Sunday, October 13, 2013


I'm in the midst of midterms.  I had one last week, one coming up, and today I did a midterm on combining running and graduate school.  That midterm is also known as the Chicago Marathon.

I went out at roughly the pace I had planned and ran the race that I had discussed with my coach up until 17 or 18 miles.  Then my legs fell off.  Not literally, they are still there, but...

Wait, I if I put that, then the blog post is basically over.  So let's start over.  I ran the Chicago Marathon today.  I've gotten into the midterm period, and had one midterm on Thursday.  I have another take-home midterm due this Thursday.  I've probably gotten off to a late start on that.

Anyways, I woke up before the sun, because it isn't a road race if you don't miss the sunrise because you're too nervous about your warmup.  I miss mountain running already.

Also, because it is Chicago and 50,000 or 60,000 or a million or however many people are running is a bit of a logistical nightmare, they made us report to the start at about the time I was hoping to start my warm-up.  While many people didn't seem to be too bothered by this, I've been living in Tempe, and think a high of only 90 is a really nice day, so I was a bit chilled.  Oh well.

Anyways, before the start, during the national anthem, there were some problems with the PA system.  The runners took over and sang the rest of the song as the lady singing into the PA system came in and out.  I'll leave any touching statements about that anecdote to you, because I ran a marathon today and am kind of tired.  I'm also trying to save my brainpower for a few days of strait physics to catch up from not doing any yesterday or today.  Oh yeah!

I started out running the race my coach and I had envisioned.  It was really the race that I had hoped to run before factoring in grad school, but it was a beautiful day, so no excuses.  I ran 2:21.  Say what you want, but I'm okay with that.  I struggled towards the end, but combining running and physicsing is still a work in progress.  I'm sure I'll figure it out.

Also, I realized I spaced out on writing a blog post after World Mountain Running Championships.  I usually write a post after I get home, but I got home on Monday and spent the next 36 hours working on physics.  I just kind of lost track of things in all the physics.  Which isn't a bad thing.  I've been loving learning physics, teaching physics, doing physics, and dreaming physics.  At first it kind of freaked me out to wake up after applying Lagrangians in my dreams, but now if something like that happens, I just correct myself that I should probably calculate probability using partition functions rather than the Principle of Least Action.  I give my dreams bad grades for how well physics theories are applied during them.  To get an A, I would have to be applying information entropy to said situations.  An A+ would include numerically solving for said entropy in my dreams.  It would also mean that I'm getting really good at math.  But anyways, the next time I tell you, "I do this physics in my sleep," I'm probably not lying.

Anyways, Worlds was just a really bad race.  I don't know what to say and can't even dream up excuses.  I just had nothing in my legs.  I tried to run fast, but I didn't.  I kept telling myself I was going to feel better after the next transition, that I would start running well when I reached the next hill, and then that I would start to feel better when I crested it.  But I never did.  I just ran slower and slower.  I don't know what else to say.  Sometimes you're the unstoppable force, other times you're the immovable object.  And being an immovable object is pretty bad during a race.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

They Took My Blood and My Sandwich

Poland is a country known for it's springs.  If you don't know this, remind yourself that there is a bottled water company called "Poland Springs."  See, you knew.  Krynica-Zdroj, Poland, is known around Poland for it's springs.  I haven't actually been to any of the springs, but I'm told this place has provided Europe with water since about the time Europeans realized you could actually drink water as opposed to alcohol and not get sick.  Well, some in Europe have yet to discover this, but...

I had a very uneventful trip to Europe.  Once I got to Europe, though, the fun started.  During my flight into Krakow, a young child ate too much yogurt and threw up in the isle right next to my seat.  After some panicked yelling in Polish, the parents cleaned up the floor and I tried unsuccessfully to block that memory out of my mind.  I arrived in Krakow to discover that rather than bring us up to Krynica-Zdroj in a bus, we were riding the "VIP Shuttle," a BMW driven by a rally car driver with a death wish.  Because there are a lot of nice cars here.
That's not a pool.  It's a huge window.
The hotel we're staying in, taken from the gondola to the start

We arrived to our hotel to discover that even though Poland is part of the EU, they aren't on the Euro, so all of my converted currency is worthless.  But the hotel is really nice, and I don't have to pay for anything, so really all that does is keeps me from buying souvenirs and ice cream, so I'm not really complaining.  A penny saved is a penny earned, and I'm a grad student so actually paying money for things I don't need is not something I am allowed to do.  It's all summed up in the Grad Student Handbook.  The one thing that makes me a bit sad is that apparently things are really cheap here.  If I would have known that I would have brought an emptier suitcase and stocked up on non-perishables.
This picture makes the cave look bigger and lighter than it is.
The troll cave

We checked into our rooms and I discovered that my room has a troll cave in it.  Because that makes sense.  This seemed awesome until I realized that the ceiling in there varies in height and the bathroom is all the way at the other end, so I'm a bit nervous I'm going to concuss myself in the middle of the night on the way to the toilet.  Last night I almost stepped on Max King, who doesn't realize how tiny the troll cave is.  I'm not sure if I would have noticed until morning when we peeled a squished World Mountain Running Champion from the floor, but luckily I heard the pitter patter of little feet and turned a light on.

Staying true to the theme of World Mountain Running Championships, there is not much flat to run on here.  Plenty of hills, lot of trees, and some very nice scenery.  Our hotel is right next to the gondola to the start finish, which is great.  Given that the race is at noon tomorrow, I can basically hang out all morning.  Maybe physics will actually make sense then.

During breakfast this morning, I was informed that I had been randomly selected for antidoping control.  We arrived in the hotel lobby to discover that the shuttle that was supposed to take us to antidoping control had left without actually picking anybody up, so we had to board a public bus.  We traveled through town, picking up people on their morning commute.  The ladies in charge of bringing us safely to antidoping control became very interested in talking to me once I mentioned quantum mechanics, so I spent much of the ride talking about physics and neutrons and fun stuff like that.  After meandering through town for a bit to drop people off, we made our way towards the hotel that antidoping control was in, but got caught behind a horse drawn carriage.
Protip:  Rose thorns make great toothpicks.
Protip:  Rose thorns make excellent toothpicks.

We finally made our way into antidoping control and the Polish AntiDoping Agency (PANDA) took my blood.  Insert a panda joke here.  I successfully didn't pass out, and then we tried to leave.  However, we were informed that there wasn't another bus to our hotel for an hour.  I inquired about the VIP Shuttle that brought us from the airport and was told that was going somewhere else.  One of the Polish quantum women tried to sweet talk us into an earlier bus, but couldn't.  We were told we could go to the hotel restaurant and eat while we waited free of charge, so I made myself a sandwich.  Then the waitress came and took it away because I wasn't staying there.  So there I sat, sandwichless, waiting for the bus, until a Russian athlete gave me a rose.  I was somewhat dumbfounded, and by the time I realized what had happened, she had scurried off into a sidehall.  By that time it was time to get on our bus though, so I waited on the bus for the French team, who was 20 minutes late.  During that 20 minutes, the Polish quantum women heard that my sandwich had been taken away and were in a superposition of outraged at the wait staff and seeking vengeance for me.  For a moment I thought they would bring a sketch artist so that they would know which waitress to direct their ire toward.  By the time I got back to our hotel, it was time to go for a short run and eat lunch.
It's like New Hampshire, except you can't understand what people are saying.  Wait, never mind.
Krynica-Zdroj from the start/finish

Other than that, my time out here has been pretty low key.  Running, napping, eating, doing physics, and making sure my electrical converter doesn't start a fire.  I'll try to get a post up after the race to talk about how it goes, but no promises.  The US Mountain Running team will have live updates I am told.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

I'm Going to Freeze to Death in Poland

I'm heading off to Poland for World Mountain Running Championships on Wednesday.  Based on the pictures I've seen, the course looks beautiful.  Here are some pictures taken by an Italian Mountain Running website ( and some more taken by what I believe is the race organization (

Anyways, I'll write more about it when I get out there.  The US Mountain Running Team usually does a great job of getting out updates, especially on race day, so check them out next Sunday.  It's hard to write about a race before anything has happened.  So I'll write about living in AZ and doing grad school instead.

I started graduate studies in physics at Arizona State University in Tempe as soon as I got back from Sierre-Zinal.  They have the first year grad students taking courses in Classical and Continuum Mechanics and Statistical and Thermal Physics.  So from the looks of it, good times with Lagrangians and partition functions, and then better times with even crazier stuff.

We are also starting our preliminary research...soon.  Probably while I'm in Poland.  So that will give me something else to catch up on when I get back.  The big problem with starting research, of course, is that everybody's research sounds really interesting when they write an abstract about it.  So the key right now is to read between the lines to figure out a) what I'm good at, and b) what kind of stuff I want to spend the next 50 years of my life studying.  Okay, I guess I won't be doing the exact same thing for 50 years, but what I research to get a PhD will have affects on what I research with a PhD.  Oh, speaking of which, within 4-6 years, apparently I will be Dr. Glenn Randall.  So then I'll be able to do surgeries and physicals on subatomic particles.  I won't tell the joke about grabbing the down quarks and saying "cough."

I've also been TAing, which is really nice.  This has consisted of me working with small (compared to their 196 person class size) groups to go through problems to ensure they have the concepts down, as well as helping out undergraduates who need help with their homework.  I've decided graduate school is a successive process of being the dumbest person in the room.  I think whenever I become something other than the dumbest person in the room, they're going to move me to a different, smarter room.  I would say that process will stop after I get a PhD, but I'm not convinced.  The exception to that rule, however, is teaching undergraduates.  To them, I am a superhero when it comes to physics, especially if I'm explaining something dealing with their homework.  And to think, I was one of them once, making some of the same mistakes.

I have also been running.  Often indoors.  Because it gets absurdly hot in the Phoenix area from June-September.  In fact, the low temperatures in Tempe are about 20 degrees (F) hotter than the high temperatures in Krynica-Zdroj, Poland, where World Mountain Running Championships will be.  Note to self, pack warm clothing.  But the weather is cooling down, and if I wake up early enough, I can actually run outside.  Plus, there are trails and (small) mountains aplenty around Phoenix.  And if I want flat, I can run on completely flat, right out my apartment door.

But I should probably get back to the homework that I'm procrastinating by writing this.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Probably the Most Painful Experience of My Life

Sorry for the delay since Sierre-Zinal.  It's been quite a week.  After the race, I came home (to Arizona now) and have spent the last week doing graduate student orientation.  I thought originally that grad student orientation would be kind of like undergrad orientation.  You know, this is where the dining hall is kind of stuff.  But I've been expected to learn a great variety of things, from how to operate a fire extinguisher to what strategies to use teaching undergraduates to what do do with any radioactive waste a lab I'm in generates.  I am not being sarcastic, these are all topics we have covered.  Also, to add to my terrible excuses for not updating in a timely fashion, it took me a while to get internet to my apartment.

Anyways, Sierre-Zinal is a 32 km race from Sierre, Switzerland to Zinal, Switzerland.  The race starts at 500m or 800m or something like that above sea level.  It then immediately climbs about 2000m up one of the steepest hills I've ever seen in a race, rolls across the top through every type of terrain and surface I can think of except deep sand and cobblestones, then drops off the face of the mountain to end in Zinal.

I ran Sierre-Zinal two years ago in just over 2:45, and thought that my preparation was much better and would allow me to at least run faster than last time.  I know that Sierre-Zinal is the kind of race that has so many challenges that nobody can be strong at everything, but I thought that I was stronger in essentially every part of the race than last time, an idea that I now find somewhat laughable.

Early in the race, I positioned myself near the front.  I thought I was in the perfect position, not leading, but far enough up to hopefully stay close up the hill.  My legs disagreed.  This year had a much deeper field than previous years, as it was the 40th running of the race and somewhat of a landmark, so that meant I was passed by a lot of people going up the hill.

I reached the top and reminded myself that last time I ran, I also lost a lot of ground on the uphill but surged over the top.  I thought I could do that again.  I passed some people, but my legs still felt pretty heavy.  As I came into the part of the course that gradually works it's way down in preparation for the drop into Zinal, I thought I was finally ready to come into my own.  The sight of Zinal made me realize that I really wanted to be done, so I picked up the pace to finish earlier and started to feel good.

Then I reached a "stony path."  This is a way of saying the course went across a boulder field.  I had told myself that these parts of the course were few and short, and hadn't put in a ton of work on them.  Apparently I was more tired than I remembered last time, because it felt like the boulders never stopped.  Finally, my back seized up, which made me too afraid to run down the hill like I had hoped to.  So basically, I felt good for about a mile of the race.  Not bad for a 20 mile race.

This was where we slept in Zinal.  Even on a rainy day it looks amazing!
The street that our chalet was on
I finished and walked immediately to the chalet that the amazing race organizers had put the American men into. I told myself that I was just going to drink my PowerBar Recovery drink, eat my PowerBar Recovery Bar, change my shoes and leave to grab my gear check bag.  I suppose this was what I actually did, but I was in so much pain from the race, I almost crawled into a ball on the floor and cried.  Then I started shivering so I made my way to my bedroom and found sweats to put on.  Sierre-Zinal really does take it out of you.  For those of you who really care about the result list, I was announced as 18th at the awards ceremony and ran about 2 minutes slower than two years ago for a 2:47.

I managed to get a very slow cooldown in, and within a few hours was feeling better.  That is the amazing thing about mountain running as opposed to marathoning.  A marathon has a really tough time going too terribly, but almost regardless, there is a week of terrible pain after.  A mountain race cannot be "kind of bad."  It goes from good to really bad in the blink of an eye, and Sierre-Zinal is an unforgiving course in mountain running.  But give it a few hours, a day tops, and all of that awful pain has turned into just fatigue, but you can still actually walk.

Then, as I said, I came back to the states, where I now live in Arizona, where I'm attending graduate school in physics.  Okay, so far I have just been attending graduate school orientation, but I start progress toward a PhD later this week.  High temperatures in Tempe have been above 106F this week, so I have had to run either really early in the morning or inside.  Based on what I have seen of outside, the trail running around Phoenix has a great deal of potential, assuming I don't plant myself onto a cactus.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Switzerland, Now with Pictures!

Zinal, Switzerland is probably my favorite place in the world.  Two years ago, when I came here, I fell in love.  This year, however, it would be a lot more favorite if the sun would occasionally shine.  Wow, I need to write that more, because the sun just came out.

Anyways, I can hear an Abba cover band concert playing in the distance.  Because when Sierre-Zinal comes to Zinal, they pull out all the stops.  There are press cars, runners, people in black jackets, race organizers, paragliders and an Abba cover band filling the town. 
The bus ride to Zinal
 In order to get to Zinal, you have to ride a bus from Sierre, where the race starts.  To give you an idea of how steep the course is, I took a picture from the bus, looking down on Sierre.  We had just driven up the switchbacks you can see.

The trail we usually train on before the race.
As I alluded to before, Zinal is having a lot of rain.  The path we usually train on has turned into a creek, so we have to run elsewhere.  We have, however, been hearing a lot of cowbells during out training.  Specifically, the type of cowbells that are attached to cows, as opposed to the type wielded by cheering squads.  But yeah, the rain caused a certain amount of flooding.  Rumor had it some cars were damaged, and this bridge is definitely in bad shape, but I don't know of any houses that have been damaged.  I'm sure that the Swiss will just rebuild the bridge even better and this will never happen again.

That is supposed to be a bridge, not a pier.
Pablo Vigil, chopping wood
 Pablo Vigil recruits the American runners to come to Sierre-Zinal.  He is a 4 time champion of the race and all around great guy.  He is also fluent in enough languages that he isn't just a dignitary, he's a translator for the Swiss, who have more languages regularly spoken in their country than most linguists know.  A lesser known fact about Pablo, for all of the mountain runners reading this, is that Pablo enjoys chopping wood.  So invite him over before winter comes if you want to keep your house warm.

Anyways, race is on Sunday.  I'm getting excited.

The fog is steadily rising out of the forest as I write this.  I'd love to describe it in a metaphor, but the closes I can come to is by plagiarizing the band playing in the distance.  Mama mia!  (that's what they're playing right now, sorry)  A better metaphor is that it looks like a thousand ghosts are migrating up the valley, perhaps to listen to Abba or watch the end of the race.  Or maybe they just want to get to the mountains floating in the clouds.
A mountain floating in the clouds

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Hopefully This Makes Sense When I Come Back and Read It Later

They say that in Switzerland, nothing is free.  Unfortunately, I don't have anything profound to say about that.  But if you ever come to Switzerland, bring lots of cash.  Because not only is nothing free, nothing is cheap either.  I went to a currency exchange before I left the United States.  I had to go to another currency exchange before I left the Geneva Aeroport.  Although I guess I did get a better deal on currency exchange in Switzerland than I did in the USA, so I suppose some things in Switzerland are cheap.  As long as you ignore the extra charges.  Those ones hurt.

I got into Switzerland yesterday.  I'm here to run Sierre-Zinal this weekend.  I arrived in Zinal at around lunch time.  Zinal is the type of sleepy town that closes around lunch time, except for the restaurants, and rather than wander around town like a hobo looking for somebody I know to fill me in on details like where I'm staying and where I'm supposed to be eating, I took a nap in the grass in front of the race office like a hobo.  As it turns out, I'm staying in a chalet.  And not a small one, either.  I guess some things in Switzerland are free.

I have some pictures that I've taken out here, but I haven't had it together enough to get them onto my computer, so unfortunately, you will have to wait until I either get a new post up or update this one.  My planning skills, grasp of the English language, and pretty much all other cognitive abilities are still a few time zones from catching up.  But I got a great night's sleep last night and my legs feel mostly good, so I guess the important things are in the correct time zone.  Although given that I don't know French, it would be kind of nice if my English language fluency was here.

It's a little after 9am here, and it looks like the morning rush of locals just showed up for breakfast.  As I said, Zinal is a sleepy town.  It was very warm yesterday when I took my nap, but it seems like a cold front has moved in with rain, and now I'm cursing all of my efforts to get acclimated to the Arizona heat.  Ooh, the sun's out!  I'd better go try to get my morning workout in while this lasts!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Spoiler Alert: I Qualified for World Mountain Running Championships

I qualified for World Mountain Running Championships this weekend.  I have nothing but the best of things to say about the race organization, my homestay host, and pretty much everything else about my trip, with the exception of the part involving airplanes.  That long, tiring story will come after a race update.  I would be somewhat remiss to not mention the incredible incredibleness of the volunteers and race organizers, who invite us to freeload in their homes for a few days, then put a race on for us, and proceed to thank us for the entire experience.  Sometimes the world doesn't seem to make sense in the most beautiful way possible.

Cranmore Hill Climb is an up/down mountain running course used for qualifying for the US Mountain Running Team on years when World Mountain Running Championships is up and down.  This year, Worlds is in Poland, and as such, the race is down and up as opposed to up and down.  Sometimes the Poles feel like joining in with the Pollack jokes.  As such, Cranmore was down and up this year.

It was a really nice course.  The profile made the course look deceptively easy.  It just looked like a hard course.  It turned out to be a really hard course.  I put in a move near the end of lap 2 of 3, everything was going really well, then I got really tired.  Things like that happen in mountain races.  You can go from feeling like you can run a pace forever to wondering if you will make it to the finish in far less than a minute.  I managed to hold on for fourth place.  Fore.  The race was US Mountain Running Championships.  Top 6 qualify for Poland.  Good enough.

The race was also the North American Central American Caribbean Championship.  The USA perfect scored the team score on the men's and women's side.  We had two podium sweeps.  Then we received a bunch of cheese.

But now for the story that really strikes me as interesting right now.  My flights.  I was 15 hours delayed getting home, so that kind of grabs my attention.

I had two flights out and two back.  My two flights out were both delayed by at least 45 minutes.  My flight into Boston was over an hour delayed getting in, and I was lucky to make it into Conway, where I was staying, when I did.  In fact, my flight from Grand Junction to Dallas was delayed before I even checked in, because the incoming flight the night before had arrived so late the crew needed the extra time to sleep.  Interestingly, my uncle was on the same flight a month and a half ago, and the same thing happened to him.  I joked when I checked in that they were still delayed from when my uncle flew.  Ah, the irony.

Coming back, my first flight was okay.  I was jammed into the middle seat in the back row, next to a very smelly bathroom, but compared to the rest of my trip back home, it was an excellent flight.  I arrived in Dallas to see that my flight from Dallas into Grand Junction, the last of the night, was delayed by 45 minutes.

At Penn Relays, they have so many relays that if one high school kid falls down, the entire meet is thrown off schedule with no chance to catch up.  They just have no time set aside for catching up.  This is what I have decided Dallas/Grand Junction flights are like.  I think at some point, at least a month and a half ago, they got delayed.  And they have never had time to catch up.  They're so delayed every night that in order to not have the pilot fall asleep in the cockpit, they're delayed in the morning too.  I have no evidence to counter this.  All data points toward this being the case.

Then they switched our gate.  And our flight became more delayed.  Then they switched our gate again and the flight was even more delayed.  Then they informed us that the previous flight hadn't arrived yet.  As I said, they don't have time to catch up.  Maybe they should just move the entire schedule back by an hour or two.

The flight finally arrived, but then we had to wait for maintenance.   Eventually, they informed us that maintenance had to fix two things, one of which was the windshield.  At this point, several passengers left for the bar.  Every time we looked at the monitor, we were more delayed.  The passengers who had gone to the bar came back, complaining that the bar had closed.  Just for good measure, our flight was further delayed.

Finally, they switched our gate again.  I thought this had to mean that they had found a working plane for us to fly on.  I was wrong.  They had found another broken plane for us.  We waited a bit more.  Then, they cancelled the flight.  They managed to eventually get people booked on new flights, we packed into taxis and went to a hotel.  The taxi was caught in a construction detour.  I got about two and a half hours of sleep in the hotel before I had to leave for the airport again.  Luckily, the airline had paid for my hotel room.

My taxi back was slowed down by construction, which perturbed the taxi driver that he might miss breakfast.  He drove like a taxi driver once we got out of the construction zone.  I searched the airport at length for somewhere open early for breakfast.  I was amazed how hard it was to find places that were open for early breakfast in an airport.

After that, my long stupid story looked up.  I wasn't delayed any more.  Another airline refused to even consider moving me to an earlier flight, but I was unsurprised.  Some airlines base profit margins on monetizing customer dissatisfaction.  I arrived to discover that my luggage was on a Dallas/Grand Junction flight (I was rerouted through Denver).  Of course the flight my luggage was on was delayed, but only by 10 or 15 minutes, which is probably the earliest a Dallas/Grand Junction flight has been in a few months.  Maybe there is hope.