Tuesday, November 19, 2013

My First Marathon

Two years ago I never thought I'd ever be able to run a marathon, but after putting several half marathons behind me and four months of dedicated training, I ran the Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon!

This is the same event that I ran my first half marathon during, just a year ago.  I completed the training without any issues and on the evening of November 17th I was ready to run, nervous and excited, and joined about 30,000 of my running buddies in the Starting Village as we put ourselves into a proper mental state with each other and with the help of the All American Rejects (who put on a fantastic concert for us!).  Then it was time to get into our corals, hear a wedding performed at the starting line (because it's what we do in Vegas) and the National Anthem.  Finally the gun sounded and we were off.  I set out to run the race in four hours and twenty minutes but ended up finishing in five hours and twenty six minutes.  I'll explain why.

I learned a few things through my training and the race.  First and foremost, a full marathon isn’t twice as hard as a half marathon.  It’s more than twice as hard.  I suspected this was the case when I realized I had passed through the 13.1 mile mark with what seemed like ease, but somewhere around mile 20 I was more than twice as sore as when I had finished the half marathons I'd run before, to include covering 13.1 to 20 miles seven of the last eight weekends during my training.  In the end, I think the marathon is the hardest thing I’ve ever put my body through.

Cramps.  Thankfully I’ve never had abdominal cramps or stomach issues while running.   I’ve had to manage leg and foot cramps after long runs at times but I’ve also never had to deal with them while running.  Until this race.  Between miles 17-18 my right calf cramped pretty hard.  It happened quickly and rather than pretend I could fight it, I slowed to a walk and let it resolve.  It seemed to take forever, but it worked.  I went back to running after it let go and continued on until sometime between mile 22 and 23 when it cramped again.  I slowed to a walk again.  It took longer to stop cramping but I finally picked up a slow running pace once it released.  At that point the front of my thighs were on the verge of cramping (probably the result of compensating for the misbehaving calf) but never did so, so I pressed on and crossed the finish line tired and happy, with a small group of other tired and happy runners.  The time I spent walking accounted for a good bit of the extra hour it took me to finish the race.

Hydration.  I don’t think the cramps were the result of dehydration.  I was well-hydrated, sweated throughout the race and even had to stop several times and take advantage of the portable bathrooms staged along the route.  I don’t believe I was over-hydrated either.  My watch and RoadID fit well and never got tight.  My hands and feet never swelled.

Nutrition.  I’d been training at longer distances with Gu gels and cut up nutrition bars, and if I ate during a training run, I’d carry water (rather than a sports drink).  I’d eat along the way every 45 minutes to an hour with good success.  On mid-length runs, I wouldn’t always take solid food or gels and would run with Nuun in my water bottle instead.  My longest runs made me sore but I never cramped.  With the leg cramps during this race, I have more experimenting to do with long distance nutrition.  I suspect the cramps were the result of not managing my electrolytes well and so an imbalance formed during the run.  (BTW, I’m a pretty salty sweater.)  Based on recommendations from others, I want to try Tailwind and will probably give it a go the next time I train for a long race.

Weather & Clothing.  The weather was perfect.  The temperature at the start was about 65F with low humidity typical of southern Nevada, and just a slight breeze.  Being a night race, the sun was setting as the race began and the temperature gently dropped throughout the run.  I wore shorts, a thin long-sleeved tech tee, with another short-sleeved tech tee on top.  Injinji socks and my Saucony Kinvara 3s on my feet, and no hat or gloves.  As is the norm, I had no foot problems at all (including no blisters).  I never felt too hot, and only got chilly when I was walking off the leg cramps.  BTW, the Kinvaras are now retired with that race bringing me just short of 400 miles on those shoes.  They were fantastic road shoes and I’ll probably replace them with a pair of Kinvara 4s.

My Family.  Training for this race took four months.  I couldn’t have done it without the support of my wife and son, who patiently dealt with my (very) early runs during the hot months, then my evening/night runs during my last month of training.  That last month was especially disruptive since runs were longer and often trampled over dinnertime and even my son’s bedtime on occasion.  And then there was the adjusted social schedule with friends and other family members.  I owe my wife and son HUGE thanks for letting me train for, and then run this race.  So thank you Stephanie and Paul!  I love you and I can’t repay you for your generosity and patience.

Now that this race is done, I plan on trying to work more variety into my training:  more general body strength, core strength, and I want to get back to working on the stairs and rowing again.  I’m also going to try to get back to more trail running.

So, will I do it again?  YES!  I definitely want to run another marathon.  The half marathon in Las Vegas is awesome because you spend all of the time on The Strip and parts of the Art District, but the added route for the full marathon is frankly boring, covering two long and straight roads.  I’ll probably continue to run the half marathon here but will look for my next full marathon in a different location: perhaps one of the southern California races in LA or San Diego.

It’s great to be a dad!

(Disclosure:  I was not asked to comment on or endorse, nor was I compensated for mentioning any of the brand products in this post.)

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Book Review - "Ender’s Game" and the Ender's Saga

Written by Orson Scott Card from 1985 through 1996, I’ve read the four books contained in what is often referred to as “Ender’s Saga” several times.  With the movie version of Ender’s Game now on the big screen, I thought it would be a good time to review the original books in the series.


Ender’s Game (1985)

When Orson Scott Card wrote Ender’s Game, he created a classic for older children (“young adults”) and adults alike.  When compared to most modern action/adventure stories (and movies) the pace of Ender’s Game strikes me as a bit slower.  Even so, there’s plenty of action, suspense and drama as the reader follows young Andrew “Ender” Wiggin through his training the military Battle School in order to make the cut to continue to be groomed for eventual command.

The story is set far in the future, after Earth has recovered from an attack by a hostile species referred to as “the Buggers”; an attack that nearly annihilated humanity.  In an attempt prepared for a future Bugger war, children are screened and selected for battle training in a special schoolhouse orbiting the Earth.  The hope that some will show the right tactical and command skills, and have the overall mental capacity as they move into adulthood to make them qualified and capable of commanding a fleet of warships.  This book focuses on young Ender’s training and testing as a child.  Removed from his family at a very young age, his adventure is often less than pleasant and at times brutal.

Without spoiling the end, events take a dramatic turn late in the book, having a lasting effect on young Ender, and significantly shaping the rest of his life.  This also sets the stage for the subsequent stories contained in what has become known as “Ender’s Saga.”  This book, as well as those that follow, are full of all the good stuff that makes great science fiction--space, ships, a struggle to save Earth, and the hope we have in our youth to move us into the future.  As with all great Science Fiction, Ender’s Game is thick with social commentary and leaves the reader chewing on weighty ethical questions once the story ends.  This is great book for adults, and a wonderful tool for parents to share with their kids when the time is right.  I believe the discussions over the lessons that apply to real life will last for years to come.  Grab a copy and enjoy!

Speaker for the Dead  (1986)

I loved Ender’s Game and was eager to finally read this sequel.  Initially I wasn’t sure how the story would unfold but it took off quickly, building on the momentum created in the first book.  According to Orson Scott Card, Speaker for the Dead was the story he originally set out to tell.  Reinforcing what Mr. Card said, as good as Ender’s Game was, it only sets the stage for this story.

As with Ender’s Game, social commentary is at the heart of this amazing story, and the reader watches the practical results of the now mature thoughts and consequences of Andrew “Ender” Wiggin’s youthful act of xenocide committed against the Buggers.  In an attempt to address, put into context, and perhaps even redeem himself from the savage act of xenocide, Andrew authors two books, “The Hive Queen” and “The Hegemon”, and becomes the first of a non-religious order referred to as Speakers for the Dead. Through these two books, and his words as a Speaker for the Dead, Andrew strives as an adult to limit (if not prevent) any future act of xenocide.  Triggered by the practical calling for a Speaker for the Dead to address the death of several humans on the colony planet Lusitania, we watch a larger story unfold when the resultant moral doctrine contained in “The Hive Queen” and “The Hegemon” play out as decisions are made about how to practically deal with the much more significant emerging conflict between the Human and another sentient race called the Pequininos.

There are very few plot holes, but they’re not of consequence in the end.  They’re easily overlooked and quickly overcome by this amazing story.  If you liked the original story and haven’t read this sequel, please do.  You won’t be disappointed.

Xenocide  (1991)

After the strength of Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead, I had to see where the story went and decided to read Xenocide even after hearing and reading very mixed reviews for the book.  I’m glad I did.  Xenocide took a slower pace than the previous books and deals with a human fleet sent by Starways Congress toward Lusitania.  Onboard the fleet is a weapon called the Molecular Disruption Device (MDD, or the “Little Doctor”), a weapon with the ability to destroy an entire planet, sent with apparent intent to do just this to Lusitania.  If so, the destruction of this colony world would result in the annihilation of all the human colonists as well as the xenocide of two entire races living only on Lusitania: the Pequininos and a third (surprise) sentient race.  Working together, the three races struggle to find a way to stop the fleet and if necessary, to leave the planet.

Whereas moral and social commentary are usually undercurrents in science fiction, they take a much more significant role in this book as the author examines cultural, racial and even gender biases and preferences in the context of the struggle to preserve life: specifically what happens when the struggle for life and culture of one group puts another in jeopardy.  Xenocide also examines the unique origins and life of Jane, Ender’s faithful companion and an apparently another sentient being (a third species outside of humanity) living within a communications network of devices called Ansibles, spanning the inhabited universe and allowing faster than light communications between the worlds.

This diminished the strength of the book for some, but I didn’t mind as the more traditional elements of science fiction were still solidly present:  the possibility of a sentient life emerging from within the virtual world; an interesting and creative examination of a particle called the Philote; faster than light communication and travel; and time dilation. Some reviews I read expressed dislike for the liberties Mr. Card takes with science, however I enjoyed how he played with physics to enable a continuing and wonderful work of fiction.  He’s no guiltier with his scientific liberties than most who preceded him in the genre.

While Xenocide wasn’t my favorite single book in the series, I definitely enjoyed it as a key part of a broader piece of wonderful storytelling.  While taking a slightly different direction, Xenocide is a logical place and way for the story of Ender Wiggin and the universe he lives in to continue.  Keeping that in mind, I recommend it to anyone who enjoyed Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead.

Children of the Mind  (1996)

This book had many similarities to and differences from the first three in the Ender’s Saga.  It’s very different from Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead in that it’s more philosophical, even though it’s much more a direct continuation of the primary story that left off at the end of Speaker for the Dead.  While also different from Xenocide, there are a greater number of similarities with this book than with the first two.  I mentioned in my review of Xenocide that social commentary takes a  more significant role; in this book it takes a primary role.  Children of the Mind is much more philosophical than the books that precede it but Orson Scott Card does a fine job of wrapping up the overall story of Ender Wiggin and those who surround him.

As Mr. Card continues and concludes the story of Ender, he takes the events of the previous three thousand years of history and uses them to pose the very difficult questions we often try to avoid: what is life, what does it mean to be human, what makes us individuals and is the value of an individual life when weighed against a greater population or even the entire species, and what is gender?  His characters wrestle with the difference in value (if any) between life and sentient life.  He also does a fantastic job of posing very significant and real moral questions on a societal level, and works through them (often without providing “the” answer): when should war occur; at what point does the price of employing a weapon of mass destruction outweigh the cost; etc.

My only constructive criticism or observation is about the title.  I’m not sure what other name I’d give the book, but I didn’t feel the story was much about the order called The Children of the Mind.  While they play a critical role in the story, the order itself is only a secondary actor.  It seems the only real tie to the order is that the more heady and philosophical nature of this book suggests we’re all actually children of the mind in one way or another.  Mr. Card challenges us to think about ourselves, humanity, and the world we live in.

I definitely enjoyed Children of the Mind.  I recommend it to readers who enjoyed Xenocide, especially if you want to know how the story of Ender Wiggin concludes.  My only “caution” to the reader is to remember the much more philosophical direction this book takes.  Once again, enjoy!

I recently saw the movie Ender's Game and look forward to posting my review soon.

Based on my fondness for these first books, I'll continue reading in the Ender’s universe, moving on to the four “Shadow Saga” books.  I also plan on reading Ender’s Game to my son soon.

It’s great to be a dad!