Cuesta Cinco Quetzales

Just a quick comment on one aspect of how things work here in Guatemala. Zach, Mikhail and I went up to the track at the sports complex yesterday morning to run an interval workout. The cost to use the track is five Quetzales (about $0.65). No problem. We have the money, we’re ready to pay, we’ve done this once before… but…

Here’s how it usually works: When you enter the Complejo Deportivo you have to turn in an ID and get in exchange a visitors badge. Just around the corner from the entrance is a little office, where you go to pay the 5Q fee and are given a nice ticket to use the track:

Ticket

You never actually have to use this ticket for anything, but it’s probably a good idea to pay the fee and keep it in your pocket just in case.

Here’s what happened today: we went in and I handed over my driver’s license as usual in exchange for the visitor’s badge. No problem. Just as we were turning to head for the office, the second guard asks us if we want to use the track. We say yes, and he says, “Cuesta cinco Quetzales.” It costs five quetzales. I’m not really thinking (it’s early, all right) so I just go to hand him my 20Q to pay for the three of us. The first guard says that he doesn’t have any change. The two of them go into a little act like they aren’t going to get any change and just expect us to pay 20.

At this point it occurs to me that they are trying to execute a pretty simple scam. They’re the ones responsible for checking tickets, so it doesn’t matter if we don’t have them. They’re just trying to get our money. We would still pay 5Q each, so for us it really doesn’t matter. Doesn’t hurt anybody, right? Except what really happened is they got greedy, we clued in, and walked the 10 feet over to the office to pay the guy there and get our tickets.

It struck me as interesting, that’s all. Such a simple little scam that they would never try to pull on a local. And the fact that we almost fell for it even though we’ve been here a while. Maybe I should just pay the guard next time, he probably needs the money more than the local government does.

Incidentally, the sports complex here in Quetzaltenango is really nice. A newish track, a couple football fields, a baseball diamond, an indoor swimming pool, basketball courts and more.

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First Race in Guatemala

I ran a 10k race yesterday here in Xela, along with my friends Zach and Will. It was a great time, but was quite different from races I’ve run in the US. First, here’s the map (change it to satellite to really see the route):

Second, about the differences: I expected some of them, but others definitely surprised me. Maybe they shouldn’t have but they did. Here’s a list:

  • The race started 20 minutes late. This was certainly not surprising, but for some reason I was much less patient for the race start then I am for other Guatemalan patience-testers. For instance, when I’m waiting for a bus to leave I’m perfectly happy to just chill out and relax for however long it takes. We went for a warmup jog before the race was supposed to start, and then ended up standing around for a while while the Guatemalans warmed up. They were all just doing laps of Parque Central, which I thought was kind of funny. We ended up doing a few too.
  • The race was definitely short. And not just a little bit. My GPS, which admittedly has error, measured it at 8.94 kilometers. So there’s that. This happens in the states sometimes too, but the quality of the field here was so much higher than a typical US race that I expected it would be well measured.
  • The quality of the field: it’s not that Guatemala has faster runners than the US, it’s just that the only people running are those who take it seriously. So we finished solidly middle of the pack with times that would have put us towards the front in any big US race. A strange, and humbling, experience. Good to get the real perspective. I’m faster than the 95% of people who don’t run, whoop-de-doo!
  • People cheated. A lot. For some reason this surprised me. There was an out and back section where people were just turning around whenever they felt like it. Weird. There wasn’t even a cone or anything to mark the end, at least not that I could see, so maybe everybody was turning WAY early and that’s why the race was short. But some people were cutting big sections of the course off here. Towards the end of the race one guy who Zach and I had just passed suddenly appeared in front of us. He had run through a park while we stayed on the street. We passed him in the final stretch, though, so all’s well. 🙂
  • We paid 25Q (approx $3 US) in order to participate. This included water and a tech t-shirt. Why they had medium and large t-shirts for the almost exclusively (much-)smaller-than-me Guatemalans is a question that remains unanswered. I got a medium and it’s too big for me.

To sum up, it was a great experience. See splits at RunningAhead.

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Western Canada, Somewhat Briefly

I’ve fallen so far behind that I’m going to start combining things. This blogging-while-traveling thing is harder than I expected. I’ll try to do better. Also, I have pictures that I meant to post with this but they are left behind on my computer in Eugene, Oregon so I’ll have to add them later. Sorry.

Regina, Saskatchewan
9/14/2008 – 9/18/2008

I ran, ate, played card games with my family, visited my great aunt in the hospital, and generally relaxed for a few days here. Highlights included a long run around lots of Regina, including Lake Wascana, and a nice walk the next day with my great aunt Donna and her dog, Fyre, around part of the same lake. We visited the Saskatchewan Parliament, too, though I didn’t do the tour.

Calgary, Alberta
9/18/2008 – 9/22/2008

Cousins – that was the theme of this visit. But before that, we arrived at my Aunt Kathy’s house to be startled by the jackrabbit living in the front yard. Apparently this is a common thing in Calgary: there are rabbits everywhere. Weird. Anyways, that first night we just ordered pizza and talked the night away. I did a lot of listening, but one highlight was when Kathy made us all make lists of things we wanted to do. It turns out mine involves lots of high altitude stuff. I didn’t really realize that until I wrote it down. Also, I am actually going to get a motorcycle eventually.

On Friday, I went for a nice run in Fish Creek Park. I asked directions to the park from a woman who was going way farther than me and way faster than me. Cool. I’m curious if maybe she is a professional athlete of some sort. Not that anybody who goes farther and faster than me is pro, not at all, but she gave me a vibe that running was pretty serious to her. Hmm. After the run I got a ride over to my cousin Danielle and her husband Scott’s house. I got to meet my second cousin, Cade, who is only a year old and very cute. It was great to catch up with Danielle and to really meet Scott. I had met him at the wedding a couple of years ago but only for a minute. It was nice to hang out. Stacie (known as Jo) showed up after a bit and we had burgers for dinner and then played guitar hero. Stace and I tried to go to a movie that night but I read the schedule wrong and we ended up at a closed-for-the-night cinema. So we drove back home and watched a movie on our own. Fun times.

We actually saw the movie the next day, Burn After Reading. My first reaction was that it was strange and pointless but still entertaining, but I think as time has passed it has grown on me. I liked it. I’d like to see it again. Then we met Jo’s friend Claudio for very Canadian 5-pin bowling and together they gave me a bit of a tour of the city. We got fancy coffees and walked along the river. Fun times. Eventually, after several stops at pet stores in search of hedgehog food (hedgehogs have special food?), they dropped me off at my other cousin Tara’s house. We got dinner and talked a lot and then she took me to her work, at the airport, where she flies planes, and I got to look slightly psychotic while posing in the cockpit of her plane. Fun times. A beer and more chatting before I headed back to Kathy’s house for the night.

Bright and early we were back on the road, headed through beautiful Banff National Park and all the way back to Kamloops.

Kamloops & Lac Le Jeune, British Columbia
9/23/2008 – 9/25/2008

My last two days with my grandparents were spent doing more of the same: running, eating, playing games, reading, and talking, but the addition of fishing. In our first (of three) trips out on the lake I managed to catch a nice trout that we ate for dinner the next night, but we came back in empty-handed and cold on the other trips. Nevertheless, fishing is fun and it’s very relaxing to spend time on the lake. Thursday at noon I was on a bus headed to Vancouver.

Reading: The Balkans – finally finished it; A Storm of Swords; Ender’s Game – an old favorite that I found my grandpa using to raise his computer monitor up, I took it.
Departure: Greyhound Bus from Kamloops to Vancouver, British Columbia, $43.05 CAD.

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Quotes from a book

This morning, I was reading a book my sister lent me (Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running) and I came across a sentence that I really like.

Nothing in the real world is as beautiful as the illusions of a person about to lose consciousness.

He was talking about drinking a beer after running from Athens to Marathon in the blistering summer heat. I like it.

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Sacramento, California

8/17/2008 – 8/18/2008

I took a quick two day trip to Sacramento. I stayed with my dad, at his very nice house in Citrus Heights. It was a pretty relaxed Sunday and Monday with lots of eating, running, and playing in the pool. Especially nice was an 8 mile fast run along the American River on Monday with Dad on his rollerblades–beautiful scenery and nice weather.

I also got a chance to have lunch with my old college friend Alec Monday afternoon. I hadn’t seen him in several years and it was great to catch up.

Late Monday night my dad and Kimberley gave me a ride to the Amtrak station and sent me on my way.

Departure: Amtrak Coast Starlight, Sacramento to Eugene, Oregon, $80.00

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Catching Up

I don’t really know who all reads this thing, but I figure most of you know me for real. If that’s the case then some of this stuff won’t be news to you, but here it is anyways. Turns out that a lot of stuff happens in real life when you’re not paying attention. Here, in no particular order, are some highlights of the last while.

Running

I ran the half-marathon I mentioned earlier. It was definitely worth doing, even though I didn’t run it super fast. Read more about it and see my time at runningahead. Since then I’ve gone through a couple of phases. First, I was running 30-ish miles per week for several weeks in a row, culminating in a 5k race that I didn’t rest at all for. I broke 20 minutes, which I was very happy with, but I could have run quite a bit faster, I think, if I had done the few days before the race differently. Oh well.

After that, I left for the Philippines and ran once in two weeks. It was a great trip, and deciding not to stress about running was a smart move. I’m back now and will try to get consistent again before I begin traveling in earnest. More on that below.

GRE

I took the GRE on June 9th, as planned, and actually ended up doing very well! I just got my official scores in the mail today and I even scored high on the writing part. All this after beach/pony camping all weekend with the Burritos. Now to decide whether I’m going to grad school or not, and when.

Beaches

Speaking of beaches, I’ve spent a lot of time on beaches this summer. Maybe not more in a year than I have in my life before, but certainly more than since I was a little kid. And I haven’t gotten a sunburn yet all season! That’s even more amazing. I remember burning pretty much every time I went to the beach in past years. Maybe with age I am getting wiser. Here, I’ll pass on my wisdom: apply sunscreen every 45 minutes or hour if you are as white as I am.

The first trip of the year was my visit to Puerto Rico back in April. We spent quite a bit of time outside, but each day also involved chilling out inside so I just got darker rather than burning. Next up was a 4 day visit to a beach house in North Carolina with a great group of people. Tossed the disc a lot, played in the water a little bit, and generally had a great time. Next, went with a big group of people, mostly from the frisbee team, to Assateague Island for beach camping. Again, tossed the disc a lot and spent the whole weekend outside. Finally, I went to the Philippines for two weeks.

The Philippines

That’s right, two whole weeks of vacation. Dave and I took off from Dulles on Wednesday, June 25th and returned just a couple of days ago on July 9th. This trip marked my first time in Asia (now my continent count is three). Basically I can sum up the trip by saying “I love the Philippines.” Our experience in the country may have been a little bit atypical because we had a good friend (Chip) there to plan, rescue us from language difficulties, and introduce us to his family and friends, but I think a well-prepared tourist without such a local contact could still have a great time.

We were based in Manila, but took three different 3-day, 2-night trips to various places around the country. There is so much to see and we only scratched the surface of it, but we still experienced a whole hell of a lot. Chip decided that the trip’s goal was to experience the various types of beach life in the PI. To this end we went camping at a beach with boat-only access (Anawangan, in Zambales), stayed a couple of nights in a beautiful villa in a coastal town (Sabang, in Puerto Galera, Mindoro), and enjoyed a weekend at a resort on the island of Bohol. We spent two days scootering around on small motorbikes, seeing various sights and tearing up the roads as much as we could with 110 horsepower. We also did lots of other stuff that I’m not really talking about here, like: Snorkeling! Eating! Drinking! More Eating! Relaxing! Hiking! Watching terrible movies on buses! Taking pictures!

Even though I didn’t take more than a handful of pictures myself while I was there, I was traveling with some photo-happy folks, so I ended up with a DVD of over a thousand pics showing the whole trip. If you want to see them and hear (a lot) more about my trip then please ask.

The real kicker is that I took this trip three weeks before my last day of work at the Fed.

Quitting My Job

I’ve known since this spring that I’m going to quit working at the Fed this summer. And for the record, they’ve known too, so I’m not some kind of jerk for not telling them. I’ve actually really enjoyed my experience at the Board of Governors. My coworkers and bosses have been great, the work has been mostly interesting, and I’ve learned a lot. I’m a very different type of programmer now than I was when I started, and know quite a bit more about applied statistics (econometrics, specifically). Also, the benefits and pay have been awesome and I’ve managed to take quite a few fun trips, both locally and quite far away.

DC has been a really good place to live, and I’ve made a lot of friends here (Burritos!) but I’m moving on now. I might come back at some point, maybe even next year, but for now I plan on doing some traveling.

My final day of work is August 1st, two years and one week after I started working here.

Plans

Where am I going from here? As I hinted at just above, I’m going to be traveling for a while. I’ve got quite a few tentative plans, a couple for-sure ones, and a lot of ideas. I’ll write another post about that soon. If you have any ideas or want to go somewhere with me, please let me know!

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Half Marathon / Funny Jokes

There’s a very beautiful-looking marathon / half going on up in the middle of Pennsylvania on May 31st. A friend of a friend wants to run it, and I’m thinking of doing the half. This will be on little-to-no appropriate training, but I think I can suck it up and finish, as long as a long run this weekend goes well. We’ll see.

In other news, Pearls Before Swine continues to make me laugh.

Pearls Before Swine - 8/13/2008

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Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run

Last Sunday, I raced in the Cherry Blossom Ten Miler. It was great! The weather was almost ideal, with temperatures just below 50 degrees, no rain, and only a little wind. Happily, I ran just about exactly the time I expected and hoped for: 1:09:34. I was hoping to finish in under 70 minutes, and I did. I didn’t write much there about it, but you can see my splits over at runningahead if you’re interested.

I gave blood on Wednesday, so I’ve been taking it pretty easy this week. I’m not sure how much running I’ll do in the next week or two, either, since I’m going to Puerto Rico for ten days starting tonight. I looked at the weather there for the next few days, and the highs are in the low 80s and the lows in the low 70s. Wow! It sounds like Jimbo has some great things planned for us, so I should have fun so long as I don’t die from the heat. Wish me luck!

Update: A bad picture of me during the race. Enjoy.

me running

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St. Patrick’s Day 8k

Last Sunday, I ran the 20th Annual St. Patrick’s Day 8k. This is a race set in downtown DC with great views of the capitol throughout. I ran much faster than I expected, finishing in 32:13! That’s a pace of 6:29 per mile. Here are some pictures:

Sean @ St. Patrick's Day 8k #1 Sean @ St. Patrick's Day 8k #2 Sean @ St. Patrick's Day 8k #3

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101 years old!

Buster Martin

“People ask what is my secret but I haven’t got one. They say fags and booze are bad for you, but I’m still here, aren’t I?”

Photo by Mario Rebellato/Reuters. Article at Yahoo Sports.

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