Friday, November 29, 2013

Playground Reviews: Marla Dorrel Park, Anderson Park (OH)

Marla Dorrel Park - Thurston Drive, Cary, NC
Visited: Saturday, November 23, 2013
| Google Satellite

Summary: Yes, part of the reason we picked this playground is because it's named after someone named Marla. But it's actually a pretty good park! It's near our old apartment in Cary, so we're familiar with the area. And, I've biked here multiple times because it connects with a major pedestrian bridge. This isn't our first visit.

(Note: The scoring system is designed so that 50% is an average score. "Perfect" scores are rarely given.)

Things for Marla to do: 12/14. This park is pretty big. Three distinct play areas (the first two of which are pictured): the type of playground set you'd normally see, a climbing thing in the middle, and another play area that has play houses and whatnot. There's also a dragon you can climb on. Of the playgrounds we've been to, only Pullen Park is more expansive or has as much variety.


One thing this playground doesn't have is a really tall slide, but, meh. Maybe that's a good thing.

Uniqueness: 8/10. Big points for uniqueness here, mostly because of what I just said. I also appreciate that this isn't like all the other playgrounds where they just cut down all the trees and stick a set or two in the middle of the cleared area. They kept most of the trees intact here. Lots of shade, and it helps keep each area of the playground separate. That's pretty nice.

Upkeep: 9/10. Another Cary park in great shape. Raleigh and Cary definitely take good care of their parks.

Crowd: 4/10. This park is pretty popular, as you'd expect, but since it's so spread out, it isn't overwhelmingly so.

Marla enjoyment: 4/5. If not for the kid that threw sand in Marla's face, maybe this would have been 5/5? (Can't really give 5/5 here if Marla is grumpy even for just a couple minutes.)

TOTAL: 37/49, ranking 1st out of 19. First place overall!

===

Anderson Park* - Anderson Street, Maumee, OH
Visited: Thursday, November 28, 2013
| Google Street View
(* - Not to be confused with Anderson Community Park in Carrboro, NC, which we've been to but have not reviewed yet.)

Summary: The closest playground to Amber's parents' house, or at least one of the closest. Amber reports that it was "recently" renovated and revamped - although when you only visit the area a couple of times a year, "recently" could just mean "at some point between now and when I moved to North Carolina." (Google Street View confirms that the current set has been around since at least July 2011.)

Things for Marla to do: 8/14. All of the standard playground amenities are here: swings, slides, things to climb, separate areas for toddlers and older kids. (I only give scores of above 8 here for "special" playgrounds that go above and beyond the usual stuff.)


Uniqueness: 5/10. Hey, look, a dinosaur!


Mostly thanks to her favorite cartoon Peppa Pig (which will get its own blog post sooner rather than later, by the way), Marla knows all about dinosaurs. Roooar!

Upkeep: 2/10. Trash level was average to below average, but mostly this score - my lowest upkeep score to date, unfortunately - is due to a broken toddler swing, plus another broken apparatus. Amber points out that it's harder to keep outdoor equipment in top shape in colder climates; that, and we're kind of spoiled with the playgrounds in Raleigh, Cary, etc. They set a high standard.

Crowd: 9/10. By rule, "nobody else at the playground during the duration of our visit" means a crowd score of 9 or 10. However, I may have to include a "weather" or "time of day" adjustment. Thanksgiving morning + 24°F = not the most popular time for kids to go to a playground. So is this score really indictative of how crowded (or not) this playground usually is? Maybe, maybe not - can't make that call based on one visit. Gotta stick with the system.

Marla enjoyment: 3/5. We left once Marla got uncomfortably cold. She held out for between 30 and 45 minutes, though, which was longer than I thought she would.

TOTAL: 27/49, ranking 9th out of 19. That's four playgrounds now with an overall score of 27; of those, Anderson Park is 2nd based on my arbitrary tiebreaker.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Curling Recaps: November 2013

Among the many things I'm thankful for: curling! Here are quick recaps of the four games I played in November.

Career game #234: 2013 Fall Friday League - November 1, 2013

End........... 12345678 |TTL
----------------------------
Mecca......... 00002003 | 05
Allen......... 11110220 | 08

A little commentary on the last end. The previous week - or one of the previous weeks - we had a four-point lead going into the final end, and so I started calling all take-outs, in order to play conservative and "run the other team out of rocks". It worked, and the last end ended up being blanked. This time, I tried the same thing, up 6 this time. Except that this week, we pretty much missed every take-out in the last end, because the ice was not as conducive to take-outs as I thought it was, it turns out. If we were only down 4 at that point instead of 6, that last end really would have been interesting. That's something to consider next time I'm in that position.

Career game #235: 2013 Fall Sunday League - November 3, 2013
(my team: Kato)

End........... 12345678 |TTL
----------------------------
Kato.......... 03010000 | 04
Zwiefel....... 20100321 | 09

This is normally Amber's team, but I curled in her place, given that she had just run a marathon that morning. I wasn't much help as her team's temporary Lead, though; my Lead rocks never really helped us all that much. But that's not unusual; my career record in league games in which I play Lead, is now 4-5.

I suppose Lead isn't my best position. Makes sense, since it's the position in which I have the least experience, by far: I only have 18 career games at Lead, and 8 of those came in my first year, 2007. (By comparison, I have 83 games at Skip, 98 at Vice, and 36 at Second.) At least sweeping was fun.

Career game #236: 2013 Fall Friday League - November 8, 2013

End........... 123456 |TTL
--------------------------
Wright........ 020000 | 02
Allen......... 201313 | 10

Nearly a perfect game on all counts: we had the shot making, the strategy, and the occasional lucky break. This win gave us the #1 seed in the four-team playoffs, scheduled to start the following week. Let's do it!

Career game #237: 2013 Fall Friday League Semifinal - November 15, 2013

Just kidding! We got all amped up to start our playoff game, and the game never happened. As we later found out, the culprit was a compressor failure. (Basically, that's what keeps the ice cold.) Let's try again next week!

Career game #237 (for real): 2013 Fall Friday League Semifinal - November 22, 2013

End........... 1234567 |TTL
---------------------------
Jaun.......... 0310122 | 09
Allen......... 3001000 | 04

Team Jaun played a great game, and we couldn't keep up. Their rocks made it past the guards; ours just barely did not. It was basically that sort of game, although it didn't really get away from us until the 6th end. Actually, in the 5th end, we were sitting 5 prior to the last shot of the end, which opposing Skip Chris made for 1. Then, we couldn't get anything going in the 6th end, and in the 7th (and would-be final) end, we were scrambling to try and score 3, which meant we had to get that darn opposing rock off of the button first, which we were never able to do in the entire end, because we couldn't get the line just right on our hits or draws. Kind of a frustrating end to the season, but at least it was more a matter of the other team winning the game rather than us losing it. This was my 99th career loss, so my next loss will be a major career milestone!

And, that was my last official game of 2013, since I don't have any scheduled for December. My final record for the year: 22-12-1, including 14-3-1 as a Skip (all during league or pickup games at home), and 7-4 in away bonspiels; I also won a league championship trophy (in the Spring) and a bulldog trophy. Pretty good year! Also, Amber won her own league championship this past Sunday, which means that Amber is ahead of me on league titles again (5 to 4).

Monday, November 25, 2013

Holiday Traffic: 2013 Edition

Here's a little synopsis on my thought process regarding driving up to Toledo for Thanksgiving this week.

The plan was to drive up to Toledo on Wednesday, leaving at 4 AM, like we usually do when heading up that way. But, the weather forecast doesn't look particularly hospitable for that. Basically, we'd be driving through West Virginia in the snow, potentially during a significant snow event, and potentially during the brunt of that snow event. (Probably not the brunt of it, but do we want to take that chance?)

(Disclaimer: I have a degree in meteorology, but I'm not much of a forecaster. Instead, I just do what you all do and look at other people's forecasts, although I'd like to think I know how to interpret those forecasts - not to mention, which forecats are trustworthy and which are not - better than the general population. My primary source is the National Weather Service. Locally, I also trust WRAL and @wxbrad, and @capitalweather up towards DC, but that doesn't help me a whole lot in West Virginia.)

Could we avoid West Virginia altogether? And if we do, would the weather be any better? Let's see...
- If we go north first, then west - say, by way of Breezewood and the Pennsylvania Turnpike - then we're basically just trading trading snow in West Virginia for snow in Pennsylvania. And actually, it could be worse there: there are already Winter Storm Warnings in Western PA. So, no.
- If we go west first, then north - by way of Knoxville - then, we might have some better luck.

Problem is...going to Toledo by way of Knoxville is a pretty long drive. We've done it in one shot before, and NOT including stops, it took 12 hours. So, plus stops, and given that we have a kid, we'd be looking at 14 hours. And that doesn't even factor in the weather or holiday traffic. No thanks. So, we're leaving late Tuesday afternoon instead, and spending the night near the Tennessee/Kentucky border along I-75, before finishing off the drive on Wednesday. (We already have a reservation, because I'd rather not be stuck looking for a hotel in the snow, for instance.)

"But...since you're leaving Tuesday instead of Wednesday, won't that put you right back into the middle of the storm again?" Well, yes...however, it's supposed to be mostly rain along I-40 Tuesday, changing over to snow overnight into Wednesday morning as we head north of Knoxville. As long as we get to our hotel before the change to snow, no problem!

"Well...what if it DOES change over to snow before you get your the hotel?" Then, at least it shouldn't be as heavy as it's expected to be from West Virginia north. There's also a chance the snow won't have completely moved out by the time we want to leave Wednesday morning; if that's the case, then we'll just wait it out at the hotel, I guess.
I never said this option was a perfect option. It's just the best one we have, given that we have to work Tuesday, and would like to be in Toledo before dinner time Wednesday. The good news is that once we're north of, say, Lexington, we should be all clear.

"So why not just drive all the way to Lexington Tuesday night?" We're already looking at a 6 hour drive to the hotel on Tuesday as it is. We don't want to push it.

As much fun as all of this sounds, I'd still rather put up with this than try flying. At least this way, we're in control. (Mostly.) If we booked a flight for late Tuesday or Wednesday, who knows what would happen there, with delays / cancellations / etc.

Anyway, after all that, during our visit in Toledo, no snow is expected. That's really annoying.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Bicycling Business

At least once during virtually every long (35+ miles) bike ride I do, I have to pee. In a way, that's good, because it means I'm hydrating enough. In fact, if I don't have to pee at least once during a long bike ride, then it means I'm not hydrating enough.

However, it's not particularly convenient, of course. So, what are my options? I think this is an important consideration for longer bike rides. Like it or not, you're going to have to pee in the middle of a ride at some point, at least if you're doing it right.

In order of "most preferable" to "least preferable":

1) Pee in a public bathroom at a public park. When I have to pee, my first choice is to look for a public park with public bathrooms. At a public park, I can generally leave my bike parked outside for a few minutes without fear for it being swiped. Or, if not, I might even be able to take the bike into the bathroom with me. And, public park bathrooms are usually in decent shape.

The problem is, not all public parks have bathrooms, and even the ones that do don't leave them open all the time. Durham parks only seem to have their bathrooms unlocked during the summer. I've had far more success with Cary parks, which are usually open all year. (Just one reason why Cary is more bicycle-friendly than Durham!)

2) Pee in a portable toilet. Some bicycling-friendly organization put a portable toilet on a popular cycling route near Jordan Lake, purely for the purposes of cyclists who need to pee. But that's pretty rare; mostly, I'm talking about portable toilets on construction sites. I've used many of those. Construction sites are usually vacant on weekends, which is when I do most of my rides, so, no problem. Park bathrooms are better, though.

3) Pee in the woods. Now...this is what usually ends up happening, because a lot of my rides end up in rural areas, with lots of secluded areas in which to do your business undetected. I find it kind of stressful to find that place that's "just right", though.

4) Pee in a public bathroom in a grocery store / convenience store / etc. I never do this, because a) I don't like leaving my bike outside unattended at these types of places, and b) sometimes it's a long walk once you're inside to the restroom, and c) I don't like being the bicycling dork among all of the regular customers, wherever I am.

Monday, November 18, 2013

US Olympic Trials for Curling

Lately I've been publishing topics of "general curling interest" on the Triangle Curling Club webpage. But I should probably keep opinion pieces like this here, so...yeah.

Last weekend, NBCSN televised the US Olympic Trials for curling, in which the best women's team directly qualifies for Sochi, while the best men's team qualifies for a qualifier to go to Sochi. (More on that later). I watched pretty much every single end that was televised, plus some of the web-only coverage from earlier in the week. I'm dedicated.

We have two strong established teams on the women's side: Team Pottinger and Team Brown. Between them, they've basically won 7 of the last 8 national championships (save for a lineup change here and there). And, although the 2010 Olympics didn't go particularly well, these teams are generally good enough to compete on the world stage. So, no surprise that the women's final for the Olympic berth featured those same two teams. And given the way Team Brown played both this weekend and at the most recent World Championships (4th place, behind Scotland/Sweden/Canada in some order), I'm pretty confident we'll have a much stronger showing in Sochi than in Vancouver. I feel pretty good about our chances on the women's side.

The US men don't seem to have any dominant teams that win every year, though. We've had three different teams win the last three national championships, and on top of that, a fourth team - led by John Shuster - won this weekend's trials. Unfortunately, I'm not as confident in our men's team's chances as I am the women. I thought there was a noticeable difference in the quality of play on the men's side versus the women's side. Many more missed shots with the men, it seemed. Perhaps it's no coincidence, then, that the men are the ones that haven't qualified for Sochi yet.

Will Team Shuster advance through next month's "Olympic Qualification Event" (8 teams for 2 spots) and make the Olympics? Just as importantly, will we be able to watch the Qualification Event, like we were the Trials? I haven't heard yet; I guess that's up to NBC; I would assume they own the rights since it's Olympics-related. Maybe they'll stick it on that Universal Sports channel or something. Either way, I really hope the men make it to Sochi, because our curling lives depend on it!!!

Perhaps that's a bit of an extreme take on things, but here's the thing. As Amber has a way of reminding me whenever I watch sports, no matter how badly the sports teams I root for do - and most of them do pretty badly - it doesn't really affect my life. The performance of the United States curling teams in the Olympics, however, might be the only sporting event where it does. The better we do in the Olympics, the more members our local curling club might hope to get? Maybe not, I don't know; after all, our club membership nearly doubled in 2010, despite the US teams both finishing in last place in Vancouver. I think as long as we're in Sochi and putting on competitive and interesting games - and that was the case even in Vancouver; despite the dual last place finishes, the games were competitive - it doesn't really matter how many games the US wins, in terms of how many new club members we might hope to recruit. But, not having a United States men's team in Sochi at all might be different. So, no pressure, guys! Every curling club across the country is counting on you!

I will say this about Team Shuster, though: they certainly aren't lacking in confidence. And that could go a long way in this Olympic Qualification Event thingy, in which their competition will consist of teams that they should (hopefully) be able to beat, as opposed to Canada/Scotland/Norway/Sweden/etc. But if Olympic qualification comes down to a draw for the win in the final end of the final game...I might pass out. (Good thing I'm not the one who has to make that shot, eh?)

So, good luck to Team Brown in Sochi! And, good luck to Team Shuster in Germany next month, and (hopefully) in Sochi, too! We're pulling for you.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Playground Review: Herndon Park

Lately, we haven't been taking Marla to many playgrounds that we haven't been to before. Sooner or later, we're going to make it out to Knightdale's new playground, plus a few more in Cary. But, here are a couple of reviews in the interim:

Herndon Park - Scott King Road, Durham, NC
Visited: Saturday, November 9, 2013
| Google Street View

Summary: This is the closest public playground to our house - our two neighborhood playgrounds are operated by our HOA - but we don't go here all that often. It's not close enough to walk, and so if we're going to drive, we may as well drive a little farther, no?

(Note: The scoring system is designed so that 50% is an average score. "Perfect" scores are rarely given.)

Things for Marla to do: 6/14. A toddler area and a bigger kid area; pretty standard. No toddler swings (big kid swings only), but there was plenty to keep Marla's attention regardless.


Uniqueness: 4/10. The "bridge" connecting the two playgrounds together (not pictured, because it's behind the front set) was kind of unique, even if it serves as much an obstacle to the parents as anything else. There are also a couple of climbing-type and other things you don't see at every playground. Mostly, though, it's standard.

Upkeep: 7/10. The set has a few years on it, but it's in pretty good shape, and the park is clean.

Crowd: 5/10. At the start, we shared the playground with just one other family of three. Had it stayed that way, I might have scored 7/10...but then everyone else came.

Marla enjoyment: 5/5. I don't throw around scores of 5/5 all that often, but Marla was really, really happy and energetic the whole time. Who needs swings, anyway? Besides, a playground without swings is less work for the parents!

TOTAL: 27/49, ranking 8th out of 17. (Here's the entire scoring spreadsheet.) Remarkably average!

Yeah, these playgrounds are starting to run together a little bit. For the most part, these reviews are going to get less and less interesting, especially for the "average" playgrounds.

===

Finley Forest Neighborhood - Finley Forest Drive, Chapel Hill, NC
Visited: Saturday, October 19, 2013
| Google Street View

Summary: This is nothing more than a subdivision-scale swing set and slide, and a pretty old one at that. But I've gotta review it! The overall scoring and rankings are most meaningful if I score every playground we go to, even if we're only there for a few minutes. (Provided that admission is free. That's the only requirement, and it's why Hill Ridge Farms isn't eligible. Neighborhood playgrounds for "residents and their guests only", like this one, are eligible.)

Things for Marla to do: 3/14. We've got swings, and a slide. And Marla isn't old enough to get up to the slide by herself.


Uniqueness: 1/10. Hmm...I've got nothing. Seriously, though, as we visit more and more playgrounds, and I start getting the sense that I've "seen everything before", I'm going to have to safeguard against giving progressively lower uniqueness scores. But not today.

Upkeep: 3/10. The set is pretty old and downtrodden, but it was moderately clean, and I'd like to leave room at the bottom of the scale for something in even worse shape and/or trashy. (In other words, for the kind of playground that we would probably never go to anyway, unless we made a wrong turn somewhere.)

Crowd: 9/10. One nice thing about these small subdivision playgrounds is that you usually have them to yourself! Usually.

Marla enjoyment: 3/5. Give Marla a swing, and she's happy, usually. We were in the neighborhood for a birthday party, and we would have actually preferred that Marla get bored with the swings earlier so that we could, you know, go back to the party.

Note: while my uniqueness scores may creep downward, the Marla enjoyment scores may creep upward, because as Marla gets older, the more she'll enjoy playgrounds. (To a point, of course, but we're many years away from that point.) But that doesn't bother me so much in terms of the scoring, because "Marla enjoyment" is meant to be the "wild card" in my system anyway. There are a lot of factors independent of the playground that will influence how much fun Marla has; most notably, how well rested she is.

TOTAL: 19/49, ranking 16th out of 17.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Sports: 11/7/13

College football

The past few years, I've longed for the "glory days" of Florida State football, where they contend for national championships, and blow out most everyone in the ACC by final scores of 51-14 and the like. Well, for this year anyway, the glory days are back! In fact, I'm now in a unique position that I haven't been in for a few years, where I'm actively rooting for other undefeated teams to lose - Alabama and Oregon, specifically - so that Florida State can play for the BCS Championship. Oregon plays at Stanford tonight, which is the biggest test Oregon has left, so I'm told. Oregon at Stanford - Thu 9:00p, ESPN

Actually, though, if FSU goes undefeated and doesn't get to play for the BCS championship, would that be so bad? Sure, national championships are nice, but I think I'd rather go 14-0 with an Orange Bowl win, than 13-1 with a loss to Alabama. Besides, these "national championships" are all kind of fake anyway. If it happens, great; if not, oh well. I'll be thrilled if they go undefeated, BCS championship or not. Besides, there is still no guarantee Florida State even finishes the regular season undefeated, even though they will be big favorites the rest of the way, including at Florida. What if Jameis Winston gets injured? Then what? Florida State at Wake Forest - Sat 12:00p, ABC

A quick word about Penn State: I missed the Penn State v. Michigan four overtime game, because it was during our Luray trip. Now that they've played (and lost to) Ohio State, the Michigan game will certainly go down as the highlight of the year, right? What's left on the schedule that could top that? It'd be nice if they beat Minnesota this week, I suppose, but...meh. That's one problem with a bowl ban: it's hard to stay interested once the team's most intriguing games are already behind them. Penn State at Minnesota - 12:00p, ESPN2

NFL

Do I have anything to say about the Jaguars? Nope. Jacksonville at Tennessee - Sun 1:00p, NFL Sunday Ticket

NHL

When the NHL did the whole realignment thing, and stuck the Carolina Hurricanes with the Penguins, Flyers, Capitals, Rangers, and Devils, I thought, "Well, crap. We've been having enough trouble making the playoffs as it is!"

Well, so far at least, this "Metropolitan Division" - and I kind of like the name, by the way - is actually the weakest division in the NHL. Carolina has only won 5 of 15 games, and yet is only two points behind the Islanders for 3rd place in the division. (Top three in each division make the playoffs, plus two more "wild cards" from the conference.) So, the start to the season hasn't been all that inspiring, and their top two goalies are hurt, but thank goodness for the realigned divisions*! NY Islanders at Carolina - Thu 7:00p, SportSouth

* - Actually, upon further inspection, Carolina would only currently be ONE point out of a playoff spot under pre-realignment (alignment?), not two, since Detroit would be back in the West instead of the East. Actually, who knows what things would look like pre-realignment, since the schedules would all be different. Well, whatever.

Soccer

Things aren't going well for my soccer rooting interests. Fulham is flirting with relegation in the Premier League (currently two points clear), and they've been noticeably outplayed and outclassed in many of their games this season. They fail the "eye test", for sure, to the point where I'm not overly optimistic about their chances.

Although, it's not like I've been watching much of the other bad teams: Norwich City, Sunderland, and Crystal Palace (the current bottom three). All three of those teams have pretty rancid goal differentials, much worse than Fulham has. Maybe those teams fail the "eye test" even more so than Fulham does? Maybe I'll watch Norwich City this weekend and see. Norwich plays West Ham this weekend, who's currently just ahead of Fulham in the "table" (a.k.a. the standings), and as such will provide a good test. It's one thing to lose 7-0 to Manchester City, but if Norwich flames out spectacularly against West Ham as well, then I'll feel better about Fulham's chances. Norwich City v. West Ham United - Sat 12:30p, NBC

In France, things might be going even worse, though. Marseille has lost all four games in the Champions League, so, there's that. But beyond the league's on-field performance, all of the professional players and teams in France are protesting Fran├žois Hollande's new high income tax bracket (75% on income over 1 million euros, or something like that) at the end of the month, and will refuse to play over the last weekend of November. Without commenting on the politics of taxing the wealthy at 75%, it does put French soccer at a pretty big disadvantage compared to the rest of Europe, I suppose, since it's pretty much all about money. (Isn't everything?) Cancelling an entire weekend of games due to player/team strife doesn't look good, and apparently French people don't really care all that much about soccer to begin with these days, so they say. And it's not like French soccer is all that interesting anyway; Premier League games are far more exciting to watch, no matter how much money the owners of PSG and Monaco spend on their teams. (And they've spent a lot.) So, after 14 months of following Marseille and the French league in general, I'm jumping ship on Ligue 1. Bye! (But, I'm still rooting for France in their World Cup playoff v. Ukraine later this month.)

NBA

Last year, I started watching the Charlotte Bobcats, because their games were finally available to DirecTV subscribers in Raleigh. I started watching again this season, to some extent...except that last night's game (unlike the first four games) was blacked out, again. What gives?

So, even though the Bobcats - soon to be renamed the Hornets, which will be awesome - are off to an okay start at 3-2, I don't know why last night's game was blacked out, while the previous four were not. But college basketball season starts tomorrow regardless, so who cares?

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

No Shave November

Last year, I started doing the whole "Movember" thing, growing a mustache throughout the month of November. Not for charity or anything, but just for fun. I gave up on November 14th.

This year, I'm trying again, except instead of just growing a mustache - as I learned last year, I can't really pull the mustache off - I'm going full beard. For those unfamiliar with my facial hair history, I had a goatee for the better part of 1999-2006, but have never had a full beard. The goatee will be gone forever; that, I'm standing pat on. And since the mustache didn't work out, full beard is really my only remaining facial hair option.

I've seen this variant on "Movember" called various things - "No Shave November", "Novembeard", and whatnot; I'm going with "No Shave November", personally. Because that's what it is, after all. I shaved on the morning of November 1st, and then put the razor away, not to be seen again until December 1st.


120 hours of facial hair growth later - a.k.a. this morning - here's how we stood:


My mustache hair doesn't grow all that quickly, but the rest of my face? You betcha. This should be a fun month, provided I can manage to make it past the 14th this year. One thing working in my favor this year is that Amber likes the beard. (So far.) One thing working against me, though, is that I do see a gray hair or two mixed in there.

(I'm actually taking a selfie every morning throughout November as the beard grows. We'll see what I can make out of it when I'm done, if anything.)

Monday, November 04, 2013

Marathon Spectating

Amber ran (and finished!) a marathon yesterday, her first ever. (How did you spend your weekend?)

I would write more about the race itself, but I obviously didn't run the race with her. Amber actually fell a little bit short of her goal; her goal was 5 hours, and to not stop to walk any part of it, but she finished in 5:11 something, including some walking. So, she's a little disappointed. Of course, even finishing your first a marathon is a major accomplishment regardless of the time, but I understand where she's coming from. (Personally, my strategy is to always set really low goals for myself, but Amber is better than that.)

Well, anyway...while Amber was running, Marla and I (and my parents, who were in town for the weekend) thought we'd go stake out a spot or two along the course and cheer her on. I'll (probably) never run one of these myself, or even anything close, so I can't talk about what it's like to run a marathon. All I can do is talk about the logistics of cheering on your friends and loved ones while they do it. Amber has told me that it helps her motivation and whatnot to see us cheering along the course, especially if it's unexpected, so I'm happy to help. (Although maybe I shouldn't be giving away my strategy here?)

Last week, I did my research to find the best spectator locations, focusing on the second half of the route, for a couple of reasons: 1) the second half is where Amber could use the most encouragement, and 2) the second half is where the route diverges from the half-marathoners, and so would be less crowded. I decided that the best locations would be a more accessible (but likely more crowded) spot at mile 15, and a more secluded spot between mile 22 and 23.

So, when should I get to mile 15? I calculated when she would get there assuming a pace between 10 and 12 minutes per mile (her longer training runs hovered around 11 or less), and made sure I was there in plenty of time. She got to mile 15 about when I thought she would, right on the 11 minute per mile pace. (Her actual pace at that point was faster than that, since she didn't start the race right at the gun time.)

(This is where a picture would go, if I took one. Here's the thing, though: you don't really have time to take a picture during these things. You only have a window of a few seconds to spot your runner among the many other runners out there, grab their attention somehow, and say "Go Amber!" and whatnot. Then, like that, they're gone, because you know, they're running and all. Too much going on at once to try and snap a quick picture, in my experience.)

One of the advantages of having a last name like "Allen"? Low bib numbers! Amber was bib number #9. That made her easier to spot among all of the three-digit bib numbers out there.

After mile 15, I estimated we had 70 to 95 minutes (again, based on a pace between 10 and 12 minutes/mile) to get to the second spot. It was a bit of a walk to get there (after driving most of the way), but I picked this spot because it would be less crowded, and because it was at the end of a very long hill, the most difficult hill on the course, in fact. (How cruel are they to put the toughest hill at mile 22?) If Amber could use some encouragement anywhere during the race, it would be here. While it would have been neat to see her finish, I think it was more beneficial to camp out a few miles before the finish instead.

We made it there in 65 minutes, but...Amber took a little longer than 95 minutes to get there. Like I said, it was a pretty tough hill. Pretty much everyone we saw at the top of the hill was walking. No shame in having to walk, too.

I think that hill is the main reason why if Amber is going to do another marathon - and I suspect she will, despite what she says now, because I know her well - she won't be doing this marathon again. Maybe something flatter, or something that's not 100% paved. It wasn't really her legs that bothered her the most; it was her back. Regardless of when or where, we'll be there for her.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Curling Recaps: October 2013

So, yes...I've now been reduced to only doing one curling recap blog post a month (most months). This generally means I won't be talking about specific shots as much - as much as I'd like to talk about my hit for 3 on October 11, or my draw for 1 in the 2nd end on October 25 that kept us in the game early - but instead, just general stuff. And hey, at least I remembered to note all of the end-by-end scores this month!

Career game #231: 2013 Fall Friday League - October 4, 2013

End........... 123456 |TTL
--------------------------
Foulger....... 100000 | 01
Allen......... 022132 | 10

Career game #232: 2013 Fall Friday League - October 11, 2013

End........... 12345678 |TTL
--------------------------
Chick......... 22100031 | 09
Allen......... 00030200 | 05

Career game #233: 2013 Fall Friday League - October 25, 2013

End........... 12345678 |TTL
--------------------------
Allen......... 01403010 | 09
Witcraft...... 20020100 | 05

I think the key so far this season has been reading the ice. The ice has been pretty consistent this season, in terms of falls, speed, zamboni lines, etc. (That doesn't mean the falls have been the exact same every week; just the fact that there are falls, and that they behave somewhat similarly from week-to-week. That's been pretty consistent.) Generally, I've had a pretty good feel for the ice so far this season, much more so than normal, and as much as any season in which I've played Skip so far. (Experience really helps, too; I'm now sitting on 71 career games as a Skip on our home ice.) More importantly, my team is making a lot of shots, and we've had some fortunate bounces along the way as well (last week in particular), and so we're currently sitting at the top the table* with a 4-1 record.

(* - I've clearly been watching too much European soccer, if I'm now referring to the league standings as the "table".)

With these so-called "consistent" ice conditions, what's been the strategy? There are usually 2 or 3 "predictable lines" that we all use; some are more predictable than others. The straightest lines, if you don't place a guard on that line right away, then the proper strategy is to avoid that line completely until the very end. Put something in the house along the straight line, and the other team can hit it easily - and when they do, they might roll the shooter off of that predictable line, putting their rock on a different line that you can't get to. And then, the rest of the end, you're chasing. The October 11 game was kind of like that, because we were both thinking the same way; we were both trying the crazy, much more difficult routes into the house, all in an effort to avoid giving the other team an easy hit. That's why the 5th end was blanked, for instance.

Anyway, if you make your shots (hitting the broom is important because you don't want to be on the wrong side of the zamboni line), and the other team misses a shot or two giving you a chance to guard, then you can end up with rocks on all of the predictable lines, with guards, and then the other team won't have many options on their last shots. That's a hard setup to get, but when you do get it - once a game, if you're lucky - that's how you score 3 or 4 with these ice conditions. Or, throw one rock down the predictable line into the house, and you give the other team a opportunity for a hit-and-roll that you may never be able recover from.

We'll see how the ice conditions are this month. Will my general strategy keep working? Can we win the League Championship? Will we have to play Team Chick again in the playoffs? (Based on our October 11 game, opposing skip Brian seems to offer the perfect counter for my strategy. That, and his team is good, from top to bottom.)

Statistical notes: My current all-time record is now 135-97-1, so I'll be getting my 100th career loss sometime soon. (But hopefully not too soon.) Meanwhile, Amber's next win - which could come this weekend - will be her 100th career win; she's currently 99-83 all-time.