Monday, January 24, 2011

Natali, the Girl and Denmark

The Girl wrote a great post yesterday about being foreign in Denmark. She has come here with ambitions of becoming as Danish as possible; she is hoping to learn to speak completely accent-free, something that's nearly impossible for Americans.

She has learned to speak almost perfect Danish. There is an accent that some people mistake for Faroese or Icelandic, but only rarely do they guess that she is American. Even more impressively, she is writing Danish better than many Danes. Danish grammar is hard, especially punctuation, and she has learned to master it.

I notice how she has failed to become Danish in other ways, however. Everything is so hurried here; the slow pace of everything that exists in the US is still in her bones, and it causes problems. The example that always comes up is when she is at the register at the grocery store. Danes expect you to get our stuff off the belt very quickly, so you don't slow down the next person. The Girl is famous for forgetting her bags and fumbling to get her wallet. If looks could kill, she would have been buried a long time ago.

She is getting better at driving, but she is still annoying the Danes. On the freeway, the passing lane is not a place to linger like it is in America. The Girl passes a car, sings along with the radio, slows down a little (while still in the passing lane). Someone is forced to pass her on the inside and glances over with an icy look.

That look. She writes about the way people look at her, when her behavior slows down the frantic Danish pace. It's the look someone gets when they stop to look at a store window, and the person behind them is slowed down, perhaps a fraction of a second. It's that exasparated look. I know the look; hell, I give that look sometimes.

Natali, on the other hand, has become 100% Danish. It's been wonderful to see her grow here. Not like a foreign exhange student might pick up a new fashion sense or a new taste in music. It's truly 100%. She hasn't forgotten her American side, but her frame of reference is Danish now.

She is moving back this summer, 6 months before we are, to stay with her mom. I tell myself she will do fine, but I wonder how fast she will become more American than Danish. I am curious to see what she will miss the most; my guess is the freedom she enjoys here. She has a white bike with three gears and a basket that she takes to school and to town. Going up hills, she stands up to pump, just because is feels good. She parks her bike and walks around the old downtown, browsing for new clothes; sometimes buying a hotdog or cathcing a movie with her friends. She could do that in La Crosse, but she won't. I would worry about her biking there, anyway. She lives close enough to walk downtown, but it's not in the culture to do so there. The sidewalks stop at one point, and she would have to cross a busy street to pick up another sidewalk.

But a 9-(soon 10-)year old doesn't sit down to complain about car culture or the lack of bike lanes. She will get a ride to the mall with her step-sisters - and she'll have a great time. Because Natali is a child of both countries and she will be happy in either place - or both. Right now, she wants to move to Africa to help people, and then open a restaurant in N├Žstved with her friend. We shall see. The whole world is her oyster.

As readers of this blog know, I feel guilty about leaving my son, Andreas, for 3 whole years. Had I known how that would feel, I wouldn't have done it. But for the Girl and Natali (and the Lorax) to be able to live here for a while, for them both to grow and learn, and for me to witness it, has been wonderful. It's an experience we'll all take with us, and I am very thankful for that.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Ultrarunning Hipster

It's odd how sports that are 95% similar attract (or foster) such different personality types. Take the three sports I dabble at: triathlons, long-distance running and ultrarunning.

Triathletes are just complete dorks. Look at this video and try to disagree (mind you, these are elite triathletes):


Some people refer to these videos as bike mounting porn.

Triathletes are generally fitter and better looking than runners, but there is something about the outfits and the emphasis on overly expensive equipment that is so inherently uncool. Both aspects are captured here:

And, mind you, this guy could swim, run and THEN kick my ass in a 10K.

Long-distance runners are pretty normal. It's a sport one can do without being a fanatic. Ambitious long-distance runners become geeky in their pursuit of losing weight and hitting their workouts. I had a few years, where 100 grams or a few seconds off on my 800m intervals would worry me. But all in all, long-distance runners are pretty normal.

One funny thing, though. Long-distance runners often look at marathoners as people, who are too slow or old to do well in the shorter races. In track, the 10,000 is the same; not a very cool distance to race. The cool people race the mile, and moving up in distance is done out of necessity. Compare that to ultras in a bit.

Ultarunners are very different from long-distance runners. I should emphasize that I speak of trail ultrarunning here. Ultrarunners are less competitive, at least on the surface. The clothing does border on the ridiculous, sometimes. From the minimalist:

To the "Ultra Triad", ie. sleeves, gaiters and an elaborate hydration system:


Ultrarunners are also oddly into New Age stuff. Take this VESPA quote:

"For the really long Ultras the 2-4 hour rule is still a good one to go by, however, later in the event as your hemoglobin get utilized and fatigue and other factors kick in to diminish oxygen delivery you will need to increase your intake of sugars/carbs with something like GU etc. as you are simply fatigued and your body cannot oxidize fats because it can’t deliver enough oxygen like it could earlier in the day when hemoglobin levels are fresh and high. You still take the VESPA but you also take in the sugars at a higher rate."

Really? Really. Damn that fatigued hemoglobin in the really long ultras!

But, seriously, people buy into that stuff. Or maybe the top runners pretend to be into it, so they get sponsored. Who knows?

The VESPA phenomenon repeats itself in the way ultrarunners talk about electrolytes. Electrolytes are hard to understand and very unpredictable. I check electrolytes on patients all the time and they are very hard to correct, even with IV access. People all over the internet talk about potassium, sodium and magnesium as though it's common knowledge how they behave in ultras. I admit to not having looked at the research (if there is any) but I bet it's not nearly as simple as ultra hipsters make it out to be.

Another thing is barefoot running. Real ultra hipsters love to talk about running barefoot, like it's this new thing that Chris McDougal discovered from the Tamahura Indians. Of course, it's not new. Abebe Bikila won the Rome Olympic Marathon running barefoot. Roger Bannister ran a four minute mile in what looked like a lightweight bowling shoe. Today, an ultra hipster would call it a "minimalist shoe".

No doubt the shoe companies have tricked us into believing that overly expensive shoes prevent injuries; they have capitalized on this these last three decades. But now these same, or related, shoe companies are selling a hipster fad based around running free and being close to nature. Another way of saying it: the only people who consider running barefoot cool, are people who can easily afford not to. I certainly don't imagine kids in Ethiopia dumping their shoes on the way to school to be cool.

Yes, the Girl, this is aimed at you, you budding hipster, as you sit at home shopping for "minimalist shoes" with good traction, so you can run a trail marathon 9 months pregnant. Wearing nothing but gaiters and sleeves.