26 December 2011

Lost In Yonker, Christmas Day 2011

All the years I live in the U.S. have been limited to New York City.  Because of family obligations and such, I keep going to the same parts of the city over and over.  There are places in the city, and right outside it, that I want to visit, just to see how different, or alike, things are there.  When I learned that the Christmas Marathon was going to be held in Tibbetts Brook Park in Yonker, supposedly just 3 or 4 miles north of Van Cortlandt Park, Bronx, I made plans to be there.  Yonker is one of those places I hear often and pass through many times but never actually go there as a destination.

Originally, I thought of taking the really long subway ride to Van Cortlandt and make the 3-mile trek from the Bronx into Yonker.  It turned out I had a Christmas party on the same day and if I were to pick up a certain matriarch of the a clan she would be more likely to come.  So drove I did.

For a techie person, I have an aversion for car GPS.  Maybe it's because they do not work indoor so I cannot play with them at home.  Instead, I have to set things up in the car, usually after a long wait for the thing to pick up satellite signal.  I do not get it, Garmin makes both the car GPS and the sports watch, but the car thing always have trouble finding signal.  So off I went to Tibbetts Brook Park in Yonker, Westchester, after only looking over a map on the iPad.  I got onto I-80 then went west on Cross County Expressway and got off at some exit just before the Cross County split into Saw Mill River North and South.  There were no sign of Tibbetts Brook Park anywhere but I knew I needed to go south to get to it.  I had to stop and ask for directions, twice, and finally made it to the park.  Technically, the event was to start at 11 but since it was just a fun run, any time after 9:30, when the course was marked, could serve as start time.  I got there at 10 and had plenty of time to drop off a gift for the grab bag and another for the toy drive.  Dressed in a full Santa suit, I started running around 10:45.

The last time I ran with the Holiday Marathons group, I totally missed a turn and did not even finish one single loop.  Instead, I took a short cut, unintentionally, which made my loop about 4 miles, not the 6.5 miles of the real loop.  For the Christmas Marathon, I relied mostly on the chalk marks on the ground and they were very obvious, even for someone like me, near-sighted but cannot run with glasses because they do not stay on unless I run with my head held high.

The course is both challenging and beautiful!  A short distance from the start point, the runner is met with a steep hill. At the top of the hill, it's a slight descent that took a turn to the left toward the lake.  One loop around the lake and the runner is back to the road that takes him back to the hilltop, including the slight ascent.    The course is mostly on paved road.  There was just a short distance of muddy road from the main road to the loop around the lake.  Here and there there were small brooks and streams that whisper quietly in tempo with the runners' footfall and breathing.  I stopped a few times to take photo of the scenery but my cell phone camera ran low on battery.  Next time I will take a real camera and take more photos.

I would love to do a half-marathon (4 loops) but only had time to do 2 loops (about 6 miles).  I did not think ahead and did not have any gu with me, so even if I had time it would be challenging, unless I make much use of the refreshment available, which includes bananas, oranges, and water.  As luck would have it, the gift I got from the grab bag turned out to be all energy packs of various brands.  Yippee!

18 December 2011

Save The Holiday Marathons, Again

The last time I wrote about the Holiday Marathons races, the group was having issues with the NYC Parks Department over the Halloween Marathon.  Things worked out in the end and the race was held but that was not the end of the story.  Even though the Thanksgiving Marathon saw a record turnout of over a thousand people, the Christmas Marathon is not so lucky.  The Parks Department made many demands that could not be met and permit was denied.  Follow this link for details:

NYC Parks Department Cancels Christmas Marathon

Luckily, the good folks at the Holiday Marathons group was able to enlist the help of the Westchester Parks Department and a race will be held, after all, in Tibbetts Brook Park, just three miles north of Van Cortlandt Park.  What's three miles to us runners, right?  Come participate and to show your support.  In these days, there are races that cost a lot to sign up for AND fill up quickly.  No-frills events like those organized by Holiday Marathons should be treasured.  Sure you do not run through some famous tourist hotspot and there is no official T-shirts or trinkets to collect, but you will get a good course to run and much camaraderie, which is what running should be all about, right?  Follow this link to join in the fun:


The event is free but registration is recommended and donation will be accepted.  For the Christmas run, a toy drive will be held so bring a little something for the needy kids.

17 December 2011

Mr. 23 and Me at the Ted15

In the excitement of having a Personal Record with the NYRR Jingle Bell Jog, I wrongly concluded that the next P.R. to beat would be the Manhattan Half Marathon.  I did not realize that this weekend I could also take a crack at the 15K P.R., in particular the NYRR Ted Corbitt 15K (Ted15).

The subway trip to the race, in Central Park, was as messy as the typical New York weekend.  I already knew that the D train runs on the N line toward Manhattan, but I forgot to check #4 train, which I would need to take to get to the NYRR office to pick up the bib and time chip.  Upon transferring for the #4 at Pacific Street Station, I noticed the stair opposite the elevator had a red tape stretched across it.  However, in another nearby stair the red tape was broken and there were people in running clothes heading up it, so I followed them up.  As us New Yorkers often do, I and the few runners quickly started up a chat about the lousy weekend subway service.  I had a long chat with one particular elderly man, who I shall refer to as Mr. 23.  A #4 train heading further into Brooklyn stopped at one side of the middle platform where we were and people got off.  On the Manhattan side, a #4 arrived but it stopped on the far side of the platform, where the #2 and #3 usually stops.  Shouting the classic "Hold the doors!" we ran down the stair then up again the other side.  Someone actually held the door and we all thanked him profusely.  It was horrible mismanagement.  There was no sign whatsoever to tell the riders that the #4 train would not stop at its usual place right next to the platform.  It was a good thing that we were runners - and somehow held the door.

I continued chatting with Mr. 23.  I learned that he started running late in life, like 49, and has been running 29 years!  He is in his 78!  His memory is not so good and his eyesight is bad, but he sure can run, from what he told me, and he looked the part.  He ran a total of 23 NYC Marathons.  Yup, he's one of those automatic entrants - no need for 9+1, lottery with the non-refundable $11 fee, or qualification time.  He told me he qualified for Boston Marathon so he is probably good enough for NYC Marathon, given his age.  Very impressive, Mr. 23.  I would be happy if I still can walk when I reach 70.  There is hope of course.  I am not even 45 yet and already have a few years of running under my belt.

At last year's Ted15, I arrived late and just joined the race as people thinned out.  As long as you do not arrive so late that the start line got totally dismantled, your race does not start until you and your time chip cross the start mat.  Technology at work!  For today's race, even with the side trip to the NYRR office to pick up bib and chip, I still had some time to walk to the start line to get the T-shirt, use the john, wolf down one pack of GU, and stretched a bit before the race began.  My bib number was in the 7000 but perhaps because fewer people signed up for winter races, the 7000 people were moved up to the 6000s corral and then 5000s, or maybe even further up.  Soon someone sang the National Anthem.  Is it still general practice to stand still and place one's right hand over the chest during the singing of the "Star-Spangled Banner"?  I have the image of that Norman Rockwell painting and still do that.  I got my Garmin ready and pressed Start as I crossed the start mat.  Off we went!

At the first mile, my pace was more than 10:07, that wonderful minute per mile number which I just achieved at the Jingle Bell Jog.  I worried that I would not be able to keep that pace.  Silly me! I was comparing a 6K race to a 15K one.  Much as I would like to, my body will not be able to maintain the same speed for a longer distance.  It helps to be realistic.  A few more miles and I came up with another crazy idea.  Somehow I thought my P.R. for a 15K race at the time was 1:21 plus some seconds.  It was already 21 minutes into the race (net time per my Garmin) and I still had so much to cover, there was no way I would beat the 1:21 time.  Again, I was off the mark, as the real time was 1:41:28, at the Cancer Colon Challenge in March 2011.  Luckily I corrected my mind and pressed on with a more achievable goal in mind.

I think for the Ted15 in '10 I stopped for water only once.  I did the same today, around Mile #5, except this time I also had a pack of GU to take.  There was no Gatorade so I took two cups of water.  My hands were so cold I could not open the pack of GU and had to bite it open.  It seemed like forever while I walked to drink the water and eat the GU.  People were passing me left and right, but once I had the GU consumed I ran past many people.  When Mile #9 came up, I mistakenly thought the finish line was just a tad beyond.  I started to sprint for it but it was still far off, or 0.3 miles (0.52K) to be exact.  Luckily, I did not lose too much steam and, thanks to the Garmin, knew very well that I would finish less than 1:41:28.  But by how much?  As I crossed the finish line, the Garmin said 1:36:20.  A day or two earlier, NYRR announced that the office had some upgrade to be done the day before the race and may affect posting of the race result.  Thankfully result posting was not affected and I soon learned that officially my time was 1:36:15, which made it an improvement of 5 minutes and 13 second!  Woohoo for a new P.R.!!!

In case you wonder, Ted Corbitt was the founding president of the New York Road Runners club.  He was also the first African-American to compete in the Olympic Marathon, in Helsinki (1952).  According to Wikipedia, he was an active runner into his 80s.  Amazing!

11 December 2011

Heartbreak Hardware - Handspring Deluxe

With the upgrade to a smartphone, I am once again trying to retire my Palm-based PDA, a Handspring Deluxe.  PDA?  Handspring?  All quaint words in today's technologically fast-moving world.

Once upon a time, Palm Computing was the king of the hill in the mobile market.  Back then, mobile means you can carry around in your shirt pocket an address book, a to-do list, a calendar, a notepad, a bunch of apps, and more.  The Personal Digital Assistant, PDA, was in vogue, long before Siri ever utters "Your 2010 jokes are annoying."  All we geeks wanted to do was to manage our data and data was limited to the calendar, address book, etc.  You could edit the data on the host computer or on the PDA then a sync will get things sorted out.

I started the experience with a bona fide, original Palm.  Just Palm, no other number or letter followed its name, just simply Palm.  Next I upgraded it with a 512K memory module and lo and behold I had a whole 1 MB to fill up with data!  I tried to fill the huge amount of space with apps, some, like Scrabble, were bought in the store (Staples) while others were gotten off the Web.  One Tetris clone proved to be a fatal addition, as it somehow killed the Palm.  Resetting over and over did not do any good.  I actually went back to a paper-based address book for a few months.  Eventually, Handspring entered the burgeoning market with the Deluxe series.  Not only you had 8 MB of space to use, there was also a SpringBoard slot on the back that opened up a whole world of opportunities.  MP3 player, encyclopedia, camera, wow!

For my first Handspring Deluxe, I added apps to do genealogy, Chinese input, database plug-in for FileMaker Pro, spreadsheet, word-processing, and some decent-behaving games.  Hardware-wise, I got a Targus foldable keyboard and some screen protectors.  Unfortunately for it, one day it fell off my belt and I ran it over with my car.  I got a replacement, also a Handspring Deluxe, that survive until today.  It was once forced into retirement when I had an iPod touch, but the touch only lasted about two years.  First the touch's battery failed then its i/o board went kaput.  The Handspring Deluxe made a triumphant return.  I never got the MP3 SpringBoard module so it does not do music, but as a PDA it works fine.  When I am diligent, I even used its Notepad to write draft version of blog entry or ATPM review.

A few weeks back, I decided it was time again for the Deluxe to retire.  The Galaxy S on-screen keyboard leaves much to desire but it is adequate.  In the smartphone, I have address book, some note-taking app, calendar, to-do list, plus music and email capability.  Today I even paired the Galaxy to Apple's bluetooth keyboard and am writing this blog entry with the keyboard.

Thank you for your years of service, Handspring Deluxe.  Have a nice retirement!

Ain't No Mountain High Enough?

Changes can be great sometimes.  Years ago, only the military had access to satellite data.  Then big corporations got into the fun and now the average Joe, too, can wear a gadget that talks to some satellite out there and gather all kinds of info about where he was etc.

The NYRR Jingle Bell Jog was the first race I participated after I became an owner of a G-watch, to be exact, a Garmin Forerunner 210.  As I approached the start line, like many (all?) runners I set my watch to be ready to start record.  Unlike a simple stopwatch that only tracks time, these fancy G-watch needs some time to find  the satellite.  You would have to do that prior to approaching the start line, then when you cross the line you would press Start to, uh, start tracking your work.

The big hill in Prospect Park is formidable, but how does it look graphically?  The accompanying picture's top part tells the story.  The green line is elevation in meters and the blue line is speed in minutes per kilometer.  The use of the word "speed" is misleading because speed to most people probably mean distance per time, like kilometers per hour or kilometers per minute, the opposite of what the graph considers "speed."  The X-axis (horizontal) is distance in kilometers.  It was a 6K race and the Garmin said I ran 6.22K, maybe it included the distance I crossed when I moved left or right to get past slower runners.  The start line in Center Drive was actually on a hill when compared to the East Drive.  Leaving Center Drive and turning left toward the lake, it was an easy downhill run.  I remember joking aloud during the Brooklyn Marathon that there was all to the big race, all downhill!  Just a tad past 3K was where the big hill materialize.  Oh, mine, Hill, what big slope you have!!!  It was not exactly all downhill after the big one, as there were some ups and downs, all the way back to Center Drive.

Remember my beef about the misleading use of "speed" in the graph?  If you think kilometers per minute then the graph makes no sense.  I know I sped up to make a strong finish but yet the blue line dropped.  If I ran faster, should the line not rise at the end?  The thing is the graph really shows pace, as the label on the right Y-axis (vertical) reads "min/km".  The less time you spend on covering a km, the faster you ran.

To see a simulation of the race as carried out by me, visit http://connect.garmin.com/player/133810229 and click Play.  The wonder of technology! 

10 December 2011

NYRR Jingle Bell Jog 2011

I love pleasant surprises.  Who does not?  I signed up for the NYRR Jingle Bell Jog only because it was in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, my home borough.  Something like supporting the home team.  No other reason, at least when I signed up for it.  I got something out of it and it was pleasant.

The day started, sadly, with the usual switching of subway lines.  I live near the D train but on this weekend, like many previous weekends, it runs on the N line out to Manhattan.  The N itself runs on the D line to Coney Island, which works for me, but the trip to Prospect Park requires allocating extra time to go to the N station further away.  Actually, the F and G trains would supposedly drop me off closer to the race's start line but getting to the F is a bit far for me, too.  What's more, there is construction on the F line as well.  It is more straightforward to just take the D or N to 4th Avenue and walk to 11th Avenue, to pick up the bib and souvenirs, then onward to the start line.  It was a 6K race but with all the extra walking because of lousy weekend subway service I might have covered twice that amount today.  Good thing I am a runner and do not mind long walks.  Do not get me started about my attempt to get to the NYRR office yesterday evening to pick up the bib etc.  Yes, lousy subway service then, too.

It was a long walk to the school where bibs and such were distributed, but there was no line at all.  Just in and out.  A volunteer helpfully directed me to the entrance.  In one side, pick up your stuff, and out the other side of the building.  No two-way traffic, no collisions.  I wish life is always that simple.  In addition to the long-sleeve tech shirt there was also a pair of silver bells and strings (?) to tie them to sneakers.  Tech shirt, woohoo!  First pleasant surprise of the day!  I thought we got tech shirt for the NYRR Brooklyn Half Mary because there were many sponsors.  The back of the shirt for that race was filled with sponsor names, typical of an NYRR race, which is a good thing, a win-win situation.  But the Jingle Bell Jog shirt's back has only the new NYRR logo and that for NYC Parks Department.

A year ago I would be somewhat clueless about what's where in Prospect Park.  I do not go there that often, being so far south of it near Coney Island.  Today, having run the Brooklyn Marathon, with six big loops and more within the park, I knew exactly where I needed to go.  Even without the runners before me leading the way, I knew that to get to Center Drive I would go north, or left, of the lake.  I now recall that for the Brooklyn Half Mary, just this year in May, I actually made a whole loop of the lake, from an entrance on the West Drive, to get to the beginning corrals, but only to squeeze in the back in my higher corral, almost back on West Drive again.  Knowledge is power, really, knowing where you are and where to go, it is a good feeling.

I had much free time before the 9 A.M. race.  I looked around a bit for anyone I know from DailyMile.com but could not find any.  After taking a GU energy gel, which I considered my breakfast for the day, I decided to explore Prospect Park, the off-the-trail part.  There is much more to Prospect Park besides the big loop and the lower loop.  On Center Drive, I discovered some big yellow fruits that from far away I thought were rocks that were painted on.  Close-up they have patterns on them that look like brain lobes.  Interesting.  A bit north of Center Drive I discovered a smaller lake.  Half of the lake had dead/brown algae that some passerby told me is unusual. Normally they should be gone by this time of the year and something must be wrong.  Too bad the battery on my cell phone almost drained so I could not take a photo of the lake.  From far away I thought  the algae-covered part was part of the shore.

Eventually, it was time to get into the corral.  It suddenly occurred to me that maybe, just maybe, I can use today's race to beat my own pace.  Up to today, each time I sign up for an NYRR race, my pace is listed as 10:22 minutes per mile.  It is from the shortest NYRR race I ever had, the 5K Coogan in March.  It was somewhat cold then and rainy and the distance was short so that was when I ran the fastest.  Jingle Bell Jog was supposed to be a 4-mile race but because of some construction work in the park, got shortened to a 6K, or 3.75-mile, race.  A tad longer than a 5K (3.1-mile) race, but with the training I have gone through, plus the power of the GU, maybe I can pull it off?  At Mile #1, my Garmin said it was 10 minutes into the race, for me.  At Mile #2, 20+ .  The race course was not even a full big loop but just around the lake, from Center Drive, up West Drive and the dreaded hill, past Grand Army Arch, then down East Drive and back into Center Drive.  Again, with the knowledge of what to expect along the course of the race, I took things slow in the beginning.  There were many people anyway, better to go slow and let the crowd thin out.  At the intersection of Center Drive and West Drive was the first water station.  I had no plan to stop for water, as I can survive perfectly fine without any water on these short races.  From my almost-daily runs, I can tell at some point that I have had enough of the warm-up and can speed up.  It could have been after the water station but the big hill came soon so I decided to climb the hill slowly.  After Grand Army Plaza, it was time to kick into high gear.  I started to try pass slower runners.  Not far from the turn to Center Drive I could not help notice a big guy in front of me, with visible love handles.  Fit or not, he was still ahead of me and I could not keep up.  But then once we entered Center Drive, I called up some reserve energy somehow and made for the sprint to the finish line.  I finally passed the big guy and used the mostly empty left side of the finish chute to complete the race.   The Garmin said my time was 37:43 but I am not good at mental division so I still did not know if I outdid myself or not.  On the subway ride home, even with a calculator I was not that sure how I fared, since it is kinda hard to divide things into .75 .  Even after NYRR posted the result online, I could not view the result page on my Android phone.  Trying to view the result page, after finding myself, would only take me back to the NYRR home page.  Weird.  Only much later in the afternoon, when I finally had a quiet moment to check out the result on the iPad, that I knew my time was 37:41 minutes, or 10:07 minutes per mile.  Yippee, P.R. (personal record), baby!  Next record to outdo myself - 2:23:40 for a Half Marathon.

03 December 2011

Caesars Bay by qaptainqwerty at Garmin Connect - Details

Testing Garmin web site's cool ability to Share with other web services.

Caesars Bay by qaptainqwerty at Garmin Connect - Details

Dumb Move With Smartphone?

The Garmin was not my only recent, big purchase.  I know, $200 is considered big by us frugal people.  After years of using a plain old cell phone, I finally made the jump to a, drum roll please, smartphone.  No, it was not an iPhone, but just some Android thingie that the salesperson offered.  Much as I would love to have an iPhone, the cost is still beyond my budget.  If it is just myself, I could bite the bullet but I have a family plan.  The kids have the same phone model so the adults might as well have the same crappy phones.  No one is jealous that someone else has a better phone.  At least that was the plan.  To be exact, I have a Samsung Galaxy S with 8 GB of storage.  The OS is Frozen Yogurt, I believe.  I read a bit about AndroidOS and the different versions have food names, like Ice Cream Sandwich and Donut.  Weird choice of code name.  I had to make a cartoon for ATPM.com poking fun at the names.

I never own an iPhone but I had an iPod touch and still have a first-gen iPad.  iOS is not perfect but then the experience with Android is even more imperfect.  When I got the Galaxy it already had many apps so I do not what apps are standard.  I listen to music and such a lot so Music Player is my most used apps.  I send files from the Mac to the Galaxy via Bluetooth then manually create playlists.  I have not tried hard enough to find an app that would sync playlists, files, etc so it is a pain to manage music.  Per Leo Laporte on TWIT, Winamp for Android may be just what I need.

A smartphone is not much use if you do not have a data plan.  I think a typical plan with an iPhone is $30 a month.  My plan is $10 a month, but for only, you better sit down in case this makes you laugh too hard, a whopping 200 MB.  I only do email and Facebook so, hard to believe, but 200 MB is really more than enough.  At this moment, I have about seven more days to go before the new month rolls in and I only used 27% of that 200 MB.  I did blow that 200 MB once when I tested the tethering feature on the Galaxy and my son watched some YouTube video.  Dumb mistake!  Still, it is nice that the feature is built-in and can be used as long as your data plan can handle it.  Not like how with Apple you have to play the game of cat-and-mouse with jail-breaking.

I can live with the measly data plan, but I wish the apps would behave more like iOS apps.  They just don't work right.  First time I launched the Facebook app, the one that has the UI more like the latest iPad app, it asks me to "Download Browser.  Download my new app: fast and save power Browser!", I clicked "Download", it downloaded something and installed it.  Next time again, it offered the same choices of "Download" and "Ignore Forever".  I clicked "Ignore Forever" and guess what the next time I launched the app?  "Forever" already came and went so it asked me to download again!  One time, after being sick of telling the app to ignore forever, I clicked Download and it tried to download from the MarketPlace but lo and behold there was nothing to download.  Likewise, trying to post to the Plurk social network is a pain.  There's a Plurk app but it somehow needs Maxthon app, which turns out to be an alternative web browser!?  Wait, there's more!  Each time you want to use the Plurk app, it will just tell you to download the Plurk app.  No, to use Plurk, you would launch Maxthon.  It is a lousy experience, like how I often envision those people who buy the cheapest netbook running Windoze only to put up with Windoze errors and problems.  Maybe my next smartphone will be an iPhone after all.  Help me reach that dream by clicking on them Google Ads liberally sprinkled around the blog!

01 December 2011

Have G.P.S. Will L.S.D.

When I took up running as a hobby/sports, one primary reason was the relative low monetary commitment I needed.  I already had some sweatpants, sweatshirts, tons of T-shirts, some khaki shorts, the usual guy clothes.  For winter running, I put on layers, usually a thick hoodie on the outside, plus whatever gloves I can come across.  The only big cost associated with the hobby is entry fees to the races the New York Road Runners organized.  As I got more into it, I spent money on tech shirts and compression shorts, tights, and such.  A few months ago, I started to stock up on energy gels, too, namely GUs.  Luckily they do not cost that much but it's still additional spending.  For the longest time I put off buying a sports watch. Some call it G.P.S. watch and many call it Garmin, kinda like how people Google even though they use Yahoo!Search or make Xerox copies using a Ricoh photocopier.  From now on, I shall call it a G-watch.

I ran fine without a Garmin, whether it be an NYRR event or out training on my own.  NYRR races are usually in Central Park and consist of at most 2 big loops, perhaps a turn somewhere to add a little distance to cover the length of the race.  DailyMile's map function works for me and I had a good idea how many Ks I cover during my runs, even if I always have to measure the distance afterward.

It was at the end of the (Inaugural) Brooklyn Marathon (BM) that I decided it was time to get a Garmin.  For the BM, I misinterpreted the direction for the course and was going to run a full third loop of the lower loop in Prospect Park.  I did not have a Garmin and thought I would need to run two full lower loops, six big loops, finally one more lower loop, in full, through Center Drive, then re-enter Center Drive one last time for the finish line.  Good thing I was told not to do another full lower loop and just walked through the finish line.  I was pleasantly surprised to learn that my undramatic finish was captured on camera. (www.backprint.com , Event = Brooklyn Marathon 11/20/2011, Runner # 207).

I took Monday off to recuperate from the BM.  On Tuesday, back to work, in Jersey City, I made a trip to the local running store, Runner's High.  There were few choices of GPS watch and they certainly did not have the $130 model, with squarish face, that a few runner friends told me about.  I settled for the $200 watch that was recommended.  I was a bit disappointed that the watch does not use a micro-USB cable so that I would not have to worry about losing a specialized cable.  I was afraid the watch would only measure distance in miles but luckily it can do both miles and kilometers.  Of course I went with km, as well as centimeter for my height and kilogram for my weight.  I unreasonably expected it to be able to pick up satellite signal, like how a cell phone appears to be able to, but like I hinted at, it was unreasonable expectation on my part.

Assuming the G-watch is correct all the time, it is great to be able to run almost anywhere.  So far I have not experienced losing satellite signal.  My running routine up to recently was x km out and back.  DailyMile's map tool has such a function, Out And Back.  I would click along the route to some point of return, then click the icon and my route is complete, double of what I already measured up until then.  With a G-watch, I am no longer limited to the few routes I stick to but I can turn wherever I fancy.  I just have to make sure I cover at least 8 km (5 miles) during the weekday runs, perhaps more on the weekends.

On Sunday I initially planned to run the Astoria Waterfront, taking the same route when I dropped off TOTA at LaGuardia during her last visit.  After parking the car, I decided to give the Triboro Bridge a try.  Armed with the G-watch, I was able to just run and not worry if I will run too far or too short.  The only factor I had to consider was the approaching sunset.  If it was not getting dark so soon on Randalls Island, I would venture about the island some more, especially its waterfront, but there was no time so I only ran from Queens to Randalls Island and then back.  I wanted to do 8 km but the trip to and from Randalls Island covered less than that so I simply went to the track at Astoria Park to run some more.  I ended up with 8.88 km, a number I am sure many superstitious Chinese think is a good sign.

Today, I thought about running to Kaiser Park but my feet had a mind of their own and took me toward the Aquarium instead.  On the Boardwalk, normally I would turn east to get to Bright Playground.  Not today, as I went west instead, at first with the former spot of Shoot the Freak as the goal.  When I got there, the G-watch said it was less than 4 km so I went further and turned around after I passed the Parachute Jump.  Even after I got back near home the total distance was not 8 km so I went a block or two more to reach the distance I wanted.

By the way, "L.S.D." means "Long, Slow Distance" in running lingo.  Runners do not do drugs!

20 November 2011

The Inaugural Brooklyn Marathon

The Inaugural Brooklyn Marathon.  The day finally came and went, although at time time seemed to move too fast as I battle the nasty hills of Prospect Park.

I got up at 5:15 A.M. to get myself ready for the dreaded subway ride to the event.  Before going to bed the night before, I already packed the energy gels, some cash, a subway card, a few pieces of IDs in case I keel over.  For some reason I did not set the timing chip on my sneaker or attach the bib to the shirt with safety pins so those tasks I did in the morning of the event.  Being a recycler, I even set aside six previously-used rubber bands to bring to the event instead of using the new ones that BM organizers would no doubt provide.  Alas, I totally forgot about them when I got out of the house.  I will go into details about the rubber bands later.

I could have taken the Q or F train to the event if I was willing to make some transfer from the D train.  As it is with weekend track work, I decided to take the D straight to 9th Street Station and walk my long avenues to Prospect Park's Center Drive.  As it turned out, I overslept and got off a stop later.  No problem, I had plenty of time and it was a nice, cool day for walking.

There was some delay with the portable toilets.  The one I came across on West Drive was out there all along for the general public to use and there was no toilet paper - no surprise there.  The only usable toilet was a public one at a playground some long distance on the East Drive.  Even with the shining example of the Great Grete Waitz, there are still more men than women in most races, the exceptions being those women-only races, so the men's room actually had a line while the women's did not.  I still made it back to the start area with plenty of time to kill.  The race did not start at 8 sharp but instead at perhaps 8:15, no biggie.  By then I already had six rubber bands on my right wrist.

The course of the BM consists of 2 lower loops, 6 big loops, then one lower loop.  Or at least that's how I interpreted it.  NY1's report also said so, "6 big loop and 3 lower loops."  For my training runs, I almost never run in loops and usually head out x kilometers then back home, just tracing my way back.  The only time I run loops is on tracks and those runs are limited to at most 4 times, to make a mile, or 5 times, to make 2 kilometers.  On the track I would use different lanes as I finish a loop.  The two beginning lower loops are easy enough as it is hard to lose track of 2.  The six loops worried me.  I still do not own a GPS watch for running so I thought I might lose track of the six loops somehow.  Luckily, the rubber bands provide a somewhat reliable solution.  Each time I finish a loop I would shoot a rubber band to the side of the road.  I did it with a lot of fanfare and the cheerleaders on the East Drive was very enthusiastic with their volunteer job.  Mind you all the volunteers were great, just that those on the East Drive was more excited, perhaps because that's where people finish the big loops.

The rubber bands helped but I still had to actually run the loops so I can honestly take them off and shoot them away.  The hill approaching Grand Army Plaza was the worst, but the West Drive's hills were not friendly either.  After loop #3, I saw only 2 more rubber bands on my wrist but afterward saw band #3.  It was very discouraging but I pressed on anyway.  At some point my calves started to ache and then the thighs too.  I thought marathon pains only come in the form of "de agony of de feet"!  Fifteen years ago when I ran the NYC Marathon, with inadequate training, I probably felt aches in every leg muscles, but fifteen years is a long time enough to forget these tiny details.  I know with the races in the past two years I only felt aches above the feet when I sprinted for the finish line.  Luckily, my left foot was fine all along.  Eventually I shot the last rubber band away and entered Center Drive ready to do one more lower loop.  Remember the course?  Two lower loops, six big loops, and one lower loop, right?  It turned out after the six big loops you would just enter Center Drive to run to the finish line, which was just a tad beyond where the start line was.  I almost skipped the finish line by going to the right of it but an official corrected my course.  I didn't get to do my usual sprint for the finish line, to give the false impression that I was finishing strong.  My time was somewhere beyond 5 hours, maybe 5:15.  No Boston Qualifier :) but it was still a good finish for me.  I really need a GPS watch to avoid future scenarios.

The start line.

The start line before the 400 or so runners got behind it.

The inspirational Louis and Heather with me.  We regularly exchange messages and such on social networks - Facebook and DailyMile.  These folks are fast!  They may write about misadventures with stomach problems during races but then they still finish way before me, sigh.

A finisher.  Other than the St. Louis race in April where my great oldest sister took photos for me, I have to rely on pro photographers along the course to provide the photos.  They may be great or not but definitely cost a lot.  I planned to stay at the finish line a while to take photos of finisher but then I realized I had to get home to give my son a practice subway ride in case there will be school bus strike this coming week.

19 November 2011

Countdown To Brooklyn Marathon

In about 24 hours, I will be running the Inaugural Brooklyn Marathon, 9 times around Prospect Park in Brooklyn (duh).  That is 6 times the full inner loop plus 3 times the lower loop.  The course sounds monotonous, especially compared to the NYC Marathon course, which touches all five boroughs.  Perhaps next year, the BM will cover other areas of Brooklyn instead of just Prospect Park.

It will not be the first time I run a marathon.  I actually did that about 15 years ago, in the NYC Marathon.  I even did it twice.  The first year I got in through the lottery.  The second year I was on standby and pretty much gave up but then I actually got selected!  Even though I was unemployed at the time and single, my "training" consisted of just a morning run to Astoria Park plus perhaps 3 miles around the track.  I did not sign up for any races - no LSD like a 15K or Half Mary, no 20-mile run on my own before the big day.  No social networks to learn from the pros or get encouragements from cyberspace friends.  My finish time was 6 hours 15 minutes the first year and worse the next year.  Back then the New York Times printed every finisher's name and I still have those regular newspaper somewhere in the attic.  Today, I understand the NYT only list people who finish with 4 hours and change, and only some special edition has every finisher's name.

With all the training the past two years, it seems like an easy goal for me to beat my younger self.  About two weeks ago I completed a 20-mile run in about 4 hours.  It was a lonely pre-dawn run from home to Chinatown, over the Manhattan Bridge, then back home over the Brooklyn Bridge.  Perhaps on race day, the cheering and excitement will nudge me move faster and complete the race in five hours.  Even if that stretch to 5:30 I still beat my younger self.

To quote Steve Lastoe, organizer of the Brooklyn Marrathon, GOTTA RUN!!!

05 November 2011

Twenty Miles

As the Dolly Parton song goes, "Running five to nine, a great way to put in some mileage".  Early this morning, in the wee hour of a short time after 5 A.M., I set out for yet another shot at putting in a 20-mile or 32-km run before running in a marathon.  I don't follow a strict training program and usually put in 5 miles (8 km) a day then possibly 8 or 9 miles on the weekend.  If possible.  The longest distance I would run come from the half-marathons that I registered for, usually with NYRR.  I vaguely recall the training schedule for intermediate runner that I looked at calls for a 20-mile run a few weeks before the big day.  So off I ran around 5 A.M., partly along the D train's elevated tracks on New Utrecht Avenue, then eventually crossing the Manhattan Bridge to get into Manhattan, southward to the Brooklyn Bridge to get back to Brooklyn, then found my way back to Fifth Avenue and traced my way back to starting point.  It was indeed a little after 9 A.M. that I got home.

The last time I tried to run 20 miles, I was so tired at some point after 10 miles and ended up walking a lot.  Today I knew better about during-run nutrition and wolfed down 6 gu's and two bottles of Gatorade.  The feet still felt the effect of the long run but the rest of the body was able to push along fine.  I only walked briefly when eating the gu's or waiting for Walk signal.

In case you are thinking about tsk-tsking me, or wagging your index finger while lecturing me on tapering before the marathon, recall that I won't be running the New York City Marathon, which was about 24 hours after i set out for my 20-mile run today.  The marathon that I will be in is the Brooklyn Marathon, or the Inaugural Brooklyn Marathon to be exact, about two weeks away on November 20.

30 October 2011

NYC Marathon - I'm In, Sort Of

I wanna be in the Marathon / So freaking bad
Run the whole twenty-six point two miles
The New York City Marathon is coming up fast, less than a week to go.  Not too long ago, ads for the Marathon started to plaster buses and subways, walls, and many other places.  The phrase repeatedly in the ads is, "I'm In".  Compared to the Boston Marathon, for which one must meet some minimum finish time, the NYC Mary is relatively easier to get in.  The elite runners still get automatic acceptance but the average person needs to rely on a lottery process.  There is also the 9+1 program whereby you run 9 races organized by the New York Road Runners (NYRR) and volunteer at one NYRR event.  There are a few other ways too.

To be in the 2011 race, one would have to make the necessary arrangements in 2010.  The only viable options for me were 9+1 and lottery, but it was only in July 2010 that I ran the Queens Half Mary and had the crazy idea that I should give the full mary a shot.  It was somewhat late for 9+1 so I went with the lottery.  $11 got me a chance but it didn't work out.  I ended up registering for the inaugural Brooklyn Marathon, a few weeks after the NYRM.  I will not be In the NYC Marathon for 2011.  Or so I thought.

Some days ago, I found out that the NYRR still needs volunteers for the Start Village in Staten Island.  I thought of watching the runners in Bay Ridge anyway since it was not far from me.  I would run along the Belt Parkway and get to Fourth Avenue to cheer them on.  But being with the runners in Staten Island is an even better deal.  Sure it will be challenging to be there at 5 AM but I think it will be worthwhile.  With the lousy subway service and the many people needing to get onto the S.I. ferry, I will probably need to leave the house at 2 AM!!!  If all goes well, I'll travel to Battery Park by subway, take the ferry across the sea to Staten Island, then run the 6 miles or so to the Start Village.  Or maybe I'll take the bus to the Start Village, if time is tight.

So, yes, I won't run in the NYCM in 2011 but I will be a volunteer at the Start Village, to be among all the excitement.  With 9+1 done in 2011, I will definitely be in the 2012 NYCM.  Just for kicks, I even signed up for the Yonkers Marathon, scheduled for September 2012, for a mere $40.

19 October 2011


So much for my speedy blogging.  When I was writing the last entry, http://www.qaptainqwerty.com/2011/10/save-holiday-marathon-series.html, I thought the article was too long and most readers would not finish it.  So I broke it up into two parts, with the first part briefly about my exploration of Staten Island then segue into my wish to further explore the Bronx, via participation in the Holiday Marathons series.  The free, fee-less Holiday Marathons series is a great alternatives for the many paid events out there.  Sure there is no T-shirts to have but do you really need another shirt?  All you need is other runners to compete against, perhaps some cheering sections, and water and refreshment along the way.  But there was some issues between the NYC Parks and Recreation Department and as I wrote the last entry, the permit was not yet granted to the organizers of the upcoming Halloween Marathon.

I waited too long and today through the org's Facebook Page that permit was already granted.  I was going to ask everyone to go http://www.thehalloweenmarathon.com/ and fill out a message of support for the event.  Well, I am glad that, at least for the Halloween Marathon, all is well and good.  I think I will even make the trip, this time running a Half Mary in preparation for the Brooklyn Marathon in late November.

If you still want to know what was all the fuss, the Riverdale Press has it tidily summed up in this article, Parks and Retribution.  For info on the opposition to the planned renovation of the Old Putnam Trail, see http://www.savetheputnamtrail.com/

16 October 2011


Last Sunday, I ran in the NYRR Staten Island Half Marathon.  Getting to the island by ferry took more energy than actually running the distance of 13.1 miles, but overall it was a worthwhile trip.  One reason I like the S.I. Half is the chance to explore the island.  Staten Island is large and the race route only covered a small area in the north of the island.  Still, that is one area I may not otherwise visit.

The Bronx is another borough of New York City that I do not visit that often.  My first home in the U.S. was actually in the Bronx, in the Kingsbridge area, to be exact.  From time to time I would visit the area if I happen to be up there, but I rarely purposely go visit the Bronx.  Sure there is the Bronx Zoo, the New York Botanical Garden, and of course the NYRR Bronx Half Marathon.  Except for this year the Half was cancelled because of Hurricane Irene.

For a short time, I thought I would have a great reason to regularly visit the Bronx - the Holiday Marathon series in Van Cordlandt Park, on most major holidays, even on some "fun" holidays like Halloween.  The idea is that people normally party and eat more than they should during holidays, so why not burn some calories through running?  As a plus, the event is free to participate in, although if you can afford it, a minimum $10 donation is suggested.  There are no T-shirts to have, no unique bibs, no electronic timing, and no monetary prizes.  But there is camaraderie, water and fruits, trinkets to remember the events by, and a nice trail to run on.  The route is about six miles long, so run twice to make a Half Mary, four times to earn a Full, or whatever distance you can get enough people to run with you.  I ran in the series once and was looking forward to the Halloween event but trouble is brewing in the cauldron...

09 October 2011

NYRR Staten Island Half Marathon

Some time today I shortly wished that the New York Road Runners is a powerful, maybe even evil, corporation that at a moment's notice makes the City of New York jump through hoops for treats.  That the City would ensure the runners of NYRR events get the best treatment they wish.

The day started early, up at 5 AM to try to catch whatever Staten Island ferry before the 7:30 AM one.  Or so I thought.  It did not help that the D train, a short distance from my house, did not run to Manhattan.  I had to jog over to the N line to catch the D!   Confusing enough?  On other weekends, the N would run on the D line into Brooklyn, for some distance, then resume running with D stations!!!

I got to the ferry terminal in Manhattan around 6:40 AM.  I just missed the 6:30 AM boat by about 10 minutes.  Who knows, maybe it actually left at 6:35 AM so I really missed it by just 5 minutes.  The next boat was scheduled for 7:30 AM!  Argh, so I would take the 7:30 boat after all.  Now that I work in New Jersey I no longer have the luxury of picking up my bib and T-shirt at NYRR office during lunch, so I was hoping to be in S.I. early to take care of registration etc.  I still managed to get everything done in time once in S.I. but the wait in the ferry terminal was unbearable.  Breaking my routine of totally fast prior to a race, I had a banana while waiting for the subway and then croissant and coffee while waiting for the ferry.  I lucked out and happened to sit near the gate for the ferry.  I heard some people could not get on the small boat that the City provided.  It would be so nice if the City brought a bigger boat, not for a bigger shark but just to quickly move people to S.I.  And more frequent schedules for such a big day!  Suspending subway re-route would be nice too, but I suppose that's impossible since NYRR races happen almost, if not, all weekends.

The nice thing about being a non-competitive runner is that I don't have to worry about being at a particular place in the corral.  I only have to race against my own records and always run from the end of the corral.  There are slower people than me and I would go around them when convenient.  I never really worry about when the race really starts.  As long as NYRR does not dismantle the starting line, I have some time to reach the mat - only then will my time kicks off.

Mile #1 appeared pretty quick and so were the subsequent miles.  The route was no Central Park, with its nice shade, and the hills are formidable.  Most of the route was along the waterfront but some parts went through industrial areas and there was no shade whatsoever.  I had a GU energy gel a short time before and do not follow the recommended 45-minute interval for subsequent gus.  Instead, I took another gu around Mile 4.  Between Miles 5 and 6 I noticed the fishing pier on the waterfront.  Or was it the Roosevelt Boardwalk?  I love to explore Staten Island some more so some day I will have to be back with the bike.  I hate driving so going over the Verrazano won't do.  Anyway, I was going to use the last gu at Mile 8, but the climb up the hill after Mile 7 was so strenuous I stopped for Gatorade.  The walk and the water kept me going until Mile 10, at which point I wolfed down the last gu.

I sweat so much the leather watchband stinks.  For today's race, and going forward, I plan not to wear a watch at all.  I already hold the cell phone in my hand anyway, its clock will do.  Actually, for the S.I. Half, I totally forgot to bring the cell phone.  I prepared for the race the night before, laid out all the clothes, packed the fanny bag, charged the phone... Except I didn't remove the phone and charger from the wall socket.  No loss, as the time is shown at each mile marker anyway.  I knew I started about 6 minutes after the race clock started ticking so I knew what my time was.  Mile #13 seemed to take forever to reach but I finally made it into the finishers chute.  It was really nice to hear a fellow DailyMiler called out my name.  I saw her and called her back.  She already finished some 20 minutes earlier and was just hanging out cheering the runners.

In the end, I finished the run at 2:25:14, my third best time for a Half Marathon.  It was a hot day but I think it really helped that I wore a tech shirt, to wick away most of the great volume of sweat I normally generate, plus the gus, otherwise it could easily be another 2:40+ finish time.  Overall, it was a great day to be outdoor.

02 October 2011

A Tale of Two Half Marys, Part Deux

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.  I already went into the details of the disappointing Newport-Liberty Half Marathon from a week ago.  I think my reasons are satisfactory: extra sweat-soaked tank-top; hot and humid weather; cut-back training distance; and no rest the day before.  For the NYRR Grete's Great Gallop, also 13.1 miles in length, less than a week later, I made sure I wouldn't repeat the mistakes.

Lucky for me, the week after the Newport Half my son was finally assigned a bus route closer to home.  I still don't have the luxury of running in the early morning but at least I once again had time to do an 8k run.  The Newport Half was on Sunday so Monday I rested.  The rest of the week I went back to training and even had a day running up Dyker Height's hills.  Learning from my mistake, I took Friday off in preparation for the Great Gallop on Saturday.  On the day of the race, I made use of NYRR's bag check so I wouldn't have to carry anything extra.  It was cold when I left the house so I had a long compression pants, a T-shirt, and a sweater.  At the race, I removed the T-shirt and sweater to put on the race T-shirt and left them with bag check.  It was my first time using NYRR bag check and I was glad the fellow runners I asked for help were helpful.  The race bib came with a small piece of paper that was to be attached, via safety pin, to the bag.  When we take the bag back, some NYRR personnel checked the small piece of paper against our bib.  It is more secure than the airport!

The weather was in my favor, too.  A few days sure made all the difference and the day before the race it rained heavily, so on race day it was just right.  What's more, I am familiar with the race route, which was pretty much twice the inner loop of Central Park.  It was my first race in Central Park running clockwise, I think, I am not sure if that mattered.

What else could I have done to ensure a better finish time with the Great Gallop?  All these years, I always run with an empty stomach.  I get stomach cramp and other stomach troubles if I have breakfast before a run.  I stop for water or Gatorade, or whatever else given out along the race route, but nothing before, other than a sip of water.  After the Newport Half, I read more into pre-race food and energy gels.  After checking runner friends on DailyMile.com and elsewhere, I decided to give energy gels a go.  The last time I had one of them was from some NYRR race, given out along with the T-shirt and bib.  It was pretty yucky and I didn't want to ever eat them again.  The salesperson at Runner's High store near my office in Newport said it was not true and sure enough the 3 packs I got there did not taste bad at all. I cannot remember what I got now but I do recall one was mint chocolate.  I had one about fifteen before the race, then another one hour in, and finally I used the third one after another hour.  (Next time I may follow the package's schedule of 45-minute intervals during race.)  It really helped!  I felt energetic during most of the race and had a finish time of 2:28, compared to Newport's 2:42.  I am sure other factors affected the outcome of the race, too, but it is good to know that I can have food before and during the race to better take care of the body.  I already drink Gatorade, when available, during races, so having energy packages is just a convenient way to feed myself.  I need to tell myself that because deep down I have this nagging feeling that I am traveling toward chemical dependency.  Today energy gels, perhaps tomorrow it'll be human-growth hormone or steroids?  Nah, it's just food in convenient packages!

01 October 2011

A Tale of Two Half Marys, Part One

It was the worst of times, it was the best of times.  OK, enough with the attempt to parody Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities.  Two weekends in a row I had a half-marathon each weekend.  In one I did bad and in the other I did better than I thought I could.  Conditions are not the same, but there are factors that affected the outcomes.

This past Sunday (September 25) I ran in the Newport-Liberty Half Marathon (N-LHM).  I work in the area for maybe 6 years, not consecutively, but that's still a big chunk of time.  Only in recent months that I decided to explore the area near the office, during lunch breaks.  There is only so much time to explore, on foot, as I don't drive to work.  Exploring is best done on foot.  I always want to find out how to get to Liberty State Park from where I work, near the exit of the Holland Tunnel.  I also want to run along the Newport waterfront.  I often walk there during lunch breaks but never have the opportunity to run.

Unlike the typical NYRR races for which people can pick up bibs and T-shirts two days ahead of the event, for the N-LHM you need to do that on the day of the race.  I pre-registered so I got my bib and T-shirt fairly quickly.  I had no plan to check a bag so I wore a tank-top to the race then just added the race T-shirt on top.  It was Mistake #1.  It turned out to be a hot and humid day.  I sweat easily and the two layers of shirt simply kept all the sweat on me and weighed me down.  Only by Mile #5 or so that I had the brain to remove the inside and wrapped the tank-top around a hand, much like tapes on a boxer's fist.  If I checked bag I would have wasted a great deal of time.  The line was so long!  The same goes for the bathroom line.  Instead of having multiple lines going to the multiple portable johns, there were just two lines that snaked around the small street.

It was a good thing that I already explored the Hoboken area adjacent to Newport, via the somewhat recently opened waterfront connecting the two cities.  The route according to the official web site for the N-LHM showed a short excursion into Hoboken but in reality we didn't even go past the rail yard.  We went as far as just past Target and back we went on Washington Boulevard.  The part of the short excursion that we would go has not much to show anyway.  If the route was to include the waterfront then that's something else, but I suppose there were too many runners to squeeze through the construction area for some new condo and park, as well as the Hoboken transit hub.

It seemed like forever to see any mile marker.  I think the tall buildings along Washington helped block out the sun somewhat but once we turned into Grand Street there was no shade.  At some point we turned left and eventually ended up in Liberty State Park (LSP).  It was indeed nice there but again we were pretty much out in the sun, roasting away.  From looking at maps, I know that there is a bridge from the mainland to Ellis Island and at the end of Freedom Way I thought we somehow got onto Ellis Island.  Silly me, it was a long way to go before we would pass by the bridge.  I like it how the bridge/pier allows people easy access to sea-breeze while keeping some wild areas undisturbed.  I can imagine myself running in LSP frequently if I live in the area.  There were few photographers for the event but one or two were stationed near the bridge to Ellis Island, to capture the runners with the Statue of Liberty in the background.  It really is the back of Lady Liberty but it still makes a nice background.  Runners pass the photographers on the way to a U-turn so on the way back they knew ahead that they were there.  I put on a determined face for the camera then slouched right afterward.

The hot and humid weather, plus the soaked tank-top, all worked against me.  The day before, having to choose between (a) dying of ennui while some females relatives shopped, or (b) running at Marine Park, I chose the latter.  Looking back, I think it was an unwise decision.  I should have just walked instead.  Since the beginning of September, when my son went back to school, he had to take a yellow bus to school.  His new school schedule interfered with my running schedule, which is early morning.  I used to run then rushed home to drag him out of bed then we walked to school, mere minutes away.  Now I have a smaller window and can only run after he see him off on the bus.  Instead of the usual 8 km each morning I was doing only 4 km or less.  Running more on the day before the Newport Half did not help.  Shortly after the start, my left shoulder ached and I couldn't maintain my normal running form.  I had to walk more often or let the left arm droop.  While the legs do most of the work during a foot race, the other parts of the body matters too.

Two hours and forty-two minutes was my finish time for the Newport-Liberty Half Marathon.  The last time I spend 2:40ish for a Half Mary was for the Queens Half, when it was much hotter, in the middle of July.  Before that it was the ill-fated St. Louis Marathon 2011 that for me turned into a Half Marathon.  In the midst of confusion, I traveled a part of the route twice, once because I was diverted then the second time to confirm that the Full Mary was already cancelled.  I would like to think that the more I run the better I would get, but the N-LHM indicated otherwise.  The shorter, daily runs probably played a big role, then the extra piece of clothes, the unfriendly weather, and the lack of rest on the day before the race together really ruined it.

I am happy to report that for the NYRR Grete's Great Gallop (13.1 miles, October 1, 2011), my finish time was 2:28.  Conditions are definitely different than last Sunday, but I will into those details later.

15 September 2011


The recent big news at Apple, Inc. is the resignation of Steve Jobs as CEO.  Taking over Jobs' spot is the Chief Operating Officer, Tim Cook.  As a Mac-head, I follow Apple news daily so I am familiar with the name "Tim Cook".  The average person may not know who Cook was but now he will.

What is so special about Tim Cook's name?  It is what I call a spoonie - by switching the non-consonant parts of the names you can make a somewhat meaningful phrase, i.e. "Took Him" from "Tim Cook".  Even better, you can make the 4-word phrase "Tim Cook Took Him", perhaps as an answer to the question "Where is the tomcat?"  Like palindromes, spoonies can be very contrived.   Note that I took the liberty to introduce the "kim" sound, just because "Cim" looks ambiguous and probably gets pronounced as "sim" or "chim", whatever that means.

Some of you may already know the word "spoonerism" is the proper term for the word play I described.  I decided to make up the shorter word just because it is just that - shorter.  "Spoonie" may have a dirty meaning in slang but slang is so rich I suspect most normal words have a dirty counterpart in the slang world.  Be sophisticated and rely less on slang words!

As a multi-syllabic language, English is not that great for making meaningful spoonies.  The few that I know are
  • crushing blow <=> blushing crow
  • popcorn <=> porn cop (a member of the vice squad?)
  • take a look <=> took a lake (something a large creature like Godzilla can do?)
Spoonies are very popular in Vietnamese since the language is mono-syllabic.  Every original Vietnamese word has only one syllable.  "Saigon", the older but more popular name for the capital city of the former South Vietnam, was made so to look foreign and exotic.  (Ho Chi Minh City, or Thành Phố Hồ Chí Minh, is the official name.)  There is beauty in being mono-syllabic.  Words can be safely uttered without worrying about where one syllable ends and where the next begins.  Think "nowhere" - which syllable take the "W"?  Is it pronounced "no where" or "now here"?  Sure, having words spanning many syllables can be fun for poets and such, but for daily conversation, mono-syllables are great to have.

There are many Vietnamese jokes and phrases made from spoonies but after years of not using it enough, or reading Vietnamese, I do not remember that many but still enough for a blog entry.  Soccer, or "đá banh", is a popular sport in Vietnam.  The spoonie of "đá banh" is "đánh ba", or "to beat up one's father", a big no-no in Vietnam, where children are supposed to have high respect for their parents.  Similarly, "đá chanh", or lemonade, can become "đánh cha", where "cha" is another word for "father".  Along the fatherhood line, "tắm ỉa", or take a dump right before taking a shower, is a spoonie of "tía ẩm", where "tía" is a more endearing term for "father" and "ẩm" means to carry or cradle.  Enough with fathers and their issues...  If you speak Viet and know a Viet person, ask them if they know "con Hương bên đèo", which sounds like a woman named "Hương" who lives by a hill (đèo).  In reality, it is a spoonie for "con heo bên đường", or "the pig by the road".  Likewise, "con Chín bến đò" may sound like a lady, ranked eighth in the family so she's usually known as Number 9 (since the first-born is called #2), switch things around and you have "con chó bến đình", or "the dog by the temple"!  Lastly, many Chinese in Vietnam have roots in the Chaozhou region of China.  Ask a Viet you know if "ngầu lôi tăng kể" sounds like teochew (or Chaozhou language) and the person may agree.  In reality, the phrase is just a spoonie of "ngồi lâu tê cẳng", or "having sleepy legs from sitting too long".

Of course to really appreciate all these word-plays you need to speak the Vietnamese language.  No promise, but I may, might, remotely possible, make a vlog or video log, where I record myself uttering these nonsensical phrases for entertainment purpose.  A very iffy idea.  Writing is hard enough already, videotaping (even without tape) with all the editing and text overlay is even harder, so don't hold your breath.

28 August 2011

Disaster Preparation - Dressed To Run

"What?  There is a fire? Quick, I want to wear my pilot jumpsuit!"  That was me during my younger years.  I had a yellow pilot jumpsuit that I love and would want to wear it should something happen and we had to leave the house in a hurry.  Or so I was told.  I admit I vaguely recall having the jumpsuit and the photo below helps reinforce the feeble memory.

Thanks to the recent visit by Hurricane Irene, I finally have a Go Bag made.  9/11, blackout, some other minor storm...  after each of those past events I would declare I would make a Go Bag, something to grab and run out of the house.  I never did, until this weekend.  I only have two 500-mL bottles of water and the bag is already pretty heavy.  At most it will last me two days, I think.  The recommended amount is 1 gallon per person per day.  One gallon is about 3.7 L, so I only have about a quarter of the recommended amount.  I do have a flashlight which does not require batteries but is rather human-powered.  As long as I have the strength to crank it, it will work.  I love the Etón series of emergency devices.  Flashlight, AM/FM radio, weather radio, USB port for charging small electronics like cell phone and Nintendo DS, powered by human power or solar energy.  In my case, the Go Bag's device also has an alarm clock.  I had some snacks and a few change of clothes and that's about it.  No important documents in waterproof bag, so I guess my Go Bag is not that ready to go.

Maybe it's an obvious thing so it's not mentioned, but in all the stories on disaster preparation I read, no one ever said that we should wear street clothes as part of the preparation.  For me, that would be a shirt or maybe even a sweater, then some kind of pants or shorts to hold the house keys, wallet with IDs and credit cards etc, some cash and coins, and the cell phone.  What's the point of having a Go Bag but you cannot go right away because you are not dressed to run out into the street.  I should have slept in street clothes last night but then did put it on when I woke up.  It's not that I don't want to be seen on TV at a shelter in my PJ, I just want to be prepared.  It is not so much as the clothes themselves, it's what I can bring with me and home clothes usually don't have pockets to carry stuff.  Maybe it is easy for a guy to say what I just did, but I imagine women can wear something comfy that allow them to run quickly.

Did you wonder if I had some other pilot jumpsuit on this morning?  No, for me these days life is all about long-distance running, so the shirt of choice I had was my NYRR Queens Half Marathon 2011.

20 August 2011

Vacation Packing

T-shirts, check.  Sneakers, check.  Toothbrush, check.  For my recent trip to China, considering I pack only the night before, I did OK.  Somehow I managed to bring along everything I thought I would need for the trip.  Still, I have always wanted to write things down and check them off as I pack, so I finally put it all down in the Google sheet below, incomplete of course:

Qaptain Qwerty Vacation Packing

What I forgot to pack was dedication.  The determination to run during the vacation.  Granted it was a bus tour such that once the tour began there's nothing you can do but go along with the tour.  Most nights we got to the hotel late, when the pool or gym was already closed.  There was much walking or standing during most tours, but intentional exercise is always better than the walks during the tours.

I should have treated the vacation the same way I do with a typical day.  Get up early enough to squeeze in a run or whatever, shower, then go to work, or in this case,  join the tour.  Instead, I came up with excuses and did not run a single day during the whole 10-day trip.  Twice I did get up early but only managed a walk, which I think is good enough.  In the five Chinese cities that I visited, running is not that popular, or at least street running is not.  During the two walks as well as other times on the bus, I saw at most two different runners actually running as an exercise.  There were other people running, but only briefly to arrive at a bus stop or some similar destination.  Maybe people run at night when I already checked into the hotel, or in some public park that I did not know of.

Too bad I didn't manage to run, as the typical block in the visited cities are extra long compared to New York City.  I would call them super-blocks.  There were no individual homes, only large and tall buildings surrounded by walls.  There were some areas that have family homes, maybe at most three stories tall, but those buildings too were enclosed by some walls, again, long block.  I love the long blocks as that means less interactions with vehicular traffic.  Some of the cities even have footbridges, something I think New York City can make use of.  Keep the pedestrians out of the cars' way and there is zero chance anyone will get run over.  Some of the footbridges I saw in China even have escalators, and I wouldn't be surprised if others have elevators, too.

My biggest running regret was when we were in Shanghai, on our own after the bus tour ended.  I had two chances, two mornings, to run the 1.5-kilometer distance from the hotel to The Bund, a touristy waterfront area.  Although I did not know the exact way to get to The Bund, from the hotel I could easily see the Oriental Pearl Tower, so I could not be wrong to run in that direction.  The first morning I actually got up early enough but then I was upset that the trip, as it turned out, included a side business trip about the local real estate market.  I was scheduled to babysit some kids.  Why I didn't just run and shake off the unpleasantness I don't know, but it became an excuse to return to bed.  To be fair, even if I ran, I would not made it far because that morning a really heavy rain descended upon Shanghai.  The street was flooded badly at most corners.  For the second morning, it was the day I was to fly back to the U.S. and my mind came up with more excuses.  What if I got hit by a bus so that I would miss the flight?  If I survive the impact, that is.  What if that, what if this, in the end, no run.  I should have stuck to Nike's motto and just do it.  Now I only have a big regret.

A typical super-block in a Chinese city.  Yay, long stretch of not having to watch out for cars!

14 August 2011

China Vacation 2011

Geek Cruise, that is what I need.  Mac-based Geek Cruise, even better.  One of these, that's what I will have as a vacation.  No waiting around while others do their shopping.  Just me and a bunch of geeks.  Maybe there will be lectures about some up-and-coming technologies, or maybe classes on some existing apps.  That may sound boring to the typical person, but then again, hanging around with nothing to do while others shop is boring, too.

I just came back to the U.S. from a 5-city, 5-day bus tour of Shanghai, China and nearby cities.  Each city has its unique culture or history and the tour guides were good, even though my Cantonese is not that good, but I know enough to figure out what they were talking about.  It was actually more interesting to hear the stories related to the places we were heading to.  For example, the Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge's story was about Chinese citizens scraping together to finance the bridge and Chinese engineers overcoming technical difficulties to create the bridge.  It was not a beautiful bridge, the tour guide said, but it was the first to be built entirely by Chinese, without foreigner's assistance.  Earlier, the Russian helped built two other bridges that also traversed the Yangtze, but disagreement started between China and Russia and Russia recalled its engineers from the Nanjing project.  We arrived at the a building under the bridge, took the elevator to some viewing platform and took photos of the area, then got "treated" to an art gallery.  The near-extinct art involves painting on the inside of snuff bottles.  Not just bottles, but many kinds of glass objects, like globes and vases.  The work requires serious skill as the painter would have to pain on the inside of the objects, doing things backward or mirror-reversed.  Great stuff, but then we spent an hour or so there as many people in the tour went gaga over the artworks.  The visit to the bridge turned into a shopping spree of artworks.  Likewise, other visits to factories that specialize in products of the region also turned into shopping experience.  Some even appeared to be infomercials!  "Buy this set of silk bed spread and blanket NOW and we will throw in another set for free!  But wait, there's more!!!  We will also include, free of charge, a small handkerchief for you to clean your camera lens or eyeglasses!"  Haggling over the prices of some jade jewelry, persistent salespeople offering pearly necklaces or bracelets, medicine men telling us overweight people we need his herbs to live a healthier life... things I do not need to be involved with while on vacation!  In Cantonese, some tours are called "duckling tour" because the tourists get rushed about like a group of ducklings.  I don't know what these apparently vendor-sponsored tours are called but I think I'd rather be rushed about instead of sitting around waiting for others to shop.

I did have some fun looking for signs with incorrect or bad English to snap.  Here is one:

04 August 2011

Don't Know Squat About Squash

Taking care of a melon garden is a lot more work that it seems.  You do not just setup some sort of a frame and the melon vines just move in and produce the melons for you.  You need to give the garden much water, not by spraying on the big leaves, which make them look refreshing but actually does not do any good.  The water needs to reach the soil where originally planted the buds.  A handyman would have an x by y frame for the vines to spread.  I am definitely not handy and like to use found objects to build the frame.  So far I have 2 CD towers which I rescued off the curb from a neighbor up the block.  Various poles found in my backyard serve as the vertical parts of the frame.  Several short pieces of string from the packinq of a Nerf, when tied together served as the horizontal parts.  The strings were not but luckily I have an old garden hose laying around.  As the vines spread around, I added pots and poles and even resorted to using two bicycles that I have no other uses for, as part of the "frame."

The melon vines had minds of their own!  I knew they would climb over the fence into my neighbors' yards, but I didn't expect them to squeeze through the plastic strips in the fence and grow up from there.  The melons or squashes in my garden have somewhat spiky vines so I worried the neighbor's grandchildren may get scratched, or at least scared by the vines.  So one day I went over to try to guide them back to my yard.  Lo and behold, one of the vines had a nice, round squash already!  It was so heavy that it pulled the vine down and was sitting on the cement wall.  As I tried to lift the whole thing back over my fence, I snapped it off!  Oh no, a premature death!  The squash whose life got squashed!!!  It was not ripe enough to eat so there was nothing else to do but display it on the kitchen for a few days, then off it went into the compost bin.  I think it was a girl melon, so I shall call it Melon Chloe.  So long, Chloe!

I hope you enjoy the exaggerated melon-drama...