October 30, 2012

My Recovery Run

So last Saturday I ran the Spinx half marathon during my Mastodon trip to Greenville, South Carolina. There was joy. There was fun. There was suffering in the sun. But that story is for another post. Suffice it to say I ran 13.1 miles and, so far as I can tell, lived to tell of it.

Sunday was a travel day, and I intended to take yesterday and today as recovery days before easing back into my training for the Vegas Rock 'N Roll half marathon in December. Apparently my dog / personal trainer Berkeley had other ideas.

Berk: "OMG! OMG! You're home from work! Time to play!"

Me:  "Hey bud. Good to see you. Now settle."

"Settle? I don't think so! I've been napping all day. Time to play!"

"Bud, I'm tired."

"Fine. I'll entertain myself."

"Berkeley Cooper put down that bed! Come back! Your bed is NOT a toy!"

"OK fat boy, we're going for a run then."

"No, we're staying home. I'm still sore. Ouch! Ouch! Stop biting my feet!"

"You're wearing SOCKS. You know I own all socks in this house."

"Those are my work socks. Drop them. Stop chewing my socks!"

"OK, but I have ways to persuade you to run."

"Ouch! Dude, why do you have to punch me? I have so many bruises on my thighs, my doctor is going to ask me if I'm in a 'safe place' next time I see him."

"We can do this the easy way or the hard way. Your call."

"OK, settle down and we'll go for a run. A SLOW run."

"That's more like it. Hey! What are those?"

"Gloves. It's chilly out."

"Those aren't gloves! Those are FRONT PAW SOCKS! ATTACK!"

"Ouch! Dude, my hands are in those gloves! Ouch!"

"Well let's run then."

"Slowly. Ouch! What was that punch for?"

"We're running fast. Get with the program."

"Ouch! Fast is fine then. No sprinting!"


"I am sore. I've run two half marathons in the past two weeks."

"Whatever. You need some speed work, fat guy. Whoa! Trick or treaters! Bet they want to party. Hey kids! Want to play? Huh? Huh?"

"Berk! Enough! You win, we'll run faster. Stop scaring the kids."

"They aren't scared. They love me. Everyone loves me."

"I'm not loving you so much right now. My legs hurt. We're going to walk this hill."

"Hill? Yay! SPRINT!!"


"Baby. Suck it up. It's just a hill."


"Knock it off. You're embarrassing me. Now sprint home!"

"Can't ... breathe ... help ... me ..."

"Hey, good run! Now get me a treat. I said, GET ME A TREAT!"

"Chicken jerky OK?"

"It'll do. Oh, and we're running again in the morning."

"No we're not. We just ran five miles fast."

"Don't make me wake you up."

"Ouch! OK, we'll talk about it. Ouch!"

Don't even think of running without me.

Play with me. Or else.

October 22, 2012

My Accidental PR—A Half Marathon Soft Opening

Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt):  "It's a soft opening. To test the place before the grand opening."

Linus Caldwell (Matt Damon):  "Yeah it's kinda like a out of town preview on the town."

Saul Bloom (Carl Reiner):  "Soft opening, grand opening. When they opened the Flamingo, one day it was closed, the next day it was open. End of story. I know, I was there."

~Ocean's 13 (2007)

It was a hectic last week. A major appellate brief to file. An unexpected three day trip to Phoenix to put out some corporate fires. The usual stuff that justifies my existence and my salary.

I got back into town after midnight Friday night, errr, Saturday morning. Berkeley greeted me with a slobbery assault, but was none too excited when I pushed him off his comfy perch on my legs at 7:00 a.m. to go coach my junior high Mock Trial team for our final practice before the regional tournament. Then it was off to Iowa City for some tailgating and night football with the sig other; well, tailgating at least, considering the Hawkeyes apparently forgot they had a game against Penn State. After a late night drive home, I finally crawled into bed after midnight, utterly exhausted.

So, why was I up again at 4:30 a.m. Sunday morning? Why wasn't I sleeping in late? Two good questions Berkeley was probably pondering as he once again lost the use of my legs as his pillows. The short answer—I'm an idiot. The long answer—I was registered to run the IMT Des Moines Half Marathon.

As I discussed recently following my Ali-like return to competitive road racing, I have been inspired by a bunch of poker degenerates to convert my irregular fitness routine into a quest to recapture the halcyon days of my running prime, or at least to give myself a physical challenge to pursue in an effort to deny the effects of advancing middle age. My major goal is to run a solid time in the Vegas half marathon, held this year on the auspicious date of my actual 43rd birthday. I don't have a lot of life rules, but one of them is, if you plan to run under the neon lights of Vegas, be in good enough shape you don't die—at least not in front of the Stratosphere or Circus Circus. Pro tip: Wynn and Aria are much classier places to collapse from ventricular fibrillation.

So I have been pushing an irregular training schedule since early summer, inspired by the sage advice/torture tactics of poker-running guru/fanatic Poker Peaker (a/k/a Dan England). Most of the Peaker's advice includes wisdom such as, "Run faster!" and "Kill you not, tempo runs will." Still, I have slowly regained some of my prior speed and stamina over the past few months, enough so I no longer fear embarrassing myself come Vegas—well, at least not in the half marathon. I can't make any guarantees about WPBT-related festivities.

This summer, I set an ambitious goal of breaking 1:51.26 (8:30 min/mile pace) in Vegas. Hey, it's good to have goals. I knew I would need at least one long road race under my belt prior to Vegas, just to get back in the road racing groove. So I looked at the Des Moines running calendar and focused on two races—the Capital Pursuit 10-mile race and the Des Moines Half Marathon. I figured Capital Pursuit would be a good test of my progress, sort of a "proof of concept" run. The Des Moines Half Marathon would serve as a second preparation race as well as the perfect training run six weeks out from Vegas. A soft opening if you will.

Of course, I signed up for both races before committing to the Spinx half marathon as part of the Mastodon experience. So, with the Des Moines and Greenville races on back-to-back weekends, what was the ideal solution? Well, other than getting one of the races rescheduled, which is actually much more difficult than one might expect.

Based on my fairly solid—and liquid—performance during the recent Capital Pursuit, I decided to keep my appointment with the Des Moines Marathon as a "serious" training race on my way to Vegas. The Spinxville race, on the other hand, would be a leisurely romp focused more on enjoying the company of friends than pushing my physical and mental limits in search of a personal record (PR).

PRs. Funny thing—I didn't have one for the half-marathon. I had run a lot of road races in my prime, but they were mostly 10Ks, 10-milers (Capital Pursuit), 20Ks (Dam2Dam), and one marathon. Ten years and twenty pounds ago, I ran a 20K (12.4 miles) in 1:32:13 (7:25/mile pace), which would translate into roughly a 1:37:00 half marathon. These days my older, fatter self has a Vegas goal of breaking 1:51:26 (8:30/mile pace). So, I figured if I ran 1:55:00 or better (8:45/mile pace) in the Des Moines Marathon, I would be in good position to make my goal for Vegas.

So, how did I do? Well, here are the splits via my Garmin watch and the official race timing chip lashed to my shoe:

Mile        Split
  1          7:41.1
  2          8:31.8
  3          7:36.7
  4          7:59.9
  5          7:58.6
  6          8:15.3

 6.5         54:35 (chip split)

  7          8:13.4
  8          8:17.7
  9          8:15.7
10          8:24.4
11          8:40.1
12          8:34.6
13          8:09.6
13.1       1:22.4

Final       1:47:59 (chip time) (8:14/mile pace)

All things considered, I think I will give myself a solid "B+" for the race. I broke my goal pace by over 30 seconds per mile (tough), and my pace was right on the money with my pace for the Capital Pursuit 10-miler last month (very tough). Even more satisfying were Miles 6-10, where I ran consistent splits right at my race pace rather than slowing down significantly, something I have struggled with in prior races (Coach Peaker's tempo run torture really paid off). I did tweak an ankle late in the race (around Mile 10), but after 25 years of basketball injuries, my ankles really have no ligaments left and are held together with the natural equivalent of balin' wire and duct tape. Also, my kick the last two miles was not as fast as I would have liked. But I finished the race feeling strong, like I left a little in the tank.

Suddenly, running Vegas in 1:51:00 seems rather ... pedestrian. Maybe I can shoot for breaking 1:45:00 (8:00/mile pace). Heck, it wouldn't even be my greatest run-good PR for Vegas. It's good to have goals.

"Your shorts make your butt look fast."

"Bear! Run faster!"

"Half a mile for a full beer."

~Signs at the 2012 IMT Des Moines Half Marathon

October 05, 2012

Hellmuth & the Hobgoblin

"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines."

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

In 1961, Roger Maris was chasing Babe Ruth's record for most home runs in a season. However, by that point in time, the season had been lengthened by eight games from the 154 game season played in Ruth's day. So, MLB Commissioner Ford Frick stated that, unless Ruth's record was broken in the first 154 games of the season, Maris' record would be noted officially as having been set in the longer 162 game season. The so-called "asterisk" debate stirred up great controversy, and led Maris himself to have a bitter view of how he was treated after breaking Ruth's record.

Yesterday, poker legend Phil Hellmuth became the first poker player to win both the WSOP Main Event and the WSOP Europe Main Event. The big win pushed Hellmuth into the lead for the 2012 WSOP Player of the Year award. Hellmuth's victory also extended his world record for WSOP bracelets to 13.

Or did it?

As reported by none other than poker media legend Shamus two years ago, there is (or at least was) some controversy over whether WSOP-Europe bracelets "count" as much as good old-fashioned WSOP-Vegas bracelets. Shamus even dug up a nifty quote from none other than great bracelet hound himself:

Phil Hellmuth, the all-time leader in WSOP bracelets won with 11, also chimed in on the subject this week. He was interviewed on the Hardcore Poker Show (the 9/27/10 episode) where he said he believed a WSOPE bracelet was "not the same thing" as a regular WSOP bracelet, adding that "everybody knows it's not really a bracelet."

The irony is delicious.

The debate over whether WSOP-Euope bracelets are equal in stature to WSOP-Vegas bracelets was hashed out thoroughly by poker media heavyweights BJ Nemeth and "Pokerati" Dan Michalski in the comments section of a Wicked Chops Poker post. To sum up, Nemeth noted that top poker pros did not regard WSOP-Europe bracelets as having the same prestige as WSOP-Vegas bracelets. Instead, Nemeth observed that poker players placed the greatest weight on WSOP Main Event and Players' Championship bracelets, then all other WSOP-Vegas bracelets were roughly equal in the next tier of prestige, and WSOP-Europe bracelets were yet another tier down the pecking order (often not counting as "bracelets" for bracelet prop bets). Michalski countered that if the Harrah's (now Caesars) empire declared an event a WSOP event and awarded a bracelet, then it was a WSOP bracelet regardless of the venue.

So, should Hellmuth's WSOP-Europe bracelet "count" as a "real" WSOP bracelet? As much as I love it when pesky hobgoblins come back to bite pompous jerks like Hellmuth, I nonetheless consider Hellmuth's WSOP-Europe bracelet the equal of his other bracelets (except his WSOP Main Event bracelet, of course).

If Hellmuth wants to justify changing his view as to the prestige given to WSOP-Europe bracelets, he can point to the fact that WSOP-Europe events now count toward the overall WSOP Player of the Year standings. But more fundamentally, I think WSOP-Europe bracelets are the equal of WSOP-Vegas bracelets on their own merits. Tournaments in both venues are generally among the largest in terms of buy-ins and numbers of players, and the player pools generally have greater depth and breadth of talent. Also, the WSOP-Europe events emphasize the "World" part of the WSOP. Back in the 1970s and 1980s, poker and the WSOP were dominated by Americans, and Vegas was the center of the poker world. Since the explosion of online poker, poker has truly become a worldwide phenomenon. WSOP final tables routinely have multiple non-American players, and non-Americans have won a sizable share of WSOP bracelets (including Main Event bracelets) over the past decade. Staging a WSOP series of tournaments in Europe—home to players like Peter Eastgate, Annette Obrestad, Pius Heinz, Antoine Saout, Viktor "Isildur1" Blom, and Bertrand "ElkY" Grospellier (just to name a few)—emphasizes the international popularity of the game and does nothing to diminish the accomplishments of the WSOP-Europe bracelet winners.

Disparagement of WSOP-Europe bracelets seems to be an extension of the criticism that the overall proliferation of bracelet events cheapens the value of a bracelet (there were fewer than 25 bracelet events per year prior to 2001, but then exploded into more than 50 bracelet events per year by 2007). This complaint misses the mark, however. The number of serious competitive poker players also exploded in the past decade in a perfect storm of internet poker, the Moneymaker boom, and poker media coverage, making a bracelet win a significantly more difficult accomplishment than even a decade ago.

Frankly, the discussion of the relative prestige of WSOP-Vegas and WSOP-Europe bracelets is just another contrived sports fan debate. It's really no different than the debate over whether Tiger Woods' four Grand Slam wins in a row constituted a true Grand Slam because they did not occur in the same calendar year, or an argument about whether current NFL passing and receiving records can be compared to records from the 1970s and 1980s when different rules were in force. These kinds of issues make for great faux debates, full of strong opinions but ultimately pointless. At the end of the day, players can only compete in the conditions as they are, not as they were, will be, or should be. Hellmuth's poker career spans over 23 years, with WSOP results of nearly 50 final tables in at least nine different poker disciplines, not to mention five runner-up finishes to complement his 13 bracelets, earned against increasingly larger and more sophisticated tournament fields. Hellmuth's WSOP-Europe Main Event bracelet is unquestionably deserving of the same prestige as his other WSOP bracelet wins.

But, if you have Hellmuth at your table in a tournament, I double dog dare you to tell him his record of 13 bracelets has an asterisk. Hilarity will ensue!