Monday, December 17, 2012

It's All About the (F)un

I got my fat ass off the couch and started training for triathlons in 2008 after 27 years of little athleticism in the traditional sense. I didn't swim, bike, or run, and I rather hated the idea of sports. In high school, people I knew who participated in sports seemed so serious, intense, and anti-fun.

In middle school I played basketball (not well) and tried cross country and track for a few weeks but got attacked by bees during practice and was regularly trounced at events, so after 8th grade I turned my back on sports. I joined drama club and choir and found friends who didn't like sports either.

The one exception to my no-sports rule was skiing. In high school and college, I loved skiing and being in the mountains, even if the mountains were often smallish hills in New York's Finger Lakes region, and even if one of my favorite reasons to go skiing was to smoke on the ski lift and party after a day on the slopes.

Alaina and I especially loved glade skiing -- through the trees -- on our trips to the northeast, to gems like Jay Peak and Mad River Glen. There was no greater experience than being knee deep in untouched powder, feeling totally alone, and finding the quiet of pines in unreal beauty. This was my idea of fun.

For me, skiing wasn't a sport. It was a lifestyle, albeit one I participated in irregularly and not incredibly well. But it couldn't be a sport to me, because it was so much fun and I didn't have to play by anyone else's rules.

I chose my line, my trail, my jump. No coach hollered at me, and my friends celebrated my small victories, like landing a dropoff, as often as I celebrated their daffies. Of course there was competition between friends, and we all knew where we ranked as skiers, but no one won and no one lost.

One thing I learned from skiing is that above all, athletics should be fun.

After college, I landed a demanding job teaching high school English, and I got fat and we lived far from ski mountains in San Diego. Even though I surfed, played a couple hours of beach volleyball some weekends, and mountain biked once a week, I hadn't found a substitute for skiing (didn't help that I have an intense fear of sharks).

Then we moved to Michigan and I hated it. To me, the state was cold, dark, flat, and even farther from decent mountains. I was fatter than ever and looking to change my career, my attitude, and my lifestyle.

So in May of 2008, I signed up for my first triathlon, a sprint distance in June. Hey, if Alaina could do this stuff then so could I. Who cares if I can't swim, don't own a bike, and can't run? It's better than getting even fatter.

The race went as expected: I panicked in the open water, biked as hard as I could and still got crushed, and walked the hills on the run. But the seed was planted. Sure, I had to follow rules and I was leery of the competitive aspect of it, but I was back outdoors, pushing myself toward my own goals, and for the first time, celebrating a lifestyle of fitness.

Triathlon became really fun once I lost 50 pounds and picked up enough speed to keep up with Alaina and my training buddies. Learning to swim gave me self-confidence, as did overcoming panic in the open water. I got comfortable on the bike and loved the feeling of riding at 20+ mph on my own power over hills and through the countryside. But the run was where I felt joy like I had when I was skiing.

I loved getting lost in my head while running on rolling country roads and feeling the runner's high when running fast on flat terrain. I started adding trail running in the woods to my training, and when my legs felt good I was having as much fun on dirty single track as I had in the powdery glades.

By the end of 2011, I'd finished an Ironman, a dozen half-Ironman races, and a bunch of Olympic and Sprint distance triathlons, in addition to running Boston-qualifying marathon times and completing shorter running races. But the tri fun was dying after 3 years of going to the boring pool and fearing for my life on the bike with all the angry drivers. All I wanted to do was run trails.

In November, I decided 2012 would be the year for ultrarunning. I signed up for Leadville Trail 100 Run spontaneously and started trail running every day. The fun had returned, and with it, a new sense of adventure, for I was discovering the extensive local Ann Arbor trail system and I was exploring the woods as I had loved to do when we were glade skiing.

Gone was the fear of being hit by a car as well as the dread of going to the pool. The vibe at trail races was so much more mellow and the people spoke often about their love for the woods, the adventure, and the excitement of taking on a 50 or 60 or 100 mile distance all on foot, when you never know what is going to happen to your body and mind over that time, terrain and distance.

I know that more trail running adventures are ahead in 2013 (and maybe beyond), but more importantly, this year I've realized once again that when it comes to sport, it's all about the (F)un.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

SOD: Television -- Friction

Once had a music teacher that said try listening to your favorite track instrument by instrument. First just check out the guitar. Block out vocals, drums, bass, etc. Give it a few listens until you get excited about every small sound, and then move to the next instrument. Eventually you'll be able to listen to the whole song on hi-fi stoned out orgasmatron every single time.

Hey, his words, not mine.

Television's song, Friction, off their brilliant 1977 debut, Marquee Moon, is a perfect trial for this kind of listening experience. It's a guitar rock album, and yeah Richard Lloyd (lead guitar) and Tom Verlaine (vocal, guitar, songwriter) are brilliant guitar players, but it's not simply musical masturbation, they're too aware of the very small in between notes that will keep listeners coming back. And so is the rest of the band, especially on this record.

This track starts off with a ferocious riff, but that's not what keeps me coming back for dozens of listens. The lyrics and phrasings are both Costello sharp and Waits funny, and it's all about those in between instrumentation decisions that make this still relevant and exciting today.

Check out the almost accidental early guitar squawk at 2:14, or the drum fills at 2:35 and again at 3:30 and there are more but damn for real that dude can play. Television isn't always an easy listen, but they're always worth it.

Monday, December 10, 2012

SOD: Freelance Whales -- Generator 1st Floor

I miss The Postal Service. Not the people delivering the mail. I mean the one-time music partnership of Ben Gibbard (Death Cab) and Jimmy Tamborello (Dntel) that released the album, Give Up, in 2003 and never made another record.

Story goes that Tamborello and Gibbard sent each other ideas for this record through the snail mail, hence the name. Tamborello writes the music on Give Up, which skirts electronic nostalgia with its glitchy bleeps of 8-bit video games and distorted beats that usher it into the laptop era. Gibbard writes the poppy vocal melodies and lyrics that wear their anxiety, loneliness, and desire for love on every fiber of their sleeve.

I first heard Give Up after graduating from college and it felt like my personal soundtrack to those first years of 'real world' life. The music is so hopeful and upbeat but tempered by the disillusionment of the characters in the songs. They want to believe that they can be successful, that they can fall in love, that putting themselves out there is worth it, even when the world keeps closing its doors.

Postal Service isn't coming back. They aren't going to put out another album. And I guess I miss the potential in things.

I recently found two bands that are cousins to Postal Service -- Letting Up Despite Great Faults and Freelance Whales. Give them a try. They're not PS, but they do combine clicky, distorted electronic sounds with sharp, introspective lyrics.

Freelance Whales from SXSW 2010:

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Best Albums + Songs of 2012

It's list making time, my favorite time of the year. This music has made me happy, sad, messed up, introspective, and insane sometimes all at once. I can see some of these shifting places, but it's a good snapshot of bands and recordings that are right on point right now.


1. Dirty Projectors -- Swing Lo Magellan
2. Beach House -- Lazuli
3. Cloud Nothings -- Attack on Memory
4. Tame Impala -- Lonerism
5. Passion Pit -- Gossamer
6. Shins -- Port of Morrow
7. Tallest Man on Earth -- there's No Leaving Now
8. Japandroids -- Celebration Rock
9. Metz -- Metz
10. Yeasayer -- Fragrant World


1. Lotus Plaza -- Monoliths
2. Langhorne Slim -- The Way We Move
3. Cloud Nothings -- No Future / No Past
4. Beach House -- The Hours
5. Grizzly Bear -- Yet Again
6. Japandroids -- Fire's Highway
7. Tame Impala -- Feels Like We Only Go Backwards
8. Alabama Shakes -- Hold On
9. Dirty Projectors -- Dance for You
10. Passion Pit -- Constant Conversations

Monday, December 3, 2012

SOD: Tame Impala -- Feels Like We Only Go Backwards

I'm crushing so hard on Tame Impala I swear it's not my fault they do this psychedelic 60's throwback production with swinging rhythms and otherworld textures that squeak through my earbuds and take over my brain while singer Kevin Parker sounds, as Jayson Greene says, "like someone trapped John Lennon's vocal take from "A Day in the Life" in a jar and taught it to sing new songs" man that's brilliant and so are Tame Impala is this thing called love?

Lyric Nugget:
I know that you think you sound silly when you call my name
But I hear it inside my head all day
When I realize I'm just holding on to the hope that maybe your feelings don't show