Saturday, October 27, 2012

Closed Circuit 

Swimming Studies by Leanne Shapton, image via

What's that thing our brain does instinctively, when we obsessively seek to identify patterns? Thinking? Is that it? Associative intelligence? "…the ability to think in non-sequential associations – similarities, differences, resonances, meanings, relationships, etc. –and to create (and appreciate) totally new patterns and meanings out of old ones." Whatever it is, it haunts me.

Last night I had a moment when all these coincidences coalesced around a single theme: swimming.
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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Koo Koo Bananas Beautiful 

Toronto in October from rowdyman on Vimeo.

“...I'm like a boy in boxing gloves grasping at a butterfly”
I've never been accused of Toronto boosterism but I've come to terms with this city and realized that many of its problems are the same as any city of over 2 million people. Yet other problems are uniquely its own – poor transit infrastructure, an oafish mayor, the strange suburban nature of many downtown neighbourhoods and the weirdly high-rise landscape of its isolating suburbs. I also never really think of Toronto as a "pretty" town, but it does have its moments. The city still has a lot of 19th century lingering industrial buildings, quiet side streets and, when you can get there, a wonderful waterfront. October, full of rainy days and saturated colours, is when Toronto looks its best. Dusk on a rainy day just when the clouds are breaking create some crazy beautiful skylines. Really crazy beautiful, like koo-koo bananas beautiful. I love running on the waterfront on a day like that near sunset. You get two sunsets; the real one in the west and the reflected one from downtown's glass towers in the east. That can sometimes be just dumbfounding. The sky in the east will be deep dark purple billows, while the buildings, reflecting the western sky's setting sun, will be blazing golden molten shards. I've tried to capture it, but I'm like a boy in boxing gloves grasping at a butterfly. Too clumsy and too euphoric to know it.

Sometimes, you can just point your phone at the sky and things turn out alright. The idea that my phone is the best camera I've ever owned is still odd to me. I know on the photo sharing site, Flickr, photos taken by phones outnumber those taken by cameras. We live in an era of "phone-ography". Video is becoming more common too, so instead of a slide show of stills, I thought I'd assemble a slide show of video clips. I think I enjoy these brief vignettes more than stills. Little living dioramas captured in my phone. What would Alexander Graham Bell have said about that? Probably something like "Mr. Watson, come here. I want to show you something." – which nowadays might get you in trouble.

To see much better photography of Toronto's waterfront, like the one below, go see Uncharted Waters at the Harbourfront Centre.

Johan Hallberg-Campbell, Terminal A, 11:14pm; March 17, 2012 – Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport, image via Harbourfront Centre

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Monday, October 22, 2012

What the Internet was Made For 

A website of bouncing cats.

I'm already regretting posting this.


Saturday, October 20, 2012

48 Something Something 

“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. ”
Talking about running is boring. Reading about running is even more boring. By an obvious transitive relationship, it is clear that reading about someone talking about running is boring squared.

So this isn't about running too much. Okay, it is.

Since returning from my vacation biking in Adirondack Park, which by the way, is huge (the park that is), I feel, how to put this and not sound insane (new-agey kind of insane), I feel different. I feel I have changed. Not just on the surface physically and not so deep as to feel different like I had some kind of epiphany but I feel like I have changed on some fundamental physiological level. My heart, lungs and mind are different and have changed. One metric of this change is a simple one. Time.
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Monday, October 15, 2012


I've commented before on my love of the Italian term, "sprezzatura" defined as a "studied carelessness" or something like "making the difficult look easy". Like the guy who carefully arranges his hair to look like he just got out of bed, and looks good doing it. I might be wrong but I think in the cycling world it's occasionally used as the Italian version of the French, "souplesse" which refers to that cyclist who possesses a smooth yet strong cadence and style. A natural athlete for whom his or her sport just doesn't seem that difficult.

Thus the terrible pun of this post and video. Glenn and I were making 800 km look easy. In fact, it was easy. As a well known idler and dawdler, I'd be the first to admit that averaging 100 km a day with 40-50 lbs of gear on your bike for over a week seems impressive, but to be fair, I think there were four days over 100 km and four under. I recall one 90 km day that was mostly "up hill" either entering or going through Adirondack Park which was by no means easy and the last 40 km riding into Montreal I had a charlie horse in my thigh that reminded me of a medical test. You know that one where they insert a needle in a muscle, then by running an electrical current through the needle the doctor attempts to activate your tear ducts. Despite that, I was fine the next day and even found myself wishing I had joined Glenn on his more impressive 200 km ride to Ottawa where I could've taken the train to Toronto rather than from Montreal. In general, alternating shorter days with longer ones meant that you recovered nicely without seizing up and that you ended up in nice places. Our only regret was probably staying at a motel in Burlington when the next day we rode by a perfectly nice campsite only minutes from the café where we sat trying to find a campsite the previous afternoon. I still don't know why Google is so reluctant to find campsites when you type the word "campsite" but is very fond of giving you camping supply stores or popular mini conferences such as "BarCamp"?

That would be my only piece of advice. Do not, under any circumstances trust Google Maps. I'm not suggesting if something ain't on a printed map, it probably isn't there, I'm just saying you'll have no way of finding it. I will say Google Streetview is not bad at determining whether that road you're looking at on a map is a cozy bike-friendly route or a behemoth eight lane super highway not fit for man or beast. Google Maps delights in showing right-of-ways long since gone-away or even mysteriously suggesting since you are on a bicycle you, like Elliot and E.T., might like to take to the sky in some Spielberg-esque inspired fantasy, all with the caveat that Google Maps is of course, "in beta" and in all likelihood not at all or in any way accurate. Unfortunately, good cycling maps seem hard to find. In an era of Google, Yahoo, Bing, OpenMap data, GPS devices for driving, running or riding not to mention unmanned drone strikes, the good old fashioned printed map is going the way of an extinct species. Eventually, I found some maps of Ontario and New York state in one of those massive book stores in the travel section. Apparently, no one plans to travel outside the Eastern Seaboard from Toronto as that was pretty much the extent of their maps.

Consider this video your virtual tour. You can even say, "I virtually rode to Lake Placid." I did, really.

Adirondack Sprezza-toura from rowdyman on Vimeo.

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Friday, October 12, 2012

Run Time 

Read "Marathon Man" by Mark Singer in the New Yorker. Illustration, Peter Arkle

Lately, there's been a lot of talk of doping around Lance Armstrong (check Twitter for #DopeStrong, #Livewrong) and all those implicated by the USADA's investigation into doping in pro cycling. Unfortunately, some much admired riders have been found to have cheated including Toronto's Michael Barry. The upside of this has been riders like Barry, who have admitted to doping in the past and now ride clean, sound genuinely contrite. At least three riders for Slipstream sports have admitted to using for the very fact that they want to clear the air and start again, riding clean. Slipstream's manager, Jonathan Vaughters, has been open about past indiscretions and the desire for his team to ride and win clean. The default position of Armstrong remains to deny, deny and deny. Which in itself may indicate a darker nature to his personality. Like George Constanza said Jerry, "It's not a lie, if you believe it."

There's more than one way to lie and many more ways to cheat. This weekend the second of Toronto's two annual marathons1 is being run and with that in mind, and Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan's recent exaggerated claim (lie?) of a sub-three-hour time (he actually ran 4:01:24) it seems a strange coincidence that I finally got around to reading the story of Kip Litton. Kip Litton is a Michigan based dentist who had set a lifetime goal of trying to run a sub-three-hour marathon in all 50 states. His motivation was apparently to raise funds for cystic fibrosis research as his son has the disease. The only problem is, Kip Litton appears to be a cheat and a near pathological liar. His unusual and compelling story is told in the New Yorker by Mark Singer . It begins fairly innocuously but by the end you're just fascinated with the "why" and the "how".

Check out the story and ask yourself, "why?" I understand the bragging rights of lying about achievements. I'm sure I've exaggerated claims in the past, but when I started to exercise for my health and not my bravado, I realized the futility of stretching the truth. Why lie to yourself? What's the point? Whenever I'm entering my runs or rides into my log, I might be tempted to round up the distance and down the time, but it's more interesting to me to see my real improvement or deterioration. Lying about or cheating during amateur runs seems the same as writing in a private diary that you were a wealthy spy with a cavalcade of lovers left strewn around the globe. Why bother? Not to mention the effort involved in maintaining such a fiction. I can barely get around to legitimate web updates never mind inventing new ones.

FN1 - The course record for the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon is 2:07:58 for men, Jerome Drayton's 37 year Canadian record is 2:10:09. I never plan on running a marathon but even at my best 10 km pace I might be able to break 3:30:00 (though not bloody likely).

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Monday, October 08, 2012

Expansion Plans 

I made a new hole in my belt today. I've needed it for awhile. My pants have been loose all summer, falling uncomfortably into, how to put this, the Hip Hop style. But you shouldn't wear "skinny jeans" half way down as they are already tailored "half-way" down. Any further down, and you've exposed the very thing you purchased the trousers to cover.

The reason I didn't make the hole earlier was my unbending faith that shortly I would not require that hole. I would, no doubt find the "lost weight" ("lost"? Misplaced only to be rediscovered would be more accurate) and be back to the only comfortable and stretched notch I knew. It never happened, so I just switched to a belt of bygone days that had the holes I required.

Still, it's odd that on our day of Thanksgiving when calorie consumption will be in the three-thousand range, I chose to make this hole in my belt. By the end of the day, I will have returned to the previously problematic mark. Maybe, I've made this hole in this belt to memorialize a time when I sveltely slipped into my pants which truly were "skinny" jeans. This hole is a mark of my asceticism, a time when I refrained, a time when I actually weighed what I said I weighed, in fact, even less than what was on my driver's license. This hole means so much more than a gap. It means health, success and by tomorrow it will be gone. How do I know this? Experience.

Every year, without much trying or effort (or because of lack of effort) I pack on about 15 pounds. Only to realize that isn't great and I run, bike and swim my way to the Holy Land of a New Hole in My Belt. This contraction and expansion is typical of the species. It's winter, there's less sun, there's more Melatonin, more night, more sleep, more rest, more beer, bread and cheese and thus, more fat. Our bodies don't know we have furnaces and sweaters and a full larder year round. All it knows is lean times ahead so buck up and chow down. What should be normal now seems unhealthy. A 10 percent weight fluctuation sounds like a lot to me. So be it then that I accept the passing of this belt hole from one season to the next but I do not do so gently. I will fight to prevent a two-hole expansion. If it doesn't happen, I have this hole to help me remember.


Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Foglie Morte 

Ryder Hesjedal at the race start line eventually finished 6th

It looked like a dark, wet and cold afternoon when Joaquin Rodriguez crossed the finish line after over six hours of racing (6:36:27 hrs) in this years Giro di Lombardia (Tour of Lombardy). The race conditions looked horrible and the recently crowned world champ, Philippe Gilbert was a victim of the slick blacktop. What was probably an awful day for a ride resulted in some classic photos of riders struggling up what were at times 25% inclines (why not just build stairs at that point?)

I like this kind of classic one-day race, especially when they have a legacy such as this one (the iconic Italian racer Faustus Coppi won the race five times and no non-Italian rider has won it more than three times). Another thing about this race is just the poetry of its nickname in Italian, "La classica delle foglie morte"; "Race of the Falling Leaves" in English (sometimes translated as "Race of the Dead Leaves") due to it being held in Autumn. The race was traditionally the last classic of the season so it was important in deciding UCI rankings but, despite it no longer being part of the UCI tour, the race hasn't lost its prestige even if its importance has diminished.

Most importantly, it showed Ryder Hesjedal has recovered his form after a disastrous Tour de France. I don't think he ever threatened on Saturday but he officially finished sixth in a group of nine other riders including the likes of Rigoberto Uran and Alberto Contador. I'm guessing the one-day classics don't suit Hesjedal's form as much as the longer tours but it's nice to see him competitive in a high profile race.


Monday, October 01, 2012

Seen in September 

Champs-Élysées, Paris. FInal stage of the Tour de France, from Hollentour (Hell on Wheels)

This month, I had initially planned on watching all the films in the Sight and Sound top 100 list, but CBC posted a list of movies about cycling and once I noticed there was an 80s movie with Kevin Costner on a steel diamond frame ten-speed with friction shifters and toe clips, it was too late. Watching several films from the 80s has confirmed my belief that unless you paid some of the best musicians of the day to score your film, you should shy away from a contemporary soundtrack and go with something conservative and orchestral. Really good film scores are a little like the editing or directing. If they are good, you just don't notice them. If you do notice them, they are usually really really bad. While superficially, biking and wheels were the themes of this September, it could have easily have been, movies with really terrible soundtracks.
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