The Horror of Outlying Data

A week and a half ago, I set a PR, and it’s caused nothing but anxiety.

Specifically, I ran my typical “short” training run (a 5K), and did it in 25:54. That’s 15 seconds faster than my previous fastest 5K time. Yay?

Then, because I can make anything negative, I started analyzing. The run was phone-timed and -measured, which can certainly be wrong, so my first thought was that the time was wrong this time too. It was also a full minute faster than any 5K run I’d done this year, which is suspicious—I’m still getting into running shape but time improvements have been happening in dribs and drabs rather than big chunks. And my previous best took place in a race rather than training, and I’m normally a lot faster in races. Adrenaline, you know.

But I reviewed the route the phone measured, and it didn’t seem terribly wrong. Moreover, the run felt fast, at least for me.

So I’m willing to accept, at least tentatively, that that’s my 5K time now.

But then the bigger, more fundamental anxiety kicked in. Because I’ve run now 4 times since then, and I haven’t come close to that pace. So now I’m wondering: Is the magic gone forever? Have I peaked, and now I’m just going to have to desperately chase that one pathetic moment of borderline competence forever, even though it continues sliding further and further away?

There may be legitimate excuses. One of the runs was a long one, so I wasn’t pushing the pace. Another took place in 90+ degree heat, and I did it with the interval training feature (AKA chases) of Zombies, Run! on, so it’s not really a pure comparison. Most amusingly, one of the runs featured a bit where I tripped on rough ground and fell, only I almost recovered and it took me about seventeen steps to actually hit the ground. Even before the fall I was pre-exhausted and not trying to push the pace, so I’m OK with that one.

But still… It would be nice to have some supporting data to back up my first-ever sub-26-minute 5K. Or a certificate. Maybe a nice quiche, even. Something to make me feel like this is something I can actually do.

World, get on that.

 

 

 

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Bambi’s Revenge

This tale begins in 2009. That was the year I visited the Grand Canyon, and, in addition to clapping my eyes on some of the most majestic vistas ever created by nature, I also had the pleasure of witnessing possibly the best warning sign ever created.

It instructed all park visitors not to attempt to approach deer they might see because—and these words have stuck with me—”Deer hooves are sharp like swords.”

Angry deer

angry deer?” by w3nkman, licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

I was living in Chicago, where deer were a rare sight, so I have rarely had to apply the information I learned from that sign. But in Ohio, they’re much less so.

I’ve spotted deer three or four times while I’ve been living here. I like seeing deer—they’re pretty animals and all. But every time I’ve seen them, it has been approaching the duck hours and I’ve been on the bike paths.

Now, I’ve waxed rhapsodic about the local bike paths before, and I stand by both the wax and the rhapsody. But there’s one thing I may not have mentioned that has become relevant to the waxody: The paths don’t really occupy much space. They’re a few feet of pavement, with a few feet of grass on either side, and then woods.

So, when there’s a deer on the path, if you want to get past it, you’ve got two options: Either you can approach it or you can wait in a ruminant standoff until the deer scampers off.

Every time this happens, my quasi-rational fear* of samurai deer emerges. I have always chosen the ruminant standoff approach. I’ll attempt to make comforting noises, trying to translate “Hello, Mr. and/or Mrs. Deer, I think you’re a wonderful creature but I need to get to the other side of where you are and I’d appreciate it if you’d step off the path so I could be certain I could do that without being decapitated by your katana hooves, not that you would do that, but I’ve heard that it’s possible” into Cervinae.**

There’s also, of course, the quasi-rational fear that a startled deer might inadvertently—or perhaps advertently—barrel into me, which would hurt a fair amount. But mostly, I’m concerned about the swords.

Is this a concern that I need to have? It’s hard to say.

The internet has reports about moose attacks, killer chickens, vexatious kangaroos, herds of sheep, and Canada geese (which are not a surprise—they’re nasty buggers). Also, this article thinks your bike route is adjacent to a meth lab, because needless fearmongering is a thing our society is good at.

But none of these reports are terribly, how do you say, authoritative, so I’m left wondering about whether Bambi is out there, planning revenge for the money-grubbing Bambi II, and the even worse Bambi on Ice, and for forcing him to make that frankly horrifying turn as Sam Carmichael in the film version of Mamma Mia. And, of course, this:

Some may say, “Be brave.” But I’m a coward. And so, from here on out, whenever I see a deer, I’m going to assume it’s after human blood.


* My quasi-rational fear is rather odd for my new town. Most of the people here are terrified of tornadoes. It kind of makes sense: In 1974, there was a really serious tornado that fairly devastated the town. But what doesn’t make sense is that everything now is a tornado, even if it’s just a light drizzle that is later discovered to be caused by a lawn sprinkler, or a cloud that blocks out the sun for a couple of seconds. I shudder to think how people will feel about the eclipse in August.

** Deer language. Druids can choose it as one of their starting languages, while other classes may learn it by spending twelve months if they have an intelligence of 12 or higher.

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Goal Review: A Bouncy Month

So, May was a bit odd goal-wise. There were a couple of very rough patches that were mercifully short but still reduced the overall effectiveness at goal achievement. Overall:

Weight: This is where there was the most noise, with 10-pound swings within a single week. Overall, by the 7-day average method, I dropped a bit over 3 pounds. I think the reality is a bit better, since things were on a downward trend and the average incorporated unusually high numbers.

Pull-ups: My goal was to get 6, and my best was 5. And to be honest, the 5th wasn’t terribly good form. Better consistency would have helped—the week after Spartan/the road trip was particularly bad and set me back.

Crow pose: My goal was to hold it for 20 seconds, and my best was about 13. This one I feel a bit better about, though, since I was generally improving throughout the month.

Dips: If I count yesterday morning, then I got 8, which was my goal. But as yesterday morning was technically in June, I should only claim 7. Here’s one where I need to work on form, particularly depth of the dip—but it’s a weakness of bodyweight work that when you have enough bodyweight, getting quite deep may not be feasible.

Biking: I mostly made it around the county. I made it to nearly every one of the easily bikeable towns—Cedarville was my only omission, and I have biked there before. Losing two weekends to races and travel really hampered this one.

Running: One goal was to build my long run distance to an 8K, which I did, albeit with a poo break in the middle. (During which I discovered that I live closer to an auto race track than I do my primary grocery store.) The second was to run a timed 8-minute mile, which I made no attempt at. Also, as a side note, I did 5K training runs under 27 minutes twice, which is a nice threshold for me to meet.

Writing: My goal was to write outside of work every day. This didn’t happen. Output was far from nothing, though. I’ll give myself a low C.

Transitioning to living: This hasn’t really happened the way I’d hoped, and I’m still not sure exactly how to go about it. I’m considering getting back into improv just as a way to start it off. And because I’m addicted to being laughed at. We’ll see.

Goals for June:

Weight: A classic. My 7 day average yesterday was 248.14, so I’ll try to drop that to 240.14.

Community: I want to begin at least one regular activity. In addition, I want to find some kind of workout group—preferably one dedicated to OCR and other nontraditional workouts—or convince myself that such things do not currently exist in my area. Which is entirely possible.

Running: I want to build my long run at least to 10K.

Writing: In addition to writing here, I want to build my current main project (Uncle Greg’s Guide to Uncling) up by 15,000 words. That’s technically editing, but as the edits involve changing the authorial voice significantly, there’s a lot of re-writing involved.

Crow pose: 20 seconds again.

Pull-ups: Build to 8.

Handstand push-ups: This is something I’d like to be able to do with anything resembling range of motion. My current ability is to lower my head by maybe an inch; I’d like to get all the way to the ground, although that’s probably overly ambitious for just this month.

 

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Mushroom Risotto: A Cautionary Tale

I’ve been working, in the past few years theoretically and since moving to Ohio in particular, to expand my cooking repertoire.

It is somewhat easier now, since I work in a library, and every couple weeks I go downstairs and check out a new cookbook. And there have been some successes that I’ll be adding to my rotation.

And then there’s mushroom risotto.

It seemed like a good idea at the time. The recipe seemed well within my abilities, and the ingredients seemed to be like they’d taste good together.

The first problem: Risotto is a pain in the ass to make.

There’s a lot of chopping and cooking before the risotto, which is a bit annoying but not the worst thing that’s ever happened. But then you add the risotto, which isn’t actually risotto at this point—just “arborio rice,” which is a polite way to say “petrified Satan’s droppings.”

Then you add a little bit of liquid and stir. For, like two hours.

And then, when that liquid is absorbed, you add more liquid and continue to stir. And you repeat this, and continue repeating it, and then continue repeating it, for a total of about 37 hours.

Seriously. I was watching Netflix on my phone and ran out of Law & Order to binge. I had to turn to The Ranch to avoid going mad from the rhythmic clanging of wooden spoon against pot, after which I yearned for the clanging of metal pot against my skull.

Mushroom Risotto
How delicious does that look? If your answer was, “Not very,” you are right. It looks like something that came out of a cat’s front end and back end simultaneously.

But even things that don’t look good might taste okay. So after two full Netflix series of prep, how does it actually taste?

It tastes like slightly chewy goo, with just a hint of mucilage and a soupcon of mush. The flavor is nothing but texture, and there’s not even much of that. You chew it, and eventually it goes down your throat, but you won’t ever be certain when the transition from “chewing” to “having swallowed” takes place.

It’s also vegan. You could tell that from approximately three hundred miles away.

To sum up: Don’t make mushroom risotto. It will make you sad.

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OCR Report: Royal Mudman: Race (semi-)Local

Yesterday was my second OCR of the year, and it kind of snuck up on me. I did the Royal Mudman 5K in Charlottesville, Indiana, about an hour and a half from where I now live.

You almost undoubtedly haven’t heard of it. It’s not part of a race series; it’s put on as a fundraiser for the Eastern Hancock Education Foundation, which provides grants to teachers in Hancock County. I don’t have any personal connection to said county, but I’m fundamentally glad that that happens.

Home of the Royals sign.

OK, one connection. The OCR took place at a high school, whose mascot is the Royals, which was also my high school’s mascot, even though I never felt like Queen Elizabeth II was particularly fierce or good at football.

I honestly haven’t been hunting for races, what with the move and such. (That excuse, still!) But I found out about the race because of the move. When I was driving to Ohio before moving to arrange housing, I saw a billboard for the race. It remains the only thing (with the possible exception of Wall Drug) that I’ve ever chosen to take part in because I saw a billboard for it.

About the race itself: I really enjoyed it. As you might expect, the scale of the race was fairly small. That means that there were only a handful of waves—start times spread over only maybe an hour and a half or two hours. Getting in and out was easy, with parking on-site at the high school and no lines at check-in or the bag check. Plus, no lines at obstacles.

Obviously, a local race isn’t going to compete on “epic” obstacles. (A concept that OCR people give way too much play to—but that’s another subject.) There were three up-and-over vertical climbs: One cargo net, one bank of tires (stacked vertically on top of each other so it looks like a bunch of big 8s), and one wooden ladder thing. Also notable was a rope swing over a mud pit and a water-and-soap slip-and-slide (curiously placed as the first obstacle, in case you aren’t fresh and clean before running). The course also made excellent use of a local creek, with one fairly long trip wading through it for some distance and several other times crossing it. (As we’ve had a lot of rain lately, the creek was often about waist-high—probably higher than anticipated.)

The other obstacles had a lot of what you could call clambering. Things like crawling over a series of large logs, through the crotch of a large tree, under a set of giant tires embedded in the ground, or through a mud pit under some wire. Also, due to the rain, the running path was muddy and uneven—though certainly not to the extent of a typical Spartan with miles of single-track muck that is impossible to run through.

Fire jump being constructed.

And a fire jump, because it’s an OCR.

None of the obstacles were extraordinarily difficult. And yet (to get back to the whole “epicness” flaw) I was still pretty exhausted after it. That’s because I was able to run the whole thing, and at a decent clip, even. The race wasn’t officially timed outside of the competitive heats, but there was a clock with a running event time at the start/finish line. If I remembered the start time correctly, and I did the math right, I did the course in about 44 minutes. Physically I was quite pleased with how I ran it.

To sum up: It was a really lovely day—or half-day, really, since I was home by about 1 p.m. It’s not going to compete on having obstacles on a grand scale or that require extraordinary strength. But it’s a great option if you’re in the region and looking for a casual OCR experience or an OCR where you can push the running pace.

Plus, the race had what I’m calling an official cow.

cow

The official cow of the Royal Mudman OCR?

 

Race shirt and medal

One more photo, for the swag hags.

 

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Photos from Ohio

I feel like I’ve made a reasonably comfortable transition to my new home, for the most part.

But the parts outside of that most part are the funny ones. And fortunately, just for you, I’ve documented many of them. So view these and experience the life that is me:

Tree jailAs part of local initiatives aimed at being “tough on crime,” several miscreant trees have been imprisoned in the past year. This is a community that refuses to allow tree-on-tree crime to take root.

Horrifying bunny cakesThey literally made this cake out of a bunny, which they first compressed into a plastic bunny-shaped mask that stares into your soul, plaintively asking “Why would you do such a thing?”

Drinking vinegar

This is the most disgusting thing I’ve seen here, and I’ve seen a 2-pound, 8-ounce jar of “pickled rope bologna” that had a sticky film and had developed suction sticking it to the shelf. No, seriously.Pickled rope bologna

Pac-Man Skill CraneI could cope if this were just a Pac-Man–themed skill crane machine, even though there’s absolutely nothing in Pac-Man that connects to the skill crane mechanic, or even any attempt at incorporating Pac-Man branding apart from the name panel. But the fact that the prizes are all pastel-colored sheep is really messing with my head. Was “shepherd” Pac-Man’s original career before he quit the rat race to subsist on dots and hunt psychedelic ghosts? Is Pac-Man Scottish? Those are the only possibilities I see.

Corner Cone sign

Yellow Springs is sort of the local hippie enclave outside the big local military base. It’s the kind of place where businesses simultaneously sell ice cream and rent bikes. (The ice cream is good, at least.)

By all accounts, my new bank is really good. But grammar isn’t its jam. (Also, they believe my first name is “First Name,” which is how I’d like to be addressed from here on out.)

Henry David Thorough's shack, or a facsimile.This shack is noteworthy for one of three reasons. It might be Henry David Thoreau’s shack, or it might be a replica of Henry David Thoreau’s shack, or I might have my story completely and utterly wrong.

Karen Knotts show poster

This is the kind of place where you can be famous for being the daughter of Don Knotts. She’s like an extremely rural version of Dannii Minogue.

PizzadillaNo. Just… no.

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OCR Report: 2017 Citi Field Sprint

Last weekend was my annual pilgrimage to New York for a family visit and Spartan Citi Field Sprint run.

The race really isn’t wildly different from year-to-year, so I’ll save my words for things that are actually notable.

First off, the weather. I’ve historically not had great luck with Spartan weather; almost every race has either had rain during the event or enough beforehand to make the mud dramatic. There was no mud for this one, obviously, but there was moderately heavy rain throughout. It was bad enough that the spear literally slipped out of my hand in the spear throw. I mean, the throw looked pathetic—it went maybe halfway to the target.

The race had far less Sisyphian climbing of the stands than last year, which was very nice. I think the race was shorter and easier overall, which was nice, as my brother was dealing with some shoulder issues.

We were hoping that my nephew would be able to do the kid’s race this year. Unfortunately, that didn’t pan out—officially, due to the weather, but as a practical matter due to logistics. (The family had been having varying levels of illness in the week leading up to the race, and getting the kid out to the race while simultaneously caring for the other kid who’s still too young for the race and having care for him in place before and after his race while his dad and me were running turned out to not be feasible. He wound up going to his ninja class instead, which was some consolation.)

The Z-wall made an appearance, which was the first time I’ve seen it at a stadium race. I made a significant goof in that obstacle by not checking it out beforehand. As a result, I didn’t realize that the foothold around the blind corner, was also really, really far. So when I was on the obstacle, I really had no idea where that foothold was.

In better news: I did the rope climb for the first time in a race. Given the rain, that was a big surprise; I think the rope was thicker this year, since I was able to get some grip on my feet.

I’m feeling extremely sore today in weird ways. That’s less due to the race and more due to the fact that yesterday I drove about 800 miles from Long Island to Ohio. Yep, I’m a car owner again, for the first time in 14 years, because I bought my sister-in-law’s old car. I am not in driving shape, apparently, because my gas pedal shin is throbbin’.

 

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