Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Cloud Atlas, Coming Soon to a Theatre Near You...

The writers of RR&RS are all big fans of David Mitchell. Personally, i'm always a bit ambivalent about movie adaptations of novels, especially novels as reliant upon the prose voice of someone as dynamic as Mitchell. But the trailer for Cloud Atlas - produced by the Wachowskis (the creators of The Matrix) and directed by Tom Tykwer (the writer/director of the fantastic Run Lola Run) - looks fantastic:
Damn was that exciting! Cloud Atlas seems like an unfilmable book, but this preview certainly looks like it might have pulled off the trick. And those special effects are incredible. I've found the Wachowski's movies post-Matrix to be visually stunning but emotionally disengaging, so I hope that Tykwer found a way to stay true to the story while allowing for all of this visual drama.

Monday, July 30, 2012


It is, of course, very easy to cheer for a team that is at the top of rankings.  And it is perhaps even more exciting to cheer for a team that isn't quite there, but that is making a run for the playoffs. 
And then, there are certain satisfactions to being a fan of a team of lovable losers.  You can complain endlessly around the water cooler.  Any victory, no matter how small, will be an impressive victory.  And when you wear the cap of a losing team proudly, you show just how great of a fan you are.
But the fan of the 0.500 team knows none of these pleasures.  The team may show flashes of brilliance, beating the Yankees two games out of three.  But that enjoyment is tempered by knowing that the team will surely lose the next series, or the series after that, dragging them right back down.  And though your team won't be making the playoffs, nobody sympathizes with your disappointment.  Indeed, it is bad form to even complain, because other teams have it much worse. 
So you plug along, wondering each day if the team will buy, or sell.  Hoping it will be different next year.

Move Over Punto

In 18 games, Pedro Ciriaco is hitting .349. He's also 6 for 6 stealing bases and knocked in the winning run last night against the Yankees.

I understand this is a small sample size, but given this great start, can someone remind me why Nick Punto is on the team?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The A.R.T. of Injury

So you’ve finally figured out what it is that has been hindering the comfort and enjoyment of all your recent runs: an overuse injury. Perfect, now all you need to do is go to your local pharmacy and purchase an overuse cure. All set, right?

Ah, if life could be so easy. The problem with overuse injuries is that most of the time the symptoms of the injury are not the cause. You may find you have pain in your calves, an ache in your foot, a pinch in your hip, some or all of the above. And nerve pain makes it all the harder to understand where the source is. Today it’s your calf, warm, numb or tingling and weak, tomorrow it’s the back of your knee, your hip or your foot. If the location of the pain isn't even consistent, how can you determine what is wrong in order to treat it?

This has been my problem for a long time. And I don’t think the traditional sports medicine route was helpful to me. While I agree that RICE and ibuprofen can be helpful, I tend not to want to take large chunks of time off from training without some specific, targeted diagnosis and course of action rather than a more general approach that seems to be the first step in a series of non-active steps that may or may not ever solve my problem(s).

I took some advice from a fellow runner after the KBVCM hobbled me and headed to a local chiropractor who uses A.R.T and Graston procedures to help, among others, athletes return to form. I was pretty skeptical, but also desperate.

Here is how it went down, and some things I learned. My first visit consisted of the typical paperwork (drawing pictures of types of pain on a body outline and answering a long list of questions). But as soon as I sat down in the Dr’s office, I knew things were going to be different. First of all, I was asked what I wanted to achieve from these visits. How could something so essential be so often overlooked? For people who don’t get their daily dose of mind-balancing and spirit nourishing medicine from running, it might be fine to sit on the couch, hopped up and propped up, icing away and clicking through the endless drivel of tv land. More than I want to run, I need to run and it seems this Dr, different from the few orthos and general practitioners I’ve seen, was happy to be complicit. His clear argument was, “how do I know whether what I’m doing is working if you don’t get out there and get the bio-feedback”? (this was of course after he was sure there weren't any signs of serious injury).

Great, so we have a common goal. Now how to go about it? The beauty of A.R.T, at least as it was applied in my case, was that the Dr never focused on one particular site, but rather along a nerve pathway. He felt rather confident that my injury involved some nerve impingement, and with nerve impingement, you cannot always be sure of the source simply from the symptoms. Pain in the calf might be directly related to a compressed nerve in the hip (and so on). Especially when the pain is felt in multiple places along a nerve pathway, it is important to treat the areas along that pathway to ensure you’re getting at the source.

I’m not going to say A.R.T. is entirely comfortable. The basic idea from a layman’s perspective is that your practitioner will move your affected limb in a plane of motion to search for weaknesses and irregularities. When found, pressure points will be applied in key areas as you move your leg dramatically along that plane, sometimes slightly beyond a stretch of comfort. The key is to break up scar tissue, to encourage circulation and to induce increased nerve freedom through nerve flossing (moving the nerve throughout the plane of motion to free it from impingement).

Session 1 was good. I felt improvement right away. Did I go home and run 50 miles…. No. We’re not talking magic here, but we are talking sound science.

During session 2, I was introduced to the Graston technique. Compared to Graston, A.R.T. is cake and ice cream. Graston takes a much more crude approach to breaking up scar tissue. Basically, strategically shaped steel instruments are used to rapidly and repeatedly go over affected areas and break up amassed scar tissue (which may be impacting nerve pathways and generally affecting mobility and comfort). Taking a blunt instrument to an already sensitive area and repeatedly mashing it in a raking motion is certain to induce beads of sweat on ones brow and a certain stiffness in ones spine. But we’re runners, right? The pain is the pathway to the greater good. So after gritting my teeth a bit, soon it was over.

Once again, when I stood up, it was clear SOMETHING had changed. This time, I really did go home and run. Not fast and not far, but progress was made.

My Dr pointed out that often times you may feel better as the day goes on after a session, as more blood and oxygen gets to affect areas as nerve pathways open up. I don’t know if the sensation was related or not, but my calf, which has had areas of tingling and numbness for a while, started twitching a lot after the second session and started to feel much more lively, the numbness having gone away. I would say other muscle areas in the leg started feeling more activated as well and I could really sense that I just plain had been overloading certain muscle groups to compensate for lack of mobility and weakness in other areas in the leg. This is a very clear way to get yourself injured. It’s also another way to mask what the true issue is. If you’re overloading your Achilles, you get Achilles pain. The reason you are overloading your Achilles might be an improperly healed hamstring though, or weakness in your glutes. Even if you fix your Achilles issue, you’re still prone to further injury until you discover what the source of the problem is and work on that. In that sense, these A.R.T. sessions helped me to first gain sensation in muscle groups that were previously feeling numbness, gain sensitivity to areas of discomfort and weakness during the sessions and focus on ensuring the entire leg was working in concert to give me the most efficient running motion possible.

In total, I did about 6 sessions of A.R.T./Graston. There are times even now when I have feelings of nerve issues in my hip and calf. But part of proper treatment is to ensure I’m doing the proper self-treatment as time goes on. I really think this is essential to keeping your legs healthy. After every run, and trust me, more often than not it’s the last thing I want to do, I use the stick to massage my leg muscles, then I use the foam roller to get at my hamstrings and calves. At work I keep a pointed massager so I get can into my hips and lower back. It’s not comfortable and I don’t enjoy it, but I keep it up because it keeps me healthy. Without that maintenance, I feel like I’d be right back on the A.R.T. table in too short of time. Foam rolling and the stick will help your muscles reform in a much more regular pattern after exercise breaks them down. Forming in a regular pattern helps to ensure you don’t get any issues with scar tissue build-up causing problems with nerves and mobility.

I highly recommend A.R.T. therapy. That I was able to keep running while getting treatment not only helped me get more targeted treatment, it kept me sane and helped me get a better understanding of all the connected issues at play, leading me to the source of my injuries rather than simply the symptoms. If you’re looking for a recommendation, definitely contact me and I’ll put you in touch with my Dr, who was great, very helpful and informative and effective. And most importantly, make sure you do your maintenance. Running is obviously the largest part of the workout, but not the only part. Use the foam roller and the stick and anything that works to massage out your legs after a run.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Book Review: 2312

Kim Stanley Robinson’s novel 2312 describes how life looks exactly 300 years in the future, when the combination of two major enabling technologies - space elevators on Earth, and self-replicating machinery – have enabled mankind to colonize the solar system. Being a “hard” scifi author (he writes stories that only depict realistic or potential extractions of current science), Robinson doesn't allow himself any faster than light travel, so this means that our nine planets consist of mankind’s final frontier. In this mix comes our two heroes: Swan, an artist/politician from Mercury, and Warham, a somewhat dour, frog-like Politian from Titan (one of Saturn’s moons). This odd couple are thrown together through a plot to help Earth overcome its political inertia and also a mysterious attack on Terminus, Mercury’s moving city, that may or may not involve intelligent quantum computers. They overcome their misunderstandings and different natures to forge a path forward in this distant future.

And what a future it is! Robinson throws lots of speculation at us - things like quantum computers, commonplace androgyny, surfing Saturn’s rings, and terraformed asteroids. These fascinating ideas are included as a matter of fact in the main narrative, and fleshed out in extreme detail via with minor chapters intertwined with the main narrative. They're like the minor chapters of Moby Dick except instead of being minor treatises, they’re fragments, feeling like you’re channel surfing past the history channel. Robinson pulled this blend of styles from dos Passos’ USA trilogy, in particular the 1st person stream-of-consciousness he assumes for his Quantum Walk chapters. In place of dos Passos’ Newsreels, we have fragments of histories, where little nuggets of facts or conjecture are dropped – just enough information so that we learn the details about this fascinating world, but not so much that we become bored or start feeling trapped in a textbook. It’s a canny way to approach the age-old problem of exposition in scifi.

However, as much as I loved this book, I can’t really say that I recommend it to a general reader. Despite all of its strengths, Robinson has a bit of a tin ear for character development, so the book can be slow going when Swan and Warham are talking to each other. In fact, their relationship – ostensibly the main focus of the book – pales at times against Robinson’s technological and historical ideas, which feel to be the book’s real hero. After all, for all of its formal innovations, 2312 is also a book steeped in the traditions of SciFi, and so some aspects of the book may be lost on someone who hasn’t read a lot of Science Fiction. If you read it with an open mind, I doubt you’ll be disappointed, but buyer beware. For what it’s worth, while I’m not sure it’s the best book I’ve read this year, it was certainly the most thought-provoking, inspiring, and also the one that’s stuck with me the longest. I’ll certainly be picking up more of Robinson’s work (probably his Mars Trilogy).

Cross Posted on Thought Ambience.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A Day in the White Mountains (NH)

This past Saturday, a couple local running friends (David and Erich) invited me to tag along on their trip up to the White Mountains to run the Pemi Loop.  While I've been hiking in the Whites plenty of times, I've never done a run there, so I was cautious in my planning, figuring to run about the first 10 miles of the 32 mile loop, and then double back for a 20 mile day.

I got up at 3:30 AM on Saturday morning and by 3:45 I was on the road.  The drive in was quite easy, as there is no traffic at that time of day.  I was still in a partial sleep-coma as well, which may have been why I barely remember the drive.  By 6:15, I was at the trailhead.  We had hoped to start at that time, but it took the three of us about bit of time to get our things together and it was closer to 7 when we headed out.

The forecast for the day had the temperature heading into the low 90s with high humidity.  I drank about 2 liters of water before the start of the run, on the drive up, and had 3 liters of water in my camelbak.  We started off slowly on a flat trail that was formerly a railroad bed, frequently stepping over the old railroad ties still left on what has become the Lincoln Woods Trail.

After about 4 miles or so and a turnoff onto the Bondcliff Trail, we started a very gradual climb, completely runnable.  I believe it was around mile 6 that we started any significant climbing and by mile 7 there was much more power hiking than running.  The climb was pretty steep at times, with your typical New England trail features of rocks and roots along the way.  Anytime the trail leveled, we'd run a stretch and then hunker down into climbing mode when it became unrunnable again.  At one point in the trail, the trees break and you can see the Bondcliff Ridge above:

A little after mile 8 we broke into the alpine zone, above the treeline:

The temperature was quite nice in the morning hours up on the ridge, and despite the loose rock, the terrain was reasonably runnable.  I found it hard to run however because I was simply gawking at the sheer beauty of the ridge and surrounding areas.  The Bondcliff peak has a very dramatic drop off that you run along for a bit:

After summiting Bondcliff, the ridge loses a bit of elevation before beginning the climb to Bond.  Here is a view from Bondcliff of the summit of Bond with David and Erich running the ridge:

The climb to bond starts on the exposed ridgeline and the heads into some distressed alpine pines for a step ascent.  This was all hiking for me at this point.  David and Erich were kind enough to wait for me on the summit of Bond, but soon-after descended into the trees to continue their run (they had 8 more  4000'+ peaks to get over and 22 more miles of running left):

Now on my own, I took stock of how I felt, which was pretty good, took in a bunch of calories (gu and clif bars) and checked in on my water situation.  At the halfway point, I had already downed 2 liters of water and the temperatures were quickly on the rise.  I knew that it wouldn't be long before I got to a stream that we followed for a long ways on the journey in, but i didn't have a water filter or any tablets.  

To look at the elevation chart, you'd assume i could have just charged down the mountain at this point:

Not so, however.  As you can see from these pictures, I had to pick my way through some pretty technical terrain.  As this was the first time I've navigated through these types of trails in running shoes, I didn't try to push it:

As I was saying before, the ridgeline is really amazing though, and I was fun to be running slowly over the ridge to have more time to take in the views:

Alas, with the temperature on the rise and the water situation getting more important, I finally began my descent below the treeline.  Miles 11 and 12 were still pretty steep and technical, so I ran when I could, but i didn't take any chances.  I was starting to get really hot at this point, and I was out of water, so by mile 13, I was really glad when I got back to the stream.  I didn't care much about not having a filter or tablets at that point and drank beyond my heart's content.  To cool off, I gave my head a nice dunk as well:

Much like on the way in, I ran the remaining miles, gaining steam as the terrain flattened out.  This was beyond a doubt the slowest 'run' I had ever done with all the climbing and tricky terrain on the descent and i wanted to see if I still had anything left.  Back down off the peaks, it was downright hot, and I was pretty keen to get to my car which had 2 full bottles of ice water.  I finished my run, downed one of the bottles then soaked in the nice, cold stream for about 20 minutes.  I then changed my shoes (my feet took a beating) and set out for a short hike, hoping to meet David and Erich on the tail end of their run.  Turns out they ran out of water and were dealing with dehydration issues, so I headed back to the stream, had a nice chat with another runner of the Pemi Loop that day and awaited their arrival.

All in all, I learned a lot from running with David and Erich and a lot from my experience in the Whites on this day.  It offered some incredibly beautiful views and an overall great, even if a little hot towards the end, experience.  Can't wait to get back up there!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A Day On The Western Greenway Trail

The Western Greenway Trail blaze that you must learn to follow if you want to stay on the trail

Trail running offers a welcome respite for the body and mind from the leg-pounding, split-obsessed rigor of road running.  After the physical and mental beating I took in the Burlington Marathon, I resolved to do more of my runs on trails, to harness the more soul-nourishing aspects of running.  Living in a more urban area, however, with a full schedule, there often isn't time to drive to a trail and run, which is often why I end up running on roads.  I've recently been turned on to the Western Greenway Trail however, which runs close by my work and runnably near to where I live as well.

The Western Greenway Trail is strung together between open-space preserves, parks and other land areas to form a cohesive trail running in the middle of urban/sub-urban areas.  Unless you knew about it, you might not be able to find it.  It's at times hard to follow, as it crosses city streets, darts in and out of the woods.  It is well-marked, however, and as soon as you learn to follow the blazes along the patterns the trail runs, you'll find yourself with a healthy length of trail to run.  I've been able to run for over an hour without encountering a single person all while being in the middle of heavily populated towns just on the outskirts of Boston.

Here are some pictures from my recent outing on the Western Greenway Trail on July 4th.

A gorgeous boggy boardwalk section
Singletrack throughout
Often crossing roads

Well-groomed trails

Meadows here and there

One of my favorite sections, through pines with a stone wall