Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Japan Trail Running Pictures

On the last day of 2014, I went running in the mountains of Tanzawa-Oyama Quasi-National Park.  The first bus to Okura arrived at 7:00 AM, just after dawn.   From there, a 4-mile trail ascended 3,800+ feet to the summit of Mt. Tonodake. Next, it was out and back to the higher summit of Mt. Tanzawa.  This stretch of trail provided the most amazing views of the day.  After lunch in the hut at Tonodake, the next destination was Mt. Sannoto to the east.  While the elevation changes along the ridge line were less intense, the trail was filled with shoe sucking mud, broken up by technical rocky sections.  After descending to Yabitsu Pass, there was just enough sunlight left to make the summit of Mt. Oyama, and then down the mountain to the lower shrine of Afuri Jinja.  Strava records the run as being 15.4 miles with 8,356 feet of elevation gain.  Pictures below.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Shoe Review: Nike Zoom Fly

The last time I was in the market for a new shoe, I wanted to try something different than my standbys - the Saucony Guides and Brooks PureCadence. In my online searches, the Nike Zoom Fly kept popping up as a shoe I might be interested in. Fascinating, captain - I had never thought of Nike as a serious running shoe producer, believing them as either a style or basketball shoe company. But the shoe sounded just like what I wanted, and was very reasonably priced. So I took the leap, having run in them three times. My reaction?
  • Good, if not great, fit for my feet. Roomy toebox, perhaps a tiny bit looser in the heel, but nothing that has been detrimental.  
  • There's a touch of support for us pronators.
  • Stiff sole. I'm hoping this loosens up a bit over time, but for the moment I would only want to take this on flat roads or the track,
  • Doesn't have as much cushion as I'm used to. Not a big issue, but I'm used to the softer forefoot of the Guide and PureCadence.
  • Light and fast. Feel very speedy in these shoes.
  • Stylish! I love how these look. Great colors. Not too much busy visual design like 99% of the rest of the current running shoe market.
Overall I can't say these are my favorite shoes but I do like them - and will like them even more if the sole loosens up a bit. Given that the price is extremely reasonable ($65 on sale at Running Warehouse), the Zoom Fly is a great value. 

Those of you interested in technical details, click here for more.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Race Report: 2014 Stone Mill 50

Since finishing my first hundred miler, running has been all about just enjoying myself: no weekly schedules, no training program, no goals, only one run longer than 25 miles.  But as the Stone Mill 50 got closer, I decided to test what I had in me.  It's a great event, almost entirely on rolling single track, at the best time of the year for a day in the woods.

This year, the race was led by new race directors, and they decided to start and end the race at a local elementary high school, instead of the high school that had traditionally been used.   Brilliant! This provided more restrooms, as well as a warm place for runners to check-in, to store bags for after the race, to see old friends, and to make new ones.  (It also meant a little bit of pavement running to get to and from the trailhead, but that was no big deal.)

Saturday was the kind of day when just about everything went right.

It was 26 degrees at the beginning of the race.  I settled in toward the back of the pack, saving my energy until the train of runners spread out.  My plan was to keep things at an easy pace that I could sustain all day long, walking up hills and running the rest.  For the first 25 miles, I averaged about an 11:00 minute / mile pace.  I then sped things up a little for the three mile stretch along the towpath, knowing that my drop bag would be at the next aid station and I could take a breather while I got ready for the rest of the race.  The final 24 or so miles, went by at about 12:30 minute / mile pace.

With aid stations every five miles, I figured I could carry a single water bottle.  I love the Amphipod Hydraform.  It's a no-frills 20 ounce bottle that is comfortable to carry all day long.  I also wore an Ultraspire Quantum belt, perfect for carrying six gels and several small miscellaneous items.

While I mainly relied on gels for energy, the aid stations were a welcome respite, offering grilled cheese sandwiches, hot chicken broth, PB&Js, and other goodies.  The volunteers at Stone Mill were amazing, even by ultra-volunteer standards, and I really am thankful for their coming out on a cold day to support us runners.  Strava suggests I had about 25 minutes of stopped time, versus 31 minutes last year, so I'm getting better and getting in and out quickly.

I chose to wear North Face Ultra Guides over Drymax Maximum Protection socks.   Blisters have been my nemesis in the past, but I didn't get a single one, notwithstanding having had to submerge my feet in several (cold!) streams.  I did score a few black toenails from kicking rocks and roots, but that's OK.   The Ultra Guides (now discontinued) don't have much of a toe bumper, and I prefer that.  With a heavy bumper, I am more likely to catch my foot and end up on all fours.  The Ultra Guides have a traditional running shoe toe, and I can quickly lift my foot off of the obstacle and keep going.

North Face Isotherm pants and shirt provided the perfect mix of warmth and breathability.  Temperatures increased to 39 degrees over the course of the day, and I was never too warm or too cool.  I find a Buff is better than a traditional hat for keeping my head comfortable.

I recorded my track with a Suunto Ambit, which gave me 52.8 miles and 5,006 feet of elevation.  My final time was 10:27:20, a PR by about 30 minutes.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Book Review: Gillian Flynn's "Gone Girl"

Gone Girl is  one twisted book. The first half of the novel – despite some rather cheesy diary sections – contains some excellent writing as Flynn paints a picture of Nick and Amy, a husband and wife struggling through a tough life together. While they ostensibly are doing the same things, the chapters that alternate between their points of view reveal they are experiencing two very different realities. Filled with insights for anyone who has been in a close relationship for any significant period of time, it's easily the best part of the book. And while it’s obvious that there’s a twist coming, this is not telegraphed nor does it detract from the power of the story. However, once the secret is revealed, the book transforms into a thriller – a highly accomplished and exciting ride, to be sure, but one that wasn't as consistently insightful and engaging to me as the beginning.

[Spoiler alert!] This is partly due to the fact that, in the end,  the wife Amy becomes a super-criminal, inspiring awe in her ability to plan her way out of the most incredible situations. This ability dehumanizes her and thus belittles the interesting observations that she’s made before. For example, the famous Cool Girl speech, one of the best moments of the book, takes on a new light once you comprehend the depth of Amy’s psychopathic personality. I suspect that Flynn would argue that Amy’s perspective allows her to achieve these bitterly insightful observations, but I found myself pondering why I would trust anything stated by such a twisted personality.

And it wasn’t just Amy, all of the characters got flatter and flatter as the book went on. The only one that remained real to me the entire way was Go, serving as the Greek Chorus, keeping us grounded as to the insanity of it all.

The ending of the book is just fucked up. Expertly executed, it floored me in its cynicism, leaving me quietly angry at both the characters and the situation. I haven’t been this affected by an ending since Fight Club – high praise indeed. As frustrated as I found myself with the book, it’s stuck with me a long time.

In closing, i'd like to thank Ms. Flynn for giving us Tanner Brock: the best name for a lawyer, ever.

Cross Posted in Thought Ambience

Hoka Clifton - Durability Update

This morning, I reached 150 miles on my Hoka Cliftons.  The miles accumulated far more quickly than I expected, as these are the shoes I reach for whenever I want a fast run with quick leg turnover and without having to think about my feet. 

Conversely, the Cliftons have not worked out quite so well as a shoe for long runs.  At a slower pace, my heel sinks too deep into the cushion, and starting at around mile 10 I develop blisters at the front of my arch that I've never gotten with any other shoe.  I've not been able to solve this problem with better lacing, and others have experienced the same problem: see here.  Nevertheless, it's a fantastic shoe for the right purposes.  (Here's Sage Canaday running 3 miles in 15:30 in his Cliftons).

When initially reviewing the Clifton, several reviewers, including myself, queried how durable they would be, given their insanely light weight.  So, let's take a look:

Overall, the uppers have held up very well, although frame is starting to delaminate from the mesh in some places. 

Turning the shoe over, the rubber overlays are holding up great.  However, the exposed foam near the front of the shoe has worn down significantly, and is starting to wear down elsewhere as well.

My biggest concern, however, is with the midsole.  On the medial (inner) side of the insole, the foam is showing numerous compression lines.  

However, on the lateral side it looks as good as new.

As a result, the shoes are starting to lean inward, and I can feel it when I run.  I worry that pretty soon, they'll be putting me at risk for injury.

But to be fair, the midsoles may last longer for lighter runners (I am 190 lbs), or those with different running form.

While I love the Cliftons, at $130 I'm not likely to pick up another pair for use as a frequent trainer.  However, I can't wait for them to go on sale. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Carbo Loading Time!

I'm two days away from the Empire State Marathon, and so it's time to start turning my attention to carbo loading. I did some reading and thought I'd share what I found.

Perhaps the most interesting thing I found was an article in the NYTimes that cites a number of studies that claim that a short, intensive carbo loading the day before the race is the best method:
In both studies, carbohydrates eaten at breakfast on race day, during the race itself or on days earlier in the week were relatively unimportant. It was primarily what people ate on the day before the race that mattered.
Okay, so focus on the day beforehand. Which can be a problem, given that I'll be travelling and away from my pantry. So what types of food should I pack or search out?
I often tell people to choose relatively concentrated sources of carbs, like juices, pasta, rice and sweets,” Mr. Wilson [a graduate student at the University of Minnesota who led the study] says. “That way, the volume of food needed isn't so enormous.” In addition, he says, “lower-fiber foods may be good, since that could reduce the potential for stomach distress during the race.” 
Dimity McDowell, writing in Runners World, provides me a detailed list:
"Tortillas, oatmeal, bread, pancakes, waffles, bagels, yogurt, and juice are all easy-to-digest options. Many fruits are high in carbs but are also high in fiber—and too much can cause stomach trouble midrace. "Bananas are a low-fiber choice," says sports nutritionist Ilana Katz, R.D. "And you can peel apples, peaches, and pears to reduce their fiber content." She also gives her clients permission to indulge in white bread and baked potatoes without the skin since both are easily digested.
Ryan suggests steering clear of high-fat foods—like creamy sauces, cheese, butter, and oils—as well as too much protein. Both nutrients fill you up faster than carbs and take longer to digest, she says. Pick jam—not butter—for your toast, tomato sauce in lieu of alfredo sauce on your pasta, and frozen yogurt instead of ice cream for dessert.
Cool - I can work with that. I absolutely love bananas and bagels anyways, so shouldn't be a problem. But how much should I be eating? The NYTimes article states that
...few of the runners in either study actually consumed enough carbohydrates to benefit, even if they thought that they were doing so. In both studies, the minimum effective “dose” of carbohydrates was at least six or seven grams for every kilogram of a person’s body weight, or about a quarter-ounce of carbohydrates for every 2.2 pounds of body weight. By that formula, a 220-pound runner would need to consume at least 25 ounces, or more than 700 grams, of carbohydrates on the day before a marathon to finish faster.
The Runners World article provides guidance along these lines:
At this point, 85 to 95 percent of your calories should come from carbs, says Katz. Ryan recommends eating about four grams of carbs for every pound of body weight (for a 150 pound runner that's 600 grams—or 2,400 calories—of carbs per day). 
What’s interesting is how this affects your weight:
Be prepared to see a number that's at least four pounds more than your usual weight. The extra pounds mean you get a gold star for carbo-loading properly. "With every gram of stored carbohydrate, you store an extra three grams of water," says Katz.
I think I've got enough for a plan now. But i'm curious: what kind of foods you you carbo load on? Let me know in the comments!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Shoe Review: New Balance Fresh Foam 980

image from
I'll admit that I (at times) ride the waves of marketing trends in running shoe technology.  I tend to think that any informed shoe choice takes into account the extremes; and the pendulum's well-documented swing from minimalism to maximalism has caught my attention.  That isn't to say I went out and bought a pair of Hokas (I'll leave that to Joel), but I did get swayed by the concept of a lower drop, maximally cushioned shoe.  Also, I've been meaning to give New Balance a try again; its been a while since I've tried their shoes and they have a very loyal group of followers.

I don't tend to write shoe reviews until I'm very sure of my opinion.  I've already logged 200 (or so) miles on the Fresh Foam 980 at the writing of this review.  Sadly, while I've learned a lot about the shoe over that period of time, one glaring fact stands in the way of me fully endorsing them:  the fit.  Fit is highly variable...  makes sense, FEET are highly variable.  For whatever reason, the designers at NB just didn't make a shoe with the 980 that fits my feet.  I discovered this the first time I took them Fresh Foam on a long run, and ended up with blisters.  I reaffirmed this the second time I did so with the same result (I very, very rarely get blisters otherwise).

While that pretty much assures I won't buy another pair, I do want to point out some of the positive things I like about this shoe; a shoe I still use for short runs on occasion:

1. It's got a 4mm drop with tons of underfoot protection.  Massive.
2. I've heard folks mention the cushioning is very stiff.  From my standpoint, this is a good thing.  My feet feel very protected, the shoes are plenty plush and they are responsive enough to handle any paced running.  Tough to have all of those things at once, in my mind.
3. The upper is light, but doesn't seem fragile.  In fact, the shoes look quite new even after 200 miles.

On the flip side:

1. The tongue is absurdly puffy and bothers the tops of my feet, moves around during the run.
2. The "fit issue" for me is related to the narrow toe-box.  Widen it up, NB!!

All-in-all, its a well-cushioned, light, low-drop shoe that, provided it fits, will get you through the miles at any pace you choose.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Marathon Nutrition Strategy

One of the challenging aspects about the marathon is how to take in energy as you're running. This is important, because as Sara Latta's article details, most runners only have ~2,000 calories worth of glycogen stored in the muscles and liver, enough to get you to about mile 20. Once you deplete your glycogen reserves, you hit the Wall, where your body moves from burning glucose to burning fat, a much less efficient energy source. Latta writes:
"...burning fatty acids requires plentiful oxygen, so as fatty acid metabolism increases, your heart must work harder to pump more oxygen-carrying blood to the muscles. It may be difficult or impossible to maintain your pace, especially if you've lost enough water through sweat to become even slightly dehydrated (this causes your blood to become thicker and therefore harder to pump). ”
Sounds unpleasant! And it is - I've been there. Your limbs feel heavy and the mind becomes stagnant as the body focuses its energy elsewhere. So the trick is to take in enough glucose during the run to prevent or delay this turnover as long as possible. As someone that has a tricky stomach, this has been a challenge for me. How to best replenish my reserves as I run without sparking GI?

I've tried a few things over the years. These include:

  1. Acceleraide. Typically, I've drank the Orange flavor in my hand-held, but have also used other other sports drinks like Gatorade, etc. This appears to be effective, but I've encountered two issues with these sports drinks:  
    • Sweet. After a while, the thought of drinking more flavored drink is just nauseating – I just want water! Wish there was a way to carry just a shot or two with me.
    • Sour stomach. All of the carbs in the liquid doesn't always sit well.
  2. Gels. These are the most efficient method for immediate energy that I know of. I've used a number of different flavors and styles, but have mainly stuck with GUs. My issues with them are:
    • Flavor. These can range from horrible (Salted Watermelon!) to excellent (Salted Caramel!)
    • Caffeine. While at times it’s nice to have this added energy, caffeine can upset my stomach, especially on a relatively empty stomach on early morning runs. 
    • Too quick? At times, the energy hits me so quickly I sometimes feel shaky or jittery.
  3. Chews. My favorite. I find that the chews are a good balance of energy and slower digestion. My only issue here is that they’re very sticky and bulky, so not always easy to carry around. 

My tactic will be to rely mainly on chews and water. While I’m going to carry a GU or two with me, in case I need big boost of glucose for the later stages of the race, i'm going to avoid it if I can.

What do you think? What worked for you? Send along any advice you have in the comments.

Related Posts:
Don't Drive the Boat: My Nutrition Strategy for TNF 50 DC
To Supplement or Not to Supplement

Monday, September 29, 2014

LLS and the Empire State

In three short weeks - October 19th - I'll be running in the Empire State Marathon. I've decided to do so as a member of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s (LLS) Team in Training program in order to help find cures and ensure access to treatments for blood cancer patients. So I've set up a little widget in the right corner of this blog - anything you can spare would be appreciated. (Mobile users might need to view the standard webpage.)

Some history: my wife was diagnosed with an aggressive form of Lymphoma last year. While she has since eradicated the disease (after undergoing an unpleasant chemotherapy program), the whole experience was extremely scary. The LLS website was one of the few calm, objective sources of information that helped us get our minds around what we were dealing with in the initial dark days after the diagnosis.

Since the recovery, I strive to continually be grateful for my family's health, and recognize how lucky I am to spend absurd amounts of time running outside. So it only seems right that I spend some of that time trying to help those that aren't as lucky. The LLS does excellent work funding treatments that save lives every day; like immnuotherapies that use a person’s own immune system to kill cancer. I was beyond impressed how the oncologist was able to customize a chemo "cocktail" to address my wife's specific form of lymphoma. LLS helps give doctors these tools.

So if you can, send along what you can to help us get closer to a world without blood cancers. Any money I raise will be matched by my company - so anything you give will be doubled! If you don't have any money to spare, no worries - I get it. Thanks for your attention, and i'll be sure to let you know how the run goes!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Happy Banned Books Week!

"We all know that books burn, yet we have the greater knowledge that books cannot be killed by fire. People die, but books never die. No man and no force can put thought in a concentration camp forever. No man and no force can take from the world the books that embody man's eternal fight against tyranny of every kind. In this war, we know, books are weapons. And it is a part of your dedication always to make them weapons for man's freedom."
- Franklin D. Roosevelt
The American Library Association has named September 21-27th Banned Books Week as a way of celebrating the freedom to read. It's remarkable to think that it wasn't so long ago that books were regularly being censored - the famous ones I can think of are The Catcher in the Rye, Lady Chatterly's Lover, Naked Lunch, and - one of the great formative novels of my youth - Robert Cormier's excellent The Chocolate War. Luckily, through vigilance and additional delivery platforms such as eBooks, censorship appears to be minimized these days, but it's worth remembering how grim the situation was.

In reading about this event, I came across this powerful afterward added to Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451:
"About two years ago, a letter arrived from a solemn young Vassar lady telling me how much she enjoyed reading my experiment in space mythology, The Martian Chronicles. But, she added, wouldn't it be a good idea, this late in time, to rewrite the book inserting more women's characters and roles? A few years before that I got a certain amount of mail concerning the same Martian book complaining that the blacks in the book were Uncle Toms and why didn't I "do them over"? Along about then came a note from a Southern white suggesting that I was prejudiced in favor of the blacks and the entire story should be dropped.  Two weeks ago my mount of mail delivered forth a pip-squeak mouse of a letter from a well-known publishing house that wanted to reprint my story "The Fog Horn" in a high school reader. In my story, I had described a lighthouse as having, late at night, an illumination coming from it that was a "God-Light." Looking up at it from the viewpoint of any sea-creature one would have felt that one was in "the Presence." The editors had deleted "God-Light" and "in the Presence." ... Do you begin to get the damned and incredible picture? How did I react to all of the above?
By "firing" the whole lot.
By sending rejection slips to each and every one.
By ticketing the assembly of idiots to the far reaches of hell.
The point is obvious. There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches."
h/t Daily Kos

Cross Posted on Thought Ambience

Monday, September 22, 2014

Mizuno Wave Hitogami 2

The Mizuno Wave Hitogami is a brilliant shoe for fast paced running.  Plus, with a MSRP of under $100 -- and several stores selling them for $75 or less -- the price is certainly right.

Aesthetically, though, they're a bit of a disaster (not that that will keep me from running in them).  Yes, I get it, if you take the left and the right shoe and line them up just so, they sort of look like a Japanese kabuki mask.  So, Mizuno added a bunch of extra overlays to create a feature that has nothing to do with running and that nobody will ever see, just for the sake of a talking point?  Add on top of that the generally clown-like colors, and I just wasn't impressed.

Luckily, Mizuno will be abandoning all of that for the Wave Mizuno 2, overhauling the upper to create a shoe with an aesthetic closer to that of the now-discontinued Wave Ronin series.

Coming in January 2015, the Hitogami 2...


Friday, September 5, 2014

Long Island Running: the Greenbelt Trail

The only good picture I could find of the Trail Map
I work for a company that sends me to the heart of Long Island a few times a year. It's pretty much all suburbia, with windy roads trafficked by too many cars, and so I'm always on the lookout for some running trails. Internet searches kept mentioning this Greenbelt Trail, but I just couldn't find any real information on it.  So here's a rundown of my experiences for any of you looking for some Long Island Trail Running.

I stay at the Hyatt next to Hidden Pond Park in Hauppauge, NY. By looking carefully, I was able to find the entrance to the trail on the north side of Long Island Motor Parkway, which was a break in a chain-link fence overgrown with vines. Once inside, I worked my way up and down some steep hills, moving somewhat slowly due to the loose gravel on the trails. This first portion of the trail system has a series of interconnected trails - some are single track, some are wider and designed for mountain bikes. Continuing north, you'll drop down into Hidden Pond Park itself, where the path flattens out once you start to see the swimming pool and baseball fields. There are a number of trails running around this complex, but if you keep winding north, you'll find yourself in a narrow trail winding in a small right-of-way between neighborhoods and golf courses. Despite this, all of my runs on the northbound portion of the Greenbelt Trail were quiet and isolated - I think I've seen one other person in all of the times I've run there.

I should mention the strange blaze system in the HPP. White blazes mark the main trail, but when coming to a fork or change in direction, there are two white blazes - the second one to ostensibly indicate the change in direction, but it's somewhat confusing. These are interspersed with blazes of different colors, but I haven't determined the reasoning behind these markings, nor have I seen a trail map anywhere. Regardless, once you hit the golf course, the trail is unmistakable.

After crossing Townline Road, the trail is more rural, following a stream and a few tranquil bodies of water. As such, there are a number of helpful wooden bridges over the more marshy portions, all of which were constructed by the local Boy Scouts. (Thanks!) The trail twists and turns, and contains a large amount of roots, so it's hard to keep up a fast pace here, but you'll want to take it slow anyways to enjoy the silence and to catch all of the rabbits bouncing out of your path.

The most challenging part of the runs i've done here was traversing route 347. It's essentially a highway, with no crosswalk or lights anywhere nearby, so you just have to wait for a break in the traffic and sprint across. It's worth it though because the next section of the path takes you through some confier forests with all of the quiet running that involves - the pine needles just swallow up the sound of footfalls. The trail continues from here all of the way to the North Shore, but i've only gone as far as the shopping center in Smithtown. Click here to see my longest northbound run on Strava here.

The section southbound from Hauppauge is located directly across the road from the northbound trail on Long Island Motor Parkway. Here, the trail follows the power lines for a bit, weaves through some significant rolling hills with evergreen trees before dropping down to Old Nichols Road. On the other side of the road, the trail is pleasantly flat, meandering around some horse farms before meeting up with the power lines again. At this point, I lost the trail - the map indicates that the trail continues down to the Long Island Expressway, (somehow) crossing it en route to the southern edge of the island. Here's what this portion of the run looks like. I'm planning on giving this another go during one of my next trips because there's a nice looking Strava segment south of the interstate that I'd like to tackle.

In summary, there are some trails in the meat of Long Island, you just have to know where to look! If anyone reading this has any other good suggestions for running in the Hauppauge area, please drop me a line in the comments.

Bridge over a marshy area

McKinley Pond. Usually see a Heron here!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Hoka One One Clifton review

There's been a lot of hype lately around the Hoka One One's new lighweight offering, the Clifton.  However, sometimes hype is just hype, so I ignored it for a while.  However, after reading positive reviews by two bloggers that I respect, by Sam Winebaum and Steve Speirs, I decided to pull the trigger.  I've now had them for about week, and have taken them on quick runs, slow jogs, and a long run of 17 miles.

For me, the most important attribute of a shoe is how a fits.  No shoe is going to fit every foot, but happily, the Hokas fit my feet well.  After swapping out the standard insolve for the thinner Ortholite insole (included in the box), they fit almost exactly the same as the Mizuno road shoes and North Face trail shoes that I ordinarily wear. 

The Cliftons are indeed soft, especially at the heel, and I worried a little bit about how well they would run.  It turned out that my worries were unnecessary.  The shoes turn over very quickly and with very little effort, and I consistently found myself to be running faster than I had planned.  And what's more, I was having fun doing it!

There are a few downsides that come with such a stripped down, ultra-cushioned shoe.  When I passed through a few wet spots in the sidewalk, my feet slid.  The Cliftons have very little traction.  And when I ran on the side of a cambered road, my foot sank much deeper into the cushion on the outside, making an otherwise very stable shoe become unstable.  I've also noticed more wear on the sole than I would have expected after 40 miles.  It may be nothing, but we'll see how long the Cliftons last.  (I've now posted an update looking at the Cliftons after 150 miles).

I'd originally envisioned these as a long run shoe, but I'm not going to have a hard time not reaching for them on days when I want to run fast, whatever the distance.


Monday, July 7, 2014

2014 Summer Running Gear

Here in the Nation's capital, it is hot!  In the month of July, we typically will see 14 days that reach 90 degrees or higher, and with the high humidity, it feels much hotter.  To keep running, you need the right clothes and the right gear.  Here is what has been working for me this summer:

The North Face Better Than Naked Hat.  Before this summer, I never liked running with hats.  They made my head hot, and the headbands frequently gave me headaches.  It turns out, I was just wearing the wrong hat.  This ultralight hat from The North Face keeps the sun out of my eyes, the sweat off of my face, and my head stays cool.

The North Face Better Than Naked Shirt.  Is it insane to pay $50 for a running shirt?  Not if it feels like it's made out of butterflies' wings.  The Better Than Naked Shirt is insanely light, it wicks sweat away quickly, and it never gets wet and heavy.  This shirt is simply light years beyond any other I've tried.  Durability remains a question mark, but so far, so good.

Salomon Trail Shorts.   Sorry, North Face, but Salomon still makes the best runnning shorts around.  Soft, comfortable waist bands, pockets that hold everything I need, legs that don't ride up or chafe.  Perfect.

Drymax Running Socks.  I used to wear Drymax Lite trail socks, but the regular running socks have a more open weave that breathes better.  It turns out, nothing is better than the original.

Amphipod Handheld.  Amphipod claims that their ergonomic shape allows the hand to relax, thus eliminating hand cramping and tension.  Personally, I've never heard a single runner every complain of hand cramping.  Regardless, this handheld is far more comfortable to carry than the typical round bottle, and the curved shape makes it easier to fill at water fountains.  There are all sorts of versions with neoprene insulating sleeves, iphone pockets, and the like, but I prefer the most stripped down version for its lower weight and lower price point.

What's been keeping you cool?

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Thoughts on a few Comix and the Kindle Panel Viewer

Most of the comics I’ve read over the last six months were on the Kindle reader.  The “Kindle Panel View” presents first the full page of the comic, and then you scroll through each of the individual panels on that page. It’s fascinating, and has both benefits and negatives. On one hand, it’s difficult to see the complete picture that all of the integrated panels construct – which can be a problem when reading Alan Moore comics, or comics where the layout contains unusual panels. On the other hand, zooming in on some of the smaller panels provides an intense focus on the brushwork details of the (for example, some of the amazing inking in the Swamp Thing's Floronic Man).  Overall, I still find myself wanting to read comix in their original format, but I imagine if I had a larger color screen I’d feel differently.

So what have I read? Let’s start off with the most recent: Saga of the Swamp Thing Book 1, which contains issues #20-27 of the series run, starting from when the imitable Alan Moore took over writing the story of this strange plant man. The first issue is a creepy but pretty straightforward closing of plot lines from the previous writer blatantly called “Loose Ends.” But with the next issue Moore started to put his stamp on the story, taking us into a trippy world where the Swamp Thing is more than just a cheesy monster but something of great power and beauty. Moore takes us on a journey, showing us how Swamp Thing realizes that the bio-restorative formula accident (a formula "that can make forests out of deserts") that that everyone thought  turned scientist Alec Holland into Swamp Thing in reality simply put Holland’s consciousness in some elemental plant-thing. (It’s much more interesting than I’m making it sound.) Despite the stories’ cosmic and epic nature, Moore's writing remains very human – giving us a depth of feeling and motivation behind most of the major characters in a way that most major label comics simply don’t have. Does it all work? No – cameos by the Justice League are strained, and the later issues where Swamp Thing confronts the bizarrely-clad demon Etrigan aren't nearly as moving as the issues without the rest of the DC Universe. Still, Moore’s immaculate pacing and creepy sensibility shine through, supported by Stephen Bisette and John Totleben’s detailed and creepy drawing. Their art - a strange mixture of awkwardness and twisted beauty – consists of lots of crosshatching flowing together in fascinating ways. It’s not at it’s best when depicting action sequences, or traditional “men-in-tights” superheros, but then that’s okay, since at it’s core this is a horror comic par excellence.

(As a side note, since I was reading this on the kindle it was black and white. I've since taken a look at the colored version on the iPad and it was a MUCH lesser experience IMO - the garish colors overwhelmed and took away from the mood and the beauty of the art. Be warned.)

Now the term "horror" is overused these days – it’s more of a genre description than a description of a feeling. Take Junji Ito’s Uzumaki, for example. Uzumaki  (“spiral” in Japanese) tells the tale of KurĂ´zu-cho, a Japanese town that is haunted by the pattern of the spiral and is touted as “a masterpiece of horror magna”. It’s a fantastic comic, one that’s genuinely creepy, disgusting, and macabre. But the book as a whole I can’t promote as true horror because the stories don’t combine to tell a complete tale. In reality, after the first few issues honest characters would have run screaming from the town, or crumbled into insanity under the weight of what they saw and their inability to escape it. But this is due partly to the episodic nature of monthly comix: Ito sets up his theme and explores it in inventive and genuinely creepy ways. (The man’s ability to generate genuinely horrific and disturbing images is uncanny.) But like weekly tv shows, the characters needed to be reset before each episode, or change so incrementally that they’re essentially the same. It's only as the series starts to reach its conclusion in the last few issues that it starts to really tell a cohesive tale. In short, despite many excellent moments, it doesn't have the depth of character to inspire the same levels of horror as Moore. But some of those images will just not leave my mind.

I should say that it's unfair to compare any other comics to Moore’s work. His ideas that span multiple issues or volumes seems to rise up out of him fully formed. For instance, check out Watchmen, and how single graphic frames in one issue will have powerful implications many issues down the road. Anotehr great example are the incredible multi-page spreads in Promethia where the art promotes the theme of the story while also moving forward the plot. In short, Moore thinks thematically while retaining a command of the details - a hard skill in any field, but one that is in short supply in comix.

Unless you also read Carla Speed McNeil's Finder, that is. She's the first comix artist since Moore that has impressed me with her thematic reach while being so impressive at a detailed level. (and I'm talking really detailed: check out the depth of thought revealed in the footnotes of her Finder Library volumes and you get a real sense for the amount of time and effort she's spent building up her world.) I have Volumes 1 & 2 and while I can’t say that I understand everything about it, she’s is simply a fantastic storyteller: both engaging & entertaining. What I love are the sheer profusion of bizarre details in her "aboriginal science fiction" – most of the stories take place in a far future where everyone lives in domed cities with fascinating technology, not all of which works (some details of maintenance have been lost to time). The main plotline is ostensibly about Jaegar, an aboriginal of some kind who can both track anyone (the Finder of the title) and serves as a “sin eater” (Wikipedia describes it as being a “ritual scapegoat” which I really like).  However, my favorite plot is Dream Sequence, where Magri White, a person who grows an extremely popular virtual reality in his head around which a successful corporation grows – but when White starts to lose his grip on reality, the people hooked on the world in his head start suffering strange and dramatic fates. The skill by which she weaves the effects of the big story together with the struggle in White’s life – and how she visually depicts White’s loosening grip on reality – is very complelling, to the point where I’ve revisited the story multiple times since it was first published in the late 2000s.

So other than the occasional Hellboy, that’s all of the comix I’ve been reading these days. What else should I be checking out?

Cross Posted on Thought Ambience

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Show me the money!

In 2012, the Red Sox famously shipped Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, and Carl Crawford off to Los Angeles, shedding more than $250 million in future salary obligations in the process.

While the Sox held on to the big salaries of fan favorites such as David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia, they didn't take on any new big salaries; instead, filled the gaps with a ragtag group of journeymen.  And as a result, absolutely nobody expected them to contend.  (Just as an example, when over 40 "experts" at ESPN were polled before the 2013 season, only two predicted that the Sox would even make the playoffs, in each case as a wildcard.)

But contend the Sox did, and suddenly team owners and management looked like the smartest guys in the room.  They could win without spending money!

And indeed, that seems to have been the mantra for 2014.  (Ellsbury, who needs him?)  Thus, whenever there has been a hole to fill, all the Sox have done is called up one minor leaguer after another.  It doesn't even matter if they play the position that needs filling.  (Is the outfield still not producing?  Try Mookie Betts!)

Already, the Sox are one of only four defending World Series champions ever, and the first since 1998 to have three or more rookies start 40 or more games in a season.  And we're not even to the midway point yet!  By the end of the season, Betts and perhaps some others will be added to the list as well.

It's no wonder the Red Sox offense is foundering, despite the obvious passion of Pedroia and the other team leaders.  But in the meantime, what's been overlooked is what an impressive display of pitching the Sox arms have been putting on.  So, here's a nice stat: between May 28 and tonight, the Sox have held their opponents to three runs or fewer in every home game, the longest such streak in team history. But what do they have to show for it?  The Sox are either losing games by a single run (18 so far, the most in the AL), or they are having to send Uehara out in the 9th yet again.  And Uehara is starting to fall apart under the workload, even if Farrell won't admit it.

What is the solution?  Offense.  For starters, put someone in the outfield who can hit, finally.  Find a real replacement for Ellsbury, someone who is proven at the big league level.  In other words, John Henry, show me the money.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Running to the Empire State

The itch is getting scratched! I just committed to lacing up for the Empire State Marathon in Syracuse, NY on October, 19th. I've wanted to give 26.2 another go ever since my first attempt ended with a knee injury and a 12.5 min/mi pace.

So my training cycle is starting anew. I’m starting off with a solid base, having averaged 4 runs and ~23 miles a week since the MPP half in March. The goal now is to start ramping up the mileage, mainly through longer runs on the weekend. It will be challenging as I’m in the process of moving my family to a new house, but I can't think of better motivation to get out the door.

My initial thinking is that i'd like to finish between 3:45 and 4:00 but we'll see how I feel in a few months. Regardless, look for some posts in the future as I determine what my training plan will be and how my experience of training for this race will be different than training for the KBVCM.

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Friday, June 6, 2014

Book Review: Sergei Lukyanenko’s "Night Watch"

My attempts of describing of the plot of Sergei Lukyanenko’s Night Watch would take a carefully crafted world and crudely distill it down to an artless pulp, so you can read what it's about on Amazon. Lukyanenko doesn't  help matters by calling his agents of the Light and the Dark “the Others,” an unfortunate phrasing bringing to mind 50s B-movies and overwrought Nicole Kidman movies. But Lukyanenko infuses his struggle of good and evil with refreshingly liberal doses of Russian-tinged ambivalence and philosophy which, to this American reader, lifted the story above other countless fantasies superficially like it.

Anton Gorodetsky, the narrator for the large majority of the book, is a human with extraordinary magical powers. However, these powers don’t make him happy; rather, they're a burden that separates him from the rest of humanity and whose responsibilities weigh down his soul. This isn't helped by the fact that the collections of good and evil are divided into overtly complex and shadowy bureaucracies whose rules and structures provide an ironic blue collar contrast to the story. For instance, after a particularly rough experience, Anton’s team goes on holiday to the country and as a drunken bender, leading to this delicious observation:
“…now he understood what real Russian drunkenness was all about. … It’s all about waking up in the morning with everything around you looking grey. Grey sky, gray sun, grey city, gray people, gray thoughts. And the only way out is to have another drink. Then you feel better. Then the colors come back.” p.398
Anton drinks and desponds because this is heavy stuff. When things like the fate of the world and a keeping a millennium-long truce between good and evil hang on what you can accomplish, you might need a drink. And Lykyanenko does not take it easy on Anton – in the world of the Night Watch, the best you can hope is to not fuck up. To wit:
“Sveta, we’re not given the chance to choose absolute truth. Truth’s always two-faced. The only thing we have is the right to reject the lie that we find most repugnant. Do you know what I tell novices about the Twilight the first time? We enter it in order to acquire strength. And as the price for entering it we give up the part of the truth that we don’t want to accept.” p. 24
Another rehashing of Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, this is not. It's a dark book with a sensitively ambivalent heart. Anton wallows in for most of the book in Russian cynicism, but this only makes occasional flights into romanticism that much more powerful, partly because of the lack of irony. Lukyanenko’s writes as if the struggle is not only ongoing right now but also the most urgent thing in the world. All of this in an entertaining story that sprinkles its adventure and mysticism with a variety of interesting dilemmas. It kept me solid company for two solid weeks and I miss it's view of the world. I'll have to try one of its many sequels one of these days.

Cross posted on Thought Ambience.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

C&O Canal 100: Race Report and a Few Reflections

I ran my first 100-miler last weekend, on April 26-27. 

This was the second year of the C&O Canal 100.  Except for a few miles, the course is entirely along the C&O Canal towpath.  The 184.5 mile long canal was built in the 1820s, roughly paralleling the Potomac River, as a means to haul coal and other products.  The towpath alongside it --essentially a dirt road -- was intended for mules to pull barges along the C&O Canal.  The canal was largely abandoned after 1924, but the towpath remains as a popular route for walkers, hikers, and runners.  During the course of the race, I crossed paths with numerous boy scout troops, numerous Sierra Club members completing a one-day 100-km hike, residents of local towns engaged in their daily exercise, and a handful of lovebirds enjoying wide open views of the Potomac.

This race is held at the right time of year.  The director set us on our way at 7 AM, shortly after sunrise.   Depending on where on the towpath you were, the temperatures reached about 75 degrees in the late afternoon, and dipped down to to 37 degrees just before dawn on Sunday.  The bluebells were out in full force, the new leaves on the trees provided plenty of shade, and along the route I enjoyed the sounds of the songbirds in the morning, frogs in the evening, and the rustling of deer in the woods at night.

I didn't use a run/walk system, but I took walk breaks frequently.  Here, my race walk training served my well.  I traveled light, carrying only the essentials, but packing my drop bags with every conceivable thing I could think of, without exceeding the size limits.  After mile 27, I would have access to them approximately 10 miles.  My ovepreparedness served me well when, halfway through the race, I realized I had left my handheld water bottle at an aid station two miles back. Happily, I had spare one in my drop bag five miles up the road. 

The volunteers couldn't have been more amazing.  Every time I rolled into an aid station, I felt I had my own personal crew, bringing me food and ice cold towels, swapping out batteries in my headlamp, taping my blistered feet, and preparing bags of food for me to take before I left.  This is all the more important because there are only five points during the race where crew have access.  My family was able to come see me at two of them, and knowing they would be there was a huge boost.

I didn't spend much time training to run at night, and was curious how mind and spirits would react.  I found the dark hours to be peaceful, and the stars to be amazing.  Around mile 70 my legs suddenly loosened up and I found myself running freely.  My mind did play a few tricks me, making me think that I saw specters on the road up ahead, including the ghost of a woman around the Catoctin Creek crossing.  After the race, while researching the history of the canal, I read a lady ghost had been reported on that stretch of the canal during its operating days.  If she is still there, I like to think she is cheering on the runners.

The temperatures dropped continually through the night.  Though I've spent a lot of time running in much colder weather, I wasn't fully prepared for how my body react to near-freezing temperatures after running for nearly 24 hours. I spent a good chunk of time at an aid station in front of a heater with cup after cup of hot soup, shaking off some mild hypothermia. I saw several other runners at various times dealing with the same issue.

Fueling and hydration went totally fine, except for 30 minutes of indigestion after an aid station where I ate too much.  For shoes, I chose to wear the North Face Single-Track Hayasa II, which provided plenty of cushioning and support.  I saw others wearing everything from huaraches up to Hoka One Ones.

A week later, I am feeling good and ready to start running again.  My sense is that doing well in a 100-miler is half about fitness, and half about the ability to avoid or solve problems.  While I did pretty well, there are some potential issues that I still need to think about. 

Regardless, I got it done, and am happy.  For that, I am thankful to my friends for their advice and for joining me in long runs, and to my family for their confidence in me and their willingness to support my running schedule.  Splits and so on are available on Strava.