July 9, 2016

Looking to meet my match

At forty eight, I realized I had never been on a date. Well, not really. I have certainly dated some lovely women in my life, but it dawned on me that I hadn’t been on any real dates with people I was just getting to know. The women I have dated I have known from work or through a mutual friend. I went on what was essentially my first date back in February with someone I had met at a wedding. She was a perfectly lovely person, but after three dates it seemed that there wasn’t enough of a spark to continue.

So now a few months later at forty nine, I have thrown my hat in the online dating pool. It has been a bit of a weird experience so far. Not only am I a novice at dating in general, but the online aspect adds another layer of oddities. Like anyone who has signed up for Facebook, you are actively giving up some of your privacy with any dating site. As someone who has been posting semi-intimate details of his life on a public blog for several years, the initial act of putting my stuff out there on another site was not that big a deal, but there are new layers that I was surprised by.

You start by putting up one or several pictures of yourself. Naturally, you try to put pictures up that are not only flattering, but give some insight of who you are. All the decent photos of me were either from a run, a bike ride, or out in the woods on backpacking trip, so that worked out nicely. After putting up a dozen pictures though, I realized that I didn’t have glasses on in any of the photos. Trying to be as accurate as possible (apparently people lie on these things), I stepped out into my backyard and took a quick selfie.

Below the pictures is a section where you write a few words/paragraphs about yourself and what you are looking for. Sort of the cover letter to your online dating resume. And then you get to the checklists.

Back before I was actually divorced (but the writing was on the wall), I was over at a friend’s house for some gathering. We were all hanging out and chatting when one friend from across the room asked, “so, what are looking for in a woman?” It was one of those record-scratch moments when everyone stops talking and looks at you. Again, still technically married and not having thought about it, I answered off the cuff, “Non-smoker, non-hater.”

The non-smoking thing is obvious. I am allergic to cigarette smoke, but more importantly, I don’t want to kiss an ashtray. The non-hater thing is more about not wanting to be with someone who is always looking for the dark cloud behind that silver lining, going through life thinking the world is out to get them. I don’t need or want a Pollyanna as a partner, but I don’t want to be around someone who is constantly expecting the worst out of everything and everybody. To be clear, this was not a reaction to my soon-to-be ex-wife. She was neither a smoker nor a hater.

Several years down the line, I don’t have much of a better, quick answer to what I am looking for in a partner. There are definitely things I hope for, but the list of non-negotiables still basically sits at non-smoker. But with online dating, you are sort of trying to order up your perfect match.

There are checkboxes for height, body type, hair color, eye color, salary, astrological sign, faith, exercise habits, education, occupation, income level and more. I certainly get it, but the volume of it feels like a tailor made desire in what is more of an off-the-rack world. It is the online shopping mentality with the entire world at your fingertips, and it feels like we should be able to punch up our perfect mate on Amazon.com.

It is both amazing and discouraging at the same time. Through the website, you have possible contact with so many more people than you would ever see in your normal path in life, but the sheer volume makes you think there is always going to be someone more “perfect” for you if you just keep looking.

So you keep clicking on pictures, looking for criteria and reading introductions, looking for something to jump out at you. Back to the privacy thing, on odd thing is that when you look at someone’s profile, they know. On your own login, there is a little list of people who have checked you out. On the one hand, it is kind of interesting to see whose eye you caught, but on the other, you sort of hesitate to click because you are being tracked. You also know if someone has read your email. This is mostly nice, since you can’t fool yourself that the person you are interested in hasn’t seen it yet. Nope, they read it, and they just weren’t interested enough to respond. Move along, no interest here, keep clicking on.

It has only been two weeks, so we are a long way from any final judgment. It is an interesting new adventure, and we will see where the electronic path leads. Now please excuse me, I think someone just sent a wink to me. 

July 7, 2016

Seattle Rock n Roll Marathon

The planning for a marathon can run anywhere from four months to over a year, depending on your level of preparation, training and tendency to make stuff up as you go along. My buddy Steve in a fit of excitement at the finish line of last year's Seattle Rock n Roll Half Marathon, signed up to run his first full marathon at the same event a year later. The cheaper price and promise of a free jacket probably helped sway him.

I was not tempted to pull the trigger then, but a couple of months later, a Groupon came out to run the marathon for $60, just $5 more than if I had signed up still sweating at the finish line, and noticeably cheaper than what they normally charge. It turned out I had a 20% coupon sitting on the Groupon site, so my final bill was $48. With a jacket, it was almost like they were paying me to run this thing.

After running at least two marathons a year from 2008 - 2012, and four in 2012, I had only run one since, the wonderful Chicago Marathon experience in 2013. My main excuse was that the tax season schedule really messes with training for or running spring and fall marathons, but if I was as motivated as I used to be, I would have made it work. Running a couple of half marathons in 2015 sort of re-lit the spark, and a number of other friends signed up to run either the full or half marathon this June, so I was inspired to take on the challenge again.

When you sign up for these things, they often ask you for a predicted finish time. This helps them stage the runners in corrals by their pace, hopefully reducing congestion of runners weaving in and out of jams. Even if you have run a number of these things, it is still hard to know what kind of shape you will be in eight months down the road. If it is your first like it was for Steve, it is basically a wild-ass guess.

And then of course life intervenes in those months leading up to the race. Maybe work or family demands increase, maybe you get injured, maybe what seemed possible so far out, feels impossible as the deadline approaches. Several of the people that signed up either didn't make the start line due to injury, or had to change to a shorter race as a backup plan. My own training schedule was of course interrupted by taxes, and I was also trying to train for a couple of big bike rides around the marathon date. In trying to train for both running and biking, I didn't do a particularly good job at either.

Since this was Steve's first marathon, I tried to think of what I wished I had known going into the race. We of course talked a lot about training for the race in the early months, but I also ended up writing a few pages of thoughts about the week and hours leading up to the race, and then some tips on getting through the 26.2 miles. The exercise was a nice reminder for me of what the adventure entails. But of course, even with the best of plans, things can still go sideways.

Some marathons let you personalize your running bib with a short phrase. In the intervening eight months, I had of course forgotten what I wrote down. It turns out I was in a Douglas Adams sort of mood back then, but the phrase seemed appropriate now.

A gal at the start line asked if I had remembered my towel, clearly getting the reference to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which set me off with a smile.

Steve and I met up with a few of my other friends Tami, Jenica, Joseph, Wendy and John who were either running the 8k or half marathon. We shared some hugs, photos and nervous energy before setting off to our respective starting corrals.

I decided to go for a bit of stretch goal and set off with the 3:50 pace group. Though Steve and I had finished within a minute of each other at the half marathon the month before, he hadn't had a chance to get in the final long runs, and decided on a more conservative (and probably wiser) goal of 4:25. The route kicked off at Seattle Center, ran along the Viaduct for a bit before heading south though town and down to Lake Washington.

I stayed with or a bit ahead of the pace group for the first half of the race. After we looped around Seward Park and started heading back north, things started to turn. At the halfway point, new pacers took over the mantle and lead us on with fresh legs. Oh how I wish I had the same option. My hips tightened up at mile thirteen, and my right calf not long after, and it became twelve mile struggle described in the picture at the beginning of this post. I hung with the pacer until we climbed onto the I-90 bridge at mile seventeen, but slowly watched her slip away as the miles ticked by. My brain and determination chanted to push on, but the growing pain in my hips and legs eventually won out. The last three miles was a run/walk/stumble to the finish.

I crossed the finish in 3:58 flat. Absolutely nothing wrong with that time, but I just wish it hadn't hurt so bad to achieve it. I don't know if I had set off at a 4:00 pace if I would have finished in roughly the same time, but feeling strong. I had not had any hip pain leading up to the race, so who knows if starting more conservatively would have made a difference.

My friend (and biking buddy) Joe surprised me at the finish. His daughter had run the 8k and his son the half marathon, but he stuck around to watch me finish, even though he is one of the many who think running a marathon is crazy. He managed to catch a video of my just about to make the last turn to the finish. Thankfully the downhill slope aided my shuffle, but even then I swept over to get high-fives from strangers to push me on. Didn't even see Joe until he shouted my name.

Since there were two out and back loops on the course, I was able to see Steve twice heading the other direction. I saw him first when I was at mile 14 and he at mile 9. He was a bit behind his pacer, but looked great. I later found out the only reason he was behind was he had stopped to use the bathroom three times - clearly well hydrated. When I saw him again, we were on the I-90 bridge, me at mile 22 and him at about 17. He was now ahead of his pacer, and looking like he was feeling great. Given my head start, I was able to finish, grab some food and my drop bag and make it back to the finish line to see Steve cross. He ran a great race and finished strong in 4:20:15.

We met his girlfriend Tania and headed to the beer garden to have our free Michelob Ultra, a low-carb, beer-like substance, and swapped stories of struggle and victory. Steve thanked me for all the tips I had given him, but I was feeling more broken than marathon guru at that point. He swore that this would be his only marathon, checking off the bucket list item, but there was a gleam in his eye that tells me he will be back someday. I promised not to ask until the endorphins and soreness subsided. Or at least until I see him wearing his finisher jacket again.