Monday, June 4

Ragnar Recap - My weekend with Liars and Cheats

Me and my 11 newest friends conspired to run 184* miles last weekend. It’s the Wasatch Back Ragnar. It’s now Monday as I type, and I still haven’t recovered the mental energy to write a long blog post, and for that you should all be glad. This might just stay less than 3,000 words. ;)

[Editor’s note: Yup, not even 2500 words!]

Runners 1 through 8 got up sometime before dawn and got themselves to Logan to start running at 8:30 in the morning. Those of us who were smart signed up for one of the last 4 legs, so I got to have a nice morning at home before heading out after lunch to meet up with everyone in the Huntsville area.

After all the work that I did estimating when we would finish each leg, the weekend became an illustrative example of the “garbage in, garbage out” principle – i.e. when everyone lowballs their individual paces, you end up many hours ahead of schedule. Case in point: Tom ran right before me and had claimed a pace of 11:30/mile. He ran the first leg at 10:55/mile, the second leg at 10:52/mile despite it being over 8 miles and slightly uphill, and the last leg at an even 10:00/mile despite the previous legs and the lack of sleep. He wasn’t the only one.

I was the very last runner to finally get a turn to run. Being in the last 4 made for a nice morning, but being the very last made for a very, very steep weekend. My first leg was from Pineview Reservoir up to Snowbasin. 6.9 miles long and 1800 feet up. My mile splits were 8:25, 8:59, 8:42, 6:27, 8:19, 9:59, and 7:36. Can you guess mile had the downhill? Before I did that run, someone asked me how fast I could do it, and I said, “8:30/mile?”. This got a raised eyebrow, and I hedged with a, “8:45/mile?” I ended up averaging 8:32, which I think is pretty impressive.

My survey says that 1 in 6 Ragnar runner wears awesome shoes

Because this was hypothetically the hardest run of the race (the “Ragnar Leg”), I got an extra medal at the finish line. There isn’t a ton to say about the leg. It was steep, I ran hard and stopped to walk once or twice. I passed 31 people, which I think was pretty good considering there were only 392 teams in the whole race and undoubtedly many of them were behind me when I started. The leg did end about a half mile earlier than I anticipated. Turns out the info on their website and on their app don’t quite match, and the app is the one that was correct.

Once that was over, I hopped in the car and we went down to Mountain Green. I didn’t really appreciate how little down time there is in the Ragnar, because you’re continually driving to the next exchange point and often only have 10 or 15 minutes there before the next person takes off. We were in Mountain Green long enough for me to walk up to the cemetery (we had literally parked right below it) where many of Shannon’s relatives are buried. It’s not a weekend out for a Blockburger without a trip to the cemetery!

Now it counts as an adventure

The next exciting thing for the trip was at about 11pm Friday, when we had a runner miss a turn, and instead of ending up at exchange 17 he ran to exchange 18, which was only about half a mile away. (Leg 18 was supposed to take a more circuitous route from 17 to 18.) Fortunately, the van made the same mistake and also went to exchange 18. So then we sent runner 18 off running and tried to find exchange 18, not realizing we were already at exchange 18. We drove around in circles for a bit and argued about where we were supposed to go before we finally figured out what was going on. (We were all tired at that point, and it was dark.) Basically we skipped all of leg 18, and runner 18 was running leg 19. Runner 19 was getting skipped, and runner 18 was going to arrive at the wrong place and we weren’t going to be there go meet her. And, of course, this was all happening to our youngest runner who was only 12. (I think – I mean, I know she was the youngest, but I’m not sure on her age.) It all ended up fine. In the end, it all worked out. One of our other runners was having some painful IT band issues, so runner 19 (who was skipped) got to run his final leg, and I think everyone ended up ok with how it turned out. So, yeah, we’re cheaters. We didn’t even turn ourselves in. (We got 88th place overall, and 70th in our category, so I think the integrity of the event was left intact.)

One result of our running ahead of schedule (and, you know, cheating) was that instead of my runs coming at 6pm, 5am and 4pm, they came at 5pm, 3am and 1pm. I do not consider that an improvement. My second leg was 3.8 miles on a trail on the back side of Echo Reservoir. It was pretty flat, and the trail wasn’t too rocky, though in the dark it was impossible to tell if any pointy rocks were lurking or not. I decided that if you can’t see them coming, you might as well run as if they aren’t there, and I didn’t hit anything too major. By this time I had learned that the Ragnar lingo for passing a runner is a “kill”, and I racked up another 20 kills on this leg, with mile times of 6:41, 6:42, 6:48, and 6:43. Remarkably consistent for 3am, in the dark in 40 °F weather. My goal had been 7 minute miles, so that counted as another win in my book.

I carried this hitchhiker the last two miles of my run. It was stuck between my toes – hard to see the weeds in the dark.

Another challenge of Ragnar is not really knowing when your turn is going to come. The whole weekend was filled with repeated mental math problems trying to guess how fast someone would run, looking up how long and steep their leg was and then trying to minimize the time you had to spend standing out in the sun or cold waiting for them. The longer a leg is, the more uncertainty there is in the timing, so I spent about 10, maybe 15 minutes standing out in the cold waiting for Tom to come in to start my nighttime leg. And then when I finished . . . no one was there. I stood around for about 10 minutes before finding someone from my team, but not the next runner. She was in a different cae …. Somewhere. She finally showed up, I gave her a bit of grief about it, and I hope she figured out that I wasn’t really upset or anything. It’s probably some karmic payback for our cheating.

Most Ragnar teams of 12 (some crazies do it with fewer runners) divide up into two groups of 6 that work more-or-less independently over the whole race. Our team was an extended family (plus me and on other hanger-on) and they don’t like that method and so have worked out a system where 8 people are in the big van at a time and 4 people are “on break”. Our break came after my late run and we made the 30 or 40 minute drive from Coalville to a condo in Midway that the team had reserved. It was nice to be able to shower and sleep on a stationary mattress. I got about 3 ½ hours of sleep, and would have enjoyed 3 ½ hours in the shower, but sadly, I had to be as quick as possible. (A real challenge for me.) This was one point where I was glad everyone had lied about their paces, as we got to sleep while it was dark outside.

We went back out to the car to make the 30 minute drive to meet the team in Peoa only to discover that the car was completely dead. It was Tom’s in-law’s car, and is a hybrid. So we started down the twin paths of figuring out how to jump start a hybrid (where is the battery? Are there any jumper cables? What on earth happened to have dead batteries in a car that is full of batteries?) while also calling an Uber to get us back to the race. The Uber came before we could make any real progress on the car (we found the terminal to attach a jumper cable, but still didn’t have a cable or a functioning car) when the Uber came, so we abandoned that car and headed for the race. I think Jim had only been waiting a couple of minutes when we finally got there (More karma?) and the race was back on.

My final (and the final) leg came at 1pm. It was essentially two completely separate runs. First a three mile run that was gently downhill on the side of a road. Despite the time of day, lack of sleep and fatigue, I was killing it: 7:00, 7:02, 6:53. At that point I was 50 seconds ahead of where I had hoped to be. And then the hill came. And by hill, I mean mountain. 900 feet of climbing in under 2 miles. I was planning for 10 minute miles. The first half mile was still relatively flat and then it started getting steep. That mile came in at 9:09. Great. Still ahead of pace, and with a cushion for the rest of the hill. And then the thing went vertical. Crushingly steep, on a rocky, dirt trail. It wasn’t a run, it was a hike. The best things I can compare it to is the hike to Cecret Lake, which is about 500 feet over ¾ of a mile. So it’s certainly worse than that. Or hiking to the ‘Y’ in Provo, which is about 930 feet in a mile – about the same height as that, but spread out over an extra half mile. So you can imagine either running to Cecret Lake twice in a row (no downhill in between) or a somewhat less steep run up the Y. Either way, it’s brutal, as my mile split can attest: 14 minutes, 20 seconds. It was on that climb that I was passed by the first (and then second) runner of my race. I watched them go, dumped some water on my head and made my way up as best I could.

Once on top, the descent was on a mountain bike trail. That means rocks, and sharp, banked hair-pin turns every 30 feet. I swear there were a hundred turns in that two mile descent. (I just counted, it was only about 50. Felt like 100.) It was as technical as anything I have ever tried to run. I stubbed my toes a couple of times, and stepped on way too many rocks. My two descending miles were done in 8:19 and 7:56. My team was there 30 yards from the finish line so we could all cross the finish together. Unfortunately for them I was a jerk and just ran past all of them; it was still steep down hill and slowing down would have been hard, plus, my feet were on fire from the pounding they took coming down. I crossed the finish line, found a patch of grass, laid down and ripped my shoes off. I was frankly surprised not to find bruises on my feet that night. I had been worried about the footwear for those last two miles and my fears turned out to be well founded.

The descent. There were many turns.

So that’s the tale of the Ragnar. 17.7 miles. 2882 feet up, 1561 feet down. 2 hours and 24 minutes. I had a good time, and the family that let me tag along with them for a weekend was great. I’d probably even do it all again, though it might be someone else’s turn to do the legs with all the climbing (I did 1000 feet more climbing than anyone else and 2000 feet more than half of the team).

Team "Got Pecks?" (left to right): Shawn, Clark, Jim, Sally, Rob, David, Lindsey, Tom, Abby, Caleb, Chace and Garrett 

Ragnar swag: shirt, slap bracelet "baton" (no one else wanted it), bib, finisher medal and Ragnar Leg medal

General Observations, Notes and Comments:
  1. The van was significantly less smelly than I would have anticipated. For 30 hours we had 7 people at a time in the van, most of whom had run more recently than they had showered. Maybe this is just a time when my weak sense of smell is a feature.
  2. I ate far less than I anticipated. I took about 3000 calories with me and hoped that it would be enough. I also figured that we could/would stop for something somewhere along the way. I didn’t think that through enough, because 1) it’s hard to stop when you generally have to be somewhere else in another 30 minutes or so and 2) there aren’t tons of places to stop in the great metropolises of Utah: Peoa, Oakley, Liberty, Mountain Green, etc.
  3. If there is a next time: Chex Mix, Fig Newtons, Peanut Butter M&Ms.
  4. I did take granola bars, apple sauce, pop tarts, fruit strips and those were all good.

Wednesday, May 23

Ragnar Preview

I am running the Reebok Ragnar Wasatch Back in a little over a week. A friend from Michigan (who now lives in Oregon) has a sister who lives just a few miles from us. When said friend was in town for spring break, we met up at a park and met her sister for the first time. In the course of conversation, she mentioned that her family was running the Ragnar in June and were short a couple of runners. I not-so-casually mentioned that I would be very interested in joining a group. A few weeks later, it turns out that they still needed someone, and the price was very right, so I'm signed up.

How excited am I? Even before I officially had been offered the spot, I might have started developing my own spreadsheet to evaluate each leg of the race based on distance, time of day and elevation gain, and to estimate their relative difficulty. I started my packing list. And of course I've been talking about it to the point that Shannon probably wishes it was over already. (Also, their website has some typos, and the rule book has a couple of minor inconsistencies. But who's counting?)

If you're not familiar with Ragnar, it's a relay race, usually run with teams of 12. The route this year is 184 miles long, and will take a very mediocre team like ours something like 30-32 hours to complete (I think). They stagger the start times for the teams letting the slowest teams start first, for logistical reasons. We'll be starting in Logan at 8:30 on Friday morning, and hopefully finishing somewhere around 5pm on Saturday in Kamas. The 184 miles are divided into 36 legs, and each runner does three of them. (Some teams are crazier and do it with fewer runners.) Just in case you don't quite appreciate what 184 miles is like, here's what the route looks like in map form:

I get to run legs 12, 24 and 36, which I've roughly marked on the elevation map below between the pairs of red lines. It was only once I did this that I really got to appreciate that I get to do 2 of the 5 biggest climbs and run the highest part of the race. The jury is still out on whether I should consider this an honor or a punishment.

As this is a continuous relay, the team will be running through the night. My legs should work out pretty well in that regard, as I expect to do my first leg around 6pm, the second at 6am and the last at 4pm. I still haven't met 9 of the other 11 runners, and probably won't until the night before at the earliest, so it's going to be a big adventure hanging out with them for that many consecutive hours. I'll try to remember to take some pictures, and you can be confident that there will be a lengthy write-up of the race afterwards.

And if that doesn't get you excited, then just wait until I unveil the next epic running adventure that is planned for late July. It makes the Ragnar look like a walk in the park.

Thursday, May 17

Never Ending Stories (and their reviews)

The Gun Seller by Hugh Laurie
Yes, that's Hugh Laurie, the guy who played Dr. Gregory House on TV. Or perhaps you think of him as the the Dad from Stuart Little, or Dr. Cockroach from Monsters vs Aliens, or you remember back to his days on Blackadder. But in his first novel, the role that I was thinking of most was that of Bertie Wooster from Jeeves & Wooster. "But this is a book he wrote, and not a TV show he's acting in," you say. And you're right. It's the story of a PI who turns down a job that don't meet his morals, and then ends up getting dragged deeper into the immoral morass than he ever wanted. It's got thugs and politics and assassinations and conspiracies and all that, but at the center of it, the main character has the personality of a P.G. Wodehouse character injecting a hint of silliness into the most desperate of situations. I suggest reading the book in your head as if Mr. Laurie himself is reading it aloud to you. (perhaps there is an audio book that does just that?)

Robot Dreams by Isaac Asimov
This is a collection of Sci-Fi short stories by one of the great science fiction writers. The first story is also included in I, Robot, but the stories are generally not about robots. They are about people in the sometime near, sometimes very distant future, and like many short stories, each story is there to frame a single central idea or question. How would humans get along with aliens, and what if one species is inherently dangerous to the other? What if computers know us better than we know ourselves? As computers start to do all of our thinking for us, will we still learn how to think? Many more of the stories center around computers rather than robots, and along the way its fun to see what Asimov saw of the future, back when computers were brand new to the world. Like many, he didn't appreciate how quickly computers would become both extremely small and extremely cheap. He doesn't seem to imagine pictures taken without film that needs to be developed, or the invention of user friendly computers. But what he does find is questions and situations that are compelling, even if the technology around them seems at times both out of date and futuristic.

A Zion Canyon Reader edited by Nathan N Waite and Reid L Neilson
This is a collection of essays and things about Zion Canyon. 28 of them make up the 244 pages, so they're not long, and they cover things from geology to plant and animal life in the canyon, to early settlers, to more modern concerns. Writers feature well known names like John Wesley Power, Wallace Stegner, Edward Abbey and Juanita Brooks, as well as plenty of people you've never heard of before. Occasionally it was way too touchy-feely, "feel the spirit of the canyon wash over your soul", but even at its most annoying, that essay would be over in a few pages anyway. The more interesting ones (to me) focused on early Mormon settlers, as well as some of the first (white) people to document trips through the canyons.

Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson
This is the second book I've read by Kim Stanley Robinson, and I'm noticing a trend. Most sci-fi books have a well defined story line, where even from the beginning you know what bad guy needs to be defeated, or curse reversed or whatever. The fun is in the details and journey along the way. Mr. Robinson, however, writes books that don't go where I expect them to. This book is about a spaceship taking a multi-generation trip to colonize a new planet, Aurora. So it's a book about setup up a new colony, right? Nope, we spend a long time on the ship just getting there, dealing with the impossibility of maintaining a self-sufficient biosphere for 160 years. Then we get to the new planet, it sucks, and we have to make a new plan, and start a new trip with new challenges, and surprises along the way. Really, when you think about it, most novels are contrived in the way they have such clear cut story arcs that lead up to a big conflict at the end. Real life, at least my life, doesn't have such clear cut beginnings and endings to stories, but is just a single story that lasts a lifetime.

Tuesday, May 15

Eastlake 5k

I won a race. There are no pictures, nor any other evidence to document this.

We all ran a race, in fact, though details are sparse. The girls' elementary school had a 5k/1mile race as a fundraiser. We won't be attending the school next year, but apparently will pay to run on the sidewalks in our neighborhood that are free to run on all other times of the year. (In fact, they were free to run on even while the race was going on.) The race was small, not all that well organized, not terribly competitive and had a few major flaws. Oh, and it was raining the whole time, too.

As this was put on by the elementary school and was a family event, they had a 5k and a 1 mile race. Unfortunately, they started the 5k, and then a few minutes later started the 1 mile, so the 1 mile was pretty well over by the time the 5k finished. This does shorten the overall timeline of the evening, but not without a significant drawback: if my wife and I are both running the 5k (which we were) but our children, ages 10 and 7, are both running the 1 mile (which they were), we are completely unable to provide any supervision or encouragement for them. Further, there were no details about the timing of the races provided beforehand, so it was impossible to know about this until minutes before the race. For a race for families, this wasn't terribly family friendly.

So, Julia and Ella both did the 1 mile race. I don't really know how it went, other than Julia ditched Ella and Ella wasn't happy about that. I'm not sure how long it took them either, as the event was essentially un-timed.

Now about the 5k. The course ran through the neighborhoods of Daybreak, starting and ending at the school, and passing by the temple and the lake. It stayed on sidewalks and asphalt paths. I have some questions about how close to 5,000 meters it really is, because it is very difficult to hit distance targets when you have a single start/finish line and nowhere in the course where you can make small adjustments in the length. Maybe the design of the sidewalks and paths in the neighborhood fortuitously line up to give you a perfect 5,000 meter race, but I suspect they just picked the streets that gave them the closest result they could find. My watch and Google both put the distance at 3.19 miles, though those measurement systems certainly have their limitations, too. One last note about the course: it starts with a 90° left hand turn. Not like a turn near the beginning, but the start line was literally perpendicular to the course at the start. There was a turn zero feet into the race. It is always apparent when people planning a race have no experience running races.

The actual race was essentially an individual time trial for me. There were some kids that were in front of me for the first 50 yards or so, and then a pair of teenager that I could hear behind me for most of the first mile. But from there on out, I was completely alone running in the rain. I finished mile 1 in 6:24. Mile 2 has the most up and down and is the part of a 5k where you question whether you went out way too fast. It took me 6:36. Somehow, my watch thinks that I spent 4 seconds of that mile not moving. I promise you that is inaccurate. Mile 3 had the water station (no thanks, it's 56 °F and raining), and I was with it enough to notice that they were running out of the red tape they had put on the ground to mark the route. The pieces of tape were getting smaller and smaller and then in the last mile they switched to black. (It should be pretty simple to calculate putting a piece x inches long every y meters, plus some more for corners and things. Or, start with how much tape you have and back calculate your tape usage. See, you need basic algebra skills even as the PTA putting on a 5k fun run!)

Despite running low on tape, the course was still sufficiently marked. One danger of being in the front of a very small race is getting lost, which was thankfully not a problem. Mile 3 came in at 6:31. (Again, I apparently took 3 seconds worth of breaks. My watch is a liar.) If you're doing the math at home, you'll see that this brings us very close to the finish of the race, and very close to 20 minutes of elapsed time. That magical 20 minute barrier comes out at 6:27/mile, and I've never broken it. I've never come all that close either, except for that time that I totally smashed it, but not in a 5k. Let me explain: This was my 9th 5k. I know, to the rest of you it probably seems like I've done a lot more than that, but I haven't. Seven of them are the Rex Lee Run, plus this one and a 5k put on by my stake in St. George. Seven of these races are from 2010 or earlier, when I was young but not a consistent runner, and two of them are this spring, so there was a seven and a half year gap between 5k races for me. My PR was in my very first race back in 2004 when I ran it in 20:41.6 (6:40/mi). And that one time that I totally smashed it? Thanksgiving 2015, when I ran a 4 mile race at a 19:16 5k pace (6:14/mi). But the whole point here is that I was in the ballpark for sub-20 5k, though I wasn't sure how close.

Not that close* as it turns out. I finished in 20:35.5 on my watch (6:38/mi). I'd give you the official time, but there is no official time. In fact, when I crossed the finish line, no one noticed. I won the race (second and third finished together several minutes later) and I am confident that I was the only person there who knew it. Apparently we don't run for the glory. At the very least, it was a PR by 6 seconds, and seconds are hard to come by when you only have 3.1 miles to make them up in. At the very most however . . . . did you notice that asterisk at the beginning of the paragraph? And 3 paragraphs ago where I mentioned the distance? Again, I don't have a precise way to measure the length of the course. I suppose I could get a tape measure and spend the afternoon looking like a weirdo. I am confident that the race was not officially measured or certified in any way. If we assume the course was 3.19 miles long, then my adjusted 5k time would be 20:00.6. (But if we use the Google distance of 3.1931 (because it is totally accurate to that many significant digits) then my adjusted 5k time would be 19:59.5!) Now, let me be clear, there's nothing official or precise about any of these distance measurements, or my time measurement. I'm not going to claim this as a sub-20 5k. But I think I'm close, and I think I was closer than 35 seconds off last night. I suppose I'll have to find a nice flat, straight 5k and try again, but I've got a Ragnar to run first.

p.s. Shannon set a PR by 3 seconds, if I'm remembering her time right.

Tuesday, March 20

I Continue to Enjoy Reading Books

The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer
This is the story of William, a typically poor kid growing up in Malawi and his dreams of getting an education and escaping the poor farming lifestyle so many people in Malawi suffer through. He tells the story of growing up, farming, struggling through drought, famine and hunger, and the disappointment of no longer being able to afford to pay for school. In an effort to not fall too far behind his peers, he starts studying from books he can get from the library and becomes fixated on generating electricity from the wind. He scavenges parts from the junk yard, digs up PVC drain pipes to make into blades and works odd jobs so he can pay for some welding. The book spends a lot more time on his life in general than I expected – friends, school, farming, family, drought, etc. – and took a while to actually get around to the wind power. But it was an interesting (true) story, and a good reminder about the many people in the world whose lives can be changed by something as simple as having an electric light in their home for the first time.

X by Chuck Klosterman
Chuck loves two things: sports and music. This book is a collection of articles that he has written over the years on these two topics for places like GQ, Esquire, Grantland, and others. He's a good writer, and I enjoyed the essays on sports. As for the music . . . well, when he decided to devote 34 pages to the band KISS, I chose to skip ahead. I still read his interviews with a lot of 70s and 80s rockers (Van Halen), as well as younger artists (Taylor Swift), but the book would have been better for me if it had been 60% sports and 40% music instead of the other way around.

Artemis by Andy Weir
It must be daunting to try to follow up a first novel that was as successful as The Martian, but Andy Weir has done a decent job of it with Artemis. Set in the near future, Jasmine "Jazz" Bashara is a determined, independent, struggling woman in her 20s who lives in a small town, which just happens to be located on the moon. She makes a living by making deliveries for the people and businesses throughout the permanent moon base, which gives her excellent cover for her second job: smuggling small basic items that aren't allowed on the moon – mostly things like cigars that aren't allowed up there. (Fire is bad when you can't go outside in the event of an emergency.) She gets contacted for a job that is a little outside her normal realm – industrial sabotage – which unsurprisingly gets her involved in a situation that is much bigger than she was lead to believe.

Just like The Martian, Weir does a good job of thinking through what it would be like to be on the moon. I didn't have any issues with the way he deals with things like gravity, air pressure, oxygen generation, food supply, communication and things like that. The plot of his first book was essentially one engineering problem after another, while this book is more of an adventure novel with hiding from the bad guys, breaking in to places, and trying to keep yourself out of jail. The book has some language, particularly sexual references in conversation between the characters. (There's no actual sex in the book – there's all of one kiss – but things are discussed in terms that I wouldn't repeat, or suggest that my mother read.)

Saturday, March 17

Rex Lee Run Race Report

After many years away from Utah, we were able to run the Rex Lee Run once again. This 5k (there's a 10k, too, though I've never done it) is essentially a full lap around BYU. Officially, this was the first 5k I've run in 8 years, and my PR is 14 years old, set way back in the 2004 Rex Lee Run. I hurt by knee back in December, tried to run through the pain in January, and then got frustrated and basically took the month of February off, trying to get healthy again. The rest has been mostly successful, but it made my dreams of a new PR unlikely.

Early March can be a risky time of year to have a morning race, but the weather was fabulous. Shannon and I both ran the race (she did get a PR by about a minute and a half). I tried to insert myself at the starting line within a few rows of the front, though I still found myself behind Cosmo and a ten year old. The race starts with the firing of the cannon named George Q. and we took off. I hit my first roadblock about 20 feet into the race, in the form of a photographer standing right in the middle of everything taking pictures. I nearly plowed in to him. Not a very smart place to stand at the start of a race, because no one beyond the front row of people can see more than 5 feet in front of them. From LaVell Edwards Stadium, the course heads east toward 900 East, which was definitely steeper than I remember it, before heading down 9th East. I wasn't really sure what sort of pacing to go for. I think I was under 6:30/mi for the first quarter mile, but as it got steeper I knew that was unsustainable, and I backed off and finished the first mile in 6:58.

The second mile features the descent down 9th East, then a short climb up to campus followed by a long downhill off of campus down the ramp. My second mile came in at 6:44. From there, the course was different than the last time I had done it. Between construction changing the campus, and trying to keep the race off of roads, the last mile has a lot more turns than it had in the past. People don't always realize this, but turns are slow. From the Indoor Practice Facility, you turn right and go 440 feet before turning left. Then it's 500 feet and a right turn. 50 feet, turn left. 200 feet turn right. 95 feet turn left. 200 feet turn right. 160 feet, make a U-turn. (U-turns are really slow.) A few hundred feet might seem like a long way, but when you're running more than 13 feet per second, that section I described turns into: 37 seconds, turn, run 4 seconds, turn, run 15 seconds, turn, run 7 seconds, turn, run 15 seconds, turn, run 12 seconds, U-turn. Each turn slows you down, so you have to put the effort in to speeding back up every 10 or 20 seconds. Mile 3 was 6:40.

After that twisty section, the next 1/3 mile is mostly straight-forward (literally) with only 90° turn before you get to finish on a stretch that in only 500 feet manages to pack in about 10 stairs (yes, stairs on a race course), a left turn, a short downhill, cobblestones, a short uphill, a left turn, a U-turn and then 200 feet on the outdoor track to finish. It's not exactly the fastest finish I could imagine. My watch put my last 0.17 miles at 5:22/mi pace. This should catch your eye for two reasons. On is that this is very fast, and evidence that I should have been going faster earlier in the race. The second is that a 5k is supposed to be 3.10 miles, not 3.17. There are a number of factors that go into this distance. First off, a race should be set up so that every runner must run at least the required distance. But if you spend time weaving through traffic, or take wide turns you will end up running a longer distance. Second, my GPS watch has error. I can't say if it is prone under or over measure, or if it varies by day or location. I also have to start and stop it on time, though I can promise that I didn't miss the start line by more than a foot or two, and the finish line by more than 50 feet. (More on that in a moment.) But I do a pretty decent job of running courses to keep my route short, and 0.07 miles is 370 feet. I've mapped the course using google maps multiple times, and can't come up with less than 3.15 miles for the distance. (Not that google maps are authoritative either.) But still, I have a sinking sensation that the course might have been a bit long. 250 feet doesn't sound like a ton, but it's in the neighborhood of 20 seconds. Anyway, it all adds up to an official finish time of 21:14. That was good enough for 3rd place in the 30-39 age group (37th overall out of 808). So here's a picture of me with my medal.

It's 33 seconds behind my 5k PR, and 1:58 behind the 5k pace I set at the Fox and Turkey 4 mile race two years ago, but given the circumstances it wasn't too bad. And finally, a word about that finish. It was difficult to run hard until the last hundred feet or so, and I ran that really hard. Harder than nearly anyone else. Everyone else just crossed the finish line and stopped. Plus there were spectators just past the finish line. And cameras filming the finish line. This is all to say that I was really moving when I came across the line and immediately found myself with no where to go. So if you need a laugh, go watch the video of me crossing the finish line and then freak out as I try to figure out where I can go without running someone over. It's right at the 7:00 mark of this video. (And the link will take you to a few seconds before I come into the picture.)

Yet More Books

Girlfriend in a Coma by Douglas Coupland
I first read Girlfriend in a Coma a few decades ago. It's a weird book. For a few years, I've been wanting to re-read it, as I'm now much closer to the target audience. Douglas Coupland is the man who literally named Generation-X, and he very much writes for them. While I'm not Gen-X (but NOT millennial, either!), I am now the age that Gen-Xers were when this book was written. The story follows a group of high school friends, particularly Richard whose girlfriend Karen (spoiler alert!) goes into a coma. The story is one of the main characters drifting through life rather aimlessly, until, well, the world ends. Rather than a story of seeing what the world is like without them in it, they get to see what they are like without the world around them. This is one of those books that tries to Say Something About Life. In the end, I don't think it succeeds as well as it wanted to, or at least, it didn't Say Something to me. But it does try, and that was why I was interested in reading the book again as an adult.

Dragon Teeth by Michael Crichton
Hmmm, a Michael Crichton book with a dinosaur skull on the cover. But this one is about cowboys and Indians. William Johnson is a rich college kid from Philadelphia in the 1870s who signs up to go fossil hunting for the summer with a college professor. Along the way runs into some trouble with his professor, the competition, women, Indians, gold miners, gun-slingers and just about everyone else. (Who else could there be?) The story is written as though it were true, complete with entries from Johnson's journal and things like that, though it is a novel. (Says so on the cover!) While there are a number of characters in the book who were real, and the story accurately represents the general situation of the times, the main character and his specific adventure is pure fiction. But, its a fun cowboy book, and probably one of Crichton's last, since he died ten years ago.

The Orphan Keeper by Camron Wright
This is the (generally) true story of a boy who was born in India in the 1970s, and then when we was about 8 was kidnapped, sent to an orphanage and then adopted by an American family, who of course had no idea that he wasn't really an orphan. Over the years he has to learn to deal with being an Indian kid in 1980s Utah and then later learning to embrace his Indian-ness, too. The story is very compelling, and I stayed up way too late each night trying to get through. It was fascinating to put yourself in the place of a kid dropped off in America that doesn't speak the language or understand what these crazy people are doing. (Sleeping in beds? Eating cereal for breakfast?) Some details were changed or simplified to make things flow, and the location was anonymized (is that a word?) to make it generically western american, rather than Mormon and Utah County. (But you can stop the signs if you know what to look for.) You should read this book, and as a reminder, you should read another book by Camron Wright, The Rent Collector, even more.

Thursday, February 1

Book reviews

The Girl in the Spiders Web by David Lagercrantz
This is the 4th book in the The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series. The first three were written by Stieg Larsson (who passed away) and is now being continued by David Lagercrantz. This one was good, but not to the level of the original three. As the books go on, there seems to be nothing that Lisbeth Salander can't do (except ask for help, of course) which weakens the book. I won't bother typing much more about the 4th book in a series – if you've read the first three you shouldn't really need my help deciding if you want to read the next one – but I will remind everyone that these are excellent action filled books which, in my opinion, are not for everyone; they have some language, some sex, plenty of violence and specifically terrible violence against women.

The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye by David Lagercrantz
So what do you say about the 5th book in a series then? Book 5 was better than book 4 and I powered through it in about 3 or 4 days. This book created less suspense about what was going on than the rest of the series, so the intrigue was more about just seeing how the heroes would get to the end. It seems very clear that there are more books still to come.

New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson
At it's start, New York 2140 is an interesting book set, shockingly, a New York City in the year 2140 where sea levels have risen 50 feet, placing half of Manhattan underwater. Of course, with the marvel of modern (post-modern?) technology, the city is transformed into a new Venice – the old sky scrapers are still inhabited and everyone gets around in boats. There isn't really a single main character, but there are two computer programming friends, two orphan boys, a building super, a police inspector, a hedge fund manager, a Youtube wildlife videographer who lives in a blimp, and a few others. As the plot develops it isn't shy about turning the book into a discussion of financial capital and risk, and public policy. How many science fiction books have you ever read where the Chairman of the Federal Reserve is one of the characters. Between the ice caps melting and the fiscal policy, this is very much a left leaning book. I'd argue that anyone ought to be able to accept the sea level rise premise of the book in the same way they accept warp drive, the Force, sand worms or giant monoliths orbiting Saturn. But if Atlas Shrugged in on your top ten list, this may not be the book for you.

The Devil and Miss Prym by Paulo Coelho
Paulo Coelho is most well known for writing The Alchemist and this book is quite similar. I picked it up at the library solely because of the author, and it turns out he is still a great writer. The story is of a small village where everyone knows everyone in a time and place that don't really matter. A stranger comes in to town (the devil) and offers a hefty sum of money to the town if only they will commit a terrible crime. This is an introspective book where the characters (including the strangers) must debate between good and evil, and the natural state of man. At 240 pages it was an interesting read and I think Coelho understands the merits of quality over quantity in his writing. 

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
What kind of name is Fforde? (Welsh, actually.) Anyway, the real point is, that the authors last name is the least weird thing about this book. It takes place in an alternate 1985 reality where Biff has taken over Hill Valley and where the Crimean War is in its 131st year, blimps are used for travel because airplanes don't really seem to have been invented (what is it with me and blimp books all of the sudden), and where the English people are very, very serious about their literature. The protagonist, Thursday Next, is essentially a literature cop, part of a whole branch of English law enforcement tasked with tracking down people forging original manuscripts of famous works and whatnot. A super-villain steals an original Dickens manuscript, and that gets the whole story going, which of course takes a few detours with her father, a time-traveler on the lam, a vampire hunter and her crazy inventor uncle who has invented a way for people to enter books. Which, of course, gets us to Jane Eyre, because of course if you're looking for someone to kidnap, Jane Eyre is an obvious choice.

This book was a Christmas present from Shannon, mostly because of the title. I've long had a dislike for Jane Eyre, and it was one of the first things we ever talked about, long before we ever started dating. (I was ever so happy to give away my copy of the book, and I maintain that marrying back in to that exact same copy remains, to this day, the most disappointing thing about my marriage.) All told, this book is much, much, much better than Jane Eyre. (But then again, what isn't? Amen; even so come, Lord Jesus!)

Tuesday, January 23

2017 Review: Running

More facts and figures from 2017, this time all about running.

2017 was a record setting year, though just barely, with 1284.1 miles (up a whopping 2.9 from the year before). I went running 189 times (6 times fewer than last year) but on average went nearly a quarter mile further. [In my defense, the year was two days shorter. How so? you ask. Well, 2016 was a leap year, so that's one day, but also with the quirks of the calendar, 2017 had 1 more Sunday than 2016, and I never run on Sunday, so effectively I had one fewer day where I could run.] I also averaged a pace that was 1 second per mile slower.

My first reaction to all those numbers is that they are a little bit sad, considering I was unemployed for half the year and should have had a lot of free time to go running. From this we can glean a few things. First, free time is apparently not a huge limiter on my running. Second, being unemployed is depressing and demotivating at times which does not encourage running. Third, there is a limit to how much I want to run at all. But a very real factor lurking in the back ground is that I had a pretty slow start to the year. I think it's time for a chart, don't you? Here is where I was at mileage wise at the end of each month of the year:
In each of the first 8 months of 2017 (blue line) I was behind 2016 (red line) (except for a virtual tie in February). That gap (yellow line) grew to over 230 miles by August when I finally manged to catch up.

There is always lots of interest about my shoes, so yes, I'm still wearing the shoes with fingers. I mostly retired my pair of KSO EVOs after 640 miles, and then put over 800 miles on a not-new-anymore pair of V-Runs which will need to be replaced soon. (Currently at 897 miles!)

2017 was supposed to be the year that I would focus on the 10k distance, because marathons are stupid. I successfully avoided any marathons, but only managed to run a single race, the Sly Fox 10k. I was slightly sick for the race, but still set a "PR" at 42:58 (6:56/mile). The PR is in quotes there, because I ran a half marathon the year before at a 41:52 10k pace, but don't have an official time for that. The plan to run more races got interrupted by not having any income, so my official PR remains soft. Oh well.

Trail Running
Moving to Utah put us much closer to my brother in-law who has dragged me out trail running, or as I call it, "complaining in the mountains". Its a nice system we have, where he picks where we go, and that gives me the freedom to complain about it as much as I want. Mostly, I wish the mountains just weren't so steep. He has ideas about doing ridiculous trail runs in the future, but I'd just be happy to have less than 300 feet of climbing per mile. Our longest venture was a 22.3 mile jaunt with 6000 feet of climbing, or something like that. By baby toe on each foot is still black from that little adventure. I put in 96 miles on trail runs for the year, but it felt like double that at least. I have a pair of old road running shoes that I've been using, since my "normal" running shoes are definitely not up to the task, but they aren't quite ideal for the mountains for a variety of reasons. Maybe when I'm rich I'll get a bunch of new shoes.

Nerd Analysis
I did a lot less nerd analysis of my running this year, as evidenced by only having two posts from 2017 under the running tag. The only interesting investigation I did is to whether wearing running tights makes me slower. By comparing over one hundred 4 to 7 mile runs when temperatures were in the 30s and 40s (the low 40s is roughly where I switch from shorts to tights) there isn't much evidence to support my initial suspicion. The data shows that I run 3 seconds per mile faster in shorts than in tights in comparable temperatures, which is pretty insignificant.

I remain committed to running minimalism – not so much in what I put on my feet, but as a general concept. I spent money on one race last year. I think I bought one pair of running shorts for the year, which were on sale at Old Navy for 8 bucks. I won a $10 gift card to a running store in the 10k this year, so I spent an extra 7 bucks or whatever it was to get a new headlamp (currently misplaced) that I have used all of once. So that comes out to $60 that I spent running. There's no way I'll match that number this year, because I am very due for shoes, which are sadly expensive. I did, however, get a low end GPS watch for Christmas, which I've really been enjoying. I no longer have to map every run by hand on the computer when I get home and have a little more freedom to take as many turns as I want when running without worrying about needing to reconstruct the whole route from my head afterwards. (Living here long enough to not get lost in my own neighborhood helps with this, too.)

Looking Ahead
The only immediate plan for this year is to keep running, hope for a warm winter (seems likely) and a windless winter (not so likely in South Jordan), and not get injured. Now that we're back in Utah, we'll be able to run the Rex Lee Run again, and I can start adding to my t-shirt collection.