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olympics fever

Ah, Olympics, how much do I love thee?  Let me count the ways . . . Favorite moments so far:

1.) Random snowboarder winning the women’s Super-G

2.) The unbelievable skate by Zagitova of OAR in the team competition.  I can’t wait to see her in the singles competition.

3.) Watching Shaun White ace his second run.  I didn’t think he had it in him, and midway through, my heart just started pounding.  (I wasn’t thrilled to learn about his sketchy behavior, but I didn’t hear about that until afterwards.)

4.) Watching the South Korean women come back from a fall and a large deficit to win their heat and make it through to the finals of one of the short-track relays

Gotta love the knitting snowboard coach!

I love the Olympics for giving moments of pure wonder and emotion.  These people work so hard, and you can debate whether devoting your life to performing spins on ice is a worthwhile endeavor, but their dedication and fortitude inspires me.

I’m heading towards a record-high week of mileage, and since I’m not exactly heading towards the Olympics anytime soon, I can’t help but ask myself why.  My left knee is bothering me, and I’m not exactly sure what to do about it.  Nevertheless, I want a new PR, so I’ll keep on.  This weekend, I’m planning a 14 mile run (though it’s supposed to snow, so I may end up re-scheduling for early next week), and after that it’s taper time, with a gradual reduction in miles until my race on March 10th.

We are heading to Whidbey Island for a few days next week.  It’s our first trip in quite some time, and I can’t wait.  We rent a house right on the water.  It’s quite close, so the trip will be easy, and the house we stay in has tons of random games and stuff for the kids to explore if the weather isn’t good.  (Chances of the weather being sketchy: excellent.)

Renton Park.run 5K

I ran the Renton Parkrun this morning and ran a post-college PR by about 25 seconds.  I’m delighted to dip under 22 minutes, and I’m obviously happy with a new PR.  The conditions were close to ideal, and the course was quite flat.  I’d tapered a bit this week, per my half marathon schedule, and so I was feeling fresh.

I showed up about 40 minutes early, and straightaway I ran into one of the race directors.  She was quite friendly and came bearing cakes.  I helped her carry the cakes in, and then I did a 2 mile warmup.  This put me at about 8:45, with the race start at 9 am.  It was in the low 30s, and I’d been wearing quite a few layers to warmup, so I jogged back to my car and stripped down to what I was planning in racing in – capri tights, long-sleeve half-zip top, and an ear-warmer headband.  Surprisingly, I didn’t really feel cold, so I guess I was well warmed up.  I jogged back to the start with ten minutes to spare, and I ended up standing around in the frigid cold for about 15 minutes (as it started a few minutes late), which wasn’t ideal.  Next time, I’ll cut it a little closer.

Finally, the race started.  I found myself behind a wall of joggers on a narrow path, and it took me a little weaving through the first 100m to get around them.  After that, it was a nearly clear road ahead of me.  There were two women in front of me, and I picked them both off.  The first was obviously running slower than me, but I was a little nervous about passing the second so early.  She slowed quite a bit, though, in the end, as the next women who finished after me was about 4 minutes behind.

I haven’t run a 5K in ages, and I couldn’t believe how long the first mile seemed to last.  When my watch finally beeped I was thinking perhaps that I was at 2 miles, and that I’d missed the first mile.  No such luck!  My first split was 7:00.   I stuck with the pace through the second mile.  My second split was 6:55, and though I was feeling lousy, I think the fact I was able to run such even splits indicates that all the long runs I’ve been doing have improved my endurance.  The turnaround was at 2.25 miles and seemed ages in coming.  When I finally hit it, knowing I had less than a mile to go was a huge mental boost.

I tried hard to stick with the pace for the third mile, and even though I felt like I was working harder, my split was 7:03, so I guess I slowed a little.  I’d passed one of the guys in front of me at about 2.75 miles, and he blew by me with about a tenth of a mile to go.  He was going way to fast for me to keep up with, but I gave chase anyway in hopes that it’d help my time, and I did run the last 0.1 at 6:36 per mile.  My watch didn’t get good heartrate data, so I have no basis for comparison there.

My time was 21:45, or 7:01 per mile.  Oh, I really want to dip under 7 mpm!  So close, yet so far.

I left quickly as H wanted to go skiing with a friend, and I needed to get back to watch the kids.  It’s about four hours later, now, and I feel pretty good.  Now, I’m going to take the kids ice skating.  I’m sure it’ll be a blast and will go swimmingly, given that L hates to fall above all else.  She is quite insistent that we go, though, so we’ll give it a try.

Now, of course, I just want to go faster!  There are really four options:

1.) Stick with my higher mileage and hope that over time it’ll make me faster

2.) Add still more miles

3.) Add speed work.  I really haven’t done any dedicated speed work, and I do think I could improve a bit by doing this.

4.) Lose weight.  1 pound = 2-3 seconds per mile.  My body likes to be at my current weight, but even losing 5 pounds could make a difference.

The next obvious goal is sub-21:30.  I am confident that it’s achievable, despite my age.  I just have to work for it.

Great things: Fakespot.com

Alternate blog title: Blogging, a great way to procrastinate from running and other productive activities.

So, if you’re a savvy Amazon shopper, no doubt you’ve noticed that Amazon reviews have serious issues these days.  I am a person who used to buy the product with the best reviews most of the time, unless it was significantly more expensive.  I’ve found that fake or paid for reviews are absolutely pervasive on Amazon.  I’ve found that my entire shopping approach has changed.  Nowadays, I look for name-brand products, because I’ve found that brands like Asics and Sony don’t pay for their reviews.  However, I miss the days when I could buy the no-name cheaper product because a bunch of people tried it, and it was awesome.  I got burned a few times on products that had hundreds or thousands of 5-star reviews and turned out to be absolute crap.  The solitary one-star reviews I left made no difference, I’m sure.  I’ve also mostly given up writing reviews these days, and I’ve found that when I do write reviews with less than 4 or 5 stars, they’re often rapidly down-voted.  There was a time when I used to watch my reviewer rating, and this kind of thing is a motivation not to write honest, negative reviews.

Nothing irritates me more than, “I received a free product in exchange for my fair, unbiased review.”  Ha.  I immediately mark such reviews as “not helpful.”

Enter fakespot.com.  I’m sure you’ve noticed that it’s possible to spot fake reviews.  You can tell in various ways.  Sometimes, a whole bunch of 5 star reviews appear one after the other, during the same couple of weeks.  Other times, half the reviews are only one or two words.  The reviewer either has ONLY reviewed this product, or only leaves 5-star reviews on other random products.  And so on.   This is fine, but it’s a pain to do manually.  I don’t know what fakespot’s algorithm is, but in my spot checks, they are spot on, ha ha.

These days, I routinely run Amazon URLs through fakespot to determine whether a product is too-good-to-be-true or actually awesome.  It seems to work well for all categories, including books.  There’s nothing more annoying than spending 2 or 3 hours reading an entire book that received wildly positive reviews, think it’s horrible, and notice that it was self-published and, hmmm, who are all these reviewers anyway?

I decided to blog this after being just about to put Thru-Hiking Will Break Your Heart on my to-read list.  Now, I have not read this book.  It may be fabulous.  It has a rating of 4.5 stars with 998 reviews.  However, after reading the plot synopsis, I became suspicious.  Basically, women decides to hike PCT to escape pressures and distractions of modern world and meets lots of interesting and lovely people along the way.  Sound familiar?  I mean, it’s been written a few times before.  Why did so many people find this particular version of that plot line extraordinary?  Well, Fakespot gives the reviews an overall C, for a fairly high percentage of low-quality reviews, and provides an adjusted rating of 3.  Given my suspicions, I’m inclined to give this one a miss.

Try it for yourself.  I know I sound like a pitchman, but I assure you, *I’m* not getting compensated by anybody.  I just believe in reviews that are ACTUALLY fair and unbiased.

 

Stretching progress and a little running

I’ve been continuing to stretch 12 minutes 3 times per week, so 36 minutes per week, using this very random and probably unscientific Youtube video I found.  My plan is to measure my flexibility on roughly the first of every month with a sit-and-reach to see if I’m making any progress.  The video stretches a lot of parts of the body, some of which are not tested with a sit-and-reach, but I feel it’s just a representative test, not a comprehensive one.  I would like to find some other tests I could do to evaluate if I’m making progress.

Anyway, drumroll please . . .

After one month, I’ve improved from a set-and-reach of -2.5 inches to -1.25 inches.  I’d say the measurement process has roughly 0.5 inches of uncertainty (say 1 sigma), so I appear to have made some progress.  I’m cautiously a little excited!  Even with such a limited time commitment, given my initial extreme lack of flexibility, it makes sense that I would see some gains.  It definitely motivates me to continue.  While in some ways I find my 12 minute routine kind of brutal, I am also coming to enjoy the feeling of being warmed up and “flexible” (relatively speaking) by the end.  I find it really interesting how much more flexy I feel after warming up and 12 minutes of stretching.

In other news, I ran 143 miles this month, my highest mileage month since I’ve been tracking as far as I can tell.  (I’ve been tracking since 2004.)  I’ve hit about 130 a few times, so it’s not crazy, but I’m definitely putting in some miles right now, with a half in March as my goal.  Hopefully, the miles will pay off, and if they don’t, hopefully I can appreciate the value of the process and running for running’s sake.  In running, I do think hard work usually pays off, but it doesn’t always happen immediately, and in the meantime, I think it’s continuing to do good things for my mental (and physical) health.  Also, one month of lots of miles won’t do much more than tire me out.  It’s putting together a string of high mileage months that pays dividends.

interest

We’ve been trying to think of ways to teach L about money, and we tried something randomly which seems to be working well.  We’ve been giving her an allowance for a while, one dollar per week.  She’s figured out that that doesn’t buy much, but not much else.  I’d been promising to open a bank account for her for a while, but I’ve been somewhat disheartened by the 0 interest rates from the major banks.  BECU provides 5% interest annually, or something like that, on the first several hundred dollars you deposit in a basic savings account, so I considered that route.  However, we eventually decided that we would instead open our own bank, the Bank of Daddy as we’ve been calling it.  We found an old bank book and gave her $50 as a bonus for depositing her existing life savings, approximately $30.  Every week, she has the option of taking her allowance in cash or depositing it in the Bank of Daddy.  Further, the Bank of Daddy is very generous and pays 10% interest per month.  Yup, that’s 300% interest annually, assuming full compounding.  Fortunately, given the initial balance of only $80, the Bank of Daddy can afford to be generous.

(I did mention that like all banks, the Bank of Daddy reserves the right to change its interest and terms at any time.)

The cool thing is that even given L’s very limited grasp of math, she has figured out that this interest thing is awesome.  She has been eagerly depositing her allowance in the B of D, and she’s counting the days until her first interest payment.  She really enjoys writing her allowance deposits in her bank book with our help.  She’s totally gotten the concept of money written on paper being the same as real money.

Anyway, I’m kind of excited by how well this is going.  We’ll have to see how it sticks.

my first spin class

I went to my first ever spin class this morning.  I was a little nervous, as I am pretty much at the outset of pretty much any kind of group activity in which I don’t know the other people.  I was also a little worried about the technical details – how do you set up the bike?  Do I need to bring bike shoes?  Do I need a ticket?  And so on.  I was also a little worried about being able to complete the workout.  However, I imagined it would be low-key, and it was.  I went to a 9:30 class while B was at preschool, and as a result the class featured a disproportionate number of old people and also about half women.  (I have noticed that the Y is dominantly filled with men before 7:30 am, and dominantly filled with old people and women after 8:30 am.  I haven’t had to time to fully flesh out conclusions based on this.)

Anyway, we did 4 by 8 “Tabatas.”  That is 20 seconds hard, 10 seconds easy a total of 32 times.  The instructor generally told us how to set the resistance, saying either seated hill climb, or standing high hill, or whatever.  People were definitely working hard.  I don’t really take a lot of gym classes, so maybe that’s true in all classes, but there wasn’t much chatter and there was a lot of sweat.  I began to feel like I was in a torture chamber with the music blaring and people immersed in sweat and discomfort around me.

After the Tabatas, she had us do three sets of 6 minutes.  She advised starting at resistance 13 or so, and we were to maintain 90 rpm.  Then, we should increase resistance by one at 3 minutes, and then again by one at 5 minutes.  I decided to start at resistance 11 rather than 13, and otherwise followed instructions and maintained 90+ throughout the exercise.  Then, she had us do it again.

I had forgotten to check the duration of the class and kept thinking it would be over and then having to do another exercise.

The class was called spin / core, so after 45 minutes of spinning, she led us in about 10 minutes of core exercises and then some stretching.  I’m not sure if it’s because I was exhausted from spinning or because I just have a weak core, but the core stuff was so hard.  She started out with a basic plank and then you sort of rocked from side to side.  I basically couldn’t really do it.  I was toast.  But maybe if I persist, I’ll get better at it.  I’m not sure once a week is a high enough frequency for 10 minutes of core exercises to make any difference whatsoever, though.  I’d hoped my pushups were working my core, and there’s no doubt they are, but perhaps I should add some type of plank exercise to my thrice weekly strength exercises.  I think core strength is not only good for cycling and running but also for preventing back pain.  Ever since having the kids, I’ve dealt with on and off minor back issues, no big deal, but something that could potentially become worse with age.

gymnastics

Yes, yes, YES.  Heads obviously need to roll over the Nasser situation, and those heads need to come from the power corridors of USA Gymnastics.

To make the Olympic team in 1996, you needed to be in the top 5 at the USA gymnastics Olympic trials.  (Shannon Miller and Dominique Moceanu were byes as they were injured by recognized to be the best gymnasts in the country.)

In 2000, doing well at the Olympic trials was no longer sufficient to make the team.  Instead of the athletes who won the trials being on the team:

That year, a selection committee ranked the women vying for the United States Olympic team using their scores at the national championships and the Olympic trials. Then the committee, led by Bela Karolyi, the national team coordinator at the time, selected the six-member team in a closed-door meeting. The gymnasts who were not selected, Beckerman among them, were cast aside, often without explanation.

In 2004:

The two women with the highest scores at the trials are virtually promised spots, although they must show what Marta Karolyi, the women’s national team coordinator and Bela’s wife, calls ”readiness” at a post-trials camp.

The remaining four athletes on each team will be chosen by a selection committee. In some cases, those making the selections will pick gymnasts who excel at one or two events over more well-rounded ones because it would strengthen the United States’ chances for a team medal.
As of 2016, i believe the team was chosen exclusively by committee.  In other words, the way the team was chosen was 100% subjective.  In 2016, the selection committee consisted of Marta Karolyi and a coach who former competed for the Ukraine.  Excuse my prejudice, but I don’t have a lot of faith in former Eastern block coaches to “coddle” the gymnasts – aka protect them from abuse.
You might wonder why the team is now chosen by committee instead of by some objective process.  Well, there are a lot of reasons, but the roll of the Europeans can’t be ignored.  Basically, the Europeans (excepting the Romanians) are not capable of fielding large gymnastics teams filled with all-around competitors.  They have disproportionate influence in the gymnastics governing body, and have successfully pushed for smaller and smaller teams and fewer gymnasts to compete in each event.  Because of the latter factor especially, it becomes much more difficult to objectively select the best team.
What does all this mean?  These gymnasts, most of them between 15 and 19, are completely subject to the opinions and preferences of their much older, much more powerful coaches.  They are training 30 or more hours a week, living what doesn’t resemble a normal life, and they must please 70-year-old Eastern bloc coaches.  It’s messed up.
Whose head would I like to see roll?  Well, lots of them.  But for a start, Marta.  She should be out for good.  She’s so old, she’d probably retire anyway.  But nevertheless, I place a huge amount of blame on her.