Monday, November 26, 2007

Thanksgiving 2007

It was great to have a 4 day weekend to spend with lots of family and friends. We had 2 turkey dinners, 3 big family parties, as well as some time with friends.

On Thursday we had the biggest Soper gathering in quite some time, maybe ever. Including a new fiance' (Darren) and two babies-to-be there were 37 people. After dinner we had our twice-annual football game, which has grown to a full blown 9 on 9. Team Matt was triumphant again and remains unbeaten for more than 10 years.

The Randy Van was very useful to transport the gang to the football field, holding 11 people since I keep my back seats out.

On Friday the Elenbaases bowled, ate pizza, and went to a Calvin basketball game. My dad continued to show big signs of improvement as he bowled a frame on his healing leg.

We had an all time classic bowling game. Derek, Ben, Lindsay, and I were on the same lane. I tried to initiate some competition between Ben and Lindsay and after 2 games, they had each won 1. Ben was confident that if he actually "tried" in the 3rd game he'd easily win.

He started well and took a 12 pin lead into the 7th frame. In the 7th he got a spare and acted as if he had guaranteed victory. So I decided to intervene (further) and start harassing him as much as possible. Lindsay clued me in on the initials of a girl Ben might like and in the 8th frame I chanted her initials as he bowled. He bowled two devastating gutter balls (off of a spare). Lindsay then picked up a spare of her own and suddenly they were tied. Ben shook off our comments in the 9th frame and got a 9. Lindsay countered so they were tied heading into the final frame.

With everyone watching, Ben came through in the clutch and picked up a big spare and figured the game was his. Carelessly he only hit one pin on his final bowl. So Lindsay needed to mark in the 10th frame, and with everyone watching she bowled a....STRIKE right in Ben's face. It was classic.

Nice work Lulu.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Baby Elenbaas

Erin had her big ultrasound today! She's 19 weeks along, and the two of us saw the baby up close, which was a great experience. We aren't going to find out the gender of junior before the birth but it was good to see him/her moving all around. I had another great moment on Sunday night, I felt the baby move! Erin has been feeling the baby for 2 weeks and on Sunday I happened to time a movement perfectly.
Junior wasn't very cooperative during the photo session and stayed tucked up so they couldn't get a good profile picture but here is a sampling of what we did get.
Two little legs and feet
The face looking up
Another shot of the head
One of the legs

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Christmas Lights 2007

As promised I put up my lights promptly during the first week of November. Also as promised I added $30 of lights to my display this year (bought on super sale last January to maximize my dollar). My two big changes are color lights on the tree and lights on the second story. I also added density to all sections. The 2nd story lights were a little precarious to install and required the purchase of a new ladder.
Here was my first year - 2005.

My 2nd year - 2006.

And this year! 2007

The colored lights blink and some of the white lights "sparkle." Enjoy the video and MERRY CHRISTMAS!

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Monday, November 12, 2007

A Pile of Leaves

The trees at our cottage are large, plentiful, and full of leaves. That is, until the fall. So one weekend each November we have to clean up and transport millions of of leaves.

The drill goes like this:
  • Rake the leaves into random piles
  • Load the leaves into the trailer
  • Pack the leaves into the trailer so we can fit more in
  • Drive a full load into the leaf pile in the woods
  • Unload the trailer
  • Repeat

It is actually a very fun time even though it is a lot of work. Since I was about 10 I took the job of tractor driver and haven't been kicked out yet.

The younger kids are the "stompers," which is a very significant job. Their attention span only lasts a couple hours, and then the adults have to take over the stomping.

By the time the tractor is full we've piled in a tremendous amount of leaves. It takes some work to break them up and dump them out.

My dad has made great progress in the last few weeks and can put full weight on his previously broken leg.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The Big Apple

Among other reasons, the NYC Marathon was a "destination marathon" for me. I love big cities and therefore love NY, so I used the marathon as an excuse to visit it for a weekend.

Cindy and my mom were planning to join Erin and myself for the trip but at the last minute my mom couldn't make it. Lucky for us we found found a friend that was able to take the 4 day trip on 48 hours of notice; Ron.

We arrived at midnight on Thursday and met Erin's friend Rebecca from New Jersey for breakfast on Friday before hitting the city. We ate at The Pancake House in a nice suburb. Rebecca warned that the pancakes were large so I ordered a normal serving of regular pancakes. You could choose 4 regular sized pancakes or 2 "lumberjack size." When I said I wanted the lumberjack size the waitress gave me the "are you crazy" look so I assumed I did something wrong. LOOK AT THE SIZE OF THOSE PANCAKES!
They cost $4.95

On Friday we went to the top of the Empire State Building for some great views of Manhattan.

Looking south towards downtown Manhattan

Peering through the grating for a better look.

I even had an artistic moment when a pigeon landed in front of me.

A look at midtown Manhattan's huge skyscraper zone with the Hudson river behind.
We then walked to Rockefeller Center.

Next was times square.

We saw a bunch of black suits in the middle of times square, but it turned out to be just a boring company going public. We were hoping to see someone famous.

Friday night we went to the Broadway show Curtains starring David Hyde-Pierce (Niles from Frasier). It was excellent. Broadway shows always seem to be really good.

On Saturday we focused on downtown Manhattan. First we walked around the financial district.

Next we walked to ground zero. It is still just a hole but we saw some freshly poured foundation and they seemed to be working hard on it so hopefully the new building will be in place soon.Finally, we took the Staten Island Ferry ride for some great views of the NY City skyline and the Statue of Liberty.

We also walked through Chinatown and had a great pasta dinner in Little Italy in the evening.

Other authentic New York City moments from the weekend:
  • Overheard a "forget about it"
  • Saw a delivery truck driver arguing with a traffic cop about what he could and couldn't do, meanwhile he was blocking an entire 1-way street for at least 5 consecutive lights and cars were lined up for 4 blocks (honking like crazy of course)
  • Hot dogs and pretzels from street vendors
  • Long subway rides all over the place
  • Almost getting hit by a cab

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Monday, November 05, 2007

2007 New York City Marathon

Sunday I ran in the biggest marathon of all time, the ING New York City marathon. A record 98,000 people applied to the open lottery system and 35,000 were accepted – including me. Along with charity and guaranteed entry runners a total of 38,676 completed the race which is the largest marathon anywhere, ever.
It also attracts many celebrities and world class runners like Lance Armstrong (214th place)
Katie Holmes, and Paula Radcliffe. The Empire State building even changed it's lights to orange and blue for ING.
This year the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials were held on Saturday in Central Park. The big story there was that one of the 150 runners attempting to make the team collapsed and died at mile 6.
I’ve been looking forward to this run for a long time since it would be my 3rd marathon and my 2nd “World Marathon Major.” I trained harder than ever this year, controlled my diet extremely well over the last 5 weeks, and had a goal of less than 4 hours.

The marathon follows a course through all 5 major boroughs of New York City. We started on Staten Island and ran across the Verazano-Narrows Bridge into Brooklyn. From Brooklyn we ran to Queens and then across the Queensboro Bridge into Manhattan. The course runs along 1st Avenue in Manhattan, takes a 1 mile loop into the Bronx, and then ends in Central Park. The course was much harder and hillier than I anticipated. The worst two hills were the two big bridges. They each had steep climbs of nearly a mile.

Since the marathon starts at the relatively remote location of Staten Island it was a big logistical issue of getting 40,000 people there by race time. I woke up at 5:00 am, drove to north Manhattan, took the subway downtown, took the Ferry to Staten Island, and then took a bus to the starting line, arriving at 8:00.

The race officially started at 10:10 but it took me a full 31 minutes to reach the starting line. There was construction on part of the bridge this year so race officials made us go out in “waves” which added to the long wait before getting to the start line. The run over the Verazano-Narrows Bridge into Brooklyn was excellent as we had a great view of the New York skyline. My goal at the beginning of the run was to not start out too fast and hold pace around 9:00/mile. This was pretty easy for the first 8 miles and I was feeling good.

Mile 1 – 9:15 (uphill)
Mile 2 – 8:19 (downhill)
Mile 3 – 9:05
Mile 4 – 9:05
Mile 5 – 9:05
Mile 6 – 9:01
Mile 7 – 9:06
Mile 8 – 9:18

My problems started after mile 8. In the first 8 miles participants are split up and run 3 different routes. At mile 8 we all came together. But, since my group had the construction issue we all crossed the starting line MUCH later than comparable runners in the other 2 groups. So the people we merged with were running at a 5:30 hour marathon pace compared to my group at 4:00-4:15. This is a huge difference in speed and since 2/3 of the runners were going much slower than me I spent the next 8 miles dodging through them. The course was too narrow most of the time and I struggled in passing the slower runners. I was constantly slowing down, speeding up, changing direction, and running along the curb. It was frustrating and also took away some of my energy.

Mile 9 – 9:24
Mile 10 – 8:59
Mile 11 – 9:29
Mile 12 – 9:37
Mile 13 – 9:07
Mile 14 – 9:17
Mile 15 – 9:29

I knew I wasn’t going to get 4 hours on my way up the Queensboro bridge at mile 15. I had just dropped off pace and the hill was brutal. Coming into Manhattan at mile 16 the course finally opened up as 1st avenue is very wide but my thoughts had shifted to the pain starting in my legs.

Mile 16 – 10:01 (uphill)
Mile 17 – 9:13 (downhill)
Mile 18 – 9:35
I kept running and was happy to see my cheering section at mile 18. Little did they know that it would take me a LONG time to reach them again at their next spot near mile 23.

Mile 19 – 10:15
Mile 20 – 10:46

I hit the wall HARD after mile 20 when I was in the Bronx. My body was shutting down despite my will power to keep running. I began walking but that hurt more than running so eventually I stopped to stretch. I repeated this vicious cycle for the next 4 miles, each mile getting progressively worse. Running hurt and was nearly impossible, walking hurt more, and stretching didn’t get me any closer to the finish line. My mile times looked like this:

Mile 21 – 11:49
Mile 22 – 12:38
Mile 23 – 14:50
Mile 24 – 19:44 (are you serious? This is slower than walking!)

I finally reached Erin, Cindy, Ron and Mara at mile 23 and Erin walked with me for awhile when I was at my worst.
My adrenaline kicked in for the last 2 miles and I was able to run the rest of the way. It was amazing, my pain basically went away and I was able to enjoy the final stretch through Central Park.

Mile 25 – 10:50
Mile 26 – 10:19

The finish line was heavenly. I was relieved to finally finish after the toughest run of my life. My final time was 4:29:36, good for 21,067th place. Not the time I had hoped for but I’m still very proud of completing it.

I stuck with my Michigan Wolverine theme again this year and was encouraged by the thousands of spectators with a plethora of cheers like “Go Michigan!” “Go Blue” “Go Big Blue” “Go Chad Henne” “Beat ohio state” and “Go Wolverines.” It was amazing how many Michigan supporters there were in New York. The best was when a couple sang the entire Hail to the Victors fight song as I passed them.
The course itself was really cool. I love NY City so it was really fun running through it and the spectators were very encouraging. I was also very happy to have Erin, Cindy, Ron, and Mara there to experience it with me.

Besides merging with slow runners after 8 miles my other big complaint about this marathon was the finisher area. They forced all of us to exit central park via a narrow road. It turned into a major bottleneck with no means of escape. I was forced to stand in this line for over 30 minutes of pure misery. There was no where to go and no way to move but my legs hurt too bad to stand, so I basically crawled along with the crowd until we finally got to the edge of the park.

People come from all over to run this marathon including all 50 states and over 100 countries. For some interesting statistics:

So, I've completed another marathon. My goal of 4 hours remains elusive for the moment. From mile 20 on I told myself there was NO WAY I was going to do this again in Las Vegas on December 2 (my original plan). 90 minutes later I changed my mind.
After finally getting out of Central Park we took the subway back to our van and drove 12 hours home. I pulled myself into bed at 5:00 am after a heck of a 24 hour span. Five hours later I was sitting at my desk working - never a dull moment.