Near Yellow Mountain

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Dog Tales and Random Travel Observations

My current trip starts in Thailand which is about as far away from North Carolina as you can get. I took back to back overnight flights and spent almost 30 hours in transit. I left on Friday and arrived on Sunday with the 12 hour time change. Yet when I landed in Thailand, I still wasn’t really “there” yet.

"Suffering in comfort" on the way to the other side of the world

I disembarked in Bangkok at 5:55am, had a fast track pass through customs and a quick ride through the empty Sunday morning streets. The unfortunate result was two or three hours of extra “free” time in the Executive Lounge at the hotel while I waited for my room to be ready. At least I had a comfortable place to hang-out. Normally the super early check-in isn’t too much of an issue but this week the hotels are close to 100% occupancy with many Chinese tourists taking advantage of the long Lunar New Year holiday to take in the sights of surrounding countries. The five tour buses queued at the hotel entrance at 6:30am was a sure sign that Bangkok got a full allocation of Chinese tourism money this holiday. Writing a blog post seemed a good way to spend the time until my room key appears.

This is my first international trip of the year and my 20th anniversary of using “Around the World Tickets” which if you learn details of the fare rules and pay attention to the fine print can save thousands of dollars and keep you in the air for up to 12 months on one ticket. I usually have two such tickets going at the same time but since I didn’t intend this post to be about “RTWs” I will refrain from going into greater detail.

When I first started traveling to Asia my daughters were 3 and 6. The day before I left on a trip, I always felt guilty about leaving them for 10 or 12 days but found ways to bridge the distance by taping bedtime stories for them to watch for each night I was gone or asking my elder daughter to give me a topic to write a story about and then emailing it to her after I arrived so she could read it to her little sister. My wife was an expert at keeping the girls busy with all sorts of activities. I also used to ask my elder daughter for permission to travel before I went on long trips so she felt some level of control (or at least that was my intention). The girls came to accept travel as normal especially after we moved to Asia and almost all their school ex-pat peers had one “traveling” parent.

Now that we are empty nesters I feel a guilt when I travel I never had when the girls were young – leaving the dogs. We had two dogs back then and we have two different dogs now. Years ago, the kids kept the dogs busy as playmates, confidants and victims of “dress-up” experiments that often went wrong. The dogs always had people around so my absence wasn’t an issue except that it kept them from getting their daily run.

Yuki refusing to look at me after seeing the suitcase come out
Things are different now, the girls are grown and living on their own. I work from a home office when I am not traveling. My wife is working too so not around the house as much as she used to be. When I am not traveling I have more or less hourly interaction with one or both of the dogs. I have to keep conference calls on mute when I am not speaking because our younger dog will sit at my feet chewing on a squeaker toy or munching on a liter plastic bottle which is her “go to” chew toy. The bottles are surprisingly loud. More than one client has been on the other end of a conference call when FED-X or UPS rang the doorbell and a cacophony of protective dog utterances filled the air.

The dogs are used to the “new normal” and so am I which is why instead of being in a phase of life that includes “guilt free” travel – just the opposite is true. 

The look says it all
As soon as my suitcase comes out to pack for a trip, I start to get the baleful looks, the deep sighs and general moping until I am out the door to go to the airport. As foolish as it sounds, I have come to dread the day before I leave for a trip because of the guilt heaped upon me by two canines. Of course being raised catholic probably has something to do with the guilt level.

Fortunately the feeling of guilt lifts about the time I clear security at Charlotte Airport. I know when I walk in the house after a 12 day sojourn, I will be greeted by two wagging tails that seem not to remember they were unhappy when I left.

Sunday, February 1, 2015


My experience with New Year’s resolutions is limited. I have probably made resolutions less than one year in ten. This year, after watching a TV spot on the topic, I decided to write a blog post about resolutions but wait until most 2015 resolutions were long forgotten.  Since it is February 1, I believe it is safe to proceed.

On New Year’s Day 1982, I was what would likely be termed today as a “drifting millennial”. I was a couple years out of college, working in a reasonable job but totally uncertain about my future. I had recently met a young woman who would become my wife but other than that bit of good fortune, my prospects didn’t appear too bright.

For reasons I can no longer recall, I wrote down a couple goals for 1982 in a daily planner that was given to me as a Christmas gift. I didn’t consider the goals as New Year resolutions but in retrospect I guess they fit the criteria. One of my goals was to run a marathon. Like many Americans, I had been thrilled ten years earlier when Frank Shorter closed out the tragedy stained 1972 Munich Olympics with a rare US victory in the marathon. On the other hand, the idea of me running 26 miles seemed at best fanciful so I am not sure to this day why I chose running a marathon as a goal.

Despite the alleged power of writing down goals, mine remained forgotten for several weeks until I had my “Julie Moss moment”. 

An image that has stayed with me for decades
In February of that year I flew to LA to visit a college buddy. I happened to be in a bar with my friend during the end of the 1982 Ironman Triathlon. This was the year of the epic women’s finish in the darkness. The seemingly insurmountable lead of Julie Moss was overcome a few meters from the finish by Kathleen McCartney. Moss “hit the wall” less than a mile from  the finish - literally crawling at the end of the race as the ABC Wide World of Sports camera did a close up on her totally spent, writhing form. McCartney, looking surprisingly fresh after more than 11 eleven hours on the course, breezed past Moss to win the race and help launch the worldwide popularity of the triathlon. 

Watching the dramatic conclusion, I reached for the last handful of popcorn in a nearby 
bowl, washed it down with a warming Miller Lite, and made a decision. If Julie Moss could crawl to the finish after seeing her “certain victory" turn into a shocking defeat, I could definitely run a marathon which was only a small subset of what this brave women had just endured. 


I flew home the next day. After some research and a visit to the scales, I selected a marathon 16 weeks later and decided to shed as many pounds as possible before I got to the starting line. The following day, I bought a food scale and for the next 14 weeks, I ate a measured 1,500 calories a day with one key criteria – I did not give up my ice cream habit. Each day 500 of my 1,500 calorie allotment was ice cream.  Clearly my college major was not nutrition but I lost almost 30 lbs in a little over 3 months.

My training log from those weeks shows that I went from not running a step to running 89 miles in the peak week before I finished the “God’s Country” Marathon in western Pennsylvania. My time to cover the hilly course was a reasonable 3 hours and 15 minutes. Before the year ended, I ran three more marathons, each several minutes faster than the one before. My goal changed from "finishing" to running a sub 2 hour and 50 minute time which would qualify me to run in the Boston Marathon. Less than a year after my first race, I ran 2 hours and 45 minutes in Cleveland which qualified me to run in Boston the following spring. The impact of accomplishing the relatively minor goal of running a marathon, led to more significant decisions – such as leaving the comfortable environment of my hometown, going to graduate school, getting married, having kids and eventually living overseas.  Of course, I could have done all those things as a non-runner but I clearly recall that decision to run a marathon and the confidence each running success gave me made many other, more significant, decisions easier.

As 2015 approached, I took some time and reflected on the decades of life that had quickly passed. I noted that I weighed about the same as I had before I started running in 1982. More than three decades of running and a lifetime of other sports had taken a toll on at least one knee. I never stopped daily workouts but wasn’t challenging myself. I needed to raise the bar.

This time my “Julie Moss moment” was Christmas morning when my elder daughter proposed running a 10K together in May. She is the same age I was when I started running, wanted a reason to get in better shape and seemed to be enlisting my commitment as a way to ensure her own. 

As I grabbed a handful of Skittles and thought about the year ahead, I made a decision to go below my high school graduation weight, increase the intensity of my daily exercise  and run a race with my daughter. I wrote the goal down and decided I would start – as soon as my daughters went back to NYC and LA which, for me, was the end of the holiday season. My immediate action was an option I didn’t have in 1982 – use Google to find a book to guide my efforts, hopefully inspire me and download it to my IPad.  Less than ten minutes later I was reading the book. My diet began Jan 4th.

For the past 27 days I have taken a picture of every bit of food I have eaten. Six days a week I can eat as much as I want of certain specified foods and nothing made from white flour, no rice, no dairy, no beer, no candy other than one square of 72% dark chocolate, etc. I am eating a lot of protein (fish, chicken, beef) and more vegetables than I have ever eaten. I weigh myself every morning and take a tape measurement around my gut at the navel each day. Every 7th day, I can eat and drink anything I want to... and I do. On those days I consume about 5,000 calories.  

For a cheese loving, Skittle devouring person who had been eating Greek Yogurt with blueberries for breakfast five times a week for the past year, it has been an interesting four weeks. I have enjoyed the discipline rather than feeling deprived by the limited menu. As of yesterday, I was down 13.5 lbs and 5 inches around the middle which tells me I am likely down more than 13.5 lbs of fat as my body composition changes. Although losing weight was the original goal, I found that focusing on achieving this goal has driven me to consider many other areas of my life that could stand some “tweaking”.

My nutritional bond with Marshawn Lynch - I have been "mssing the rainbow" this month
I will likely stay on some modified version of this diet for a long time to come; however eating cheese, Skittles and ice cream only once a week isn’t a lifestyle I want forever.  I can probably live with every third or fourth day. However to focus on the diet would be missing the point. Just as my decision to run a marathon in 1982 brought benefits in other areas of my life; I expect the same result this time.  Time will tell.