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Golf Courses Are Wasted On Golfers
February 1, 2021 9:43 AM | Posted in: ,

Disclaimer: The following contains what might appear to be disparaging and/or disrespectful observations regarding that peculiar breed of humanity known collectively as "golfers." In truth, no disrespect is intended; some of my best friends and many of my beloved relatives (two of whom are PGA Tour winners) are golfers. Nevertheless, even they will admit that there's something in their brains' wiring that just isn't natural. But who am I to judge? After all, while they're searching for missing golf balls, I'm in the same vicinity searching for snakes.

I don't recall why, after six years of living here, we suddenly decided to try running on the local golf courses. But I do know precisely when it happened.

Photo - Selfie of me on the Ram Rock golf course after a run
Why am I smiling? Well, I finished a run and didn't die. Always a good thing.
It was the morning of November 23, 2020 -- a Monday -- and Debbie and I were running up Bay West Boulevard, as we had done hundreds of times before. But this time, as we neared the intersection with Broken Hills, instead of continuing on another mile or so to the Cap Rock clubhouse, or making a u-turn and heading back home, I suggested going right on Broken Hills, and then making another right onto the cart path leading to Ram Rock #7. And, as they say, the rest is history.

OK, let's back up. Unless you live in Horseshoe Bay (or visit here often), you have no idea what I'm talking about, so let me provide some context.

Our house is strategically located so that within a half mile radius, ATBF, there are four private 18-hole golf courses (see the locator map below). We can actually use the cart paths of three of them: the aforementioned Ram Rock, its close (and easier, by all accounts) Apple Rock, and the spectacular Summit Rock. (Escondido is the exception, as guards will chase off anyone without a chip embedded in their neck. OK, I jest...probably. They're trying to live up to their name, but the joke's on them; we all know where it is.)

Locator map showing golf courses more or less adjacent to our house
Our house is located in the center of the half-mile radius circle.

Our house is ~150' from the cart path on Ram #11 (that's how all the golfers I know refer to locations on the courses; some of them with homes adjacent to the courses don't even know their own street addresses...they simply say, "oh, we're on Apple #4" and if you get a blank look on your face, they know that you're not One Of Them and not to be trusted. OK, I jest...probably.). From that point, there are a multitude of running route options that vary significantly in terms of distance and elevation change. 

Photo - Our house as viewed from the Ram Rock golf course
This is a view of the side of our house as seen from the Ram Rock #11 fairway.
The perspective is deceiving; there's actually a vacant lot between our house
and the fence marking the boundary of our neighborhood.

For example, turning left on that path takes you up the front half of Ram Rock for 1.5 miles, with an increase in elevation of about 100'/mile. That's nothing if you live in Colorado or the Himalayas, but if you grew up in the flatlands of West Texas, it's a brutal eye-opener.

Photo - View of creek and Bay West bridge near the Ram Rock #11 tee box
The aforementioned left turn starts out deceptively flat, and very pretty.
This is the creek that flows under the bridge on Bay West Blvd.

But turning right takes you on a relatively flat 4-mile out-and-back course that winds past four Ram Rock holes and continues onto the Apple Rock cart path for five additional holes; the midway point is a turnaround that looks out over Lake LBJ.

Photo - A view of a portion of the Ram Rock #11 fairway and green
Making that right turn takes you along a wooded neighborhood with multiple creek
crossings. This is a view of part of the Ram Rock #11 fairway and green.
And speaking of green...they put colorant on the fairways in the winter.

Photo - A view of the Ram Rock #14 fairway
There's a spot on this route where you can see the fairways of three holes:
Ram Rock #s 13, 14, and 15.

Photo - A view of Lake LBJ from the Apple Rock 12 tee box
This is one of the views of Lake LBJ from the Apple Rock #12 tee box,
access to which entails crossing two short bridges over lake inlets.

Photo - One of the two crossings of Pecan Creek on Apple Rock #16
The return trip from Apple Rock #12 takes us over not one, but two crossings of the
winding Pecan Creek. This is the fairway on Apple Rock #16.

Summit Rock is a bit of an exception, as we can access it only by running on streets for a mile (and by crossing the main east-west highway that splits Horseshoe Bay), but once there, the route is a bit less developed than the more established Ram and Apple courses. Parts of the Summit Rock cart path are staggeringly steep, and although the views of Lake LBJ plus another twenty miles of the Texas Hill Country are unequaled, running them is a masochistic endeavor (so we don't). Instead, we wind through some very pretty neighborhoods where traffic is essentially non-existent. Either we're too early for the residents, or nobody actually lives in those million-dollar-plus homes.

Photo - The wooden bridge over Pecan Creek between Summit Rock #14 & #15
Above: The wooden bridge spanning Pecan Creek and
leading to the Summit Rock #14 fairway.

Below: A view of Pecan Creek (which eventually flows just behind our house) 
from the Summit Rock bridge.
Photo - A view of Pecan Creek between from the Summit Rock bridge

One significant benefit of where our house is located is that the closest access point of each of these three golf courses is past the midpoint of an 18-hole round. So, we don't have to hit the trails at the crack of dawn to avoid golfers. By the time they make it to anything past #12, we're already home eating bacon and eggs and biscuits. (Don't judge us. Why do you think we run, anyway?)

Besides avoiding traffic on the streets -- which, granted, is never all that heavy, but still... -- we've gotten to know the other regulars who are out early walking their dogs or just walking for exercise (we seem to be the only runners). Of course, when I say "know," I don't really mean KNOW as in "we know their names." We've just seen each other enough now to merit friendly smiles and waves, and in the infrequent times Debbie or I run solo, some of them remark on that fact that our partner is missing. That's pretty cool, I think.

We've also enjoyed seeing the backs of houses that we've seen from the fronts for years. Some houses look fairly mundane in the front, but have spectacular living areas in the back overlooking the golf courses. We also get to experience up close some features of nature -- like the creek crossings mentioned above -- that are otherwise inaccessible from the street. Oh, and did I mention that there are restrooms -- with heat and a/c -- about every mile or so?

Not everything about running on the cart paths is perfect. The concrete can be hard on one's feet and joints (I'm not sure it's much worse than the asphalt of the street, but my wife disagrees). Running on the grass can mitigate that but that has its own challenges. We also often have to dodge the course maintenance crews that tend to the greens and sand traps every morning. They're pretty good about yielding the right of way, but there are spots where it's tough for them to get off the path in order to let us by. We try not to impose on their work responsibilities.

The real attraction of the cart paths is the scenery. Views like the ones I've shared today make us feel a continual sense of blessing that we get to live in surroundings like these, and that we're healthy enough to get out and enjoy them.

Photo - Looking down the 10th fairway of Apple Rock, with Lake LBJ as a backdrop
This is the 10th fairway of Apple Rock. It is NOT on our regular route.
If you could see it in person, you'd know why. It's far steeper than it looks.
Even the view of Lake LBJ doesn't motivate us to run there.

Photo - A view of the Ram Rock #16 fairway on a frosty morning
Sunrise over the Ram Rock #16 fairway on a frosty January morning.
noun: inevitability; plural noun: inevitabilities 
the quality of being certain to happen
"there was an air of inevitability about the outcome"
You know how when you're sitting in your recliner watching Netflix and eating roasted, lightly salted mixed nuts, and you drop one and it lodges between the cushion and the arm of the chair, and you know -- you just know -- that if you reach down to retrieve it, the outcome will not be retrieval at all, but the result will be that the nut will simply drop lower into the figurative bowels of the chair, and will be unreachable by human appendages without a ridiculous amount of effort, such as getting out of the chair and removing the cushion? That, my friends, is a perfect picture of inevitability.

So it is with running shoes nowadays. You search the world over* for the perfect running shoes to complement your perfect running style and perfect feet and toes, and when you find them, you think to yourself "I should buy about fifty pairs of these shoes so I'll always have them." But, of course, you don't, and...inevitably...when you return to order a replacement pair, they've been "upgraded" into a completely unrecognizable configuration, with the only remaining common characteristic being the name and a hole where you stick your foot, plus a new version number, as if you're purchasing software for your tootsies.

I've experienced this phenomenon countless times over my running "career." I'm a New Balance guy and have been for decades. I started out in the Eighties with Adidas but soon found that the stability and cushioning that NB is known for better suited my joints. I've stuck with them even though nowadays I wear rigid orthotics that minimize if not downright negate those benefits as they accrue to a specific brand of shoe.

Also, I started buying so-called trail shoes about a dozen years ago, after we moved into a new neighborhood on the edge of town in Midland, and I ran on the surrounding unpaved ranch and oilfield roads. I've stayed with that style even though nowadays I rarely run anywhere but on paved roads and trails. They seem to have more durable soles and I like the traction on wet, hilly streets...something I never had to think about in Midland.

One might think that trail shoes probably aren't as susceptible to the year-to-year model changes as "normal" running shoes which are lighter and more favored by serious runners. One would be mistaken in thinking that, at least where New Balance shoes are concerned. A NB shoe model has a life span of a gypsy moth. OK, I don't know how long gypsy moths actually live, but I'll bet it's not very long.

The last pair of trail shoes I bought had the awkward and oxymoronic name of "Fresh Foam Hierro V4." Hierro is Spanish for iron, which doesn't seem to play well with the phrase Fresh Foam, which in turn evokes shaving cream. Regardless, it was a great shoe, with a built-in sock liner instead of a tongue. That feature added to its comfort, as well as providing an effective seal around the ankle to keep bits of gravel out of the shoe. The downside was that it took a while to get the shoe on and off, but nobody who was serious about triathlons would wear a trail shoe anyway so the extra transition time from bike to run wouldn't be a factor. Uh, I'm getting into the weeds here, aren't I?

Anyway, I wore the v4s for at least a year before I wore them out, and I fully intended to buy another identical pair. Well, guess what? Somewhere around the end of 2019 (aka, When Life Was Perfect In All Meaningful Ways Compared To 2020), New Balance murdered phased out the v4 and introduced the v5.

The new version has reverted to the traditional tongue in place of the sock liner, and the lacing system is kind of funky. (That's a technical term of art in the running shoe design business. Probably.) But the most dramatic departure from the essentially traditional look of the v4 is the addition of appendage, for lack of a better description, to the heel of the shoe.

Here's a clever visual comparison of the v5 to the preceding generation (top):

Photo - comparison of the version 4 and version 5 of the New Balance trail shoe

Someone at New Balance apparently thought it would be cool to add a spatula to the heel of the v5, and it's even weirder looking in real life than in these photos. It's purpose is unknown, to me anyway. One reviewer felt that it provided a copious crash pad, in particular when running downhill. Another reviewer lauded the look of the shoe, although his acknowledgement that most of the compliments he received came from children under the age of nine seems like a case of being damned with faint praise. And yet other reviewer -- me -- describes it as the product of an illicit relationship between an appendix and a clown shoe, with the defining characteristic being a hilariously useless bit of footwear anatomy.

Now, lest you think I'm a complete curmudgeon (I am, by the way), I've run in the shoes for a month or so and find them perfectly fine for my purposes and low standards for performance. The shoes are comfortable for my usual sub-five-miles-at-a-limping-snails-pace workouts, the Vibram™ soles are pleasingly grippy, and I have yet to step on my own heel, despite the gigantic trailing rudder. 

That said, I'd be lying if I said I haven't contemplated performing a rudderectomy on the shoes with a box cutter, but I'm fearful that the shoe elves at NB have somehow built in a failsafe mechanism that will cause them to collapse in a steaming, toxic heap of shoe slag if the appendage is fooled with.

The saving grace is that the disappearance of this disturbing design development is, well, inevitable.

*Fun fact: there are at least 50 albums with almost 30,000 lyrical phrases that include "search the world over." We are living in the best of all possible worlds (thank you, Kris Kristofferson, for those additional lyrics) when such information is literally at our fingertips.

Relive your run, you masochist
March 13, 2018 2:05 PM | Posted in:

I'm a bit of a data junkie, and nowhere is this more evident than in the spreadsheets I've kept for decades detailing my workouts. I do this not because I have an accounting degree, nor because I'm OCD (although one of those things is definitely true and the other is probably true). I keep records as a motivational tool. The presence of blank rows on the spreadsheet is a reminder that I'm probably falling short of my workout goals...which aren't all that challenging but they do emphasize consistency.

For years I've tracked my running workouts with a phone app called MapMyRun. There's a similar app called MapMyRide for bicyclists, but I rely on my bike computer and rarely remember to turn on MapMyRide. I rely on MapMyRun to record time and distance; it also provides data on split times - which I generally don't care about - and elevation gain - which I care about now that I live in the Hill Country but the accuracy of which is questionable. It also has some social features that I absolutely don't use.

MapMyRun satisfies the data junkie in me, but life is more than data, right? (Feel free to discuss this burning question amongst yourselves; I'll wait.) Data can be enhanced by visualization, and I recently learned of yet another application that does just that for the workouts recorded by MapMyRun.

Relive is a free app that integrates rather seamlessly with MapMyRun (as well as other fitness apps such as Strava, Garmin, and others) to create a short video recapping your workout by unwinding the route onto a satellite map (said map is provided by ESRI, the good folks that make the gold-standard GIS software, ArcGIS). The aerial view doesn't exactly provide a virtual reality experience, but it is definitely an interesting way to relive (!) the workout. The app also drops a pin on the point of highest elevation on the route, then overlays some statistics at the end (duration, pace, mileage, elevation gain - which, again, should be taken with a grain of salt). The app also generates an elevation profile of the route that spools out along the top of the window as the video progresses.

Here are a couple of examples of my early efforts using the app.

Relive doesn't provide many options for the unpaid version of the app. You can specify whether the video will be automatically created as soon as you save your workout, vs. manually specifying when it should be created. You can do some minimal editing such as changing the title font or adding photos you took during the workout...and if you're coordinated enough to take pictures during a run, you have my admiration and respect. There's a paid upgrade (isn't there always?) that provides additional after-the-fact editing, but I haven't felt compelled to do that.

If you decide to try out the app, keep in mind that the app only retains 20 videos (I assume the paid version expands that number), and you must click the star icon to flag a video for saving. Otherwise, you can get back to the video only going to the link provided in the notification email, and that link is saved nowhere else (that I could find).

There's no compelling reason to make Relive a part of your suite of fitness apps, but it is an interesting concept. 

May God grant me the serenity to log the things I can, the discipline to avoid the things I can't, and the self-deception to think that it's all quite important.

Running Down the Rabbit Hole
March 10, 2017 3:14 PM | Posted in: ,

Wait. Is it really "down the rabbit hole," or is it "down the rabbit trail"? Or is it "bunny trail"? Hold that thought; it might become relevant later on.

I went for a run on Wednesday after work, the first one this year (in Midland). It know how sometimes you get into a workout and it starts out hard and you're feeling miserable but at some point you settle into a groove and it becomes almost effortless and you think you could just do it forever? This was nothing like that. It started out bad and basically stayed that way, until the point where it got worse. Which was almost immediately.

Visual contrasting the beginning of my workout with the ending
In all honesty, I didn't look this good at either the beginning or end.

In 45 minutes of running primarily on the trails around the neighborhood, I managed only a painful 4.3 miles, and I was dead tired when I got home. The next day, my legs — and my quadriceps in particular — were incredibly sore. I couldn't help wondering why running outside was so different than running on a treadmill, and why my frequent workout on an elliptical trainer didn't better prepare me for that run. Naturally, I turned to Mr. Google for answers, and he helpfully provided some potentially useful links.

The first one was a general discussion of the pros and cons of running on a treadmill, and the key takeaway is that there's really no difference other than the presence of wind resistance and the possibility of terrain changes when running outside. The article then offered this simple tip, via reference to a scientific study: set your treadmill on a 1% incline and it will provide exactly the same workout as running outside. Genius! Why didn't I think of that?

But I wasn't content to leave it there, so I followed some other links, including one on the respected Runner's World website. That article muddied the waters considerably, stating that the 1% guideline was "mostly urban myth." It in turn linked to this blog post by Dr. Casey Kerrigan. Kerrigan seems to be a fairly credible source, given her background as a distance runner, Harvard-educated physician, and noted researcher specializing in running biomechanics. 

With support from the National Institute of Health, she has done extensive studies on treadmill running. One of those studies demonstrated that there is absolutely no significant biomechanical differences in treadmill workouts done at slight inclines, declines, or when level. Her article also cited the results of this study concluding that treadmill workouts are more efficient than any other type of indoor exercise equipment (sorry, elliptical/stairmaster/rowing machine/exercise bike owners).

Winding my way down this rabbit hole (see what I did there?) made me feel better about running on a treadmill, but it did nothing to explain why that outdoor run was so challenging. So I have to offer my own theory. Neither the treadmill nor the elliptical can duplicate the challenges of running along a rutted trail where footing is often sketchy and the surface varies from sand to hard-packed caliche to loose rocks (and while it's a bit too early for this to be a big concern, later on I would be additionally distracted by the possibility of rattlesnakes in the road). I realized during the run that I was lifting my feet higher on the trail to navigate around and over the dips, ruts, and rocks, and I think this put a lot more stress on my legs than running indoors or on pavement.

In the end, it boils down to a simple rule - specificity of training. You can get aerobically fit by cycling...but cycling alone will not ensure that you can run a marathon. (The reverse is also true; running will not get you into cycling condition; your legs and lungs might be up to the task, but cycling stresses other parts of your body and you'll realize that after about 30 minutes on that narrow saddle). So, if I want to get more comfortable with trail running, I simply have to do more trail running.

The running adventures of an adventurous runner
November 1, 2014 2:48 PM | Posted in:

Editor's Note: I actually drafted this a couple of weeks ago, then promptly forgot about it. It's yet another post about running, so you may be excused if you have something better to do, like trim your toenails or re-roof your car. But be warned; I've now created a new category entitled "Running," so the dreariness is likely to continue.

Yesterday was like the perfect storm for running, although now that I think about it, storms are tumultuous and chaotic events and yesterday wasn't so that makes no sense. [rewind]

Conditions yesterday were ideal for a run: overcast, light winds, temperature in the mid-70s. I could see thunderheads on the horizon, but nothing threatening locally as I set out on what is becoming a regular route for my still-infrequent outdoor, non-cycling workouts.

I'm trying to get back into some semblance of running fitness after taking most of the summer off. I find no joy in running in 90°+ temperatures and I can't work heat-beating morning runs into my routine. But we've finally started to have some milder weather in West Texas and I've been taking advantage of it after work.

The last few runs have been brutal, as I'm reminded (again) that nothing really gets you in running shape like running. Hours on the elliptical trainer and bicycle will certainly help with the aerobic aspect, but they won't replicate the ground pounding that's a natural part of running. Conversely, running makes you run better, and I've paid a few dues lately that mean I can go longer, faster, albeit not much of either.

That doesn't mean it's easy, by any stretch. I'm challenged both physically and mentally to keep putting one foot in front of the other. One of my mental exercises is to lock in on the chorus of a song to help maintain a steady rhythm. (I don't listen to music when I run outside; that seems dangerous on the street, and unnatural on the trail.)

Interlude: Have you noticed I used a lot of parenthetical remarks? (Surely you have, being the observant and intelligent reader you are.) I'll try to do better. (Or not.)

However, I don't always choose wisely. Yesterday, for example, I covered about a mile with the chorus from Rich Mullins's Awesome God looping through my head, and while it's an uplifting mantra, after 50 or 75 repeats, it's no longer refreshing. My second choice - although "choice" isn't really accurate as I have no control over what my mind decides to do - was even weirder: Everything Little Thing She Does Is Magic by The Police.

If there's one thing Sting know how to do, it's crafting a catchy hook in the songs he writes, and this is a great example. But the grammar is infuriating, and I found myself arguing with myself about whether either of us should be fixated on a chorus with a line like Everything she do just turns me on. Admittedly, that argument was good for another quarter mile of distraction.

At one point I came across a horseshoe, with nails intact, laying in the middle of the trail. I ran past it and then circled back, picked it up without breaking stride, and hung it on a fence post, intending to grab it at the end of the run and take it home to craft into something...crafty. Unfortunately, when I passed by it again, the thought of carrying even a few extra ounces of iron was more than I could bear, so it's still hanging there.

Other than a few coveys of quail, I didn't run across any wildlife, although I could have passed a whole menagerie at times without noticing; some of the trail is pretty rutted and rocky and I need to focus my attention a few feet ahead to minimize the possibility that I might also throw a shoe like that poor horse.

However, I ended the run near the pond at the north part of our neighborhood and decided to cool down by walking back to the house. There was a lone duck on the far side of the pond, and my presence on the sidewalk apparently unnerved him, so he decided to take to the air. Displaying typical duck form, he furiously flapped his way across the entire length of the pond, rising ever so gradually before finally clearing the cattails at the end by a few feet. Then he inexplicably made a u-turn as if he had changed his mind and wanted to return to that small body of water.

Unfortunately, he misjudged his landing and executed a rather dramatic and undignified belly-flop onto the grass a few feet away from the way. (I don't think I've ever seen a duck land anywhere but in the I know why; webbed feet make poor landing gear.) That was followed by much thrashing and contorting as he regained his feet, at which point he looked around as if to say, "you guys, I totally meant to do that!" 

Indoor workouts have their place and value, but the price of missing scenes like that is a steep one.
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