Monday, March 25, 2013

Hinckley Buzzard 50K/25K

It was **just** the 25K for me. There was once a time when I would never, ever run anything but the longest possible race of the day. I would say that I was simply trying to get my money's worth, since one does generally get more miles per dollar for the longer runs. But for last autumn's Run with Scissors (where I **just** did a marathon), and now this here buzzard run, I opted for the shorter events.

Notice the overuse and emphasis of the word just. People use the word all the time when running a shorter race if a longer one is available. I may need to expunge that word from my own vocabulary, since I am finding myself using it so much lately.

About half-way through, and making that face again.                            Photo by John McCarroll
I was under no illusions about how tough this would be, shorter race though it was. I like the Hinckley trails, but I'm quite aware that they present quite the challenge to road sissies like myself. Since I had no illusions, I also had no expectations about running especially fast, or placing especially well. I only hoped to finish.

And even just finishing appeared to be somewhat in doubt as we started off. The footing, especially at during the first mile or two, was very bad. There was:

  • snow
  • ice
  • uneven ruts of frozen mud
  • the usual steep hills

No, this was not going to be an easy day. I considered simply turning around and walking back, but I somehow managed to keep running forward. I eventually got used to the conditions, and just rolled with them. Did I mention that it was also quite cold? Temperatures were in the low 20s at the start, but during the run probably got up to the low 30s. The sunshine helped. But even that, combined with a couple hundred thousand footfalls, presented some problems. At some point some of the ice and frozen mud became transformed into ice and shoe-sucking mud.

How did the run go for me, you ask? Actually not too bad. I'd like to say that I exceeded expectations, but that wouldn't be quite right since I didn't have any. I ran the two 7.85 mile (or whatever) loops in about even splits to finish in 2:35. That's really okay. I'm fine with it. Really. I won't even mention that it's yet another Personal Worst time, or that my last 25K run was in the neighborhood of an hour faster with a time of 1:42.

It was wonderful to run in those Hinckley woods; they truly are beautiful. I'll never take them for granted. It was also wonderful to see so many of my club and otherwise ultra friends out there running and/or organizing the race. I had a blast.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

pantalones hay más

I was trying to say, 'no mas pantalones', like the Progressive TV ad, but Google Translate changes 'no more pants' into 'pantalones hay más'. So that's the title of this post - because I like this rendition even better.

The Progressive ad, which accomplishes its mission of being so silly that's it's actually funny in spite of itself, features a couple Progressive competitors who evidently lie about their  companies' capabilities and then have their pants catch on fire. As the conflagration winds down, one guy says to the other in very bad Spanish, 'no mas pantalones'.

What does any of this have to do with moi? I made a pact with myself on or about the beginning of March to no longer wear long pants for my runs. It seemed like a pretty good bet - that March running would be mild enough for me to expose my bare naked legs.

Little did I know that, unlike last March, when we had record high temperatures in the eighties, this March would be so much colder than normal.

But I've kept faithful to my ambition. I haven't worn long pants for a run for several weeks now. Of course for some of the runs I've still wimped out of running outside and opted for the mill. Maybe that DQ's me from saying that I've run pantless, I dunno.

All this does remind me of a similar pact that Rita Cognion made with herself several years ago. She was planning to go pantless for the entire winter, however. And she did it! How, you ask? The beginning of that winter was fairly mild. Then, when it did finally begin to get cold, she moved to Hawaii.

Jeesh. I hope that doesn't happen to me.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Constraint Satisfaction

What's the least amount of work that I have to do in order to pass this course? ~ anonymous students everywhere

Successful people are willing to do the things that others are not ~ one of my teachers from back in the past

I can't get no satisfaction ~ Mick Jagger

I took a post-graduate course on Artificial Intelligence (AI). I loved it, and I wouldn't mind taking it again sometime. The class wasn't easy. We spent a great deal of time and effort designing complex algorithms to solve constraint satisfaction problems, or CSPs.

The constraint part of the CSPs is the set of limitations, situations or events to be maximized or avoided as part of the problem. The methods for solving the CSPs involve complex recursive searches for the best possible of all possible solutions. That's where the artificial intelligence comes in. AI can be defined (according to my source for all such things, Wikipedia) as, "a system that perceives its environment and takes actions that maximize its chances of success".  In a nutshell, AI provides the capability for solving CSPs.

It occurs to me - and probably not just me - that real life is a constraint satisfaction problem. Our day to day lives, as well as our longer term goals, involve the problem of satisfying a set of constraints. And - get this - we solve them by using something called natural intelligence (NI). I sort of made that up, but the term has already been in use to some extent.

As an example, a student may believe that she will get the best possible job by attending the university ranked highest. But the highest ranked universities may have the highest tuition, and our student may only be able to afford so much tuition expense. In addition, our student may want to attend a university within a certain radius of home. All of these limitations and constrictions about the universities are the constraints. So picking the best possible one in order to get the best possible job is a nearly real-life CSP. And we would make the choice based on our best possible application of NI.

I would argue that exactly all of our choices and decisions - our day to day ones as well as those related to our long-term goals - make up constraint satisfaction problems. The hard part, of course, is identifying and weighing the constraints and their relative importance. I would further argue that successful people are those who are somewhat better at doing this. If we can say that successful people are willing to do the things that others are not, that is most likely because they have clearly considered the constraints of the problem in some way such that the negative ones have been minimized and the positive ones maximized.

Naturally this brings us to running. Yes, of course running is a CSP.

To wit, an example of a running CSP: I want to run fast in races. In order to do so, I need to run fast, at least occasionally, in training. But I don't want to get injured, so I shouldn't do too much. It's best to do speedwork at the track, but the Brunswick HS track is often closed. I don't like to drive anywhere to run; I'd rather do it from home. And dang-it if it ain't cold as heck out there, restricting my breathing whilst I try to get moving fast.

A successful runner would probably say, "damn the torpedoes" and run fast anyway. I, on the other hand, need to work on my willingness. And my NI.

And don't get me started on the Knights Who Say Ni; that's a different subject.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Been a While

There was once a local cat shelter called Bide-a-Wee. I think that's either Yiddish or Swahili for "Stay a While". We obtained our two animals from there, and we also made a couple donations. Then they were sued, or threatened with a lawsuit. It seems that the name they chose was already being used by an "animal welfare" organization in New York. Why in the world someone would care what a little cat shelter is called is beyond me. So now they're simply the Stay a While Cat Shelter.

What does this have to do with running, you ask? I have no idea. I just sort of remembered it when I typed the title of this post. But Been a While does indeed have something to do with running. How, you ask?

1) It had been a while since I ran with Dave Gajewski. In fact, I can't really remember our last run together. It's probably been several months. He called me yesterday, and I joined him for a 20-miler this morning. It was good to catch up with him  - to hear how his family is doing and how his (still) young kids are progressing in school and preschool.
2) It had been a while since I did 20 miles. Oh, I suppose you could say that I've done some treadmill twenties, but we really shouldn't count those. Today's twenty went fairly well, thank you. We averaged about 8:30 per mile, although the first ten were somewhat faster than the second ten.
3) It had been a while since I'd run the "Dave's Loop" ten-mile route. At least that's what I call it. The course begins and ends at Dave's house in Broadview Heights, traversing some hills, neighborhoods and semi-rural roads. I used to drive over for early morning runs once a week or so, but as I say, it'd been a while. Today we did two of these loops in 83 and 86 minutes, respectively. We've run them faster - and I'm sure Dave could have done so today - but this really wasn't too bad at all.
4) It's been a while since running has caused me pain of any kind. Astute readers of this blog will note that this is not the first time I've mentioned this. Since it's a somewhat important topic from my perspective, I herewith bring it up again. While I'm trying to improve my speed and strength, I most certainly do not want to get myself back on that injury bandwagon. So I am trying very hard not to do anything too stupid. That means, mostly, not racing for a while, not increasing my mileage too much, and not going too crazy with speedwork. That said, I do want to begin running some short road races. That said, I may yet consider the Hinckley Buzzard 25K/50K trail run. Then again, maybe not.
5) It had been a long while since I experienced a runner's high. You don't hear too much about this any more - I think people are slightly embarrassed to discuss it. But here is an interesting Wikipedia entry about endorphins. My experiences with runner's highs have been slight, and muted. But I've had them nonetheless. They always come after a long and hard effort, and are always unexpected. Today I was driving home and thinking about how grand my life is, when it occurred to me that I almost never think about how grand my life is.

Now... back to reality.

Hinckley is Back

Okay, okay. Hinckley never really left. But a lot of us did; we hadn't been meeting there for our Sunday morning runs for quite some tim...