Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Race Report: Ashland Half Marathon

Last Sunday, over 700 people toed up to the original starting line of the Boston Marathon for the inaugural Ashland Half Marathon. Sponsored by the Ashland Redevelopment Authority, the race is looking to raise funds to enhance Marathon Park – a small green space on the banks of the Sudbury River – and also create a marathon hall of fame at the Ashland VFW. To me, it was my first long race since the Vermont City Marathon, and since I live in Ashland, one that would give me a fun home court advantage.

Sunday broke with overcast and chilly weather, with intermittent rain falling as Hurricane Sandy inched its way north, so I broke out the running tights and jogged down to the starting line with some friends. We were running late, but that was okay – since we were sharing the start line with folks running a 5K race, my strategy was to avoid getting caught up in a fast start in favor of going slow for a few miles and seeing where I stood. Since I missed my usual stretching, these first few miles – luckily relatively flat – would also serve as my warm up.

Regardless, I felt good as Bill Rogers mocked the drawing of the original line in the dirt way back in 1897, and soon enough we were off! Looking at my splits, I actually ran faster than I expected for the first few miles, feeling relaxed and enjoying the view of my hometown and all of the people that had braved the weather to cheer us on. I felt good and loose and started to seriously pick up the pace at mile 3.5 when Cedar street starts a long slow climb up to Eliot. Since a majority of my training is in the hills of Ashland, what I was hoping would be the case came true: almost everyone that I passed during the race was on a hill. So striding steadily up the hills on Cedar and Eliot Streets, I was passing people – and passing them for good. It was a good feeling.

The first challenge for me was the big downhill on South Street as we worked our way down to the Ashland Reservoir. My right knee is not a fan of running downhill, so I try to take these slopes easy, but I also know that gravity is providing free energy if you but lean forward and open your stride. I also took advantage of the rest to put on my headphones, which always help to motivate me through the hard times in a race. And it was a good thing I did. The rain started in earnest as ran by the Ashland gravel quarry on Spring Street, and I found myself running by myself. My usual tactic is to eye the runner in front of me with an eye towards picking them off, but the next runner was easily 200 yards in front of me by the time we got to the 135 straightaway, so I hunkered down with my tunes and focused on pushing a steady pace.

It wasn't until we hit the next hill that I was in a crowd again. At 9.5 miles, we climbed a sharp hill over the train tracks and started running towards my house. I run this stretch of road all the time, and knew that there was a killer climb up Green Street just past the 10 mile marker, so I mentally focused on crushing this hill. It sucked, as I knew it would, but I passed three people on that quarter mile of 12% grade and gasped my way down Green Street towards the highlight of the race – my family and Eric were cheering us on at the turn onto Acton Street. Disaster almost struck as I rolled my ankle in a pothole hidden by the fallen leaves, but the adrenaline of seeing my boys’ face as they cheered me on kept me moving.

However, at this point, the lack of speed workouts was catching up with me. I knew that there was one last good hill – the stretch of Myrtle and the 270 degree turn onto Winter – so I kept pushing, knowing that the last mile was a big downhill. I did well – passing another few runners – but I had nothing left in the tank at that point, and was passed in turn by three people as we strode downhill towards the finish. I was also concerned about the conditions; by this point, the steady rain made for some slick streets and the last thing I wanted to do was wipe out at the very end of the race. So I reluctantly watched these three runners pass me while trying to maintain what speed I could. I didn't think I had anything left in me at all until I saw the finish line and the time reading 1:35... my PR is just under 1:38, so I knew I had it, so I gritted my mouth and punched out the last 50 yards as best I could.

I finished in 1:35:30, besting my Quincy Half Marathon time by over two minutes. 25th overall, 13th out of 89 in my age group. No word if I get bonus points of holding the upper marker of 18-39! Regardless, I’m satisfied with the results and already looking forward to my next one!

Related Posts:
The Calm Before the Storm
Race Report: Quincy Half Marathon

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Calm Before the Storm

I'm currently in the middle of a taper for the Ashland Half Marathon this Sunday. While not as intense as the taper for a marathon, it's still very refreshing to go out for a run with the goal to run as slow as possible. In fact, it's been challenging for me to run slow - without a partner, my tendency is to push an 8:00 pace. It's even more tempting to go fast when your legs are filled with energy and racing like a motor car at a suburban stoplight. So on my last two runs I've been deliberately trying to slow down, only occasionally opening up the throttle for 100 yards to remind the body what it's like to go fast.

This concentration on going slow should pay off on Sunday, because my strategy is to start out SLOW. Negative splits, baby! It's going to be hard, because I think that the half-marathoners are sharing a starting line with the folks running the 5K, but I want to replicate my success in the Quincy Half Marathon - and in that one, scared of a potential leg injury, I started out very slow and slowly picked up the pace throughout the race. I'm cautiously optimistic for Sunday - I think I could do really well, given my familiarity with the course, but don't want to get overconfident, since I think that's partly what lead to my injury in the Vermont City Marathon.

Anyways, I can't wait for Sunday. It looks like the storms are going to hold off until Monday, leaving us with cool, windy conditions: my favorite type of running weather! I'm prepared and ready and will report back next week.

Related Posts:
Race Report: Quincy Half Marathon
Race Report: Quincy Half Marathon (Another Runner's Take)
Coming Soon: The Ashland Half Marathon

Friday, October 19, 2012

The New Language of the Cinema

David Mitchell's reaction to having Cloud Atlas adapted into film:
"None of the major changes the film made to my novel “threw me off” in the sense of sticking in my craw. I think that the changes are licensed by the spirit of the novel, and avoid traffic congestion in the film’s flow. Any adaptation is a translation, and there is such a thing as an unreadably faithful translation; and I believe a degree of reinterpretation for the new language may be not only inevitable but desirable. In the German edition of my last novel, my translator Volker Oldenburg rendered a rhyming panoramic tableau by rescripting the items in order to make it rhyme in German too. He judged that rhythm mattered more than the exact items in the tableau, and it was the right call. Similarly, when the Wachowskis and Tykwer judged that in a translation (into film) of “Cloud Atlas” Zachry’s and Meronym’s future needs more certitude, then I trusted them to make the right call. They want to avoid melodrama and pap and cliché as much as I do, but a film’s payoff works differently to a novel’s payoff, and the unwritten contract between author and reader differs somewhat to the unwritten contract between filmmaker and viewer. Adaptations gloss over these differences at their peril."
It's interesting that, in general, authors appear to give movie directors benevolent license to do whatever they have to do in order to make it work the big screen. Only occasionally do you hear of big disagreements like Stephen King's hatred of Kubrick version of The Shining. It's very different than the typical reaction of the reader, who often intensely dislike having the pictures in their mind overwhelmed by the overpowering images of a movie.

Related Posts:
Cloud Atlas, Coming Soon to a Theatre Near You...

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Johnny Depp, Publisher

So anyway, Johnny Depp has decided to get into the publishing business.  Sure, why not?  The first books that have been announced for his new imprint The Unraveled Tales of Bob Dylan, by Douglas Brinkley, and House of Earth, by Woody Guthrie. 

If you have a folk-music sort of book that you've been working on, maybe you should mail Depp a manuscript. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Red Sox Postseason

So, that Red Sox season... how about that? The completely depressing nature of the Sox implosion caused a  shortage of baseball posts here at RRRS. However, now that their offseason has begun, it's time to start hoping again!

To that end, I found this Providence Journal's Guide to the Red Sox Winter to be a useful summary of the challenges facing the Sox. It says something about how awful this season was that I'm actually somewhat hopeful that the return of John Lackey might actually help us...

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Searching for the anti-Valentine

The search begins.

On Friday, the Sox will interview Dodgers third-base coach, Tim Wallach.  Then, next week, they will interview former Padres/Tigers/Astros/Dodgers catcher Brad Ausmus.

Unless they are just trying to sharpen their interview skills before they get serious, lets say that experience does not seem to be a priority. 

Mo Yan

This year, the Nobel prize for literature goes to Mo Yan

Happily for us, many of Mo Yan's works are available in English translation by the estimable Howard Goldblatt:

Red Sorghum
The Garlic Ballads
Big Breasts and Wide Hips
Life and Death are Wearing Me Out
The Republic of Wine
Shifu, You'll Do Anything For a Laugh

Western bookmakers, of course, had Haruki Murakami as the favorite to win.  I've never quite understood why, given that Murakami's work does not grapple with social issues in the manner of Mario Vargas Llosa, Orhan Pamuk, J.M. Coetzee, Imre Kertesz, V.S. Naipaul, and other Nobel  winners.  Perhaps just because he is a popular non-English author? 

In any case, congratulations to Mo Yan!  I look forward to reading some of his work.  For those who have a headstart on me, do you have a recommendation as to where to begin?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


From the Gloucester Times:
  • Lester’s ERA in 107 innings that Saltalamacchia caught was 5.62 compared to a 3.70 ERA in the 48 innings caught by Kelly Shoppach.
  • Clay Buchholz posted a 6.30 ERA in the 75.2 innings that Saltalamacchia caught compared to a 3.23 in the 78 innings caught by Shoppach, who was traded to the Mets during the season.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

5 days 'til 50k

Here I sit in the familiar state of madness induced by tapering from a strenuous training cycle.  Am I ready?  Am I over-trained, injured even?  Should I be running more/less right now?  Am I eating right?

I’m not a life-long runner.  I never ran in high school, never considered running for fun until I was well into my 20s.  Even then, I never took running seriously until I started racing.  I’ve never run a 50k (~31 miles) before, much less trained for racing that distance.

A tough day
I trained hard for KBVCM, but that race was a complete and utter disappointment (read: failure) for me.  Were it not for Joel’s good graces, I’d never had made the finish line, even if I did end up nearly having to crawl there.  Looking back on my training, I did everything by the book; I didn’t miss a workout. I hit every split, grunted out every single long run and every last speed workout.  I thought I did it all right. 

I spent the better part of the month after KBVCM getting ART therapy, rehabbing my legs and rethinking my approach to running.  The bitter unhappiness I felt after having put in such an arduous training cycle left me at an impasse with running:  Why work SO hard for such little result?  The moral of many “survivor” stories is “for the personal satisfaction of it”, but that isn’t the moral of this particular story.

When I started running again, I did it without obsessing about splits, without worrying whether I was hitting a predetermined weekly mileage volume.  I forgot about pace and ran for the sake of running.  I ran more on trails, in the woods, away from cars and traffic, and I was surprised to find, away from other runners.  I would often stop in the middle of a run to look at a group of turkeys off the trail, a deer grazing nearby, or just simply to take in my surroundings.  My mental state was becoming fueled by my running adventures.  I’d never in my life run slower, but I’d never in my life run for longer; not necessarily in terms of mileage, but in terms of time on feet.

The Ridge between Bonfcliff and Bond
I took a couple trips up to the White Mountains, did some serious elevation gain/loss, put in some epic solo efforts where I was either going to learn how far I could push myself, or simply crumple up in a ball right there on the trail and leave it up to everyone and everything else to determine what came next. 

I learned a lot about fueling myself on long runs, hydrating and taking in calories.  I learned about how far past the “I don’t want to” feeling I can push myself, and how that “I don’t want to” feeling comes at different times and in different ways on every run.  I learned about how my mental state is equally if not more important than my physical state for my ability to continue to push on in those “no man’s land” miles beyond where I ever thought I was capable of going.

My lungs and legs felt very strong, but I felt very slow.  When September rolled around, realizing the race was a little over a month away, I started to panic.  The New River Trail 50k is run on trails, but hardly the trails I'm used to.  The race is entirely flat, on primarily crushed gravel trails.  Running 25 miles through the White Mountains involves quite a bit of hiking and technical sure-footing.  Running up and down hills on trails engages different muscle groups at different times, evening out the fatigue and allowing for a bit of recovery as you shift pitches.

Charles River Path
For the marathon, I had trained on flat pavement.  Knowing how flat the 50k was going to be, I thought it would be best to put in a few long runs on the Charles River, my go-to training course for the marathon.  I went over 20 miles on 4 runs in September, focusing on keeping moving, only stopping at crosswalks or when otherwise absolutely necessary.  Two of those runs where 25 mile runs, both of which were quite slow and both of which were really enjoyable.  The other 2 20 mile runs where done on consecutive days, back-to-backs as I’ve heard them called by many people who recommend them for building endurance for longer races.  I got up very early for each of these runs and did most of my fueling on the run.  I took in 3 gels per hour and no other calories on each of them.  I ran with a hydration pack filled with 3 liters of water enhanced with electrolyte tabs.  I had high-points, low points, falls, rain storms, small injuries, but not once did I bonk and not once did I feel like I wasn’t going to be able to do it.  In fact, I would count all four of these runs as great experiences, through which I learned simple principles of endurance and mental toughness.  (Waking up on Sunday to strap on my shoes and bang out a 20 miler after I had done it the day before was particularly inspiring).

All of these long runs were slow.  Much slower than the long runs I did in the lead up to KBVCM.  I felt slower, I FEEL slower and certainly, with the lack of speed work, I am.  How much slower is very hard to say.  A few weeks ago, Todd and I did one of the ever-popular Let’s Run, Have Fun and Be Fit series runs along the Charles River.  Last year, we did the same run, the “Halfway to Mardi Gras” race.  Last year this was a 4.2 mile race.  We had no reason to suspect it would be different this year (and I certainly didn’t read the fine print) and so when it ended after 5k, I had a little bit left in the tank.  Even so, I ran my second fastest 5k time.  5k speed has very little to do with 50k speed, but at least my lack of speed work isn’t going to be a primary concern going into this weekend’s race.

Joel running in Rock Creek Park
So, am I ready?  Writing all this out is what I’m doing to make myself feel better.  I probably pushed a bit too hard, packed a bit too much into September.  I’m certainly paying for it, as my legs don’t feel great, even after 2 weeks of a 3 week taper.  Still, I don’t think the residual fatigue or niggles up and down my lower leg will keep me from finishing the race.  Regardless, there isn’t much I can do now, we’re 5 days away; it is what it is.  I’m getting very excited for the race and really can’t wait to toe the line.  I feel very fortunate that Joel will be down there with me to run as well and glad we’ll be able to share the experience.  And I feel very happy having been through the training cycle I’ve had.  As Todd says, the training is even more important than the end goal.

Side note: After having gone through a spell where I felt like I wasn’t recovering well, where I was consistently over-tired and cranky, not able to put my heart into my runs, I did some research.  Many signs and the fact that I am a vegetarian made me a prime candidate for iron deficiency.  I started supplementing with Floradix.  I put 1 tablespoon in a glass of orange juice every morning before I drink coffee (caffeine lessens the body’s ability to absorb iron) or eat anything.  I’ve tried a variety of supplements in my life time to help a variety of symptoms; none have had such a clear effect as supplementing iron has.  It didn’t happen overnight.  It took about 4 weeks for me to notice anything, but it was clear to me then that iron is a very important part of my diet when I am training so hard.

Related Posts:

Friday, October 5, 2012

New Murakami Book Covers

Vintage has redone all of it's Murakami book covers in a standardized minimalist design by artist Noma Bar.
More information here. Murakami's books have really raised the bar for book design, IMO. Makes me wish I didn't already have most of these books on my shelves!

Related Posts:
IQ84: Paperback
Kindle Covers
Judging a Book by it's Cover

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Moving Meditation

From a fascinating NYTimes article about the search for Caballo Blanco's body:
Like the Rarámuri, True now ran in sandals, delighting in the simple act of self-propulsion, bounding along the undulating trails like a Neolithic hunter. He called it “moving meditation.” His motto was “run free,” and he did.

Running was essential to the human experience, [Blanco] had decided. Most people undervalued its importance. Running was not merely a sound cardiovascular choice in a fitness craze; it was an ancient art, part of mankind’s genetic imprint. Humans had survived across geological time because they could chase animals until the prey dropped from exhaustion.
Caballo Blanco was one of the most interesting thing about Born to Run, and this article sounds like McDougall may have gotten the inspiration for not only the story but the theory behind running presented in the book from the white horse. RIP.