18 November, 2015

The Indoctrination is Nearly Complete. The Dogs Win.

You know you are hook, line & sinker in deep with your West Highland terrier(s) when you find yourself stepping into the garage to grind your coffee, so the noise doesn't startle the little white stuffies.

After our first 6 months together, I'm thrilled to report all is going well with the two and we love having them in our lives.

Is there a dark side? Well, truth be told, I was thinking about this the other day as they dragged me up our street - a life-sized arcade, launching squirrels across the road at random times - that I am not sure we will ever "solve" this Squirrel Thing. It makes me feel like I am living in a Frank Frazetta painting.
Just hold tight and be sure to breathe from the diaphragm... the squirrel is sure to vanish eventually
I expect that the sooner I embrace this, the better. To that end, I am looking forward to our first snowfall, when I will try laying down on a Crazy Carpet and let them pull me to their hearts' content. Note to self: remember my son's GoPro camera for that...

19 August, 2015

What One Person Learned from Two Dogs in Three Weeks

- After years of running races and triathlons - some of them quite long and some fairly quickly, I'd come to think of myself as a "runner." I now know, after finding myself tethered to a running West Highland Terrier (westie), I am, in fact, not.
"Donut" - photo copyright Andrea Chow

- That fundamental human skill - where we learn to holler "Off!" - is best taught by the westie command action of jumping onto things humans once considered special.
- Two individual leashes are simply in the temporary state of being what we call "untangled." Their natural condition is a tightly coiled knot, linking a hapless walker with two westies intermingling like coy in a restaurant aquarium.

- An 1800 sq. ft. house has over 1700 sq. ft. of additional space in which a westie can nap than its owners originally allowed for. This is not entirely a problem, given the incredible Swiffer-like quality of westies' coats.
- If I yelled as loudly as our two westies bark I'd be hoarse. If I ate as relentlessly as they could I'd weigh as much as a horse.
- Squirrels must have either an agenda or a perverted sense of humour, considering how rarely they stop and bob their tails around for 15 minutes unless westies are barking at them.
- A walking westie's ability to hoover anything off the ground without breaking stride is on par with its resolve to clamp its jaws shut when humans try to find out what was sucked in.
- A fence may be built to dog-proofed standards, but can only be certified once a westie has wedged, stuck, jammed, wiggled, shaken, pryed and thrust its snout along every centimetre of its length and seams, countless times a day, for several weeks. Just to be sure. Because, you never know when something might want to get in. Or out.
Yes, I know - two articles ago I was ranting about dog owners ignorantly blocking pathways. Now the shoe is on the other foot - we've adopted two Westie rescues. Life, it would seem, is not lived linearly.

25 May, 2015

Furthermore... I May Experience Anxiety

My new perspective on cycling comes from the ground floor. After four months of riding Milton's National Cycling Centre velodrome, I see this part of the Ontario Cycling Associations membership insurance waver in a new light:
4. Furthermore, I am aware:

a) That injuries sustained can be severe;

b) That I may experience anxiety while challenging myself during the sport of cycling and the activities, events and programs;
 While looking forward to the Pan Am / Parapan American Games this summer, I am even more anxious to tackle my fear of heights when the velodrome re-opens in September. Hopefully my flying 200m times will be the only things tumbling down.

21 March, 2015

For Runners: A New Twist on Dog Leashes

An Invention for Tumbling Runners - The Bowser Bomb

To paraphrase Lance: It's not about the dog.

It isn't often that we see the words "pedestrian" and "explosives" in the same sentence - usually for good reason - but in this case we can make an exception. By pedestrians I refer only to dog walkers of the ignorant sort, and the explosives are not so much Hollywood blockbuster finale as firecrackers. Really big firecrackers.
Before we get into the pyrotechnics, let's set the stage by considering the players in this drama:
You - the human who wants to run on a reasonably safe and pleasant route outdoors.*
The Dog – an unpredictable, free-spirited quadruped that chases vehicles, fetches balls, and snatches morsels of food from the tip of its nose quicker than you can say Jack Russell! (that last one being no mean feat, I assure you, having tried it myself countless times- and all of them at just that one party, if memory serves).
The Dog Walker – judging by its distinguishing features and largely erect, bipedal posture – a member of that sub-set of humans that serves dogs by picking up their poop and standing around idly while their animal smells things.
The Leash – any cable, string, rope, chain, or ribbon-like contrivance that tethers dog, walker, and runner into a Bermuda triangle of comical, hazardous, high-stepping dances that often result in injury, most likely to the runner.
The Problem The runner does not wish to dance; there is no music and the footwear is all wrong.

Avoiding this nonsense seems simple on the surface: if the walker and/or dog could just move to any other spot on the face of the entire earth - often just a teensy step to either side of where they are right now - it might negate the dog/leash hazard and all parties could go about their business unimpeded. We're just talking about enough clearance for a human to squeeze through, with reasonably safe footing, in an area normally roomy enough to accommodate everyone (assuming they were conscious).

The Solution an invention I've perfected at least in my mind, from the comfort of bed as I lie awake summoning the gumption to head out for early morning runs that runners can use to "manipulate the dog walker's spatial coordinates" (ie. physically move them), clearing just enough space to pass safely.

The only criteria I reckon we'd need is for it to be something that would stun more than harm, and be sufficiently light and compact to discreetly clip onto a hydration belt. Result: the Bowser Bomb.

The Simple 4-Step Bowser Bomb Process:

1) On approaching the miscreant dog walker, make all reasonable efforts to get its attention (clapping, clearing the throat, a quick toot from a hand-held Klaxon) thus giving it the opportunity to take the right action before things quickly escalate. This also affords you some measure of legal protection should questions of due process arise. Typically, unless you are downwind from a fire hydrant, the dog will notice you but its innate dearth of cat-level smarts means it will lack the executive thinking skills to figure out how to change the course of fate on its own. Plus it will be sizing you up on its own instinctive PE (play vs. edibility) scale. Remember, unlike its walker, it can't help itself; it's just a dog.
2) At this point, assuming the walker continues in its state of passive disregard (or active contempt - it all amounts to the same thing) and you are faced with stopping and turning around, jumping over the quivering leash, or blazing an ankle-twisting detour, it's time to discreetly reach for your BB. Just like a gel packet, place the BB's tab in your teeth and tear off the trigger, being sure to not swallow the contents out of habit. You can now lob the BB toward the walker, confident in your anonymity because, of course, its concussive force should render the walkers' short term memory kaput. In a perfect world the BB will soar close to the walker without making actual skin contact (superficial burns) and commence its "release of influential energy" (explode). If you've correctly matched your BB volume to the walker's general girth the results will be swift and sublime: the walker will experience a brief flight away from the BB's "event zone," simultaneously becoming limp all over. This not only cushions its landing, in the way a drunk driver usually survives collisions unharmed, but more importantly the leash is usually released, dropping to the ground and clearing the way as...
3) ... the runner strides over the grounded leash and continues running, safe and unimpeded.
4) More often than not the dog will be so impressed by this turn of events that it will just stare in slack-jawed wonderment before returning to smelling things. Should it choose to chase you, it will be more to gambol about and thank you for its new-found freedom than to take a chunk from your calf.

If it's a good day for the walker, it will not lose complete consciousness, and, instead, spring back to its feet within the half hour, likely not remembering a thing.

I'd imagine the BB will be most effective in one-owner/one-leash/one-dog confrontations. Clearly, something packing more firepower is needed to handle multi-leash dog walking services and the poly-dog clusters of stroller-pushing latte-sippers clotting up pathways in leisurely klatches that call to mind those ridiculous giant human doilies formed by suicidal parachutists linking arms in mid-air; the problem here is in the risk of running injuries when the ordnance size approaches what's used in mining and mountain highway construction. Runners might develop scoliosis if loaded down with BBs for large groups - the weight penalties alone would harmfully skew training plans. More pre-dawn tossing and turning will be needed to solve this one. If I can't sleep, at least I can dream.

* Bowser Bomb not intended for indoor use.

20 February, 2015

Baby It's Cold Outside

My Take: The Felixometer - the domestic cat as thermometer.

Must be old age - it seems very hard to justify the amount of time/hassle getting girded against the cold for a run these recent days, when wind chills drop south of -30 degrees C. Thank heavens for the new Milton velodrome; I've been able to take in a few of the Drop In lapping sessions since getting certified, and it is a thrill & a half. This week our 6:30am morning ride was spiced up with the local media interviewing some Canadian cycling royalty, as Olympic medalists Steve Bauer and Curt Harnett took many journalists around the boards for a taste of the thrills in store.
I'm beginning to think we can tone down the publicity for a while: time slots are filling so fast that pretty much every session is sold out as soon as it goes online. Good problem to have, I suppose!
As Harnett waxes on for the cameras, I'm either pulling away or about to be lapped...

28 December, 2014

NSFW Santa & Our Shameless Suburban Side Show

With the holidays now upon us, it's really hitting home how much I miss our former neighbour, Troy. Like most decent community members, he was always quick with a smile and a wave; he kept his property in good order; his kids were never too loud past midnight. Troy was pretty quiet, too - he even switched off his Harley at the top of our street, silently coasting past our homes and into his garage like he was on a giant chromed mouse.

Our new neighbours are great folks, too - really sweet people - but they can never quite make me smile the way Troy inadvertently did every Christmas season. He usually opted for a tasteful wreath, a couple of colourful floods, some cut-out paper snowflakes on his windows; nothing too showy or... deliberately obscene. But the final three, hilarious years he lived across the street from us, he set up an inflatable lawn display featuring a Santa character methodically rising and lowering inside his chimney in a glacially-paced game of peek-a-boo with a Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer figure facing him. This hardly merited a second glance, unless, given the right meteorological conditions, this slo-mo pas de deux got animated in ways far more enchanting than its designers ever could have imagined.

When weather turned sour and the breezes kicked up, it became a family tradition for us to gather around our front window, cradling hot cocoas, blankets on our laps and Bing Crosby on the stereo, and watch Troy's display metamorphose before our eyes. As divine good luck would have it, Troy's air-filled icons were aligned to the prevailing nor'westers that sometimes came barreling down our street. These gave Rudolph almighty slaps on his back, folding him forward. Each time Santa emerged from his huge bricked sheath, the flailing reindeer would crumple straight into Santa's waiting arms and groin. With just the right gusts this pneumatic love fest would then commence bucking rhythmically, transforming this innocent commingling into a raunchy tussle.

With the dutiful indifference of a porn star, the smiling red-nosed playmate would plunge down on his master, hammering at his waistline briefly, teasingly, before Santa waggled back down his chimney lest an unseen Mrs. Claus should catch them in flagrante delicto. On a good day the wind and their stamina would last well into the evening, sending us off to bed with visions of things far different than sugar plums dancing in our heads, as we tried to fall asleep while laughing out loud.

Not an actual recording of Troy's lawn. Animated for your perverse pleasure with Adobe Photoshop & Premiere

Each morning we'd wake to the same sight – deflated fabric lay scattered across Troy's yard, barely hinting at the sexual bacchanalia that sizzled on this snowy lawn the night before. Collapsed across the privet as if sleeping off a bender, the jolly old elf's frozen grin and Rudolph's tumescent schnoz suggested both were in a state of perpetual arousal, eagerly dreaming of the next chance to consummate their elicit paring.

Troy may never know what happened each time he plugged in that little puttering compressor of his, but we thank our lucky stars it filled his streetfront porn stars with the Spirit of Christmas Perversion.

24 October, 2014

Marathon Training Interruptus & my Great Wall adventure

     Most sane people don't deliberately insert a two-week break in their marathon training programs; certainly not without expecting some tears come race day. But if this hiatus comes early enough in the plan perhaps it is not the end of the world - especially if it takes you to the ends of your world.
     I needed to be in Beijing for a couple of weeks over July and August to supervise an animated co-production with a partner university. Our generous hosts ensured we were ushered around to some classic city sites and our small crew of student interns had the times of our lives. But Beijing's notorious smog meant that my running gear remained stowed for the most part, the Air Quality Index seemingly always hovering between 180-300. Besides a brief blue-sky window of opportunity one day when I snuck in a few short kilometers around the campus, the sum total of my workouts was confined to elbowing aside elders gumming up the stairs to the emperors' Summer Palace, pedaling around Kunming Lake aboard a paddle-boat that felt tethered to the dock, and wandering the endless hallways in the capital city's warren of subway lines.
Beijing - time to lay low
Meanwhile, back at the ranch in lucky old Canada...
      I was, in the words of a desperate billiards player, due for a run (pun not intended, but apt).
     As if someone heard me, the following day we were shuttled 120 kms NE of Beijing to Gubei – a picturesque town that developers term 'The Water City' but displaced residents know better as 'The Site Where Graft and Secret Consortiums Uprooted Our Families.' This is a gateway to Simatai, one of the more rugged segments of China's Great Wall. We arrived at the outskirts of the village mid-morning expecting the usual throngs of tourists and instead found ourselves in a ghost town; a beautiful, newly-built replica of Ming dynasty architecture that was largely uninhabited. Store fronts were still being cleared of building debris, wire pigtails sprouted from the walls of freshly-hewn stone. Vines obediently wound their way up to the first of many looms waiting to train their paths, while everywhere signs were still being screwed onto posts. Our accidental timing put us in a trough ahead of the waves of humanity that soon would crest this village's meandering walkways. For now, though, we had this amazing, silent space all to ourselves.
     Always in the distance, through the day's hot haze, we could see the Great Wall's iconic watchtowers taking form as we walked closer. The ragged path they traced along the ridge top seemed to get steeper and more unlikely by the minute. One could not help but think, How? Even more to the point: Why?! In deference to those in our party who were disinclined to inclines, we took the cable car that rose halfway up the massive ridge to the north. Once there, an empty trail snaked its way up to the eighth of a dozen or so watchtowers. As a group we weren't fast, but I mentally checked off hill work on my list of overdue workouts.
     The wall itself was, of course, amazing – something everyone should experience if they ever get the chance. This region's vistas, clouded by Beijing's residual smog, were layered with rugged edges like dragon's teeth. The wall's undulations made California's Marin County fire roads look like a kiddie ride; were I part of a Mongolian horde looking up at these sheer man-made cliffs, I would definitely throw in the towel and head back for a home-cooked meal. 
        Pillage and plunder was the last thing on my mind as I doffed my hiking clothes (run shorts underneath!) and with a quick salute to my students I launched myself eastward, rising further still into the hazy sky. As soon as I passed through the first watchtower I was suddenly, absolutely alone, not a soul in sight anywhere... so of course I kept running! The centuries-old cobbles kept my attention for the most part, but as I slowed on some of the steeper sections (onto all fours on one set of stairs) I could look out at the vistas and marvel at their natural beauty and at the sheer audacity behind this ribbon of rocks and bricks I was using. 
      Here I was stretching my legs on one of the most stunning. iconic pathways the world has ever known, and for this brief time I had it all to myself. Or so I thought. 
Just as I came to the 12th watchtower, I saw that the far doorway was barricaded, signs up warning of dangers ahead. I had reached the end of the line, beyond which the famous Heavenly Ladder, Sky Bridge, and Fairy Tower snaked their way precipitously higher. 
Hikers more intrepid than me have perished beyond here, so the gummint said No more!
Just as I reached the barricade, thinking I would rest a minute in my solitude, taking in this profound communion between nature and human history, a man's voice not more than a metre behind me called for me to stop. I wheeled around, my spiritual reverie shattered, and saw a soldier squatting behind an archway. He apparently was stationed here to prevent people like me from going further - if we had plans to do so. Which I didn't.
Judging by both of our reactions, neither expected the other – him because I ran up, on silent shoes, likely not panting quite as much as some of the tourists he so rarely sees, and me because, well, I thought I was having a Private Bloody Moment To Myself. Skipping anything intelligent, I blurted out in my finest King's English, Oh... hi!, turned on my heels, and headed back to the rest of the world. On the plus side, I see it as good that I surprised him – he had no chance to pick up the Kalashnikov that apparently more than one trekker has seen soldiers brandishing at this lofty cul de sac. That would be something: Sorry sir, I am obliged to shoot you if you insist on going further. We do not want you to risk hurting yourself.

07 June, 2014

mmmmm... That 'New Track' Smell...

Not only is our region blessed with some terrific trail running just beyond our subdivision, but now a nearby public high school has laid down an 8-lane run track. It is so new that when I went for an exploratory run this past week I found its red top coat had just finished curing, and I was one of the first to ever run on it; the chalk lines for the as-yet-unpainted stripes had been just laid down.
Eight lanes, no waiting -- and no excuses not to do speed work...
sure, it's quiet now; in time the dog walkers, the skateboarders, the tottering old coots, and arm-swinging, Fuel-belt toting inside-lane yakkers will discover it. Until then: an awesome public space!

crunchy on the outside, cushy-squishy underneath!
I quickly laced up and set off around the pristine, primer-coloured oval, feeling quite studly through my first eight, ten strides. As I got up to 'speed' (which for me, entails 'quotation marks' due to how relative my 'speed' is to a state of actual 'speediness') I found my panting lungs exchanging huge, loud volumes of whatever odoriferous solvents lingered from the new surface's treatment. In a trice I was whisked back to memories of my dad driving up in his spanking new '66 Buick (all fun and games until finding out that our inaugural ride around the block hinged on us taking our shoes off before entering.)
Google sat. view - several months outdated - under my GPS plot; actual run experience was much less crude.
By the time I hit the backstretch I found myself already doing the math in my head - that special calculus instinctively conjured up by undertrained athletes everywhere - that results in compromises and deals with the devil to make this end sooner than planned. This unsullied course was not going to gift me any shortcuts to fitness; my slow road back from autumn/winter injuries now stretched out further into the horizon than I'd thought possible. After a few 400m intervals I was completely spent.

So much was going right, too: it was a gorgeous, late spring afternoon; there were no adolescent malcontents idly cracking armpit farts in the stone bleachers as I passed; I did not have that second burger that beckoned to me at lunch beforehand. As I returned to my car, sweat dripping off the tip of my nose, I laughed at my enthusiasm from a half hour earlier. Sure, I'll be back... and if I never quite match the paces I once had, I just hope the armpit fart-crackers won't have found me. 

25 April, 2014

Die! You Gravy Sucking Pig

There you lie, the last of your kind, on the north side of an apartment building in Waterloo, cowering under this pathetic whithered shroud of last year's pine needles. Dusted from the filth of your unending winter bender, you lie there inert and cool to the touch, crusty like an unwashed rummy sleeping off his last mouthful of distilled damnation.* Your reign was the stuff of Shakespearean legend - relentless, aggressive, driven by hubris: Fie on you, foul pile - even as the hounds of spring doth curse your alabaster shores with their yellow nectar. Sure enough, in the end you too will eventually evaporate and wind up as some mere cloud of vapour; with any luck you will drift far from here and condense on the inside of a toilet bowl in a god-forsaken overcrowded frat house some Friday night next autumn.

Melt as slowly as you like in the shadows, you bastard - I, for one, would happily wait around to kick the dust of summer square into your tiny trickle of tears... but I prefer to rush home and put on shorts. Goosebumps be damned.

Wow. That felt good. And to think I even enjoyed cross-country skiing this past December...

*Thanks to Matt Johnson, "Perfect."

08 March, 2014

One Way to Improve My Running (Snow)Shoes...

... would be to lose the horseshoe-shaped rims at the rear that form indentations in the heels. During warmer snowy weather - when most sane folks are tobogganing instead of racking up mileage - I can't get in more than a few strides without the soles packing full of snow and actually forming incredible lumps under the heels.

Traipsing like a sullen runway model in stilettos, I try telling myself these times are perfect to work on my forefoot strikes. But that's pointless because within a few more strides I am landing on the tips of my toes the way a ballet dancer would if it was Swan Lake danced on top of snowmen.
Dramatization: Not Real Heel Build-Up... It Just Feels Like This
Mizuno: I love you - if you were not a corporation I would kiss you, your shoes are so nice. But really, even if you have to resort to implanting tiny ultrasound transmitters to break up the clumps, or coat the soles in some toxic snow repellent tested on orphaned baby black rhinos' eyes, please just do whatever's necessary for me to run level more than seven months each year!

Okay, so maybe the rhinos were a bit much, but still... you try running with these in the snow and we'll see who's a diva.