Thursday, February 28, 2013

"Bleeding Edge" due in September

All the way back to the Visto, Mason is seiz'd by Monology. "Text, --" he cries, and more than once, "it is Text, -- and we are its readers, and its Pages are the Days turning. Unscrolling, as a Pilgrim's Itinery map in ancient Days...."
--Thomas Pynchon, Mason & Dixon, p. 497-98
I know what i'll be doing in September: I'll be reading the new Thomas Pynchon novel, Bleeding Edge!

From the New York Daily News:
"The novel will be set in Silicon Alley, a nickname for the cluster of tech firms based in Manhattan, many of them in the Flatiron District.
According to a Penguin 2012 results report, quoted by the Times, the novel will take place in 2001, "in the lull between the collapse of the dot-com boom and the terrible events of September 11."
I have high hopes for Bleeding Edge, even though I was relatively disappointed with Inherent Vice, his last novel published in 2009. It was amusing, and contained enough of those awesome moments of sublime paranoiac horror to keep me satiated, but in the end it felt like a minor effort, along the lines of DeLillo's The Body Artist (but much funnier then that curious little book).

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Most Popular Books in America, Reviewed

Matt Kahn is undertaking to read and review every book on the Publishers Weekly annual bestsellers list from 1913 onwards. You can see his progress and the list of books on his blog.

I took a quick look through the list and i'm struck by how many books and authors I've never heard of - like The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck, which topped the charts in 1931-32 and also won the Pulitzer. I'm also surprised about some of these results. I mean, Johnathan Livingston Seagull was the best selling book in America for two years straight? The Tommyknockers - most definitively NOT Stephen King's best book - was the most popular book in 1987? And it's disheartening to remember just how many people read the taught plots and lazy prose of John Grisham and Dan Brown. I was also surprised to see some film books - what seem to be adaptations of  E.T. and The Return of the Jedi - on the list, but read Kahn's note that Harry Potter books are not included in the PW bestsellers for some reason. (For the record, the Harry Potter books make for excellent reading.)

An interesting project!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

How Fast Do You Lose It?

I'm finally doing serious running back outside again after three long weeks off my feet or on treadmills. While I knew that I wasn't going to be able to jump right back into where I was after my kick-ass January base blast (119 miles in 17 hours), I've been surprised how much perceived effort it's taken to run the last two days. I did 6.4 in 51:45 today and it wiped me out! So I was curious: just how quickly do you lose your fitness when you stop or reduce your training schedule?

Pete Pfitzinger, in a article first published in the Running Times, notes that your fitness level doesn't degrade as quickly as you might fear:
"...most elements of your fitness go down at about the same rate at which they go up....Between 1 and 2 weeks off from training, however, the benefits of recovery start to become outweighed by a loss in fitness. Although not many studies have measured loss of performance in runners after several weeks of detraining (would you volunteer?), performance is likely to decrease by about 3-5% after 3 to 4 weeks of detraining. A 40-minute 10K runner could expect to slow down by about 1 to 2 minutes after a 3 week break."
One surprising fact: it's the intensity of training rather than the volume that affects fitness maintenance:
"If you cut back the volume of your training (i.e. how often you train or how far you run), you can maintain your fitness level for a surprisingly long time. Studies have found that when either the frequency or duration of training are reduced (while the intensity of training is maintained) that aerobic conditioning is maintained for up to 15 weeks. When the intensity of training is reduced (while the volume of training is maintained), however, then aerobic fitness declines more quickly. If you must reduce your training volume, therefore, maintaining your training intensity is the key to maintaining your running performance."
So i'm not going to worry too much. After all, I did average 8:06/mi today, which is close to my standard pace. I'm thinking that after a few more runs I should be right back into the swing of things, even if i'm not sure i'll be able to get that nice shiny new PR I was hoping for in the Half of Quincy (just three weeks away!)

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

New Murakami Novel

What's that you say?  A new Haruki Murakami novel to be published this April?  Oh, OK.  Let's just go back about our business. 

Red Sox Roundup

With the team tries to get back on its feet after last year's debacle, this is stacking up to be pretty much the most entertaining pre-season of Red Sox baseball ever.  Hot off the presses, Pedro Martinez knows why Felix Doubront is looking so fat:
"I believe he just doesn’t know. He hasn’t been taught that he’s going to be held accountable for his performance out there and the way he looks and that this is really a serious business . . . .  I’m going to be straightforward and I’m going to say it the way it is. Point blank, the way it is. If he wants to hear it or if he doesn’t, that’s OK . . . I can’t handle the fact that I have all this knowledge and not give it away."
I love that last line.  But who was supposed to teach Doubront accountability up until now?  Come on, Pedro, say it like is!  It's Bobby Valentine's fault!  As Dan Shaughnessy points out, everything else is:
"Blaming Bobby is the new parlor game here in southwest Florida. It’s all the rage. Alfredo Aceves pulls a nutty? Bobby was too easy on him last year. New relay drills? They have to fix what Bobby broke. If anyone gets into a fender-bender on Route 41, it’s probably Bobby Valentine’s fault."

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Thoughts While Sidelined

I'm sidelined! Not for very long, thankfully - I sprained my ankle this weekend during the Hurricane Nemo madness, so I should be able to run again shortly. But with this unwanted hiatus comes the realization, once again, of how much being able to run means to me. Breaking a sweat, silencing my mind – if even for a short time – with the steady breath of exertion, getting that endorphin rush; all of these have become extremely not only to my physical but also mental health. Without running - or, more generously, exercise, although running is my preferred method of exercise – I’m more irritable and short tempered, more resistant to relaxing and enjoying even the annoying moments with my kids, and just not as happy.

This was driven home in another way with this excellent post by Jeff Edmonds (thanks Eric!). Worth reading it its entirety, Jeff argues against looking at the many statistics gathered during running and thinking that you know yourself as a runner. I know when I started measuring my runs with the GPS, I experienced a high of being flush with data. I was continually pushing myself to run a certain pace, or run a certain number of mile; in short, to accomplish something new or better. But once the novelty faded away, is that all of the numbers and data aren't worth anything. But it's a hard lesson to learn! In fact, what was most upsetting to me at first about the ankle injury was that I wasn't going to be able to participate in Strava's February 2013 Half Marathon challenge! Silly, right? It's so easy to lose the forest for the trees that I need to keep being continually reminded of why I participate in a sport - and, at its core, it's that I need to be active in order to be happy.

The other point that Jeff makes is that running is better with self-knowledge – and knowing yourself is hard! It involves looking deep within yourself, dealing with all of the pitfalls that Jeff brings up (and others like my favorite quote), etc. Can you run, and run well, without self-knowledge? Of course. But it can be more fulfilling when you look at it in this way - as a piece of the unending puzzle of life.

All good things to ponder as I’m stuck on the couch, waiting for the ankle to heal. With any luck, it'll serve to refocus me until I'm ready to lace up again and start anew my moving meditation.

Related Posts:
Running as Practice
The Evolution of my Running

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Book Review: "Roadside Picnic" by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

An alien visitation story without any aliens, Roadside Picnic is one of the better SciFi books I've read. Sometime in the future, mankind is still learning how to deal with the mysterious aftermath of an extremely brief alien visit (they appear to have just stopped by Earth as a “roadside picnic” on their way elsewhere). Each alien landing site is filled with bizarrely deadly phenomena, like the deadly "Greenie" slime, or the spots of intense gravity called "Mosquito Mange". However, the zones are are also filled with highly sought after artifacts, such as the perpetual-energy machines called Batteries, so they are prospected by "stalkers" who illegally sneaks into these zones and steals alien technologies for the black market. The book is divided between highly entertaining excursions into the Zone, and scenes pondering the implications of the visitation on both a personal and societal level.

Part of the reason the book is so mesmerizing is the first person perspective of Red Schuhart, a drunken, paranoid and stressed-out Stalker. Red's struggle for meaning despite his deep fatalism wins you over despite his many unlikable qualities as the prose skillfully depicts the thought process that leads to his actions. Another reason is the convincing world the Strugatsky's create: one dominated by both an overreaching government and a pervasive black market capitalism. The price that such a dualistic societal setup exacts on its citizens feels convincing; after all, the Strugatsky's were writing in 1970s USSR (the absurdity of which is detailed in a wry afterward). Overall, the sheer inventiveness and psychological depth build all the way to the last chapter – a riveting highlight of this taught little book that’s stuck with me ever since I closed its cover. Part of the credit must go to Olena Bormashenko, whose translation never feels stilted or makes you aware that it's a translation. Highly recommended.

Cross posted on Thought Ambience

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Red Sox and Toradol

Never one to mince words, Johnathan Papelbon mentioned in a recent article by Gordon Edes that not only he but a good chunk of the Red Sox pitching staff regularlly took Toradol. While not illegal nor banned in the same manner as HGH or some of the other PEDs out there, Toradol is still a serious drug - strong enough that you have to be in a hospital to take in in the UK. The Phillies, Papelbon's new team, won't let him take the drug, but apparently the Sox still use it:
A Red Sox official, speaking on background Saturday, described Toradol as a legal drug with clear pain-management benefits, and acknowledged its widespread use in baseball, including by Red Sox pitchers before their starts. 
However, the drug has serious potential side effects. In fact, Edes notes that:
Toradol is the nonsteroidal drug that Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz acknowledged last season might have contributed to the esophagitis that sidelined him for 20 games. Buchholz was hospitalized in intensive care and lost three or four pints of blood while dealing with the condition, which is a known side effect of the painkiller.
It sure seems like injecting your pictures with extra-strong anti-inflammatories before games is a Performance Enhancing Drug. Can anyone explain to me why it isn't?

Friday, February 8, 2013

Review: New Balance 890v3

After having worn a lot of different running shoes, I have learned that if a shoe doesn't feel completely right to me when I first put it on, it is never going to be a great shoe me.  Wearing it for a while in the hopes that I will "break it in" or that my feet will "get used to it" is a losing battle.

With that in mind, I am returning the New Balance 890v3s that I just ordered, without even having run in them.

The problem for me is the toebox.  I can feel the sides of the shoe squeezing my toes together, and I can feel the top of the toebox pushing down on my toes.  For me, that is a recipe for blisters and black toenails, especially on my longer runs.

But, if your feet are narrower than mine, this is potentially an excellent shoe.  The natural shoe to compare it to is the Brooks Launch.  The 890v3 has an identical weight to the launch (9.1 oz for a mens size 9) and the cushioning feels almost exactly the same -- simple, but sufficient for long runs.

As for differences the 890v3 has slightly less of a heel-toe offset (7 mm, as opposed to 10 mm for the launch), but I consider lower offsets to be mostly a gimmick anyway.  Folks who have run in the previous incarnation of the 890v3 seem to get an insane number of miles out of them, so that's a difference as well.  The 890v3 is also (let's be honest) a better looking shoe.  Finally, I'm very impressed that these shoes are made in the USA.

I could return them for a wider width -- unlike most companies, New Balance offers most of its shoes in a 2E width.  But, I doubt it would solve for the shallowness of the toebox, and besides, I have two other (slight) concerns: first my heel feels a bit less locked in with the 890v3 -- it lifts away from the bottom of my shoe as I walk around.  Second, the overlays around the bottom edge of the upper suggest this shoe may not drain as well as the Launch, though I haven't confirmed.

So, for now the Brooks Launch continues to be my go-to shoe.  Sure, I may not be able to use a discount code when I purchase it from Running Warehouse, but with a base price of $90, it is still as affordable as any other option around.  

If you have any questions about the Brooks Launch or the New Balance 890v3, let me know!

Back to the Treadmill

I've had it easy. Up until the last few weeks, winter both this year and in '11-'12 were extremely mild, so I could run outside with little to no problems. However, recently a bout of relentless illness and very cold temperatures (not to mention Hurricane Nemo dropping up to 3 feet of snow on me as I type this) have made running outside difficult at best. So, somewhat crestfallen, I trudge downstairs to my treadmill, a sad model that I picked up for free on the side of the road a few years back. It's stuck in a corner of the basement, has no working display, can no longer consistently incline (a nice way of saying the incline would collapse at any time) and i've duck-taped the  non-functional cross-country ski arms to the base because they were falling down anytime I picked up the speed. Pretty rough, eh?

The funny thing is that i've actually enjoyed my last few treadmill runs. First of all, the soft surface of the treadmill is easier on the legs than pounding the pavement. Secondly, I've been allowing myself a relatively leisurely pace due to my throat infection. (I'm not sure why running actually feels good to my strep throat. I suspect it might be the endorphins masking the discomfort.) Lastly, I've set up another relic rescued from the side of the road - an old TV with a built in VHS in which I play some old X-Files videos I amazingly still have lying around. So I set everything up, pick a good cruising speed (usually between what I think is between 9 and 9:30 per mile), and just zone out to the TV. The time flies by and I get in my workout without hardly even noticing.

The amazing thing is that i'm actually seeing benefits to it: i'm running on a completely flat surface, which is a nice change of pace from the hills around where i live, and the completely consistent footing means that I can focus on keeping a steady form. In short, it's been a win/win situation: I get my run in, feel better, and I don't need to leave the house in nasty winter weather. Although don't get me wrong: as soon as the roads and my throat clear up, i'll be back outside.

What do you do to make your treadmill running more enjoyable?

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Running Warehouse Discount Codes

I called Running Warehouse today to order a new pair of Brooks Launch.

Running Warehouse informed me that Brooks is not allowing them to accept discount codes for purchases of Brooks products.

So (are you listening, Brooks?), even though I love the Launch I decided to try a different pair of shoes instead.  I went with the newly released New Balance 890v3, which has very similar specs as the Launch.  Discount codes work for New Balance products.  :)

I'll let you know what I think when they arrive!