Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Ups and Downs

After my long run on Sunday my left knee was quite sore, but it was similar to what I'd encountered with my right knee so I assumed it would be fine the next day.

But I got up Monday and it was even more painful. Walking to work, I almost turned around after half a block to get my bicycle. I made it to work but it wasn't pleasant.

I have to admit I was pretty bummed out. Obviously, I wasn't going to be running at all with my knee like this. Was something going on more serious than IT band issues?

In a way, I accepted that it was somewhat inevitable. I was going to keep pushing the running until something stopped me. Ideally that would be simple fatigue, but given my history it was more likely to be my knees. So I shouldn't have been surprised. But it had come on more suddenly than my other knee. And I hadn't done anything any different than I'd done the previous two weekends, with no problems. Maybe it was the accumulation, not enough recovery. Who knows.

I limped around at work and by the end of the day it was a bit better, more like uncomfortable than painful. I'd also managed to accept things as they were. If I had to start over, so be it. I could work my way back up from short walks. Barring any permanent damage I'd soon be back to short runs. I could deal with it.

I woke up Tuesday and got out of bed hesitantly, only to find my knee felt normal! That's what I expected Monday, but instead it had got worse. Why was it fine now? Later in the morning I got on the treadmill, just walking. It felt fine. I raised the incline to 15% and the speed to 6 km/hr (a brisk walk). Still fine. I kept it up for 20 minutes. Still fine. Ok, I'd try a slow jog. That didn't feel as good and seemed like it might be reawakening my knee so I went back to walking and did 30 minutes. My knee felt fine. Later in the day I went for a walk outside and even jogged short distances a few times without any ill effects.

Now it's hard to know what to think. Assuming I still feel ok on Thursday I'll try a short, easy run and see how it goes. If I'm lucky I'll be able to do some kind of easy run on the weekend as well.

I should be grateful that it's "only" this weird IT band issues. (Assuming my self diagnosis is correct.) The ups and downs may be frustrating, but at least there's a good chance it'll get better eventually, with patience. If it was my actual knees joints, or hips, or back, that'd be a lot tougher to deal with and a lot less likely to just get better. My sympathies to those of you with more serious problems. I realize my issues are relatively minor in the big picture.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

No Numbers

I set myself the challenge of writing this running blog post without any numbers. The numbers are meaningless. I don't talk about them because I think they're "good". I tend to obsess over them because that's how my brain works. It's also a good distraction when I'm running, it gives my mind something to do while I pound out the miles. But they're not relevant to anyone else but me.

My knees were a bit sore after last week's long run. But a short run on Tues. went ok, and a longer, harder run on Thur. also went pretty well. Although otherwise I felt recovered and ready to go long again, I had some nagging doubts about my knees.

Was I pushing too hard, ramping up too quickly? Maybe, but on the other hand, carpe diem. Who knows what next month, let alone next year, will bring. As my father always used to say, you tend to regret the things you didn't do, not the things you did. If it was the beginning of the summer I'm might take it a bit more cautiously, but we leave for two months of travel soon.

The first challenge was what to wear. And I'm not talking about fashion :-) it was only 10c but it would be warming up by the time I was done. T-shirt? Long sleeved shirt? Both, so I could take off a layer?  In the end I went with just a t-shirt since the sun was shining. It was a little cool starting out but fine once I got going. Although it clouded up and only warmed to 15c by the time I finished. There were even a few drops of rain which definitely would have cooled things off.

Once again my pace increased over the course of the run. This always seems bizarre to me. I expect to go faster at the beginning than the end. I can see needing to warm up, but it's more than that. I guess it means I could go faster earlier.

It might seem like I'm focused on speed. Honestly, I'd rather concentrate on distance but that seems to be limited by my knees so I work on speed. My knees don't seem to care how fast I go, in fact they seem happier to go fast.

Not knowing how far I'll be able to go on a given run is frustrating, but it's also liberating. I just run and try to listen to my body and separate its grumbling from more serious issues. I usually have some distance in mind but I'm also ready to go longer or shorter depending on how it goes.

I didn't run quite as far as last week due to my left knee, but I was happy to run it faster and with a lower heart rate. The cooler temperatures probably helped, and maybe better hydration. Possibly my body is getting a bit more accustomed to the long runs.

It doesn't seem fair that after two years of struggling with my right knee, and finally getting past that, now my left knee is almost as bad. Of course, no one ever said life is supposed to be fair. And as far as I can tell it gets less fair as you age.

I was tempted to go farther, despite my increasingly painful left knee. I've been reading running books and they're all about running despite the pain. But that's almost always in the context of a race. It might be acceptable for a big race, but it doesn't make much sense to be crippled for a month after a weekly run. As it is, my knee is pretty sore now as I hobble around the house. But if it's anything like my right one it'll recover fairly quickly. However, I'm not sure I agree with Suunto when it says I only need 21 hours to recover from my run. I'm not sure how they calculate that, but it definitely doesn't take into account my knees!

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Recent Photos

I've slowed down a little with picture taking lately, but of course I haven't stopped :-) Eye candy first. These flowers are a bit floppy and shapeless but I love the color and patterns.

flower closeup

These are one of the later blooming flowers in the Innovation Place gardens:


I like how these ones seem to explode from the center like fireworks:

flower closeup

The water hyacinths and water lilies are still blooming:

water hyacinth

water lilies

water lily

Most of the birds have finished producing offspring but I noticed this young sparrow begging from its parent. The juvenile is almost bigger than the parent! You can see it still has the bright yellow mouth that serves as a feeding target.

adult and young sparrow

One lunch time three hawks flew over the garden chasing some pigeons. One of them gave up and landed in a tree by the pond. It turned out to be a Swainson's hawk. It was hard to get a clear line of sight through the branches but in some of the photos you can see it has a metal band on one leg and a red plastic band labeled 'XN' on the other.

Swainson's Hawk

I noticed a funnel web and saw there was a large spider in it. It was hard to get a good shot of it, especially since when I got close it retreated down the funnel. I think it might be a Funnel Weaver (aka Garden Spider).

spider in funnel web

This was one of my last sightings of pregnant looking fishing spiders for the season. All I've seen since then have been small ones - either juveniles or males.

fishing spider

The water drops on this web made an interesting pattern in the low morning sun.

water drops on spider web

Dragonflies nymphs are still emerging from the pond. Their transformation from underwater creature to flying machine is right up there with caterpillars to butterflies.

dragonfly exuvia (shed skin)

And the adults are busy mating. There were probably 20 of these pairs coupling in the air over the grass beside the pond. They moved too fast to catch in the air but occasionally they would set down on the grass for a few seconds.

mating dragonflies

Notice the two sexes have different coloring. I think the red one is the male.


There are also lots of these smaller damselflies around:


There was an event in the gardens and when they were done they dumped their ice. I usually only resort to ice photos in the dead of winter, but hey, it was shiny :-)

ice cubes

See all 27 photos

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Crab Spiders

Continuing on the bug theme, the other day I was walking by some flowers and I noticed a fly (or wasp?) on one of them. As I got closer it seemed odd that it wasn't moving. Usually flies don't sit still for very long. Finally I realized the fly was dead and in the grasp of a crab spider. It was quite hard to see the spider since its color matched the flower and it was hidden inside the flower. Here was what I initially saw:

crab spider on flower

And the closeup view:

crab spider on flower

I checked out the nearby flowers and found another fly of the same kind, also in the grasp of a similar crab spider.

The funny part is that I've been looking for crab spiders on and off all summer. I've looked in the kinds of places where I've seen them before but haven't found any. And now two in one day in one place.

I went back to the same flowers the next day and found one of the crab spiders still lurking in wait. But without the distraction of a meal it was a bit more skittish and moved around the flower when I got too close with the camera lens.

crab spider on flower

Then a few minutes later when I went to look at another, totally different kind of flower, there was another crab spider. This one was on a white flower, and correspondingly was almost white. Crab spiders can change color to match their surroundings, a useful skill for an ambush predator.

crab spider on flower

Then when I got home and looked at my photos on the computer, I found crab spiders in two more of my flower photos! Have I been blind all summer or have they really just suddenly appeared everywhere?

This was just meant to be a photo of the backlit flower. Can you spot the crab spider?

spot the crab spider

See all 7 photos

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Paper Wasps

paper wasp collecting wood fiber

Sitting outside on our patio, these yellow and black wasps are regular visitors. They are a little annoying buzzing around, and make you a little nervous about being bitten. I hadn't really paid attention to what they were up to until recently, when I realized the regular visits were to collect wood fiber from our weathered table. They use the fiber to build their gray paper like nests.

Next time I took my coffee outside I brought a camera. Eventually I had a visitor. They become quite occupied once they start harvesting which allowed me to take lots of photos. I took stills and video with my new Sony RX10m3 and my Nikon 7200 + macro lens. Both did a reasonable job. Up close the wasps are actually quite attractive with their glossy black and bright yellow.

paper wasp

Once you watch them closely you notice that they gradually back up as they harvest, leaving a differently color stripe on the wood, about an 1/8 of an inch wide and 3/4 of an inch long. Then I realized the whole table top was marked up this way!

I couldn't really tell where the fiber was going. Were they swallowing it to later regurgitate? Once I looked at the photos and video on the computer I could see they were just collecting a ball of fiber that they then carried away. It's hard to see because they collect it under their body. Here's a shot that shows it:

paper wasp collecting wood fiber

You can also see it in the last clip of this video.

See all 7 photos

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Twenty Five

Another long run today. We've been out of town for the last week so I'd only managed one short run on Friday after we got back. I wasn't sure if that would make me rested or rusty. The last two weekends I've managed 20 km fairly easily, relatively speaking, so in my mind I was thinking 25 km might be doable. But I'd play it by ear, these days I don't take my runs for granted.

I figured I'd try to keep my heart rate under 130 for the first half, which translated to an average pace of 10.5 km/hr. And no racing! I started to come up behind two other runners and despite wanting to speed up to pass them I held back. That worked out because they slowed down to walk for a while so I could pass easily. But then there was another big group ahead which I was slowly catching up to. Thankfully they took a different route so I was on my own again.

The first half went easily. A few minor aches and pains but all transient. After my coffee stop, as usual, it took me a few kilometers to get back into the flow. I began to have doubts when my right knee started to act up but, like last week, it soon settled down again.

After the 18 km loop I switched my watch from speed to distance. From here it was just a matter of completing the 25 km, pace was secondary. I knew my heart rate would probably start to increase and my aim was to not let it get much over 140. Amazingly it was holding steady at about 125. But after a short uphill where I could feel my heart pounding it still didn't go up, which made no sense. I looked closer and realized I was displaying my average heart rate for the whole run. I switched to my current heart rate and I found it was up to 145. Oops. I eased off a bit and got it down around 140.

Earlier I had even entertained the fantasy of 30 km but that last 5 km was harder than I thought it would be. At first I had to force myself to slow down to keep my heart rate at my target of 140, but soon enough I had to force myself to keep it up there. It started to creep up over the last two kilometers. I gave up trying to keep it under control and it went over 150 for the last kilometer, peaking at 155. That was still well under my peak of 165 last week. And I'd done fairly well keeping my average down to 128 compared to 134 last week.

In the end it was my left knee that was starting to get painful (instead of my usual right one). It seemed like 25 km was about what my body was prepared for. That wasn't too surprising because I haven't really done that much mileage this summer. I might have been able to force myself to go 30 km but it would have been painful and risked doing some damage.

I ended up with an average pace of 10.4 km and a time of 2 hr 25 min. At first I was only planning 10 km/hr and 2:30, but after the first half I thought I might make 10.5 and 2:20. Close enough. 25 km is the furthest I've run in probably 30 years so I can't complain. My knees are a little sore but with any luck that won't last long.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Air Adventures

on glide for the next cloud

We just got back from three days at Air Adventure Flight School in Drayton Valley, Alberta (an hour south east of Edmonton). We really enjoyed our last visit learning how to operate tows so we thought we'd come back for a little more training and flying. Claudio, the instructor, has a wealth of knowledge and experience and is a great teacher.

We assumed we'd be able to work on some high wind kiting, but for once on the prairies the wind was very light. But that was ok because the conditions were great for flat land thermal flying. I was pretty happy with getting four flights over an hour long in three days. And we also worked on our landing accuracy, not so critical on the prairies, but important in the mountains.

ready to be towed up

The first day, I had an hour and a quarter flight. I could have stayed up longer but everyone (including me) wanted to get some lunch since it was 3:30. Humorously, I had trouble getting down due to a big thermal right over the landing area. Eventually I had to use big ears (pulling lines to fold in the tips of the wing) to get down.

lift off

The second day Shelley got towed up first and initially it looked like it might be a short flight. But she managed to find a thermal and stay up. By the time I towed up she was well above me. I headed over to where she was to catch the same thermal. Linking up the clouds I stayed up for over an hour and a half this time. A slight misjudgment put me inside a cloud for a few minutes which was a bit disconcerting but up high over the flatlands there are no mountains to run into so I just flew straight till I came out again. (Thunderstorm type clouds would be another story but, as you can tell from the photos, these were fairly benign clouds.) It was fascinating to watch the clouds swirling around, forming and dissolving, especially when you got up close beneath them. I spent most of the time studying the clouds above me and ended up with quite a sore neck from looking up all the time.

Considering how many photographs I take on the ground, I'm terrible at taking photos in the air. When I'm flying I just like to concentrate on the flying. Although I carried my camera on a few flights I only pulled it out once, when I was on a long smooth glide between clouds.

North Saskatchewan river

Air Adventures location

Eventually I landed back at Air Adventure for a bathroom break and to quickly grab something to eat and drink. And then went straight back up again. As soon as I released from the tow I headed east for the only cloud in reach. Once you get off tow the clock is ticking. Either you find a thermal quickly, or all you get is a short 10 minute glide back down. It was a minor gamble - if I didn't find any lift under the cloud I wouldn't make it back and I'd have to land in some random field (no big deal). But I lucked out and caught another thermal back up. Once you get up higher, the thermals are larger and you're closer to the clouds so you can find them easier. Often it's the first climb that's critical to getting a decent flight. In addition, counter-intuitively, it's actually safer up high since if something goes wrong you have lots of time to fix it or deploy your reserve parachute.

The last day was a bit of a gong show for me. I launched first and I soon as I left the ground I realized that the unusual silence meant I had forgotten my vario. This is a flying instrument/computer that tells you your altitude, and more critically how fast you are sinking or climbing. It beeps to tell you this so you don't need to constantly look at it. And this beeping becomes something you automatically depend on. Without it, and away from the ground or any other reference points it's actually quite hard to tell whether you're going up or down, which is obviously key information! They say flying without a vario is good practice to get more in tune with the feel of your glider but never having tried to thermal without one, I wasn't too confident. (Note: it wasn't dangerous, it was no problem to glide down and land, it was only a matter of whether I could find the thermals and climb in them without its help.)

Luckily, I realized I wasn't totally without instruments. I wear my Suunto (Ambit 3 Peak) GPS watch when I'm flying, so I could switch it to altimeter mode. It doesn't respond as well as the vario, and doesn't have any audible tones, but at least I could get an idea of how high I was and whether I was sinking or climbing.

I headed for the nearest cloud. The edges of a thermal are often bumpy due to turbulence so that was the first clue. But just because you get bumped around a little that doesn't necessarily mean you've found a thermal. After a bit of searching, and getting lower and lower, I found a climb and managed to gain enough altitude for breathing space. In the end I managed to stretch the flight out to over an hour even without my vario. We were expecting short warm up flights because it was still early for the thermals and not many clouds yet. So I also hadn't dressed as warmly as I should have. It's cold up high, just like it would be high in the mountains. And, of course, you have a constant 35 km/hr wind from flying which makes it even cooler.

Shelley coming in to land

One of the tricks with this kind of flying is to watch for hawks and other birds circling and climbing, meaning they've found a thermal. (Which they are much better at than us!) But for some reason there weren't many hawks in the air with us. Another clue is dust or fluff being lifted up by a thermal. I did see some of that, but usually only after I'd already found the thermal. On the ground there was a plague of grasshoppers and occasionally one of them go flying by, having been lifted up by a thermal, which is pretty amazing when you're thousands of feet above the ground! (My high point was about 2300m / 7500ft, which was 1500m / 5000 feet above the ground, i.e. roughly a mile up.)

Why are we chasing the clouds? Because they're usually where the thermals (i.e. rising air) are. The sun heats the ground, which warms the air next to it. Eventually, that warm air rises. When it gets high enough it cools off and condenses into a cloud. But thermals don't last forever. Once the source of warm air ends, then there's no more thermal and the cloud will dissipate. Chase one of these fading clouds and you'll find nothing. Instead you want to find the ones that are just starting or at least still growing. In the mountains the thermals often come off ridges or peaks, but you don't have that in the flat lands so the clouds become more key.

I landed, took a brief break, and then got geared up for another tow. Shelley went up and it was my turn next. Except there were mechanical problems. We ate lunch while the winch was adjusted and then headed back out again. Shelley said she'd go last as she doesn't stay up as long (famous last words!) Another pilot went first but didn't find any thermals and had a short flight. I went next and, as before, once off tow headed straight for the nearest cloud. But this time I found nothing :-( Either the thermal below that cloud had ended or I just didn't find the right spot. By the time I gave up I had just enough height to glide back to the landing spot. Shelley was just taking off and had a great flight - finding thermals and cruising around for 45 minutes. That was the last tow of the day so I watched from the ground jealously. I think the real "reason" I sunk out was because I was starting to think I had a handle on this thermal flying!

Shelley landing

Despite the frustration when it doesn't work out, I like the challenge of thermal flying. It suits my analytical mind set, and yet since you never have enough information and can't actually see the wind or thermals, it's also a guessing game. And the reward when you get it right is that you get to stay up and fly longer :-)

Shelley after landing

For a more polished video, check out Shelley's