Friday, August 31, 2012

Adrian Beltre

The New York Times has a great profile of Adrian Beltre, noting that he is "perhaps the most underappreciated performer in baseball." 

So why did the Red Sox let him sleep away?  They claimed to have concerns about his age and his health -- but more significantly, another Adrian, with more name recognition, was available.   

Now, Adrian Gonzalez was no slouch during his tenure with the Red Sox.  But Adrian Beltre has been the better performer.  (So far this year, Gonzalez has hit .297 with 16 home runs; Beltre has hit .311 with 25 home runs.) 

If the Sox had kept Beltre, Youkilis could have kept playing 1B and perhaps would not have aged so quickly.  But then, what would the Sox do with Middlebrooks?

As they say, it's water under the bridge. 

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Review: Injnji Toesocks (Performance Series, Mid- and Original-Weight)

I'm behind the ball on this one. Months ago, the nice folks at Injnji sent us RR&RS bloggers a number of toesocks to try out. Both Eric and Joel have posted their reviews and it's time for me to chime in.

I started with with the Midweight Performance Series and, to be quite honest with you, didn't like them all that much. The construction of having a sleeve for each toe felt awkward, and the fabric between the toes rubbed together and almost gave me a blister on my middle toe. I also found them to be a bit too warm for anything other than winter running - but I tend to be hot as a default. The instructions did say to give yourself some time to adjust, and so I tried these socks a few times, but never really warmed up to them.

Given my experience with those socks, it took me a while to try the Original Weight Performance Series socks. I'm sorry I waited, because the weight change made a significant difference! The thinner material felt much more natural on my toes and didn't rub together nearly as much. They were cooler, wicking moisture more effectively for me, and fit much better in my shoes (which I like to lace up really tightly). It was wearing these socks that I discovered the fun of spreading out your toes when running, something I can do much easier in the larger toe box of my Saucony Guide 3s rather than my usual shoe (Brooks Adrenaline 12). I wear them regularly now, when trail running in particular, and enjoy the subtle increase in control that it gives me.

I was impressed with the original weight socks, and want to thank Injniji for sending them along. They're high-quality socks that are now a regular part of my running wardrobe.

Related Posts:

Review: Injinji Toesocks (outdoor, original weight, crew)
Review: Injinji Toesocks
Review: Feetures! Elite Socks
Review: Injinji Toesocks (outdoor series)

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Remind Me...

... why Bobby Valentine is considered a tactical genius again? Because he sounded intelligent on Baseball Tonight?

Last night, fresh off a three-game suspension that was ostensibly about giving the closer role to Bailey, Bobby V brought in Aceves to make a two-inning save. As is his style, Aceves was able to get out of the 8th with no problem but surrendered two runs and the lead in the 9th.All this even knowing that, according to Over the Monster,
Amongst relievers with 10 or more innings pitched for the Boston Red Sox this year, Alfredo Aceves ranks 10th of 11 in ERA, 9th of 11 in FIP and xFIP. He is not simply an ineffective closer indicative of a weak bullpen, one who would ideally be shifted to lower-leverage innings in a stronger unit. Alfredo Aceves has been a bad relief pitcher in an overall strong unit.
There's a reason that basically nobody in the league uses closers to get two inning saves! In fact, the only reason I can think of for this move is that, in true Bobby V fashion, he was passive aggressively trying to teach Aceves a lesson - that he shouldn't be the closer. But I sure hope that childish reason wasn't the case...

I really, really hope that Valentine is gone at the end of the year. I see no reason for keeping him.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

How to Make Your Runs Longer?

It's not what you think. Boing Boing recently posted about the science behind why we perceive time to pass quickly or slowly. William Reville, emeritus professor of biochemistry at University College Cork, writes in The Irish Times that:
“Time” is related to how much information you are taking in – information stretches time. A child’s day from 9am to 3.30pm is like a 20-hour day for an adult. Children experience many new things every day and time passes slowly, but as people get older they have fewer new experiences and time is less stretched by information. So, you can “lengthen” your life by minimising routine and making sure your life is full of new active experiences – travel to new places, take on new interests, and spend more time living in the present.
The implication here is that running on new routes or using different techniques will make the runs feel longer. Personally, I also enjoy the meditatively qualities that come with running along a route multiple times, forgetting myself and disappearing into a rhythm, but I think I understand what Reville is saying. It's why trail running is so exciting and addictive - you need to pay close attention to what you are doing or you'll fall, and that's why trail runs always seem to take so much longer than running on pavement.

It makes sense, but I'm not sure how this theory accommodates the flip side of this: if you're running in a place that offers you no new information - like a treadmill - the time can drag interminably. In my book, there's nothing worse that running on a treadmill without an interesting podcast or movie, because time just... seems... to... stop...

What's your experience?

Monday, August 27, 2012

More thoughts on the Punto Trade

Joel's thoughts on the Sox' mega-trade are well-worth reading. I'd add a few things:

One, we need to call this the Punto trade. There really isn't any other option.

Two: I second Joel's sentiment: Show Ortiz the money.

Three: I think one of the major reasons the Sox gave up on Gonzo and CarlCrawford so quickly (other than wanting to save money) was that they expected 2011 & 12 to be their prime - the peak of their bell curve, if you will. The risk in long term contracts is that you'll end up overpaying  for past performance in the last years, and since the Sox didn't get what they expected in the beginning, they blanched at the risk over the rest of the deal and took the opportunity to dump both the salaries and the risk.

Implicit in this decision is that they're now committed to building the team "right": developing and promoting in-house talent; making safe, short-term free agent signings; not signing older free agents to long-term deals, etc. The problem with this is that not only can it take a while to develop in-house talent, but it's a crapshoot. There's no guarantee that any of the players we received from the Dodgers will become serviceable major league players, much less superstars. I read somewhere this weekend that the great '04 team only had one regular player that came up through the Sox organization (Nixon). But it's one thing to rely on Pedro and Manny and Damon; it's another to find these type of players on the cheap. Face it: the Sox haven't been great at finding diamonds in the (free agent) rough recently. In fact, in the last few years, the only unqualified success I can think of (although i'm sure there are more) is Beltre. For every average to above-average guy they find (think Cody Ross), there's a slew of Camerons, Renterias, etc.

My point is that while the trade may have been the right move to make, the Sox gave up known commodities in favor of the vagaries of the talent market. And while this may prove successful, it just as likely may mean years of mediocrity. At the very least, it will mean a year or two of odd lineups that blend proven players with developing skills, like what I saw in person on Saturday:

  1. Podsednik, LF
  2. Pedroia, 2B
  3. Ellsbury, CF
  4. Ross, RF
  5. Gomez, 1B
  6. Saltalamacchia, C
  7. Lavarnway, DH
  8. Aviles, SS
  9. Ciriaco, 3B

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Thoughts on the Trade

With Eric on vacation (if you call running up and down mountains vacation) and Todd at game one of the new era, it is left to yours truly to comment on the biggest salary dump in the history of professional sports.

I've read the facts about 500 times, but they still have the power to shock: the Sox sent Josh Beckett (2003 World Series MVP and 2007 ALCS MVP); Adrian Gonzalez (4-time all star, 3 Gold Gloves, 0.294 lifetime); Carl Crawford (4-time all star, 4 time AL stolen base champion, 0.292 lifetime); and Nick Punto (umm, yeah) to the LA Dodgers.  In return they got struggling first baseman James Loney; the Dodgers' #2 prospect, right handed pitcher Allen Webster; minor league second baseman Ivan DeJesus, Jr.; and two players to be named later.  Earlier in the day, those two players were rumored to be right handed pitching prospect Rubby de la Rosa and minor league outfielder Jerry Sands, though that is no longer clear.

Oh - and the Sox did send a little bit of a cash the Dodgers' way, but barely enough to be worth mentioning.  So, they ended up clearing out $265.5 million of salary obligations.  And they may still shed some more, if any teams wish to claim Jon Lester or Jacoby Ellsbury from the waiver wires.

I've got to say, I'm more excited about the Red Sox than I have been in a long time.

Now, what is Cherington going to with all that money?

I'm pretty sure he is not going to sign a hard-hitting superstar first baseman.  While Adrian Gonzalez never quite lived up to expectations, his numbers in Boston were pretty damn good -- he hit .338 in 2011, and .300 in 2012.  That's a better batting average than he had in San Diego.  Meanwhile, the price for high caliber first basemen has skyrocketed ($250 million for Joey Votto!)  If the Sox wanted production from that corner, they should have stayed put.

Perhaps he has his eye on a shortstop?  But I've got to think that Iglesias is going to get his chance.

Pitching could be area of focus.  Buchholz, Doubront, Morales, Lackey and (Bard?  De La Rosa if he's ready?)  don't quite cut it.  Neither does much of the bullpen.  But there is something to be said for waiting a year or two or three for some young talent to develop and prove itself, and then rewarding it well.  The last thing we need is another John Lackey.  We've still got one.

So let me give Cherington my suggestion: SHOW ORTIZ THE MONEY.  Even after you faced him down in contract negotiations this past offseason, he has played his heart out, hitting 0.318 - his best since 2007.  Despite his injuries, he has still been the best DH in baseball.  And beyond his abilities, he is the soul of the team, having taken up where Varitek left off.   So for heaven's sake, give him a contract that says you want him in a Red Sox uniform until he is old and decrepit and ready to leave the game.

And then, if you still have some cash left over, see if you can get the owners to cut ticket prices.  

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Running While Hot

In Mass, the summer's humid heat  has broken (for now), making it much more pleasant to run and or do anything outside. It's been a brutally hot summer, with record heat and stifiling humidity, making it extremely difficult for me to stick to a training plan, because I have an infant at home, meaning that the only time I really have to run is during my lunch break when the heat is at or near it's peak. I've adjusted my running to accomidate this in a few ways:
  • Slowing down
  • Changing my typical running route to one with the most shade
  • Continually switching the side of the road i'm running on to stay in the shade
  • Running with my handheld water bottle, no matter how fast the run
  • Putting ice in the water bottle
  • Squirting water on the back of my head every mile
I'd been squirting myself with water all summer, so was interested when Joel forwarded me a recent posting on the New York Times Phys Ed blog that examined how effective this tactic was in improving performance. Short answer: while it feels good, not so much:
"...when cold water was poured over their heads did the volunteers report feeling blessedly cooler than in the other exercise session. They also said that the workout felt noticeably easier, and their skin temperatures were lower than in other sessions.
They did not, however, actually perform better during the five-kilometer time trial, no matter what cooling strategy they employed. Their times were generally equivalent, whether they drank cold water, were doused with it, or neither."
However, in another posting, Gina Kolata posits that simply training in heat can make you a better runner - not necessarily by improving your physical condition, but by making you tougher:
"After 10 days of heat acclimation, performance ... improved by 4 percent to 8 percent when they rode as hard and fast as they could. ...
The problem is that to get faster you have to run or ride faster in your training workouts. And when it is hot — and especially, hot and humid — your body slows down to prevent dangerously high core temperatures. The result is that you simply can’t run or ride as fast. That’s why the cyclists in his study did their speed workouts in cool temperatures and used the hot room only to acclimate to exercise in heat.
But there may still be an advantage, Dr. Minson added. There is a large psychological component to performance, and those who do hard workouts outside on hot, humid days have to overcome mental barriers to push themselves. That sort of toughness can translate into improved performance."
This tells me that running in the heat doesn't necessarily make you faster, just mentally tougher, and dousing yourself with water during this time only makes you feel better, not able to run faster. All things I suspected before, but it's nice to know there's actual science behind them. And as I continue to do short lunchtime runs in the heat, i'll know that i'm a mentally rugged, albeit wet, runner.

Monday, August 20, 2012

How Many Steps Do You Take?

My company is participating in the Global Corporate Challenge, a contest in which teams of seven are tracking the steps that they walk every day for a few months. Given that I develop corporate education for a large technology company, I am sitting at my computer or in meetings all day. The benefit of the program has been to open my eyes to how few steps I typically take on a day where I don't go for a run.

The surgeon general recommends that people walk 10,000 steps per day in order to stay healthy. This Livestrong article states that:
People who take fewer than 5,000 steps are considered to be sedentary or inactive. Those who take 5,000 to 7,499 steps daily have a low active lifestyle. Somewhat active people usually take 7,500 to 9,999 steps per day. People considered to be active take 10,000 or more steps per day.
I consider myself an active person, but on days I don't run, I might only walk 4,000 steps at most. If I take the dog for a walk, we're still only looking at 7-8 K. I honestly thought that I would be taking more steps than that! The eye-opening point - and i'm sure why corporations are supporting the program - is that walking the recommended amount of steps per day is difficult to do.

Now combine a running plan into it and things get much easier. It's hard to say how accurate the relatively inexpensive GCC pedometers are, but I've found that a good 4-5 mile run would be around 8,000 steps. On days with longer runs, I find myself racking up a good 30K steps by the time I ease into bed. Unfortunately, the GCC coinsided with my break from running while I healed up my knee from the Burlington Marathon, but once I started running regularly again I've been able to up my daily step average to just under 11,000 a day.

Does walking count as cross-training for running? I'm not sure that it would for a serious runner, but I've found it to be both helpful and relaxing. In addition, during my layoff I found walking to be low-impact enough to stay healthy but active and close enough to running that it helped me figure out how my knee was doing. I plan on continuing to walk as much as I can during the day, but also as and end in and of itself on days when i'm not running.  

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Ashland Half Marathon: Coming Along Nicely

Some new developments in the inaugural shland Half Marathon, to be run this October:

  • The course map was released. The coolest thing about this race for me is that a lot of the course will be on roads that I run and drive on every day. In fact, my family will be able to see me run by just walking down to the end of my street!
  • Bill Rogers will be running. Fun stuff, to be running with someone that won two big marathons (Boston and NYC) four times.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Book Review: "Pushing Ice"

Alastair ReynoldsPushing Ice starts off with a scene that smacks of Space Opera - the SciFi subgenre that he’s always accused of writing - when Chromis Pasqueflower Bowerbird (the name alone almost made me close the book) makes a political gambit in the Interstellar Congress. Thankfully, the book quickly moves to a more traditional – and interesting – plot: when Saturn’s moon Janus turns out to be an alien spaceship jetting out of the galaxy, a ship of ice miners is recruited to track the ship back to its destination.  Along the way, unexpected events occur and the miners are cut off from the rest of humanity, forcing them to land on Janus. 

Reynolds skillfully paints a picture of the pervasive paranoia that overtakes the crew as they attempt to figure out a way to survive. He convincingly portrays the mysteries of alien technologies – the lava canals are a nice touch! – and has some really interesting alien interactions, especially with the race called the Fountainheads. Towards the end of the book, more revelations come to light that dramatically expand the scope of the novel – all I’ll say is that the “structure” the crew discovers introduces the true epic nature of the book. All in all, it was a compelling read for my beach vacation. In fact, the only real problem I had with the book was that the characters were a bit too stubborn or noble: there’s a mutiny that occurs and the absolute rigor with which it’s pursued over the years, even in the face of the crew’s overwhelming predicament, is hard to believe. In addition, the nobility of Perry – a well-respected man in the crew – is difficult to swallow, as is his honesty in dealing with the crisis that overcomes him. Some of these melodramatic interactions bordered on soap opera, but didn't prevent me from enjoying Pushing Ice, which was much better than I anticipated - especially after that name!

Cross Posted on Thought Ambience

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Block Island Running

I recently got back from a vacation to Block Island that happily coincided with my return to serious running. You might not think that there are many place to run on Block Island, considering that it's only 10 square miles, but there's a surprising amount of variability in the terrain. This is made even better by the fact that almost half of the island's land is conserved, meaning that there are a lot of open vistas and trails to enjoy.
A rocky path to the beach!

On this vacation, I was still testing out the knee that crapped out in the Burlington Marathon, so I only laced up the shoes three times. The first time was a road loop around the "meat" of the southern part of the island, a pleasant morning run through farmland and the panoramas over Rodman's Hollow. My second run was a quick trip up to Coast Guard and Crescent beach in the heat of the day - really too hot for comfort, despite the sea breezes that normally cool you off - being a pretty narrow island, the winds are prevalent there.
On the way to Coast Guard Beach
My favorite run was my last: a jaunt up Corn Neck Road to BI's northernmost tip.This one has it all: The sky dominating everything. Farms and beach houses everywhere. The red house.The view of the northern point over Sachem Pond. It's here, once you get past the crowds of Crescent Beach, that you really experience Block Island's true isolation. While you can reach it by plane, most come by ferry, meaning that the amount of cars on the island is limited. As such, it's blessedly quiet - no nearby highways! - and the roads, while narrow, are free of cars buzzing by you. Drivers expect a lot of walkers and bikers in the road, and slow down accordingly. This great experience makes for great road running up and down the neck: I'm looking forward to doing this one a few times next year.
A bridge over the backwaters at the narrowest point of the island
I'd recommend Block Island to anyone, runner or not. There are a lot of runs I haven't even mentioned - running on the empty beaches of the west side of the island; the 25 miles of trails - and any run you take is filled with excellent imagery. It's idyllic, really, and I look forward to going back again soon.

Friday, August 3, 2012


Now that the Red Sox have acquired lefty Craig Breslow and called up catcher Ryan Lavarnway from Pawtucket, the the team two Yale grads on the active roster.

That looks to be a first, at least in the modern era.  According to Baseball Almanac, there have been only a couple dozen Yalies who have ever made it to the big leagues; before Breslow and Lavarnway, the last one was Ron Darling, who played for the Mets, Expos, and A's between 1983 and 1995. 
I'm not quite sure what Cherington is trying to achieve, but as soon a game rolls around when Breslow is pitching and Lavarnway is catching, look for the announcers to have a field day. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Shoe Review: Asics Gel FujiRacer

Buying running shoes isn't getting any easier.  Am I getting too much shoe?  Too little?  Am I spending too much for too little?  What is the right shoe for road?  For trails?  For mountain trails?  The list of questions goes on.  Given that I've been focusing much more on trail running (preferably with steep hills) lately, I thought it would be a good idea to put a pair of shoes on my feet that would suit the terrain I was running on.  This was after having run plenty of miles on the trails in my go-to shoe, the Brooks PureCadence.  The experience running in those shoes left me wanting a bit more traction on trails and a bit more protection from the plentiful rocks and roots New England trails have to offer.  After much deliberation, a bit of pure confusion at all the options out there, I opted for the Asics Gel FujiRacer.

The reasons for selecting this shoe were due to their similarity in specs to the PureCadence, light weight, low heel-to-toe differential (6mm), low profile.  Why not get the Brooks PureGrit, you say?  Well, given that I was looking for traction (PureCadence's biggest flaw) and protection (PureGrit have no rock plate) I made up my mind, closed my eyes and clicked buy (Running Warehouse makes it incredibly easy to buy shoes with their very liberal return policy).

It takes me a while to figure out whether I like shoes or not.  I've put in about 80 miles on these shoes so far, including a 19 mile outing in the White Mountains with lots of up and down and plenty of mileage on local trails.  

My first impression of these shoes upon putting them on was that they didn't fit.  I got a size 11.5, as is standard for me in any shoe.  It was very snug, tight in fact, when it first put it on.  I had read that I should buy a size up, but it's kind of hard for me to do that...  I've never had a size 12 shoe feel right on my foot (nor a size 11 for that matter).  Hoping they would stretch out a bit, I didn't send them back and set about running.

They did break in a bit, maybe even too much.  Surprisingly, after a few runs, I felt my feet moving around more than I was comfortable with in an otherwise narrow feeling toebox.  This was completely unexpected.  Granted, I sweat A LOT, and my feet were completely soaked when this happened (thus contributing to the slipperiness), but it's certainly on the negative side of how these shoes feel (especially descending a mountain, when you really want to trust your foot plant).

One of the most prominent things I noticed about this shoes is how ridiculously light they are.  This makes climbing an absolute breeze.  It's one of the absolute best features this shoe has to offer...  I found myself going up things I would have normally trudged up in hiking boots with ease i was unaccustomed to.  Asics have gotten this light weight a couple different ways:

Here is the bottom before a run, note the holes and nice tread
1. The outsole, rock plate and midsole of this shoe literally have holes cut in them all the way through the shoe.  If you take out the insert, you can see through the thing layer of fabric.  This is at once very smart, and certainly encourages quick drainage, but also allows things to come in rather easily as well.  The things that end up coming in are:  dust and dirt, small rocks, mud, especially placed sticks (rare, happened once) and most shockingly, water.  I say shockingly because the first time i stepped in a stream, the water was on the bottom of my foot before I knew it and it gave me a start.  But it also went right back out.  You can easily see the positives and negatives of this design, but after having put the shoes through the paces, i'm fine with the dirt, mud, rocks and what have you...  and I *would* be fine with the water, were it not for a pretty important traction issue.  Much like the PureCadence, when the outsole of this shoe gets wet, it will not grip any hard surface.  If you sweat like i do, soon into a humid summer run, those holes in the shoe will let the sweat get on the bottom of your shoes, stream or not.  This is an issue that must be addressed in the next revision of the shoe.  I will say that the traction is otherwise awesome.  The shoe will climb you easily through dirt, mud, and does great on the other surfaces when dry.  But when wet, be careful descending quickly where you put your feet...  one slight off kilter plant on a rock and you'll be picking yourself up from the deck.
here is the bottom after a run in dry conditions (yech, that's sweat!)

2. The shoe has much less cushioning than a tradition trail shoe, or even a traditional road trainer.  The interesting thing about this is that the shoe does have asics' patented gel in the heel.  You can really feel this any time you come close to a heel strike.  The forefoot of this shoe and the heel are night and day.  The difference in cushioning is especially noticeable compared to the PureCadence.  At first, this was very hard to deal with, as my feet were taking a pounding.  I came to realize realize just how NOT minimal the PureCadence are as I continued to run in these shoes (which are also NOT minimal).  The proprioception in the forefoot area of this shoe is great..  You really are in touch with the ground.  It does call for a much more deliberate style of running... but this type of running will help you keep from rolling your ankle or taking a digger.  It takes some getting used to, and I'm still not sold that the forefoot has enough cushioning, but I will say I'm going to continue to wear this on long mountain runs with steep descents, at least until I figure out another trail shoe to buy.

There isn't much else to this shoe, which I guess is another factor in the light weight of it.  The upper feels fine.  It has taken some serious beatings in the runs I have done and shows no sign of being worse for the wear (despite being quite dirty).  I do think it has a bit too much "flex", resulting in the fit issues I described earlier.

Of all the factors to consider in shoes, I think fit is very personal.  That the FujiRacer doesn't fit me perfectly will probably prevent me from buying the next revision of this shoe.  If they fix the traction issue, and if you are looking for a light weight trail shoe that will stand up to the punishment if a very long day on steep, rocky trails, this really is a great shoe.  If you aren't used to a less-than-plush forefoot cushion, it may take some time to get used to these shoes, but I think your running could benefit from it if all other factors are acceptable and you give them a chance.

If you have any additional questions or thoughts, definitely let us know!