Thursday, August 24, 2006

Breaking News: I still suck at swimming [PLUS A CHANCE FOR DO-GOODERY AT THE END]

We interrupt your irregularly, long-delayed, unscheduled updates with this breaking news bulletin.

Travel- and erstwhile running-blogger, Naomi, has returned to the pool. After three separate visits, the conclusion appears incontrovertible: Naomi swims like a drowning pigeon. Witnesses report snickering, pointing, and a collective shaking of heads.

It’s true, my friends. You might think that months and months of *not* swimming, except for sporadic bouts of sea-bathing and flouncing around tiny pools, would be a recipe for miraculous improvement. But you’d be wrong.

The cleverer among you will have been following Rose’s blog, and therefore will already be aware that she has taken an endurance challenge: she is going to swim in a 5 km race between mainland Dakar and nearby Goree Island.

In support of this goal, and because I still harbor dreams of triathlete goddesshood, I decided to join in the training. I never doubted my complete inability to swim the 5 km race. But I thought it’d be a good excuse to break out my Serious Person Swimsuit again, and see what I could do.

On the plus side, the floating issue seems to have been resolved. I have conveniently lost significant muscle density, rendering myself pleasantly buoyant. I’m trying to be happy about the benefits to swimming and the fact that I had muscle density to lose. It’s not working.

On the downside, just because my body is able to float placidly along the surface of the pool doesn’t mean I can’t fuck it up with my flailing. And so, chubbily and floatily, I still bounce up and down through the water in a picture of ineffectual movement.

There’s actually a fairly simple solution. I can either stop breathing or use a snorkel mask. Because my stroke is getting pretty good, and I can stay level and move forward pretty well, as long as I don’t mess it up by trying to take in extra O2.

I know it should be totally natural to turn my head into my shoulder with my stroke, gulp in a bit of air, and continue onward. But I always want to pick my head up too high or try to crane my neck forward, in which case my whole body sinks, and I have to wait to float back up. Or else water gets in my nose or my ear or I forget to actually BREATHE in or who knows what, and all of a sudden I’m gulping for air and treading water in the middle of the pool.

I’m damn stubborn, though, and so I’m not giving up. Swimming a half kilometer three times a week (as I did this week) feels fairly impressive. And against all evidence, I think I’m making progress. Plus my arms are pleasantly sore, so I feel like that can only mean good things.

And as long as we’re talking Project: Get Back in Shape, let’s not forget to mention that in addition to swimming three times, I’ve been running, and had dance class twice. Goal: run twice more before the end of the week. Who’s with me?



I have this idea. And I’m hoping all you running bloggers can help me.

I haven’t talked much about the fitness scene in Dakar, but it’s pretty cool. Every afternoon, you see scores of people running along the sides of the road and doing push-ups and running (bizarrely tiny) laps on the beach. There are amateur volleyball leagues and impromptu soccer matches, and all manner of “entrainement.” It’s mostly boys, but there are women out there as well, and that’s extra cool.

I think it’s great. I especially like how many people run. I even kind of, secretly, despite myself, enjoy how when I’m running, all the boys shout “courage!” and “allez!”

But here’s what kills me. Almost none of the runners have proper running shoes. They run in these horrific, cheap, plastic sandals. These jellies are such the standard for athletic shoes that when I was away in a village last week and hadn’t brought my running shoes, my friends immediately offered to go with me to find myself my own pair of plastic knee pain for $2.75.

And thus, finally, my idea. Runners in the states go through A LOT of shoes. We put them through a lot, and expect a lot out of them. But after 500 or 700 or even 1000 miles, when we retire those shoes… What do you do with yours? Mine sat in my closet for months (including a pair that had less than 200 miles on them, because they had never been comfortable for me). I couldn’t bear to throw them out, because they were still practically brand new. But I couldn’t use them for running anymore either—they hurt my knees. Eventually, when I cleaned out my closet to move here, they were stuck in the bag and dropped off at the charity bin.

So okay, they’re no longer optimal running-support machines. But better than plastic jellies? I think yes. And I know a lot of people who would leap at the chance to trade in their jellies for some second hand Asics.

This is where you all come in. If you’re like me, and you have some shoes you’re not using anymore, would you consider donating them? Anyone who is interested can email me for a mailing address in NY. Then, when I come back to the States next month for a visit, I’ll collect any and all shoes, and bring them back here.

Crazy? Or so crazy it just might work?

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Keeping my virginity

HAH. I bet you didn’t expect me to leave tantalizing clues of future blog posts and then disappear entirely for weeks, did you! I sure am funny!

Or… not. Sorry y’all. But I have been a busy bee. Soon after the last post, I skipped the country on a jet plane (gotta say, much nicer than a bush taxi), heading from bucolic Africa to bellicose Israel. (Look at me with the big words. I=smart!)

Except really, the whole “war” thing was very much a non-issue. I was there for a family wedding, and was therefore blissfully politically unaware. I spent my time running between buffet breakfasts at multiple hotels (visiting all the cousins—I slept on a friend’s couch), hanging out at various pools (see above re: cousins’ hotels) and enjoying the life of a non-African city (air conditioning, like EVERYWHERE! Shocking lack of sand/dirt roads! Not a single power cut in 10 days!). But aside from that, Israelis are fairly used to dealing with war, and in Jerusalem, the situation felt very far away. Much of the north of the country has been evacuated, so a lot of hotels are full of refugee Israelis. And, since military service is obligatory, a lot of my cousins’ friends had been called up from the reserves. But in terms of direct danger, not so much.

So, back to the subject at hand. I have to say, I like this whole “poll” thing. I may have to do it all the time. I heart feedback.

That being said, votes were…. Kind of all over the place, really. But based on my highly scientific statistical analysis, (by which I mean, given what I feel like writing about) the winners are B) Hash House Harriers and D) Naomi=fashion queen.

And so we begin.

Now, to be honest, I hadn’t ever given it much consideration, but upon reflection, there are several things I don’t want to hear when joining a new running group.

One is: “you’re cool with taking it easy right? We want to keep it around 8 minute miles.”

Because I am not fast, you see. But don’t worry, that is not something that the Hashers said.

Here is something they did say: “Hahaha! You have new shoes! Look everyone, the new girl has brand new shoes! Ice! Ice!” Everyone else: “Ice! Ice!”

Because, you see, Rose has just bought a new pair of Asics. Which is apparently weird and wrong, and not a reason to start dorking out about brands and models and how many miles you got out of your last pair and whether it’s wrong to think the red is really, really cute, even though, no, you didn’t pick them because of that, but seriously, how cute are these running shoes?

And here is something else they said: “Are you a virgin?” Followed by “Don’t worry. You’ll learn all the songs in no time!”

There is oh so much wrong with that. By “virgin”, of course, the guy in question meant “is this your first time with this group.” And if there’s one thing I love, it’s organized groups with their “in” lingo and jargon. But whatever. I knew what he meant.

No. Far more problematic was the second statement. I will learn the songs? Learn the SONGS? I thought he was kidding. I laughed. He did not.

And that is when I became sure that me and the H-3 were through. And so when the organizer came over to ask us to pay in for the beers (virgin boy: we’re drinkers with a running problem! He laughed. I did not.) which we hadn’t known about, he said, ‘don’t worry about it, just remember for next time, we simply nodded and smiled. (Naomi and Rose: Shyah. As if.)

Now here is where you’re all, “Sheesh. Get over yourself. They’re just trying to have fun. We’re not all running marathons out here.”

And I’m with you. And in the right mood, maybe I’d have found the campy lingo and the non-threatening “we don’t like running either!” thing charming.

But I wanted a running group. You know, people to run with. For the running. With other people.

And the trip-H? No running. Standing. By 6:30 (after a rendez-vous set for 5:30 “on the dot”), all we had managed to do was amble from the meeting point to mill around at someone’s house 5 minutes away.

Even that I could have forgiven. Note to self: next time show up very late. Done. Right? Because eventually, we’re going for a run.

Sure. A “run”. Really? Not so much. Here's what happened: the son of a group member had marked out a route with chalk hash marks, and off went the group down a hill. Rose and I followed.

Before we knew what happened, there was shouting and laughing and everyone turned around and started running back. And then at the top of the hill, they fanned out looking for the next mark.

This wasn’t a run. It was a scavenger hunt. The marks were hidden all over, and you had to run around blindly until you found one.

And so when the group fanned out, Rose and I fanned in the direction of home. And when we heard the shouting that the hash mark had been found all the way over the other side, we just kept going, laughing hysterically.

Naomi: Don’t look back, Rose!
Rose: They’re coming after us.
Naomi: They’ll never catch up. Run, Rose, run!

And so we ran. They shouted, (guys! It’s this way, guys! You guys!) and we waved (so long suckers!).

We decided to go on our own route, hoping desperately not to run into the Harriers.

Of course, not ten minutes later, the group ran by, chanting “Ice! Ice! Ice!” (because of Rose’s new shoes. Hilarious!) and we refrained from chanting “you’re all fucking crazy!”

So I’m still a virgin. And, with any luck, a virgin I will stay.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Finishing a thought

Due to some technical difficulties, the picture that I took of my (now quite ancient) haircut only just got uploaded today.

Here I am, in all my uneven, choppy, frizzed out glory:

Bad idea beauty

Actually, it's not a terrible photo. Sadly, combine the 10,000% humidity with the shaggier hair (as it grows out) and you don't end up with America's Next Top Model. Whatever: it's just hair.

In lieu of a proper update, I have uploaded a bunch of pictures to Flickr.

In other news, I have lots of possible topics to write about, but never enough time (or motivation, apparently). So now we'll harness the interactive power of the internet. Tell me—and death is not an option—would you rather hear about:

A) my (semi-)triumphant return to running, in which I conquer (most of) the dreaded lighthouse mountain.
B) The disaster that was "running" with Hash House Harriers, and how we ended up running AWAY ("don't look back, Rose! Don't. Look. Back.")
C) My trip south of Gambia (check out the map on the sidebar) to tropical Senegal
D) My battles with tailors and the successes and failures of my nascent career as a clothing designer—WITH PHOTOS!

Allez! Choisissez!