Saturday, November 17, 2012

A Marathon Man

Slow and steady finishes the race with a smile!
A few weeks ago I was asked to contribute a short piece to the website of the running group I belong to about my experience in running my first marathon.  The original text (  was edited a bit; however, the following is the orignal text.

Shortly after spending the first half of 2012 making the transformation from weekend jogger to spirited runner by participating in the Warsaw Half Marathon, I spent an evening under the influence of a couple of beers pondering my chances of actually completing the full marathon in September.  As alcohol can often impair one’s decision making process, I came to the beer-goggled conclusion that I would be up to the challenge  to complete the 42.195K in one go by the end of September.    So without making any other serious calculations I made the proverbial leap of faith and registered on the marathon’s website.  After receiving my race number a couple of days later, it became official.  I was going to run in my first marathon.    

Still standing!

The course of action was fairly straight forward: to run as often as possible between May and September.  Fortunately, being an English Teacher affords one an opportunity to take advantage of those long vacation periods in order to rack up the miles in order to be ready for a long run.  All things considered, the gist in getting ready (in my experience at least) is in fact to run a lot.  More specifically, however, is to run increasingly longer distances until about two weeks before the race.  At which time one should be able to run about 30-35K in one go.  Then, a couple of weeks before race day, one should let the body rest a bit.  For me, at least, in three and a half months I was able to transform myself from a moderate runner struggling to push through a 15K run into someone maybe more similar to a Forest Gump type is able to just keep running.   The only glitch on my side was not taking in enough water on the long run before the marathon.  It was a painful ending to a long 36K run in the afternoon with only three quarters of a liter of water to carry. I found myself feeling nauseous and unable to eat anything for a couple of hours after the run.  Lesson learned.  I am not an expert on running.  However, if I could impart some advice to you dear reader: stay hydrated.

On the big day I had my pre-run, morning breakfast ritual consisting of a big bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios (no product placement intended) with sliced bananas, a strong coffee, and about two liters of water.   After eating, I successfully attached my race bib to my WITC shirt and made my way to the national stadium.  Upon arriving, I dropped off my extra clothes, and dutifully waited to use the bathroom.  Judging by the size of the line, the other participants all seemed to be well hydrated before the race as well. After the bathroom break, there was no time to waste.  It was time to run a marathon.  Publically I mentioned to most people beforehand that my goal was to just finish the race, but privately my goal was to finish under four hours.  So, I moved myself as close as possible to the 4 hour pacer.  Once I got started I didn’t stop.  With an exception of one bathroom break around the 15th kilometer, I just kept putting one foot in front of the other.  I kept a pace of about 11K an hour and finished in just under four hours.  I kept a steady pace, and luckily didn’t run into that proverbial wall most runners speak of so ominously.   So that was it.  I ran my first marathon.  I think there were three or four things, however, that carried me through the race; staying hydrated, good tunes, and the amount of people who came out in support of the runners-especially, the people from WITC who were all such a welcome sight with the cheers and high-fives.  Thanks guys!  So now it’s time for a run.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

A Touchdown for American Football in Poland

It’s no secret that the most common kind of football in Europe is the kind that actually requires regular use of the feet, and which actually forbids any use of the hands unless one is the lonely goalkeeper.  Nonetheless, American style football is starting to show its pigskin face recently in Europe.   In Poland their league has grown enough to move their championship over to the national stadium, which had 25,000 people in attendance in July.  This weekend the national stadium in Warsaw played host to the Euro-American Football Challenge.   The organizers welcomed a group of scrappy young American footballers to challenge the best of the European clubs.  Twenty thousand plus curious fans turned up, as well as Solidarity leader and former Polish President Lech Walesa who gave a lively opening speech and successfully carried out the coin toss. 

I was lucky to be part of the large turnout as well.  After scoring a free 50 yard line seat, I hopped on the bus and  moved myself to the stadium.  After finding my seat I noticed that it was a pretty noisy crowd for a country relatively new to the sport.  The announcers were lively, and even seemed to be dropping explanations about the sport to help iron out some of the nuances for the newcomers to American football.  

The challenge itself was quite close throughout the first half, with the score even at seven.  However, shortly into the third quarter the challenge fell apart, with a few too many costly turnovers by the European side.  Because of this, the American team quickly capitalized on the turnovers and scored a few touchdowns against an apparently weaker and less experienced European team.  Despite it nearly being an Olympic  'dream team' type blowout, the European team did manage to slow the American momentum towards the end of the fourth quarter to avoid a complete disaster.  The American team won 34-7.  Regardless, the most notable thing about the event was size of the enthusiastic crowd who nearly all stayed until the end of the match.  Despite the lopsided result, it could be the winning touchdown for the growth of the sport in Poland and in Europe.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Home is where you feel like (at)

I recently received a phone call from an English teaching Polish colleague of mine regarding a question she had received  from a journalist asking if the English slogan used for the Euro2012 ‘Feel Like at Home,’ was linguistically accurate.  As Euro 2012 is happening in less than two weeks, a quite imposing series of murals circling the central train station have been put up showcasing an array of international football fanatics in their respective country’s colors.   It’s hard to miss, trust me.  The imposing size, the bright colors and the eye catching slogan will undoubtedly capture even the most uninterested pedestrian’s attention.  Despite the size, the relevant thing to many Poles here in Warsaw is the slogan ‘Feel like at home.’ The debate is whether this expression is linguistically correct.    

The headline states that many Poles are upset about the supposedly linguistically invalid expression, yet many native speakers of English are nodding in approval about the expression maintaining that it’s not as natural as many of us would say; however, it’s logical. 
'Feel like at home', and Poles 2012 your hosts!
To the native speaker’s ear it doesn’t sound too wrong.  Anyway, if you look at the article found here(:,burza-wokol-hasla-feel-like-at-home-w-szklance-wody-polacy-wytykaja-blad-a-native-speakerow-like-nie-razi   )   you will see that many are unhappy about the slogan.  Nevertheless, as one of the native speakers asked for the validity of this motto, I will reiterate that it doesn’t sound that bad.    We hear a lot worse from you Poles-from the best of you as well to boot.  Anyway, as a little experiment, I Googled the expression and it does not exist.  Of course, the best expression  and probably the grammatically correct expression is the expression ‘feel at home.’  The expression ‘feel like at home’ is a direct translation from Polish.  Regardless, if Poland invites me to feel at home or feel like at home, I will happily accept.  So, Where’s the fridge? And can I help myself to a beer?
Behind the main train station

Thursday, May 3, 2012

To Run or to Jog? That Is the Question!

Is it running or jogging? It seems that I have always considered myself a jogger.  You know, the type that throws on a t-shirt, shorts, socks and tennis shoes and makes a few cheery rounds around a track or past a few houses before calling it a day.  The type of person who isn’t really walking but moving at a pace that isn’t really moving that fast either and is able to carry on a conversation about world events or poker strategies at the same time. Nevertheless, it probably would have been accurate to mark me a nothing more than a complete beginner until recently.  Jogging is an activity that often takes little motivation to get me moving, yet I had never been able to cover long distances in short amounts of time. Anyway, I was finally able to overcome this barrier recently by completing my first half marathon at the age of 35. 
About a year ago I started training for the half marathon in Warsaw.  I trained as often as I could.  However, I had never gone over 20 kilometers before.  So on race day I felt rather intimidated. In March, on the morning of the race I carefully found the back of the group (of  several thousand) and  sheepishly crossed the starting line.  Frightened as I was, in the end, I finished it quite easily.  The training paid off and I was able to complete the race in just over 2 hours which isn’t really a great time, but for me it was one of those little milestones.  I am more than a jogger now, at least.

Flash forward to a  week ago on a warm Saturday. I competed in a 10k race in my neighborhood, which included  only 264 people, so it felt more relaxed than the half marathon. This was part of the Warsaw Grand Prix series that comprises ten races over Warsaw during the year.   This was my first in the series.  Despite the heat, I ended up pushing myself without a water break, and crossed the finish line in just over 46 minutes, which for me is a great time.  I even placed right in the middle of the group at 132 out of 264 runners.  The next one is in June and I’m going to be there.  I even planning on doing the full marathon in September.

So in some way, I guess I’ve become like Forest Gump.  I’ll just keep running.  No more jogging.  Or whatever the vernacular is these days.   On the other hand maybe the concept of  running is more about one's level of commitment.  For me the biggest difference is that I can run faster, but more importantly, is that I take it more seriously or with more enthusiasm.  It no longer is just throwing on a shirt and shorts and making a few steps around in a park.  It has become more ritualistic. I try to have proper shoes, comfortable socks, and a t-shirt that isn’t too heavy or burns the nipples at long distances.  I also watch what I eat (slightly) more than before.   Most importantly, however,  I just do it because I feel better at the end of the day.  This is what’s important.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Where's the Snow?

One year ago there was so much snow in Warsaw. Where is it this year? I understand that bigger and more important things have happened over the year, and the lack of snow this winter is hardly worth a mention. Moreover, For me it is a welcome event as I’ve been able to go jogging a bit later in the year than usual, and I’ve been spared the sensation of experiencing the bitter cold when stepping outside at six o’clock in the morning on my way to work. Despite my small good fortune,it’s odd that the temperature is well above freezing, and that it still feels like autumn. I’m not complaining, I’m just saying it’s weird. It’s at least a little unusual, isn’t it?

Flash back to November 2010 and you might remember a different situation. I took a short walk in the afternoon and was nearly blinded and blown over by a freak snow and wind storm. A month later, I bravely went on a freezing holiday stroll through the lit up streets of Warsaw admiring all of the glowing lights and snow covered trees before Christmas. This year, the lights and trees are present, but there is not a flake of snow. See for yourself in my video.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

An American in Wroclaw

Two weeks ago was the American Film Festival in Wroclaw, Poland. In one venue for five days a variety of films of past and present from the indie arena and Hollywood were showcased to a thong of eager film enthusiasts. Retrospectives from directors such as; Billy Wilder and Terrance Malick, cutting edge indie-directors, silent films, jazz themed films, documentaries, as well as lectures and workshops, were all on offer for film lovers. As an American citizen and American film-enthusiast myself living in Warsaw, this seemed like a perfect opportunity for me to stretch my curious wings, poke my nose around a bit, and have a peek. So I did and because of this was far from disappointed. After purchasing nine tickets for screenings beforehand from the festival’s website, procuring a train ticket from Warsaw to Wroclaw, and booking a room at the modestly priced Hotel Polonia beforehand, I was ready to escape the capital of Poland and enjoy three days of unadulterated film enjoyment in the charming and scenic city of Wroclaw.

As Polish trains are notorious for being less than punctual, the train arrival in Wroclaw on Friday evening was no exception. In light of this arduous eight hour journey, I missed the first screening I had procured tickets for, which was Billy Wilder’s The Apartment. Steadfastly in my attempt replicate the first mishap of missing the first film, I dutifully hurried to check in at the Hotel Polonia and subsequently unloaded my luggage in an action not dissimilar to a hurried throwing motion across the room, and then set off for the festival, which was another 20 minutes on foot across town. Despite my hurried pace and following the map in meticulous fashion I ended up missing the start of the second film by about 15 minutes. Unfortunately, It was another Billy Wilder film, this time the film; One Two Three, which if you haven’t seen, you should. After missing this timeless film on the big screen, I soothed myself by thinking that at least I was in Wroclaw and was able to find the festival at Kino Helios in plenty of time before the third film, which was Robert Altman’s depression era jazz tribute Kansas City.
The plan had been to see nine films between Friday evening and Sunday morning. After missing the first two, the plan shrank to seven in three days. Because of this setback, I pledged that nothing was going to keep me constrained from seeing all seven. Anyway, after picking up my tickets and with an hour or so to kill before the late screening of the Robert Altman film, I decided to saunter over to the square a few blocks away and find something for my empty stomach. After enjoying a deep dish pizza, and a strong coffee, I made my way back to the cinema. After finding a seat in the partially full screening room, I was able to be entertained by the first of seven films.

After a long series of adverts I was able to enjoy Altman’s film, which was quite entertaining. However, I would have to admit it fell quite short of a masterpiece. Nevertheless, Kansas City is a must see for anyone interested in depression era life, or the Jazz scene in Kansas City during this era. The acting is lively and entertaining, but Jennifer Jason Leigh’s charm didn’t win me over as I
thought her performance was bit over the top. Nevertheless, my pickiness aside, it was a highly enjoyable first film to inaugurate my weekend movie marathon. After the journey to Wroclaw and the two hour film, it was sleepy time.

Saturday proved to be much more promising. After waking up at a respectable hour and having a hearty breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant, I was charged to enjoy an entire day of film enjoyment. The plan was to see five films this day. The first film was Buster Keaton’s ‘The General,’ which started at 9:45. I miraculously found myself at the festival at 9am, which left enough time to enjoy a third coffee to compliment the two I had consumed at the hotel previously. The screening room was disturbingly only half full. You see, it is my opinion that The General is one of the greatest films ever made. So, if a film like the General plays on the big screen, one would expect more in the audience. However, I guess, filling any people in a cinema at 9:45 on Saturday is an accomplishment in itself. There is not much I can really say that hasn’t been said about this masterpiece. Except for the fact that a new musical score was added to this festival print, which was quite memorable. If you haven’t seen ‘the General,’ I recommend this re-release of the original 1927 version with a new musical score.

Four movies, a kebab, and a platter of fish and chips later, I found that it was nearly midnight. After watching the recent Phillip Seymour Hoffman film, two Terrance Malick films, and Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard, I was exhausted. It was an eventful day that could be written about for too long to bore the average blog reader to death. Nevertheless, I must be said that after this full day, my highlight was a re-discovery of the brilliance of Billy Wilder films. For those only familiar with his most famous film ‘Some Like it Hot,’ should really take the time to see his lesser known films.

Sunday, I even managed to make it over in time to see another Billy Wilder film. This time it was a courtroom drama with mixture of British wit, American fast talking, and the screen seductiveness of Marlene Dietrich in the plot-twisting film ‘Witness for the Prosecution.’ I highly enjoyed it, but the biggest surprise for me was Sunset Boulevard, which finished with a loud and quite spontaneous applause the day before. My biggest recommendation would be to see this film. The awarded films from the festival were the indie film ‘Somewhere Tonight,’ and the documentary ‘Sing your Song.’ The most popular attraction was the Todd Solondz retrospective and his appearance at the festival. All of these attractions I skipped in favor of watching older films. Watching older films on the big screen is purely a selfish activity based on the fact that I prefer having a chance to see black and white films on the big screen. Nevertheless, the newer films were definitely the more popular options.

After swiftly making my exit from Kino Helios, I boarded the EC train to Warsaw promptly at 1:45, which was only 15 minutes late for a change. I’m already counting down the days to the next festival, which is probably too soon.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Are You Ready for Some Schnitzel?

For many guys back home in the States, the tradition of Monday Night Football is something that has always been close to our hearts as something to cheer us up a bit after surviving the drudgery of another dismal Monday working day. It’s been a part of American culture for as long as I can remember anyway, which is getting longer as each day passes. For 16 weeks a year there is always Monday Night Football. That means during this period there is always a chanced to escape and relax a bit after the short weekend. However, if you’re a guy in the states, it’s too bad you don’t live in Poland for Monday night schnitzel and beer night at U Szwejka (at Szwejk’s) in Warsaw. Here it's not only about escaping, but it's like getting another weekend evening getting added to our life. Sorry, but Mondays in Poland are better for the guys (and girls too).

Read the following information with caution. May cause hunger!

Imagine, cutting board sized Vienna style schnitzel steaks coated in bread crumbs, with fresh lemon juice, a side of sour kraut, red cabbage, served with French fries, for a mere 15 zlotys (five dollars). Sound good? Then come to Warsaw on Mondays. If you’re not convinced yet(and shame on me for not mentioning this yet,) the best part is that the beer is on special on Mondays. One liter of Czech Pilsner Uriquell, or Polish Tyeskie, will only set you back 7.50 Zl. (two dollars and fifty cents). You can procure a full liter on Monday nights for less than a half liter will cost you in other pubs. If you come to Paris for the proverbial romantic weekend getaway, make a stopover in Warsaw on your way home.

The Czech style restaurant is fashioned in tribute to the Hasek novel “The Good Soldier Sviejk,” which is partly a World War I satire centered around the tribulations of the central character Svejk. When reading the novel, Svejk immediately might seem harmless and fun loving to the reader, which in a way characterizes the restaurant’s fun and gregarious atmosphere. A friendly place, which offers a cozy and convivial setting that would impress the grandest of Czechs-even Svejk himself.

It’s crowded though, so don’t expect a free table on arrival. The plethora of servers whizzing around bringing giant beer mugs to tables are friendly enough and will help you find a table if one is free. Normally though, be ready for a bit of a line outside the door. However, we’re usually sitting in a table in ten minutes tops after turning up.

By the way, some of us teachers have started a little club. It’s called the Szwejka Monday Night Schnitzel Club. This is no April fools joke. It's no ruse. We’re on facebook. We have members. We’re growing in numbers. We mean business. We can all attest to the fact that it’s better than Monday Night Football as well. Give us the Pepsi Challenge. We unanimously choose Szwejk over NFL on TV on Mondays. Join us. Come for the Schnitzels, and stay for the beer(s). Oh and by the way, girls are welcome too. They also have 10zl (three dollar) strawberry margaritas.