Running and the Costco Cat Food Syndrome

Q. What do cat food and running have in common?

(Hint: the answer has more to do with shopping habits, not the actual products.)

This had better not be more slander about us.

The recent swallowing of Whole Foods by Amazon had Chicken Littles everywhere proclaiming the impending death of large retailers, including my wife’s favorite haunt, Costco. So I visited my favorite investing website. Did they think Costco was in trouble? One commenter didn’t think so.

“Cat food at Costco must be really expensive,” the poster wrote. “Whenever my wife goes there to pick up some cat food the bill ends up being $150.00.”

Uh-oh. My wife had just been there, and for the same reason. Was the cat food just as expensive at our Costco? See for yourself:

Now I could get snippy about this, but it’s not worth it for two reasons: 1) I do not like sleeping on the couch, and 2) it would make me a hypocrite. For I suffer from the same syndrome, just at a different store.

Last fall we visited our daughter in Richmond and as usual we wound up in Carytown, a shopping district loaded with specialty shops and restaurants. My wife and daughters got sucked into the kitchen supply store, and when my tolerance for the place ran out, I told them I was heading to the nearby running store “just to look around.”

Which I did. And talked running with the staff. And tried on some shoes. And bought a pair. They didn’t cost as much as the Costco cat food, unless you throw in the other stuff I got. I blame my family for leaving me in there so long. But I did need those shoes. For some race or other. I forget now.

For the Love of Chocolate – another Carytown store with black hole-like gravity.

So you might think that local running stores are safe from the online competition that plagues other small retailers. Well, kind of. And kind of not. Although the number of people running continues to grow, sales are flattening out, and small independent stores are being acquired by larger chains, although many try to preserve that small, local atmosphere. Read more about this here.

While I’m a bit intimidated inside a Costco, a running store feels more like a club to me. I much prefer to “try before buy” with running shoes and gear, and I appreciate the staff’s knowledge (and that they’ll talk running with me). It’s also fun to try out new shoe styles or concepts; it’s where I found out I liked the ultra-padded Hoka One One, and don’t care for Newtons, with their convex soles.

So I get most of my running gear at stores rather than online. But ultimately, quality of the experience makes the difference. Do they have a good selection, reasonably priced? Are they willing to take the time to find something I like? And how well do they know what they carry?  The day I get the attitude of, “I don’t know, this is what we got” (think Radio Shack’s last years) is the day I find another store, local or not.

So my wife came into the running store eventually to find me, and I rather sheepishly showed her the shoes I’d purchased. We ended up there a bit longer while she picked out some socks.

If Costco ever decides to sell running shoes, I am in BIG trouble.

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Can We Talk?

I went to Body Specs earlier this week for my regular 12:30 session. “I need to stop at 12:45 today,” I said. “I have a meeting.”

So Skip gave me a set that I finished right at 12:45. “You should just tell us ahead of time,” he said after I’d changed. “We can get you in earlier that way.”

I’d just assumed I’d have a short session instead. But he was right; with advance notice I’d have been able to get in my full session. Besides, it was common courtesy.

The next day after my workout, my wife called. “Did you tell Skip I needed to talk to him at my session today?” she asked. “Yes,” I said, “but Skip left early today. So you’ll have to wait until next time.”

“I wish you’d told me,” she said. She’d been caught in traffic and wouldn’t make her session on time, and was worried she’d lose her opportunity to consult with Skip. He wasn’t there anyway, but she hadn’t known.

Well, what goes around comes around. This afternoon I was setting up for Run Woodstock and noticed the recycling rolloffs I’d ordered hadn’t arrived. So I called the disposal company to check where they were. “The delivery was changed to Friday morning,” I was told.

It wasn’t the fault of the rep I’d worked with; he’d put “delivery Thursday” in the work order. The operations manager had changed the delivery day and time, probably to accommodate his other delivery commitments.

“I need to know these things,” I said, and confirmed they had my contact information on file. The rep agreed I should have been called.

What do you suppose is going on? It’s easier than ever to reach out and touch someone (any of my readers old enough to remember that slogan?). Today I called a co-worker in Costa Rica and five minutes later we were working through a shared document on our screens, each of us taking control when needed. Thousands of miles distance and two hours time difference? No big deal – standard practice.

And communication is increasing rapidly worldwide. Yet while use of social media and email are growing, mobile voice usage (i.e. phone calls) has been dropping since 2013. I’m as guilty as anyone else of this. As an introvert I’m more comfortable with exchanging emails, where I can take my time and compose messages carefully. Personal interactions like face-to-face meetings and phone calls are mentally draining.

Check out some interesting stats and graphics at this blog regarding how communication is growing, but voice communication is falling. (Image is from the blog.)

But nonverbal communication is by no means foolproof. There are times I’ve sent a business email and heard about it later because it was misinterpreted. “That should’ve been a phone call,” my boss will say. “Your tone of voice and manner of delivery would have made your meaning clear.” In part because of this I’m more tolerant of emails I receive that seem less than polite.

(Check out this article: 14 words and phrases you should not use in emails.)

I’m sure there’s some heavy duty, government-funded research going on that will reveal the enormous social damage being caused by Twitter and Snapchat, and how uncontrolled flame wars between spouses are spiking divorce rates. While I may not be able to preserve the American family all by myself, at least I can be better about calling people when needed.

And yet…as my wife and I drove home from a weekend up north, her phone rang. It was our daughter in Richmond and her wife. As much as we enjoy hearing from them, being a parent there’s always that little concern about an unexpected call from a faraway kid. But no worries this time. “I just called to say hey,” she said.

So there’s hope for the world after all.

This is Not About Pickles

I HAVE THESE URGES, YOU SEE.

They started years ago when I began regular fitness training, and especially once I started running races. They are what get me out of bed and onto the road on a winter morning, into the gym on a hot afternoon, or on the bike for a “quick 25 miles” at the end of a long day. Anyone into fitness activities can relate, I think.

Yet as beneficial for my body and my mental discipline as these urges are, sometimes they can be a real pain in the ass.

This past weekend I was on my feet a lot, managing the Zero Waste program for two morning races; Running Between the Vines on Saturday, then Swim to the Moon on Sunday. Both days I was at the venue by 5:30 a.m. and in more or less constant motion well into the afternoon checking stations, hauling collected compost and recyclables, and performing emergency sorting on unlabeled bins that well-meaning people had set out without my knowledge. (I’m not bitter about that. Really, I’m not.)

There are some advantages to working events like this!

But I survived, and all went well. This is what I train for, right? Running long races, and working long races. And sometimes both, as with last April when I ran the Trail Marathon and then worked the waste stations.

So what had me feeling oddly guilty on Sunday evening, when the work was done and I could put my feet up for a bit?

I didn’t get a run in.

And that had me feeling inadequate.

I get it, okay? I know it’s silly to feel this way. And it’s not like I slacked off. This morning my body felt just as fatigued as if I’d done a long run the day before. I actually looked forward to today’s afternoon workout, cuz I knew the heat and humidity would get my sore and creaky body warm and loose again.

Oh yeah, that hits the spot!

And so it proved; those thirty minutes of brutality worked out the kinks and soreness, and I’m back to feeling pretty good again. So I’ll plan on getting in a good run tomorrow.

Yet the drive to stick to my regular training schedule, and not miss a run or workout for any reason, is hard to turn off. Perhaps it’s fear that drives it. Not a fear that I’ll lose fitness, but that I’ll lose the desire to remain fit.

And that would suck.

See? Even potatoes can get off the couch!

I know life comes with no guarantees about lifespan or health. But I can give myself the best shot at a long, healthy life by eating right, getting enough sleep, and by staying active and fit. I want to have a high quality of life for as long as possible.

Plus, for whatever reason, I enjoy the activity; the ultramarathons, the long bike rides, and the ability to work all day keeping stuff out of landfills. This, too, contributes to my quality of life. And I have some goals yet to achieve too, like a six-minute mile, a half marathon in under 90 minutes, and plenty of races of all kinds that look intriguing.

And so I’ll put up with the urges.

Because they’re for my own good.

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And since you’ve read this far, you deserve this link to one of the classic jokes about urges: The Pickle Factory. Enjoy!

There Has to Be a Lesson In Here Somewhere

It’s August, and already Active.com has come out with an article named “20 Reasons We’re Sick of Summer Running.”

I call BS. No way I’m ready to give up summer yet. And it will be over before we know it, anyway. What’s the rush?

We just got back from up north, where I got in several “firsts” for the year, let alone the summer. One was a 70-mile bike ride that included the entire current length of the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail from Bohemian Road to Glen Arbor and on to Empire. The long boardwalk section over the wetland is finally finished, and it has some great views. Even this photo doesn’t really do it justice.

I also enjoy running on the SBHT, and one morning I set out for a few easy miles as warmup to The Legend 10-mile trail race the following day. But just off the trailhead was a dirt trail heading into the woods on my left. I’d seen it before but always had other plans. Another day, I kept telling myself. Well, it was that day.

The trail led through a beautiful stretch of woods, and after about a half mile it got sandy underfoot. Then the trees parted to reveal Lake Michigan, with the trail ending at a short bluff above a short beach washed over by incoming breakers.

What the heck, I decided.

I took off my shoes and slid down the embankment onto the wet sand. I had the beach all to myself, with no people or signs of habitation in either direction. I saw no footprints except my own. How long had it been since the last person had set foot on this secluded part of the beach?

I ran along firm, loose, wet, and dry sand, over driftwood and fallen branches, and through tall scratchy grass. Running on a beach is really different from other surfaces, with its variable terrain and difficult footing. I’ve heard it’s a great workout for balance and foot strength. Certainly it’s not an easy effort; you have to adjust with every step to remain upright and moving forward.

After about a quarter mile the beach gave way to dense scrub and steep slope. I’d run out of runnable real estate, so I returned to the trail. As I climbed back up onto the bluff, I got this bright idea to take a photo of my footprints in the sand, followed by one with the waves washing them away. It would be a metaphor for the ephemeral nature of life. Really original, right?

Back down to the beach I went and dug in my heels. But time after time, the waves were coming in so fast that my footprints were washed away before I could get a good photo. This was about the best I could do.

So I’m sure somewhere in all this there’s a lesson. Perhaps it’s this: not only is life fleeting and ephemeral, even the attempt to tell a story about it is here and gone before it’s fully told.

On the surface, that sounds pretty depressing. No matter what we do, how hard we try to make an impression on the universe, it all vanishes in a flash. How many stories worth hearing were never told, or told with no one to hear them?

But does that make our lives, or our stories futile? I don’t think so. After all, others continue after we’re gone. If we can make their lives better, that’s something that will carry on, at least. And perhaps far more will be remembered about us, and our stories, than we think.

So live your life. Share your stories. And listen to the stories of others. Whether or not anyone else ever hears them, maybe there’s something from them that will enrich your own.

Thanks for reading.