Saturday, March 31, 2012

Things I think about when I run

Sometimes I wonder if all runners think the same crazy things I do. Or maybe it’s just newbie runners who haven’t quite acclimated, mentally or physically, to jogging for miles.
Either way, here’s my thought progression during a recent run, which is actually fairly typical, as sad as that may be ...

Minute one: You forget this every day, so just remember: slow down. This isn’t a race. And don’t forget that the first 12 minutes are the hardest before your muscles get warmed up.

Minute 10: Jeez. This sucks. Why do you forget how bad this sucks after every single run? Runners are masochists. MASOCHISTS.

Minute 15: OK. Not so bad.

Minute 20: Heck, I could do this all day!

Minute 24: Well, maybe not all day ...

Minute 27: You really had to have that third cup of coffee?

Minute 28: Remember hearing about marathon runners who pee their pants in the middle of a race? That used to horrify me. I kind of get it now.

Minute 31: Did you really just blow your nose into your T-shirt? Who have you become?

Minute 35: Come on, Rhianna, get me through this.

Minute 37: Oh nana, what’s my name, oh nana, what’s my naaame ...

Minute 40: Maybe if you look straight down to the pavement right in front of you, you’ll be surprised and excited when you look up and see you're home.

Minute 42: Crap, no clean spots left on your sleeves to blow again.

Minute 45: Oh .... my .... gaawwwwwwwd ... this must end!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Minute 47: Oh, thank goodness. There it is. Oh, oh. Hoooome!!!!

Minute 50: The living room floor ... looks like a great place to lay down. You're never doing that again. That’s just ridiculous. Who does that? Who purposefully drags their butt around downtown for four miles? So stupid. Gawd. Dumb. You’re the dumbest.

Minute 60: Well, where should we run tomorrow ... go for five miles? Personal best? Why not.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Mankato's very own soap opera

All the soaps are disappearing from TV, and you're hard-pressed to find a gal who wasn't, at one time or another, drawn into the twisted and steamy story lines of one of the greats. I will admit to being drawn into "Days of Our Lives" in high school when I was flipping through and saw that a woman had been buried alive. Gasp!

Well, folks, not all soaps are dead. In fact, at least one is just beginning ... and this one is beginning right here in Mankato. A woman who happens to be a pal of mine, who writes under the pen name K. Lawrence, has started a blog called Schuyler Square. It's a serial drama with about a post per day, and the story keeps unfolding as the days progress, just like a soap.

I shan't reveal to you K. Lawrence's true identity. It's all part of the intrigue, isn't it? But I did a Q&A with her about her fascinating new serial. Here's what she has to say about the happenings over there on Schuyler Square.

Q: First, there are probably many Mankatoans who are unaware of your storied past. Fill them in on your history as a best-selling romance novelist.

Hardly best-selling! Back in 2000 I had three romances published by Precious Gem, an imprint of Kensington Publishing Corp. Kensington had a deal with Walmart to sell Precious Gems exclusively. Unfortunately, the books sold well but not well enough for Walmart and Walmart canceled the deal. I have had a lot of romance published in Woman's World magazine. They are (I think) the only woman's magazine that still has regular fiction.

Q: A serial romance is such an interesting concept. How did the idea for your blog come about?

I have always loved soap operas but stopped watching them on TV years ago because they didn't seem drama-driven to me. They seemed to be more about how the actors looked than about story lines. It also irritated me how "old" was anyone over 35! I thought it would be fun to have a blog that was like a soap opera.

Q: Tell us about your leading characters.

The main characters are the Schuyler family -- Ron, Mavis, Brad and Tyler. Ron is a middle-aged millionaire and also pretty much a creep. Mavis is his semi-alcoholic wife, Brad is the conniving oldest son and Tyler is the clueless younger son. There is also Peter Van Husen, a hunky police officer, Veronica Channing, a woman from Ron's past, Veronica's son, Kirk and Rosa, the housekeeper who can't stand the family she works for, and Tiffany, the Schuyler's niece who has serious self-image problems.

Q: You've had about 12 posts so far. Without giving too much away, what's been happing over there at Schuyler Square?

The Schuylers are the wealthiest -- and snobbiest -- family in Schuyler Square. Veronica Channing, an old flame of Ron's, has just arrived and informed Ron that they have a 27-year-old son together. Mavis is about to have a fling with a handsome policeman, Brad and Tyler are trying to figure out why they are in such a screwed up family and cousin Tiffany has just moved in because she killed her mother in a car accident.

Q: On a scale of one cold shower to 10, what are we looking at here in terms of the steamy factor?

I'm not sure yet. I know it won't be ultra steamy but I hope I can make it steamy enough to be interesting! I have to type those scenes with my eyes closed, though. I embarrass easily.

Q: As long as people keep reading, will you just keep on writing about these characters and plot? Or do you foresee an end to this one and beginning anew with another story later on down the road?

I plan to introduce at least two other families and I want to make my posts similar to a soap opera. My goal is to weave the stories together so they are a little different every day.

Q: Why are the posts under the name K. Lawrence?

That's my pen name! Kate Lawrence. I used to watch a drama way back in the 1970s with a mom named Kate Lawrence. She was totally unflappable, had a great sense of humor and loved her family. I decided then that I wanted to be her some day.

In case you missed the above link, follow Schuyler Square at

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

I accidentally ran a 5K

A funny thing happened yesterday morning ... I unwittingly ran a 5K. As I age, I tend to do more and more things unwittingly, but at least in this case, the surprise was a welcomed one.

For some reason I had it in my head that a 5K was 3.3 miles. So I had been slowly trying to increase my runs to reach that benchmark in time for the Girls on the Run 5K. I am a part of a team of former Baker's Square co-workers called Team P.I.E.S. (Pep in Every Step! ... a name thought up on the spot by a very creative Gina Weber)

Until a few days ago, I'd been running every morning at Sibley Park. I had started this running campaign at the track at the Y, as you may recall, circling and circling, without much to look at it. I kept going back there because I had this mental block about running. I had never done it before, and as such, it was just so out of my comfort zone, and so in my silly little mind, I had a terrible feeling that I could only run on the track. That if I took it to any other environment, I wouldn't be able to do it. I know, it's weird.

So my next step out of that comfort zone was Sibley Park, because it's essentially just a larger track -- one big circle around the park. And while it's technically outside, which helps get me used to running in wind and rain and on pavement, my car is within close walking distance if an injury were to occur, or just a bad running day where I'd need to quit.

The Sibley runs went well. I mapped the distance with my car, about .8 miles around once. And I'd circle it three times, which took me almost exactly 30 minutes. But after a few times, I was getting bored. And that can make for a bad run. I had to stop and walk a couple of times. So it was time to move on.

A few days ago, I learned about the Daily Mile, which is an AWESOME site where runners can create an account for free, create maps of their runs around Mankato neighborhoods (or wherever you live), and it calculates the distance. You can save those maps, and each day, you log your running distance and time, and it keeps track of those miles over time. So by year's end, you can say, "Wow! I ran 1,000 miles this year!" Super neat.

So I created a running route down to Tourtellotte Park from my house, over to Fourth and Fifth, and then back, and it was my first successful 2.6 mile run that wasn't in a circle. Haha. Yesterday, I altered the route to be about 3.1 miles, which took me a loooong time. 41 minutes, which is a 13-minute mile. Geeeez, so slow. But I did it!

When I got to work, I looked up the route for the Girls on the Run 5K, and I glanced to the left to see the distance of the race: 3.1 miles. And I realized I was already there! It was pretty neat. I was excited.

So now that I know I'm ready for the race about 5 weeks in advance, my goal now is to keep increasing distance, and then I will work on speed. I'm hoping to get up to about 4 miles, which eventually, I hope will take me 40 minutes each day. Maybe someday I'll work toward a 10K or something, just for fun, but honestly, just the act running each day is all I wanted to accomplish when I started this.

The coolest feeling at this point, especially after yesterday, is realizing that running is something that I DO now, not something that I'm trying to do. I like it. I like it a lot.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Sutherland debate

The grand countdown ended Friday night at the CineMagic in St. Peter. As an aside, I'd never seen the St. Peter theater near full before. But it was. A woman behind me said she had come from the River Hills Mall, where she couldn't get a ticket for the movie we were about to see, and she had to high-tail it 12 miles north so she wouldn't miss it. Of course, folks, I am speaking of "The Hunger Games," which nearly ousted the last Harry Potter movie for most ticket sales in an opening weekend.

For the most part, I love-love-loved it. I only noticed minor tweaks to the plot in order make it movie-ish. I'm fine with those little changes because, as is, the movie was 2 hours and 24 minutes or something, so if we start adding in those throwaway characters and plot points, we'd be sitting through a 3-hour epic.

But my problems with two characters cast in essential roles remain. And they are two casting calls that I have yet to find an ally in my disagreement.

Haymitch. Yes, Woody Harrellson used to be an addict of some sort. Now he lives in Hawaii, surfs all the time and eats organic. It shows. He's tan. He's thin. And slapping a strange, blond wig on him and putting a whiskey in his hand doesn't make him look like a 30-year career drinker. I pictured Haymitch as weather-beaten. I pictured him older, a bit hunched over, with a paunchy belly from 12 hours a day spent drinking and feeling sorry for himself. Woody looked like a regular guy trying to look like a drunk. To me, Haymitch is such an important role in these books/films, and now we're locked into Woody, and that makes me sad. For Haymitch, I would have gone with a veritable unknown. We didn't need another star's name assigned to the film. The notoriety of the books is plenty to fill the seats. (Clearly.)

But the man cast as President Snow has been the most heavily debated character between me and my friends. President Snow is the head of a society in which 12 districts go along with killing 23 children every year, which may not be as unimaginable as we would like to think. Hitler made mass executions palatable to millions of people. So I was looking for an actor to play Snow who had that kind of Hitleresque presence, the kind that scares you to death to even look him in the eye. Take Ralph Fiennes as Voldemort in the "Harry Potter" series. Talk about a commanding presence.

I found Sutherland to have an opposite screen presence, sort of gentle and calm, and not the kind of eery calm where he could just burst forth in seething, violent rage. Just look at the picture up there to the right. This is a still from the movie. Doesn't he look like an old, confused Santa Claus?

My sister said it all comes down to which roles you have seen Sutherland play: the soft and gentle or the icy and sinister, because, she says, he plays both equally well. I know Sutherland as the kind father in "Pride and Prejudice," or how about "Ordinary People"? Classic. And of course, there was my guilty pleasure of the '90s, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." Great flick. Oh, Merrick ...

"The Hunger Games" ends with a close-up of Snow's face, and then he turns and walks up the stairs. I suppose I was supposed to see an evil plot developing behind his eyes, some sort of target being placed on the back of Katniss Everdeen. Already he realized what he had allowed happen: too much hope is dangerous, he had told the game master, Seneca Crane. ... I really didn't see those things. I wasn't intimidated. Sutherland doesn't have the presence to pull off such an important role, if you ask me. And, honestly, I think such a terrible miscasting is detrimental to the series. By the third and fourth movies, we're going to need a Hitler.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Does Elvis know calculus? You be the judge.

In case you missed this in the paper, a very famous little Welsh corgi visited MSU Tuesday with his master, who is a math professor in Michigan. This little guy has gotten attention from world math scholars, the Queen of England and even Ellen!

By Amanda Dyslin

MANKATO — Years ago, Tim Pennings and his Welsh corgi, Elvis, were playing ball at the beach along Lake Michigan. Or, arguably, that’s what Elvis thought was going on.

Thirty-five times exactly, Pennings stood with Elvis at a set point on the beach and threw a ball at approximate­ly the same point in the water, and Elvis tore down the beach for a ways before leaping into the water like a champ to retrieve his prize.

What made this little game of fetch a bit unusual was the fact that Pennings, after throwing the ball, would tear down the beach after his dog with a screw­driver, which he would plunge into the sand at the exact point where Elvis chose to quit running on land and start swimming.

And for all 35 throws, he calculated the distance of Elvis’ run, the distance of his swim — and using a complicated equation requiring a solid back­ground in math — he determined whether Elvis himself had been using cal­culus.

Could a dog be gauging the shortest possible time it would take to get to the ball by knowing how fast he runs versus how fast he swims? Taking into account the distance to the ball from the shore at each moment?

Pennings, a math profes­sor at Hope College in Michigan, presented this theory Tuesday afternoon at a math colloquium, “Do Dogs Know Calculus?” at Minnesota State University.

It’s a talk he’s given at numerous colleges, on the BBC and National Public Radio, and on a number of talk shows. Even the “Ellen” show invited him on, although a scheduling conflict got in the way.

Elvis’ fame all stems back to the first trip to the beach with Pennings, after he adopted the dog. Pennings noticed that when he threw the ball at an angle to the right out into the water, Elvis didn’t immediately leap into the water and start swimming, nor did he run all the way down the beach and swim in a straight line to the ball. He chose to run a ways down the beach to a certain point and then swim a lesser dis­tance at an angle toward the ball.

“As soon as I saw him doing that something clicked in my mind,” Pennings said. “I wondered how close he was coming to jumping in at the optimal point. ... Elvis’ only objec­tive is to get to that ball the quickest.”

The 35 test throws proved it to Pennings: Within about a foot on most throws, Elvis was choosing the point on the beach to stop running and start swimming that result­ed in the least time for him to reach the ball. Almost every time.

“ That’s kind of neat,” Pennings said.

In front of 50 or so math students, Pennings spent 20 minutes or so diving into the formula for which he used to calculate Elvis’ amazing feat. While dis­cussing powers and deriva­tives and factors and solv­ing for y, Elvis laid on his side panting, tired from four runs down the hallway after a tennis ball. Any signs of recognition over what were supposedly his own calculations happening on the white board were nil. Pennings admits, when he asks Elvis calculus ques­tions, such as “What’s the derivative of X squared?” he doesn’t get much of a response.

“He just sits there,” Pennings said, which is actually, in a way, a much more interesting outcome.

“He just has this natural knack for finding the best solutions. ... Nature has the way of finding the best solu­tions.”

After Pennings wrote an article about his findings, a professor reading the piece suggested Elvis’ knack boils down to perception — that at each moment he’s run­ning down the beach, he’s assessing how close he is to the ball and simply jumping in when the ball begins to appear close enough to swim to quickly.

Of course, being a mathe­matician, Pennings couldn’t just assume. He had to find out.

Pennings got into the water with Elvis during their next visit to the beach and threw the ball to a point in the water parallel to the beach. Based solely on Elvis’ perception of the ball at his starting point already in the water, logical­ly, he would simply swim directly to the ball.

Instead, Elvis swam the short distance to shore, ran a good length of the beach, and swam back out to the ball, which was the route that got him to the ball the quickest.

“He got an honorary doc­torate from Hope College for that,” Pennings said.

Dave Roberts — a math education student in the audience with enough cal­culus under his belt to keep up with the presentation — raised a good question for a colloquium asking if “dogs” know calculus: Is this skill unique to Elvis?

“Is this the same across all breeds of dogs?” he won­dered.

Judging by his clear love of chasing balls, Elvis is probably hoping that’s one problem that goes unsolved.

Friday, March 9, 2012

I'm not anti-kid; I'm anti-hands-off parenting

When you are a woman of a certain age without children, some folks assign a label: anti-kid. If you complain about children in public spaces, this especially comes into a play.

I have heard several times in the past month from several different mothers that they feel our society doesn't value family, and that American culture is anti-child. I can't speak for American culture, but in my Mankato culture experience, I couldn't disagree more.

I love kids. I'd like to state that right off the bat for the record. They're funny. They say crazy things. They're uninhibited explorers. They're creative. And all of those wonderful qualities need boundaries in public spaces. Sorry. They do.

Today, I was running the track at the Y at about noon. Four other adults also were using the track. One was a senior. One was a lovely little waddling pregnant woman. And to our dismay (I know this after exchanging certain looks), we were joined by a mother of at least one, but maybe two, children, and another mother of several other children. One of the mothers walked the track while her kid(s) (couldn't tell if the second was hers) ran and weaved around the adults on the track, stopping short, cutting people off, changing directions mid-lap. The other mother stood at the doorway to the track applauding while her kids engaged in similar behaviors, only with the added bonus of falling and throwing themselves down in front of people.

How is this acceptable? It's the Y, I get it. Family-oriented. Kid-centric. But it's for grown-ups, too. When there is a gym full of kids running around and playing ball below, why would you allow your kids to get in the way of the adults on the track upstairs? One poor guy came up to run, did one lap, and immediately left. Last weekend during pee-wee soccer games in the same gym, parents let their kids go completely unsupervised up to the track to do the same thing. And several adults couldn't take it. They left.

Our culture is anti-kid? I would argue its anti-hands-off parenting. From what I can tell -- from the best parking spots for parents of young kids at the mall, to tiny shopping carts for kids to play with at grocery stores, to most products being marketed to the main consumers in our culture, moms -- society is extremely pro-kid, pro-family. What I have a problem with is a lack of respect in public spaces. And I'm blaming the parents here, not the kids. My mom was extremely kind and giving and I, myself, would argue that I was spoiled. But I damn sure was expected to respect adults when I was a child. And when I misbehaved in public, I was reprimanded.

I thought of this one day last year when I was leaving the Y and a father was holding out a coat for his 3-year-old to put on, and she yanked away and ran across the lobby. Instead of saying, "Get over here and put your coat on like I asked you to," he said, "Hey honey, you did a really good job of running over there, but we've really got to get home. Don't you want to go play with your toys?" Essentially, congrats for disobeying me; now let me bribe you to do what I asked in the first place.

It's frustrating. How are children supposed to learn manners and respect for their fellow man when they're applauded for the opposite behaviors? APPLAUDED. I never thought I'd start sounding like my parents ... but I tell ya. Kids today ... Actually, I should say "Parents today ..."

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

30 solid minutes of running ... but does it count?

Today was pretty major. I felt like I had something to prove, which we'll get to in a minute. All alone at about 7 a.m. on the track at the Y, I cranked up some LMFAO and ran like a slight breeze. But a steady breeze! I ran for a solid 30 minutes, which I estimate was about 2 1/2 miles.

I'm excited. I mean, sort of. I would be more excited had I not ran outside for the first time the other day ...

My dog was itching for a walk. And I hadn't been able to get to the gym that day. So I thought I would try my first outdoor run with a fat dog with ADD. The experience couldn't have been more defeating. My pockets were full of poopy bags, tissues, my phone and an mp3. I had my dog's leash in one hand, and two blocks later, a bag of her poo in the other hand. Then there were the distractions. Every tree or hydrant or bush or pile of leaves, I had to yank fat dog along. Every intersection felt like it had a car waiting for me, or me waiting for them. There were walkers and strollers and other dogs to meander around. And running against the wind, that was a lot of fun. And then there was the terrain itself. I swear, it looked flat to me. I was running on North Broad near Tourtellotte and over on 4th, and for whatever reason, running on sidewalk felt twice as hard. The whole outdoor running experience: twice as hard. So I got maybe one solid 10-minute run in, and then the rest was six- or seven-minute runs with lots of walking and dog-yanking in between.

This made me sad. I HATE TO FAIL. I also hate to not be able to do something with relative ease or speed.

So this morning, I retreated to my familiar, smooth, flat, calm, distraction-free track at the Y, feeling, like I said, as if I had something to prove. I could have kissed the track, it went so well. Thirty minutes was no walk in the park, especially not the last eight minutes or so. But it was so much easier than outside.

But knowing that actual runners do this outside, that that's where you're supposed to be a runner, I feel like my 30 has an asterisk or something. Like it's still not for real yet. At some point, I've got to take my game to the streets, players. And now there's this huge mental block in the way.

Maybe I should just get some more practice in at the Y and then run shorter distances outside.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Shhhhh ... I have a secret

Before I tell you my secret, I have to fill you in about my mom. She's the most giving, loving person I know, and her pride comes from the achievements of her kids. That's why she's got a playbill stuck in the back of her scrapbook of "The Fiddler on the Roof," from my eighth-grade year. She saved it because I held a spotlight, so my name was listed on the program. That's why she was my date a couple of years ago at the Society of Professional Journalists banquet, when I won an award. But it was a second place award, and only first-place finishers received them in person. Didn't matter. She just wanted to be there with me on a special night.

With this in mind, I'm planning something for my mom. So shhhh ... here's my secret. I've been running on the sly, and on Girls on the Run 5K race day, I'm going to surprise her.

I'm a drama queen, so my last post was all about me quitting running and whining about my knee, which I was sure was done for. But it just took a little more time, and then I was back in action. I HATE TO FAIL. So it has been really good to try again and succeed. This morning I ran three sets of 9-minute runs with 1-minute breaks in between. At this rate, by April 28 on race day, I should be in very good shape to run the 5K at Sibley Park.

If I'm blogging about it how is it a secret? My mom doesn't read blogs. (But Joe, she reads the print edition, so please don't pull this blog entry to run in the paper on Saturday. Thanks.) So my plan is to invite her to stay at my house that weekend, and tell her that I'm taking her to brunch on Saturday, April 28. But on the way to brunch, we'll take a little detour to Sibley Park, I'll unzip my hoodie and reveal my Girls on the Run 5K T-shirt, and I'll tell her that I'm a runner now!

Why is this even something she would care about? When I first started talking to my mom about how I'd taken up jogging, she was really impressed. No one in our family runs or would ever consider being a "runner." So she asked me about it all the time. She was truly very excited that I was taking on the challenge. And when I ran my first mile, she was even happier for me than I was. So I hated having to tell her that my knee was hurt and that I'd have to give up my 5K aspirations.

Part of keeping the running secret is so she doesn't worry. She worried about my knee, and I don't want her to be concerned about me getting hurt again. Plus, if you knew my mom at all, you'd know that when I cross the finish line at Sibley Park on that morning, it will feel even better for her than if she had crossed it herself. So keeping it a surprise until then will be a lot of fun.

I just hope I can keep the secret!!! Nobody tell her, OK?