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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The mare in the night

This past weekend I spent quite some time looking over the Cleveland Triathlon's website, including the course map and photos from last year. Probably - nay, definitely - a bad idea. I like to race in blissful ignorance. Not to say I'm not prepared - I always have a race plan - but not knowing what's ahead allows me to race at my best. I didn't like knowing what the sets were going to be in swim practice; I don't like mapping a course out for myself for my long rides or runs. I can always deal with what comes as it comes.

I am a bit nervous already for the race. Maybe because I've never done transitions before, never swum in Lake Erie before, and never rode with so many cyclists on the same road before. Knowing the course, seeing the pictures didn't help. I've started having pseudo-nightmares about the race. A remarkably realistic dream on Sunday night involved me missing my heat by 10 minutes. Another involved my bike being stolen out of the transition area (weirdly, it was indoors and it was storming during the race). I have never dreamt about a race before. Even in the 13 years of competitive swimming, even knowing I had a tough race ahead of me (like swimming the 1650 for the first time), it never happened. I guess I always felt prepared enough. Having a coach and a race plan and a team help. Here I'm on my own.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Breaking news and breaking records

The breaking news is that we have officially determined what triathlon and what length we're doing. After speaking with my one buddy last night, we decided on the sprint distance of the Cleveland Triathlon (my heat goes off at 7:25am on 2 Aug) as it minimizes the amount of time we have to spend in the disgusting waters by the E 9th Street Pier. I think I can handle the 10 or so minutes to swim a half mile in the flat water. Here's to hoping I don't finish having grown an extra limb or a third eye or something. The 16 mile bike course is entirely on the Shoreway... a highway! The 5k run is also mostly on the Shoreway as well. The race is a little over a month away. It's time to start working on some speed instead of endurance.

I broke two personal records this weekend. Saturday I went for a 3 hour bike ride (I'm pseudo-following a tri training regime I found on my computer... where it came from nobody knows!). I hit a couple rather large hills, and as I pretty much slow to a crawl up hills, my overall speed wasn't that fast. Despite that, though, I rode 37.5 miles, which I'm 99.999% sure is the longest I've ridden. I only stopped 3x- once for my normal food break, once to relieve myself, and once because I dropped my chain. I was pretty proud of myself afterwards.

The other record was broken this morning. I jogged over to the track in the drizzling rain to run 3 one mile repeats. I was striving to hold somewhere around a 7 minute mile pace, since I held near-ish that pace in my best 5k time (also, my very first 5k time). I went 7:04, 7:11, and then... a 6:56!! During the last one, I realized I had not run a timed mile since 8th grade when I went a 6:59. Three seconds worth of improvement since junior high may not be something to write home about, but is better than nothing.

Friday, June 26, 2009

My wishlist for my bike commute

I commute to work via bike pretty much every day that it is feasible; that is, if the weather's okay and I don't have some early meeting or something going on directly after work, I'm on my bike Jay cruising in to the office. This much bike commuting is a lot of fun but there are a few things for which I wish to make it even better.

1) An iron at work. One of the trickiest things about my bike commute is figuring out not only what I am going to wear at work, but how I'm going to get it there. I have practice at this from having to go directly from swim practice to work during summers at home, but it doesn't change the fact that a lot of my clothes require ironing. Rolling or neatly folding only goes so far. Jersey dresses and anything that survives being packed well are favorites of mine, but I only have so much of that. Hence, an iron. Or a steamer. Or both! I can't claim credit for this idea, but it's on my wishlist anyways.

2) An insulated bag for the rack on my bike. Seriously, why hasn't this been invented yet?! They already look like soft-sided coolers, why not actually make one? I have a Chrome messenger bag that fits every last thing I need for the day except for a lunch. I essentially bought a rack bag solely to store my insulated lunchbox. I do not regret that purchase, but it would be nice to carry even just a little bit less weight.

3) A way to listen to music. Certainly I could wear my iPod, but I also need to be able to hear traffic. It'd be sweet if they could make a handlebar mount for one's iPod with little speakers, or perhaps wireless headphones that still allow the sound of traffic with the handlebar iPod mount.

A girl can dream, right?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Playing tourist in my own city

People claim the real world sucks, but so far I have absolutely loved my taste of the 40 hrs/wk gig. Mainly because I can actually fit everything into one day, and even better- I have free time. Time that was not pressured by some overhanging concern like homework or a project was virtually unheard of in the past year with school. Actually, now that I think on it, I really never have had this much free time in Cleveland, ever. Luckily it is summer, and there are actually lots of fun things to do to pass the time. Sadly, I still need all these events to keep entertained, unlike being at home, but that's another story.

Two weekends ago was Parade the Circle. Quite the untraditional parade, it circled around Wade Oval. Forget your traditional assumptions of marching bands and people waving from floats. Instead we had stilts, costumed dancers, musicians, and all manner of artistically themed entries. It was a riot of color and music. Aside from the actual event itself, one of the highlights for me personally was the bike valet parking. Not only does the free service ensure the safety of my bike, but they gave it a quick once-over before I left. Now when was the last time your car valet checked your engine for you?

This past weekend we were entertained by the Larchmere Porchfest. Based off an event in Ithaca, local residents of the Larchmere neighborhood volunteered their porches as stages for musicians. I unfortunately only managed to get to hear one band on a porch; after a long bike ride in the morning, a nap was in order for me. It was quite a novel experience to sit on a stranger's yard to listen to music, but it was really nice. The headliner bands played on Shaker Square. The quality of music was mixed, but I especially enjoyed the final band- I believe their name was goodmorning valetine.

Last night we explored the Tremont neighborhood. This hip, trendy neighborhood on the near-west side is still rather foreign to me. We visited some neat places, including a bar with a tree in it. Tremont is an interesting neighborhood because it is essentially almost entirely residential with commercial scattered about. It seems like most other neighborhoods in Cleveland tend to have a main street area or a group of blocks where the commercial activity is concentrated, but not Tremont apparently. It was neat to wander the streets and experience the area.

This upcoming weekend is what sounds like a really cool event called Made in the 216. I have no particular affinity to anything made in this particular area code, but I'm sure some of my cronies do, so we are off Saturday evening to explore the Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood, see some things made by Clevelanders, and enjoy some live music. Hopefully I will remember to bring my camera!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Nom nom, rust belt city: on cities as donuts

Today, a local economic development entity likely made another donut-inducing decision about a major Fortune 500 company relocation project here in this rust belt city. Why the donuts? Not only do I want to eat a tasty fried snack to feel better, but it furthers the donut-shaped phenomenon that some cities are experiencing as the center cities become less and less relevant in favor of the exurban sprawl near highways.

This project involves a mind-boggling sum of money given to this Fortune 500 company so they can relocate from a downtown location out to a suburban office park near a freeway exit. The point of this entry is not to assess whether this move is a good idea; rather, it is to question the validity of heavily subsidizing sprawl. It also sets the precedent that any company could follow in their footsteps and ask for enormous sums of money so they, too, could move to their dream suburban campus. I get why the company wants to move to these locations- easy access, cheaper construction, etc. What I don’t understand is why an economic development supposedly committed to Cleveland is bending over backwards to assist them with moving out from the downtown.

This is a terrible precedent. More and more buildings sit empty in our downtown. More and more small businesses like flower shops and delis that support the big companies are folding up. I personally see few people during the day out on the street, even on a bright sunny day during lunch. Our downtown was declining, is still declining, and will continue to do so if we keep losing to our suburban cousins. But what do they have to offer? Fine cultural institutions? Distinctive locally owned restaurants? Historic architecture? I hardly think the movie theater at the mall or the Applebee’s in the parking lot can substitute for a world class museum of art or a bistro in an Art Deco building.

There is a general consensus in economic development (or at least what I’ve studied/experienced of it) that one of the keys to revitalizing a downtown is attracting the young professional crowd. I now count myself among that crowd. We’re mobile, educated, waiting longer to have families/settle down, and want a distinctive urban experience. We don’t want a bland office building in a sea of parking lots with unwalkable & unbikable streets. We don’t want an empty downtown devoid of life and relevance. We want a crème filled donut with frosting and sprinkles on top, not some cheap donut with powdered sugar that keeps blowing off and leaving a mess.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Nolli connections

Tuesday night I had the pleasure of attending a talk given by a local author on urban design, mapping, and how cities have evolved. The author (whose name I am now conveniently blanking on) is a professor in the urban planning/design department at a local university (but not mine). I didn't glean much from the talk other the chance to see some very pretty looking historical maps and the chance to briefly see how the author had created a standard mapping schema to understand and compare hundreds of cities.

The one thing that really piqued my interest more than anything, though, was the concept of Nolli connections. A Nolli map is a special kind of map developed by a guy named Nolli (you guessed it!) to map Rome back in the 1700s. Briefly, it shows all public areas in white, and all private areas in black. It varies a bit from a traditional figure/ground or solids/voids map in that public area can include interior spaces that are open to the public, such as the Pantheon, small churches, etc. I've definitely seen the Nolli map before, and have even made a couple of my own for various projects. What I hadn't been alerted to before is a neat little feature of the Nolli map: showing interior connections. For instance, if one is in the center of a block and desiring to get to the other side, normally one has to walk down the streets to get to their final destination. However, a Nolli connection might cut through the block by walking through a church and then through a passageway out to the other side of the block. I do not think it was Nolli's express intention to show these connections, but he does provide a valuable resource.

We all have our own Nolli connections, though. They don't simply exist in Rome, and they may not be officially mapped, but they do exist. For example, at my undergraduate university, to get from morning swim practice to my 9am methods class at the opposite end of campus, I would take this much shorter route instead. I'd exit the athletic center, walk around the playing field, through the children's hospital to the atrium where I would purchase breakfast at the bagel stand, on through the regular hospital, over a walkway bridge, through a parking garage, through a parking lot, down a side street, and up a sorority house's driveway to get to the side door. Quite complicated, it did take me quite some time to learn that shortcut (and learn the official name: Nolli connection!). The nice thing was that it mostly inside, always a plus in these brutal winters, and that it was partially self-created. The hospital shortcut had been passed down from older swim team members, and I did my best to pass it on, too. The rest of that route? All mine. To the best of my knowledge, I was the only one who knew it. In a university of 10,000 students all navigating the same urban campus, sometimes it is nice to feel like one has their own space.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Head, shoulder, knees and toes, knees and toes

I never seem to be far from some sort of minor ache or pain; this week has been no exception. After taking the weekend off from training due to an unusually busy schedule, I hit the bike commute hard on Monday, especially on the ride back. I took the long, scenic route, and ended up climbing quite a bit which made my knees less than happy. Ice and another day of rest took care of that one. I went swimming last night only to have my shoulder act up during my warm-up, but it went away as I swam more. Today, before heading to work, I did a "surges" track workout (a more formalized version of a fartlek and what cross country runners apparently do to better their second half of their runs). Now my heel hurts a teeny bit and all I have are silly little cutesy flats with no support! None of these aches & pains are anything more than minor, so I'm fine.

The good news is that I managed to blow through my morning bike commute with only having to stop three times at stoplights... the whole 6.5 miles! The workout had taken less time than I had budgeted, so between leaving earlier than usual and barely stopping the whole route, I got to work quite early, meaning I can leave early (or pad the week so I can work a shorter day tomorrow). Yeah! The other good news is that I managed to run the whole time with my hair in a low ponytail for the first time. I expect that I will have to do that for the triathlon (no need to waste time in T2 styling my hair!) so might as well get used to it now.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The long way home

Sometimes the weather is just too beautiful to take the fastest route back to my apartment from work. Today I cycled along the lake and then up a bike path along a boulevard to get back to the area I live. This scenic route essentially doubles the length of my trip, but how often do I have time to leisurely pedal along the shore and watch the sailboats, or cruise through the cultural gardens along the bike path during the school year? The answer is never, and so I am trying my best to do all the fun things I can't normally do. Whoever said the real world stinks certainly never went to planning school. :)

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The city as my classroom and design as an expression of myself

"We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us." - Winston Churchill

One of the interesting things about currently studying urban planning and previously having studied architecture and art/design is that one is always surrounded by what one is studying. It is different than a lot of other careers because their field tends to be less pervasive in daily life (though one could certainly argue otherwise). It's sort of hard to leave the office/classroom behind because, in a way, the city is my office/classroom.

How so? Urban planning, in the most broad of definitions, is planning for how we use space 24/7/365. We are constantly in space, and generally in at least somewhat urbanized areas, so that's a no brainer. We are constantly around architecture due to our need for shelter. Art pervades my life less so, but design certainly does through product and industrial design and even things like typefaces. Perhaps I am more strongly affected by my surroundings than others, but regardless, I am always paying attention.

I tend to geek out over mundane things like sidewalks, curb cuts, street trees and pocket parks. I choose my running routes based on what beautiful homes and parks past which I want to run. I am always interested in how things are designed, ranging from the train that takes me downtown to things like spoon rests. It is natural, therefore, that my interest in the design of my environment extends to my virtual world as well. Having (already) grown tired of the Blogger layout, it is time to redesign my blog. I started by finding a cute background (check out the link in the upper left hand corner) and have a few ideas in mind to make this more 'me' (see intro post about narcissism and blogging). So, please bear with me while changes are being made. Who knows- you might even like the final product!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Running without an agenda

"Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt." - Kurt Vonnegut

It is entirely possible that I am taking that quote out of context, but taken on its face it describes perfectly my run today. The past two days I have allowed myself some "no agenda" runs. I run without a watch, without my iPod, without any goals, without any pacing and without any set course. The only thing to do is run.

You never know if you're going to barely make it 15 minutes before wheezing or if you're going to go 12 miles on the longest run of your life. Both have happened. Today, however, I managed almost 6 and 3/4 miles. Nothing especially outstanding in mileage, but I felt amazing the whole time. I live in a beautiful suburb full of architecturally distinguished old homes on tree lined streets, with a handful of lakes and lots of green space. The golden glow of the early evening light on 1920s brick Tudor and Georgian manses certainly elevates an ordinary run to a new level. As no soreness or aches or pains bothered me, one can see how Vonnegut's quote describes it perfectly. The day before on my "no agenda" run I had to walk. Today I floated. The beauty of the "no agenda" run is that neither is a failure and neither is a success. It just is.

I think "no agenda" runs also help to remind me why I do what I do. Other than the chance to run through a well-designed community (urban planning dorkdom!), running without a purpose lets me enjoy running for running's sake. I was getting frustrated with triathlon training earlier this month/end of last month, and sometimes one just needs the chance to remember that this can be fun.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

I tri; therefore I blog

Why a semi-return to blogging? I have this theory that if one is a triathlete (even a fake one like me), they must blog. Think about it- do you know of any triathletes who don't have a blog? Nope.

Therefore, since I am training (and have been training) for a triathlon this summer, I must also engage in the somewhat self-indulgent activity of posting my thoughts to the web just like everyone else (when I start purchasing compression socks, someone slap me across the face). I am aware 99.99% of the world could care less what I think so I will make no pretext that this blog will somehow transcend the usual pedestrian fare out there. I'm more of a fan of the 140 character limit imposed by Twitter anyways. Eliminates a lot of the rambling. If you want to read a cool blog, or at least a blog written by a cool person, I'll be putting up a list of ones I enjoy (again: narcissism at its finest) on this page. If I get around to it, of course.

Now that we have buried any potentially high expectations for this blog, let me share some relevant information about my life, as it likely what I'll be posting about. I'm currently in graduate school in urban planning, I intern in the transportation field, I am a dedicated bike commuter (more due to poverty but lately to activism thanks to my internship), I live in a Rustbelt city along the Great Lakes and yes, I am training for a triathlon. Now go navigate your IE or Firefox or Safari to a more exciting site and find yourself something entertaining to read.