Saturday, May 30, 2009

Running Riga

For the Czarina, it was a dream come true, returning to her home to run a marathon. I'm sure growing up she never envisioned that she would run 26.2 miles in the beautiful city that she used to call home. Nordea Bank had taken over sponsorship for the race and even offered some decent prize money which attracted some top level talent the last three years.

The race also featured a half marathon, which I had planned to run until a leg injury had curtailed my training. Marathon fever had also infect the Czarina's daughter and her hubby. Since the arrival of the little Princess a little over two years ago, both parents had packed on some pounds. So they trained for the 5K fun run which I decided was safe to run. A little side wager with the son-in-law of 10 Lats (20 Dollars) only added to the fun.The only negative is that the organizers did a horrible job of controlling the start line. Five thousand participants were on hand for the 5K and at least a couple of hundred costumed buffoons were up front. I wiggled my way up to within 20 feet of the start line, positioned just below the city's historic Old Town along the Daugava River. My nemesis was a good hundred yards behind stuck in the masses.The gun went off and I felt pretty good as did the leg. But just before the mile mark the son-in-law went striding by. I tried to keep pace but to no avail. He steadily pulled away hammering me by almost a full minute. The son-in-law was 190th out of the 5,000 plus runners, I came in at 296. The course was nearly two-tenths longer than a true 5K.
It wasn't long before the step-daughter made it in happy that her ordeal was over.
The little Princess was happy that both parents were back.The marathon started some 15 minutes after our race with perfect temperatures and overcast skies. We waited for the Czarina and she came by looking full of run, moving easily. The goal was to break four hours. I went back to the hotel to clean up and went back out to the course just a couple of blocks away. The race wound through the heart of the city taking two loops. I saw her again at about 18 miles. She looked tired and was in desperate need of a pit stop. Unfortunately the port-a-potties were occupied by spectators so she lost a couple of minutes before departing again.

We waited near the finish... and waited... and waited. Finally the Czarina appeared... looking worse for the wear. But she managed a smile and motored through the final mile.The time was about 4:20. The lack of water stations and stomach problems had done her in. It was that free breakfast at the hotel she would later claim. I think it was all the walking around the Old Town the day before. I had told her she needed to rest. In the end it wasn't nearly as catastrophic as we had feared. The Czarina had captured her age group title which helped make up for a disappointing time.But there was no rest for the weary runners. I had a plane to catch to St. Petersburg, Russia.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

If it's Thursday it must be Belgium

Time now to tell the tale of my adventure to Eastern Europe. The Czarina and I headed to Latvia on Wednesday May 13th. The journey was two-fold; first most importantly to meet my 32 month old granddaughter and second, meet with Russian television journalists in an attempt to help them become better story tellers.

The first leg of our travels took us from Fort Myers to Chicago and then to Brussels, Belgium. That stop in Brussels was the real wild card in this trip. I had found super cheap tickets to Brussels on American Airlines ($420 a piece round trip) and had booked cheap tickets on Air Baltic to Riga, Latvia. The problem was we had one hour and five minutes between flights.

First off, we arrived late. The flight crew realizing our problems moved us up to business class to help us get through customs and to baggage claim in a hurry. American wouldn't transfer our luggage automatically to Air Baltic so that meant we had to claim the bags. Once we got to the claims area we realized we were rapidly running out of time. Somehow the Czarina dialed in on an office that does the transfers and got it arraigned to get our bags transferred to Air Baltic while we made a mad dash to security.

When we arrived the line was staggering. Dozens of people stood in front of us but the Czarina was not deterred. Moving like a fullback through the defensive line we knifed our way up to the front, followed by a couple trying to get to Hungary who had been on our Chicago flight. We hustled through security and made it to the Air Baltic ticket stand with 15 minutes to spare.

We made it to Riga but unfortunately our luggage did not. Regardless the family reunion with the granddaughter I had never met went about as I expected. She's a very intelligent little girl (witnessed by her taste in sweatshirts) but it would take quite some time to break down the walls.

The bags would arrive around midday on Friday. It was a big relief. We needed our running gear for Sunday's big race, the Riga Marathon awaits.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

White Nights

Greetings from St. Petersburg, Russia. I've been Internet challenged the last few days so for those handful of loyal readers, forgive me for not posting. Yes, I'm blogging from one of the most beautiful cities in the world, hence the title of this blog. It's about 9:15 p.m. here and it will remain light out for another two hours. In another month it will stay light well after midnight.

It's a trip with a dual purpose. The first was to travel to Riga, Latvia, the Czarina's birthplace. It was a chance to visit my step-daughter, her husband, and a granddaughter I've never met. I would be remiss to say it is my first trip to Riga. It was a trip I supposed to about five years ago but sometimes the best laid plans go awry.

The other purpose was to travel to Russia on a mission for the U.S. State Department. Now before you think I'm some big wheel it's not quite that exciting. I'm spending some quality time with some Russian television journalists at one of St. Petersburg's new "private" TV stations. All I'm doing is getting them familiar with the American way of putting together news stories and the structure of American newsrooms and news gathering. I'm not sure that I'm the best teacher because I know a lot of people who are much better at explaining the art of TV news but the folks here seem entertained.

The most interesting thing about this station is that it runs no commercials. I repeat, the station runs no commercials. They still haven't explained to me how that works but the owners have very deep pockets and own other media properties, radio and newspapers, that are for profit.

I will return to Riga at the end of this week for a little more family time before heading back to the good old U.S.A. Have I mentioned already that I miss home? I will offer a more detailed series of accounts about this trip complete with pictures in the coming days. Paca!

Monday, May 11, 2009


The New York Times is reporting that journalist Roxana Saberi is free from an Iranian prison. Saberi's attorney says Iran's appeal court accepted their defense and will let her go with a two year suspended sentence. This is wonderful news.

I won't rest easy until Roxana is back on American soil. Her father Reza and mother Kiko have been in Iran for more than a month now working for their daughter's release. Reza says they plan to travel home in the next few days.

Roxana's return will set off a media firestorm. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out on the various networks. I'm sure she'll have quite a story to tell.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Lost Years

Graduation from college didn't change my general philosophy about running. Basically it consisted of the belief that less is more. I spent about eight years in what I would call a running wilderness. Training was haphazard, racing was haphazard, and with crazy, ever changing hours that working in a television newsroom could bring, staying disciplined was a challenge.

I lived everywhere. I first moved out to Eugene, Oregon leaving a part-time job in Kansas City because I loved the community and its place in running history. I had the good fortune to cover the 1976 Olympic Trials as a radio journalist and the experience was overwhelming. The community oozed track and field. The 76 trip led to my ill-fated move to Eugene in September of 1978.

My television career didn't go anywhere but the short time I spent there left an indelible mark on my psyche. I can remember sitting on the side of a hill next to the old cinder track that used to sit between Hayward Field and MacArthur Court watching an incredible repeat two mile workout which featured Bill McChesney, Rudy Chapa, and Alberto Salazar. The trip actually paid off professionally in the end because the connections I made in Eugene eventually landed me a major market job less than a year out of college.

I landed my first full time television gig in Minneapolis moving there in January 1979. Talk about a difficult running environment. But when spring finally sprung it was running nirvana. Just a hop, skip, and a jump away from the trials that surrounded three major lakes south of downtown I had great places to run. I even broke three hours for a second time at Grandma's Marathon. It's a great race if you ever get the chance.

From Minneapolis it was down to Little Rock, Arkansas in 1980 where I came face to face with the worst heat wave in the United States in the last 40 years. I would leave for work at 1 p.m. and the bank clock temperature gauge would read 105. It was that way for a month. I was doing runs at midnight to beat the heat.

Later that fall I finally landed a job back in Kansas City where I managed to stick around for seven years. The running was always the same, off and on. I remember running Hospital Hill in 1981 and barely breaking 1:30. I recall a great trip out to Atwood for their 10 mile race where I ran about 65 minutes but enjoyed the excellent company of some great KU runners, Tim Tays, Bob Luder, and Ted Crank. I remember going out to Eugene and running an 8K in just under 30 minutes. I ran a couple of out of shape marathons unable to break three hours.

I could never string together more than a couple of months of consistent training together and rarely would I run more than 40 miles in a week. It was frustrating because I knew that I still had some gas left in the tank. It all changed when I turned 30. But that story will have to wait for another time.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Pig Gout

Had to take one more swing at the swine flu simply because of this picture. It's been two weeks and I'm still tired.

I haven't run in nearly a month now (except for a couple of test jogs) because of a bad hamstring. The last time this happened was back in 2003 when I was preparing for the Boston Marathon. I didn't run for two months. My hammies are a mess. It all started back in 1994 when I was unemployed for about three months and all I did was run. I was in monster shape and went and ran a 10K and tore it. I kept re-injuring it over and over again for the better part of three months. The injury happened in May and I didn't get back to any serious training until October. I want to avoid the same fate.

It's going to be tough because I'm supposed to run a race with my wife in less than two weeks. I'm going to try and go jogging this weekend. If I can make it a couple of miles without any problems then there's hope, but I'm not counting on it. I'm guessing I won't be back to any real running until June.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Pig Out

Love the Swine Flu frenzy. I got sick more than a week ago and missed three days of work. I was miserable. I ran a high fever and suffered from congestion. I hit the doctor about two days before the Swine Flu hysteria reared its ugly head. Now the local rag says its been found in a local school kid. No kidding.

I was the first casualty in my office. Two of our project administrators have gotten sick this week. I don't have any doubt that they caught the bug from me. I was wheezing and hacking my way through work last Thursday, the day after my doctor's visit.

Since I started feeling the effects on Tuesday April 21st, today, Friday May 1st, is the first day that the whole lung/sinus thing has started to ease off. I ran a fever for five, count em' five days. At least now I feel like I can travel safety among the huddled masses without fear of catching it again. Now the Czarina is a whole different story. I bet she buys a mask before the weekend's out!