Tuesday, August 30, 2016

August Backyard Wings & Things

Northern Flicker. (8/29/16)
Despite the loss this past spring of our American elm tree, one of the main attractions to the space for a variety of birds, the aviary action has continued these past few weeks. August's dog days are much more manageable with the entertainment created by birds and rabbits at play in the grass and gardens. Especially exciting to have the Northern Flickers drop in for a spell on a number of occasions throughout the month.

Fun Fact: Because they eat ants and beetles, flickers
are commonly found on the ground eating. (8/29/16)
Cottontail rabbit. (8/11/16)
Cottontail rabbit and young American Robin. (8/11/16)
Mystery bird? (8/7/16)
Female Northern Cardinal on a wire. (8/7/16)
Two well-camouflaged Northern Flickers. (8/1/16)
Northern Flicker. (8/1/16)
Northern Flicker doing his "wing-thing". (8/1/16)
Northern Flicker. (8/1/16)

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Striking Back With Empire Cards

The cover and a page from the hardcover book Star Wars: The Empire 
Strikes Back: The Original Topps Trading Card Series, Volume Two.
You know time has passed when the collectibles you purchased as a child find their way to nostalgia-inducing coffee table books. That was the feeling, along with curiosity over who might actually purchase such a publication, I experienced last weekend while wandering the book shelves at Barnes and Noble. In an a time when the demographic (white male nerds, 45-50) to which I belong are willing to part with hard cash for a nostalgic charge, it is not surprising that the hardcover "book" Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back: The Original Topps Trading Card Series, Volume Two is now available. The book is exactly as advertised, each page has both the front and back of one of the 132-card base set and 33 stickers that compromised the original wax packet release.

My collection of the original Empire Strikes Back Topps Picture Card Series Two.
Fortunately, I still have a complete card set (though only a partial sticker set), so can save my funds for other fanboy passions. An important aspect of card collecting that is lost with the transition of looking at the cards in book form as opposed to card is the tactile charge of flipping each individual card over. One never knew what to expect, but it would be something exciting whether cool facts, silly quiz questions or behind the scenes production secrets.

Here are just a few representative cards (with caption comment) from my collection:

Straight from 1980... the "title" card for my set of The Empire Strikes Back
Topps Picture Card Series 2.
Card 138: Back before any mystery was blown up by the prequel trilogy,
all things related to Boba Fett, like his ship Slave 1, were super cool!
Card 164: A suitably Eighties caption to this standard Vader shot.
Card 174: This one is interesting as it pre-dates the current practice of
referring to our robot friend by his government name R2-D2 rather than the
much more humanizing Artoo.
Card 207: Clearly the Star Quiz questions were intended to make young fanboys
like myself feel really confident in their Star Wars trivia knowledge.

Card 261: Prior to the Internet, these special cards, complete with
alliterative caption, were the best way to see any behind the
scenes shots. I still love looking at this sub-series.
Card 263: As a kid, I hated getting these cards (they lacked cool pics!) but now
appreciated knowing what cards I am trying to get when you get down to
only a few left for a complete set.
The original packs came with a single sticker so it was not so easy to get a complete set.
Sadly, I have very few of these as I used most of them spelling out cool things with
the letters, such as the word "Awesome": ah, childhood!

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Summer Reading: Dirty Inspirations

Using a popular structural approach, the tone and message
of each chapter is established with a quote.
In my roles as both a weekend warrior and high school coach, I am always on the lookout for books that can provide motivation to the athlete-in-me, as well as break down challenging sports-psychology concepts for those interested student-athletes with whom I work. Dirty Inspirations: Lessons From the Trenches of Extreme Endurance Sports by Terri Schneider is that rare collection of essays that is capable of doing both. A champion endurance athlete turned sports psychologist, Schneider draws on her broad array of competitive experiences (ranging from Ironman tri-athlete to Eco-Challenge team member).

A world-class athlete, Schneider has personal experience battling the mental demons that come with endurance sports. Endurance sports, as defined by the Farlax Free Dictionary, are activities performed primarily by an individual "in which key muscles are exercised at submaximal intensity for prolonged periods of time," and within this competitive arena, the author finds multiple anecdotes illustrating a practical psychological approach.

What Schneider's anecdotes and experiences do so effectively is to add meaningful meat to the bones of  tired coaching code such as "Hang in here" and "You can do this if you try." Anyone who has engaged in athletics at any level (from recreational to professional) have heard ad nauseum, further reinforcing the reality that for many coaches (myself included), the real sports psychology employed is limited to motivational phrases. In the spirit of "physician, heal thyself," Schneider shows how her own application of these theories has resulted in both personal competitive successes and failures.

The text is broken into sixteen easily digestible chapters, each illustrating a different psychological training principle through the lens of the author's personal experience. This stricture allows time for the reader to intellectually breathe and reflect upon the insights offered in each chapter. While chapter titles such as "Afraid of Fear" and "Painting Your Authentic Self" have  whiff of self-help pop psychology, given the practical experiences behind each principle, Schneider avoids the potential pitfall of celebrity how-to book. In addition to being an exceptional endurance athlete, Schneider is also an academic who has pursued education in sport psychology. Interestingly, the author often refers to her motivations for pursuing such training as events in her competitive life give rise to the possible need for it. If anything, it is her academic writer's voice that puts this text in the realm of psychology and training literature rather than purely adventure biography. This is not to suggest the words lack passion, but to remind that this really is, I believe, intended to introduce valuable ideas within the exciting context of adventure racing. It is one thing to run a 10k or half-marathon and describe what it is like to work through discomfort, and another thing entirely to address the subject having successfully completed a 100 mile foot race.
Author Terri Schneider.

Two chapters I found of especially meaningfully, given my own current state of affairs were "Probing Commitment" (pages 58-68) and "Finding Comfort in Discomfort" (pages 138-155). Next week, I will be embarking on my sixth (!) season as a high school Varsity Cross-Country coach, in all likelihood with a team comprised of young women with little prior experience at running the 5k distance competitively. Additionally, I very recently participated in a 20k that frankly did not go as planned, and during whcih I sustained an injury, that had me questioning whether to continue or not. In both instances, "professional" and personal, the necessity of commitment, to the individual as well as to those who rely upon them, is significant. Both chapters spoke specifically to questions I had around internal motivation and the necessity of powerful self-talk in persevering.

Dirty Inspirations: Lessons From the Trenches of Extreme Endurance Sports by Terri Schneider is worthy reading for both the competitor and coach. Unlike similar books which speak to sports psychology in a specific athletic endeavor (basketball coaching books for basketball coaches for example), the anecdotes and information in Schneider's text are readily transferable to any sport, especially as the athletic feats of the author imbue her words with instant credibility. I look forward to sharing parts of this text implicitly through some decisions I make this seasons and explicitly by sharing excerpt with the team.

Monday, August 08, 2016

What Did the Cat See?

Blackbeard the cat at his post. (7/26/19)
The majority of photographs of backyard wildlife posted on my blog are taken from the large windows that surround our kitchen counter. They open into our backyard. so when an interesting critter or bird comes into view--SNAP! I'll do this at many different times of the day, as reflected in the way that the different hues our lawn take son during the course of the day: sometimes appearing neon green when bathed in sun or deep, dark green when the shade dominates. This accounts for the occasional out-of-focus imagery and lens flare, but also for my ability to take pics when thy can't see us observing them. Blackbeard the cat is a constant viewing companion, so much so, that when we are outside working in the garden, he will prowl the windows to see what's going on. Most of what we see taking place among the tomato cages and bird feeders are, in truth, what the cat saw...

Catbird and sparrow on tomato cages. (7/29/16)
Common Grackles in the grass. (7/29/16)
Frazzled Grackle. (7/26/19)
American Robin. (7/29/16)
Cottontail rabbit with gang of Common Grackles. (7/29/16)
Grackle and Cottontail lunching together. (7/29/16)
Cottontail in the vegetable garden. (7/29/16) 
Male Northern Cardinal. (7/29/16)
Cautious Cottontail. (7/29/16)
Male Northern Cardinal with Common Grackles. (7/29/16)
Male Northern Cardinal. (7/29/16)
American Robin. (7/29/16)
Yakking American Robins. (7/29/16)
Cottontail rabbit. (7/29/16)
Black-Capped Chickadee on Nyjer feeder. (7/29/16)

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Scoutin' Routes: Phelps 20k

The "folk art" official Phelps 20k course map (left) and another made using Mapmyrun.com.
Four weeks ago, my son, Jack, and I ran the 2016 Utica Boilermaker. I had been coming off a four month layoff from training, so prepared in 2 1/2 weeks with a goal of finishing the race by using a run-walk training plan and strategy for completing the 15k run. In training long runs  as well as the race itself, I adhered to a pattern of 3 minutes running followed by 1 minute walking and repeat until completed. Following this approach I did ultimately cross the finish line in 1:26.31 for a mile pace of 9:17. The following Tuesday, Jack and I registered for the Phelps Sauerkraut 20k. For Jack, Saturday's race is just another run building to what will be his first full marathon in mid-September and for me it provides the opportunity for me to both challenge myself and to (briefly) run with my son.

To train, I continued running four days a week (Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday), running complete shorter distances Tuesday and Thursday from 4-6 miles at a moderate pace, while committing to longer runs (7-10 miles) using a run-walk ratio of 5 minutes to 1 minute. Sundays were for easy 3-4 mile recoveries, often on a treadmill. On "off days" I would walk for 45-60 minutes early in the morning. While not the most rigorous training approach, given a variety of factors (aches, pains, wear-and-tear), I am hopeful it will be enough to put in me the position to finish the 20k in two hours.

As a runner, I rely on visualization to help me get through longer races... and for me at 48 with many miles under my belt, 20k is long. So, when possible, I travel to courses in advance of running hem to get a sense as to what to expect. Last week, Jack and I went on a short roadie to Phelps to scout the race route. At that point, the potential challenges became clear: not the course, but the weather conditions. Though it would be unfair to label the terrain as a whole "hilly," there are a few interesting features. In addition to a few manageable rolling hills, there are 2 extreme, short inclines. The primary possible challenge, just as was the case at Utica, will be the weather. The temps in July at the Boilermaker actually turned out to be fairly favorable this year, and the race organizers did a tremendous job having a myriad hydration stations along the course. The Phelps 20k course is also very open, with zero shading from the sunlight during the course of the race. With a start time of 8 a.m., barring a change in weather projections, the entire race will be run in direct (rising) sun, with a strong likelihood of high humidity.

Here's what Jack and I saw, with a few caveats: the picture quality is somewhat inconsistent as it is difficult to take shots from a (mostly) moving vehicle through the windshield, and distances noted in the captions are my estimates based on reviewing the maps.

Race starts at (roughly) the corner of Main St. and William St.,
in the image above, the start goes to the left.
Other than a quick pass through town, the first 2 miles is fairly flat and open road.
At m the 2.5 mile point the course continue straight, though you veer to the left in the
"fork" where Rt 96 turns to 13.
Flat country roads take you past Midlakes High School on the left.
The first turn, at 3.6 miles, comes after a pass through residential Clifton-Springs
at the corner of Main St. and Pearl.
Continue south, passing through the town of Hopewell, until Pearl ends. To the
right is Taylor Rd., but take the sharp turn right onto Waddell Rd. onto...
The first incline of the day at almost exactly the 5.5 mile mark.
The course flattens again following the ascent and one mile later the
course crosses 488 and Waddell becomes Railroad Ave. for less than a quarter mile.
Over half way to finish!
You'll pass a small-ish water tower on your left and shortly come to the end of Railroad
Ave. Turn left at County Road 23 and onto...
The second "major" hill of the race, starting exactly at the 7 mile mark.
Warning: this one is a long one.
At approximately the 7.3 mile mark, take a left onto Wheat Rd. where
you'll be for just about 2 miles.
Rollin', rollin', rollin'... on Wheat Rd. where you'll come across fields
with bales of... wheat. Really beautiful scenery throughout!

At Case Rd. take a right. This is nearly the 9 mile mark... it's all downhill from here!
Case Rd.
At Toll Rd. take a left, where you'll be on this road for a cup-of-coffee;
 you've made it 9.5 miles, hang in there!
Time for a right onto Griffith Rd. Halfway down, just past the
intersection with Melvin Hill Rd., you'll hit the 11 mile mark!
This left on Fort Hill Rd. means you have less than one mile to go;
you can probably hear the cheers!
Back into Phelps and a little downhill. Fort Hill Rd will turn into S. Wayne Street as
you move into the residential area...
You'll take one final left onto Park St. leaving only about 200 meters to go! 
As you approach the finish on Park St. the gazebo above will appear to the left.
The finish is parallel it on the street.
At the very least we'll be running through some beautiful, classic, Western New York country.
Ideally, the weather on Saturday will be very much like the day we went out to Phelps: overcast. At least in the morning. For the sake of the 50th Phelps Sauerkraut Festival, I hope it's super sunny and pleasant after the race for the remainder of the weekend.