Friday, October 8, 2010

Why buses are better than trains

Since not everyone is able to read well enough to grasp even the most basic concepts, I will use pictures to make my point in this post. I simply do not understand the fixation leftists have with using trains for mass transit. They want light rail everywhere, even when their own studies show that it doesn't make sense. For example, the Hiawatha line in Minneapolis was calculated to provide a return of $0.31 for every dollar spent (compared with bridge projects upwards of $4 return for every dollar spent) and also increased congestion (taking up two lanes of traffic while moving less people than cars).

Buses (in addition to being much cheaper than trains) are much more flexible than trains. During special events buses can be pulled from slow routes and re-routed to service popular routes. You simply cannot do this with trains. Train doesn't have tracks to your event? Tough, you're screwed. But with buses you CAN direct them to where you need them, and they can go almost anywhere you need them.

These pictures were taken on Saturday, October 2nd, prior to an Atlanta Braves afternoon game. They were lined up near Underground Atlanta to shuttle people to the game.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Eddy Matzger

Eddy Matzger is amazing. He is one of those athletes who you just have to root for.

He won the New York 100k recently.

Here is a quick interview after his NY 100k win:

Then he followed that up with his 9th (I think) A2A win a few days ago, at the age of 44:

I remember back in 2008, my first A2A, reading about the finish. One of my fellow skaters in Atlanta witnessed the finish and wrote this:
"Nancy & I watched Eddy Matzger be a overt gentleman to his competitor skater from Chicago just prior to the finish line. Eddy said he let the young skater go ahead and finish first; but really, I could not understand why. Why race an ultra-endurance race and just prior to the finish line, completely stop in a full pause to permit two skaters to pass from behind you to in front of you? I'm too out of shape right now to really know the honest answer.

"So Nancy & I watched Eddy tote around with giggles & continuous smiles behind oversized, round, cateye sunglasses, as if he hadn't even skated around Piedmont Park. No. Better yet - as if he hadn't even skated up the hill to the finish line. Though we all watched him do it, as Cindy Spalding eagerly announced our excitement over the makeshift P/A system."

I asked Eddy about the finish, because I had heard the same thing. He simply said, "I've won enough." He later gave his third place medal to my daughters.

He is also known for keeping his skates on and skating back up the course to cheer other skaters on. Meanwhile, the rest of us sit down and get our skates off as quickly as possible!

Eddy conducts Skate Farm workshops in Floyd, Virginia. Highly recommended. I've gone twice.

What's Skate Farm like? Eddy brings his video camera with him on all the skates. Check out this video, from when I was there in 2008. My daughters steal the show in the video, in my biased opinion!

He also is conducting Skate Farm workshops in Thailand in January 2011.

Here is an interview with Eddy from 2004. Still great reading today.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A2A 2010 (and 2009 and 2008, since I didn't have a blog then)

Before I start, let me share two quotes that put A2A in perspective, for me at least:

"Hide your crazy next to your passion. They can't tell the difference." —rands

"You're mad, bonkers ... but I'll tell you a secret: All the best people are." - Alice's father, to Alice, in Tim Burton's film Alice in Wonderland.

Is it craziness? Is it passion? Is there a difference?

At dinner on Sunday night we talked about how A2A is like an addiction. People come back year after year for it, it's something we wouldn't miss. It has become that for me, as it has for others before me. But it is a strange, difficult addiction. I said, it sure would be a lot easier to have a "normal" addiction, like alcohol or something.

So what was I talking about? Oh yeah, A2A. Athens to Atlanta.

Here is a Google Map showing the route.,-83.866882&spn=1.353941,1.972046&z=9

2010 results for the 87 mile skate are here:

Well, last year I resolved not to overtrain. I certainly kept that promise! Truth is, I did a lot of traveling in the weeks prior to A2A this year and didn't get much of a chance to train. I tried to skate to and from work when I could. I did some skating in the city streets and hills of Smyrna when I could. I played hockey, of course. But it didn't amount to much, not compared to what I should have been doing.

Having said that, it was way better than overtraining! Last year the muscles in my butt were really hurting. This year I felt pretty good. In my mind I figured a time of 6:00:00 would be a miracle. 6:30:00 would be good. And 7:00:00 would be disappointing.

I got into a great pack early on and we were tearing it up. Lots of APRR skaters in the group, along with some Team Rainbo skaters (from Chicago). We were on, or close to, a 6:00:00 pace. The weather was perfect. I was feeling good. The pack I was skating with was great. Things could not have been going better.

Interesting note: The roadkill was really in season this year. I saw a lot more dead animals on the road this year than I can remember. One possum was extremely ripe; we smelled it hundreds of feet away and it just kept getting worse the closer we got. It was bad. Another time a car swung left to pass us and ran over a possum or raccoon or something, spraying its guts everywhere. Extremely disgusting.

We grabbed refreshments at Checkpoints #1 and #2 but did not stop. At some point (I think it was around Checkpoint #2, maybe a little after it?) our rather large pack split into two packs, and I opted for the slightly faster of the two. We did stop at Checkpoint #3 for a little break, and the slightly slower pack caught up to us when we did. We rolled out together and with minor changes in our group we stayed together until Checkpoint #4.

At Checkpoint #4 the game changed. I rolled through but most of the group stopped. I ended up with John Silker, of Team Rainbo, who was part of our group prior to Checkpoint #4, because he also rolled through. After a little while we picked up Stacey Wiggins, who was doing the 52. Still later, we picked up Molly Robertshaw, who had fallen off one of the faster packs earlier in the day and had been on her own for a while. At some point we also picked up Michelle Beyer-Gillen. So we had a very nice group of five skaters. I thought we were in great shape at that point, as we approached the Stone Mountain area.

I was even more happy when we picked up Doug Tyler, who is an Atlanta skater I have skated with many times during different events. I know that if I'm with Doug I'm doing pretty well because he is definitely faster than I am. Doug (and his friend Tom Elkin, who is also great to skate with) always sign up to skate the 38-mile option officially, but try to skate the whole 87 depending on how they feel, even if they don't get full credit for it.

Anyway, we picked up Doug on Burns Road, around where we crossed Indian Trail Lilburn Road. (As you can tell, it's always easier for a pack to catch a lone skater.) We had already rebuilt a great pack (looking back to Checkpoint #4 where it was just John and I) and adding Doug only made it stronger.

Unfortunately, at this point I was starting to struggle. This was a new feeling for me. Although I'm not the fastest skater I've never really bonked before. Well, first time for everything, I guess. By the time we crossed the railroad tracks on Harmony Grove Road, and then began climbing some of the hills on Old Rosser Road, I was starting to lag the group. First I lagged a little, then a lot, and before long I lost touch with the group.

I've heard people say that different parts of the course are the toughest for them. The hills leading to Dacula, for example, are mentioned a lot. Well, for me the series of hills leading up to the big downhill on Silver Hill are the worst. That is where I struggle the most, and this year was no exception.

I knew I was in trouble when I reached for water and for the third time I grabbed an empty water bottle--when I knew very well that I had a full water bottle in my other pocket! My mind was leaving me, slowly but surely. I've been physically tired before but never mentally exhausted like this. How could this be happening? The skate started out so well and now this???

I decided, although I hated to do it, that I had to stop. I stepped off the road. I ate two or three gels. I took some endurolytes (pills with sodium, potassium, and other stuff you lose when you sweat). I drank some water. I let my heart rate come down. It was only a few minutes but it helped a lot. I then proceeded to go go down Silver Hill alone, which was disappointing because I wanted to see how fast I could go in a fast pack. And I managed to stagger into Checkpoint #5.

Checkpoint #5 was when the agony ended and the skate began anew. Checkpoint #5 was my savior. I sat down in a chair. After two pints of chocolate milk (and about 10 chocolate chip cookies!) I was re-energized! Thanks, Candy Girl!

At this point I saw many members of the slightly faster group that I had been in early in the skate, including Sam Fistel (who did an A2A2A again, just like he did in 2008!) and Tom Grosspeitsch (who carried me during A2A 2008), pull into Checkpoint #5. I was rested and ready so I rolled out but I knew that they would catch me before long. Michelle, who had also dropped from the group prior to Checkpoint #5, joined me.

Along the way we caught up with Bob Harwell. We made a nice team, but before long we dropped Michelle. Bob and I then picked up Stacey. Unfortunately, he did not hang with us for long. I believe some of the short but steep hills near Clarkston got him.

Prior to Checkpoint #6, as I expected, the Sam Fistel, Tom Grosspietsch, et al. group caught us. We also caught up with another skater along the way. I don't remember exactly who was in the group but it was great to be in a large group again.

At this point I need to mention the wind. We had perfect weather at the beginning of the day but over time the wind gradually turned into a headwind. I would guess it was about 15 mph, sometimes gusting higher. The A2A Twitter feed documented this: "Wind is quite strong today. Almost knocked over our tent." At one point after I finished the wind blew down the A2A finish banner.

We had been fighting the wind just a little bit early in the day but by the time we turned east on College near Avondale Estates/Decatur it was a full-blown headwind. Thank goodness we had a good pack at that time. We all took turns pulling so it wasn't as bad as it could have been.

By the time we turned onto Moreland Avenue our group was starting to stretch out. We smelled the finish and wanted it. I was extremely fortunate to be in the second position in our paceline at this point. Bob Harwell was in first, and he gradually began to pick up the pace. Before long he was flying, especially as he tore down Virginia Avenue and then Park Drive. Bob is another legend in the inline skating world. He's 66 years old but don't let that fool you. He can SKATE.

Well, if I hadn't been right behind him I'm not sure I would have been able to pass others in the group and catch him. But I barely managed to stay within 5-10 feet of him. I knew, because I had skated with him for the last hour, that I was stronger on the uphills than he was, at least on this day. I also knew that A2A finishes on an uphill. I knew that as long as I could stay close I could pass him at the end.

Which is exactly what happened. As soon as we got into Piedmont Park I was able to pass and pull away. Okay, I'm 40 and he's 66 so it's not like this is some great feat, but after my difficult day I was extremely happy just to finish strong. Both Bob and I managed to open up almost a 1-minute gap on the rest of the paceline in a relatively short distance so I'm very proud of what we did at the end. I'm also happy that I was able to recover enough after my difficulty in prior to Checkpoint #5 that I was able to catch and pass 3 of the 5 other people in the group that I could not keep up with earlier.

So I finished with a time of 6:44:46. Not bad. But even including my short difficult period, I felt like I skated a lot better than that. My legs still felt strong at the end. I am encouraged to see that the winning time was 5:04, when Eddy is capable of a 4:30, as proof that the wind really did slow us down. Maybe I'm over-optimistic, like the baseball fan who says "next year, for sure" the minute the season ends, but I like to think I could have done a 6:15 with favorable conditions! Who knows. Only one way to find out. When do I sign up for A2A 2011? ;)

In the meantime, I'm thinking of doing the Carolina Century on Saturday, October 23, 2010. This 102-mile skate is another tough one. Not sure I'll make it, but I've done it the past two years, the only two years in which it has been held, so I might want to continue my streak.

Since I didn't have a blog when I did A2A in 2008 and 2009, I have posted my e-mail write-ups of those skates here:

TMB A2A 2008
Athens to Atlanta Notes, written October 6, 2008, with slight updates and modifications.

One year ago I didn't even own speed skates. I had just found out about this group. I skated in the 10k in Piedmont park in my old 15-year-old Ultrablades. I never imagined that I'd try the 87. Then I started skating with you guys.

I considered just dipping my toe in the water by doing the 38 or 52 mile option. But Clarence told me, "Well, I'm 61 and I'm doing 87 miles." That was it. I had to do the 87!

This was my first A2A, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Correction: I can say that I enjoyed it NOW THAT IT'S OVER! I can't say I enjoyed it during the tough parts of the skate. I heard people say that A2A is as much mental as it is physical, and it's true. You can't get discouraged when you're dead tired and suddenly realize you still have 35 miles to go. You must pace yourself. You should skate in a group as much as possible (strategy). You can't be intimidated by hills. You must plan your nutrition (electrolytes, etc.). You must get enough water.

Before the race I toyed with the notion of being very conservative to ensure that I finish. Then the race started, and I threw that plan out the window. I didn't want to arrive at the finish only to find that I could have gone faster. So I tried to stay at roughly a 13 mph and was pretty successful with that. My time was nothing spectacular but I'm very happy with it.

Lots of people who started with us and we very strong skaters gradually dropped off. One guy who skated with us stride for stride for 40-45 miles ended up hitting the wall and finishing 1:15:00 behind us. Another guy I knew planned to go out fast and see how far he could go. We caught him and passed him like he was standing still at around mile 65.

I benefited greatly by skating almost the whole distance with Tom Grosspietsch, from Team Rainbo in Chicago. We had a large group up to Dacula, when lots of people finished the 38. After that, we were down to 3 people, one of whom slowed after mile 45. So Tom and I were on our own. Tom was clearly faster than I was but he stayed with me. I'm not sure whether Tom wanted some company, whether he was having an off day and felt like going slow, whether he was being a nice guy, or whether he felt that he could go faster with me (even at a reduced pace) than he could go on his own. Whatever the reason, we stuck together and he must have pulled about 75% of time. I looked Tom up in the DuraSkater rankings and was suprised to see that I had skated with a real veteran:

I believe that the APRR group prepared me well for this event. You might not have thought I was listening when you told me something somewhere along the way...but I was. Paceline and all sorts of advice from Mark Day (from the Silver Comet skates). Nutrition advice from everyone, particularly Clarence Burkholder. Skating advice from almost everyone (differences in how I should skate compared to ice hockey). How to be a nasty sonofabitch and never give up from Chuck. Coming to a couple night skates and realizing that I'm not going to be a good skater unless I can skate uphill, too! Skate Farm with Eddy Matzger--none of the hills on this course compare to skating in his neck of the woods. Didn't make the hills any easier, but just skating the hills with Eddy meant that I wasn't intimidated by the hills on this course.

Couple things that I wasn't prepared for: I got a little bit of sunburn on the back of my arms! I burn easily so I knew I needed sunscreen for this event, and I slathered it on. But I didn't think to put it on the back of my arms. And with the sun at our back for hours during the early parts of the skate... And, prepare yourself to laugh, my nipples are a bit raw from chafing. No one warned me about that!

Next year maybe I'll do some training. I took a new job and was in California for two months, focusing on work, just got back a week ago. And at this new job there was lots of great free food. So my "training" consisted of eating like a pig. Longest skates I did in two months were: one 15 mile or so skate (San Francisco Friday night skate), an 11 mile skate on a closed road (see link below), some inline hockey, and Chuck's Z skate the Sunday before A2A. That's it. I don't recommend this approach, by the way.,2151,5556687_10575176,00.html

Photos from A2A 2008:

Eddy the Bee. (The incomparable Eddy Matzger always dresses up at the start of A2A.)

Here I am, cruising out of Checkpoint #2.

Video of one of the turns heading out of Athens, still pretty close to the starting point.

TMB A2A 2009
This "write-up" actually consists of a couple e-mails that I've woven together here.

Rough day yesterday. I did 7:02 over 89 miles, which is worse than last year. I was shooting for 6:30, maybe even 6:15 if I got in the right pack. But the good news is that I learned a lot. I learned about what a sciatic nerve does. And I learned a thing or two about training, especially as I get old.

Bottom line is that I overtrained. People say to stop training hard (only do light stuff) in the week before a big event. Well, I went to the weight room on Tu & We. Then I skated in to work Th. Moderate 11-mile skate on Fr. Then hockey practice with my girls on Sa.

My body used to bounce back and I'd have fresh legs a day or two later. But not anymore. I should have worked hard much earlier then tapered off much sooner.

Sunday morning I woke up at 2 or 3a due to severe shooting pain in my right ass muscle. I took a naproxen and went back to bed. Woke up a couple hours later and found that I still hurt and could barely walk. I mean, my ass was killing me. This before I even started the skate.

One of the guys we skate with is a doctor. He asked me specifically where the pain was. I told him. And he said it sounded like I had an inflamed muscle right near the sciatic nerve.

I gave it my best shot at the start of the skate but it soon became clear that my time goals were out the window and I should be happy to finish. After 20 miles or so the pain gradually lessened but I just could not skate at the pace I wanted or expected to.

After the skate my lower back was also killing me. Because I couldn't skate properly, couldn't push off with my right leg properly, my form deteriorated and I think I ended up stressing other muscles more. Very difficult to deal with. I was hurting a lot more at the end of this skate than I was last year, when I hardly trained at all.

For the record, I now recognize the wisdom of not working too hard too close to the skate. I woke up Sunday with a shooting pain in the right side of my butt. Yong asked me about precisely where it was and speculated that I had inflamed a muscle very close to the sciatic nerve.

I could barely walk Sunday morning, and I could hardly push off my right leg at all during the first 20-30 miles. It also tightened up after stopping for too long at checkpoint #1, which is why I was reluctant to stop at checkpoints #2 and #3 for those of you skating with me at those times.

The pain lessened somewhat over the course of the skate. A2A was painful for me this year, much more painful than last year when I hardly trained at all (ZZZ skate and one hockey game).

So listen up when they tell you to back off in the week prior to a big event! Next year my training starts earlier, and only light skating in the final week.

I'm very disappointed with my results.

Notice the following:
#26, Greg Tinney: He skates in our group and I thought I was as fast as he was. But apparently not (based on results from both 2009 and 2010 now!). I think I am capable of doing the times that he has done, but I sure haven't proven it.

#41, Yong Tai: On a normal day I think I'm faster than Yong. I know him well, and at checkpoints #4, #5, and #6 I was told that he (and Clarence, skating the 54) were only a few minutes ahead and that I'd catch them in no time. On a normal day I might have, but not today. Yong is the doctor who examined me earlier in the day and I know Clarence very well. Yong explained what I was going through to Clarence, who thought that no matter how hurt I was he knew I was going to fight through and finish (thanks, Clarence!).

#46, Rick Sadlier: On a normal day, Rick is WAY faster than I am. He skated a 6:15 last year and was only that slow because he was helping Sam (A2A2A!) to finish. But he hit the wall, or his back tightened up, or something this time. He went out fast and I was surprised to find him at checkpoint 5 on his stomach being worked over by a masseuse. He tried to join my pack but couldn't do it.

#55, Lisa Bongiorno: On a normal day, I'm a little faster than Lisa. But in a recent skate, the U.S. 10k, she kicked my ass by skating up the hills like nothing. She was working hard and was in way better shape than I was, or so I thought. Not sure what happened, but she had trouble.

#59, Carol Hochstein: On a normal day, we're about equal. I beat her in the Squiggy Marathon in Tampa, but she beat me last year at A2A. But she didn't have it this year, and really struggled.

Point is: You just never know what's going to happen on a race like this. I am happy that I finished. But I'm am also disappointed in my result.

Some addition notes about the people I skated with:
The packs keep changing all day. I tried to skate with a decent pack right from the start but I couldn't hang with them given my leg issue. At one point Paula and Jason (#63 and #64) caught me from behind and I skated with them for a while until they faded. A little bit later, Yong Tai (#41) caught me from behind and continued on ahead of me and stayed there all day. As noted below, on a different day Yong might never have caught me.

After Yong left me (along with others, I'm just mentioning a few of the names I know), Bill Zinser (#45) caught me around mile 30-35, so that was the biggest constant of my day. From that point on, we skated together all day. I think that on another day he would never have caught me. But we were a good pair, because while he was stronger in the middle of the skate, I was stronger at the end. Plus my knowledge of the course at the end really helped him (an A2A first timer), cutting across traffic on Moreland Avenue and on Highland Avenue, for example.

Bill and I caught Chris Jones (#47) around Mile 40 and we were together until Mile 70 or so. [I've attached a picture of me, Chris, and Bill, along with my daughter Natalia, at Checkpoint #4, Mile 56, below.] Chris was really lagging at Mile 40 so I think Bill and I helped get him through a tough time in the skate. He thanked us after the skate for that, but the truth is that anytime you add someone to your pack it strengthens everyone. After Mile 70 or so, he just couldn't hang anymore.

Bill and I caught Brian Geisel (#43) around Mile 72 or so. He had been in a faster pack (and his past results do show that he is a faster skater) but couldn't hang with them. Anytime you see someone on their own, after being dropped, their speed drops considerably for a while because you know they were expending all their energy for a while just to try to hang with them. That's what happens to me, and how I got caught several times as mentioned above. Anyway, Brian appeared to be a faster skater and he wanted to go faster. After working with us for only a few miles, he struck off on his own, apparently trying to leave us behind for good.

But it's tough on your own. Bill and I caught up to him after a while. Same as before, he sucked our wheels for a while (I was doing most of the pulling at that point), got some rest, and before the finish he took off ahead of us. I asked Bill if he had a sprint left in him at the end and if he wanted to cross the finish line together. If you cross while holding hands with someone, they score it as an intentional tie--it's kind of a courtesy if you're skating with friends. Bill said that I deserved the position because I was really doing most of the work at the end and that I pulled him through at the end when he was lagging so he told me to go for it. So I "sprinted" (as best I could) and surged ahead of Bill and closed some of the gap that Brian had opened.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Eric Schmidt on the Colbert Report: Funny or Not?

Do you ever get the feeling that Eric Schmidt is trying just a bit too hard to be funny? I mean, he can play it straight, just stop trying to make jokes, and I would understand that. Or go all out and say crazy shit that people would realize is meant to be funny (even if it's not). But he seems to try to walk the fine line and be too clever, such that people get the wrong idea. I've discussed this on this blog before here: "Google CEO Eric Schmidt: A Creepy Ice Cream Man?" on September 15, 2010.

Anyway, here is a link to Schmidt's recent appearance on the Colbert Report. Watch and decide for yourself:

Interesting question: Why did Eric Schmidt go on the Colbert Report anyway? What does he have to gain? What does he need to prove? I really don't know, but one piece of speculation I heard is that if Google is perceived as being a typical big, bad company then it won't be the place where the best and brightest aspire to work, that those people will go to other "cooler" companies. So Schmidt may have wanted to change that perception by appearing on TV to clarify some of his recent statements. Not sure how plausible that is, but it's the only thing I can think of.