Sunday, December 5, 2010

Ridiculously Debonair

Last night my friend Jasmyn had her annual Christmas party. The theme was "Semi-Formal with a Winter Twist." I'm on the left in the photo below, and while I'm not sure what my winter twist was, I'm pretty sure my tweed jacket was the shit! My friend Luke on the right is sporting formal attire on the top, and candy cane pajamas on the bottom. Formal + Pajamas = Semi-formal. Get it?

Helpful Tip: If you want to have a fun party, then it's always best to act like children.
This is why, after some grown-up socializing, we decided to engage in obstacle course races.

Race Description:
Sprint around the ottoman 3 times, proceed to the kitchen where you have to eat a cookie and then take a small shooter (Jager, Peach Schnapps, Cranberry juice), run up the stairs where an Otter Pop is waiting for your consumption, chow down the chunk of ice, bust out a freak nasty move on the wooden rail, run back down the stairs, and then lastly guess a mad gab clue to stop the timer.

I didn't win. Apparently my strength is not in chomping through Otter Pops, as my teeth are a bit cold sensitive. Stupid teeth!

In terms of running news, I ran 6 miles this morning. It was a route that I've run a ton of times and always time myself. I ran my slowest time EVER this morning. BUT... my fastest time ever running it with a hangover! Go un-Zen Runner!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Fail? Check.

The reason I started this blog was to track my adventures as I focused on the completion of four goals (posted on the right side of this blog). I only intended on completing the first goal this year, which I failed at accomplishing. But worse than that, as I look at my current state of fitness it's apparent that I've made little progress over the last year. I'm healthy, and I'm a decent runner. But my goals weren't to be a healthy and decent runner. They were to improve my fitness toward a measurable goal...that of being able to run a 7:15 minute mile for 26.2 miles.

Here's what I've learned about myself though. That I think long runs (15+ miles) are boooring!! Good thing I have a plan to trick myself into getting in "Boston" shape...

Step 1: Ultramarathon is off the list. If I'm not going to enjoy training for it, why should I train for it? This is a hobby right?

Step 2: Half Marathons are the new Marathon. I enjoy every run that goes into training for a half. So my number one priority now is to accomplish goal #4. Run a half marathon in less than 1 hour 25 minutes.

Step 3: Is this sounding like that New Kids on the Block song? Step by step... oooh baaaaby...gonna get to you girrrrrl. You DON'T want to hear me sing. :)

Step 4: After accomplishing goal #4 I'll be running a half marathon in a 6:30 minute mile. So at this point I just do about six distance runs between 18-20 miles. Then sign me up for my qualifier!

Step 5: Duhhh, I've already qualified for Boston at this point in the Steps. Why are you still reading?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Marathons are Turning Me Gay

Weird things can happen when you are pushed past reasonable bounds of exertion. I've read about people talking to imaginary people during ultra marathons because they start to hallucinate. I've never gotten that bad, although I did become a bit of a crybaby during this last marathon I ran. And not from pain. From "sentimental value"...

I've been fretting this Santa Barbara marathon for a long time. First is because long ago I had set my sites on this being my qualification for Boston. And second because I hardly trained for it. Ooops.

I knew long before the race that there was no way I was going to qualify for Boston, so the lack of training was more worrisome just because I knew running the marathon was going to REALLY suck!! How little did I train? Well, let's just say that I trained more for my first marathon. And during my first marathon I basically spent the last 8 miles focusing on not puking/passing out.

Surprisingly, the Santa Barbara marathon didn't go as bad as my first one, even though the final 8 miles of Santa Barbara were also spent in hell. So let's get into the interesting part. It was about 4 miles into hell (i.e. mile 22). There was a family of 4 people holding a sign that read "Great job Steve! You are almost done. Finish strong. We love you!!"

I read it, and I was overcome with emotion. It was just such a nice sign! It was a sweet token of love for Steve. His family looked so happy, and they had probably been waiting there awhile for him. And I was in a mental grip of despair. I started to cry. And then quickly realized that I was running a marathon, so I got a hold of myself. But then came the upbeat cheering person.

She was at an intersection at mile 23. It was raining lightly so she was sitting in her car to stay dry. She was screaming at the top of her lungs, "You guys are so awesome, holy crap you have almost run a marathon, you are almost there!! Keep going, I know you can do it!" All that stuff that spectators yell. Except that she was really into it. I started to cry. And then, again, quickly realized I was running a marathon... Not sitting on my couch watching a sad movie. What the hell?? I almost cried twice?? I'm just going to write this off as one of those weird things that happens when you are pushed past reasonable physical levels of exertion. Either that or marathons are turning me gay. Just like Baby Carrots (as Stephen Colbert would say).

Even when I'm not on mile 22 of a marathon I tend to be a sentimental person. Never to the point of crying when I see a "You Can Do It" sign. :) But I like to think about good memories of the past as much as possible. And try to find ways to extend the value of those experiences; whether it be to nurture a relationship with somebody so that more good memories can unfold, or to re-visit places that I remember. Perhaps I'm getting old. Perhaps I'm just human. Or perhaps I should train a little more for my next marathon. Probably YES on the last one. Haha.

Santa Barbara International Marathon
Time - 3:50:01
Pace Overall - 8:50 min/mile
Pace First Half - 7:50 min/mile
Pace Second Half - 9:45 min/mile. Yikes!!
Moral of the Story = Do some distance runs (15-20 miles).

Sunday, October 10, 2010

We are Tough Mudder F#@kers!!

How do you train for an event that requires you to hoist your team over 8 foot walls, crawl on your belly through tubes and under wires, carry a heavy log on your shoulders through the forest, traverse through obstacles in freezing water while your balls are wondering if they'll still be able to have kids, and run up a couple thousand feet of terrain so steep that you sometimes have to put your hands down?

Yeah, I don't know how to train for that either. Which is why I'm fu#@king sore today!

We got a team of 6 together for this event called Tough Mudder. Four Americans, a Brit, and an Aussie. A couple months before the event the British guy became deeply concerned when he saw that the legal waiver had words specifically saying that you could die. I had to explain to him that because of our crazy tort laws in America, that there would definitely be adequate safety measures. I also explained that, if anything, the "death waiver" was a ploy to make you feel tough.

And a ploy it was. All over the course were signs reading "You signed a Death Waiver," including this large banner that we proudly stood under for a picture. I felt pretty damn tough standing under that. :)

The course was 7 miles and 19 obstacles. The race was more of an interval workout than a marathon, due to the many rest periods encountered while performing the obstacles. Some of the obstacles were challenging and fun while others were a joke. In a race that claims to be "the toughest one day endurance race on the planet" I expected a bit more of many of the obstacles.

For example, the photo below shows me climbing out of a tube. From the course description I had imagined this tube being about a football field in length, not a mere 20 yards. I suppose one could argue that it tested the mental grit of those that are claustrophobic. Physically it was something my grandma could do. In fact, I think that's my grandma pulling herself out of the tube to the left...

Aside from the few lame obstacles, the race was a good challenge. There were definitely times during the race when you felt totally beat. Mostly though, it was nice just to get together a team of friends and have a fun day enjoying the dividends of all the workouts we do.

Here's the team. Mike, Andrew, Jason, Dan, me, and Rick. We're all wearing our orange Tough Mudder bandannas that they give all the finishers as a badge of honor.

Before the race, Dan, Rick and me stood for a picture. I thought we were all making tough faces in this picture. They had to show me up with their fancy smiles!

And lastly, an ignited Tough Mudder sign. The flame is a signature piece of the race, since the final obstacle in every Tough Mudder race is to run through flames. In some races they ignite bales of hay, but in this race they had an industrial looking gas powered contraption. We all had to jump over metal grates of lowly lit flames. It pretty much makes you feel like a badass right before you cross the finish line.

My next event is the Santa Barbara International Marathon. Since you can't really fake a marathon, and it's next month, its definitely time to get in some long runs. Until next time.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Wine: The Price/Taste "Correlation"

When it comes to people saying how they feel about a wine, I always feel like people are trying to give the "right answer." Is this supposed to be a good wine? Is it expensive? What does the back of the bottle say? What do experts think of this wine? These are all questions that creep into people's minds as they taste a wine. If the wine is expensive and highly rated by an expert, most people feel like they should have a high opinion of the wine. But what would happen if you had people blindly taste wines that had significantly different prices? Let me tell you...

I've had a number of wine tasting parties where guests each bring one or two bottles of wine from a similar varietal. Sometimes I won't even be picky about the varietals and I'll just tell everyone to bring a red wine. I always make sure that we have wines pricing from $2 to $40. Often we'll have a wine or two over $40.

My main objective is always to provide a fun time for my guests. This means good food, good wine, good music, and especially good people. My secondary objective is to run the thing like a scientific research experiment, and to collect meaningful data from each guest. Give me your data, baby!!

The key to getting objective data is (1) guests cannot know what they are drinking, (2) guests should avoid talking about the wines as they taste them so as to avoid influencing others, and (3) guests must have every wine sample in front of them from the start. This last point is very important. It just won't work if you pour one sample at a time. This is for two reasons. First, the guests get more drunk as they drink, so their tipsy palate won't be the same by the time they get to sample #10. Second reason is because they simply won't remember how sample #1 compares to sample #10 if sample #1 is long gone. They need every wine poured for them from the get-go. This way they can go back and forth tasting each wine multiple times in order to really figure out which ones they like the best and worst. So unless you have 100 wine glasses lying around, I suggest you purchase some throwaway plastic cups if you want to replicate this.

All guests rate the wines on a scale from 1-100. Then after the party is over I crunch the numbers in Excel to determine whether statistically significant correlations exist between price and taste. I have found that no correlation exists. This means that on average guests do not find the more expensive wines to taste better. In fact, I frequently see the cheapest bottles rank in the top 3. Below is a photo of the top 3 wines from a party last December (from left to right). The bottle on the right (Charles Shaw Cabernet) was #3, and is a $2 bottle. Three people from the party actually rated this as their favorite wine. And yes, I gave them shit for it afterward. :) My favorite was the wine in the middle.

To see the statistical results from this party (the Excel spreadsheet), you can access it by clicking here. It will take you to where I uploaded it to Google docs. I created this Excel template and use it for all my parties. Go ahead and use it for yours!

Out of curiosity, I searched the internet one day for similar research. I came across a wine tasting study done in 2008 by a collaboration of researchers from Harvard, Yale, and the Stockholm School of Economics. In a sample of more than 6,000 blind tastings they found that "Individuals who are unaware of the price do not derive more enjoyment from more expensive wine...we find that the correlation between price and overall rating is small and negative, suggesting that individuals on average enjoy more expensive wines slightly less."

No surprise here. This is exactly what what my results were showing, although it's nice to see it validated with a huge sample size.

So here's my advice. Don't listen to what "experts" say about a wine (unless it's coming from ME...haha). And certainly don't be persuaded by some winery charging a high price to make you think their wine tastes good. Everybody has different taste buds. Does everybody like mayonnaise? Does everyone like martinis? Does everyone like seafood? No. Nobody likes the same food. So why should your enjoyment of something be based on the opinion of somebody that probably doesn't even like all the same foods as you? It doesn't matter how many wines somebody has drank from all over the world. Because their taste buds aren't your taste buds. So drink some wine, and if you like it then keep on drinking. Because very few people are going to have the exact same opinion of that wine than you do. And there ain't nothin' wrong with that.

Journal of Wine Economics, Volume 3, Number 1, Spring 2008, Pages 1–9

Friday, August 27, 2010

Portland Scavenger Hunt

I recently got invited to a legendary scavenger hunt in Portland. Teams of four seek for fame by capturing the most points through copious drinking, raucous behavior, and insightful clue solving. The day was not only monumental, but proved to be a great lesson in how to organize an event that can entertain guests for an entire day and night.

The scavenger hunt started off with a short relay race which ended with someone from each team bobbing for beer cans in a kiddie pool. The bottom of each beer can had a type of alcohol written on the bottom of it. When you pull out a beer can, you read the bottom, and that's the alcohol that you're drinking the rest of the day. I was praying that we wouldn't pull out a peppermint schnapps or something awful like that. We ended up getting vodka.

Bobbing for Beers in a Kiddie Pool

The hunt was focused on finding 10 bars from a list of clues that were given out at the start. At each bar your team would order a round of their designated alcohol (from the bobbed beer can). One point was given for each team member that had a drink. Also, at each of the bars there was a list of things you could do there for bonus points. For example, at a bar called Jakes you could get 2 points for getting a stranger to thumb wrestle, 5 points for an arm wrestle, and 10 points for actually wrestling with a stranger. I lost an arm wrestling match to some 50-year old biker dude.

There was also a section for earning bonus points regardless of the location you were at. Points could be earned for asking inappropriate questions to strangers (e.g. where do you like to be touched), giving piggy back rides to strangers, kissing members of other teams, pulling weeds at a strangers house, and more. The entire scavenger hunt lasted six hours, at which point everyone met back together at a karaoke bar to have their scores tallied and to continue the party.

Our team scored somewhere in the middle, which is what we expected given that there were a few veteran teams that had the hunt down to a science. We definitely all had a great time. It was the kind of day that will generate stories among friends for years to come.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Review: Gilroy Garlic Festival

I went to the Gilroy Garlic Festival a few days ago, ready and excited to enjoy the art, and especially the food. I really feel like a total grouch and snob saying this, but the food was total SHIT!! The ambiance…not so impressive either.

Problem #1: no competition for food selection
What I mean is that there was only one place for guacamole, one place for stuffed mushrooms, one place for garlic ice cream, one place for egg rolls, one place for EVERYTHING at the festival. The bottom line is this: If I was able to compete against the Gilroy Boy Scouts for stuffed mushrooms at the festival, then there would be a 15 minute line in front of my stand, and a 0 minute line at theirs. Unfortunately, the stuffed mushroom stand has a lockdown on mushrooms, which means they can sell raw and crunchy mushrooms filled with 90% parmesan, 9% ricotta, and 1% parsley like it was Teddy Ruxpin in 1985. And yes, I figured out your recipe in six bites. And no, this stuffed mushroom won’t chew your ear off while telling you sweet bedtime stories from a cassette tape…

Problem #2: Overhyped media attention
I live in California and do consulting work in the energy industry. So I work with a lot of Texans. All the way out in Texas I have co-worker that saw some show on TV that highlighted the Gilroy Garlic Festival. This Texan had actually considered taking his wife on a vacation to California to experience the garlic festival. Yeah…BIG MISTAKE. Good thing he only THOUGHT of the vacation. My best guess for why a TV program would highlight the garlic festival… Why not? I mean, you have to show something on your network every day. And why not waste some hour talking about a garlic festival in California and over-hyping it so that your TV show sounds like they know of all the awesome food capitals of the world? Sounds like a good plan to me. Another good plan would be to remain skeptical of things that sound too good to be true. I don’t mean to be a downer, so please imagine delicious lasagna for a second and smile…

Problem #3: Arts and crafts lacking
I have to admit that I may have had unrealistic expectations about the arts and crafts. If by unrealistic expectations you mean that everything didn’t look like grandma made it, then yes I did. I really love my grandma, so don’t get me wrong. I prominently display the wine glasses that she made me in my living room. And I hold onto the memories of growing up in her presence very dearly. But at the same time, I don’t want to wear her cooking apron, and I don’t want her embossed toad basketball player figurine (yes, she has one). ‘Nuff said.

Problem #4: Creepy dude on the way out…

This might be the most minimal flaw of the festival. But at the same time this flourish was cinema-like in its ability to cement an experience into my conscience. As I walked up the final hill on the way out there was this fat, sweaty dude with a two-wheeled ice cream cart making grunt noises and rhythmically shaking his bell-laden cart every ten seconds. It was as if he was the candy stand which entices children at the end of a shopping experience (or sometimes entices me). It would have been the perfect lure for people after being exhausted from hanging out for hours at a festival in 100 degree heat and climbing a steep hill for five minutes. Except that it wasn’t. Because he was fu#@in’ creepy. I feel bad for creepy dudes. He was probably a really sweet guy. Sorry bro.