Thursday, March 29, 2007

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Just checked the Saratoga Martial Arts Festival site, in preparation for attending this weekend, and found the news that Sensei Jim Tirey passed away last week, at age 54.

When I attended SMAF in 2004, I took Sensei Tirey's seminar on aikijujitsu self-defense techniques partly because I was interested in the subject and partly because I don't believe I was particularly interested in the other options during that time slot. I was a bit worried at first, because Sensei Tirey did not look all that impressive - he was older, dressed in black sweats, didn't look to be in great shape, and seemed fairly unassuming. And in that seminar I re-learned a valuable lesson about judging by appearances, because it was one of the best sessions I did all weekend. Sensei Tirey not only knew his stuff backwards and forwards but he was also a fantastic teacher who made his techniques accessible to someone without much experience in aikido or jujutsu and made his seminar fun and exciting. I had a blast, and I hoped to some day do another seminar with him, possibly at this year's SMAF.

Now that won't be possible. And it is definitely my loss, and a loss to all those who might have learned from him.

Checking around a bit, it appears he was something of a legend in Special Ops and had a long and impressive career in the military, in addition to his extensive training in a variety of martial arts. Here's his bio, written up for SMAF 2004:

A student of martial arts for more than 20 years, Sensei Tirey has studied boxing, Shotokan Karate, Kuk Sool Won, Hapkido, Military Hand to Hand Combat, Icho Yama Ryu Aikijujutsu, Daito Ryu Aikijujutsu Kodokai, and Full Contact Martial Arts. Retired from the US Army, he is a graduate of the Infantry Officer’s Basic and Advanced Courses, Command and General Staff College, US Army War College, Airborne School, Ranger School, Special Forces Qualification Course, Special Operations Training Course, French Army Commando School, and the Naval Special Warfare Military Freefall School. He had active service in the Persian Gulf, Desert Storm, Africa, the Caribbean, and Europe in Special Operations Units. Sensei Tirey is privileged to be studying Icho Yama Ryu Aikijujutsu under Dave Lamond Sensei; Daito Ryu Aikijujutsu Kodokai under Kiyama Shihan, Roy Goldberg Sensei and Dave Lamond Sensei; and Full Contact Martial Arts under Doctor Dave Wink. (courtesy of SMAF 2004)
Rest in peace, Sensei Tirey. There is no question in my mind that you will be missed.

Sensei Jim Tirey in 2004 (photo courtesy of SMAF 2004)


Tuesday, March 27, 2007

5.5 Miles in the Albany Pine Bush
Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Well, it was slow, but I don't know about easy...

The weather was just too nice today to not go for a short, slow recovery run, so after running some errands I headed over to the Pine Bush to do a perimeter run. I'd heard some of the local riders were going over there tonight, so I figured it couldn't be too bad... right?

Maybe in another week or two, if we keep having warm days, it won't be too bad. Today most of the trails were under either ice or water (or both) with 6-8" of snow in some spots. There were a few sections that were clear and relatively dry but most of the clear areas were very muddy. The worst mud was in the new "desert" where the vegetation was cleared for habitat restoration last November and December... at one point the mud sucked my shoe off!

Still, it was really nice to be out in the woods running on a warm day, even if part of the time I was running over ice and through ice-cold water. I'm really looking forward to being able to run the trails more as the weather continues to improve.

I just hope the Northern Nipmuck course in a little under two weeks is a lot clearer than the Pine Bush was today!


Monday, March 26, 2007

A Good Sign?
Monday, March 26, 2007

As I've been streamlining this monster blog and bringing some older posts (and post attempts) up-to-date, I've had the opportunity make some comparisons between this spring and last spring...

Mid-April last year I ran 18 miles from Fairport to Gates... relatively flat, with a few gradual uphills and about 2/3 paved. It took me 4 hrs 49 min.

Almost two weeks ago I ran 17 miles on the bike path, in around 3 hrs 49 minutes... a full hour less than last year's 18 mile run. And then Sunday I ran 20 miles in 4 hrs 21 minutes - still substantially faster than last year.

Perhaps, despite my injuries and layoff from the Crash last fall, I'm improving?


Sunday, March 25, 2007

LONG DISTANCE 2007, Race #1
Eastern States 20 Mile Road Race
Sunday, March 25, 2007

2007 Eastern States 20 Mile results
Eastern States 20 Mile race info

2007 Eastern States photo slideshow

I went into this having defined three possible results - a great day (4 hours or less to finish), a good day (somewhere around 4.5 hours to finish) or a rough day (more than 4.5 hours or a DNF.) In the end I had a good day, finishing in 4 hr 21 min, for an average pace of 13:06 per miles, after running strong for the first 15 miles and then slogging through at an increasingly slowing pace for the last 5 miles.

I have to admit that as this race approached I felt a good deal of trepidation. Partly due to the distance (which I hadn't trained as well for as I'd wanted), partly due to the logistics (leaving my car 17 miles from the start, so I couldn't go back and get anything I forgot) and partly due to being off somewhere with no one around that I knew to help if anything went wrong. I suppose the bulk of it was that this race was a foray into the unknown, and that's always scary to me.

The drive over on Saturday night was not encouraging. Rain the whole way, except when it was snowing... I would have been extremely worried for Sunday, except all the forecasts I'd looked at said the rain would be done by daybreak.

Got up Sunday morning and thankfully the precipitation was done, leaving behind about an inch of snow. No big deal. Tried to keep everything I might possibly need in my backpack and spent lots of time worrying about what I would be leaving in the car. Drove to Hampton Beach, parked the car, and caught the first bus to the Traip Academy in Kittery, Maine. And waited. And waited. And waited.

We arrived at Kittery at around 8:20 or so, and by 8:45 the race folks were sufficiently set up that I was able to check in and get my number, baggage tag, very nice wind shirt, and some freebies. After that I sat around waiting for things to start at 11, as the gym filled with more runners and gradually came to look like a runner's refugee camp, with people sacked out all over the place. I wish I had thought to bring a book, but I don't know that I'd have been able to concentrate regardless. One of the minuses quickly became apparent (besides the long wait) - no food or drink for the runners. Fortunately, I had a bagel and some iced tea with me, but basically this meant that after eating breakfast at 6 AM and a bagel at 9 AM, I would start running at 11 AM and finish sometime after 3 PM, with only my Gatorade and Cliff Bars to keep me going. Anyway, after numerous trips to the bathrooms and lots of bored waiting, we headed down to the starting line, about a half a mile way.

Maybe the RD said something before the start, I really couldn't say... with about 500 people between him and me, I couldn't have heard it even if he did. All I know is after a few minutes, the crowd surged forward and - off we went!

The first mile took us through the streets of Kittery ME and across the Memorial Bridge into Portsmouth, NH. By then the field had started to spread out and it was fairly clear which of us were at the tail end. We ran along the streets of Portsmouth, thankfully under the watchful eyes of a number of police officers, since the traffic was fairly heavy. After about 2.5 miles we left the town behind and were basically running along country roads - very nice, in a brown-and-grey, late March kind of way. It was sunny much of the time, which made things pleasantly warm - I even contemplated ditching my tights (well, putting them in my waistpack) but decided to wait until the 10 mile mark, since I didn't know what conditions would be like along the Atlantic shore. I was a bit surprised at the amount of uphill climbing in the first 5-6 miles - nothing terribly steep, but lots of long, steady, gradual uphills. Still, I managed a pretty nice pace, at about 12 minutes/mile.

Reaching the shore was slightly disappointing, as the seawalls blocked much of the view of the ocean. The breeze also picked up, unfortunately a headwind, and chilled things down a bit, but not too badly. Still, I was glad I'd decided to wait to remove my tights, because I definitely needed them for the rest of the run! The course from mile 6 to mile 15 was still pretty nice, relatively flat and quiet. I suspect it's very pretty in the summer, when everything's green! At one point I rounded a corner at the top of a short, steeo hill, and had a fantastic view of the coastline and ocean, with the waves sparkling in the sun, and I thought, "This is one of the reasons I do this!" Maintained a good pace, still about 12 min/mile, and wondered if I'd actually end up having a great day and finish at right about 4 hours. But it became more and more clear as I progressed that my legs were starting to get tired. It didn't help that the wind picked up a bit, the clouds became more frequent, and the temperature started to drop.

From mile 15 on, things went downhill (figuratively, not literally.) We entered the Hamptons (North Hampton, Hampton, Hampton Beach, etc) which is basically a long stretch through summer tourist towns. Not very scenic... in fact, pretty blah, all told. My legs began to gripe more and more about the distance, and moving forward became an increasingly difficult struggle. Shortly after we entered the town, I passed a gal who was clearly struggling... not really a surprise, given that every one around me had commented at the beginning about how she had to be freezing in shorts and a sports bra. Contemplated offering her my fleece vest, but then decided that I wasn't noble enough to freeze for the last few miles just so she could be a bit warmer. She definitely wasn't dressed terribly intelligently for the conditions, but I have to give her credit - she's tougher than I am, because she came in just behind me and I'd never had finished had I been as underdressed as she was.

The hardest points were at mile 17, where it became clear that the last water stop was no longer open (the previous three had clearly been closing up shop when we came through) and a half mile later, when I actually had to run past the lot where my car was parked... needless to say, the temptation to get in and drive to the finish was mighty strong. That, combined with the fact that I really didn't want to add any unnecessary distance, kept me from going to the car and getting my fleece pullover, because it was getting mighty chilly, especially fighting that darn headwind.

this trip turned out to be my 95 Subaru's last hurrah...

So I struggled along through the last couple of miles, and nearly cheered when the police officer at the last road crossing told me there was only a mile to go. Considered trying to speed up for the last half mile or so, but decided instead to just finish as I was. A nice volunteer ran ahead of me to the finish line and took my picture (which I greatly appreciated, since the official race photographer had left the course by the time we came through) and then congratulated me on finishing.

And then I staggered to the bus, claimed my pack, pulled on a jacket, and enjoyed the sensation of not running while chatting with the bus driver and waiting for the last runner to come in (a nice gal who I talked with a couple of times on the course - turns out she was using this as her last long run before possibly attempting the Boston marathon in three weeks.) Took the bus back to the post-race "feast" at the Ashworth hotel - not much food left, but I managed to get some pizza and a diet Coke. Then hobbled back to the car, changed into dry and warmer clothes... and made the long, long drive back to Albany. No doubt I was an interesting sight at the rest areas, staggering around like Frankenstein's monster. And hopefully no one heard me grumbling and groaning as I pulled myself up the front steps at home.

Having completed the race, I can honestly say that I doubt I'll ever run it again. I'm glad I did it this once, for a bunch of reasons - it forced me to train throughout the late winter, reassured me that if I can stay healthy and uninjured I have a very good chance of finishing the road marathons I'm considering running in the fall, and gave me the opportunity to run through three states in one race. But beyond that there's no real draw to do it again. The first 3/4 of the course was nice, but nothing great enough to overcome the inconveniences of doing a race like this 230 miles from home. At least when I do races out near Rochester I have the possibility of spending time with my sweetheart. So this one was a good start to this year's attempt at doing some long distance running... but not one for my "I've got to run that one again" list.


Next up: the Northern Nipmuck 16 Mile Trail race, over the wild and rugged Nipmuck trail, out and back from Bigelow Hollow State Park to Boston Hollow Road, in northeastern CT. This one kicked my butt last year... I'm hoping to do a bit better this time around.

Running 20 mi, 4 hr 21 min
Cycling 6.2 mi, 33 min
Snowshoe 31.3 mi, 9 hr 11 min

states visited: MA, ME, NH, NY

Saturday, March 24, 2007

An Overview
Saturday, March 24, 2007

Last year's Year of Long Distance was cut brutally short by the Crash, and I ended up finishing the Year of the Crashed Turtle pleased to be in races of any distance. As I've moved back into training, I'm looking at another attempt at increasing my distances.

Eastern States 20 Mile Road Race - late March
Northern Nipmuck 16 Mile Trail Race - early April
Muddy Moose 14 Mile Trail Race - late April
Mendon Madness 15 Mile Trail Race - early May
Nipmuck Trail Marathon - early June
Greylock Trail Half Marathon - mid June
Finger Lakes Fifties 25k or 50k - early July
Savoy Mountain 20 Mile Trail Race - late August
Adirondack Marathon - mid September
Monroe Dunbar Brook 10.5 Mile Trail Race - early October
Mount Desert Island Marathon - mid October
Hairy Gorilla Trail Half Marathon - late October
After the Leaves Have Fallen 20k Trail Run - early November
either Mendon Trail Runs 20k or 50k or Stone Cat Ale Trail Marathon - early November

In particular, I hope to complete the WMAC Trail Trilogy (long versions of Greylock, Savoy, and Monroe) and in addition there are a number of shorter races and duathlons I also hope to do. I'm also hoping to do more long distance cycling, possibly including some organized events. The key will be staying healthy and uninjured. I'm leaving the option of trying a 50k open, but I may limit my longest distance races to marathons and move up to ultramarathon distance next year, once I have another year of building distance.

Last year ended with a crash and a lot of whimpers... here's hoping this year goes more smoothly!


Friday, March 23, 2007

Iaido Class
Friday, March 23, 3007

Started almost half an hour late, as usual, and GMC spent a lot of time talking about various things, among them a book he read recently by Grand Master Masaaki Hatsumi, Japanese Sword Fighting: Secrets of the Samurai. (I've had it for a while now, but I guess I should move it up on my reading list!) After that we practiced nuki uchi for a bit (and it became apparent to me that I am very much out of practice with this kata that I've been doing for 5-6 years, now. Sigh.) Then the intermediate and advanced students were given an introduction to GMC's interpretations of Hatsumi's Muto dori techniques, used by an unarmed person against an attacker armed with a sword. The two we saw were somewhat interesting and reminded me of some of the aikido and jujutsu that I've been fortunate enough to dabble in... no great surprise, since jujutsu was the unarmed art of choice for the samurai, and aikido grew in part out of Ueshiba's training in swordsmanship.


Thursday, March 22, 2007

10.6 Mile Run in the Heldeberg foothills
Thursday, March 22, 2007

Let's hope it sticks around... yesterday was cool but gorgeously sunny, too bad I spent much of the day driving back from Rochester. Today was even warmer, so this afternoon I headed over to Five Rivers to do some sort of variation of my run from two weekends ago.

What a great day for a run... maybe it was the novelty of running in shirtsleeves and shorts, but the running was good today. Maybe too good... instead of being smart and doing a short, easy run, I headed up into the hills and actually extended the route of my previous run a bit. Probably not the smartest thing to do three days before Eastern States, but it was just too nice a day.

At least, right until the last 15 minutes or so, when the cold front finally pushed its way in and it rained for a few minutes. Fortunately, I had a light fleece vest in my waistpack, so I stayed fairly warm.

There was something very odd about running in warm weather gear (and working up a good sweat doing it) while looking across fields of foot-deep snow. But the rain over the next two days will probably do a lot of get rid of that... maybe before too much longer I can actually hit the trails again. Without snowshoes!


Monday, March 19, 2007

5.5 Miles Around Black Creek Park
Monday, March 19, 2007

map of Black Creek Park (PDF)

After four days of very little activity (other than some walking at Niagara Falls) I knew I needed to get out and run. Unfortunately, everything is still covered with snow and ice from last Friday's storm. So I broke out the snowshoes for what may be their last run of the season and headed over to Black Creek Park, which I knew would probably have decent snow cover all around and would definitely give me a good workout (at times it seems like the Black Creek trails are all uphill, regardless of what direction you travel on them...!)

Just as I arrived at the park, the wind started howling and the snow started flying. Made gearing up fun... especially trying to get my new Performance Bicycle Neoprene Booties on over my shoes. Despite ordering them 2 1/2 sizes larger than my shoes, getting them over my smallest pair of running shoes is a challenge. But it was well worth it - they kept my feet warm and dry throughout the entire run, even when I ended up with my feet partially underwater. I'll have to pick up another pair in a larger size next fall and use them when I snowshoe - other than the sizing issue, they're great!

Headed across the fields and up onto the wetlands trail along the southeast perimeter of the park. Snow conditions were about what I expected - rough. In most spots there was barely enough for the snowshoes, with a lot of ice under the snow, and some areas were totally bare. The snow was also fairly wet, which meant frequent stops to break incipient ice clumps off my cleats. In the end, I probably walked as much as I ran. Made my way around the southern end of the park and into the woods along the creek trail. Had an interesting stretch near the beginning, making my way across a 100 ft section that was flooded... broke through the ice a couple of times there and discovered that the neoprene booties do a nice job, at least during quick dunkings. Snow was a little more consistent in this section, but I also hit another long stretch of flooded path... made my way across the ice listening to it crack, but never went through (it was only 6-8" deep in any case.) As always, the final stretch along the creek was nice, but when I hit the trailhead I discovered that the last bit through the picnic area was totally bare, so I stopped and ditched the booties and snowshoes, and then walked the last 1/4 mile or so back to the car.

A tough run overall, between trail conditions and my not having done anything for the last four days and no snowshoeing for the past two weeks. Did see a deer disappearing into the woods at one point, and after I took my snowshoes off I stood and watched a woodpecker for a few minutes industriously banging away on a woody vine... hope he got something good to eat for all his hard work.

Tomorrow I'm hoping to run on the Keuka Outlet Trail on my way back to Albany... hopefully a regular run rather than snowshoes, but either way it should be nice, since I haven't been there in over a year.

Movie Review - Fearless
Monday, March 19, 2007

Fearless on

I've had the DVD of Fearless for almost a month now, and I finally had the chance to watch it (spring break is a wonderful thing!) And I can honestly say that it is probably the best martial arts film I've ever seen.

Fearless gained a lot of publicity when Jet Li announced that it would be his last wu shu film... not to mean that he is retiring from being an actor, but rather that he would no longer make films that focused on wu shu (Chinese martial arts) because this film would be the ultimate expression of everything he wanted to say about martial arts. I don't know if that will be the case or not... but the message he gives here is fantastic, in that it gets at what I believe is the true essence of martial arts.

This movie is essentially a prequel to another of my favorites, Fist of Legend, and a Bruce Lee film that I've seen but never been particularly enamored with, The Chinese Connection. (I must admit to martial arts movie heresy - Bruce Lee's films don't do a whole lot for me.) Both films tell the story of a hero who comes home to his martial arts school and discovers that his Master has been killed during a challenge match with a Japanese champion. After discovering that the match was rigged by the Master being poisoned, the hero proceeds to wreak bloody vengeance on the Japanese who arranged the whole thing. I tend to find Jet Li's version to be more entertaining both because the fights are more spectacular, and because the characters and story have more depth. What does all this have to do with Fearless? Easy, this is the story of the dead Master from the other two films, Huo Yuan Jia, founder of the Jing Wu Sports Association. (as an aside - Huo Yuan Jia was an actual person, and the filmmakers were sued by his grandson over the liberties they took with his portrayal in this movie.)

The action sequences in this film are outstanding... a minimum of wire-work was used, which is actually my preference for this type of film. At 42 Jet Li continues to be an amazing athlete and martial artist - I've heard before that he is unbelievably fast, and in one of the extras on the DVD it talks about filming at 6x the normal film speed to be able to catch his movements. The fights encompass a variety of styles and includes empty hand and weapons combat, as well as wu shu against western boxing/wrestling, Spanish sword, Prussian spear, and both Japanese sword and empty hand fighting. Yes, this is wu shu fighting rather than the all-out "streetfighting" featured on lots of recent films (including Jet Li's own Unleashed)... but in my mind, that's part of what makes this a martial arts film rather than a fighting film.

More importantly, what really makes this film shine is what happens in between the fights. The story follows Huo from when he's a small child, watching an opponent defeat his father after his father spares his life, to a young man whose sole concern is beating every challenger at all costs and being the undisputed champion of his town, despite the fact that this leads to his ignoring his family and friends. When one of his students is beaten by a local wu shu expert (with good reason, it turns out) Huo embarks on a bloody campaign of revenge that ends with many dead, including his own family. Ashamed and driven somewhat insane by it all, he wanders far and wide, until he's rescued by the people in a distant peasant village, who gradually help him heal and realize that instead of being about competition, life is about living peacefully and respectfully with others and enjoying the good things that come your way. Finally, Huo returns home and finds that in his absence China has been overrun by foreigners who see the Chinese as a joke. He does his best to make amends to all those he has offended in the past, and answers a series of challenges from foreign fighters in an attempt to help his country find its pride again. Despite being poisoned during his final match, he finishes the fight honorably, showing both great courage and great mercy when he spares his opponent when he could have killed him, and ends a true champion who has accomplished his goal, at the cost of his own life.

There are many excellent messages contained here, from the idea that martial arts is not just about fighting and winning but also about perfection of character and better relations with the people around us, to Huo's mother explaining to him that his most diffucult opponent to conquer will be himself (so true for all of us...) to Huo's discussion with the Japanese champion, Tanaka, about the fact that no one martial art is superior, but rather all are equal and instead there are varying degrees of skill among those who study martial arts. In some ways the film can be summed up in its final beautiful image of the spirit of Huo performing a wu shu form on a grassy hilltop, perfectly at peace, while the blind peasant who helped him find his path looks on - ultimately martial arts is not about fighting but about peace.

Rent it, buy it, borrow it... watch this movie. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.


Sunday, March 18, 2007

Niagara Falls - Butterflies
Sunday, March 18, 2007

photo slideshow

Sunday morning it was time to say good-bye to our luxurious suite at the Econolodge. Ann was definitely sorry to leave the jacuzzi behind. We spent a while finding somewhere to have brunch (again, surprisingly expensive, but at least it was all-you-can-eat) and then headed up the road north of the falls. Our first stop was at the Niagara Glen park, where we walked out to an overlook with a nice view down the gorge and out into a section of the river that apparently hosts a whirlpool. While we were there, we got to watch some folks riding an open cable-car across the river – that had to be cold!

From there we continued north to our destination – the Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservatory. What a cool place! The interior of the conservatory was hot and humid, with a multitude of plants and some neat streams and waterfalls, and of course – butterflies, butterflies, and more butterflies. Big butterflies, small butterflies, bright colorful butterflies, muted brown butterflies, flying all around. It was an incredible sight – I would have loved to spend more time wandering around, but they seemed to discourage doubling back and going through again (perhaps to keep it from getting too congested.) There were also terrariums with visiting critters – geckos, snakes, a caiman, tarantulas, scorpions, and even a couple of giant millipedes.

All in all, it was definitely worth the price of admission. Ann spent much of the time trying to coax butterflies to land on her… fortunately, on a couple of occasions they did, and with luck the pictures will come out.

After that we made a brief stop at a horrendously expensive souvenir shop (mainly due to the cool statues they had out front) and then at a Buddhist temple (also due to the cool statues.)

We considered stopping at the new Niagara Falls Aviary but decided to spare the time and expense and come back another day to see the birds. And then it was back across the border into the good old USA, and back to Rochester. All in all, a nice weekend (if a bit colder than I would have preferred) spent with my sweetheart, whom I haven’t seen nearly enough of over the past month.


Saturday, March 17, 2007

Niagara Falls - Cold and Rainbows
Saturday, March 17, 2007

photo slideshow

Last December Ann and I decided that, instead of exchanging gifts this past Christmas, we would go somewhere for a long weekend later on instead. In the end we decided on this weekend, mostly because I have the next 2 ½ weeks off for spring break, and chose Niagara Falls as our destination because it’s relatively close and we haven’t been there in almost seven years. I had high hopes for the trip when we last Wednesday was sunny with temperatures in the low 60’s… so naturally on Friday the temperature dropped into the 20’s and the 2nd biggest storm of the winter hit the Albany area.

After digging the front walk and the car out first thing Saturday morning, I had an uneventful drive out to Rochester. Not long after I got there, we loaded everything into Ann’s truck and headed for Niagara Falls. After another uneventful drive and a quick and easy pass through Customs, we found our hotel and very spacious suite (seriously – this was one of the largest hotel rooms I’ve ever stayed in!) and then headed down the hill to the falls.

We came out right across from the American Falls, which were particularly impressive because of the amount of ice and snow that had built up in between the streams of water going over. Someday we’ll have to go to the state park on the U.S. side and see the falls from that vantage point. From there we walked along the river gorge to the Canadian, or Horseshoe, Falls.

Very scenic indeed, with the advantage that you can actually get closer to the top of the falls. The sheer volume of water that goes over is incredible, and the non-stop spray and mist has coated everything nearby (trees, buildings, railings) with a thick layer of ice. Actually, that spray was a mixed blessing. On the one hand it caused a series of incredible rainbows, but on the other it obscures the center of the falls.

At that point the sun was getting lower in the sky, and with the wind blowing down the gorge it was getting pretty darn cold. So we hiked back up the hill, found a very expensive Applebees to eat dinner, and made the cold, windy walk back to the room, where we thawed out in the jacuzzi.


Thursday, March 15, 2007

17 Mile Run - The Morning After
Thursday, March 15, 2007

Except Frankie's more energetic than I am...


Wednesday, March 14, 2007

17 Miles on a Foggy Night
Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Well, I can only hope that Eastern States goes as well as tonight's run did.

Only one change in plans, really... I had hoped to run both ways out of the Niskayuna Lions Park but discovered that the path was still covered with a thin layer of ice and snow (mostly ice) about a half mile east of the park. So I turned around and did the bulk of the 17 miles on the same 2 mile stretch I've run over and over again during the past month.

Ran most of the first leg in "daylight" ie. overcast and foggy. A few sprinkles early on, but that was all... the rest way wonderfully precipitation-free. Finished the first leg, 5 miles, in just over an hour... then spent close to 10 minutes figuring out clothing for the next leg, because my short-sleeved shirt/rainjacket combo was too chilly. Finally settled on a long sleeved-shirt and fleece vest, and off I went for round 2.

It got dark during the 2nd leg, but since it was cloudy it never really got so dark that I had trouble seeing the bike path. I was a little chilly on this leg, but not terribly so... just enough that I knew I'd need a jacket for the third leg. Got back to the car in just under 2 hours, for 9 miles of running.

Added my new cycling rain jacket from Performance Bicycle for the third leg... that kept me toasty, but also left me drenched (a $10 jacket isn't meant to breathe well...) so I knew I'd have to make one more change of clothes. Running was still feeling pretty good, though I could tell by the end of the 13 miles that my legs were starting to tire. Got back to the car at around the 2 hour 55 minute mark. Still maintaining a good pace!

Changed into another short-sleeved shirt and a fleece top for the final leg. Felt myself slowing up a bit as I ran, but I wasn't hurting as badly as I expected. Even during the last two miles, I was more tired than in pain... managed to end up with 17 miles and a total time of 3 hours 49 minutes... knock off 15-18 minutes for transitions between legs and that leaves me at about 3:35, which averages out to just over 12.5 minute miles. A good deal better than I was expecting!

It was really nice to run in shorts again... though it's looking like my tights will be back for next week, since it's supposed to be cold again. As I was changing clothes between legs 1 and 2, the coyotes were making a ruckuss over across the Mohawk River in the Vischer Ferry Nature Preserve. Given that I've heard them twice now, I think I'll avoid running over there after dark!

The contrasts between this week and last week were incredible... last week the snow was right up to the bench seats in the park, this week it's mostly gone. Last week was very quiet... this week the geese were making quite a racket and I heard a few other birds too.

Tonight's run gives me some hope that I'll be able to finish Eastern States running (instead of crawling) across the finish, albeit probably at a slow pace. After all, if I can run 17 miles, I can run 20, right? Now I just have to hope for good weather and a smooth day with no complications.

Time for me to drag my stiff, sore muscles out of the chair and go find the bed... morning's going to get here all too soon!


Tuesday, March 13, 2007

11.3 Mile Ride on a Warm March Evening
Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Even though I'm going to be doing a long run (16-17 miles) tomorrow night, the weather was simply too good to pass up... so I geared up and broke out the Dawes and spent a little over three quarters of an hour riding the back roads near the karate school. What with all the snow melt, in places it was pretty wet, and I ended up with water and mud all up and down my back. But the weather was great, and it sure felt good to be out riding again. I'm definitely looking forward to more consistent warm weather so I can get back to alternating riding with running!

And in case I haven't said it before - I LOVE DAYLIGHT SAVINGS TIME!!!!!!!!! I couldn't have done this ride at this time of the day a week ago... at least not safely!

Now I just have to survive tomorrow night... I suspect it's going to hurt. A lot.


Sunday, March 11, 2007

8.4 Mile Run in Bethlehem
Sunday, March 11, 2007

route map (check out the elevation profile...)

Woke up to a sunny, relatively warm day... so there was no question that I would get out for a run, especially since I'm behind schedule in my training for the Eastern States 20 Mile (in only two weeks! YIKES!) The only question was... where and how far?

Given that I've been dealing with a cold for the last few days, I wanted some flexibility in the distance in case things didn't go well. But I also wanted to be able to go for a longer distance if things were feeling good. So in the end I headed over the Five Rivers to run a 6 mile loop on the roads in the area... that way I could stop after 6 miles if need be or do a 2nd loop for 12 miles, or even add a couple of extra bits to add 2 or 3 miles here and there...

The first three miles were tough... my left leg never really seemed to loosen up, possibly because I was limited to running on the left side of the road (oncoming traffic and all that.) So by the halfway mark I decided 12 miles were not a good plan... but I didn't want to stop at 6. So I headed off on one of the extra bits - a hilly extra bit.

Back when I used to live in the Berkshires, I had a run I loved to do which I called the Crazy Hill Run. Basically, after a couple of miles warm-up, the road went up and up and up for about 2.5 miles... followed by mostly downhill for the rest of the run. I used to run it once every week or every other week as a test of my running fitness... I always knew I was doing well when I could run the entire hill and only stop for my scheduled breaks. (Of course, running one hill wasn't always enough, so I also had the Double Crazy Hill Run which went up a much steeper hill not long after coming down from the first one!) Those were good runs... climbing into the foothills of the Helderbergs today reminded me of the Crazy Hill Run. I doubt the hills today were as steep or as long... but there's just something about running up a hill that seems to go one forever. I may have to make these hills part of my monthly workout...

Another thing about that part of the run that was nice was that it's basically country, rather than city or suburbs, and I really miss going for runs in the country. So being out today, running up hills, in the sunshine and the countryside, was a real treat. I even saw a flock of turkeys. I have to admit, the thought of running those hills worried me at first - I've been running mostly flats lately, and hills have sometimes caused a good deal of pain in my right hip and quads. But today was good... I made it up all the hills without walking, and nothing really started to gripe until the steep downhills. Maybe my snowshoe running this winter has done my quads some good...

It would have been nice to get in a longer run, but between the hills and my legs being 5 days out of practice I decided to stop when I got back to Five Rivers. I'll do a long run Wednesday night... it will have to be the Gerbil Wheel, but I need to get in a 16-17 mile run and that's the only time to do it. The Eastern States 20 Mile is definitely going to hurt... hopefully that long run will help it hurt a little less (or at least give me warning of just how much it's going to hurt!)

Oh, and if you're out driving and see a runner on the side of the road - please slow down. You don't need to give them tremendous berth, but far too many folks today blasted by me full speed, which can be very unnerving when you don't know what that driver is going to do next (like the one idiot who swerved toward the fog line rather than away...) Slowing slightly and briefly while passing a runner won't have any real impact on your travel time... but it will make a big difference to them. Take my word for it...


Friday, March 09, 2007

I've Got It Pretty Darn Good...
Friday, March 9, 2007

I was all set to come on today and gripe about how I woke up yesterday with a cold, and it's playing havoc with my last long runs before the Eastern States 20 Mile, blah, blah, blah. Poor me.

Today during our weekly leadership program block at school we had a group called Invisible Children visiting. They showed a documentary made in 2003 by three college students who went to Africa and ended up in northern Uganda, where they discovered that every night thousands of children flee their homes in the countryside and walk into the larger to escape being abducted by the Lords Resistance Army, a rebel group that has been trying to overthrow the Ugandan government. Apparently after 16 years of fighting the LRA finds it difficult to recruit so instead it relies on child abduction for both labor and soldiers. A survey in 2006 estimated that approximately 66,000 children have been abducted since 1987. In addition, hundreds of thousands of civilians have had to leave their homes to live in horrible conditions in government sponsored "protective camps." Basically it's an awful situation all around, made even more so by the fact that at the time very little was known about it in other parts of the world. That's improved somewhat in the last few years, as a variety of organizations have been formed to bring attention to the problems in Uganda and aid to the people affected.

After the Invisible Children documentry we saw a second short film that provided some updated information of conditions in Uganda but mostly focused on fundraising efforts by Invisible Children Inc. I honestly found a lot of the fundraising info a bit crass, but I guess they have to beat people over the head for them to get off their backsides and help out, what with all the worthy causes out there to support.

If you'd like to see the documentary, it can be found on Google video here. I wouldn't recommend it for young children - there are some pretty graphic images.

One of the things I took from watching the documentary is that I am very fortunate - I live in a country where life is relatively peaceful and I have an enormous number of luxuries available to me that folks in other parts of the world can only dream about. I don't have to worry about being shot at as I drive around (well... at least if I don't go to certain parts of Albany!) and I don't have to wonder which of my students will be at school the next day and which ones will have been taken from their homes by armed rebels. A cold and a disrupted training schedule is pretty insignificant in the grand scheme of it all. In short, the title of this post says it all - regardless of what minor inconveniences I may be facing at any given moment, I've got it pretty darn good, and I need to remind myself of that periodically and appreciate all that I have.


Wednesday, March 07, 2007

12.5 Mile Run Along the Mohawk-Hudson Bikepath
Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Yesterday was bitterly cold, compounded by blistering winds which kept the windchill down into subzero temperatures all day. Tomorrow and Friday are supposed to be similar. Today was cold but not too windy, so - long run tonight!

Headed over to the plowed section of the bike path to run back and forth, back and forth, back and forth... not very exciting, but it's pretty much the only safe place to run at night right now. I briefly considered doing a few miles on the snow-covered section (it's fairly well packed) but the combination of sunny days and bitter cold over the past few days has left the surface of the snow coated with a layer of ice... pretty to look at but not good for running on.

I was a little concerned when I headed out for my first leg that I was underdressed, but I warmed up soon enough... and one nice thing about it being so cold is I tend not to overheat! Made good time on the first leg - 54 minutes for 4.5 miles. The second leg felt pretty good too... and even the third leg was decent up until the last two miles, which started to hurt a bit. Overall managed to do 12.5 miles in 2 hr 35 minutes... over half an hour less than it took me to run 13 miles on the same stretch of path last week. So either my body's starting to adapt to the longer distance, or I had a good night, or both...

I like the new windbreaker I bought on clearance at Wal-mart... it doesn't breathe all that well but the fleece lining tends to push moisture outward to that it collects between the lining and the shell. That gave me a good indication of how cold it was - while I was running the last two legs, I noticed something crackling on my jacket... turns out the water that collected on the inside of the shell had frozen, leaving me with ice in my jacket! I ended the run damp (maybe someday I'll get an expensive breathable Gore-tex jacket but for now I'll make do with my clearance specials) but fairly warm... gotta love polar fleece.

So all in all a good run and a nice break from grading, grading, grading... now I just have to figure out where I'm going to run 15-16 miles this weekend. The 20 Mile is rapidly approaching!


Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Boy does that sound familiar!


Monday, March 05, 2007

5.4 Mile Run near Academy
Monday, March 5, 2007

Well, based on what's been passed around on the Gunks Runners e-mail list, the half marathon yesterday was very windy and included some tough hills. So it was probably a good move not to do it... I probably would have been left seriously wondering if I have a prayer of finishing the Eastern States 20 Mile...

I was pretty tired at the end of the day but still managed to convince myself to gear up and go out for a run along the streets near Academy. A cold front is moving in, so it was very windy a starting to get fairly chilly too. Passed a bunch of our track team running in the opposite direction (I haven't a prayer of passing those kids going in the same direction!) which was amusing... they are definitely an eclectic group.

The weather ranged from sunshine to clouds to snow flurries... only the wind was constant. After a long day in the classroom it was nice to get out in the fresh air. It'll be even nicer when I can run trails again!

I'd been hoping to do 8 miles, but by the time I finished 5 my legs were feeling tired, so I decided to give them a break - I did snowshoe yesterday, after all. Not a bad run, all told... averaged just under 12.5 min/mile, which isn't a bad pace... if I can average that at the Eastern States 20 Mile, I'll be very happy indeed!


Sunday, March 04, 2007

6 Mi Snowshoe Run in the Pine Bush
Sunday, 4 March, 2007

After pondering where to run for quite a while (including mapping out several road routes) I finally decided I wanted to run in the woods. So I headed over to the Pine Bush, hoping that the snow would be sufficiently packed for me to run with my Yaktrax. After about 10 feet it became clear that it wasn't... fortunately, I had brought my snowshoes with me, so I switched to them and spent a while stomping around the woods. The start of my run was pretty cool - a snow squall blew in and it was coming down pretty hard for a few minutes. Shame I didn't have a camera with me! After that it was mostly sunny, and very windy when I made my way through the "habitat restoration" area... that's going to be a depressing section to run this summer.

Saw half a dozen other folks out walking on snowshoes... they seem to have gained a lot of popularity. (I was the only crazy out running on them, though! Assuming you can call what I was doing running...)

The first hour was tough, but after that it got better... I'm glad I stuck with it instead of wrapping it up after that hour.

Now later this week I definitely need to put in some time and distance on pavement...

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Started out planning to do two races this weekend - the Hawley Kiln Klassic snowshoe race as my last snowshoe event of the season, and the Celebrate Life Half Marathon as the start of my running race year.

Friday night I got home after teaching a sword class and decided that I had no enthusiasm for getting up at 5 AM to drive to Hawley Saturday morning. Between that and the fact that I still have a ton of grading to do to wrap up the winter term at work, I decided to skip the snowshoe race and save myself 4 hours of driving on Saturday.

Sunday the alarm went off at 4:45 AM and I contemplated getting up and driving for 2 hours down to Rock Hill for the half marathon. Again, no enthusiasm. It didn't take long for me to convince myself to turn off the light and go back to sleep.

So no races this weekend. Sometimes you just have to listen to your gut. And if I don't feel at least a little bit of fun and enthusiasm for a race - why do it?


Saturday, March 03, 2007

American Shaolin by Matthew Polly
Saturday, March 3, 2007

Matthew Polly's site
American Shaolin on

As you can probably guess from the fact that I'm writing about it, I really enjoyed this book. Here's the synopsis from Matthew Polly's site:

Growing up a 98-pound weakling tormented by bullies in the schoolyards of Kansas, young Matthew Polly dreamed of one day journeying to the Shaolin Temple in China to become the toughest fighter in the world, like Caine in his favorite 1970’s TV series Kung Fu. While in college, Matthew decided the time had come to pursue this quixotic dream before it was too late. Much to the dismay of his parents, he dropped out of Princeton to train with the legendary sect of monks who invented kung fu and Zen Buddhism.

What follows is the true story of the two years Matthew spent in China living, training, and performing with the Shaolin monks. After an arduous and misdirected journey begun a short time after the Tiananmen Square Massacre, Polly arrives at the Shaolin Temple in Henan Province expecting an austere and isolated monastery. What he discovers, however, is that the Chinese government, in its headlong drive toward capitalism, has transformed the surrounding temple into a tourist trap—“Kung fu World.”

After searching the village, he finally discovers the Shaolin Wushu Center, where Shaolin monks teach kung fu to anyone able to afford the tuition and perform for any tourists willing to pay. Polly enrolls and begins life as the only laowai (“foreigner”) in a five-hundred-mile radius. The Chinese term for tough training is chi ku (“eating bitter”), and Polly quickly learns to appreciate the phrase after his first class with Monk Cheng Hao. He is barely able to walk the next day.

During the months of brutal practice, Polly grows close to several of the monks, and through them he encounters the paradoxes of life as a contemporary Shaolin monk, in which these devout Buddhists must perform daily for tourists and hawk merchandise in order to support their art. Polly also sees their incredible abilities, ranging from their phenomenal physical strength and endurance to their thunderous dunks on their basketball court to their practice of “Iron Kung Fu,” in which the monks make a body part (such as the head, forearm, stomach, neck, or, most frightening of all, the crotch) virtually indestructible through repeated torture.

Polly eventually switches to a rigorous study of Chinese-style kickboxing under Coach Cheng, Shaolin’s best fighter, and represents the Shaolin Temple in one of China’s national tournaments. At the end of his journey, the monks initiate him into the Shaolin Temple, making him the first American to be accepted as a Shaolin disciple. Laced with humor and illuminated by cultural insight, American Shaolin is a funny and poignant portrait of a rapidly changing China.

In many ways, American Shaolin reminded me of Mark Salzman's Iron & Silk. The similarities are obvious - American college students travels to China and studies martial arts. What less obvious (at least until you've read both books) is that neither book focuses on martial arts; instead, their studies are the background for a series of stories about what it was like to live for a time in a totally different culture. Both Polly and Salzman have an easy-to-read, almost conversational writing style - I remember reading Iron & Silk in a day or two, and I finished American Shaolin in about three days. A major difference is in the goals of Salzman's and Polly's training... Salzman studied wu shu, with an emphasis on forms. While Polly started with that, he eventually switched to studying san da (Chinese kickboxing) with a much greater emphasis on fighting.

I particularly enjoyed the way Polly dispelled some of the idealized images most Westerners have of studying kung fu in China. The shaolin that he studied with were not mystical monks who spent their days meditating and perfecting their martial skills. Instead, they were normal people who were trying to do something they loved (kung fu) while finding ways to make ends meet in a China that, at the time, was determined to milk the kung fu dollar for everything it was worth. I also liked the looks he gave the reader into his psyche, in particular into the changes he underwent as he trained and went from being a cowed college student to something of a "badass" and even at times something of a bully.

The wrapup, which briefly describes his return to a very different China ten years later, is both poignant in his descriptions of how much has changed (in some ways, it reminded me of my own sometimes nostalgic memories of my years in college and my occasional urges to revisit both the Poughkeepsie and New Haven areas) and encouraging in showing his increased maturity and understanding of how a love for martial arts can become a part of one's life.

And in the midst of all of this, you get some great descriptions of what it's like to be a kickboxer in China (no thank you!) and a description of the methods of developing 'iron crotch kung fu" that will either make you wince or convince you that some of these guys are truly insane!

A fun book, strongly recommended for anyone interested in a realistic picture of one type of training in China and especially for anyone who enjoyed Iron and Silk.


Friday, March 02, 2007

Friday, March 2, 2007

My race application for NIPMUCK arrived today. I have to admit I find it more than a bit intimidating (the marathon, not the application!) After all, last year I finally ran it and DNF'd at 19.4 miles after 5 hrs 45 min...

Three months and counting...


Thursday, March 01, 2007

5.8 Mile Run near Academy
Thursday, 1 March, 2007

Took the night off from teaching karate so I could grade papers, but before I left work I took the opportunity to to a short, easy run along the streets near the Academy... down Hackett and over to Whitehall, then along Academy St to New Scotland and down to South Manning, and finally back along Hackett to the Academy and my drive home...

Can't say I particularly enjoy running through Albany, but it felt good to get out for a short run and get the blood flowing in my legs again. Bring on the Hawley Kiln snowshoe race and the Celebrate Life Half Marathon!