Monthly Archives: May 2016

An Open Letter to City Museum of St. Louis

Hi.

I should apologize for that headline. Open letters are almost invariably used by cranky a-holes trying to up their own profile by taking a shot at an organization, and its people, in the least productive but most self-aggrandizing and attention-grubbing way. So let me provide a bit of comfort: I’m not a cranky a-hole. And I’m not trying to complain, or make your lives worse in any way. I’m a bit of a kook, I guess, and actually, the idea I’m going to propose could raise all sorts of annoyances, so I guess that could make your lives worse in a way, but it’s in the service of trying to create something cool, which I think you might appreciate.

Here it is: I want City Museum to be an obstacle course race venue.

Let me back up a bit for people who haven’t experienced City Museum. It’s basically an obstacle course in museum form. I mean that well. It occupies a 10-story former shoe factory, and it consists largely of… stuff. Some of it is stuff to look at, weird and wonderful and bizarre things like Sumo Bobby or the Old Woman Who Lives in a Shoe and Doesn’t Understand Birth Control. (Seriously, it’s not that complicated!)

Sumo Wrestler statue at City Museum

Old Woman who Lives in a Shoe statue at City Museum

The vast majority of the museum, however, is weird and wonderful and bizarre stuff to climb on, crawl through, slide down, and generally get lost in. It’s a bit tough to explain, but the existence of this sign sort of tells you what you’re dealing with.

Access to the enchanted caves sign

Now, City Museum, I can already hear you telling me all the problems with the plan. Racing through a museum, and especially a museum like this, kind of defeats the purpose. The physical spaces aren’t really conducive to a race, being as how a lot of them are about 90% of an adult’s size. Trying to negotiate spaces like that at speed would almost undoubtedly lead to injuries, and lawsuits and injury lawsuits and even a few lawsuit injuries.

And you’re 100% correct.

But the heart wants what the heart wants, and I still want a City Museum race to happen. Cool race venues are cool, and this would be one of the coolest.

No, I don’t know how the logistics would work out. You’d probably have to close the museum while you set the course and run the race, and you’d need to spread out a lot—basically there would be one-person heats, with a surprising amount of time between, since there’s a lot of lengthy sections where absolutely no passing would be remotely possible. Or maybe there wouldn’t be a course but you have to hit checkpoints in order (at distant points within the museum) and however you get to them is OK—though that would give a huge home-field advantage to people who are familiar with the glorious confusion that is the museum.

Happily, this is an open letter, so I don’t need to worry about stuff like practicality or anything like that. Just do it. I demand it!

(And if you haven’t been, and you can: go. It’s really cool in ways you won’t see coming.)

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Filed under Commentary, Funny, Obstacle Course Racing

OCR Report: 2016 Battlegrounds St. Louis

This was a lot of fun.

But let’s start negative. The timing of this race was absolute shit. That’s not the race’s fault, but this is a personal blog, so I’m claiming the right to whine about it. The timing was bad because there turned out to be an event I had to do in the couple days after the race that required a lot of preparation, and a lot of stress, and a lot of travel in a direction that works against sleep patterns rather than in favor of them, but as I can’t blame the organization that put on that event, I’ll complain here.

Whew.

Also, reaction to the fez was a bit surprising. A fair number of people commented on it, generally positively, so that’s always nice. Many thought it was a Doctor Who reference, since fezzes are cool. I have to say, while I was aware of that reference, it wasn’t the reason the fez happened. (I’m generally happy that Doctor Who exists, and on paper I should be a raging fan, but I never got past casual fandom. I’ve seen all of the Eccleston and Tennant years on Netflix, but not much more, even though the man who performed my brother’s wedding did so in an outfit intentionally reminiscent of Tennant’s doctor. I’m also not cool enough to do something simply because it’s cool. Doing so would immediately render such thing uncool. I’m the entire reason why swing dancing went out of fashion on that particular Tuesday in 1996.)

A surprising number of people thought I was a Shriner, which is a reference I was aware of but only in the back of my mind; it absolutely never occurred to me that by wearing the fez I might be presenting myself in that way, or that anyone sees a fez these days and thinks “Shriner,” or that anyone thinks “Shriner” at all.

As far as I know, nobody was inspired. Perhaps for the next race I’ll write something on it to clarify, like “THIS IS TO INSPIRE YOU SO BE INSPIRED DAMMIT!”

The fez worked pretty well as a hat. I’d sewn an elastic chinstrap to it on the train ride down (a surprisingly tedious task that I won’t detail, since it’s tedious) that worked OK—I should have made it a bit tighter because the hat had a tendency to sort of suction around my head rather than staying loose. I also held onto the fez at a couple spots, including a long slide where volunteers were warning that anything that’s not glued down was likely to get lost. So I grabbed it, and it didn’t get lost, and all was well.

So, the event itself. This was the first race I’ve done at a permanent course, which was neat. I don’t know how many of the obstacles were permanent or had to be—there seemed to be a lot of wall-style obstacles that non-permanent courses have without much trouble—although some, like the aforementioned slide probably were. Also probably permanent was what I’d consider the course’s centerpiece: The Gauntlet.

The Gauntlet at the BattlegroundsThe Gauntlet was actually five different lines of obstacles over a water pit, although you only got to do one. They were all different; some elements were no harder than a reasonably wide log to walk across, while others required a lot of upper-body strength like hanging from a steel I-beam and crossing it from below.

This was one of the few places where I saw a line, and it was only for the easiest route. I decided to bypass it and go for one of the harder ones, which started with a swing from rope to rope, which I couldn’t do and fell in. I wish I’d had a bit more presence of mind to go back and try one of the other routes, because (in retrospect) there were a few others that I think I could have done that didn’t have the backup. But it was at the end of the race, and I wasn’t thinking so clearly.

Perhaps because I ran fairly late in the day, but there wasn’t much else in the way of backups, apart from a bit of a crowd in the initial running out of the start line. (Having heats half an hour apart seems like it might be too much; heats every 15 minutes that are half the size might fix that.)

I did the 5 mile option, rather than the 5K. The two routes share the course, but there were a couple places where the 5-milers veered off to a side route with extra running and obstacles. It was controlled by honor system (although there were timing chip readers at each of the turn-offs and turn-ons to monitor for the competitive rounds) which made me wonder if people signed up for the (I think less expensive) 5K and did the longer version anyhow. Of course, there wasn’t much in the way of control of who could get into heats, so probably any banditing was minor compared to the cost and effort it would take to fight said banditing.

One of my favorite bits wasn’t an obstacle at all. The Battlegrounds shares its space with an adjacent winery. (I don’t know much about wine, but I’m sure St. Louis wine has an excellent reputation.) Some of the running was through rows of the vineyard. So I can now say that I’ve run through a vineyard. It was a neater sensation than I’m making it out to be.

There were a lot of obstacles—38 in total for the 5 mile version. While some were pretty minor (“Knee High Hell,” as far as I could tell, was where you ran through a small stream for a little while), I didn’t feel like there was any shortage. There were certainly runs, but I thought there was a nice mix—no segment of running was obnoxiously long. (At least not looking back on it. It was obnoxious at the time, but all running is.)

A really nice element was how visible a lot of the course was. About half of the obstacles could be seen from the festival area, and several more could be seen on the way in. The course made about three passes near the festival, plus the start and finish, so the obstacles never came in bunches of more than three or four.

Some obstacles that I haven’t seen before include:

  • The aforementioned slide and gauntlet.
  • A pontoon bridge—not extraordinarily difficult, although the individual segments did move a lot and it was awkward jumping from segment to segment.
  • A teeter-totter obstacle.
  • A horizontal cargo net climb, as well as a monkey-bar approximation with cargo nets instead of bars. The latter was really tough, since it moved and since it was not particularly high (I could reach without jumping.) I attempted to do it sloth-walk style, which proved ludicrous.
  • One of those things where you walk across one rope while holding onto another at chest height. I assume a fair number of OCRs have them, but I haven’t seen one before. I wish my upper rope had more tension—I stayed on without too much trouble, but I got horizontal enough that my back touched the water at one point.
  • The “carry-heavy-shit” obstacle included walls to either climb over or under, although this part wasn’t so successful. It wasn’t really possible to crawl under the walls with the bag on our backs—in my case, the opening was simply smaller than me plus a bag—so for most of these runners just tossed the bag over the wall before doing it themselves.

Anyhow, due to the eventfulness of the past week, I’m posting this late and official race photos have already been released. Here are some of mine. (As usual, they’re not good. I don’t photograph well.)

race_3041_photo_35763805

Here’s one where I at least look vaguely human. (Although you can see the gap between the elastic and my face; I need to see to that.) As opposed to…

race_3041_photo_35763801

This is especially tragic, because I posed for this one, thinking that this would be a good look for me. Moreover, I posed for this one twice, because the photographer didn’t catch me the first time. Sheesh.

race_3041_photo_35773377

Hey. This timing chip? Do I put it in the bin with all of the other timing chips, or is there something special that I should do with mine since it’s mine? Also, how did my shorts get so asymetric?

 

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Filed under Funny, Obstacle Course Racing, OCR Report, Photos, The Battlegrounds

The Fez of Inspiration

I know in the past I’ve mocked the concept of inspirational memes and the value of inspirational posters. It’s entirely possible that when I see a photo of a random person accompanied by a caption in Futura Bold telling me that if they can overcome the loss of a leg, a kidney, half a brain hemisphere, and their pet goldfish so what’s my excuse that I become suspicious rather than motivated. I’ve even stated that “Whenever somebody says their reason for doing something is ‘to inspire people,’ I always wonder how they can misspell “for attention” so badly. (Yes, I paraphrased it in that link, but you know, Twitter.)

Still, I have to wonder if maybe I’ve been a little bit cynical. A little bit dour. A little bit not in the spirit of every fucking OCR group on Facebook holy shit don’t these people have anything better to do with their lives than post useless crap and pretend that it has any actual reflection of their personality, ability, capability, worth, or… I’m digressing, aren’t I?
Maybe it’s time for me to give this whole “inspiration” thing a try.

And now is the perfect time. As I’m writing this post, I’m on an Amtrak train to St. Louis. (There’s supposed to be WiFi, but I haven’t tested it, so the actual posting might not happen until I get to the hotel. That’s not a terribly important detail, but it adds a bit of color to the discussion. I mean, beige is a color, technically.)

The reason I’m going to St. Louis is that tomorrow I’ll be doing the Battlegrounds Mud Run. And because I want to inspire people, I’m going to do it while wearing a fez.

Now, I can hear you saying, “What’s so inspirational about a fez?” To that I say, “What’s not inspirational about a fez?” Look at what I had to overcome:

  • I had to locate a fez. Do you know how hard that is? It’s not like there’s a fez store. Most stores don’t even have fez departments.
  • Once I found a place where a fez might be, I had to go there. On a bicycle. I mean, I could have taken the CTA, but I took a bike anyhow because I don’t do anything half-assed, and because it was a nice day and I enjoy biking.
  • At the fez store, which wasn’t actually a fez store, it was just a costume store, I had to actually find the fez. One of the people who worked there came up to me and asked if she could help me find something, and I actually had to respond. Do you know how traumatizing that is? (I mean, it kind of is. I always feel a bit awkward in stores when I can’t find what I want.)
  • Then, since the fez was on an upper shelf, I had to wait while the attendant got a stepladder, and then climb to retrieve the fez. Do you know how emasculating that is, standing there while a lady climbs two whole steps on my behalf? But I did it to show that you too can be a better person.
  • Then, decision time: It turns out there were two fez options. One was maroon, and the other was a bright red, but it had a tassel and was $3 cheaper, so that’s the one I went with. It just goes to show what wonderful things can happen if you trust your instincts and go with your gut and make a decision decisively.
  • A fez isn’t necessarily an easy garment to wear during an OCR, due to the propensity of headgear to fall off. To solve that, I thought of elastic straps. But that meant also buying the elastic. And that, I can tell you, was traumatizing. Oh, sure, Tim Gunn’s out there spreading malarkey about how fabric shops are bright and friendly and have cute little dogs for you to pet, but that is a myth. The fabric shop I went to was dark and dingy and the people working there were angry at existence. I have never felt more judged for simply walking into a room, apart from when I visit my parents. Once there… I mean, what is elastic anyway? Is it a fabric? An accessory? A notion? Upholstery? I sure as fuck wasn’t going to ask anyone, because they clearly wanted to eat me. But I did eventually find some. It just goes to show that with a little bit of dedication and four hours of searching, you can find anything you need.
  • And now (if the WiFi works) or a few hours ago (if not), there’s the attaching of the elastic to the fez. Yeah, I’m going to have to sew. Elastic. To a fez. On a train. Braving the confused glares of my fellow passengers, and the potential pinpricks of my own clumsiness.
  • And then, tomorrow. What if people laugh? What if people cry? What if nobody gives me the attention is inspired the way I’m hoping?

me in a fez

The Fez of Inspiration, pre-elastic-installation

But I’m going to do it, because you have to dream big, and a life without risk is a life spent playing board games with even less strategy, like Candyland, or (ironically) Life.

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Goal Update: Mixed Results

April was… interesting.

A lot of the month was really rough—in addition to some general malaise, I had some shoulder issues that made everything pretty tough. Then I had a really good week, and then things kind of fell apart again but maybe not so bad.

Anyhow, the details:

Weight: Down about 2.5 pounds for the month.

Climbing: My tracking document says “#11 turned corner.” That actually means something. One of my current projects is from the recent competition that I didn’t do, but they’ve kept all the problems up from. It happens to be #11 and it’s a long and cool-looking one. You start on the inside of a cave, and then come out of it and turn onto an outer wall, but the grip that you’re holding on when you’re making the 90-degree turn is backwards at first glance. (The key is to swing your entire body around between moves, rather than trying to do it all at once, and I know that doesn’t really make sense, but deal with it.) Anyhow, I’ve got a bit more to do—the route has a few more moves and the top grips are a bit tricky for me, but it’s progress. Not that necessarily “counts”—the route’s just a V1—but I’m okay with it.

Cooking: In addition to the two recipes I already wrote about, I also tried and liked Curried Twice Baked Sweet Potatoes. I’m not paleo, although I think there are principles that are worth taking on board.

Running: Training’s going good, even though I’d like to be doing three runs a week and I usually only get two. My long runs are up to 9K, which I did last week in the aesthetically pleasing time of 48:48.

Crow Pose: I think this is dangerously close. There have been a couple times where I held it for a couple of breaths. Actual breaths, not like the super-quick huff-and-puff-because-you’re-panicking breaths. Before long, I may try timing it.

Other: I’ve started incorporating a small amount of yoga into my life. It’s probably simultaneously too much and not enough; I only do it once a week (in the sense of a full yoga workout, although the moves find their way into other workouts in a small way), and I don’t like it so I don’t want to do more, but I’m not sure I’m doing enough to really get any benefits. We shall see.

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Kumquats Are the New Kale

One of the dietary changes I’ve made in the past year or so is my breakfast. I’ve long been a cereal-eater, but I’ve moved from plain to cereal with dried berries to cereal with fresh berries. Usually blueberries—I’ve experimented with raspberries, which are okay but a bit tart for my taste, and blackberries, which are nice but awfully sizable and which I like slightly less than blue. The details aren’t that important.

What is important to this story is the fact that there has been a bit of a blueberry shortage over the past few weeks, at least locally. There was one day where I tried three separate grocery stores and didn’t find a single one. There was another time where the person in front of me at the checkout got the last carton, and another time where I got one of two cartons left in the store. It seems to be easier to find earlier in the day, but once again, I’m digressing into details that aren’t all that important. That’s twice in two paragraphs, which would be a problem if I weren’t so gosh-darn charming.

Enough. The actual start to this story is that I’ve been noticing during this blueberrypocalypse that my primary nearby grocery store has been filling the space where the blueberries usually are with their nearest available botanical relative: kumquats.

Clearly the store was trying to tell me that kumquats can be used in the same way as blueberries, and who am I to disbelieve my local Jewel, particularly when that Monopoly collect-and-win game is going on even though it doesn’t use any of the actual Monopoly properties and each grouping has between four and eight things you need to collect, and it’s really annoying in general (even though last year I won a $15 gift card) and I’ve drifted from the point again, haven’t I?

Here’s the point, I swear!

Kumquats in cereal.

Yep, I just decided to use the kumquats as a cereal topping.

Did it work? Oh, holy fuck no.

I mean, first I had to Google “how to eat a kumquat,” because it’s not obvious—they’ve got a skin that looks like an orange’s that probably wouldn’t be edible.* (As it turns out, it is. To eat a kumquat, you literally just eat the kumquat. Many people have turned that into a Youtube video.)

I also had to Google “how to say kumquat without giggling like an eight-year-old.” Google provided no help there, which is why I’m back on Infoseek, the absolute best search engine 1997 had to offer.

Then it was time to sample the kumquat-topped cereal. I’d love to say that the brightness of the fruit offset the granolaness of the cereal, but that would require me to be able to speak, and I can’t yet. You see, as it turns out, kumquats are really really really sour.

So I don’t actually recommend eating kumquats on cereal, or (as I’m sure will cause great chagrin to the kumquat farmers of the world) anywhere else. But… I bet I could, and get it to stick.

I mean, they’re not really that bad, and I strongly suspect there are recipes that could or have been developed that cut the sourness down to an OK level. And they’re fruit, so they’re likely to be reasonably nutritious. And they’re in just the right level of consciousness to become a trendy, alternative health food—something most people have heard of but don’t think about on a regular basis, and may or may not have some vague idea of what they look like, and probably haven’t had much if ever.

They’re basically kale in, say, 2010.

Even better, really, because where kale has just the one “k” sound that makes it so unique and hilarious and memorable, kumquat has two. And, thanks to Netflix, #KumquatIsTheNewKale is a hashtag formatted in a perfectly attention-tracking way.

Plus, most humans aren’t really good at processing scientific information, so framing kumquats as a superfood won’t be hard. After all, they’ve got 208 micrograms of pantothenic acid! That’s a lot of micrograms. They’re selenium-free, and the peels have powerful essential oils, which are essential!

And have I mentioned the taste? It’s tolerable under certain circumstances!

And so on.

In fact, I’ve got nothing against kale or kumquats; being respectively a dark leafy green vegetable and a bright orange fruit both have good nutritional qualities and certainly better than, say, a Pop Tart. I merely mock kale’s trendiness, and suggest that if we must have trendy foods, kumquat would be a great next step, because it would make me happy to hear people say “kumquat” a lot.

 

* I may actually have had a kumquat before. When I was a kid, my grandparents lived in Florida in a retirement mobile home park. Lots of people had orange or grapefruit trees in their yards, but my grandparents had a kumquat tree. I don’t know why—they never used the fruit in baking or cooking or throwing at neighbors or anything. I do have some vague memory that one day we all tasted a kumquat. But I don’t have any memory of the taste or the process of eating it or anything like that. So, you know, whatever.

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