Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Book Review: Chinghiz Aitmatiov’s "The Day Lasts More than a Thousand Years"

Chinghiz Aitmatiov’s The Day Lasts More than a Thousand Years is a timeless novel occurring at a very specific location and time – Kazakhstan in the late-to-mid period of the Soviet Union – and tells it in such a way that it speaks to everyone.

Aitmatov introduces us to Yedigei Burriani, a Kazakh worker on a Soviet railroad, who aims to bury his best friend in a historic Muslim graveyard. It’s hallowed ground because of Naiman-Ana, a long-suffering mother whose son was gruesomely transformed into a mankurt – an old Kazakh myth used here as a brilliant metaphor. In fact, as with any good Soviet novel, ambivalent metaphors abound: there’s even a science fictional subplot about our first contact with alien races that can be read as a prejudice of the unknown, as a critique of the Cold War, or even just as the impossibility of true communication between two sentient beings. And all of this occurs without feeling academic in the least – on the contrary, Aitmatov’s prose (translated by John French) is naturally beautiful, effortlessly flowing along from one story to another, always circling back to Burriani and his continual questioning about his purpose, and the conflict of the past with the modern. For example, the characters in the book honor the traditional Kazakh ways of living, (although Aitmatov doesn't whitewash out the harshness of this lifestyle) but also do not deny themselves the benefits of modern technology. On the contrary, Aitmatov seems genuinely excited about the possibilities of modernity – mainly the ability to quickly travel long distances and benefits of communications with other cultures that this engenders, but also smaller things. For instance, one great set piece involves Burriani’s famously powerful camel raging about in heat (powerfully symbolizing primal human emotions) but when it comes time to actually perform the burial, the hard work is done with a backhoe.

Overall, this may have been the most entertaining book I read in 2013. It came from an honest, true place and spoke to me on many levels. It was also a fascinating glimpse into a part of the world I know nothing about – just looking at some of the pictures of the Kazakh steppe quickly reveal how truly foreign this land is to me. Luckily we have fantastic books like The Day Lasts More than a Thousand Years to give us a sense of what it's like.

Cross Posted at Thought Ambience.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Review: Salomon S-Lab Advanced Skin M Belt Set

In 2013, Salomon's S-Lab debuted its first running belt, the Advanced Skin 2 Belt.  Although some reviewers noted it was a bit fiddly and that there were durability issues, most praised its light weight, breathable comfort, and ability to balance a load.  I was intrigued, but there was a deal breaker: the 2 Belt is designed to carry Salomon's 8-oz soft flasks.  In a race, those are great if you have a crew who will have bottles prepared for you before you arrive at the aid station.  But for the self-supported runner dependent on aid station crews to refill bottles?  Not so much.

Fast forward to 2014.  The S-Lab has produced its second belt, the Advanced Skin M Belt.  This belt is designed to hold Salomon's 16-oz soft flasks.  It has fewer pockets than the 2 Belt, but they are considerably larger, giving the M Belt 3 liters of storage capacity, where the 2 Belt had "only" a 2 liter capacity.  It also has various elastic straps for holding jackets, gloves, or other gear.  Thus, the M Belt holds much more than traditional packs, although still less than a backpack or vest. 

According to Salomon, the front piece is meant to hold energy and hydration, while the back element is meant to hold equipment and apparel.  Of course, a runner could wear either piece on the front or back.  I prefer to wear the front piece in front, but given that I don't travel with too much equipment, i put a 16-oz flask in the back.  A second 16-oz flask can be put in the front, depending on how much else I am carrying.  

the front

the back
(Speaking of flasks - Salomon appears to have updated the shape of the novel on its flask - the nozzles on the new flasks are wider at the top than the bottom.  Apparently these offer a higher flow rate; I've also noted that they are less apt to leak if the flask is accidentally squeezed).
2013 flask (left) and 2014 flask (right)

The M Belt itself is insanely light (together with an empty 16 oz flask, it weights just 4.2 oz), though of course if you load it fully, it can get heavy.  It is nice to have that weight around my hips, rather than on my shoulders.  By adjusting the top strap (which runs along my waist) somewhat tighter than the bottom strap (which runs along my hips), I've been able to dial in a fit that prevents bouncing even when the belt is full.  I've not had an issue with the straps slipping, which some runners reported with the 2 Belt.  

Lastly, the honeycomb mesh breathes wonderfully.  However, since this is the only layer between you and much of what you are carrying, things could get a bit damp inside.  

The M Belt is not yet available on Salomon's website, although a few select retailers such as Running Warehouse are stocking small numbers of it. I've not yet had a chance to race with it, but on a 20-mile run this weekend it performed admirably.   I'm looking forward to wearing it in my next race.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Galen Rupp's Indoor 5k American Record (video)

I had the pleasure of watching Galen Rupp smash the indoor 5k AR last night.  It was an incredibly inspiring performance.  I managed to capture some video of the last few laps.

Hope you enjoy!