Saturday, July 27, 2013

Midnight Madness 5k & 10k

A couple of weeks ago I did the Midnight Madness 5k and 10k races. For those of you who don't know about them these road runs are a big deal here in Ames. I had never done it for a number of reasons: I run that far several times a week so why pay $30 to do it? I prefer to run alone most of the time and this race has hundreds, if not thousands of people in it. The big deal seems to be the party afterwards. I am not much of a partier.

Well, this year a few things came together to convince me to do it. First off, a friend contacted me asking me to do it, offered me a new pair of racing flats, and guaranteed me a PR (I hadn't run a 5k race since high school and had never run a 10k race). Then just a few minutes later I ran into the race director (Captain Midnight) at a coffee shop (though his persuasive speech focused more on the party and less on the run).

So on the day of I laced up my new shoes for the first time, just minutes before the start. The race started and for the first half I wasn't sure whether it was the 5k or 10k race (I had signed up for both). I really hoped it was the 5k because I was going way too fast for a 10k. It was surprising just how many people I knew both running and among the spectators. It seemed like every 10 meters I was saying “hi” to someone. I guess when you've been in town for 17 years and a visible part of the athletic scene for 11 it shouldn't be a surprise. There were more than a few “what are you doing here” moments. Luckily it was the 5k and I finished with a time of 20:47. I wasn't sure what to expect, but it seemed okay. Faster than many, slower than some. It's all relative.

I had about half an hour to wait for the start of the 10k so I walked around a bit and ran into yet more folks I knew. One happened to tell me about the 5k Swim the Bridge which I'll be racing tomorrow and others asked about the Arrowhead (I was wearing the shirt). I knew I'd have to back off and run my own pace in the 10k. In a 5k it seems like I can pretty much go all out, but in a 10k you really have to let go of your ego and let people you know are slower get ahead of you if that's what they want to do. So I reined it in for the first 5k. In the second half I pushed to keep the pace steady. A lot of those people who had passed me in the first half started dropping back and walking. I was glad of my easy first half. I thought I might end up with a negative split, but that didn't happen, though it was close (I don't have my splits). My finishing time was 47:43 which I thought was pretty good. The shoes were great and didn't give me any problems though in such a short race they really shouldn't.

Afterwards I got together with one of my cousins who happened to spot me when I was running. We ended up getting cake and ice cream with his girlfriend's family and missing the after-party. That's more my speed anyway. Will I do it again next year? I don't know. I had a good time and it is interesting to try and run fast rather than try and run far. I can see how someone could get into that. Maybe I'll see how fast I can do a marathon next year. Still I'm more of an ultra-runner at heart.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Books Read: June

Railsea, China Mieville
More good stuff from Mieville. Again I can see some folks not liking his stuff because of the suspension of disbelief required and breaking of convention that he loves to use. To me that makes it all better. Much of the time when a book builds suspense and it looks like there's going to be a big reveal at the end it just doesn't pan out. I as myself quite often with television and book series, can they end this well? What sort of ending would be satisfactory? More often than not I can't see any ending being up to the task. Some authors embrace this, think of the ending to Sopranos (which I haven't seen, but I know how it ends) some just fail, think of any series by Orson Scott Card. Mieville actually pulls it off. The end is sufficient to satisfy the buildup. That's a rare book.

Teachings on Love, Thich Nhat Hanh
I saw this at the library and picked it up. Then I put it down. Then I picked it up again. I think you can guess why: the title. It is not a very masculine title. It would be easy to feel self-conscious about carrying this one around. Not only am I reading a book about religion, but it has love in the title. I can't speak for everyone, but I think that in the culture I was raised in it is usually frowned upon for men to talk about love. I remember after going to a funeral for a good friend's father my friend told me, “When you get home tell your father that you love him.” She was very serious and sincere, but I didn't do it. Why? Because I was self-conscious about it. Well, the fact is I do love my father and I shouldn't be afraid to say so. I love you dad! There, I finally said it (well if writing counts) more than ten years later.

So, on to the book. This book is about love and love is about communication and understanding. Communication is the difficult part, at least for me (see above paragraph). Actually the understanding part probably comes down to communication too. After all how can we understand anything or anyone if we aren't willing to talk about it. I've had a few problems with this. With being self-conscious and unsure of myself. Afraid that people won't like me if they don't know me. Of course this is self defeating. If people don't know me they won't like me. Or at least they won't like me for who I am. Hold on. Here I am talking about love and using the word like. Is that fair? Man there's a lot of social baggage on that word 'love'.

Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz
This was the 'It' book a few years ago. All nerdly and literary. It got great reviews and I can see why, but I didn't like it. Much of the praise for the book revolved around it's use of nerd/geek references. Unfortunately, as I read it, those references serve only to highlight the main character's (Oscar's) immaturity and naiveté. Imagine that, geek references used to put someone down. Oscar is described as a fat nerd and is constantly trying to "get some" with awkward Star Trek inspired pick-up lines.  It's embarrassing and disappointing. If you want magical realism read Marquez. If you want a Carribean story read Gaiman's Anansi Boys. If you want geek culture read Ready Player One.  Maybe I didn't get this book.  I'd be happy to be wrong about it.  Feel free to tell me why this book is better than I thought.  

Knuckler, Tim Wakefield
I can't say why exactly I picked this one up. I had it written down as a book I was interested in, but I can't for the life of me figure out why. It's a pretty strange book, the first autobiography written in the third person that I've read. I suppose that's a nod to the fact that Wakefield didn't write it. A sportswriter did and it shows. It reads like a list of games scores and statistics. We never get to know Wakefield. He gets married has kids and devotes his free time to charities all with the vaguest of references. It's not at all like Andre Agassi's autobiography Open. That is a great book. Wakefield seems like a nice guy, a peacemaker, a team player, but unless you are a rabid Red Sox fan don't bother with this one.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Back to School

I announced a couple of months ago that I was going back to school. It was actually pretty hard to say. I've been thinking about it ever since I was kicked out 13 years ago. Honestly I don't blame them I was pretty worthless and not making much of my time there. Some semesters I hardly attended classes, much less did the assignments.

The incredible thing though. The thing that separates this time from every other time in the past 13 years is that I actually went ahead and did something about it. I talked to the Philosophy Department secretary and got the ball rolling. At first it looked like it was going to be an easy ride, now, after getting some bad news from the LAS College, it looks like I'm actually going to have to work for it. I suppose that's only fair. So ISU won't let me back yet. They don't trust me and who could blame them? I have to take some classes elsewhere first. Here again, I actually did something. I applied, and have been accepted at DMACC.

Now it may not seem like a big deal to be accepted to DMACC. You might say, “it's a community college, they accept anybody,” but that's not true. They only accept people who apply. I did that. The first time around I didn't. I don't know if I even filled out any forms to get into ISU in 1996. I know I had a chance to be in the honors program and I let it slip because I had to write a 300 word essay. Yeah, I had a pretty acute case of Entitlitis. Of course I also felt like I was going to college because I had to, because what else would I do?

Several times in the past few years I've said something like “College is harder than running a 100 mile race.” I believed that. It certainly looked like it on the surface. A race like that seemed like a sprint. Less than 48 hours. College will be maybe two years of work. But if I look more deeply I see that I run (or bike or ski) at least an hour every day to prepare for a race. If I put even that much work into school I expect it will be easier than I am worried it will be. I see that my old views on this are something like thinking that finals are all there is to college. Finals are certainly a big deal, but if you didn't prepare all semester how could you expect to do well? Or even finish?

Actually, I was a little surprised how few people commented on my goal of going back to school.  But if I think about it I think I've let enough people down in this arena that they didn't want to get their hopes up.  Thank you to those people who did encourage me though.  Who told me that I could do it. 

This time I'll be working for it. I don't know if I have a better idea of why I'm going to school, at least career wise, but I do have a better idea of what I want from it. I want to prove that I can do it. I want to put it behind me. 

 I'm actually quite anxious (and by that I mean eager) to begin.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A couple of non-race reports

Relay IA

In early June I did a relay event across the state, 339 miles. It's similar in format to relays you may have heard of: Hood to Coast, Ragnar, etc. Most teams had 12 members ours had 7 at our best, 5 at our worst, so we each did a lot of running. Those of you who know me know that I'm not much of a team person. I can work with a team, I did, but it's not my preference. To subsume my own opinions and submit to the team is not something I like doing. I put up with it and don't complain (much) though. Sometimes, because I'm not terribly outspoken, people assume I like to be in a supporting role. Not true. There's a reason I like events like Arrowhead and TransIowa, you're forced to rely only upon yourself for support. No one else there to bring you up...or down.

The running part of the event was good. I'm not used to road running, I race and train primarily on grass and singletrack, so my knees weren't quite ready for the pounding they got. Really it wasn't too bad. I developed a blister early on and my right knee gave me some trouble the second night, but all things considered I think I did pretty well for ~57 miles in three days.

Speaking of mileage I think I'm the only one on the team who didn't have a GPS watch to tell them pacing and distance. I don't wear a watch. It doesn't matter to me what my time is and carrying a watch won't make me faster. I get that if you train with it you have another way to pace yourself, but I prefer doing it by feel.

You might get the idea from this that I hated it and that's not true. I certainly had my struggles, but I made some new friends and came away with it feeling appreciated. I would consider doing it again, but right now it's not a high priority.

Relay IA photo by Chuck Fritz

Gravel Dude

You probably remember that I was going to do an “Ironman distance” triathlon for my birthday. Well I tried...sort of. I was pretty nervous going into it largely because I had invited other people to join me. I didn't know who was coming and the directions I had written up were untested at best. I was also concerned about some knee pain that I had developed during Relay IA and then exacerbated during a gravel/mountain bike ride two weeks earlier.

In the end only Matt Scotton (TransIowa vet. and Relay IA teammate) showed. We did the swim at Peterson's Pits with a last minute change to keep the course within the approved swimming area. I hadn't actually been swimming since doing a few laps at a health club in Finland more than a year ago so I wasn't sure how it would go, but it turned out pretty good. Apparently having been a competitive swimmer from ages 8 to 16 is an advantage.

After the swim we set out on the bike course. We had a nasty headwind out of the NW and got rained on as we approached the Des Moines River valley. Soft gravel, headwinds, and a stupid hilly course forced us (okay, me) to shorten the ride to 80 miles, but we still had fun.

I shortened the run to a 13.1 mile half marathon, partially to save my knee and partially because I just wanted to be done before midnight. It turned out to be a pretty good course and I was feeling pretty good for the first nine miles or so. The last few miles were rough on me though. I hadn't been eating well and it caught up with me. I finished with a pretty epic bonk.

By the time I was home (thanks for the ride Matt Scotton) I couldn't decide whether to shower, eat, or pass out. It was even tough to start eating as the first few bites were difficult. After that I started to gain some strength and recover. It's a good reminder not to get into that energy deficit area. I think maybe I worked harder than I thought.
The Bike of Theseus at Peterson's Pits

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Books Read: May

This probably wasn't the post you were looking for.  I'll get to my Relay Iowa and Gravel Dude reports soon enough.  For now you can see what I read in May.

Fabric of the Cosmos, Brian Greene.
For my first semester in college I was a physics major. That didn't last. I was bored with circular motion and I didn't have patience for the math. This book is all the exciting stuff from physics without the math. Black holes, quantum entanglement, string theory. It's all here and explained pretty well (though I shouldn't really comment as I'm not all that well versed in it). On some level though I've lost (or maybe never had) the curiosity that drives physicists and other scientists to delve into the mysteries of the cosmos. I'm a little too focused on the pragmatic, on simple rules for getting along in a complex world. On a larger, philosophical, scale I also don't see where it's all headed. I think it's unlikely we'll ever discover the truth, that we'll ever be satisfied that this is the final answer. Maybe that's part of the appeal. You can't fool me. It's turtles all the way down.

Zen Baggage, Bill Porter.
I promise this is the last Zen book for a while (well, maybe not). Actually, there isn't that much Zen in this book. It's more of a travelogue than anything else. The upside (I don't usually like travelogues) is that it actually makes me want to visit China. It's easy for us in the West to see China as monolithic, but anyone who thinks about it for a moment will realize that this can't be true. As a document about the diversity and transformation taking place in China this is a worthwhile read.

Chi Walking, Danny Dreyer.
I read Dreyer's first book Chi Running last fall (too late to have any effect on my races) and found it to be a pretty insightful guide to running technique. The focus on balance and posture that I learned translated to skiing and walking quite effectively. I ski much more efficiently that I did before reading that book and I don't slip on ice while walking as much. Chi Walking is a bit of a follow up that focuses more on people just getting started on being fit. It's a little more philosophical and big picture oriented than the previous book.

Embassytown, China Mieville.
I've been a fan of Mieville for a few years now. He's a fantasy writer who likes to break genre and in his case that's a good thing. This particular novel is a little more Frank Herbert like. In order to make sense of it you just have to dive in and ignore the neologisms. They'll make sense eventually. Mieville's books always require a pretty hefty suspension of disbelief to get into. Because he doesn't hew closely to any genre you can't make the same assumptions. You just have to trust him to make sense. In the end he does and it's worth it, but I can see why he is a love/hate kind of author.

Mastering Mountain Bike Skills, McCormack, Lopez.
The riding portion of this book starts with “You suck at biking” and it's true. I may be able to pedal all day long and into tomorrow, but I can't corner. This books is an accessible and entertainingly written guide and the authors know what they're talking about. It turns out that I've been doing some things seriously wrong for a long time now. With some practice (which I haven't been getting) I think I might just improve at mountain biking. Unfortunately a lot of my motivation to learn went with the demise of the Seven Oaks 24 Hour race. I don't have a mountain bike race on the schedule any more.