Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Violence in Mexico


San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
After spending a month in the heart of Mexico, in the state of Jalisco, in 2010, and a week in San Miguel de Allende, in the state of Guanajuato, in October, 2015, and after talking to dozens of expatriates from the United States, Canada, and Europe, I feel confident that the information I'm about to impart is reliable and unbiased.
A typical street in this UNESCO World Heritage City.
The answer to the question about violence is documented in an incident I managed to videotape in 2010, which is still relevant today. This tape briefly but accurately depicts the violence most expats will experience directly or indirectly in Mexico. Please take a moment now to click on the link and see the mayhem for yourself.

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Art Abounds in San Miguel

Walkway in Toller Cranston's Complex
Nancy, Bevyn, and I struggled to define exactly what makes San Miguel de Allende, a colonial town in Mexico, so magical. 
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Culinary Delights in San Miguel de Allende


This is the first place I ever stayed in Mexico almost twenty years ago.  I'm delighted it's still where I left it! The hotel rooms surround the delightful central dining courtyard. 
American restaurants try. Entrepreneurs spend thousands on decor intended to foster a pleasant ambience and hearty appetites. Some places even attempt to emulate European sidewalk cafes although that usually results in a few tables placed on the city sidewalk with a view of passing traffic and the scent of gas fumes. In Mexico, though, you'd be hard-pressed to find a restaurant that was not unique, beautiful and charming serving delicious food at prices so inexpensive you are tempted to frame the check.
95 pesos is 5.71 US

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Equality in Mexico?


People are often confused by Mexicans' seemingly playful attitude towards death, but la Catrina, a sexy skeleton often cast in provocative poses, was originally intended as a political statement.  The curator of San Francisco's Mexican Museum, David de la Torre, says, "Catrina has come to symbolize not only El Día de los Muertos [Day of the Dead] and the Mexican willingness to laugh at death itself, but originally catrina was an elegant or well-dressed woman, so it refers to rich people. Death brings this neutralizing force; everyone is equal in the end. Sometimes people have to be reminded."

In a land where the wealthy are very rich indeed, the poor struggle to earn a few dollars a day, and the middle class is almost non-existent, it is crucial for everyone to remember that there are certain aspects of daily life that are the same for everyone. Death may be the major equalizer in Mexico, but it's not the only one.

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Casas in San Miguel de Allende

Unlike American houses where "curb appeal" is a desirable attribute, Mexican houses are intentionally designed to have no curb appeal at all. It is only when you get beyond the nondescript exterior that you see the hidden treasures like the courtyard above.

There are a couple good reasons for this lack of public appeal.

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The Heart of San Miguel de Allende

The jardin, or main plaza in San Miguel de Allende, is always humming with activity.  The Parroquia, modeled after European churches, is located on one side of the jardin while stores, restaurants, and civic buildings surround the other three sides.

You can sit in the shade of the laurel trees, which have been sculpted to provide shade rather than symmetry, and watch the
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Monday, October 26, 2015

Dick Collins 50M

Wow! It's been a long time since I have done a race recap.

In 2013, Dick Collins was my first 50 mile trail race. I had no idea how to pace myself. I just said that I was going to "walk every hill". I finished just under 10 hours and I was very proud of that time. Last year, I was in pretty good shape and I ran it again, knocking about a half an hour off my time, and finishing in 9:29. This year, I was not in pretty good shape. I had been running about 15 - 30 miles a week and doing 1 or 2 days of HIIT training. I was not watching what I ate and I had been spending long hours at work and getting not enough sleep every day.

My expectations of myself were pretty low. I just wanted to get under 11 hours, which would mean basically I could run a minute and a half per mile slower (or walk more) than last year and I would still be okay. There was a friend of mine who ran last year and we ended up finishing together (hand in hand across the finish line!) and he was also running this year and I thought my A goal would be to just keep up with him.

The race starts off in the dark, along a paved path that goes partially around Lake Chabot. I ran along and talked to some friends, but soon I felt that need to pass people (I always get antsy at the start) and so I said goodbye to them and took off. Luckily this part of the race was on a fire trail so it was no pressure to pass or be passed, like it would on a single track. I ended up running with a lady who was running her first 50 mile race and she was doing a great job. We ran together for several miles before she peeled off to visit the bushes and I pressed on.

Luckily, the weather was cooperating. It was about 50 degrees and it was a bit foggy, which was perfect running weather. Like all trail races, this one has a lot of ups and downs (almost 9,000 ft total), but there is also a lot of trail that is runnable. For about 10 miles it was a slight downhill or a flattish area and I was running under a 10 minute pace. Around mile 15, I hit the Skyline Gate, which is where I often end up when I run from my house. In my mind for a second I thought how easy it would be to just run down the hill to my house from here. But no, I grabbed some watermelon, used the facilities and pressed on. From here on out, there is a lot of single trail. As I started out, there were two people just keeping pace with me. One was a girl, who when I came up behind her, happily pulled over to let me pass. In my mind, even though I did not think this was going to be a great race for me, I still wanted to pass that girl.

As the race went on, the girl and I were neck and neck. We would swap places on the ups or the downs (she was faster on the ups; I was faster on the downs) and we would sometimes both roll into an aid station around the same time and one of us would get through faster, but we were right next to each other most of the time. But we did not speak; we just kept leap frogging. Then came the long downhill to the turnaround. Since I had been faster at the downs, I got a bit of a lead on her at this point. I came into the 25 mile turnaround, grabbed a grilled cheese (still my favorite ultra food) and headed back out without slowing. She came in about 45 seconds behind me.

The next 4 miles was a steady uphill climb. I was about halfway through the climb when the girl caught up to me and I jokingly said, "darn it!" to her. We continued on together after that, talking and enjoying the company, and griping over our aches and pains for the day. I was feeling better than expected, but my back was hurting me and my knee was giving me a twinge now and then. After the long climb up, there was a pretty steep road down to the aid station and then a pretty steep downhill single trail, where my knee really started acting up. I actually had to walk down the hills in some places.

Soon we were back to Skyline gate, which meant we had about 15 miles left. The girl and I ran together for some parts and did our own thing for others. However, we were pretty much within sight of each other the entire time. Then we came to the last 5 miles. She pulled ahead of me, but I could still see her there, my carrot on a stick. The final 2 miles are paved and I could still see her, and I gave it my all, ramping up to under a 9 minute pace. My feet were hurting; my quads were burning; my back and knee were telling me to hurry up and get to the finish so we can rest!

I made it to the finish just behind the girl. I went up to her and thanked her for being my carrot and she told me that I had been her carrot in the beginning and she would not have run as fast if I had not been there. She ended up getting first in our age group and I ended up with 2nd, which I was happy with because I ended up being much faster than I had anticipated!

Final time: 9:31
Age: 2nd
Gender: 8 / 60 finishers (+22 DNFs)
Overall: 36 / 185 finishers (+69 DNFs)

Overall, I would say that I was very happy with my results. In fact, I may try to change up my training plan going forward so that it is more strength and cross training (cycling mostly) and less miles, since it surprisingly seemed to work.

Have you ever done better than expected at something even though you did not prepare as well as you would have liked? What is your "carrot" when you are going for a particular goal? 

Monday, October 12, 2015

It's a Wild Ride

It's 4:49 a.m. My alarm goes off and I hop off of the couch, where I have been sitting and reading. I wash my breakfast dishes, grab my lunch and use the bathroom one last time and then I put on my helmet and grab my bike and my backpack and walk out the door.

It's about 2 miles from my house to the train station. Luckily, in the morning, it's mostly downhill. I put on my bike light, hike up one leg of my pants and start pedaling. You never know what you are going to see on the streets of Oakland at 5 a.m. There are not too many cars, which is good because that means I can buzz through most of the intersections without slowing down too much. There are sometimes people, but they are mostly like me, heading to work in the dark of the night.

Except for one corner which is near the train station. This corner is a bit different that the others. Women hang around in short skirts; men in trucks slow to a crawl as they pass. It's usually pretty quiet though; I pedal through with no problems.

I reach the train station in about 7 minutes. I constantly try to break the 7 minute time and have only done it once. It all depends on how I hit the traffic lights and how many cars there are that I have to avoid. I get there around 5:07, lock up my bike and hop on the train to work.

In the afternoon, the same journey takes about 12 minutes. From the station, I have to ride uphill and generally its around 4 or 5 pm. I have to stop at every intersection, sometimes for 2 or 3 minutes. There are cars to avoid, as well as people, broken glass, a lone shoe and a condom. It's hot and the traffic is busy and I swerve around old ladies and kids on skateboards. It's a whole different world. I can see everything.

I get home, hop off my bike and push it into my living room, where it lives. I do everything in reverse: walk in the door, backpack off, helmet off, put my lunch in the sink and use the bathroom one more time.

Note: I have been commuting by bike to the train station for a few months now and am really loving the view I am getting of the world this way. Plus a little extra exercise using different muscles never hurts!

How do you get to work? Do you ever walk or ride a bike? What interesting things have you seen while cycling? 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Looking Back: September

September! Back to school days and leaf raking days; new pencils and old friend days; putting on pants and jelly making days. Early sunset nights and late sunrise days. Soup days and boot days. Crisp air and fog days.... What does September mean to you?

Running: I clocked just over 100 miles this month, which is better than last month! However, I did not get the same amount of hiking in, so the total "time on feet" was less. Instead, I have been focusing more on my strength training, and am doing a twice a week strength training regime rather than so much running. This month's totals were 45 miles of hiking, 53 miles of biking and 9 strength training sessions.

Reading: This was a good reading month quantity-wise, but only so/so quality-wise. I ended up reading 9 books and two half books (couldn't finish/had to put down)! My favorites were these four:

Farewell to the East End: The Last Days of the East End Midwives
Americanah
Station Eleven
This is the Story of a Happy Marriage

Travel: My vacation spanned two separate months, so September marked the end of my trip to Europe. The first week of the month included a relaxing soak in a thermal bath, some hiking in the Alps of Switzerland, more cheese and bread and wine, and a trip to see a very old friend of mine, who had been an exchange student in my tiny high school when I was growing up. She lives near Geneva and so I not only got to see her house and to meet her husband and children, but I also traveled with her to her parents house in the mountains, where I got to meet the whole family, hike in the snow and drink Schnapps. It was a fun time all around!

Swiss cows are friendly!

After I returned, I spent a bit of Hobbit time doing things around the house, visiting local friends, going out for drinks with the work mates, cooking, shopping and eating and generally just catching up on life. I still have a mountain of items on my To Do list, but I am checking them off little by little! Unfortunately, new ones keep popping up!

And....Beer: New category! You know how you try things, such as beer, or wine or a new recipe, and then when you go to get another or make another, you can't remember the name or the website? Well, to prevent that, I am trying to remember to log things better and to write them down. So, the new beer I tried in September that I liked was: Fieldwork's Torrential Double IPA (website here).

What do you have on your To Do List? What new beer have you tried lately? What happened in your September worth mentioning?