So, if you’re a Democrat in Texas, you should have been at your county or senatorial district convention this past weekend. I hope you were. I went to mine. I have the program to prove it. See?

Convention program, Instagram-afied.

Convention program, Instagram-afied.

I’m not going to say much about it, other than that I became a delegate to this summer’s state convention. I served on the rules committee, which was an exercise in frustration. While I was in the committee meeting, I heard someone performing a John Denver song in the distance, which was both random and bewildering. It probably would have made a lot more sense if I had actually been there to see it.

I left the convention early and then spent 3 hours at IHOP talking about it with friends.

The rest of this year is going to mean some big changes in the nature of my political involvement, but I’m actually looking forward to it.

And yes, I’m being cryptic and weird on purpose.

Finally! After a week out of town, a full weekend that included a senatorial district convention, and a day of work – I have time to report on my experience with the O’Daly’s Green Dress 5K in Mobile. This was my first out-of-state race this year, and my latest attempt to blithely ignore my persistent IT band syndrome by doing short races, instead of manning up and going to my ortho and getting a script for PT. Isn’t denial wonderful?

On to the race! The day actually started in New Orleans, where we had flown into the night before. The original plan was to go straight to the sister-in-law’s house from the airport, but we were just too darn tired and ended up booking a hotel from the front seat of the rental car, not realizing that it was right in the middle of the most obnoxious part of the city, the part where you can carry around those stupid hurricanes and wait hours in line for doughnuts. We had a brief breakfast the next morning, then headed eastward to Mobile. Mark had promised me that he would come to see me finish the race, but we stopped at his grandpa’s first and random relatives started showing up, so that was scrapped and I ended up going by myself.

I got there and had a ton of time before the race start, so I amused myself with that great pastime of the mid-2010s: the selfie.

jenniferprerace2014About 15 minutes before the race started, I went inside the bar sponsoring the race to use the potty and get a glass of water. While waiting in line for the restroom, I ran into a high-school friend I hadn’t seen in about 6 years. He was happy to see me, but our interaction was brief, as he seemed really, really eager to get in line for packet pickup. Around that time, I started to notice that the line for packets was getting really, really long. About 5 minutes before the start, I went into the street and took my place a few paces behind the fastest runners.

And I waited there. For a really long time. Then it started to rain. People went under the awnings. Then it started to rain more. Everyone went under the awnings.

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Wet, impatient runners.

After stubbornly standing in the rain for a few minutes, I decided that it wouldn’t be so good to run a race soaking wet (and thus, heavier) and I joined everyone else under the awnings. At this point, it was 10 minutes past the start time, people were still lining up for packets, and the cops blocking the street were starting to ask when this show was going to get on the road. Finally, the race director came out, blew the horn, and we were off.

The weather was significantly cooler than it had been at last year’s edition of this race, so that was good. The rain had mostly stopped, too. Again, I found myself at a 7:30 pace right out of the start line, so I reeled myself in and settled into an 8:00 pace. Things were going well – until we got to the halfway mark. This particular course has runners do a complete 180-degree turn to shift directions and go back the same way they came. Can I say how much I hate out-and-back courses like this? The sharp turn slowed me way, way down. I lost speed in the turn that I never got back, and by the last half mile, I found myself going at about 8:30. My high-school friend, who was originally several minutes behind me, ended up finishing only 20 seconds after me.

Concessions at the end included water and pizza (yay free pizza!). My race entry included a ticket to the St. Patrick’s Day post-party and 2 free green beers, but I didn’t feel like drinking. I waited around for results to be posted, but the race timers seemed content to just leave them in a stack sitting on top of their portable printer. The race ads had also mentioned a “special Green Dress gift for every finisher,” but that never materialized, either. Finally, after 45 minutes, I gave up and went back to sister-in-law’s for a hot shower. I don’t think I’ll be doing this one again.

Lessons: Good organizing can make or break a race, and just giving a race a fun name doesn’t mean that it really will be.

Gratuitous post-race photo of me with my high school buddy (no, I am a party pooper and didn’t wear green):

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Next up: the Stonebriar Spring Sprint.

O’Daly’s Green Dress Run 5K
March 15, 2014
Time: 26:26
Avg pace: 8:30

Texas' biggest plastic bag fan.

Texas’ biggest plastic bag fan.

OK, I will be the first to admit I don’t always bring my own bags to the grocery store. Sometimes they get left in the kitchen after I’m done unpacking groceries and I’m just too damn lazy to put them back in the car. But you know what? I might be a little more disciplined about it if I lived someplace like Austin, where forgetting your bags will cost you a hefty quarter per pop at HEB. Sure, I’d bitch, but I’d pay it, because a) it’s my fault for forgetting my bags and b) it’s a small price to pay to have fewer plastic bags floating down city streets and local rivers, like little, odd polyethylene decorations.

But wait! Canton Republican rep Dan Flynn is coming to the rescue. He thinks that these regulations have made life hard for shoppers, even though no cities in his district actually have plastic-bag bans. You see, he cares, deeply, about Walmart shoppers in Austin and Fort Stockton.

Just kidding. He appears to be carrying the water for the Texas Retailers Association, one of the biggest opponents of the plastic-bag ban, who approached him and asked him to write a letter to Attorney General Greg Abbott asking whether this ban is actually legal. You see, there’s a line in the Texas Health & Safety Code that says cities cannot “assess a fee or deposit on the sale or use of a container or package.” In fact, the Texas Retailers Association had actually sued the city of Austin over the bag ban, but dropped the suit several months later, citing legal costs. Apparently, the TRA thought this would be an easier – and cheaper! – way to make the ordinance go away.

I’m no attorney, but it would seem to me that the language of this particular line of the Texas Health & Safety Code means that cities can’t place a special tax on the sale of containers, or charge someone extra for using a certain kind of container. Also, it doesn’t seem to have been written with plastic bags in mind.

But let’s get down to the real issue. With public schools underfunded, young people undereducated, and a whole bunch of pissed-off Texas women getting angrier by the day – aren’t there bigger priorities for our lawmakers to focus on?

If you’re Dan Flynn, apparently not.

 

This guy tried to get the slower racers to drop back, but no one paid attention to him.

This guy tried to get the slower racers to drop back, but no one paid attention to him.

Some races are so unbelievably kickass and you walk away feeling like some kind of superhero. (For me, that was the Texas Half.) Some races are terrible and you leave vowing to never run again. (See: the Fairview Half.) Others are kind of a wash. And that’s how I would characterize this weekend’s Allen Eagle Run. Last year I got second place in my age group and took home a trophy, so I was looking forward to a two-fer.

The morning started off well enough – I got up on time and was able to eat a banana and a piece of toast, and drink some coffee, before heading to the race. I live within a mile of the race site, so I briefly considered walking there, but I had a meeting to attend immediately after the race in Plano. I showed up just as the 1-mile fun run was wrapping up.

It was a good-sized crowd – nothing like the Dallas Marathon, but more than your average local 5K. People began gathering at the front of the start line and the race organizers held up a sign instructing people to line up behind the sign if they would not be able to complete the race in 20 minutes or less. Few people paid attention to it, except the runners with jogging strollers, who seemed to realize the danger of having their BOB accidentally overturned by a 5-minute-miler.

Then we were off. After darting around the usual runners who really should have been in the back half of the pack, I settled into a brisk pace. Half a mile in, I looked at my Garmin and saw I was doing 7:40. It felt good at the moment, but I knew that before 2 miles were up, I’d conk out. So I eased back to 8:00, then 8:20. It was hard to watch people stream around me, but I got a small bit of vindication about a mile later, when I passed a female runner who had passed me when I eased up.

As I was coming down the last mile, I didn’t know how well I was doing, relative to my age group. A lot of women who looked of similar age had passed me, but really, there was no way to be sure. I ended up finishing at 25:56, which was a little slower than last year’s time of 24:48. I ended up seventh in the 35-39 group. The top 3 ladies all finished under 22 minutes – a very competitive field. I was disappointed, but the winners really and truly were much faster than me, and they deserved the awards.

So, as we head into spring, I have some decisions to make. Do I continue to train for speed and just do 5Ks, or do I run for endurance and possibly look at a half in a couple of months? I fear that the answer may be “neither one,” as I went out for a quick 3-miler this morning and was struck by intense IT band pain at the end. But we’ll see what happens. Every day is a new run, and every new run is a chance to improve.

Allen Eagle Run 5K
March 8, 2014
Time: 25:56
Avg Pace: 8:21

My Forerunner 610. A cruel pacemistress.

My Forerunner 610. A cruel pacemistress.

I struggle with my running pace. It is probably one of the single biggest obstacles for me.

I haven’t really thought about pace in a long time, since it’s been many months since I’ve participated in a formal race. But it popped to the forefront of my consciousness this week, when I decided to turn my normal training run into a dress rehearsal for this weekend’s Allen Eagle Run. I was going at a steady 8:35 pace when I slowed to a walk, about a mile in, to see who was ringing my iPhone. I resumed running less than a minute later, but it still took me about half a mile to get back to the pace I had been running at previously. (At least, according to the instant readout on my Forerunner 610 – which I know isn’t perfect, but it gives me a good ballpark.)

Then I had to stop for a car while crossing the street…and when I got back to running, I was never able to break 8:50 or so. I experienced the problem that I have on just about every race day – I started out too quickly at the beginning, and my weaknesses, so to speak, caught up with me. I failed to run negative splits, which is a fancy way of saying that I ended the race at a slower pace than I started it. A negative-split strategy is considered the best way to achieve an optimum performance in a race, because you’re minimizing the risk of knocking your body chemicals out of whack, thus depleting your system. Plus, common sense dictates that if you start the race like a jackrabbit, you’re bound to finish at a pace somewhat short of that, unless you are a superhuman like Usain Bolt and can run like a jackrabbit the entire time.

My problem is that I find races very exciting. I’m in the middle of the pack, all the runners are fidgeting and bouncing and hovering their fingers over the start buttons on their Garmins, and the horn blows and everyone takes off. It’s hard for me to canter on at a moderate pace when I see these runners pulling away from me at an alarming rate. If I were thinking clearly I’d know that half of them will be walking by the time the first mile is over, but I’m in “race mode” and my mind is somewhat less than rational.

To be fair, negative splits are tough for even seasoned marathoners to achieve, and learning how to do them takes a fair amount of practice. Maybe I’ll try to do them this weekend at the Eagle Run.

Or maybe I’ll just do what I’ve always done – put one foot in front of the other and try to pull a victory out of my ass.

kittensvotingWhen I was chair of my former county’s Democratic party, way back in ye olde days of 2012, there came a primary. Remember the one, the primary that was supposed to be in March but then maybe it was going to be in April, and then a bunch of courtroom stuff happened, and it ended up being in late May? You remember the one.

Anyway, as we were gearing up for that primary I hired a nice young man to be primary administrator, so we could find people to work at the polls. And that was that, and I ended up moving and vacating my position before the long-awaited primary could be held.

Then I became a primary administrator myself this year, and got an inside look at exactly what has to happen to accomplish the seemingly simple task of setting up voting machines and allowing people inside to use them. If you’ve never worked an election yourself in any capacity, here are a few facts that will give you an inside look:

The work isn’t difficult – but it’s hard. No, it’s not rocket science to have voters sign in and then hand them a card or a slip of paper so they can access the electronic voting machines. The hard part is the times between – those long hours when no one comes in to vote, for either party’s primary, and you’re sitting in the plastic chair reading your book and wondering whether anyone would notice if you went to take a nap in your car. Notable exception to this rule: the 2008 primary, when the polls were overrun by voters eager to have a say in the Battle of the Democratic Titans. And yes, poll workers do get paid, but for the pitiful hourly rate they earn, it’s practically volunteer work.

People are unreliable. On some level, I already knew this, but I experienced it in all its glory as my coworker and I set out trying to recruit people to work at the poll sites. The nice retired lady around the corner may say she’ll work on Election Day, but that doesn’t mean she won’t break her leg, or come down with strep, or just decide the day before that she’s got better things to do. Stuff happens. And you deal with it.

People are awesome. Like the guy who agreed to be the election judge at a poll site 40 miles from his home because we simply couldn’t find anyone local to do it. Or the woman who was recruited, trained and worked all within the space of a week. Some people are great in a pinch, and elections can be a chance for them to show off their ass-kicking qualities.

Once the job is over, you never want to do it again. But then the call comes…and you go. Because, even though you’re overworked and underpaid, you feel like you own a piece of the election, no matter what the results are. And that is pretty damn cool.

It was 40 degrees and damp this morning when I stepped outside for my morning run. A lot of Texas runners prefer sunny weather, but for me, it doesn’t get any better than a “cloudybright” sky, like this:

grayskyAnd I did manage to keep a decent pace. But as I rounded the corner in my neighborhood 3.12 miles in, the mystery pain in my outer right knee struck again. I have been dealing with this pain for a few months now, and actually had to put several runs on ice this year because of it. I thought new shoes would do the trick. Apparently, they haven’t.

In the interest of keeping healthy for this weekend’s 5K, I walked the rest of the way home and am resting Friday. I was hoping a trip to the ortho wasn’t going to be in order, but it’s looking like it will be.

3.14mi
Avg pace: 8:57

moneyThe Texas Tribune has an interesting analysis today on the amount spent per vote by each Texas primary candidate. Some of the numbers aren’t surprising – Wendy Davis, for example, spent a hefty $9.66 per vote, but also came away with 78 percent of the Democratic vote for governor – while others are eye-popping. Like the figures for Republican Nghi T. Ho, who spent $17,000 on his campaign for HD 149 but came away with a measly 1,523 votes- $11.35 per voter.

And then, of course, there’s the Democratic ag commissioner race, which caused a minor Internet fire when it was revealed that Jim Hogan, a Cleburne insurance salesman, had forced a runoff with Kinky Friedman – despite having a low-key campaign that didn’t garner much media attention, outside of a writeup in the local paper. Indeed, the Tribune figures show that Hogan spent just 2 cents per vote, compared to 34 cents for Hugh Asa Fitzsimons III, who ran a “serious” campaign but finished in last place. (My take? Fitzsimons would have had more success had he chosen a less ornate name for the ballot. Stupid, but when voters have little information to go on, they make their choice on what they’re given. And sometimes, all they have are ballot names.)

All of this goes to show that Texas political campaigns- particularly for downballot races and especially for poorly-attended Democratic downballot races – can be a real crapshoot, financially speaking. You could empty your pockets and come up extremely short. Or, like Jim Hogan, you could go the thrifty route and succeed with flying colors. Until we get more voters through the doors of Democratic primaries, these races will continue to be like the Wild West.

Photo by 401(K) 2013/Flickr

 

By all accounts, I should have been on my couch recovering from the primary yesterday. Instead, I was at the Dallas Zoo helping to chaperone the school’s second-grade trip. While slightly less stressful than last fall’s kindergarten field trip to the pumpkin patch, this outing presented a challenge, as we were apparently supposed to make the trip “educational.” This “education” consisted of having the kids sketch out some of the animals that they saw on the trip, along with a brief explanation of certain survival adaptations. My group was assigned nose and mouth adaptations, so we paused at the alligator, lion, elephant and penguin exhibits for excruciatingly long periods while the kids painstakingly made their sketches and wrote their sentences. Most of my time was spent trying to keep everyone from running out of the zoo and onto R.L. Thornton Freeway, so I didn’t get many pictures, but I did manage to snap a few of these guys:

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There were also some extremely friendly giraffes.

DSC_0591

The group had a good time. Here’s Patrick with his best coy smile.

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My next zoo trip will be on May 2, when I’ll brave the exhibits in sweltering hot temps with kindergarteners. God help me.