Thursday, April 28, 2011

Beer of the Month: People's Porter from Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing

For the month of April, the Beer of the Month is bestowed upon Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing's People's Porter. It seems appropriate with Earth Day having recently come and went, that an organic brewery should get the nod this month. People's Porter isn't their most popular beer, but it's my favorite of their regular line-up.

And maybe because it's got coffee in it. Lots of coffee. There's plenty of coffee aroma with this brew, with the coffee flavor a strong, but not dominant, component in the beer's highly roasted malt flavor profile, which gives way to a slightly grassy and herbal finish.

People's Porter is a great accompaniment for reading revolutionaries. (The book in the picture next to the beer is The Communist Manefesto, but you probably can't read that. I don't know what's worse, my photography skills, or my heavy handed symbolism.)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Do It Yourself Doctor Needing Directions

It must be one of those guy things like not asking for directions. Every so often, some part of my body breaks down from running and rather than seeking professional help, I attempt to self-diagnose the problem.

It's inevitable really. If you're trying to push limits, you're going to hit a few breaking points. When that happens, you need to back off and figure out what the problem is so you can fix it. After years of reading books, talking to other runners, and stealing advice from physical therapists whenever possible, analyzing my own personal pains and injuries has become second nature.

For example, I can tell if that pain in my left knee is my reoccurring tendinitis just by the way it feels, which I can take care of with some ice, or if the pain something else that might be more serious and difficult to deal with. I'm often poking around my hamstrings and calves, looking for tight or sore points to massage or stretch out. And there's this irritation in my index toe knuckle that ofter flares up at the end of most long runs. This happens a lot, and if I just give the toe a gentle twist, the joint will emit a soft "pop" and things feel a whole lot better.

Of course, to really figure out what is wrong, you really need to see a professional. But of course, I really do not have the money or time to see one pretty much every week or so as do most people. So lots of runners simply resort to being their own amateur doctor out of necessity, figuring out what the small pains are and working to keep them under control. So when someone asks "Don't you think you should see someone about that?" as they watch me limp around, my stubborn response is "Nope, I'll be fine. This is just part of running." I usually don't need directions, even when I am a little lost about what's going on with my body.

But a couple weeks ago, from both misdiagnoses and overzealous training, I screwed up my right hip real good. Of course, at first I figured the initial soreness was a little strain which I could work out with some stretching. But that really didn't help much. But figuring if I was careful, I could do a couple hard runs before the Santa Cruz Half-Marathon, and then back off, the soreness in the hip would recover in time for the race and everything would be fine.

I don't need to tell you what happened. My right hip got real bad, too bad to run without badly limping around, and my reward for all that stubborn hard work was standing around watching half-marathon I should've been running in. Checking a running book chapter on injuries, my new self-diagnoses on my hip was a stress fracture, which requires about two months of rest, no running to heal. Crap.

So even I finally gave in and had someone look at this who actually knows what he's doing. A genuine doctor. One who knows that the hip is a very strong bone and that stress fractures in it are very rare. Of course, my wife who works in a hospital told me the very same thing a few days earlier, but do you really think I'd pay attention to her on this? The doctor also noticed the two general areas I pointed to where the pain was the worst happened to be the very spots where bursa sacs are located in the hip, which pretty much sealed the deal on it being bursitis. They took hip x-rays anyway, but didn't find anything. Sort like when they x-ray my head.

And one of the few times in my life, I'm glad to be wrong. And since bursitis takes maybe a couple weeks to heal, I'm thrilled to say my problem is bursitis. Sometimes, when all is lost, you finally give in to reason over pride, and pull out a map, sometimes you'll find a great shortcut.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A Knock Out in Santa Cruz

Thanks to my right hip, I took this picture of the start of the Santa Cruz Half-Marathon. Of course, I was planning on running this race, not taking pictures of it. Don't know what exactly is wrong with the hip, but it's screwed up pretty good. Since it seems unrelated to any particular range of motion or muscle action and is aggravated mainly by putting weight on my right leg, I fear it's a stress fracture. Hopefully next week my doctor can tell me what's going on.

It's simply amazing how quickly training can turn from great to disastrous. Four weeks ago, I ran a 5 mile race hoping for a time in the 31:00-32:00 range, and popped a 30:27. Things kept rolling, and eleven days later on a cold, windy rainy morning, I covered four miles of tempo running on the track at sub-6:10 pace in these difficult conditions, well below my 6:20-6:30 target. But then three days later, feeling a little tired going into a 15 mile timed run where I was shooting for 6:50-6:55 pace, I completely ran out of gas at 9 1/2 miles before staggering to the end. That's when the right hip soreness started getting noticeable, so I took a couple days off, did a couple light runs, before taking one big final 12 mile tune-up before the half marathon. The hip felt fine, and I stopped at miles 1 and 4 to check for any soreness or stiffness, but it felt good and while it stiffened up a little around miles 8-9 before subsiding, I ended the 12 mile run strongly, enthusiastic I was ready for the half marathon and my hip problem licked.

Except for a couple hours later, all I could do was stand awkwardly on my left leg with my right leg helplessly dangling from my torso. It's gotten better, albeit very slowly, but running a half marathon on it was likely going to end up in disaster, and quite likely some really nasty long term injury. I don't regret the risks I took to get to the starting line in what I thought would be the best shape possible. They were calculated risks that just didn't work out. This, unfortunately, is part of running.

Running is not like a Rocky movie. Just because you work hard and want it really bad, that big bad mean dude can still clock you with a right uppercut in the first round, and it's all over. Such is life.

But sometimes the good guys still win. My wife Linda worked hard for weeks too, and ran her personal best that day for the the half-marathon. So see, if you just hang in there and keep swinging, you still have a chance to take the bad guy down.

A good thing about drinking beer is that it requires very few functioning body parts. So a small consolation from being injured and not starting the Santa Cruz half marathon the next day was that I could have that extra beer without concern for any race day repercussions. So when Linda and I rolled into town, we first stopped at Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing for a pint and midday sandwich. The small tap room seemed a little spruced up from the last time we were there, and as always, a cross section of the diverse and slightly funky Santa Cruz population cruised through the place to get a growler fill or enjoy a pint for themselves. Hands down, our favorite for the afternoon was the Chile Chocolate Stout a special release available only from the tap room. While we both appreciated the dark chocolate flavors in the roasty malt, its rich character and slight sweetness, what really got us was it's mouth numbing tingly chile zip. The chile wasn't subtle, and for some people not particularly balanced, but for us, it was perfect. We also tried a sample of their barley wine aged 8 months in Chardonnay barrels. I thought the vanilla and Chardonnay flavors the barrel aging brought to the malty, toffee-like barleywine was rather interesting, but wasn't sure that the final product worked. Linda was sure it didn't.

Later that evening, we went with a friend for dinner at a place on Santa Cruz's West Side called burger. where oddly enough, you can order a burger from a wide ranging, eclectic menu supplemented by a tap list of no fewer than 48 beers. The Syd Barrett Burger I ordered was likely named for Barrett's legendary wide ranging and ultimately damaging experimentation with hallucinogenic substances, since it was topped with mushrooms. At least that's my guess, since I had to explain to the two twenty-something ladies behind the counter who Syd Barret was. There was a time explaining who Syd Barrett was made me feel cool, but now, it just makes me realize how old I'm starting to get. As for the beer, they have a few local favorites such as Santa Cruz Ale Works Red IPA complimented with the usual California craft beer suspects like Sierra Nevada, Anderson Valley, Green Flash, and Port Brewing was a few solid imports thrown in for good measure. If you want to get a good organically grown grass fed burger, yummy sweet potato fries, and a good beer, there's no better place to go than burger. But if you only have a half-hour to get a burger, you'll probably have better luck with the McDonald's across the street.

For Linda's Half-Marathon PR celebration, we headed over to Seabright Brewery where the outdoor patio that sunny day was filled with tired but jubilant runners adorned with their finisher's medal around their necks. Some of them were even limping around as badly as me. Linda and I started off with the The Freak Pale Ale, named in honor of San Francisco Giant ace Tim Lincecum. For a Pale Ale, both the malt and hop levels were as wispy as Lincecum's slender build, but for that late morning, light caramel flavors with a tea-like and slightly earthy hops made for a rather refreshing brew. Keeping with the San Francisco Giants theme, I also tried the Say Hey Wheat, their filtered wheat beer. Crisp and clear, with a nice wheat tartness and light citrus note, I could see why this was a popular post-race beer with many of finishers on the patio. And extra bonus points for Seabright not serving it with the standard lemon per my request. Linda finished with Seabright's Amber which had the requisite roasty malt and earthy finish one finds in a good amber.

As for you, Santa Cruz Half-Marathon, I am not finished with you yet!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Going Legit with a Gig on California's Adventure Sports Journal

One of the best things about writing a blog is that there's no pesky editor telling you what to do and you can write whatever you feel like. One of the worst things about writing a blog is that there's no pesky editor there to improve your work, or suggest a direction many readers would be interested in. So I'm pleased to announce this little writing hobby of mine has taken a new step as I start as a contributing writer for California's Adventure Sports Journal, which published both online and (gasp!) in print.

And the best thing is that the magazine's editor Pete Gauvin doesn't do pesky very well. And it's hard for me to argue with his publication's tag line "Earn your beer" as beer drinking, I've learned, is rather pervasive in a lot of outdoor activities besides running. There's truly been a good exchange of ideas between Pete and I which will lead to a lot of good future stories. It's a cliche' to say in these situations, but he truly has been great to work with. Hopefully I'll reward him by bring more readers to his publication. It's also nice that he pays for what I write.

My first article for California's Adventure Sports Journal is a slight reworking of a previous post on barefoot running which you can read here. There's also a little write-up I did on Anchor Steam to start a series of beer reviews from local California breweries we'll be calling "A Beer Worth Earning". California Adventure Sports Journal can be found in many Bay Area sporting goods stores, especially those with extensive hiking, biking, camping, and other gear to enjoy the great outdoors such as REI.

But worry not, dear reader, this blog isn't going anywhere. I'll still be posting away here, although more likely with an emphasis of quality over quantity, and the posts will take more of a running and outdoors direction. Being associated with an actual print publication rather than simply being yet another will likely gain additional access to people and information, resulting in better and more informative writing here.

I expect a lot of great things to emerge from this new collaboration with California Adventure Sports Journal, and it's big step. I'm not some schmuck with a blog anymore. I'm now some schmuck with a blog who sometimes writes for the California Adventure Sports Journal.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Guest Posting on the Groucho Sports Blog

I'm am proud and thankful Groucho Sports invited me to be a guest poster on their blog. Amber Carter of Groucho Sports asked me write something aligned to their company, "which is mostly how to balance the love of endurance sports with other things you've got going on in your life". Since I'm all for that, I was glad to contribute. You can read it here.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Ramblings of a Beer Runner Social Media Experiment

I'm no Internet neophyte. I've been sending e-mails since the late 80's. I actually know what Lynx and Gopher were. And long before it was a multi billion dollar company hopelessly trying to keep up with Google, I was using Yahoo to look up websites way back when it was on the Stanford University website as intrepid Stanford graduate students Jerry Yang and Dave Filo were building it. So of course I'm keeping up with the latest Internet trends no later than 2-3 years after everyone else seems to have adopted them.

Like this Twitter thing. I still don't get the point of how or why it works, despite a few people patiently explaining it to me. The problem is, I'm starting to run into people who communicate via Twitter, and have no way to receive their messages. I'm like my Grandmom, who wonders why everyone but her gets pictures of her great grandchildren, not realizing it's because everyone else but her has an e-mail address to receive them electronically. I'm getting comfortable growing into old fart-hood, but I'm not ready to identify technologically with Grandmom quite yet, so figure it was time to get a Twitter account. I won't let a little thing like not understanding the point of Twitter stop me for using it. So if you're into that thing, you can follow-up me @rambling_oa_br.

And now a Ramblings of a Beer Runner is on Facebook. I would like to say the main motivation for this is to reach out to my readers, break down the barriers of time and space to bring people together in a spirit of beer and running harmony. The truth is actually based on vanity and ego. I would rather have more people read what I write than less, and Facebook is another way for people to find this blog and keep up with it. Yes, a Facebook page does allow me to get to know my readers a little more directly, and vice versa. You will not be faulted if you don't necessarily think that's a good thing.

So will these new forms of social media bring us all a little closer and help us understand everyone a little better, or will it lead to even more time wasted on the Internet? This is not intended to be a trick question.