Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Geocaching Treasure

As young boys we universally dream of finding buried treasure. We dream of finding One-Eyed Willie's pirate ship full of booby booty, thats what I said.  Traipsing through the forest finding DB Coopers stolen cash. Finding the Lost Ark of the Covenant. Hiking in the desert and finding the Lost Dutchman's gold. These flights of fancy dissipate as we get older but in the back of our minds we still always wish we could have one good adventure where we find something that has been hidden to others. 

Geocaching is an adult version of hide and seek and a way to recapture those feelings of searchings and finding. A geocache is a container ranging from very small to quite large that has been hidden. The person who hid the cache logs it on the geocaching.com website with a clever title, short description and GPS coordinates. The person who Seeks that cache downloads the information to a GPS enabled device or smartphone and later comes back to the webpage to let the Hider know if they found the cache or not and if they took something or not. 

Oh yeah, the containers usually contain items you can take. These vary from rare coins to mundane items you would find in your junk drawer. The difference is you had to find that container and you earned a piece of the treasure inside. The rule of thumb is that if you take something your put something in.  

I started last year when I bought a new hiking GPS that had a geocache function. I decided my first find would be a cache that I had run past hundreds of times, located at Tempe Town Lake on the Ironman Arizona run course. I could not believe it was hidden in plain site just feet away. I recently purchased the websites iPhone app which takes your current location and shows the closest geocaches. Last night while watching Mighty Mo's football practice I opened the phone app and found a cache less than 200 feet away. It took a few minutes to find, I signed the logbook but decided I would let my son look for it after practice and could pick the item he wanted to trade. 

Mighty Mo is at the age where finding buried treasure is still a reality in his mind.  We go looking together and he gets a kick finding a container tucked into a tree or under a bush or camouflaged in a clever way. It amazes him that you can just walk up and find things like this. Last night when I  picked through the cache I thought he would take a small rubber snake. He found a Star Wars toy from McDonalds that completes a collection of his. Treasure indeed. 

Geocaching is a world wide phenomenon, yet you don't need to go further than a few miles from your house to get started. If you have an older GPS it costs you nothing to get started. You print out the cache page and manually enter the coordinates into the unit. New GPS units may have a geocache function that downloads the page information into the unit and leads you there then you can uploads your results later. Geocaching.com has a $9.99 iTunes app. that is amazingly simple. It's a great way to spend a few hours as a family discovering new facets to your neighborhood. Or a nice diversion on a lunch break. It has given a new dimension to my running and now plan routes in new areas so I can find new caches. 

To quote Calvin and Hobbes: There's treasure everywhere.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

New Shiny Thing: Nathans HPL 020 running vest

I have been looking at Nathans HPL hydration running vest for quite some time but never saw the need with all the other options I had at hand. It finally came to pass that I had to replace a pack and I jumped on the chance to finally fulfill my want. 

Made by runners for runners this is a very light pack made to feel natural on your body. The bulk of the material is a soft mesh liner that allows air flow to and from your body. The front is a very short vest that reaches just below the pectoral muscles. Aside from the vest flaps which hold the pockets the vest has a chest strap with fastek connectors. The left side connector, the female end, also has a built in clip to hold the hydration hose. Two loops, one on each shoulder, round out the decorations on the vest. It is mostly for holding the drinking tube in place but you can be surprised at what else could be attached here. 

The vest has three pockets; on the right side is a mesh pocket with a drawstring with cord lock. It can hold between 3-5 gel packs depending on your brand. It could also hold anything else of approximate size like food or  hard items as a SPOT gps messenger or camera.The left side has a zippered nylon pocket with a mesh pocket on the outside. The zippered pocket is for securing more sensitive items. I have used mine to hold my iPhone to play the Oo Tunes or Endurance Planet podcasts while running. The mesh pocket on the outside of the zippered pocket has no securing so I have not used it for anything other than used gel packages or something light I could safety pin or dummy cord through the mesh. I may in the future add a velcro tab or my own drawstring with cord lock. The positioning of the pockets is low on vest and occassionally my arm would run it as I moved but it never impaired my form or felt uncomfortable. 

The rear pack made of nylon is designed for the hydration bladder and minimal gear storage. It has a main zippered compartment for the bladder, a smaller zippered gear pocket on top and marginal but effective stretch cord to hold a light rain shell or hat. There is no outside stash pockets as this is the function of the vest in front. 

Utilitarian in design, the gear pocket that is on top of the pack is quite small, with enough room for only items like energy bars, sunglasses, gloves, extra socks, a beanie or those small necessity's any runner might need such as chap-stick, TP, cash or sunscreen.There is a inner mesh pocket to hold the smallest items and a plastic d-ring for keys.

The main pack is big enough for the 2 liter hydration bladder. It is made of very light material and reviews online have discussed this can leak. I have not had this problem thus far. The top is a fold over flap that you slide a plastic clip over. I have seen this on my my other drinking systems and prefer it to screw caps. Everyone has an opinion on bite valves, mine is that this is as good as any and I actually drank better from this than other so called, 'big flow' valves.  At the top of the main bag is loop to hang the reservoir from so it doesn't collapse to the bottom of the bag as it empties. When the bladder is filled with 2 liter of water I have only been able to fit a long sleeve technical shirt in the same compartment. 

Nathans touts this item having a 3 Way Propulsion system. This is a fancy way of saying the pack doesn't bounce around on your back. On the bottom of the main pack is a plastic tab. The side straps that control how tight you wear the vest weave through this tab. After a short run with the vest cinched tight like a backpack I had the dreaded runners-rub-rash under my armpits.  After loosening the straps I no longer had this happen and while I felt like the vest was too loose to my liking, it actually feels better to wear and there was still no bounce in the pack.  So the system does as designed as far as I could tell. 

At $85, cheaper if you look online, this is not an item you buy on impulse. If however you are a runner and you use a pack to hold water, I strongly advise you to try one on before you buy something else made for mountain biking or intended to hold more than 2 liters of water. At less than 6oz empty a runner will be hard pressed to find anything lighter or more comfortable for the road or trail. 

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

For the love of Peanut Butter

How can you be an endurance athlete and NOT love peanut butter?  When you need something to stick to your ribs for a long run or ride, when you need to satisfy a sweet tooth at 10pm and your choice is 400 calories of crap or a 100 calorie spoonful of peanut butter, there are worse options. 

There are not many foods that come in so many varieties. You can have sugar-laden or sugar free. Totally processed or made with just a bag of peanuts and your own food processor. Organic.  Natural. Creamy. Chunky. Extra-Chunky. Peanut, almond, cashew, In a jar, a tube or a cup. Most need no refrigeration. It goes good on crackers, bread, fruit and vegetables. Oh, yeah I hear its good with chocolate too. 

I have tried them all and it was not until just recently that I found my new favorite, "creamy peanut butter" from Fresh & Easy. Easily the stickiest, most peanut tasting peanut butter I have tasted in years. Not a lot of ingredients and I know them all. A little oily but lots of flavor. I am normally a chunky style guy, but recently been digging the creamy as it doesn't distract from a consistent flavor or change the texture of what I am putting the substance on.

Now, now, I understand that peanut butter is playing with fire when someone is monitoring food intake. The taste and energy come at a price and towards the end of the day the price of any one calorie is pretty high. Especially if you have a date with a scale the next morning.  However, I would caution you to not dismiss this tasty, dare I say sinful, food. Paired with candy, not good. Paired with apples or celery, pretty good. Added to ice cream, not good. Measured with jelly between two pieces of bread, perfect food. Can you deny the PB&J as a Top 5 pre-race / pre-sunrise-out-the-door workout food?

If you prefer a specialty store organic almond butter with sunflower oil or making your own with just  ground peanuts with no oil or salt, or a jar of a national brand off any shelf in the country, you can have it your way. And you should.

What is your favorite peanut butter by brand or type?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Bring on the Pumpkin Pie Pop Tart

While I do not eat pop tarts daily, I consider them a near perfect food item. They come in a space age foil wrapper, they have more than enough flavors to satisfy any desire, they do no melt in the heat, they can be consumed toasted or raw. And finally they have enough calories to kick start a long training morning and just enough to satisfy a late night sweet tooth without busting the calorie bank. I mostly grab them on the way to a morning workout or on the trail in my backpack. You also would have seen them in my special needs bags in ironman races.

I was very excited this week to see they came out with a limited edition pumpkin Pie flavor. It was one of those 'aha' moments when I wondered why they had not done that before. In order to make sure that I was ahead of the fad curve I bought boxes of the new flavor. That will easily last me through the next few months until the holiday season gives me pumpkin.

I personally like my pop tarts raw, I generally find the flavor stronger for me that way. In order to find which configuration I would enjoy this new flavor the most, I opened a foil package and toasted one tart and left the other on my plate. I preferred the raw version finding the frosting a bit overpowering though they both tasted just like pumpkin pie. Couple this with a cup of coffee and you have got a great fall treat going here.

I don't cook but love to share new tastes with the family so I offered my wife and son each a raw tart and they agreed that it tasted very much like pumpkin. Thankfully we are all spoiled by DW (Dear Wifes) legitimately awesome homemade pumpkin pie, so these will not need to be hidden in the pantry.  My only fear is that I jump from occasional eater to 'need to eat'. These could easily do that. Thank goodness their a limited run.  

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Can you take a Pre-vacation?

Today is the first vacation day I have taken all year. I started feeling the 'want' of vacation in June but couldn't take the time off. Same in July. In August the want was becoming a 'need'. I was getting run down and tired, going to bed earlier and waking up later. Irritations became frustrations became angry overr little things. I penciled in this time off several weeks ago and solified my plan by purchasing a plane ticket to see to wonderful friends in Tampa. Of course a triathlon is involved for one of them. 

As the days ticked down towards my departure of course my business stress didn't just tick up, it skyrocketed. Usually for me, I skate out easy but  return to all sorts of mess actual and perceived. This time it seems the stress was all front loaded, like when your climbing up a steep grade on your bike and right when you reach the top and think your done you see that road actually turns and climbs more steeply for several hundred more yards. 

As I sat at the terminal I debated on going home. Bagging the trip to finish work.  Then I recalled all those stories I heard from other military vets about how hard it was to go on R&R when their friends were staying on the front line trying to survive. I even had a fleeting thought of having them turn the plane around as we taxied. But I just had to give it up. I need the break.

The first day of vacation is almost over now. I'm sitting in a yogurt bar drinking French press coffee after driving around most of Tampa's outskirts eating some great food, enjoying on again, off again rain and a whole lot of coffees. But it doesn't feel like vacation yet, it feels like I am running errands in a different part of town. 

It will still take me probably another day or so to get the stress out of my blood, a few days longer than had I gone on vacation earlier in the year. It makes me wish that people got pre-vacation days to decompress from work stress before actually going on vacation. It sucks that I have to feel guilty for time off that I have earned. And man have I earned it. 

So next week I will go back to a pile of stress and more work. But today, tomorrow, the next few days, I have to find that place that centers me. It will not come all at once. It will come from finishing a good relaxing lunch instead of eating home cooked leftovers or Subway in the car between locations. It will come from enjoying a hand rolled cigar, something I could never get in my town. It will come from looking into the smiles of friends that are not the friends I see everyday but talk to more often than those people. It will be recognized in random sighs of contentment that will surprise me. 

I really have to remember, "It is not enough to exist. I am going to live."   

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Wasted time

I think of all the time I've wasted thinking about worthless crap. All the mental energy I expended in imaginary arguments with people that never happened, shouldn't have happened, ended up being a miscommunication after all. All the vindictiveness I spewed at my windshield after feeling that something had not gone my way and it was the only place I could be alone to just scream my head off. 

For a person who has spent thousands of hours in prayer, mediation, affirmation and study's of self-improvement, I still think I spent as much time being angry and emotionally violent on stuff that really, seriously, didn't matter. For someone known for being so even keeled, they never saw me five minutes after I drove away. 

It doesn't matter if the conversation was regarding politics or semantics. 90% of the time we are not going to change someone else's position no matter how passionate we are with our own. And vice versa by the way. Its enough to just get the point across and leave it at that. I think half the reason I have wasted time on a subject is because I have allowed myself to be led down someone else's path. They prove their point by trying to discredit mine. Don't like my side of the conversation, my empirical evidence. Fair enough. I've made my point, either in a professional sense or personal sense. 

Oh, we all do it don't we?  Waste time in pointless mental rehashing so we can feel better about ourselves. Some people tamp it down and then have horrific physical and psychological releases, massive temper tantrums a couple times a year. Some people react immediately and verbally with emotional outbursts that have nothing to do with the situation.  I think most people do what I do, review the entire conversation and then replay it with what could have been said and then verbalize it loudly all alone in the car. Maybe not.  

Ultimately, I think I just wasted time thinking about things that didn't need anymore thought put into it. I may be on a path of throwing away a ton of emotional baggage. Forgiving people that have no idea I have a grudge with them. Stop thinking and over analyzing situations that are long sense over. Stop the personal admonishments and guilt I have over how I treated someone or situation. The funny thing is, I will most likely try to fight myself all the way. Whether consciously or subconsciously we do not like change. We fear change. And to throw mental garbage away instead of hoarding it, is very difficult because we think that this stuff we hold onto is who we are. It's not. I am what I want to be and the stuff I have wasted my time thinking about is usually when someone is trying to change that opinion.