June 29, 2007

Crossing the Pacific

This is true. The Pacific is a great body of water.

Posted by eroberts at 12:26 PM

June 28, 2007

Running requires both lungs and legs

From the department of not-so-surprising-discoveries, it turns out you need both strong legs and strong lungs to run well. I reprise this obvious truth to mostly conclude my science experiment on what extended aqua-running does for your land running. Since this site (blog.lib.umn.edu) draws a lot of google hits my poor racing after extended aqua-running is presented as a public service and warning. It keeps you fit but you don't necessarily run your best afterwards.

All in all I was off dry land and aqua-running for nearly 7 weeks. That's a long time, and longer than most of the research that concludes that aqua-running maintains your racing fitness. This time coincided with the last few weeks of my dissertation writing, so I did unusually little walking. My daily routine was ride or drive to pool, ride or drive to work, write a lot, ride or drive home. I got a premonition that returning to running would be rough a week before I started back when a 3/4 of a mile walk left my legs quite tired.

Once I started back I had 5 weeks before the Bjorklund 1/2 marathon which was my goal race for the first half of the year. Having paid $65 to enter, and it's a great race, it was not one to abandon. The first 10 days of "terrestrial running" were not pretty (well, I'm never pretty running, but this is all relative), or at least felt not pretty. The first few days I was actually quite sore while running, mostly in the quads which do the shock absorbing, and more so on asphalt than on softer surfaces. Once I had some semblance of co-ordination back I hit the track for a mini-workout on the 12th day of my return to land running. A few laps of strides and then 2 x 1000m at marathon pace felt aerobically easy, but even on the forgiving surface of the track the legs tired quickly. My easy-paced runs, even the ones that felt sore and un-coordinated had not actually been too much slower than my normal training paces pre-injury. But it was pretty clear that my specific fitness for running at race pace without my legs tiring had diminished substantially. And I had just over two weeks to get it back, since the last week before the race would be mostly tapering.

Another predictable--and thus easily accepted--consequence of the pool running was that I was very aerobically fit but had no leg strength and thus everything was out of balance. If your legs and lungs are out of balance I think it is the worst combination when your lungs are stronger. It leads to even more leg problems since you unconsciously try to outrun your leg fitness. Suffice it to say that I had a host of minor niggles in the two weeks of crash-training where I had to get used to (a) running 6:low/miles again, (b) running for 80-90 minutes, and (c) combining a and b on a relatively unforgiving road surface. Again, I cannot speak too highly of active release therapy, and specifically put in a little free local advertising for Jenna Boren at Bridging Health in St. Paul.

If my goal had been a smooth transition to effective training, the adjustment back to land might have been a little smoother. I would have run more frequently, for shorter distances and at slower paces. But my goal was to try and do a somewhat decent race. So I focussed on two kinds of runs, longer runs to get my legs used to being on the road for a while, and tempo runs with some strides before and after. Since I'd done VO2 max type intervals in the pool I'd taken care of that side of my aerobic fitness, and they seemed to have the most potential for injury. On the days in between the land runs I was in the pool, jogging around for recovery. Again, my thanks to H2O Man and MPR for keeping me sane for up to 2.5 hours in the pool. Really, anything over 20 minutes of aqua jogging seems interminable without the mental focus of a workout or the distraction of the radio.

A week out from the race it was quite clear I was not going to have one of those miraculous injury followed by PR experiences. I had a host of niggling issues with the legs that I was working out with the foam roller, and I was worried that in my haste to get road-fit again I'd done just enough to tire myself out. Thus I set myself the modest goal of merely running marathon pace (1:24:30) for the half marathon. If I could do that I'd be happy.

Not achieving even a modest goal would normally be disappointing. But given the slow transition back to the roads I was more inclined to take the positive feedback from the race, and not worry about the shuffle to the finish. On the morning of the race I made the decision to check my time at the first mile and then run by feel, trying to hit the split button on the watch without looking at it. 6:27 at mile 1 was right on target. Although I got to see my time at mile 5 and 10km the feedback was good, I was knocking off the miles between 6:24 and 6:28 (goal being 6:26). Around 8.5 miles the quads began to protest that they were not used to this. It was not quite like hitting the wall in a marathon, since I gradually slowed from 6:26s to the shuffling 7:30 I ran for the last mile, but it was similar. If your legs aren't used to the road you aren't going to make it. The end result was a 1:28:47 that I figure to be 8-11 minutes slower than what I might have run without the 7 weeks off the road. But in the long view I'll take the positives -- my pace judgment was good and I ran 1/3 of a marathon at marathon pace. It could have been a lot worse.

The generalizable lesson is this: aqua jogging does keep you fit, but you've got to keep up some weight bearing exercise once you can walk on the injury, and the longer you're off the land the harder it will be to come back. While it's frustrating to have to wait for my legs to catch up with my lungs, being unfit in both is even harder to come back from.

I've always found recovering from injuries to be somewhat mentally refreshing. They force me to break from the plan, and to enjoy each day's running for what it is. My goal for the year is still to try and run a decent marathon in October in Auckland. As luck would have it this marathon does not fill months in advance, and I can decide as late as early October whether I'm really going to do it. To let the legs catch up with the lungs the next couple of months are mostly going to be easy runs to build up the mileage with one tempo run or race at Harriers each week. There are few better cities in the world for doing winter base building than Wellington. You have hills and trails, and if you need to hit the flats or the track they're available too. It should be fun.

In other non-surprising news, moving across the Pacific and starting a new job is kinda time consuming ...

Posted by eroberts at 5:23 AM

June 14, 2007

A short jaunt past history

This entry represents the confluence of two of my favorite things: running on trails and history. Meeker Island lock and dam was the first set of locks constructed on the upper Mississippi river in 1907. If you are strolling or running along the east bank of the river just where Minneapolis meets Saint Paul it has always been possible to go down some steps (in Minneapolis) or down a rutted little trail (in Saint Paul) to the riverbank and see the remnants of the dam. When the river level is low you can see a lot of what was there, if not the island itself which is submerged by the now much deeper channel of the river.

The lock and dam lasted just five years, and was then submerged by the raising of the river achieved with the construction of the much larger dam at the Ford Parkway.

Now with the centenary of the Meeker Island dam upon us, the Saint Paul city council has spruced up the area a little, added some tables and benches, and made the path alongside the river more runnable (or walkable). The best way to see this on a run is to run down the wagon road on the Saint Paul side, along the river, and then up some iron steps (beside a storm water outlet) into Minneapolis to emerge about 100 meters from where you went down the wagon road.

Lake St bridge

Minneapolis' beach on the Mississippi

National Parks Service book on the history of the Mississippi in the Twin Cities

Posted by eroberts at 5:29 PM

June 12, 2007

UMI has a different alphabetical order than normal

All I had to do on Monday morning was print my dissertation, and hand it in both physically and electronically. It's a surprisingly banal ending to several years work. Wars end with dull treaties, and dull dissertations end in even duller Graduate School offices.

You can now submit dissertations to University Microfilms International, who go by their initials rather than their full name, electronically. Amongst other things you have to provide your country of citizenship. Often New Zealand follows the Netherlands. Not in this case, where the order underlying the list eludes me ...

The eagle-eyed among you may also wonder if UMI is anticipating the results of the 2014 New Caledonia referendum on independence. For now, I don't think New Caledonia offers separate citizenship from France.

Posted by eroberts at 1:25 PM

June 8, 2007

My work here is done

This entry got delayed and delayed because I had so many different ideas in my head about how to write it. That feels a bit like a metaphor for the whole dissertation ... I also hesitated over the title [of this entry]. Strictly speaking my work here is only very nearly done, as I have a few trivial footnotes to revise, forms to submit, and Graduate School bureaucracy to wait for, before the degree is conferred. That's a metaphor for life and history itself. Few things have clear endings.

All that is prelude to saying that last Friday I successfully defended my dissertation. The title is "Her real sphere? Married women's labor force participation in the United States, 1860-1940". If you really want to know more ... you can easily contact me.

It's a good feeling to be done. The best metaphor for what the defense was like, was that it was like a moderately long race. The defense lasted about 1 hour and 40 minutes, and once I'd settled into the ebb and flow of the discussion it was good. I was tired afterwards—like you would be after racing for that long—but I didn't feel totally wiped out by it. All the advice I've gotten suggests that I should put the dissertation topic aside for a few months before returning to any research on it. In that way, defending your dissertation is like a marathon. You've got to forget about it before you return to it. Except that few people try and defend a dissertation in all fifty states. (I've heard of people with two PhDs, or a PhD and a MD. Not common, but not unheard of. My grandfather told me, erroneously I just now learn, that Albert Schweitzer had four doctoral degrees. The always reliable internet tells me that Schweitzer was merely accomplished in theology, music, philosophy, and medicine. His doctorate and M.D. appear to be his only academic qualifications.)

It will be easy to take a break from studying millions of dead men's wives, because on 1 July I take up my new job as a Lecturer (equivalent to Assistant Professor in the North American academic system) in New Zealand and United States history at Victoria University of Wellington. This will not be news to some readers of this blog who I know in "real life," and will be news to others.

Hopefully time will allow me to maintain some blogging. That, after all, is the advantage of the magic internet. It's everywhere, even in New Zealand ... But who knows? In the last six months as I finished the dissertation it should have been obvious to regular readers that my intellectual energies were elsewhere. This blog has always been a eclectic mix of the personal, professional and political ... and I hope to keep it that way. The proportions of that mix are not fixed over time.

Academic readers may be curious to know whether the blog had any effect on my job search. If you go by the measure that I got the job, obviously not. I made no effort to highlight or hide the blog while I was applying for jobs. It's always been a useful discipline for me to imagine that people might read this while googling about my job application. If they exclude me on the basis of what I've written here, so be it. The blog is a good predictor of the kind of conservation you might have with me at morning or afternoon tea.

And on that note, time for an early morning cup of coffee ...

Posted by eroberts at 7:43 AM