It certainly is good to be here. It’s my job to make sure Todd doesn’t do too much vacationing. Besides doing some training with him, I’ll swim a bit of the channel, I can swim for an hour at a time (in a wetsuit) and help his wife with his feedings as he crosses. His feedings by the way will be mostly fluid every 15-20 minutes and have to occur within 15-20 seconds at most, any longer and he could drift up to a mile or more off course due to the currents which we experienced a bit of today. It could be a 12-14 hr trip over to France followed up by a 3 hr trip back (which may actually be harder on Todd then the swim). I super appreciate and am thankful to be here as my wife is home with a sick little (almost – if you ask him) 3 yr old and a 5 month old. Her mother is in town to help.

Best Regards,


Thursday, September 17, 2009


I started taking Spinning classes at the Y in the fall of 2005 after I had competed in my first two sprint triathlons. I had not been a very enthusiastic cyclist and I figured that Spinning would help me do a cycling activity through the cold Chicago winter months.

The Evanston Y has an excellent spinning program – twelve cycles, a dedicated room just for spinning and an enthusiastic and well-trained cadre of spinning instructors. The Y offers early-bird classes almost every morning, a couple of mid-day classes and several evening classes.

I started taking a class on Tuesday morning and within a few months I was taking three to four early-morning classes every week.

From iVillage:

Spinning 101
By: Liz Neporent
Nancy Chiocchi

The Scoop on Spinning

Spinning was created by world-class cyclist "Jonny G." Goldberg as a convenient and quick way to train for races. In 1989, he and John Baudhuin opened the first spinning center in Santa Monica, California and then developed a program to certify other spinning instructors. Curious to know about this spinning thing? The following info will help you decide if it's for you:

What is it? Spinning is an aerobic exercise that takes place on a specially designed stationary bicycle called (obviously enough) a spinning bike. As you pedal, motivating music plays and the instructor talks you through a visualization of an outdoor cycling workout: "You're going up a long hill now, you can't see the top yet.…" During the class you vary your pace -- sometimes pedaling as fast as you can, other times cranking up the tension and pedaling slowly from a standing position. This helps you to focus inwardly and work on your mind as well as your body.

Why we love it: Spinning burns serious calories (about 450 in 45 minutes) and offers an awesome aerobic workout that makes your heart pump fast. It also tones your quadriceps (front thigh muscles) and outer thigh muscles like nobody's business! Because you stay in one place with the same basic movement throughout, Spinning doesn't involve a lot of coordination; it's easier to concentrate on your form than in other types of aerobic classes. And although you follow the general instructions of the spinning teacher, you are in control when it comes to your pace. You can finish a spin class, regardless of your fitness level, simply by adjusting your pace or the tension knob on the bike.

Drawbacks: Spinning does not work all leg muscles equally, so if you spin without doing some cross training activities, you may develop muscle imbalances. Spinning every day can also be too much of a good thing -- real spin enthusiasts have to watch out for overuse injuries in their knees, hips and lower backs. If Spinning is your main source of exercise, we recommend doing some resistance training workouts that include hamstring (back of thigh), buttock and inner thigh exercises.

Spinning is a great cardio workout so I continue to include it as part of my weekly routine, but now I only spin once a week. I need to spend more of my cycle-focused training on my own bike, because it is a different setup from a spin cycle so in lieu of spinning I ride outside or, when the weather is bad (or dark) I plan to use a bike trainer, so I can get more comfortable with my tri bike.

My plan is to still spin every Thursday morning with Arawa McClendon. Arawa is also my massage therapist and later in the month I will have a post on Massage.

Arawa’s class is challenging. Today, after a warmup, we did an interval ride which included: spinups with slight resistance, eight-count and four-count jumps (moving from seated to out-of-the-saddle and back again), sprints on a hill (high resistance, out of the saddle position), tempo ride, more sprints, hill climb, sprints on a flat surface (seated, less resistance), another tempo ride, and more jumps.

I am sometimes tempted to point out to Arawa that the term interval implies that something is supposed to happen between activities, maybe something like a break, but I’m usually too winded to say anything and I’m afraid she might take it the wrong way, and make things even tougher.

Most of the folks in the class have been spinning for several years. I know most everybody by name and I think the early morning aspect of the class and Arawa’s conscientious attitude and her consideration for the class helps to create a bond. Most of my training is solitary so having an opportunity to socialize is a nice respite.

The other reason I spin on Thursday is that I’m relatively good at Spinning so I get a little ego boost which I need because two hours after the spinning class I have Yoga, and that is a humbling experience.

Wednesday: Ran the Lakefront for 55 minutes;
Thursday: Spin class - 60 minutes; Swim - 15 minutes; Yoga class: 90 minutes;

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Okay, I looked through ten pages of Google images, but couldn’t come up with anyone doing Pilates that looked like me. Actually I couldn’t find any pictures of guys at all, except for some grainy pics of the original Mr. Pilates.

I took my first Pilates class today. It’s a free class offered by the Y for beginners. It’s called Pilates – Mat because we don’t use those big bouncy balls that I always associated with Pilates.

There were some similarities to Yoga. We didn’t wear shoes and by the end I was totally worn out. From my favorite reference source, Wikipedia:

Pilates is a physical fitness system developed in the early 20th century by Joseph Pilates in Germany.[1] As of 2005 there are 11 million people who practice the discipline regularly and 14,000 instructors in the United States.[2]
Pilates called his method Contrology (from control and Greek -λογία, -logia), because he believed his method uses the mind to control the muscles.[3] The program focuses on the core postural muscles which help keep the body balanced and which are essential to providing support for the spine. In particular, Pilates exercises teach awareness of breath and alignment of the spine, and aim to strengthen the deep torso muscles.

The instructor, Catherine, was slender and very fit. Also very limber. She made everything look easy. The class was all women except for one other guy (that’s sort of the norm for mid-morning exercise classes) and was a mix of experienced and beginners. Catherine gave special attention to us first-timers, helping us to get into the right position and make the proper movements.

Some of the instructions were directed at how to tilt our pelvis. “Towards six o’clock, back toward twelve o’clock.” I know guys have pelvises, but I have no pelvis-awareness and no clue how to tilt my pelvis towards any hour of the clock. Next class I’m going to ask her what she means.

I took the mat right in front of Catherine so I could follow her closely. Well, at least try to follow her.

See how easily that woman balances in a perfect V, on her butt, while smiling and looking relaxed? I couldn’t do any of that. No perfect V; no balance, no smile and my legs shook. That’s because I wasn’t using the core muscles to balance, Catherine said. I am not sure I have any core muscles.

It was a fifty-five minute class and I was hoping for that ten minutes of relaxation time we had at the end of Yoga, but Catherine finished up by showing us an advanced Pilates exercise that is too complicated for me to describe, let alone perform.

Both YOGA and Pilates are big on breathing. Catherine would tell us when to exhale and when to inhale. There seemed to be a lot more exhaling. When do these pilatians inhale? Just trying to follow the breathing pattern was exhausting.

Catherine told me at the end of the class that I had “possibilities,” which I interpreted as “You’re not the worst beginner I’ve ever had.”

It was a good class. Strengthening my core is a key part of my training program to prepare for next year and I can see how Pilates will help me. I will be back next week, assuming I don’t injure myself in the next Yoga class.


Monday: drove my daughter to CVS so she could pick up her drug-test form as she needs to pass a drug test to get hired. Did some stretching while I waited for her. I had planned to run after we finished this five minute errand. After 15 minutes I was tired of stretching so I left a note on the seat of the car to let Christie know I would be back in five minutes.

Started running around the block, over and over and over and over again. After forty minutes and no Christie - I went in the store. She had left long ago and started to walk home. I guess she didn't see my note.

Tuesday: Pilates class (55 minutes)

Weight: 188.9

Monday, September 14, 2009

Casualties - The Short Story

Back in the winter of 2005 I took a flash fiction course at University of Chicago’s Writer’s Studio which was taught by Eileen Favorite (author of the novel “The Heroines.”) It was a great class – every week we would have a prompt to write a 400 to 800 word story. Everyone read their story in class and then the class provided immediate feedback.

One class in January we had to write four two hundred word stories from specific word prompts. I came up with the brilliant idea to integrate my four stories so that in reality I had an eight hundred word piece. It wasn’t a bad story, but the ending was sort of an unnecessary shock and the reaction of the class was what I guess could be called a palpable silence. Maybe some uneasy murmurs. But Eileen got the discussion going by saying, “Well, that’s why we workshop these stories - to find out what works and what doesn’t.”

I wrote about a fifty versions and eventually expanded it to four thousand words. I had special affection for the story, probably because of its rocky start. I workshopped it seven times on Zoetrope and sent it out to over twenty different publications, but had no luck. I put it away thinking maybe I would try rewriting it someday.

Then this spring, I decided to give it one last shot. I sent it out to four online ezines and two days later I got an acceptance from the Short Story Libray. So Casualties is now one of the “Stories of the Week,” at the Short Story Library, which is the creation of editor Casey Quinn. If you have a chance, please check it out and also check out the other stories that are posted there.


Saturday: Bike 45 minutes; Sunday: Yoga 30 minutes at home (I taped a show from the Fitness channel)

Friday, September 11, 2009


I have been secretly practicing Yoga and I wanted to share with everyone my progress.

Okay that isn’t me, but when I was searching Google images for an appropriate photo to introduce this post I found that if I squint really hard and stand back about ten feet this guy does sort of look like me. At least he has the same hair that sticks up in the back.

Yesterday I took my first Yoga class. Both Craig and Nibra (my strength trainer) have suggested I try Yoga. The McGaw YMCA in Evanston offers a variety of Yoga classes and Craig suggested I enroll with Ine, who teaches several of the Hatha Yoga classes.

From the course description provided by the Y:

Yoga is an ancient practice that helps create a sense of union in body and mind and spirit. The physical postures, breathing exercises and mediation practices of yoga have been proven to reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and regulate heartbeat. Participants leave feeling more relaxed, while increasing flexibility and creating harmony in the mind and body. Hatha Yoga is a series of physical postures and breathing exercises that balances the opposing masculine forces of the body, the “sun” (ha) and the “moon” (tha).

Since I wasn’t really sure what my masculine and feminine forces were, I decided more research was needed. I found a fifteen minute youtube video of a guy going through a series of movements while soothing music played in the background. I reclined on my couch and watch the whole thing and it was quite relaxing.

Most of my YMCA sessions begin between before 6 am. This course was at 10 am and there is a whole different group of folks at the Y at that hour. I showed up yesterday, feeling like it was my first day in a new school. Didn’t know what I was doing and didn’t know anyone. There were two other guys and about a dozen women in the class, so right away I sensed that the ha / tha opposing forces were not really going to be in balance.

First thing I figured out was that I didn’t need my shoes. I followed the others, grabbed a spongy mat and a thin mat and set myself up in the middle of the floor.

Ine, a very fit woman in my age cohort, welcomed back the class (there had been no classes during the last two weeks of August) and then she came over to where I was setting up and introduced herself. She asked me what my experience level was (zero) and what had inspired me to try yoga. She said to not push too hard. That yoga was not about straining and pain. It was about relaxation, breathing, balance.

I knew Yoga would be a challenge. I can’t even sit comfortably in a cross-legged position so trying to hold certain positions is difficult. My biggest surprise was the strength component of the workout. My arms and legs were tired and sore at the end of the ninety minutes.

Ine was an excellent instructor. She managed to keep the class moving along without a hiccup, but still managed to spend one-on-one time wth the new students. She helped us to get in the right position and offered sincere encouragement.

I really enjoyed the class. It is exactly what I need to help me become a stronger, more durable triathlete. I will definitely be back next week.

Workouts: Thursday: Yoga (90 minutes); Friday: Swim (60 minutes);

Weight: 189

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


I spent the last week at my Mom’s house in Skaneateles, so I thought it would be a good time to do a Mom-blog. My Mom’s 93 now, but still drives her trusty Corolla and lives by herself (but with a lot of care provided by my sister, Kendra and her husband, Don) in the house that my family moved to in 1972.

When my Dad died last fall, my sister Christine took possession of the seven thousand 35mm slides he had taken chronicling our family adventures. She culled the collection down to a manageable five hundred and sent all the siblings a digital CD. Given that my Dad took 99% of the pics, I figured I’d be able to find a decent photo of Mom. Just Mom, not Mom and four funny looking kids in birthday hats mugging for the camera.

She was in about forty photos, but in most of them she’s wearing some god-awful hat that looks like a lampshade and is flanked by her beautiful daughters wearing similar hats. Plus for about twenty years she wore those cats-eye eyeglasses and they don’t photograph well. This picture is from one of my sister’s birthday parties, but I cropped out the kids.

Most mornings when I’m at Mom’s she reads the obits and death notices to me while we watch “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” She pointed out that many of the photos that accompany the notices were taken long ago. She didn’t disapprove of that, so I think she will be okay with me using this fifty year old photo for my blog.

One thing she did disapprove of, however, was the proclivity for obit-writers to use the term, “Passed away.” Three days in a row she railed about the use of that term (Mom’s not so good on the short-term memory.) On the fourth day, to forestall another rant, I assured her I would personally see to it that in her obit she died and did not pass away.

That night as I was reclining on her sofa watching television, she walked by me and patted me on the shoulder. “You’re a good son,” she said. So I said, “Well you’re a good mom, Mom.” And then she laughed and said, “Well, okay, then. There you have it.” Then she went to bed.


Took a couple days off after the Tri and then yesterday I took a spinning class at the Y and then did about twenty minutes of stretching. Today I took an early morning run, easy pace for an hour.

Weight: 189

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Skinnyman Results

I competed in the Skinnyman Sprint Triathlon in Skaneateles, New York yesterday along with my brother-in-law Tom Vecchi (old guys age group) and my nephew Colin Vecchi (whippersnapper age group.) Tom, in a remarkable display of consistency finished seven seconds faster than last year, while Colin, who is twenty-five pounds lighter than a year ago, finished the race in one hour and thirty-three minutes, a twenty-three minute improvement over last year. If he loses another twenty-five pounds he can win the race next year.

Even though this is a shorter race than I’ve been running this year, I had some concerns. I didn’t finish my last race in Tuscaloosa due to leg cramps and that was the first competition where I failed to finish. One DNF is an aberration, but two in row, that would be a trend. Moreover, after the abysmal swim time at Tuscaloosa, I wanted to do well in the swim. My coach, Craig Strong, told me I should swim hard “buoy to buoy” at a “comfortable level of discomfort.” I have a tendency to relax on the swim portion because I have this fear if I push too hard I’ll find myself a mile from shore and out of gas. Craig promised that wouldn’t happen. At least it sounded like a promise.

I achieved the goal of making the swim leg uncomfortable. The problem this time was my strategy. A year ago I tried to stay close to the buoys (it’s an out, over, and back course) and I was squeezed by dozens of faster swimmers, which really messed up my stroke. So this time I started out wide, as though I were a wide receiver. My plan was to run a flag pattern to the turn buoy, but instead I ran sort of a deep square-in and ended up swimming about a hundred yards more than I needed to. The end result was that even though I swam faster than last year, my time improved by only seventeen seconds.

I had other concerns on the bike segment. This was my first time racing with the new Guru Tri bike. The bike course was moderately difficult with lots of rolling hills. I didn’t use aero position at all on the ride because I didn’t have enough confidence. I could have and probably should have, and I am certain by next year I’ll be ready. The bike was great and I pushed hard on the bike course, even though I could feel some tightening in my hamstrings. I finished the bike portion with an average speed of 19.1 mph up from 17.9 mph last year.

I knew that the run would be a problem for me. I should be able to run the 5k in 22 minutes, but I haven’t been comfortable running hard since the hamstring injury. When I started on the run, my legs and back were tight, so I took it easy to start out hoping I could speed up as I got into the race, but every time I tried to accelerate I felt a twinge in the right hamstring so I didn’t push it. I jogged the 5k in twenty-five minutes and finished the race in one hour and thirty two minutes – a two minute improvement over last year, mostly due to the improved bike leg.

I was, however, still two minutes ahead of Colin even though he beat me by four minutes on the swim. Of course he walked the first mile of the run. If he shows up next year at 175 pounds I won’t stand a chance.

I almost forgot to mention this. Most of the races I don't have any friends and family cheering for me, but at this race, Suzanne, my Mom and my sisters Carol and Kendra were all there to support us. I was preparing to flash my winning smile as I crossed the finish line to the cheers of loved ones, but apparently the excitement of seeing nephew Colin finishing a couple of minutes ahead of me (he was in the first wave with all the youngsters) created such excitement that they all forgot to watch for me and I crossed the finish line unnnoticed except for the race announcer who said, "Nice race, yellow-hat guy."

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Not So Old Friends

I grew up in Canandaigua, New York. My family moved there when I was two and we stayed until I was in my third year of college when we moved forty miles east to Skaneateles. I spent one summer in Skaneateles and then got married and moved to Chicago.

When Suzanne and I would return to New York for summer vacation or holidays we’d split our time between her folks and mine and it didn’t leave much extra time, so except for high school reunions, I seldom returned to Canandaigua. Some of my friends still lived there, some had moved away, and we all were busy with our adult lives.

Yesterday I drove over to Canandaigua for a visit. There is something special about those friendships that are forged when we’re kids. Don Bauch (he’s the one on the right) drove down from Rochester and we met at Jim Walsh’s driving range. (Jim’s the guy in the middle). We had lunch, a couple of beers and then we went back to our regular lives. It’s always easy to talk with those guys. It doesn’t feel like years have passed. We reminisced about our friend Tod who died this spring, and then we talked mostly about the same things as we did forty years ago. Of course we don’t talk about girls anymore. Well, Jim and I don’t anyway. Don has more stories because he keeps running into women who knew him back when he was in high school. That never happens to me.

I’ve known those guys since I was ten years old. It’s hard to become self-important and adult-like when someone knows all of the dumb things that you did as a kid. This would be the place where I would share a couple of Jim and Don’s youthful indiscretions, but I’m returning in two weeks with Suzanne for our fortieth high school reunion and I fear retaliation.

However Jim doesn’t have internet service so I think it is safe to mention that in addition to his driving range, he works at the Finger Lakes Race Track as an ambulance driver (he said he applied for a jockey position, but they turned him down.) He drives the ambulance behind the horses when they race and if there is an accident he’s supposed to scoop up the injured jock and drive him to the real ambulance crew that will take him to the hospital. He says the jockeys complain when he doesn’t stay close enough to the horses. I think that if they knew how Jimmy drove in high school they wouldn’t want him getting any closer.

Workout: Yesterday I swam for about twenty minutes pushing the pace. I’m hoping to have a redemptive swim in this tri that’s coming up. This morning I ran the 5k course and I was feeling great for the first two miles, but my hamstring started to tighten up on the last mile and I had to slow considerably to be safe. I finished the course in 24:56, which is not a good pace. I can’t seem to shake these nagging bothersome, minor ailments. My back is stiff, and then my hamstrings tighten and now in addition I have an annoying stuffed-up ear. Okay somehow all of these things are going away by race day.

Weight: Too heavy. Too many happy hours, Mom’s cookies and restaurant dinners. But I’m enjoying myself.