Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Give Me 15 Minutes!

Jay Johnson's “Give me 15” article in the October 2011 issue of Running Times has, for a good two months now, been staring at me from my nightstand. It's an alluring article. I mean, he claims that I can “Lower injury risk with these short pre-and post-run routines!” I want to lower my injury risk! It makes perfect sense to do a few quick loosening and strength exercises before and after your run. I get it. But it’s just not happening for me. Why is this?

There's nothing wrong with the routine that Johnson presents. In short, he instructs you to do some lunges before the run and some pushups and leg stretches after the run. Nothing special. The articles emphasizes it's only 15 minutes. And I even already do forward lunges are part of my Dynamic Stretching routine before every run. It’s the post-run strength exercises that I have problems with.

First of all, the article lists 12 different things to do after every run. I’m not sure exactly who is audience is, but it’s hard enough for me to find the time to get out the door for decent miles, much less spend 15 minutes after the run to do an entire strength routine. Plus, I’m usually damned tired when I get home. All I have the time to do after a run is stretch out a bit and get some protein in me before the “real world” stuff (kids, work, etc.) demands my attention. In addition, I’m currently running farther and faster than I ever have in my life to prep for a marathon; there’s not much more motivation to add additional exercises on top of the already daunting run I just completed. Put all of this together and i'm not even doing a few post-run push-ups, much less the detailed exercises that Johnson lays out for us.

What do you think? Are these legitimate excuses or just my lack of willpower? Do you do any strength exercises before or after your runs?

So What's Next?

So I got a shiny new kindle for my birthday, and it's just sitting there unused because I also got Murakami's 1Q84 on the same day. However, I’m closing in on the last page of the big novel (only 100 more pages to go!), and will want something to new read when it's done.

I know it's sick of me to be thinking about my next book when I'm not even done with 1Q84, but that's just how I roll, baby. At times it feels like I almost get more enjoyment about of perusing and thinking about books then I do actually reading them!

Anyways, here are the candidates for my next book. It’ll also be my first kindle book, so I’m hopking that it’ll also be memorable. The following are a mixture of books that sound interesting to me or have been recommended by people that I trust. What do you think I should choose first?
Related Posts:
Don DeLillo's The Angel Esmeralda
1Q84: Hardcover
Michiko Kakutani's Top Ten for 2011
National Book Awards: The Finalists

Shoe Review: Brooks PureCadence

I've posted a follow-up review of these shoes after 400+ miles in them that you can find here:

i've been through a LOT of shoes over the years, especially this year.  like most people who care about these things, my head is all mixed up about whether i should be looking for more technology, less technology, more shoe or less shoe.  i made a decision a while back to forget about all that and simply go with what works.  how great, in theory...  but the opportunity to truly test out each and every shoe just plain isn't going to happen.

this year, i've run on neutral shoes, motion control shoes, stability shoes, barefoot and stability shoes.  i realized, from all this, that i need at least some stability technology in my shoes.  the comes into play for me on longer runs, when i get fatigued and have a tendency to lose a bit of my running form.  i am an over-pronator with high arches.

Todd runs the Brooks Adrenaline and seems to like them, so i thought i'd give them a try.  when i tried to order them, however, they were somehow out of my size at the price i was looking for, and so, out of frustration and a penchant to be swayed by good marketing, i bought the Brooks PureCadence instead.

i wanted to give the shoes enough of a sampling before i passed any judgement on them.  i will say, however, that after the first run i was totally in love with them and have since only increased my affection for them.

let's be clear about what these shoes are.  Brooks have not one time included the word "minimal" in any of the descriptions i have found on their website for these shoes.  if you read people's comments about these shoes, however, you'll see the words "minimal" and "barefoot" come up a lot, and i'm pretty sure, for marketing reasons, Brooks is willing to ride that wave.  these shoes ARE NOT minimal nor anything similar to "barefoot" (that should be pretty obvious).  they ARE low-profile, low-heel-drop (4mm) and light-weight (9.5 oz) shoes suitable for short and long runs,   that also have ample cushioning and stability control.

my assumption after purchasing these shoes was that i would use them for shorter runs and then get a pair of adrenalines to wear on my longer runs.  so far, even with the vast sneaker collection i already have, i have not worn another shoe on any run i've done since i put these on my feet, nor can i imagine doing so.  the combination of the low-profile/low-heel drop/light(ish)weight with the stability control features makes this shoe somewhat unique in the market.  i don't know of another shoe that gives you what many would consider to be somewhat opposing features in one package.  but the result is amazing.  the low heel drop, which i thought would further tighten my calves, seems to ease them, allowing for much more ankle flex in my stride, a much more natural feeling. the light weight allows me to increase my cadence (purely) and keeps my legs fresher throughout the run.  the lower profile gives me a much better feeling from toe to heel when i come in contact with the ground, a much more solid and confident strike.

i have a pretty narrow foot, and the fit of these is quite good.  i could imagine the shoe being a bit too narrow for runners with wider feet, and i don't think they offer wider sizes yet.  i like the inclusion of the "nav band" which does make the shoe fit my foot more nicely.  all in all, the shoe feels REALLY good on my foot...  the fit is great and the shoe is so much more comfortable than i would have anticipated and sincerely as comfortable if not more so than any other shoe i've ran in.

when running in these shoes, the constant questions, tweaks and adjustments working through my head and body when i run in other shoes go away.  i find that i settle into the form i want to be in, the stride and strike i strive for naturally, as if the shoes were custom made for me.  this is a huge endorsement from me!  i don't know if it's a result of the technology being really good, or simply that there is less technology that makes this shoe work for me, but even towards the end of my longer runs in these shoes, my form feels stable and strong, even when my legs don't.  i will say, however, that i have rolled my ankle twice in these shoes...  i WAS running on uneven terrain in the dark, but i haven't done that in a long time in any other shoe.

i had originally questioned whether or not i thought these shoes would be cush enough to last through a marathon, but i do believe they will.  i haven't taken them over 8 miles yet though, so i'll be sure to report back if there is any issue when i do.

on the downside, i don't think these shoes are going to last me very long.  i've only put 30-40 miles in on them and they are already showing some signs of wear.  additionally, the "split toe" feature seems like a good idea, but on my shoe, the gap on the left side is (much) smaller than the gap on the right side, leading me to believe they aren't constructed as well as they could be.  (i have yet to experience anything new with this "split toe" feature either).  for a shoe as expensive as these are, i would hope they would last a decent amount of time and being well-constructed.

still, my primary thought right now is:  how do i make sure i am always able to run in these shoes.

Related Posts:
Review: Brooks Launch
Shoe Review: Asics Gel-Bandito
Kinvara 2 Review

Bobby Valentine in Japan

Given all the, um, success that the Red Sox have had with their Japanese players, it's a smidgen interesting that the owners (sorry, I mean Cherington) picked a manager who is most notable for the success he had in Japan.

Let's review. 

Valentine was hired by the Chiba Lotte Marines in 1995 as the first American-born manager of a Japanese baseball team.  He quickly started doing things his own way -- under Valentine, practice sessions lasted only three hours, rather than nine hours as was typical.  In the process, he turned around what had been a pretty woeful team.  In 1995, they finished 69-58, compared to 55-77 the year before.   But, Valentine didn't get along with the GM or the other coaches.  Especially the coaches -- at one point, he wrote a letter to the owners suggesting that they be replaced.  In Japan, it's never a good move to go behind the GM's back,  and so bam!  Just one year into his two-year contract, the Marines fired him.

The GM had won that battle, but not for long.  In the coming years, the GM was fired as well, and the team quickly dropped back into the cellar.  So, in 2004, the Marines decided to do the only thing they could think of to dig their way out -- try again with Valentine.  As luck would have it, Valentine had recently been fired by the Mets, and was available to sign on with his old club.  And he missed them.  As he told GQ in 2004: "I kind of like that I can tell a guy to hit ten straight balls into right field in batting practice, and if he doesn't, he comes over to me afterward and apologizes ... I like that."

Back in Japan, in the second year of his second stint with the Marines, Valentine took them all the way:  in 2005, they won the Japan Series (the Japanese championship).  After winning, he challenged the 2005 World Series winners, the Chicago White Sox, to a "Real World Series," claiming his team could go toe-to-toe with any team on the globe. 

The White Sox didn't bite, but the fans loved it.  Suddenly, it was impossible to get a ticket to the stadium that had once never been more than half full.  Valentine suggested major improvements: luxury boxes, deluxe suites, and an HD screen.  Other changes came as well, such as 3-meter high Bobby murals on the walls of the stadium, and concession  stands selling Bobby lunch boxes and Bobby bubble gum.  Nearby, a street was named after him. 

The improvements that Valentine had suggested to the stadium were popular with the fans, but they didn't lead to the increased revenue that he had promised the team.  When management began cutting bonuses to players, Valentine responded by paying them out of his own pocket. 

The Marines came within a game of returning to the Japan Series in 2007.  However, 2008 didn't go so well, and in December 2008, the team announced that they wouldn't be renewing his contract in 2010.  Valentine suggested he would be willing to revise the cost of his contract downward, but management didn't budge.  It was clear to all that it wasn't about the money -- ownership was dissatisfied with his power, his influence, and his way of doing things.

The decision to now renew Valentine's contract didn't just leave him as a lame duck -- it also made his very, very enthusiastic fans quite unhappy with management.  How enthusiastic were they?  Here is a YouTube video of a crowd at a Japanese baseball game, singing a fight song about how much they love Bobby Valentine.  As much as Sox nation loved Francona, it's hard to imagine them singing a similar love song to Tito at Fenway.

But perhaps the ultimate tribute to Valentine's popularity in Japan is that Sapporo beer issued a limited special edition "Bobeer" with his face on the front of the can. 

Here's hoping that Sam Adams will have cause to do the same!

Related posts:
First Impressions on the Bobby Valentine Hiring

First Impressions on the Bobby Valentine Hiring

Here's what I don't get about Bobby Valentine. The CW is that he's this great baseball mind, but as Joel pointed out, he was given a lot of talent and didn't do a whole lot with it. To wit: the 1992 Texas Rangers. They had Nolan Ryan and Kevin Brown pitching, and with a lineup including Ivan Rodriguez, Rafael Palmero, Ruben Sierra, and Juan Gonzalez, they only finished fourth in their division.Fourth! (Thanks Joel for pointing that out.)

I also am concerned about what this move says about the front office/GM relationship. From all I read, Cherington wanted to go with Sveum as the manager, but was overruled by the FO in favor of the more "accomplished" BV. (read: he's managed before, and talks a pretty game on ESPN.) The search ever since Sveum went to the Cubs has felt like a kabuki theater to make it appear like Charrington was doing his due diligence  Nothing like cutting your new GM off at the knees for his first major decision! (And what does it say that the old Sox GM ended up with Sveum in Chicago?)

I'm willing to give BV the benefit of the doubt - after all, what had Francona accomplished as a manager before coming to Boston? - but the whole situation doesn't fill me with a lot of confidence. I don't like how smooth he seems, and even knowing that he took the Mets to the world series one year, I just don't feel that he's got what it takes to manage our group of entitled superstars.

Update: After I typed this up, Chad Finn typed up his reactions for the Globe. His thoughts are always worth checking out.

Related Posts:
Bobby Valentine to Manage Red Sox
Next Up: Bobby Valentine?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Bobby Valentine to Manage Red Sox

Story from ESPN here.

My opinion of this is.....


Songs for Novels

I often get a song in my head while reading a book. Sometimes, the choice of song is obvious, as when I spent the entire duration that I was living inside David Mitchell's number9dream singing the John Lennon song of the same name. Other times, it's more obscure: for 1Q84, it's Warren Zevon's "They Moved the Moon" off of his criminally underrated Transverse City album. The song, while no great shakes as a poem, has a sense of desolation that's a great fit for the characters of the novel as they look up, mystified, at the two moons in the night sky.

Have any good songs running thru your head as you read?

"They Moved the Moon"
I was counting on you
To stand by me
To see me through
I was counting on you

They moved the moon
While I looked down
When I looked away
They changed the stars around

I'm so confused
Don't know what to do
Don't know which way to turn
I was counting on you

They moved the moon
While I looked down
When I looked away
They changed the stars around

Can't you see me?
Can't you hear me now?
Don't you want a love that's true?
Don't you know my heart belongs to you?

I was counting on you
To stand by me
To see me through
I was counting on you

They moved the moon
While I looked down
When I looked away
They changed the stars around

They moved the moon
I feel so strange
While I looked down
Everything I depended on
When I looked away
Has been rearranged
They changed the stars around

(Bonus fun fact: Zevon composed the album while "woozy from reading the Thomas Pynchon canon at a sitting, so to speak.")

Related posts:
1Q84: Hardcover

Saturday, November 26, 2011

First Lines of "The Runner"

The runner took the turn slowly, watching ducks collect near the footbridge where a girl was scattering bread.  The path roughly followed the outline of the pond, meandering through stands of trees.  The runner listened to his even breathing.  He was young and knew he could go harder but didn't want to spoil the sense of easy effort in the dying light, all the day's voices and noises drained out in steady sweat.
-Don DeLillo, "The Runner," in The Angel Esmeralda: Nine Stories

Related posts:

DeLillo's Short Stories
Baseball Writing

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Michiko Kakutani's Top Ten for 2011

Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times has picked her top ten books of 2011.  In no apparent order:

Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything, by Joshua Foer
Van Gogh: The Life, by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith
Rome: A Cultural, Visual and Personal History, by Robert Hughes
The Angel Esmeralda: Nine Stories, by Don DeLillo
The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan, by Kim Barker
The Pale King, by David Foster Wallace
The Tiger's Wife, by Tea Obreht
Blue Nights, by Joan Didion
The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach
Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World, by Michael Lewis

I have not (yet) read any of these books, so I can't say whether any would qualify to be in my top ten.  There do seem to be several notable omissions from the fiction side (which has only four books), but that may reflect the fact that some of the best novels of the year have only recently come out, and she may not have had time to read them all.

In any case, I look forward to diving into some of these.  Kakutani is wide-ranging, cerebral reader, and I always find her reviews to be insightful and interesting, even when I disagree with them.

Related posts:
Quick Review: The Art of Fielding
Don DeLillo's The Angel Esmeralda
DeLillo's Short Stories

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Tune-up Races

As a part of a marathon training plan, many runners will schedule a "tune-up race."  This is a race about two months before the marathon, which is somewhere around the same distance as the runner's longest recent run.  For most, this means that a half marathon will be ideal. 

The purpose of a tune-up run isn't to go out and run your fastest possible half marathon.  To do that would put a lot of stress on the body (possibly causing injury), and in any case wouldn't do much to help prepare for the marathon itself.  Rather, the goal of a tune-up run is to go out and run at your intended marathon pace, using the experience to practice pacing, to gauge fuel needs, and to otherwise prepare. 

Of course, you could also do all of that by by yourself on any given Saturday.  But if you want to do well in a full marathon when you are surrounded by 20,000 competitors, there is at least some value in doing the "tune-up" in a similar environment.

Just how much value?  In my case, I can't imagine that I would get on an airplane - or even drive 100 miles - just to take part in a tune-up race.  But, as luck would have it, the SunTrust Rock 'n Roll Marathon and Half Marathon is scheduled for March 17 -- ten weeks before the Burlington Marathon -- and the starting line, at RFK stadium, is a ten-minute jog from my home.

It is not a cheap race, though.  $95 if I sign up before December 31st, with fees going as high as $145 thereafter.  And in the past, runners have commented that it has been an organizational disaster.  Sure, some of the complaints from runners are trivial.  (For instance, folks who ran the full marathon complaining about the fact that half-marathoners received the same finisher's medal.  Really?)  But on the other hand, when multiple runners noted that there wasn't even enough water to go around at the finish line, it makes you wonder just what you are paying for.

That being said, this will the first year that the Rock 'n Roll Marathon Series is helping to organize the event, and they seem to know what they are doing.  Plus, the race is on St. Patrick's Day, so there should be some good post-race parties.

Is anybody else game? 

Related posts:
Training Plans

Monday, November 21, 2011

American League MVP

And the winner is . . . Justin Verlander.

It was a very close vote.  Verlander received 280 points, while Jacoby Ellsbury received 242 points, coming in second.  Jose Bautista, who looked like a lock at mid-season, ended up with 231 points.

Compare that to 2010, when the winner (Josh Hamilton) received 358 points, or to 2009, when the winner (Joe Mauer) received 387 points.  In fact, the voting hasn't been this close since 2003, when Alex Rodriguez, who was still in Texas, edged out Carlos Delgado.

I suspect that it was a career year for Ellsbury, and we should not expect quite the same electricity in years to come.  But I hope he will prove me wrong.

Congratulations also to Dustin Pedroia, who received 48 points and came in 9th. 

David Ortiz, who looked like a vote getter until late in the season, ended up without any points at all, which seems like a travesty considering that Alex Gordon, Asdrubal Cabrera and Ben Zobrist each ended up with a handful. 

The full results are at Baseball Reference.

Related posts:
Golden Gloves
Ellsbury's RBIs

Running Form: Where i'm At

Eric posted a great summary of his thoughts about running form. As someone who has adapted my form a bit based on what I read in Born to Run, I thought i'd also share my anecdotal thoughts.

After reading McDougall's book, I experimented with forfoot striking but soon settled into attempting to "run tall" - essentially, avoiding my old loping strides that I fear used to lead to my knee and shin problems in favor of shorter strides and front-to-mid foot striking. It required some adjustment in that I needed to work to increase the speed of my legs and am still working on loosening up my calves (this stride makes them extremely tight), but the benefit is that I haven't had any major injuries and I'm running as fast as I have since I was a teenager.

However, Bernd Heinrich's argues against the "run tall" notion in p.226-7 of Why We Run:
"The primary way to increase running efficency would be to minimize leg lift while maximizing stride length; and of course, using the lightest shoes possible.I practiced running using gravity and momentum as much as possible to swing my feet. A sprinter expends an exorbitant amounts of energy with each step, which is essentially a leap. I needed to train a stride that would be a compromise between an energy-efficient short step, where the feed are barely lifted, and a long stride, which necessitates more knee lift. By running as much as possible at race pace during training, I hoped to cultivate that specific optimum stride for the distance I intended to run.
What a long-distance runner can least afford to do is lift his whole body up and down on successive steps. he must glide. An ostrich or any other elite marathoner exhibits almost no up-and-down motion of the head or the shoulders. Suppose a 150-pound runner goes up and down only 3 inches with each step; then over the course of a 100-k run he will have lifted his 150-pound body mass a distance of about two miles. That's a lot of work, and it must be strenuously avoided in favor of horizontal motion."
Now, i'm not looking to optimize anything here - I'm really looking for a comfortable way to run down the road that makes me fast but mainly one that doesn't hurt me. And it's important to note that Heinrich needed to explore to to find his perfect stride; he had back problems so severe that he was deemed unfit for active military service, and by all accounts had an ungainly form in high school. Once he found something that worked, however, he went on to run some extremely fast times, and even set the American record for the 100 km. As I mentioned in my review of the book, what he describes really should be described "Why He Runs, since it's not for everyone, but the basic principles behind this thinking are sound and have given me a lot to ponder as I work may way through my longer runs.

To me, however, the salient point is what Eric calls "running softly." I try to minimize the impact my feet have with the ground, trying to roll the feet so that the impact is like a perfect curve. Heinrich talks about this a bit as well, so i'll close with a scene from his record setting race:
"For a quarter mile or so, I feel the rhythm and switch my conscious editing to concentrate on the opposite limbs. Once and a while, I vary the length of my stride, to contract my leg muscles for slightly different durations, like frogs varying the length of their calls. The rhythm of my footsteps is steady, unvarying, and like my heartbeat, it is unconsciously timed with my breathing. ... The rhythm preserves synchronicity,  synchronicity translates to smoothness, and smoothness means energy efficiency. p. 248
Related Posts:
Runnign Form: Active vs. Passive
Improve your running form

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Don DeLillo's The Angel Esmeralda

I just bought The Angel Esmeralda: Nine Stories, by Don DeLillo.

The New Yorker, which generally gives books only brief, one-paragraph reviews, has given Martin Amis several pages to ramble on about Don DeLillo in general, and this collection of short stories in particular.    I'm not a fan of the first person plural in reviews.  For example:

DeLillo is the laureate of terror, of modern or postmodern terror, and the way it hovers and shimmers in our subliminal minds. As Eric Hobsbawm has said, terrorism is a new kind of urban pollution, and the pollutant is an insidious and chronic disquiet. Such is the air DeLillo breathes. And so strong is this identification that we feel slightly dislocated when, in “The Ivory Acrobat” (1988), he confronts a form of terror that is “natural” and therefore ancient and innocent: the earthquake.
Just how is it you know that I also feel slightly dislocated, Martin?  (I presume that I may call you Martin, since we are on such intimate terms that you presume to speak for how I feel.)

In the end, Martin concludes with a simple declaration that he loves the book.  You don't often get that kind of unabashed affection in the New Yorker.  Or in the New York Times.

But, Michiko Kakutani, writing in the Arts section, notes of the title story that, "this tale not only uses all of Mr. DeLillo’s electric gifts of language but also is one of his rare, deeply emotional forays into the human heart."  And Liesl Schillinger, in a longer review in the New York Times Sunday Book Review, concludes that "DeLillo packs fertile ruminations and potent consolation into each of these rich, dense, concentrated stories."

Note that none of these authors are unabashed DeLillo fans; Amis and Kakutani each carefully explains that he / she doesn't like all of DeLillo's work.  So, this would seem to be a return to form.

Despite some initial skepticism on my part, I look forward to telling you what I think.

Related posts:

Live-Illustrating the New York Marathon

In case you missed it: illustrator Christoph Niemann sketched his way through the New York Marathon.

In particular, check out mile 23.8.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Running Form: Active vs. Passive

Steve Magness at The Science of Running has written a fascinating article about running form that I wanted to share.

The bottom line is that there are certain aspects of our running form that happen through active muscle contraction, and certain aspects that happen through passive mechanics, such as momentum and inertia.  You should focus only on the movements that happen actively.  If you try to screw with the stuff that happens passively, you are going to waste energy and increase your risk of injury.

Read on, for a description of which running motions are active and which ones are passive.  It might surprise you.

And as always -- take away only whatever advice works for you.

Related posts:
Improve your running form
Running and Form

Friday, November 18, 2011

improve your running form

first a disclaimer:  this post is anecdotal and not scientific, based on my experiences and observations.

now to the heart of the matter.  back when the run was only as important as the bike and the swim, i used to think i ran fast enough and so didn't need to focus much on form.  i also was relatively uninjured back then.  it hasn't been until recent years that i've focused more on the run and, seemingly as a by-product, spent more time injured.  like a large number of others, i sank my teeth more deeply into the question of form after reading Born to Run.  as Joel indicated in his great post on Foot Strike Fads, there is more to the story than simply becoming a forefoot striker, though.  in fact, i personally believe the whole barefoot running fad is an attempt to create the symptoms of better running form rather than a method of obtaining that form itself.  not that it's a bad approach...  muscle memory is what it is, but it's good to understand what it is you're trying to achieve.

what i think we all agree upon here at rrrs is that you listen to many and extract from that what works for YOU, and that no better listening can be done than the listening you do to your own body when you run.

the principles i've applied to moderate success that seem to have stuck are few.  one of them is the idea of running tall.  i sit at a desk all day at work, and don't have great posture to begin with.  it's no wonder that my back gets compressed, causing nerve pain from my hips, to my knees, down into my lower legs and feet.  everything is tied together in that lower back area.  stretching your frame out by running tall frees up those impulse pathways and helps to build a muscle/tendon memory better suited towards running (longer distances). a good friend of mine once told me you should run as if there is a rope tied around your waist and attached to a car which is pulling you.  i use this mental imagery to help myself run tall.

another principle that has worked really well for me is a short stride.  short is obviously a relative term, but you could add to it the concept of more strides per minute to help frame in what i'm getting at.  at first, the shorter stride felt really unnatural.  i was used to stretching my stride out, really pushing the envelope when it came to pace.  as i went out for a run struggling to keep my stride short, i realized i was going uncomfortably slow.  the next thing i noticed was that i was really not feeling better in my running form, because my feet were slapping around, my ankles were locked in a tight angle and i just plain didn't feel relaxed at all.  

this all changed for me one night when i went for a run in the dark.  it was light a light bulb went off, albeit one that did not shed any light on the ground under foot.  running at night without clear sight of the running path causes you to run somewhat tentatively.  some of the characteristics of this tentative running are:  short strides, softened footstrike/impact with the ground and a bit higher leg lift (to avoid unforseen obstacles, slight changes in elevation, sidewalk lips).  in short, sharing a lot of characteristics with what barefoot runners are going for. 

so, running at night taught me that adding the soft ground impact and the slightly higher leg lift to the shorter strides help me "put it all together" in a bit more of a natural way.

one final piece i needed to put all this together what the concept of relaxing my body while keeping my core engaged.  this means my abs are engaged as if i were letting out a soft breath, but no more than that.  my back and shoulders are loose (and i constantly shake them out to ensure they are).  my legs are not tensed up or locked, but loose enough to respond to the ground below me.

as of now, it's still slower...  but the impact to my body is much less, allowing me to run longer and with less pain.  as someone who is looking to run marathons and possibly ultra-marathons, i would consider this a very good thing!!

of course, i'm still learning and still continuing to evolve my form to suit myself.  but, to summarize my current thoughts, here is the short list of principles i am trumpeting:

1. run tall!!  think of a rope tied around your waist attached to a car which is pulling you
2. shorten your stride
3. run softly, no foot slapping, minimize the impact of your foot on the ground
4. lift your legs up
5. RELAX, especially your arms, shoulders, back and, believe it or not, your legs.

take off your shoes, or maybe just try running at night.  regardless, the more you learn, the more you can apply it no matter what shoes you are wearing, how long you're running.

Related Posts:

two more wildcards?

things are pretty strange when it comes to baseball in this town these days.  due to that, i almost missed this news: MLB has announced two additional teams will be admitted into the post-season.  Seriously though, a 1 game playoff to decide who gets the wildcard?  isn't that kind of the point of a 162 game season?  as much as it would have been nice this past year...  how does that give any preference to the team that took the "first" wildcard?  i think i need some more detail on this one, but what do you guys think?

Next Up: Bobby Valentine?

I'm not sure I understand the hype over Bobby Valentine. The way people talk about him, you'd think he was up there with Tony La Russa and Bobby Cox.  In reality, he's a career .510 manager who happened to have two pretty good years with the Mets, sandwiched between five pretty mediocre years, and, oh, yeah, eight drab years with the Texas Rangers before that.  The bottom line?  In fifteen years as an MLB manager, he made it to the post-season exactly twice. 

Nevertheless, Red Sox owners seem to be enamored of his "experience and cachet," and he may just be the  (current) frontrunner for the team's next manager.

Maybe what they really like is the fact that he claims to have invented the wrap sandwich.  If he can get the boys in the clubhouse to eat wraps instead of fried chicken, we might just have a chance next year. 

Related posts:
What's Going on at Fenway?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

What do the National Book Awards Mean to Me?

The National Book Awards were distributed last night. As an avid reader, I know I should be more interested and excited about these awards, but here's the thing. As a prospective marathoner, a parent of two children, and a full-time employee, there are just so many hours in the day that I can devote to reading. And those of you that know me realize that I can get quite obsessive about things - for example, i'm currently reading my third Murakami novel in two months. So my reading tends to follow my obsessions - either I get into an author, or a subject, and I follow it down the rat hole. Recently, it's been Murakami. Previously it's been books about Russia or mid-Asia, or Picasso, or Thomas Pynchon. I just never seem to get inspired by the books that make up award lists.

Having said that, it looks like there was a surprise winner in the fiction department. I know Joel touched upon this before, but has anyone out there read Salvage the Bones? I'd love to hear more about it.

Related Posts:
National Book Awards: The Finalists
Review: The Sense of an Ending (Julian Barnes)

What's Going on at Fenway?

It all seemed so cut and dried. The Red Sox pretty blatantly wanted Dale Sveum as their next manager. All they needed to do was offer him the job. But now it seems that the Cubs have swept in and made him their next manager. As Joel said, "I guess Theo and the Red Sox owners all really liked Sveum!" Once this came to light, the inevitable backtracking arose, including the owners saying that they "appear to want a candidate with more major league managerial experience."

I don't get it. I'm not sure why the Sox didn't step up and get Sveum if that's who they really wanted. And neither does, who rightly calls BS on these maneuvers:

[This] is sort of silly considering their entire managerial search thus far has been focused on guys who have not really managed in the Major Leagues that much. Gene Lamont has, but I don’t think anyone thought of him a a frontrunner for the job.  Rather, it was Sveum, Mike Maddux, Pete Mackanin, Torey Lovullo and Sandy Alomar Jr. None of whom have had a full time manager’s gig in the bigs.
But now they want someone totally different than that? Some guy who has a lot of major league experience? You’d think that if that were the case they would interviewed such beasts some time in the past few weeks.  Not that a ton of those guys exist. As Pete Abe notes:
Finding worthwhile candidates with experience could be difficult. There are former managers available such as Don Wakamatsu, Jim Riggleman or Trey Hillman. Another possibility would be ESPN analyst Bobby Valentine.
I know there are some Bobby Valentine rah-rah guys out there, but is anyone really inspired by that list?

The tendency of the Red Sox front office to try and rewrite history whenever they fail is starting to rub me the wrong way.

Delillo's Short Stories

I'm a huge Don Delillo fan. While I don't think that his recent work has reached the heights of Mao II or Underworld, every one of his novels has taught me somehting or has make me ponder something interesting that I hadn't thought of before. And make no mistake about it; Delillo is a novelist, having penned 15 books since 1971.

So it was with some surprise that I discovered that he has a collection of short stories out: The Angel Esmeralda: Nine Stories. Now, I've read a few of them; at least two were published in Harpers, and, if memory serves, I remember really liking "Hammer and Sickle" while "Baader-Meinhof"- not so much. This disparity in reaction may stem from the fact that these stories were written during a wide range of time: 1979 to the present day. I'm sure i'll pick it up, but i'm afraid I don't have very high expectations for it. What about you?

Related Posts:
Defending the Short Story
Delillo on Baseball

Goodbye, Heidi Watney

Watching the Red Sox will be a little different next year.  Heidi Watney is returning to Southern California, where she will work on the sidelines during L.A. Laker telecasts. 

The Red Sox haven't been back to the World Series since she joined as an in-game reporter in 2008.  In fact, they haven't even won their division.  Maybe she has, um, been too much of a distraction? 

Good luck, Heidi!  Hopefully the basketball players will get back on the court real soon!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Book Shelves, part II

Inspired by Todd's post, I thought I'd share one of my shelves as well.

I like to take the dust jackets off my books.  Somehow, they feel more solid that way, and it is also easier to create a harmonious line of books.

1Q84, of course, is the exception since it doesn't work without the dust jacket . . . I have no idea where I'm going to put it!

Related posts:

Book Shelves
1Q84: Hardcover

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Foot Strike Fads

While Born to Run popularized the idea of barefoot running, in actuality it is only practiced by a small (but growing) group of diehard enthusiasts.  During my regular runs around in DC, I am likely to see no more than one barefoot runner in a given week.

Born to Run's more significant impact is that it also popularized the notion that "heel striking" is bad.  MacDougall's basic argument is that it is unnatural for runners to land on their heels first, and they are more likely to become injured whe they do so.

Almost immediately, large numbers of runners took up the refrain that heel striking is bad, bad, bad.   Browse through any number of running blogs, and you will find bloggers proudly proclaiming that they are "midfoot strikers" or "forefoot strikers."  Shoe companies soon saw which way the wind was blowing, and released dozens of new shoes that are supposed to promote a "more natural" strike.

I won't rehash the entire debate, though suffice it to say, among those who actually study these things, the issue of foot striking seems to still be wide open.  What I do find interesting is that the New York Times, which previously has given a lot of space to MacDougall and his claims, now seems to backing off:
Take, for example, the notion that there is a perfect running form, like striking the ground with the midfoot or forefoot. There is no convincing evidence for this convoluted advice, disinterested researchers say. In fact, studies have found that individuals automatically run in a way that is most efficient for their own bodies. Those who change the way they run naturally are less efficient and more prone to injury.
“There is good evidence that your body is exquisitely lazy and will find the easiest way for you to run,” said Carl Foster, professor of exercise and sports medicine at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.
Even elite runners have a variety of styles. Some strike the ground with the heel, others with the midfoot. Some look elegant, while others look awkward and clumsy.
Dr. Steef Bredeweg of the University Medical Center Groningen, in the Netherlands, and his colleague Dr. Ida Buist are principal investigators in a series of rigorous studies of runners, asking how best to train novices and how to prevent injuries.
When it comes to running form, Dr. Bredeweg said, “we don’t know what is the right thing to do.” For example, he noted, forefoot strikers place less stress on their knees but more on their calves and Achilles tendons.
“We tell people we don’t know a thing about the best technique,” he said. He tells runners to use the form they naturally adopt.
The rest of the New York Times column is here.

Related posts:

my never final say on barefoot running
Running and Form

Monday, November 14, 2011

Tek is Gone. Just Face It.

I don't associate the great blogging at with trolling, so I was surprised to see a post yesterday called Why not let Jason Varitek manage the Red Sox?

There's a large number of reasons why this is a bad idea, some of which are touched upon in the post, but at the end of the day the reality is that he was the Captain of a team that self-destructed. Most of the players on that team will be back next year, so if the captain couldn't get them to play together last year, why would naming him the manager all of a sudden make a difference? And making a 40 year old catcher who couldn't throw out baserunners in his prime a player/manager idea is an idea so absurd i'm not even going to address it.

I like Tek - he's been a great player for the Red Sox. But he's played his last game with the team and if he manages a baseball team it will be at some point in the future.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Papelbon to the Phillies

Last week, rumors began circulating that Papelbon was interviewing with the Phillies.  At the time, it seemed like nothing to worry about.  The Phillies were close to reaching a deal with their own free agent closer, Ryan Madson (2011 ERA: 2.37).  But, when that 4-year, $44 million deal fell apart, the Phillies grabbed Papelbon instead, for 4 years and nearly $50 million.

The Sox had been paying Papelbon $12 million/year, but evidently weren't confident that he would be worth that much on into the future.  And with good reason: star closers often often decline dramatically once they reach their 30's.  Just ask the Twins how Joe Nathan has worked out after the re-signed him for four more years in 2008.  Or, ask the Mets about Billy Wagner.  There just aren't many arms that have the durability of Mariano Rivera's.

It's fair to ask what the Red Sox are going to do with that $12 million per year.  Will they seek out another closer?  Ryan Madson's on the market.  There are also a number of older former closers on the market who might be able to fill in for a year or two.  The 34-year old Brad Lidge, in particular, just had an outstanding year in the bullpen for the Phillies (regular season ERA: 1.40) and would probably welcome the chance to close again.

More likely, the Sox will hand the ball to Bard, who certainly would welcome the opportunity.  Aceves, then, might become his primary setup man, assuming the Sox don't want to make him a starter.  And the Red Sox will go out and spend $12 million on . . . who knows?

In his six-plus years with the Sox, Papelbon pitched 429-1/3 innings and struck out 509 batters, compiling a 2.33 ERA.  His best season was his rookie year, when he posted a 0.92 ERA.  In each of his six full years as a closer, he earned more than 30 saves.  In fact, he was the fastest pitcher in MLB history to reach 200 career saves.  Of course, this is partly due to the fact that the Sox have been an extremely capable team over that entire period.  You can only get saves when your team is ahead in games  But, Papelbon has also been very durable.  As far as I can recall, his only significant injury was in September of 2006.

It's not all been fun and games, though.  While much is made of Papelbon's competitiveness, his ERA against the dreaded Yankees is a mediocre 3.86.  However, he more than made up for it by shutting down Texas (ERA: 0.40) and Anaheim (ERA: 1.16) and Tampa Bay (ERA: 2.01).  2010 was a rough year (ERA: 3.90), and in the last game of 2011 he gave up the run that shut the door on the post-season.

Overall, though, the memories are very good.  As much as his pitching, we'll miss his antics, on and off the field.  If there is a bright side to this news, it that the ninth inning should now start to go a little quicker.

Related posts:
The Awesomeness of the Bard
Bedard and Closers

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Terry Francona to Manage the St. Louis Cardinals?

Now that Tony LaRussa has retired, Tito is interviewing to manage the 2011 World Series champions.

When he left Fenway for the last time, it looked like there were going to be very few managerial openings anywhere in the big leagues, and he might have sit out for at least a year.  But he behaved with class and grace while continuing to show a passion for the game.

Here's hoping he gets the landing he deserves.

Related posts:
One Good Reason to Watch the ALCS
Where Have You Gone, Tito?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Book Shelves

Did a little of book reorganizing this weekend: one of my favorite pastimes. See any titles you like?
Two of My Bookshelves

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Wayside's 5K4Kids Run/Walk

A good clip!
The Wayside's 5K4 Kids was one of the strangest races that i've run. It started off normally enough - I packed up my kids and my family drove the few short miles to Cushing Park in Framingham, MA. We actually go to Cushing Park all of the time, and so the kids knew that they could take advantage of a cloudless brisk late fall morning playing in one of the playgrounds in the area while I warmed up. The temperature was probably about 45 degrees at the gun, meaning that I was fully clad in running tights, jacket, hat and gloves, but despite it all I was hoping to run what I call a "modern-era" PR (my overall PR for a 5K is 17:56 which I ran on the day I turned 17).

The race was a smaller one, with lots of kids participating, which I love to see, but since I had lined up right at the starting line I didn't need to weave through too many people as I made my way out to the front of the pack. In fact, after the first 50 yards, I didn't pass anyone else: all I did was watch the fastest five runners slowly recede away in front of me as I attempted to keep to a fast pace that wouldn't kill me. I thought I might be able to keep up for a while, but as you can see from my pace record, we were running at a six minute mile pace at the beginning which I just can't (yet?) sustain, and and after the first three-quarters of a mile, my heart began to hurt and so I slowed slightly and gave up my hopes of keeping up with the leaders.

The strange part was after this slight slowdown, I was running completely alone. Typically in races, there are other runners either passing you or that you're looking to pass, but not here! The runners in front of me finished a good 45 seconds faster while and the runners behind be were about a minute slower. So the race ended up feeling like fast a training run - albeit one that I was really opening it up. I missed having the competition of other runners around me, but I tried to keep the legs churning quickly and kept glancing at my phone to make sure that I was sticking to my target pace.

It all worked out in the end as I finished in 19:45, a 6:23/mile pace.(Results are posted here.) I got my PR and felt good enough afterwards to run around with the kids and even cheer on Hunter as he ran in an organized kids sprint of 50 yards. Looking forward to pushing myself to go even faster in my last race of the season - the Winter Classic 5K on 12/11.

Update: Results are posted here. The gap was bigger than I thought:
5th place: 18:45
Me in 6th place: 19:45
7th place: 20:57

Thursday, November 3, 2011

why i run races (i know i won't win)

i do not run in order to run faster.  i do not run in order to win.  this is quite convenient considering my chances of winning are, well...  i don't race in order to win.

Geoff Roes, Ultra-Marathon king and my favorite endurance athlete, just posted some interesting thoughts on the love/hate relationship he has with the daily run, which he describes as:
the day in and day out runs that fill in the gaps between these larger, planned out runs
to apply Geoff's "planned out runs" to hacks like me, i'll think of them as "the weekend long run".  those who really get into longer runs seem to all agree there is a strange state of being you achieve while being that person out there performing that run.  the struggles you go through, the ups and the downs, they read like an epic, and you are always the hero.  the scenery binds vividly with your state of mind and state of well being and perhaps inspires or even deflates you.  the daily run, in contrast, is often not entirely prepared for, done after a hard day's work, done against all rational indicators that one should go out there and do it.  and it doesn't always work out great.  but i think Geoff captures is correctly when he says:
Often when I set out the door on "the daily run" I have no idea where or for how long I am going to go. Every now and then I do an entire one of these runs and never really come to a place of feeling like I want to be running at that time. More often than not though, I get a few minutes into one of these runs and things start to fade away. I stop thinking about the story I read while I was drinking my coffee in the morning. I stop thinking about the emails I sent just before heading out the door. I stop thinking about what I'm going to cook for dinner. Eventually my mind comes really present and I begin to really feel my body, and really notice the things going on in the mountains around me. Sometimes this only takes a few minutes, and other times it takes hours, but almost without fail, no matter how much I think that I didn't want to go out for a run on any particular day, I end up coming back home at the end of the run feeling nourished by the fact that I stepped out the door 
Geoff also goes on to win some very serious races.  i, on the other hand, do not.  i don't NEED to run for any training purposes, other than to meet my own personal goals, which, if i miss them, will not exactly change the quality of my life.  what would change the quality of my life is if i didn't run...  (and, i can really reiterate that having been injured for the better part of the past two months, as it reverberates LOUDLY in my thick head).

so what's the point of racing?   it doesn't nourish me, it doesn't keep me sane, it isn't my goal, not what i run for.  but i do it, repeatedly.  here are some reasons:

1. i think it's pretty common for people who are feeling badly on a run to look ahead (or think ahead on known routes) to a particular point in the run and say, "i may be feeling badly now, but i should be feeling better by the time i get to X".  maybe it's the end of a climb, or a section where you don't feel as badly going slower...  who knows.  but these little markers, if i can just get to the next X, really help me push through the hard parts of a run.  in a bigger picture, races are like these X points on a run.  i just want to keep my running consistent until i get to race X so i can feel satisfied with my performance...  and so on and so forth.

2. i was reading this post from the blog As Far AS My Feet Will Take Me and it really struck a chord.  the post is ended with a brilliant summary including the following quote:
"The obsession with running is really an obsession with the potential for more and more life." - George Sheehan
even though i'm getting older, i still believe i can go faster and go farther.  i don't need to.  as i said before, that's not what it's about...  but i certainly do feel good when i break a PR or run a longer distance than i ever have before.  the race results give me a measuring stick.  it's about believing in myself....  maybe believing myself to be that hero in the epic run i was describing earlier.  setting goals and achieving them... and it's about so much more than the run.... that confidence permeates every aspect of my life.  it magnifies my ability to enjoy it all, humbles me to the point of understanding my place and not having to worry about all those pre-occupations that prevent us from taking in the moment.  more and more and more and more....  

3. it's not all soul-searching and flowers though...  i'm pretty damn competitive.  despite the fact that todd is faster and joel can run father i still yearn to beat them...  badly.  in a completely  un-mean-spirited way, they drive me to achieve more, and i strive to achieve more, so i can have a chance, well, to beat them!  especially when we make a wager, as we have done on the 2012 Vermont City Marathon.

4. and, really, the most practical reason is just so i can explain it to people who can find no other way to understand why i run so much.  "ahhhh, you're training!!" as if the race justifies it all.  hey, the amount of time it has saved me from explaining why i run so much...  has probably amounted to more running, making that answer completely worth it!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Golden Gloves

For the first time since 1979, a trio of Red Sox players have taken home Gold Glove awards: Adrian Gonzalez (1B), Dustin Pedroia (2B) and Jacoby Ellsbury (RF). 

It's no coincidence that each of the three has also been talked about as a possible MVP candidate.  They should look back on their personal accomplishments in 2011 with pride.

Kindle Book Exchange

Would you like to borrow one of my Kindle books?  If so, read on . . . . 

One of the potentially great features of the Kindle is the ability to loan books.  I say "potentially," because there are three significant restrictions. 
  1. You can only loan a book one time.  After that, you can never loan it again.
  2. The loan will be for fourteen days, regardless of the length of the book.  If the person to whom you loan your book is not able to read it that quickly, too bad.
  3. The publisher must give permission for the book to be lendable.   
It is this third condition that is the most restricting.  As with some of its counterintuitive pricing, Amazon blames the publisher, but in any case, of the 51 books that I have purchased on my Kindle, only three are lendable.  (See the screenshot below.  On, under "Manage Your Kindle," each of your books has an "Actions..." button.  If "Loan this title" is an option, then the book is lendable.)

These are the books I can currently lend:
So, who wants to read one of them?

Here's the deal.  Leave a comment and let me know which of these Kindle books you would like me to lend to you.  In the same comment, let me know what lendable Kindle you have, that you would be willing to lend to me.  If you have something that I might like to read, we'll swap books.

(And even if you don't like what I've got, go ahead and post what you have - you just might find a new trading partner.)

Related posts:
So Many Kindles

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Moving Book Covers

Spike Jonze collaborated with Olympia Le-Tan on a  fun short film called Mourir Aupr├Ęs de Toi. What makes it relevant here is that it's set in an old bookstore, and features embroidered stop-motion animation of Le-Tan’s illustrations of iconic first-edition book covers. Books come to life! Ah - a nerd's dream.

As an aside, I hope that e-books and kindles won't ruin the art of the book cover. I've always been a sucker for good cover art!

Related Posts:
1Q84: Hardcover

Review: Open City (Teju Cole)

I've been meaning to post my thoughts on Open City for some time now.  In the interests of getting a review posted, I'm going to keep this short.

The plot is simple: a young psychiatry resident wanders around Manhattan (and, for a while, Belgium), thinking about the people and places he encounters.

At least, we are supposed to believe he is a medical resident.  But, he has too much free time, and his thoughts are too wide ranging.  Julius can speak thoughtfully about the cinema, French literary theory, early twentieth-century photography and revisionist history.  The only thing he can't speak thoughtfully about is science.

In short, he sounds like a typical self-absorbed graduate student, hard at work on his first novel.  (Who needs a plot anyway?  Just put your random musings in the head of an immigrant doctor and call it fiction.)

And yet, that is hardly all there is to this story.  If you have lived in Manhattan as an educated thirty-ish-year-old, you know the peculiar feeling of being surrounded by people who are similar to you, but feeling little connection to any of them.  Though Julius is interested in observing other people, he is unable or unwilling to form relationships with them.

Instead, his thoughts on immigration, conquest, race, nationality and identity slowly accrete.  Where Open City at first feels unfocused and frustrating, by the second half its themes begin to vibrate sympathetically against each other, and the ending is absolutely gorgeous. 

I previously mused that Open City is the type of book that one would expect to see on the short list for National Book Award.  However, on further reflection I suspect that it was simply too similar in many ways to Let the Great World Spin, the 2009 winner. 

In any case: I felt that Open City was worthy of the attention it received in 2011 given how slow the year has been, but hardly is one for the ages.

Related posts:
National Book Awards: The Finalists

Quick Review: The Art of Fielding (Chad Harbach)

i didn't know much about The Art of Fielding before i picked it up.  i heard there was a new baseball novel out there getting rave reviews and on that alone it became a no-brainer purchase.

i've read a few baseball novels in my life that had some real literary merit, most notably the excellent The Brothers K by David James Duncan.  i'd formed a certain expectation going into this one.  and as i began reading this book, i settled in quite nicely.  it wasn't too long before i realized this wasn't just a baseball book, but also a love story (and a generation spanning, all-male one at that).  the book read well, flowed well and the stories were interesting.  as the book went on, the whole thing started to unravel for me, however.

a few things of note:

1. most of the characters in this book are underdeveloped and it's hard to decide whether you like them at all.  i'd say the focal point of this story is Mike Schwartz, father figure, coach and the glue that binds all the characters together.  he is certainly likeable, and i think the story really could have benefited from being about HIM.

2. the connections drawn between the characters in this story are absolutely ridiculous.  the dean of a college that mike recruits henry to play baseball for falls in love with henry's pot-smoking, liberal and gay roomate who also happens to half-heartedly play on the baseball team.  as if that weren't enough, the dean's daughter starts a relationship with mike and some others and somehow this whole gang just pushes forward like a giant iceberg needing to be broken up throughout this story.

3. the relationships in this book are shallow and superficial.  i don't "get" or "believe" any of them.  because of that, and because of #2, i don't "believe" this story at all.

4. the baseball story, and particular the baseball writing, can be very nice at times...  the descriptions, especially of henry's movements on the field and the way he plays are very engaging.

5. the literary references are insightful and welcome.

6. the dean (affenflight) is a very interesting character...  but nothing in his build up or in the description of his character can have me believing he fell for owen (henry's roomate).

7. the tidiness of things in this story is disappointing...  why do things wrap up so nicely?  is this a fairytale?  even if the ending is unexpected, the twists seem forced and it doesn't change the readers ability to predict how the other pieces will fall.

all in all, if you would have asked me how i felt about this book after the first half (maybe even further into it than that), i would have said i really liked it.  i mean, i read the whole thing in just a few nights.  and i cannot complain about the prose... the writing itself is very good.  i also credit harbach for tackling the interesting juxtaposition of a bromance coupled with a baseball story.  but i don't think he achieved his goal of making this a believable story, one that i could buy into, emotionally invest in.  for as much as i liked the first part of this book, the second part has completely overshadowed the opinion i take away from it.