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November 27, 2008

Busy

Things are happening all at once, as they are wont to do.

I’ve had—still have—higher priorities than writing here. With any luck I’ll be back in a week or so.

If you missed the implication two entries ago, I’ve made a decision to try putting all my running writing in one blog by itself, on the chance that more people might read it if they knew what they were getting. I called it Flat Hills Road. One of the things I’ve wanted to write here, but haven’t had time for, is explaining why I’m doing that.

Meanwhile, I’ll be in Virginia for a few days.

Posted by pjm at 9:04 PM | Comments (1)

November 21, 2008

What's reflected in an airport?

It’s been about a year since I traveled to (or through) Indianapolis airport. (I was here three times in 2007, twice in 2006, and half a dozen times before that.) Since then, they’ve moved from the crammed and cramped terminal they were in (which nonetheless had some high points, not least being the plentiful power outlets) to a shiny new facility they started a few years ago.

It’s like many other airports, of course; a bit of Detroit here, a bit of PDX there. It has a nice central food court, food on both sides of security, still a few power sockets around, etc. etc., and probably the best improvement, free wireless internet. I’m sitting in baggage claim waiting for the rest of my car pool, plugged in, hooked up, and fed.

But baggage claim is nearly empty. It’s a big, airy, light hall, and there’s practically nobody around, especially relative to the perpetually mobbed state of the old place. Which leads me to wonder: did Indianapolis build this terminal because the old terminal was significantly over capacity? How much did they over-build this one? Maybe they’re planning on spending a few decades growing in to it?

Posted by pjm at 12:34 PM | Comments (1)

November 20, 2008

A very big keyring

Earlier this week, I was running along a road in this town which may have been one of the roads on one of my first runs when I first came here. I spotted a decent-sized flock of wild turkeys on the far side of an adjacent field, and my thoughts drifted to a story of my grandfather’s cat bringing home a dead partridge—I don’t know how much of what I was remembering was real and how much was pieced together from different stories, or just plain imagined.

Later I realized that this has to be my preview of getting old—that with every passing year, more and more of the incidental objects in the world are becoming database keys to something stuffed in my brain. Turkey => partridge => Mocho => dinner => ??

I can easily imagine this iterating to a degree that would make me unable to relate to the real world.

Posted by pjm at 10:34 PM | Comments (0)

November 18, 2008

Jesse Owens Award (and more)

The Jesse Owens Awards were announced today, remember them?

I have something to say about the winners and how I voted, of course, but I’ve written it elsewhere, about which more later (perhaps when I’ve had a chance to doll up the appearance a bit more).

Posted by pjm at 11:00 PM | Comments (0)

November 17, 2008

I should sell this

After Sunday’s long run, one of the ultra-runners in our group was asking about speedwork. So far, all she’s done is mile repeats on a treadmill, four at a time, and she’s both bored with it and not sure what else to try. (This is not uncommon for people who didn’t run in high school or college and therefore didn’t build up extensive experience with track work.)

Someone else was suggesting 100m pick-ups on an ordinary roar run, but she didn’t have any idea how to estimate 100m. So I told her about the pick-ups Coach Squires used to assign us: one every five minutes, 1-2-1, 1-2-1, 1-1-1 (and yes, that’s a 45-minute workout; you don’t slack off in between those pick-ups).

Then I described a workout I used to do years ago. I had read in Frank Murphy’s The Silence of Great Distance (which, by the way, is a tremendous book and well worth reading, particularly as Stephanie Herbst-Lucke has been breaking masters’ records in the last year) about the “dynamic runs” that Peter Tegen developed at the University of Wisconsin. I can’t find details in the book now, and I knew I couldn’t hold the complex workouts in my head, so I simplified.

At the time, I had a watch with a multiple-segment countdown timer. This meant you could program one segment to one time, a second to a different time, and so on up to seven segments. The watch would count down each segment, beeping at the end of each one, then starting the next one. I would program quasi-random strings of numbers—phone numbers were a favorite—and start the countdown after about 20 minutes of warm-up. When the watch beeped, I would change pace, picking up or slowing down. Because there were an odd number of segments, when the watch looped around, I’d be running hard on segments which had been recovery on the previous series. And

So from a complicated root, I pulled a simple workout: run phone numbers.

I wonder if I could pull a magazine article out of that. Or get the workout named for me. Probably only if I could explain it more simply.

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Posted by pjm at 10:05 PM | Comments (2)

Performances of the Year Finalists

I guess I got my Performances of the Year vote in just in time. The finalists were announced today. I picked two of the three male finalists (Bolt 9.69 and Gebrselassie 2:03:59; the third was Bolt 19.30) but only one of the female (Dibaba 14:11.15).

I’m disappointed that Wanjiru and Hellebaut did not make the finalist lists, particularly because I’m already getting bored with Yelena Isinbayeva winning everything, but at least I know it wasn’t for lack of trying on my part.

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Posted by pjm at 9:09 AM | Comments (0)

November 16, 2008

Performances of the Year

I feel like polling for Performances of the Year might be new this year. I sent my vote(s) a few minutes ago; to provide a baseline for discussion and spur you to vote yourself, here’s how I picked my ballot.

Men:

  • Bolt, 9.69/100m: Oh, come on. How can I not vote for that. The man absolutely dismantled one of the toughest Olympic 100m fields ever assembled, backed off to celebrate 15m from the finish line, and still broke the World Record by .03s. Not voting for this race is like voting against Harry Potter and Winnie the Pooh. The toughest thing to decide: this one, or the 200m?

  • Gebrselassie, 2:03:59/Marathon: This was one of those “first under 2:0x:00” milestones, which I don’t think should be ignored. I’m a longtime fan of Haile, and I wasn’t thrilled by his priority weighting between Berlin and Beijing this year. This record will get broken, but he will always have been the first. Remember it.

  • Wanjiru, 2:06:32/Marathon: Having said that about Haile, I need to put my oar in as well for Wanjiru, who won the race which should’ve made Haile immortal—if he’d risked enough to run it. Wanjiru took all the accepted wisdom about running marathons in the heat, about running championship marathons, and even in some cases about running marathons at all, and threw it out the window. It’s hard to see the factors which play on who wins a marathon, and so I think it’s hard for most people to appreciate just how astounding that race was. If you consider marathons as a series of card games, Wanjiru put all his chips on the table with every single hand, and he just kept winning. At the end, as you can imagine, he’d won them all.

Women:

This was a lot tougher.

  • Dibaba, 14:11.15/5000m: We sort of thought Dibaba might be done for, with this bizarre side-stitch problem she’d been having during the indoor season. This race ended that discussion and pretty much ended any talk of anyone else in the world running with Tiru this season. With a pair like Dibaba and Defar walking this record down like it was soft, this mark may not stand for long, but it should.

  • Hellebaut, 2.05/High Jump: Not only was this an awesome personal performance for Hellebaut, it was a great demonstration of what a chess game the vertical jumps can be. Blanka Vlasic, who had dominated this event for dozens of competitions, made one little slip, and Hellebaut (and her coach) were canny enough and lucky enough to use the leverage that slip gave them and play it into a gold medal. It was a great competition to watch.

  • Campbell-Brown, 21.74/200m: This is where I started to wonder about my choices. To be completely honest, I barely remember the women’s sprints from Beijing. This was quite a race, and beating Allyson Felix took doing, particularly considering the rough start Campbell-Brown had to her season. But honestly? I don’t even remember the race. So why did I vote for it? Campbell-Brown deserves something, I think. And the races I do remember—Kaniskina in the walk, Samitova-Galkina in the steeplechase—I’m just suspicious enough of, given the Russians’ recent history, to not want to heap laurels on them.

Which performances would you have voted for? (Which did you vote for?)

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Posted by pjm at 6:25 PM | Comments (0)

November 12, 2008

Run for your Life

We rented Run for your Life last weekend. In case you haven’t heard of it already, this is “the Fred Lebow movie,” and if you haven’t heard of Fred Lebow, either you don’t run, or haven’t been running long enough.

Everything’s debatable, but the easiest thing to say is that for over 20 years, Fred was synonymous with the New York City Marathon, and as the race director when the marathon first leapt out of Central Park to become the sprawling five-borough monster it now is, he essentially invented the concept of the modern big-city marathon-as-event.

As a biography, the film begins and ends with the marathon, but as a life, Fred’s was remarkably focused on running. I found the movie interesting because I know so many of the people interviewed, but probably only one of them would know me in a line-up (George Hirsch, then publisher of The Runner and now publisher of La Cucina Italiana, for which CMI built a website). (I guess Allan Steinfeld, Fred’s successor and right-hand man, would recognize me, but he would have to be prompted to know my name.)

The thread of the narrative jumps around a lot in time, following its themes, but a few things jumped out at me. One was that by being the first in so many areas, the NYCM wound up incurring some serious disadvantages—they chased some “advances” which turned out to be dead ends, to mix metaphors, and got caught there while everyone else moved on. I guess leading the marathon pack can be more of a hash than a race, sometimes. (I think this sort of problem has a lot to do with why the World Marathon Majors were created—so the five can share information and avoid development dead ends.)

Another, though, was Fred’s insistence on using all available cash and more on advancement and promotion. One former treasurer told a story of describing how much money the NYRRC had lost in the previous year; Fred stood up immediately afterward and announced, “I hope we can lose even more money next year.”

Particularly if you’re familiar with the NYRR and its operations, the movie sheds a lot of light on the roots of what happens inside that 89th Street brownstone.

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Posted by pjm at 11:03 PM | Comments (0)

November 10, 2008

My vote counted more than yours

I don’t mean to gloat, but of course I’m not referring to that little wait-in-line paper-ballot affair last week. I’m talking about the Athletes of the Year. It happens that I picked four of the six athletes from whom the two Athletes of the Year will be selected.

Sammy Wanjiru was the man I voted for who did not make the final round, and given that it was Dayron Robles, who broke the 110m hurdles World Record, who displaced him, I’m not too bitter. Still, Wanjiru’s Olympic Marathon was nothing short of astounding, whereas Robles was practically mechanical in winning his gold. And Robles memorably screwed up at the World Indoor Championships, assuming a false start would be called and getting left flat-footed in the blocks. Gebrselassie was left behind despite his World Record, but Bekele and Bolt advanced. Frankly, I think this is a lock for Bolt. I have no doubt the bizarrely skewed online vote was responsible for Irving Saladino coming in fourth, however.

On the women’s side, I knew Yelena Isinbayeva (the IAAF insists her names be spelled with “y”s, which is counter-intuitive to me) would be a strong pick, but I argued for Valerie Vili instead. A losing battle, I knew, but I did see Pamela Jelimo and Tirunesh Dibaba advance.

The announced polling was 70% to the “IAAF Family” of 1512 names, meaning each vote was worth about .046296% of the total, and 30% to the online vote, which was 250,361 for the men and 242,992 for the women. This is much more even than last year, but also means an online vote was worth less than ever: about .000120% of the total for men, and .000123% for the women. Roughly speaking, my vote was equal to around 400 online votes, which isn’t a whole lot out of a quarter million, but is plenty if you consider how many track fans you may actually know.

Now I have to vote on Performances of the Year, which looks significantly tougher.

Posted by pjm at 9:50 PM | Comments (0)

Recent publications

Having written here before about chip timing, it’s only fair that I point out a lengthy article on the topic in the current New England Runner. It’s not online, so if you have an interest in transponder timing, (or, as the cover line so sensationally puts it, “The Chip Wars,”) you’ll need to find a paper copy. Anywhere in New England with a decent magazine rack should have them; if you’re south of New York, things may be tougher.

There’s also a feature story about some Kenyan trip or another. I haven’t read the article yet, but the pictures were nice.

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Posted by pjm at 9:27 PM | Comments (1)

November 6, 2008

The right way to fund professional athletes

I’ve written here before about the yawning gap between the life of the NCAA athlete, whose travel, race entries, uniforms, coaching, and (to some extent) shoes are paid for by their athletic department, and that of the professional athlete, where those things are paid for by sponsors. In between is this twilight world of “Olympic hopefuls” trying to find their way from the first to the second, trying to string together rent, health insurance, and training time until that hoped-for breakthrough that brings the sponsors knocking.

I believe anyone who wants to make a big difference in athletics in this country should be focusing their attention right there, in the gap between college athletics and the professional big time, and in fact that’s just where programs like the Hansons-Brooks Olympic Development Program, ZAP Fitness, and the RRCA’s “Roads Scholarship” program have been focused for years. (And those programs are making a difference.)

It’s statistics, really. It’s cool that Deena Kastor broke Joan Samuelson’s record and ran sub-2:20, but when the next-fastest American marathoner, now debutante Kara Goucher, is at 2:25, and the next bunch around 2:30, well, Kastor’s record looks pretty safe. You expect the record-setters and world medalists to be outliers, of course, but the fewer standard deviations they are from the mean, the more often you find world-class outliers.

Put in simpler terms, the more 2:30 marathoners you have, the more 2:28 marathoners you find. The more 2:28s there are, the more likely we are to find several 2:25s. And several 2:25s makes it more likely that someone will pop a 2:22 somewhere… or a 2:19. The same is true for men, with different numbers… and in fact it’s true for every event, and that’s why there’s more depth in the U.S. Olympic Trials than in the Olympics for many sprint and hurdle events.

USATF (or, more specifically, the USA Track & Field Foundation) is going the right direction on this, giving grants to athletes they call “emerging elite” athletes. In recent weeks they’ve announced their Elite Athlete Development Grants and U.S. Distance Project Athlete Grants (targeting the distances as an event group where Americans have been competitive in the past, but aren’t now). They’re a great idea and a step in the right direction. Now if only the USATFF was so well-funded that these grants came close to approximating the state support athletes get in other countries (or at least leveled out the cost of living and training between American and East African athletes).

It’s a low-profile program next to the ones I mentioned above, but it’s already seen some significant success: Stephanie Brown Trafton, who won the first USA athletics gold medal of the 2008 Olympics, in the women’s discus, received Elite Athlete Development grants in 2007 and 2008.

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Posted by pjm at 10:34 PM | Comments (0)

November 5, 2008

Politics as sports

A friend of ours is a native Irishman, and this was the first Presidential election in which he’s been able to vote. As with many (most?) Europeans, his place on the political spectrum is around those who think the current administration should be indicted for war crimes.

On this morning’s run, I wondered aloud if the students at the University had rioted, the way they tend to if the Red Sox or the Patriots win (or, sometimes, lose). He said his precinct, like ours, has plenty of students, and they were all around him when he went to vote; one wondered about riots like I had. “Sure they will,” said a second, and a third claimed to be an SA and said they had been put on alert for such events.

“I thought, but didn’t say,” went on our friend, “‘Now if he loses, then you really ought to riot.’”

(I haven’t seen any reports of riots at the University, for what it’s worth.)

Now Playing: Getaway from Drops of Jupiter by Train

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Posted by pjm at 11:40 AM | Comments (0)

November 4, 2008

Vote early, vote often

That’s what my very first CS professor wrote on the blackboard in early November 1992. By then, I had already mailed an absentee ballot back to Maine. They encourage students to vote absentee in their home states, around here, so I was ahead of the curve.

Anyway, this morning the polls were opening around when our run started, so we stopped by our polling place five minutes after they opened the doors. The line was out the door by about 20 people, the longest line I’ve seen in the three presidential elections where I didn’t vote absentee. We decided to come back later because we could, so we did our workout and stopped by again on the cooldown. The line was still out the door, but only by five or six people, so we got in it, then discovered that there were 25 or 30 people in line inside the door.

We sat it out and voted anyway, and the line was longer when we came out.

At least in our precinct, the hold-up was not mechanical. There were plenty of booths and the machine that was scanning ballots was seldom backed up by more than one or two people. The hold-up was the distribution of ballots. On arrival at the head of the line, each voter announced their street name, then number, then their name, so two people could look them up in two separate voter rolls and confirm we were registered voters. Only then did we get two ballots (one with all the state and national offices and ballot questions, and a second which was only the town select board election) and go to vote.

The same process was repeated again before the ballots could be put in the tally machine. This wasn’t a bottleneck, though, because the rate of voters arriving at that table was controlled by the previous table’s bottleneck, and therefore never greater than these two people could handle.

It’s a fraud check, I know, and a relatively effective one given that I as a voter already on the rolls didn’t need to present ID, but they’d definitely get everyone through faster if it could be made quicker.

There’s reports of long lines throughout MA, but I haven’t heard of anyone I know waiting more than an hour to vote, so I guess our system works decently well. I really hope we do set a voter turnout record, as predicted; the old record is downright pathetic.

Polls close in this state in an hour and a half. I don’t intend to wait up to get projections from other time zones; I’ll find out from the front page of the morning newspaper, the old-fashioned way. I hope.

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Posted by pjm at 7:31 PM | Comments (1)

More breathing room

I win. Here’s the recipe.

  • One MacBook with stock “120GB” hard disk. (We all know it’s not really 120GB of actual capacity, of course, but it’s a nice round number.) The one I had handy had less than 2GB of free disk space.
  • Two Western Digital MyPassport Essential portable hard drives, 320GB nominal capacity.
  • One pretty good How-To article.
  • A few tools.

Result:

  • One MacBook with 189GB of free disk space
  • One external HDD formatted for Time Machine automatic backups
  • One 120GB external HDD which has some tool marks on the case and has the complete contents of the MacBook on the disk…

Basically, you copy the boot volume of the MacBook to one of the hard disks, then open the case and swap the disks inside between the external drive and the laptop. It helps that the MacBook is one of the easiest laptops for HDD access I’ve ever met, but thanks to the details provided in the article, the hardest part of the process was just copying the old data from the drive. The actual open-cases time was less than ten minutes.

And one of the reasons that took as long as it did was that I did it twice: once to the external drive I’ve been using as the repository of my occasional backups all along, and then a second time to the new drive destined for the MacBook.

I’m not sure whether I’ll zero out the old drive from the MacBook and sell it in its external case (with full disclosure of its history, of course) or keep it, but the total cost of the upgrade was pretty good, and having another drive which will hopefully make keeping regular backups easy was a bonus.

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Posted by pjm at 7:08 PM | Comments (0)