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Thursday, November 26, 2020

Running at 62

Ready to start a virtual race with my buddy, Dick, in August (I'm the one in yellow).
photo by Dorcey Bennett
Right about now, if today were a normal Thanksgiving, countless thousands of people all over the country would be gathering for annual Turkey Trot races. Instead, a fraction of them will happily participate in "virtual" versions of those charity events, glad to at least be out there moving their bodies.

That's as good a conclusion as any to this year's pandemic-ravaged racing season, during which recreational runners experienced a near-total loss of those eagerly anticipated competitive/friendly events that help to keep us on the road, track, or treadmill week after week.

My own season was pretty good despite all that, bookended by two LIVE races sponsored by the intrepid and hyper-organized Albany Running Exchange (ARE), with a healthy handful of virtual races sandwiched in between. Though my times were slightly behind last year's, at this age just maintaining requires more effort, so I am satisfied with having regularly broken 27 minutes for the 5K distance, including my best effort, 26:11, for a virtual race on a course in Clifton Park. I also managed 26:18 on a favorite course in Ballston Spa, where the Jailhouse Rock is regularly run, and where my running buddy, Dick, and I ran it together virtually in August (pictured above before we set out).

The dilemma now is, how to get through the winter? I've been to the YMCA a couple of times on colder days, where I ran several miles on a treadmill with an increasingly sweaty and stifling mask over my breathing holes - not fun! My hope is that the Y will begin to allow runners on its indoor track (currently, for no reason I can fathom, it is restricted to walkers). Most runners will tolerate a treadmill, but it's my understanding that it's not considered good for your gait, and I much prefer actually moving through space to trying to keep up with a machine (even if that means going in little circles above a basketball gym).

Though returning to the track doesn't take away the (obviously prudent) mask requirement, it's the way I have gotten through the last couple of winters without totally losing my conditioning, so I hope to be able to continue that trend. In the meantime, I'm grabbing whatever reasonable temperature opportunities I can to run outside. (I'm willing to exercise in cold air, but I find that below 40 degrees it hurts my lungs to breathe too deeply and, one time, I gave myself bronchitis that way, so - never again.)

Another option is to just let it go, and recover from scratch in the spring - but that prospect seems even more painful than running on a treadmill all winter, so I'm resisting it. Also, I fear the loss of the psychological boost that regular running provides, not to mention the true overall goal, which is to achieve and maintain better health (as proven in many studies, running at any pace for 10 to 20 miles a week slows the aging process).

So, with diminished goals (e.g., I think it's time to abandon hope of ever breaking 25 minutes for a 5K), I plan to go forward, grateful that I can still run when so many others cannot, and with the knowledge that one day, sooner or later, I also won't be able to do it.

In conclusion, I'd like to borrow a beautiful quote from today's Times Union Preview section, in which Kristen Garzone, of Troy, said it all to writer Tresca Weinstein: A race is the celebration of the hard work you've put in, and even though a virtual race isn't as exciting as a regular race would be, it's still something we can enjoy with our immediate family members or the other people in our pod. A lot of things have been taken away from us in this pandemic, but running is still there, and when you're running, you're untouchable.

Amen to that!

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Closing museums now is the wrong move

A view of the Smithsonian Museum before the pandemic

Frustration. Disappointment. Perplexity. These are a few of the emotions I experienced after reading a Washington Post report that the Smithsonian and National Gallery of Art are set to close due to a recent increase in the number of COVID cases in the Washington, D.C., region.

One unaddressed question arises: Who’s getting COVID from visiting a museum? (Or, even less likely, at a zoo – yes, the National Zoo is part of the Smithsonian’s organization and will also close.) Since the beginning of the pandemic, as essential businesses including big-box grocery and hardware stores remained open, I’ve asked why museums should be barred from opening, when they typically attract much smaller crowds than those stores (especially with no foreign visitors coming in).

And, eventually, starting in late June, the museums were released from forced closure. The Smithsonian reopened its seven museums in stages beginning in July, and they have recorded about a half-million visits since – a fraction of their normal traffic. But now, despite what is obviously a low-risk scenario with a big upside (after all, who among us doesn’t need some nice, uplifting distraction like a museum or a zoo right now?), the great minds that lead that institution concluded “that caution needed to prevail to protect our visitors and staff.”

I wonder whether those leaders are also advising their staff to wear helmets while bicycling, to drive defensively, and to avoid murder hornets while they’re at it.

National Gallery of Art Director Kaywin Feldman admitted, “It can’t help but feel like a step backward.” No kidding! It’s definitely a step backward, and for no good reason.

By now, we all have seen plenty of evidence that shows which activities are spreading the virus: Close, sustained, personal contact - usually within families; indoor gatherings where people talk a lot and loudly (as in bars); tightly packed outdoor circumstances (like, you know, pro-Trump rallies); or any close contact while not wearing masks. Otherwise, transmission is very rare.

All the museum administrators need to do for everyone within their purview to remain safe is what they’ve already been doing: Limit attendance, observe social distancing, and wear masks.

To make decisions based on an overabundance of caution sends the wrong message: Be afraid, shut down, quit living. The right message is this: Wear a mask, maintain distance, and enjoy life as much as possible - which includes going out and doing other very dangerous things, like riding a bicycle, driving in a car, or walking in the woods (where the hornets may live).

Note: The above quotes were taken from a report published by The Washington Post on Friday, Nov. 30.

Friday, November 13, 2020

The Ivy League leads, again

It took a pandemic to make me proud to be a product of the Ivy League. I received my bachelor's degree in studio art from Brown University in 1979, but it was a bad fit, and I largely hated the place, only making it through thanks to a fully credited year at the Italian University for Foreigners and a lot of time spent at nearby RISD, where I took more courses than the allowable limit for Brown students and shared housing with some of those wacky art students.

But setting aside the proto-Gordon Geckos of my time at Brown, and the centuries of entitlement that have floated the elitists who typically graduate from Harvard, Yale, and the rest, this educational confraternity has led the nation twice in making the right call on shutting down its sports programs before the coronavirus itself had the chance to do the deed more brutally.

You may recall that the first sports league in the US to declare a full stop last March was the Ivy League.

It didn't matter that they were in the midst of their annual league basketball tournament, or that the NCAAs of March Madness fame and glory would be next - the great minds of those combined institutions (including the many top scientists on their faculties) knew it was time to mask up and hunker down. The next day the NBA followed suit, leading all the other college and pro leagues that then joined the inevitable months-long pause, one by one.

And, now, it's happened again, as the second wave of the virus is taking hold of the country, and the Ivies announced on Thursday that they are canceling all winter sports. This will have immediate local impact, as two of the mots popular teams in the Capital Region (Union College and RPI hockey) compete in the ECAC, a league that includes six of the seven Ivies (making up half of the total number of ECAC teams).

And, I predict, this is just the beginning. Like last spring, there will be more canceled sports seasons to come. Don't get me wrong - I don't celebrate the loss of healthy competition for collegians, nor the potential massive loss of revenue for the professional leagues if they also shut down again; neither do I applaud the disappointment to millions of fans who need the distraction of sports entertainment now more than ever.

And I am truly grateful for the mid-pandemic professional sports seasons that were recently completed - somehow, almost miraculously, without widespread illnesses or deaths - including baseball, soccer, hockey and, my favorite, basketball.

But it is starting to look like madness to try to continue the NFL season, or to resume the NBA, etc., if things don't turn around very soon. I've no doubt that the great minds that run these leagues are currently consulting with the great minds that know the science - many of them educated at or teaching at Ivies - and that they will come to the right conclusions that will keep athletes, coaching staffs, and fans safe.

In the meantime, stream a good movie, read a good book, eat some good takeout with carefully vetted family and friends - and take good care.