Monday, October 31, 2011

Dale Sveum to Manage Red Sox?

News broke this morning that Dale Sveum (pronounced "Swaim") will be one of the first candidates to interview for the vacant managerial spot at Fenway Park.

You may remember that Sveum used to be a third-base coach for Boston.  You may, in particular, remember August 2004, when he was waving runners home like crazy.  OK, he was always waving runners home like crazy.  But that August, over the course of 10 games, he managed to get six Sox runners thrown out at home.

Sports radio announcers nicknamed him "Death Wish Dale."

Bloggers started calling him "Send 'em Sveum," or simply, "The Moron."

And even before he arrived in Boston, Terry Francona had another nickname for him: "Nuts." 

But yet - you have to like his attitude:
''[The booing] doesn't bother me that much . . . It's just the passion of the fans in Boston and it's a situation we appreciate here. Hey, if it takes the pressure off the players, give all the boos to me."
Did he tone down his aggressive brand of baseball after joining Milwaukee as their third base coach?  Not a bit.  And when the Brewers were swooning in September 2008, losing 12 out of 15 games, Sveum was called upon to save the season.  Taking over as interim manager, he shook up both the lineup and the rotation, finished the season 7-5, and got the Brewers into the playoffs.

After that, he took on the challenge of becoming their hitting coach.  In his own words:
"[Manager Ron Roenicke] is bringing a message here of aggressiveness and positivity and that is right up something I like to do and want to be a part of."
Yep, he sure did some nice things with the hitting talent in Milwaukee. 

I don't know a ton about the guy.  But I like the fact that Cherington isn't playing it safe with his choices.  Let's get some excitement next year!

Related posts:
Where Have You Gone, Tito?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

8.5 miles

After yesterday's snowfall, today was a perfect day for running: sunny, 45 degrees, with just a hint of a breeze.  I had been planning to hit the paths that thread through Washington's monuments, then realized the Marine Corps Marathon was underway.  Hopefully some great new personal records were set today!

I'd like to run the Marine Corps Marathon next year, but it will be only two weeks after the New River Trail 50K, which is also at the top of my list.  This may depend on what my friends are up for.

So, I headed west today, feeling about 90% recovered but ready to launch into my Burlington training plan.  The music for today was Van Morrison's A Night in San Francisco.  If you are into old school rhythm and blues, this is a damn-near perfect album for running: the band is in driving form as Van covers such classics as A Fool For You, Ain't that Loving You Baby, No Rollin' Blues, and It's a Man's Man's Man's World, with help from (among others) John Lee Hooker, Junior Wells and Jimmy Witherspoon.

I would have kept my pace under 9:10, but decided to play it safe and speedwalk up the steep climb from the Anacostia side of the river up onto the East Capitol Street bridge, which brought my overall pace down to 9:14.

I have a few errands to do this afternoon, then when I am done, I plan to settle back into my couch with 1Q84.  I should be at the end of Book One by the end of today!

On a technological note: My Garmin watch recorded my distance today as 8.51 miles, while my new iPhone recorded it as 8.52.  Great! While I like my watch better because it is portable and easy to read while running, I don't like it that much better; if I had had this phone two years ago, I doubt I would have invested in the watch.  I used RunKeeper to record the data today - I'm curious what iPhone apps you like, and why.

Related posts:

Training Plans
What Makes Murakami Addicting?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Big Papi to the Blue Jays?

The Boston Herald reports that the Blue Jays "will not rule out" making a serious run for David Ortiz. 

I am pretty sure that no team is ruling anything out at this point (except, perhaps, for handing Lackey the baseball in 2012).  So, that quote alone is hardly scary.  But, the Herald goes on to cite several reasons why Ortiz and the Blue Jays might be a good fit:
  • Ortiz has hit more home runs at the Rogers Centre than anywhere other than Fenway. 
  • He is familiar with and respectful of manager John Farrell and slugger Jose Bautista.
  • He has suggested the Red Sox have "too much drama" and has implied he might be willing to offer his services elsewhere.
  • The Blue Jays are one of the few teams right now that need a DH.
Ultimately, it's likely to come down to which team is able to make a better offer.  While Ortiz has recently said that he is proud to be part of the Red Sox and that he "hopes" he doesn't have to go anywhere else, Cherington has responded, "there needs to be a deal that makes sense to him and us."

In other words:  it's all coming down to money. 

So far, the Red Sox have been better at offering money to aging superstars from other teams than to their own.  But I say we need him around.  He has a lot of baseball left in him, but more importantly he has a lot of heart, and can help us right the ship.

Related posts:
And now, Papi...
Ortiz Goes to Left 

Happy Birthday!

"I'm sorry to miss your birthday."

"Forty-four," he said.  "I'm afraid I'm beginning to look it."

"The easy part is over."

"It was easy?"

"We're entering the underground river," she said.  "Do you know what I mean?"

"Yes, I know."

"It's ahead of us.  All I can tell you is, not even courage will help."
  --from Light Years, by James Salter

Congratulations, Todd!  One year closer to the river!

Related posts:
Review: Light Years (James Salter)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Margaret Atwood on Writing and Hockey

"Writing, Writers, The Writing Life--if this last is not an oxymoron. Is this subject like the many-headed Hydra, which grows two other subtexts as soon as you demolish one? Or is it more like Jacob's nameless angel, which whom you must wrestle until he blesses you? Or is it like Proteus, who must be firmly grasped through all of his changes? Hard to get hold of, certainly. Where to start? At the end called Writing? Or the end called The Writer? With the gerund or the noun, the activity or the one performing it? And where exactly does one stop and the other begin?"

- Margaret Atwood, Negotiating with the Dead

For more on this fascinating woman, you have to see her take on the hockey goalie.
Cross Posted on Thought Ambience.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

1Q84: Hardcover

Decision made: this afternoon I visited my local independent bookstore and purchased the hardcover version of 1Q84.

The book features a translucent dust cover that works in a tandem with the full color binding to create a cover that is greater than the sum of its parts.

But, the striking design work doesn't end there...

Even before the first words begin, the opening pages promise a story of epic proportions . . . .

And deft touches such as these mirror-image page numbers are suggestive of the alternate realities to which that story will take us.

There are plenty more surprises that I will leave uncovered.

Suffice it to say that, in another book, some of these touches would be overkill, but -- without having so much as read the first word yet -- I feel that, for this novel, they work perfectly.

The designer, Chip Kidd, discusses his work on Knopf's website, and also in the video below:

Related posts:
Murakami's Boundaries
Fall Reading List

John Lackey and Tommy John Surgery: A Few Questions

In Ben Cherington's first move as general manager of the Red Sox, he announced that John Lackey would be having Tommy John surgery, and wouldn't be re-joining the pitching staff until "hopefully, 2013."

Now, I don't know the extent of Lackey's injuries, because Cherington didn't go into them.  But I do have a few questions:
  • Isn't it quite a lucky coincidence that the Red Sox have a Tommy John clause in Lackey's contract?
  • Isn't it convenient that Lackey will be taking a year off, right at the time when he is quite possibly the least popular Red Sox player of all time?
  • Isn't it funny that Lackey's pitching velocity was on the rise throughout 2011, even though most pitchers who need the surgery, such as Adam Wainwright and Tim Hudson and Daisuke Matsuzaka, experience a significant decrease in pitching velocity as a symptom?
  • Isn't it odd that Francona never mentioned that Lackey was having elbow problems, even though he discussed Matsuzaka's elbow problems time and time again?
  • Isn't it interesting that even though virtually every pitcher gets a second opinion before committing to Tommy John surgery, the Red Sox didn't believe a second opinion to be necessary in Lackey's case?
  • Isn't it bizarre that, even after the season ended and reporters were asking questions, nobody on the Red Sox mentioned Lackey's injury until the door was tightly shut behind Epstein and Francona?
  • Isn't it easy to be cynical when the Red Sox PR machine has a long history of manipulating the media?
  • And my last question:  Will Lackey return in 2013, with all his 2011 sins forgiven because, after all, he was injured in 2011 -- or will he just ride off into the sunset, letting the front office write off his contract due to medical issues that, after all, they could not possibly have been responsible for predicting when they signed him?

Related posts:
Things Bill Simmons Doesn't Want to Talk About
Lackey in August
Watching Lackey

Only in UltraRunning . . . .

UltraRunning magazine has posted an account of this year's inaugural Ultra Race of Champions 100K. 
"At mile 48.5 [Michael] Wardian, fresh off his second place finish at the World 100K Championships, had a 16-minute lead over Roes and appeared ready to cruise to victory. But he missed a turn at an intersection that one observer described as 'marked, but confusing' and lost about 40 minutes. Despite the wrong turn, Wardian rallied to finish second."
Congratulations to Geoff Roes, Michael Wardian, and all the other runners!

Related posts:
taking a break

Theo's Farewell

The Boston Globe published an oped from everyone's favorite GM this morning. It's well written and classy and contains a last attempt to stop the media feeding frenzy:
It may not seem this way now, but I am convinced that we will look back at September of 2011 not as some harbinger of the demise of the Red Sox, but as an anomaly in the midst of a decades-long run of success for the franchise. Some good may even come from it. I know the climate is especially hostile right now, and our mistakes are well documented, but I encourage fans not to lose faith in the players or in the organization. Red Sox Nation is a fantastic place, and it’s even better when we take a deep breath and give each other the benefit of the doubt.
These published farewells can be rote and cheesy, but I thought this one struck the right notes.

Thanks for the memories Theo! We'll miss you. Good luck in Chicago!

(Send us Trey McNutt - what a fantastic name! - and we'll remember you even more fondly...)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Underground Man

That is the title of this week's New York Times Magazine cover story, profiling Haruki Murakami.  If you are looking forward to 1Q84, you owe it to yourself to read this.

I won't totally spoil it for you, but, for starters, the piece doesn't contain any 1Q84 spoilers: it is about the novelist, not about the book.  And while it treads some territory that has been widely covered in the past -- his jazz bar, how he wrote his first novel, the New York marathon -- there is a lot here that is new.  It is, by far, the best piece I have read about what he is like now, as a successful novelist.

Some highlights:
  • Murakami wakes up at 4 AM every day and goes straight to his desk for five to six hours of concentrated writing.
  • His house has a vast office overlooking the mountains, and which also contains his collection of over 10,000 records.
  • He has an office in downtown Tokyo, where multiple stylish young women work as his assistants.
  • He loves ironing.
  • He doesn't remember his dreams, except for a single, recurring nightmare, which is described in the piece.
  • Murakami tourism has exploded: it is now possible, for example, to join a "Kafka on the Shore" tour group.
  • Murakami and the writer go running together, during which Murakami is portrayed as a particularly genial running companion.
Along the way, the writer muses about the "addictive weirdness" of Murakami's body of work, and the various metaphysical boundaries it describes.  

A perfect find in my Sunday morning paper.  

Related posts:
Pointless Acts

Pointless Acts

"Even if, seen from the outside, or from some higher vantage point, this sort of life looks pointless or futile, or even extremely inefficient, it doesn't bother me.  Maybe it's some pointless act like, as I've said before, pouring water into an old pan that has a hole in the bottom, but at least the effort you put into it remains.  Whether it's good for anything or not, cool or totally uncool, in the final analysis what's most important is what you can't see but can feel in your heart.  To be able to grasp something of value, sometimes you have to perform seemingly inefficient acts."
                        Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

Related posts:
Post Ultramarathon Recovery
Murakami's Boundaries
What Makes Murakami Addicting?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Post Ultramarathon Recovery

There is a rule of thumb among runners: the amount of time it takes to recover from a race is one day for each mile.

I doubt there is any magic to this formula -- someone simply noticed that most people take about two weeks to recover from a half-marathon, and three to four weeks to recover from a marathon.  It's less clear that the rule holds true for either 5K races or 100K races.

Nevertheless, it's nice to remind myself that there is no reason to expect that I should be back to 100% yet.  After four days of serious soreness, I had several days of random aches and in various places -- a foot, a knee, a hip -- that would appear for a day, and then just disappear.  The last couple days, though, I have been feeling great, except for congestion in my lungs that still hasn't cleared up yet.  (That's perfectly normal, since running 50K stresses the lungs a lot more than they are used to.)

I've gone for a few recovery runs since the race, which mostly have consisted of shuffling around the neighborhood.  I've also started a routine of core exercises to help my running while letter my legs recover.  But today, the golden autumn air beckoned and I headed out for my first real run since the race, on my favorite track along the Anacostia River.

Since I last was here, a stretch of trees have been cut down along the water, apparently for some sort of construction project.  For now, though, the clearing provided a scenic view of the lazy river.  Further on, the course took me along the edge of the RFK Stadium parking lot, where families were already starting to tailgate for the final MLS game of the year. The smell of charcoal briquettes and the laughter of kids playing pick-up soccer games made me want to attend a game sometime, too.

As I looped through Kingman Island -- which was empty as always; my own private off-road trail -- my energy started to flag.  I laid off for a half mile, then pushed as hard as I could for the return loop.  Still not 100%, but I'm running again.

Click "view details" for splits and other information.

Related posts:
Race Report: 2011 New River Trail 50k

Friday, October 21, 2011

Curt Young to Oakland

Of all the Red Sox who managed NOT to get thrown under the bus, Curt Young is perhaps the most surprising. 

To be fair, over the entire course of 2011, the pitching staff put together a performance that was almost identical to the 2010 season under John Farrell:
  • 2011:  4.20 ERA, 1213 K, 1.31 WHIP
  • 2010:  4.20 ERA, 1207 K, 1.36 WHIP 
However, this stat line looks as good as it does (which is not very) only thanks to the resurgence of Beckett and Papelbon.  I'd be hard pressed to say that Young otherwise did what was expected with the pitching staff he was given.  Certainly, he never accomplished with the Sox what he was able to accomplish with the A's-- but then, in Oakland he never had to deal with such a group of prima donnas.

So, it's no surprise to see that the Sox are letting him walk away from the second year of his two-year deal.  Here's hoping that we can find someone better to replace him.

Related posts:

Thursday, October 20, 2011

National Book Awards: The Finalists

Now that the Man Booker award has been handed out, attention turns back to our side of the pond, where the finalists for the 2011 National Book Award were recently.

I generally don't put much stock in the award.  By and large, the judges seem to value heartwarming, feel good stories (and in particular, those that deal with race and class) more than literary merit.  In addition, the Award is a little bit too enamored of first-time authors -- perhaps there are some guilty feelings still lingering from 1986, when they stopped giving out a separate award for "First Work of Fiction."  In any case, is it really possible to make the case that Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain was a better book than Don DeLillo's Underworld?

But sometimes the right novels do win, and in any case, there are almost always some great writers among the finalists -- authors like Peter Matthiessen, Tom Wolfe and Peter Carey (who has dual citizenship, and thus eligible for both the Booker and the National Book Award!)

So, let's see.  This year gives us, Andrew Krivak, Tea Obreht, Julie Otsuka, Edith Pearlman and Jesmyn Ward. 

If you are shaking your head asking, "Who?" you are not alone.

Perhaps the award committee was looking for books they could read quickly: the average length of these five boks is 274 pages.  (Curiously, the average length of the books on the Booker shortlist, with its newfound emphasis on "readability" was 275 pages.)

More significantly, this relatively anonymous list simply represents the fact that it's been a slow year for novels by American citizens. 

Still, I certainly would have expected to seeTeju Cole on the list for Open City.

Who do you think was snubbed in 2011?

Related posts:
Review: The Sense of an Ending (Julian Barnes)
DeLillo on Baseball

Building up to Something New

When faced with a memorable artistic release like the publication of a new book or album by a favorite band, people tend to approach the event in one of two ways:
  1. They go into media blackout and forgo reading anything about the author or musician because they want to approach the new work with a clear fresh mind
  2. They obsess about leaked details and teasers about the work and endlessly ponder what it might be about
I actually combine the two tendencies: I don’t want to read about any details about the new book or album, but I do start obsessing about the artist’s previous releases. For example, when a new church album comes out, I listen to the band’s previous albums so that I the context for the new release is fresh in my mind. And when one of my favorite authors writes a new book, I read up on their back catalog so that I’m familiar with their themes and tricks and am ready to think about how the new book fits into their oeuvre as a whole.

This approach has its advantages and its disadvantages. It’s actually ruined a few authors for me, as when I started obsessing about J. M. Coetzee (after reading fantastic The Master of St. Petersburg and Disgrace back to back) only to realize that he tends to continually write about the same thing (and also displays the tendency of the aging male syndrome that Joel describes here). But for the best authors, it reveals more about their books than I would have remembered otherwise. Such is the case of my buildup to Murakami’s 1Q84, I’ve re-read both The Wind-up Bird Chronicle and After Dark and have loved my re-experience of them both.

What about you? How do you approach new books? Do you think I’m obsessively crazy in my approach?

Related posts:
Murakami's Boundaries
Do You Know What I'm Saying? (Review of The Wind-up Bird Chronicle)
What Makes Murakami Addicting?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Murakami's Boundaries

I’ve often read that a good deal of Haruki Murakami’s writing is powerful because it evokes the unconscious trends of Japanese society. Without knowing much about Japan, it’s hard for me to speak to that, although it might explain away the strange underpinnings of his more abstract books. Personally, I find the subtle dark undertones of his writing to be mesmerizingly suggestive, but find that it's powerful because of this lack of specificity, not in spite of it. It's with this in mind that I ponder his obsession with boundaries. Boundaries between the real and the imaginary, boundaries between good and evil, boundaries between the certain and the uncertain.

His most famous boundary is the doorway that exists between the bottom of a dried up well and the mysterious hotel room in The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, but it doesn’t take a lot of deep reading to find equivalencies in his other books. The most obvious one is spelled out in the title of Hard-Boiled Wonderland and The End of the World in that most of the novel is about the journey between those two realities. I won’t bore you with more examples but pick up any one of his books and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

His 2007 novel After Dark is no exception. In fact, this short novel almost explicitly deals with the barriers between two states of being. These include:
  • The city before and after trains: “Between the time the last train leaves and the first train arrives, the place changes: it’s not the same as in daytime.” (p. 55)
  • Eri’s journey out of the “sleep coma” that she’s been in for the last few months
  • Takihashi’s speech about criminals vs. non-criminals: “[The criminals] live in a different world, they think different thoughts, and their actions are nothing like mine. Between the world they live in and the world I live in there’s this thick, high wall.” (p. 91)
  • One side of the mirror vs. another: Both Mari (p.63) and Shirakawa (p.127) occasionally have reflections that stay in the mirror after they have left the room – and Shirakawa’s reflection even does things that he does not!
  • Takahashi’s music: “You send the music deep enough into your heart so that it makes your body undergo a kind of a physical shift, and simultaneously the listener’s body also undergoes the same kind of physical shift. It's giving birth to that shared state.” (p. 88)
  • Night vs. Day “The new day is almost here, but the old one is still dragging its heavy skirts. Just as ocean water and river water struggle against each other at a river mouth, the old time and the new time clash and blend. Takahashi is unable to tell for sure which side – which world – contains his center of gravity.” (p. 173P
I could go on and on. The entire book is almost a meditation on complimentary opposites, ying and yang swimming both with and against each other. He even writes very evocatively of what it might take to truly be transported from one side to the other (a description of Eri’s journey through the TV screen that starts on page 102). All of these musings come to a head during this remarkable passage:
“What we see now is a gigantic metropolis waking up. Commuter trains of many colors move in all directions, transporting people from place to place. Each of those under transport is a human being with a different face and mind, and at the same time each is a nameless part of the collective entity. Each is simultaneously a self-contained whole and a mere part. Handling this dualism of theirs skillfully and advantageously, they perform their morning rituals with deftness and precision: brushing teeth, shaving, tying neckties, applying lipstick. They check the morning news on TV, exchange words with their families, eat, and defecate.

With daylight, the crows flock in, scavenging for food. Their oily black wings shine in the morning sun. Dualism is not as important an issue for the crows as for the human beings."
So what is it about Japanese society that fuels this obsession with boundaries? Again, I don’t feel qualified to speak: I’m on the far side of yet another boundary in that Murakami’s message is coming to me not only across cultures but also through the filter of a translator. It's a fascinating obsession, and I'm in awe not only that so much of his message gets through, but at how powerful it remains after repeated readings.

Related Posts:
Do You Know What I'm Saying? (Review of The Wind-up Bird Chronicle)
What Makes Murakami Addicting?

Cross-posted on Thought Ambience.

Things Bill Simmons Doesn't Want to Talk About

In case you missed it, Bill Simmons has a great piece in Grantland covering Red Sox ownership, Theo, Francona, and all the rest.  He closes with this gem of an admission:
"[I]t's been fun to have the dysfunctional and semi-incompetent Red Sox back in my life — kind of like seeing your extended family at a wedding for the first time in ages and remembering how crazy everyone is. Hey look, there's my nutty uncle who thought the world was going to end because of Y2K and built a bomb shelter! And there's my slutty cousin who agreed to be a surrogate mom, then had the baby and disappeared with it and got arrested! Welcome back, Weird Part of My Life. I hate myself that things feel more normal when the Red Sox are fucked up than when they're not."
Related posts:

Where Have You Gone, Tito?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

How to Pick Your Next Race

Having just completed a 50K, I'm not concerned about whether I'll have the endurance to get through the Burlington Marathon.  But at this point, I know I don't have the speed to keep up with my buddies.  So, while they struggle through week after week of long runs, I need to work on getting faster.

What better way to push myself than to sign up for a race?  It seems like every week, there are a dozen races in the DC area, so the only challenge is choosing between them.  Here is how I rank the factors:

  1. Date.  Obviously, if I am out of town on a given days, I'm not going to run.  Luckily, most days work.  This factor isn't going to help me narrow things down too much.
  2. Location.  If possible, I'd prefer to get to a race by public transportation.  In any case, I'm willing to commute only about 30 minutes.  Any further, and my time is better spent going to the local park.
  3. Course.  I'd love a run along a river, or in the woods, or through a historic neighborhood.  Back and forth along a new stretch of highway that is about to be opened up?  Not so much.
  4. Entry Fee.  Most races around here seem to start at around $30.  For me, that's about $10 too much.  Unless it's a very long race, or a must-do race, my budget is low.
  5. Cause.  I'd prefer the proceeds go for a good cause.  Which doesn't necessarily mean a big name.  A great race might be a fundraiser for a small, but important, community institution.  As long as the institution isn't the local rich kid's school, which doesn't really need my dollars.  
  6. Reputation.  I trust other runners!  If there's good buzz about the race, I'll head in that direction. 
  7. Size.  All things being equal, I'd prefer to keep it to around 1,000 entrants or fewer.  Big races seem like big hassles.
  8. Distance.  All the way down here at #8?  Yup.  It's not too important to me if it's a 5K or a 10-miler.  I'll be middle of the pack, regardless.  As long as I'm having fun. 
  9. Swag.  For a short, local race, I really could not care less whether I bring home a medal, a t-shirt, or nothing at all.  
Are there any considerations that I have missed?  What is most important to you?

Related posts:

the importance of cross-training

for specialized, well-trained athletes, cross-training may be counter-productive.  but for those of us who sit in a chair on a daily basis and grind out an honest day's work before we hit the less beaten path, or at least for ME, cross-training is as important as it is time consuming.

i say time consuming because other people may ONLY want to run (for example).  for them, anything that gets in the way of running, which is done in the precious commodity called "free time", is a bad thing.  i happen to really love cycling.  i've been cycling longer than i've been running.  the thing i think i like most about cycling is that i can do it for hours on end without feeling like i'm going to crumble into pieces.  i cannot do that on the run yet.  i'm training to be able to do that, but i'm not there.  but i think it's important, when training to do that on the run, to teach your body how to suffer for hours on end.

i've learned through unfortunate experience that you cannot simply go from someone who runs 5ks to someone who runs marathons.  instead of "you", i should say "i"...  maybe some people can do it, i cannot.  i think modern conventional wisdom indicates a 10% increase is about right per week for mileage, nothing more.  after a good first half of the year of training, i tried to ramp my mileage up more quickly than that.  now i sit and type more than i run due to injury.

reason number 1 why cross training is important to me:

when i cross-train, i get injured less.  during the years i was racing triathlons, i don't remember ever being injured.  i remember a lot of pain, a lot of soreness and lot of weeks when i decided to take it easy due to a feeling of being burnt out or physically wasted, but i didn't get injured to the point where i needed to stop for any significant amount of time.

the first half of this year, i cycled nearly as much as i ran.  i kept a pretty consistent running plan and cycled on the off days, sometimes cycling on days i ran (a "brick").  it wasn't until todd brought up the idea of doing a marathon that i started to focus on only running, ramping up the miles and staying away from the bike.  obviously, it's a combination of ramping miles and forgoing the cross training that led to injury (plus, i've been complaining about the calf for quite some time, so the seeds of this were already there).  but i do think if i kept more consistent about the cycling, i could have ramped the miles a bit faster (but still not as fast) and kept myself uninjured.

which leads me to the number 2 reason why cross training is important to me:

building a cardio-vascular base, a tolerance for pain and teaching your body how to burn fuel over the long "run".  i guess that's more like 3 reasons, but they all lead to the same thing...  preparing the body for going longer.  i've found that swimming is a very intense cardio-vascular workout and over the past few weeks of swimming, i feel like i've certainly maintained, if not improved my cardio by doing increasingly longer pool workouts.  i'm not a "pool runner", which seems a bit ridiculous to me, but a lap ticker... lap after lap of mind numbing crawl swimming.  the most significant jumps i made in increasing my pace (back in the day) came after i started adding serious swimming workouts to my routine.

out on the bike you go through periods of high-heart rate, lactic acid-injecting climbing followed by mellow downhills, with the grinding flats in between.  Massachusetts doesn't offer high mountains, but there are plenty of rolling hills to be found, plenty of climbing to be done.  it's a lot of little climbs, with a cumulative effect of crushing your legs and forcing them to recover quickly.  i think it's good to teach the legs to endure, produce, recover and then to do it all over again.

on a long ride, you also start to learn about the importance of nutrition and hydration.  this weekend, for example, i went out for a nice long ride where the bulk of my climbing was in the first half of the journey.  i felt great through all the climbs, good enough to push the pace a bit in the flats in between.  but when i got to flatter roads, i started to tank...  my body had burned up whatever fuel was left in the tank and needed more...  and it was very hard to take on calories.  my stomach didn't feel all that great, i had no appetite, but i managed to force down some food a bottle of water.  not long after that, i felt good again.  i think it's very good for the long run to teach your body that cycle.

maybe i'm just trying to find some way to be happy about my current non-running state of being...  but the more i bike and swim, the more i'm learning to trumpet these activities as crucial to my well being and preparation for running longer distances.  most importantly, i'm able to get out there and exercise...  and THAT is certainly something!!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Review: The Sense of an Ending (Julian Barnes)

In recent years, a certain type of literary fiction has become in fashion.  An elderly narrator recalls the story of his life (and I say "his" because these do tend tend to be books by men), beginning in youth and moving forward.  The narrator's purpose, perhaps only vaguely sensed by the reader at first, is to make sense of some particular "event" that formed a turning point in his life.  The nature of that event will only become clear toward the end of the novel.  When it does, it drives home the point that memory is fallible: it consists of stories we tell to make sense of our lives, but that do not always correspond to to fact.

This isn't new stuff: Proust understood as much, and since the 1990s it has been a hot topic in psychology, criminal science, and other disciplines.  But it's also rich a vein for writers to explore.  I am sure you can think of several examples -- the ones that come to my mind include The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, The Sea by John Banville, Out Stealing Horses by Per Pettersen, and now, The Sense of an Ending, by Julian Barnes.

The Remains of the Day, of course, won the Booker Prize in 1989, The Sea won the Booker in 2005, and The Sense of an Ending is being tipped as the frontrunner for the 2011 award, which will be announced later tomorrow.  If Pettersen had been a citizen of the British Commonwealth or Ireland, he no doubt would have been a contender as well.

I will say this: Barnes is the best writer about old age that we have today, far better than the repetitive, randy, Philip Roth.  As his narrator, Tony Webster, delves into his past in 1960s England to make sense of a friend's suicide, Barnes (finally) shows that he is a master of such old-fashioned skills as atmosphere and plot.  In short, I found this slim novel very difficult to put down; indeed, I nearly finished it in one sitting.  But was it great?  Barnes is treading territory that has been well-covered before, and he fails to use the device to connect to the greater concerns of, say, The Remains of the Day.

I've not yet read any of this year's other Booker contenders, so I can't say whether Barnes deserves the nod this year.  I will say that this book is a fine way to spend an evening, and one that will leave you thinking about your own memories for some time after.

UPDATE: It has just been announced that Julian Barnes has won the Man Booker Prize for The Sense of an Ending.  Congratulations!

Related Posts:
Fall Reading List
Quote from "Out Stealing Horses"

The Marathon Monks

"There is an order of Buddhist monks in Japan whose practice is running. They are called the marathon monks of Mount Hiei. They begin running at one-thirty AM and run from eighteen to twenty-five miles per night, covering several of Mount Hiei’s most treacherous slopes. … The monks run all year long. They do not adjust their running schedule to the snow, wind, or ice. They wear white robes when they run, rather than the traditional Buddhist black. White is the color of death: there is always the chance of dying on the way. In fact, when they run they carry with them a sheathed knife and a rope to remind them to take their life by disembowelment or hanging if they fail to complete their route.

After monks complete a thousand-day mountain marathon within seven years, they go on a nine-day fast without food water or sleep.  

I read about these monks in a book entitled The MarathonMonks of Mount Hiei, by John Stephens."

- Natalie Goldberg, from the Introduction to Long Quiet Highway 

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Fall Reading List

The Cat's Table, by Michael Ondaatje, is getting rave reviews from the New York Times, the New York Times Sunday Book Review, and just about everyone else.  Despite the fact that I felt the New Yorker excerpt didn't work as a short story, I will be picking this up.

So, my fall reading list (with publication dates in parentheses) is shaping up as follows:

The Cat's Table, Michael Ondaatje (10/4)
The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes (10/5)
The Stranger's Child, Alan Hollinghurst (10/11)
1Q84, Haruki Murakami (10/25)
The Prague Cemetery, Umberto Eco (11/8)
The Angel Esmeralda, Don DeLillo (11/15)

Holy crap - after a dry summer, what an embarrassment of riches! And on top of that, when it comes time for a break from fiction, there's the new biography of Hemingway due on 10/17, Hemingway's Boat: Everything He Loved in Life, and Lost.  Definitely, there's no need to sit around bemoaning the end of the baseball season.

Are there any upcoming new releases that I am missing?

Friday, October 14, 2011

Review: Brooks Launch

Since y'all asked about those flashy shoes I was wearing at the 50K:  those are the Brooks Launch.

The Brooks Launch first came on the market late in the summer of 2009, immediately winning "Best Debut" from Runners' World.  This was right about the time I started running, and even though I was hearing lot of buzz about these shoes, I was worried that they might be too minimal starting out, so I began running in the Brooks Glycerin.

Happily, Brooks has not updated an already great thing: there is no "Brooks Launch 2."  They've simply changed the colors.  I bought my first pair of Brooks Launch in the summer of this year, and despite a variety of other shoes under my bed they quickly became my go-to shoe.  Shortly before the 50K, I retired my old black pair for a new pair in blue and silver (the best color scheme yet, in my opinion.)  Other than the laces, they are not quite as bright as they appear on some stores' web sites, and once you get them a little dirty, the color tones down even more.

The Launch is a lightweight, neutral shoe.  It isn't a minimal shoe by absolute standards, but it is relative to my old Glycerins.  It's weight comes in at just a feather over 9 oz.  According to the Brooks website, the shoe has a 9.5 mm heel-to-toe offset, while Running Warehouse measures it 12 mm.  Perhaps the difference is because the measurements were based on a different size of shoe?  In any case, that's less heel than the Glycerin, but more than the Green Silence.  For me, it was just the right amount of padding for a 50K on a soft surface -- I never thought about my feet at all during the run. 

I also appreciate the lightweight upper.  My feet don't even get damp when I run, which is a complaint I've had with many other shoes.  That, together with the roomy toe box, means I don't get any of the blisters that typically develop with other shoes.  (In fact, they only blister I got at all during the 50K was a on the middle toe of my left foot, and I don't blame that on the shoes.)  I once got caught in a rainstorm while running, and was pleased to find that the shoes drained easily, and that my feet were again dry soon after the rain ended.

The soles of the Brooks Launch have certainly proved to be more durable than the Kinvara 2s I ran in for a while.  As for the cushioning, though, they started to feel somewhat flat after 200 miles, which is the reason I bought the new pair.  I do weigh 190 lbs., but I wish I could get  more miles out of them.

My only other complaint is that I tend to get a good number of pebbles in my shoes when running off road; during the 50K I had to stop once to shake it out.  I'm not quite sure why this should be so -- perhaps it is being picked up in the soles of shoe (which contain a lot of narrow grooves) and then dropped in?

Other than that, though, they are super comfortable--soft on the inside, good laces, no pressure points, very flexible.  They're great for an easy trail ultra, and just as great for a 5K.

Finally, a shout-out for the fact that these shoes are relatively environmentally friendly, as far as running shoes go.  Kudos to Brooks for its use of recycled elements and for its work on developing biodegradable materials.

Any questions?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

How Not to Cheat

"A man who finished third in a marathon on Sunday has admitted he cheated by hopping on a bus when he still had several miles to go."

 Check out the full article, including his picture.

And now, Papi . . .

"There's too much drama, man.  There's too much drama. I have been thinking about a lot of things. I don't know if I want to be part of this drama for next year." -- David Ortiz.

Lighting up the Night

I need to run in the dark. Not because of any huge desire to be out at night, but because as I work to increase my mileage for marathon training, I’m finding that the only time I have for long runs are at night or early morning.

As I spend more time running in the dark, I'm quickly finding out that I need something to illuminate the path in front of me. In a perfect world, I could rely on my night vision, but most of my running occurs on suburban streets with various lights and cars and so I need something more to help me see where I’m going. In addition, this light source will need to cut through the lights of oncoming cars; their headlights can be so blinding that I can't see anything without a light source.

I’m currently using a head lamp, but its beam shoots its light past my eyes, killing my night vision. I’m pondering picking up a GoMotion Sport Runner 100 sport belt, which seems like it would work given that its light would be closer to the road. However, I didn’t get a chance to try it in the dark, am unsure of how comfortable it would be on longer runs, and also don’t really know what else is available.

What do you use to light up your night runs? Do you have any gear that you swear by?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Et tu, Theo?

WEEI, ESPN and many other sources are all reporting that Theo Epstein has agreed to a $15+ million, 5-year deal with the Cubs.  The only open question is, what compensation will the Red Sox will require. 

Todd has suggested that they should require the Cubs to take Lackey.  I love the idea.

I'll say this, Theo loves a challenge.  If he can help the Cubs break their curse, he will be at the top of baseball royalty. 

During his tenure with the Red Sox, he has been great at player scouting and development (Papelbon, Ellsbury, Pedroia), but less so at blockbuster trades and free agent signings (Lackey, Crawford).  Theo's predecessor, Dan Duqette, seemed to be just the opposite, having brought aboard players like Pedro Martinez, Manny Ramirez and Jason Varitek.

In the end both skills are necessary, and much of Theo's success was built upon the trades that Duquette successfully executed.  So, once Theo leaves, should the Red Sox just elevate Ben Cherington, Theo's right-hand man, into the GM position?  Or try to go after someone like the Yankees' Brian Cashman, whose contract is up on October 31?


1Q84 will hit the shelves at the end of this month, and even though it would be a lot easier to carry around on a Kindle, I've pretty much decided this is a book I want to own in hardcover.

The price difference, potentially, is not that much: sells the Kindle edition for $14.99, and the hardcover for $16.04.

However, I believe in supporting a local bookstore if it sells the book I want to buy in the format I want to own.  Preferably, not the Barnes & Noble kind of bookstore, but rather, a local, independent bookstore that is owned and operated by people who love books.  Wherever I have been, such stores have been places of happiness and comfort for me, even if their selection is not as great or their prices not quite so low.

But in this case, said bookstore is likely to sell 1Q84 at its list price ($30.50).  That's $14 more than (which is likely taking a loss).  What to do?

And as I thought about this, I began to ask the same questions about running gear purchases.  Yes, the best prices for a new water bottle or a new pair of shoes are to be found online.  But perhaps, there is a local store that sells the same item, that is more deserving of support.

I can't say I have any answers here.  Just questions.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Robert Morgan

This fall, the novelist and poet Robert Morgan has two new books: Lions of the West and Terroir.

I first encountered Morgan in 1990, shortly after he had published a slim book of poetry titled Sigodlin.  These are physical, sinuous poems, rooted in the mountains of Morgan's native North Carolina.  Typical subjects include Jugs in the Smokehouse, Baptizing Trough, Rockpile and Deer Stands.

Though his focus was (and perhaps still is) on the textures of the exterior world, while thumbing through my copy this evening, I also found a beautiful poem entitled Stretching.  In it, he writes of how:

               The blood asserts
and purrs, filling out movement in
the sweet mobility of used
muscle, in the savor of being,
and you are more than you remembered
and happy in the dance inside
your skin and soaring into this.

I am glad to see that he has a number of appearances scheduled, mainly throughout North Carolina and Tennessee, but in many other states as well.  If you have a chance, don't miss him.  He is a wonderful reader as well as a writer.

Do You Know What I'm Saying?

The Wind-up Bird ChronicleHaruki Murakami’s 1997 novel, is a novel of stories. It’s not only the tale of Toru Okada’s quest to find his missing cat and wife, but it’s also about the stories that the rest of the characters tell each other about their lives, and how they create meaning in their lives by spinning their stories. Whole chapters of the book pass in this way: May Kasahara (Toru’s teenage neighbor), Malta and Creta Kano (mediums helping Toru find his cat), Lieutenant Mamiya (long story), and Cinnamon (at one point, Toru’s assistant) all share their tales with Toru, an everyman who’s a great listener. In one sense, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle is simply a compilation of these stories intertwined with Toru’s ongoing narrative. One could even argue that the main plot – concluding with the bizarre magical realistic events in a mysterious hotel room – is only a story that Toru tells himself in order to heal himself after his wife’s departure. It’s Murakami’s genius that he leaves this question (and many others) unanswered.

Murakami’s writing is what makes this collage of stories work together. His prose uses precise language to describe mundane and ambiguous things, while underpinning it all with a subtle sense of menace like a David Lynch film. He’s precise where he needs to be, as when he explains how his wife’s brother was successful in politics: "consistency and an established worldview were excess baggage in the intellectual mobile warfare that flared up in the mass media's tiny time segments." But along with this clear prose comes many fantastical and bizarre elements, such as a scar that appears on Toru’s cheek one day – the same mark that appears on the faces of the protagonists of several other stories. What does it mean? Murakami never directly explains, and while some might be annoyed by that, others like myself can simply go along for the ride, for The Wind-up Bird Chronicle never fails to entertain.

In fact, the first two-thirds of the book are so good I literally couldn't put it down – and this was my second time reading it! However, the book as a whole loses steam in the final third of the book, mainly because the stories that were so cohesive earlier on start to become less connected. I’d argue that by that point you’ve built up such a head of steam that the coast to the end is still great reading. And parts of the ending are absolutely riveting, like when Toru finally gets into the mysterious hotel room, but other stories read like Murakami was just trying to tie up loose threads. At one point, Toru even says: "I think you are [my wife]. Because then all kinds of story lines work out," as if he's admitting that he doesn't know how to complete the complex pattern he’s been weaving. But while the ending might be a bit anticlimactic, at the end of the day The Wind-up Bird Chronicle is easily one of the best books I’ve ever read.

Cross-posted on Thought Ambience.

Training Plans

There is no shortage of formal plans for the runner preparing for his or her first marathon. Whether you have three months or six months until the race, there's a plan for you. Whether you are ready to run six times per week or only have time for three runs per week; whether you want to top out your long runs at 18 miles or 22 miles, or not do the long run at all; whether you love or loathe speedwork; there's a plan for you.

But if you have just completed one race, and want to get ready for your second? Not so much.

I guess I could sit on my butt until New Years', and then start again from square one. Not that I ever really followed a formal plan getting ready for the 50K; I didn't have the discipline. Mostly, I just ran what I felt like running, while trying to incorporate the basic principles of a typical marathon training plan, including tempo runs, gradually longer long runs, recovery weeks, and the like. I also made a few adjustments, like running on trails and extending my longest run out to 25 miles.

I am eager to get out running again as soon as I can (meaning, as soon as I can walk normally). So, what will my basic principles be as I start to get ready for the Burlington marathon? I think that, on top of my shorter runs, two or three times per month I am going to run as far as I can at my target marathon pace of 9:10. (Last time I checked, I could hold that pace for about 10 miles). Plus, once a month or so, I am going to do a long run of three hours. Hopefully by spring, the 9:10 runs and the three-hour runs will merge into the same thing, and then I can make refinements from there.

But, I am still thinking this through, and would love to hear any suggestions!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Race Report: 2011 New River Trail 50k

Saturday, October 8, was the fourth running of the New River Trail 50k.  I could not have asked for a better event for my first ever race.  Thank you to race director Annette Bednosky, as well as to the host of unnamed volunteers who made this a wonderful event.  Thanks also to my running-blogging buddies, Eric and Todd, who believed I could do it, and thank you especially to my awesome wife, Maya, for her support as I trained and who gave amazing support and encouragement at the race itself.

We drove down from Washington, DC on Friday.  Despite leaving  a little before 3 PM, the holiday weekend traffic was already stop-and-go until we cleared the Metro area.  We took a quick dinner break along the way, and finally made it to the Hampton Inn in Galax by 9:30 PM.  I set out my food and my clothes for the morning, then went straight to bed.

We woke up at 6 AM, had a quick breakfast, and were out the door by 7 AM.  The short trip from Galax to the race site in Fries (pronounced "Freez") took longer because of the fog, and by the time I got there most of the runners were checked in and lining up at the porta-potties.  I picked up my number (246) and my bag of goodies (thanks, Montrail)  and headed back to the car.  It was cold!

Before I knew it, Annette was announcing that it was five minutes to race time.  I climbed up the hill and lined up toward the back, shivering and joking with everyone else.  Then, it was "three, two, one, blastoff" and away we went.

I think there were around 120 runners registered, but around 100 actually running, so even though we were on a dirt track, the group thinned out pretty quickly.  The temperature, in the upper forties, was perfect for running, and the river to the right of us and the farms on the left were shrouded in the light fog.  I ran for the first six miles with Leaf Erickson, who has a wonderful spirit and as we swapped stories the first hour flew by.  Before we knew it, there was the first aid station.

After a quick pit stop (I had definitely over-hydrated that morning) I caught back up to Leaf and we wished each other well as I pressed along faster.  Our pace, about 10:30 had been great for warming up, but now I wanted to push forward and see what I could do.  I ran at about a 9:30 pace for the next four miles, where I saw another runner stopped by the side of the trail. I slowed up to ask if he was OK, and he said he was stretching. This was Shahin Hadian the owner of Fleet Feet Sports in Knoxville, TN.  Shahin is a triathlete and a coach, and he knows more about running equipment and about foot and leg ailments than anyone I've met.  We chatted about shoes and about compression gear and the like, and he gave me some great recommendations for dealing with a blister on middle left toe, and then I took off again.

Soon I was approaching the second aid station -- 12 miles -- and there was Maya in her blue sweatshirt waiting to give me a high five and cheer me on.  I took about ten seconds to refill my water bottle, and then I kept at it, slowing to just under a 10:00 pace.  Although this course is said to be mostly flat, there was a gradual rise in elevation during this stretch, and on top of that, the sun was out and it was getting into the 50's.  Once I reached the 13 mile point, I started to see the fastest runners on their way back from the turnaround point.  Without fail, every one of them had a wave or an encouraging word.

At the turnaround, there was Maya again, with another high five!  Several runners were stopped here, grabbing supplies from their drop bags, but I had chosen not to bring a drop bag, so after a volunteer had quickly refilled my bottle, I made the turnaround and kept going.  Going downhill, I was again running in the 9:30s, and I did my best to give encouragement to all those who were still on their way to turnaround.

Before long I was at the fourth aid station.  I was craving salt, so I grabbed some potato chips, and since my stomach was feeling a little uneasy, so I asked the volunteers for half gatorade, half water.  Maya said that I was only person she saw making this request, and she thought it was funny.

This would be the last time I would see her until the finish line because the first/fifth aid station is not accessible by car.  For the most part, there weren't other runners within my sight either.  I knew that I had been running faster than I had hoped, but I was also starting to tire.  As I ran through the dark old railway tunnel, my vision exploded in stars.  Then a little further on, the fifth aid station, only 5.33 miles to go.

My Garmin at this point was still showing I had over six miles to go.  As I learned later on, runners' Garmins were all over the place regarding the number of miles covered.  After the race, one mentioned that his car's GPS also had had problems this morning.  I guess the satellites were bonkers, because the course is certified by USATF as 50k.

In any case, it sure was nice to discover that I had less distance left than I thought, because soon the wheels came off.  My legs still felt OK, but suddenly, my stomach felt violently nauseous -- it wanted no more part of this race.  I waited for it to settle with a combination of slow running and fast walking, but let's be honest, it was mostly walking.  Even in my somewhat dazed state, I couldn't help marveling at the beautiful scenery, which looked completely new in the bright afternoon sunlight.

With about two miles left to go, I was finally able to get moving again.  I jogged slowly until I could see the finish line, down at the bottom of the hill.  The clock was showing 5 hours and 19 minutes and I don't know how many seconds, and I told myself that damn, I was going to finish under 5:20, so I took off at a sprint.  If my Garmin is to be believed, I managed a 6:30 pace during that downhill sprint, finishing with a fist pump at 5:19:56.

Maya refilled my water bottle while I sat down and caught my breath, and it was the sweetest water I've tasted for a long time.  Then I made my way over to the river where I stripped off my shoes and socks and sat down in the icy water.  I soaked for a little while and chatted with other runners, then made my way back to the car so that we could start the drive back to DC.  I said good-bye to Shahin, who was chatting with some other runners from Tennessee, and we started the drive back.

My legs didn't start stiffening up until we were near DC.  They are sore as hell this morning.  I also have a strange, but not serious, pain in the back of my right knee, but other than that and the usual black toenails, I don't seem to have suffered any injuries.  :)

 Thank you again to everyone who supported me and who prepared and made this wonderful event possible!  I hope to see you all again soon!

Friday, October 7, 2011

go Joel

i'd have to admit, i'm pretty impressed with my co-contributors.  not only is todd tearing it up with speed, but joel is running his first race this weekend:  an ultramarathon

joel, good luck tomorrow and enjoy your run!  todd and i will be rooting for you!

It's On!

So the three authors of this blog have just committed to running in the 2012 Vermont City Marathon in Burlington next May. Quite a leap of faith for me, considering that I haven't run more that 10.5 miles in, well, basically forever.

Consider this an open challenge to myself to get in shape enough to not only finish, but finish well enough that I don't need to pay for the single-malt scotch that I'll be drinking, one way or another, the afternoon of May 27th, 2012.

Bard as Starter

In another good post-mordem article about the 2011 Red Sox, Chad Finn openly ponders moving Bard to a starting role. And makes a good point for doing so:
While keeping in mind that he'd probably pace himself more in the rotation -- at his best, he can come in and let it fly Gossage-style in his current role -- his career numbers right now look like one extremely impressive season for a starting pitcher: 197 innings, 132 hits, 76 walks, 213 strikeouts, 1.06 WHIP, 2.88 ERA.
I think we may have talked about this before, but i'd be a bit scared to move Bard to a starter. Tossing that fastball up to 100 times a start seems like a recipe for disaster. But we certainly need starting pitching - it would be easier to replace him as a reliever than it would be to go out and get another quality starter.


Nice work from Victor Martinez and the rest of the Tigers last night.  I'm happy to see the them move foward to take on Texas. 

ESPN is reporting that before the Red Sox got Erik Bedard from Seattle, they had talks about acquiring Doug Fister instead.  Fister wasn't exactly a huge name -- he had a 3.33 ERA on the season while with Seattle, and a 4.11 ERA the year before that.  But it seems clear, in retrospect at least, that he had huge potential.  After going to Detroit at the deadline instead, he rounded out the season 8-1 with a 1.79 ERA for Detroit.  And of course, he just finished off the Yankees. 

According to ESPN, the Mariners wanted Kalish, Weiland, and two lesser prospects.  Would it have been worth it? Clearly, Fister knows how to handle pressure.  And since he's a groundball pitcher, his pitching would have fit in well at Fenway.  One never knows how we would have coped with the apparently toxic environment that eventually developed among the Red Sox.  But he probably could have gotten us at least one or two more wins.  Which might have gotten the Sox to the playoffs, and saved Francona's job. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

One good reason to watch the ALCS

Apparently, Francona is going to take Tim McCarver's spot in the broadcast booth for the first two games.

Given that he rarely spoke too much, it will be interesting to hear what he has to say.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Graphical Arch Support

I may not always be the most observant person, but this one takes the cake. As long as i've been running, I never noticed that the arch support of most shoes was represented by the gray coloring on the side. Check out the two shoes I bought this weekend, and see how the arch support on the Brooks Adrenaline 11 extends farther backward into the heel than the Saucony Guide 4:
The Brooks Adrenaline 11
The Saucony Guide 4
Did you know this? Makes me feel foolish that I didn't recognize this before. Regardless, I'll let you know how the difference between the two supports feel once I get them out on the road.

Where Have You Gone, Tito?

I can't help it. I keep pondering the events of this last weekend, from the moment when the Sox lost the final game of the season to when the final word came down: Terry Francona was no longer to be the manager of the Red Sox. Of all of the possible outcomes of the awful ending to the Sox' season, this was the most unanticipated and also the most disappointing. Moving forward, though, the real question is Why? Why would who I feel to be the best manager in Red Sox history leave?

I read a bunch of articles, the best of which are the Wheat from the Chaff summarization article from the Joy of Sox (be sure to read the comments on this one), Gordon Edes take on ESPN Boston, and Chad Finn's take from Touching all of the Bases. (For what it's worth, Finn also has an excellent immediate take on the seasons end here.) Here's what I can gather from all this.

The 2011 Red Sox were an entitled mess. As a team, they showed up out of shape, leading to their disastiourously slow start and their running out of gas at the end of the season. Certain individuals (Sounds like Beckett and Youkalis) led the team into a bitter complain-fest, leaving the more responsible members of the team (led by Pedroia and Ellsbury) to soldier along as best they could by themselves. At least one pitcher (sounds like Beckett) was drinking on the days he didn't start. Lackey was an ass throughout the entire season, bookending the worse pitching performance in Red Sox history by first claiming that "everything about my life sucks right now" and ending it with the marketing coup of divorcing his wife who is battling cancer. Wakefield and Ortiz are more concerned with chasing records than the rest of the team. And so on. And so on.

I mention all of this only because it puts Tito's frustration into context. Most accounts state that it was Francona's decision to leave the Sox, although it's hard to tell for certain. It does sound like Francona had the support of Theo, which is no small matter. But it also sounds like the front office became disillusioned with Francona's MO, which was to keep player matters private, never showing up anyone publicly, and turning a relative blind eye to any transgressions as long as they didn't effect the team. (It's important to remember that this is the same manager who allowed his team to do shots of Jack Daniels before games in 2004, and things seemed to work out that year.) He's loyal to his players to a fault (remember Mark Bellhorn?) but when the players started betraying that trust, well, not only did he lose the front office but also in his ability to effectively lead. After all, you can do everything right, but if people are tuning you out, then there's really nothing that you can do - unless there's accountability.

It's this last word that's important. Who will hold the players responsible for the problems that occurred both on and off field in 2011? The answer isn't that simple, mainly because some of the folks responsible can't really be held responsible. To pick the obvious example, there's nothing the Sox can do about John Lackey. His contract is guaranteed. So he sneers and rolls his eye at his manager, the people paying his checks can say something but they don't have a whole lot of weapons because Lackey is getting his 60-something million regardless of what they do. And so, in Finn's best line of his article, he asks "Imagine how the players of today would react to [Dick Williams' hard-assed] approach. John Lackey would have to invent a whole new repertoire of contemptuous sneers just for the manager." There's no accountability, and no way (stomach?) to discipline, and so the Red Sox turn into a NBA team with mediocre players signed to bloated, inescapable contracts. I can't really blame Tito for not wanting to stick around and see how it plays out. But it does make me sad, and I can't think of a manager or coach i've ever felt that way about other than when Marv Levy retired.

Please forgive this rambling post. I'm just not sure what to say other than to express how angry I am. Also, this. I'm sure more will come out over the course of the off-season. And i'll be watching. But for now my trust in this team is sorely dented. It'll take a bit of doing to get me fully back on board. Here's hoping the Sox can pull it off.

Zombies, Run!

As much as I hate to admit it, Zombies Run! sounds like it could be really kind of amazing, if done right. 

Saturday, October 1, 2011

5.8 miles

Today was my last run of any length before the ultra. I figured I'd run at a real easy pace about 10:00/mile, which is the pace I'll use to start the ultra. It was a chilly 48 degrees when I stepped out, unseasonable for DC but nicely mimicking the likely starting temperature in the Appalachians, where I'll be running. The miscellaneous aches and pains that have developed since I started tapering haven't gone away. If anything they've gotten worse. Nevertheless, it felt great to get out and run an despite trying to go real slow, I ended up running at a 9:10 pace. This is, incidentally, a pace I feel very happy running at, and possibly a goal pace for the marathon (depending on how I do next Saturday). Running 5.8 miles at this pace was very easy today, even at the end, and I didn't feel at all winded at all when I got back. Not sure if it's due to the fact that I'm getting more in shape, or that the weather was so much cooler than I am used to. It's going to take some real self-control to go slow at the start of the ultra, especially with so many other runners around me!

Running Dreams

I dreamed last night that it was next week, and that the three of us went down to Virginia to run the 50K together. Or maybe it was now a marathon. It was going to be run around one of those oval high school tracks, but nobody seemed to think this was odd. Plus, there was also a ping-pong tournament going on. And a birthday party for one of my college professors. As we were getting ready to race, I realized I forgot my running shoes. I had to run back to the car to look for them. I was running fast and smooth on my way back to the car, and my legs felt great. I was still searching for the shoes when I woke up.