September 30, 2008

The Wrong Turn

Ralphie: Oooh fuuudge!
Ralphie as adult: Only I didn't say "fudge." I said THE word, the big one, the queen-mother of dirty words, the "F-dash-dash-dash" word.

On Saturday I competed in the Charleston Challenge Duathlon. The race wasn't very big, less than 100 participants. The distances (2 mile run, 19.2 mile bike, 2 mile run) suited me fairly well, and I was still near peak fitness from the triathlon national championship race so I liked my chances for success. On the other hand, I heard mixed reviews about this race from friends who have done it in the past. There are half a zillion turns on the bike course and (from what I heard) they are not always marked very well. I know two different people who missed turns on the bike course. One lost a little bit of time, the other lost enough time that he simply abandoned the race.

Charleston, IL is only about an hour away so I didn't have to wake up unbearably early. I arrived at the race venue (an elementary school) with plenty of time to prepare. First they had a children's race (actually three separate races based on age). They ran a lap around the circle drive, the bicycled around the school. It was entertaining. A number of the children still had training wheels on their bikes.

Next was the grownups race. I warmed up a little on the bike, trying to keep my eyes peeled for the orangish markings on the road that denoted the turns. I think I can handle this. I re-racked my bike and went for a short run. I needed to get used to running fast because I wasn't going to have any time to warm up during a race this short.

The race began. I started at the front and went out with the leaders for the first half mile or so. At that point two guys started to pull away. I was in third place. I decided to let them go and keep my pace under control. The course was not marked and I wasn't wearing my GPS, so I had no idea how fast I was going. Sometimes the adrenaline rush at the beginning of the race can mask the sensations you normally use to feel your pace.

My senior year in high school at the conference track meet I ran the first 400 m of the 3200 m run in 62 seconds. I had a 10 second lead on the rest of the pack at the end of that first lap. The rest of the race didn't go so well. I somehow hung on to finish second place, but I really should have won. I learned a valuable lesson that day about starting too fast.

Anyway, I maintained my position the rest of the first run leg. By the end I let the two leaders gain 15-20 seconds on me. The next runners were another 10-15 seconds behind me. I entered the transition area and glanced at my watch, astonished to read 11:08. If the course was accurate I had just run my fastest two miles in 10 years.

I had a quick transition and began the bike a little winded, but feeling good. The road curved through a neighborhood before approaching a stop sign. I lost sight of the leaders through these curves. I race volunteer was standing at the intersection pointing to my left. Hmm. I didn't see any markings on the road indicating this was a turn... I wonder why he is pointing. I looked to my left and saw a pickup truck (who had the legal right of way) coming to a stop. Oh, good. The volunteer was just alerting me to the presence of the truck. Now that the truck is stopped I can continue through the stop sign. The volunteer stared at me as I passed, though he didn't say a word.

As I rode the next couple blocks I began to second guess myself. The road got narrow. I still couldn't see the leaders. Did I just make a wrong turn? I looked back behind me and saw a steady stream of cyclists turning left at that intersection.

Oooh fuuudge!

I slammed on the brakes and turned around as fast as I could. As I reentered the course the same volunteer again stared at me, and again didn't say a word. I was mad. Furious. On the plus side I unleashed that anger on my pedals and rode the next few miles like a man possessed. I quickly passed a slew of riders, nearly everyone who had passed me while I was off the course. I saw one more rider off in the distance and I chased him for miles, over half of the course. We were going almost the exact same speed and I wasn't gaining much. The course turned. We went uphill, downhill, uphill, downhill.

About halfway through the bike I could tell he started to slow down and I regained a little motivation as I slowly reeled him in. I made the pass convincingly, but then slowed down a bit. He passed me back on the next downhill. I passed him back on the next uphill. He stayed just a few seconds behind me the rest of the ride. I couldn't see anyone else in front of me and I was beginning to wonder whether I was leading the race. Could it be so?

I finished the bike leg in 53:48, averaging 21.4 mph. I should have ridden faster, even with all the hills, but the numerous turns made it really difficult to maintain a high speed. I reached the second transition with the other guy hot on my heels. I overheard a friend of his tell him he was in 4th place. Crap. I never caught back up with the two leaders. Oh well.

I pulled away from the guy on the run and finished a couple minutes ahead. My second run split was 12:22. My finishing time was 1:18:25, good enough for third place overall.

From studying the results I estimate I lost about 45 seconds from the wrong turn. A shame indeed, but the second place finisher was far enough ahead that it wouldn't have made any difference. So I let it be. I was also second place in my age group, for which I won a major award (er, a large trophy). Frankly, I'm kind of glad I didn't pick up the 1st place trophy... it was way too big.

September 29, 2008

The Falls

My body still on Central Daylight Time, I woke up early last Sunday morning in Portland. My flight back to Champaign (by way of Chicago O'Hare) didn't leave until 1 p.m. so I had a few hours to do some touristy things. My first thought was to check out downtown Portland. I found some brochures in the hotel lobby, but unfortunately most places opened late on Sundays. Instead I packed up and checked out of the hotel at 7:30 am not really knowing what was going to come next. Sometimes this makes for great adventure, and other times it's a big let down.

At first I did head to downtown Portland just to look around a little. I got caught up in quite a lot of traffic, both auto and pedestrian. I quickly realized everyone was headed to the Portland Race for the Cure. I pressed on a few blocks when I started thinking to myself, I should run the race. I was a little bit tired from the previous day's triathlon, but it was only a 5K run and I can do that in my sleep (I think I actually did do that in my sleep a few times during college when we had 6:30 am practices). Then came the minutia of finding a place to park, finding the race start, dealing with registration (if it was even possible on race day), changing clothes, flying home sweaty and gross, etc. I quickly lost interest.

My next plan was to head out east of town on I-84 to the Columbia River Gorge and maybe Mt. Hood. It was drizzly and foggy all morning, so I never did see Mt. Hood. The river was nice though. The trip got interesting once I turned off the interstate onto a "scenic highway."

I came to a waterfall along the side of the road and decided to go take a look at it. I didn't really take anything with me other than my camera, because I thought I would get right back into the car. Then I realized there was a short trail up to the base of the waterfall.

Wahkeena Falls

Once I got there I realized there was another trail to the top of the waterfall.

There were 11 switchbacks on the way to the top

The view near the top of Wahkeena Falls

Once I got there I realized the trail kept going and going.

I hiked about 1.5 miles uphill before turning around and hiking another 1.5 miles back down to my car. The forest was very beautiful.

Thinking my adventure was probably done for the day I continued down the scenic highway just a scant half mile before coming across another waterfall and accompanying trail system. This waterfall was even more impressive (and correspondingly more touristy) than the first.

Multnomah Falls actually reminded me quite a lot of the waterfall in San Ramon on Ometepe island in Nicaragua.

Multnomah Falls is the second highest waterfall in the U.S.

Again I hiked up to the base of the waterfall for a closer view. Again I continued on to the top. There were a number of unprepared tourists hiking the "1 mile" trail up to the top, quite a few of whom I passed on the way up but not on the way down (i.e. they turned around). Hiking 1 mile isn't very challenging. Hiking 1 mile that gains 600 ft of elevation is.

By this point I was running short on time so I was really moving up the hill. My legs weren't really sore from the previous day's triathlon, but the next day my legs would be quite sore from this hike.

The view from the top was spectacular. There was a little platform that went right out over the water and you could watch it falling off the cliff.


On the way out I noticed several other tourists at the falls wearing their USA Triathlon Age Group National Championship finisher's jacket, just as I was. We smiled, nodded, and continued on our way.

I made my way back towards Portland. Along the way I stopped for a veggie burger at Burger King. My bike was still assembled so I packed it up into the suitcase in the BK parking lot. I arrived at the airport 90 minutes before my departure to find half of the airport wearing the race finisher's jacket. What an adventure.

September 28, 2008

The Elite National Championships

After last Saturday's Age Group National Championship race were the Women's & Men's Elite National Championship races. I stuck around to watch because I had never seen triathletes of that caliber (i.e. professionals) compete live (and also because the road back to the parking lot blocked off).

It was fascinating to watch, even though I didn't know much about the competitors. All I knew is that most of the U.S. 2008 Olympic Triathlon team would be racing. The highest placed U.S. triathlete in Beijing was Laura Bennett, who finished fourth. Apparently my mother-in-law knows her mother. Neat.

Nearly all age group competitors wore wetsuits for the swim, whereas none of the elites wore wetsuits. Their transitions were just so ridiculously fast they would lose major time taking a wetsuit off. They're all so good at swimming that they don't really need them anyway.

The biggest difference is that the bike portion of the elite race is draft legal. This means the elite triathletes can work together on the bike, but the Age Group triathletes have to ride alone. This totally changes the dynamic of the race. The race leaders at the start of the bike have a huge advantage over those who are a little bit behind. Both the winners of Women's & Men's races were in the first group out of the water and the first group onto the bike. They both worked together with other competitors to stay in front of the chasers on the bike.

The bike & run courses for the Elite race were different. Instead of two long loops on the bike or a long out and back on the run, they did shorter loops (8 on the bike, 5 on the run) and came back through the transition area every few minutes. This made the race much more spectator friendly. We could stay in the same place and see the competitors a dozen times.

The women went first. I watched the race unfold from the top of the hill coming out of the transition area. On the bike one woman was chasing the leaders all by herself (and making up big time) when she crashed right in front of me. She took the corner a little too fast and slid out. She was able to get back up and finish the race. It was sad, but the crowd really cheered her on after she started riding again. Here is some of the video footage I took during the race.

The men started as soon as the women finished. The interesting thing about this race was there were two leaders on the bike and a chase group of around ten. Conventional cycling wisdom says ten working together are always faster than two. However, in this race the ten chasers were not very well organized and the two leaders pulled farther away every lap. One of these two eventually won. As a person who has ridden in a few cycling races (and watched a hundred on TV) the apparent lack of tactical knowledge by the ten chasers was painful to watch.

After the men's race ended the road was reopened and I rode the Pocket Rocket back to the parking lot. Of course, I couldn't find my car when I got there. I was driving a rental and it was completely dark when I parked. After a few minutes of walking in circles I realized I had already walked past it. I ate dinner at Pizza in Paradise before heading back to my hotel and falling asleep rather quickly.

The Age Group National Championship Photos

The race photos have come in from last weekend's USA Triathlon Age Group National Championship race. I have updated the previous post to include some of the photos. The album is here. Below are some of the highlights.

September 24, 2008

The Overpass to Nowhere

I was just reading an email on the mailing list that discussed the possibility of building a new overpass on a county road over some railroad tracks. I'm not all that familiar with the area in question, so I can't really say whether it would be a worthwhile project. The email did include a figure that I've been wondering about for a few years. Apparently the cost to build such an overpass is estimated at $9,700,000.

9.7. Million. Dollars.

The reason I've wondered is because a few years back I came across the most bewildering sight while bicycling by myself just north of Mansfield, Illinois. I was in the absolute middle of nowhere and I passed a small county road with an overpass over a set of railroad tracks. Every other road had level crossings over these tracks, including some with way more traffic (though still not much). Why on earth would this one particular road, with little-to-no traffic, have an overpass? Why would some governing body waste millions of (presumably taxpayer) dollars on such an overpass to nowhere?

Below is a map of the overpass. If you can determine why it's there, I'd sure like to know.

View Larger Map

September 23, 2008

The World, Re-Justified

I just came across this web site describing The World, Justified, a piece of (ASCII) art created by a couple of Brazilians. Very interesting idea. I was able to replicate it using Mathematica 6 in just a few lines of code.


map = CountryData["World", {"Shape", "Equirectangular"}]



g = Rasterize[map, ImageSize→80]



raster = First @ Cases[g, _Raster, ∞] ;


txt = Reverse @ First[raster]/.{ {255, 255, 255} →" ", {_, _, _} →"*"} ;


CellPrint @ Cell[StringJoin @@ Riffle[StringJoin/@txt, "\n"], FontFamily→"Courier"]


CellPrint @ Cell[StringJoin @@ Riffle[StringReplace[#, " "→""] &/@txt, "\n"], TextAlignment→Left, FontFamily→"Courier"]


CellPrint @ Cell[StringJoin @@ Riffle[StringReplace[#, " "→""] &/@txt, "\n"], TextAlignment→Right, FontFamily→"Courier"]


CellPrint @ Cell[StringJoin @@ Riffle[StringReplace[#, " "→""] &/@txt, "\n"], TextAlignment→Center, FontFamily→"Courier"]

The Age Group National Championships

I travelled to Portland, OR this past weekend to participate in the USA Triathlon Age Group National Championship race. The Olympic distance triathlon (1500 meter swim, 40 km bike, 10 km run) took place at Hagg Lake, just southwest of Portland. The race venue was absolutely gorgeous. Even after this, my third visit to the Pacific northwest, I am still in awe of the region's beauty.

The race venue can be seen across Hagg Lake

I arrived in the early afternoon on Friday, the day before the race. I had to pick up my race packet and check in my bike before 7 pm. My flights, car rental, and hotel arrangements all went off without a hitch. As I drove on part of the bike course on the way to the race venue my initial feeling of awe and wonderment for the beauty of nature around me slowly turned into a feeling of uneasiness as I saw how hilly the race would be. I live in central Illinois, quite possibly the flattest place on Earth. I trained long and hard for this race, but I simply didn't have access to this type of terrain. History has shown that I'm surprisingly good at riding uphill for a flatlander, but would I be good enough?

The bike course curved through the woods around the lake

I picked up my packet and was quite pleased with the swag, both in terms of quantity and in terms of quality. Many races typically hand out some crappy 100% cotton t-shirt and a few small trials of some company's products. This packet had two high quality technical shirts, a nice hat, a nice towel, good race shoelaces, a poster, and (after the race) a nice jacket. I swear half of the Portland airport was wearing that jacket the next day.

I unpacked and assembled my Bike Friday Pocket Rocket (including aerobars and Speedplay pedals) before taking it out for an easy spin on the 20 km loop around the lake. I was eager to see exactly how difficult the course was going to be. Did I mention it was really hilly? At this point I was glad I chose to bring a bike with drop bars rather than my TT bike with bullhorns. I knew I would spend a lot of time with my hands on the brake hoods while going uphill, and a lot of time with my hands in the drops going downhill.

The Pocket Rocket in a Zipp Disc wheel sandwich

After the ride I checked my bike into the transition area with all the other (bigger wheeled) bikes. As I was walking in a complete stranger wanted to take a picture of me with my "cool" bike. This was just the beginning. I must have talked to at least 20 different people at the race about the Pocket Rocket. There was a lot of fascination with it. Even during the race several people made comments. As I was passing a woman uphill I heard "Oh wow, that's cool!" Or as some dude blew by me downhill he'd look over and say "Nice bike, man!" Now imagine how that sounds with a Doppler Shift.

It was a long day of travel and race preparation. Back at the hotel I loaded all my race gear into my backpack while watching my favorite pre-race movie, American Flyers (once you get past the cheesy 80's veneer it is a really great movie).

I woke up at 4:15 am the next morning and headed back out to Hagg Lake. Of course, it was completely dark at this point. The 1200 race participants and spectators all had to park in a grass field outside the park boundaries because the roads were all closed for the race. They had school buses hauling everyone from the parking lot to the transition area. I arrived with plenty of time before the race started so I was able to properly prepare everything. It was a nice change from being been way too rushed in all my previous triathlons this year.

The swim course went clockwise around the yellow buoys

The air was cool, in the low 60˚s. The water was slightly warmer, but it sure didn't feel that way. It was no San Francisco Bay, but it was no temperature controlled swimming pool either. Swim waves started every four minutes. My 30-34 age group was the 10th or so wave. 44 of us lined up in the water next to the dock and before I had time to take it all in the starting horn sounded and I was swimming like crazy. Fortunately, it wasn't very crowded, so I wasn't getting kicked or elbowed (or hit with a stick).

The group split up pretty quickly. About 2/3 of the pack pulled away from me, while the remaining 1/3 fell behind me. I spent most of the swim by myself in between these two packs. About halfway through I found another guy and tried to swim with him for a little while. I was swimming hard, but well within myself. I've been doing a lot more swim training recently, so I felt more comfortable in the water. I knew I was going to improve on my time of 28:10 from the Evergreen Tri, but I didn't know by how much. I checked my watch as soon as I exited the water and I saw 25 something something (officially 25:17), which was about as good as I could have hoped.

Next I had two challenges almost as daunting as the swim. No, not biking & running (not yet, at least). I needed to get out of my wetsuit and run up a long hill to the transition area. You see, I've only worn my wetsuit in one other race in the past five years and it didn't quite work out the way I planned. I had a really difficult time taking it off and I lost probably 45 seconds just fighting the neoprene cocoon. I practiced two or three times at the pool recently, and steadily improved. Luckily, I had no problems getting it off during the race.

I ran up the hill, perhaps faster than I should have. By the time I mounted my bike after the first transition I looked at my watch and noticed my heart rate was 180, which was a bad sign. I feared this would be a repeat of the Dairyland Tri (Racine, WI) in 2003. In that race my heart rate started too high on the bike, I never recovered, and I had a terrible run. So I intentionally started the bike a little slowly to allow my heart rate to drop. The whole first lap was a bit of a struggle for me. Five miles into the bike I reached the big hill. I ascended at 8 mph. 8. miles. per. hour. And as slowly as I was going, I was actually passing people.

By the end of the first bike loop (of two) I was feeling much stronger so I was able to pick up the pace a little on my second loop. I ascended the big hill at a whopping 9.5 mph the second time, again passing people. I got into the habit of passing many people on the uphill sections and then getting passed by a few of those same people on the downhill sections. And I wasn't going slowly on the downhills (max speed 38.6 mph).

I finished the bike in 1:08:38, somehow managing to average 21.7 mph on a very difficult course. Again, it was really as good as I could have hoped. The Pocket Rocket performed amazingly well.

Finding the correct transition area out of 1200 proved more difficult than I anticipated

My second transition should have been super fast, but it was almost a complete catastrophe. I ran down the wrong row and became slightly disoriented when I couldn't find my transition area. I ended up wasting close to a minute. My slow transitions were the one aspect of this race that clearly needed improvement.

This photo doesn't do this hill justice. It was steep.

Heading out on the run there was a short, steep hill. Then another. Then a longer hill. Etc. The run course was hilly as well, and again, I don't train on hills. Like the bike, I started out a little slowly. I could tell right away that I felt better at the beginning of this run that I did at Evergreen Tri, but the hills were going to be challenging. Still I was able to slowly ramp up the pace to run negative splits. My first mile was around 7:00. Next was 6:55, then 6:58, 6:47. I really picked it up and ran the fifth mile in 6:20 and finished very strong. My run split was 42:24... faster than at Evergreen Tri (which was completely flat). Again, it was the best I could have hoped to do.

My final time was 2:20:34. I finished 28th place out of 44 in the 30-34 age group. My time was 20 seconds faster than it was for the same distances at Evergreen, but this course was much harder and it had longer swim->bike transition. Individually, compared to Evergreen, my swim was 3 minutes faster, my bike was 1 minute slower, and my run was 30 seconds faster. All things considered, I had a great race.

This photo sums it up pretty well

About 20 minutes later my friend Martin (who started later than me) crossed the finish line. We're generally a pretty good match for each other, but he said he had a bit of an off day. He had some troubles breathing on the bike & run and that slowed him down a little bit. He finished in 2:23:41. His swim was 6 minutes slower than mine (ouch!), his bike was 5 minutes faster, and his run was 3 minutes slower.

Martin & Rob post-race

Competing in the Age Group National Championships was a fantastic experience. And now that I know there's an Age Group World Championship race... I guess I'll need to figure out how to drop 13 minutes off my time in order to qualify for it :)

September 22, 2008

The Preparation

At the Evergreen Tri (Mideast regional championships) in July I apparently qualified for the Age Group National Championship race. I say apparently because I was only vaguely aware that such a thing even existed, and it simply wasn't on my radar. I had just returned to triathlon after a 5 year hiatus. I had a couple decent performances earlier in the summer, but the only previous time I raced the Mideast regional championships (in 2002)... I got my ass handed to me. Fortunately, I had a good race at Evergreen. I finished 5th in my (30-34) age group, which qualified me to compete in the national championship race.

I thought about it for a couple weeks then decided what the hell, I'll do it. I mean who knows when (if) I'll ever get a chance to do something like this again. I didn't race again the rest of the summer. Instead I focused myself singularly on preparing for this race.

Prior to Evergreen I was only swimming twice per week, totaling about 2400 yards. In August I started swimming more frequently, longer distances, and faster. Olympic distance triathlons have a disproportionally long swim (1500 meters), so a little improvement to my swimming could result in big time gains. In an Olympic distance Tri in 2002 I swam a little over 25 minutes, whereas at Evergreen in 2008 I swam a little over 28 minutes. I really wanted to get back down to 25 minutes again.

My bike workouts stayed mostly the same, but I did add a long ride on Saturday mornings to my routine. This ride had been going on for months, but I spent most Saturdays early in the summer doing various races, so I usually missed it.

The other addition to my bike training was the PCC Tuesday time trials, held every other week. I didn't like the idea at first because I usually run on Tuesday evenings, but I eventually decided to take part. And I'm glad I did. The short, intense efforts really helped me improve my time trialling, even after only four tries.

The other thing the TT series helped me do was evaluate my performance on different machines. I rode three different bikes in my four tries and I was able to quantify how much slower the Pocket Rocket is compared to my Litespeed TT bike and my Trek road bike: surprisingly not much, maybe one mile per hour. The night I rode the Pocket Rocket in the time trial was the night I decided I would be taking it to the national championships. It travels so much easier and cheaper than the bigger bikes, and it's really not much slower. Now, in fairness, I knew I had no chance at winning the national championships, or even finishing in the top 16 in my age group (top 16 qualify for world championships). Had I intended to be truly competitive, I would have ridden a big wheeled bike.

As far as running goes, I kind of slacked off a little. Mainly I did this to allow more time to train on the bike and in the pool. The thing is, I don't think it mattered. I'm so much better at running than I am at biking and swimming that I really only need to run once or twice per week. As long as I maintain my fitness biking and swimming, I am able to keep my speed on the run.

The long hours I spent training July through September left me fatigued on a daily basis. I successfully tapered last week before the race. I was able to show remarkable restraing by taking it easy when everyone else wanted to go hard. In the past I haven't handled tapering that well. I guess I've matured... and it only took 29.9 years. Anyway, the preparation worked, as I felt fresh and strong as race day approached.

September 10, 2008

The Geoffender

You read me my rights and then you said "Let's go" and nothing more.

- Blondie (as covered by The Mr. T Experience).

The Iron Coder competition from the recent C4[2] conference I attended had a required API (iPhone OS's CoreLocation) and a theme (paranoia). I actually did take a couple hours on Sunday morning to throw together a submission. Sure, it wasn't going to be polished, but still creative perhaps. I figured several people would do something like a crime map. I tried a variant on that, dealing only with one (particularly nasty) type of crime.

The app I threw together is quite simple. You press the "Geoffend" button. The app determines your location from the iPhone's built in GPS. The app fetches from the internet and displays a list of registered sex offenders who live near your current location. If that doesn't induce paranoia, I don't know what will. I call it Geoffender (combining Geo with offender).

I got the app working in the iPhone simulator on my computer, but I ran into problems running the app on my actual iPhone hardware. I recently acquired a new iPhone, and I hadn't yet set it up for development. When I tried to set it up before the contest I absolutely could not get it working. I tried everything. The iPhone platform is pretty well locked down. In order to do development you have to have various digital certificates and keys from Apple. I have these. The problem is installing them correctly is not completely straightforward. So the demo was a no go.

It's just as well. There were many other submissions to the contest which were much better. I also learned a few things, so the time wasn't wasted.

September 9, 2008

The C4[2]

This past weekend I travelled up to Chicago to attend a Mac software development conference called C4. This was the third year the conference was held (named C4[2], the previous two editions were C4[0] & C4[1]), though it was the first time I attended it.

It shares much in common with WWDC, Apple's annual developer conference, yet there are many stark contrasts. WWDC has been growing at an unmaintainable rate. This year there were around 5000 attendees. This C4 conference had 170 attendees, including many well known and respected names in the world of Mac software development. Both conferences include technical presentations on various development topics. WWDC sessions are presented by Apple engineers, but C4 sessions are presented by other application developers.

C4 is not widely publicized and I just happened to find out about it by reading other developers' blogs and Twitter posts. I quickly became excited and signed up a few hours after registration opened, which was fortunate because it filled to capacity a couple hours after that.

The trip started last Friday morning when I rode the Pocket Rocket to the train station in Champaign. Melissa accompanied me on her bike to see me off. When we arrived at the station I folded up the Pocket Rocket, put it in a big nylon carrying bag, walked in, picked up my ticket, and sat down in the waiting room. The Amtrak train was almost an hour late, but before I knew it I was showing the conductor my ticket and boarding the train. This was a somewhat new and interesting experience for me, as I had never ridden on a train around these parts.

I arrived in Union Station in Chicago and headed straight to the food court, as it was past lunch time by now. I lucked out to find a Mexican restaurant, where I could get a veggie burrito, connected to a Cinnabon.

After partaking in the delicious meal I headed outside, unpacked my bike and rode off. I had a little time to kill before the start of the conference so I took a quick trip over to the lake shore path. Next I hit up the Michigan Ave. Apple store. I arrived at the hotel where the conference was to take place plenty early and waited around for a few hours. Lots of other conference attendees were arriving during this time and I chatted with a few of them. The conference started with a dinner and a couple opening sessions. It was after 11 pm before the conference ended. I whipped my bike back out and rode about four miles north to my cousin Scott's apartment, where I would be sleeping. Or so I thought.

I arrived. We caught up a bit and talked about bikes. I met his friends. It was now approaching midnight and his neighbors were still having a raging party upstairs. The music was unbelievably loud and people were literally jumping up and down. I finally fell asleep somewhere between 1 am - 1:30 am. The party was still going on. Thank goodness I can sleep through anything.

I woke up bright and early at 6:15 am. At some point Friday evening a bicyclist from Chicago I knew from races we have done together contacted me and suggested I join his team for their Saturday morning training ride. I hadn't been expecting to do this sort of thing, so I was a little unprepared, but I like to be spontaneous. I met riders from the XXX Racing team at Wicker Park and we took off heading north.

Chicago has ridiculous traffic, lots of stop lights, and plenty of potholes. I had been wondering how these guys trained in this and I got a crash course (not literally) in big city training. A group of nearly 60 (3-4 times the size in my normal training rides) rode about 25 miles to Highland Park. It was a pretty easy pace on the way up. Half (including me) turned around and headed back to Chicago. The ride back was a lot crazier. It basically turned into a road race where 20 or so riders were all jockeying for position at 28 mph. Meanwhile traffic was all around us. We had to slam on our brakes for a couple stoplights. It was a little more dangerous than my typical training rides, but it was never out of control. I handled it pretty well on my little bike and I got lots of surprised comments about how well the bike did. I love this little thing.

I ended the 50 mile ride back at Scott's, then showered and biked back downtown to the conference. There were more interesting talks all afternoon. Between talks, during meals, etc. I met lots of really interesting people who were working on a wide range of projects. There were developers who worked solo in their spare time, people from small, 3-15 person companies working in small teams, people (like me) from medium, couple hundred person companies, all the way to people from Adobe, which employs thousands.

That night was a pizza party, where I met more interesting people. Again I rode back to Scott's late. Again his neighbors were throwing a wild party. Again I fell asleep despite them.

I slept in slightly longer before Scott and I took a ride down the lake shore path all the way to his office at the University of Chicago. We almost went past Barrack Obama's house, but Scott couldn't remember which street it was on. I tried out his fixed gear bike and he tried out the Pocket Rocket. It was an interesting experience. After my recent purchases, a fixed gear bike is really the only kind missing from my collection... but I'm not in any real hurry to get one. It was a little too weird for my tastes. I never really felt safe and secure on it the way it do on... well, any other bike.

I attended more conference sessions on Sunday afternoon. The conference ended with a coding competition, somewhat similar to the defunct MacHack conference. Eight or so developers showed off simple iPhone programs they had written using GPS/location functionality with the theme "paranoia." There were apps detailing crimes that had take place near you, all the way to a "spy" stealth distress beacon. The eventual winner was a little off-topic, but was technically interesting so most attendee voters overlooked that detail. Somehow it combined an iPhone, a Wiimote, and a Mac to build a simple gesture based drawing program. The contest winners were awarded a MacBook Air, and dozens of software applications donated by conference attendees (including a free copy of my application Mathematica).

The conference had ended a few hours before my train was to depart back to Champaign so I rode around downtown for an hour or two.

Chicago's Magnificent Mile

The Sears Tower

After my joyride I returned to Union Station, packed up my bike, and went straight to the food court... only to find everything closed. What? It was 6:45 pm. In a panic I went back out and walked a couple blocks, lugging my heavy backpack and my bike in its bag with me. I found several restaurants. All were closed. Ridiculous. Time was running out so I went back to Union Station, bought $10 worth of overpriced junk food, and boarded the train home. The Fig Newton's were good, but I would have preferred dinner.

The ride home was fairly smooth. I fell asleep pretty quickly in my exhausted state. When I woke up a short while later I set an alarm on my phone to ensure I wouldn't sleep through my stop in Champaign. It worked. Another short bike ride later I was finally home and very quickly fell asleep in my comfortable bed.

So that was my weekend, and as Melissa speculated, I was rather proud of myself to have done the entire thing without the assistance/hinderance of an automobile.

September 8, 2008

The Pizza Dilemma

Homer Simpson: "I like pizza. I like bagels. I like hot dogs with mustard and beer. I'll eat eggplant. I could even eat a baby deer. La la la la la la la la la la. Who's that baby deer on the lawn"

As some C4 attendees are complaining on Twitter, ordering the right kinds of pizza for a group of people presents challenges. There are people who like meat. There are people who like veggies. Some of the meat eaters won't eat veggie pizza. Some of the veggie eaters won't eat meat pizza.

In this particular case there was apparently an abundance of veggie pizza and not enough meat. That's unfortunate for some. On the flip side, I cannot even begin to tell you how many times I've eaten pizza in a group who has ordered all meat pizzas, except for one cheese, and everybody goes straight for the cheese... leaving a hungry vegetarian and a bunch of uneaten meat pizza. This has happened to me literally dozens of times in the past 10 years (mostly in college).

The solution to the pizza dilemma is obvious, yet people often get it wrong. Order fewer meat pizzas and fewer veggie pizzas, while adding a boat load of plain cheese pizza. Sure, cheese may not be the favorite of some meat eaters or some veggie eaters, but they will eat it. Some may argue they won't... but those people are wrong.

So instead of running out of meat pizzas and having meat eaters go away hungry, or (as is more often the case) running out of veggie pizzas and having the veggie eaters go away hungry, everyone will be able to eat cheese when their favorites run out and nobody goes away hungry.

September 2, 2008

The Masters Swim Team

Today was the first day of practice of the (school) year for the UIUC Masters Swim Team. The term masters generally means old people. In running this means age 40 and older. In cycling it's 30 and older. In swimming it's generally any adult (18 and older).

I began swimming with the masters team in the summer of 2002, shortly before my first triathlon. I had only started swimming a couple months earlier and I was looking to improve with some sort of coaching and training regimen. It worked. Even in my very first triathlon I was near the front of the pack out of the water.

I enjoy swimming, but not to the extent I enjoy running & bicycling. If it weren't for triathlon I probably wouldn't swim at all. There, I said it. It was really helpful for my motivation to have a coach, a schedule, and training partners waiting for me four times per week. That's why I stuck with the masters team for the next couple years. When my knee injury sidelined my running, triathlon went along with it. I continued to swim for maybe a year or so, but as my knee continued to cause problems I eventually lost interest in swimming.

In the mean time, IMPE underwent renovations, closing both the indoor and outdoor pools. There was another pool on campus but it was much smaller and now had much more traffic, so it was pretty crowded.

After about four years off I started running again and it went well. Triathlon was the next natural progression for me, and that meant swimming. The pool situation was still less than ideal. I swam at the other pool on campus a couple times in the spring. In the summer I swam twice per week at the Crystal Lake Pool. By the end of August the renovations were completed at IMPE (now named ARC) and the outdoor pool was reopened.

Now it's time for masters swimming again. The team meets for 90 minute practices 5 times per week (all optional). Some people train for actual races (swim meets, or in some cases triathlons), others train for fitness, others are there to socialize, and others are there simply to learn how to swim better.

Every once in a while the team organizes practice meets where the team members race each other (for time) at various distances. I participated in one of these meets about five years ago and targeted the 1000 yard race. Most swimmers are terrified of racing that far. I kind of wanted something longer. Interestingly I also participated in a 4x50 yard relay because pretty much everyone else did it. That was an experience.

time lapse video of Rob racing 1000 yards & Joe racing 1600 yards at a practice meet in 2003

September 1, 2008

The End of August

I took a week off the bike in August and still put in comparable mileage to June & July.

I spent a lot of time on the Pocket Rocket in preparation for the upcoming National Triathlon Championship race in Portland (less than three weeks away). I was skeptical whether this bike would be race worthy, but I laid those doubts to rest in the time trial last Tuesday when I was only three seconds slower on the Pocket Rocket than I was on my Litespeed time trial bike the previous month. In fairness, the weather conditions were better on the day I rode the Pocket Rocket, but it was still in the same ballpark. Since I can pack it into a suitcase and check it on the plane it will save around $250 getting a big wheeled bike to Oregon and back for the race.

Also of note, 2008 just surpassed my previous yearly mileage record from 2005... and it's only Labor day.

August 2008

BikeDistance# RidesAvg per Ride
Bianchi43.5 Mile76.21429 Mile
Big Red37.1 Mile312.3667 Mile
El Fuego23.02 Mile211.51 Mile
Pocket Rocket270.97 Mile833.8713 Mile
Thundercougarfalconbird340.42 Mile656.7367 Mile
Total715.01 Mile2627.5004 Mile

January - August 2008

BikeDistance# RidesAvg per Ride
Bianchi473.73 Mile736.48945 Mile
Big Red220.82 Mile1613.8013 Mile
Dahon158.13 Mile285.6475 Mile
El Fuego23.02 Mile211.51 Mile
Litespeed334.465 Mile1325.7281 Mile
Pocket Rocket637.13 Mile2822.7546 Mile
Thundercougarfalconbird2757.94 Mile7735.8174 Mile
Total4605.23 Mile23719.4314 Mile