April 25, 2009

The New Car

Rob & Melissa say goodbye to Iris

We've been putting this off for a few months, but this morning we finally traded in our beloved 2002 Insight for a new 2009 Prius. It was sad to see the Insight go, but we needed a car with a back seat now that Fig is on the way.

The new car
the new Prius in our driveway

the front of the Prius through a fisheye lens

We had a very pleasant experience buying the car from O'Brien Toyota in Urbana. It did take much longer than either of us expected (nearly four hours!). I guess it's good to be thorough though.

April 23, 2009

The Water Drinking Contest

I was recently reminded of a humorous experience from 2003, the water drinking contest.

Water drinking contest

My friends Brett & John argued about who could drink a liter of water the fastest. There's really only one way to settle such an argument. Brett won the contest by a small amount. Then he made the unfortunate decision to quickly repeat the contest against me. He beat me, then immediately ran to the bathroom to vomit. That was the night we learned the human stomach does not hold two liters of water.

April 21, 2009

The Screaming Hard Drive

I think this drive may have problems.

The Dancing Elvises

...or would that be Dancing Elvii?

4 Elvis impersonators
A couple days last week during the lunch hour a group of Elvis impersonators strutted their stuff at the busy intersection of Neil & Kirby outside my office window. Apparently they were there to advertise some new radio station. I think the sign says 97.9 FM.

April 12, 2009

The Illinois Marathon

For the second time in my life I've run a half hour PR and been bitterly disappointed afterward. I'm glad I finished the marathon. I'm glad I ran it faster than any other marathon I've run before. I could have run faster. I just fucked it up.

Rob at start line
Rob wrapped in a garbage bag trying to stay warm before the marathon

Bun in the oven
Melissa & Fig ready to run the 5K

One would think I would have learned my lesson after road marathon #1. Then again after road marathon #2. But I didn't. I started the Illinois marathon too fast, and as a result I finished rather spectacularly (and not the good kind of spectacular).

Marathon & half marathon start
Marathon & half marathon start

My goal for the race was 3:05, which I still believe was reasonable. However, in the back of my mind I thought there was a chance I could run 3:00, which was probably a bit of a stretch. So when I ran the first few miles on pace for a 3:00 finish I wasn't too worried. It felt easy. Really easy. It felt like I could run that pace all day. Sometimes the mind and the body don't always agree on these things.

Rob 3 miles into marathon
Rob gives the thumbs up at mile 3

The first half of the race flew by. I was cranking out 6:50-6:55 miles like clockwork. I ran a very steady pace and I was passing many runners who slowed significantly after the first few miles. I first saw my parents around mile 3 and I was feeling great. The course wound through Meadowbrook Park, through Urbana residential neighborhoods, and back to campus. I saw my parents again at mile 9 and I still felt great.

Rob 9 miles into the marathon
Rob still gives the thumbs up at mile 9

After crossing campus we ran through downtown Champaign where the half marathoners split off from the marathoners. Most of the runners around me turned off, though one guy I had been running with for six miles or so forged ahead. We ran side by side for over an hour, though never spoke a word to each other. Shortly after mile 11 we passed the Melissa's friends from the Anthropology department who were partying at a professor's house. Melissa, by this time finished with the 5K, wanted to be there by the time I passed but she hadn't quite made it yet. She was behind schedule and I was ahead of schedule. No matter. There would be other opportunities for her to watch.

Around mile 12 the running was no longer easy. I still maintained my steady pace, but it was taking more and more effort. My thigh muscles started to hurt. This didn't happen in any of my training runs. At this point it set in that I had been running too fast, but I didn't slow down. I stubbornly continued.

My anonymous friend and I passed the half marathon mark at 1:30:15. I had been planning/hoping to feel fresh at this point in the race, but I was far from fresh. I glanced at my heart rate monitor which read 180, well above my aerobic threshold. My muscles were consuming oxygen faster than my heart and lungs could supply it. The only way to overcome this deficit is to slow down. Significantly.

Still on pace at mile 14, I began to struggle mentally. I knew I had no chance of maintaining this pace for the rest of the race. What would my fallback strategy be? 15 miles in I began to crack. I lost contact with my buddy as I slowed for the first time. Mile 16 was my slowest of the race so far... until mile 17... then until 18... I was on a downward spiral. My quads were screaming out in pain like nothing I had felt for years... perhaps since my last road marathon. Every step was painful.

Around mile 18.5 one of my training partners, Chris, flew past me. We had similar abilities, training, & goals, but he ran a wise race while I did not. He tried to motivate me as he passed, but it was too late.

I knew it wouldn't be much longer until the 3:10 pace group caught up with me. I hoped I could hold them off until mile 23 or so at which point I hoped maybe I could pull it together for the last 3 miles and tag along. 3:10 is my Boston Marathon qualifying time. I honestly thought I would have no trouble finishing under 3:10, but as the miles (slowly) passed it was looking less and less likely. They finally passed me at mile 21 and I was unable to lift my pace even the slightest bit. This was the lowest point in the race for me. I felt like a complete failure.

Rob 21 miles into marathon
The 3:10 pace group passes a fading Rob

About a block later I had my biggest cheering section of the race. Melissa, friends, and family were there to cheer me on. I felt so terrible I couldn't even bear to look them in the eyes. Sorry guys, I know you were trying to help. Mile 21 was my slowest mile of the race.

Rob 22 miles into marathon
Rob shuffles along at mile 22

I didn't give another thought to my finishing time for the remainder of the race. I no longer cared. I was in agony, but I knew I just had to keep moving forward for just a few more miles. I walked through each aid station while drinking water & Gatorade. Drinking while running is not comfortable. On the other hand, the first few steps running at this point were excruciating. I was willing to live with the tradeoff.

The last 2-3 miles I began to come back to life. I actually sped up a little bit. Many people were still passing me, but for the first time in 10 miles I passed other runners. I skipped the final aid station at mile 25. I felt like I was on a roll and I couldn't be bothered with slowing and/or stopping. The final mile down Pennsylvania Ave. felt like it was in slow motion. Once on Kirby Ave. I dodged some half marathoners as the two races re-merged. Then came the ramp down to the football field. It was steeper than I imagined and running down it killed my legs, but there was no stopping me at this point.

Rob after final turn
Rob rounds the final turn

Rob finishing on big screen
Rob's image on the scoreboard

I ran a lap around the football field before lining up for the final drag into the finishing chute. My image appeared on the scoreboard during those last few moments. I finished in 3:22:15, a half hour faster than my previous fastest marathon 6 years ago.

Rob & Melissa getting food
Melissa & Rob post-race

Once I stopped running my muscles tightened up even worse. I was barely able to walk. I required assistance walking up the stairs off the football field. I was freezing cold after I stopped running so my dad gave me his coat to wear. Melissa & I grabbed a quick bite to eat before hobbling out to the parking lot to head home. The marathon was not pretty, and neither was the trip home.

Marathon finisher medal

I think I've done a pretty decent job explaining many of the things that went horribly wrong for me in this race. But it certainly wasn't all bad. In the interest of ending on a high note I'll enumerate some of the good things.

The race was very well organized, particularly for a first year event. My family and friends were very supportive of me. The crowds were great. The course was excellent. I trained very well and I was very physically prepared (though apparently not mentally). I did finish. I did get a half hour PR. 3:22 is a pretty good time for a marathon, even if I could run faster.

So how long will it be before my next half hour PR?

(Many thanks to Melissa and Barb for the photos.)

April 9, 2009

The Frederick Marathon

After the 2003 Washington D.C. Marathon debacle, Melissa & I decided to run the Frederick Marathon in Frederick, MD (just outside of D.C.). It would be her first marathon (the debut) and my second (the redemption). This race was only one week after we planned to run D.C. so the change in plans didn't really affect our training that much.

Neither of us had ever been to D.C. before, so we went there first to see the sights. The day before the marathon the sun was shining and the temperature was 70˚. We awoke the next morning for the race only to find rainy weather with a temperature of 33˚. And dropping. It's always something.

The marathon was fairly small (452 finishers). As we lined up at the starting line the rain turned to snow, and it continued to shower us for the next four hours. The race started well. For the first 8-10 miles I was slightly faster than my target pace of 8:00 per mile (3:30 marathon pace) and I felt great, despite the cold and wet conditions.

Rob near mile 12 of Frederick Marathon
struggling with gel packet

Around mile 10-12 I tried to eat an energy gel packet handed to my by a race volunteer but I quickly realized my hands were too frozen to work properly. I couldn't squeeze the packet hard enough to tear the top off. Not a good sign. A little while later I was looking down at the ground for a few seconds and a huge pile of snow fell off the bill of my hat. I hadn't realized just how hard it was snowing.

Melissa near half of Frederick Marathon

This whole time I was learning the hard way that Maryland is much, much hillier than central Illinois. The Washington D.C. Marathon course was flat. This one, not so much. Around mile 16 we headed out of town into the country, where the hills were worse and the wind was howling. This was the absolute low point of the race, as the conditions were truly miserable.

I was slowing down considerably, but I felt okay until mile 21 or so when I completely bonked. Not good, but it was a whole seven miles farther than at Chicago. What is wrong with me? Can I not run a freaking marathon?

Rob at mile 24 of Frederick Marathon

I struggled the last five miles. I was soaking wet. I was freezing cold. My muscles were cramping. The race was really spread out at that point so there were no other runners around me. There were no crowds watching the race. I'm still not sure how I managed to keep going forward. I guess I knew that I would be even more uncomfortable if I stopped than I would be if I just kept going.

Rob at finish of Frederick Marathon

By the finish I was in no mood to run a full lap around the high school track before crossing the line. I mean it was right there, why would they tease us like that? I finished in 3:49:53. It was a half hour P.R. over my first marathon but I was still pretty disappointed. More importantly I was cold. Very cold.

I hobbled into the high school gym, where food and drinks awaited the runners. I could barely move my legs. I wanted to sit down on the floor but I was so sore I couldn't bend my knees enough to even do a controlled fall. And I didn't want to simply collapse. I was shivering. A volunteer took pity on me and mentioned that I could take a hot shower in the locker room. I was unable to get undressed so I just stood under the hot water with all of my clothes on. I'm pretty sure I had mild hypothermia.

Melissa at mile 26 of Frederick Marathon

What happened after that is kind of a blur to me. I remember having a difficult time finding Melissa, who finished a little while later. I remember wanting to put on warm, dry clothes, but they were all the way across the parking lot in our car and I could barely move. It was truly a miserable experience, though it still wasn't as bad as the first marathon.

Frederick Marathon finisher certificate

Frederick in 2003 was the last road marathon I ran. I have since run a trail marathon (which also took place in a snow storm) and a few ultras. Frederick is still my P.R. In both of my first two marathons I was very unsure of my abilities and scared of the distance. Older and wiser, I've learned some lessons. I have a good feeling about Saturday.

The Washington D.C. Marathon

I registered twice for the Washington D.C. Marathon, though never ran it once.

My first marathon didn't go well. Almost immediately I set out to redeem myself. A month or two after running the Chicago Marathon in October 2001 I began training for the inaugural Washington D.C. Marathon in March 2002.

I trained much better the second time around and set more reasonable goals. All was falling into place. After months of training I began to taper 2-3 weeks before the race. I went out for an easy 5 mile run with Melissa when out of nowhere I felt sharp pain in both my knees at the same time. I finished the run, but my knees still hurt. I took a few days off. Still hurt. Marathon day came and went but I stayed home, unable to run.

The best I could tell was I had patellar tendonitis that flared up. Eventually I found I could run if I wore Cho-Pat straps under my kneecaps. After 6-8 months I no longer needed the straps. The summer of 2002 was when I began to follow the strict rule of not running two days in a row.

During the winter of 2002-2003 I decided to give the marathon another go. This time Melissa wanted to run it also. We both signed up for the 2nd annual Washington D.C. Marathon. We trained together all winter through some nasty weather. A week or two before the race the U.S. invaded Iraq. Three days before the race (literally as we were packing our gear to head to D.C.) we received an email from the race organizers informing us the race would be cancelled due to security concerns. Oh, and they were keeping our registration fees.

What an ordeal.

In a bit of a panic at the thought of her first opportunity to run a marathon vanishing, Melissa immediately started searching for another marathon. Luckily she came up with a small marathon in Frederick, MD (just outside of Washington D.C.) the following weekend. So we immediately registered (as did many other former Washington D.C. Marathon registrants) and postponed our trip one week.

We never did get a clear explanation about the real reason the race was cancelled. We heard that the organizers had massive debt and they never intended to hold the race. Perhaps the war was a convenient excuse for them to take the money and run. As you can imagine this was wildly unpopular. In the end we were at least partially reimbursed, though I don't remember by whom. It may have been our credit card company or it may have been the race organizers.

April 5, 2009

The Hillsboro Roubaix Road Race

I'll start this blog post with something I'd never thought I'd write. What a beautiful April day in Illinois. Sunny, clear skies, 65˚, calm winds, perfect.

Wild Card Cycling

Yesterday I participated in my first cycling race of the year in Hillsboro, Illinois, about half way between Springfield and St. Louis. Long time readers may recall I also did this race last year. Hillsboro Roubaix has two distinguishing features. First, it has some hills. They're not huge, but they're far larger than anything we have around Champaign-Urbana. Second, about half of the finishing circuit takes place on brick roads.

Luke & Mark
Luke and Mark before the race

This was my first race as a category 4 rider, as I upgraded from cat 5 over the winter. My Wild Card Cycling teammates and I started in good position near the front. The speed was quick, but reasonable at the beginning. I stayed in the second quarter of the riders for most of the first lap (of two laps total). Not much exciting happened. I was concentrating mostly on staying upright in such a large group of riders. Our field did a pretty good job at respecting the yellow line rule (the roads were open to traffic, so we were supposed to stay on the right half of the road) for the first 2/3 or so of the first lap, then all hell broke loose when dozens and dozens of riders started moving up through the field on the far left side. So much for rules.

Rob, Mark, Tom, & Luke begin the second lap. Photo by John Bennett.

At the end of the first lap there were two good sized hills and the finishing brick road circuit. This is where the race really heated up. I rode well up the hills, miraculously dodging the dozens of slower riders who started the climbs ahead of me. I was in terrific position (about 15 riders back) as the leaders hammered through the brick roads, down the hill, and back out of town.

Hillsboro speed
The race was particularly intense between miles 20-30

The next several miles we had a slight tailwind and many riders tried to escape off the front. Miles 20-30 were the hardest of the race, aside from the final 2 miles. I maintained my position, closing gaps as they arose. The attacks decreased when we turned into the crosswind. I couldn't see any of my teammates, so I wasn't sure who was still in the lead group. Eventually I found Tom, and a while later I found Luke still there.

On the way back into town I tried to move up through the field to be in good position for the final two hills. Unfortunately, everyone else was trying to do the same thing, so it was kind of a wash. The first hill went reasonably well, lots of riders fell off the pace and I was able to move up quite a bit. As we sped up between the two hills there was somewhat dangerous situation as a car stopped in the middle of our lane just as everyone was ready to race really hard. We all swerved around it at the base of the final hill.

Hillsboro elevation
The course had a number of hills in the 75-100 foot range

The last hill started well enough, but mid-way up I had to slow way down. I just got stuck behind the wrong people. They were going so much slower than me and I couldn't get around them. I had to completely stop pedaling three times and slow down to avoid running into them. Then I would be in the wrong gear for the slower speed. It was incredibly frustrating. Meanwhile a group of 10 or so riders (including Tom) were pulling away and I would have no chance of catching them.

Tom and Rob begin the last hill. Photo by John Bennett.

We reached the top of the hill, hit a hard left turn, then hammered down the final descent onto the brick roads. I was pushing a monster gear down this hill at well over 40 mph. I made the mistake of taking the next turn on the inside. I had to slow way down but I didn't shift out of my huge gear, so couldn't accelerate fast enough out of the corner. I lost contact with the small pack I was riding with (including Luke) at this point, and I was several seconds ahead of the next group. Since I was completely isolated I wasn't able to catch back up to the group ahead of me (who were all working together). I think I may have passed a couple of them who sat up before the finish line.

Cat 4 results

I finished 19th place out of 100 riders. The race was much harder for me than the race last year for a number of reasons, mostly because the field was very large and all the riders were very good. Last year's field was much smaller and had a much lower percentage of strong riders. Here's a quick comparison:

Distance22 miles44 miles
Avg speed20.6 mph22.8 mph
Avg heart rate151*156
Max heart rate181184
Field size50100

* Hmm. I thought my average heart rate was much lower last year. Once I caught back up with the lead pack I was unable to move up through the group and hence sat on the back doing very little work. I distinctly remember looking down at my heart rate monitor during the middle part of the race and reading 110.

Since all the races were going on at the same time I missed the finish of the cat 5 race (four teammates) and the Women's cat 4 race (two teammates), both of which did one lap. I was able to catch the finish of the Masters division (three teammates), which raced three laps (66 miles).

Greg finishing Masters 50+

Martin finishing Masters 40+

Gene finishing Masters 40+

As far as Wild Card Cycling goes, we didn't dominate this race like we did in last year's cat 5, but it was fairly solid. I was pleased with my performance, even if I could have placed a few positions higher with better luck. Here's the full team results:

Mens cat 5:
 5 Alexei Perelet
 9 Scott Dahman
19 Nick Hand
31 Art Hess

Womens cat 4:
11 Becky Chan
15 Anona Whitley

Mens cat 4:
  9 Tom Carlson
 17 Luke Taggart
 19 Rob Raguet-Schofield
 38 Mark French
DNF Dan Sochacki
DNF Karl Crapse

Mens masters 40+
38 Martin Gruebele
44 Gene McDowell

Mens masters 50+
17 Greg Youngen

April 2, 2009

The Hardman

A friend pointed me to this humorous blog post discussing various types of bicycle commuters. As many of you know I've commuted to work by bike for a number of years. Since we've been back from Nicaragua I've only driven a car to work three times, and all three of those times I was transporting large and/or heavy objects.

Back to the types of commuters. I've certainly seen each of these types of commuters before, which is why I found the article so funny. Clearly, I fall somewhere between The Pro and The Hardman.


That’s right - YOU. You didn’t think you were gonna get out of it so easily, did you? You’re the only one who thinks you’re the coolest kat in town. You’re the guy who gets all kitted up, pins a number on, rides the Zipps, and has an espresso flavored powergel on your way to work. But I’m sure you have good reason to ride in like this…It could be because you have a race after work, you need to take your bike to the shop at lunch, or it could be because you like to show to all your coworkers how PRO you are. Sorry, but we’re the only people on the planet that think spandex, shaved legs, and tiny arms look cool.

During the summer I show up to work on my race bike with shaven legs, just waiting to start my training ride after work.

The Hardman

This is the guy who hasn’t missed a day of commuting to work since 1993. This is a badge of honor to this steed and everyone at work talks about him around the lunch table like he could win the Tour de France. You pipe up every time and try to make them understand that he is not as PRO as you are and that you’re in fact the much more dedicated cyclist.

I also ride all winter long. I don't hesitate to grab the bike lock keys, rather than the car keys, on my way to work in 5˚ weather.

El fuego en la nieve

The one day this past winter I didn't ride to work wasn't because I didn't try. The roads were covered with ice, I fell, bruised my hip, and limped back home. I worked remotely that day.

Icy streets

April 1, 2009

The End of March

Photo of the Day

March calendar


The top searches that lead to my blog in March were:

  1. my name is rob
  2. camel clutch
  3. time lapse photography 555 timer circuits
  4. dahon helios
  5. bike friday pocket rocket

Camel clutch

I'll note that my Flickr photo was on the first page of Google results for "camel clutch" and my blog entry was on the second page of results. So I've been getting some pro wrestling traffic.

Other humorous searches include:

  • $5 camera
  • jerry seinfeld hair
  • steamy novel
  • 5 men walking at same pace riddle
  • fallking
  • short shorts boy 1980

Interesting stuff.


Jay descends into Makanda

Despite the lousy Smarch weather the past few days, we had some decent weather earlier in the month and I was able to increase my cycling mileage.

March 2009

BikeDistance# RidesAvg per Ride
Bianchi45.5 Mile114.13636 Mile
Pocket Rocket34.7 Mile84.3375 Mile
Thundercougarfalconbird331.7 Mile747.3857 Mile
Total411.9 Mile2615.8423 Mile

Jan - March 2009

BikeDistance# RidesAvg per Ride
Bianchi189.5 Mile414.62195 Mile
Big Red2. Mile12. Mile
El Fuego39.92 Mile57.984 Mile
Pocket Rocket58.5 Mile144.17857 Mile
Thundercougarfalconbird493.74 Mile1049.374 Mile
Total783.66 Mile7111.0375 Mile


Finishers keychain

I ramped the running mileage back up in March. I had a good race at LBL and I've been doing some good quality training. The marathon is only 11 days away.

MonthDistance# WorkoutsAvg per Workout
January109.34 Mile1010.934 Mile
February55.83 Mile77.97571 Mile
March108.792 Mile1010.8792 Mile
Total273.962 Mile2710.1467 Mile


I wore out my Speedo

I've also been swimming really well lately. I'm able to swim farther and faster than at any other time in recent years. This could mean good things for the upcoming triathlon season.

MonthDistance# WorkoutsAvg per Workout
January1.87452 Kilo Meter30.62484 Kilo Meter
February14.9504 Kilo Meter62.49174 Kilo Meter
March19.5224 Kilo Meter72.78892 Kilo Meter
Total36.3474 Kilo Meter162.27171 Kilo Meter