Monday, April 30, 2012

Why Hello There, Age Group Win!

The Redhead asked me last week if I would be interested in running a little 5K race not far from her home in Howell. I said, "sure!" The Engineer was on board as well, and thus early Saturday morning we drove to the Redhead's place. The three of us did a warmup run of about a mile to the race venue, which was probably a very good thing, as the temperature Saturday morning was about 37 degrees. This was a low-key local race in its purest form: about 150 participants, no chip timing, teenagers working the bullhorn, lots of little kids, a dog on foot, start and finish at the local high school. The "go" signal was a 3-2-1 countdown, and then we were off.

My race "strategy" was to run comfortably hard for the first mile, assess how I felt, and press on or modify from there. first mile was an 8:05.

8:05?!?! What the hell? I hadn't run that fast in who knows how long...years, probably. Okay, I thought. I feel good, let's roll with this. Mile 2 was an 8:14; I had slipped a little but that was still far beyond my expectations. At mile 3 I decided to let it all hang out and push with as much as I was capable of. I don't know what my 3M split was, but I finished in 25:35 (8:15/M). It was my fastest 5K time in 2 years. I was pleasantly surprised. I hadn't been trying that hard, just running at a pace that seemed appropriate but not punishing.

Even better, when awards were handed out about 30 minutes later (a time period during which it started SNOWING), all of us won age group awards--the Redhead and I took home age group wins, and the Engineer took second in his age group. He had the misfortune of being in the same age group as the winner of the race...who ran it in 15:59. Overachiever!

Yes, we were dressed like this on April 28.
We ran back to the Redhead's place, warmed up a little, and departed. The Engineer and I went straight to Ypsilanti to the Wurst Bar, where we enjoyed a couple of brews and some yummy food.

This race has given me confidence that I may yet regain the speed I had three years ago. My weights loss (25 lbs!) and more focused training have yielded concrete results. I improved my 5K time on Saturday by more than three minutes over what I ran at the Shamrocks and Shenanigans on March 10. My next race is Saturday at the Heart and Sole 10K right here in Chelsea. I can walk to the start from my house! It's the Holy Grail of race venues!

Obligatory Cat Picture:

Bouhaki watching Game of Thrones. He is my little TV addict.

Friday, April 13, 2012


I had three miles on the schedule yesterday. At some point (perhaps on the walk from my office to my car) I decided that three miles was not enough. I needed to run longer to take advantage of the perfect weather. One does not simply waste 59 degrees and sunny on a mere three miles.  Not when it can be snowing one day and 80 degrees two days later.

I headed into the country west of town on my 5.2-mile loop. I was feeling okay, not especially energetic, but enjoying the sunshine and cool, dry air. I made the northward turn onto Conway Rd. and shortly after Garmy chirped for two miles, I saw it. It was lying in the middle of the road, a dark circle. I was curious. My first thought was, is that a turtle? I went over to it and picked it up. It was not a turtle. It was something so, SO much better.

I recognized it instantly: banded iron formation. I said, "Oh...oh my god." I have been lusting after a piece of this for so long, but it's very hard to come by. Any random chunks that turn up around here were transported from Canada or Michigan's Upper Peninsula by glaciers, and the best source of cool rocks like this are gravel pits, where glacial till is sorted into piles by size. (A cobble heap at an unsecured gravel pit—much like the one near where I used to live—is a gold mine for a rock-starved Michigan geologist.)  I was nowhere near a gravel pit. Where had this rock come from? Why was it just lying there by itself in the middle of the road? WHO FREAKING CARES, IT'S A PIECE OF BANDED IRON FORMATION! I hugged it to my chest. My very own BIF!

And now, for a geology lesson...

Banded iron formations (BIFs) are some of the earliest evidence we have for the presence of oxygen in the Earth's atmosphere. Only with oxygen can one get the red of iron oxide, as you can see in the photo above. BIFs are extremely old rocks; most are between 1.8–2.5 Ga (that's "giga-annum," a geologist's way of saying "billions of years"). Yes, that's right: the rock I'm holding in my hand is more than a BILLION YEARS OLD. That rock was around when the only lifeform on the planet was cyanobacteria (blue-green algae).

What do algae have to do with BIFs? EVERYTHING. Algae lived in near-surface waters of the Proterozoic oceans. Algae did then what they do now: photosynthesize. Life is pretty simple for algae. Take in sunlight, produce oxygen. The waste oxygen combined with free iron ions present in the ocean water to form an iron oxide mineral, most commonly manganite (Fe3O4). The oxidized iron sank to the sea floor and formed the red layers in a BIF. The dark gray layers are iron-poor, fine-grained silica (chert), which may have formed when the algae experienced mass die-offs. As the algal biomass expanded beyond the capacity for the available iron to neutralize the waste O2, the oxygen content of the sea water rose to toxic levels, resulting in large-scale extinction of the algae population and the accumulation of the iron-poor layer of silica on the sea floor. As time passed and algae populations re-established themselves, a new iron-rich layer began to accumulate. Repeat this scenario for a few hundred million years and you have a banded iron formation.

After I recovered from my initial shock and surprise at finding such an amazing rock, I nestled it into my hand and resumed running. The rock felt heavy (I later weighed it: 4 lbs) so I shifted it from hand to hand as my arms grew tired. You wouldn't think four pounds is a lot...until you have to carry it for 3 miles. Toward the end of the run I was moving it once a minute. It felt like it weighed ten pounds. I was so glad to finish my five miles. I immediately put water on the rock for the picture, because all rocks look better when wet.

In hashing, something one picks up on trail is "trail treasure." This was trail treasure of the best kind. Better than the Michigan hat, better than the big reusable bag that holds my farm share, better than the end of an aluminum billet. This is as great a rock find as the serpentinite I dug out of a Western Ireland beach when I was at field camp. This almost makes up for my ex-husband taking my rocks with him when he moved out. (Almost.)

My BIF will go into my special rock display area (what? you mean you don't have one?) with my serpentinite from Ireland, lava from Hawaii, jasper from Lake Superior, biotite from Bancroft, Ontario, fluorite from Colorado, and sea urchin shell from Maui.'re my new BFF.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Yard Work: Substitute for Strength Training

Sunday morning, the Engineer and I cranked out a seven-mile run on one of my favorite country road routes north-northeast of town. The weather was PERFECT...and least until we hit the turnaround point and ran smack into a brisk western headwind. Despite the windy slogging, I couldn't really complain. The sky was a brilliant blue, the sun was shining, and it was about 56 degrees, which was perfect for shorts and a T-shirt. We finished the run in the cemetery and enjoyed a pleasant cool-down walk back to my house.

I made peppered bacon and a scrambled egg-onion mix for breakfast tacos; this post-run brunch was paired with Jolly Pumpkin Bam Biere from the growler we filled at the brewpub in Ann Arbor the night before. Beer for brunch? Why not!

I allowed myself a cruelly brief period of relaxation before returning outside to tackle the weekend's most onerous task, one which is unavoidable if you own a home:


The mild winter and warm spring coupled with recent precipitation had allowed my lawn to grow long, thick, and lush in enough areas that a mow job was a must. Various other plants in my yard had sprouted up earlier than usual, and last fall's dead leaves and other debris was still thick on the ground. The overall effect was "unattractive tangle." Action had to be taken, because today is curbside brush pick-up day; thus, all the trimmings and yard waste had to be stacked or bagged and placed next to the street.

The Engineer mowed while I raked, yanked, and bagged. Two hours later, the yard was much improved, and three big brown bags stuffed with debris sat next to a pile of branches at the curb. Mission accomplished.

A few hours later every muscle in my back was begging for mercy. I had pulled perhaps a bit too energetically at some of the young trees I had uprooted, including one which required my squatting down almost onto my heels and straining backwards with all my strength (I got that bastard, though. Ha!). All the pulling coupled with countless repetitions of bending over and straightening up had wreaked havoc on my lower back. The Engineer and I went out for Indian food in the evening and when we got up to leave the restaurant, I couldn't even stand up straight. I took a painkiller from my emergency stash after we got home and immediately crashed out on my bed.

My hamstrings and hips have joined the pity party today and my back is still wrecked, but damn, my yard looks good.

Obligatory Cat Picture:

Darwin out for a walk in the long pre-mowed grass