^zhurnal 0.42

Howdy, pilgrim! You're in volume 0.42 of the ^zhurnal — see ZhurnalyWiki on zhurnaly.com for a parallel "live" Wiki edition; see Zhurnal and Zhurnaly for quick clues as to what this is all about. (Briefly: it's the journal of ^z = Mark Zimmermann ... previous volume = 0.41 ... complete list at bottom of page ... send comments & suggestions to "z (at) his (dot) com" ... tnx!)

Marine Corps Marathon 2004

"Raw Pace" (circles) = split information for each mile ... "smoothed" (plus signs) = pace averaged over adjacent miles ... "smoother" (filled area) = further re-averaged pace data

October Toast

The 2004 Marine Corps Marathon is a struggle for me almost from the start. I cross the finish line after five and a half hours, slower than in any previous marathon. (OK, there was a 26.2 mile solo "Zimmarathon" on 29 Aug 2004 that took me a little over six hours; see Hoof Time (31 Aug 2004).) Overall it's a good experience --- but the huge crowds and hypercommercial atmosphere remind me how much more I enjoy low-key local distance running events ... or simply jogging alone through the woods.

The weather is the main factor: near-record high temperatures (starting in mid-60's F and rising to upper-70's F) and oppressive humidity until mid-day when a front comes through and brings dryer (but not cooler) air. This is the first marathon in which I think seriously about quitting, beginning at mile 5 (!) and persisting until about mile 20, at which point I figure that I may as well just go on to the finish. I have the pleasure of riding to/from the race and starting with Adam Safir, a runner (and triathlete) who lives only a mile from my home but whom I have heretofore only met electronically (he's a funny and thoughtful person --- see http://www.anstyn.com/ ). About the 6.5 mile mark I realize that I need to cut my pace significantly and start taking walk breaks, so I give Adam my blessings and he goes on to finish ~20 minutes in front of me.

Before the race I dither about footwear and eventually decide to wear two pairs of socks. That choice likely saves me from blisters, in spite of iffy soles less than a month after a 50 mile experiment (see Tussey Mountainback 2004 (8 Oct 2004)) where I suffered significant foot woes. In an attempt to preempt leg cramps I drink large quantities of water and sports-drinks (Gatorade, Powerade, etc.) before the race and at aid stations every 2-3 miles. I also suck down packets of cake-frosting-like vitamin-mineral-energy-goo concoctions (Honey Stinger, Clif Shots, GU, etc.). I bring 2 packets with me in my pouch and eat them at miles 4 and 8, then take 3 more from a Marine at mile 14 and consume them, plus a couple more that I pick up unopened from the street. They seem to help: in spite of much sweating I only began to get cramps in my calves after mile 21. That pain is relatively mild and responds well to extra walk breaks. (I speculate that sodium and/or potassium loss is a major factor in my suffering.)

At Mile 24 Sharon McNary, a Clif Bar pace group leader, overtakes me. She is attempting, without much luck, to do the mental arithmetic of subtracting 4:59:52 from 5:02:17 --- a feat that may seem less than arduous from the perspective of an armchair observer, but which is in fact rather challenging after you've jogged a few dozen miles in the sun. I help Sharon with the math and we discover that she's more than 2 minutes ahead of schedule for a 5:30 finish time.

So 5.5 hours becomes my impromptu goal as well. Sharon is great fun to run with: she sings comic songs, waves a baton in the air bearing multiple balloons, tells silly jokes, shouts encouragement, and chants cadences for those near her to repeat. I tag along until mile marker 26 when my legs request a bonus walk break in recompense for their good work thus far. I grant them their wish, and then "sprint" the final hundred yards to cross the line.

Miscellaneous Moments

Biggest Lesson Relearned

No bad spell lasts forever!

Official Stats

Best Memory

On Thursday, three days before the race, I walk toward the hotel where race packets (containing numbered bibs, sensor chips, commemorative shirts, etc.) are being distributed. A young lady --- short, somewhat chubby --- is staggering along the sidewalk in the same direction. She suffers, apparently, from muscular dystrophy or some other neuromotor disease. She takes a step, trips, and falls forward onto her hands and knees. I try to help her back to her feet, but she gently brushes me off.

"Thank you," she says, "I can make it."

I see her behind me later, in the long lines that snake through the hotel concourse toward the packet pickup area. She smiles and waves ...

(see also Bless The Leathernecks (28 Oct 2002), Rocky Run (17 Nov 2002), Marathon In The Parks 2003 (11 Nov 2003), Washington Birthday Marathon 2004 (23 Feb 2004), Medallic Memories (22 Aug 2004), ... ))

- Sunday, November 07, 2004 at 13:36:05 (EST)

Status Quo Ante

In the spy-novel world there's a term of art: "Cover for Action". It refers to the plausible excuse(s) that the protagonist must have ready if caught where s/he shouldn't be, doing what s/he shouldn't be doing.

"Cover for Action" came to mind recently when I saw a memorandum from a newly-appointed senior executive (a boss's boss's boss's ... boss's boss) explaining in lovely logical detail why a predecessor's reorganization plan is being canceled. Instead, a new set of committees is to be established to study the situation further.

It suddenly occurred to me that, in a real-world bureaucracy, the far more useful phrase is "Cover for Inaction"!

(see also Pyramid Peaking (26 Aug 2000), Boss Jobs (24 Jul 2001), Why So Bad (20 Oct 2002), Organizational Inertia (11 Aug 2004), ...)

- Friday, November 05, 2004 at 06:09:46 (EST)

Factor and Factotum

A pair of tangentially-related words that catch my inner ear:

Both factor and factotum are linked to a classic meaning of the word "secretary": a person who serves the government, handles correspondence, keeps secrets ...

- Thursday, November 04, 2004 at 05:38:27 (EST)

Untutored Voice

In Book II, Part One, Chapter 15 of War and Peace Leo Tolstoy describes a young girl singing:
Natasha took the first note, her throat swelled, her chest rose, and her eyes took on a serious expression. At that moment she was oblivious of everyone and everything, and from her smiling lips flowed sounds that anyone may produce at the same intervals and hold for the same length of time, but leave you cold a thousand times, and the thousand and first, thrill you and make you weep.
That winter for the first time Natasha had begun to take her singing seriously, mainly because Denisov was so enthusaistic over her voice. She no longer sang like a child, there was no longer that droll, childish, painstaking effect that had been apparent before; she did not yet sing well, as the connoisseurs who heard her said. "It's not a trained voice," they all said, "but it's a beautiful voice, and must be trained." This was generally said, however, some time after she had finished singing. While they were listening to that untrained voice with its incorrect breathing and labored transitions, even the connoisseurs said nothing, and only delighted in it and wished to hear it again. Her voice had a virginal purity, an unconsciousness of its own power, and an uncultivated yet velvety quality that was so much a part of her lack of artistry in singing that it seemed as if nothing in that voice could be changed without spoiling it.

(from the Ann Dunnigan translation, 1968; see also Truth In Battle (11 Feb 2001), Ooze On Verst (22 Sep 2004), Irresistible Attraction (4 Oct 2004), Infinite Sky (15 Oct 2004), ...)

- Wednesday, November 03, 2004 at 06:16:27 (EST)

Times Lost

 Ground gravestone dust: it swirls, eddies,
   Sifts into the caverns of time,
   Puddles, pools, drip-trickles dark,
   While memories dissolve, and retake form ...
 As history.

- Tuesday, November 02, 2004 at 05:25:31 (EST)

Geeky Tee 2

As discussed in Geeky Tee (30 Sep 2004) here's a classic 1975-vintage Hewlett-Packard t-shirt that, to someone well-versed in reverse-Polish, symbolizes the superiority of Lukasiewicz notation for a human-machine interface ...

- Sunday, October 31, 2004 at 18:44:34 (EST)

Countermeasure and Godshatter

At the climactic moment of Vernor Vinge's sf novel A Fire Upon the Deep comes a memorable scene which attempts to tiptoe along the edge of reality --- and which perhaps is dependent enough on previous context to need no spoiler warning for those who have yet to read the book:
For Pham Nuwen there was no pain. The last minutes of his life were beyond any description that might be rendered in the Slowness or even in the Beyond.
So try metaphor and similie. It was like . . . it was like . . . Pham stood with Old One an a vast and empty beach. Ravna and Tines were tiny creatures at their feet. Planets and stars were the grains of sand. And the sea had drawn briefly back, letting the brightness of thought reach here where before had been darkness. The Transcendence would be brief. At the horizon, the drawn-back sea was building, a dark wall higher than any mountain, rushing back upon them. He looked up at the enormity of it. Pham and godshatter and Countermeasure would not survive that submergence, not even separately. They had triggered catastrophe beyond mind, a vast section of the Galaxy plunged into Slowness, as deep as Old Earth itself, and as permanent.

(from Chapter 41; see also Vernor Vinge (17 Sep 2001), True Names (16 Oct 2003), ... )

- Saturday, October 30, 2004 at 07:49:25 (EDT)

Ladder of Drivers

Chess clubs and other competitive groups often have a "ladder" --- a ranked list of players --- to foster friendly rivalry and maintain a long-term record of performance in a simple, visual fashion. Play a challenge match against someone near your rung of the ladder: if you win you move up, while s/he moves down. New members start in the middle but soon settle into a zone where they can find good, well-balanced competition.

In another sphere: bad driving is endemic. Dolts behind the wheel swerve, cut in line, fail to signal, disrupt the flow of traffic, and otherwise cause accidents for the innocent parties who are just trying to get around. Feedback loops --- tickets, higher insurance rates, and the like --- are too slow and sporadic to ensure decent behavior by the thoughtless.

Modest Proposal: rank drivers, in a visible way, based on their historical performance. Assign license plates or color-keyed stickers, starting in the middle of the spectrum and moving up or down based on year-by-year ratings. Include positive and negative feedback ---- kudos and pings --- awarded by witnesses to good or bad activity. Filter out shills and cliques that attempt to boost scores by faking reports. Give extra weight to red-light cameras, police reports, insurance company claim histories, and other quasi-objective inputs.

Then when somebody with a crimson "Z minus" sticker blitzes by, you can keep a close eye out for bad behavior --- knowing that they've got a history of rudeness --- and perhaps thereby avoid trouble. Contrariwise, when an out-of-towner bearing a green "A plus" picks the wrong lane and has to merge at the last moment, make rooom with the realization that it's an exception and not a habit. In both cases safety is improved by having a clear reputation-indication.

- Friday, October 29, 2004 at 15:09:07 (EDT)

Quid Conducere

There's an old business-world proverb about the importance of recruiting smart employees:
"A" managers hire "A" people; "B" managers hire "C" people.

To a mathematical mind, however, this raises the inevitable question:

Who hires the "B" people?

(the above is perhaps half-remembered from a book about the early years of Apple Computer --- maybe something by or about Guy Kawasaki and/or Steven Jobs? ... a reference would be greatly appreciated! ... and more seriously, deep apologies for my likely Latin garble in the title of this page --- please, if anyone could advise me: what is the right conjugation for "conduco" = "hire" in this context? --- I need something perhaps analogous to "Quid custodiet ipsos custodes?" = "Who shall watch the watchers?" ... tnx! - ^z)

- Wednesday, October 27, 2004 at 06:46:43 (EDT)

Did Not Finish

"If you don't miss a flight once in a while, then you're wasting too much time waiting in the airport!" In other words, play-it-safe perfection isn't an optimal strategy. It's wiser to take risks, and sometimes fail --- in order to do better overall.

Analogously: for a runner DNF are scary, scarlet letters of shame. They stand for Did Not Finish --- meaning in some minds "Dropped Out", "Quit", "Couldn't Hack It", and the like. Through a combination of luck and cowardice, thus far I have yet to achieve a DNF. If I don't get one eventually then obviously I'm not trying hard enough.

As the autumn marathon season progresses I'm in injury-avoidance mode, not "training" now but rather exploring my limits. Some notes on the past few weeks of jogging:

Paint Branch Photo Op

11 Oct 2004 - 5 miles, 46 minutes --- after a week of recuperation from the Tussey Mountainback 2004 fifty mile hike, the old blistered feet are beginning feel good again ... so it's a fast (for me!) fun run, mostly sub-9 pace but with pauses to take photos of mileposts along the Paint Branch Trail ... I drop the kids off at UMCP and find the park on Metzerott Road near milepost 2 of the trail, where a young Asian-looking guy is silently practicing martial arts moves. Half a dozen pictures remain in the disposable camera, so away I go, first northwards to the trail's end near mile 4, then back to mile 1.5 and return, on a delightfully cool morning which makes it unnecessary to carry a water bottle.

Bethesda Loop

13 Oct - 11+ miles, 120 minutes --- a happy evening orbit from home via the Georgetown Branch Trail to Bethesda, then north along Old Georgetown Road to Cedar Lane to Rock Creek Trail, and thereby home. I run all the way, at a steady 10-11 min/mi pace, pausing only for major road crossings and to drink at water fountains. Rain begins during the first mile but soon ends. The final segment through Walter Reed Annex at 7:30pm is a bit scary-dark under the trees, but I climb the hills cautiously and avoid slipping. A big deer crosses the trail in front of me.

Rock Creek Photo Op

17 Oct - 11+ miles, 118 minutes --- a cool Sunday, I'm missing a good image of milepost #6 on Rock Creek Trail, and there's another family disposable camera with a few shots left --- so I jog from home via Walter Reed Annex into Kensington, then back to the fountain near East-West Highway and home along the Georgetown Branch. As I reach Beach Drive I meet "Karen" who is doing ~4 miles today; we chat about her Marine Corps Marathon a decade ago, her experiences along the trail (including the time she found a cyclist, crashed and unconscious, below the Connecticut Avenue bridge), work, family, etc. ... as she sets a brisk pace ~10:15 minutes/mile. After she turns back I continue, photograph milepost 6, then reverse course and use the film up on 5, 4, 3, and 2. "Michael" then catches up with me and pulls me along at a ~9 min/mi trot, while he tells me that he refuses to do more than 10 miles at a time and has been running 25 years without injury. He leaves me with a handshake and best wishes for a good MCM. My average measured mile along the trail is 10:11, including photographic pauses and street crossing delays.

Candy Cane 5k

23 Oct - 8+ miles, 78 minutes --- brisk jog on a brisk morning, ~2 miles from home to the MCRRC race at "Candy Cane City" playground area on Rock Creek near DC. I rest half an hour and chat with Bob Y. and Christina C., plus comrades from a local running blog [1] "Tarzan Boy" and "Way-No" (hi!). I'm wearing my bright orange "#1" nylon shirt, which somebody remarks looks pumpkin-perfect for the Halloween season. After a walk around the nearby baseball field to brush mud off home plate and the pitcher's rubber, I start at the back of the pack and dash into a brilliant sun, with mile splits 7:57, 8:01, 8:02, plus 50 seconds for the final leg of the 5 km course. Two nice ladies pass me during the last mile and pull me along, as gusts of winds knock autumn leaves down to swirl around me. I finish in ~84th place overall, ~12th in my age/sex group. After cooldown and nosh I trot the long way home, ~3 miles. Feet and legs feel surprisingly good today, but psychosomatic aches are scheduled to develop during the coming week as the Marine Corps Marathon looms ...

(see also Ultra Man (8 May 2002), Aggressive Taper (27 Sep 2004), Eric Clifton (1 Oct 2004), Tussey Mountainback 2004 (8 Oct 2004), ... )

- Tuesday, October 26, 2004 at 06:40:34 (EDT)

Religion of Training

When something goes badly wrong, what's the immediate response? Nowadays, closely behind the lawyers and the grief counselors, come the trainers. Any failure is blamed on insufficient training (or bad doctrine, or poor guidance from higher authority, or inadequate equipment, or other external causes).

Note in particular the constant use of the word "training" in the post mortem analyses --- and never learning, a term which implies self-responsibility. Bad training is the fault of somebody else ...

(see also Blame Storming (15 May 1999), Pull Push (27 Mar 2001), Personal Responsibility (9 Oct 2002), What Is It Worth (16 Aug 2003), Illusion Of Control (21 Oct 2004), ...)

- Monday, October 25, 2004 at 06:38:04 (EDT)

Room to Read

Facts about schooling for women in poverty-stricken nations:

Just as Andrew Carnegie worked with local communities to set up thousands of libraries throughout the English-speaking world, Room to Read [1] is working with its partners to do likewise in Nepal, Cambodia, Vietnam, and India. R2R also builds schools, distributes books, and awards scholarships to help girls stay in school.

Room to Read was founded half a dozen years ago by former Microsoft executive John Wood. R2R strives for efficiency: its overhead is only ~5% (an astoundingly low figure in the charity world) --- so ~95% of donations go to help the people who need help. A gift of $250 funds a scholarship so that a young woman doesn't have to drop out and work to support her family. If cold, hard statistics aren't enough, see [2] for an extraordinarily moving briefing on the R2R Girls' Scholarship Program --- a slide-show that may bring tears to your eyes, as it did to mine.

R2R's motto is simply:

"World change starts with educated children."

It's hard to think of a better long-term investment.

(see also My Business (30 May 1999), Education Of The Youth (1 Dec 2001), Learning And Losing (23 Dec 2001), Boston Public Library (20 Jun 2002), Invest In Peace (9 Jul 2002), Freedom Peace Commerce Education (13 Sep 2002), Tilt Theory Of History (1 Jun 2004), ...)

- Saturday, October 23, 2004 at 18:57:31 (EDT)

Superfluous Coyness

A local milk company, the Cloverland Green Spring Dairy, has a pair of cartoonish black-and-white Holsteins on its logo, painted with huge eyes staring back at the observer. While following one of its trucks the other day I suddenly realized that both of these cows have been cleverly posed so that no udder is visible --- even though that part of the bovine anatomy is so obviously crucial to the entire corporate enterprise. One cow is standing head-on toward the audience, and in turn it blocks the tail end of the other cow from the viewer.

An obvious design decision once one notices it, but nonetheless slightly puzzling. Are milk bags deemed unæsthetic, or embarrassing, or distractingly funny (a la Gary Larson Far Side comics), or otherwise inappropriate in an image that otherwise is clearly meant to be public, eye-catching, and modern in tone? Perhaps we haven't come so far, after all, from the Victorian habit of putting skirts on piano legs, or referring to bulls as "Gentleman Cows"?

In the numismatic realm, similarly, the original 1916 Standing Liberty quarter dollar was quietly redesigned so that by early 1917 the overexposed upper half of Ms. L was safely clothed in chain mail. In contrast, the reverse of the classic "buffalo nickel" design (1913-1937) and the forthcoming Jefferson (2005) commemorative five cent coin both include a utilitarian part of the male bison in their artwork. Some asymmetry here ...

(see also Bovine Mind (9 Jul 2003), Awesome Prowess (17 Jul 2003), ...)

- Friday, October 22, 2004 at 06:05:48 (EDT)

Illusion of Control

When I read an obituary I tut-tut to myself over the cause of death. "That won't happen to me. I'll stop doing [X]; I'll eat more [Y]; I'll start a regime of [Z] tomorrow" --- or so I imagine. When I pass by an accident on the roadside and spy chunks of twisted metal, I tell myself that in a crisis I would react more quickly, that I'm not driving that kind of car, that I wouldn't swerve that way on wet pavement, and so forth. The aviation magazines that I used to peruse all featured detailed post mortem analyses of air disasters, along with critiques of the "human error" that almost always contributes to fatal mishaps. Subsequent issues printed letters from pilots who explained in various ways how they would have kept their wits and avoided that problem.

It's a pleasing fancy. We all like to think that we're not subject to chance, that we won't make an irrevocable blunder under stress, and that there will always be an escape route available even in the direst of circumstances. Anything else wouldn't be fair!

But there's a tsunami of randomness in the universe, and a dearth of "Get Out of Jail Free" cards. All that we have is each other ...

(see also My Religion (6 Nov 2000), ...)

- Thursday, October 21, 2004 at 05:30:22 (EDT)

Still Alive

Halfway through the Tussey Mountainback 2004 50 miler I pause near a mountain lake to change socks and slip into a dry shirt. I don one of my favorite nylon mesh tops, found at a thrift store and bearing the name of a baseball team that I can identify with as it struggles, often loses, and yet perseveres in good humor.

Johnny Damon, Boston Red Sox outfielder, recently found the perfect words for the perfect feeling that arrives when one is perfectly focused on a perfectly impossible task:

"It doesn't weigh on our minds. There's not much that weighs on our minds. We're not too smart."

(quotation, slightly edited for grammar, from "Red Sox, Schilling Are Feeling Blue" by Jorge Arangure Jr., Washington Post, 15 Oct 2004; photo taken by a kind Tussey Mountainback volunteer at the Penn Roosevelt camping area just before mile 26; see also Light Mind (22 Aug 2002), Bovine Mind (9 Jul 2003), Dead Brain Cell Theory (6 Apr 2004), Baseball Library Fan (29 Sep 2004), ...)

- Tuesday, October 19, 2004 at 06:16:59 (EDT)

Speed Up, Slow Down

Last month, ~9 miles into a long slow jog, I began thinking about how to quantify the relationship between speed and distance in running. From my (admittedly idiosyncratic) experience two major semiquantitative rules of thumb emerge:

Of course, these formulæ need adjustment for the three big factors that trouble me most: hills, heat, and humidity. They also should be tuned to allow for restedness versus fatigue going into an event ... for injury ... for race-day adrenaline ... and for the after-effects of reading inspirational stories of great accomplishments.

(see also Logbook Tyrannicide (17 Oct 2002), Handicap Jogging (8 Oct 2003), Big And Strong (27 Aug 2004), ...)

- Monday, October 18, 2004 at 06:20:11 (EDT)

Evolved Deceivers

Most people --- especially those who have risen to positions of authority --- think that they're pretty good judges of character. They believe that they can assess a person quickly and reliably, that they can "read" a crowd, and that they can persuade other folks to accept what they say is true, whether or not it really is.

But in actuality, they're fooling themselves. By virtue of natural selection, acting over countless millennia, human beings are born to conceal. The tricksters who are cleverest at hiding their thoughts tend to win out, generation by generation, in the battle to get copies of their genes into the next round of competition. Yes, countermeasures evolve; but so do counter-countermeasures. And it's easier to hide than it is to uncover.

(see also Inexhaustible Intrigue (5 Sep 2004), ...)

- Sunday, October 17, 2004 at 17:13:40 (EDT)

Hannes Alfven

Hannes Alfvén won a Nobel prize in physics (1970), but always considered himself an electrical engineer. He is perhaps most remembered today for his astrophysical studies of antimatter --- which he postulated might exist elsewhere in the cosmos in roughly the same amounts as ordinary matter, kept separate by layers of highly ionized gases plus magnetic fields. Alfvén's plasma cosmology was a variety of Steady State universe, in competition with the Big Bang hypothesis. Alas, evidence gathered during the past few dozen years makes his theory seem rather unlikely, æsthetic as it might be to have complete large-scale symmetry between matter and antimatter.

Around 1973 Alfvén visited Rice University where I caught him making a point during one of his lectures. (The photo was taken on 8mm Tri-X film with a subminiature Yashica Atoron camera; click on the image for a higher resolution version.)

Hannes Alfvén (1908-1995) --- anti-materialist

(see also Fred Hoyle (25 Sep 2004), ...)

- Saturday, October 16, 2004 at 05:46:17 (EDT)

Infinite Sky

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy includes some profound thoughts on life and death. From Book I, Part 3, Chapter 19, in the aftermath of a Russian defeat by the French army under Napoleon Bonaparte:
On the Pratzen heights, where he had fallen with the flagstaff in his hands, lay Prince Andrei Bolkonsky, bleeding profusely and unconsciously uttering soft, pitiful, childish moans.
Toward evening he stopped moaning and became quite still. He did not know how long he remained unconscious. Suddenly he again felt that he was alive, and suffering from a burning, lacerating pain in the head.
"Where is it, that lofty sky I never knew till now and only saw today?" was his first thought. "This suffering, too, I did not know before," he thought. "No, I knew nothing, nothing, till now. But where am I?"
He listened and caught the sound of approaching horses and of voices speaking French. He opened his eyes. Above him once more there was the lofty sky, with rising clouds through which he glimpsed the blue infinity. He did not turn his head and did not see those who, judging by the sounds of hoofbeats and voice, had ridden up to him and stopped.

It is Napoleon himself, surveying the battlefield. The general:

... stopped and looked down at Prince Andrei, who lay on his back with the flagstaff that had been dropped beside him (the flag had already been taken by the French as a trophy).
"There's a fine death!" said Napoleon, gazing at Bolkonsky.
Prince Andrei realized that this was said of him, and that it was Napoleon who said it. He heard the speaker of these words addressed as sire. But he heard the words as he might have heard the buzzing of a fly. Not only did they not interest him, but he took no notice of them, instantly forgot them. His head was burning; he felt that he was losing blood, and saw above him the remote, lofty, eternal heavens. He knew that it was Napoleon --- his hero --- but at that moment Napoleon seemed to him such a small, insignificant creature compared with what was taking place between his soul and that lofty, infinite sky with the clouds sailing over it. At that moment it meant absolutely nothing to him who might be standing over him or what might be said of him; he was only glad there were people there, only wished they would help him and bring him back to life, which seemed to him so beautiful now that he understood it differently. He made a supreme effort to stir and utter a sound. He feebly moved his leg and produced a faint, sickly moan that roused his own pity.

Prince Andrei is taken away and given medical treatment. Half a day later the French general sees him again:

Although five minutes before Prince Andrei had been able to say a few words to the soldiers who were carrying him, now with his eyes fixed on Napoleon he was silent. So trivial at that moment seemed to him all the interests that engrossed Napoleon, so petty did his hero himself, with his paltry vanity and joy in victory, appear, compared with that lofty, equitable, benevolent sky which he had seen and understood, that he could not answer him.
Indeed, everything seemed to him so futile and insignificant in comparison with that solemn and sublime train of thought which weakness, loss of blood, suffering, and the nearness of death had induced in him. Looking into Napoleon's eyes, Prince Andrei thought of the insignificance of greatness, the unimportance of life, which no one could understand, and of the still greater unimportance of death, the meaning of which no living person could understand and explain.

(from the Ann Dunnigan translation, 1968; see also Truth In Battle (11 Feb 2001), Ooze On Verst (22 Sep 2004), Irresistible Attraction (4 Oct 2004), ...)

- Friday, October 15, 2004 at 06:31:36 (EDT)

Baseball, Football, Basketball

Somebody recently postulated that baseball is an "agrarian era" pastime, (North American) football corresponds to the "industrial age", and basketball is "post-industrial". The metaphor is founded on various aspects of the games: the timelessness and open fields of baseball, the tightly structured teamwork and trench warfare of football, and the fluidly shifting mutability of basketball.

A clever proposal --- but does it actually lead to any improved understanding of social history? (Or of the individual sports, for that matter?) As an experiment, consider this line-up:

baseball air
football land
basketball sea

It arguably has implications for combat and various aspects of the armed services, and maybe in addition offers suggestions re ecology and the biosphere of Gaia.

Or look at this formation:

baseball paper
football rock
basketball scissors

Might not these analogies be enlightening in the context of modern economics, e.g., in non-transitive competitive imbalances among various countries in multilateral trade?

Or to carry the water buckets farther downcourt, into a geopolitical sphere, consider please:

baseball Americas
football Asia
basketball Europe

What does this imply about international politics? (And what games are correlated with Africa, Australia, and Antarctica?)

The bottom line, obviously, is that metaphors can, like abstract art, be hugely fun --- but they don't imply knowledge. The interpretation of the mapping is where insight may, sometimes, emerge ...

(see also Kenning Construction Kit (17 Nov 1999), Creative Devices (1 Jan 2001), ...)

- Thursday, October 14, 2004 at 06:11:34 (EDT)

Creeping Confidence

Many people, as they get older, become increasingly sure of their judgments. Others become less and less certain. The latter condition is called wisdom.

(Maybe! ... see also Certainty And Doubt (27 Apr 1999), Underappreciated Ideas (6 Jul 1999), No Grand Designers (13 Jan 2000), Five Oh (29 Sep 2002), ...)

- Wednesday, October 13, 2004 at 05:43:22 (EDT)

Network Nomenclature

Computers on a local network are given names so they can be addressed individually without the need to use long, arbitrary strings of digits. Clever sysadmins like to use a theme for those names, and the artificial clans that result can sometimes be quite entertaining. Over the years I've met nets with sets of processors named after semiprecious stones (topaz, agate, opal, ...), kitchen applicances (mixmaster, amana, cuisinart, ...), Shakespearean characters (titania, hamlet, cordelia, ...), dances (polka, waltz, tango, ...), and so forth. When I was on that last LAN, I requested that my CPU be "macabre" --- as in "danse macabre", the dance of death. The administrator wrinkled her brow and complied.

But my favorite set of host names was described to me a decade or so by Robert Chassell, then of the Free Software Foundation. Boxes on the FSF network, he said, were at times christened after fictional breakfast foods: Apple-Gunkies, Sugar-Bombs, Nutrimat, ...

(see also Naming Names (10 Oct 1999), Para Mode (9 May 2000), True Names (16 Oct 2003), ... )

- Tuesday, October 12, 2004 at 06:08:13 (EDT)

Toggle Me

In a scathing review of a soon-to-be-forgotten movie, Manohla Dargis of the New York Times comes up with a memorable metaphor when she says that a certain actor "... delivers a performance that has all the emotional commitment of a bored kid playing with a light switch."

- Monday, October 11, 2004 at 06:32:02 (EDT)

High Tension

A cable hanging between two supports takes on a lovely shape called a catenary (also known as a chainette, alysoid, or funicular curve). The mathematical equations that define a catenary are slightly tricky; there's a hyperbolic cosine in there, for instance. Deriving the shape was a famous challenge problem in the 1600's, and it's still stressful enough to be a good exercise in an undergraduate calculus class. (Galileo got it wrong --- he thought it was a parabola.)

Whenever I see high wires, loosely spun spiderwebs, dangling chains, or other pendulous curves, I think of catenaries. The other day as I drove past some high-voltage transmission towers I said to my daughter, "Look at those power lines arcing!" --- and then suddenly laughed as I realized there's a rather different electrical meaning to the word "arcing" ...

- Sunday, October 10, 2004 at 06:49:34 (EDT)

Tussey Mountainback 2004

How to describe 13 hours of footwork in the forest? No single approach can approach "truth", so:

Mountainous Madness

In the top chart, pace is averaged over adjacent intervals to smooth out noise and errors in marker placement. See the table below for raw timing data. The parallel second chart of terrain profile is adapted from [1]. Slowness at miles 26, 31, and 42 correlates with aid station stops to swap socks, treat feet, and eat.

Sylvan Story

12 hours, 57 minutes, 38 seconds --- I survive my first 50 miler, barely, thanks to good luck, vaseline, ibuprofen, and the support of comrade Steve Adams. The fifth annual "Tussey mOUnTaiNBACK 50 Mile Relay and Ultramarathon" [2] takes place in central Pennsylvania across a thickly wooded and rather hilly landscape (understatement!). At 5:05am on 2 October 2004 conditions are warm and humid. Steve and I have a good time during the initial inky hours, thanks to my fluorescent flashlight and the fact that we previewed miles 0 through 11 by driving them the prior evening.

After ~15 miles of walking the uphills and jog-walking the downhills and flats, at a net pace of ~14 minutes/mile, my calves commence cramping badly --- so we march along as briskly as we can manage for the next few dozen miles. At each aid station I swallow as much salty food as I can stomach in hopes of rebalancing electrolytes lost through sweat.

Between miles 30 and 40 Steve develops bad blisters, then severe knee pain --- but he sticks with me in spite of my lectures on quantum mechanics and cosmology, which likely exacerbate the damage. As thunderstorms move in circa mile 42 Steve sends me on ahead. Heavy rains mercifully cool me off. After applying huge gobs of petroleum jelly to my chafed nether regions at mile ~46 I feel strangely frisky --- so I jog the final couple of downhill miles at sub-10 pace, finishing firmly in last place just under the 13 hour mark.

Overall it's a fine experience. The next morning my feet are blistered but I can actually walk down a flight of stairs (albeit gingerly). Alas, several of my drop bags --- including GPS receiver, flashlight, socks, shoes, etc. --- are not yet rematerialized, but I remain optimistic about getting them back eventually.

The Tussey Mountainback event is well-organized, the volunteers uniformly enthusiastic and helpful, the competitors good-spirited, and the scenery superb. Special thanks go to Morgan Windram, local ultrarunner and geography grad student at Penn State, who lets Steve & me stay in her lovely home the night before the event.

Mystic Montage

The morning before the race I turn over two tarot cards:

(Eerily accurate, at first glance ... but of course, the above fragments were picked out post hoc from a wide range of contradictory interpretations ...)

Rambling Recollections

Numbers + Notes

Mile Time Pace Remarks
01 00:15:31 15:31 Steve & I set off in the humid pre-dawn silence at 5:05am, as the last-quarter moon hides behind high clouds; faster race participants try to nap in their cars at the parking lot beside the start/finish line
02 00:31:03 15:32 brisk Volksmarch up steep hills and switchbacks, beside a noisy stream, using a hand-held fluorescent lamp flashlight and dangling a chemoluminiscent glow-stick from my GPS unit's lanyard to ward off passing pickup trucks
03 00:47:42 16:39 the GPS loses lock repeatedly under a thick canopy of trees, as I belatedly come to the realization that I shouldn't be carrying it, or any other excess baggage today
04 01:04:28 16:46 a pause that refreshes near Aid Zone #1, as we retrieve a bottle of Gatorade and handful of Snickers Bars cached behind a tree yesterday evening during our preview drive-by
05 01:17:54 13:26 warm downhill jogs with intervals of walking to cool off, as I drip sweat and try not to trip on the rough gravel forest road surface
06 01:29:24 11:30 more trotting & less walking, while the sky begins to lighten and the oppressive humidity recedes slightly
07 01:44:14 14:50 another pause to recover a bottle of liquid and more candy bars hidden yesterday in a bag behind a telephone pole; here the first volunteers appear to set up the Aid Zone #2 table
08 01:55:48 11:34 jog & walk & sweat & repeat, as a few scattered raindrops fall on our heads and the race officially starts for most of the individual runners
09 02:08:15 12:27 it's definitely dawn now --- time to bag the lights and GPS, in preparation for depositing them in one of my official drop bags for retrieval after the race
10 02:20:27 12:12 we approach Whipple Dam State Park and get some with nice views of the lake
11 02:34:42 14:15 minor crisis: my pre-positioned drop bag is missing! ... perhaps it was thrown away as trash, or perhaps it was stolen the previous evening? --- so we rely on the race's Transition Zone #3 table of food and drink to recharge
12 02:49:39 14:57 we walk up the first of a steep series of hills --- new territory, beyond where our drive-through took us on Friday evening, as the relay teams prepare to begin their race at 9am
13 03:03:14 13:35 more hill climbing ... Steve tells tales of his college days, on fire patrol and working with loggers in the Montana and Oregon wilderness, as we pass areas where many trees have been hewn down
14 03:14:56 11:42 a troublesome challenge emerges: my calves cramp up whenever I try to jog for more than a minute
15 03:30:42 15:46 I'm frustrated and apologetic, but can't handle much running even on the level stretches; coach Steve is kindly tolerant as we revert to mostly walking
16 03:45:48 15:06 still more walking; now the lead runners (who started almost two hours behind us) begin to pass by
17 03:56:57 11:09 an unexpectedly fast mile, with brief intervals of jogging ... the first woman runner blasts by us, going strongly; a second lady goes by but doesn't look as though she's having fun; then friend Morgan Windram zips past and shouts her greetings as we cheer her onward and upward
18 04:17:17 20:20 Zone #4 --- time to refill bottles and swallow salty foods in hopes of restoring electrolyte balance; here is also where I drop off the GPS, fluorescent light, etc., to save weight and free a hand for carrying pretzels and chips
19 04:28:16 10:59 an easy (or anomalously short?) mile
20 04:41:25 13:09 the calves are still cramping; I lick salt crystals off my sourdough pretzels, to no avail
21 04:56:24 14:59 Zone #5, at the Alan Seeger Picnic Area, offering an impressive spread of PBJ sandwiches, fruits, candy, and a variety of drinks under a covered pavillion
22 05:10:10 13:46 climbing alongside and across small streams
23 05:23:57 13:47 brisk walks up the hills
24 05:38:54 14:57 the walks become a bit less brisk
25 05:53:53 14:59 slower still, toiling ever upwards --- or so it feels
26 06:24:53 31:00 Zone #6, at the Penn Roosevelt camping area, with big crowds of folks eager to help ... I change socks for the first time, swap shirts, nosh, chug a cold Coca-Cola, and unwrap a disposable camera --- a kind volunteer snaps pictures of Steve & me in front of the scenic lake
27 06:40:42 15:49 the hills seem suddenly steeper again, and we speculate about which ridge(s) we will be crossing in order to get back to the start/finish line
28 06:55:25 14:43 we hike along, with scarcely any thought of running now
29 07:10:20 14:55 further plodding for the no-longer-dynamic duo, as the day grows warmer
30 07:32:28 22:08 Steve suddenly develops a big blister; we pause at the roadside to lance it and then attempt to cover it with duct tape that doesn't want to stick; each of us takes a couple of ibuprofen tablets
31 07:55:24 22:56 Zone #7 and more blister treatment for Steve, including adhesive bandages and a fresh layer of socks; there's also drink + food, as a gigantic logging truck squeezes past the relay teams' parked cars on the narrow road
32 08:11:52 16:28 the course touches State Road 322 for a few hundred meters and we march nervously along the shoulder as huge tractor-trailer semis swoosh within what seems to be inches of us on their way from State College to Harrisburg
33 08:28:01 16:09 a friendly runner catches up with us, walks for a while, and chats about his experiences before jogging on ahead
34 08:46:52 18:51 Zone #8, a shady spot with refreshments and congeniality from enthusiastic volunteers
35 09:02:59 16:08 the course zig-zags through a housing development of super-sized mini-mansions; we pass manicured lawns and wave at ladies sitting on their rocking chairs on front porches; a tiny dog crosses the road, barks at us, then retreats
36 09:19:23 16:24 not much shade here, and the day is growing still warmer; the forecast of afternoon thunderstorms seems likely to be accurate
37 09:38:18 19:55 Aid Zone #9, on pretty Colyer Lake, where we have to cross some scary-to-look-down-through steel-mesh bridges over feeder streams ... I visit the porta-john and stock up with fresh food & drink
38 09:55:12 15:54 Steve asks me some excellent questions, and I commence explaining the history of the measurement of the speed of light
39 10:11:35 16:23 we discuss cosmology, quantum mechanics, evidence about the early universe, and the "truth" of the laws of nature --- as my feet tingle and chafing begins to bother me under the MCRRC blue-and-orange shorts that I've been wearing since the start of the day
40 10:27:55 16:20 further conversations on the relationship between mathematics and physics and information
41 10:46:20 18:25 Steve's knee becomes increasingly troublesome to him; rumbles of distant thunder are now impossible to dismiss as hallucinations
42 11:09:28 23:08 Zone #10, where I change socks and discover the source of tingling in my feet: large blisters under development on heels and in front ...
43 11:26:38 17:10 more thunder during a steep climb, and Steve's knee worsens further ... so he sends me on alone, and I wonder whether the race course will be closed as storms loom
44 11:43:03 16:25 I get a drink from a helpful volunteer sitting in a camp chair and monitoring the traffic cone turnaround point; a deluge begins in earnest, and at last I feel blissfully cool; I find myself suddenly able to jog without any calf cramps --- hooray! --- though now chafing from my shorts becomes quite painful; lightning is at least 3 miles away, based on the time delay between flash and rumble
45 11:59:02 15:59 rain slows as I reach Zone #11 (which is in the same location as Zone #10); I chat with Steve, grab a handful of petroleum jelly, duck into a porta-potty, and coat my chafed bottom
46 12:14:31 15:29 after a small hill the terrain levels off; rainshowers continue, and hundreds of small frogs magically appear and hop across the road
47 12:27:29 12:58 as the course turns downhill for the final few miles I jog a minute and walk a minute alternately --- and that feels so good that I start to jog continuously, thinking about Eric Clifton's philosophy of ultrarunning; a race official in a pickup truck pulls alongside me and asks how I'm doing ... she has been asked to follow me in to the finish, and does so from a discreet distance behind me
48 12:38:18 10:49 I'm feeling amazingly good! --- blisters have stopped bothering me, chafing seems to have vanished, and so I jog joyfully down the steep hills
49 12:47:37 09:19 the fastest mile of the day --- hoo-ha!
50 12:57:38 10:01 I keep grinning like a fool and running as the course levels off, then climbs to the 50 mile marker; shortly after 6pm I arrive and capture last place among the 33 finishers (there were 40 registered ultra runners, but not all started the race) --- What a day!

(see also Hat Run 2004 (2 Apr 2004), Dead Brain Cell Theory (6 Apr 2004), As If So Many Minutes (17 Aug 2004), Eric Clifton (1 Oct 2004), ...)

- Friday, October 08, 2004 at 06:30:07 (EDT)

Hippocratic Repairman

A solemn oath for me to swear before I attempt to improve software, hardware, or anything else in my vicinity:
If it ain't broke, don't break it!

(see also How To Fix It (15 Jun 2004), ...)

- Wednesday, October 06, 2004 at 06:04:14 (EDT)

Irresistible Attraction

In Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace there are some breathtaking scenes of romance and infatuation. From Book I, Part 3, Chapter 1, as foolish young rich Pierre (Pyotr Kirilovich Bezukhov) reaches past Ellen (Princess Elena Vasilyevna Kuragina) for a snuffbox:
He half rose, meaning to go around her, but the aunt handed him the snuffbox, passing it behind Ellen's back. Ellen leaned forward to make room, and looked back with a smile. She was, as always at evening parties, wearing a dress cut very low in front and in back, which was fashionable at the time. Her bust, which had always seemed like marble to Pierre, was so close that his nearsighted eyes could not help perceiving the vital charm of her neck and shoulders, so near to his lips that he need only to have bent his head slightly to have touched them. He was aware of the warmth of her body, the scent of her perfume, and heard the creak of her corset as she breathed. Instead of the marble beauty constituting a whole with her dress, he saw and felt the complete allure of her body, concealed only by her garments. And having once seen this, he could not see her otherwise, just as we cannot return to a delusion once it has been exposed.
She looked back, gazing at him with her brilliant black eyes, and smiled.
"So you have never before noticed how beautiful I am?" she seemed to say. "You haven't noticed that I am a woman? Yes, I am a woman who may belong to anyone --- even to you," her eyes said.
And at that moment, Pierre felt that Ellen not only could but must be his wife, that it could not be otherwise. He knew it as surely as if he had been standing beside her at the altar. How this would be and when he did not know; he did not even know if it would be a good thing (actually he felt that for some reason it would be wrong) but he knew that it was to be.
Pierre dropped his eyes, then raised them again and tried to see her as a remote beauty, alien to him, as he had seen her every day till then, but it was no longer possible, He could no more do it than a man who has been gazing through the mist at a tuft of steppe grass that he has taken for a tree can go back to seeing the tree once he has recognized it as grass. She was terribly close to him. Already she exerted a power over him. And between them there was no longer any barrier except the barrier of his will.

(from the Ann Dunnigan translation, 1968; see also Truth In Battle (11 Feb 2001), Ooze On Verst (22 Sep 2004), ...)

- Monday, October 04, 2004 at 21:07:37 (EDT)

Free Trial

As I drive past the local martial arts studio, next to the coiling dragon a sign catches my eye. In blazing red letters it promises:

... which, as my mind hastily parses the words, suggests not a short-term no-cost sample membership --- but rather an offer to give the applicant a gratis physical ordeal.

No thanks!

(see also Semiotic Arsenal (20 Nov 2003), Undead Traffic Incident (20 Mar 2004), ...)

- Sunday, October 03, 2004 at 10:51:28 (EDT)

Eric Clifton

Legendary ultramarathon runner Eric Clifton is perhaps most famous for the brightly colored, striped, and polka-dotted homemade tights in which he races. But he also writes. In the Sep/Oct 2004 issue of Marathon & Beyond [1] Clifton explains how he runs, and why. In the Vermont 100 of 1989 he briefly got lost near the halfway point. He didn't let it bother him:
Most surprising to me was the discovery that I didn't care, not about being off for 10 minutes or about possibly losing the lead. I was so relaxed and was enjoying the day and the effort so much that I knew then that the competition was like the icing on the cake. The cake was the simple joy that running quickly, freely, and easily can bring. I was euphoric. I felt in touch with myself and the world and connected to everything.

Soon thereafter, Clifton took another involuntary detour, a much more serious one. When he reached a small town he asked for directions, but without any luck. Did it trouble him? Not a bit!

... I knew I had to run back to the last marker I had seen three miles back (I measured it later). Naturally, the locals knew where they were, and I was amazed to discover that I also knew where I was. I was right here, in the present. Where the course was, was another story. It was just so cool to be out running. Even if I was off course, I was still running well, albeit a little more slowly, back up the hill.
That is when I felt in my heart the two primary reasons why I run: I run to exceed my perceived limits, to do better than I think I can. Even more important, I learned to run without fear and with bliss. Because I had run an extra six miles, if I finished the race I would have run more than 100 miles. Even better, I discovered the joy of running with ease at a seemingly unstoppable fast pace. It really was all good.

Back on the correct trail, having lost about an hour, Clifton caught up with another runner, "... and, afraid to hear the answer, asked him whether he knew our places in the race. Expecting to hear numbers in the teens, I was stupefied when he said we were third and fourth. He added that second was just a little ahead but that the guy in first, Eric Clifton, was way up there. I started laughing ..."

Clifton concludes by describing the core of his philosophy:

Sometimes, when not that fit or when I felt I needed to be competitive because much was at stake, or even when I let a fear of failure seep in, I would regress and try to run a "smart," conservative race. All, 100 percent, resulted in dismal races --- dismal times, dismal places (if I finished), and dismal feelings. Those races were not true to my nature. Sure, a lot of races I started hard in, I died, but the placing or finish is not what is important to me. My raison d'etre for running is to run from my heart, and I have never regretted a race where that is what I did. I have never had a magical race by pacing myself. A run doesn't even need to be a race to be magical. The excitement and competition appear to help, but mystical events can happen at any time. The only common factor in all my special runs is effort. They are all fast for me. The key is not in making myself run hard but in letting myself run hard, completely releasing the heart and soul to go. Who are the legs and feet to get in the way of the spirit?

(see also Passing Inspiration (7 Apr 2002), Slower Runners Guide (30 Oct 2002), Respect The Distance (26 Nov 2003), Hat Run 2004 (2 Apr 2004), Dead Brain Cell Theory (6 Apr 2004), ...)

- Friday, October 01, 2004 at 05:27:44 (EDT)

Geeky Tee

In 1975 as a new grad student I splurged and bought my first Hewlett-Packard calculator, an HP-25, at the Caltech bookstore. It was a marvel of engineering for its time and could store all of 49 program steps along with 8 variables. An H-P promotional t-shirt came with the calculator --- a shirt that I still have today (though one of the kids usually wears it, since somehow it became a bit too small for me over the years ... must have shrunk, since I can't have expanded, eh?!).

The t-shirt bears the enigmatic (to the uninitiated) legend:

ENTER    >    =

... meaning, in geek-speak, that H-P's reverse-Polish interface is superior to the competing Texas Instruments (et al.) algebraic system. I of course agree --- and, contrarian that I am, continue to use the HP-11c that in 1981 replaced my beloved HP-25. Alas, as seems to be the case with so many elegant technologies (Esperanto? Sony Betamax? Emacs? Apple Macintosh? ...) reverse Polish has largely fallen by the wayside and become a mere cognoscenti-niche product ...

(see David G. Hicks's Museum of HP Calculators [1]; see also Elegant Technologies (10 Sep 1999), Pet Bibli 1 (23 May 2000), Commemora Tees (24 Apr 2001), ...)

- Thursday, September 30, 2004 at 06:05:13 (EDT)

Baseball Library Fan

Johnny Damon, scruffy-tough outfielder for the Boston Red Sox, commented recently on the value of public libraries:
Damon lost the beard, temporarily, early in the season when he shaved it off in a public ceremony for $15,000 from Gillette razor company. He donated the money to the Boston public library system. Damon said libraries were important to him as a boy when he had trouble with homework and his parents worked so much that they did not have time to help him.
"Public school systems and library systems kind of get the shaft on a lot of things," Damon said. "The library system is a way for youth to get help."

(from "Meet the Mane Attraction of the Boston Red Sox", a New York Times article by Joe Lapointe (25 Sep 2004); see also Book Houses (14 Dec 1999), Boston Public Library (20 Jun 2002), Proud Signage (23 Apr 2003), Knowledge And Public Happiness (29 Jul 2003), Got Library (17 Sep 2003), ...)

- Wednesday, September 29, 2004 at 06:15:24 (EDT)

Rip Tide

What do you call water when it flows the wrong way?
Eau contraire!

(see also Meta Joke (18 Oct 2001), Correspondence Principle (4 Mar 2003), Hello Sailor (1 May 2003), ...)

- Tuesday, September 28, 2004 at 06:30:26 (EDT)

Aggressive Taper

I'm training hard ---- or more precisely, hardly training --- for the Tussey Mountainback 50 miler [1] on 2 October 2004. My theory is that if I rest for a couple of weeks perhaps my old knees (and feet, and hips, and ankles) will have a chance to heal the damage they have taken during recent runs. Likewise, the old mitochondria in the old muscle cells will have ample opportunity to recharge themselves. And capillaries can proliferate in peace; likewise the red blood cells.

A reduction in mileage before a big event is, in running circles, called "tapering". We'll see how well it works, given the fact that my normal quota is a mere ~20 miles/week ... and meanwhile, a report follows on the past few neighborhood jogs, all in the 10-12 mile zone, at various paces along various scenic routes.

Borborygmic Loop

(4 Sep 2004) - 12+ miles, 156 minutes --- Is that the sound of distant drums along the Northwest Branch? Nope --- just my intestines churning noisily, ~90 minutes into today's jog. Something I ate yesterday disagreed with me last evening and earlier this morning; it starts complaining again along the trail. (Pepperoncini? Onions? Garlic?) I stop drinking water, abandon nibbling on an energy bar, and extend my walk breaks to ~50% duty cycle. The old gut quiets down after another mile.

The route begins at home, vectors east along Forest Glen to Sligo Creek, then north to Wheaton Regional Park. A horse trail leads me to Northwest Branch where I proceed south to exit at Lockwood/Dennis and return thereby to Sligo, then retrace the path home. Lots of folks are out jogging, walking, and cycling this Saturday morning, in spite of somewhat warm weather and high humidity. Newly-acquired "Team MCRRC" running garments work well, though of course they're sweat-soaked after an hour. A large doe and her fawn swivel their heads to track me as I pass; their ears are huge.

New Gear Test

(5 Sep) - 11+ miles, 129 minutes --- Fresh shoes (New Balance 1221s) and a high-tech waist-pouch (Amphipod Airflow Lite) acquired yesterday (at RnJ Sports) perform splendidly. My customary Bethesda loop (Georgetown Branch + Old Georgetown + Cedar Lane + Rock Creek) begins with a too-fast 9:58 mile, after which I come to my senses and slow down. I'm pleasantly surprised to discover that if I walk a minute and jog a minute I'm still maintaining ~12 min/mi average pace. Maybe there's some magic in the new shorts I'm wearing: remaindered MCRRC ladies "medium", a perfect fit with a delightful gaudy orange and blue design.

At the water fountain on RCT at Cedar I introduce myself to Stephanie and Larry, who are ~15 miles into a 20 mile jaunt from Shady Grove to Bethesda. They're members of a Burke Lake running club, and have paused to study their printout of the route. I give them directions and jog along with them --- and manage ~10:30 pace for a couple of miles. Larry wears a Boston Red Sox hat, which I compliment him on; he's training for the New York City Marathon and promised me that he would wear Red Sox garments there. Stephanie is hoping to qualify for Boston at the Steamtown Marathon next month. I wish them well and branch off the trail for home. Once they're out of sight I resume my customary slow walk+run.

Thin Socks

(6 Sep) - 10+ miles, 125 minutes --- I get a ride to the Univ. of Maryland (College Park) campus and jog home (Northwest Branch - Sligo Creek - Colesville - Dale) through intermittent light drizzle, which turns briefly into true rain for a couple of minutes. New socks (Asics "Coolmax") are OK but less comfy than my thickly padded and much beloved Thorlos. I confirm again on a measured mile that the walk-one jog-one technique produces a net sub-12:00 pace, hard as that is to believe ...

When I arrive home, shortly after noon, I find the house locked and empty; the entire family has gone out shopping. Of course I have no key. A weathered bench in the front yard gives me a chance to sit and watch ants working on a few square inches of decomposing mulch between my feet, and to think about a poem I'm struggling to compose --- without success, alas. The crew returns after an hour and lets me in ...

Overheated Loop

(12 Sep) - 11+ miles, 133 minutes --- too warm and too humid for a mid-day jog (for me, at least). I start at the University of Maryland (College Park) campus, proceed downstream along Northwest Branch and come back upstream on the Northeast Branch and Paint Branch trails. In the shade, or when the wind blows, things aren't too bad --- but I crash and (sun)burn badly in the later half of the route. My running duty cycle goes from 80% (first ~3 miles) to 67% (next ~3) to 50% (next ~3) to 33% (final ~2). The rest of the time, I walk. Net pace deteriorates on the measured mile segments from 11:00 to 11:30 to 12:00 to 13:00.

Even though I quaff a bottle of Gatorade before setting out, and I'm carrying a 16 oz. squeeze bottle of water, by the end of the first hour I'm getting dehydrated. I take off my shirt and drape it over my head in an attempt to block some of the scorching solar rays. I ration my remaining water supply and divert to tennis courts at the Paint Branch Parkway, but no joy.

What ever happened to public drinking fountains in the parks? Are they all removed because of budget cuts, or vandalism, or fear of attracting bad people, or lawsuits over lead in the water? I appreciate the fountains along Rock Creek (in Montgomery County) more now...

Unexpected Frights: brown and black fuzzy caterpillars, crawling across my path --- for irrational reasons, ever since childhood I've feared such wooly beasts. (Perhaps early on I associated them with nettles, or porcupines, or cacti?)

Unexpected Profit: a Jefferson nickel, found face-up, on the trail near the West Hyattsville Metro station ...

What a Difference

(18 Sep) - 12+ miles, 138 minutes --- 10 degrees (F) cooler + 50% lower humidity = 100% better run! There's no comparison with last week's death march: today's longer circuit feels wonderful, and no walk breaks are needed. Maybe a 50 miler isn't so insane after all? My taper for that event begins with this Saturday afternoon tempo ramble at sub-11 min/mi pace throughout, fueled by a pre-jog bottle of Gatorade and a Clif Bar along the way. Starting at home I angle east to Sligo Creek, follow it north to University, head west through Wheaton to Kensington, and then vector downhill through Ken-Gar to join Rock Creek Trail, whence home.

A vision of pulchritude appears in front of me circa mile 7, but I can't keep up with her pace and she vanishes from sight in half an hour. Real, or fantasy? It scarcely matters. Minor water hazards remain along the trail, left by last evening's storms and necessitating much zig-zagging and occasional high-stepping. I experience glowing afterimage-like visual effects about mile 3 (Ocular Migraines?) but they go away after I slow down slightly.

(see also Round And Rounder (15 Jul 2004), Robert Frost Trail (10 Aug 2004), Happy Trails (15 Aug 2004), Hoof Time (31 Aug 2004), ...)

- Monday, September 27, 2004 at 05:42:49 (EDT)

For back issues of the ^zhurnal see Volumes v.01 (April-May 1999), v.02 (May-July 1999), v.03 (July-September 1999), v.04 (September-November 1999), v.05 (November 1999 - January 2000), v.06 (January-March 2000), v.07 (March-May 2000), v.08 (May-June 2000), v.09 (June-July 2000), v.10 (August-October 2000), v.11 (October-December 2000), v.12 (December 2000 - February 2001), v.13 (February-April 2001), v.14 (April-June 2001), 0.15 (June-August 2001), 0.16 (August-September 2001), 0.17 (September-November 2001), 0.18 (November-December 2001), 0.19 (December 2001 - February 2002), 0.20 (February-April 2002), 0.21 (April-May 2002), 0.22 (May-July 2002), 0.23 (July-September 2002), 0.24 (September-October 2002), 0.25 (October-November 2002), 0.26 (November 2002 - January 2003), 0.27 (January-February 2003), 0.28 (February-April 2003), 0.29 (April-June 2003), 0.30 (June-July 2003), 0.31 (July-September 2003), 0.32 (September-October 2003), 0.33 (October-November 2003), 0.34 (November 2003 - January 2004), 0.35 (January-February 2004), 0.36 (February-March 2004), 0.37 (March-April 2004), 0.38 (April-June 2004), 0.39 (June-July 2004), 0.40 (July-August 2004), 0.41 (August-September 2004), 0.42 (September-November 2004), 0.43 (November-December 2004), 0.44 (December 2004 - February 2005), 0.45 (February-March 2005), 0.46 (March-May 2005), 0.47 (May-July 2005), ... Current Volume. Send comments and suggestions to z (at) his.com. Thank you! (Copyright © 1999-2005 by Mark Zimmermann.)