Posted in Race Reports, Running

Race Report – 2012 Nike Women’s Marathon

The 9th annual Nike Women’s Marathon (NWM) took place on Sunday, 14 October 2012. This is the second time that I’ve run this race.

Someone made the comment on the NWM Facebook page that this event is really more of a half-marathon event and I happen to agree. It may have started out as a marathon event but once they added the half-marathon event, I think the focus has turned to making the half-marathoners happy. That’s probably because 2/3 or more of the 25,000 entrants are half-marathoners, not marathoners.

NWM 2012 Marathon Motivational Poster 2

It seems to be a pattern in my life that training during the fall and winter is good but then I fall off the wagon in the spring and summer. As with last year, my longest run leading up to this marathon was the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Jose Half-marathon the week before. I must be a masochist, right?

I stayed in a hotel in the Civic Center part of town instead of going back to Nob Hill. If I run this race again next year, I definitely will go back to Nob Hill. Getting hit on and begged from by the homeless people on Market Street was disturbing.

Expo and Race Swag

This was my second time going through the Expotique and I didn’t like it any better this year than I did last year. In fact, I confirmed that I hate the Expotique. There were several entrances into the tent this year and the volunteers at the entrances were pretty lackadaisical and more interested in joking around with one another than in guiding people to the correct place. Once I reached a check-in spot, though, the check-in was quick and easy. Thank goodness I checked in on Friday because from the tweets and Facebook posts, the Expotique was a zoo on Saturday.

Even though it wasn’t as packed on Friday, there were still long lines for everything. Moving through the crowd was next to impossible – I cannot imagine what it was like on Saturday. I grabbed my gear bag and headed over to Niketown because after trying to deal with my Garmin 405 for a couple of years, I decided that maybe I needed to switch over to the Nike+ SportWatch. The sales guy was helpful and I walked out of Niketown with a new toy.

Listing of 25,000 participants in the 2012 NWM and Half

After taking care of business in Niketown, I found my name on the wall outside the store. Three times.

My Name on the NikeTown Wall

The race swag consisted of a lot of little flyers and snacks. The snacks were great – I ate most of them while I was lazing around in my hotel room on Saturday. I didn’t pay attention to the flyers until after the race on Sunday. Too late, as it turns out, to take advantage of some of the things.

Gear Check

Gear check was much more smooth this year. Nike must have listened to feedback from last year’s event and they rearranged the start corrals and had gear check buses for each corral. The volunteers at the gear check area were great – enthusiastic and helpful.

Race Start

The race start was something altogether different. Since I was honest about my expected pace and finish time, I was all the way in the back. And I mean all the way in the back. Really. After the gun went off, it took me more than 33 minutes to get to the start line. Under normal conditions, I wouldn’t have been concerned. However, the NWM has a limit of 6 hours and 30 minutes in order to get an official time and a finisher’s necklace. I didn’t know if the 6h30m limit was based on gun time or chip time and since I was planning on finishing right around 6 hours, the added 33 minutes to the gun time worried me throughout the race.

NWM 2012 My Favorite NWM Poster

My recommendation for next year would be to have a start corral upfront for the marathoners. Even better than that would be a start time 30 minutes before the half-marathoners. We’re going to be out on the course a lot longer than the half-marathoners so why shouldn’t we get an earlier start and our own special start corral and gear bus?

Race Course

The course felt a little easier this year because it hadn’t changed from last year. However, the organizers weren’t prepared for the number of people on the course. Either that, or this event is really geared towards half-marathoners.

The weather was perfect fall running weather. It was overcast and foggy and it stayed that way throughout the race. The sun was out in the city by the time we took the shuttles back to the start line and that was just perfect.

NWM 2012 Reasons to Run

The first aid station that was supposed to have Shot Bloks was out by the time I got there. I wasn’t annoyed because I had my own gels. But it did bother me when I saw how many full sleeves of Shot Bloks other runners had thrown on the ground just past the aid station and then I had to wonder how many half-marathoners had been served.

By the time I passed the bra exchange station, they only had a few XS and XL bras left. Slightly better than last year because last year, when I reached the bra exchange station, they were completely out. Again, I had to wonder how many half-marathoners had been served.

My quads seized up around mile 12 and after that, every step was agony. It was probably due to having run the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Jose Half-Marathon the weekend before. Even though my legs felt like they had recovered from that event, they really hadn’t. Thank goodness in 2013 there will be a weekend between these two events, as there was in 2011!

Once the marathon course splits from the half-marathon course, things get pretty desolate. The aid stations were much smaller and seemed to be spaced further apart. I tried really hard not to hate the part of the course around Lake Merced but even though it wasn’t hot like last year, Lake Merced sucked. I wonder if the organizers can find a way to get the 26.2 miles without having to go around Lake Merced?

NWM 2012 Marathon Motivational Poster 1

I really wish that Team in Training would teach their runners and walkers proper race etiquette. NWM posted some guidelines on Facebook about walkers walking on the right and other common sense tips about sharing the road on race day. A lot of people got pissy about that, saying that they had paid their entry fee and so could run or walk any way and anywhere they wanted to on race day. It’s so inconsiderate! It was exhausting to run around gangs of Team in Training participants who were walking 4 or 5 people across. And then when I would try to squeeze in between gangs of Team in Training participants, they would give me dirty looks even though I would politely murmur, “On your right,” or “Excuse me.” Again, don’t get me wrong – I have nothing against walkers because I took plenty of walk breaks and walked from about mile 24.5 to 25.5 – I just wish they would be considerate of others on the course. If you want to stroll with 3 or 4 of your friends spread out across the street, don’t do it in a race.

NWM 2012 Marathon Motivational Poster 3

The comment about this event being more geared to half-marathoners really resonates with me. I am not a distance snob by any means – I love the half-marathon distance. I do mind, however, missing out on stuff both on the race course and in the finish area because it’s all been taken by people who’ve run the shorter distance. I feel the same way when I’m running a 10k event that also has a 5k. We all pay the same entry fee so we should all get the same opportunities.

Post-Race: Goodies and Medals

NWM2012 Finisher’s T-Shirt and the Little Blue Box

The NWM Finisher t-shirt this year is a bright neon green. Mine is short-sleeved although I saw some posts that make me wonder if a long-sleeve t-shirt was an option. Maybe for the half-marathoners and the faster marathoners? The cool thing about the finisher t-shirt is that it’s made from recycled water bottles.

I was not offered a finisher’s necklace in the pretty blue box – I had to ask for it. The Safeway grocery bags were out of stock. All of the Neutragena products were out of stock.  Vendors were beginning to break down their tents. The gear check buses were being emptied haphazardly into brown boxes. I realize that it took me 6 hours to finish the race plus the additional 33+ minutes it took to reach the start line but I wasn’t the last one across the finish line and it was demoralizing that there wasn’t as much care and excitement for the slow people who gutted out the entire 26.2 miles.

The chocolate milk was in the Team-in-Training tent. Foam rollers and yoga mats were only for Team-in-Training participants. They really set this event up as “Haves” vs. “Have Nots.” I was always taught that if you don’t bring enough for everyone, you shouldn’t bring anything at all.

Why I run the NWM

Thumbs Up and Thumbs Down

Thumbs UP: Gear check was much improved over last year.

Thumbs DOWN: The official race photographer for this race didn’t do that great a job. For being out on the course for over 6 hours, there were only 10 pictures of me, 4 of which were me crossing the finish line, 1 of which was of me posing at the end. I had to search for myself in the other 5 pictures because there were so many people. It would have been nice to have some official race photographers taking pictures of marathoners around Lake Merced.

Thumbs UP: The weather was perfect for running although apparently not for GPS devices.

Thumbs DOWN: The length of time it took to get to the finish line had a negative mental impact on me because I was worried that I wouldn’t get my finisher’s necklace.

Thumbs UP: Some spectators had great signs.

Thumbs DOWN: Not having enough items at the aid stations for slow runners. Not having enough bras at the bra exchange for slow runners. Not having enough post-race goodies for the slow marathon runners.

Thumbs UP: A Tiffany-designed finisher’s necklace. Enough said.

If Nike wants to turn this into a half-marathon event, that’s what it should do. Don’t call it a marathon when you end up catering to the half-marathoners and treat the full marathoners as an after-thought. As Nike’s marathon motivational posters say – a full marathon is tough, full marathoners are twice as committed. Well, if Nike really believes that, then they ought to prove it with their actions.

Happy Running!

Posted in Race Reports, Running

Race Report – 2012 San Jose Rock ‘n’ Roll Half-Marathon

The 2012 San Jose Rock ‘n’ Roll Half-marathon took place on Sunday, 7 October 2012. This is the fourth time that I’ve run this race and, as has become my tradition, I signed up for the 2013 race while at the expo on Friday.

The lack of communication from the race organizers troubled me this year. For this event, I didn’t get a single email, not even a reminder to print my confirmation before going to the expo. This may be typical for a Rock ‘n’ Roll Race Series (RnR) event but since I’ve been getting emails from Nike about the Nike Women’s Marathon (NWM), I can’t help but compare the two events and NWM has definitely gone the extra mile to create buzz and excitement about its event. Perhaps the RnR is getting so big that they are starting to lose their grip on the details. That’s just speculation, of course. But anyone looking at the menu of events will agree – the RnR is expanding rapidly both here and around the world.

2012 RnRSJ Event Guide and Finisher’s Medal

As I was running the race, I decided that my race reports needed some structure and came up with some headings that I usually include in a race report. Let me know what you think about the more structured format.

Expo and Race Swag

The expo seems to get bigger every year but this year could have just been an illusion because of the construction going on in the Convention Center. I felt like a rat in a maze going from one part of check in to the next and then finally to the RnR store and then into the expo.

The volunteers at the packet pick-up area were friendly, which always helps to set the right tone before entering the expo. When I moved on to the t-shirt area, I got a volunteer who didn’t speak or smile. He didn’t return my greeting, simply held up a t-shirt as if to say, “Is this the right size?” and then just handed it to me. A little disconcerting but not the end of the world.

In retrospect, I should have gone for a unisex shirt instead of the gender-specific shirt because the unisex shirts are roomier.

There were a lot of vendors at the expo. It was exciting to see the booths for other upcoming races as well as the snack and product booths. P.F. Changs, Jamba Juice, and the Sports Authority had teams of volunteers at work trying to get people to sign up for the loyalty programs. I guess I’m a sucker because I signed up for both the P.F. Changs Warrior program and the Sports Authority program.

I managed to get out of the expo with only the things I intended to get – my race bag, my RnR t-shirt, my race registration for the 2013 event, and a hat for race day.

Gear Check

As in prior years, the gear check area was uncrowded and well-organized. This may be because a lot of people stayed in hotels very close to the start/finish area and chose not to check their gear. Or it could just be that the RnR has gear check down to a science. I’m hoping that the NWM will have learned some lessons from last year’s horrific gear check scenario and will have made some improvements.

Race Start

The start corrals were clearly marked as usual and easy to get into. As with prior years – and most races – people are pretty clueless when the national anthem is being sung. The people in my corral kept talking, no one removed their hats or put their hands over their hearts. And of course, there were the obligatory cheers and whoo-hoos at the crescendo of the national anthem, which also annoys me.

But I still always get chills when I hear the national anthem despite the rudeness of others.

Race Course: Bands and Cheer Teams

The Cheer Teams were enthusiastic and loud but not too loud. They seemed more focused on cheering for the runners this year, which was nice.

I had a problem with the bands on the course, though. I didn’t pack my headphones, which meant that I couldn’t listen to music on the run. That made the bands that much more important to me. Some of the bands didn’t seem to realize that it’s called the “Rock ‘n’ Roll” race series and were playing slow ballads. Needless to say, I am going to make sure to put a spare pair of headphones in my vehicle so that I am never again caught without music and dependent on the on-course bands.

Most of the volunteers on the race course were fantastic – cheering and clapping or smiling and clapping. At some of the later water stops, however, the kids manning the water stops seemed more interested in splashing each other with water instead of handing it out to the runners.

Post-Race: Goodies and Medals

I missed the blonde lady at the finish line who usually announces, encourages, and congratulates runners as they approach the finish line. The finish line energy seemed flat without her.

I’ve commented on this before but the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Jose organizers really need to provide a little bag or something for runners to put the post-race food into. As we walk through the finish area, we’re given water, Gatorade, bananas, Snickers Marathon bars, bagels, bags of pretzels, coupons if we beat the P.F. Chang’s dragon, chocolate milk, and other goodies. It’s awkward trying to hold all of that stuff and eat and drink at the same time. I think that the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Jose organizers ought to take a page from the Big Sur Half-Marathon organizers and bag everything up in a little brown paper bag and hand that to runners as they go through the finish area.

The finisher’s medal was great – it was designed to look like a cassette tape, something that a lot of the younger runners probably have never seen before!

2012 RnRSJ Finisher’s Medal

Thumbs Up and Thumbs Down

Thumbs UP: Even without the pre-race communication, the organization of this event was impeccable.

Thumbs DOWN: Calling a 5-miler a “mini-marathon” is denigrating to those of us who run the half-marathon distance and to those of us who have run a full marathon. What’s wrong with calling it a 5-miler?

Thumbs UP: Not running out of gels or Gatorade on the course and having plenty of goodies in the finish area for race participants.

I’m looking forward to running this race again next year. Happy running!

Posted in Running, Travel

It’s All About Choices

Where are u going to..????
Where are u going to..???? (Photo credit: Goianobe)

During a recent run, I flashed back to an exchange I had with one of my tour guides in Scotland in April 2012. She had remarked on the size of my suitcase. It was a standard 28″ case that I usually bring on non-hiking vacations. I didn’t think my suitcase was inappropriate given that I was on a 15-day holiday so I said, a tad defensively, “I’m here for two weeks.”

To which she replied, “I rode my motorcycle all over the US for three months with just my saddlebags. When you get home, go to a BMW motorcycle dealership and they’ll teach you how to pack.” I politely smiled and nodded as I’m wont to do in situations where someone who doesn’t know me treats me with an air of smug superiority.

I smiled and nodded but inside, I was a bit irked. I know how to pack. I can go on a week-long business trip and just take a 19″ roll-aboard, which covers a different outfit each day, dinner outfits for each evening, and my running gear. And this woman, a complete stranger, was telling me that didn’t know how to pack?

I flashed back to this interaction because I had just finished packing for a 7-day business trip and had too much room in my 22″ case so ended up squeezing everything into my 19″ case.

It’s all about choices.

Could I have used a smaller suitcase for my Scotland trip? Sure. But I didn’t want to spend my vacation washing my knickers and t-shirts in the sink each night. I didn’t want to have vacation pictures with me wearing the same pullover day after day. So I chose to bring a bigger bag so that I would have more time to make memories and so that those memories would be happy ones.

It’s all about choices.

The same goes for race preparation, race training plans, and race expectations. I had to switch gears last week to a different marathon training plan because the original plan I chose was simply too intense. The workouts and the paces were such that I dreaded my runs instead of looking forward to them. Dreaded them so much that I didn’t run at all during the first official week of training.

I knew that I needed to shift gears and find a plan that wouldn’t intimidate me. I needed to find a plan that would allow me to enjoy running again and not dread it. Or, in the simplest terms, I needed a plan that fit my inner slacker – one that had just enough structure but not too much structure. So I did some looking and dug up a very basic beginner just-finish-the-marathon plan. Luckily, it was one week shorter than the other plan so I wasn’t having to play catch up right out of the gate.

Since it’s a beginner plan, the build up is gradual and seems infinitely more manageable. And I know that if I follow it, I will be able to meet my goal of improving on last year’s marathon. Of course, I’m already tweaking the plan to fit my schedule and my life. But after just one week, I already notice the difference in my attitude about running. It’s no longer, “I have to run a 5-mile tempo run tomorrow.” Instead, it’s more like, “I can’t wait to see if I can push the pace a little bit during my 4 miles tomorrow.”

It’s all about choices.

Could I have gutted it out and stuck with the more intense training plan? Adjusted the paces down a little bit to be less intimidating? Sure. But that wouldn’t have addressed my attitude about running. So I chose to find a more realistic plan so that I can nurture my love of running with less potential to get injured and a higher likelihood of meeting my goal.

It’s all about choices. In packing, in planning, in running, and in life. Make your choices good choices.

And the thought processor churns on…

Posted in Race Reports, Running, Travel

Race Report: Inaugural Edinburgh Rock-n-Roll Half-Marathon 2012

The days leading up to the inaugural Edinburgh Rock-n-Roll Half-Marathon 2012 were overcast with scattered showers. The weather reports predicted cold temperatures (1° C) and chilly winds with chance of scattered showers for race morning. So, of course, race day dawned sunny with not a cloud in the sky and, although a bit nippy, just the barest of breezes sweeping through the starting area in Holyrood Park.

For an inaugural event, things were rather smooth, which is a testament to the Rock-n-Roll organization.

120415 RnR Edinburgh Half Medal
120415 RnR Edinburgh Half Medal

The expo was set up in the park, right where the finish festivities – concerts and awards presentation – would take place after the race. Because of the open setup, everything was in tents. The bib and chip tent was off to the left and the t-shirt and gear bag tent was straight on so most people began by queuing in the t-shirt/gear bag line. I think better signage would be helpful in the future. Or another suggestion would be to have a big tent that starts with bib/chip pickup then flows to t-shirt/gear bag pickup and then flows to the souvenir store.

I mention the souvenir tent because I also almost missed it. The souvenir tent was a compact affair with the sample items hanging on the walls with signs indicating sizes and prices. Easy enough, right? Not if you’re queued up behind a half-dozen Italians who needed to see all the sizes available for all the items. And then, as one bought an item, another one would see it and want one just like it. Only in a different size, of course. So then the clerk would have to pull out all the sizes again while trying to wrap up the first transaction. Repeat six times before it was finally my turn.

All I wanted was my usual commemorative t-shirt plus a beanie cap. The t-shirt has become my tradition at races away from home – because sometimes a finisher’s t-shirt isn’t appropriate attire. The beanie cap was for the weather. Although I packed an assortment of Bondi Bands which could be pulled down over my ears, given the dire weather warnings on the BBC, I wasn’t sure they would be sufficient. By buying that beanie cap, I took my first step toward breaking my cardinal rule of racing.

Gear acquired, I headed back to the hotel, stopping to buy a bacon roll from one of the food vendors. I promised myself another such roll after the race. Mmm…good incentive.

120413 Edinburgh RnR City Centre Road Closures
Bus stop notice showing closures/diversions due to the 2012 Edinburgh RnR Half-Marathon

The night before the race, I listened to the weather report again. The report said frosty and windy and chances of showers. I considered my planned race outfit. I watched another weather report. I looked at my race outfit again.

The road to hell is paved with broken rules, right? My cardinal rule for races is that you don’t wear race swag until you’ve earned it. If I broke my rule for this race, who knew what other evil acts I was capable of committing?

I tried on the race t-shirt. Not the cotton one I bought at the souvenir store but the tech t-shirt given to all registered runners during packet pickup. It fit perfectly. My long-sleeved shirt went on top. I waffled but the next weather report convinced me – I needed the layer. And the beanie cap.

As noted earlier, race day weather was gorgeous – chilly for sure but I could have survived without the extra layer. And probably the beanie cap, too. Ah well, at least I was prepared for the worst weather.

If I needed a theme for this race, it would be “Chilly and Hilly.” A fellow runner I met on a day tour the day after the race commented that the hills only seemed to go up and never down.

That, of course, was a slight exaggeration. We had at least two nice long downhills – heading out of Holyrood Park into the City Centre and then the final mile back into Holyrood Park for the finish. Thank goodness the race directors weren’t cruel and didn’t plan an uphill finish.

120415 Edinburgh RnR Going Down Side of Arthurs Seat
The start of a nice long downhill

The scenery went from residential to coastal to residential to park to city to park to city to park. Running along the sea wall took me by surprise – I didn’t expect us to be that close to the sea during the race. Lines from my favorite poem, Sea Fever by John Masefield, flitted through my head during those miles.

120415 Edinburgh RnR Seaside
Gorgeous views along the Firth of Forth, miles 4 & 5.

The residential areas were another surprise. Little clusters of people gathered here and there outside their houses to clap, smile, and offer words of encouragement. Since I’m a slow runner (just ahead of the 2:30 pace group through the first 2/3 of the race) the thought that people would spend a chunk of their Sunday morning cheering for strangers was quite heartening.

As usual, the race organizers set up entertaining bands and DJs at just the right spots. The volunteers on the race course were great about managing the traffic. There was a lot of waste, though.

Instead of cups of water and Gatorade at the hydration stations, they gave out bottles of water and Powerade. I thought that was great because I took a bottle of water at the first station and carried it until it was empty and then grabbed a Powerade bottle. But other people took a sip or two and then chucked their bottles. Or, even worse, they’d grab two bottles, take a couple of sips out of one and chuck it, and then do the same with the other bottle further down the road. It was especially sad to see 500 mL bottles of Powerade – almost full – chucked in the gutter.

I learned from fellow runners at a whisky tour a couple of days after the race that the bottled water and Powerade was likely in response to people getting sick from cups of city water at the Rock-n-Roll Las Vegas event last December. I don’t know if they ever proved that the people who got sick actually got sick because of the water but apparently the Rock-n-Roll organization wasn’t taking any chances. It’s too bad that their cautiousness resulted in so much waste.

120415 Edinburgh RnR Cowsgate 1
Perfect shot for #SeenOnMyRun ~ didn’t notice the front of the cow until I was looking at pictures for this blog post!

The end of the race was a fast downhill portion and when I turned towards Holyrood Park and the finish, I could hear the announcer greeting the runners as they covered the last bit of the distance. I made the final turn to the finish gate, looked up, and there she was – the little energetic blond from the San Jose Rock-n-Roll half-marathon. Microphone in hand, she cheered for the runners, exhorting them to smile, encouraging them as they took their last few steps to cross the finish line, and giving high-fives to everyone who swerved over to her.

As I’m writing this, I’m already looking forward to seeing her in October at the San Jose Rock-n-Roll half-marathon.

I’m also looking forward to getting my World Rocker Heavy Medal at the end of the year.

This is a good event for a newbie traveler (always easier to travel to a country where they speak English) who wants to run in an organized race event.

Happy running!

Posted in Opinions and Thoughts, Travel

Life Is a Grand Adventure

Hot Air Balloons in China
Up, up, and away!

I watched Up for the first time recently. I enjoyed it so much that I watched it a second time before returning the DVD to Netflix. It’s about a boy who dreamed of grand adventure and met the love of his life who also dreamed of adventure and exploration. They got married and grew old together without ever going on their big exploration trip. A series of incidents after his wife’s death fills Carl with determination to fulfill their youthful dream and off he goes to South America to explore.

There are a lot of life lessons embedded in the movie – persistence, the power of dreams, good guys win in the end, unconditional love, heroes with feet of clay – any of which would be a good topic for reflection. The life lesson from Up that struck me the most is that life is a grand adventure. But all too often, we get caught up in planning for our adventure that we forget to actually go on our adventure.

Think about it. Were you one of those people who created a bucket list when the movie of the same name came out? If so, where is your bucket list now? How many items on that list have you checked off? How many more items have you come up with that you didn’t add to the list? How many items on that list are left? And why haven’t you done them yet?

Likely you’re waiting until you retire. Or until the kids graduate from high school. Or college. Or medical school. Or until you finish your degree. Or your graduate degree. Or until you’ve paid off your mortgage. Or until you get your dream job with months of vacation and a huge salary. Or until you meet Mr. or Ms. Right. You plan and plan for your grand adventure so that when the conditions are perfect and the time is right, your grand adventure will go off without a hitch.

Conditions will never be perfect. The time will never be right. Adventures aren’t adventures unless they have snags, hitches, hiccups, and the unexpected.

So stop planning already. Life is the grand adventure. Don’t let life pass you by while you’re planning for it.

And the thought processor churns on . . .

Posted in Opinions and Thoughts, Travel, Writing

‘Tis the Season

As I was running recently, I was thinking about how much I love this time of year. The crispness of the air, the smoky smell wafting from chimneys, the scent of evergreens inside offices and homes, the cookies, the parties, the decorations, the singing, the impression that everyone seems to be kinder – all of these are reasons I enjoy the holiday season. One thing that I really enjoy about this time of year are the Christmas cards.

Most of my friends have never been big letter writers. In the past, I was usually the one who would send regular letters. I always hoped for a response but never expected one. One time, I followed up with a phone call because I hadn’t received a letter from a friend who always responded and that was how I found out that he had died. His mom had been saving all of my letters for months – unopened – because she wasn’t sure how to break the news to me.

These past few years as life has become busier, my letters have devolved into postcards that I send when I’m traveling. It’s easy to jot a few lines on a postcard and pop it in the mail, right? Not always! Some trips, I’ve spent hours looking for postcards and post offices. When I went to Bali, I didn’t find postcards until my last day on the island so most friends didn’t even know I was in Bali until they saw pictures on Facebook. But I enjoy looking for postcards and finding just the right ones for certain friends.

I always hope for a return letter or postcard but I don’t expect one. But every Christmas, I look forward to amassing a stack of Christmas cards. Even if the card only has a signature and no personal note, it brings that friend to mind and I like that. The joy that I get when I receive real mail (as opposed to junk mail, bills, or bank statements!) has not diminished over the years.

Those Christmas newsletters that people rant about? I love them! In a couple of pages I can get updated on the happenings of my friends’ and their families’ lives. And I can do it on my own time, curled up in front of a roaring fire with a cup of cocoa at hand.

This year, I’ve gotten a couple of e-cards. And let me tell you, they don’t warm the cockles of my heart the same way a card in the mail does. They seem impersonal and thoughtless to me, more for the sender’s convenience than for the recipient’s pleasure.

But isn’t that what this season is all about? Thinking about others and doing kind things for them? So if you’re thinking of me this season, send me a real Christmas card via snail mail. I will appreciate it more than you know.

And the thought processor churns on . . .

Posted in Opinions and Thoughts, Travel, Work

The Joys of Business Travel

Do you travel for work? If you’re in sales or business development, no one in your office will blink an eye or make a comment when you travel. If you’re not in sales or business development, when you travel for business, your co-workers likely think that you’re going off to have fun.

Announce at work that you’re going to a conference and the first question anyone will ask – including your boss – is, “Where is it?” Depending on the location, you’ll get one of two responses. Either a disinterested, “Oh. Well, at least you’ll be out of the office.” Or an excited and slightly jealous, “That should be so much fun!” Your boss, of course, will have one of two responses, as well, also depending on the location. Either a disinterested, “Oh. You’ll learn a lot.” Or a suspicious and slightly jealous, “I’m expecting an executive summary of what you’ve learned. Which ed sessions were you planning on attending?”

As someone who travels for business at least every other month if not more often, I’m usually the recipient of the latter responses regardless of the location simply because I travel more often for both business and pleasure. Speaking from experience, as someone whose job does not require travel, traveling for business is not a cakewalk.

First there’s all the preparation involved with business travel – estimating travel costs in order to pull together the travel request, requesting approval to travel, and making the travel arrangements (registering for the conference/workshop/meeting, making hotel reservations, making airline reservations, and making ground transportation arrangements). Then, there’s all the extra work that needs to be done to tie up as many loose ends as possible before the trip. Newbie travelers often skip this step because they figure that they’ll have access to email and voicemail and can always call the office. More seasoned travelers know that skipping this step means that their trip will be peppered with constant interruptions, crises, and emergencies.

Then there’s the actual travel itself. Since 9/11, traveling has become more onerous because of the increase security. The airlines haven’t helped much because of their new ways if generating revenue – on-board food sales, baggage fees, etc. So now, it’s no longer enough to just throw some clothes into a suitcase and head to the airport because airlines charge for checked bags now. And if you choose not to check a bag, then you need to consider your liquids and gels because security limits what you can bring in your carry-on bag. Most airlines have reduced the number of flights so now just about every flight is completely full, which makes for cramped and uncomfortable flights.

What most people don’t realize is that going to a conference or workshop or meeting or site visit is really work. If you are doing it right, it is work. If you are taking advantage of the opportunity, it is work. And often it’s not 8 to 5 work.

It starts at breakfast and usually goes through dinner and on through the hospitality suite. Can you imagine being “on” from 7:30 a.m. until 11:00 p.m. or later for 3, 4, or 5 days without a real break? I’m often more exhausted when I come back from a conference because I’m involved from Friday through Tuesday or Wednesday, depending on the conference.

Coming back to the office after a trip is almost harder than leaving. When you get back to the office, everyone who was left behind wants to know about your trip. They want to know what fun activities you participated in, what foods did you eat, what goodies you snagged at the exhibit hall. They don’t want to hear about all the stuff you learned or the people you met or the products/services you think might be good for the company. Then you have to fill out and submit your expense report. If you don’t travel often, this can be a project in and of itself.

And finally, the catch up. Even if you brought your laptop, tablet, or smartphone, you really wouldn’t have had the time to stay on top of everything that was happening at the office or at time while you were away. So you often come back to the office with hundreds of emails in your inbox, dozens of voicemails on your phone, and a lot of mail in your mailbox.

The point of this story is that traveling for business is not all fun and games. As technology improves and becomes more prevalent, things like video-conferencing, webinars, online courses, and the like are slowly taking the place of business travel. However, technology cannot take the place of connecting with someone in real life. The relationships that you build when you go to a conference or workshop are worth the difficulties that come with business travel. So if you have the opportunity to attend a conference or workshop or meeting, make the most of it!

The thought processor churns on . . .