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36th birthday: Great Race Cake Wreck! (29 Sep 2015 at 08:17)
Sunday was my 36th birthday, and this year it coincided with the Great Race 10k. Last time that happened I ran it carrying a tiny cake, a feat that I guess no longer seems that difficult to me, and so this year I needed to increase the size of the cake.

It took about a day and a half to make. The cake's skelebones are made of cardboard and its bone adhesive is hot glue. You can see the tab-style construction approach in this in-progress pic:

Cake skeleton in 'wheels-up' configuration
Cake skeleton in 'wheels-up' configuration


The cake of course also needed to have actual cake! Rose baked almost all of the 17 cakes that adorned it, a scene kind of like this:

Cake-o-rama
Cake-o-rama


Some were mild caketastrophes and we did some America's Test Kitchen stuff to figure out whether it was a good idea to reduce the amount this ingredient or that one in order to get the most pliable and sturdy cake skin, but we didn't keep any notes or nothin' like that. We also made 6 pounds of frosting, which was not nearly enough.

Due to lack of forethought, the cake cardboard was so big that I couldn't fit it out of any of the doors of my house except turned on its side (and then just barely). But thanks to midthought, I did that ahead of adding any cake, which would not have tolerated rotation, and assembled it in the garage. It looked like this:

I did have to use the ladder to put the candles in
I did have to use the ladder to put the candles in


How could 6 pounds of frosting not have been enough? The "imagine cake here" stuff I wrote on the cardboard as an insurance policy against the eventuality that the cake would fall off while running. I really didn't have a lot of confidence in the vertical cakes, which were just attached with string and frosting. And if I was just going to be running around in a dirty cardboard box, I wanted people to at least have some hope of puzzling it out after I passed, like "Wait—I think it said something about cake on it? What does 'erstwhile' mean?" But it turned out my cakestimate was off, and we wouldn't have had enough ingredients anyway, so the bottom layer went without cakes (I put some insulation foam down there which you can see in a later picture).

Which was probably for the better. The skeleton was already sagging under the weight and the butter soaking into its paper joints.

That night I barely slept due to cakemares. These were not performative fears, but two main worries: That I would wake to find the cake had collapsed under its own weight, yielding deflcakegate, or that an enterprising ant would have found its way up the sawhorse legs to discover the motherlode, and I'd wake to find the costume teeming with millions of ants. Third worry: both scenarios. But in the morning it was fine, a simple team-lift effort, using the knees and not the lower back, to get it on me. I immediately realized that I was going to need a mouth hole, which I cut from the inside out, since it would not be easy to get that thing off again.

I stepped on a bathroom scale before and after to weigh in. The edifice was 30 lbs.

No longer a need to smile for photos
No longer a need to smile for photos


Since it also wouldn't fit in a normal car, we walked to the start, about 2 miles up the hill known as Squirrel. We got there pretty early, and managed to get it off for 20 minutes while we waited for the race to start.


This was probably the worst first mile of any costume I've done. Most of the other costumes are things you might reasonably wear walking for a short distance, and just get hard because of how they destroy your body. This one was really hard to start, and I was trying to keep it from ripping apart, and of course had not spent any time thinking about race ergonomics, so it was just bouncing its weight on my shoulders with each step. The shoulders got sweaty, the cardboard got softy, and tore, and some people were like "Looks like it's time to give up the cake! Do you need some help getting it off?" and I'm like "I'm not giving up!!". I had a bunch of weird arm techniques like where I'd lean backwards into the cake with my head and neck and push my elbows into my belly so that my hands would be rigid tripod legs, or where I'd lift the whole cake onto straight-up arms to breathe for a sec (but then I couldn't see), etc. Eventually the head came off except for a small cardboard tendon, and I looked like this:

Oops, forgot that I needed to smile again
Oops, forgot that I needed to smile again


But the flip side is that as cake fell off, it became lighter and somewhat easier. I decided to make a point to not actively shed cake, but when it did fall of of its own accord I was fine with that. In the last half, more and more hit the street, and it became plausible again to put the head back on and hold the bottom of the costume up with my elbows or whatever.

By the end of the race, it was light enough that I could run almost at a pace that one would call "running". I'm in this video crossing the finish line at about 8:30. My official time was 1h21m55s, slow of course but not all that bad. There's also some humorous coverage in local news. I'm sore in pretty weird ways today!
Category:  races (10 comments — almost 2 years ago)   [ comment ]
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Pittsburgh Great Race 2014: Balloon Fight (05 Oct 2014 at 11:03)
Last weekend was my 35th (!) birthday. Does it make you feel weird that there's been more than 14 years of Tom 7 Radar and that I used to be young? Of course not, since you know that people get older and haven't actually been reading my dumb blog for that long. Makes me feel weird though. Weird and kinda old. Anyway, one thing that happened to my adult self is I bought a house last month, and I promise a nice internet writeup of that experience and some photos soon, but I have a limited mental energy budget for house things which is consistently exhausted. But I had some old friends stay on my birthday weekend and we had a fun party and also ran the Great Race, which five years ago I ran on my birthday carrying a cake. Unknown to me until a humorous low-coffee series of escalating realizations, my friends ran the race in costume; that costume was me in 2009:

Michelle, Bronwen, Tom, Cortney
Michelle, Bronwen, Tom, Cortney


I'm the least dressed like myself on account of not wearing the huge plastic frames, and I wasn't carrying a cupcake either! I can confirm that all three cupcakes made it safely and more-or-less cleanly to the end, because I dutifully ate them there.

Does it look like I'm doing a bad job of hiding something in that picture? It's true. I still have a little tendinitis from the last bad idea so I decided to not do something foot-hurty. Going with the birthday theme, I instead spent the whole race inflating balloons and tying them to myself. I bought this super expensive race photo to illustrate:

Balloon fight! Only 1 days left to purchase your proofs!
Balloon fight! Only 1 days left to purchase your proofs!


This was my easiest costume ever, not on purpose. I thought it would be an interesting challenge to occupy my breath with the balloon blowing, but the balloons only take two seconds to inflate, and I spent the entire rest of the time just trying to tie them to myself. I had picked up some fishing line (I know, I know) right before the race and cut it into 3 foot segments and tied a bunch of them to a piece of string that was my belt, very fancily. Sitting still with dry hands, tying fishing line is not too bad. But on the move, especially trying to keep a reasonable pace, with sweat-fingers, it took like a minute of frustrating concentration per balloon. Plus the fishing lines would get all tangled with each other and pull off my belt and send balloons flying, off to the races. Terrible choice. So really it was an exercise in multitasking and not very athletic. I managed to inflate 44 balloons, which was more than the par of 35 (obvious rule: you must inflate the number of balloons commensurate with your age), and tie each one onto my belt at least momentarily with two half-hitches (actually I carried three across the finish-line in hand). More than half of them were subsequently lost. I finished in 58m35s, not fast for me, but I was in the throng the whole time and mostly looking down at my hands and couldn't open the throttle much. I don't really care about the time; the big disappointment was not being covered in balloons so you could barely see my body and being challengingly out of breath. I feel that I may need to come back to this one.
Category:  races (9 comments — almost 3 years ago)   [ comment ]
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San Francisco Marathon 2014: Spa Day! (29 Jul 2014 at 23:58)
News flash: I like doing stupid things in road races, especially marathons. So let's talk about that again. This weekend's was the San Francisco Marathon. I bet there are some people out there that get super comfortable after running a marathon, like just lying in a soapy warm bubble bath with some champagne and getting a pedicure, but I thought, why pamper yourself after the marathon when you could pamper yourself during the marathon?

Here I am at the beginning of the race taking a weird selfie
Here I am at the beginning of the race taking a weird selfie


Actually, this costume was conceived on the basis of softness, because I needed to be able to get it on the airplane. My first thought was 3 oz or less of liquid or gel in a transparent baggie, but those high-concept costumes make racers alarmed and friends worry about me, and anyway how would you even wear that? So instead some soft stuff that absolutely cannot be confiscated by TSA: Plush bathrobe, loofa with a handle, hair wrap, and memory foam flip-flop spa slippers. (Yes, as many racers wondered: I was indeed wearing something under the robe, just a pair of boxers.)

I stayed with my friend called Spoons in SF and the marathon starts before public transit, so I walked to the start, about 5 miles at 4am. I don't know the city all that well. At some point I was being directioned under some highway overpasses that became increasingly sketchy fenced-up trespass shanty towns, which was one of a few moments during the day where it occurred to me I might be making bad life choices. But, I could tell by the subtle, tentative body language of others that I was the danger. I made it to the start just on time and took the photo above.

Let's talk about proper athletic footwear. These slippers aren't. The walk down there was not terrible, definitely slower than regular walking, but you've worn slippers before so you know what it's like. Immediately when I started running there were two serious problems: My shins started burning, and the slippers kept nearly falling off my feet. This was worrisome, because I'm used to getting 8–10 miles in before it starts feeling intolerable. Fortunately, I stuck with it and pinched the flip flop string in-between my toes and things started to come together. I found that a shuffle where the flippers barely left the ground was much better for keeping them on, and even pretty fast. At that point I was doing about 9 minute miles. The shins burned but it became clear that it was just my legs trying to warn me about my bad life choices and once we had a nice adult discussion about talking back, that went away. Here is a video of me kind of figuring out how to shuffle:



There was just one persistent problem, which was that every once in a while the front of the slipper would catch on something, and fold down under my foot, and my toes would go straight down on the pavement. Not painful or anything but it seemed like the potential for acute disaster was there.

Then we got to the Golden Gate Bridge, which is a real nice part of the race. They close down two car lanes of it, one for runners to go out, and one for them to come back. It can get a bit crowded—a car lane is not that wide—and that was a problem for me because my left slipper totally flew off. Basically it was folding more and more often, because with each fold it became more downward-pointing, and more catch-on-stuff-y, and so I kicked it forward and picked it up without slowing down too much to get in the way of the people behind me. I don't mind being psychologically disruptive, but actually obstructing real runners with my shenanigans is bad sportsmanship and not OK. But there was nowhere to pull over and get the slipper back on, so I ran the second half of the bridge on a bare left foot. The good news is that the bridge is quite windswept and didn't have almost any tiny pointed gravel caltrops on it. Not so bad. Probably about one mile. Basically a pedicure. At the end I finally found a side-of-the-road place to do field upgrades. At this point the slippers looked like this:

Pedicure
Pedicure


Actually holding up pretty well, except for the downward-pointing thing. Spoons had lent me some packing tape, the super flimsy brown stuff that was invented by people that feel regular packing tape is too expensive and luxurious. Treat yoself! I used that to update the left shoe to address the toe-pointing. It solved that problem and added a few new small ones, like now my toes didn't really fit all the way through, and tape sticking to the skin, and small rocks and sand getting trapped in there with my foot. After a few more miles the right slipper started failing the same way, so that one got supercharged, too.

Dr. Spoons captured this around mile 20, which is where marathons get sad for everyone:

Marbathon, a.k.a. bathrobe marathon
Marbathon, a.k.a. bathrobe marathon


You can see I am having a blast, though. That plush robe and hair wrap kept me super warm and comfy. I tried (not very hard) to keep the robe overlappingly covering my body, but it would open up as seen in picture, which made that aspect a bit cooler and safer. It stayed tied on the whole time (except when I retied it to try to wrap up again, or make the knot more aesthetically loopy), as did the hair wrap. I got lucky that it was a fairly mild day until the last third or so, because in the sun they were both very uncomfortably moisture-absorbing and hot.

Sometimes I asked the medical stations if they had exfoliating facial cream or cucumber slices for my eyes, but they did not. As usual for this kind of costume, people first noticed the bathrobe and thought ha-ha, and then saw the slippers and were like (!!). It's kind of weird how close people will talk about you, seemingly as though you can't hear them. Almost everybody understood this one without explanation, though, except for someone who thought it was like a king's robe (?) and some people who were absolutely sure that they were some kind of special athletic slippers. And weren't they? Nearing about mile 23 my right foot was hurting pretty bad, and I was worried I might have given myself a stress fracture, so I walked gingerly until the last stretch. I think it was actually just some weird deep-insides cramp or something less serious, like my foot guts trying to warn me about bad life choices, because running the ending gauntlet felt okay, and walking around with sneakers on now is pretty much OK. Here's what they looked like at the end of the race (plus BART ride, plus walk):

F-- would not buy again
F-- would not buy again


I thought it'd be good to write a review of these slippers for Bed Bath & Beyond ("more like Bed Bath & Be Conned!!") but these particular ones are not online. But I bled a lot less than the ice skates, which were allegedly designed for sports, so that's worth at least a rating of ★☆☆☆☆.
Category:  races (3 comments — a month ago)   [ comment ]
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Pittsburgh Marathon 2014: 20 hour pace group (05 May 2014 at 19:48)
This Sunday was the nth annual Pittsburgh Marathon. I ran it again, again in a ridiculous getup, again tiring you with my again-ness:

Pace Group 20 hours - Photo by Matt S!
Pace Group 20 hours - Photo by Matt S!


"OK," you likely think, "What in the world is THAT?" I know from the reactions of many people during the race (self-selected as runners or running spectators) that this is not super-clear. In long races there's the concept of a "pace group", like if it's your life's goal to finish in 4 hours, there is some pro guy or gal who runs with a sign that says "4:00" and if you stick with that person, then you'll finish in that time. Here the idea is that I am the pacer for the 20 hour finish time (the course is closed up after 6h30m so this is way too long), running along with my entourage of four runners whose life's goal is to finish in 20 hours. Moreover, each of these little puppet-people has a story:

Sam
Sam
Sam is worried about hitting the wall, so he's bringing along lots of high-calorie running goo.

Walter
Walter
Walter has all the latest gear, including a very stylish running belt with four individual water bottles, which can be used to hydrate himself and up to three of his friends simultaneously. He also has cool shades (with the UV Protection sticker still on) and a LiveStrong bracelet.

Peter
Peter
Peter used the bathroom twice before starting the race, but the third time, the line was too long for him to make it to his starting corral on time, so he skipped. He's been regretting it ever since.

Junior
Junior
Junior is registered for the Kid's 400m Fun Run, but the race seems longer than he expected, and where is his mommy?

I attached these characters to a belt using some tomato gardening sticks, strings and coat hangers, and pieces that I designed and 3D printed. That part worked pretty well, but again I underestimated the jostliness of running, and I had to stop frequently near the beginning to repair. (Big ups to Chrisamaphone, who ran the first 10 miles with me, for helping with repairs!) Once the low-quality string knots had been vetted and I figured out how to run while bracing the tomato sticks with my hands and elbows, the only serious construction problem was that the tomato sticks would come out of the 3D printed tomato stick holes and my people would start dangling and spinning and dragging on the ground. Eventually it was happening every 10 minutes, but I got good at grabbing and reattaching the costume while running. Next time (?!), deeper tomato stick holes. Several additional ideas (such as someone covered in Kinesis tape, someone with a DC City Map and binoculars, a CamelBak water backpack for Walter) were cut because I ran out of time. (As usual, I was up too late finishing it and, and then had to be up at 4am for the race!!)

This costume mostly was not as hard as usual to run in. It was awkward to brace everything, but other than some slow bruises in weird places, it really didn't hurt that much. The biggest unexpected problem was the sign in the wind. During the race I realized that real pace group signs are tiny, and made of flimsy bib material. Mine was torso-sized (see picture) and made of foam core. It wasn't that heavy, but in the wind, it was this absurd sail, either pulling out of my hand or doing a metastable wiggle or (usually) pushing back against me. It took so much energy to run against the wind. When it picked up, for the last 10 miles, maybe, I did a lot of walking. Once I was downtown and the buildings were shielding me, I ran again, and I probably had many more miles in my legs. Anyway, the point is not to get a good time. I finished in about 5h15m. Right as I got to the finish line I made a show of checking my watch and the pace sign and the timer at the finish line, like, "Oops, did we go way too fast?" and then consulting each of the puppets to make sure they were okay with beating their goal time by almost 15 hours. They were.

The costume got some good reactions, which I enjoy. It's nice to get cheers from spectators or make kids laugh. Some people, mostly runners if I passed them, were freaked out by the puppets, which admittedly did look like hanged children effigies twisting in the wind. Ain't nobody ever made a hosiery puppet and had it come out not lookin' creepy, so I knew that was a possibility. The sign only had text on the front, and several people that were behind me for a while, eventually caught up and "had to ask, what is this for? what is the cause?" Those people usually did not understand. Then we might run 10 more miles together, which is awkward.

Here's a short video of it in action right before the race, courtesy Chrisamaphone:

Category:  races (6 comments — almost 3 years ago)   [ comment ]
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Great Race 2013: Hockey Is Life (29 Sep 2013 at 13:26)
Hi! As is my way, I did another stupid thing today in the Great Race, Pittsburgh's premiere 10km (6.2 mile) footrace. The hockey season is about to kick off, which I care about a tiny bit, but I do like ice skating and my birthday was Friday so I did the race in full hockey equipment including ice skates. It looked like this:

Tom 7 Hockey costume in Great Race


It was pretty hard, and it took me 1h28m46s to finish (plus the walk to the start line which I did in slippers but wearing the rest of the gear, etc.). I'm carefully not using the word "run" to describe what I did, since I could only "run" for about a mile and a half (and a little at the end) before my ankles were done for. So I race-walked most of it, which was still pretty brutal. The most obvious difficulty is the ice skates, which don't work that well on pavement, and it takes a lot of effort to keep them from twisting painfully. Nothing ever fits my feet well, and nobody finds ice skates comfortable, and that double-whammy tore up my feet pretty good. (I'll spare you pictures of the gore this time but it was at least as bad as the keystone capers in only a quarter of the distance!) I taped my ankles and knees for stability and I think that helped a lot and they weren't in much danger of an acute injury (no falls or even close calls). The gear itself was heavy and hot, but the unexpectedly difficult part was the helmet, which squeezed my temples and was just a headache machine. I think I picked the right distance for this one, though, as it was only 90 minutes of torture. I probably couldn't have finished a marathon like that.

Pittsburgh's a big sports city and people have a good sense of fun, so I got a lot of good feedback from people cheering and high-fiving and fist bumping and not wanting to lose to the guy with the ice skates. Kids seemed less confused/scared than usual. I was a little worried that race officials would eject me (I was properly registered and everything but I thought they might be worried about the stick or skate safety, and technically the rules outlaw "skates", though I think they were talking about a different kind of skates) but the cops and volunteers were totally into it. At the end I took a puck out of my pocket and shot it across the finish line.

I only have some before/after shots, so if anyone has a picture of me on the course, would you share it? Thanks!
Category:  races (11 comments — almost 4 years ago)   [ comment ]
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Pittsburgh Marathon 2011: Keystone Capers! (18 May 2011 at 21:18)
We did it! You guys know that when I'm not trying to run for time, I like to make things harder for myself by running in costume (shark, hazmat) or carrying a cake. This year was the best/worst yet. Ryan ran as a Keystone Cop chasing me, escaped prisoner, all 26.2 miles. We looked like this:
Keystone Capers!
Photo is from the Post-Gazette. This costume was pretty hard because it was full-body Xtra-Chafe™ polyester, with a hat, all of which really lock in the moisture, and that stupid mask that was too small for my face and was usually getting in the way of my eyes. But the real barrel of monkeys was that I was wearing handcuffs, leg irons, and a heavy chain between them. This was, you know, not good for the mechanism.

It took us about 5h30m to finish, which is at least two hours longer than it would have if I was just running. Going into this one I wasn't even confident I was going to be able to finish. In some ways I was hoping that it would be too hard, so that I would be appropriately testing my limits. And indeed as we reached about 4 miles I was worried, because it was getting painful pretty quickly. The running itself was not a problem at all; we were doing like eleven minute miles at first, which I think is probably close to the fastest possible pace with leg irons on—you just can't go fast with such a short stride. So maybe I set a pretty good world record in marathon shuffling. But after a few miles I could tell that the leg cuffs were going to be a real problem, because they were starting to dig into my ankles. Around ten miles they had badly broken through the skin and I was worried that at this trajectory, not even half way through, it would later get too painful to stand. We did a little walking, but this didn't help with the main problem because I still had the leg cuffs on and they were just as abrasive when walking. I found a few ways to adjust the cuffs, pausing every few miles to adjust, that would at least reduce the amount of sweat salt and street grit that the cuffs were grinding into the wounds, which helped. The cuff cuts were not a surprise, but an unexpected growing problem was that the belly chain was doing this periodic superposition-of-waves flappin' around, and every 6 strides or so it would smack me in the back of my left calf, or on my right knee where I already had a knee-being-scraped-previously injury and bust open that scab, but the calf was way worse, because it got really bruised and raw and every time that happened it was like smacking a sensitive tooth with a snapping little miniature rubber band.

Ryan was offering to get some tape from the aid station to tape up my ankles, but I didn't want to cheat unless it was bad enough to quit otherwise. And as we got towards 20 miles, it was getting worse but not at an alarming trajectory like before, so I decided I could stick through it. There were other weird problems like, since I was using this very short and awkwardly duck-footed stride to manage the chain (and my ankles could only get a very limited distance apart), I was only using a small set of muscles, and not ones that I usually use for running, because these were the shufflin' muscles. So those got pretty fatigued, and I was feeling kind of sick from who knows what, but I was mostly able to focus on the ankles. Here are some pictures of the aftermath. I put them behind links so you don't have to see them if you're just like, casually browsing the web.

Bloody shoe — These socks are white, by the way.

Wounded ankle — Two abrasions. Don't really know why my heel got stained black, but it washed out.

Bruised calf — I really don't bruise easily, either.

Days later, my ankles are still bleeding frequently, and it's still kinda hard to walk.

This was Ryan's first time running this far. His costume was basically as bad as mine except without the shackles, and he often gets really hot when he runs, so it was good that it was not sunny until mile 22. I gave him my only handcuff key so that I would not be tempted to leave him (or let him leave me), and so he would not be tempted to run off. Since he was behind me I didn't get to see how he was doing, but he seemed pretty strong—we were going pretty slowly but 26 miles is no joke at any speed, so a nice first showing. Here's a puzzler: Ryan started behind me and finished behind me, but finished one place ahead of me. How is that possible? (The following isn't true but a simplifying assumption: Let's say he was exactly the same distance behind me for the entire race.)

Okay, fun stuff: We got loads of good feedback. Usually what would happen with other runners is that they would start passing us, seeing Ryan's costume and start LOLing, and then see my costume and start ROFLing, and start to say something to us like oh my god those costumes are awesomeeeee but as they were saying something, would see my shackles in mid sentence and it would be sort of like ... costumes are aweee—uhhhhh what the hell??. I got to practice my comebacks when comments were repeated multiple times. Q. Are you running the full marathon? A. Yeah, of course. Who runs half a marathon?! (There is a concurrent half marathon with like 10,000 runners, including some people who asked me this.) Or alternate A. Yeah, it's only like one mile, right? Another frequently asked Q. Does that make it hard to run? A. No, it's actually easier, because it's like an ankle massage. Q. asked by kids running along side me on the sidewalk: What did you go to jail for? A. (very seriously) Running on the sidewalk. (kids slink away). At the water stations I would have some water or Gatorade, but I couldn't actually bring the water up to my lips because of the chain, so I would have to kind of crouch and drink it hunchback style. Ryan would tell them not to give me water, or be like, okay, just ONE more. He'd grab my collar as I slowed to drink, but then after the water station I would bust away cackling, and he would shout "Oh no!". He often tried to solicit help from the policemen stationed all along the race, especially from the ones that were looking really serious. We got some good chuckles, including some of them taking photos. You can find some on Twitter no doubt. Some other people were inspired to run harder, e.g. in this article:

My lungs were burning and my calves were cramping, but my brain was screaming: If I can't pass a dude in a stupid costume with chains around his ankles, I might as well lie down right now.


My favorite racetime pastime is dancing in front of the musicians that are playing about every mile. They are surprised enough to see a costumed prisoner in chains, but when I bust out some moves or air guitar (severely constrained because of the chains), and Ryan either synchronizes with me or starts batoning his hand impatiently, shaking his head no, we can often get them to laugh so much that they screw up their song, which is victory. One band as we were entering Shadyside saw us coming and played a song (you'd recognize it, but I don't know the name), maybe from like Nutcracker Suite, which is often used for chase/nefarious scenes in Looney Tunes. We did an extra long synchronized dance. I loved this so much, thanks guys.

There's lots more to talk about but this blog post is way late and getting pretty long. This was definitely my most memorable marathon costume so far, though we already have ideas for next year that may beat it in both flagellation and congregation. For the record, I didn't do as much manual making of the costume as last year—the prison rags are from a costume shop. I hemmed them from "one size fits all" to "this size fits Tom", and I made a reproduction of my race bib (ironed onto an old yellowing t-shirt and sewn to the shirt) to make it look like it was my prison ID number. And, of course, I braved the world of online handcuff shopping, which consists only of law enforcement shops and sex shops, which I had a hard time telling which made me more uncomfortable, and then I accidentally sent the cuffs to my parents' house. I'll wrap with the prospectus:

Keystone Capers!


I'm interested in any other sightings you guys have!
Categories:  races  drawings (12 comments — 2 years ago)   [ comment ]
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Pittsburgh Marathon 2010: Project SHARKWEEK (02 May 2010 at 17:57)
YES. You guys know I like to run races in costume, or carrying something, or otherwise making it conspicuously difficult. Well, when I signed up for this year's Pittsburgh Marathon they allowed us to pick a 9-character personalized vanity bib, and since the first thing that came to me was SHARKWEEK, I did today's marathon in a shark costume. At first, it was just a dream, with this as the prospectus:


Pinch to zoom


Erika, a costume whiz, helped me get started planning it out and correcting my grievous anatomical mistakes, but then I slacked off for ages not working on it, until I bought a sewing machine and then put together the costume starting Friday night on my own. It's highly overengineered, with an adhesiveless design, inner wireframe made of coat hangers, and tailored felt with reinforced stitching. I discovered that pretty much every part of a shark's body is shaped like a coat hanger:

Project SHARKWEEK - Tail Section


It was a good long day of remembering how to sew and which unfortunately lasted longer than I wanted it to. I decided to punt on the gills, which were unanatomically located anyway, but otherwise it pretty much came out as I had hoped. Here's shark-face:

Project SHARKWEEK - Shark face


I was worried about this race, though. Weather reports predicted temperatures up at 80°F at some point, plus thunderstorms. That'd be bad for just running regularly, but one of this costume's main difficulties is how it seals in the flavors and spices. I wanted it to be hard but not heat-stroke hard. And then I had unwisely stayed up until 12:30am finishing the costume, and also I couldn't fall asleep until 2 or 3am because of Pitt's graduation party noise, heat, allergies, and excess energy from tapering. Despite the 3 hours of sleep, and not being able to find my bicycle pump, I biked downtown with the costume on and with a flat tire (the biking is where I first discovered how obstructive wearing a tail can be, particularly when it gets caught in the wheels), tried to find my friends running (couldn't) and then started towards the back of the pack. Part of the idea of this costume was the mental image (hopefully communicated to some) of a shark (me) attacking a swimming (running) throng of people (people) at the beach (marathon course) trying to get to shore (finish line), eating all the ones who weren't fast enough.

Project SHARKWEEK - In Race


It turned out that despite all the looming potential disasters, it really went quite well. Temperature was mercifully in the 60s. The costume was hot, for sure, towards the end of the race forcing me to walk off problems that I knew weren't just exhaustion (e.g., headache) but it was way better than it could have been and I managed to run the first 18ish miles only stopping for water, and only some modest walking in the last 8. The costume was heavy and soaked up water when it rained on us for most of the race, but honestly the water there wasn't as bad as it was in my shoes. Although the head would stay on pretty well if I was just walking or biking, when running it would bounce too much (bad design). I therefore had to spend the whole race holding it on, usually with an internal handle under my chin. The coathanger shoulder-"rests" dug into my shoulders the whole time and left some pretty grody bruises, but given all the other sharp pieces and metal burrs it's a miracle I didn't come away with some real serious abrasions or stabbed as the thing collapsed around me (it held up almost perfectly). The tail was an unexpected difficulty: As soon as I actually started running I realized that I was kicking it and probably would be for the whole race. So I used a shorter than usual stride, but still it was pretty tripoverable and I was hitting it or worse with every step. That's fine, think about what a shark with feet must feel like! My official time was a garbage 4h29m49s, which is about a 10 minute mile, more than an hour slower than my non-costume first marathon.

The costume itself went over extremely well. The Tribune-Review says,
Marathons usually bring out their share of off-the-wall running apparel, from tuxedos and wedding gowns to Elvis impersonators, but there were relatively few that engaged in the offbeat this year. One of the few was someone who donned a shark's head and dorsal fin for the occasion.
Still Pittsburgh runners have not picked up on the fun of costume-running. Other than all the trouble, it's the best: The whole race other runners are running up to say hi or you overhear them saying to a friend, "I just got passed by a shark!" The crowd who is sitting there in the rain waiting for their one family member or because they can't go anywhere because the roads are shut down, they completely love it, so you get people from all backgrounds laughing and clapping and shouting, GO SHARK MAN!!!, and the water station volunteers who are doing labor in the rain for nuthin' in return always perk up, and little kids trying to figure out what is going on with that dude but with that little kid smile where they know something's funny but don't totally get it. Two people recognized me as the guy from birthday cake running. At some point a woman comes up to me who had been running at a mutual pace for a while and says, "You have made so many people smile today."

Project SHARKWEEK - Mile 20


(BTW Thanks to Gabe and Someone on Twitter for the pics. I can't photograph myself while running yet.)

One of my favorite groups to make smile is the live bands or musical cheering organizations like the dance music cheerleaders. In this race I slowed down in front of every such group (probably about 15 of them) and did an interpretive dance to their music. This was so fun. I got several of the singers to mess up their singing from laughing, and some bands made musical or lyrical reference to the shark (like the cover band that lamented having just played "Fins" right before I got there), and the cheerleaders were flipping out, chanting, "go shark! go shark!" and pumping their fists. The best was when a school band saw me coming and quickly arranged a full marching-band version of the Jaws theme—not kidding, this was completely amazing—and I did the hunched over swimming lurch by them.

Most people only see the shark for a few seconds, so it's interesting to get a catalogue of thousands of people's first reaction. I was surprised that Land Shark was the most common thing shouted, since that skit is pretty old now. It's not like every shark costume is depicting land shark just because it's on land. If I were dressed as the International Space Station, would they say "Land-ISS!"? No. Also popular: Sharky (don't know if this is some specific cartoon character but it was too common to not be), Shark Man, Shark Boy (at least one referring to the Rodriguez film), Sharkweek (reading the bib), and in single digits: dolphin (?), whale (?), alligator (??). I get the benefit of hearing the quips so many times over the four hours that I can develop and refine comebacks. Like at the water stations, if someone takes the last cup of water right ahead of me, "Save some for the fishes!" or when biking back home against the runners who hadn't finished yet, and someone goes "26.2 miles is not enough, now you're going biking?", I say, "Yeah, it's a triathlon. The swimming part is easy."
Categories:  hacks  races (10 comments — 7 years ago)   [ comment ]
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30th birthday: Cake Quest (28 Sep 2009 at 00:21)
Sunday I turned 30, as in years. The celebration started Friday when we had a great combo-party (Brianne's birthday on Saturday) in my space age bachelor pad. I hardly ever host parties in my place so I was a little nervous. It turned out almost ideally; like maybe 50 people and never got out of hand. I have one room, now known as the Observatory, which is basically empty since my brother moved to Boston, and so that room just now has a secondary colony of San Pellegrino bottles (kind of ran out of space in my own room), my answering machine (full, useless) and two seats for "Observing" these objects, like a minimalist art project. (This was great. The San Pellegrino collection really drives some people nuts and other people happily make new interactive art with it.) On Nels's suggestion we made the Observatory a bit more partied up for the party, using the projector to show Robot Jox, a classic Robots Gone Wild cold-war-forever piece. No real sound setup in there, but I could only find Spanish subtitles, so I Google-Translated those back into English, so the whole movie was subtitled in this broken doubly-translated language which was especially delightful if you also listened closely enough to the computer speakers for the original EN audio, until the text inexplicably transforms into Spanish because Google Translate gives up once it gets a certain ways into a document that you upload, cuz I guess it gets tired and is like ahem you finish this. But only a few people in there at a time because of the two seats. Most people party 4 regular in the games room, or Gallery, or murder Prof. Plum in the Kitchen with the candlestick.

The highlight for me was the Great Race, a 10K which I run every year. This year it was on Sunday morning, my birthday. Last year I ran it real hard which qualified me as a seeded runner this time, but I'm not in as good shape and anyway have retired from running 10K for speed. So I decided it's costumes. I have pretty complex requirements for a race costume. It has to be pretty conspicuous, so people spot it. It has to not get in anyone's way or be race-ejectingly illegal, because I don't want to interfere (except maybe mentally) with anybody who's taking the race seriously. It has to clearly impede my ability to run, but should also be actually harder than you'd first think. This time I also wanted a birthday theme. I mulled a bunch of ideas with friends (bunch of helium balloons was a frontrunner for a while) and eventually settled on Ryan's idea to run with a birthday cake. So I got a half-sheet cake and decorated it, and ran the whole six miles carrying it:

Cake Quest I


I can put on a smile for the camera but it didn't feel that good in the arms. It is pretty weird to run a race and for that to be the primary focus of pain. Harder than the H1N1 marathon costume, I'd say, though a much much shorter race. But running with a costume is basically always worth it. For the people you run by (observers or if you start in the back, folks you pass) the costume is new and funny, so the whole race people are laughing or making comments and in this case wishing or singing happy birthday. They love that shit because they're either waiting in the rain for the one person they know in the race to pass, which is otherwise totally monotonous, or they're hurting from running in the race and want to be distracted. And I love overhearing or having other people overhear, "You got beat by the guy carrying the cake?!" Oh yeah so it was raining, and this made the cake very wet, and the cardboard it was on start to have deteriorating conditions and buckle, so this was a disadvantage for ways one could carry it because it needed Total Underbody Support. Eventually there were only like two asymmetric (dual) ways and one symmetric way to hold the cake and I'd cycle between them every 15 seconds as my arms and back were burning up. I made it downtown with the cake about as intact as it could be, which isn't saying much:

Cake Quest II
9-27-79 NEVER FORGET


Even my birthday hat has melted. News like spectacles, so some people interviewed me. The best coverage was on KDKA (near the end, though the anchor foreshadows). There's some interviewing of me in the otherwise extremely boring (like it's mostly just video of people standing around?) WPXI Web Exclusive. See 1:55 and 3:30.

Lots of friends helped make this the best birthday weekend ever with their party-going and fun-loving and organizing and driving me to-and-fro since my license expired and I have another flat tire, and the cake eating and wearing hats in the race and writing on me and watching Steelers and not giving me presents that make me feel uncomfortably materialistic and rearranging the art bottles and taking photos and everything. Thanks!!! :)
Categories:  races  momentous (9 comments — almost 8 years ago)   [ comment ]
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Erie and Zurich (26 Jul 2009 at 17:52)
Last weekend we did the Erie Something-or-other Half Marathon on Presque Isle, which is in the Lake Erie. It was visiting undergrad researcher Jamie's idea. I was gonna drive (~2.5 hours) to this thing, but then for weeks and months my car is accumulating new noises and the old new noises never go away: e.g. there's the shshh-shshh synchronized with the rotation of the wheels that I think progresses from left to right and that attracts the attention of pedestrians, plus the always sound of zzzzzzzzzzz or ssssssssss or maybe žžžžžžžžžž, depending on your accent. Plus now the deep insides-looseness on some streets. The CD player only displays space-gibberish and cannot eject and plays the one now permanently engaged mix CD at slightly too-high volume. There are lots of problems unrelated to noises, too. The repairs demanded clearly exceed its total value, even considering nostalgia. So now I am pretty much committed to only driving this car in places where were it to literally fall apart in motion, I would be basically okay with that. This does not include any portion of I-79 nor Erie, PA. Then Dan and Katrina are gonna come too so yay, I can avoid driving (which I hate doing anyway) the deathmobile. But morning of the trip their car is today leaking oil I guess for similar psychosomatic reasons. So we'll rent, but all of the rental places just closed because it's Saturday, except for the ones at the airport. So we packed our running shoes and took the airport shuttle to the airport and rented and drove up to Erie and stayed in a motel which has a 1.5 star rating (with 33 highly negative reviews, e.g. "WORSE HOTEL EVER" If the room was free I would never return) but based on TF–IDF signals (particularly the uncommon frequency of describing it as "the worse hotel") I concluded that this was mostly the work of Spam-sabotage ratings, maybe by local alternative hotels or maybe just by Google maps terrorists. When we got there it was totally fine, I mean not great and sure I had to wear my industrial-grade hearing protection to fall asleep with the sirens and such, but those were just on the way by the motel on the way to other places with actual crimes. It was nothing compared to the place near Columbus with the bulletproof glass at reception and the meth party by the ice machine ("this place can get kinda off the hook at night"). I mean, this place had a lobby, decorative, non-functioning pool, and decorative, non-functioning exercise room. So that was fine. We tried to go get some diner food because we're all vegetarians with different pre-race food rituals, and we wanted so badly to go to this place but it was closed:
Peninsula Dinor
Dinor?? How is it possible to make a mistake like this? I may just not understand some deeply-construed pun, since an awful lot of stuff in that city is named with various puns on "Erie," like for example Erie Brewing Co.'s brewpub is called "The Brewerie". It was one block from our hotel and one of my pre-race food rituals is to have a bit of beer the night before, and I do like their "Railbender" ale on draft, so we took a gander. It felt more like a hotel bar than a brewpub, but the beer was pretty good and the waitress nicely lent me her sharpie so that I could prepare my costume for the race, which was to write "MY COSTUME IS GREAT HI" on my chest skin with the marker, in the bathroom which I could only accomplish with the full-length mirror so that was kind of weird for the other people in the bathroom, I sussed out from their faces.

This was Dan and Katrina's first M/2 so of course we left them in the dust. (But congratulations to both for finishing in admirable times; 13 miles is no joke!) Jamie wanted to qualify for Elite Status for the Chicago Marathon or something, and I (thought I) was not really trained enough to beat my previous best time so I volunteered to pace her. We ran the first 7 miles at the goal pace of 7m30s but then started to slow a bit, and she was starting to give me some sob story about passing out and I tried giving her various guts pep talks but she kept encouraging me to endustinate her too so I endusted for the last 5 or so miles at more like a 6m30s pace. I was surprised how decent that felt given the shape I thought I was in, though it could easily have been mostly because of the leisurely start. I finished in 1h37m35s, a lot slower than my previous best of 1h27m48s, but a lot more easily accomplished. I'm therefore downwardly adjusting my lifetime goal for the Half Marathon to 1h23m00s. This might be the race to do it in; there's wind but it claims that it "is quite possibly" the flattest in the world.

Now Listening to via usually-good podcast: 2009 Bob Mould. I cannot believe this is the same guy from Hüsker Dü. How embarrassing.

Speaking of umlauts, I also went to Zürich. Even in the place itself umlauts or not is only like 50-50, so I hereby stop spelling it that way. It was mostly a working trip, so not a lot of stories to recount. On the way there I had a long layover to insulate against nearly certain EWR bullshit (indeed, the connection delivered on its 70% chance 1+ hour delay) so I had some beer in one of the gouge bars and ended up talking to this professional car performance-modding guy. It is a special traveling joy of mine to fake credentials in fleeting interactions: e.g. false name left with the maître d', carrying out transactions in languages I don't at all or barely speak without being sussed as an American (I lose if the person switches to English, for example, especially in the first Hello). Actually come to think of it that was how I first became vegetarian: I used to pretend to be vegetarian in some restaurants, and I think Jake started accusing me of being a vegetarian fraud, so I had to show him. Anyway I get into a conversation with this guy and now I'm pretending to be sort of knowledgeable about cars, using mainly fleeting facts from my brother's Motor Trend etc. magazines that I sometimes read in the toilet. I think I successfully fraudulized him, in fact, I'm sure that he would have been negatively astounded to find out that I actually drive (meaning own) a 1996 Mercury Villager minivan with aforementioned noise and non-noise problems that I bought on eBay for $2500. So success. I probably should have used the opportunity to get some tips on inexpensively and ironically replacing my car, like: Is it possible to performance-mod a golf cart? (Or Go- Go- Power-Wheels?)

On the plane my rowmate was from Erie where I had just been yesterday, and he was happy that anybody ever went to Erie, so we were friends without any Zeliging. A few hours later in the middle of the "night" he starts acting weird, like he's taking magazines from the seat pocket and handing them to me one by one, which I take them because we're Erie friends and wait for him to explain WTF, then he starts making indescribable and nonproductive motions, and also obviously rude incursions into my seat volume, at which I realize that he is plane-sleepwalking. Eventually he gets up and starts moving around the cabin, which I don't know if it was because he was actually awake or just more somnambulatory, and anyway I wasn't sure if I was supposed to wake my friend or let him continue to sleep, because it is pretty hard to sleep on planes.

Each person or group in the line of visitors, some distant tourists and some more local, laughs and/or rolls eyes as the group in front can't figure out how to operate the computermachine that gives you train tickets and eventually gives up, including me, and of course it turns out the reason is that it is actually broken (but no DEFEKT sign), leading you on until the very end where it silently refuses any kind of payment. I try to explain nonverbally to the people behind me but they don't understand or don't believe me; the machine at the other side works as expected.

While I was in town I didn't have internet so I was reading a book on recommendation, called If on a winter's night a traveler by Italo Calvino. I do pass on this recommendation to you. It's actually remarkably similar to what I was trying to do with Name of Author by Title of Book except that If on a... was written the year I was born, and Calvino is much more competent, and the book probably took more than a month to write. I don't want to spoil it, but there are various parts of the book that are written in the 2nd person, which eerily matched up with things that were actually happening to me during the trip. Like I'd turn the page and it'd be all "Now your plane is landing." and in fact my real life plane is landing!? So, a good book, and especially good for the trip.

I can also recommend two other things in Zurich; these I didn't bring with me. The first is a run up to the tip of Uetliberg, the tallest mountain in running distance from Zurich's city center. The run is pretty challenging if you take the direct route, because it starts out hilly and just keeps getting hillier. If you're at the top on a clear day there's a radio tower with steps up it (no tolls or any bullshit like that) to a platform from which you can see like jillions of miles (except there, they are kilometers) in all directions. I see some interesting looking clouds on the horizon and then realize those are snowcapped mountains; the Alps. Uetliberg is no The Alps but for a few hours foot excursion it's pretty great. I hear that the tower is Zurich's #1 suicide spot, FYI.

The other recommendation is Hiltl, Europe's oldest vegetarian restaurant. Finding vegetarian food at all in most countries in Europe is an achievement, but this place has been operating for 111 years (!). Food's good, expensive, but I didn't feel out of place in my plaid shorts and t-shirt because they also have their Twitter feed projected on the wall. The world's an increasingly strange place; rather: it's strange to be growing into adulthood and finding that the world is increasingly built for me or people like me.

This post is clearly long enough, but one more tale: We were out drinking all night and on the way back to my hotel, a guy approaches me who is obviously also drunj, and my accent radar says he is Eastern European. He seems afraid of me which is funny because first of all I am not a threatening guy I think in a nice part of town with my MP3 player and general smirk, but also because if you're afraid of someone you don't usually go up and ask that person in a worried way, "Have you ever heard... " (he struggles for the words) "... of an attacker?" An attacker, I ask? "Someone who kills me?" I smile but he looks genuinely concerned. I say: "No, I think you're safe." He is so relieved to hear this, and then we shake hands and become drunj 2am unattacked friends and say good-bye.
Category:  races (8 comments — almost 7 years ago)   [ comment ]
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Rachel Carson Trail Challenge report (21 Jun 2009 at 10:20)
Yes!terday Cortney (visiting from DC) and I completed the 2009 Rachel Carson Challenge again. Rachel Carson was a smart science lady who I think invented DDT. This is advertised as a "34 mile" "hike" on the "brutal" Rachel Carson "trail". The function of my quotation marks is manifold: First, they are literal quotations from the Challenge site, now properly attributed. Second, scare quotes on 34 miles; it is actually at least 36 miles, and for us measured at 37.7 because we got a bit of coffee and stopped at the checkpoint where you have to go off the trail a bit. (Actually, maybe as much as 41; see below.) For "hike" also envision my finger-based air typography; for sure there is a lot of walking but also a lot of downhill gravel-skiing, multi-pitch mud climbing, and fell running. That's because the "trail" (again I am scratching the backs of four very small floating people) is sometimes literally a walk in the park, but also sometimes a stroll on the highway, or a schlep in the clay, or a 100ft drop over the course of 200ft of trail, immediately followed by the reverse. Some parts sometimes it's like someone took a microminiature unsharp push-mower to the Poison Ivy Kingdom and mowed a little line merely to mark where you should go.

It's good stuff. The event is not cardiovascularly hard like a long run. It is pretty leisurely and you are constantly held up by people in front of you on the trail anyway. (Some professional self-flagellators do run it. The course record is something like 6h12m, which pace would be a very slow marathon of 4h48m!) The hard part for me is just stress on the body. Blisters and chafing and other surface ailments are a given, and you just tough that out, but all the stepping on uneven ground really activates my old and new deeply internal foot and knee injuries. At the end you can barely walk and then naturally the course comes within .2 miles of the finish line but you actually have 2 miles left, oh and now you're done but j/k lol because this year they moved the finish line another third of a mile back so they can have more space for the cookout. The real metric aside from the length is the hilliness. It is preposterous. It's hard to give a really indisputable measurement for the hilliness (Even Mandelbrot, a smart science guy who I think invented the movies Jurassic Park and The Butterfly Effect, wonders How Long Is the Coast of Britain?), but a conservative estimate is our smoothed GPS trail collated with USGS data, giving 18,009 ft of total elevation change. That's 3.4 miles up and down. (I think it would be fair to describe it as more than that, since many of the important trail features surely exceed the resolution of USGS.) For comparison, the San Francisco marathon measured the same way was "just" +/- 2,000 ft. (Actually I wonder if there is any IOC standard about how you factor elevation change into the "length" of a road race? I struggle with this in my Pac Tom project overintellectualization/cartographic obsessiveness: Should I measure distance between GPS coordinates as great circle distances on the ideal sea-level earth pear? Or as points in three dimensional space? The latter seems fair but not consistent with how people seem to do it. Even distances on a "flat" surface at 1,000ft are longer per degree than at sea level, because you're really running on an arc, not a line.) Anyway point is maybe this challenge should be nominally 40+ miles. Misleadingly scaled graphic:
Rachel Carson Trail elevation chart


It could easily have been much worse. We just had a rainfall-record-setting, inch-sized hail dropping, 4-lightning-strikes per second, car-washing-away, office-closing storm in Pittsburgh two days ago, with forecasts of strong thunderstorms throughout the weekend. This kind of news is in some ways secretly welcomed by professional self-flagellators, even not just because it removed some of the plastic people from CMU's most sore eyesore, but because it might create one of those lifelong memorable suffering trenchfoot scenarios. I wore just a bathing suit, hiking boots, and backpack. It started thunderstorming as we feared/hoped on the drive out there, at 5am, and a few brief times during the hike, but most of the time it was actually sunny. Here is a representative picture of me photographing myself while Cortney is taping up her toenail casualty:

A picture of me photographing myself while Cortney is taping up her toenail casualty


See? That ain't so bad. There was lotsa mud leftovers but some people pay hundreds of dollars for mud baths, after all.
Category:  races (14 comments — 4 years ago)   [ comment ]
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