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Shumë gjera të thënë — apo jo? November 5, 2012

Posted by KG in Albanian, Language, Running.
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Obligatory lazy blog entry.  There are a ton of things I need to write about.  Like diving deeper into the now-distant memory of running that half marathon.  And my first two months of studying Albanian.  And… well there’s the hard part.  There’s not much more, really.  Running, Albanian, running, Albanian.  Life has settled into a steady and frankly pleasant rhythm, with occasional superstorm-caused disruptions.

The race.  It was quite an experience, the largest race I’ve run ever, even larger than the 2008 Cherry Blossom 10-miler.  We (the wife, my mother-in-law, and I) made amazing time Friday evening driving from DC to Baltimore, making the packet pickup and dinner at my folks’ stress free.  We turned in early and woke up to a freezing morning, the first frost of the season.  Miserable when planning a long run, but with a 9:30 gun time I opted, wisely, to roll the dice and dress for warmer temperatures.  The large crowds on the light rail down to Baltimore were great for keeping me warm.  Unfortunately the crowd also meant those standing on the train, including me, nearly broke our necks when the conductor made a sharp turn.  Though my neck ended up fine, my sunglasses failed to survive.  Those of you who know how attached I am to my running sunglasses can predict how upset I was with that particular development.

Fortunately, that was the worst thing to happen to me until after the race.  I made it to the start with plenty of time for a pit stop, and hit the hills of the course at a faster-than-expected pace.  At Mile 7, the course flattened and I spotted the family once, and then again at Mile 8.  The back five were fast and furious (and downhill!), and I finished with a sweet negative split.  Sadly, the good feelings ended there and a series of snafus ensued: the finish had a single, tiny Gatorade stand we were hustled out of.  The finishers corral was incredibly chaotic, the food spread terrible (who wants crab chips after running 13.1 or 26.2 miles?) And to top it off, Baltimore light rail decided to run sporadically, and my family had some drama causing them to miss making it to the finish.  They were many miles away and stranded while I was waiting in downtown Baltimore, with no ID, money, phone, or Clif bars.  Thank goodness for the good hearts of my fellow runners, and for a few strokes of resourcefulness; it took a bit of time, but we were eventually reunited. All the mess didn’t diminish the race buzz completely, but it did knock it down a few notches.  Lessons learned: plan megaraces more carefully, and avoid Baltimore light rail at all costs.

Running a half felt great, just hard enough to not kill me.  Albanian?  Also not killing me, but definitely making me sore in the head.  While the lifestyle is relatively gentle, the intellectual effort is less half marathon and more Badwater Ultra.  Looming deadlines have been replaced by vocabulary words at the edges of my brain, grammar constructions I know one day only to forget the next, and an endless search for some better studying tool.  The chaos of Albanian definitely hurts.  I’ve spent most of the evening studying colors and have seen far too many words presented as the definitive one for “pink” and “blue.”  Next up: loading some vocab onto the iPod to listen to while running.  Will this be the thing to finally drive those pesky interjections into my conscious memory?



Air like Soup July 5, 2012

Posted by KG in Running.
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The oppressive humidity and extreme heat have my wife cursing the Eastern Seaboard relentlessly, and me fomenting plans to lobby the powers that be to relax the FSI dress code.  It’s starting to go beyond Mumbai-in-May levels, which given DC’s latitude is just ridiculous.  Perhaps this will pass, but given that it is only July, probably not for a few months.  The constant temptation is to spend non-working hours motionless, soaking in air conditioning.  But of course that would be admitting defeat by the elements, something I’m unwilling to do.  So instead I’m keeping up my running routine, with some time modifications in an effort to avoid the nastiest parts of the day.

And it really sucks.

Sunday I ran what I suspect is my absolute worst 10K ever.  What many call breathing felt to me, about half way in, like drinking the air through my nose.  It got so bad that I may have gone down into a Metro station late in the run to cool down for a couple minutes.  (If pressed regarding this publicly, I will of course deny that I took such measures.)  Today I think I did slightly better on a shorter 5K, powered more by fortuitous song selections on my iPod than anything else.

My question is this: is it even possible to acclimatize to this nasty humidity?  I vaguely recall having done so many years and many pounds ago, but that may be excessively rosy thinking.  If it is possible, any tips on hastening progress?

My Shoes Smell Terrible March 12, 2012

Posted by KG in Etc., Running.
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My training for the 2008 Cherry Blossom 10-Miler was impeccable.  My new wife was thousands of miles away and I had no social life to speak of.  Why not throw everything I had into my first ever race?  Everything and then some, actually: ten miles is a big challenge for anyone, let alone a beginner.  The by-products of the training included some seriously sore feet, a stack of workout clothes, an unexpectedly good race time, and an unexpected love of racing.  I signed up for a 10K a couple months later.

And then I promptly moved to India, moved back to America, started working punishing hours, hurt my back, recovered from back surgery, and continued working my butt off.  Even without the injury, consistent training has been a challenge.  I decided some months ago racing wasn’t in my book while on the Desk.  Ever the perfectionist, I wasn’t going to race if I couldn’t maintain the tightest possible training regimen.

That attitude, which extends beyond running to most other hobbies I have, has given my down time a heaviness.  Or more directly: fun started to feel like work.  Never a good thing!  So in December, I went out on a limb (and a whim), signed up for the Jingle All The Way 8k the morning of, and ran the race in 37’36”.  And most importantly: I had fun.

Work is still brutal.  Lunch runs are a gamble.  Evening runs near impossible.  Weekend mornings are easier, but fatigue is a challenge.  No matter.  This weekend, sporadic training be damned, I ran not one but two races — the St. Patrick’s Day 8K and the Four Courts Four Miler.

My feet hurt, my calves are singing, and I’m exhausted.  Daylight savings didn’t help.  But I’m also proud to have pulled it off.  And proud of my times, roughly 38′ for the 8K and 29′ for the 4M.  And I had a ball.  The wife dragged herself up to watch me both times, and now I’m researching next races to run.  I’d wanted to run 3 races in 2012 total.  Now I think maybe I’ll do one a month.

Any recommendations for April?

Taking and Making Stock January 17, 2011

Posted by KG in fitness, Food, Running.
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Right now, there’s a cold and potentially freezing rain falling softly outside.  The humidity today drove the cold straight into my bones, and in that tiny space where part of a disc used to be, a pocket of pain began to fester and grow.  I’ve been mitigating it all day through judicious dosages of rest and Mario Kart, but it’s still there, throbbing and nagging, begging for attention.  Maybe this is just the new normal.  The PT and my surgeon warned me.  “It’s never going to be the same,” they said.  “You’ll get used to it, eventually, but your back is just going to feel different.”

That’s the downside, significant and miserable.  There’s an upside too, a sliver of one.  Saturday I went for a run — outside.  My first outdoors run since surgery, and I managed 2.5 uninterrupted miles in about 20 minutes.  Not the fastest ever, but not the slowest.  And no consequent back pain!  An hour of pilates on Sunday (yes, I was the only man in the room, and yes you may shut up) was likewise not-terrible to my beleaguered spine, though there’s the whole lost flexibility thing to deal with.  And the spare tire.

But the cold! Killing me.  As did my post-pilates task for the long weekend: making chicken soup from scratch for my wife, who’s down with clogged sinuses.  This was the third round this winter of making stock, and one of the most successful.  The soup — chicken matzo ball — was good enough for the wife to take thirds, despite late-emerging matzo ball consistency challenges.  Unfortunately, the time spent hunched over the kitchen counter making a brunoise for the soup, skimming the fat from the stock, and cleaning the resulting mess was difficult.  Not terrible, really, but by the end of the four-hour (!!) process, I could definitely feel it.

In time, I probably will get used to this. But for now, I’m on my way to being able to enjoy one of my true joys in life again.  Unfortunately, making fuel for longer runs is going to be a bit more challenging.




Here’s to 2011… January 5, 2011

Posted by KG in Etc., Family, Running, Travels.
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…  though to be frank, I have few reasons to mourn the passing of 2010.  In the final ledger ’10 comes out in the black: trekking in the Himalayas, roadtripping in the Pacific NW, hiking in Zion National Park.  Returning to DC, a new job that was terrifying on paper that has proven to be rewarding in ways I didn’t expect, a chance to work in NYC.  A nice house in a nice neighborhood, all our belongings out of storage, and holidays with family.  The whole back injury, emergency surgery, ten pounds gained because the doc says no exercise thing put a damper on the end of the year, but overall things turned out just fine.

2011 could be even better.  Yesterday I managed two miles on the treadmill in 16 minutes — a slow pace, but the official benchmark my PT gave me for going ahead and running outdoors.  New work challenges pop up daily, but somehow they seem more predictable than they did months ago, or at least more understandable.  The wife and I are starting to talk travel destinations for the new year, and the whole of North America seems ripe for exploration. 

I’ve come to dislike both New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Resolutions because they are setups for disappointment.  Goals were more my thing, but unfortunately I failed spectacularly at all of the goals I set for 2010, with the possible exception of “eat more fish.”   When 2/3 of your goals are physical, a back injury will do that.  So this year I’ll pull back from “resolution” even more — a list of ideas for making 2011 a good year: 

Read more books. 

Approach problems calmly.  

Appease loved ones and anonymous admirers by blogging more.  

And most importantly, avoid debilitating medical conditions.

A Pain in the Ass August 11, 2010

Posted by KG in fitness, Running.

There’s really only one way to exercise, in my book, and that’s to overdo it.  How do you know your limits unless you go past them?  Lift heavier for more reps.  Run faster and longer.  Run faster and longer right after lifting heavier for more reps.  Doing yoga?  Bend more.  Now try it with one hand.   And so on and so forth.  Is it any wonder that that one Daft Punk song is always on my iPod?

I’m only half kidding.  After struggling with nagging ITBS, one possible incident of rhabdomylosis (a long time ago), and plenty of tweaked muscles, I’m relatively — relatively! — close to knowing my limits and being smart about them.   The days of really screwing my back up after doing something stupid are over.  At least I hoped so.

For the past few days I’ve been struggling with near constant pain from my piriformis.  I am fairly sure I initially aggravated it a few months ago, and ignored it as a generic hamstring strain.  But after a short-ish run on Sunday I found myself struggling to walk, and though that’s pretty much gone I’m now completely uncomfortable sitting. 

As a bureaucrat, you can imagine how difficult this is. 

I’m feverishly researching quick fixes and reading that unfortunately, the key is patience.  That and a tennis ball.   If any runners or yogis out there have faced this: suggestions?  Anecdotes?  I’m on the edge of my seat. (Literally.  It’s the only comfortable spot.)

Readjustment Pains May 16, 2010

Posted by KG in Running.
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Some amount of reverse culture shock was expected, but no one told me moving back to America would actually be physically painful.

Rewinding: once upon a time, I was a pretty decent runner.  It was a hard earned quality.  But clearly, that was the past.  I’ve been trying to run every few days here in Seattle, and have learned that not only am I now a terrible, terrible runner, but that running really freaking hurts.

Yesterday’s 25 minute run with a few light hills has resulted in a dull throb originating somewhere in my right calf.  And glorious, incandescent bolts of pain from my hips.  And the nagging feeling that there’s something off in my lower back.  All from a slow paced 2.5 miles, and the usual stretching before and after.  “Disappointed” doesn’t begin to cover how this feels.

Patience is probably the best tonic.  The pain today isn’t as bad as the pain two days ago, and will probably end up being way worse than anything a few days from now.  Two years is a lot of time off, and though my brain remembers the body is weak.  Getting back to past levels of skill is just going to take some time.

But for now, I’m going to lie down on the couch and complain, vocally.  I think I’ve earned it.

Planning for the Future April 2, 2010

Posted by KG in FS Life, Running.
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Yesterday I officially registered for the Army Ten-Miler, with a super-ambitious goal time of 1’36”. I haven’t run for longer than 20 minutes in two years. Now there are drums at my back, thumping away: 200 days. Get faster, get leaner, 200 days…

And those drummers aren’t alone. We’re in full-on countdown mode and I can’t believe it. Somewhere back there, being in India for the foreseeable future turned into leaving India pretty soon, and I missed the point of inflection. Somehow the reality is easy and difficult to digest, at the same time. Of course I’m running a footrace in DC in a few months. But leaving Mumbai in a few weeks? That’s not possible, is it?

Usually, the joke goes, outgoing officers get a sort of senioritis at the end of their tours. Sadly, that’s not a luxury I’ve had. The other members of the team have commented about it recently, about how I’m not exactly relaxing and enjoying my last month. Which is untrue — I’m absolutely enjoying my last month. At the same time I finally understand (I think) what my job means, the reasons behind what I’ve been doing so long. The last six months have brought unexpected clarity, and of course that means I can’t slack. Because right before I’m scheduled to leave, I finally get it.

Sigh. The Foreign Service. Heraclitus, manifest as bureaucratic institution. The only thing you can truly, ever get comfortable with is change. Come June I’ll be in a different office, trying to get it again, trying to understand a whole different set of equities, issues, personalities. Nothing endures but change.


There are a number of Foreign Service bloggers who I read regularly, and who have dropped some comments here. My blogroll, if it were a person, would be embarrassed by how out of touch it was. Luckily it’s just a series of code, and its owner owns his laziness as a badge of honor. I’ll be getting to updating that blogroll, one of these days. Probably when I don’t want to pack.

Movement Forward, Goals January 9, 2010

Posted by KG in DC, Mumbai, Running, Yoga.

Fully cognizant of the fact that I’m jinxing it, it looks like our future plans are coming together and the wife and I will be returning to the District in mid-2010. Its what we both wanted and needed, and it’ll be the first time we’ll be living as a married couple back home.

In a spirit of solidarity with Catherine, whose 30 while 30 is admirable enough to be mimicked, I’ve been thinking of goals for when we get back to the States. Nowhere near 30, but, here’s a few things I want to accomplish by year’s end. This list isn’t exhaustive, but I’m intentionally avoiding joint goals with me and my wife (“travel more”), generic goals everyone has (“save more money”) or goals that are just way to general (“take life less seriously”) in favor of concrete objectives I can achieve on my own.

One of the things I’m most looking forward to doing once back home is hitting the pavement, literally. I went on a few runs when we were in Australia, reminding me how much I miss the solitary, minimalist feeling of running a few miles, early in the morning. Life in Bombay has been many things for us. Solitary and minimalist, however, it hasn’t been. Of course I’m also a little nervous that after two years of rickety cab rides, bad posture, loosening my hips through yoga, and no running my poor legs won’t be able to take it, but that’s what ibuprofen is for. Since i’ve taken so much time off, and I’m a bit older than back when I ran the Cherry Blossom Ten Miler, I’m ready to accept I won’t be as fast as I once was. Goal: Run the Army 10 Miler, October 24, in less than 1’40”.

Speaking of yoga: DC has yoga studios! Multiple ones! I’m hoping by the time I get back to the States I’ll be able to devote a couple hours a week to regular practice, and work on developing a stronger pincha and a decent scorpion. Is getting a full split in one year a bit too ambitious? Probably, but it doesn’t hurt to try. Goal: Work on splits all year. Nail vrschikasana. Widen my yoga practice, and try out new postures and styles whenever possible.

In keeping with the yogic-ness, I want to reduce my consumption of meat. Ezra Klein wrote a well reasoned piece for the Post about the environmental impact of meat back in July, and I started working on shifting the focus of my diet to vegetables and fish back then. Unfortunately, almost immediately thereafter I got malaria, and then anemia. Reducing meat consumption while your blood’s iron content is dangerously low? Bad idea. But I’ve been all better for a while now, so no more excuses. I think the key will be changing basic habits. To start, a Goal: cook at least two vegetarian meals a week. Once back in DC, eat more fish.

A short list, I admit, but achievable. Let’s see how much I can do in the time I’m still in India. The real test, however, starts when we’re back in DC.

It’s Like Deja Vu and Other Errata May 18, 2008

Posted by KG in FS Life, India, Running, Traveling.
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Tomorrow (Monday) meri bivi and I were to be on a plane, on our way to Mumbai via Frankfurt. Unfortunately, that plan is looking unlikely at the moment: we’re currently without diplomatic visas to India. Kind of a bummer, as we’re now unsure just when we’ll be leaving for our next assignment. The bright side is that we’re doing this together, and now we’ve gone from a rate of three necessary errands per hour down to nearly zero. That loud exhalation you hear is one of our collective relief. Sure, the situation is a bit frustrating, but really? We’ve been through worse. And now we can hang out without asking each other the dreaded question “what do we have to do today?” every morning.

When our departure for Monday was looking probable, I went and made the irresponsible decision to register for the Capitol Hill Classic 10K. Intercontinental flight the next day be damned — a 10K through my neighborhood was not to be passed up. There was no substantial reason to let recent developments scuttle my race plans, so I did indeed run today. It was my first 10K (and race #2 overall). It felt like a good distance, a rational amount of time that left enough in my tank for a very fast final mile (or two). The roughest part was the eponymous final hill, which hit hard but not hard enough to quash my final sprint. I’m still not sure how I managed it, but according to my watch I managed a time of around 47’26”. That last sprint took me to about empty, and I’m definitely more sore tonight than I was after the Cherry Blossom. In fact, the moments after that race were fairly easy. After this one, I couldn’t see straight, and it took me a few minutes to remember how to tie my shoes. NB: I didn’t train nearly as hard or as much this time around.

But back to non-crazy-stupid-running news. My prettier half and I are here for a bit longer, and I intend on enjoying it as much as possible. So, America: we’re (probably) not leaving just yet. Do you have plans?