Birthday Dinner

Saturday night was one of the best meals I've had in a long time. It was healthy, delicious, and paired with four 90+ point wines!

Before dinner, though, I spent most of the day playing in my first beach volleyball tournament of the year. I was playing with a new partner and it took us awhile to gel but we finished with a couple of strong wins. It was sunny most of the day with a high in the mid-70s. There was a mischievous breeze which wreaked havoc on our sets but kept things nice and temperate.

In our seven-team pool we won two games and lost four. We had a lot of fun, though, and our conditioning was good--we were still playing well while some other teams were sucking wind toward the end. We finished either #5 or #6 out of the seven teams so I'll be looking to improve a lot in subsequent tournaments.

I made it back home just in time for a birthday dinner that Katie was hosting for me. She put together an awesome meal, I chose wine pairings, and we shared the experience with some of our good friends. We began the evening with caviar (black bowfin) and Krug Champagne Grand Cuvee Brut. The Krug was delicious, full bodied with elegant bubbles and lots of green apple.

We then sat down for Katie's now-famous roasted beet bruschetta supported by a strawberry salad. This paired exquisitely with the 2005 Didier Dagueneau Blanc Fume' de Pouilly, which filledthe mouth with acidity and fruit/mineral notes, then provided a long, balanced finish. It was one of the best whites I've ever tasted!

For dinner Katie had broiled halibut in a spicy red cherry sauce with wild rice and mushrooms on the side. This was as appropriate as fish could ever be with the 2000 Casanova di Neri Brunello di Montalcino Tenuta Nuova. We decanted this one for two hours before drinking and it was gorgeous. Lots of cherry, spice, and a long, layered finish. We have two more bottles of this in the cellar and I look forward to seeing how it continues to age.

Finally, the piece-de-resistance: dessert! Katie labored all afternoon to make dark chocolate truffles! She made two batches, one infused with lavender and one with Gran Marnier--both delicious! To round out our meal we opened a bottle of 2000 Gould-Campbell Porto Vintage. This was filtered (Thank goodness! There was a LOT of sediment!) and decanted three hours prior and probably could have benefited from a few hours more. It was rich and syrupy and a great companion for the dark, brooding truffles. Five bottles of this remain in the cellar so we'll see how this one matures over the next decade or two.

What an absolutely fabulous meal! In the middle of all the chaos in the rest of my life it felt so good just to relax and be a little hedonistic for an evening. Great wine, great food, and great company; I truly am blessed!


Birthday Retrospective

Another year comes and goes and each is better than the last. I have a few white chest hairs now and probably some gray head hairs, although it's hard to tell on my shaved head. I'm in the best shape of my life, though, and I'm spending my time and energy doing something I really believe in and with someone I love--what could be better?

As I am now 31 (!) I'm reflecting on birthdays of years past. The ones that most readily come to mind are:

30 (2009): This was a non-birthday as I was in the air between Amsterdam and Taipei for most of it. I had only been at Poken for a few months, but a few months "Poken time" is equivalent to years elsewhere and it was starting to dawn on me that I needed to re-focus on my energy mission. Two nights prior, Katie and I drank the last bottle of Valdicava Brunello di Montalcino at La Suite. It was too young but really opened up after awhile.

29 (2008): It was my first time seeing Katie in three months at IMD. She spirited me down to Lugano for a wonderful birthday weekend. Apparently at the same time my classmate, Mathieu, was experiencing his first kiss with Alessandra in Lausanne. They will be married this Fall!

28 (2007): Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles party! The movie debuted that night so we all wore TMNT masks and drank green jello shots.

26 (2005): I drank way too much during Sunday Funday at La Strada, Berryhill, and . . . I don't remember.

24 (2003): Katie took me to the Melting Pot--little did I know that I would one day live in the land of fondue! I also closed on my house that day.

23 (2002): My golden year started off innocuous enough with The Big Lebowski and white russians. Then it really, really devolved as I made an ass of myself while bowling.

22 (2001): Lovett College Night's theme was Titanic. Several of us wore formalwear for the dinner and then the Russian Rave, hosted by Eric, my COMP partner who was born on the same day. I received my first hug from Katie at the Lovett 2nd Floor pre-party--happy birthday to ME!

21 (2000): My 21st birthday coincided (not coincidentally) with Lovett Changeover. To begin the evening we had a meat buffet in the Commons. I then turned over the presidency to Phil and let loose!

16 (1995): After 16 years of telling me that I would never ever have a car on my 16th birthday, my mom hinted to me that something was waiting for me in the driveway at home. As I pulled into the driveway, I found a toy corvette waiting for me there. Wow, was that ever anticlimactic!

12 (1991): Jukebox party with my best 6th grade friends in Virginia.

10 (1989): Games party at my dad's house on Montesano: Nintendo, pinball machines, pool, darts, and jukeboxes. It was the last party I had there but man, what memories.

1 (1980): My first cupcake (with a single candle in it) - and it wouldn't be my last!

0 (1979): Surprised my parents by all of a sudden being ready to go. Popped out at 5:23 PM--just in time for dinner!

Many thanks to everyone for the warm birthday wishes. Although I'm still working hard today, I'm basking in the warm glow of everyone's regards.


Beer Bike and Bryan Birthday Brunch

This last week featured many opportunities to re-connect with former classmates. Wednesday I met up with two IMD alumni, Jasmin (IMD MBA '08) and Andres (IMD MBA '09) at Antica Osteria, my favorite Italian restaurant in Houston. It was great to catch up with IMD folks on "my turf!"

Friday I connected with Milena (IMD MBA '07), Aaron (IMD EMBA '09), and Andres again for another IMD-filled day. In the afternoon I met up with Pat (TJ '97) at Brian O'Neill's to celebrate his birthday. Then it was off to Rice for the start of Beer Bike festivities. I haven't been to Beer Bike in three years so it was fun to re-engage. Friday afternoon I went to Lovett and met up with some other alumni over fajitas and beer.

Saturday morning it was clear that the weather was going to be terrible. After Katie and I completed our usual Saturday routine (Swim + farmer's market), I went as the advance man to scout out the situation on campus. Despite the cold and driving rain, there were many alumni at the alumni tent. There clearly wasn't any chance of a race, though, so eventually I took off to meet up with other Lovetteers off campus.

The first stop was Firkin & Phoenix for Guinness and pub fare. We followed this up at Anvil, which continues to impress me with their cocktails. I had one called "Satan's Whiskers." Yikes! As our party expanded, we moved to Ruggles Green for dinner. Here Katie had the vegan hempanadas while I revisited my old faithful, quinoa mac & cheese! Chocolate creme brulee cake for dessert was a perfect finish. Thank goodness we swam that morning!

Today Katie hosted a small birthday brunch for me at our house. My birthday isn't actually until Tuesday but this way we could take advantage of some other friends being in town for Beer Bike. She whipped up an awesome spread of fresh veggies + clam dip, veggie frittata, dark chocolate cherry-whole wheat muffins, and sweet potato hash. So good! We complemented this with bloody marys, champagne cocktails, and--of course--sangria!

It was my first time making sangria in . . . I don't know how long. Times have clearly changed for me, though. Because we were making a small batch, I used nice Rioja wine instead of the large format fruity wines I used to use when mixing up batches of 100+ gallons. I added just a dash of Everclear (for legitimacy!) instead of dumping in the full handle as per usual. Similarly, instead of adding "sparkle" via dry ice (so as not to dilute the alcohol content), this time I added champagne--talk about classing it up! The end result was delicious and I'm glad to have turned over a new leaf.

It was a great start to my birthday week and I'm so happy to have been able to catch up with so many people over the past few days. Here's to many safe returns!


10k Race Report

Yesterday I ran my first real 10k, the HEB Bayou City Classic. Per my previous blog post, I've been loosely training for it the past few weeks. Thursday I loaded up on complex carbs, Friday I took it pretty easy, and Saturday morning I woke up early and ready to go. The weather forecast was beautiful, sunny with a high of 68F. However, at the 8AM start time, the temperature was still in the low 50s with significant wind chill.

Still, I knew how quickly my body would heat up so I raced shirtless. I also raced in my Vibram Five Fingers barefoot running "shoes." The scene at the start was pretty chaotic but I secured a place pretty close to the front. We were packed in like sardines, which was helpful in protecting against the wind. Before we started, I reviewed my race goals:

1. Total race time under 47:00
2. Negative split: second 5k faster than first 5k; specifically 23:50 and 23:10 respectively
3. Final km under 4:06
4. Final 400m under 1:15
5. Each km time for the first 9k within +/- 4 seconds of 4:46

The starting gun went off and almost 1,900 of us simultaneously launched forward. It took me four seconds to reach the starting line, after which the wide Louisiana St offered plenty of room for the pack to spread out. My GPS indicated that I was starting way too quickly--a sub-4:00/km pace--but I didn't trust it due to interference from all the tall buildings downtown. After a few minutes of consistent readings, though, and a heart rate higher than it should be--already 169--I realized that I must actually be running too quickly and I consciously reigned it in. I was frustrated to have started off poorly and I hoped it wouldn't cost me later on in the race.

As I ran past my office building, I hit the 1km marker. Rather, I hit two 1km markers. First my GPS told me I hit 1km at 4:16--30 seconds too early! Then, 0.05km later according to my GPS, I hit the 1km road marker along the route. This confused me and threw me off a bit. I was running a carefully planned race according to data from my GPS. If my GPS were feeding me garbage info, my decision-making would be garbage too. I decided to trust my GPS and hope that the distances would even out ahead somewhere. Regardless of the location of the "true" 1km marker, I was way ahead of pace and heart rate so I needed to slow down.

Slowing down wouldn't be a problem as I soon met my second big surprise of the race: a hill! Well, not much of a hill, but about 100m of 10% incline followed by about 100m of 10% decline as we took the ramp onto Memorial Parkway. Frankly, this scared me. I used to do hill training all the time for football but all I've done for the past few years are very flat runs. Plus, the hill training I did was always anaerobic sprinting; during this race I had a very specific heart rate zone I was targeting and hills could throw it off. I hadn't done any research on how best to run hills in a race and it hadn't occurred to me that there would be some topography in this race--shame on me for poor preparation! I decided to slow my pace down a bit on the inclines, trying to keep my heart rate constant, and stride it out a bit on the declines to make up for lost time. This seemed to work OK on this first hill. I finished the second km in 4:41 (Again, according to my GPS--there was a growing discrepancy between it and the physical markers) and my heart rate had dropped below 167.

All right, so now things were looking up! I decided to trust my GPS and my hill methodology and get down to work. The third km came and went in 4:39 with an average heart rate of 168; the fourth km was 4:46 with, again, 168. Gentle hills kept coming and going but I was in my rhythm now. I hit 5km at 23:16--or so I thought--and a 169 heart rate. I passed the 5km road marker at 23:27.

Let me just jump to the punch line here at the halfway point: my GPS was wrong. The course--including the mileage markers--had been painstakingly measured and certified. So here I was thinking I was 30 seconds under my goal pace whereas, in reality, I was only around 15 seconds under. This didn't affect this portion of the race, but it would affect my decision-making later.

The course turned around at Shepherd and the next several km breezed by.

6km: 4:43, 172 heart rate
7km: 4:41, 173 heart rate (During this km I passed Katie and some Rice friends going the other way, which was fun!)
8km: 4:51, 172 heart rate (One of the roadside bands on this stretch was playing "Louie, Louie," Rice's unofficial fight song.)
9km: 4:50, 173 heart rate

I intentionally took these last couple of km pretty conservatively as I thought I was 30 seconds under goal pace and I wanted to ensure that I had plenty of gas in the tank for my final 400m. I passed over the last "big" hill, the exit off of Memorial back into downtown Houston. As I hit what my GPS told me was 9.6km, I was confused because the finish was nowhere in sight. The time was 45;19, much earlier than the 45:45 at which I was planning on reaching the 400m-to-go point. Because I seemed still to have plenty of time, I proceeded cautiously, waiting until I turned the corner ahead to kick it. I didn't want to pull the trigger too early and die before the end.

As I turned the corner, I was less than excited to see 300m of incline ahead of me, then another turn. Where on earth was the finish line?? My goal had been to run the final 400m at a 3:08/km pace but I wasn't sure where the final 400m began and I was irrationally unnerved by the hill. I picked up the pace a little, dropping down to 4:00/km territory up the incline but didn't really kick it. By this point I wasn't really looking at my watch anymore; I was just trying to figure out where I was and whether it was too early to let loose.

About halfway up the hill I could hear music that sounded like finish line music and I realized that I might be running out of time to make my move. I looked down to my watch and saw that I was now at 26:28--I was definitely running out of time to make my move! I kicked down to a 3:00/km pace and began passing runners one-by-one. I rounded the last corner and was pleased to see that the finish line band was a Blues Brothers impersonation band. I can't remember what they were playing because I was too busy being mortified with the realization that the finish line was only 50m away--I had definitely waited too long to kick it!

I reached down and found another gear. I passed many runners en route to the finish, which I crossed at a full sprint. Many people were cheering on this bald, shirtless, barefoot, stocky sprinter, and that was exhilarating! I had a lot of gas left when I finished and I nearly ran over three runners who had stopped in the chutes to suck wind and recover.

The manner of my finish felt AWESOME, but . . . I finished in 47:01.7, barely missing my goal, but missing it all the same. I was crestfallen. Later analysis would show that I finally kicked it at 250m, rather than 400m, due to my confusion over the distance. I grabbed a beer and a banana and waited for Katie out where I now new the 400m mark to be to encourage her on for the last 1/4 mile. She finished three minutes under her goal time!

So let's revisit my race goals:

1. Total race time under 47:00 - FAIL: 47:02
2. Negative split: second 5k faster than first 5k; specifically 23:50 and 23:10 respectively - FAIL 23:27 and 23:35
3. Final km under 4:06 - FAIL: 4:21
4. Final 400m under 1:15 - FAIL: 1:33
5. Each km time for the first 9k within +/- 4 seconds of 4:46 - FAIL: my very first km was way off

Wow, 0/5! That's not very good! I embrace failure, though, if I can learn from it. What can we learn from these failures?

1. Trust the certified race course markers and use those as periodic beacons on which to "calibrate" the data I'm using to run my race.
2. Add hill training to my regimen as most races won't be as flat as Memorial Park.
3. Research the course in advance to anticipate any surprises--it's easier to decide how to deal with surprises when my heart rate's not in the 170s.
4. Play to WIN. I thought I had a cushy lead so I was overly conservative with my end game running--trying so hard not to run out of gas that I inadvertently finished with way too much gas in the tank. I wasn't playing to win; I was playing not to lose.

It strikes me that these lessons apply to the executive challenge just as much as they apply to the running challenge. The organizations I lead will always suffer from times of misinformation and surprise obstacles. I can address these best with some information assurance, some preparation, and a whole lotta playing-to-win culture development. I'll keep these lessons in mind both on the race track and in the board room.

FYI my final results are: #239 of 1,853 runners (87th percentile), #192 of 906 male runners (79th percentile), #21 of 129 men 30-34 (84th percentile). I passed three runners in my age group during the second half of the race and wasn't passed by any. My next race will be in April in Austin; bring it on!


10k Training

My lifetime record in 10k races is 0-1. When I was a kid (7 or 8, maybe?), one of my mom's friends was an avid runner. He was going to run in the Huntsville Cotton Row Run (10k) and, for whatever reason, I decided I wanted to run too--despite never having run more than a mile in my life. I started near the back of the pack and steadily lost ground until, after only a mile and a half or so, I could no longer see anyone else ahead of me. I was so winded by that point anyway that I just gave up, sitting on a doorstep until my mom came driving along the race route frantically looking for me. One of the least proud moments of my life.

One of my New Year's resolutions is to run a 10k race under 55:00. The time was chosen based on my aerobic running program, which includes a weekly jog of one hour during which I cruise along at a speed that keeps my heart rate in its aerobic zone, 160 bpm or less. Around New Year's this was yielding runs of ~10k on my treadmill so I figured that a 5:00 improvement on that time would be a good goal.

With my first 10k race of the year coming in March, I decided to do at least a little training for it. In January I ran a practice 10k outdoors at Memorial Park. As usually happens, I ran faster outdoors than on a treadmill even at the same exertion level. I hit 10k at 54:00--so much for New Year's resolutions being stretch goals! My average heart rate was 155 and my max was 170 for that run; it felt really easy.

This taught me that I probably had significant room for improvement, especially once I was buoyed by my 5k performance January 30th. So in February I ran another 10k practice run and this time I allowed myself a greater exertion level. The cool weather felt great and I cruised along to a 51:33 finish pretty easily. Average heart rate was 165, max was 179.

These practice runs helped my gain a feeling for what level of exertion I could sustain over the duration of a full 10k race. An average heart rate of 165 was very doable so I predicted that ~170 should be my target. This conforms with my estimated anaerobic threshold of 171. Last week I tried a 10k while keeping my heart rate around that level. The result was 47:50, average heart rate 166, max 183 Looking over the data I could see that, after a quick first 5k, my pace slowed significantly in the latter half in order to keep my heart rate around 170. I ran the first 5k in 23:30 and the second in 24:20--despite an intentional pace increase for the final km.

This wouldn't do at all; I wanted a negative split--a faster second 5k than the first. Furthermore I wanted enough gas in my tank to push hard at the finish. So I ran one last practice run on Sunday--after a brutal legs workout in the gym Saturday. This time my goal was to keep my pace down in the first 5k so as to maintain that same pace throughout the second 5k before kicking it at the end. The goal was a 23:50 first 5k and a 23:10 second 5k--a 4:46 per km pace through 9km then a 4:05 final km.

I came out a little quickly and my first 5k only took 23:42. My heart rate was 160 after 1k, 165 after 2k, and cruising altitude--170--after 3k. However, around the 8km mark my hear rate headed north to 175 and my pace slowed to the 4:51 range. I entered the last km about 10 seconds ahead of pace but, when I turned it up, my pace didn't increase enough and, when I kicked it for the last 100m, I was basically out of juice. My final km pace was 4:19, finishing in 47:05, just shy of my target. Average heart rate 169, max 184.

Now I have a great idea of where my limits are and where I can/should push them. On race day I will also have the advantage of not having just destroyed the muscles of my legs the day before! For what it's worth, my 47:05 time would have put me at #284 of 1,500 runners and #29 in my age group of 124 runners--81st and 77th percentiles respectively--at last year's Bayou City Classic. The year before I would have been #257 of 1500 and #13 of 97 in my age group--83rd and 87th percentiles respectively. These are not as high as my percentiles from the Texas Med 5k, but that is to be expected since this is a distance I've only been running for about a year. Also the cold, rainy Texas Med 5k might have attracted fewer serious runners.

With only five days left until the race, it is time to set some goals:

1. Total race time under 47:00
2. Negative split: second 5k faster than first 5k; specifically 23:50 and 23:10 respectively
3. Final km under 4:06
4. Final 400m under 1:15
5. Each km time for the first 9k within +/- 4 seconds of 4:46

I'm hoping I can sustain the 4:46 pace at aerobic levels longer this weekend than last by virtue of rest, nutrition, and hydration throughout the race. Having learned that 1km out is too early for me to kick it, my new race plan is to maintain pace through 9.6km then turn it up for the final 400m. Fresh I can run 400m under 60 seconds so I'm hoping to make it under 75 seconds here.

I'm very excited about this race and looking forward to taking revenge on my nemesis, the 10k, after nearly a quarter century!

5k Training

About a month ago I posted the following way-too-long blog entry on my 5k training at THE SHOP, an awesome nutrition & fitness blog run by one of the most avid enthusiasts around. I am now reposting it here as I will soon follow it up with a new blog on 10k training in preparation for this weekend's 10k HEB Bayou City Classic.


In response to the sissy half marathon posting of sissy Steve Herce, I felt it necessary to post a blog entry about my own new experience with competitive racing. In contrast to Mr. Herce, I entered high school in the fall of 1993 at 5'7" and 190 lbs. While my mother, like his, was reluctant to expose me to the dangers of football, she could not stand in the way of destiny. By the end of high school I had reached 5'8" and had gone from taller than most of my peers to shorter, which pretty much ruled out my middle linebacker career at the next level. However, I had bulked up to 210, could sprint well, and hit even better; my compact frame turned out to be great for a power fullback, using my low center of gravity and explosive power to knock over just about anyone in my way. At the peak of my playing days in Division I-A football I was 235 lbs, bench pressed ~400 lbs and worked out with 495 on squats (never maxed out). Suffice to say, one would be hard pressed to find two body types more different than mine and Mr. Herce's.

When I stopped playing football I looked for new sources of sport and exercise. For sport I fell in love with beach volleyball and for aerobic activity I turned to running. Never mind that my body was hardly suited to either! Running was totally new to me. Rarely before had I run any distance greater than 100 yards and I really had no idea what I was doing. The first time I tried "distance" running, I set out on the 2.9-mile (I realize that most runners would hardly consider this "distance," but it certainly was for me!) Rice Outer Loop and had a really hard time pulling myself back and pacing myself. My instinct was to lean forward and run low, ready to hit someone. However, that was hardly sustainable technique for the half hour or so it took me to complete the Loop. That very first time I managed to make it all the way around but my back killed me the next day, aching from the struggle of pulling my torso upright and slowing myself down.

Since then I've never embraced running very seriously but I have always included it as a component of my cardiovascular fitness regime. I have never trained for anything in particular, but I have always set out to do a little better than I had the previous time. Originally this meant running fixed distances and working to increase speed. Once a week or so I would run the Rice Outer Loop, or the equidistant Memorial Park loop, both of which provide a nice, soft running surface (Important for my thundering, heavy-footed running mechanics!), and I would track my completion times in a spreadsheet.

Looking back through my archives, I see that in 2002 I was running these 2.9-mile, mostly flat courses in 27:xx times, a 9:xx pace. 2003 saw me move into 26:xx times, 2004 25:xx, and 2005 24:xx, an 8:xx pace. So over three years I reduced my mile pace by a minute just by running several Outer Loops a year.

Then several things happened at once to motivate me to take running a little more seriously. My strongly competitive nature and fierce data orientation motivated me to purchase a Garmin Forerunner heart rate monitor/GPS. This allowed me to analyze--both during my runs and after--my pace and exertion level at any given point on the course. I had the opportunity to train with legendary NFL strength & conditioning coach Dan Riley, who helped me understand more about training the body's different energy systems.

By 2006 I had begun varying my running workouts to focus on different objectives. For aerobic health I no longer ran fixed distances as quickly as I could (which frequently bumped me into anaerobic mode). Instead I ran for 30 minutes while keeping my heart rate below my maximum aerobic threshold and each time tried to increase the total distance I ran within those parameters. When this started I was only able to eek out 2.5 miles or so. For anaerobic conditioning, I ran different interval programs and sometimes ran a timed 5k.

In 2007 it first dawned on me that I could compete against other runners while running these distances. As mentioned before, I heart competition, so I signed up for the first annual Rice Flying Owls 5k. I didn't train for it per se other than running a couple of 5k distances, coming in around 27:xx.

When I showed up at Rice the morning of April 14, 2007, I weighed 210 pounds and really had no idea what to expect. I set a stretch goal for myself of 26:00 and drank plenty of water. The latter kind of backfired on me as moments before the race began I seriously had to pee! Fortunately my knowledge of the Rice campus helped me out and I was in and out of the nearest bathroom before the starting gun went off. On the starting line next to me was a 15yo kid built like the cross country runner I imagine Mr. Herce was at that age: tall and lanky and wearing goofy running tank top/shorts. He was also a big dork, making the Herce comparison even more apt. When I told him I was shooting for a 12:00 finish time he seemed to take me seriously and was very impressed.

The race was hard. I probably came off of the starting line too fast as I was fighting against fatigue as soon as my adrenaline wore off. I pushed and I pushed, though, and passed other runners one-by-one. I had pre-planned an MP3 playlist that would have "Gonna Fly Now" (the Rocky training theme song) come on at 25:00, motivating me to sprint hard through the last 60 seconds. However, by the time I rounded the corner for the final 100 meters, it hadn't come on. I cursed myself for mistiming the playlist and used that instead as motivation to sprint through the finish. Then I saw my time: 24:26! The Rocky theme song hadn't come on because I had finished the race before it was due to start! My mile pace of 7:48 was hardly anything to brag about but, given my expectations, I was euphoric--and THEN the Rocky theme song came on, which was awesome. Never underestimate the power of competition to bring out the best performance in a competitor.

I finished up that day #35 of 87 total runners, #24 of 36 men, and #7 of 9 males in the 25-29 age group--60th, 33rd, and 22nd percentiles respectively. Clearly I would have a lot of work to do if I ever hoped to beat Mr. Herce's 91st, 84th, and 82nd percentiles!

And a lot of work is exactly what I did--although it would seem pretty meager relative to that of serious runners. Throughout 2008 and 2009 I lived in Switzerland and gradually increased my aerobic load to 45 and then 60 minute runs. Although I neglected anaerobic runs in 2008, I added them back to my program in 2009--albeit only on the treadmill.

Upon my return to Houston at the end of 2009, I decided that it was time once again to test my running on the field of competition and I made a New Year's resolution to run at least three races in 2010--at least one 5k under 22:00 and at least one 10k under 55:00. I also resolved to run barefoot. There are enough reasons to run barefoot that the subject warrants its own blog post. You can see some of them here and here but my reasons are less scientific: I saw people doing it, read a little about the barefoot running movement, and thought, "Yeah, I can get behind that."

So I began running in December in Vibram Five Fingers barefoot running "shoes" (more like foot gloves). They provide enough sole to protect your foot from glass or sharp pebbles, but not so much as to alter your gait from that of a natural, barefoot runner. At first I developed blisters and could not run my full 60 minutes. Within weeks, though, my feet had adapted and running felt GREAT. Springing off the balls of my feet rendered even my heavy footfalls light. I resolved that I would not just train barefoot; I would race that way as well. I signed up for the January 30th Texas Med Center 5k and prepared to make my barefoot racing debut.

Here again I didn't train for the 5k per se. The week before it, though, I did run a timed 5k at Memorial. When I came in at a PR 22:35 I thought that maybe I hadn't set my new year's goal aggressively enough. The competition would be on asphalt, though, and I didn't know how well my bare feet would hold up on it. To make matters worse, I woke up on the day of the race to find the weather cold (30 F) and drizzly. Part of me said that there would be no shame in running in shoes given the conditions. The stronger part of me, however, reminded me that I had committed to something and that I would be no better than Mr. Herce if I didn't see it through.

When I arrived at the race site, Houston's medical center, I got out of my car and warmed up a bit. At a trimmer 195 pounds, I had less insulation than I used to. Thank goodness I had spent two years running in Switzerland so I had plenty of Under Armour Cold Gear to keep me warm before the race. As we lined up I was surprised and inspired by some other men who were running shirtless. Props to them; that will be me next time. This time, though, I set out with three major goals: 1) don't come out of the start too quickly, 2) run my last mile more quickly than my first, and 3) run the whole 5k under 22:00 (which meant targeting a 7:04 pace),

When the starting gun was fired, I was reasonably close to the front. Data at the end of the race showed that I passed the starting line 6 seconds after the gun. Although I felt like I was clipping along at a good pace, I was being passed by people on all sides. My heart rate was higher than it should have been already and I used wisdom from The Big Lebowski to keep me on pace: "They're just a bunch of f'in amateurs," I told myself.

The first leg of the race was on the streets of the medical center, where many tall hospital buildings confused my GPS somewhat. As such, I couldn't confirm my pace for some time. However, my heart rate stabilized at the right level and I felt good. I had decided to run this race with no music so that I could savor the experience and be more mindful of feedback from my body. That proved to be a good decision when I was running 'blind" with an inconsistent GPS signal.

As we emerged from the hospital complex, my GPS stabilized and showed that I was about to finish the first mile--and sure enough, there was the first mile marker. I had run the first mile in 7:10 and my heart rate was 180--about 96% of my theoretical maximum and exactly where I wanted to be for this anaerobic run. My bare feet (protected by Vibram Five Fingers) felt great.

The second mile was good. I passed most of those who had peaked early out of the starting line and I was feeling good. A few times I caught myself increasing the pace a bit and I intentionally backed off, purposefully keeping some gas in the tank for the final leg. I hit the second mile marker at 14:12, meaning I had run the second mile in 7:02 and was averaging 7:06. At this pace I would approach the finish line close to 22:00 and would have a good chance of beating that time with a final sprint. My heart rate was 185, 99% of my theoretical max. I felt good; no need for drastic changes.

The third mile was good and my heart rate remained at 185. Runners around me were now pretty sparse but I still passed a few with slow overtakings. I removed my hat and let my head sweat profusely into the 30-degree air; that felt great. At 2.8 miles I began to stride it out a bit, increasing my heart rate to 190, my theoretical maximum. I hit the three-mile marker at 21:00, meaning I had run the third mile in 6:48 and was averaging 7:00. I rounded the corner and could see the finish line 0.11 miles (176 m) away!

I downshifted and urged my legs to move faster. Reluctantly they picked up the pace and my heart rate climbed to 193--so much for theoretical maxima! I passed one or two other runners during the final stretch but I was also passed by someone who blew by me and clearly had kept more in reserve than I had. I crossed the finish line at 21:43, meaning I ran the final 0.11 miles at a 6:31 pace and my final mile at a 6:52 pace. I stopped my watch, cleared the finish line, dry heaved a little, and then returned to the final stretch to cheer on Katie, who finished two minutes under her goal time.

So awesome, all three goals accomplished. How did I do relative to the competitive field?

I finished #46 of 1,068 total runners (Overall race results), #37 of 419 men, and #9 of 109 males in the 30-39 age group (Age group results)--96th, 91st, and 96th percentiles respectively. I hit my goals and set a good base line on which to improve for the rest of the year. Most importantly, this heavy-footed, lumbering fullback crushed Mr. Herce's sissy 91st, 84th, and 82nd percentiles--the best he could do after 15 years of running training! The gauntlet is cast and I hereby publicly challenge Mr. Herce to stop whining about his hip and do better. I furthermore challenge him to post a video training montage to let the world know that he is actually doing something and not just sitting around feeling sorry for himself.

Still, if there's one thing on which Mr. Herce and I *can* agree, it's that the shop's co-owner is ridiculously more accomplished than either of us at running and we both have a *lot* of work to do to take it to that level.


Weeks of Wine . . . and Beer!

The past few weeks have been hectic at work but I have not been using that as an excuse to neglect opportunities to socialize and enjoy myself. Two weeks ago I was honored to be asked to speak at the Petroleum Club of Houston's annual French-American wine dinner.

The PCH's wine dinners are always extraordinary affairs, very elegant and well coordinated. During my three years on the Wine Committee, I helped select the wines to pair with the themed menus for the dinners and usually presented at least one wine at each dinner. Presentations ranged from serious and informative to fun and entertaining--naturally I usually tried to combine the two.

Of the nine wine dinners each year, my favorite was always the Classic, a glorious black-tie affair at which every wine poured was rated "Classic" (95 points or greater). A very close second, though, was the French-American. At this dinner two wines are served with each course, one French and one American. They are of the same varietal/blend and are served blind. The presenters for each course then withhold the revelation of which is which until the very end, often only after teasing the attendees with evidence that could point in either direction. Needless to say, I was looking forward to my first PCH French-American wine dinner in three years.

As always the food was exquisite, many of the wines were superb, and the company was incomparable. I presented the dessert course wines with my co-conspirator and favorite wingman, Cox. Three years ago we co-presented the main course wines at this dinner. I dressed as Napoleon while he dressed as George Washington and we held a French-American debate that transcended the boundaries of just wine. We knew we needed to follow that up with another rousing debate but we wanted to do something a little different.

And so it was that we conducted this wine talk with . . . puppets. Cox played the role of Wine Monster (Cookie Monster's twin brother), representing the US, while I presented as Kermitage Le Frog, obviously representing France. Our talk was mostly on the silly side since, by the dessert course, most attendees have already had eight glasses (or more) of wine and attention spans for wine geek facts are low. This turned out to bite us in the butt as well, though; by the time we took the podium, Cox was so inebriated that he could barely read the words of our talk. No worries, though; I think that actually enhanced our presentation value. The talk was well received and we had a grand time.

Later that same weekend I co-hosted a wine event for the seniors of Lovett College at Rice University. This was a great event that brought students, faculty, staff, and alumni together, added five very nice wines for lubrication, and produced great conversations and new connections among all. I wish we had had such an event when I was a senior but I at least hope to participate in many more as an alum.

Last week Katie and I met up with some of her work colleagues for dinner at Rudi Lechner's for German cuisine. We departed from wine in favor dark German beer (Spaten Optimator) and feasted on spatzle, zucchini bread, and fresh baked pretzels with rich mustard. A two-man band with accordion, brass, and alphorns kept us entertained and even got us out on the make-shift dance floor for the chicken dance. Awesome!

Just last night we received an urgent call from friend and former Lovett president, Rizzo, who needed to fill out his trivia team for Seinfeld night at Little Woodrow's. As Katie and I are in the middle of watching every episode of Seinfeld, we couldn't resist. Actually, we tried to resist, but when I learned that they had Guinness on tap, I was sold! It was a great night even though we only took third place. If only Katie and I had finished all of the Seinfeld seasons, I'm sure we would have won it all!


Winter Olympics are Over

Last night marked the end of the Winter Olympics and we're sad to see them go. At least they ended with a bang, Canada's 3-2 overtime win over USA in men's hockey--a riveting game that unfortunately came out with the wrong victor. Next time!

The final weighted medal scores (Gold 5, Silver 3, Bronze 1) for the top countries were as follows:

USA 103
Germany and Canada 96
Norway 75
South Korea 50
Austria 44
Russia 37
China and Sweden 35
Switzerland 33

Well done to all the athletes; I look forward to the 2014 games!

Over the past two weeks Katie and I have become accustomed to having some TV on in the background while we cook. Now that the Olympics are over, we've begun making our way through all of the seasons of Seinfeld--chronologically, of course!

What a show! We're just getting started with it and it's amazing to see the early episodes--now 20 years old! Everything seems so . . . scripted. It's almost like watching a small ensemble play. The actors aren't comfortable in their characters yet so their acting seems very . . . intentional. Still, the comedy is good and we've had several laugh out loud moments already.

Great stuff! So thank you, NBC, for both the Olympics and Seinfeld! And 30 Rock! And The Office! Now if only you had football . . .