Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Running with Podcasts

Do you remember what the Internet was like in 2004?  America was evenly split between those who used broadband and those who still "dialed up."  Facebook was still just a bunch of Harvard students.  YouTube didn't even exist. 

But there was this brand-spanking new technology called . . . podcasting.

I remember in those early days, scouring the web for interesting podcasts.  At some point, though, my interest died, and for years, the thought of listening to podcasts never flitted through my mind. Until last weekend.  I was headed out for a long run (2-1/4 hours) and I wanted something to listen to.  But I was tired of the same music over and over.  Somehow, I started looking for podcasts.  Once my iPod was loaded up, I hit the road. 

After an hour of boning up on some current events, I switched over to The New Yorker's fiction podcasts.  Holy crap!  The New Yorker has a huge archive of short stories that been published in the magazine at some point in the past, being read by other famous authors.  Now  normally, I'd rather read a story myself than hear someone else read it, but what a way to pass the time when you've settled into a long-distance pace.  My favorite was listening to Ben Marcus read "A Village After Dark," an older story by Kazuo Ishiguro.  Just outstanding.  I also very much enjoyed David Means reading "Chef's House" by Raymond Carver. 

On future runs, I am looking forward to hearing some short stories by Denis Johnson, James Salter, John O'Hara, and perhaps even some authors I am not yet familiar with.

Do you listen to anything other than music on your runs?  If so, what do you enjoy?

Related posts:
Running and Listening to Music

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Cody Ross

Want to learn more about the newest member of the Red Sox?

Some fans of Cody Ross maintain a pretty enthusiastic web site.  Head on over to for all the commentary you can handle.  It looks like the Red Sox are going to have some new fans in 2012!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Red Sox Roundup

So what's the latest news from the Red Sox camp?

Despite the snow on the ground, spring is right around the corner!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Review: Garmin Fit iPhone Application

Generally, I keep track of my runs with a Garmin Forerunner GPS watch.  After I run, the data is uploaded to the Garmin Connect website, where I can review my data and track my progress. 

Given that the newest smartphones have GPS capabilities, more and more developers are offering iPhone applications that provide similar functionality.  Garmin has jumped into the mix with its Garmin Fit application.  Although I already own a Garmin watch, I decided to buy it.  That way, if I forget to recharge the battery in my watch, I can just grab my iPhone and go out for a run.  More importantly (to me), the application synchs automatically with the Garmin Connect site, meaning that after I run I can review my runs on my iPhone, even if I wasn't carrying my iPhone when I ran.

The application gets off to a good start, with a clean and uncluttered layout.  The opening screen shows some basic data about my last run.  For some reason, it doesn't show my pace, which is something pretty important to most runners.  It does, however, show the number of calories I burned -- something I really don't care much about.  Swiping the top of the screen, I can also see my total miles this week and (with another swipe) this month.  Unfortunately, there is no way to compare the current week and month against prior time periods. 

From this opening screen, I can go on to review my past activities.  Clicking on  an activity finally gives me my pace data! It also gives an option to review a map of the run, elevation and pace charts, and pace/distance for each lap. 

The map, unfortunately, includes lap markers, which can't be removed.  Since my watch is programmed to record a new lap every 0.5 miles, the map ends up very cluttered.  The pace charts are also cluttered looking because they don't provide any smoothing (something Garmin offers online).  All of this needs to be fixed if Garmin is going to compete with applications like RunKeeper.


Once the application is polished up, Garmin could take things one step further by synching up with some of the other excellent offerings from Garmin Connect.   For instance, Garmin Connect allows me to set goals and it tracks my progress against them.  But I can't see them in Garmin Fit.  Similarly, Garmin Connect allows me to plan out courses before I run.   It would make sense to then display those maps in the Garmin Fit application, but that's missing, too.

On the other hand, the application for logging new runs is well thought out with a lot of functionality that other applications miss.  You can connect to, and store data from,  footpod and heart rate sensors, if you have those.  Before you start running, you can choose music from your library to play while you run (including specific songs, not just playlists) and you can then control music playblack from within the application.   At the end of your run, you can type in some notes about how your run went and why.  And most importantly, There is a clear readout for time, distance, and pace.   Unfortunately, I'm not going to be logging new runs with my phone very often, because that's what my watch is for. 

Ultimately, I feel somewhat ambivalent about the application.  It is a good start, and worth the 99 cents I paid for it.  But it could be so much better.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Kindle Covers

The more I use my kindle, the more I think that amazon missed out on something really slick. Rather than one of their generic screensavers - which admitably are pretty cool! - I think that they should display a random book cover on the screen when the device is off. Along with the items I listed here, I'm really missing seeing the cover of the book every time I pick it up to start reading. Perhaps with the next kindle OS?

Related Posts:

the "New Shoe Effect"

i'm amazed at how many shoe reviews contain statements like "i ran 30 seconds per mile faster" or "i took 10 minutes off my time for 10 miles".  these statements aren't just about running faster, but significantly faster, on the first run with a new pair of shoes.

i wonder what it is that causes this to happen?  surely it's mental...

maybe we here at rrrs should invent some token disposable "per run" add-on to shoes that will tap into that mental fuel tank and allow people to harness it more regularly?

strapping on a new pair of shoes myself for tonight's run...  will i be faster?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Thoughts Upon my Entry into Kindle Nation

So i'm 37% of the way through my first Kindle book (Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus) and I thought I'd share a few of my observations of the kindle experience so far. The size and weight of the device is simply amazing. It really is easy to hold and read in just about any position, from sitting to lying down on the couch or bed. The screen is generally very legible, although there are occasional small glitches where a word or two are not as crisp as the rest of them - but this doesn't happen very often. However, I have two main quibbles so far:
  1. No page numbers. This is bugging much more than I would have thought. While I admire the precision of knowing that i'm "37%" of the way through a book, it doesn't mean much to me yet. I also miss the ability to quickly flip through the pages to find out how far I have to go until the end of the chapter.
    Related: I'm curious how to share where a quote is located in a book if you're reading on a kindle and the other person is not. How do students indicate where a reference is located on an ereader? Do they need to highlight? Which leads me to quibble #2...
  2. Highlighting. By default,   "popular highlights" was turned on, meaning that occasionally a page would appear with an underlined passage and a note stating "Click X to see how many people have highlighted this passage." Now, I'm the first to admit that I like highlighting, although I stopped the practice a while back in favor of noting what passages I like on the book's bookmark. But I've found this setting very distracting; it's like picking up a used textbook in a college bookstore and having trouble studying because of all of the other student's calculations scribbled in the margins.
    Perhaps the useage for this would be the same as page numbers in tradtional books - when pointing people towards a passage, you would direct them to highlight X on your kindle account - but the paranoid in me isn't comfortable in sharing so much information with our corporate overlords. (This may have something to do with Barry Lynn's disturbing reportage on amazon's use of their monopolistic powers in "Killing the Competition", located in the February issue of Harper's.)
In the end, I like the experience, but can't shake the sense that i'm missing out on something. Perhaps this is cheap nostalgia, but I think it's something more. In the past, when I was done with a book, I could store it, sell it, share it with other people, etc. - it was a physical object that I controlled. I don't have that sense of ownership with the kindle books. For one, you can't realistically loan them out yet, and those that you can loan have some undue restrictions on them - and, of course, the other person has to have a kindle as well. Perhaps i'll get over this the more I use the kindle, but for now, I'm intrigued with the reading, but ambivalent on the entire experience.

Related Posts:

Monday, January 16, 2012

Review: Asics ARD Tights

It looks like winter has finally arrived.  To help me make it through, I picked up a pair of Asics ARD tights from Running Warehouse.

It is pretty hard to compare tights from different manufacturers online.  They all look the same, and the manufacturers' marketing materials rarely yield any useful information.  However, Running Warehouse makes it easy to narrow the field, providing measurements and fabric ratings for each pair of tights they sell.

When I started looking around, I knew I wanted three things.

First, they had to be long.  I am tall, with long legs, and I didn't want to be leaving bare skin above my ankle exposed to the cold.  Asics' tights fit the bill, with an inseam that was 1 to 3 inches longer than most other brands.

Second, they had to be appropriate for Washington DC's generally mild winters.  Running Warehouse lists the Asics ARD tights as being good for "moderate" temperatures, ranging from 30 degrees to 65 degrees.  I can't imagine wearing tights above 45 degrees or so, but the low end of the stated range was what I was looking for.

Finally, they had to be on sale.  After applying a discount code, the Asics tights set me back $46, compared to an MSRP of $75.  Good deal.

The Asics ARD tights look like your basic, black tights, but they do have a few features worth mentioning:

  • They are fitted throughout, including up front.  I'm pretty slim, and even for me, the drawstring on the waist is wholly unnecessary.
  • The calves are zippered, and the zippers themselves are long and reflective, which is a plus for running when its dark.
  • The fabric is exceptionally soft and comfortable.  
  • There is a small envelope pocket in the center of the back.  It is not big enough for much more than a credit card and a key, and I'd feel more comfortable if it had a zipper closure, but I didn't lose anything during my run today.
  • The logos are small and discreetly placed, which I appreciate.

So how did they perform?  When I set out today, the temperature was 39 degrees, with a chilly 15-20 mph wind blowing.  My legs felt pleasantly cool throughout the run, which is how I like them.  14 miles later, I had zero complaints about their performance: nothing bunched up, nothing chafed, nothing restricted my movement.  It was a happy run!

Related posts:
Review: Cold Weather Gear

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Keflezighi's Skechers

So.  The 36-year-old Meb Keflezighi won the Olympic marathon trials in Houston today, with a personal best time of 2:09:08.

First reaction: He's 36 and still setting personal bests?  So what's my excuse again?

Second reaction: Maybe it was the shoes.  Figure out what shoes he was wearing.  Wait . . . he was wearing the new Skechers GoRun?  Really?

OK, the dude could run fast in anything.  But I'm intrigued.  Perhaps not yet intrigued enough to pay $80.  But if anyone wants to loan us a test pair . . . .

Friday, January 13, 2012

1Q84: Some Further Thoughts

Todd's excellent review of 1Q84 largely captured my own reactions to the book.

I don't know if Todd felt this way as well, but 1Q84 struck me as a significant departure from Murakami's prior works.  In his other novels, such as The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World the bizarre things that happen seem to reflect the interior, unconscious life of the characters.  Or to put it another way, the libraries, the wells, the sheep and the unicorns all feel like pieces of the unconscious, brought forward into the tangible world. 

In 1Q84, Murakami abandons this exploration of the individual unconscious to play with concept of a social unconscious (something he appears to have been seriously interested in since Underground, his non-fiction work about the sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo subway system.)  1Q84's little people, its town of cats -- these are not expressions of Aomame's or Tengo's psyche, but rather of society. 

One senses that Murakami doesn't know quite what he wants to do with these pieces, and he never fully unravels them.   But as Murakami focuses on the social, a strange thing happens to the characters -- they become two-dimensional.  Tengo and Aomame are fun to read about, but they are not particularly interesting.  Their only purpose is to push the narrative forward.  And boy, does it move.  Frequently, I got the same feeling as I got when reading a (very well-written) comic book.  That is something I have never felt when reading Murakami before.

1Q84 has something else in common with comic books as well.  Comic books inspire the need for sequels (and prequels).  The same is true of comic-like movies -- Star Wars for example. 

And what do we know about sequels?  They are virtually never as good as the original.

Book 3 of 1Q84 is, I believe a sequel.  It was published a year after the original as a separate book, and I suspect it was conceptualized only after Books 1 and 2 (which were published together as a single volume) had been written.  The British publishers respected this development, and published the English translation of Book 3 separately.  If the American publishers had followed this scheme, I think that Book 3 could have stood on its own as a lesser, but still interesting, Murakami novel.  But to slap the sequel right at the end of the original, and pretend it is part of the same work?  It just didn't work.  The narrative arc had already been completed.

Murakami continues to allude to the fact that there may be more to follow.  "It’s hard for me to say now if I will release a Book 4 or Book 0 of the 1Q84 series,” he remarked to the Japanese media. ”What I can say now is there are stories before (Book 1) and after (Book 3).”

I'll be willing to read those stories.  But only with the recognition that they are, in fact, separate stories.

Related posts:
Book Review: Murakami's 1Q84

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Two Books That I Won't Be Finishing

Life is too short to read bad books.  Not even if I paid good money for them, not even if they are by great authors. 

As such, here are two books that I won't be finishing. 

1.  The Prague Cemetery, by Umberto Eco. 

Umberto Eco is sometimes called the thinking man's Dan Brown.  Well, yes, for those who have only read The Name of the Rose and Foucault's Pendulum.  One of my personal favorites, though, is The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, the tale of an Italian book dealer who wakes up having lost all memory of his past.  He holes up in his country house, re-reading his childhood books, trying to reconstruct who he is.

In The Prague Cemetery, Eco returns to conspiracy theories -- this time to the story of the plagiarist who wrote The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.  Such a protagonist is bound to be anti-Semite, and a number of readers have found the book to be distasteful for that reason.  But Eco is not condoning bigotry; he is only holding it up to the light of the day.  And if you can live with that, then an intellectual romp through fin de siecle Europe, including  the Franco-Prussian War, the Paris Commune, and the Dreyfus Affair ought to be a good read. 

The problem is, Eco has made it into an utter bore.  He simply deposits his historical research in piles,with no apparent thought given to which details help to move the story forward, and which do not.  Nor does the writing contain any of the magical moments I have come to expect from Eco.  50 pages was enough.

2.  Fun With Problems, by Robert Stone.

Most people my age have never heard of Robert Stone.  The man needs more publicity.  Because those who have read his novels almost all agree that he is one of America's greatest living writers.   In particular, I would recommend Dog Soldiers and Bay of Souls, two novels that share little in common except that each contains a concentrated brew of masculinity, drugs, sex, desperation, overindulgence, and philosophy. 

The drugs and sex are also present in Fun With Problems, a book of short stories that explores people having some very real problems.  I entered into the first four stories, knowing Stone's writing well enough that he wasn't going to offer these characters redemption.  The problem is, he didn't really take them anywhere at all.  Though Stone a master of sprawling, messy tapestry, I got the feeling that he didn't know where to go when working in the miniature.   I won't be reading the last three stories in the collection.

Related posts:

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Book Review: Murakami's 1Q84

“…pure solitude and tranquility. That was the best thing the moon could give a person.” – 1Q84, p 528.

It's been a while since I’ve finished 1Q84. I've sat down a number of times to write my reactions, and I’m finding it difficult to do. Partly because the book was such a monster - at 925 pages, it took me almost a full month to read - and because my dislike of the ending colored the rest of the book. I wanted to be careful.

Murakami’s 1Q84 starts with a bang, or more specifically, a song and a vivid description of Aomame - a sharp dressed woman - escaping from a freeway parking jam by climbing down a multiple story fire-escape ladder – a tale that would have made a good short story in and of itself. It gets even better when we find out that Aomame is an assassin – one trained at a unique, untraceable form of killing at that! – and we’re off to the races. The novel alternates chapters between Aomame and Tengo, another of Murakami’s passive males, who gets pulled into a ghostwriting scheme. The two stories leisurely percolate along, both very entertaining in their own right; both of the characters are well fleshed out, and they both find themselves in bizarre circumstances that, like the best of Murakami's novels, could go in any direction. My only quibble is that I found Aomame to be the most masculine female character I’ve seen in a major novel - even her sexual escapades – and there are many of them, surprisingly - read like what a male would imagine (fantasize?) a female wanting. I didn't find her believable as a woman, but despite this, Aomame’s toughness and mystery made her my favorite character in the book, at least until part three.

And that’s the rub. Part three of 1Q84 was not good.  The first two sections were sprawling, obscure, with dead-end subplots and thousands of hints of something deeper beneath it all – and it was fascinating! Little by little we learn that Tengo’s ghostwriting story might not be fiction after all, but instead describe a mysterious race of “little people” that permeate and control the world - and, oh yea, it might not be our world after all, but an alternate reality of some kind, one with two moons in the sky and enough subtle differences to throw everything askew. In short, it's a riveting tale, and one beautifully written in Murakami’s singular prose. But like a poorly paced runner, Murakami runs out of gas in part three. While it may be unfair to judge the three sections as a complete whole – apparently he had finished and published parts one and two and only later decided to put out another 300 pages - I don’t understand what he was hoping to accomplish with his ending. Part three rides an unsatisfying middle road: it didn't resolve any of the important plots that kept me riveted  (who exactly are the little people anyways? What are they trying to accomplish?) or it spelled out situations in too much detail (I personally didn’t need to see Aomame and Tengo get together). This problem is exasperated by two major flaws in part three – Murakami’s continual repeating of themes and phrases  to the point of annoyance (mainly around Aomame’s taking care of “the little one”) and introducing the point-of-view of the repugnant Ushikawa whose purpose here I don’t comprehend.  The failure of part three, while not ruining the book, definitely left a bad taste in my mouth. It didn't tell me anything that parts one and two hadn’t already told me, nor did it present any new “wow” moments.

In the end, though, a flawed Murakami book is still better than 99% of the books out there. I still remember the feeling of anticipation I held onto all day long as I waited to get back to the book at night. 1Q84 holds a place of honor on my bookshelf, because I'll definitely be reading this book again – only this time, I’ll stop after section two.

Related Posts:
1Q84 Hardcover
Murakami's Boundaries
Do You Know What I'm Saying?

Running and Flexibility

For as long as I can remember, I have been insecure about my lack of flexibility.  Bend over and touch my toes?  I can't even bend over and grab my ankles.  And no amount of stretching seems to help.

Part of the reason for my insecurity is that everyone tells me that I need to be flexible to run well.  But, when it comes to running, science has a way of arriving at counter-intuitive findings.  Here are links to two academic studies showing that less flexible runners tend to use energy more efficiently.

Why should this be so?  The scientists aren't sure, but they theorize that less flexible muscles and tendons tend to facilitate a greater elastic energy return during the shortening phase of the activity cycle.  (Think of how much faster a tight rubber band snaps back, in comparison to a loose, stretchy one.)

Of course, there are other reasons that flexibility may be valuable, including the prevention of injury.  Energy efficiency isn't everything.  Still these studies give me a little more freedom to ignore the common wisdom and feel good about my body.

Related posts:
Icing Can Be Make Sore Muscles Worse

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Distinction Between Literary and Other Fiction

I was talking with Todd some time ago (and again more recently) about the author Stephen King.  I had, at the time, made a dumbheaded remark about how I would never read Stephen King because he was too popular (read: pop) and therefore not literary enough for my tastes (ohhhh so high brow).  Todd, rightfully so, let me have it at the time, saying regardless of my perception, I was missing out on some great writing.  And, truthfully speaking, it was for nothing other than King’s popularity (mass appeal) that I banished him from my own personal canon. 

Books are much different from “pop music”.  Reading a book (especially a King novel, given their average girth) takes an investment that cannot be equated to a 3 minute long auditory sampling one would give to a song.  Dismissing popular culture comes easy to me because of my musical tastes and my lack of interest in most popular music.  But the music method of judging a book by its author(‘s popularity) isn’t defendable.

I haven’t read much Stephen King yet, so I really cannot say whether I like his books or not.  But in rethinking this whole approach to books, I realize that, because books cannot be quickly assessed without a significant investment, popularity isn’t a good way to determine what has literary merit and what does not.  For example, some of my favorite modern day authors are some of the most popular and best-selling writers out there (e.g. Mitchell, Marukami).  Even more poignant in the “stands the test of time” aspect is the fact that most of the writers I cherish who are from another time in history were quite popular in their day (e.g. Dostoyevsky, Hesse, Huxley).

I would say, too, that with age comes the ability to appreciate works of fiction for what they have to offer, rather than to hold them up to some ideal of what I consider to be a great work of literary art.  I’m not ashamed to say I like Bukowski because the enjoyment I get from a Bukowski novel is surely as impactful to my life as the great existential thoughts Hesse has triggered, even if only in practical/applicable terms. 

That said I do need to get some value out of a novel to consider it worth my investment.  And this makes it very hard for me to start a book by an unknown author.  So I’m curious…  what do YOU think makes a book valuable as a reader?  How do YOU pick new authors to read?

Related Posts:

Saturday, January 7, 2012

This is Your Mind on Books

Nicholas Carr notes how our brains function when reading:
In our day-to-day lives, we are always trying to manipulate or otherwise act on our surroundings, whether it’s by turning a car’s steering wheel or frying an egg or clicking on a link at a website. But when we open a book, our expectations and our attitudes change drastically. Because we understand that "we cannot or will not change the work of art by our actions," we are relieved of our desire to exert an influence over objects and people and hence are able to "disengage our [cognitive] systems for initiating actions." ... It is only when we leave behind the incessant busyness of our lives in society that we open ourselves to literature’s transformative emotional power.
This explains that wonderful feeling of losing yourself in a book: you just don't feel the need to control things. Relinquishing that power can be a sweet freedom.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Sox Interested in Paul Maholm

Paul who?

You know, Paul Maholm . . . . the Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher?  Lifetime ERA of 4.36?  Injured his shoulder last year, and went 0-5 after the All-Star break?  Spent the last month of the season on the DL?

That Paul Maholm.  Yup.  Cherington wants to give him a shot at the rotation.

See, where Theo's strategy had been to blow all of the team's money (and then some) on a few big name, "sure thing" signings, Cherington's decided to try the opposite.  His master plan is to sign up all the super-cheap guys you've never heard of, put them in a competition for the open roster spots, and hope that one or two of them turn out to have enough fire left to be serviceable.  Then, he can let the rest of them go, and its just a few million down the drain.

Welcome to the 2012 Red Sox!

What's Next from Murakami?

The good old-fashioned bookstore seems to be dying a slow death here in America.  But over in Japan you can count on the fact that, any given evening, bookstore aisles will be filled with young people thumbing through the latest new releases.  And if there is a new release by Haruki Murakami, it will be at the front of the store.

This season, the book is I Talked With Mr. Ozawa About Music -- or something like that, because it hasn't yet been translated into English.  "Mr. Ozawa" is, of course, Seiji Ozawa, and the book is a series of dialogues about specific topics in classical music: a particular Beethoven symphony, a certain conductor, and so on.

It sounds like a niche book, and given that there are still early Murakami novels that haven't been translated, one might reasonably fear that this new book will never find its way outside of Japan.  However, Jay Rubin has said that he is already working on a translation.  Hopefully we'll see it in English soon.

Related posts:
The Underground Man
Songs for Novels

Thursday, January 5, 2012

children's books

one of the absolute supreme joys of my life right now is the nightly book(s) i read to my son before putting him to bed.  he's only 5 months old, so we're not into dostoyevsky yet; and i find most of the books written for children his age to be pretty ridiculous (some in a good way, some in a bad way).  at this point, he is pretty happy to simply look at the pictures, hear the calm and inflected tones i read in and simply to sit with his papa for a few minutes before bed.  but i am curious what's next...  and am hopeful there are a good selection of books for each stage of my son's life.

if you know of any, please recommend them to me!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Book Review: Jean-Christophe Valtat’s Aurorarama

Jean-Christophe Valtat’s Aurorarama is a beautifully-written novel that combines steampunk, revolutionary and authoritarianism politics, druggy subcultures, and anthropology together in an extremely entertaining brew. It takes place sometime in the not-so-distant past in the Arctic city of New Venice, a metropolis filled with wondrous Victorian-era inventions, including machinery that sustains life so close to the North Pole. The story focuses on two heroes: Brentford is the greenhouse administrator in charge of growing the city’s food. He’s part of the city’s nobility but dreams of reviving the city from its corrupt government by democratically integrating New Venice with the surrounding native cultures. He makes up half of an odd couple with Gabriel, a dissolute dandy musician who staggers through the book under the influence of a wide variety of drugs (a commonplace New Venetian pastime for combating the boredom of the short winter days). They both struggle in their own ways – high and low – against the authoritarianism creeping through the city, and one of the more fascinating aspects of the book is how convincingly Valtat depicts the creeping reach of the government, the dread of those subject to it, and the diverse and subtle ways that different subcultures combat it.

Aurorarama feels like a steampunk novel, but Valtat rarely allows the conventions of that genre to become stilted, partly as a result of his inventive wordplay drawn from English, his native French, the Nordic languages, and the Intuit, the latter from which he references wondrously bizarre arctic mythologies (the Kiggertarpok, or the Intuit “polar kangaroo,” plays a major role.) His Pynchon-lite sentences snake around their meaning, never afraid to take a digression into a fascinating detail or fun description before working its way back to the main point. The effect is relentlessly inventive, as when he writes: “Snow redesigned the streets with hints of another architecture, even more magnificent, more fanciful than it already was, all spires and pinnacles on pale palaces of pearl and opal. All that new Venice should have been reappeared through its partial disappearance. It was as if the city were dreaming about itself and crystallizing both that dream and the ethereal unreality of it.”

Despite all of its strengths, the book’s tone oscillates wildly as the action leaves New Venice to wander around the arctic wastes. For instance, a well-scripted horror scene featuring a group of undead explorers dubbed the “Phantom Patrol” awkwardly gives way to a utopian society living in a giant emerald embedded in the arctic permafrost. These tone changes take their toll on the main story, although the refreshingly revolutionary ending picks up the pace again, despite what I thought were sub-plots that were tied up a little too neatly (it read like a pale imitation of one of Neil Stephenson’s apocalyptic endings (The Diamond Age being the best example)).

But don’t let these quibbles disparage a novel that’s a hell of a ride. Valtat’s a great storyteller, and his bizarre and wonderful world has continued to linger in my mind in the weeks since I’ve read it.

Related Posts:
So What's Next?

Cross Posted on Thought Ambience.

Icing Can Make Sore Muscles Worse

Since we're discussing recovery, a column in today's New York Times caught my eye.  Recent scientific studies suggest that, while icing may feel good, it may not be good for sore muscles.

Some of the study results are common sense: if you ice yourself and then jump immediately back into an athletic activity, you may end up hurting yourself, because the cold, numb muscle lacks motor coordination. 

But even if you plan to just ice and rest up, these studies suggest that the cooled muscles do not heal any faster than un-iced tissues.

These are just a few, small-scale studies.  If icing works for you, go for it!  But if not, don't be afraid to question the conventional wisdom. 

Related posts:
rest, recovery and active recovery

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

rest, recovery and active recovery

i've been reading a lot lately about the virtues of both rest and active recovery.  there seems to be quite a bit of debate about which is faster at getting you to feeling your best after a hard workout.  as someone who would rather spend my free time running, reading (novels) or watching the red sox (the latter of which i am happy to be resting from, and certainly need a lot of recovery from after last year), i won't write today about the scientific backing for each of these approaches.  i quite simply don't have all the facts.  but from the limited amount that i did read and drawing from my own experience, i have found a recovery program that works for me.

first, let me define the terms i'm referring to:

recovery:  any action (or lack of action) you take to bring your body back to peak physical feeling after a hard workout.
rest: inaction.
active recovery:  minimal exercise, such as walking or slow jogging, light cycling which slightly elevates your heart rate and allows your muscles to stretch and your blood to flow more freely.

i typically do my long runs on sundays.  assuming the long run happens in the morning or early afternoon, i start my recovery process with a stretching routine.  following this, i spent at least 30 minutes icing any part of my leg that feels problematic.  as someone who has had repeated lower leg injuries, i have found this part of recovery to be absolutely essential.  after icing, i put on a compression sleeve and go into a general "rest mode" for the evening.  i'll interrupt this rest once or twice for some further stretching or a short walk, just to ensure i don't tighten up too much.

the day following the long run is generally a "rest" day as well, meaning i am not going to run.  but i consider this day to be an active recovery day, where i will definitely do some brisk walking, generally on hills, some pretty intensive stretching and some leg strengthening exercises like lunges and weightless squats.  i try to get in at least an hour of nonconsecutive active recovery time throughout the day.  

2 days after the long run, i schedule a workout that involves running half the distance of my long run or less.  i usually run this at as high a pace as i can comfortably run without trying to push myself into the red.  i find this "flushes" my legs, if you will, stretches them and allows the blood to get flowing enough to make my legs feel great by the end of the run and beyond.  after this, i do my stretching routine again, followed by the ice, rest and a bit of stretching/walking.

after this, i am generally ready to approach the rest of my weekly workouts with ease leading up to the long run again on sunday.

i've found that something about the increased pace of the run 2 days after the long run (not FAST, but definitely not slow) is very important to all this.  

anyway, i would love to hear your thoughts about how i can improve this, or to hear what your process is for recovery.