Thursday, November 29, 2012

Why Mike Napoli?

Like many of you, i've been a bit perplexed about why the Sox have been showing such interest in Mike Napoli. After all, he's on the wrong side of 30 and only hit .227 last year with just a .343 OPS. Doesn't seem to make sense for a rebuilding team. However, Alex Speer at WEEI explains the rationale. The whole thing is worth reading, but here's the money quote:
"...Napoli represents a perfect storm when it comes to the Sox’ interest in pursuing a competitive team for 2013 that doesn't impair the team’s long-term outlook. As a first baseman, he plays the position of greatest need in the Sox organization. Signing him to a multi-year deal likely wouldn't block the progress of anyone in the Sox system for at least a couple years. And as a player who won’t cost a signing team a draft pick, he represents a way of addressing a key shortcoming of the Sox without impairing the team’s ability to continue to accumulate prospects."

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Evolution of My Running

It’s been almost a month and a half since the New RiverTrail 50k.  It’s been a month and a half since I have been training for anything, running hard or seriously or even blogging about running.  And yet, I’ve never been more “in love” with running.

The NRT 50k was an evolution of sorts in my still-young running life.  Sure, I started to come apart towards the end, probably didn’t fuel well enough and am still somewhat hobbled by the physical after-effects of training for and racing in that race.  Regardless, it can be counted as no less than the best running experience I have had to date.

Strangely, since running that race, the feeling I crave from running, the feeling I most want to feel when out for a run is the feeling I had at my lowest point in that race (mile 27).  I was down and out, just passing by the mileage marker of my longest ever run, under-fueled, limping and completely isolated (after having spent most of the first 3 hours of the race with some great folks).  I was struggling.

I just kept reminding myself, “I choose to do this, and I do it because I love it; This is what I’m here for, this is what I trained for.”

And the training paid off.  And that’s what makes me want to be back in that place, testing my training, testing my mind, my ability to persevere; testing my love of running.

The year is winding down now and there are no significant goals left to accomplish.  My mileage for the year will be well above the goal I had set at the beginning of the year.  I’ve run all the races I had planned to run.  I had some great experiences and some bad experiences.  Most importantly, learned a heck of a lot about how and why I run and running in general. 

Heading into 2013, I’m already focusing on a 24 week training cycle, starting the very first day of the year (just before that, actually), targeting at getting me ready for the North Face Endurance Challenge50 mile race in Washington, DC.  I’ll be lucky enough to run that race with Joel again, and we’ll go through our (vastly different) training cycles together as well.

Going into 2012, the focus was on running longer.  The hope was that I could run longer and lose only minimal speed.  What I learned, quite unfortunately, is that I lose quite a bit of speed the longer I run, much more than I had hoped.  Training for a 50 mile race is going to have to be about abandoning any idea of speed altogether.

I never fully grasped the idea of “running by feel” before the NRT 50k.  Call it a result of being under or over-trained for races, but the way I felt in races leading up to that one could only be characterized using negative terms.  If I were running by feel, I wouldn’t be running at all, it would seem.  But in stretching my runs out longer than I ever thought possible, I’ve started to realize just how amazing the human body is.  I haven’t quite determined if “running by feel” is fully coupling the body and mind, or fully de-coupling the body and mind.  The reality is that there are most likely times when coupling works best, and other times when de-coupling works best…  and it’s that adaptability that really defines running by feel.

Running by feeling really blows open the doors on my enjoyment of running, however.  Forgetting about the watch, about whether I’m running too fast or too slow for goal pace and focusing about my perceived effort has allowed me to become much more in tune with my body and with my surroundings.  This is especially true on trails, when not being in touch with my body and surroundings will result in a face plant.  Some days, after I get back from the run, upload it and see what transpired, I’m quite amazed at how much faster or slower the run is than what I perceived.  But I think the value of understanding how much effort you are exerting relative to how much energy you have in reserve, how to properly push the pace when you are hurting, and back off it (even when you are not hurting) to ensure you’re going to be able to finish and run the race you want to run is fully supported by training in this manner, and so it will be my motif during this training cycle.

I’m also working on my Metabolic Efficiency.  There was an article in October’s Ultrarunning magazine (one of the best running magazines out there, in my opinion, for runners of any distance) about how to train your body to become more efficient at burning fat as fuel.  This makes perfect sense to me.  If my stomach is off and I can’t take in calories for a period of time, I want to be able to keep pushing on without taking a huge physical or mental toll.  I want my body to operate as efficiently as possible in all conditions, and I realize just feeling comfortable on my training runs isn’t going to get me there.  So, for the past 2 weeks and for the next four, I’ll be eating a (vegetarian, as always) diet high in protein (with a bit more fat than usual) and lower in carbs than I normally eat.  I won’t fuel specifically for any training run, nor will I fuel during any training run.  Too, I’ll be running SLOWLY (so as to keep my heart-rate in the right zone for optimal ME training) and for a duration between 1 hr 30 min and 2 hrs for as many runs as I can.  This should lead right into the beginning the training cycle for the 50 miler, so the timing is perfect.  Generally, I would just build a cardiovascular base before a training cycle anyway, so it’s not terribly different from what I would normally plan, with the exception of the nutritional aspect.

Training for and racing in the 50-miler is going to take up the first half of next year.  I plan to throw in a 50k race in that time (hopefully the TARC Spring Classic) and possibly a fast half marathon with Todd (the Quincy Half again?).  Beyond that, I don’t yet know.  Maybe I’ll try for another marathon at the end of next year, see if I really can run as fast as I want to run for that distance?  We’ll see.  I think a lot depends on how the 50 miler goes... I could end up signing up for a 100 miler, or I could end up hanging up the shoes altogether.

But for now, I’m loving running more than I ever have, and I feel so lucky to have had such a great and relatively injury free year of consistent running (haven’t had a single week without logging at least one run all year).  I’m really looking forward to tackling the 50 mile distance and figuring out where I want to go with my running from there.  Onward!!

Book Review: "Now Wait For Last Year" by Philip K. Dick

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away. -  Philip K. Dick
It’s hard to relate how strange it feels to be immersed in a Philip K. Dick novel. In both subject matter and style, he’s a very eccentric writer. At his best, his books are journeys into paranoiac alternate realities, containing one plausible mind-bending idea after another, but you still have to forgive him a lot – his awkward turns of phrases, the continually jumping from one topic to another, his obsessions with overbearing, bitchy women, etc. In addition, he fancies himself an experimentalist. This means that many of the bizarre and silly things that occur in his books are often the result of him “playing” with form rather that extensions of his sometimes poor writing.

But I’m selling him short. Now Wait For Last Year is a good novel. It tells the tale of Eric Sweetscent, an artiforg (artificial organ) surgeon working for Gino Molinari, the leader of the Earth, who has allied with the wrong group of aliens in a struggle for control of the galaxy. Most of the book centers upon Molinari’s efforts to keep these alien “allies” from overrunning the earth forces by sacrificing his health. But, this being Dick, it also deals with misadventures with JJ-180, an instantly addictive drug that causes you to slip backwards or forwards in time. These two threads twist around each other in bizarre ways as Dick creates a multi-layered reality that leaves you standing on unsteady ground, never knowing who – or what – to trust.

Dick loved chaos, and was one of the first proponents that the future will basically be an extension of the present with all of its political quagmires, shoddy craftsmanship, and corrupted power structures – but with cooler technology. He also insisted that the fake had as much validity as the real. In other words, he felt that the social fantasies that we make up in our heads end up replacing our reality, leading to some serious disconnects when we do abut up against “reality.”  He combines these ideas together in a heady brew that – like his best novels – lead you to false conclusions and uncertainty so that you acutely experience the same feelings as the protagonist as he struggles with political, emotional, and temporal problems. For this reason, I don't want to give too much away about the plot since to do so would rob you of this experience.

Having said that, I was surprised at how powerful and deep Now Wait for Last Year is – it carries real psychological heft. Dick’s novels at times go too far, leaving you with shallow characters and tinny prose, but not here. For instance, the mutually destructive relationship between Sweetscent and his wife Kathy is compelling because you can tell that Dick has lived it (he was married five times in his short life). Similarly, the oppressive nature of the book's military situation drives its characters towards the darkness: when Sweetscent meets up with Molinari for the first time, they bond over their “yearning for death. [They] could envision it as a release—the only dependable release that existed…” p. 56

I loved the trip of Now Wait For Next Year, but it’s hard for me to recommend to people because it was such a bizarre experience. If you’re interested in Dick, you might do best to read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep or Martian Time-Slip first. Or you can wait for the movie!

Cross posted on Thought Ambience.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Book Review: "The Stand" by Stephen King

Many Stephen King fans regard The Stand as his greatest novel. After finally completed the 1153 pages (of the Expanded Edition), I can see why they think so, even if I don’t agree with them. Certainly everything that makes Stephen King such a powerful and interesting writer is in place here—the propulsive narrative that drives you to keep turning the pages, the compelling character relationships, the chilling elements of the supernatural and horror – but, to me, the book is just a hot mess. A fascinating mess, but a mess nonetheless.

King kicks it off by tracking a plague—dubbed Captain Trips—as it narrowly escapes from a Top Secret military facility to infect the rest of the world. The way that King coldly details the spread of the disease, the effect it has on people, and the devastation that results is chillingly powerful. This is the spookiest part of the book – as when Stu, trapped in a CDC containment center, wanders through halls of dead and dying victims while searching for the exit.

After people have (mostly) stopped dying and the .04% of humanity that are immune to the plague take stock of what’s happened, they all start dreaming one of two dreams: of Randall Flagg, a “dark man” setting up camp in Las Vegas, or of Mother Abigail, a Christ-like 104 year old woman. Survivors are drawn towards one side or another depending on their nature, with King setting up a confrontation between them. He obviously wants to explore religious ideas, and what he calls “rising above adversity through faith” so, to this end, and despite his well-deserved reputation for wallowing in the darkness, King spends a long time with the “good” folks who congregate in Boulder, CO to re-establish society. This attempted rebirth of America is interesting, and SK is typically at his best when describing the interconnections between people in close knit environments, but the book’s pace falters as King includes too much sociology and politics while neglects Flagg’s group. The rest of the novel repeats this pattern: lots of interesting stretches that ultimately don’t really serve an important point in the big good vs. evil showdown – the Stand – that concludes the book.

In short, I liked The Stand, but I feel that King could have cut out a lot of material and ended up with a taught thriller in line with the gripping first third of the book. Many, many people have fallen in love with The Stand, but although I liked it, call me a simple acquaintance.

Cross Posted on Thought Ambience

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Book Review: "Rollback" by Robert J. Sawyer

I picked up Robert J. Sawyer’s Rollback on the strength of two things: 1) the author’s pedigree (he’s won the Best Novel Hugo and Nebula awards) and 2) the fascinating premise. The book takes place far in the future when mankind has received a second transmission from Sigma Draconis. Sarah Halifax, the woman who decoded the first message is now 87, and so a rich benefactor offers to pay for a “rollback procedure” – medically improving the body so that you’re physically 25 again – so that she can continue the correspondence with our neighbors 18.1 light years away. Sarah agrees, but only if her husband Don is rolled back as well. Unfortunately, the rollback only works for Don, and the couple has to deal with the implications of their 50-year age gap as Sarah works towards deciphering the second alien message.

While Rollback was a good book – I plowed through its 300-something pages in less than a week – I was a bit disappointed that Sawyer spent so time focusing on Don. Entire chapters cover the challenges of dealing with his new youth – of being an old mind in a young body. Sarah’s predicament as an 87-year old working to decrypt the alien message - to me, the more interesting scenario - felt like an afterthought. In the end, Rollback was an interesting story, but I was hoping of more of an examination of how aging scientists would cope with challenges.

For me, the highlights of the novel were the examinations of first contact theory, even if the characters didn't so much talk to each other as much as promote theories. Still, I liked the discussions about what Sigma Draconis culture would be like. Forgive the long quote, but it will give you an idea of what these sections of the book is like:
“The aliens have an obligation to let us know they’re there. …Because they’d be an existence proof that it’s possible to survive technological adolescence—you know, the period during which you have tools that could destroy your entire species but no mechanism in place yet to prevent them from ever being used. … [one] solution is that time-honored sci-fi cliché, the hive mind. … you all think with one mind. Of course, if you do that, you might even lose any notion that there could be other individuals out there. … There’s another solution too. Absolute totalitarianism. Everyone’s still got free will, but they’re constrained from doing anything with it. pages 53-4
He continues this interesting line of thought by offering another way to survive technological adolescence: by refusing to evolve as a species through a lack of procreation, etc. that Sarah calls “transcend[ing] Darwin.” In the end, the novel neatly wraps itself up with some touching pictures of mortality and a continued picture into what life will be like several hundred years from how. It’s an entertaining little self-contained book that I’d recommend to anyone with an interest in first contact, even if it didn't blow me away.

Cross-posted on Thought Ambience

Monday, November 5, 2012

Papi on Bobby V

Yet another reason why I like the big guy: he's just got a way with words.

To recap, in his first interview after being fired by the Sox, Bobby V. threw Ortiz under the bus by claiming that Papi gave up on the team after hurting his Achilles tendon. It's an absurd claim, given that Achilles injuries take forever to heal and the Sox didn't even want him playing at that point in the season (when the playoffs were a distant dream) just in case he hurt himself more seriously. Regardless, Ortiz spoke out about it recently:
“… after he went on national TV to say what he said, he sent me a text message trying to tell me that it was the media trying to change things. I did not respond to the message and I said to myself, this guy must have some mental issues or needs medicine or something? I said, I am dealing with someone crazy and I am not going to drive myself crazy, so it is better if I leave it alone.”
As the folks at hardballtalk point out, its hard to claim that what you said wasn't represented correctly when you said those words directly on camera! But then again, nobody ever accused Valentine of being a paragon of consistency.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Papi Returns!

David Ortiz will remain in Boston for two more years. I'm not sure that anyone is really surprised by this - Ortiz is a Boston institution and is still one of the best hitters in all of baseball. Could you have imagined the outcry if he had left for another team?

The risk is, of course, that his 37 year old body will betray him eventually, but after some slow starts the last few years, Ortiz has committed himself to staying in shape and has reaped the dividends  Consider these stats, as relayed by ESPN Boston:

  • In the past three seasons (2010-2012), he trailed only Miguel Cabrera, Joey Votto, Jose Bautista and Josh Hamilton in on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS).
  • In the past three seasons, he trailed only Cabrera, Votto, Bautista, Albert Pujols and Ryan Braun in OPS+, which measures OPS adjusted to a player's home park. 
  • In the past three seasons, he trailed only Cabrera, Bautista, Hamilton, Votto and Braun in slugging percentage.
  • In the past three seasons, he trailed only Bautista, Giancarlo Stanton, Cabrera and Hamilton in isolated power (ISO), which measures the percentage of extra-base hits a player has.
That's a damned good hitter! I'm convinced the Sox are at least a year or two away from contending again, but in the meantime I'm very happy that good 'ol #34 will continue to hold down our DH spot.