Category Archives: Sports

Running

Brooklyn Half Marathon

It’s been quite a while since I’ve blogged! Mainly it’s because so many of my posts were food related and food blogging had just become so overdone. There’s a lot less motivation to write about stuff when everybody and their grandmothers, literally, are writing about the same thing and often doing it poorly. Not a crowd I really want to be identified with if you know what I mean. Besides, I’m always more juiced by activities that still have a sense of subculture about them. 9-ball, cooking, BJJ and poker all were obsessions of mine but each during periods before they became overexposed mainstream clich├ęs. Don’t get me wrong, they all still hold some interest for me, and likewise I’m sure I’ll still write about food from time to time, but only when the mood strikes me. It’ll just be fewer and farther between. Basically, I just hope to never end up on picsofaznstakingpicsoffood.tumblr.com!

So what have I been up to recently? Running! It’s another pastime that is on the upswing but thankfully hasn’t reached critical mass yet. Even though the Brooklyn Half Marathon last week had 16,000 entrants, there was still a sense of community between runners, a feeling that you’re sharing an experience that the rest of the world just doesn’t get. Running seems like a perfect hobby for me. It’s challenging, there’s a measurable way to gauge progress, there are equipment choices I can spend hours deliberating and there’s a vast amount of super interesting things to learn.

I just started running at the end of February, but like with most activities, the greatest amount of progress happens during the early learning stages. When I started, I couldn’t run more than a few blocks and I hated it. Two months later I was able to complete the BK Half, but ok, I still hated it. Hated the actual running/suffering that is. But actually finishing brought a feeling of absolute elation. It’s a lot like how I trained BJJ actually. I didn’t enjoy the actual rolling like others did because for me the focus was always inward- fighting the ever impending onset of fatigue. But the satisfaction of working through that exhaustion to pull off a technique and nail a submission was unparalleled. Chasing that feeling was what kept me motivated and that’s the same thing I feel with running right now.

I’m not a fast runner, as I ran the BK Half with an average pace of 9:57 per mile. According to the NY Road Runners’ stats for the race, that puts me below average for my age group. And btw, big props to NYRR for being kick-ass when it comes to organizing races. It’s so impressive how they can coordinate logistics for races every week with such efficiency. They usually even have the finishing times and stats posted on their website by the time I get home from each race! They also partner with Brightroom Event Photography so that there are usually a few pictures of you taken along the course. It’s not really worth it to buy the pictures because they charge a whopping $25 per photo, but it’s still nice to check out the thumbnails up on their site after each race. Not that I look very good as a runner. My posture and technique is still horribly awkward but I’m trying to improve. It also doesn’t help that I have more of a wrestler’s build than that of a runner. I’d like to think I have a powerful looking trunk, but really I just have a big ass. I got a chance to see my running form in a Brightroom video clip from the Brooklyn Half and it made me think of Predator lumbering through the forest. Clearly I have a lot to work on!

My training for the Brooklyn Half was not very structured. I just ran whenever I wasn’t busy, the weather was decent and my legs weren’t sore. That amounted to about 3 days a week. I was roughly trying to follow a 10 week training schedule I found on the web, but I ended up missing days left and right, so I just settled for trying to do the long run for each week plus a couple of 4 mile days in between. It was going really well up to about week 7 and I even managed an 11 mile training run without getting totally gassed. Unfortunately the last two weeks before the race we had lots of rain and my weekly mileage went waaay down. As a result, I felt I had peaked too soon and entered the race quite a bit undertrained. It’s interesting, looking at my training log I see that I only did a total of 26 hours of running from the day I picked up the hobby to the day of the BK Half. But it doesn’t matter because even though my time wasn’t fast, I managed to finish the race and that was my only goal.

In addition to the joy of finishing a race, one of the things I love best about running is that there are so many cool things that I can research and shop for. So while running doesn’t actually require anything more than a pair of sneakers, that hasn’t prevented me from spending all kinds of money on miscellaneous gear. Heart rate monitor, moisture wicking apparel, foam rollers, compression sleeves, energy gels, nutritional supplements, running books on my Kindle, and the list goes on. I actually just got another pair of sneakers today too, the Saucony Kinvara 3. What can I say, it’s just too much fun to shop for this stuff! And more than anything, it’s just really enjoyable to have a new activity to immerse myself in.

20th (and final?) Carroll Valley Golf Outing

Last week was our annual golf trip to Carroll Valley. Bob T. has been running this event for twenty years now, consistently drawing 35-40 players every year. Sadly, I get the sense that this may have been the last one, as there have been hints of such for a while now, and we did things like emptying out the hole-in-one fund this year. Looking back, it really is remarkable that Bob has been able to organize something like this and get that many players to drive and fly in from all over the country every single year, with many of these guys now retired and living in Florida no less. By comparison, just last month Kat tried to organize a single day golf outing for a group a third of the size and had to give up because we just couldn’t find a suitable weekend until June! What Bob has been able to pull off for twenty straight years is simply amazing and if this was the last year of the event, it will surely be missed.

Seven of us drove out on Thursday morning and this year we decided to play a course along the way called The Bridges, located in Abbottstown, PA. It was a decent course, but lacking the challenge and scenic views of Carroll Valley. I played reasonably well considering it was just the 2nd round of my season and my short game was pretty abysmal. I shot a 101 but with a lot of the strokes accumulated on just a few blow-up holes. Managed to win 11 out of the 18 skins against Tom and Jones (haha, yeah Tom Jones, I know), which is a good thing because my game would go to crap after that round.

Friday morning at 7:30am, CVG was buzzing as it always is on the first day of the event, as the anticipation of a great weekend abounds and players are still arriving (lord knows how early they have to hit the road in order to arrive by the 8am starting time). For me, it’s one of my favorite moments every year. The slight morning chill, the excitement of the golf to come and saying hello to old friends (they’re senior citizens, get it?) we haven’t seen in a year or more. It’s just a really great vibe and sets the table for the next three days.

8am came, we took our group picture and the golf began. And as I mentioned before, it was all downhill for me golf-wise from there. I did actually hit a serviceable drive and crushed a solid hybrid for my 2nd shot, but then one over-cooked 7-iron and the wheels came off my game. The main problem was the rough was pretty grabby this year and I guess I started swinging harder to compensate. Long story short, I didn’t figure it out until Sunday, and my weekend went like this-

Fri. morning: somehow managed to finish tied with Tom for the C-flight lead.

Fri. afternoon scramble: I hit a lot of good shots and my teammates said I carried us, but we just couldn’t put up enough birdies to win any prizes. In retrospect, I should have asked myself why I played better in the afternoon round and I would have come to the conclusion that it was because in the scramble format I got to hit from clean lies the whole time. Stoopid me, I just thought it took my 18 holes to warm up.

Sat. morning: Horrible round. Absolutely terrible. By the back nine I even started to hit a couple of shanks. I started getting afraid of what would happen every time I took the club back. Suffice it to say, I was out of contention for C flight. Jones and Tom were starting to get heated up though and were playing well. They got the day 2 C-flight money.

Sat. afternoon scramble: More good golf. Shocker. Got to play with long hitting Greg R, Mr. Consistency John G. Sr., and smooth-putting Chas. Hitting from perfect lies, I was again looking like a golfer and pitched in considerably on our way to a round of 7-under, good enough for second place.

Sun. morning: More awful golf. A couple of shanks. Twoin’s elbow was hurting too, so the two of us were like the walking dead out there. At least Tom and Jones were playing well, basically going head to head for C-flight in dramatic fashion, but ultimately their thunder was stolen by John G. Jr. surprisingly winning C-flight out of nowhere. As for myself, somewhere in the back nine I realized it was my tempo that had gotten quick and that the rough was the culprit. It was too late to save my round but at least I started to hit a few good shots on the way in, but as Twoin likes to say, that’s like whipped cream on shit. I was happy with my finish on 18 though, playing my big sweeping hook off the tee through the wind, starting it out towards the road and bringing it back to the green and ending up in the back fringe. With a two-putt from there, I finished with a nice clean par. If that was the last CVG golf outing for us, which I hope it wasn’t, at least I went out on a good note.

What’s on TV

For someone who claims to not watch that much tv, I really watch a lot of tv. Granted I’m usually tuned to something like cooking shows just as white noise in the background while I surf the web or get work done, but just this week I realized how many different programs have worked their way into my regular routine. I’m still catching every episode of Holmes on Homes (Discovery Home channel), the new seasons of Top Chef (Bravo) and After Hours With Daniel (Mojo), High Stakes Poker (GSN) and I still end most days with the Daily Show and Colbert Report (Comedy Channel). And the rest of the time, my TV is usually on WLIW Create for all the cooking shows and Ask This Old House. I’ve also recently started watching I Bet You (Mojo) where poker studs Phil “Unabomber” Laak and Antonio Esfandiari just go around inventing bets to make with each other. Stoopid mindless fun including one episode where Antonio loses a bet and is a little on tilt and decides just for the heck of it to cut for high card with some guy where the loser has to get the other guy’s name tattooed in full on his arm. Nuts. Antonio ended up winning, but I think he was crapping his pants before they flipped the cards when he realized what he was about to do.

Speaking of Top Chef, in this week’s episode, as soon as Manuel ordered the Chilean Sea Bass I knew he had screwed himself. How did I know? Precisely because I watch so much weird stuff on tv. You see, Daniel Boulud was the guest judge for this episode, and in an episode of After Hours with Daniel, he mentions that in all his years, he has never served Chilean Sea Bass in his restaurants. In his words “I think it’s kind of gross, really”. And with the absolute reverential level of respect that he commands, I knew his opinion would influence all the other judges. While they never show Boulud making a negative comment about the choice of fish, Tom Colicchio made mention of the fish being “fishy” which certainly sounded like him wanting to agree with the words of the master. Sure enough, Manuel got the axe shortly thereafter.

Finally, mark your calendars for April 15th. Besides being tax day, it is the start of the next season of The Big Break competition on the Golf Channel, The Big Break Ka’anapali. Featuring the ladies in this season, the one I’ll be watching is Susan Choi who gets my vote as the most likely next-big-thing regardless of how she finishes on the show. Born and raised on Long Island and now living in Natick, MA, the recent Wellesley grad is a rookie with exactly the right elements to become a star in today’s world. Judging from the show’s teasers and her audition material, Susan is a sweet, un-jaded young woman who, unlike most of the other big Asian names in women’s golf, speaks perfect English and doesn’t come off as mean, aloof, awkward or strange in any way. A talented, attractive, normal Asian American with strong religious and family values who will be up against seemingly surly, bitter, ruthless competitors. In clips from the preview, you see people calling her “a snot-nosed little rookie” and “luckiest, stupidest girl in the world”. I think even if Susan loses, she will win her fair share of fans and hopefully that will translate to some real dollars for her at some point because it sounds like her family has some financial challenges they’re counting on her to remedy. She’s gone pro, so she can accept endorsements now. Sponsors, make it happen!

Getting Shafted (in a good way)

It seems that every year the lull of winter and the anticipation of golf season stirs in me a desire to buy new clubs. I’m no Eliot Spitzer, but I have definitely been known to give in to my indulgent urges as evidenced by my storage room full of clubs from years past. In the last two years my new clubs have been drivers and why should this year be any different, right? Yep, I went and got a new driver last Friday. Jones had the best reaction to the news of my latest acquisition, “Damn, you probably own as many drivers as you have irons now!”

Ah, but this year I finally did it the right way- I got fitted the way the pros do. It was something I’ve wanted to do but always found reasons to chicken out. My apprehension is due in large part to the same reason why I don’t take golf lessons- I know the detailed mechanics of a textbook golf swing, I know that my swing doesn’t match that profile, and I get really annoyed with people telling me things that I already know. I have no doubt that the best way to a scratch handicap is to build a fundamentally sound swing, but I also know that a conventional swing has too many aspects that don’t feel right to me now and would require too much time for me to adopt. When you only play once a week if you’re lucky, the prospect of sacrificing several months of golf to undo old habits to adopt new ones with no guarantee of sustainability is not very attractive. If only I had taken lessons when I first picked up the game, those technically correct swing positions would probably feel normal to me now, but alas, my swing now is what it is. And what it is, is an admittedly sloppy mix of an Azinger-esque ultra-strong grip, an unseemly re-grip as my trigger move, leading into an inside takeaway, up to an abbreviated backswing, followed by a too-quick transition to the downswing and finishing with an impact position marked by an exaggerated forward shaft lean. Nice, huh?

But that’s exactly the swing I took with me into The Complete Golfer last week. The process started by my filling out a short questionnaire asking me to describe my ball flight, average yardages, etc. The pro doing my fitting, Andy, had a self-deprecating humor that put me at ease as he reviewed my answers and asked me a few more questions before leading me to one of the hitting bays. Even though I was there for a wood fitting, he let me hit a few warm-up shots with an iron just to get loose. Since I hadn’t swung a club since last autumn, I definitely needed it.

When I was ready to begin, Andy affixed a wireless transmitter to my left wrist connected via a wire to the club I was about to swing. He explained that this club’s shaft had sensors which would measure how my swing loads the shaft at different points and the transmitter would relay that info to the computer in the corner. A few swings with that and he had enough data to pick a particular clubhead/shaft combo as a starting point for the fitting process.

So it was time to start hitting some drivers. But first Andy explained how we’d be evaluating things. We were using Callaway Tour i balls which were most similar to the HX Tours that I normally play, but these were marked with three dots of different colors. On the ground next to the hitting mat was a rectangular box which I was told was a high speed camera. The lens opening was aimed less than two inches ahead of where I was to tee the ball up, and I needed to make sure the colored dots on the ball faced the camera. The sound of impact would trigger the camera to take two shots consecutively so we would have an actual visual picture of the moment after impact to go along with the more conventional numeric and computer generated data (e.g. ball speed, launch angle, spin rate, carry and roll distances, etc).

So I teed up a ball and hit a few shots with the first club/shaft combo. We then looked at the computer to see the results. Ball speed was poor, only about 112mph, spin rate was nice and low, trajectory was erratic and the photos showed why- I de-loft the club with so much forward press at impact that I am often presenting the top of the clubhead to the ball instead of the face. At that point the owner John Ioris popped in to have a look at my swing. After a few more hits, he asked if I intended to take lessons anytime in the near future. I said no because I just don’t have the time to devote to the game to unlearn my habits. And that’s when he replied with the one thing that convinced me I had definitely come to the right place- “That’s exactly the right answer for a lot of people. Ok we can fit you to your current swing.” Just what I wanted to hear.

So then the merry-go-round of shaft/head combos began. Andy would give me a club, I’d hit enough balls to get a consistent grouping of data to know exactly how that particular setup suited me, then he’d make adjustments. He was able to swap shafts onto different clubheads in mere seconds, and the only thing he didn’t have in his fitting arsenal was shorter shafts, so he just instructed me to choke up a bit on every club. The computer data was irrefutable and it was pretty surprising to see how the same swing would produce such markedly different grouping patterns. He could literally predict what the readings would look like as we switched shafts. It was very cool and very fun.

The biggest thing that I learned was that contrary to the conventional wisdom that says if you suck as a golfer you should probably be playing a more flexible shaft, I actually needed a much stiffer shaft. The analogy that Andy gave me was that of dropping a stone in a pond. If there were just one stone, it’s energy would dissipate through the water in perfectly even ripples. That’s the equivalent of what a shaft takes on in a perfectly on-plane swing. In the case of my swing which has a whole lot of excessive and improper movements, it would be like dropping many stones into the pond at once, with each stone’s ripple running into that of the others. That kind of clashing of forces is what my swing is exerting on a golf shaft, and therefore, the best performing shaft for me would be something stiff enough to resist all that chaotic energy.

So thru the science of proper club fitting, Andy handed me a setup that brought my ball speed up into the 140’s, a 15 degree launch angle and retained the hallmark of my swing- the super low spin. The results showed a consistent carry of 230 and a good 20 yards of roll. Not bad, and really quite surprising to me that a shaft can make a 30mph ball speed difference. Incredible. So anyway, here’s my final setup- a Srixon Z-RW head, 11.5 degrees (to counter my de-lofting tendencies), a stiff (M4) Accra AXIV XT70 shaft cut to 44 3/4″, some lead tape added to the back of the head to make up the weight difference from the cut shaft, all resulting in a D3 swing weight:

Srixon Z-RW

Accra XT70

Now if only it would get warm enough to play golf around here!

My Rant on Racism

I originally told myself I wasn’t going to write anything about the whole Tiger Woods “lynching” saga, but I can’t take it anymore. Some of the comments I’ve read and heard are so ignorant, hypocritical and just plain stupid that I just have to rant about it. For those that don’t know what I’m talking about, it was during a recent Golf Channel broadcast that Nick Faldo was saying Tiger Woods is so dominant that the only way the young kids on tour are ever going to overtake him is if there were some way to gang up on him. Kelly Tilghman agreed, jokingly saying yeah they should “lynch him in a back alley”. Racially insensitive choice of words? Yeah, I’ll give you that. But Tiger woods issued a statement saying it was certainly an unfortunate choice of words but he and Kelly are friends and he knows there was no ill intent. End of story. Or so it should have been. But then came the media backlash, wildly overblown as the media is reliably prone to being. Espn.com’s Scoop Jackson was offended because “she didn’t consider the history of African-Americans in this country before speaking”. If he really feels this way, then I am offended by his egomaniacal lack of sense and reason. If I were to apply his same retarded line of thinking, I should declare his comment as racially insensitive since he obviously failed to consider the history of Chinese-American lynchings before writing his article. To lay claim on the injustice of Tilghman’s remark solely for blacks is to be obscenely hypocritical in its disrespect of every other race or group that has been a target of mob lynching in America’s history.

But Scoop’s idiocy and unseemliness doesn’t end there. Tiger Woods’ father Earl once said that he fully believed Tiger would ultimately impact mankind in a transcendental way; that history will remember Tiger as having elevated humanity. And so what does Scoop Jackson think with regards to this Kelly Tilghman situation? Well, he obviously felt that Tiger’s “non-issue” stance was inadequate and that Tiger should have taken a harder line because “Now is the time for the son to make the father a prophet.” That’s right, not only is Scoop Jackson’s position completely myopic, but it also manages to be repugnantly offensive by trying to characterize Tiger’s actions as counter to the hopes of his deceased father!

Now let’s get to the heart of the matter of why I think Tiger Woods has got it right and why Scoop Jackson is ironically hurting his own cause. Here’s what I believe- people are important, not race. And that’s exactly what Tiger’s measured response conveys. He acknowledges that the term “lynching” evokes strong negative emotions in some people, and that’s why Tilghman’s comment was unfortunate. It’s not cool for one person’s comments to hurt another. But if mankind is to evolve to a point where race truly isn’t an issue, then we should all start by acting that way. And in this case the way to act is to realize that some people were hurt by the words, and that’s a real shame, but let’s move on. The wrong thing to do, the thing that takes us all a step backwards, is to view it as a race issue instead of a people issue. If you’re upset because you expect golf analysts to consider every sentence in the context of African-American history before speaking, that is a sure sign that you are very hung up on race. For you, race is still a big deal and ironically, that makes you more a part of the problem than the solution. You are so bent on somehow getting justice for the injustices in history that you can’t see that you are now actually promoting more emphasis on race and not letting anyone who will listen to you move forwards. Put another way, if Tiger strongly renounced the comments of Tilghman, someone who he calls his friend, and he does it over a race issue, how is that a positive example for kids?? What it would teach them is that race is more significant than friendship, race is more important than people. No, I think Tiger handled things exactly the right way, thank you. Kids that see his example will be more likely to grow up thinking that race is not a big deal. This is a good thing. It is infinitely more productive than trying to “lynch” every person that makes a statement which could be construed as racist. Just let it go. We need more and more people to just let it go until eventually a new generation arises that views both racists and people that are hung up on racism as equally irrelevant and outdated. That will be the tipping point in the evolution of our social consciousness. With that in mind, maybe the way Tiger Woods handled this situation was in fact a step towards fulfilling his father’s prophecy.

Playoff Miscellany

So the Giants beat the Cowboys this weekend. Inexplicably, in Dallas’ final drive of the game, they ran 7 plays from scrimmage and exactly ZERO went to Terrell Owens. How is that possible? Even if T.O. was double covered, and even if he was supposedly suffering the effects of a high ankle sprain, you still have to give your playmaker a chance to win the game, especially on the very last desperation play. Instead, on 4th down with just seconds remaining, Romo threw an interception on a pass intended for Terry Glenn, a player who missed almost the entire season due to injury and who almost caused another turnover earlier in the game when he fell down while making a cut in his route. How does throwing to him in that situation make any sense? Romo might as well have called for 60 Stretch Farlaaahhhhh.

Shockingly, T.O. stood up for his quarterback after the game and didn’t make issue of the play calling or decision making, saying it was a team loss. I wish I could have seen Donovan McNabb’s reaction to that press conference! And speaking of indirect disses, looking ahead, if the Giants can somehow beat Brett Favre in Lambeau to make it to the Super Bowl, that would basically complete their giving the collective finger to Tiki Barber. Ouch. I wonder who he’s rooting for in that game.

The Goose Is In!!!

No this isn’t another entry about food, it’s about my favorite baseball player of all time, Goose Gossage, finally getting elected into the Hall of Fame. About damn time people! This week was also the first time I read a sports column that agreed with my assesment as to Gossage’s place among relievers when Jayson Stark at espn.com wrote: “Goose Gossage was the most dominating closer ever. Ever.” Amen to that, brother. He goes on to compare Goose’s stats to Mariano Rivera’s: “ERA? Gossage 2.21, Rivera 2.35. Strikeouts? Goose 8.54 whiffs per 9 innings, Rivera 8.09. Unhittability? Gossage 6.59 hits per 9 innings, Rivera 7.17. ” Whenever I used to declare Gossage as the most dominating closer of all-time, people would roll their eyes as if I were just some old coot waxing nostalgic. I would even start doubting myself at times, wondering if sentimentality was clouding my memory. But seeing those numbers, along with old games on Yankees Classics, completely validates my position. Gossage was the best, the most intimidating, the most reliable, simply the most awe inspiring closer I have ever seen. He was my favorite player because his performance embodied what I loved most about sports- that every once in a while you will get to witness skill and talent come together at a level you just can’t believe. You see complete and utter domination of highly skilled opponents. It’s why we love Tiger Woods. It’s why I used to stay up past midnight to watch Jerry Tarkanian’s UNLV teams of the early 90’s. And it’s why I love seeing this year’s New England Patriots routinely dismantle other teams. That’s the level at which Rich Gossage operated and that’s why his induction into the Hall of Fame is long overdue. Congratulations Goose!