Monday, April 30, 2012

Giving my best effort in a race that speaks to a community's mettle

Well, what can I say about my experience at the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon? A lot. Probably too much. I'll start with this: The race ate my lunch. It hurt, but I finished. And I would do it again.

View from the 9:01 gate looking over the reflecting
pool toward the 9:03 gate. The symbolism:
9:01 is the time before the explosion at the Murrah 
Building, when the city was still peaceful. The inner
memorial represents 9:02 — the moment of destruction
that ultimately claimed 168 innocent lives. 9:03 is the
moment when the city and nation started to heal. 
I am glad I took some extra time off to properly check out the city. I've passed through various parts of Oklahoma over the years; but besides a one-night stay in Lawton back in high school, this past weekend was the first time I spent appreciable time in the Sooner State.

My time in Oklahoma City was terrific. The people  I met — locals, race participants and race volunteers — were great. Despite some road repairs and road closings (for the race, an arts fest and the Thunder/Mavs playoffs series), navigating the downtown area was easy.

Oklahoma City National Memorial
and Museum

Visiting the memorial and museum was essential for me. As I mentioned last week, the tragedy in 1995 led to a lasting musical moment in my life. Going to the memorial was a powerful experience. It's hard not getting emotional when you see the 168 chairs representing each life lost, the 100-year-old Survivor Tree and the Survivors' Wall. It's worth a weekend trip to OKC just to visit this site.

Sundry facts: 75 percent of the memorial foundation's annual funding comes from the race; non-native trees surrounding the memorial/museum represent non-Oklahomans who helped in the recovery; and the memorial's primary designers are University of Texas at Austin graduates.

The pine trees surrounding the 168 chairs mark the perimeter of the Federal Building.
Yes, yes it does. Portion of an inscription at the Survivor Tree.
Probably the best view from an urban parking garage I've ever seen.


This repurposed warehouse district has a grip of restaurants, a minor league ballpark, bars and music venues and is exactly what Dallas' West End should be (vibrant, fun and safe). Sure, it would be difficult to "fix" the West End; but after seeing Bricktown, I think it's worth pursuing (replace the generic crap and the crime with local flavor and a variety of dining/entertainment options that appeal to families, professionals and tourists).

Of the Bricktown spots I hit up, I highly recommend Bricktown Brewery (Bricktown Brown is a very good ale) Zio's Italian Kitchen and even the Fuzzy's Taco Shop franchise that recently sprouted in Lower Bricktown. That segment even has a mini-rivercreekwalk. Kinda cool.

Probably the nicest alley named after an indie rock band in the contiguous United States.

The marathon

Scenic view of Lake Hefner, near mile 14 of the marathon: I scouted the course the day before the race so I wouldn't go into it completely blind. The biggest thing I noticed? Hills! Hills! And more hills!
A much-needed pep talk from spectacular spectator TPG at
mile 23. Photo courtesy of Mama C. (Yes, that rhymes
a lot.) Top right corner, notice the flag. There were
168 of them on the course.
I'd be lying if I said I started the race feeling super confident. My bout with exhaustion from overtraining concerned me. The humid climate and 60 percent chance of thunderstorms on race day also weren't reassuring. But all that passed when I met up with frunners — TPG, Mama C, Drum, Team K and Marci — some whom I had the pleasure of meeting for the first time. It was calming to be around fun folks who have raced much more than I have. I was far less anxious in the corral. The 168 seconds of silence also were sobering and calming.

The first 12 miles were fine. Sure, the hills were challenging, but I was comfortable running in between the 4:20 and 4:30 pace groups. Even the 30 minutes of rain was a nice, cooling treat. But then my hamstring started whispering around the half-way point. I kept on trucking. It got a little louder, so I walked for the first time, briefly around mile 14. By mile 16, I was in trouble. The pain wasn't unbearable, but uncomfortable. My energy was high ... but so were the hills in front of me. Slight rises in elevation meant I was walking. A lot. I tried to slowly run up an incline, but I just couldn't manage. I walked at least half of miles 17-22. I received much-appreciated encouragement from Drum, who was waiting to pace Marci, somewhere around mile 19 or so. 

Thankful to see more friendly faces and hear words of encouragement at mile 23, I managed to run more often than walk for the final 3 miles. I even picked up my pace in the final half mile. I finished in 4:58, about 20 minutes slower than my first marathon. Heading into the race, I would have told you that a near-5 hour finish would not be a good time. But besides the race really wasn't about having a "good time." It was about running to remember. And I did plenty of that while I walked. And I wouldn't trade it for the world. 

As I type this, I'm sore and tired. I'm also appreciative that I could — and did — run a marathon yesterday. I'm appreciative of those who helped get me to the start and finish lines. But more than anything, I'm especially impressed with the people of Oklahoma City. They have united after a horrific event. There is strength in numbers. 27,000 participated yesterday. It was an honor to be among them. 

So ... what's next?

After recovery, I plan on spending more time on my bikes. There are some MTB trails I have my eye on, and country roads are a callin'. 

Running-wise, the only event I plan to participate in is the Lovejoy Country Run. It will be my first 5K, so that means guaranteed PR! Trust me, I will be in no hurry out there. 

Warm weather and I don't get along (I sweat like a fat man in a sauna), so anything more than a half marathon is out of the question. I'll still log some miles at White Rock and Northshore, too. Ultimately I will run another full marathon. I have good races in these legs!

As I continue to improve my training, I am certain I will accrue more medals, visit more cities and continue to meet impressive people.  

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Favorite Sooner State musicians/bands/singers

Ah, why yes ... it is TUNESDAY! I have something a little different today. Seeing as I have O-K-L-A-H-O-M-A on the brain (sorry if my ramblings have been incessant), I am going to dedicate today's post to musicians/bands who are natives of the other (read: lesser) bank of the Red River. By no means is this a complete list; nope, I just picked the first few I like that came to mind. Who all did I neglect? Plenty. If you think I erred by not including Color Me Badd and Hanson, give me an earful in the comments section below, folks.

St. Vincent

Yes, yes, yes, Annie Clark really is a Lake Highlands lady (she learned to play guitar at Zoo Music on Garland Road, was a member of LHHS' Espree and frequents Mi Cocina on Skillman when in town); BUT ... didya know she was born in Tulsa? Now you do.

Fans of uncomfortable comedy will appreciate her trademark doe-eyed, blank-stare appearance in the pre-Portlandia video for "Laughing with a Mouthful of Blood." I saw her at the Kessler Theater last year; as you can see from this video, she is capable of performing with a schosche more energy


The Flaming Lips

The first of several two bands that formed in Norman, Okla., the Lips are the first band I remember hearing that I couldn't firmly classify. Really, they're just weird in all the right ways. From experimenting with boomboxes (Wayne looks incredibly young in that vid) and backing up Beck (I fell in love with them at the gig held at UT's Bass Hall on the same day as this ACL video) to having the official state rock song to now recording music with Ke$ha, the Lips are best described as unconventional. And how about this! You (yes you) can see both the Lips and St. Vincent, among several notables, at one convenient concert — KXT's Summer Cut on June 1.


The Starlight Mints

The other Norman band, the Mints are quirky like the Lips but not nearly as psychedelic. I saw them open for husband-and-wife duo Mates of State at a show in Dekalb, Ill. — a college town that is a lot like Denton, except where there should be a Fuzzy's Tacos, Mr. Chopsticks, Sweetwater Grill and a Jupiter House there are just rows and rows and rows (and rows, too) of corn. 

Garth Brooks

Yep, I am including this guy only because of his kick-ass shirts. Naw, not really. Say what you will about his early '90s fashion or personal life, ol' Garth (didya know his first name is really Troyal?!?!) is one helluva showman — which I define as someone I would pay good money to see perform, regardless of whether I love his or her music.

Another native of Tulsa, Brooks penned quite a few excellent songs (just don't sing them at karaoke, please; you are not Garth, and that's OK). I started to appreciate his music in high school. I played bass and sang a bit for three years in my school's version of "Glee" (South Garland High School's Showboaters). Counting auditions and performances, I must have played half his catalog between 1994 and 1997.

Of all those songs, "The Change" holds the most meaning, especially as I prepare to run the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon. Each year, the Showboaters perform a poignant song during their 30-song, Big Show set. In recognition of the tragedy at the Alfred. P Murrah Federal Building that claimed 168 lives on April 19, 1995, we performed this song with the video playing in the background. It was an emotional and powerful performance. I can still hear the singer, Brandon, and the music we played behind him. But, more than anything, I can hear the end of the song. As our instruments faded to silence, all that anyone could hear were people crying and sniffling. Both nights. For at least a minute. That, my friends, is the power of music. And that is why I love it so much. It moves us in so many ways.

I may not PR on Sunday, but I will run my best race with a great sense of purpose. In one way or potentially many, I am confident my experience in Oklahoma City will change me.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Matrix Challenge

I've never raced in a criterium. The repetitive laps and greater odds of crashing in those tight 90-degree corners do not appeal to me. But I've attended a handful, including this weekend's The Matrix Challenge. Since the racers ride multiple laps on a closed course, it's ideal for spectators. (Update: You can catch my photos and a different writeup over at CentralTrack

The Challenge is held each year in the Wilson Historic District, the home of The Meadows Foundation in downtown Dallas. It's a phenomenal spot with a great park and some of the nicest and oldest homes in the city. There's also an excellent burger spot — Stackhouse Burgers — in the neighborhood. Boasting a solid beer selection (plenty of Rahr and Deep Ellum Brew) and one of the nicest rooftop patios in the city, it's worth checking out. However, the veggie patty was very bland and the sweet potato fries were awfully salty. I still wolfed them down (dude, I was 'ungry); but I will opt for the Grilled Portobello Sandwich and French fries next time.

If a crit sounds like something you'd like to check out, definitely make plans to attend Bike the Bricks on May 25 in McKinney. Set in the square, there are great places to dine and drink while watching the night-time competition. Until then, here are a ton of pics. Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Tunesday: "Shadow People," Dr. Dog

In 45 years, I want to be as awesome as the Western bow tie guy at 1:59.

As my second marathon approaches, I find myself thinking often about the training regimen for my first — 2011's MetroPCS Dallas White Rock Marathon (yes, that rainy, cold mess).

During that training period, I ran strictly early in the morning at the lake. Urban legends (Lady of the Lake, White Rock goat-man, the consistently cool spot near the dog park) would lead you to believe that strange things occur out there during the witching hours. I never saw anything paranormal; but there were a couple of foggy late-fall days that made running a little eerie.

Enter this song. Written by Dr. Dog — the only good thing to come from Philadelphia (ha, ha) — "Shadow People" is a storyteller's song. Now, I'm typically not big on listening to lyrics; but this song is different. On one particularly foggy morning, listening to lyrics had my mind playing tricks on me (obligatory Geto Boys link HERE). The fog was thick enough that it was a tossup whether I was better off using my Petzl headlamp or not for my 9 miles.

Deciding I still needed to be seen by others who might be on the trail at 4:30 a.m., I opted for the low-light setting, which afforded me about 3 feet of visibility. In front of me, I could just make out the trail and avoid branches that had fallen. Anything farther ahead looked like a blank film projection screen — the only action to watch was the vapor I was running past. My peripheral vision? Shadows.

Around the third mile, this song came on (the shuffle feature just always seems to know what to play), and I paid attention to the lyrics. You can find Dr. Dog's explanation of the song's meaning (a section of Philadelphia, including a thrift store called the Second Mile) at Sterogum. My understanding of "Shadow People" that spooky morning was all about apparitions called shadow people. Don't get me wrong; I don't really believe in this stuff. BUT, in those conditions, running for 90 minutes in dense fog, I wasn't 100 percent certain I was alone at the lake. _________

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Two weeks from marathon numero dos, and it's setting in

It's the name of a movie I like quite a bit. Gwen Stefani and company apparently didn't have any. NOFX riffed and punned.

I grew up at a house with a fence lined with these.
And most recently, I was filled with it. Doubt. My last couple of runs leading up to my second marathon have not been good. Bad, even. The other day I failed to log my final 20 miler. 16 miles was the most I could muster (which I realize is OK, but I needed the comfort of something a little closer to 26.2). It was hot and humid. I was miserable and certain I should not show up for OKC in two weeks. But then I snapped out of it, said eff it, and realized I cannot do anything about a race that's weeks away. What I could do was focus on being positive and get my ass home without overdoing it and hurting myself. 

Walking the final stretch of my route on Lake Highlands Drive, I was overwhelmed by the scent and sight of honeysuckles. It's hard to feel defeated when something so simple and sweet is thrown in your sweaty face. The flower's nectar is the official taste of spring (pull the stamen from the flower, lick, enjoy). 

But there's only so much nature can do to keep my mind off the race. Fortunately, I have plenty of live music to enjoy. Spoon's show last week was awesome (not even Sundown's disappointing quinoa veggie burger could ruin the night). Yesterday, I was thrilled to see two excellent University of North Texas groups. Both the UNT Two O'Clock Steel Band (not a single dread-locked member!!!) and the One O'Clock Lab Jazz Band were dynamite (didn't see the Tuba Band, but I'm sure they were good, too). In particular, it's insane how talented the jazz band is. It was a real treat seeing them for free in my neighborhood — on the parking lot of Spec's, of all places — with an eclectic and appreciative crowd. College co-eds chilled as some of Dallas' elite watched from the comfort of their BENTLEY!!!

Sleigh Bells is this week (ear plugs will be necessary) and I will have the honor of playing my new banjo with the best elementary school choir in North Texas this week, too. These will keep me from worrying for a little while. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Tunesday: "My Mathematical Mind," Spoon

Anyone else think singer/guitarist Britt Daniel looks like a cross between Gary Busey and Mick Jones of the Clash?

I can't find the appropriate words to describe how amped I am to see Spoon on Thursday at the Granada. Despite having lived in Austin while the band lived and played there regularly, I've never seen Spoon perform live. The closest I've come to Britt Daniel and Co.'s genius was talking shop with former Spoon bassist Joshua Zarbo (now with Monahans) when he briefly worked at the Bass Emporium in Austin. (Sidenote: If you are a Texas bassist and you haven't visited this bass-only shop, you're doing it wrong.)

What makes "My Mathematical Mind" awesome is the piano part. It's that simple. Although the track starts with the funky downbeat right hand pattern, it's the steady G octave notes played by the left hand that are the anchor of this 3/4 track. The distorted, staccato guitar jumps in and out en route to a chaotic solo as that piano rhythm holds everything together, which affords Zarbo the freedom to walk around the scale with his bass line.  

Bonus: If you haven't downloaded Spoon's most recent effort, 2010's "Transference," you can get it for $5 at Amazon throughout the month of April.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Lone Star stuff I've stumbled upon most recently


For its 30th anniversary in 2009, ESPN set forth on an ambitious enterprise — give several documentary filmmakers free reign to create films that represent an important team, person, event, trend, etc. that occurred since "the worldwide leader" first launched in 1979.

30 for 30 is the result. I've seen a handful of these docs (I dig "Pony Excess" and "The Birth of Big Air"). I just saw Sean Pamphilon and Royce Toni's "Run Ricky Run," which chronicled the roller coaster career of one of my favorite athletes of all time — Ricky Williams.

Ricky is a complicated dude, and this film goes to great lengths to show every side of the most fascinating professional athlete this side of crazy-ass Mike Tyson. From his glory days at the 40 acres to his high times and path to becoming a yogi, it's all here. I'm glad I finally have seen this film. And even though Ricky has officially retired (and been immortalized in bronze at DKR), I will continue to follow his inevitable twists and turns.

Wherever you grew up, it's likely you didn't truly appreciate that city or even hated it. But what happens when you mature from your life experiences and realize that home will always be home? And, in addition, what happens when your home town has done an admirable job of growing beyond its stereotypes? Well, you get this well-written story by Sarah Hepola.

While I can't relate 100 percent with Hepola's journey to loving Dallas, I find myself much in the same place. Dallas is a great city. That's something I wouldn't have said 10 or 20 years ago. But, at this point in my life, I couldn't imagine living anywhere else. Not because it's comfortable (although it is), but because I am encouraged by each new discovery and development — restaurants and bars, arts venues, performers, community events and enthusiastic people who are working hard to help Big D realize its potential.


Fact: There are countless places in the Lone Star State I will never visit. Fortunately, there's Chet Garner and this PBS show. On "The Daytripper," Garner (a UT and Baylor alum) visits well-known, touristy places and also obscure spots. The host is a charming cheeseball, and there's always just enough historical info to deem it worthy for public television.

The Beaumont episode (above) confirms that, sure, there's plenty of things to do in the city; but, unless I have an extremely compelling reason (I dunno, maybe becoming the CEO of Jason's Deli, which started in BMT), I most likely will never visit "Big Money Texas" to experience it first-hand.


I saw the Denton-based group at the Deep Ellum Art Festival on Saturday. Probably the eighth time I've seen them, they performed well. Minor gripes: short on new songs and long on terrible sound engineering. In related news, didya know violinist Chelsea also is a painter? You can peep her work here or at Jupiter House, where some of it is currently on display.

Dunno what Spec's is? Read "Inspecting Spec's."

Going strong since 1946, the Grammy-nominated University of North Texas jazz band is one of the true musical gems of the region. I've always intended on checking out the group, but have never made it to the One O'Clock's rehearsals or performances.

That's going to change on Saturday when the One O'Clock performs at 2 p.m. at Spec's. UNT's Tuba Ensemble (noon) and Steel Drum Squad (1 p.m.) also will perform at this Mean Green gala. Also, if you wear UNT green to the event, you will receive 5 percent off your purchases at Spec's.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Tunesday: "Sappy," Nirvana

I first heard "Sappy" on the No Alternative AIDS relief compilation in 1993. The album mislabeled the song on the liner notes for half of the albums (it was a "hidden track" — remember those — the other half) so most people call this track "Verse Chorus Verse;" but that's actually another song. The album is packed with several worthwhile tracks (one to avoid is Soul Asylum's version of "Sexual Healing" ... but if you don't believe me, suit yourself).

Anyway, the 18th anniversary of Kurt Cobain's death is a couple of days away, so I had to share one of my favorite Nirvana songs. It features Nirvana's trademark (only?) song structure — quiet-loud-quiet-loud; but what makes it most interesting to me is the upbeat, offbeat drum pattern. It's reminiscent of early 60s style — a good example is the song from "That Thing You Do," which, yes, I realize was also made in the 90s.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Let us all give pranks

From MINI USA's Facebook

Growing up, the cruelest April Fool's Day pranks were dished out by my Mom. They were simple. If April 1 fell on a week day, I'd hear, "School's canceled for (fill in the blank with reasonable excuse)!" The exhilarating feeling of a free day was quickly dashed by "April Fool's!!!" I can't say how many times I fell for that, but I'd like to think my gullibility is heightened in the first few minutes of morning.

As much as I'd love to prank y'all today, I'm still too sick to come up with something clever. (Sidenote: Isn't having an annoying cold on the weekend the greatest!!!)

From MINI's Facebook
So, instead, here's a collection of April Fool's Day pranks I found through Twitter this morning (lots of car pranks). Let me know If I missed good ones.

Google Racing: Self-driving NASCAR

Google Analytics adds interplanetary reporting

Smart cars now allowed to use Dallas recreational trails

Warby Barker canine eyewear

ESPN SportsNation's Michelle Beadle's YouTube video

Not sure about this, but the Girls Around Me app strikes me as a prank. If it is, kudos, because in addition to the Times, Forbes and WSJ are all reporting the news.