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November 30, 2004

The open-source Lydiard?

If you haven’t got a clue what I’m talking about for the rest of this post, you may want to read my previous posts about Arthur Lydiard, the seminar of his that I went to at the beginning of this month, and my understanding of his training program. This post should make sense without them, but it’s useful to have all the links here in one place.

Saturday evening, I had a lengthy discussion with a local runner, B., who is also a strong believer in the Lydiard method, and tried to sort out some of the ideas I’d had about the seminars. One of the things that frustrates me is that this all seems startlingly obvious to me, perhaps because I’ve been trained along roughly similar lines for my whole athletic career; however, plenty of runners, and even many coaches, don’t really understand the basic principles, or are simply unaware that there are basic principles which make sense even if you have your own feelings about how to translate them to actual training. I hinted at this in my column about the seminar.

The presentation we saw at the seminar was the clearest and most understandable explanation of any training program I’ve ever seen. B. agreed that some of the most useful training books he had read were the ones he had to read several times to figure out; it seems that many great coaches are not similarly gifted in one-to-many communication. B. highlighted this by pointing out a book he was able to grasp and put to use immediately: Pete Pfitzinger’s Advanced Marathoning, which is good because Pfitzinger had a co-author, Scott Douglas, who is talented at communicating this sort of thing clearly.

In Lydiard’s case, the communicator was “Nobby” Hashizume of Five Circles, an organization to “promot[e] health, fitness and personal well-being through running.” Hashizume calls the tour “Project Lydiard 21,” preserving Lydiard’s legacy for the 21st century. I didn’t press him for details of how he planned to do it, but I’m a computer geek, and some ideas came to mind.

See, in the computer world we’ve got the example of the open-source movement. The highest-profile example of Open Source Software (OSS) nowadays is Mozilla, which you’re already aware of if you’ve been reading here for long. Mozilla’s model is built around a small core of professionals and a legacy of source code, but the real power of the organization is the massed attention of thousands of volunteers (many of them hackers) around the world, all contributing features, bug-fixes, bug-finding, and even promotion through simple things like links on weblogs.

There are other open-source models; one in particular is the Free Software Foundation (see Eric Raymond’s The Cathedral and the Bazaar for more on OSS development.) The FSF is responsible for a number of tools and system libraries (the “GNU” in GNU/Linux) which don’t have the massed attention of Mozilla, but are nonetheless free, with the source code readily available for perusal.

I wonder if a parallel could be found somewhere between Mozilla and GNU for Project Lydiard 21—a sort of open-source training reference, if you will. There’s a small core of editors and organizers who keep things together, and a much larger group of volunteers who make the contributions necessary to keep this legacy alive: spreading it, evangelizing it, building the websites, finding bugs, and even “compiling” the system into specific, individual training programs. The “source code” would be maintained by the foundation, but it would be freely available to anyone who wanted to use it and incorporate it in their own work (like the GNU libraries.)

That “freely-available” part is important to me. There are a lot of coaches out there who don’t really know why they do what they do; they just do the workouts the way they always do, put them together haphazardly, and make do. They’re unlikely to go for a certification; USATF Level 1 certification (the most basic) requires a two-and-a-half day seminar costing $150, and if you’ve ever tried to get $150 plus expenses out of a high school (or considered paying it out of your own pocket for the high school’s benefit) you’ll know why so few high-school level coaches will ever be certified. And a book is something some people might understand, but others might be confused by, as my conversation with B. underlined. I really think a free resource would be most useful.

Could enough volunteers hold a foundation like that together? Could a founding “endowment” like the one Mozilla got from AOL (and others) be part of the program? Is there a place for it in the world? I don’t have answers to those questions, and since I don’t know what Nobby has planned anyway, it may be irrelevant. But it seems like a lot of us making small contributions might be able to go farther than a small group hoping to cover the whole distance on their own. And it seems like the open-source model could have applications beyond simply software. Why not mindware?

Now Playing: Everything Means Nothing to Me from Figure 8 by Elliott Smith

Posted by pjm at 10:19 PM | Comments (0)

Rolling off the fold

I’m working with an unusually high entropy level at work today. This may be connected to spending much of the morning talking with a remarkably talkative (mostly in a helpful way) CS professor at The University this morning. Not only did he confirm most of my theories about The University, but he was also surprisingly willing to play guidance counselor: “Where else are you applying? Why not Big Private University? They weren’t much fifteen years ago, but they’re quite good now in a variety of areas. Prestigious University gets a lot of applicants because of their name, but their department isn’t really that strong. Remote College is on their way up.” Etc. etc.

Now the bugs are flying everywhere. It’s always a quick patch, but how do I find them first?

Unlike last week, plenty to say, no time to say it…

Now Playing: The Bell And The Butterfly from Wonderland by The Charlatans

Posted by pjm at 3:40 PM | Comments (0)

November 29, 2004

The disc is in the mail

Apache 2.0.52 is compiling in the background, so I have time to run through this.

I put in to make a CD for the Mix CD Extravaganza (for lack of a better title) at Taunting Happy Fun Ball. I actually just did some editing to a playlist I had already put together (but never burned) for another occasion. It turned out to be significant editing (depending on what you call “significant” in this context) but it’s done and went in the mail this morning, so the track list is in the “extended entry,” with comments.

What’s nice about this project, I think, is that I was making a disc with no agenda and no message, because the nature of the project was that I was sending it to someone I didn’t (don’t) know—nothing more than a postal address. Since you can’t worry about whether someone will like the music if you don’t know what they like… you just put in what you like. Anyway, on to the playlist…

Now Playing: Yesterday’s Girl from Love and China by Nerissa & Katryna Nields

Continue reading "The disc is in the mail"

Posted by pjm at 5:31 PM | Comments (2)


For one thing, I noticed last week that Google is now doing Froogle Gift Lists. I haven’t tried them out enough to see how it compares, feature-wise, with The Wish List Project, but I suspect they’ve at least got direct buy-it-now links, and probably a smarter access-control scheme (or utter lack of access control, which might also qualify as a smarter access-control scheme.) One of these days, there will be a commercial-grade gift registry with the features I want, and I won’t have to home-grow my own solutions.

I also discovered in today’s referrer logs that one can now search Google Mac in six fruity primary colors, to go with the penguiny goodness which has long been Google Linux. How does one find these specialized searches? (Apparently, one goes to the Special Google Searches page.)

Now Playing: Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong from Pocket Full of Kryptonite by Spin Doctors

Posted by pjm at 10:45 AM | Comments (0)

November 28, 2004

The cat that walked by himself

If you did not, when you were quite young, have some or all of the Just So Stories read aloud to you, you missed out on some lovely writing. In addition to my personal favorite, “The Elephant’s Child,” phrases from “The Cat That Walked By Himself” have always stuck in my mind.

While the theme of the story seems to be that the Cat made a better collective-bargaining agreement than the other domestic-animal unions, and therefore earned some significant resentment, some nights I think that Iz is angling for a different deal. I think he’s bored with walking by himself.

He’s not a very talkative cat, except maybe during the Festival of the Full Moon, but last night we had eight or nine people in the apartment, and he clearly enjoyed the attention. After everyone had gone home, and the lights were out, I started to hear the protest songs. “Maooow. Where did all my playmates go? Maoaoaow. It’s lonely in here with nobody to play with. Maow.”

I wonder what he’s planning on putting on the bargaining table?

Posted by pjm at 9:00 AM | Comments (0)

November 25, 2004

Lydiard 5: Sharpening, tapering, peaking, and recovering

(If you missed them, and are curious: Parts one, two, three and four.)

I don’t have much to add to this section, since I was having a Far Side moment as we got to this part of the seminar. (“Can I be excused? My brain is full.”) And without my notes, I’ve forgotten quite a lot in the last few weeks.

The last week or two of the training period is the toughest, because the coach and athlete have to balance so many competing priorities. First, the athlete has to arrive at the race rested and psychologically prepared. Second, they have to maintain some speed training; one of the traps of anaerobic training is that it is very much “use it or lose it,” and it fades quickly without regular sharpening. Finally, they need to at least nod to their aerobic base. And this all has to happen as they back off their overall volume and intensity.

The details of managing this are very particular to the athlete, but understanding the goals is important to managing it well. I’ve found that it’s tempting for me to race too much in the last phases before a peak race, but those detract from my goal race. Also, the athlete frequently feels sluggish, slow, or just irritable during this phase; in a way, it involves withdrawal from something they had become quite addicted to: heavy training. One of the favorite traps for athletes to fall in to is “just one more hard workout,” or, alternately, “I’m losing all my fitness! I have to work harder!”

There are a lot of theories about post race recovery, but they all agree on one point: you need some, before starting another cycle. Not only does the body need some time to recover, but it’s a good time to evaluate performance, and see if there are lessons to be applied for the next cycle.

I haven’t mentioned the scheduling yet. An entire program should be structured (at least in terms of laying out the blocks for each phase of the cycle) based on the date of a single target race. Lydiard’s athletes performed at their best when they had been focusing on a single race or block of races; training to race, say, an entire cross-country season while racing hard weekly does not fit with the Lydiard system. However, “training through” most of those races while peaking for a single championship race is more manageable. This is called “periodized training,” and it’s a hugely important concept. Simply put, you can’t be in your best shape all the time, so you pick your moments, and get in “peak condition” for those moments; the rest of the time, you get ready for those peak moments.

Anyway, one picks a single race, a marathon or another target race with significance to the athlete. Preferably, the race is four to six months in the future. Then the calendar can be built by working backwards from the race day, starting with tapering time, then adding speed work, bounding, hills, and giving over all the remaining time (up to ten weeks or more for a marathon) to building base. The time spent in each phase can be adjusted depending on the results of previous cycles; Lydiard’s books give more specific advice about how to start out.

Beyond that, improvements on this program can be cumulative over several cycles. Improvements in the aerobic system aren’t lost from one cycle to the next; in fact, from one successful cycle an athlete can start the base phase for the next cycle while retaining almost all their base from the previous cycle. Lydiard stressed that it can take three to five years to reach the full benefit of the program; it is not for the impatient.

That’s the size of things for now; I have some wrap-up thoughts which I will try to post before much longer.

Posted by pjm at 10:45 PM | Comments (0)

Lydiard 4: Speed and anaerobic training

(If you missed them, and are curious: Parts one, two and three.)

Speed training for endurance athletes has, since the middle of the last century, focused on intervals, which can be roughly explained as running fast for a while, recovering, running fast again. There are then a few zillion ways to refine the details: how long are the efforts? How fast? How many? How long are the recovery periods? Does the athlete continue running at an easy pace during the recoveries, or walk, or stand, wheeze, and look vaguely at their watch? The answers vary according to the athlete, the coach, the target race, and how much the coach has read about physiology. (The variance has led one of my running circle to drop a “w” and refer to this as “speedork.”)

The time was that intervals were the exclusive method of training for distance runners. (For swimmers, even distance swimmers, they still are.) Roger Bannister trained almost exclusively on intervals, as did many of his contemporaries. However, when Lydiard-coached Murray Halberg was planning his 5,000m race at the Rome Olympics in 1960, Lydiard pointed out that the interval-trained runners tended to run hard for a certain amount of time, then invariably backed off, because they weren’t used to sustaining their effort over the full distance of the race. Accordingly, Halberg worked his way from the back of the race until he was fourth or fifth, then when he detected a slight slackening of the pace with several laps remaining, he pushed hard and opened an unbeatable lead. Halberg had been training with regular time-trials over the race distance, and he knew what he could do and when he could do it.

(It’s interesting to note that Bob Schul, the American athlete who won the same race in 1964 in Tokyo, was trained by Mihaly Igloi, a Hungarian coach who trained world-class athletes almost entirely on intervals.)

The use of time trials to gauge the state of training is one of Lydiard’s additions to speed training, but while he’s dismissive of total reliance on intervals, his athletes did use them. The biggest difference was that they built up to them, building a base, then adding hills, then drills before finally reaching real speed work. Even then, Lydiard favors avoiding tracks; he much prefers a long loop laid out on trails or around playing fields.

One reason for this arms-length handling of speed is that an excessive reliance on anaerobic training can actually cut in to an athlete’s aerobic base. If the speed phase is too long, the aerobic benefits of the base phase wither away, and it is nearly impossible to train for both while properly recovering from each training run. So there’s a penalty to starting speedwork too soon. This goes along with the idea that the anaerobic system has a hard limit to how far it can be trained; once you hit that limit, you’re ready to race, and you’d best not be too far away from your target race.

This was not a primary focus of the seminar, because speed training has been very thoroughly explored by many different coaches, and the innovations Lydiard made in training methods did not, for the most part, come in this area.

(One more to go: sharpening and laying out a training program.)

Posted by pjm at 10:09 PM | Comments (0)

Making a contribution

Well, Housefrau I ain’t, but I do make good banana bread, thanks to Marge Standish.

Thanksgiving Banana Bread

Posted by pjm at 11:39 AM | Comments (0)

November 24, 2004

Fully extended

Josphat Boit and Simon Bairu at the 2004 NCAA Cross-Country Championships When I wrote about hill training, I mentioned how the form goal is to have one’s leg fully extended at the toe-off. A. got a pretty good example photo of Arkansas’ Josphat Boit this weekend. Notice how he’s pushing off his left leg; if this was a full side view, you could probably measure the angle at 45°.

Now Playing: Friction from A Box Of Birds by The Church

Posted by pjm at 12:51 PM | Comments (0)

November 23, 2004

Weekend's end

I know it’s a bit odd to have your weekend over on Tuesday night, but the last of the four stories I did this weekend was finished and posted tonight. I could probably transcribe some interviews, but… no. I’d rather be done, right now.

For the insatiably curious, or those who want to compare with last year’s, here’s before and after (men) and before and after (women.)

Posted by pjm at 10:16 PM | Comments (0)

Leaving a gap

A little while ago, I asked my supervisor if he would write a letter of recommendation for my grad school applications. Of course, that also meant I had to tell him I intended to leave the company if I was accepted. (I have massive misgivings about this, of course, because I have enjoyed this job—still enjoy it, in fact, more than I liked my previous job when I left it. But even if I don’t go to graduate school, I need to go somewhere else to keep having the opportunity to learn new things; I’ve done most of the growing that can be done here.)

Today, he’s asked me to draft my own job description. Something tells me my job will be on Monster.com within minutes of him hearing about an acceptance. (Naturally, I will mention such news here as well, in the event that you’re in my line and might be interested in working with a great company in a really cool part of the country.)

The few others here who have heard about my plans are uniformly disappointed; I think, in general, that they like me here. They keep making, “How are we going to do without you?” noises. Well, probably in much the same way they did without me for thirty-two years before I came, I expect, but I’ll admit it won’t be simple; I’ve grown in to the available space in this job, including filling unexpected gaps, and there’s no telling how well someone else will fit in the space when I leave it empty. One hopes we will find someone who will make a space in their own shape.

So I’m trying to write the description with a lot of generalizations, and resisting the temptation to dictate tools and standards.

Actually, in an exercise in futility, I managed to reduce it to seven words: Develop things. Maintain things. Fix what breaks.

Posted by pjm at 4:57 PM | Comments (2)

Get moving

On an unrelated web search, I found this article, which was pretty moving the first time I read it and still packs a punch. (I have a lot of respect for John Brant as a magazine feature writer.) I remember reading it and saying, “I understand why this is important, now.”

To a potentially catastrophic degree, our kids have stopped moving. One quarter of Americans under age 19 are overweight. Worse, approximately 5.3 million kids, or 12 percent of all youths aged 6 to 17, are seriously overweight. What’s more, the percentage of overweight young people has more than doubled in the past 30 years, with most of the increase coming since the late ’70s. Coronary artery disease, already the nation’s number-one killer, will likely skyrocket over the coming decades. As will diabetes, high blood pressure, and other serious “lifestyle” diseases that are associated with being overweight. The bitter fruit of today’s inactivity will almost certainly come to harvest.

“This is an epidemic in the U.S., the likes of which we have not had before in chronic disease,” warns William Dietz, director of nutrition at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. Bruce Leonard, a veteran fitness advocate recently retired from the CDC, states the case even more bluntly: “In a few decades, we’re going to learn that for the first time in American history, our children lived shorter and less healthful lives than their parents.”

Posted by pjm at 2:35 PM | Comments (0)

November 21, 2004

Scenes from a work trip

Everything that can possibly go wrong, will, unless it doesn’t.

In Hartford, we can’t confirm a seat for A. on the Chicago to Indianapolis leg. And the flight is showing as delayed by two hours, which is alarming because that would mean a 1:30 A.M. arrival in Indianapolis, followed by the seventy-odd mile drive to Terre Haute.

Upon arrival in Chicago, however, we are able to immediately get confirmation on the on-time flight. I’m not sure where Hartford was getting their data.

Upon arrival in Indianapolis, our luggage is not on the carousel. The attendant looks at our claim checks, and tells us that our luggage did not miss its connection in Chicago: it never got on the plane in Hartford. (Unbelievable.) However, it was routed through Washington and is due in… ten minutes.

While we wait, I go to fetch the rental car. No compacts left at ten minutes to midnight. How about a mini-van?

The truck stop on Route 70 midway between Indianapolis and Terre Haute has… well, everything, pretty much, including auto parts and the Pennsylvania Dutch red licorice I used to get on Route 15 south of Harrisburg.

I have had tea at the Java Haute and seen a sign for The Square Donut. I have had my picture taken at The Crossroads Of America.

Now, since the phone line in our hotel room won’t support even a tolerably usable dialup connection, we’re sitting in the ISU library, basking in the high-speed wireless waves. And I have work to do.

Posted by pjm at 4:28 PM | Comments (0)

November 20, 2004

Lydiard 3: Drills, springing, bounding, etc.

In my discussion of Arthur Lydiard’s hill training phase, I mentioned the several ways running hills improves a runner’s form, specifically full extension of the foot and toes of the driving leg—essentially, loading more and more work further forward on the foot. This is putting a terrific amount of stress on the arch of the foot, the calf muscles and achilles tendon, the plantar fascia and toe-pointing muscles… in other words, most of the places runners get injured. In the base phase, in addition to developing the aerobic system, we developed some toughness in the connective tissue and muscles. In the hill phase, we built more specific strength around the feet, ankles and knees. (Running myth dissolved, by the way: “running is bad for your knees.” If running is damaging your knees, you have a biomechanical issue which needs to be dealt with; a properly trained runner actually has better knees than a sedentary person, and I’m told there are scientific studies proving it.)

The next phase, which is the one most often left out of a Lydiard-esque training program, is a program of exaggerated drills performed on short hills. We called them “bounding,” Lydiard calls it “springing,” and the core of the drills is something like a high-knees drill performed on a very steep hill. You really have to see it demonstrated to understand what’s going on; no text description will ever do it justice.

We did three basic drills. The first and toughest was the springing drill. We would push off one leg and leap up, pushing hard off the lifting leg and lifting the knee of the lead leg high, as though we were hopping up on a steeplechase barrier or jumping on to a wall or tall step. Coming down, we landed on the lead leg, bent it slightly to absorb the landing, then launched again off that leg. Each stride was like crossing a small stream, but instead of trying to cover ground, we were leaping for altitude; the pace at which we advanced up the hill was actually slower than walking. The emphasis was on fully extending the trail leg and getting a good push off the toes, lifting the lead knee as high as possible. Your legs start burning very early on in this drill; it’s the hardest part of the circuit and it controls how long you keep up the workout. (When you can’t do another one, you don’t.)

It also looks hysterical, especially if it’s a small group of grown men. When our coach showed us the drills, on a strikingly low-traffic road outside Emmaus, he observed that not only did the road have the right hills in the right places for the workout, but it was also off where few people would see us. “The first time I did this,” he said, “I heard a car coming up behind me. When I heard it slowing down, I knew they were rolling down the window, and I expected they would throw something or shout at me.” (One of my training partners was actually beaned by a Gideon Bible thrown from a car window in this area.) “Instead,” he reported, “I heard them singing inside the car: ‘Here comes Peter Cottontail, hopping down the bunny trail…’”

We would bound to the top of a fairly steep hill, and at the top, switch to skipping. This is just what it sounds like, except that here on flat ground, we maintained the emphasis on driving up into the air. Skipping is the same as bounding, except that instead of landing and leaping in one continual motion, we would land on a foot and take a little shuffling bounce on that foot to set up the take-off. For some reason, this made the motion much easier; the temptation, while bounding, was always to shift into a skip.

After skipping for a little while, we shifted into a slow jog which set up a series of three short sprints separated by easy jogs, the first of which was on flat ground, the second down the hill we had just bounded up, and the third down a different, more gradual incline to the base of the hill where we resumed bounding up. We would start with two or three of these circuits, each somewhere on the order of a mile in total, feeling completely trashed at the end, and continue working on them once a week or so (often while still running hills on another day of the week) until four or five started feeling easy. At that point we were strong enough to move on to “true” speed work.

The drills explained at the seminar (happily accompanied by video clips) were similar, but included some others which may be familiar to soccer players and sprinters: high knees drills (running while concentrating on lifting the knee of the lead leg,) high kick drills (where the back-kick after toe-off carries the heel right up to one’s butt,) and others which I don’t remember, all performed largely on a hill.

A lot of coaches, observing the differences between the fastest runners and slower ones, note that faster runners are more likely to spend time on their forefoot than on their heels; many seldom touch their heels to the ground at all, which is why track spikes have minimal cushioning in the heels, and in the forefoot, spike plates designed to maximize the application of force to the track. Unfortunately, plenty of coaches draw the wrong conclusion here, and assume that to run faster, their athletes need to practice running on their toes, not their heels. This is putting the cart before the horse. An athlete with a proper aerobic base, moving through the hill phase and into these drills, is going to naturally move off their heels and more towards their forefoot simply because it’s more efficient, and their body is seeking efficiency. (Our bodies are, for the most part, lazy. If we give them a lot of work to do, and properly structure the work, they will naturally favor the way which gets the work done with the least possible effort. It’s worth noting that the race winner, because they finish first, actually spends the least amount of time running; you might argue that rather than being obsessively dedicated, they are the most successful application of laziness.) In other words, if you train a runner to run faster, they’ll eventually move to a forefoot foot-strike all on their own. I’ve certainly noticed that tendency in myself.

Still on the plane. More to come.

Posted by pjm at 8:11 PM | Comments (3)

Lydiard 2: The Hill Phase

It’s been a little while since I put up the first section of this, covering base training, which is essentially spending a lot of time running at whatever pace is comfortable. The problem with base training (or LSD, as it is sometimes called: Long, Slow Distance,) is that, as one coach put it, “Long, slow distance leads to long, slow runners.” You can get faster just by running a lot, but ultimately the only way to run fast—to “maximize your potential,” as they say now as a concession to the fact that “fast” is relative—is to run fast.

You can’t just jump in from base work, though. Speed training stresses the body differently than distance training. So Lydiard’s system builds in stages of transition, each one building on the stage before. The idea of stages is slightly deceptive; in a way, they blend in to each other. When I was in Pennsylvania, my coach started incorporating hills very early on simply by sending us out on loops designed to hit every climb he could find; the twenty-two mile loop which was the staple of the marathon training season included at least four climbs nearly a mile in length, and over a dozen long enough and steep enough to force a change in pace. That course is a monster, incorporating all of the Phone, tougher even than my twenty-four mile loop into the hilltowns from Northampton.

The thing is, when you run hills a lot, you start getting used to them. The ones that were tough enough that we knew their names, the ones which would drag experienced runners to a walk, became just another boundary to push back after we’d attacked them half-a-dozen times. That was when we got to hill sets.

We ran hill sets the way high school kids do: pick a steep hill, sprint up as hard as possible, jog back down, repeat until your head spins. We would do four to six sets of “short hills” which were thirty-second sprints up a steep hill, then three or four “long hills,” a more involved circuit involving a four-minute charge up a less steep but much longer hill, cresting the hill and continuing on the flat ground, jogging back along the flat ground and sprinting down. (Doing this on a cross-country course was preferred, but low-traffic roads were acceptable in the winter.) This was followed by another set of short hills, then we staggered home.

Lydiard’s hills, as demonstrated in the seminar, are nowhere near as violent; the runner isn’t even trying to run fast, but instead runs fairly easily up a very steep hill, concentrating on lifting their knees well. The incline, in addition to providing increased resistance (the runner is lifting their own weight, as well as pushing it forward) also forces the runner into a different stride: they put more weight on the front of their foot earlier in their stride, and the heel drops more (being lower on the hill) which stretches (and strengthens) the calves and achilles tendon. The runner is also more likely to fully straighten their leg as they push off, which generates a tremendous amount of speed. (Check any photo of a world-class track runner in the middle and long distances in full flight at the end of a race; they’ll have their take-off leg fully extended behind them, to the point where they appear to be balancing on their toes. This is the part of my running stride which plantar fasciitis has taken away from me, and unfortunately I was quite good at it.)

(Much more on form in the next installment.)

Hills are intimidating. They’re hard, when you’re starting out, and there’s a natural inclination to avoid them when you can. I avoided them well into my college years, because I would be feeling tired and beat up some days, and wouldn’t want to take on the extra effort. Eventually, I learned that the hills were, in fact, making me stronger; now, unless I really feel like I need the rest, I will seek out hills wherever I can find them. I mentioned this in my “about the author” tag in my column about the Lydiard seminar, and in response I was sent a draft of a column about hills which is going to appear in the February RW. (If I told you any more about it, I’d have to kill you.) The theme, however, was this: if you make a habit of running up hills wherever you find them, you’ll find yourself getting faster. And, eventually, getting ready for the third phase of drills, which are really hills carried to their logical extreme.

Now playing: The roar of aircraft engines, in flight from Hartford to Chicago. I’ll post this when I have time to check the links.

Posted by pjm at 7:29 PM | Comments (0)

November 19, 2004

This little journalist

(Vague early-90s pop music reference in the title…)

  • The NCAA cross-country preview I mentioned earlier is in today’s RW Daily News. It’s OK, but this meet has the chronic problem that it’s really four races in two, and trying to do that in (roughly) 500 words means you really can’t do it justice. When I read it over at lunch, I was saying to myself, “Yeah, but you left out Matt Gonzales, you didn’t say anything about the Colorado men who could win with a miracle, you never used Dathan Ritzenhein’s full name, you short-changed Chris Solinsky…” On the other hand, last night when I was fact-checking, I pulled up my best two stories from that meet last year, and thought, hey, for me, these aren’t bad. It’s nice when something stands up well a year later.

  • My Lydiard-seminar column ran today as well. I’ve already had a nice e-mail from the tour organizer, who has offered to (eventually) send a printout the presentation he used in the seminar. (Apparently the presentation file is some absurd size, on the order of 20 MB, so it’s not easily hosted on the Web. You’d think someone could figure that out… but, I have more thoughts on that for a later post. Actually, I have at least five more posts mapped out on this topic.) It’s worth quoting my penultimate paragraph here:

If you’re a coach, or if you’ve ever found yourself following a training program without understanding how the pieces fit together, or if you’ve ever written off a training program because it looks like too much work, you owe it to yourself to go to the Five Circles website, click on “Upcoming Events,” and see if any of the remaining seminars is near you. I might add that “in the neighboring state” should count as “near you,” in this case.

  • Earlier this week, in ecto, I put six titles in new post drafts, five of them, hopefully, wrapping up the Lydiard stuff. I hope I can get all the thoughts out in text. With luck, I’ll be able to write some of them up on the plane to Indiana. So I may have things to post, even if I can’t find the time (or connectivity) to actually post them. (Yes, this is relevant to the theme of the post… why do you think I’ll be in Indiana, after all?)

Now Playing: (You’re The Only One) Can Make Me Cry from Concrete Blonde by Concrete Blonde

Posted by pjm at 3:41 PM | Comments (0)


I had to bag this morning’s workout halfway. It was supposed to be a 100-200-300-400-300-200-100 ladder, but I could feel twinges in my left shoulder as early as the warmup. By the time I reached the main set, I realized that I was trying to find a way to pull through with my left arm that wouldn’t produce a stabbing sensation in the shoulder, so I stopped. (Another rule of running injuries: if it’s affecting your form, stop.) I suppose I could’ve finished the set if I’d switched to breaststroke, but have you ever done a 400y breaststroke? I’d pass out from anoxia before I reached 300.

Best case scenario: this is just a strain from Wednesday night’s set, which involved a great deal of “pull” work. (For non-swimmers: A “pull” set involves holding a buoy between your legs, so you can’t kick, and swimming with paddles to increase the resistance your arms pull against. The complementary set is “kick,” which is where you hang on to the foam board and, well, kick.) Since pull puts a lot of load on the arms, I could easily have strained something. I’ve got a forced week off coming up, with the pool closed for the Thanksgiving break, so there’s time to heal something which can be healed.

It also reminded me of a joke in my running circles, that the best way to really kick a lingering injury is to get a different one. The classic example was the woman suffering from ITBS who tripped and broke her wrist in the fall, but discovered that her ITBS was gone. Maybe if my swimming is screwed up, I’ll have to go back to running to stay in shape. (That’s a joke. I think.)

Worst case scenario: a damaged rotator cuff is the swimmer’s equivalent of an ACL injury (or a torn Achilles, for runners.) They don’t just heal themselves. Past a certain point, I’ve heard it’s usually only fixable with surgery.

Now Playing: Love Is Hell from Love Is Hell by Ryan Adams

Posted by pjm at 10:36 AM | Comments (0)

November 18, 2004

Credit where it's due

Back in May, I delivered a lengthy rant about how my old site, runnersworld.com, “failed absolutely” in the Safari browser, and how they appeared uninterested in fixing it. And, I should note, other than my regular column, I haven’t done any freelance work for them since. (Yeah, that’ll show ‘em!)

Since then, I’ve switched to Camino as my primary browser where I do my RW reading, which worked around the problem. So I failed to notice until a few days ago that the site now works in Safari. I’m not sure if RW made the change, or if Apple fixed something in Safari, but it now works. Whoever fixed it, thanks.

And yes, I’ll be sending in the NCAA cross-country preview tonight.

Now Playing: Feel Flows from Up To Our Hips by The Charlatans

Posted by pjm at 7:39 PM | Comments (0)

AOL and evil

Now there’s two concepts you never expected to see linked, right? After all, don’t we all wait in breathless anticipation for the next CD loaded with free hours to arrive in our mail? For the next version of the software?

Well, while I was gleefully breaking down the last gift of plastic and paper from the Dulles corridor, I scanned the case for recycling symbols.

None. On a plastic case the size of a trade paperback book. All I got to recycle was the paper label; everything else had to go into the waste stream.

I am shocked, shocked! to see such disregard for the realities of waste disposal and our environment on the part of a corporate behemoth. Now, if only we could decide who’s going to step up and bop them one for this and a few zillion similar crimes. Who’s first? The feds? California? Their customers, I mean “members”? Nope, they’re all going to sit on their hands and let the municipal waste folks take it on the chin. Ah, the politics of responsibility…

Now Playing: Auctioneer (Another Engine) from Fables Of The Reconstruction by R.E.M.

Posted by pjm at 1:20 PM | Comments (0)

I might as well ask

In vsftpd, I know how to configure the default owner/group/mode for files uploaded by an anonymous user. However, I’ve yet to find any direction for fixing the same settings for uploaded directories.

(It appears that the “secure” answer is, “Don’t let anonymous users create directories,” but real-world users, who may be anonymous to the server but are not anonymous to me, are not sympathetic to this answer. The point of “anonymous FTP,” in this case, is not to let any clown upload and download arbitrary files to the server, but to allow us to exchange large files with illustrators, authors, developers, etc. without having to create full login accounts for each of them, which qualifies as an unnecessary inconvenience for them and for me.)

I tried the Red Hat user’s mailing list with no response. There’s no individual list for the package. In the process of hunting around, I did find an interesting site, vsftpdrocks.org, which is one of a series of similar sites dedicated to spelling out the installation process of “alternative” server software (like djbdns or qmail.) Still no answer to my umask problems, though.

So I went to The Source. (Use The Source, Luke!) I thought I found a mkdir() system call which may or may not have been the root of the issue, but without my K&R right there (or, for that matter, my Stevens—you’d think these would be included as a sort of extra in XCode) I couldn’t be sure. I must learn to read code more efficiently someday.

So I asked. Sent in a feature request, mentioning how useful the software was and how we used it. I detailed the things I’d already tried in an effort to find an answer, so he knew I wasn’t just a goof asking for help because I couldn’t be bothered to research. Now I just wait to see if it comes up in the next version, I guess.

Now Playing: Frinck from Songs From The Other Side by The Charlatans

Posted by pjm at 12:36 PM | Comments (0)

November 17, 2004

Route around the damage

There was an Ellen Goodman column in the paper the other week about Texas and its insistence that textbooks purchased by the state define marriage as between a man and a woman, and not mention contraception. Some more conservative colleges have gone further and are requesting (don’t laugh) biology textbooks which don’t include evolution and natural selection. (This is not unlike “fat-free ice cream,” I think. The concepts are really hard to separate.)

The veiled implication is that the massive buying weight of the state of Texas is going to drive contraception and Darwinism out of all our textbooks. Perhaps that might have been the case once, but the world has moved on.

It’s getting increasingly easy for publishers to “custom-publish” relatively small print runs economically. What we’re more likely to see is special “Texas editions” of textbooks, custom-edited for the creationism/abstinence market. Some editors will be holding their noses doing it (I work for a company which has published a few salvos in this battle,) but it will happen.

And, recognizing the stunted preparation of students who used these books, we’ll start seeing institutions of higher learning looking on applicants from Texas with a jaundiced eye. They’ll be pushed into remedial classes or simply not accepted. That would be nearly any biology-related graduate field: neuroscience, biotech, ecology, medicine. Want Junior to be a doctor when he grows up? Don’t send him to school in Texas. If the state insists on underpreparing its students, higher education will route around the damage.

Posted by pjm at 6:57 PM | Comments (4)

November 16, 2004

Firefox OS X update

A few months ago I posted a list of problems with Firefox on OS X which eventually led me to go to Camino as my default browser instead. With the 1.0 build out now, I thought I’d give it another whirl. I downloaded one of the G4-optimized builds described on Mozillazine and set it running.

There’s no question that it’s quick; the custom build, in particular, is really fast. It reports itself as Firefox 0.9.1+, however; I also installed an “official” 1.0 build from mozilla.org to confirm that I had the real thing. (It does look like the G4-optimized build was not 1.0. Hmmm.)

Leaving out the scrolling issue, which I resolved, my problems were three:

  • Links from other applications open as new windows, not new tabs.
  • There doesn’t seem to be a keyboard shortcut for “go to home page.”
  • There’s no go-away icon on the tabs.

The good news is, the first one, opening links from other applications, is fixed in 1.0. This was a major speed bump for me. However, still no go-home keyboard shortcut, and still the same unfamiliar close-tab button. (Jeremy didn’t like that either, but his other two items were fixed, so he’s all good now.) The bad news is, I’ve added a fourth item:

  • Form widgets are depressingly Windows-like, not Mac-like.

The second item, Julie pointed out, has a bug in Bugzilla; I just voted for it. (It’s worth complaining where you’ll be heard.) I’ve heard of an extension which supposedly handles the third, but it appears to be uneven in its Mac support; it’s not working for me. There are rumors that there will be another incremental 1.0 release for Mac OS X to handle “UI issues” which might include my last item, but I can’t find any confirmation of that on the Mozilla site.

It looks like I’ll be sticking to Camino for a bit longer. The latest nightly is… interesting.

Now Playing: Within Your Reach from Hootenanny by The Replacements

Posted by pjm at 4:22 PM | Comments (3)

Efficient business process

I ordered some RAM from a supplier on Friday. Today (Tuesday) I got an email telling me that the memory shipped on Saturday. Second-day, which means I should probably expect it today.

Any reason they couldn’t have sent that email on Saturday? Or even, for that matter, Monday? What’s the point of nearly instantaneous (and presumably automatic) communication if there’s a two-day delay in initiating it?

Now Playing: Burning Photographs from Rock N Roll by Ryan Adams

Posted by pjm at 1:34 PM | Comments (0)


I feel like I am relatively quiet here, lately. I know, you don’t need to scroll down very far to hit the lengthy exploration of the Lydiard base phase, but even that seems pretty unfinished. There are a lot of unfinished ideas right now, which is not always bad; yesterday I started a post about configuration issues I’m having with vsftpd which kept leading me back to the web for more research. I even opened up the source of a non-Perl open-source program for the first time. I think I’m going to end up writing the author with a feature request, because I’m definitely not ready to hack his C source, but I feel like I want to exhaust all options before becoming a nag. And that’s sparking some interesting questions about my place in the larger open source community. So, example of an unfinished thought.

I wanted to post pretty pictures of caching (and going to cross-country meets) in snow, but it turns out that I’ve lost the USB cable to hook my camera to my Mac, so you’d have to come here and look at the tiny LCD on the back of the camera to see them.

Response to my wish-list post being sufficiently deafening, I will concentrate on feature requests and bug fixes for the immediate family, unless it turns out that you all just tuned me out around the point where I discussed flow control operators and array assignment in PHP.

Sometimes I’m finding that I don’t write things like that because I don’t think anyone is interested in reading them, and I need to remind myself that the point of this exercise (at least for me) is not that it’s reader-relevant.

Now Playing: Philosophy from Ben Folds Live by Ben Folds

Posted by pjm at 9:57 AM | Comments (2)

November 15, 2004


I never knew you could get this greasy replacing a light bulb. I suppose I should’ve expected it when the first step of the instructions was, “Unhook the power steering fluid reservoir…” Still, why all the goo on the plug itself?

How did the world work before Fast Orange?

Posted by pjm at 7:32 PM | Comments (0)

The cleaning service

After filling my water bottle with ice and water, I stayed in the kitchen trying to explain to one of my co-workers how to deal with the virus which has infected her home computer. She’s been a relatively receptive audience for home computer advice, since she has two teenagers who work the poor thing to the limit. She’s installed Firefox and AVG and listened to my canned speech about how commercial anti-virus companies have a disincentive to completely stop the spread of viruses. (If they did their job too well, nobody would pay for virus-signature subscriptions, would they?) I think I conveyed the message that she needs to boot into safe mode and then scan again with AVG.

As we were moving back towards work, she said, “You need to write a book about all this.” I replied, “Why should I do that? Even if there weren’t dozens already, why would anyone spend $15 on a book before they get a virus?”

“I’m in danger of having to pay someone hundreds of dollars to fix my computer. I’d rather buy a $15 book,” she said. “Yes,” I answered, “But who does that math in advance? Cost-benefit analysis is taught in security classes; you estimate the potential cost of a breach and compare it with the cost of mitigating the vulnerability. Who decides to spend $15 on a book because they see the potential of spending hundreds recovering from an infection?”

“I know a good publisher,” she said. “We only publish biology textbooks,” I reminded her.

Does anybody really do cost-benefit analysis on home computer security? Enough that anyone bothers to publish books?

Now Playing: Crawling Back To You from Wildflowers by Tom Petty

Posted by pjm at 4:29 PM | Comments (0)

Plugged in

Electrical project du jour: replacing halogen headlight bulbs in the car. I discovered that the driver’s side low-beam was burned out on Saturday evening; yesterday I looked up the bulb I needed in the manual (and confirmed that I could replace the bulb myself, and wouldn’t need to replace an entire sealed headlight assembly,) and this morning I was down at the parts place picking up two of them on my way to work. The instructions for the replacement remind me of the process for replacing bulbs in the stage lights, back in high school, including the oft-repeated cautions not to touch the bulb under any circumstances to avoid an early death for the poor little glowing tube. The difference is that the headlight bulbs cost about $7.50, and the whole assembly probably comes in under $100; I was instructed that if the stage lights fell, I was to break the fall with my body, because “we can replace you; we can’t replace the light.”

I’m doing both bulbs, on the theory that if one is burned out, the other must be pretty disgruntled with its lot by now.

Fun headlight fact: the one bulb has two filaments, to handle high beams and low beams respectively. This is why, when you click between the two, there is that brief interval of both high and low. (Or, more disconcertingly, neither.)

Now Playing: Reptile from Starfish by The Church

Posted by pjm at 11:07 AM | Comments (1)

November 13, 2004

Too paternal?

I was just playing catch with the cat.

Really. Catch. I mean, he doesn’t toss it back, or anything. But he will catch.

In fact, pound for pound, I think he makes Nomah look pretty pathetic. I mean, name the MLB shortstop with a vertical leap twice his own height.

Posted by pjm at 10:39 PM | Comments (0)

November 12, 2004

Notes on the Lydiard seminar: base training

There are too many things to write about, but since nearly everyone else has some sort of qualifying cross-country meet tomorrow, I’ve got running on my brain. On my way out of the pool this morning (I crashed on the last 6x50y set) I stopped by the cross-country coach’s office to offer my good-luck wishes for their regional meet (qualifying for Nationals) tomorrow, and wound up talking about plantar fasciitis for half an hour. (He’s been there, done that, and had the surgery.) Alison’s girls have their regional meet (qualifying for States) tomorrow as well. One hopes the snow we’re still getting has mostly thawed, not that a little snow ever got in the way of good cross-country.

But I keep remembering bits and pieces of Lydiard, and since I seem to have a column next week, I should get the ideas in order. Perhaps if I regurgitate a few thousand words here, I can distill it all to a few hundred for the column.

As I understand it, the biggest concept in the Lydiard training system deals with a pair of very basic physiological processes. We produce fuel-energy through a very efficient process which uses oxygen (and is therefore referred to as the aerobic process) and a wasteful and waste-producing process which doesn’t use oxygen (and is therefore called anaerobic). When the lungs and heart can’t send oxygen to the muscles as fast as it’s being used, the anaerobic process kicks in; endurance athletes call this “going anaerobic.” It’s like seeing the fuel light in your car: you’re still moving, but not for long.

Marathoners talk about “hitting the wall,” but it’s different; marathoners seldom, if ever, go anaerobic, and their wall has more to do with a lack of food-fuel (glycogen) than a lack of oxygen. Sprinters, particularly swimmers and quarter-milers, call it “rigging up” or talk about “when the bear jumped on my back.” That’s when the consequences of going anaerobic hit. “I ran until my muscles burned and my veins pumped battery acid,” goes the Fight Club quote.

You can’t push back that wall. However, according to the Lydiard system, you can improve your ability to work while staying aerobic. (Let’s not argue about “aerobic capacity” or “Max VO2”, and whether those can change, because that’s not the argument; it’s what you can do with the oxygen you get.) Your anaerobic ability is only trainable to a certain point, but over the course of three to five years, you can develop your aerobic capacity so it takes longer to go anaerobic, or so you can cover more ground faster before you decide to go anaerobic.

The classic example of this is Peter Snell. Snell was a half-miler; he held the world and Olympic records at the 800m distance and won two consecutive gold medals. But he trained like a marathoner. Snell, Lydiard said, had the most natural speed of anyone he’d ever trained. Lydiard gave him such an aerobic base that with a half-lap to go, the rest of the field was beginning to feel the burn, and Snell was still fresh. In the video clips we saw, most of the athletes were beginning to show the signs of the bear on the backstretch; Snell’s stride was still long and loose. It was obvious that he still had speed left to use.

So, there’s the basis of the system: develop the aerobic base. The popular perception is that this means hundred-mile weeks, and it can, if you’re that fast, but the real idea is time-based rather than distance-based: you’re not supposed to worry about distance covered, but to just go out and run easily for as long as it’s comfortable. When it stops being comfortable, you stop running. When you’re starting from nothing, this can mean fifteen or twenty minutes a day; eventually, you start needing shorter days for full recovery (say, alternating half-hour and hour days, just as an example. I’m horrible at deriving realistic examples from the general concepts, by the way.) Eventually you’re hitting two-hour and longer runs on the weekends. Maybe it takes you two hours to cover ten miles, but you’re getting the same aerobic benefit as the Olympians who cover twenty in two hours.

And here there’s a neat argument for running to time and not distance. If you try running to distance, and you’re fast, you may actually get away without as much work as you need; you may run too fast and get done early, for instance. If the point is to run for two hours, cover two hours; don’t do a sixteen-mile route and be proud of yourself for running an hour-fifty, because you’ve shortchanged yourself ten minutes of aerobic development. Likewise, if you’re running twelve-minute miles, a sixteen-miler is just going to beat you up; ten miles gets you two hours and the same benefit as the fast guy got.

The aerobic base takes a long time to build. Lydiard’s marathon program suggests ten weeks, but he reiterated that successive programs get progressively better results; Snell, he said, was his fastest developer, reaching world-class in “only” three years. Truly, a sport of patience.

I’ve just started, of course.

Posted by pjm at 5:06 PM | Comments (0)

November 11, 2004

Wishes update

I have been hacking at the wish list project for a good chunk of today. I think it’s workable, now, though it lacks a lot of refinement (and certainly lacks any more than functional design.)

I think if there was ever a quiz which asked, “What’s your favorite flow control function?” (maybe the “Intolerable Geek” quiz,) mine would be switch(). In fact, I think the world needs more switch(), because it’s not binary, and it’s very flexible. It can even be inclusive. I’m very fond of switch(). I’m also (belatedly) realizing that my total lifetime output of PHP code could be reduced by some significant percentage (and probably run marginally faster) if I used list() more judiciously. There’s always more to learn, always room to grow. (Or shrink, in this case.)

Obviously, I’ve set this up for me and my family. However, it’s arranged such that it can handle multiple families, and (obviously) overlapping families; you tell it which families you want to see lists for, they can then see yours, and off you go. If the family you want isn’t there, you add it.

I’ve got a few beta testers in the family, but some of my family members are notorious technophobes, and I want to make sure I’ve ironed this out as much as possible. Is anyone here interested in beta testing? This isn’t going to hack your system, erase your email, phone your mother and call her names if there’s a bug; however, it does require anyone you want to see your list to also register (and therefore implicitly create a list of their own.)

(And if you’re asking, “Why not use Amazon’s?” you haven’t been following along: roughly, the problem is that with an Amazon wish list, you can see when someone bought something for you. No fun, in my opinion. Plus, this setup allows others to suggest items for you—and you can’t see the suggestions, either. So it allows for some serendipity.)

Let me know. Drop a comment, email, whatever. If there’s interest, I’ll publish the URL this weekend, or just email it to anyone who asks.

Posted by pjm at 9:11 PM | Comments (0)

On the other hand

I did finally get a positive response from one of my many emails to the University Which Won’t Talk To Me. (I’ll have to start calling them the University Which Wouldn’t Talk To Me.) Nine days from initial contact to response, but they aren’t trying to run a customer-focused operation over there. (Or, to put it another way, they haven’t decided if they want me as a customer yet.)

Now I need to get my questions in line. (And start putting the applications together: just over a month to the first deadline, and most of them in two months.)

Posted by pjm at 7:20 PM | Comments (0)


Strikeout. I went after three caches this afternoon, and didn’t find any of them.

The idea was to take my bike to the Ashley Reservoir in Holyoke and ride around this multicache, picking up another cache on the way. Then I’d get another one which was on my way home.

I found the first two stages of the multi, but was completely stumped by the third. Finally, I gave up on it and went to try and spot the single cache nearby. I must have walked circles around it, but the leaves were ankle-deep where they weren’t calf-deep and I probably didn’t even spot the good hiding sites. The sun was setting by then, so I finished my lap (stopping back at the second stage of the multi to make sure I hadn’t mis-read the third-stage coordinates—I hadn’t.) It was a nice day for riding, actually; I would have really enjoyed it if I hadn’t generally failed at everything else I came to do.

So I went after the third cache, a micro… and went down swinging. (You’ll have to admit, it’s hard to make a thorough search in a high traffic area.) What a discouraging afternoon.

Now Playing: Clocks from A Rush Of Blood To The Head by Coldplay

Posted by pjm at 7:02 PM | Comments (0)

November 10, 2004

The year 10000 problem

I’ve just hacked one of our forms for setting expiration dates so that it will accept a “no expiration date” option. Actually, it does set an expiration date: it sets the year to 9999, the highest value which MySQL will allow in a DATE column.

If anyone is still running this system eight thousand years or so from now, they will need to watch out for this.

I wonder if I’ll see software which allows for five-digit years in my lifetime?

Now Playing: Good Year For The Roses from Best Of by Elvis Costello & The Attractions

Posted by pjm at 3:44 PM | Comments (0)

The increasing irrelevance of referrer statistics

I’ve noticed that amid the clouds of obviously spammed referrers in my site logs, I’m seeing a lot of Movable Type comment CGIs. It’s not easy to connect the fake referrers to the hundreds of comment-spam submissions smacking in to MT-Blacklist like birds into a plate-glass window, so it’s hard to know what they’re actually trying to do (it could be pointless referrer spam.)

But it really looks like an attempt to get around mod_rewrite hacks (or similar ones using mod_access) to spam comments. Interesting.

I think it’s fair to say that spammers have now ruined a useful and interesting tool: referrer data. It used to be interesting to see where people were finding links to your site. It used to be a way of finding references to what you’d written. (OK, practically nobody references anything I’ve written, but still.) Now, it’s just a silly list of whatever fertilizer is sprayed this way by the spammers—ruining yet another source of information in the uncompromising scramble for our attention.

Now Playing: Sunshine/Nowhere To Run from Tarantula by Ride

Posted by pjm at 10:33 AM | Comments (0)

November 9, 2004

Maybe we just haven't found the right tree

A. is perpetually amused that I am one of those people who stops and picks up small change when I spot it lying on the ground. She makes a point of giving me all the coins she finds, and since she covers more ground than I do nowadays, she normally has a big lead in cash found.

Until this week. On Sunday, I found a dollar bill. (On a Manhattan sidewalk, no less.) Then today I found a five.

Are they blowing down with the leaves?

Now Playing: Your Skies Are Mine from Songs From The Other Side by The Charlatans

Posted by pjm at 5:01 PM | Comments (0)

The multi-optic marathon

I started a thought, last Friday, about the lack of an omniscient viewpoint in sporting events, most particularly in marathons. I’ve sat in the press rooms, in the lead trucks, and on the sidewalks of several dozen marathons over the last ten years or so; this past weekend was my ninth NYCM, for example. My specific assignments have varied some, but generally they all fit under the general description, “tell the story of the race.”

There are as many overlapping stories in a marathon as there are entrants, of course, so the reporter narrows things down by concentrating on what’s going on at the front. The available perspectives are, in general, these:

  • Two television cameras, one ahead of the pack and another on a motorcycle behind or beside the pack.
  • Voice reports from an observer (for the television broadcast) who is sitting beside the “ahead” camera.
  • Sometimes, voice reports from bicycle spotters around the pack. (I saw several cyclists on the course in New York, but I’m not aware who they were talking to; in Boston, recently, they talk to me. When they can.)
  • Sporadic reports from spotters at fixed locations on the course. (Usually these are best for describing off-lead events: the gaps behind the lead pack, or athletes dropping out.)
  • After the race, photographs.

We can discount the fifth immediately; photos are great for visualizing after the event, but are a non-starter for figuring out what’s going on as it happens. The third and fourth are useful for filling in gaps in what we don’t get from the first and second. But the television images feed the most consistent data, and in the press room we gaze at them obsessively, trying to glean an insight from the visions.

Also, for each of these, remember that there are (at least) two races in play simultaneously, the men and the women.

The limitations of the camera and the truck observers are huge, however. Even the double perspective of two cameras on each race can’t see inside a twenty-strong pack of Africans, a startlingly common sight in the first half of any major marathon. Those packs are islands of heavy traffic more treacherous than 290 in Worcester, and if they were cars they’d “swap paint” more often than NASCAR drivers. Annually someone goes down, and you don’t see it until they’re already bouncing back up and pursuing. Once the pack breaks up, the producer directing the cameras has to make the agonizing choice of whether to send the motorcycle camera back to the “chase pack;” if they make up the gap on a breakaway, it’s great drama to watch them reel in the leaders, but if the breakaway is solid, the moto camera is now stranded a few hundred yards adrift and will not be able to respond to changes in the lead pack.

By now you should begin to see where I’m headed: nobody really sees the whole story. Sometimes the lead camera is fortunate enough to capture an entire race; it’s fair to say, for example, that Paula Radcliffe was on camera for the entire women’s race in New York on Sunday. Sometimes a winner vanishes for huge chunks of time; my favorite example is Moses Tanui in the 1998 Boston Marathon. Tanui ran his race to plan, a steadily-paced race, and was almost never in the lead pack. Coming out of the Newton hills he was a distant blob flitting in and out of camera view. Coming through Brookline, the leaders were suffering and slowing down, and Tanui blasted past them like they were waiting for a Green Line train. It’s one of my favorite Boston images, actually, which we ran as a two page spread: the lead pack of five or six is zoning out, but Gert Thys is looking over his shoulder towards Tanui, who isn’t even in focus. I imagined the caption: “Uh, guys? Remember Moses?”

And after the race, reporters who had watched the entire race on television started the press conference with questions like, “So, Moses, what happened?”

Lest you think this is a problem principally of marathons, which perversely insist on covering twenty-six-plus miles of territory, consider how much you didn’t see of, say, the last football game you watched. (Assuming you watch football; I don’t.) Didn’t the quarterback cease to exist after he released the pass? And that’s in a constrained space with about three times as many cameras as your average marathon. The viewpoints are there, but you can’t watch them all; you’re limited to the decisions made by a (fallible) producer in a trailer (or basement) nearby, who is attempting to watch all those feeds. (I’ve noted before that the more I see of a marathon, the less I understand what has actually happened.)

It’s hard not to connect this to the idea of the panopticon… it’s not just that you may be watched, it’s that the person watching you may not really understand what they’re seeing.

Now Playing: Man On The Mountain from Still Burning by Mike Scott

Posted by pjm at 12:47 PM | Comments (2)

November 8, 2004

Guinea pigs

If you haven’t done so already, please read and consider this request for interview subjects.

Now Playing: Four Days from This Desert Life by Counting Crows

Posted by pjm at 11:24 AM | Comments (0)


It looks like, in the shuffle of notebooks in the media center, I left behind the one in which I took all my notes at the Lydiard seminar. Certainly not the most serious loss of the weekend, but nonetheless frustrating.

I’ll have to try to remember what I can.

Now Playing: Cortez The Killer from A Box Of Birds by The Church

Posted by pjm at 10:50 AM | Comments (0)

November 7, 2004

Viewpoints, One

After the race, Dan Browne was in the media center discussing his race. Browne ran the Athens Olympic marathon, and was coming back for a pretty tough double (though Meb Keflezighi had a similar challenge and finished second in both races.) Browne was actually reported as a DNF around midway through the race, but he kept plugging and ended up finishing twenty-second.

The first interesting part was that place. He was never a part of the massive, freewheeling blob of fifteen to twenty which tends to dominate the Brooklyn and Queens parts of New York; he must have been dropped fairly early in the race. But when the pack hits First Avenue and someone snaps the elastic band which is holding them all together, they scatter, and if you’re still in the back and feeling good, you can pick up a lot of roadkill. On television, you see the same faces being winnowed down to a winner, but when you look at the results it’s shocking to see how far back someone can fall after being dropped by that lead pack, and how well someone else can finish without ever having their face on the screen. Probably half the runners in the pack halfway through the race didn’t finish. They really go for broke.

The next interesting part was his explanation of how quitting was never an option in his mind. I was turning that over on the drive home, thinking about his morning and mine, and particularly different mindsets, considering that I have dropped out of two of the five marathons I’ve started. We both set out on a task, and we both completed it, but Browne completed his task by being stubborn, tenacious, or both. He stuck to his original approach and persevered.

I, on the other hand, refused to spend much time pursuing avenues which weren’t working. I abandoned probably four or five alternate courses of action before finding one that works. Frustration, for me, isn’t when something doesn’t work; it’s when I need to go far down my list of fall-back positions. Browne has no fall-back positions.

Posted by pjm at 9:00 PM | Comments (0)

Not omniscient

Busy morning. I’ve been, I suppose, “blogging” the ING New York City Marathon. I’m done now.

Minor crises littered the early part of the morning, among them my computer and the press-room wireless network not really wanting to play. I wound up dialing up rather than wrestling with the network; I know I could have solved the problem, but probably not until far too late in the day. Better to route around the damage. Now, of course, when I need it less, it’s working just fine.

Another morning glitch: I had planned to exchange files with my editor (yes, I was being edited) using a USB flash drive I’d borrowed from work. Which is all well and good, but he’s using one of the old berry-colored iBooks, and the curving case meant the jack itself was too far recessed for the drive to plug in effectively. There’s something we wouldn’t have anticipated. I figured, hey, if it has a USB jack, I should be fine, right?

Now I’m waiting here in the media center for the race NYRR’s executive director, who, I’m told, wants to “pick my brain.” I’m not sure what I will have to tell her that she doesn’t already know, but I suppose I’ll find out.

There’s an interesting image, asking an athlete about a race: “Did you know on foot one that this wasn’t going to be a good day?” Foot one. I like it.

Posted by pjm at 1:30 PM | Comments (0)

November 6, 2004

A legend in winter

I will, I promise, come back to that thought about the lack of an omniscient viewpoint in sporting events, but I was at a seminar this afternoon which affected me pretty strongly, and I want to at least explore a bit of why before I lose it. I took a lot of notes, and hopefully they’ll still make sense to me when I have time to write them up.

The seminar almost didn’t happen. It was scheduled for Monday, the 8th, then abruptly cancelled not long before the event. Someone who had planned to attend asked why it was cancelled, and on hearing the reason (no venue) lined up the logistics and rescheduled it for today (Saturday the 6th.) Partly due to the last-minute preparations, the word did not get around, and I was one of maybe six or eight people in attendance.

This was a surprise because the speaker was Arthur Lydiard, a New Zealander who coached four athletes to six medals (four gold) at the Rome and Tokyo Olympics, and taught the coaches of more other gold medalists than I can easily count. One of his direct athletes was Peter Snell, who won the 800m in both Rome and Tokyo, and doubled back to win the 1500m in Tokyo. Lydiard’s methods don’t appear particularly revolutionary, but they’re so effective that nowadays nearly every track coach worth the title uses at least part of his approach. To name just one of his advances, he pioneered the idea of periodizing training to peak for a single goal race.

I’d seen Lydiard speak before. My coach in Pennsylvania was an enthusiastic disciple of his, and on his last American tour in 1999 he made sure Lydiard stopped in Emmaus, where he spoke to a packed room which included our entire training group. Somewhere I’ve got a blurry picture of all of us with him, and a signed copy of his book, Running to the Top. A few weeks later I ran a PR marathon in Columbus, qualified for Boston, and was sold on the program.

Lydiard is nowhere near as spry now as he was then, when he joined us for a few beers after the lecture. (Yes, I’ve had a beer with Arthur Lydiard. Yes, I am a shameless name-dropper. I spent this evening with international magazine editors, a successful playwright and at least one rock star. I am not making this up, but I am presenting it in the most glamourous way possible. But I digress.) He’s had a stroke since he was here last, and is frighteningly wobbly when he walks (he knows this,) and remarkably non-linear when he talks (he doesn’t appear to be aware of this.) His tour manager (for lack of a better title) had a very good presentation set up, and essentially he walked through the presentation as a skeleton and let Lydiard interject stories, examples, and principles as they came up. He provided the structure, and Lydiard provided the rambling.

It worked well, but it seemed to me that this may be the last chance I had to see him. I think I absorbed a lot more of the core principles of his system than I had before, and I’ll try to describe them in a series of posts which are likely to bore you all to tears if you’re not endurance athletes or lunatics, like I am. (Both, thank you.) Unless I can find another good home for my fleshed-out notes, in which case I’ll link to them.

Anyway, the thing which struck me (and, in fact, got me pretty warmed up) was how startlingly simple it all is. Coaching an athlete, developing an athlete, with this system, is almost like baking bread. You add the right things in the right proportions, in the right order, give it enough time, and you get good results. He’s got his share of incongruous add-on results to work around isolated problems (for example, the advice I gave to the Scoplaw some months ago to take calcium and/or magnesium to prevent cramping muscles,) but the bulk of the system is really pretty easy to understand. (Maybe it just seemed that way to me, since I’ve been steeped in it for so long; I think the first real coach I ever had, in high school, worked mostly from Lydiard’s canon.)

But I feel like a lot of coaches who think they understand how to develop athletes—particularly at the high-school level, where there isn’t really a lot of qualification needed to coach—are adapting their own training to their athletes’. And in most cases they don’t really understand the principles behind the specifics, or their own coaches (if they had any) didn’t explain the reasoning behind the system. It looks like there’s an effort on to preserve Lydiard’s legacy; I hope they can contribute to making the sort of presentation I saw today easily accessible.

Posted by pjm at 10:37 PM | Comments (0)

November 5, 2004

Weekend mind-frame

I think, on Sunday, the theme of my day will be: in any sporting event, there is nobody who understands everything that’s going on at any given time. And afterward, there is nobody who can explain everything that happened. There simply is no omniscient vantage point.

Particularly when you sprawl the event across all five boroughs of New York.

It may even be true that the harder you try, the less you understand.

Which is not to say I won’t try.

Now Playing: Take Me Anywhere from Human Cannonball by School Of Fish

Posted by pjm at 5:06 PM | Comments (0)


One of the obvious signs of getting “into shape” is that things which used to be difficult no longer are. Generally, for me, that means covering greater distance or stepping up to bigger weights, but it also means doing the same workouts with greater ease. Perhaps three thousand yards doesn’t leave me as wasted as it did two months ago.

A less obvious sign is a need for more warmup. When I was in high school, I remember running a mile of warmup for workouts and considering that sufficient—all I really wanted was to break a sweat. In college, we shot for two miles of warmup, and I got used to that. I wanted more than to be warm; I wanted to feel loose and ready to run hard.

After college, I ran for a while with a crew of marathoners who scoffed at any day with milage numbered in single digits. Warmup was at least three miles, with the same distance covered as cool-down after the workout. (On at least two occasions, this meant track work became a seventeen-mile day, with eleven miles on the track and six more of warmup and cool-down.) For most weekend road races, I ran as much or more warming up and cooling down as I did racing; at a 5K, I would run the course once for warmup, race it, then run it again for cool-down. I only skipped it for races like marathons, where the first few miles of the race can usually be used as a warmup.

The funny part was, I needed this. My body had become so used to covering great distances that a single mile really wasn’t enough to wake me up. (This is quite literal; when I ran in the mornings, I could usually cover a few miles before becoming fully awake.)

It’s not just physical. The bigger a coding project I attempt, the longer it takes me to wrap my head around it and make significant progress.

I’m seeing it in swimming, now. I have three basic sets, all around 3000 yards; two of them use a 800y warmup, and the third only 500y. And I’ve noticed that when I do the set with the short warmup, I can’t really dig in to the first part of the main set.

Now that it’s November, the college team has started morning practices four days a week. I will have to shift my swimming to the evenings, which is going to really disrupt my routine.

Now Playing: I See Monsters from Love Is Hell by Ryan Adams

Posted by pjm at 11:15 AM | Comments (0)

As if you needed more convincing

The SANS Internet Storm Center handler Tom Liston has been writing a series in the Handler’s Diary which he calls “Follow the Bouncing Malware.” He’s essentially watching, step by step, what happens when a spyware/adware infestation begins on an unpatched Windows system.

By the end of the third stage, the system has downloaded fifteen files weighing in over 2 MB total, and has installed twenty files weighing in at over 3 MB. The user gave permission for none of it. “With over 2 MB of software downloaded, installed, and executed without his permission, I would say that there is little doubt that [this user] isn’t the guy running the show.”

If you’re not already well aware of the perils of Internet Explorer, this should be required reading. Start with Part 1, then hit Part 2 and Part 3.

Now Playing: Time Machine from Going Blank Again by Ride

Posted by pjm at 10:47 AM | Comments (0)

November 4, 2004

Weird comments

Two unusual comments were embedded in today’s batch auto-moderated by MT-Blacklist. (By the way, if you post to an entry which is more than fourteen days old, or which hasn’t had a post approved in the past day, I’ll need to “approve” it before it goes up. You wouldn’t believe the comment spam which I haven’t needed to erase from pages for that reason; I just delete it from the moderation queue.)

These posts read like the goofy short e-mail messages which have virus-laden .zip files attached: “Hi, how are you,” or, “I found your site through blogspot.” They have screamingly generic email addresses at big ISPs, and include URLs to sites which match the names, but don’t exist.

In other words, no commercial message whatever. Just quasi-random noise.

What’s the point?

Update, November 9th: Ben Hammersley’s noticed the same comments. Same names and domains, as well. I’ve had several more; I’m auto-moderating them now in MT-Blacklist.

Now Playing: Ripcord from Pablo Honey by Radiohead

Posted by pjm at 9:58 AM | Comments (1)

November 3, 2004

iTried (or, more inconclusive results)

For the second time in as many nights, tonight, I had my older iPod open on the table. I used one of my new tiny screwdrivers as a decoy to the cat, and got the circuit board up and got my first view of the firewire jack connectors which are apparently the little brick’s undoing. Iz was put off by the smell of the hot soldering iron and left me alone while I tried to re-stick the contacts. I’ve got a few dozen pictures of the guts of an iPod now, but they’d be of more interest if the operation had been a success.

Unfortunately, I think a steadier hand and more solder is needed here. I took a swing at it, but when I put everything back together and jacked it in to my Mac, it performed the same dance it usually does: it pops up the apple as though ready to mount, but then gives me the “safe to disconnect” check-mark.

I doubt I’ll be able to get the circuit board up again the way I did tonight; I was not using the proper tools (a small Torx bit) and may have lost most of my grip on the four tiny screws. Perhaps with the proper Torx bit I could try again. It’s disappointing; I figured if one journalist could do it, I could too.

Meanwhile, I’ve put off replacing the battery in the newer pod until I get the results of a new charging experiment: is the problem more to do with having it plugged in to another Firewire device and not directly into the Mac?

And the one I can’t put any new music on will, apparently, now play for a full day without a recharge.

Now Playing: Dear Chicago from Demolition by Ryan Adams

Posted by pjm at 8:09 PM | Comments (0)

There's code running out my ears...

…because I’ve got the guts of our ordering system ripped out and spread all over my working space in between them. Fortunately, if there are parts left over when everything’s back together, I can just delete them.

Inside the <? and the ?> I’ve got some special objects which begin with a $, and outside I have special objects which begin with a &. The ones that start with & also have to end in ;, which is difficult because in the sections between the <? and the ?> I need to end every line with a ; unless I ended with a { (in which case I need to put in a } later on, which also doesn’t need a ;.) Oh, and sometimes there are :s and \rs which are something else again. I won’t even start on when I need to \ my “s and when I don’t.

Honestly, I think know what I’m doing, but switching back and forth between PHP, SQL, and HTML is making my fingers stagger. It’s like getting off a bicycle and trying to run.

Meanwhile, I read in today’s RW that “Stefano Baldini” is an anagram for “No idle fat in abs.”

Now Playing: Are You Ready from Strip-Mine by James

Posted by pjm at 4:12 PM | Comments (0)

Understanding me

This morning, more than any time since I started this, I don’t feel like I have anything to say which anyone wants to read. I suspect I’ll spend the day talking to computers, which can be convinced to listen to me if I punctuate correctly.

Now Playing: Rock N Roll from Rock N Roll by Ryan Adams

Posted by pjm at 10:02 AM | Comments (1)

November 2, 2004

False entitlement

With the New York City Marathon coming up next Sunday, the NYT has been treating us to a series of good, relatively thoughtful marathon-focused articles by some very good reporters. Today, for example, an article about the geographic breakdown of the field and how many New Yorkers feel like it’s too hard to get in to their hometown marathon, by Jere Longman, who I consider one of the best sportswriters on the “Olympic Sports” beat.

Full disclosure: I’ve had freelance assignments from the NYRR, the organization which puts on the NYCM, and I expect to be working for them in the press room on Sunday.

To summarize, the marathon has roughly 36,000 entrants, and the NYRR tries to break that into thirds: 12,000 international (non-US) runners, 12,000 in-US runners, and 12,000 New York runners. The marathon regularly turns away as many entrants as it accepts. (And, I might add, the NYRR is very specific about that number being entrants: their permits for the starting area limit them to some number significantly less than that, so they’re understandably cagey about whether or not they judge the no-show percentage correctly every year.)

And now there are New York runners who think that’s not enough: “It’s not the New York City Marathon; it’s only held here,” griped one. They think that since their taxes support the city services used by the marathon, they should have an easier time getting in.

Bah. And humbug. As the article notes, there are three different ways to enter without going through the lottery process: run a qualifying time at another marathon or half-marathon (I’m a long way from the marathon standard, but I think I could hit the half-marathon mark pretty easily,) run some number (eight or nine) of other NYRR races, which is actually pretty easy if you live in the city (I almost did it one year before I moved from Pennsylvania up to Massachusetts,) or just “lose” the lottery three years in a row. Any one of those gets you a guaranteed entry in the next NYCM.

“The qualifying times are too hard.” Sure. 3:00 for a marathon (for men) is not a piece of cake, and it’s ten minutes faster than Boston. 1:26 for a half, however, is a much easier hurdle; the only halves I’ve run slower were at altitude, or deliberately run as workouts.

“The races are too expensive.” You’re wanting entry to a marathon with an $80 entry fee, and you’re complaining about spending $20 once a month over a year as you get ready? I’m not sure I have much sympathy.

After all, there’s always that third option, the “three strikes and you’re in” rule. It’s like that baseball league when I was eight, where once you’d swung and missed at three pitches they brought out the tee so everyone got a “hit.” They’re really bending over backwards to let in the people who want in, and the people who are active in the local running community.

This really feels like typical aggrieved New Yorkness. They get so used to having things available, waiting outside their door or down the block, that something requiring some work, skill, or luck is something they need to whine about. They feel entitled to 24-hour availability, a baseball team in the World Series, and bib numbers for the local marathon. I am not impressed.

See, I grew up with the Boston Marathon, such an institution it practically has ivy growing on it. Boston has qualifying times. You run the times, you earn the privilege of coughing up $100 to run the race. I had to try three times to get my first Boston qualifier. I got my second on the first try, but the qualifier itself left me too wrecked to use it. I still haven’t finished the damn marathon.

I should add that Boston doesn’t have the circus atmosphere of New York. “This is not a jogging race,” the entry used to warn when the qualifying times were new. The appropriately-named Tim McLune (McLoon?) does not run Boston with a microphone, interviewing five-hour marathoners along the way. Everyone in the Boston marathon has the air of having passed the audition, made the cut, aced the test, even if they got a “club number” or a charity entry. They did the work; they earned it.

Could I work connections, and talk my way into Boston without a qualifier? Probably. Do I feel entitled to run Boston? Hell, no.

Grow up, New York. Put in the work. You can’t buy every World Series, and you can’t buy every number for the NYCM.

Now Playing: Deep End from School Of Fish by School Of Fish

Posted by pjm at 1:43 PM | Comments (1)

Big day

Vote early, vote often.

I had a nice long screed put together yesterday about all the name-calling in this election (not by the candidates—by their supporters) but once I had it out of my system and on the screen, I didn’t feel compelled to post it anymore.

I did my bit this morning, along with a healthy line of neighbors. Tonight I plan to hack on the Wish List project, crack open an iPod or two (mmm, nothing like warm solder and a mischievous cat to liven up your evening,) and ignore news sites. There’s nothing more I can do.

Now Playing: God Put A Smile Upon Your Face from A Rush Of Blood To The Head by Coldplay

Posted by pjm at 9:55 AM | Comments (0)