Tuesday, April 29, 2008

It normally takes until late May or even the All-Star break, but I give up. The Devil Rays and Orioles are tied for first place and the Jays are in last place. Up is down, down is up, hello is goodbye, goodbye is hello (though the opposite of goodbye is actually badbye), and we have always been at war with Oceania.

Monday, April 28, 2008

I've been making such good friends with Wikitravel that I sometimes blend Wikitravel and my experiences into one. Of course, Wikitravel is useful for more than just trying to backpack through Europe. For example, they have pages on Antarctica, outer space and even Somalia. I think the website's real power in suggesting a place to stay in Kabul, Pyongyang or Mogadishu, or informing me about delicacies such as otka: "camel meat that is dried and then fried in butter and spices".

Sometimes the pages tell you more than is intended. Consider, for example, Somalia, which I think is probably the most fascinating place on the earth. Many African states are states in name only because the government is weak, but Somalia is best defined as the land not controlled by its neighbours. Somalis really can't agree on anything. The Somalia travel guide says that "generally the only rule that can be agreed upon is that Somalis drive on the right side of the road." The Mogadishu travel guide tells me that "the only traffic rule that can be agreed upon is the traffic drives on the left side of the road." Fortunately, I don't think I'll ever have to sort that out for myself. This is supposedly a country that suffers from both droughts and floods, and "independent travel will most likely lead to your death."

Saturday, April 26, 2008

This just in, literally:

April 25, 2008 at 11:22 PM EDT

TORONTO — The TTC's largest union has voted not to ratify a tentative agreement reached with management last weekend and the transit system will grind to a halt at midnight.

Sixty-five per cent of TTC union members voted to reject the tentative agreement, which required a 50-per-cent plus one vote to pass. Bob Kinnear, the union president, said he had no choice but to call an immediate strike for the safety of his members.

“We have assessed the situation and decided that we will not expose our members to the dangers of assaults from angry and irrational members of the public,” Mr. Kinnear said in a statement. “We have a legal responsibility to protect the safety of our members and so does the TTC.”

Tomorrow's NFL draft is an excellent exercise in prediction and decision-making. Thirty-two teams will choose players, on a number of criteria, who will then either turn out to be superstars, spectacular busts, or land somewhere in between. The first overall pick is particularly intriguing, if for no other reason than the fact that this is supposed to be the best collegiate player in the United States. Going back to the start of the modern era, we see that OJ Simpson, Terry Bradshaw and Jim Plunkett were the first picks from 1969-71, a stellar string that might never be equaled. For every John Elway or Peyton Manning, however, there is a Ki-Jana Carter or Steve Emtman, players who were unquestionable busts, even if through no fault of their own.

Carter's case is especially sad, verging on tragedy. The Penn State graduate was co-MVP of the Rose Bowl and finished second in Heisman voting, but tore the ACL in his left knee on the third play of the Bengals' first pre-season game, and never recovered. He played parts of seven seasons over ten years, totaling just over 1,100 yards and 14 touchdowns, a staggering turn of events.

Perhaps a more spectacular failure was Ryan Leaf, who was considered more or less interchangeable with Peyton Manning ten years ago around this time. The Colts picked Manning first and the Chargers picked Leaf second. Leaf said that "I'm looking forward to a 15 year career, a couple of trips to the Super Bowl, and a parade through downtown San Diego." In the third game of his career, Leaf was eaten alive by a ferocious Kansas City defense, turning in the first performance I have ever seen by a quarterback: 1 of 15 for 4 yards, three fumbles and blamed his teammates. Leaf was not mature enough for the demands of playing quarterback in the NFL at a high level and not only came across as an unmitigated jerk, but finished his career with 14 touchdowns and 36 interceptions. Leaf just might have been the single most disappointing athlete in history.

Manning is the contrast to Leaf in just about every way. He threw for more yards in his first season than Leaf did in his five-year career, and will probably hold every significant quarterbacking record by the time he retires. Manning is an extremely rare example of a person who can realize the tremendous expectations of the future in the present, as expressed by the ads in New York for tomorrow's draft: Believe in Now.

The transition from collegiate to superstar in time for Now is one that only a handful of the tens of thousands of professional football players have ever made. Teams prod, poke, test, quiz, interview, practice and scout these men for years in hopes of finding one such player. Life, of course, is so fickle and variable that the process is not unlike looking for a gold mine. It's not the case that anyone ever guesses right so much as they don't guess wrong.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

At the risk of allowing this space to become a perpetual pity party, I would like to discuss curses. It was, after all, in the City of Curses that Monday's meltdown manifested its malice. Compounding matters, I was coming from its arch-nemesis, whose baseball teams (Yankees, Dodgers, Mets) won 29 World Series to Boston's zilch between 1918 and 2004. Most people forget that Boston also had two baseball teams until 1952, and that the Braves promptly won a title upon moving to Milwaukee. When I stood up in a hotel room and polled my advisors on which shorts to wear, I was unwittingly wrapping myself and my own curse into the long, rich history of athletic futility that is the city of Boston.

Exactly six months prior this affirmation, I had purchased hideous bright yellow short shorts for their kitsch value from a mysterious vendor in Detroit. He tried to tell me something, probably about something minor and pointless, but I like to think he was trying to alert me of the curse. I have worn those shorts just three times and run three terrible races, each more of a spectacular failure than the last. In fact, if you don't count the races where I wore those shorts, I haven't really had a bad race in about two years. If you take out those shorts, I have done nothing but run a stellar string of flawless races and personal bests dating back almost a year.

My take on curses echoes what Billy Bob Thornton's overworked high school football coach in Friday Night Lights believed: "our only curses are the ones that are self-imposed." This, he said, as a three-way coin toss began to decide whether or not he would keep his job. The point, of course, is that life is very unpredictable, but connecting the dots of failure into a curse is self-imposed torture.

I left the shorts in a trash can somewhere in upstate New York just in case, but I can't say I also left my preoccupation with unpredictability back there. I had some very definite ideas in the winter of how my life would be this year and I couldn't have been more wrong. I don't spin everything that happens into a blessing, but unpredictability and uncertainty have had benefits. I pray more, I want less, and I'm happier. For all you know, by next month I'm going to be eking out an existence trawling for Alaskan king crab. I certainly don't know, but it doesn't bother me at all.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

I woke up this morning in a quiet, sterile room in Glenmont, NY after sleeping for about 10 hours. It was hard to believe that any of the last five days had happened: the suffocation of midtown Manhattan in rush hour, the clang of the 7 line in Queens, the screaming crowds at Boston or my dropping out of the Boston Marathon. I certainly didn't anticipate dropping out at any point in the 11 months I spent planning this trip, but it happened, and I have no idea why.

My plan (though everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face) was to get through the first 5k in around 21 minutes (about 6:50/mile), run the next few 5ks in around 20:30 (6:35/mile) before getting to the uphills at 25k, where I'd do my best to maintain the pace, and then give it everything I had on the final downhills. I was hoping to run somewhere around a 2:52 if this plan worked perfectly.

I got through the first mile in 7:20, which was predictable given the crowds, and the second mile was pretty good in 6:59 considering that I stopped to tie my shoe (now there's a bad omen). The next few miles were pretty slow in around 7:00-7:20, and I hit 5k in 21:56 by my watch. That was a minute slower than planned, but it was no big deal. I hit 10k faster in 43:12, which gave me a 21:16 split, and that was better. I gathered more steam and hit 15k in 64:13 (21:56, 21:12, 21:01). I was fine through 11 miles too (76 minutes), where I was on a slow but comfortable 3-hour pace.

Around 11 miles I began to worry that I was going too fast for the hills, and did what I thought was not speeding up anymore, but it was slowing down. I hit 20k in 1:26, which meant I'd run the last 5k in 22 minutes, definitely not a good sign. I hit the half in 1:30 feeling uneasy about the whole thing, and I think I was trying to just jog it in before I hit 14 miles. It's all pretty hazy now. At 15, I was doubting whether I'd finish. I have no idea what the mile splits were here, but they were probably over 8:00.

Eventually I had to walk at a water station, I started again, but stopped within 100 metres. I knew by now that I probably wasn't going to finish this race, and if I did, it would probably be in close to 4 hours. I happened to do this in front of a guy in a lawn chair with a cooler. He had the Red Sox game on. I was grimacing in front of him with my hands on my knees, and he was looking at me as though I had a second head. "What's the score?" I asked. "Are you okay? Do you want some water?" he replied. I took the water, thanked him, drank it, ran a little more, but knew I was done.

I walked off the course right at a volunteer who asked if I was okay. I really wanted to run backwards, but I wanted more to get away from that city and that race as fast as I could, so I asked whether it was quicker to jog a 10-minute mile or to wait for some sort of bus. She pointed me to the medical tent down the road, where I walked on the sidewalk, scowling past puzzled spectators. I had even more trouble talking to the woman at the medical tent, and when they asked if they could check my pulse (103)and blood pressure (136/97), I couldn't stop crying, so they did it anyway.

If you're wondering why any of this happened, your guess is as good as mine. I have absolutely no idea, none whatsoever, why I could only manage a 1:30 first half and then was reduced to a quivering mess. I felt great all weekend and all morning, and thought I was going to run a powerful second half as late as 11 miles. Still, worse things have happened to better people, even when talking strictly about running. I still feel terrible that I couldn't have run a better race for the friends who came to watch me run, but their wonderful support makes it possible to move on. I'm not that sore today after 13 moderately hard miles yesterday. This weekend is a little too soon for another marathon, but the one after is not. I'm leaning towards the Long Island Marathon, where any time that starts with a 2 will be fine. Thank you for your support before, during and after the race. You might not believe how much it means.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Update: Adeel's safe and sound and already talking about trying to run another marathon next week. He just said he was falling apart after the half and at a slow jog by the 15 mile mark (just before the hills start) and decided to chalk it up to a bad day and write off his losses.

Good morning...this is Michelle, Chelle, whatever... I'll be your guest editor today, receiving live updates from Boston on the status of our valiant marathoner. It's 46 degrees, um... about 8 degrees for you Canadians out there, and overcast, so it's about perfect conditions for a great race.

Our correspondent in the field Riyaad reports that Adeel was "Just chipper" this morning, despite having to leave the hotel at 5AM for the buses. For you Canadians...that's 5AM.

The race has started, but the next Adeel sighting won't be until mile 22; Riyaad, Alex, Vince, Cindy and Matt are headed out there now. He's passed the 10K point in just under 7 minute pace with a conservative 43:12. There were probably some crowd conditions to deal with in that first few miles and my guess is that his pace is going to start dropping from this point.

He's running quite close to another blogger out there, Chad Austin. I wonder if they'd recognize each other if they were to end up running side by side.

Yep, he just hit the 15K in 1:04:13 and he's down to 6:54 pace. This section of the course is aided by the downhill slope, but he's not going crazy out there, so he should have plenty left in his legs when he gets to the hills in a few miles.

The Wellesley College banshees are screaming his name...he's reached the half in 1:31. He's slowed up a little since the 15K and is now on 3:02 pace.

As Ethiopian Dire Tune wins the closely contested women's race, Adeel should be hitting the 25K mark, 15 and a half miles for any non-runner Americans. He's not showing up in the tracker yet, which is a little worrisome.

Kenyan course record holder Robert Cheruiyot joins the elite club of 4-time Boston winners with his victory. Adeel is still not showing up in the tracker. Let's hope his chip fell off or something, because this is not a good sign.

Well...it's 1:15 now and there's no word of sighting from our troops on the street, so it's looking like this was not our friend's day. I'm noticing that other people's times are not quite what they were projecting, so conditions may have been tougher out there that I might have assumed. Stay tuned to hear the full debriefing on what happened out there today.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Greetings from the barrio, where business is conducted behind bulletproof glass, such as the hotel I'm writing from or the store down the street. I love the ethnic flavour of this part of Queens, where my brown skin blends right in, and I actually don't see the need for all this security.

Further adding to my street cred: I was on the set of BET's 106 and Park yesterday.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Today I saw the chair that Katie Couric sits in when she delivers the evening news. I also saw her office and her washroom and a woman that sort of looks like her but isn't really her.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Let's move on now to the second major marathon of the year, the Boston Marathon on Monday. This time I would like to focus the wagering and prognostication on myself. I'll provide all the relevant information and a range of times from which you choose one, and the person or spambot who guesses closest to my actual time wins. Add on seconds to (virtually) eliminate the possibility of a tie. The winner will receive an autographed 8" x 10" picture of yours truly and a friendly thumbs-up.

Pick a time anywhere from 2:48:00 to 3:00:00, or 3:00:01 and over. Don't worry, I won't take that last prediction personally. At any rate, here's what you need to know.

My best marathon is a 3:10 from last May, but I ran a half marathon six weeks ago in 1:21. I've run 17:44 and 36:38 for 5k and 10k. I've been running about 110k a week since the start of the year, with easy weeks around 80k. I've done about 7 runs of 28k or more. The McMillan Calculator predicts 2:51. Key workouts have been a 32k run with the last 15k in 61 minutes (2:52 pace) and 20k hard in 1:18, faster than race pace. Keep in mind, of course, that Boston can be a tricky course with its hills and unpredictable weather.

Track your prediction here on Monday starting at 10.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

So the Jays lost tonight, big surprise. They're now 1-6 on weekdays and 6-0 on weekends. One more reason that weekends are better than weekdays.

Monday, April 14, 2008

If you had bet any money on anyone other than Martin Lel to win today's London Marathon, you would have lost. It's obvious that the past is the best predictor of the future, but I still think I went with the safe pick. You just can't expect someone to keep winning over and over. Streaks tend to end, and winning three major marathons in a row is a long streak. I would have guessed that Joe DiMaggio would not extend his streak to 55 games, 56 games or 57 games. This streak, however, is a bit like Johnny Vander Meer's back-to-back no-hitters. You knew he wasn't going to extend that one. Similarly, after watching him dominate the world's best today, I'm going to go ahead and guarantee that Martin Lel will not win the Olympic marathon. He just can't keep winning.

There's excellent coverage of London over at the always excellent Science of Sport, including a discussion on whether Lel is now the greatest marathoner ever.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Sabra Hummus: Cedar's Hummus Lacks Experience Necessary To Become America's No. 1 Hummus

NEW YORK—Sabra Hummus blasted rival Cedar's Hummus Monday for lacking the ability, competence, and texture that Americans deserve from their hummus. "People of this country don't want some flash-in-the-pan hummus," said Sabra chairman Yehuda Pearl, adding that Sabra's strong coalition of mashed up chickpeas, sesame tahini, lemon juice, and garlic is virtually unbeatable. "When it's 3 a.m., which hummus do Americans trust for their pita chip–dipping? Some new hummus that makes a lot of promises about taste, or a hummus with over 20 years experience serving the American people?" Critics of both brands say that Sabra and Cedar's are essentially the same, offering citizens no difference in flavor, protein content, and quality.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The most competitive marathon of the year, at least for men, takes place on Sunday in London. As with many other things, prognostication and gambling make it more interesting, so here are the odds, with the latest odds from Bet365 below:

Martin Lel 3.75
Sammy Wanjiru 4.50
Felix Limo 7.00
Emmanuel Mutai 7.50
Ryan Hall 9.00
Adderahim Goumri 11.00
Paul Tergat 13.00
Hendrick Ramaala 15.00
Luke Kibet 17.00
Yonas Kifle 17.00
Jaouad Gharib 19.00
Steffano Baldini 34.00
Tomas Abyu 81.00
Dan Robinson 151.00

Let's tackle these. Lel (15-4) has to be the heavy favourite as the defending champion, and adding a win in New York as well. At the same time, you'd have to be nuts picking someone to win a third straight marathon given how unpredictable these things are.

Wanjiru (9-2) is the world record-holder in the half marathon and ran a 2:06 to debut at Fukuoka, so he has to be the top challenger.

Limo (7-1) in third place is iffy. He won London two years ago along with Chicago, but he was injured last year.

Mutai (15-2) has a 2:06 to his name, second-fastest in the world last year, but he's an unknown.

Ryan Hall (9-1) was only 7th here last year, but he's a white American, which must count for something.

Abderrahim Goumri (11-1) deserves to be placed a lot higher, not only for holding the Moroccan debut record, but also narrowly finished second to Lel at London and New York.

Tergat (13-1) and Ramaala (15-1) are way too old at 38 and 36, with two many marathons in their legs, to be given serious consideration.

Kifle and Kibet, the reigning world champion, are interesting at 17-1. If you were going to hope to make a lot of money betting on this race, you'd bet on these two, or maybe Goumri. Kifle ran 2:07 last fall in his debut, which is the Eritrean-born record, as well as the Eritrean debut record and the Eritrean record (see how easy it is to make up nonsensical accolades?).

Gharib is a good bet to finish higher-up, but not win. He narrowly lost in Chicago last fall, and the finish was the craziest thing to happen on that very crazy day. It's funny that the guy who came closer than all but two of these guys to winning a major marathon last year, and has two world titles, gets 19-1 odds.

Logically, Wanjiru, Lel and Goumri figure to be the main contenders. Of course, marathons being what they are, someone might go for Gatorade when the others surge and miss the party. Outside chances have to go to Limo, Mutai, Hall and Kifle. I predict Wanjiru to win in 2:06:00, give or take 30 seconds. If I was a betting man, I'd put £100 on Kibet to somehow pull this out and win a neat sum. That's how meaningful marathon predictions are.

Finally, if you're odd enough to understand even half of this post, you clearly need to get up at 4:45 am ET on Sunday to watch this.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

I can't remember a really hot start from the Jays, ever. This year's 3-2 start isn't shocking, but what's shocking that the Jays have allowed just 13 runs after one rotation through the double-headed monster that is the Yankees and Red Sox. Who knows if they'll make it, but if they do, I predict that they'll win it all. The pitching is that good. What's refreshing are the return of the powder blue uniforms of yore and Roy Halladay's urgency. Perhaps more frustrating than not making the playoffs is the idea that it's okay to not contend. I suggest switching to the powder blue full-time and moving out of that Godforsaken white elephant to a Godforsaken mistake by the lake in order to capitalize on this new energy.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

A little-known fact about me is that I wrestled for two years in high school, though never for the entire season. I got to be reasonably strong for my size by grade 12, but I never really learned how to attack. That meant that I didn't give up many points, but I certainly wasn't going to score any. I wrestled a few matches in grade 12 and lost by a couple of points each time.

This guy would eat me alive, and he doesn't really have arms or legs. Then again, he'd probably destroy you too. I don't quite understand how he does it, but he does.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Gentrification is an issue in Toronto, where about half of Bloor Street between St. George and Yonge will be remade in the coming years. This report points out an unfortunate result of gentrification and the devastating consequences it can have for yuppies. As for Toronto, with the replacement of many businesses along Bloor Street by high-end condominiums, those of us making less than $200,000 a year will have little reason to spend time in the middle of what I think is Toronto's greatest street.

From west to east, a new Varsity Stadium has been built and across the street, condominiums at One Bedford will replace that great pita place. Next to Varsity Stadium, a new building for the Royal Conservatory is being built, and across the street, the only three-storey McDonald's I have ever seen will be replaced by another high-end condominium. Well, that's not true. The McDonald's will have a place in the new building, but I expect that the Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants next door will be gone. Further down Bloor Street at Yonge, an 80-storey condominium will replace the eyesores masquerading as storefronts on the southeast corner, and it will also clean up a portion of Yonge Street.

This new development isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I think it will make Toronto a little more boring. I admit that I have no better ideas of my own, but can we do nothing else but build high-rises in this city? More worrisome is that most of us will get priced out of that part of Bloor Street. No one will notice since we'll be replaced by the "socialites, curators and kings" of One Bedford. Still, I think that the restaurants and stores that made Bloor West interesting will be replaced by, well, nothing or something worse than nothing, such as a Rogers store.