26 Jun

Summer Sporting Season Is Here!

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13438838_10153763506277183_7394456432051238323_nIt is late June. The summer solstice has come and gone this wk and we are in the thick of summer sports: the NHL finals finished up early in June; the NBA finals concluded last wk (delivering Cleveland its first championship since a loaf of bread costs 20 cents!); the French Open concluded in early June and we are preparing for Wimbledon (the v exciting news is that Djokovic is in the hunt for a calendar year Grand Slam and I have the odds on him doing exactly that so definitely worth watching); the U.S. Open is done (congratulations to Dustin Johnson who closeted some disappointing ghosts of his past lost championships) and it will be the British Open in two weeks; and then of course there is the Tour de France, arguably the most underrated grueling of athletic events. This year we are not only in the thick of it, but we are literally wading through the thickest of the thick. In addition to the normal summer thick, there is the Copa America (which I had no idea was even going to happen until it was suddenly happening on U.S. soil); the Euro Cup (probably the second biggest soccer—sorry football—tournament next to the World Cup); and then the most exciting of them all: the Summer Olympics in Rio.

If I was always a little bit of a summer sports junkie, this soccer and Olympic plus year are just deadly. If I was already glued to the TV watching tennis and golf and the peleton as well as the occasional baseball game, now it’s soccer and the Olympics. But the Olympics aren’t just the 17 days in early August. The Olympics means Olympic trials plus the Olympics in August. So today, off-sports junkies (by that I mean, non-baseball fanatics) can watch the final of the Copa America, quarterfinal matches for the Euro cup, the U.S. Women gymnastics championships (Go Simone Biles!!), and Olympic trials for diving, along with the first day of the swimming trials. Btw, the swimming trials end Sunday, two days after the Track and Field trials begin, which also overlap with the U.S. Women’s Gymnastics Trials. Oh lord! So many great sporting events to watch. What to do?!!

(And let’s, btw, not forget about that all critical and important political race that is also occurring this summer…I, for one, am trying to keep as much distance as possible from all those unfortunate political shenanigans.)

NBC is broadcasting the swimming, diving, and gymnastics in prime time this wk. I suspect the track and field trials will be broadcast prime time as well next wk. It seems appropriate that I spent all of yesterday at a swim meet here in Florida yesterday. But now that we enter swimming, gymnastic, and track and field trials and head into Wimbledon, the tour de France, and the British Open and then the Olympics, I wonder how in the world I am going to have the time to fit in my own training amidst this steady stream of great sporting events.

It’s not for lack of discipline. After many ultra-distance events, I know how to get out and train. And it’s not for lack of motivation. After all, watching these elite athletes is inspirational and motivational. In fact, all I want to do after watching the trials is to jump back into training.

But it’s the time! I can handle one or two sporting events. That would certainly motivate me and give me the time to get back out and train. But it’s not just one of two. This summer it’s swimming and diving and gymnastics and tennis and cycling and track and field and golf…it’s a full time job just watching all of these great athletes.

And for that matter, forget about the question of how am I going to find to time to do my own training. There’s the larger question of how in the world I am going to have the time to doing everything else on my plate outside of training. Oh lord is right!

Btw – just a little aside for the swimming – this is the first year that the Olympic Swimming Trials have been completely sold out for every night. That’s 14,000 tickets for tonight and the next six nights. Wow! These trials are in Omaha, Nebraska, not exactly the most bustling metropolitan center, so that means that people actually made a conscious decision to travel to Omaha to watch the swimmer. This suggests an increasing popularity of swimming, which is great and which makes sense. I’ve seen it at the USMS meets as the rosters have only grown in the past few years and the competition has gotten very stiff.

What is one to make of this increased attention to swimming? Certainly, Michael Phelps, and then later Ryan Lochte and Missy Franklin, had a large part in this. I would love to think that Katie Ledecky also had some part in this, but her name brand outside of swimmers is right now far less than Phelps, Lochte, or Franklin (I am hoping that changes significantly after the Olympics because she is truly will go down as one of the great swimmers of all time). I also have to think that the increased popularity of triathlon has also helped. Which is somewhat ironic since a little bit of a rift has developed between triathletes and swimmers. But for now, I’ll leave that for later contemplation.

I would note that the swimming boards have been buzzing recently about the difficulty of the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials. If the Tour de France is the most underestimated grueling sporting event, the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials could be argued is the most underrated competitive event, simply because of the strength of U.S. swimming. This could just be dismissed as self-serving commentary. Even Rowdy Gaines noted in his commentary today that the NCAA swimming championships produce more Olympic caliber athletes than the Olympics themselves. But if that really is the case, then it is worth noting. It’s certainly puts a lot of pressure on all the swimmers, and much more so for the top 10 or 15. Especially since their glory days only come around every four years. So in all, and regardless of whether they are the most underrated competitive event, the fact that Trials are sold out is great news. And great news a long time in coming.

All this is a long way of saying that I am hereby officially checking out of training and of any other responsibility until after the Olympics and the U.S. Open (tennis, that is) officially closes the summer season of sports on September 11. (Ok – maybe not completely checked out, but you get the picture.)

It’s going to be a great summer. Go out and revel in the games wherever you are and whatever they are!

19 Jun

Review: Indian Summer…Gentle Host to Young Love

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IMG_2713Ah, to be 17 and in love in the summer at the beach! Gregory Moss said he “wanted to write a play about love and the ocean and the summertime,” and he has done that and more with Indian Summer, currently playing at Playwright’s Horizons through June 26. Though I must admit that the jury was out for much of the first half of the play. The first act meandered and dragged on and I did honestly consider jumping ship after Act 1.

What kept me there was one of the last scenes in the first act, where the two main characters go into a role playing exercise about what they would say to each other if they met ten years into the future. That was a wonderful scene, and ultimately what catapulted the play into more than love, the ocean, and the summertime. In the end, I am glad that I stayed for whatever unevenness exists in the first act is more than made up for in the second act.

Indian Summer takes place in Rhode Island and brings together two teenagers: Izzy, a townie from the wrong side of the tracks and Daniel, a visiting resident for the summer. Izzy has a big, beefy, much older, and to be expected, not too bright, boyfriend named Jeremy who is first assigned to beat up Daniel by Izzy because he has taken her brother’s sand bucket. Daniel is staying with his townie grandfather, George, who is bereaved with the loss of his wife, and also seems to be one of those slightly crazy characters you see on the beach with a metal detector and who talks to himself. In this play, George talks not to himself, but to the audience. Normally I can’t stand instances where the fourth wall is broken, but in this case, it works well enough to be considered a good exception to the rule.

The play revolves around Izzy and Daniel and their shifting relationship as they fall into that tender, tentative summer love, interspersed with other scenes between Izzy and Jeremy, Daniel and Jeremy, George and Daniel, and George and Izzy. But it is Izzy who is the most fascinating character. She stands out among the three men as the one most willing to experiment with her potential and her ability to change. If at first her character seems inconsistent (an unfeeling, unintellectual bully), that view is softened as we see her spend more time with Daniel and become more curious intellectually and philosophically. Daniel pushes her to this point (though perhaps it is she who pushes herself) and ultimately Daniel seems the lesser of the two, the more emotionally timid and one wishes that he were a more robust leading man. It is hard to tell if this is the fault of the character or the casting of the actor, though it is probably a function of both.

The play is more episodic and impressionistic rather than plot-driven, which is partly why the first act drags a little. But there are four wonderful role-playing scenes that are almost dreamlike, that form the emotional heart of the play. They lead into the final scene with George, the old curmudgeonly grandfather who is the only one left on-stage and who delivers the final poignant soliloquy.

Indian Summer has its flaws. Daniel’s backstory ends up being a distraction rather than an addition and George’s bereavement seems too glossed over (is he crazy simply because he is a crazy old seaman or because he is grieving for his wife?). Jeremy is a hilarious character in the first few scenes, but after that seems to become more one-dimensional. And two hours and ten minutes is a lot of time to watch these four characters develop.

Indian Summer closes this season for Playwrights Horizons (a terrific season all around), and it is fitting to begin the summer with a play that allows us to remember our first love—whether it be at the beach or the pool or the lake—and to think about all the other possibilities that could have occurred had we just allowed ourselves to let them happen.

 

18 Jun

Making Time for Summer & Time

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Saturday, 18 June 2016. 1:05p
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Lkng south from the lower end of Central Park

Sitting on a large embedded granite rock structure on the Southwest side of Central Park, looking south towards the new thin stick of a skyscraper next to the Essex House. Today can only be described as a beautiful early summer day. Warm, sunny, clear blue skies and it seems as if everyone is outside soaking it all up. Bikers, walkers, runners. People riding in the horse carriages and bike taxis. Strangely there aren’t a lot of dogs though I am sure it is just a lull right now. And tons of babies and children. It seems everywhere I look there is another person pushing a baby carriage or walking with their children. Pictures cannot do the day justice (my pictures anyway, even if I am taking them on the iPhone 6s). And anyway, the pictures won’t capture the faint sweet odor of wisteria or the soft conversations taking place all over.

I cannot remember the last time I was in Central Park—at least a year, possibly even two! So today, sitting here on the rock people-watching and remembering all those runs and bike rides I did around the park, really feels like one luxurious nostalgia trip. I used to know every inch of the 6-mile road, having traversed it over and over and over again on foot and on bike. People often ask me what I think of when I am running for such a long time and it is amazing how mundane those thoughts can be: focusing on the next stretch of pavement and looking for the subtle gradations of the rocks, or the curves in the road, or the white traffic lines and etching those into memory.

On the granite rock, people-watching

On the granite rock, people-watching

It used to be that I could come out to the park and be reasonably assured that I would see someone I would know from the running, biking or triathlon community. I loved that aspect of the park because it made me feel as though I owned the park. Of course I didn’t, but it was as it was supposed to be: one big common back yard for New York City, and we were all out just out for a run, a bike ride, a walk, or a baseball game. Just little pieces of community strung together and suddenly we are all in each other’s back yard. Having fun.

Now I think about all those hours spent training in the park (that one 34-mile training run on a cold spring day in 2009 especially comes to mind) and I can’t help but wonder where I found all the time to do that back then. The corollary question also arises: what am I doing with all of that time now?

I’ve always heard that time seems to collapse with age. Not only does it seem like there are never enough hours in the day, but the years start to go by faster and faster. As I think about where those training hours have gone, that certainly has held true for me. If, at six years old, the summers stretched ahead of me like infinity, at 46-years old, the summers simply bring a changing of the weather, not a glorious euphoria of possibility. For me in the past few years as well, the summers have become my busiest time at work. So now if the summer days stretch out long in front of me, it’s only as a reminder that I have too many things to do and not enough time to get everything done.

Orchid sculpture at Southeast entrance to Central Park

Orchid sculpture at Southeast entrance to Central Park

But today, I force myself not to have any of that on this day, a day that is too beautiful for pictures. Possibly even too beautiful for words. And maybe even too beautiful for time itself, who must certainly also want to stop for just a minute and want to come over and sit down beside me on this hard grey rock and, even if just for a few minutes, let us both remember the good old days of summer stretching out ahead of us.