Archive for February, 2011

Snow Day!

February 23, 2011

Dawn: Snow on mountains
Chasing, uphill, the brief beauty
Noon: vanished into air.

Mike said to run for 1¾ hours. He didn’t say where. When I poked my nose out the door I saw the snow and I knew I was running up to La Cumbra and it would take a lot longer than 1¾ hours.

I poked my nose out the door relatively late in the morning. It was so cold (for SB) and I was waiting for it to warm up. It didn’t seem to be warming. There was frost outside the door at 8, and Los Positas was very cold, so I was hopeful that the snow would last till I could get to it.

There was snow behind the Mission…

It takes about 45~50 minutes to bike up to Tunnel trailhead. There seemed plenty of cars there, perhaps others had the same idea? As I started up the trail, I glanced over at the Islands. The mountains on Santa Cruz were not snow covered, but then they only go up to 2300ft so that’s not too surprising.

The snow is hidden from me as I go up, but eventually I climb up a ridge and there it is again.

The trail itself is in full sun, and is warm enough that I take off one layer of clothing. I worry a little that the snow may be gone before I get to it…

A little further I seem some frost on the leaf of an imbricate phacelia. Oddly enough the dandelion leaves beside it are unfrosted. And then there are ice crystals on the ground itself. And then… yes… tiny patches of snow.

This is very exciting. It’s been a long time since I was in snow.

Quite a number of wildflowers are blooming up here, and many of them are now encased in ice. The purple nightshade is most common, but the pacific pea is also afflicted.

As I turn a corner I can see there is less snow on the peak than there was a half hour before.

I’m probably about halfway up, there’s a long way to go yet (and this is supposed to be an easy day, I’m not allowed to go fast).

The snow seems to like the leaves of the imbricate phacelia

Hmm. It’s starting to look a bit snowy…

The fire burned through this area two years ago, and the snow clings to the burnt branches

They seem to handle it better than this living bay laurel which is quite bowed under from the snow. It’s blooming too.

It gets snowier…

Footprints! People have been here before me.

The snow is probably a half inch deep here.

I crest the last ridge and near the top of the trail. I can hear children’s voices off by the road, SB has come up here to play today.

In Santa Barbara etiquette demands that one wear shorts to a snowball fight.

I guess I’m in shorts too. It’s not cold out here in the sun.

From the top of the trail, there’s only another mile and a half to go by road.

There are some dogs romping in the snow. I wonder if they’ve ever seen it before?

The road twists and I get a good view of Santa Cruz and Anacapa. It seems odd to have all this snow here and see them shining in the sun…

Then the road pops over to the other side of the ridge, this is a northern exposure and there is more snow here. I can see the valley of the Santa Ynez river, completely snow free, but above it and beyond is another range of snow capped mountains.

Santa Ynez valley with snowy mountains behind and the Gibraltar reservoir down below. With some clouds of mist.

The road becomes icy, and drivers start to have trouble. One guy goes into a ditch as I go by.

View from the peak, looking inland

Five hours after I started I reach home again. There is no snow visible anymore.

More Photos


Boston: Qualifying

February 18, 2011

Who cares about Egypt, Wisconsin or Belgium? The real news of the week is that the Boston Qualifying times and registration process are changing!

In 2012 faster runners will be allowed to register first. On the first day people who can run 20 minutes faster than the qualifying time for their age/gender will be allowed to register, on the third day people who can run 10 minutes faster, on the fifth day people who can run 5 minutes faster, and on the seventh day anyone who meets the qualifying standards.

Then in 2013 they will raise the qualifying time by 6 minutes for every group (OK, they say 5 minutes, but if you read the small print you will see that the 59 second grace period has vanished, so the standards have been tightened by 5:59).

They are not going to increase the field size nor add qualifying standards for charity runners. The latter seems rather a pity to me.

Nor do they make any attempt to make the standards fairer for women.

But I basically feel this is a step in the right direction. I like the idea of allowing faster runners to register earlier. (Of course, I am biased here).

But I do wonder how fair the new standards are. Now the only way I know to compare times across ages and sexes is to age-grade them. The old standards were reasonably fair for men.
The age graded percentage for men hovers a little above 65%, of course it bounces up and down at age group boundaries, but it’s pretty good. A 30 year old man needs to run at 65.4%, a 52 year old at 65.7% and a 77 year old at 65.7%.

For men. For women, it’s pretty bad. Young women have it easy, and older women have it hard (a 30 year old woman needs to run at 61.3%, while a 67 year old woman needs to run at 72.5%).

Basically this means that young women have a relatively easier standard than men, women between about 45 and 55 have approximately the same (age-graded) standard as men, and older women have a harder standard than men.

So what are things like if we take of 5:59 minutes from the qualifying time? This is still basically fair for men. A 30 year old man needs to run at 67.5%, a 52 year old at 67.6% and a 77 year old at 67.1%. Not worth quibbling over until the 70s and there just aren’t many runners that old.

But if you take 20 minutes off the current qualifying time (that would be the group who gets to register first in 2012) there is now a definite downward trend for men. A 30 year old man needs to run at 73.1%, a 52 year old at 72.5% and a 77 year old at 70.7%.

Things get even worse if we take 20 minutes off the 2013 times:  A 30 year old man needs to run at 75.7%, a 52 year old at 74.7% and a 77 year old at 72.3%.

I haven’t said anything more about women’s times because they have always been, and remain unfair. Under the coming standard a 30 year old woman needs to run 63% — much less than 67% for a 30 year old man, while a 52 year old needs 68.8% and a 77 year old needs 80.4%.

So, for men, the qualifying time remains pretty fair. The early registration process however will be biased toward older runners.


What’s wrong with me?

February 16, 2011


Ten years ago I went to see my doctor complaining of a persistent cough and mild chest pains. And was sent off immediately to get an x-ray. Which showed nothing.

Yet I still had a persistent cough and mild chest pains.

So the doctor gave me lots of other tests and did find some impairment to lung function. Somehow they decided this meant I had asthma (never mind that this didn’t explain the persistent cough or the chest pains). And I was given an inhaler, which proved useless.

This whole process took months, and I still had a persistent cough and mild chest pains.

Finally I went to a new doctor who sent me to a pulmonologist who took one look at the old x-ray and announced that I had had pnuemonia. Then he sent me off for a new x-ray and announced that I no longer did (and, indeed, a few weeks later, the symptoms disappeared). Then he sent me off for an expensive CT scan just to make sure.

He then gave me steroids. Looking back I wonder: If the problem were gone, why the steroids? According to the web, steroids are rarely useful in treating pnuemonia.

He did mention that, having had it once, I was more likely than normal to get another case of pnuemonia.

Now it is possible that he lied to me. Maybe he just told the hypochondriac what he wanted to hear and gave him a relatively harmless placebo. Or maybe he was just wrong; after all a hammer sees everything as a nail, so a pulmonologist sees everything as pnuemonia.

About Christmas I got a cough. It’s still with me. About three weeks ago I started having mild chest pains.

I went in to see my current doctor yesterday (with, I admit, low expectations), complaining of a persistent cough and mild chest pains and trundled off to get an x-ray. Which showed nothing.

Of course.

My doctor thinks I should come in again for more tests.

I think: a) The pulmonologist was right and I did have pnuemonia. b) I have it again, in a mild form so that it is hard to see. c) Everybody but me is incompetent.

I don’t feel I have the energy to fight them. I have no desire to go though another few months of pointless tests. It will go away on its own given time.

A week later and it is, perhaps, time to climb off my high horse.

My doctor suggests (very obliquely) that the pulmonologist was wrong ten years ago. So obliquely in fact that it takes me several hours to work out what she meant. I think. She hints obliquely that I have a post-nasal drip which is irritating my nasal passages and lungs. I think.

How can I make decisions if I’m not told the issues? Or if people lie to me?  I have a new high horse to climb onto!

Chaparral succession

February 13, 2011

The Jesusita fire burned the West Fork of Cold Springs in early May of 2009.

On the 5th of June, it actually rained. Not hard, but for about 6 hours continuously; a lot more water came from the sky than is usual in June. The next day I was up Gibraltar and was surprised to see blooms.

On the burned over hillsides the Yucca were blooming. Perhaps they were blooming because of the fire, certainly all the leaves had been burned up, all that was left was rootstock which put forth a bloom. Plants in stress will sometimes bloom right before they die, perhaps that happened here. Still, it was amazing to see that anything was left alive on that denuded hill.

DrainageDitch2A week later we went up to do trail maintenance. All the chaparral shrubs appeared dead, just burnt trunks. The dead trunks were worse than nothing, they showed what had died. Any small forbs were completely gone. The landscape was barren, the ground black with soot. It looked completely dead.

RegrowthBut if you looked closely at the base of some of the dead trunks you could make out tiny patches of green. The roots were not dead, even if the trunks were, and already (less than a month after the fire was contained) new leaves were showing.

BrackenFurther down the trail tiny fern fronds were poking out of the earth. Can ferns grow from root stock? Or was this new growth from spores? I still don’t know.

I went back three months after the fire (mid August) and the landscape had altered. Every burnt trunk seemed to have a patch of green at its base.

At one spot I even found a Canyon Sunflower in bloom

It really looked as though regrowth were happening. It also looked as though this were all natural growth, not induced by any external “green mulch”.

The next time I looked at the trail was in mid-March of 2010. I was surprised at the riot of wildflowers on the trail. There were California Poppies

And Phacelias, fiesta flowers, woodmints, pacific peas, and on and on.

It didn’t look much like last year’s burnt over landscape.

A little further on I saw bay laurel in bloom. Now the bay laurel is not a forb, it’s a small tree, and last year these trees were nothing but burnt trunks. Yet the small green patches at the base of those trunks had grown and were already blooming. In less than a year since the fire.

As I leave the shade and come out into the sun the flowers change. Here are the star lilies, and beyond them blue dicks. And climbing over everything is the invasive bindweed.

The landscape has altered yet again. It has gone from barren, to having small green patches (at the base of burnt trunks) to being completely green now (well, except for where the trail runs, but that’s normal). There’s no shade yet, but there is ground cover.

There are greatflowered phacelias, and purple nightshades. And the Canyon Sunflowers which were so tentative last August have turned into green mounds, liberally covered with blossoms.

The trail moves out of the sun and into the shade of a north facing slope. It’s damper here too, and again, the flowers alter. There are more bay laurel, and lots of milkmaids, there’s a strange cream colored pea (which turns out to be a deervetch). And then I see a poppy, but not one I’ve seen before. A fire poppy, with a brick red bloom, and a much more traditionally “poppy” look than the California poppies.

Further along there used to be a luxuriant stand of bay laurel. The blackened bark has fallen from the dead trunks leaving a silvery trunk with three foot tall shoots coming up from the roots.

Hmm. I see no signs of bracken now.

The wildflowers died as the year progressed. First the star lilies vanished and the phacelias took over, and then they too died off. The canyon sunflowers didn’t die back, they just got bigger and bigger. The bay laurels grew taller.

I went back in January of 2011, and then again in February. Down at the bottom of the trail the bay laurels and sunflowers have grown so much that it’s hard to find the trail. They have grown out into large bushes which encroach and finally smoother the trail.

A little further up are the wildflowers I expect. The phacelias, the nightshades, and the California Poppies. Only, as I look at them closely, I realize that they are not California Poppies. They lack a ring underneath the flower, these are instead “collarless California Poppies”, in the same genus but a different species. I suspect I have never seen a true California Poppy on our trails.

A little further up I see a solitary Chia blooming. That’s odd. Last year I saw none on this trail, and the ones I did see did not start blooming until late April.

Even further up I see my first Ceanothus. Last year these did not bloom. This year they are all over the place (at least two species, judging by the flower shape). They have sprung from the old root stock. And here is a chaparral current already producing little currents. These, too, were not in evidence last year. But I don’t think they’ve come from old roots (I remember none from before and no old trunk is visible)And there’s a manzanita, the new green springing from the old burnt base, and already in bloom. And a holly leaved cherry, first one of those I’ve seen this year, anywhere.

Striking in their absence, there are no star lilies this year. Do they need the fire ash? But the fire poppies are again blooming, though there don’t seem to be as many patches of them as last year, and they are supposed to need fire too…

The bee-plant seems to be in bloom. Another thing that didn’t bloom until June last year.

All the other small wildflowers I expect are blooming where they were last year. Some, like the deervetch and the sunflowers are much larger than they were. Others, like the milkmaids, are just as common but no bigger.

As I go further up the trail I see more little Ribes shrubs (probably currents because I see no thorns). It looks as though they are colonizing this whole trail. I don’t remember any from before the fire (though I might just have ignored them).

  • Small green shoots came out of the rootstocks very quickly
  • As did bracken ferns
  • A few months later almost every burnt trunk was surrounded by green, and the canyon sunflowers were blooming
  • Ten months later the hillside was covered with green ground-cover, and many wildflowers.
  • The bay laurels were already blooming.
  • Twenty months later many other shrubs were blooming (or setting fruit)
  • The star lilies had not returned though.

Nutrition, a polemic

February 6, 2011

A friend I was running with, foolishly asked me how to eat properly while training all year long. I am clearly the right person to ask because I’ve pushed myself into overtraining, probably because of not eating properly.

So now I know all about it.

My take on nutrition is that almost all popular studies on the subject are wrong. There have been a number of meta-studies which reveal just how hard it is to do good medical research and how likely results are to be overturned later. According to Dr. Ioannidis’s work, 80% of all studies will produce the wrong result, and 25% of even the most rigorous ones will do so.

So instead of paying any attention to what’s in the popular press I tend to rely on evolutionary reasoning. Which might also be wrong, but contents me.

We come from a long line of frugivorous primates, and our closest relatives (Chimps, Bonobos) are both basically frugivores. Chimps will also eat flowers and leaves. And they are meat eaters (5% of their diet); now humans evolved tools and became much better at catching meat than chimps (or our mutual ancestors), so I assume meat should make up a greater part of our diet.

Orangutans are hugely frugivorous, and also, occasionally, eat meat, though much less than chimps. (Gorillas don’t but they have evolved a quite different feeding pattern from the other great apes and so I ignore them.)

Chimps also eat a lot of insects. This has not become a big food source for most humans, my guess is that as we became better at killing large game animals there was less need for the fiddly business of catching individual insects.

Fruit & meat.
And to a lesser extent salads.

Fruit, salads & insects have been a significant part of our diets for 50 million years or so, ever since primates arrived on the scene. Meat is more recent but has been part of it for probably 5~15 million years, and has been rising in prominence.

Agriculture is a far more recent invention, and the grains that make up such a large part of our current diets would only have been available in small quantities until ~10,000 years ago.

Domesticated cattle (providers of milk, ice cream, etc.) appeared on the scene ~9,000 years ago. It’s pretty clear that we have been able to adapt to this food source given that Europeans (who have dealt with milk, cheese, etc. for ages) have a far lower chance of lactose-intolerance than most Asians. So we can probably handle grains too.

Primates all have very diverse diets. Chimps usually eat 20 species of plants in a day, and several hundred in the course of a year. So, I think a diverse diet is a good thing in and of itself. As an extreme example, among the lemurs I studied, many of their food sources were toxic if consumed in large quantities, it was only because they only ate small amounts of each species that they were able to survive.

The processed food found in most American diets seems so far from what we evolved to eat that I try to eschew it. I will eat simple sugars (GU) when the occasion demands it, or purified amino acids, but I am very suspicious of any complex food product.

Artificial coloring, artificial flavoring, artificial glop, artificial slop, artificial this, artificial that…
© 1969-1975, The New Yorker Magazine, by George Booth

Conversation about running

February 3, 2011

I was at the wedging table in my pottery class the other day, talking to a friend about running, when the woman across from me said she didn’t think people were designed to run.

I pointed out that, in fact, there was a fair amount of evidence that evolution had designed us to run rather than just walk.1 2 3 4 5

She responded by saying that maybe for skinny Africans, but Americans were too fat and out of shape.

I looked at her. And myself. I could think of no polite answer to that.

So I left her.