Month: August 2015

Hood to Coast

This is the second year that I have been on the day job team for Hood To Coast (aka HTC), although I had to drop out last year because of illness*. This year I am… nervous, but excited about the opportunity, and ready enough that I should be able to finish in good order.

But what is Hood To Coast, why would anyone want to do it, and what is it about running races in general that makes people travel long distances to participate?

The Legend

Hood To Coast is a race from Timberline up on Mount Hood to the beach at Seaside, OR. It is a relay race, rather than an individual event, so you run as part of a team. Each team is of twelve runners split between two vans. The legs are arranged so that every runner will run three legs, the team covering a total of 195 miles over the duration of the race.

I’ve been told that the best way to approach the race is to just accept that you will get no sleep.

The thing is that with six runners in each van, there might be twelve hours between each runner’s leg (assuming each leg takes about an hour) but there will only be six hours between each van’s legs, and not much of that time will be stationary.

Why would anyone want to do this awful thing, then? Teams travel from across the world to participate in this event – why?

Well, the general truth here is that HTC is a destination race akin to the Boston Marathon or the London Marathon: a race that is unique**, a race that you do in order to say you’ve done it, and to savour the experience. It’s a race that generates stories. And that really covers the general question of why anyone would travel hundreds or even thousands of miles to run in a race.

The specific truth for me is that as an Oregonian runner, HTC is something I have to do given the opportunity. I am looking forward to running this remarkable event as an individual and with my team, but HTC is a thing that really has to be done if you can. I was very sad I couldn’t run last year, and delighted both that there was going to be a team this year and that I am able to take part.

And the other thing is that running is largely a solitary activity. Being able to participate in a team race is novel and exciting.

The Reality

As I said, there are twelve runners in a team and three legs per team member. With the varying distances of the legs and paces of the runners, it usually seems to work out that a leg will take about an hour to run, so after your first leg you’re running again every twelve hours.

For me, this means I am running about noon, then about midnight, then about noon again.

The training I have been doing for this race specifically has been heat training and closely-spaced runs. So, I have been running at lunchtime and early afternoon even in the heat wave, and I’ve been running home in the evening only to run back in to the office the following morning. I’m also still doing longer runs and hills.

The result is that, despite the niggling upper body injuries, my legs feel about as strong as they have in some time: I’m able to go up and down stairs without wincing the day after a long run, and that’s an improvement.

I am as ready as I am going to get, I think.

The Support

A team is not just its runners: there are drivers, volunteers, organisers, and of course our families supporting us all in this bizarre endeavour.

Thank you to all who make Hood To Coast possible.

And that is what I am doing for the next couple of days. I will try to write a race report to post on Monday, but I may well be too wrecked to put one word in front of the other.

So, I will be back when I can.

[*] the stomach flu of great stomach flu-ness, a rare example of being literally gutted.

[**] or at least one of the first of its kind.

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The Quarry

I was very nervous about reading The Quarry, Iain Banks‘ last novel.

Banks has been one of my favourite authors for more than twenty years, one of those I always collected in British paperback editions*, and so reading his last books was always going to be a bittersweet experience. But my reading of Banks has not been uniformly positive – I roundly disliked A Song of Stone, for example – and I was worried that this, his last book, his book about cancer and with his death hanging over every page, would leave a lingering bad impression of his work in my mind.

So I cheated. The Quarry is Banks’ last book, but when I bought it I had others still unread. I have been consuming his remaining work at a leisurely, even languorous, pace. I read Surface Detail last year with much enjoyment, and I have heard excellent things about The Hydrogen Sonata** so I was fairly sure of a good read there. Indeed, since my first reading of Banks was his first M book, Consider Phlebas, it would seem wholly appropriate to close with the last Culture novel.

Thus I departed from my usual practice of reading in publication order, and took The Quarry with me on our family holiday to eastern Oregon.

In the end, my fears were at least a little misplaced. It is a sad book and a bitter book, but it is still a rollicking read and highly entertaining. It is unflinching in the face of cancer, debilitating and horrifying as the disease is once it has metastasised. The characters are distinct enough to be able to tell them apart easily, and the three main characters (the primary cast is seven strong) are warmly rendered – even when they are being used as mouthpieces for the author’s political preoccupations.

There’s betrayal and risk aplenty, as well as that constant sense of waiting for the other shoe to drop that always pervades a reading of a Banks book: there are going to horrible things, but when will the horrible things happen? Who will they happen to?

One thing I particularly enjoyed was the sense of place. The story mostly happens on and around a moor above a medium-sized Yorkshire town, much like the moors I grew up with, and his descriptions of the bleakness and unnavigability of moorland landscapes is delightful. I also found the portrayal of the point of view character particularly engaging: he is not neurotypical, and the rendering of his experience of being the only one in the room with something akin to Asperger’s Syndrome is good – it brings the clinical description to life.

It’s not a perfect book – it’s certainly not Banks’ best – but it is a book I liked and enjoyed, and I will probably read it again at some point, perhaps when I do my definitive ranking of Banks’ works***.

But it is a Banks book, and for anyone familiar with his work and his themes it will likely be an enjoyable read.

[*] the other was Terry Pratchett, but only for the main sequence Discworld books so I have no more of those to buy.

[**] it was nominated for a Hugo before all of this puppy nonsense.

[***] no, not really, although it’s a thought…

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2015 Goals Post: Lughnasadh Edition

This is two weeks late because of my blog summer holiday and does not indicate a return to regular posting, but I wanted to get this down so as to not let the goal tracking drift too far. With that in mind, this is covering what’s been going on for the six weeks or so leading up to when this post should have been published.

It is now traditional for me to say that summer is a hard time for me to write, and this year has been no exception. Between training for Hood to Coast and family camping trips, I’ve not had near as much energy or time to spend in front of the keyboard. This, of course, is why I took a blog holiday. Still, things have happened so let’s break those down.

Traffic Lights

Finish Song0/30/3n/an/an/a
Complete Shapes1/31/11/34/32/4
Write every day2/22/22/21/22/2
Run Hood To Coast4/43/43/43/43/4

Kept working on Shapes throughout July, which is a good thing, but I’ll be honest – I was expecting all yellows at best so that green is a delightful surprise.

1. Finish Song

The 2015 plan:

  1. Read second draft – read for readability and typoes.
    Last action: read the draft.
    Working on the Shapes so I haven’t picked this up yet.
  2. Apply corrections from draft read. Pending completion of step (1)
  3. Give it to my wife to read Pending completion of earlier steps, and depending on her interest.
  4. Revise that second draft Pending completion of earlier steps.
  5. Polish the draft Pending completion of earlier steps.
  6. Make submission materials – synopsis, pitch, hook, and all of that.

Goal Assessment

There were no Lughnasadh goals for this project.

Total: n/a

Goals for next update: I’m not sure where I will pick up Song again – probably not next period or the one after that, but maybe after NaNoWriMo?

(good grief, what am I going to do for NaNoWriMo?)

Still… these will be the goals once it’s running again.

  • review and typo edit second draft manuscript.
  • identify any significant issues with the story.
  • hand it off for first read feedback from my first reader.

Metric: none.

2. Complete Shapes

The plan for Shapes:

  1. complete detailed outline – done!
  2. play with some ideas in the outline – done!
  3. complete outline – done!
  4. second draft

Goals Assessment

Midsummer goals for this project were:

  • complete the outline consumption – I’m about 75% of the way through the outline, so not where I wanted to be but making continuing progress throughout July. No work yet in August, though. Despite that I am still going to call this a win.
  • move into Scrivener – not done, since I am still working on the combined outline + text file in vim.
  • write the new scenes – I’ve been writing new scenes as I go, which in fact may be part of why I have not completed outline consumption. Still, a continuing task that I am going to consider a win.
  • fix up the remaining plot issues – I know what this is alluding to and although I have been fixing things as I go, I have not reached the plot issues I was concerned with. So, no score here

Total: let’s call this 2/4 – lots of work on the right things, but all the camping and family time in July meant I just didn’t do as much writing as I thought I would.

Goals for next update: continue working the plot part of the second draft –

  • complete the outline consumption.
  • move into Scrivener.
  • write new scenes.
  • start to fix up the remaining plot issues.

Ideally my goal here would be to complete the plot pass of the second draft, but after July’s failures and the fact that I have not touched the book so far in Auguat, I think finishing the plot by Mabon is unlikely – hence softening the plot issue goal to just starting work on it. I will confess to some shame here, but part of succeeding is setting your goals to be achievable.

Metric: Red for zero or one goal, yellow for two or three, and green for all three.

3. Write every day

Make words or something every day.

Goals Assessment

I love my writing log. I would probably still write without it, but not as consistently. And for this period that is saying something. And, obviously, I wouldn’t have any information about how much writing I had actually achieved beyond raw word counts.

The period was marked by a lot of weekends away, and a lot of tiredness during the week which precluded getting up early to write. This was a short period of only 38 days, and I wrote on 27 of those 38 days – a rate of 71%. This is a fraction lower than the goal of 72%, but you know what? I am going to call this achieved – my gut was telling me that I had done much worse than this, so I am declaring 71% a win – a yellow-ish green, but still a green.

That surprise result marks these goals as 2/2, a green.

Goals for next update: these metrics seem to be meaningful so I will continue with them – green if I maintain a daily writing log, and if I write more than five of seven days on average (72%).

I am pretty sure the writing frequency will fail for the next period though, since I have only written on five days in August so far.

4. Run Hood To Coast

The plan for my racing this year:

  1. Shamrock Half Marathon, 15-Mar-2015 – completed!
  2. weight
  3. speed
  4. Hood to Coast, 28-Aug-2015

Goals Assessment

  • lose five pounds – failed. My weight has been stable, but not reduced at all.
  • cycle more often than not – achieved, as far as it was possible: basically, I rode my bike as my default mode of transport until I fell off and hurt my wrist (of which more below).
  • add more running – achieved. I was pushed into running a little early by my cycling injury (sore wrist means no riding) but I’ve done a decent job of upping my miles, introducing such elements as heat training and frequent runs. My favourite activity here is overnight running: running home from the day job, then running back in the following morning. Gruelling and effective.The difficult bit is that we also had a blistering summer in Portland, so I had to abandon the first of my overnight runs when the temperature was too high.
  • continue uninjured – achieved, sort of.As I mentioned above, I fell off my bike wne a moment of inattention led to my drifting into the kerb, but the injuries were minor – bruising more to my pride than my body.The critical point here is that I have avoided the injuries that stop me running: ankle injuries, persistent knee pain, debilitating back injuries. Falling off my bike caused me hurt to my wrist and my chest, but it didn’t stop me running; pulling a pectoral muscle while trying to read in a tent was (and still is) agonising but it didn’t stop me running; stumbling while running and scraping up my knee and elbow was uncomfortable but did not stop me from running.So, certainly a near thing, but this counts as a success.

Total: 3/4 – yellow.

Goals for next update: Hood to Coast beckons, if we actually have a team.

    • run Hood to Coast – we have a team, now we just have to put one foot in front of the other 36 times.
    • get back on the bike – Bicycle Commute Challenge is in September, and my wrist is feeling much better. Should be good to ride again in a couple of weeks.
    • keep running – an unfortunate repeating occurrence is where I do a running event but then have so much pain from stress injuries that I don’t eun for a month. Let’s not do that this time.
    • ten thousand steps a day – reinstituting the step goal since the running will have reduced a little.

Metric: yellow for 2-3, green for 4

Extra Stuff

A New Dawn is on hiatus until after the summer.

My Magic the Gathering activities continue also – the first season of the league concluded satisfactorily, and the new season kicks off in a week.

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