Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Southwestern Swing: Mesa Verde, June 2013

My cousin Martha is a Teacher-Ranger-Teacher at Mesa Verde National Park this summer, so we jumped at the chance to 1. visit her and 2. see a cool new place. It was a win-win on both counts!

Mesa Verde is in southwestern Colorado, near the Four Corners. Initially (based on flight price), our itinerary took us from Boston to Denver to Farmington, NM, where we would rent a car and drive about 2.5 hours to the park. However, by the time we showed up at Logan for our flight, storms in the middle of the country were wreaking havoc on the airline schedules, and it was clear that we would not make our connection in Denver. The person checking us in was, however, able to get us on a late flight from Denver to Cortez, Colorado, which is only about 30 minutes from the park. This necessitated a bunch of craziness with a different rental car company, but eventually someone was found to come and give us a key (to the last available rental car) when we arrived around midnight.

The other thing we had not fully factored into our travel plans was the fact that we were traveling west, right around the longest day of the year. It...just...stayed...light...forever. And Brynna Would Not Sleep. She finally conked out on the tiny plane from Denver to Cortez, once it was pitch black out, around 11:30 PM east coast time. She was so out of her mind by that point that when she and I were separated from Alex on the golf cart ride out to the plane, she became frantic that the plane would take off and leave Alex behind. So, she marched up to every single airline employee—the person at the gate, the traffic-director on the runway, the first officer waiting at the steps of the plane, and finally a quick detour into the cockpit to speak with the pilot—to tell them that her Daddy was coming on the next golf cart and that they had to wait for him. So. A rough travel day was had by all...but by the end of it, we were snugly ensconced in Martha's hogan on the Mesa, and our vacation began.

We started the next day with a tour of Cliff Palace. Here are B and Martha waiting for the tour to begin and working on Brynna's Junior Ranger booklet.

Heading down down down the steps (which were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s):

And down and down and down some more (Cliff Palace is tucked in underneath the mesa edge):

And then up a ladder (the first of many for the trip):

And then our group stopped and our ranger (Mariana, Brynna's new idol) told us a bit about the site. You can see the cliff dwellings behind her. They are about 800 years old.

Here's another view of Cliff Palace:

This is a kiva, a ceremonial and gathering place. There's a sophisticated venting system since a kiva would have a thick wooden roof over it.

Alex and B looking down into a kiva (Alex with a tight grip on B's shirttail):

Then we climbed three more ladders to get out. The ancient Puebloans, however, did NOT use ladders. They used hand and toe holds, like this:

Then we headed off to Balcony House, a different cliff dwelling. To get into Balcony House requires a climb up this 30 foot ladder. B was a very good sport! None of us are on the ladder here, this is just to give you an idea of how tall it is:

Alex and B went up side-by-side, and I came along behind her.

Made it!
This is a defensive tunnel in Balcony House: there's even a big rock in the middle that you have to climb over to make the tunnel even harder to come through. 

After we walked (and crawled) through Balcony House, there were several more ladders to get back up to the mesa top.

Then it was time to use our Colorado rental car to go fetch our New Mexico rental car (since it costs a million dollars to do a one-way rental). B and Martha napped on the way. We hit up a playground in Farmington to get the wiggles out, grabbed some ice cream, and set out once more. We drove past the impressively enormous massif of Shiprock before turning north toward Cortez, where we returned rental car #1 and headed out for some Mexican food (we ate at Tequila's, perfectly adequate). And, of course, the company was exceptional!

The next morning, Alex and I decided to go running. He made it farther and faster than I did (it was HOT, sun-exposed, and at 7000 feet of elevation), and took this picture from the Soda Canyons overlook. If this picture was enlarged a bunch, you'd see Balcony House tucked under that arch just below the mesa top in the middle of the photo.

While we were off being crazy, Martha and Brynna went to complete the junior ranger activities. Here is B getting sworn in as a junior ranger. She is VERY proud (and has been taking the no-littering provision so seriously that she's been picking up cigarette butts wherever she sees them).

Then we walked down to Spruce Tree House, which has a reconstructed kiva. Alex and B climbed down inside and had a look around.

Then it was time to bid Martha a temporary farewell and head off for an overnight at Arches. The story will continue in our next blog post!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

AT&T mobile privacy

On one of the tech blogs that I read, I came across this bit of news: AT&T is soon to start selling user data to 3rd party advertisers. Oh joy. Although anonymized, it does include information such as location, browser history, mobile app usage, etc.

Thankfully, there is a pretty quick and painless opt-out available. Details here.

As one of the commenters on slashdot noted, there are additional marketing preferences that you can fiddle around with in your account. These pertain to the marketing AT&T may directly do to you.

Friday, July 5, 2013

New England TriFest: Olympic

Our last race reports, from the Rev3 Quassy, were a full month after the race itself. Let's try for some greater diligence, now. Our most recent race, the New England Trifest, was just last weekend.

The New England Trifest is an Olympic and Half-Iron distance tri that takes place in and around Lake Fairlee in Vermont. In some ways this is a new tri, but also an old one. There has been a triathlon of some sort for many years at Lake Fairlee, but there was also a bit of a dry spell when no race was held. We signed up for a Lake Fairlee triathlon last summer - only to have it cancelled and (only partially) refunded a month or two before race day. This year's triathlon was being put on by Sun Multisport Events, which runs a handful of other races in the NE. New management, new course, same location.

As with Quassy, because the race is close by, Hilary and I did some reconnaissance a few weeks ahead of time. The course is overall a lot less hilly than Quassy, which is a nice change. We did one circuit of the 28-mi bike loop. This is a bit longer than a standard Olympic-distance (40 km, or 24.9 mi), but done so that the half-iron race could be accomplished by looping it twice. After leaving the transition area at Camp Horizons on lake shore, there are a few miles of easy ascent, followed by a long and fast descent down to VT rt 5. The course follows along rt 5 for a long while, during which it is relatively flat and fast. The race organizers added a goofy 1-mi out-and-back halfway down rt 5 to pad the mileage, but surely they could have picked a better spot for it. When the course reaches the Ompompanoosuc River (I love that name!), it makes a hard right and moves inland further into Vermont. After passing through a one-lane covered bridge at Union Village, the course begins a long ascent to the top of Thetford Hill, followed by a bombing descent down into Thetford Village. The following few miles could be considered flat and fast, if the road were not in such shitty and pockmarked shape. (This is Vermont, right? Unlike New Hampshire, where crummy roads are the proud mark of a low-taxed, anti-gub'mint state, you would think the socialist paradise of Vermont would have the tax structure to keep its roads in good shape. Ah well.) Just when you start seeing the "Caution: Bumpy Road" and "Road Construction" signs in Post Mills, and think you are really in for it, the course makes another right onto rt 244, providing a final 2 miles on smooth, flat pavement next to the lake and back to transition.

Hilary and I did not preview the run: it is 3.1 miles out on a relatively flat and uneventful paved road, followed by 3.1 miles right on back. It's about as boring a course as one could image.

As it happens, Hilary and I were already pretty familiar with the course. During my final year at Dartmouth, we frequently used these roads to travel between our home in Norwich and our friends' blueberry farm in West Fairlee; it is the place where we were married. This is how crazy triathletes celebrate their anniversary.

Going into the race, we had no good notion of how we would fare. We knew enough about our own abilities to guess at when we might finish, but no sense of the competition. Would we, like at Quassy, be small fish in a big (1000+) pond? Would it be just a few hundred, where we might have a shot at the podium? We did not learn until race day that it was somewhere in between. There were approximately 150 racers for the half-iron, and some 250 for the Olympic. Judging from some of the equipment we saw being pushed around, it was clear that some very serious contenders would be there. We later learned that there were even a handful of professionals racing.

Race Day
Swim: 1500 m (0.9 mi), 23:48, 3/18 in age group

Because there was a half-iron race going on simultaneously, the swim course was a bit confused. The Olympic course was a straightforward, 1.5 km rectangle. Within that, marked by other buoys, was a squarish course that the half-irons would loop once in order to reach the 1.2 mile mark. Those racers were released first, and many had completed that funky loop when the Olympic waves were sent off. The water temperature was around 70 (it would have been higher, but two weeks of seemingly endless rain had cooled things right down), and although the sun shone down through partly cloudy skies, siting was not difficult. Unlike at Quassy, where seeding myself at the back of the pack meant my first few hundred yards were a difficult scrum passing slower swimmers, this time I seeded myself right at the line, and faced very little crowding. I was even able to do a little drafting behind some other swimmers, something that I rarely do.

And yet, my swim split this morning was identical to what it was a month ago. Guess I could have left a bit more out there. No time to fuss with that, though - onto the bike!

Bike: 28 mi, 1:25:11, 19.7 mph avg, 7/18 in age group
This bike was a lot of fun. I passed a bunch of people during the ascent from Lake Fairlee, and really enjoyed the long downhill to rt 5. My legs and my gearing max out at around 35 mph; on some hills around Concord I can coast to just over 40. So when I looked down near the bottom and saw 47 mph I had a brief "Holy Shit!" moment. The cruise along rt 5, which is slightly downhill in a lot of places, was also pretty enjoyable. It was a kick to see my instantaneous speed of 23 mph pulling down my average speed. The out-and-back was a pain in the butt, mostly because that side road is in lousy shape. On my way back I had a brief flash of anger when I saw a pickup in my lane slow down to a stop and start chatting to the pickup in the other lane, while cyclists on either side were trying to squeeze past. WTF? I can understand locals asserting their territorial rights, but that's just plain obnoxious.

There was a bit of a pileup just after the covered bridge, where the road immediately turns and starts steeply upward. I had planned for this by downshifting on the bridge and, being a decent climber anyway, was able to get around most of it. The rest of the ascent went well: I was able to keep up a steady, but hard effort, and made pretty good time for those 2.5 miles. The descent off Thetford hill was another screamer, but I had to reign it in a bit, knowing that there was a turn onto utterly shitty roads waiting at the bottom. I think that, next year, the race organizers should offer the entire village free race entry if they would just fix that damn road.

I had been hoping to have an average pace over 20 mph - something I haven't hit since a sprint-distance race last spring. I can make some allowance for the long distance and the long ascent in the middle, though. Overall, I felt pretty good about it.

Run: 10 km (6.2 mi), 48:47, 7:53/mi avg pace, 10/18 in age group
I was determined to not have a repeat of my dismal run at Quassy. That was my over-arching strategy for this final part of the race: finish strong. I tried to push some additional calories in during the bike. I had taken a salt tablet just before the race, and another on the bike. This course was flatter, but also pretty uninspiring, with long stretches of pavement under the blazing sun in 80+ degree heat. I consciously tried to not go out too fast, I wanted to be sure to have something left for the finish. Overall, the strategy worked - I was able to run the entire course without stopping to a walk or having my quads cramp up. It also meant that my average pace was not what I would usually call fast. Still, this was a success, and something to build on in future races.

In the early miles I was passed by an older fellow from the Boston Triathlon Team, moving at a good clip (7:00/mi or so). He passed me; I offered no challenge. A little ways past the turnaround I came across him again, this time walking. I continued at my own pace, and heard him break back into a run shortly afterwards. He soon passed me again, only to slow back to a walk half a mile later. I caught him; he started running again. This repeated another two or three times coming in towards the finish. For a stretch in the final mile he and I were shoulder to shoulder: he was pulling me to a faster pace, I was pulling him to a slower pace. That seemed to work pretty well. Eventually he pulled away for a final time close to the finish line. It seemed a strange way to run, but I was not about to lecture him.

Overall, I ended up 6th in my age group - in the top 3rd. I had been hoping to finish just a bit higher, but I'm pleased with the result. I had also been hoping to break that 2:30:00 mark, but the added miles on the bike course put that out of reach.

Next up: a sprint triathlon in our hometown. It'll be fun to be racing on home territory. The sprint distance will be a welcome change - the entire race duration could fit into what is nowadays a long bike workout. I think that having that deep training base will allow me to push pretty hard. We'll see!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Rev3 Quassy June 1: Alex's Race Report

Hilary hit many of the high points about the race, but I'll throw my two cents in.

As Hilary mentioned, given the close proximity of the race course to her parents' place, we had easy access to do some reconnaissance. About a month prior, I had (with Hilary) practiced the run course on a Saturday morning. The following morning we practiced the bike course, then bricked into the run. That prep was definitely to my advantage, because although I like hills, the hilliness of this particular course would have thrown me off base if I didn't know what was coming. This was especially true for the run course, which has a killer hill starting at the 3-mile mark. During the second dry run, after doing the bike, I was rather pleased with myself to doing the run at around a 7:30/mile pace. This all boded well for race day.

Race Day
Swim: 1500 meters, 23:48

I do moderately well in my own age group overall. In the swim is where I really excel. Oftentimes if I end up in the top third for a race overall, I'll end up in the top 10% for the swim. So, you would think that by now I would have the confidence to really toe the line and put myself in the front line for the swim start. But no, I'm either too polite or don't like the notion of getting run over. So, instead, I started off towards the back of my wave, which sucked. For the first few hundred meters I would have to pull up short every 10 strokes, lest I end up with someone's feet in my face. At one point a nearby swimming managed to dislodge my goggles. So by the time I hit the first turn about 500 meters in, I was very glad that things had thinned out in my vicinity and I could just cruise. In spite of the frustrating start, I ended up with a pretty sweet time for myself - my fastest at the Olympic distance by nearly one minute.

Having now done almost twenty triathlons, I also do very well in transition. I can whip that wetsuit off and get on the bike pretty quick. (I could probably go faster if I didn't stop to put socks on.) Rev3's race results show that I actually moved up a few positions, from 8th to 5th in my division of about 70, due my fast T1.

Bike: 25.68 mi, 1:21:39, 18.9 mph avg
Having done recon some weeks before, it was handy to know where the long descents on the bike were, so that I could really open it up (I topped out around 42 mph at one point), but also know where to pull up in preparation for turns, and to not get frustrated during the many ascents.

Because of the hilly nature of the course, I knew that my average pace wouldn't be so hot. Still, I'd call ~19 pretty good. It is tough for me to gauge what my best sustained pace could be, because there aren't any long rides or races near home that would qualify as "flat". Maybe I should go do a race in Florida or Iowa just to find out.

I don't know what I was concentrating on so hard in this picture, but it must have been pretty important.

Run: 6.2 mi, 52:14, 8:24/mi avg
I've been having some good run training lately. We've got hills around here, and I like to push on them. I knew what the course looked like, and I felt good coming off the bike. My split for the first gradual-downhill mile of the course was 7:40 (based on a $25 Timex). I thought that I could sustain that effort, maybe make some moves on the uphills, and move up a few places in my age group. Alas, it didn't quite go as planned. The first two miles were good. I made solid passes of two people in my age group during the first sustained rise between miles 2 and 3. Although there were many walkers during the awful hill just past mile 3, I was not one of them. It wasn't a fast climb, but you could call it running.

But upon reaching the top, my quads started to cramp up. The run along the ridge for the next half mile quieted them down a bit, but the pounding descent to the 4-mi marker made things worse. I backed off the pace a bit (to about 8:15), then a bit more (to 8:45), hoping for some relief. Cursing quite audibly, I slowed to a walk at the aid station at mile 5, guzzled, splashed, then started up again. The climb in the last half mile did not go well. Halfway up I realized that my shuffling was no faster than the guy walking next to me, so I walked for a few paces before self-recrimination got me going again. My split for that final mile was about 10:00. Thankfully I did not stumble while coming down the finish chute, and even managed to strike a pose that, at the time, seemed pretty cool.

Jesse Thomas does it better:

Overall, I ended up 20th in my age group, in the top third or so. I had been eyeballing the 2:30:00 mark, something I've come very close two in my other two Olympic distance races. But this was a hilly course, and it got to be pretty hot (this was a month ago, remember, back when it was blazing hot every day, instead of raining every day), so I abandoned that goal time long before going down to the start.

Still, my performance on the run was personally disappointing. I've put in a lot of miles since last season, and can sustain faster paces for longer than ever before. To have the run fall apart like that, even allowing for the heat, makes me wonder what I still need to do. (The fact that I lost my sunglasses in the middle portion of the run didn't improve my outlook.) With a month to go until my next race, I resolved to just keep working at it, get used to the heat, experiment with nutrition (esp. electrolytes), and have another go. On the whole, I did have a good time. Rev3 put on a fine event. I had a good performance in 2 out of 3 disciplines. I now have my sights on returning next year to see if I can do better.