The Masters Time Trials

Last night at Masters Swimming we had time trials of various events, just like the practice meet we had last December. I took some time off in December and January so I’m just starting to get back into the swing of things in the water, but that didn’t stop me from swimming a few events and having a good time.


Since I’m mainly interested in endurance events I chose to swim 500 yard freestyle. I also chose a couple other random events just to mix things up, 200 yard individual medley, and 100 yard breaststroke.

The 100 breaststroke came first for me. I finished in 1:26, which is frankly faster than I expected, though not terribly fast. Interestingly, it was my muscles that were holding me back. My breathing was barely elevated by the end.

The 200 IM came next. I’ve only done an IM this long one other time (last week in practice). My time of 2:57 was better than last week’s 3:07, though to put that in perspective, the guy in the lane next to me was almost finished just as I started the final freestyle lap. This took a lot out of me.

500 Free

500 freestyle start. I don’t know why my legs always separate as I jump.

After a short (too short) break came the 500 freestyle. Just as in December I was the only person swimming this far. Since I really only have one speed it felt kind of like a sprint to me. The good news was that the coach had a lap counting sign he stuck in the water after each lap so I knew how far I’d gone. I have a problem with losing count of my laps. The bad news was that after only one or two laps my upper arms and shoulders were burning with lactic acid. I swam as fast as I could and finished in 7:10, a good 17 seconds slower than in December. This was also a slower pace than I swam for 1000 yards last September, shortly after peaking for the national triathlon championships. It wasn’t great, but it’s still very early in the year.

100 Fly

100 yard butterfly

100 Back

my friend Scott starts the 100 yard backstroke

50 Free

the fastest 50 yard freestyle finisher tears through the water

The event was fun. To be honest I’d like to do this more frequently to be able to gauge on my progress (or in this case, lack of progress).

The Keytar

I was in 5th grade in the 1988. Sure, it was the late 80’s, but it was still the 80’s. MTV (which used to actually play music) was all the rage. The music was wild, the hair was wild, the clothes were wild, and even the musical instruments were wild. Nothing was quite as ridiculously excessive as a keytar.

A keytar is just what it sounds like, a cross between a keyboard and a guitar. More specifically, it is a keyboard, but it’s worn on a strap over your shoulder like a guitar. With a keytar in hand a keyboard player could look as cool as a guitarist (though clearly the keyboard player would never actually be as cool as the guitarist). Well, that was the idea at least.

I was channel surfing one day when I flipped past the Home Shopping Network. There on the screen was a beautiful red keytar, a Yamaha SHS-10. I had to have it. It was fairly reasonably priced. I don’t remember the exact number, but it was somewhere between $50-100, perhaps around $70. Regardless, I was a 5th grader and I didn’t have that kind of money. It was also a bit pricey for a random middle-of-the-year non-birthay non-Christmas gift from my parents, so it appeared as if all hope was lost.

Within a matter of days I was sitting in Mr. Gholson’s class at the end of the school day when the principal began some school-wide announcements over the intercom. The announcements were related to the school fundraiser we had just finished. As usual I had big plans to sell the more items than anyone else in the school, and as usual I didn’t. At the very end of the announcements the principal reminded all the students that everyone who sold at least one item had their names entered into a drawing to win $50 cold hard cash. It seems like I never win anything like this, so you can imagine my surprise when he read my name as the recipient of the $50. Jackpot.

With my $50 in hand I was able to convince my parents to use it to order the keytar for me from the Home Shopping Network. I loved that thing. It was so cool I even brought it in to school to show all my classmates what I bought with my $50 prize.


I started numerous bands with my friends throughout middle school where I played the keytar (poorly). Someone else would beat some sticks on buckets or something because nobody had a drum set. Everyone else just kind of stood around because they didn’t have any instruments either. But they were my friends and they were in the band. We had big plans.

I didn’t know very many songs, so I usually just hit the Demo button and it played by itself. The demo song was Wham’s Last Christmas, though I had no idea what it was at the time. I don’t recall ever hearing that song until maybe seven or eight years ago, at which point I exclaimed THAT’S THE DEMO SONG FROM MY KEYTAR!


The keytar has also has survived many years and many moves to different apartments and houses, much to the chagrin of my wife. I’ve tried to get rid of this thing, but it seems nobody I know seems to want it. I’m not sure why. This keytar is now considered vintage, and they’re going on eBay for hundreds of dollars. Now might be a good time to cash in. Who thinks I have the guts to go through with it?

The Easy Hooker

We noticed a small wet spot in our ceiling a couple weeks ago when it was raining frequently. I assumed the gutters were clogged with leaves, as something similar happened last year. A few days later we noticed the spot again, except this time the spot was worse and this time it wasn’t raining.

After a quick resurvey of our house I realized I miscalculated earlier and the wet spot in the ceiling was not far away from our upstairs toilet. Crap. Literally. Fortunately, there was nothing wrong with toilet itself. The supply line was leaking very slowly, so I closed the valve. I went to the store and bought a new supply line, and, after several days of putting it off, I finally installed it today. The toilet is back up and running.

In the process of fixing the toilet I went to the garage to grab some teflon tape. There I noticed I actually already had a toilet supply line. I suppose I wasted a trip to the store. But, as I had a difficult time explaining to Melissa earlier, this supply line wasn’t to be used. It was a souvenir. Yes, a souvenir.

I believe it was my third summer working at ASP in southwest Virginia. I purchased many toilet supply lines that summer at the local hardware store. These supply lines were particularly hilarious due to the product name and packaging. Behold, the “Easy Hooker”

Easy Hooker front
Easy Hooker back

I bought one at the end of the summer so I’d always have a funny memory to laugh about. This supply line has stayed with me through numerous moves to new apartments and houses. It’s never been used, but it came awfully close today…

The Insight

In 2002 Melissa & I bought our first new car, a Honda Insight. The little two-seater hatchback has a hybrid 3-cylinder gas/electric engine. The funny aerodynamic shape has the lowest coefficient of drag of any production car available in the U.S. (at least at the time of its introduction, and possibly still). It also has the lowest emissions and best fuel economy of any car, then or now. This thing is great. I would say that it was ahead of its time, but I think it would be more accurate to say all other cars are behind their time.

Buying Iris

Melissa named her car Iris, after her favorite flower. It was originally our second car, so the lack of a back seat wasn’t a problem. When we moved to Nicaragua we got rid of my Civic and since we’ve been back in the U.S. we have only the Insight.

Melissa with Iris

There have been a couple of times were it would have been nice to have a back seat (e.g. picking up people from the airport), but we’ve always managed to get by.

As you may or may not already know, Melissa & I are expecting a baby Ragfield this summer, so the lack of a back seat in our only car isn’t going to work for much longer. That’s why we’ve decided to sell our beloved Iris and replace her (probably with a much more luxurious, yet fuel-economy-inferior Toyota Prius). We test drove a Prius on Valentine’s Day… it was very nice.

So I’ve decided to pay tribute to Iris, who has been like a member of the family the past seven years…

Iris in the Smokies

Iris in the Smoky mountains

Iris packed for vacation

I still don’t know how we were able to fit all of our clothes, food, camping gear, and two bicycles completely within the tiny car.

Rob a little cramped in a very full Iris

Okay, so it may have been a little cramped in there

Iris packed up to move

Here she is packed up to move out of our old house

Iris with Christmas tree

Here she is with a Christmas tree

Iris with skis

and skis

Good fuel economy

We’ve had good fuel economy

Not as good fuel economy

and terrible fuel economy

That’s a pretty accurate range of the real world fuel economy we saw with Iris. In the summer it would regularly be in the high 50’s to low 60’s. In the winter it would regularly be in the mid-40’s. The seven year average is just over 50 miles per gallon. In the summer of 2004, when I was bicycling nearly everywhere and Melissa was in Nicaragua, I spent around $20 on gas the entire summer.

One of the great things about this car is the instantaneous fuel economy gauge (the Prius has this too) that shows you exactly how good the gas mileage is at any given time. This has helped me learn how to drive to best conserve fuel. Surprise, surprise, the most important thing to do is slow down. But it’s a little more complicated than that. It takes a light touch to get it just right. You have to connect with the car and feel how it reacts to the slightest changes.

Even with all the things we love about this car, she’s not perfect. I found her lack of cruise control frustrating at times, but I made due. How does a car produced in this millennium not have cruise control? Also, the gas tank is on the wrong (right) side of the car (now I’m just nitpicking, but seriously, all gas tanks should be on the left/driver side of the car). Fortunately, the Prius remedies both of these shortcomings.

We’d love for Iris to go to a good home, so if any of you are even the slightest bit interested in buying her, let us know soon.

Iris at night

Good night

The Epic Double

Illini Chill

Saturday morning was the annual Illini Chill winter bike ride in St. Joe. I rode it last year for the first time in some horrible weather. It was a pleasant surprise to see the forecast for this year indicated the high temperature would be in the 50’s.

I learned the hard way last year that the included lumberjack breakfast actually isn’t pancakes. Luckily, Melissa and I filled up on pancakes Friday night at IHOP.

Short stack

Melissa & I ate our own “lumberjack breakfast” the night before the ride at IHOP

The ride start in St. Joe is only 12 miles from my house in Urbana. Since the weather was so nice I just decided to ride over there. I had a nice cross-tailwind to help push me along the whole way.

Illini Chill

Don, Karl, Greg, & Gene at the ride start

The regular route was a 22 mile loop from St. Joe to Royal and back. There was a 20+ mile long route addition, which I assumed we would do. We started heading north with a strong tailwind. Before I new it we were in Royal and we kept going on the long route–still heading North. We were 15-20 miles north of St. Joe when we finally turned west and hit the first headwind. It was tough. Eight of us took turns leading the way, but our speed still slowed from 25 to 15 mph.

Illini Chill map

my Illini Chill route

We wound our way back to St. Joe, mostly into the headwind. I realized that 20+ miles actually meant 28 miles. That put me at 60 for the day… so far. I was fairly exhausted by the time we returned to St. Joe for the pasta lunch and I was dreading the final 12 miles into the headwind back to Urbana. Fortunately, one of my friends also rode over from Urbana and we were able to ride back together.

It took 4:30 to travel 72 miles. Not great, but it’s only February. This one ride was more than half as far as my total January mileage.

Clinton Lake

I returned home, showered, took a 30 minute nap, ate a snack, then started to prepare for my second adventure. A different group of friends was planning to run 10 miles at the Clinton Lake trail on Saturday night. Clinton Lake is one of the harder area trails to run under normal circumstances. At night (using headlamps and flashlights) it was going to be a new challenge. Additionally, we realized pretty quickly that the entire trail was covered in several inches of mud.

Clinton Lake trail map

Clinton Lake trail

There was a big turnout–18 or so runners. It was kind of neat in the early miles to turn around and see 15 flashlights lining the trail behind me. We slid all over the place. A few people fell. I managed to stay upright, though one time I took a step and when I lifted my foot up my shoe stayed in the mud.

Trail running

my muddy shoes this morning

Somehow I was way overdressed. I started with pants, a long sleeve shirt, and gloves. I took the gloves off almost immediately. Later I pushed up my sleeves and unzipped my shirt. Then I pulled up my pant legs above my knees. I was on the verge of taking my shirt off. I don’t know what the deal was… I’ve never been that hot when it was 45˚ before.

This trail usually takes me less than 1:30, but last night it took 2:20. There was an awful lot of hiking going on at times rather than running. After 6:50 of aerobic exercise in one day I was utterly exhausted.

After the run we all grabbed dinner at Dos Reales, where I consumed copious quantities of chips, salsa, & water. While I was nearly the last person to receive my order, I’m pretty sure I was the first to finish.

Needless to say I had no trouble sleeping last night.

The End of January

Photo of the Day

January calendar



Bike Distance # Rides Avg per Ride
Bianchi 69.7 Mile 16 4.35625 Mile
Big Red 2. Mile 1 2. Mile
El Fuego 23.06 Mile 4 5.765 Mile
Thundercougarfalconbird 44.65 Mile 1 44.65 Mile
Total 139.41 Mile 22 6.33682 Mile

The weather has been too nasty to do much recreational cycling. These miles were mostly commute. I got in one road ride and one mountain bike ride the entire month.


Red arrows mark the trail

Month Distance # Workouts Avg per Workout
January 109.34 Mile 10 10.934 Mile
Total 109.34 Mile 10 10.934 Mile

This was my highest monthly run total since I started running again.


Month Distance # Workouts Avg per Workout
January 1.87452 Kilo Meter 3 0.62484 Kilo Meter
Total 1.87452 Kilo Meter 3 0.62484 Kilo Meter

Not much going on here. I’m going to start swimming regularly again tomorrow.

Cross Country Skiing

Skiing Schroth Trail

Month Distance # Workouts Avg per Workout
January 26.67 Mile 6 4.445 Mile
Total 26.67 Mile 6 4.445 Mile

What the heck, I spent a lot of time skiing last month. I still don’t think I’m quite as good at it as I was last year. It hasn’t come back to me quickly enough.

The Riddle Run 10

Today was the 10th edition of the Riddle Run, a 28.35 mile ultra-marathon fun run. Last year I showed up fairly unprepared but I still cranked out a decent run. This year I felt much more prepared than ever before. I just ran a good trail marathon in December, and I’ve been doing a long run almost every weekend since then.

Sunrise at the Riddle Run

Sunrise at Lake of the Woods park

This year’s Riddle Run set another registration record with 125 people signed up, though I don’t think that many showed up. The temperature was similar to last year (20˚ at start, 33˚ at finish), but last year there was just a light dusting of snow on the ground (which melted during the run). This year there was about 4″ of mushy snow covering the entire trail. Running in mushy snow is quite the challenge.

Snow covered trail

But what was more concerning to me than the snow was that I badly bruised my shin while mountain biking last Saturday. I’ve run twice since then (Sunday and Tuesday) and both times my shin caused me pain with every step. As it turns out, my worries were misplaced. My bruised shin didn’t bother me the slightest bit.

Shortly after 8 a.m. the runners gathered to listen to Jeff Riddle (the run’s coordinator) give instructions. Then we were off.

Run coordinator Jeff Riddle explains the rules

Runners listen to Jeff's instructions

The snow was tough. I started slowly, chit-chatting with others for the first mile or two. I finished my first loop in 43 minutes. By the second 4.05 mile loop (of seven) the snow was packed down a little bit, and that allowed me to run a little faster. My second loop was around 40 minutes, as was the third. I ran the fourth loop with Chris (who recently whooped me a the Siberian Express) and Matt (last year’s Riddle Run winner). They both stopped at the end of the lap with 16 miles total, as they had both planned to do.

I was still feeling very good and I was running a steady pace. There were two other guys with roughly the same time as me (though we weren’t running together as we chose to run the loops in opposite directions at times). I stopped at my car to grab a bite to eat at mile 8, 16, 20, & 24. I drank a lot of Gatorade throughout. It worked, as I never ran out of energy. I took an Endurolyte tablet each time I stopped in order to try to avoid the muscle cramping I experienced at Tecumseh. This also worked, as my muscles never cramped.

Each of the last two laps I walked up two of the hills. This was the only walking I did the entire time, and it probably only slowed me down by a minute or two.

At 24 miles Jeff told me I had the fastest time so far by a couple minutes. Most of the runners didn’t run all seven laps, they stopped early. There was a crowd of these runners gathered around a campfire near the finish line. They all began to cheer as I began the final lap. I continued the same steady pace I had been running all morning. Then came the surprise of the day… something that’s never happened in six previous marathons/ultra-marathons. I picked up the pace the last mile as I approached the finish. Not just a little, but a lot. In fact, my last mile was the fastest mile I ran all day. I still had some gas left in the tank.

I finished. I was the first one to do so. The crowed cheered as I crossed the “finish line” and pelted me with snowballs. This wasn’t really a race, it was more of a fun run, but Jeff declared me the winner. The first place male in the Riddle Run gets a traveling “trophy” (which it turns out is a roll of toilet paper signed by each previous winner).

Jeff awards Rob the 1st place travelling trophy

Jeff awards Rob the traveling “trophy”

After the run I changed clothes, ate a delicious cupcake, and warmed up by the campfire.

Jeff's wife baked delicious cupcakes for all registered runners

Jeff’s wife baked a cupcake for every runner

Post-run campfire

warming up by the campfire

Ken and his dog Cayenne finished about five minutes after me. Then Jason was another five minutes behind Ken.

Cayenne was one of two dogs to run the full 28.35 miles

Cayenne was one of (at least) two dogs to run the full 28.35 miles

Pat Mills was pelted with snoballs upon finishingPat Mills was pelted with snoballs upon finishing

Pat was the next finisher. He too, was pelted with snowballs.

Just behind Pat were Becky & Ellen, the first two women. They were running together. Becky crossed the line first in a photo finish.

Becky & Ellen were the 1st & 2nd women to finish

Becky kicks Ellen’s ass (just kidding)

Jeff awards Becky the 1st place travelling trophy

Jeff awards Becky the women’s traveling trophy

The women’s traveling trophy is a little stuffed buffalo. It’s nice, but it probably couldn’t be used for wiping in an emergency, like the men’s trophy. Well, at least not more than once.

It was a good time. The run was hard. The times were slow. My winning time was 4:56, the second slowest winning of the 10 Riddle Runs. I’m moving around now better than ever before after a run this long. I take that as another good sign. Now that I’ve survived the Riddle Run I took the plunge and finally registered for the Illinois Marathon. I’ve been planning to do it, I just hadn’t registered yet. Now I just need to avoid injury for 2.5 more months.

Interestingly, the Riddle Run winners were also awarded the chance to register for the 30 mile Clinton Lake Ultra in March, even though that race is already full. It’s a nice perk, but I’m probably going to pass on it. I’d love to race Clinton, but it’s two weeks before the Illinois Marathon, which is my primary objective for the first part of the year. I wonder if this award is transferable, and if so, how much I could get for it on eBay… Just kidding, Chris.