March 30, 2009

The Training Camp

This past weekend was my cycling team's training camp in southern Illinois. We spent four days riding on some very hilly roads (particularly compared to the very flat roads of Champaign County) in what turned out to be some fairly nasty weather (much like last year).

Training camp
My cabin at Giant City State Park

The ride schedule was mostly the same as last year. About half the team went down a day earlier this year to get in one additional ride. We started out on Thursday from Giant City State Park and did a quick climb from Makanda up to route 51. This is a two mile long climb that got the heart pumping right away. On the way back down I hit 45.3 mph trying to keep up with fearless Jay. Last year on this same hill I only hit 39.1 mph.

Jay descends into Makanda
Jay descends like an animal

From there we headed to Bald Knob, the highest point in southern Illinois. This is the same climb we would be doing on Friday, so this was just a warm up. We intended to go nice and easy, but those intentions never seem to work out. We rode a litter harder than we planned, and probably a little harder than we should have.

I was pretty exhausted by the time we returned to our cabins in Giant City to clean up. We drove to Carbondale for dinner at the Italian Village, followed by some window shopping at closed bike stores, before picking up Dan who took the Amtrak train from Champaign. After returning to Giant City I slept for 10.5 hours.

Six grown men ogle bikes through the store window

a Carbondale drive up liquor store

Friday we rode to Lick Creek to meet the rest of the team members who were staying in cabins there. From there we rode over to Bald Knob again. The entire group was much bigger and rode much faster. I was pretty tired from Thursday's ride, so it was tough just getting there.

At a gas station stop I made the mistake of taking too long to strap my little Flip video camera onto my bike and ended up missing the group as they rolled out. I had to chase for a couple miles, including the really big hill were the group split up. I caught up with several riders on that hill and a few of us hauled ass to try to catch up with the lead pack. We didn't quite make it as they reached the Bald Knob climb before us and we picked our way through the remnants of that group on the way up the climb.

Training camp Friday elevation
Friday's elevation profile

The remainder of the ride was much easier as everyone was tired by this point. We refueled afterward with a big dinner at the Giant City lodge, which, despite not having any vegetarian entrees on the menu, has a number of delicious sides, including wild rice, mashed potatoes, corn, salad, etc. After dinner I quickly fell asleep for 9.5 hours.

Saturday's ride was 100 miles, going from Lick Creek to Golconda and back. At the start of the ride it was 50˚ and drizzling rain. The rain came and went all day, but the temperatures got colder. During one two minute stretch I was even pelted with pea-sized hail. We split into two groups. Given my fatigue from the previous two days (and the fact that I am supposed to be tapering for the marathon) I wisely chose to ride in the slower group. We faced a stiff headwind the entire first half of the ride. Despite the nasty weather we had a pretty good time. It was a tough ride, very hilly. The group would split up on the uphills they we'd come back together on the flats and downhill sections.

Training camp Saturday elevation
Saturday's elevation profile

Half of our group chose to turn around at 37.5 miles rather than ride the full 50 to Golconda. The first 10 or so miles after we turned around were actually somewhat pleasant. Sure, I was soaking wet, but we had a good tailwind and as long as I kept moving I stayed plenty warm. Around this time the sun actually came out for about 30 seconds. Soon after came lighting, thunder, driving rain, hail, a drop in temperature, and a change in wind direction. We faced a headwind the rest of the way back.

After the ride I changed into dry clothes, munched on some snacks and chitchatted while we waited for everyone else to finish. Then we all packed up and headed over to the Giant City Lodge for a team banquet. Saturday was all you can eat fried chicken night at the lodge. This is going to sound crazy, but that's actually what I ordered. I simply didn't eat any of the chicken. The meal also had all you can eat mashed potatoes, corn, rolls, etc. Everyone placed the same order and huge plates of food were served to us family style.


We awoke Sunday morning to temperatures in the mid-30s, howling winds, and damp roads. The ride was much shorter, but still challenging. We coasted down to Makanda then took turns climbing the two big hills heading out of the valley. One was long and gradual, the other was short and steep. I did five climbs before deciding my toes would fall off if I did any more.

The last descent of the last day of training camp

And that was it. Training camp was great fun. We had some tough rides in tough conditions. Most importantly, I don't think it screwed up my marathon preparations. We'll know for sure in less than two weeks.

March 21, 2009

The Natural

One of this week's $0.99 movie rentals on iTunes is The Natural. This is the movie that introduced me to the word "bastard" as a child. I had no idea what it meant or even that it could be considered a bad word. I just picked up from the movie that it's something you call someone when you're mad at them.

Of course, this got me into trouble when I called my brother Travis a bastard at a family gathering. Nobody really heard it, but Travis promptly tattled on me and I got my mouth washed out with soap. The worst part was that I had absolutely no idea what I had done wrong.

I'll freely admit that there were plenty of times in my childhood when I truly deserved to have my mouth washed out with soap (though my personal preference was for Lux, I found Palmolive had a nice, piquant after-dinner flavor -- heavy with a touch of mellow smoothness), but this wasn't one of them.

March 19, 2009

The Bender Mask

Bite my shiny metal ass
"Bite my shiny metal ass"

Futurama is one of my all time favorite television shows. The robot character Bender isn't my favorite character on the show, but he seems to be quite popular with every other fan of the show. I was able to score this Bender halloween mask from in 2002 for $7 and it has served as my de facto Halloween costume many times since then.

March 18, 2009

The New Blog

I started a new blog about software development. The audience for this new content has very little overlap with the few readers of my personal blog, so I've decided to spare you all and not write about it here. Also, it will spare me the ridicule of Melissa, Cara, & Aimee. I will still update this blog.

Thew new blog is titled "/dev/ragfield" (if you don't get the joke, you probably wouldn't be interested in reading it). It is located at

March 15, 2009

The Forest Glen Maple Syrup

Today was the Maple Syrup Open House at Forest Glen park. The park holds this event each spring where they demonstrate how they make maple syrup and have a pancake dinner. I've run at Forest Glen four or five times this winter so I've been looking forward to this event for a while. When I told Melissa about it she was very excited, so we just had to go. And since my parents live somewhat near the park, and they love pancakes, we invited them to come along as well.

Melissa and I arrived a little early so we could get a short hike in before the pancakes. First we hiked to the observation tower.

Forest Glen observation tower
Forest Glen observation tower

Forest Glen observation tower
that's a lot of stairs

Melissa & Rob at Forest Glen observation tower
Melissa and Rob at the top

View from Forest Glen observation tower
view of the forest

Melissa descends observation tower steps
Melissa descends the tower's many stairs

Next, we continued on the path down the hill towards the Vermillion River. We passed the beloved backpack trail on the way. The water in the river seemed high and fast-moving.

Crooked tree shadow
a crooked tree casts a shadow on the backpack trail I usually run

Vermillion River
the Vermillion River looked high

Melissa & Rob at Vermillion River
Melissa & Rob

Noon was approaching, and this was the time we agreed to meet my parents for pancakes, so we hiked back up the hill and drove over to the Maple Syrup Open House area. We got in line a few minutes after noon. My parents arrived shortly thereafter. We were having a good time, but we couldn't help but notice the line wasn't moving very quickly.

The line for pancakes and maple syrup was long
the line for pancakes was long

It took us right at two hours to reach the front of the line, get our pancakes, and sit down to eat (what became) a late lunch. The pancakes were good. The syrup was good. I'm not quite sure it was worth waiting two hours in line, but at least the weather was beautiful.

After lunch Melissa & I walked a short distance to the recreated pioneer homestead, where the syrup was made. They collected sap from 400 or so maple trees in the park all winter. Then they heat it up to evaporate away most of the water, leaving just the sugary syrup behind.

one of the pioneer homestead buildings

they collected maple sap in buckets and bags all winter long (old photo)

Maple sap drips into a collection sack
maple sap drips into a collection bag

Maple syrup building at Forest Glen
this building housed the evaporator machine which converted the sap into syrup

Evaporation device converts watery maple sap into syrup
the evaporator was heated by a wood stove

Melissa in front of the evaporator
Melissa watches sap become syrup

March 14, 2009

The Land Between the Lakes Trail Race

I've been doing a lot of running lately in preparation for the Illinois Marathon in four weeks. The past few weeks have been my peek mileage and I've been pretty tired. These isn't really the best time for a race, but I didn't let my fatigue stop me. I really wanted to do a half marathon at some point. I found out several weeks ago that many of the local Buffalo trail runners were heading to Kentucky to run the Land Between the Lakes (LBL) trail race this weekend. LBL has four different distances, the shortest of which is 23 KM (a little over a mile longer than a half marathon). Perfect.

The race is about 4.5 hours away from Champaign-Urbana, so we made it a road trip. I rode down there with Andrew and Sandra. We followed Cousin Don, Brian, Juan, & Natanya in another car. Once there we met Jeff, Chris, Wes, & Becky, who drove another car. Just before the race we met up with Marla, who came late Friday night. Jeff's sister lives 10 minutes from the race start/finish in Grand Rivers, and she was kind enough to let many of us sleep at her house the night before.

This area of Kentucky was hit pretty hard by an ice storm at the end of January. Many, many trees were knocked over or broken in half. The forest was pretty messy. Fortunately, with the hard work of many volunteers, the 11 mile LBL canal loop trail was cleaned up and ready for the runners.

Ice storm damage
Ice storm damage
Ice storm damage

We awoke early on race morning to make it to the starting line by 7 am. The longest event is 50 miles (yes, fifty miles), which takes a long time to complete, so the race started early. It had already been drizzling for a few hours and it wasn't supposed to let up anytime soon. This was going to be interesting.

I squeezed my way up towards the front of the starting line. I was running the shortest race and I assumed/hoped I was one of the faster runners there. We started off with 1.75 miles of paved road before we reached the trail. The runners spread out pretty quickly. One guy shot way out ahead of everyone else. Then there was a chase group of three or four. Then I was in the next group of three or four. My first (paved) mile was quick, but not unreasonable.

I counted the runners ahead of me and figured I was in 9th when we hit the trail. The trail immediately went under the bridge on the road where we started. As I passed beneath it I heard the familiar calls of "Buffaloooooooooo." This is what the Buffalo trail runners yell when they see other Buffalo on the trail. Some of the others running the longer races spotted me from up on the bridge as I ran beneath them.

The early miles were pretty easy. The trail had a lot of twists and turns but not many hills at this point. There was a little bit of jockeying for position as I moved from 9th to 8th to 7th to 8th to 9th to 8th and so on.

LBL trail race map

The trail was in pretty good shape, though there were clearly some spots that were messed up by the ice storm. In a number of places a tree along the side of the trail had blown over away from the trail and where it was uprooted there was a big hole that required fancy footwork to get around. The steady drizzle made the entire thing just a little bit muddy, but it wasn't as bad as it could have been. My shoes were never in any danger of being sucked off my feet.

Around miles 9 and 10 (I think) there three or so fairly big hills, which were steep enough to cause me difficulty, but not so steep I couldn't run up them. I really struggled with these hills. I tried to make up for my super slow uphills by really pushing the flats and the downhills, but I fell back to 10th and I was losing ground at this point.

I regained a little bit of ground after the hills relented. By the time I finished the 11 mile trail loop I moved back up to 9th. The aid station volunteers informed me that I was 5th. Curious. This was the point where the 23K runners left the trail. The marathon runners ran one more loop, the 60K runners ran two more loops, and the 50 mile runners ran three more loops. This placing discrepancy must have meant that four runners ahead of me (and I was running pretty fast) were racing at least twice as far as me, or maybe farther. Impressive.

I was able to pick up the pace again once I was back on the paved road, but despite running my last mile in 6:40 one guy still passed me. I assume this means I finished 6th, though I never got any confirmation on that. I just based that on what the aid station volunteers told me. It was a solid race for me. I wasn't thrilled with it, but I wasn't disappointed either.

Finishers keychain
My keychain finishers award

After the race I was soaking wet, so I headed over to Cousin Don's van (the Patti-wagon) to change into dry clothes. Juan had a really good race, because I missed him finishing while I was changing my clothes. I grabbed my camera and made it to the finish area just in time to watch Andrew sprint across the line in a photo finish. The other guy barely edged him out.

Andrew sprints to the line
Andrew sprints to the finish line

Andrew post-sprint
Andrew looks tired after his sprint to the finish line

Natanya finished a few minutes later as 2nd place female. Apparently her socks slid down during the race and her shoes rubbed her heels raw and bloody. It looked pretty painful.

Natanya was the 2nd female to finish the 23K
the race director awards the 2nd place prize to Natanya

Heel problems
Natanya had a sock snafu that left her heels raw and bloody

Sandra just ran a tough trail marathon last weekend and she wasn't quite sure whether some pain in her foot would allow her to complete this race. Not only did she finish, she did so with a great big smile.

Sandra finishes the 23K with a smile
Sandra finishes with a smile

Now that all the Buffalo 23K runners were finished we headed indoors for some delicious vegetarian minestrone. Andrew accidentally locked his keys in the car before the race and asked around about who could help him get into it. A firefighter showed up with some tools, and after much work they finally go it.

Locked out
Andrew and Juan help a Grand Rivers firefighter break into Andrew's car

We were pretty cold and wet so we didn't stick around long enough to watch the other Buffalo finish their longer races. They did call while we were driving back to Champaign-Urbana and apparently everyone made it alright. Another successful race for the Buffalo of central Illinois.

March 2, 2009

The Grape Creek Hills


Saturday morning several friends and I headed over to Kickapoo for a bike ride. We didn't ride the mountain bike trails there, instead we did a long road ride up and down the Vermillion River bluffs. These aren't mountains, but the hills are order of magnitude larger than any we have in Champaign county.

We started in Kickapoo and headed south, through the county fair grounds, out to Shangri-la, down to Catlin, over to Belgium, down to Grape Creek road. Once there we twisted and turned and rode up every hill we could find.

Kickapoo - Grape Creek ride

Eventually we wound our way through Westville and Catlin back to Kickapoo. It was cold, though much of the ride was perfectly tolerable where we were surrounded by trees and hills. The miles between Catlin & Westville were out in the open and the wind was brutal. It was a good ride. Afterwards I visited my parents in Danville for lunch before heading home.


Sunday morning I took part in Second Wind's 20 mile marathon training run at Lake of the Woods. Rather than running the trails as I usually do, we stuck to the paved 3.3 mile bike path. The wind was even worse on Sunday, gusting up to 30 mph. I had to throw on some additional clothes at the last minute because the wind made it feel even colder than I expected.

I ran with two or three other guys the whole way and we ran fast, averaging 7:20 per mile. On one hand, I don't typically run my long runs this fast so it was pretty challenging for me. On the other hand, I hope to run the marathon even faster than this so I felt the need to prove to myself I could do it.

Sore Rob

I was pretty sore after the run. I ended up sleeping or lounging around the rest of the day. I was able to perform some household chores, albeit very slowly.

March 1, 2009

The End of February

Photo of the Day

February calendar


Illini Chill

The February weather wasn't great, but there were a few good days when I was able to get a small amount of quality miles in on the bike. I had two good road rides and a good mountain bike ride.


BikeDistance# RidesAvg per Ride
Bianchi74.3 Mile145.30714 Mile
El Fuego16.86 Mile116.86 Mile
Pocket Rocket23.8 Mile63.96667 Mile
Thundercougarfalconbird117.39 Mile258.695 Mile
Total232.35 Mile2310.1022 Mile


BikeDistance# RidesAvg per Ride
Bianchi144. Mile304.8 Mile
Big Red2. Mile12. Mile
El Fuego39.92 Mile57.984 Mile
Pocket Rocket23.8 Mile63.96667 Mile
Thundercougarfalconbird162.04 Mile354.0133 Mile
Total371.76 Mile458.26133 Mile


Runner Rob

I eased up on the running a bit after the Riddle Run. This probably isn't great for my training for the upcoming Illinois Marathon, but my body needed to recover. I chose to focus more on quality than quantity. Last Tuesday's Armory fun run was the fastest I've done all winter.

MonthDistance# WorkoutsAvg per Workout
January109.34 Mile1010.934 Mile
February55.83 Mile77.97571 Mile
Total165.17 Mile179.71588 Mile


Rob starting 500 freestyle

In February I ramped my swimming back up with the start of Masters Swimming for the spring semester. We had another practice meet and I also swam the farthest I've ever done in one go (4300 yards).

MonthDistance# WorkoutsAvg per Workout
January1.87452 Kilo Meter30.62484 Kilo Meter
February14.9504 Kilo Meter62.49174 Kilo Meter
Total16.825 Kilo Meter91.86944 Kilo Meter

Cross Country Skiing

No snow = no skiing.

MonthDistance# WorkoutsAvg per Workout
January26.67 Mile64.445 Mile
Total26.67 Mile64.445 Mile