Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Red Sox: 2014 prediction post

So I look pretty foolish after predicting last year that the Sox would go 77-85. But as a long, longtime Sox fan, it was in my blood to be pessimistic. Still is. So, I'm going to double down and predict that in 2014 the Sox go ... 77-85.

Oh, sure, it would be easy to jump on the bandwagon and declare them favorites to win the World Series. But consider, from Mike Carp and Shane Victorino all the way up to Big Papi, this was a group that greatly overperformed last year. It was awesome and it would be awesome if they would do it again. But more likely, they'll return to something closer to their historical statistical averages.

Given that, what have the Sox done to make themselves better? Well, they went out and got Grady Sizemore. I loved the deal, and still do, given the price tag. But there's a good chance he's going to get hurt. Beyond that, the Sox lost Jacoby Ellsbury, they replaced Jarrod Saltalamacchia with a catcher twice his age, they turned the all-important right side of the infield over to a couple of guys with less than a year of experience between the two of them combined, and they let their aging starting rotation get a year older without any infusion of young blood.

Meanwhile, the Yankees and the Orioles have both gotten better. And the Rays still have the best pitching staff in the division, not to mention a scary lineup that inclues Evan Longoria and Rookie of the Year Wil Myers.

So, think back to the 2005 Red Sox, who looked a lot like the 2004 Red Sox, but only managed to capture the Wild Card before being swept in the ALDS. Or the 2008 Red Sox, who at least managed to get as far as game 7 in the ALCS. The truth is, its very, very hard to repeat in the big leagues, even when your team is stacked. And the 2014 Sox ain't stacked.

So, my gut and my mind both say 77-85. I hope I'm wrong.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Gonna Have to Face It...

The Dish recently posted some thoughts on being addicted to running. I think that anyone that runs even moderately seriously has either felt this way or can easily see it happening. James McWilliams tells us that
An estimated three percent of the general population suffers from exercise dependency. The more endurance-oriented the sport—ultra-marathoning, Iron Man competitions—the better the chances there are for some sort of addiction to set in. Exercise addiction overlaps with other disorders—most notably eating disorders, but also drug and alcohol abuse—about 25 percent of the time. ...
He details the varying stages of the addition and concludes:
It’s hard to see how—given the tendency of the high to diminish for the exercise freak—the temptation to add one more mile could be resisted, especially when acute negative consequences do not result. It’s hard to imagine ever effectively treating this “disorder.”
While I find this interesting, I have a hard time seeing running or endurance exercise as an addition on par with a chemical addition. Despite what he says, its seems to me that there's a world of difference between not wanting to stop something and being unable to stop something (e.g., as in the case of a meth addict). Glibly, I note that our bodies also have a built-in way of treating this type of disorder: it's called injury. I know more that one person who has over-trained or over-raced themselves into an injury that could have been easily avoided if only they had rested now and again.

Regardless, I think any person who doesn't recognize that any endurance athlete gets off of endorphins is fooling themselves. I've always looked at it as similar to people that get hooked on spicy food. McWilliams describes it this way:
My own experience of needing increasingly more miles to feed the seductive opiate rush of a workout speaks to the insidious impact of this possible chemical rationing. The body and mind recall all too vividly what it’s like to exist (blissfully, mind you) in post-exercise equilibrium and will do what it must do to rediscover that balance. 
Andrew astutely brings in Stanton Peele, who points out that
“People can become addicted to anything, whether drugs, alcohol, food, shopping, gambling, love, or sex, if it is the focus of an encapsulating experience that alleviates bad feelings and buttresses their self-esteem”
Which seems to me to get more to the point. I feel that "addictions" of these kinds aren't so much a change  in body chemistry leading to loss of decision-making ability as they are a positive feedback loop gone awry. The trick to to realize that and put it in perspective. Easier said than done, but to my mind a better way of treating the condition than like you would a normal addiction.

Interestingly enough, McWilliams concludes his article by flipping the whole premise on its head:
Contemplating the mysterious nature of this pleasure, something occurred to me that led to rethinking the whole idea of exercise addiction: Those we classify as exercise addicts might be a rare sort who are honoring what their bodies are designed to do and, historically, have done.
What if the real addicts are those who seek to be sedentary—which could be just as unnatural as seeking to be drunk or high—while the crazed athletes are the ones who are seeking the deeper wisdom and capacity of the human body?
Now that's a theory I can get behind!

Cross Posted on Thought Ambience

Friday, February 7, 2014

Running Maps

Now this is cool. Flowing data has gathered a number of activity logs and mapped out the most popular routes of major metropolitan areas. These maps are from RunKeeper, so the routes from your humble Strava-using bloggers are't included, but it's still interesting to see. His conclusion:
If there's one quick (and expected) takeaway, it's that people like to run by the water and in parks, probably to get away from cars and the scenery. In the smaller inland cities, there seem to be a few high-traffic roads with less running elsewhere.
Of particular interest for us is the Boston and the Washington DC maps.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Book Review: Chinghiz Aitmatiov’s "The Day Lasts More than a Thousand Years"

Chinghiz Aitmatiov’s The Day Lasts More than a Thousand Years is a timeless novel occurring at a very specific location and time – Kazakhstan in the late-to-mid period of the Soviet Union – and tells it in such a way that it speaks to everyone.

Aitmatov introduces us to Yedigei Burriani, a Kazakh worker on a Soviet railroad, who aims to bury his best friend in a historic Muslim graveyard. It’s hallowed ground because of Naiman-Ana, a long-suffering mother whose son was gruesomely transformed into a mankurt – an old Kazakh myth used here as a brilliant metaphor. In fact, as with any good Soviet novel, ambivalent metaphors abound: there’s even a science fictional subplot about our first contact with alien races that can be read as a prejudice of the unknown, as a critique of the Cold War, or even just as the impossibility of true communication between two sentient beings. And all of this occurs without feeling academic in the least – on the contrary, Aitmatov’s prose (translated by John French) is naturally beautiful, effortlessly flowing along from one story to another, always circling back to Burriani and his continual questioning about his purpose, and the conflict of the past with the modern. For example, the characters in the book honor the traditional Kazakh ways of living, (although Aitmatov doesn't whitewash out the harshness of this lifestyle) but also do not deny themselves the benefits of modern technology. On the contrary, Aitmatov seems genuinely excited about the possibilities of modernity – mainly the ability to quickly travel long distances and benefits of communications with other cultures that this engenders, but also smaller things. For instance, one great set piece involves Burriani’s famously powerful camel raging about in heat (powerfully symbolizing primal human emotions) but when it comes time to actually perform the burial, the hard work is done with a backhoe.

Overall, this may have been the most entertaining book I read in 2013. It came from an honest, true place and spoke to me on many levels. It was also a fascinating glimpse into a part of the world I know nothing about – just looking at some of the pictures of the Kazakh steppe quickly reveal how truly foreign this land is to me. Luckily we have fantastic books like The Day Lasts More than a Thousand Years to give us a sense of what it's like.

Cross Posted at Thought Ambience.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Review: Salomon S-Lab Advanced Skin M Belt Set

In 2013, Salomon's S-Lab debuted its first running belt, the Advanced Skin 2 Belt.  Although some reviewers noted it was a bit fiddly and that there were durability issues, most praised its light weight, breathable comfort, and ability to balance a load.  I was intrigued, but there was a deal breaker: the 2 Belt is designed to carry Salomon's 8-oz soft flasks.  In a race, those are great if you have a crew who will have bottles prepared for you before you arrive at the aid station.  But for the self-supported runner dependent on aid station crews to refill bottles?  Not so much.

Fast forward to 2014.  The S-Lab has produced its second belt, the Advanced Skin M Belt.  This belt is designed to hold Salomon's 16-oz soft flasks.  It has fewer pockets than the 2 Belt, but they are considerably larger, giving the M Belt 3 liters of storage capacity, where the 2 Belt had "only" a 2 liter capacity.  It also has various elastic straps for holding jackets, gloves, or other gear.  Thus, the M Belt holds much more than traditional packs, although still less than a backpack or vest. 

According to Salomon, the front piece is meant to hold energy and hydration, while the back element is meant to hold equipment and apparel.  Of course, a runner could wear either piece on the front or back.  I prefer to wear the front piece in front, but given that I don't travel with too much equipment, i put a 16-oz flask in the back.  A second 16-oz flask can be put in the front, depending on how much else I am carrying.  

the front

the back
(Speaking of flasks - Salomon appears to have updated the shape of the novel on its flask - the nozzles on the new flasks are wider at the top than the bottom.  Apparently these offer a higher flow rate; I've also noted that they are less apt to leak if the flask is accidentally squeezed).
2013 flask (left) and 2014 flask (right)

The M Belt itself is insanely light (together with an empty 16 oz flask, it weights just 4.2 oz), though of course if you load it fully, it can get heavy.  It is nice to have that weight around my hips, rather than on my shoulders.  By adjusting the top strap (which runs along my waist) somewhat tighter than the bottom strap (which runs along my hips), I've been able to dial in a fit that prevents bouncing even when the belt is full.  I've not had an issue with the straps slipping, which some runners reported with the 2 Belt.  

Lastly, the honeycomb mesh breathes wonderfully.  However, since this is the only layer between you and much of what you are carrying, things could get a bit damp inside.  

The M Belt is not yet available on Salomon's website, although a few select retailers such as Running Warehouse are stocking small numbers of it. I've not yet had a chance to race with it, but on a 20-mile run this weekend it performed admirably.   I'm looking forward to wearing it in my next race.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Galen Rupp's Indoor 5k American Record (video)

I had the pleasure of watching Galen Rupp smash the indoor 5k AR last night.  It was an incredibly inspiring performance.  I managed to capture some video of the last few laps.

Hope you enjoy!

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Book Review: Issac Asimov's "Foundation"

Foundation, the first novel in Issac Asimov’s famous Foundation series, speculates how to use a scientific sociology (here called “psychohistory”) to predict (and control) future events. As with most of Asimov’s writing, the prose is frequently leaden, but this is secondary to the ideas and plot. Indeed, the whole fun of this book is seeing how Hari Seldon’s plans to reduce a coming “galactic dark age” from 30 millenniums down to one plays out on an epic scale. And it is fun seeing Seldon's original hints and insinuations come to fruition, even if I didn't find it as engaging during my second reading. Still, I've read a fair amount of epic “space operas” since Foundation and very few of them stack up to the original. Recommended.

Cross posted on Thought Ambience