Friday, November 22, 2013

Middle School Reunions, IKEA, and ice skating

I'm back in the US for two weeks and having a pretty good time so far.  Landed Tuesday night and Sara picked me up from the airport.  We went for dinner at this awesome Indian restaurant that she has been telling me about for 10 months (Rasika for those in DC).  The food was really fantastic - I've really started to get into Indian food.  It's delicious and I wish it hadn't taken me 30 years to discover it.
 On Wednesday, I had a middle school nerd reunion scheduled.  When I was in 8th grade, a group of five of us took our core classes at the high school in the morning before returning to the middle school for the afternoon.  Out of the five of us, we have three law school grads, one on his way to law school/grad school, and the last one has at least a master's degree.  Anyway, through facebook, I realized that four of the five of us lived in/close to DC, so we organized a reunion.  Unfortunately, Corinne had to cancel to go a job interview, but I saw Katie for the first time in fifteen years.

Yesterday, I spent the day putting together two IKEA dressers for Sara and supervising a handyman who came to do some repairs on her house.  Then last night, she surprised me with date night.  We started off with a dinner at a Lebanese restaurant - yummy - and then followed that up with ice skating.  I haven't been skating for probably 5+ years.  We were both pretty awkward at first, but got more comfortable on the ice as we made our way around the rink.  The cutest part of the night were these two middle eastern girls (2 and 4 years old) who were skating for the first time in their life.  Their mother didn't know how to skate, so Sara and I helped take them around the ice.  (The rink has these little penguins, which children can use to hold on to when they learn to skate).  It was fun to see the girls go from scared to more and more confident.  By the time we left, the girls were skating on their own with the penguins.  Between Sara and I, we only fell one time (not saying who fell, but s/he had to buy the hot chocolate afterwards).

So far, a pretty good trip.

Sunday, November 10, 2013


In celebration of the one year anniversary of our first date and in conjunction with my marathon, Sara came out to Frankfurt for ten glorious days. It was fantastic to have her out here.  With the exception of Monday, where I was recovering from the marathon, we both worked the whole week.  It was really awesome to see how our 'normal' life might look together here.  Granted, this week our normal life was much busier than normal, but it still foreshadowed our future.  I liked what I saw.

The capstone to the week was a trip to Brussels.  I had been there once before for a few days a decade ago, but didn't remember much other than good food and good beer.  We got there late Friday and went to dinner after checking into our hotel.  We both had delicious mussels at this quirky restaurant where the maître d both serenaded the customers in a dozen languages and his adorable French-speaking granddaughter brought bread to the table.

The next day, we made our way around town seeing most of the sites. Brussels is both really awesome and fairly tame at the same time.  I would never send anyone to Brussels if they come to Europe only once or twice, but I would not object to returning myself for another short trip.  On the one hand, the tourist sites are nice enough, but nothing spectacular.  On the other hand, the restaurants, bars, shops and people watching are all fairly top-notch.

Unfortunately, by late Saturday afternoon, Sara and I both started to feel a bit under the weather.  We crashed back at the hotel and then didn't leave again until it was time to check out on Sunday morning.  The downside to this, besides feeling yucky, was not getting to eat out again in Brussels.  The upside was watching the Nebraska-Northwestern game on Sara's computer and screaming my head off at 1 a.m. when Nebraska won on a hail Mary.

Lots of cute quirky stores in Brussels

Awesome lectern

Lots of neon signs near the Grand Place

Friday, November 1, 2013

BMW Frankfurt Marathon

Only July 23, 2012, I posted on Facebook

 "went running for the first time today (quite possibly the first time ever)... plan to make this a regular thing."

I remember the run that day.  I weighed 285 lbs.  I had just downloaded a "Run 5K" app on my iPod (best $2.99 I have ever spent).  The program called on me to run for 45 seconds.  I struggled.  The weather was scorching hot - mid 90s.  I sweated profusely.  I wore a XXL pair of basketball shorts, my everyday tennis shoes, and an old football t-shirt.  In a fortunate stroke of luck, I discovered the nearby Mount Vernon Trail on that first day.  I listened to the album Some Nights by Fun. on my iPod and laughed as the lyrics gained new meaning.  (Sample lyrics - "It gets better", "Carry On, Carry On", "Put one foot in front of the other").  I came home proud of myself and determined to go out running again.

Four hundred and sixty-one days later, I completed the Frankfurt marathon.

Just about to start the race

The marathon was a tale of two halves.  The first half went very well.  I ran naturally at a good pace - about 10:00-10:30 min/mile.  There were tons of people cheering us on downtown.  I saw Sara several times on the course, along with a few other friends.  I felt good.  I had no doubt I could finish the race.  The twenty minutes of rain felt refreshing rather than depressing.  The scenery was pretty.  My music was good.  I ran the entire first half of the marathon without stopping or walking.
Still smiling at the beginning of the race
Then the second half of the race happened.  Around mile 15, we crossed the bridge back to the north side of the Main river.  I remember running with the wind at my back - feeling tired but still good.  Then everything just started to fall apart.  The IT band on my right leg tightened up causing me to begin to have knee pain in my right knee.  Then, my feet became sore (possibly from me changing my gait to try to alleviate the knee pain).  At mile 17, I told myself I would run 2 miles, then walk .2 miles.  By mile 19, I wanted to run 1 mile and then walk .1.  By mile 20, I hoped to run 1 km at a time and couldn't even do that.  Every step hurt.  I stopped to stretch every 500 meters.  My running speed was barely more than a fast walk.  I dropped from a 10:30 min/mile pace in the first half of the race to 15 or 16 min/mile pace during the last half.  The 4 hour 59 minute pace runners - trained runners who run at a steady for a specific finish time - passed me by as I hobbled along.  I had no chance of keeping up and my goal of finishing in under five hours disappeared.

I wanted to quit.  I really, really wanted to just stop.  But I thought about how disappointed my friends and family would be; how disappointed I'd be in myself.  I chanted the slogan that everyone used in my support video over and over.  "Run, Al, Run.  Run, Al, Run.  Run, Al, Run.  Run, Al, Run."  At mile 23, as we returned to downtown Frankfurt, I saw Sara again.  I practically started crying as I ran towards her for a big hug.  She whispered words of encouragement and I knew again that I could do it.  Those last 3 miles were a struggle - I think it took me close to an hour to finish those final 5 kilometers.

BUT...I did it.  As I turned the final corner and saw the "hammering man" in front of the Messe, I summoned my last bits of strength and endurance and "ran" to the end.  The finish line is actually inside the convention center with a red carpet, music, an MC calling out the names of the finishers and family and friends cheering on their loved ones.  As I entered the hall, I could hear Sara cheering and picked her out of the crowd in the bright lights.  I pushed through as hard as I could, arms raised above my head.  I was done.

I'd like to think of this smile as "relief"

Running itself is a solitary exercise.  Each day, you are out there by yourself.  Pushing yourself to run further or faster than the day before.  But the running community is a family.  I have had so much support over the last 461 days, that I cannot begin to express my gratitude to those who helped me accomplish this goal.  Notentirely,  an online blogger I have never actually met who first told me about couch to 5K.  All of those who ran my first 5k, the Dead Man's Run, with me.  Manish and the Crystal City Crew for suggesting the crazy idea of running a 10 miler.  All my facebook friends who gave me running tips and encouraging words.  My family, who all probably thought I was crazy, but kept encouraging me anyway.  Sara, whose presence and love kept me going more than she'll ever really understand.  Friends who began to seek out my advice about running and telling me their running stories.  Frankfurt, for being kind of boring this summer, pushing me to do something.

Random moments from the race:
  • Around mile 3, I witnessed a collapsed runner receiving CPR from paramedics.  Completely freaked me out.  Not that I thought I was at risk for a medical issue.  I couldn't imagine putting in all the effort to prepare for the race only to have it end tragically.  Reminded me of the tragedy of the Boston Marathon bombings.
  • Germans are not very creative or enthusiastic race supporters.  There were tons of people watching the marathon, but they weren't very loud.  There were almost no signs.  American races are full of fun and supportive signs and they really help pass the miles.  I missed having those here.
  • Speaking of signs.  After the race, a German apporached Sara and asked her how many "Al Caniglia:  You're Amazing" signs she had made.  He appeared astonished when she said it was just the one because he had seen here 5 or 6 different times on the race.  Another runner came up to her during the race and told her that SHE was amazing for getting around the marathon so much.  That guy was right, she was amazing and her support really helped me finish the race.
  • At my lowest point, I seriously thought about quitting the race, but I had no idea how I would get home from where I was.  I eventually decided if I had to keep walking, I might as well stay in the race.
  • I had some trouble with my GPS watch.  It couldn't connect to the satellite at the beginning of the race due to all of the skyscrapers.  It also ran out of battery about mile 23 or so - probably because I had already been running for almost 5 hours.
  • About 2 km from the end, a very old man - at least 80 years old - shuffled past me easily.  On the day, two 80+ year old men and one 75+ year old woman beat me in the marathon.
  • In addition to the regular marathon, there was also a marathon relay.  Teams of four could combine to cover the 26.2 miles.  The relay teams started about 10 minutes behind us, so there was constantly a stream of relay team members passing us by.  Nothing was more frustrating than seeing a fresh relay runner jog easily past you on mile 20.
  • People keep asking if I plan to run another marathon.  To make sure that I did not make this dumb mistake again, I made a video during the last three miles to remind myself how much I hurt.