Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Blizzard of 2014- Semi Live Blog (Updates 1-3)


(Note: Updates will be added to the bottom of the post in an effort for the flow to make sense to future readers.)

School is closed today. Thousands of kids rejoice.

One high school science teacher sits on his lazy boy with a scowl on his face. This day is the climax of all of the crap winter has tossed at us, rolled up into one big pile of weather poop. So far today, we've had rain. We've had wind. We've had sleet. We've had black ice on the roads. We've had snow. And, it's about to get worse.

Therefore, I've decided to Semi Live Blog the day. There will be random postings of pretty much nothing to document what is expected to be epic in terms of meteorology and miserable in terms of everybody else.

Pre-Live Blog
They canceled school yesterday based on the forecast. This seems to be a habit new to the 2013-14 school year. In years previous, administration would make the decision in the wee hours of the morning based on actual weather. I suspect that the admin were sick of getting up by 4 am (who wouldn't be?) and decided to take advantage of science (for the record, this is the only known area of education administration where science has been applicable).

The school calendar purposely overbooks itself to accommodate for Mother Nature. There are 3 unnecessary school days in the calendar, just in case school is closed for  weather related purposes. If we need a 4th, we have to make this day up before the end of the year. If we don't use all 3 days, do we get extra days off? Ha! This is a politically driven process. It's all takey and no givey.

Relying on the science has not been too successful this year. I posit that it's mostly because the average person doesn't actually understand the science enough to apply it. We had a day off for the Great Blizzard of the Wednesday Before Thanksgiving, which yielded approximately 1.5 inches of snow and winds of about 20 mph (more on blizzards soon). We had a day off for Polar Vortex 1.0, when temperatures were rumored to drop below zero and winds in the 20s. Which is what happened. Except, that subsequent Polar Vortices also dealt many 0º days coupled with high winds, school stayed in session. Apparently those conditions are only school close-worthy on the first time. I went running.

In my not-so-humble opinion, I still think it a mistake to close the buildings on those days. But, what in the world would a science teacher know about science? In today's instance, I think the higher ups got it right. Badness is coming.

On Blizzards
Most people are familiar with the term yet have little idea as to what qualifies an official blizzard. In fact, my guess is that most Americans, when hearing the word 'blizzard' automatically equate it with a popular shake-type beverage from the local Dairy Queen.

Our next step of misinformation is to believe that hard, heavy breathing snow makes for a blizzard. This type of thinking is not clear and only part of the equation which has 3 main ingredients. (<-- cited link through NOAA just in case any of my meteorology readers want to question my facts.)

1. Yes, you need large amounts of snow. The exact amount is not necessarily important. It's also not important that the snow come from the sky. It can come from pre-fallen snow that was recently sitting on the ground. The reason why the amount of snow isn't important is that there's a visibility clause. Visibility reduction due to the present snow must get down to around a 1/4 of a mile or less (or the distance the Banter can run in 7 minutes).

2. Once you've met the snow requirement, you need to add some wind. It blows and hard. Winds must reach a minimum of 35 miles per hour, either in sustained or in gust form. (Insert wind bag/ proverbial Mother-in-Law joke here.) (Disclaimer: But not my MIL. She can't manage nearly that speed.)

3. There's a time component. Numbers 1 and 2 have to happen and keep happening for at least 3 hours or more. In the past, the used the Banter's 15k goal time to equate the minimum duration of a blizzard but even science has it's limits in patience.

Semi-Live Blog Part 1
Knowing that the blizzard-like conditions were going to start slow and build as the day went on, I got up and went for a run. It was a relatively easy and short run, which was perfect for me (ya know, since I'm relatively easy and not so tall). Time= 7:30 am EDT

According to the Garmin's Built-In Weather Reporting thingy, it was 37º with winds out of the NE at 3 mph with some rain. Not exactly blizzard like in any way, shape, or form. Also, not even close to reality. I'm not sure who or where KITH gets it's information (listed as the weather source), but man, they suck. Temperatures were clearly below freezing. Rain was actually snow mixed with small ice pellets of stabbing eye pain. Winds were steady in the teens with gusts significantly higher. Except for the eye-pain thing, conditions weren't that bad. This, of course, takes into account the crappy weather that has been the norm since November.

9:15
As the run progressed, the temps were dropping and the precipitation was increasing. The ice bullets were disappearing to yield large, bloated flakes of snow. I got done with the run and took the dogs for a walk. They are likely to be stuck inside for most of the day too. This is an equal opportunity household. If I have to suffer, so do they. I looked around the house for a convenient place to take pictures that may provide photo evidence for this journey. I opted for my backyard out the patio window. Well call this pic, "The Before". Time of pic ~9:15 am (click to enlarge)

You can see snow falling. Grass is still visible. I'm hoping that the grass and the base of the trees will provide a nice scale for any and all accumulations. Also, if you look closely at this non-animated, non-gif pic, you might be able to imagine the trees swaying at a not-so-blizzard pressure. We aren't expected to be in a blizzard until well after lunch.

I'll keep you posted.

Update 1

As it turns out I was not happy with the weather reporting capabilities of the Garmin and it's phantom source. Therefore, I decided to get more reliable info from a reputable source. In case you didn't know, there is the internet now. And, on said internet contains things called webpages. Some of those webpages don't contain porn (sadly, some people actually need to be reminded of this). Many of these alternative sites have site names that match the content of of the site followed by ".com".

For example, since this is a triathlon site and USA Triathlon is the governing body of the sport, you could simply type "usatriathlon.com" into your browser and, viola, you've achieved the goal.

Using that same logic, if you want to find stuff about the weather, you could simply type "weather.com" into your browser. Please don't do that.

See, there are other sites that are run by people who know something about the content in which they post (no comment on this site and the doofus who runs it). A more efficient site is "weather.gov". The ".gov" is actually an acronym for "Grand Old Vixens", a throw-back site for when the internet was 100% boobs. That suffix was taken over by some politicians.

Weather.gov is run by actual scientists (although, I'd guess that some non-sciency tech geeks physically run the site).

The geniuses who work at NOAA provide the data for the reportings on weather.gov. Here are a couple of screen shots for the info in my area. We are at def-con red, the sites highest level of misery for wintertime conditions. As you can see, they are reporting near blizzard-like conditions. With a bit more oomph from the wind and a few more hours of sustainability, it'll be official.

11:15 
When I took this picture, it was about 11:15 AM EDT. As you can see, there's a new addition to my backyard. I promise you, I did not plant that stick there for the intention of semi-live blogging. I did intend to go out there and find the damaged tree. Instead, I just sat around browsing the aforementioned internet (undisclosed content). I'm pretty sure that stick will provide for a better sense of scale than the grass or tree bases. That is until it gets completely covered or the dog goes out there to chew on it. Either one is a real risk around here these days.

The grass the was visible in the 9:15 shot is mostly covered. Snow is climbing up the trees. Other snow is a bit plastered against my window.

Update 2

Well, it's 2:00 pm (at least at the time I started writing this update. It'll probably be near dinner time by the time it's over. No- I don't think it'll be that wordy. I'm not that smart nor a good typist. Sometimes these posts take a while.)

While you wait for the rest of the post, please enjoy some fun blizzard facts.

  • The official first blizzard was in 1977 (that's when they created the word/ definition). Guess where it hit? Yup, right here in upstate NY. Not much snow, though. Only 5 inches, proving once again that the amount of snow isn't important.
  • My current town, Rochester, NY, is said to be the snowiest place in the US. Don't believe it? Yeah, me neither. Yet, that's what is says on this site. And, we all know, the internet never lies. There may be some credence to the claim. In the 2013-14 winter season, we are in 6th place and this blizzard may pull us ahead of Billings, Montana. Who knew?
  • Apparently, there have been reports of blizzards outside of the USA. There was one in Iran in 1972. Actually, I think that's it.
  • The 1996-97 winter saw the most recorded blizzard incidences with 27. There really wasn't one (which is rare) in 1980-81.
  • Can you guess which state(s) gets the most blizzards? I bet you can. If you guessed NY, then you probably thought this was a trick question and bet against the dealer. Like most bets against the dealer, you lost. The right answer is Montana/ Minnesota region (I told you that you could have guessed it.) Western Minn, Eastern Mon got roughly 70 blizzards over the course of the past 50 years.
2:00 pm

So, here's the update I promised...

As you can see, the grass is completely covered. The meaty portion of the stick has disappeared, leaving only the stringy appendages. 

The Current Temp: 24º F (-4ºC)
Steady winds at 37 mph, gusting up to 47.
Visibility is 0.13 miles.

Yep, that's blizzard-like conditions.

My friends at NOAA are also reporting 'freezing fog', which I didn't even know was a thing until they reported it. And, apparently, people at NOAA and I are friends, which they didn't know until I reported it. See how that works?

Update 3

Did you know?

  • There are people out there who are afraid of snow? They're called chionophobics. 
    • There's another term for people who just hate snow. They're called humans.
  • About 12% of the Earth is covered in permafrost, permaice and perma snow.
    • Of that 12%, I want to avoid 100% of those places.
  • The largest snowflake ever recorded was 15"x8". Yup, found in Montana.
    • In 1887. Oddly, no photo evidence of this flake exists.
  • The single snowiest day in the US was 76" (5'6"). This happened in Silver Lake Colorado, circa 1921. 
    • Chalk that up to another place I'm not going to move to.
  • The single season world record for snow was in Mt. Baker ski area, Washington in the winter of 1998-9. It recorded 1140 inches of snow.
    • You guessed it, not moving there either.
  • Due to the polarity of water, all snowflakes have 6 sides.
    • One side for each level of hate I have for snow.
Since the last update, I've been busy. I've gone for a bike ride in the garage. It was an hour ride with some zone 4 intervals tossed in. Immediately following, I went for a quick jaunt on the treadmill, bringing my daily total up to 8 miles in 1h 10 minutes.

7:15
Upon finishing, I had some recovery pizza. Then, I went out for round 1 of snow shoveling. According to more than 1 resource, I burned about 300 calories during this excursion (a fact I find hard to believe).

Well, the sun is setting, making my photo recording of the blizzard more challenging. I tried to pick a spot where my backyard spotlight could help. Here's the current shot. The stick now resembles a drowning victim who's head has taken the plunge but the fingertips are still clinging for hope.

NOAA reports that the temps have dropped to 17º. 

Winds continue to stay strong at 20 mph and gusting up to 32, which I guess marks the end of the blizzard. I wonder if the winds pick up again if they'll reinstate the blizzard status or does that signify the start of a new blizzard. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Dear Motorist,

This post was inspired by a nice video of the same name. Whereas I find the content of the video appropriate, I don't feel that it sends the right message. This is the message I would like to share.

(You can find a link to that video at the end of the post, since I don't want to detract from my content too much).
------------------

Dear Motorist,

I, on behalf of myself and the rest of the people who walk, run, cycle, skate, or whatever else we're doing on the road but not in a car, want to thank you. From the whole of my heart and the very essence of my being, you are awesome and your behaviors need to be shared.

There are many examples in the media citing the imaginary war between the people who recreate on the streets versus the people who drive on the road. There are some of your brethren who behave poorly. They throw things out of their cars; objects or words. But not you, Dear Motorist. You are polite and respectful. You go about your daily business taking no insult in our presence.

There are other motorists who will purposefully point their vehicles at others on the road. We, the victims of this behavior, call this 'buzzing' or 'near misses'. But not you, Dear Motorist. You will see us in the distance and take action to avoid getting close to us. I've seen you do this thousands of time. Whether it be steering your car over the double yellow line to grant us more space or slowing your speed to make life a little less stressful for us both, I've seen it. I've even seen you increase your speed so that you could cross the lines, give us a safe distance, and resume your normal driving before on-coming traffic arrives. Even though few recognize this, I think you are amazing for a simple gesture that, at its worst, eases our piece of mind and, at its best, saves lives. You and I know that we don't own anything in that public arena but our actions and you, Dear Motorist, show that you know exactly what it means to share the road.

I've seen some of the other motorists who are not paying attention to their motoring responsibilities. A few drivers feel the need to talk on the phone, text, or drive shortly after drinking. Some, through only the fault of inattentiveness, don't even see the other people on the road. But not you, Dear Motorist. You know that your number 1 job is driving and you do it well. Your eyes are focused. You scan the traffic and the lanes for any possible obstacle. You see danger long before it happens and take steps to prevent disaster. You recognize that the conversation or the intoxicant can wait until a more appropriate time when you are not going to be behind the wheel.

You are the type of motorist that I like, Dear Motorist. You are the driver who sees me in the distance when it is dark and turns off your high beams so that I can see better. You are the driver who doesn't feel the need to speed up to get in front of me just to turn the corner, AKA the left or right hook. You are the person who will sit and wait a little longer than expected at a stop sign and wave me on just so I can safely cross in front of your vehicle.

I give you my promise, Dear Motorist, that I will do my part ensure both your and my safety as well. I will make sure that I am visible. I will make sure that I am on the side of the road as much as possible. I, like a majority of the others, don't feel the need to 'blow through stop signs or stop lights'. I have no plans to dart out in front of you. I will look both ways before crossing. I know the rules of the road just as well as you and will do my very best to follow them. Please forgive me for some of my errors just as I forgive yours. I recognize that I am an unexpected nuisance at times. However, you are a great person who knows that a few seconds of patience is far better than risking someone's life.

I understand, Dear Motorist, that you are in the majority. There are so many great and wonderful Dear Motorists that are just as amazing as you. It's a shame that the people who make the headlines in this culture are the ones who mess it up. Their transgressions are aired in multi-media platforms lighting the bitter fire for others to see. Isn't that the way of the world, though, sad as it seems? You, personally, do a hundred heroic acts a day, put no one at risk, and get glanced over for fame and fortune. You don't hurt anyone with your vehicle. Never have, never will. You, like more than 99% of the other drivers on the road, are the ones who deserve the attention. Well, Dear Motorist, you have mine. Each and every time we cross paths and you show your awesomeness, I'm there with a friendly smile on my face and/ or a wave of my hand. I know it isn't much but it's all I have. It's my way of thanking you for you excellence in this mostly great society of ours.

So, Dear Motorist, please continue your magnificence. Continue to set the example even when you think no one is looking. Trust me, you are a leader on the roads. Your behaviors are stunning and contagious. Other motorists see your movements and mimic them, simply because they know truth when they see it. And, I see it. I notice. I celebrate. We are brothers and sisters on the road and I am proud to be linked to the likes of you.

Sincerely,

The Banter

(As promised, here's the link to the video that got me thinking about this post.)

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Winter Hoot and Holler

Just in case you happen to be living somewhere outside of the continental United States, I've got some shocking news for you. It's been cold pretty much everywhere not called Florida, Hawaii, or Alaska. Mother Nature has taken vengeance on our misunderstanding of climate change and decided to punch us in the gut with steal-your-breath away cold temperatures. Still I run (or do my version of what other people call running). This winter, I set a personal low for temps, as seen on the right. This run was exceptionally fast for me. I give credit to the fact that, had I gone any slower, I might have frozen to the ground.

In the summer time, life on the road is much different. For example, I've got a larger section of road on which to run. In the winter time, much of the running lane is covered in ice and snow, forcing me and the dog out into the brine covered sections of black. We get to mingle with traffic, deer, potholes, the mail truck, the trashman, and, new to last week, a combine tractor finally harvesting corn. (And I thought I was a procrastinator.)

Summer running is louder. No, not me. I'm talking about the rest of the citizens. There are more decibel producers cruising the strip. Motorcycles that believe mufflers are unnecessary. Teenagers who believe that subwoofers in the trunk with the bass turned all the way up is da bomb. Canadian geese returning from where ever they decided to winter and honk incessantly. It can be ear piercing at times.

In the winter, everything is muffled. Kids are in the house. Motorcycles are in the garage. Geese are, um, elsewhere. All but one of the combines are in the barn. Plus, I've got my ears covered. It's a much quieter run. Peace. Serenity. Calm. Only me and the voices in my head (don't worry, I don't listen to them...much).

I have been missing something rather special lately. (Yes, I'm missing on pleasant temperatures, but I covered that already). I'm missing out on the Hoot and Hollers of summer time. See, when it's nice outside, people drive with their windows down. They sit outside of their houses. They go for walks. They ride their bikes. During this season, I share the road with many recreants. They see me coming on my bike or on my run and calculate that they have only a matter of seconds to interact. Why exactly they want to interact is a mystery to me (I've never been much of a social creature). Their version of interaction is commonly called a Hoot and/ or a Holler. I like getting yelled at while exercising. I've been known, on occasion, to deliver my own version of a H&H. Mostly, I stay silent save for my raspy chug of breathing.

Lately, I've been paying more attention to people on my sessions and I think I'm wrong. I get lots of Hoots and Hollers, only I've been too stupid to recognize them.

Take, for example, the above pictured -2º tempo run. If it weren't for the chill that day, it would have been a beautiful day for a run. The sun was, for once, shining bright. The streets were semi-adequately plowed. There was next to no traffic. I do remember this one guy though. I was running to the east while he was driving to the east. Meaning, we were not in the same lane. There was no needed action to be taken on his part to avoid the likes of me running. He, in his cozy white pick-up, heater blazing, steaming coffee cup move to and fro his lips. Me gingerly plodding through the soon-to-be permafrost of what was once a temperate climate. He could have just driven on by. Nope. He slowed down, made eye-contact, and raised his mug of Joe in a salute to my effort with a smile on his face. Then, of course, he just drove off never to be seen again.

Or, take for example, the garbage truck. Trash collection for most is on Tuesdays in my area. But, we have the freedom of trash choice in the neighborhood and a minority of people opt for a different company. I think it's because the other company has purple cans and not green. Well, the purple trash eater drives his route on Wednesday. As it happened on one particular Wednesday, I was out for a morning run with the PRP. He's a lot cuter than me and is, therefore, subjected to a lot more H&H's than I (I still pretend that they're mind- he doesn't argue the point- so it's all good). At this point in the tale, said purple truck was about a third of a mile in my future but closing the gap. Due to the Doppler Effect in both light and sound, I was able to recognize that the truck's speed was also slowing. As we neared eminent collision, the truck stopped and the trashman jumped out. His singular goal was to pet the dog. The dog was alright with this, as is his nature. This is not the H&H. The Winter H&H happened moments later. See, this was a narrow, residential style road and not much room for traffic. The large purple refuse collector was blocking a good portion of the drive-able space and a short line of cars were witness to the pettings while their forward momentum dissipated. After we started moving again, the 2 cars immediately behind the stench smiled and waved. That's the H&H.

One last example- I was riding my bike. It was cold outside and I was in the garage as usual. See, I'm becoming more and more selectively pansy. Whereas I'll run in just about any temperature, my bike won't see asphalt until it's at least 45º, probably closer to 50 (and that still depends on the rain and wind). Since Canada feels the need to keep sending her worst, it's into my partially finished workout space. I don't mind. The rest of the non-biking space is wide open or shelved off for storage. There's enough room for the bike, treadmill, and a small marching band. That's a good thing too since, on one Saturday afternoon, I was spinning away. Suddenly, my workout room door exploded open and the USC Marching Band filed in with Fleetwood Mac playing Tusk. It worked and I had one of my best trainer sessions of the winter! Later on, Lindsey admitted to me that he wrote the song about me because he missed hanging out when I was exercising instead.

Okay, that last one may or may not have actually happened in real life. But the other 2 definitely did. Regardless, the Winter H&H is a thing of beauty. You and I must train ourselves to recognize external inspiration when it happens. Even if it's only in our heads, the H&H can be a useful tool to gain an edge over our demons.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Ask the Banter- Getting Started

It's sort of the end of Resolution time. Right around the beginning of the New Year (the Gregorian Year, not the Athletic Year, Academic Year, or Fiscal Year), the average person's motivation to start a new exercise routine is high. Society has taught us that January 1st is a sort of re-birth of positive behavior. Countless would-be do-gooders pledge to turn over a new leaf and finally improve their lives. The motivation to continue said behavior typically wanes after about 3 weeks. This is why is was a little in shock when one of my work colleagues recently came up to me with the following news (some details may be embellished).

Her: Guess what?
Me: Um, you've become a billionaire and are willing to give me a few million because you like my smile?
Her: No. Not even close.
Me: Well, you can't blame me for trying.
Her: I'm going to start running
Me: [sincere smile- which probably isn't worth any cash] That's awesome!
Her: So, umm, I have no idea how to get started. Help please.

On the surface, I seem like the right guy for the job. I advise/ coach several of my co-workers on their athletic endeavors. I'm a semi-runner by trade. For some reason, the other people of whom I service don't seem to have any complaints.

Me: Let's set up a more formal meeting.

Intake Interview
As a coach, I will always do an athlete interview before taking on a new client. I need to know a few things about the soon-to-be glutton for punishment before I agree to move forward. During this discussion, I try to learn the athlete's background, measurements, commitment, goals, social security number, and reasons for needing a coach. This specific interview was easy, since I already knew most of what I wanted.

During the meeting, a couple of interesting points were exchanged. First, she asked me if she should start with running 5 miles a day for 4-5 days a week. Keep in mind that the amazing specimen of a human is a working mom who hasn't done anything close to organized exercise for more than a decade. Her question highlights the reasons why people enlist the services of a coach in the first place. (Just in case you're wondering, the answer is no.)

Second, she asked me what her first step is in getting started. "Go out and buy running shoes?" Possibly. But, not for my athletes. Purchasing gear is around step 3, depending on the athlete. For most of my peeps, step 1 is to have a conversation with your family. Here's why:

Becoming an athlete, recreational or professional, is a lot like an invitation to a party. The invitation is to yourself and the party is your life. Any decent invitation should answer the Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How questions. Some of the answers are very easy. In the case of my newbie runner, it went like this...

#1- Who- You
#2- What- Running
#3- Where- ???
#4- When- ???
#5- Why- to get healthier
#6- How- Coach will tell me

Communication Problems
The Where and When are the reasons she's talking to her family. The ones who love you the most are also going to be your biggest supporters and biggest barriers. If you want their support, you need to include them with your plans. If you want them to be a barrier, you simply start changing the family routine. Communication is key in any relationship. Like it or not, she is in a relationship with her kids and husband. Their support is crucial to her success.

Sure enough, she went home and had the conversation. Sure enough, upon hearing her intentions, they were almost teasing and in disbelief. In their defense, I get it. My new athlete doesn't have a history of activity (past being an outstanding wife and mother). We are right smack in the middle of Polar Vortex 2.0, happening during the traditional coldest time of the year. She doesn't have a gym membership nor any indoors training equipment. She doesn't own any gear or cold weather running clothing. She thought that she'd start running in the wee hours of the morning, despite the fact that she's never been a morning person. She's basically in over her head. I can easily see how the family would be hesitant. They weren't on board.

A Collaborative Approach
She came back to me deflated. This was a good test for her. Her reaction was still positive. She was serious about getting started and wanted ideas on how to bring her family around. This fact, in and of itself, was all the information I needed to convince me to take her on as an athlete. She was faced with the strongest of demotivational circumstances and still wanted to move forward. She's mentally in a good place. And, there are strategies to bring the family around. On it's most basic level, anytime they throw up a roadblock, toss it back and have them come up with a solution.

-When they say that she's not a morning person, ask them when is a good time for her to do her work (she needs to set aside 1 hour per day).

  • Show them some commitment by taking them shopping for clothes and gear. If they want something, purchase that too. Who knows, she may get a workout partner or two.
  • Suggest a trial period. She's going to need about 6-weeks of introductory training before a habit forms. Ask for leniency or grace during the initial stages.
  • Get them to come up with routes that would be appropriate for Mom/ Wife to run on and give them piece of mind.

The idea is that she is to go into the family meeting with an open mind and leave the meeting with concrete answers of the Where and When. This, in my experience, is the most challenging part of getting started. Without these answers, running shoes are essentially useless.

As it stands right now, I'm fairly confident that she can swing her family. I hope that it won't take too much work. If needed, I'll host a mediation. I could convince the family by using the same techniques that I've trained her to use. I doubt it'll come to that. Only the most stubborn of families won't negotiate with moms wanting to workout.  She's got a lot of power in that family. If worst comes to worst, I'll remind them who's in charge of cooking dinner.

With the Where and When answers, planning workouts are simple. She'll be starting at 20 minutes times 4 days a week. Her initial runs will be run/ walk variations with subsequent weeks trying to increase the run portion until she can comfortable do the entire 20 minutes without walking. Conveniently, I expect this to take about 6 weeks (see how that works?!)

So, let this serve as a reminder to all you youngins out there. The actual act of working out is one of the easier details of your venture. Start slow and be consistent. The Where and When are the bigger challenges. Neither are likely to be successful without the help of your support crew. If necessary, threaten them with starvation. They'll come around.