Friday, September 5, 2014

Long Island Running: the Greenbelt Trail

The only good picture I could find of the Trail Map
I work for a company that sends me to the heart of Long Island a few times a year. It's pretty much all suburbia, with windy roads trafficked by too many cars, and so I'm always on the lookout for some running trails. Internet searches kept mentioning this Greenbelt Trail, but I just couldn't find any real information on it.  So here's a rundown of my experiences for any of you looking for some Long Island Trail Running.

I stay at the Hyatt next to Hidden Pond Park in Hauppauge, NY. By looking carefully, I was able to find the entrance to the trail on the north side of Long Island Motor Parkway, which was a break in a chain-link fence overgrown with vines. Once inside, I worked my way up and down some steep hills, moving somewhat slowly due to the loose gravel on the trails. This first portion of the trail system has a series of interconnected trails - some are single track, some are wider and designed for mountain bikes. Continuing north, you'll drop down into Hidden Pond Park itself, where the path flattens out once you start to see the swimming pool and baseball fields. There are a number of trails running around this complex, but if you keep winding north, you'll find yourself in a narrow trail winding in a small right-of-way between neighborhoods and golf courses. Despite this, all of my runs on the northbound portion of the Greenbelt Trail were quiet and isolated - I think I've seen one other person in all of the times I've run there.

I should mention the strange blaze system in the HPP. White blazes mark the main trail, but when coming to a fork or change in direction, there are two white blazes - the second one to ostensibly indicate the change in direction, but it's somewhat confusing. These are interspersed with blazes of different colors, but I haven't determined the reasoning behind these markings, nor have I seen a trail map anywhere. Regardless, once you hit the golf course, the trail is unmistakable.

After crossing Townline Road, the trail is more rural, following a stream and a few tranquil bodies of water. As such, there are a number of helpful wooden bridges over the more marshy portions, all of which were constructed by the local Boy Scouts. (Thanks!) The trail twists and turns, and contains a large amount of roots, so it's hard to keep up a fast pace here, but you'll want to take it slow anyways to enjoy the silence and to catch all of the rabbits bouncing out of your path.

The most challenging part of the runs i've done here was traversing route 347. It's essentially a highway, with no crosswalk or lights anywhere nearby, so you just have to wait for a break in the traffic and sprint across. It's worth it though because the next section of the path takes you through some confier forests with all of the quiet running that involves - the pine needles just swallow up the sound of footfalls. The trail continues from here all of the way to the North Shore, but i've only gone as far as the shopping center in Smithtown. Click here to see my longest northbound run on Strava here.

The section southbound from Hauppauge is located directly across the road from the northbound trail on Long Island Motor Parkway. Here, the trail follows the power lines for a bit, weaves through some significant rolling hills with evergreen trees before dropping down to Old Nichols Road. On the other side of the road, the trail is pleasantly flat, meandering around some horse farms before meeting up with the power lines again. At this point, I lost the trail - the map indicates that the trail continues down to the Long Island Expressway, (somehow) crossing it en route to the southern edge of the island. Here's what this portion of the run looks like. I'm planning on giving this another go during one of my next trips because there's a nice looking Strava segment south of the interstate that I'd like to tackle.

In summary, there are some trails in the meat of Long Island, you just have to know where to look! If anyone reading this has any other good suggestions for running in the Hauppauge area, please drop me a line in the comments.

Bridge over a marshy area

McKinley Pond. Usually see a Heron here!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Hoka One One Clifton review

There's been a lot of hype lately around the Hoka One One's new lighweight offering, the Clifton.  However, sometimes hype is just hype, so I ignored it for a while.  However, after reading positive reviews by two bloggers that I respect, by Sam Winebaum and Steve Speirs, I decided to pull the trigger.  I've now had them for about week, and have taken them on quick runs, slow jogs, and a long run of 17 miles.

For me, the most important attribute of a shoe is how a fits.  No shoe is going to fit every foot, but happily, the Hokas fit my feet well.  After swapping out the standard insolve for the thinner Ortholite insole (included in the box), they fit almost exactly the same as the Mizuno road shoes and North Face trail shoes that I ordinarily wear. 

The Cliftons are indeed soft, especially at the heel, and I worried a little bit about how well they would run.  It turned out that my worries were unnecessary.  The shoes turn over very quickly and with very little effort, and I consistently found myself to be running faster than I had planned.  And what's more, I was having fun doing it!

There are a few downsides that come with such a stripped down, ultra-cushioned shoe.  When I passed through a few wet spots in the sidewalk, my feet slid.  The Cliftons have very little traction.  And when I ran on the side of a cambered road, my foot sank much deeper into the cushion on the outside, making an otherwise very stable shoe become unstable.  I've also noticed more wear on the sole than I would have expected after 40 miles.  It may be nothing, but we'll see how long the Cliftons last.

I'd originally envisioned these as a long run shoe, but I'm not going to have a hard time not reaching for them on days when I want to run fast, whatever the distance.


Monday, July 7, 2014

2014 Summer Running Gear

Here in the Nation's capital, it is hot!  In the month of July, we typically will see 14 days that reach 90 degrees or higher, and with the high humidity, it feels much hotter.  To keep running, you need the right clothes and the right gear.  Here is what has been working for me this summer:

The North Face Better Than Naked Hat.  Before this summer, I never liked running with hats.  They made my head hot, and the headbands frequently gave me headaches.  It turns out, I was just wearing the wrong hat.  This ultralight hat from The North Face keeps the sun out of my eyes, the sweat off of my face, and my head stays cool.

The North Face Better Than Naked Shirt.  Is it insane to pay $50 for a running shirt?  Not if it feels like it's made out of butterflies' wings.  The Better Than Naked Shirt is insanely light, it wicks sweat away quickly, and it never gets wet and heavy.  This shirt is simply light years beyond any other I've tried.  Durability remains a question mark, but so far, so good.

Salomon Trail Shorts.   Sorry, North Face, but Salomon still makes the best runnning shorts around.  Soft, comfortable waist bands, pockets that hold everything I need, legs that don't ride up or chafe.  Perfect.

Drymax Running Socks.  I used to wear Drymax Lite trail socks, but the regular running socks have a more open weave that breathes better.  It turns out, nothing is better than the original.

Amphipod Handheld.  Amphipod claims that their ergonomic shape allows the hand to relax, thus eliminating hand cramping and tension.  Personally, I've never heard a single runner every complain of hand cramping.  Regardless, this handheld is far more comfortable to carry than the typical round bottle, and the curved shape makes it easier to fill at water fountains.  There are all sorts of versions with neoprene insulating sleeves, iphone pockets, and the like, but I prefer the most stripped down version for its lower weight and lower price point.

What's been keeping you cool?

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Thoughts on a few Comix and the Kindle Panel Viewer

Most of the comics I’ve read over the last six months were on the Kindle reader.  The “Kindle Panel View” presents first the full page of the comic, and then you scroll through each of the individual panels on that page. It’s fascinating, and has both benefits and negatives. On one hand, it’s difficult to see the complete picture that all of the integrated panels construct – which can be a problem when reading Alan Moore comics, or comics where the layout contains unusual panels. On the other hand, zooming in on some of the smaller panels provides an intense focus on the brushwork details of the (for example, some of the amazing inking in the Swamp Thing's Floronic Man).  Overall, I still find myself wanting to read comix in their original format, but I imagine if I had a larger color screen I’d feel differently.

So what have I read? Let’s start off with the most recent: Saga of the Swamp Thing Book 1, which contains issues #20-27 of the series run, starting from when the imitable Alan Moore took over writing the story of this strange plant man. The first issue is a creepy but pretty straightforward closing of plot lines from the previous writer blatantly called “Loose Ends.” But with the next issue Moore started to put his stamp on the story, taking us into a trippy world where the Swamp Thing is more than just a cheesy monster but something of great power and beauty. Moore takes us on a journey, showing us how Swamp Thing realizes that the bio-restorative formula accident (a formula "that can make forests out of deserts") that that everyone thought  turned scientist Alec Holland into Swamp Thing in reality simply put Holland’s consciousness in some elemental plant-thing. (It’s much more interesting than I’m making it sound.) Despite the stories’ cosmic and epic nature, Moore's writing remains very human – giving us a depth of feeling and motivation behind most of the major characters in a way that most major label comics simply don’t have. Does it all work? No – cameos by the Justice League are strained, and the later issues where Swamp Thing confronts the bizarrely-clad demon Etrigan aren't nearly as moving as the issues without the rest of the DC Universe. Still, Moore’s immaculate pacing and creepy sensibility shine through, supported by Stephen Bisette and John Totleben’s detailed and creepy drawing. Their art - a strange mixture of awkwardness and twisted beauty – consists of lots of crosshatching flowing together in fascinating ways. It’s not at it’s best when depicting action sequences, or traditional “men-in-tights” superheros, but then that’s okay, since at it’s core this is a horror comic par excellence.

(As a side note, since I was reading this on the kindle it was black and white. I've since taken a look at the colored version on the iPad and it was a MUCH lesser experience IMO - the garish colors overwhelmed and took away from the mood and the beauty of the art. Be warned.)

Now the term "horror" is overused these days – it’s more of a genre description than a description of a feeling. Take Junji Ito’s Uzumaki, for example. Uzumaki  (“spiral” in Japanese) tells the tale of KurĂ´zu-cho, a Japanese town that is haunted by the pattern of the spiral and is touted as “a masterpiece of horror magna”. It’s a fantastic comic, one that’s genuinely creepy, disgusting, and macabre. But the book as a whole I can’t promote as true horror because the stories don’t combine to tell a complete tale. In reality, after the first few issues honest characters would have run screaming from the town, or crumbled into insanity under the weight of what they saw and their inability to escape it. But this is due partly to the episodic nature of monthly comix: Ito sets up his theme and explores it in inventive and genuinely creepy ways. (The man’s ability to generate genuinely horrific and disturbing images is uncanny.) But like weekly tv shows, the characters needed to be reset before each episode, or change so incrementally that they’re essentially the same. It's only as the series starts to reach its conclusion in the last few issues that it starts to really tell a cohesive tale. In short, despite many excellent moments, it doesn't have the depth of character to inspire the same levels of horror as Moore. But some of those images will just not leave my mind.

I should say that it's unfair to compare any other comics to Moore’s work. His ideas that span multiple issues or volumes seems to rise up out of him fully formed. For instance, check out Watchmen, and how single graphic frames in one issue will have powerful implications many issues down the road. Anotehr great example are the incredible multi-page spreads in Promethia where the art promotes the theme of the story while also moving forward the plot. In short, Moore thinks thematically while retaining a command of the details - a hard skill in any field, but one that is in short supply in comix.

Unless you also read Carla Speed McNeil's Finder, that is. She's the first comix artist since Moore that has impressed me with her thematic reach while being so impressive at a detailed level. (and I'm talking really detailed: check out the depth of thought revealed in the footnotes of her Finder Library volumes and you get a real sense for the amount of time and effort she's spent building up her world.) I have Volumes 1 & 2 and while I can’t say that I understand everything about it, she’s is simply a fantastic storyteller: both engaging & entertaining. What I love are the sheer profusion of bizarre details in her "aboriginal science fiction" – most of the stories take place in a far future where everyone lives in domed cities with fascinating technology, not all of which works (some details of maintenance have been lost to time). The main plotline is ostensibly about Jaegar, an aboriginal of some kind who can both track anyone (the Finder of the title) and serves as a “sin eater” (Wikipedia describes it as being a “ritual scapegoat” which I really like).  However, my favorite plot is Dream Sequence, where Magri White, a person who grows an extremely popular virtual reality in his head around which a successful corporation grows – but when White starts to lose his grip on reality, the people hooked on the world in his head start suffering strange and dramatic fates. The skill by which she weaves the effects of the big story together with the struggle in White’s life – and how she visually depicts White’s loosening grip on reality – is very complelling, to the point where I’ve revisited the story multiple times since it was first published in the late 2000s.

So other than the occasional Hellboy, that’s all of the comix I’ve been reading these days. What else should I be checking out?

Cross Posted on Thought Ambience

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Show me the money!

In 2012, the Red Sox famously shipped Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, and Carl Crawford off to Los Angeles, shedding more than $250 million in future salary obligations in the process.

While the Sox held on to the big salaries of fan favorites such as David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia, they didn't take on any new big salaries; instead, filled the gaps with a ragtag group of journeymen.  And as a result, absolutely nobody expected them to contend.  (Just as an example, when over 40 "experts" at ESPN were polled before the 2013 season, only two predicted that the Sox would even make the playoffs, in each case as a wildcard.)

But contend the Sox did, and suddenly team owners and management looked like the smartest guys in the room.  They could win without spending money!

And indeed, that seems to have been the mantra for 2014.  (Ellsbury, who needs him?)  Thus, whenever there has been a hole to fill, all the Sox have done is called up one minor leaguer after another.  It doesn't even matter if they play the position that needs filling.  (Is the outfield still not producing?  Try Mookie Betts!)

Already, the Sox are one of only four defending World Series champions ever, and the first since 1998 to have three or more rookies start 40 or more games in a season.  And we're not even to the midway point yet!  By the end of the season, Betts and perhaps some others will be added to the list as well.

It's no wonder the Red Sox offense is foundering, despite the obvious passion of Pedroia and the other team leaders.  But in the meantime, what's been overlooked is what an impressive display of pitching the Sox arms have been putting on.  So, here's a nice stat: between May 28 and tonight, the Sox have held their opponents to three runs or fewer in every home game, the longest such streak in team history. But what do they have to show for it?  The Sox are either losing games by a single run (18 so far, the most in the AL), or they are having to send Uehara out in the 9th yet again.  And Uehara is starting to fall apart under the workload, even if Farrell won't admit it.

What is the solution?  Offense.  For starters, put someone in the outfield who can hit, finally.  Find a real replacement for Ellsbury, someone who is proven at the big league level.  In other words, John Henry, show me the money.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Running to the Empire State

The itch is getting scratched! I just committed to lacing up for the Empire State Marathon in Syracuse, NY on October, 19th. I've wanted to give 26.2 another go ever since my first attempt ended with a knee injury and a 12.5 min/mi pace.

So my training cycle is starting anew. I’m starting off with a solid base, having averaged 4 runs and ~23 miles a week since the MPP half in March. The goal now is to start ramping up the mileage, mainly through longer runs on the weekend. It will be challenging as I’m in the process of moving my family to a new house, but I can't think of better motivation to get out the door.

My initial thinking is that i'd like to finish between 3:45 and 4:00 but we'll see how I feel in a few months. Regardless, look for some posts in the future as I determine what my training plan will be and how my experience of training for this race will be different than training for the KBVCM.

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Friday, June 6, 2014

Book Review: Sergei Lukyanenko’s "Night Watch"

My attempts of describing of the plot of Sergei Lukyanenko’s Night Watch would take a carefully crafted world and crudely distill it down to an artless pulp, so you can read what it's about on Amazon. Lukyanenko doesn't  help matters by calling his agents of the Light and the Dark “the Others,” an unfortunate phrasing bringing to mind 50s B-movies and overwrought Nicole Kidman movies. But Lukyanenko infuses his struggle of good and evil with refreshingly liberal doses of Russian-tinged ambivalence and philosophy which, to this American reader, lifted the story above other countless fantasies superficially like it.

Anton Gorodetsky, the narrator for the large majority of the book, is a human with extraordinary magical powers. However, these powers don’t make him happy; rather, they're a burden that separates him from the rest of humanity and whose responsibilities weigh down his soul. This isn't helped by the fact that the collections of good and evil are divided into overtly complex and shadowy bureaucracies whose rules and structures provide an ironic blue collar contrast to the story. For instance, after a particularly rough experience, Anton’s team goes on holiday to the country and as a drunken bender, leading to this delicious observation:
“…now he understood what real Russian drunkenness was all about. … It’s all about waking up in the morning with everything around you looking grey. Grey sky, gray sun, grey city, gray people, gray thoughts. And the only way out is to have another drink. Then you feel better. Then the colors come back.” p.398
Anton drinks and desponds because this is heavy stuff. When things like the fate of the world and a keeping a millennium-long truce between good and evil hang on what you can accomplish, you might need a drink. And Lykyanenko does not take it easy on Anton – in the world of the Night Watch, the best you can hope is to not fuck up. To wit:
“Sveta, we’re not given the chance to choose absolute truth. Truth’s always two-faced. The only thing we have is the right to reject the lie that we find most repugnant. Do you know what I tell novices about the Twilight the first time? We enter it in order to acquire strength. And as the price for entering it we give up the part of the truth that we don’t want to accept.” p. 24
Another rehashing of Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, this is not. It's a dark book with a sensitively ambivalent heart. Anton wallows in for most of the book in Russian cynicism, but this only makes occasional flights into romanticism that much more powerful, partly because of the lack of irony. Lukyanenko’s writes as if the struggle is not only ongoing right now but also the most urgent thing in the world. All of this in an entertaining story that sprinkles its adventure and mysticism with a variety of interesting dilemmas. It kept me solid company for two solid weeks and I miss it's view of the world. I'll have to try one of its many sequels one of these days.

Cross posted on Thought Ambience.