Sunday, December 14, 2008

Away

On Wednesday evening, Cara and I step on a plane, and everything for the next three weeks will be very, very different.

Vietnam Nov 2005
Hue, Nov 2005
I was last in Thailand in 2005. In Thailand, I was only in Bangkok, then from there ventured up to Ha Noi, wandered down the coast by train, then by bus to De Lat and on to Saigon/Ho Chi Min city. It was an amazing trip, so many sensations.

And so I return, as I knew I would. This time, we're joining Red Spokes Bicycle Tours for a tour from Thailand to Laos. Then from there Cara and I are diverting to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat for three days before flying back to Bangkok. New territory, new experiences, new people, new sensations.

Vietnam Nov 2005
A real cyclist.
But as I sit here in a cold apartment, the sound of the rain outside penetrating the dark windows, chilled fingers typing on the keyboard, I am very, very excited by this. Yes -- the heat. We all have windows of comfort. Some are biased to hot weather, some to colder weather. I'm definitely in the former group. The humidity of Bangkok as we step off the plane will be a shock. But one I'm looking forward to. Add in a few extra hours of daylight from the 24 degree latitude shift and I'll be savoring every day of the three week trip.

But of course the trip is so much more than what can be measured in degrees of latitude or in degrees Celsius. It's about the people, the culture, to how people there and here perceive themselves and each other. Especially in this season of extreme consumerism, this will be another welcome change. Not that there's any shortage of capitalism in southeast Asia. Indeed there's more. Things are for sale... everywhere. But it's different.

Sure, I'll be glad to be back here again. Back home. But it's important to mix it up occasionally.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

mode shift

On Friday, I took my bike on Caltrain for the first time this week.

I've been exploring a new and underutilized transportation mode. Strange it's so rare: it's easily the cheapest of all common modes, essentially no equipment is required. In the city, it's faster than MUNI. Parking is trivial, far easier than even for a bike. The only downer is limited cargo capacity.

It's running. And it's such a relief to be able to reach the platform just as a shiny Bombardier baby bullet pulls in, punch my 10-ride, and get on without even a hint of concern about capacity. Then I sit down at a nice table, plug in my lap top, and I'm updating a report,
catching up on email I popped earlier, or whatever. None of the creative chaos which is the bike car.

Sure, running with the back pack is a bit of a hassle. But using the small pack which I got at ESSDERC in Edinburgh, after I tighten down the shoulder straps it isn't too bad. Nice easy pace. Start really slow, relax into the effort, then just let my legs carry me forward.

It was a total blast to hurl myself back into the group dynamic of the Friday Palo Alto Noon Ride. But the run to the train option is a keeper. I don't know why more people don't try it. Maybe the technology is too new.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

$1.89

Monday night... trying to get to the Low-Key awards.

I'd run from my office to Stanford to meet Cara at Page Mill and Foothill. It seems that run was the most rapid segment of the trip from there. Cara picked me up at the corner, after a very involved 15 minute exercise in switching from east bound to west bound on Page Mill amidst the brutal evening commute traffic out of Stanford, and we were off for Sunnyvale Sports Basement via 280, 85, 237, and Lawrence Expressway. It's 23 minutes as the Google flies, but it took us almost exactly 60. After somehow missing the exit for 101 on 85, it was at best slow walking pace down 237 until we somehow managed to escape with what shreds of our sanity we could salvage at the Lawrence Expressway exit.

Ah, for the good old days of $4.50/gallon gasoline....

It's a fundamental principle of economics that you tax things you want people to do less of, avoid taxing things you want people to do more of. For example, I think we all agree it's better in every way: congestion, pollution, public safety, noise, and, heck, postponing the destruction of the planet that we drive less, drive smaller vehicles when we must drive, and just generally be more efficient in how we get around. The use of public transit boomed in the summer of soaring gas prices. This is great, right? Short term, sure, crowded buses and trains. But longer term: demand drives supply. More trains, more buses, the shorter waiting times, better service. And with fewer cars on the roads, buses run faster, stay closer to schedule.

But that was then.... Now gas is back well under $2/gallon, a level I never thought I'd see again. Sure, when I do drive, it's nice in a guilty pleasure sense to get off so cheaply. But we pay one way or another. In this case, the price paid was in the traffic. Time lost I could be doing other things. Like actual work which, in theory, contributes to the economy. Or maybe buying stuff at Sports Basement. Or spending time with friends.

We've really got to suck up to the reality that gas taxes are a good thing. It's simply not in anyone's best interest for driving to be cheap, or for driving the farcical behemoths of steel and plastic people consider "transportation" to be even remotely affordable. Really, as a society, we need to ask ourselves where we want to invest our resources. Time is a valuable resource, squandered in so many ways sitting in traffic. Money is another, and if driving is cheap, we need to spend more of it on roads and bridges. And lives are another, in Kuwait and Iraq and... where next?

Tax what you want people to do less of. It's time for this country to have a gas tax which really reflects the externalized costs of driving. A gas tax which takes pressure off other revenue sources, like income and debt. And we're not even remotely close to that right now.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Low-Key Awards

Thanks so much to Pat Parseghian and Patt Baenan for doing the heavy lifting last night for the Low-Key Awards Ceremony! The Low-Key Awards are always special, how many other cycling events have something like it? (The California Triple Crown series does, to its credit.) This one, though, was super-special for me, because while I look forward to the chance to give out awards (I am floored at how many enthusiastic volunteers the series attracts), I was totally shocked and very touched to receive an award of my own, from the others. And Patt Baenan, who does amazing work for the Lance Armstrong foundation and serves as the Low-Key series treasurer, gave me a very special gift.... a signed print of Alberto Contador! Oh, my.... this one goes straight to the framing shop!!!!

Signed Contador Print


Thanks to all who braved the brutal South Bay holiday traffic and sat through an over-the-time-budget ceremony! It was a special event, which I wouldn't have forgotten in any case, but deeply touched me in a way I didn't anticipate.

Well, I suppose I should mention the series.... we released the preliminary 2009 schedule with its user-voted slogan, "Make the Grade". Special thanks to Barry Burr for suggesting the slogan, a fitting W for Barry after his really amazing contribution to the series this year, ending in his very deserved receipt of the Low-Key Spirit Award.

I can't wait for Montebello!

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Zen of MUNI

Even though I don't have a car, I rarely take the bus in San Francisco. On its opening night I joined Cara and members of her extended family for Milk, the incredible film about the life of former San Francisco Supervisor and gay activist Harvey Milk. After the film, I left Cara at Filmore and Geary stop for the Muni 22 bus, a popular route which basically runs straight home to Potrero Hill. Wanting to get a run in, I'd changed into my running clothes, handed her a bag with my "pedestrian" gear, and set off. This "race" wasn't even close -- I got back well ahead of her.

This Saturday night we took the same bus back to the same location. We were meeting Cynthia and Nathan at Maki, a quite good Japanese restaurant in Japan Center. With the help of NextBus (actually, a bit easier is NextMUNI, a MUNI-specific page) and some favorable luck were able to time our connections. However, after we got home, the web page for our outbound leg was still open on my browser. I had to take a screenshot... one minute elapsed before I could do so, so the arrival times had been a minute longer:
A NextBus screenshot from Saturday night


This is not unusual. A shot I took a few weeks ago when checking buses for a friend:
A NextBus screenshot from a few weeks before


Earth to MUNI: people like me are simply not going to rely on a system which regularly has 42 and 48 minute gaps in service which, bad enough, is supposed to run on a 20 minute schedule. Literally I can run across the city in the time I'd have to wait for the next bus. If you can schedule around essentially random arrival times, fine, but often, especially on return trips, this isn't possible.

Perhaps my attitude is a bad one. Perhaps I need to embrace the Zen of MUNI. Go to a stop, focus on the breath, and wait. Be in the moment. Let the thoughts drift away, exist in the now. The bus will be here ... when it's here. Until then, time and self merge.

Sorry, too advanced for me. As I said, it's really the exception I take the bus here. Muni is more of a threat than an aid to me, with its buses competing for the space used by bicyclists and generally ignoring pedestrian right-of-way. Obviously something needs to change if more people are to give up their cars.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

first trail run

When I was recovering from hepatitis following a trip to Mexico, I was elated to be out for my first "long ride"... I was with a group which used to meet at City Cycles in San Francisco: Fairfax, Alpine Dam, Ridgecrest, Mt Tam. All told, 60-something miles with a bunch of climbing. Good, long miles.

As I finished the climb to Ridgecrest at one of the many regroupment points of the old City Cycles ride, I saw some runners passing by on a nearby trail. They slowly plodded along, each with a belt pouch, while a few gathered spectators/course volunteers clapped. Something was going on! When I asked if it was a trail run, I was told yes, it was the Mt Tam 100k. I was floored.... 100 km on this terrain? Here I was feeling warm and fuzzy about my ride, and these folks were doing nearly the same on foot. I was impressed.

Later, A similar experience on Mt Diablo.... I reached the summit of the 3600 foot climb to find an aid station. Another trail race, another sick sum of kilometers. My goodness, these were a tough breed! I was intrigued.

Fast forward to this year. Gary Gellin absolutely blitzed the Quimby and Metcalf Hillclimbs on foot. It was simply amazing. I asked how his running had been. He said he'd been doing a lot of the Pacific Trails series. Gary always understates things... he's actually been winning more than anything else.

Another recommendation: Juliana, a friend I met through Cara, has been raving how great the running is in Huddart Park in Woodside. I'd love to join her on a run, I said, but I have this thing about driving to "training", and it's a bit of an all day affair to get there via train and bike on the weekends, with Caltrain's wretched weekend service.

All of these influences converged when I checked out Pacific Trail Runs website and came across the listing for their December Huddart Park run. I had to be there!

Pacific Trails 17 km course
The 17km route in pink


Wow -- what an experience! After a surprisingly civil sprint for the hole shot entering the trail, it was single file along the first descent. Then the climbing began... after a few minutes before the reality of what lay ahead settled into the runners ahead of me, I started to pass folks. At one point I was chastised for not yelling "on your left!" Runners are a friendly bunch, and my manners were cultivated amidst the grittier standards of bicycling... I'm learning! At 40 minutes, about the time it takes me for the 10 km which marked my previous longest race, I started to feel the fatigue set in a bit, but not long after, we hit a few descents, and these provided me a lot of recovery.

At the turn-off, I grabbed a cup of water and a cup of cola, and I was off again. After a navigational challenge where I couldn't tell if we were supposed to turn left or right (the following runner solved the problem: we went straight!), the long descent began, and I was passed repeatedly. How did these guys go downhill so fast? I asked a guy.... "Climbing is philosophy, descending is religion!" he answered. Hmmm...

But there was more than that. I was barely working on the descent. That couldn't be right. All I could do was try and relax, keep everything rag-doll loose, try to distribute the impact rather than focus it on a few muscles or joints. This was apparently successful at trauma reduction, but not good at going particularly fast. Still, I was running faster down a trail than I ever had before. In fact, I'd never really run on a trail before.

When we hit the Toyon trail, more of a fire road than a trail, the grade leveled out and I was able to actually run. I felt like I was flying... but I wasn't closing the gap at all on the last guy to have passed me.

I almost took a wrong turn going into the finish.... "Is this the way?!?!?" I shouted at a woman nearby. I can be fairly direct in these situations. "No, I think you missed the turn!" she immediately responded. I quickly corrected the problem. Nice!

More volunteers directed me to the finish line, which was in a grass field. I crossed, feeling too fresh, I thought. 1:28:27. I'd done it, beaten my 1:30 goal. Gary was there. He'd blitzed the thing: 1:10-something, beating the course record by around 2 minutes, winning with 11 minutes to spare. I was 13th out of 125 or so, just ahead of the first woman, it turned out. I had to be pleased with 13th, this being my first trail run (not just race) ever, my longest race ever by 70%.

But I need to figure out this descending thing. Also, if I'm going to do much more of this, I probably want to get some trail shoes, like the New Balance 270's or something similar. Gary thinks the trail shoes provide better traction.

But Gary also said he keeps a fairly high heartrate on the downhills. I wasn't monitoring heartrate, but I was able to talk easily, which means I wasn't working hard. Nathan thinks hip flexibility is a key, allowing me to increase my stride. That seems right. If you're spun out on a descent, shift into a bigger gear. In running, the gear is stride length. Stride length comes from flexibility.

So there it is, my first trail run. Now lets see over the next few days how I recover...

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Tour of California route

An early Christmas present for California cyclists is the annual announcement of the Tour of California route. The 2009 route was just announced, and highlights with my San Francisco area perspective include:

  • stage 2: On roads I know so well... a climb of Tunitas Creek Road, passing the Bike Hut, past Bear Gulch on Skyline then the fast descent to and of west 84, out to San Gregorio, then the tailwind-aided run to Davenport (watch the tracks). Then it's a personal favorite, up Bonny Doon & Pine Flat, then deviating from my usual route, down Empire Grade into Santa Cruz for the finish. Cool stuff, and a real chance for time gaps, without a lot of distance from the bottom of the climb to the finish line.

  • stage 3: Of course, they couldn't start a stage climbing Sierra Road.... they were going over Mt. Hamilton Road this year, surely. Wrong. The stage opens with the really tough climb of Sierra Road after all, then down the technical Felter descent, then right on super-scenic Calaveras, out to Patterson Pass, then a long neutralizing run into Modesto. Sierra will become a promenade this year, but is always a good show.

  • stage 4: The Sierra... these are roads I don't know as well, but roads I got to explore during the 2006 SuperTour. Really gorgeous, and a welcome addition to the tour!

  • stage 8: Over Palomar! I'd expected a hill-top finish of Palomar, but instead the stage will feature a wild run from the summit to the finish line. Unfortunately the final run is too long for this to be the clearly decisive stage, so the final result will likely be declared by the stage 6 time trial in Visalia.


stage 8

It's going to be an amazing race. Let's hope for more good weather than 2008...

The big disappointment is the failure to include a women's stage race. Come on, guys! Okay, maybe there's logistical issues with housing, and I understand road closures are obscenely expensive, but I think most "mortal" cyclists have an easier time relating to the women than the men. A legitimate women's race would really add to the package.


Lance training for TOC (Elizabeth Kreutz)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

'Cross Contrast

I love to watch Cara race cyclocross -- she's so smooth, so natural. Okay, so not to the level of watching Jonathan Page glide through the deep mud at 2002 Nationals at Domaine Chandon in Napa, that was simply amazing... here's Travis Brown and Todd Wells chasing:
2002 Nationals
Travis Brown and Todd Wells at 2002 Nationals (CyclingNews)

Okay, that was the best. But for Women's C category, Cara's really smooth.

Unfortunately I missed seeing her race at last weekend's Pilarcitos 'Cross Race at Golden Gate Park, as I was awaiting results at the Run Wild for a Child 10km running race, which I had just completed. Usually I really enjoy photographing the women's C race, as they don't get as much attention as later fields. But there were some good photos taken of the race, including one of the start, from which I extracted the following. Also shown in the photo is the best 'cross racer of the decade, Belgium's Sven Nijs:
Cara (top), Sven (bottom)

Two riders, one the best in the world, the other competing for the podium in Women's C's, yet they both look fairly similar on the bike. Anyway, I think it's safe to say Cara's position looks pretty good...

Monday, December 1, 2008

2001

The old Run to the Far Side is now Run Wild for a Child. While it doesn't inspire perhaps the same old costume creativity, the costume prize list is still stronger than those for running performance, providing a focus on fun appropriate for the holiday weekend.

This was my third competitive run of the year, after the Dolphin Running Club Embarcadero 10km and the Quimby Low-Key Hillclimb. Despite residual fatigue the day before from Thanksgiving's Low-Key Hillclimb, I was hoping to approach my goal of 40 minutes today. As I slowly ran around the start area to warm up, it was hard to imagine how I'd be able to pull this off, as my legs were a bit sore. But a series of loosening exercises combined with light running had me feeling good enough at the start.

Road running is so surreal.... each mile has its own character, inspiring a shift of focus on what is such an internally focused sport. A tension between relaxation and effort. Relaxation is the key to efficiency, yet I need to consistently trade off the comfort it provides for more effort and speed. Surreality in being surrounded by a near-static matrix of runners, pushing the body to its limits, yet feeling as if I'm being carried along by a current independent of will.

After the first half-mile' sorting out, I found myself drifting backwards relative to the current on the gradual descent in the pan-handle. I regained this ground relative to the flow on the subsequent ascent, then held static on the more prominent climb of Conservatory Drive (the sight of a gun killing the previous night). When I hit 5 miles, it was time to open the tap, draw a bit from my own inner violence. I was thus able to improve my pace to what for me is a quite good 6:10 per mile.

Pacing based on time splits


Unfortunately I missed mile markers 2, 3, and 6, so pacing data is limited (see plot). What the data show is although I felt I was pushing my limits throughout the race, I might have had too much in the tank at the end. It's hard to judge, though, with the altitude changes on the course. For example, my mile 4-5 split included the Conservatory Drive climb and descent as well as some of the Panhandle ascent.

One thing the experience taught me, though, is I need more work on my downhill running. Nathan suggested hip flexor exercises. That's the next thing to add to my stretching program.

Next week: Pacific Coast Trail Runs Huddart Park 17 km course. I've never actually run on trails before, so this will be a new experience for me. If I had to set a target, I'd say 90 minutes would be solid. But the real goal is to experience my first competitive trail event.