Sunday, April 26, 2009

Climbing, Running, Family and Friends

What a weekend! Did you enjoy the warm weather? I certainly enjoyed it. After 2 great days of clear skies and warm temps, I am now listening to thunder and rain outside my window. The sound is so peaceful and is accompanied by a nice cool breeze. Life is perfect....and the Red Sox are beating the Yankees for the 3rd night in a row. Sweet! Jacoby Ellsbury just stole home and was the first Red Sox player to steal home in 10 years. Ha!

Sometimes it is a challenge to find material for a good blog entry, but this past weekend provided so much to share. After working late everday this past week and only managing a couple runs, I was ready to unwind and recharge.

Our climbing group ( had our Spring trip planned for the Gunks (, and I was looking forward to it. However, I had yet to reserve a partner up until mid-day on Friday. I called my good friend, Chad, to see if he was available to climb on Saturday, and caught him between climbs at the Gunks. Ha! He snuck out for an early start to the weekend. Lucky for me, he was available for Saturday, and I was set with a partner. Chad has quite the climbing resume with several first ascents to his name, and he's getting ready to climb El Cap in Yosemite in May. So, I was psyched to connect with him for the day.

Chad pointed out a nice looking line that neither of us had climbed, so we scoped it out as Chad racked up to lead the pitch. The climb was rated on the easy side of the range, but was also aptly named, "No Picnic". Chad worked the crux section for a bit while I enjoyed the warming weather. He was apologetic for taking some time, but I was just happy to be outside at the best crag in the East. I followed Chad on the pitch and it was indeed a sweet line. I'll have to lead it sometime soon. While this promised to be a crowded weekend, we were both surprised to see one of my favorite lines, Classic, open. Chad mentioned that he saw climbing legend, John Bragg, on it on Friday, so that was enough to convince me to lead it. We enjoyed both pitches, and then we were desperate for some shade. We hiked down to one of my favorite climbs which is guaranteed to have shade, and it was every bit as good as I remember it. Chad led another great line called Moonlight, and then I got motivated to try something a bit harder. I had fun leading the only sport route in the Gunks and then we headed to the parking lot for some much needed socializing with our friends. Life was good after some spaghetti and wine, and I headed to my parents for a shower and some zzzz's.

On Sunday, I spent a little time helping my parents in the morning, visited my 92 year old Grandmother at a rehab center, and then went to a wedding for my best friend from high school. This was a second wedding for both the bride and groom, so it was fairly low key with mostly family and a few close friends. The vows were taken at a beautiful Arboreum, and it was nice to catch up with some old friends and meet some new ones. The grooms brother married the couple, and I was then both shocked and honored when the bride asked me if I would make a toast. I took a couple minutes to get a few thoughts together and then asked my friend, Eric, how life was different with his new bride, Christy. He said that life was "fuller", and proceeded to describe all the things they do together. I heard what I needed to hear, and then put together a toast that ultimately ended with a toast to the "Fullness of their lives together". Everyone seemed especially pleased with the toast, and my mission was accomplished.

After arriving home, I decided to squeeze in a run before evening set in. It was warm, but I throughly enjoyed it. On the Metacomet Trail, I saw an amazing owl fly into a tree, and I stopped to watch it for a bit. He turned his head all around to see me. I said hello and then was on my way. Life was good! I rounded Pinnacle Rock and saw a few climbers finishing up there lines, and then headed for home.

What a weekend! On Friday night, you could have played music on my tight, stressed out muscles, and now I sit here relaxed and recharged. You can't ask for much more. Climbing, running, family and is good, and I love it!

Have a great week!


Sunday, April 19, 2009

A tale for the ages

Last night, I had an amazing experience dancing tango. It's one of those rare moments in life that you will remember forever.

While this blog is primarily a running blog, I think it's important to share the other incredible experiences we have along the way.

Sure, I could write about the desperately needed run on Wednesday evening where I happened to matched strides for a little while with another guy named Steve who was putting the finishing touches on his Boston Marathon training. He ran a 2:50 at Boston last year, and was doing an 18 miler on the Wednesday prior to the race. Nice! I was just happy to be outside enjoying the beautiful weather and scenery.

I could also share my experience running into a snake, a Black Racer, on the trail Friday morning. I heard a rattle (like a rattlesnake) and immediately froze. A few feet to my left was a 6 foot snake with it's tail doing the wild thing. The only thing I know about snakes is that I am very afraid of them, and there's not much that scares me these days. The encounter was fairly benign for both of us, but my sister later indicated that it had big implications for changes in my life ;-) I wonder....

...So this story is interesting. This is one that I need to record even if it's only for me. It's one that my Grand daughter can replay to me when I'm too old to remember anything, and I'm sure it will bring a smile to my face :-).

As most of you know, I've been learning the Argentine Tango for about 3 months now. It started innocently enough, but has grown to be a new passion for me. As with any of my interests, I am not satisfied until I can "dance with the best", so I have been aggressively learning on a weekly basis. Yesterday, I attended my first workshop with a true Argentine master. His nickname is "Pulpo" (which means octopus) because of the incredible entanglements he and his partner do with their legs. It's quite amazing to watch, and I was impressed with his style from the beginning.

My focus was not great at the start of class because I attended a wedding Friday evening in NJ and didn't get home until 1AM. In the morning, I drove 2 hours to Pittsfield, MA for this workshop and barely arrived for the 1:30PM start time. Wooof! Anway, the moves started off easy enough, but my partner and I struggled to make a connection. I had never danced with Christine, and we weren't exactly clicking. Nevertheless, I started to relax after a bit, and we worked hard on the moves all day. I felt like we managed OK, but I wondered if I would be able to repeat any of this stuff in a real dance setting. Some folks wondered if it was even practical for a milonga. I was the rookie in the class, so I tried to absorb everything like a sponge. By 5Pm, my brain was fried and I was happy the first 2 workshops ended. I needed food and some decompression.

We all headed over to Jackie and Paul's house for a potluck dinner. Jackie is a great tango instructor, and I love the energy she brings to the tango community. She has taken me on as her "project", and I appreciate her efforts to mold me into a dancer. We all had plenty to eat, and everyone in the community is super friendly. I had a chance to talk to a lot of nice people, and watched in amazement as some of them improvised moves in the tiny dining room space. After a bit, we changed into our formal dance wear, and headed out for the final workshop, and milonga (social dance).

At the milonga I was dancing OK, and my energy level was actually improving as the evening went on. Everyone was friendly, but I am still a bit self-conscious of my lack of experience. I try "new things" because "new" is all I have at this point.

At the midpoint of the evening, Pulpo and his partner did a demonstration dance and it was very impressive. Everyone cheered after they completed their last dance.

Now, this is where it gets interesting... at this point Jackie asked if anyone had an April birthday. Usually, 3-4 people go out on the floor, and the idea is that many partners dance with them over the course of one dance. Jackie beckoned me to come out on the floor since I have an April B-day, but shockingly I was the only one. Uh-oh! Before I knew it, the entire tango community's eyes were on me. I stood there in shock while Jackie queued up some music. She volunteered as my first victim, so I relaxed a little. I figured we would start and everyone would join in and it would all be over. To my surpise, no one was joining in. All eyes were on me as I strutted my 3 months worth of experience in front of "lifetime" tango dancers. Yikes!

I tried to focus, but the partners started cutting in which didn't allow me to get familiar with any of them. I tried to throw in everything I knew, but that's not much. I was afraid of boring 60 or so on-lookers so I finally decided to just "go for it". Damn the torpedoes!

I threw in one of the complicated moves that we learned in class, but my partner and I missed on the first try. We improvised and then I decided to give it another go. It worked, and the crowd went wild! Wow! How cool is that? Then, my workshop partner, Christine, cut in, and I knew we could do something good. I threw in the most complex move of the day, and everyone went bonkers! I felt like the walk-on basketball player who hits the 3 pointer at the buzzer! Who knew this could happend to me...ever? Another lovely lady cut in, and she was motivated to take it to another level. We "cut the rug" like the floor was on fire for another minute or so and before I knew it the tune ended with us getting a huge ovation from the crowd. I was literally shaking from all the adrenaline. Wooooohoooo!

Many people came up to me afterwards to congratulate me on the dance, and even "Pulpo" thanked me for using "his moves". He said it was a huge compliment to him. WOW!

I was walking on Cloud 9 for the rest of the night. I felt like I had arrived in the tango community. Some folks said I had "big ones" for attempting the workshop moves in a dance in front of "Pulpo". "What the heck", I said, "You only live once!"

Dancing the tango is hard work and frustrating at times, but an incredible high when it all clicks. It's like hitting your stride in a marathon or elegantly pulling the crux move on a hard climb. It allows you to be incredibly sensual with someone you just met, and you know that it's OK. You share something for a few moments in time with no implications of anything else. The passion is only limited by the partners involved, and it can be amazing regardless of age, size, or any other physical trait.

For now, it's back to reality. There's work to do and chores to complete. You all know how it is....

After the potluck last night, my friend Victor said, "Steve, I'm glad you came to the workshops today", and I replied with, "Victor, I'm glad you insisted that I try tango a few months ago"......Little did I know that a few hours later I would have the "dance of a lifetime".



Sunday, April 5, 2009

Running: Our operating system

The guys at work will appreciate this one....

There is a huge emphasis on process improvement and standardization where we work. We are constantly striving to eliminate waste. This "Operating System" has become such a part of our professional DNA that it has become second nature. When I get in a hard spot, I look to our process improvement tools to find an answer. This week I felt the same about running.

Whenever I get stressed or feel unbalanced in any way, I know that running will help fix the problem. Climbing helps in the same way, but running has been doing it for me for more than 30 years now. It's easy to do...and it's always there for me. I don't need to take a class or find a's just there when I need it.

After starting this new job, my dream job, I was a bit concerned about finding time to run. A couple of the guys at work get up and 4AM to get in a run. Wow! After thinking about it, I was inspired by them. So, I started getting up early...I knew I had to run or all heck would break loose. We all need to stay healthy and energized to perform at a high level at work and in every other aspect of life.

I managed to get outside 4 times this past week. The first 3 runs were relatively short, 30-45 minutes each, and then I did a 1 hour trail run on Saturday. It pales in comparison to last year's mileage, but it's a start.

My run on Thursday was so early that I needed a headlamp. It was peaceful, and there were very few cars on the roads. I enjoyed it, and didn't feel rushed. Truly enjoyable.

While things have been hectic, running will always have a place in my life. In fact, it's needed more during the crazy times.

Hope you all are getting in some good miles!