Running in circles

scenic world

There was a man with a leaf blower at the state park this morning trying to clear the sidewalk that leads to the pier of sand.  The sidewalk that cuts over the beach and is surrounded by sand.  The sidewalk that ALWAYS has sand blowing over it because well, it’s the beach.  And it was indeed windy this morning.  I’m guessing by the time he got to one end of the sidewalk, the other end was already dusted with sand again.  Oh Sisyphus…

I was supposed to be riding my bike 120 miles over actual hills in Ohio this morning, but the race got cancelled because of all the thunderstorms in the forecast brought on by the remnants of Hurricane Isaac, and my weekend opened way way up.  So instead, I woke up early this morning and went for a long run.  From my house to the pier at the state park and back – 18 miles.  My legs were still sore from being up and about all day yesterday, and it took me 50 minutes to warm up and feel comfortable.  And then I just floated for the next hour.  I had the highest of runner’s highs.

And later, because I didn’t eat enough, I suffered and had to shuffle the last several miles home.  But I’m still learning, every day.  It was the longest run I’ve ever done that wasn’t a race, and because I’m actually pretending to follow a training plan this year, I’m feeling stronger every week.  I am so so confident that the Chicago Marathon this year is going to go off well for me.  The only weird thing is that I’m trying to focus on marathoning and cyclocross at the same time.  One requires long, slow endurance, the other requires sprints and short, max efforts.  The first cross race of the season is on Friday night at Cannonsburg, and luckily those don’t get cancelled because of rain.  Muddy terrain is the goal.

There’s been an algae bloom for the past 3 weeks in Lake Mac.  You won’t believe me, but when the water is still, like it was this morning, and has been for most of my runs past the Heinz plant in the evenings, it is glowing green.  Not quite neon, not quite Simpsons-style radioactive, but green like the Chicago River when they dye it on St. Patrick’s Day.  But completely natural.  Well, if you count massive fertilizer runoff from the watershed feeding algae that consumes all the oxygen in the water as natural.

I finally got around to reading On The Road for the first time.  I’m upset that no one ever made me read it earlier.  I dog-eared a dozen pages of Kerouac’s stream of consciousness excellence.  I felt less alone reading his stories.  I also felt like maybe I need to go out and see more of this country, without any plans of what to really do along the way.

Farewell, my Subaru

I sold my Subaru Forester, the only car I’d ever known.  We had a lot of good times.  She took me to a lot of important places.  I’m going to miss her, I know it.  I bought a new Subaru Outback.  I named her Sydney.  Sid, for short.  I’m going to give her her first decent road miles this weekend.  I have a lot of adventures to look forward to.

Lately

MICHIGAN

I’ve been riding my bike.  Threw in a century for fun.  I’ve logged over 2000 miles this year already.  I’ve been sitting on my back patio in the evenings reading books.  I’ve been hanging out at the beach and drinking beer and trying my hand and stand up paddle boarding.  We lit some fireworks and ate lots of good food. I ran a 10k on the sand.  It was harder than I remember 2 years ago, but I think I went faster this year.  Work is hitting the busy season and I’m trying to stay sane.

burn it all down

Some more about proton therapy

proton compensator and aperture

I finally got my hands on one of the brass apertures that was used for my proton radiation therapy.  It took a few months for the radioactivity to decay to safe levels, and my parents were finally in the area and picked it up for me.  That’s it on the right.  It governed the shape of the radiation beam that was fired at my chest/neck, and was milled to the exact shape needed to treat my tumor from a certain angle that minimized exposure to the healthy bits in my body.  This particular disk was just one of several used for the upper half of my treatment area.  My tumor was so big that they had separate disks that they swapped out to treat the lower half of my tumor.  The treatment area was double what the cutout in the brass disk is.  The baseball is just there to give a size reference.  When I told you I had a cancerous tumor the size of a softball in my chest, I was not exaggerating.

The blue plastic disk is the compensator, which I’ve mentioned before, which dictates how deep the radiation penetrated into my body.  Areas with less plastic absorbed less energy, allowing the radiation beam to penetrate deeper into my tissues.  Like the 6 brass apertures, there were corresponding plastic compensators to for each angle of treatment, and so while I don’t know that this particular pair were used together, it gives a better picture of how the technology works.  The brass aperture defined the area the protons were allowed to hit me, the plastic compensator defined how deep they went inside me.

Let’s catch up

It’s been awhile.  Ever since vacationing in California I’ve been disconnecting from technology more and spending more time outside in nature, whether that’s on my road bike, or at the beach, or on my back patio drinking beer and watching the light get low.  The faster I catch up with the past 6 weeks of THINGS the faster I feel that I myself can get back to my regularly scheduled program.  And it’s necessary, because with all this time outside, I’ve been enjoying my time, but I stopped making things.  I stopped writing, I stopped taking my camera along with me places, I stopped.

I ran a 25k in mid-May and beat my PR from 2 years ago by 5 minutes.  And 2 years ago was when I was in the middle of Ironman-type training for the Ohio Triple T – 4 triathlons in 3 days.  I was running a lot and in good shape, just about to start my taper, and I ran what I thought was my best race ever.  Until this year.  Despite not doing any real running training, and only having one long run of 9 miles this spring, I was optimistic after having easily bested my 10k PR a week earlier.  The plan for the Riverbank Run was to start with the 7:00 min/mile pace group and see how long I could hang on.  No more trying to even split races or holding back and regretting not running faster at the beginning of the race.running

Conditions were literally perfect – overcast and in the 50s – and I started off well.  I surprised myself by holding pretty even 7:00 min/miles for the first 7 miles of the race before my splits started to slip.  But not by much.  They all stayed comfortably under 8:00 min, and given the few rolling on the back half of the course, I wasn’t sad.  I was a little upset that there was no official split at the 13.1 mile mark, but guessing where it was along the road and looking at my watch, I’m pretty sure I ran my fastest half marathon at around 1:35-ish.  The last couple miles were flat and hard, but I was still passing people all the way home, so I somehow went out even more conservatively than those around me.  I finished in 1:50:24 and was spent, but glowing.  Without training, I killed my time from 2 years ago where I was training a ton.  I’m not even in super great shape right now, I’m certainly heavier than I was 2 years ago, but I so far this “not being sick” thing is delivering good results.

Naturally, we went to Founders for recovery beverages after the race.

I spent another full week in Alabama.  This time by myself.  It was mostly unexciting.  I played golf once.  The wait staff at the Japanese sushi place already recognize me because I’ve been there enough times.

Thanks to a warm winter and spring, I’ve already ridden more miles on my bike than I did all of last year.  And I’ve been out of town for 3 weeks sans-bike during prime riding time too.  I spend a lot of my time biking, which I enjoy greatly, but it leaves little time for other activities, which I’m starting to miss.  All my bike rides leave fun stories to chat about, but only with the half dozen or so people I regularly ride with.

I turned 26.

I went to Chicago for a weekend to prep for Neocon (big annual contract furniture show).  I was wined and dined and met lots of fellow employees and caught up with several old friends and even did a little bit of work.  It was an absolutely gorgeous and energizing weekend in the city.  From running along the lakeshore in the morning to lunches and dinners and drinks with new people with new ideas, I was living the good life.  Chicago really is one of the best summer cities.  It was hard to come back to the quietness of Holland.

I managed to find a reason to go back to Chicago for the day on Wednesday for work “research”, which was very educational.  I was always a little bitter that I never got to go to Neocon when I was at Herman Miller.  But apart from that, I really have been enjoying my new job and all the people I work with.  I think it was a very necessary change of scenery.

june

I got new glasses, because though my old ones had a “scratch-resistant coating”, they were not “scratch proof”.  A couple weeks with a metal camera body without an eyepiece and I had done more damage than I realized.  We’ve also been doing some good work on our backyard.  We converted a spent whiskey barrel into a composter.  We built a few sections of fence where we took down a tree last year to give us some privacy from our neighbor.  We built flower beds and planted a few vegetables as well as started growing a variety of hops.  Homebrewing from scratch may be a future project.

Let’s start making things again.

Overdue Race Reports

Barry-Roubaix

Back in March, I did my first real bike race (cyclocross is a different animal).  Conditions were nearly perfect with temperatures holding in the 50s.  It was a mix of pavement, gravel roads, and two-track, along with a thousand or so other racers.

IMG_4795
I was pretty unsure of what to expect, so I started near the back of the pack and took the first fast section on the road fairly easy.  When we turned onto the first sandy two-track portion, it was a fight to pick a clean line through the dirt and around riders who’d stopped.  It was pretty crowded, and once one person in front of you stops, you have to stop and start running, because remounting on uphill tracks through deep sand doesn’t really work.  Below, you can find me in the middle of the shot with my bike over my shoulder:

The pack began to thin out a bit once we got onto gravel roads, but the course itself was never flat.  The hills were relentless.  At the top of every hill I tried to make sure I was around other riders so we could draft and work to catch other riders on the faster sections of the course.  This strategy seemed to work well for the majority of the back half of the race.  I had warmed up pretty quickly and my legs had good sensations, so I methodically kept passing racers when I could, and trying to get up the steep dirt inclines with momentum.

For the majority of the race, the group of riders around me worked well together trading pulls, but as we dropped a few riders and were about to enter the last technical two-track section, people were very reluctant to stick their face in the wind.

Without knowing the exact layout of the course, I was a little lucky to be willing to take a pull just as we entered the technical section, and so I had a completely clean line in front of me to ride.  I could jump back and forth over mud puddles to find the best line and never ran the risk of getting stuck behind a fallen rider and having to dismount.  Several straining and difficult minutes/miles later, I exited onto the final paved section of the course and curiously noticed that of the 6 or 7 guys who didn’t want to take a pull on the gravel road leading up to the two-track, only one was still with me at the end.

There was one last climb and a few more miles of fast fast downhill back to the finish, and real road tactics came in to play.  In a group of 5 of us, it was easy to see there was only one other guy taking strong pulls, and we did our best to drop the others and duke it out between us to the line.  We’d passed a fair amount of other riders without the benefit of a draft on the last few miles before the finish, and I think my legs only got stronger as the race went on.  I wish I hadn’t started off so slow, but I had a decent sprint to clear myself from the group and had a strong finish.  And most importantly, HAD FUN.  RACING BIKES IS FUN.

Strava data:

Dunecross

There was a small cross race in April at the Felt Mansion, so I figured I’d get a small workout in and see how I stacked up.  The last cyclocross race I did, back in November of 2010, I finished 2nd to last, thanks in large part to a tumor growing in my lungs, so I was pretty optimistic I could improve on that result.  The course had a couple technical single track sections where I lost much ground, but also a few wide open power sections, where I made up more ground.  We hiked some barriers, hiked some stairs, and I tried not to fall over in the areas with loose sand.

The race was disappointingly short – the six laps only took about half an hour – but it was a good workout and a good test to keep the cyclocross skills sharp.  I think I finished in 4th place or thereabouts.  So much easier when you have fully functioning lungs.

Strava data:

Tulip Time 10k

I was feeling a little tired and bloated from a week of traveling for work and drinking beer the night before, so my expectations for the race weren’t so high, but I did think I had a chance of beating my PR of 45:45 I set two years ago.  Back then, I was training a lot to get ready for a series of 4 triathlons in 3 days, so my mileage was pretty high and I was 10 pounds lighter.  But last week, I had a nice run of an hour or so where I only stopped because I didn’t want to increase my mileage too fast – not because I was tired.  Don’t you ever just wonder how far you can go?

Anyway, it was pretty comfortable running weather, and I took off at the front of the pack, and the weirdest thing happened – the leaders never got too far in front of me.  The wind was at our back for the first leg of the run, and I clocked what I’m pretty sure is the fastest mile I’ve ever run, and without even sprinting.  A few more miles ticked by and we headed into the wind on the backstretch, but my splits stayed comfortably under 7-minute miles.  I was a little bewildered, but entirely overjoyed.  I finished in 41:17 (6:40 min/mile), good enough for 10th overall and 1st in my age group.  And the best part (aside from having two fully functioning lungs this year) was that I think maybe my legs have finally turned into endurance running and biking machines.  A good run like that can make you feel like you’re on top of the world.

I’m running the Riverbank 25k this Saturday, and even though I haven’t done a run longer than 8 miles all spring, I’m optimistic that I can beat my time from two years ago.  That race two years ago is still what I consider to be the best race I’ve ever run, so I’m eager to see how my new legs will fare.

I was in Alabama all last week for work, and now I’m out of sorts.  It was my first real experience traveling for work, and though there weren’t really any big surprises, time went exponentially faster.  After working all day, my computer remained off and I was oblivious to all the news stories enveloping the rest of the world.  It was peaceful when this happened and I was camping in California, but at a lonely hotel room overlooking a TVA dam built in the 1930s in northern Alabama, I was a little antsy.  I wasn’t setting up a tent and building a campfire and opening a wine bottle without a corkscrew – I was sitting at the hotel bar drinking a beer and reading my book, just waiting for the next day of work to come.

It was mostly wondering what I could be doing with my friends back home if I were not so isolated.  I tried to make the most of my downtime by going for a couple runs on a really great nature trail across the river from the hotel.  I went golfing with my boss and two others from work one night and I found my swing after a couple holes and just relished in the feeling of a ball well struck.  A long straight drive is soul-soothing.  I went to bed early and woke up with the sun.

But I miss my bike.  And going for bike rides until the sun goes down.  And cooking dinner at home and not gaining weight from eating out every night.  And some friends back home who I won’t see enough of because it looks like I have to go back to Alabama next week and they are out of town this week.  But at least I got to be here for the Tulip Time hot mess, even though I complain about it every year.  It’s good to be home.

A third industrial revolution

I was particularly intrigued by The Economist’s latest special feature about manufacturing and innovation.  Not so much because they are reporting on anything that is so groundbreaking to me, or most engineers I would think, but because they gave exposure to the exact kind of thing I do – engineering custom solutions on the fly for customers – that I found it interesting.  I don’t pretend to have any deep insights into what the future of manufacturing holds, but I like to think that being at some point in the specialized process of manufacturing is a good thing going forward.

If there’s any magazine that I routinely read cover to cover, it’s The Economist, and even though in their recent special feature they talk aren’t revealing anything that groundbreaking – nanotechnology, carbon fiber, 3D printing – it’s good validation.  I mean, do you know how cheap 3D printers have become these days?  The only thing holding me back from buying one of these or these is not having the space to put it and a general preference to spend my surplus dollars on bikes instead.