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June 29, 2007

I should try this recipe

The stand-by of the desert traveler, however, is tea—not the emasculated and emaciated beverage of civilization, but a potent black brew made from one handful of tea and sugar in equal proportions, placed in a small pot having a capacity of perhaps a pint of water. This is boiled and the bitter-sweet liquid is served in tiny glasses holding about two ounces.

Two glasses of this drink will imbue the user with remarkable vitality. He becomes wakeful, watchful, and eager for the journey. The effect is exhilarating without being intoxicating. This desert tea is an acquired taste; but once the Bedouin beverage habit is formed, it is very difficult to go back to the pallid tea of civilization….

From “Crossing the Libyan Desert” by A. M. Hassanein Bey (1889-1946) in Worlds to Explore: Classic Tales of Travel & Adventure from National Geographic

Now Playing: St. Peter from Wholesale Meats And Fish by Letters To Cleo

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Posted by pjm at 7:49 PM | Comments (0)

I'm not this interesting by myself

Usually I check the IAAF website to find my stories. This morning, I found a press release about the latest one in my email.

Chasing this one took a lot of work, or at least I made it more work than it probably needed to be. The assignment came by email while I was on the plane to Indianapolis, and (by coincidence) ten minutes before the subject, Allyson Felix, had a press conference at the track there. When I read the email, I’d was sitting in the same tent, three or four hours later. Missed opportunity #1.

Missed opportunity #2 was that when we left the tent that day, Felix was standing outside it, but I didn’t recognize her. (New blond hair.)

I spent part of that weekend making a pest of myself to her agent, himself once a world-class hurdler. I spoke with him on the phone once, but then the competition schedule really picked up—Felix ran both the 100m and 200m, which meant she was racing every day, plus he represents two other athletes who made the Osaka team—and I was just sending emails with no replies and leaving voice mail.

Missed opportunity #3 was the mixed zone. I got some quotes from Felix about where she is now and what she’s up to this summer, but nothing about six years ago, unsurprisingly. I probably could have bothered her for ten minutes or so after a round, or maybe after the 100m, but there’s nothing like the coulda-woulda-shouldas here.

So then I’m back to calling her agent, once home from Indianapolis. You know how much I don’t love this. Enough time has passed that I have to re-explain the point of the story, but this time he decides to make it happen. He’ll call me Wednesday afternoon and put me on a conference call. That happens, I record the interview, write for an hour and a half or so, and send it in: done. The writing was the easiest part.

The conference call was an interesting strategy. I’ve never run in to it with distance runners, but I’ve seldom done phone interviews with distance runners of Felix’s profile. Part of her agent’s job, after all, is to make sure reporters (like me) aren’t pestering her at all hours, which means I don’t get her phone number. It’s also possible that the agent had someone on the call as well, though that might be too paranoid to be true. (I am good at thinking like I’m paranoid when I need to.)

Anyway, it’s done. Time I sent an invoice.

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Posted by pjm at 9:49 AM | Comments (0)

June 28, 2007

Nothing wrong with being early

Somerville, apparently, has fireworks early over the Independence Day holiday, and with the holiday itself coming on Wednesday, everyone else claims this weekend, and Somerville launched tonight. We live in a part of Medford which is practically Somerville (I have joked that you could throw a baseball into Somerville from here, and it might be true if there weren’t so many houses in the way; certainly Breaux Greer could get a javelin over there) and the Somerville fireworks are nearly on the Medford line, so we can hear them from the house; this year, we opted to walk up and watch.

I tried taking some long-exposure photos, but I was sabotaged by the twin problems of neglecting a tripod and there being significant shutter delay on my camera. Most of my photos showed the dim embers of fireworks, if they showed anything at all. The others are so busy they’re nearly psychedelic.

But I expect if I wanted to learn from my mistakes, I could probably find a few more fireworks shows between now and next Wednesday.

Now Playing: Burnin’ from Tarantula by Ride

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Posted by pjm at 9:54 PM | Comments (0)


The late-June hiatus seems to be becoming a habit of mine.

I’ve done some writing, but it hasn’t been published yet, so I won’t tell that story (yet). I’ve done a lot of other work, but that’s also not public yet, and I’m reluctant to talk too much about something I can’t show. (We call that “vaporware.”)

I’m not really a fan of this sort of writing-about-not-writing bit either, so I’ll stop soon. But I haven’t forgotten about here.

Now Playing: Rain by The Georgia Satellites

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June 22, 2007

Displaying adaptability

My new running shoes felt great on the two miles back from Marathon Sports to the apartment on Monday. So on Tuesday night, despite only two miles on them, I tossed them in the suitcase in place of a heavier, but more experienced pair.

Wednesday evening, I discovered that they rub in a place I haven’t developed a callus yet. Thursday morning, it blistered pretty thoroughly, despite one of those Band-Aid anti-blister pads. (As soon as I start sweating, those travel.)

Thursday evening, in preparation for an early-Friday-morning run, I drained the blister, put another pad on, then secured it with the best tool I could find.

Duct tape.

Securing the blister pad

It’s not just for ducks anymore!

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Posted by pjm at 2:28 PM | Comments (2)

June 21, 2007

Swag prediction

There’s a prediction contest here at the meet. It’s open to “credentialed media only,” and the entry process is such that anyone else probably couldn’t enter anyway. One event per day. Guess the winning mark in the designated event (today it was the javelin; I don’t even know the range these guys throw, so I didn’t enter,) and you win a $20 credit at the USATF-ware tent.

This being named the “swag sweepstakes,” I figure I should enter some SWAGs myself (“SWAG” == “Scientific Wild-Ass Guess”) but I’m open to any suggestions. The remaining events are the men’s 100m final (Friday), the women’s 100m hurdles final (Saturday) and the men’s 200m final (Sunday). Make a suggestion; if I like it better than mine (and I get it before entry) I’ll enter it as mine. In the unlikely event that I win, I’ll find a way to share.

The best part of the entry form is the final paragraph:

In addition, any writer using correct corporate entitlements [e.g. “AT&T Men’s 200m Final”—ed.] for all events on the track or in the field in their printed stories—and who gets their editors to retain the entitlements in the final copy—wins anything they want.*

The footnote: “* As long as we stay it’s OK.”

Posted by pjm at 7:28 PM | Comments (0)

June 20, 2007


I know it’s commonplace now, but it’s still kind of cool to me that I can log in to the Mac Mini in my living room from a wireless network in Indianapolis.

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Posted by pjm at 5:38 PM | Comments (0)

Winning speculation

I didn’t have paying work coming in to this meet, though it would be worthwhile anyway as background material for Osaka. You might say I booked the trip and requested credentials “on spec”.

However, in the last 24 hours I’ve had two unexpected assignments (both on fairly short turnaround, as well,) which are going to make this actually profitable, neither tied directly to my attendance here but both improved by it. I’ll have a track-season roundup for RT and an athlete profile for the IAAF. The athlete profile is both lucky and unlucky: on the good side, she’s West Coast-based, and Indianapolis will probably be the only time we’ll be in the same city before Osaka. On the minus side, the assignment arrived this morning, ten minutes before she held a press conference here and while I was still on a plane.

(Internet access here is only at the track, so I expect to continue my quiet streak here for a while.)

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Posted by pjm at 5:02 PM | Comments (0)

June 17, 2007

The lion roars

I was pleased to see this article in the South African press announcing that Leonid Shvetsov, a Russian doctor resident in the US, set a new record for the “down” run of the Comrades Marathon. The previous record was 21 years old. (The Comrades Marathon, actually 89.3k and therefore somewhat more than twice the length of a standard marathon, is a point-to-point race between Durban and Pietermaritzburg, and alternates direction. Since Pietermartizburg is higher than Durban, years the race starts in Durban are “up” races; from Pietermaritzburg, like this year, “down” races.)

I met Shvetsov nearly ten years ago, at the 1997 Chicago Marathon. In 1997, the marathon world record was 2:06:50 and very few active marathoners had ever run under 2:08. Leonid was one of the rabbits, and because Chicago’s course winds in and out of downtown he was able to turn up in the press room (almost always the best place to watch a big-city marathon) shortly after leaving the course. Khalid Khannouchi, running his debut marathon, went on to finish in an eye-opening 2:07:10, and throughout the closing miles Leonid was sitting next to me (one of the available empty seats), reading off the splits stored in his watch and commenting on the race. I commented on his choice of sponsor—he was an Asics athlete, so Leo the Lion was running for Tiger. I found him the friendliest and most approachable marathoner I’d ever met, doubly so considering he was working in his second language.

We had some sporadic email contacts while I was working for RW, and I noted his shift from marathons to ultras when he scored a second at Comrades six years ago, but he dropped out of my sight for a while. Now it looks like everything finally came together for him on the right day; it’s no small feat to break a Bruce Fordyce record.

Now Playing: Born Of Frustration from Getting Away With It…Live by James

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Posted by pjm at 7:05 PM | Comments (0)


I can’t really describe that race as anything other than hard work.

It was hot when we started, hotter than the 4th of July 5-miler usually is, but fortunately without the swampy July humidity. I decided to stick to my plan, which was essentially to run relatively easily for 400, push for 200, and follow that pattern (though obviously a closing 400m push was needed at the end.) The rest of the men in the race left me behind more or less immediately, and a pack of four women formed around me, but they were also moving faster than I should have so I let them go as well. And then I ran alone, except when someone was lapping me. Four guys, the lead pack, lapped me twice; two or three more got me once. None of the women lapped me, but I lapped one. I won’t be the last name in the results, because one or two other men dropped out. It was, as I said, hot.

I clicked splits at the end of each of my 600m repeats, but didn’t look at them. 2:15s would have taken me to my goal time, but I was (of course) hoping for 2:13 or 2:12. I got 2:09 (fast start), 2:14 (better?), 2:17 (bad pattern), 2:14, 2:19 (ouch), 2:17, 2:19, then 3:02 for the last 800. I had 18:55 on my watch, but I know I didn’t catch the start right so I’m betting the official time is 18:56. I felt OK through at least 3k, the first five 600s, but the last k in particular was pretty rough.

It’s a little disappointing that I’m not running faster at this point (though this was a faster per-mile average than the 5-miler over Memorial Day weekend.) But for running all alone on the track in the heat, I’m pleased to have made it through and stuck to my workout. Also, thanks to having the workout to focus on, this was mentally one of the easiest track 5ks I’ve run.

I decided, reluctantly, to race in road flats (the ruby slippers are pretty enough to get some attention from a toddler on the T) instead of spikes, so I should be able to walk comfortably tomorrow.

The footnote to the meet (for me—I expect it would be the headline for most spectators) was a men’s mile added to the schedule at the request of Ben True and his coach. Five years ago I ran my fastest post-college (road) 5k behind him; today he ran 3:59.99 (!!) for the mile. The time almost slipped away from him, but a Georgetown runner who had been shadowing him most of the race moved out to pass on the homestretch and Ben kicked hard to save both the win and the sub-4—his first, I think. That was pretty cool.

Update: Results are posted but the time they have listed for me is profoundly wrong (by nearly half a lap) and I can’t figure out how.

Now Playing: Two Worlds Collide from Revenge Of The Goldfish by Inspiral Carpets

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Posted by pjm at 5:45 PM | Comments (0)

June 16, 2007

Unintended consequences

I started this page as a sort of destination for the stories nobody I knew was interested in. (Nobody wants to hear about troubleshooting, for example. Nobody wants to hear my swimming stories except my brother, and he’s usually there when they happen. And so on.)

Now, though, enough people who know me read this that I’ve had the experience, more than once, of starting in on a story and having someone say, “Yeah, I read that on your blog.”

Now Playing: Got A Message by The Latebirds

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Posted by pjm at 9:08 AM | Comments (2)

June 14, 2007

An evolving sport

Every World Championship year comes with a chance for the IAAF Congress to meet and discuss rule changes for the sport of athletics. The proposed changes for the 2007 Congress were released a few weeks ago to little discussion; I expect most of the press noise will come when and if some of the changes are adopted. I skimmed the list, which is largely boring (there’s some discussion of the visual aids used to mark the line at which athletes can break from lanes, for example, or the exact specifications of the handle of a hammer,) but has some interesting provisions.

  • False start rules will, once again, be discussed. There’s a proposal on the list to move to the NCAA model, which essentially says that any false start means disqualification, period. The IAAF Council recommends that this proposal be defeated, and I suspect the athletes will agree with them.

  • The IAAF Technical Council wants to delete the line which says that transponder timing isn’t valid for world records on the road, and they want it to be valid immediately (i.e. for the Osaka world championships.) This sounds obscure, but since the Champion Chip was used at the 1996 Boston Marathon, “transponder timing” has become the dominant method of timing large road events and even many cross-country meets. The argument against transponder timing is that differences in starting position (not to mention the fact that official timing is supposed to be based on when the torso crosses the line, and transponders are generally on athletes’ shoes) could lead to finish results which differ from the observed order of finish, but in actual fact, this sort of race is seldom close enough for this to matter. And, apparently, the IAAF (or at least the Osaka LOC) can’t afford to hold out any longer for their own marathons.

  • There are three differently-worded proposals (and significant discussion) about allowing mixed-gender competition in field events and/or track races 5,000m or longer. I’m not closely acquainted with the existing rule, but the differences in the proposals seem to be largely just wording, with all of them having the consequence of formally allowing mixed races. It makes a lot of sense: in field events where the equipment is pretty much the same, there’s no point in (say) running two high jumps or long jumps when there aren’t enough competitors to fill both. It allows for meets to be run more quickly, and keeps events on the program which might otherwise be cut. Some of the discussion also notes that the Oceania area has had a “trial exemption” from the existing rule and hasn’t seen any abuse (which would take the form of e.g. male pacemakers for female record attempts, I assume) and, considering that I tend to compete at the level where good women are my most reliable competition, I’m all in favor of this.

  • Perhaps most interesting, there’s a proposed change in the definitions of “Youth” and “Junior” for purposes of international competition. This change, proposed by the Indian federation and opposed by the IAAF Council, would allow athletes to compete as Juniors as long as they are 19 or younger on the last day of the competition; under the current rule, if they’re 19 during the competition but turn 20 before December 31 of that year, they’re ineligible. (In other words, everyone “ages up” on January 1, regardless of when their birthday actually is.) This would give most athletes a few more months of Junior or Youth eligibility, and seems like a good idea. However, I think the IAAF is concerned about age fraud; many African athletes are already vague about their birthdate, sometimes picking a date semi-arbitrarily when they seek a passport, and I suppose they may start picking dates to maximize their Junior eligibility.

Maybe it’s a sign that I’m getting older, but I’m actually a little curious to see how these do.

Now Playing: Bittersweet Symphony from Urban Hymns by The Verve

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Posted by pjm at 11:29 AM | Comments (0)

June 13, 2007

Perfect record

The department staff forwarded around an email from a new grad student (starting in September) looking for housing. I was amused to discover that it was the student I’d convinced to apply last December on my otherwise-futile recruiting trip to Amherst and Northampton. Apparently if he was accepted elsewhere, they failed to make a better case for attending.

This also means I have a 100% recruiting success rate. Apparently if I talk to you about Computer Science grad school at the University, you’re as good as enrolled. I find this amusing particularly because a great deal of my argument was along the lines of, “Well, if you really want to do X, and you’re accepted at Y and the University, of course you should choose Y instead of us.”

Posted by pjm at 10:41 PM | Comments (0)

A mis-named event

I love that I’m involved in a sport where the international governing body can publish a headline like this:

Great hammer battle expected in Prague

I doubt I’m the only one who was faintly disappointed when I discovered that the event involves a spherical weight on the end of a meter-long cable, and not actual hammers.

Now Playing: The Way It Is from The Way It Is by Bruce Hornsby and the Range

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June 12, 2007

Race schedule

  • I’m in Beach to Beacon come August. It’s not a fast course, but it’s possible to run fast on it; I’ve done well there before. This will probably be my last race of the summer, since I will be occupied with packing, moving, and being in Japan for most of the rest of August.

  • There is also the annual 4th of July 5-miler, this year being held on the 1st of July due to the 4th being a Wednesday. I ran 34:45 on the course last Sunday, doing a minute-on/minute-off workout, which is faster than I ran either of the last two years. I’d like to get under 30, but I’ll settle for racing well.

  • I’m going to talk to the Coach tomorrow about racing this weekend. There are three certified 5ks in the area, one on Saturday and two on Sunday, or I could put the spikes on and run one on the track at the USATF New England meet, also on Sunday. The track is oddly compelling but psychologically tougher; it’s been over a decade since I’ve run well in a track 5,000m, and I’d definitely be close to the back of the race. Road races are pretty hit-or-miss, though: misplaced mile markers, unpredictable fields around my pace, courses which may add to the time challenge.

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Posted by pjm at 8:37 PM | Comments (2)

June 11, 2007

Recycling inkjet cartridges: Staples vs. OfficeMax

Staples in Medford will donate $3 to education for a limited list of cartridges, which doesn’t include their own. If your cartridge isn’t on the list, they turn you away.

OfficeMax in Everett will credit you $3 for a similar list of qualified cartridges, but if your cartridge isn’t on the list, they’ll take it off your hands and recycle it anyway.

Point: OfficeMax.

Now Playing: We Are Thrown Together from Elegantly Wasted by INXS

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June 10, 2007

Can I tell you something?

That’s what the older of my nieces says at least three or four times a day. Before she grew to her current skills of enunciation, the words would pile out faster than she could shape them, and it would sound like “Cai telluh someing?” She says this even if what she wants to tell you is actually a question, or if she isn’t entirely sure what it is she’s about to tell you.

For a while, I went with reinforcement, saying, “You can always tell me anything.” She’s still doing it, so two or three times now, I’ve responded to the question by saying, “Have I ever said no to that question?” She rolls her eyes and says, “I know, I just keep saying it!”

Now Playing: Lillian, Egypt from The Animal Years by Josh Ritter

Posted by pjm at 9:39 PM | Comments (0)

June 7, 2007

Work blog

I should add that, pursuant to my threat a few weeks ago, there is now a company weblog. If you’re interested in our development and progress but not willing to commit to the user-survey mailing list, drop by there and subscribe to the feed.

I haven’t gotten around to applying anything other than the default Kubrick skin to the WordPress installation, but that will come when there’s less Actual Coding (tm) to be done.

Now Playing: Hiroshima Mon Amour from A Box Of Birds by The Church

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June 6, 2007

Clowns on parade

Tonight’s workout was pretty good for the shape I’ve been in lately. Two “half mile” road loops incorporating a significant hill, a three-mile (plus) hilly loop at about 6:40 pace (based on feel) with four 30-second pick-ups thrown in, then a hard mile on the track, which I did in 5:51.

Then came the clown. I’ve been pretty lucky that in my running career, most of the random heckling I’ve heard has been of the unimaginative “Run! Run!” sort. (I assume these are the same people who moo out their windows at cows beside the road.) Tonight as we were cooling down there was a guy—probably younger than me but evidently of the variety who think “exercise” is some kind of scam—who felt an unrestrainable urge to comment on the length of my shorts.

Now, I wear “real” running shorts, which is to say, I have not followed the recent fashion which calls for runners to wear, say, basketball shorts which come to their knees, or even soccer shorts. My shorts generally have a split leg. I wouldn’t wear them into the grocery store if I could avoid it. They’re for running. So I let him air his ignorance in his off-color way without response from me. Our cool-down loop brought us past him twice; the second time, the woman in his group was obviously embarrassed, which was more gratifying than any come-back from me.

A said to me, “Clearly he’s jealous of something.” I agreed, “Yeah, he’s probably never run sub-6 in his life.”

Posted by pjm at 10:24 PM | Comments (0)

June 5, 2007

Lack of organization on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part

I think the title is all I should say about this one, actually.

Now Playing: Johnny Yen (Live) from Tomorrow by James

Posted by pjm at 3:48 PM | Comments (0)

Distributed responsibility

Thinking about graduations in the past few weeks, I also thought about everyone’s bête noir, the Class Notes, that quarterly litany of your peers’ successes and triumphs.

I imagined a commencement speaker…

“Those of you sitting before me will lead corporations and nations. You will invent, address the world’s great problems, save lives, and battle disease. You will peer beyond the edges of our world…”


“You do understand that you don’t each have to do all of these things, right?”

Posted by pjm at 8:28 AM | Comments (0)

June 4, 2007


I have to imagine that somewhere, some people charged with marketing track and field are pulling their hair out this week.

Two weeks ago, Tyson Gay ran 9.79s for 100m. That should’ve tied the American Record, but a tailwind of 2.5 m/s (a bit more than 5.5 mph) was measured during the race, over the allowable limit of 2.0 m/s (4.5 mph), so the time doesn’t count.

Saturday evening, Gay ran 9.76. That should have topped the current world record of 9.77 (run by Asafa Powell on at least three separate occasions) but again, there was a tailwind of 2.2 m/s.

It reminds me of eleven years ago, at the U.S. Olympic Trials, when Michael Johnson ran a wind-aided 19.70 in the 200m semifinals. The 200m WR had been around for nearly fifteen years at the time, and now Johnson had apparently broken it, but not, and someone had to explain to everyone watching that no, that time doesn’t count. Fortunately for the sport, Johnson ran 19.66 (still the fourth-fastest ever) with legal wind in the final, and then that utterly unbelievable 19.32 in the Olympic final, and we could stop talking about wind-aided times.

Until now.

Tyson Gay has run .03s faster than any legal mark (including wind-aided) by a citizen of this country. Throw in marks disqualified for doping violations and Gay’s still out front by .01. And because the wind was 0.5 miles per hour over the allowable, we have to explain why he’s not the world record holder. (“We,” of course, doesn’t include Gay; he figures as long as he keeps racing to win, he’ll break the record with legal wind eventually.)

If we didn’t have allowable-wind rules, of course, we’d have meet directors setting up giant fans behind the starting blocks. But we do have them, and they’re a drag.

Now Playing: Undo from Numbers - EP by The Church

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

Just start writing

It’s too easy for me to look at a chunk of work and let the anticipation paralyze me.

Saturday night I knew I didn’t have time to not be working, and for some reason I did all right. I sorted out a rough outline, then just dove in, and it worked. I had about 1,400 words on the page before I realized how much I’d written; I even missed an event.

For the most part, the interesting things happened in the sprints. Tariku “Kenenisa’s brother” Bekele was graceful and diplomatic in answering my question about whether he wished for interviews which didn’t mention his older world-record-holding brother (after I’d eavesdropped on the Ethiopian media grilling him about Kenenisa,) but that was about it for left-out news.

The sprinters, on the other hand… three winners came from a training group whose coach is in federal prison, and the L’Equipe reporter was a bit blunt about asking each of them how that affected their training (but they were each diplomatic and interesting in answering the question.) Liu Xiang told the Chinese media how North American meets were really difficult for him because of the time change, probably unaware that his translator, a Columbia grad student, was standing off to the side feeding me occasional quotes. (The Chinese media in general were… interesting.)

Now Playing: Say Say Something from Wah Wah by James

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June 2, 2007

Can you have it both ways?

Sprinters like warm days. It’s easier for them to get loose, and easier for their muscles to reach maximum energy output.

Distance runners like cool days. Maintaining efficiency over long races is easiest when they can shed the excess energy their muscles are producing without too much sweating, a cooling method which is hard to keep up.

It’s pretty clear, at least to me, that Tiru Dibaba is here hoping for the kind of cool evening that let her rival Meseret Defar run the 5,000m world record here last year. It’s also obvious that there are a slew of sprinters here who are expecting to post up some seriously fast times early in the season.

So far, it looks like Dibaba will be disappointed. We’ll see if the sprinters are. So far, they’re all warming up, just like me.

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June 1, 2007

Track geek cred

Also known as, “beginning to have some self-confidence about my work.”

After all, who else would’ve known that Ming Gu is China’s leading miler? I am still wondering if we saw the first Chinese sub-4 mile from him last year.

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