Happy Halloween!

October 31!  All-Hallows eve, when people dress up, kids have an excuse to get wired on candy, and disturbing theme dishes suddenly become ok.  

Oh, it's also the day that NaNoWriMos everywhere enjoy their last breaths before the insanity begins.

Yup, that's right.  I will be writing a novel this upcoming month.  It will be a minimum of 50,000 words, but I'm going for more.  Look for me at Panera, Mad City Coffee, Borders, Casey's Coffee, and similar places.  I'll be the brunette tweaked out on caffeine and adrenaline. 

What does that mean for SwimWriteRun?  Well, posts will be shorter, but I'll still hit the schedule at a minimum (Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday).  My column will still appear in Columbia Patch - check out the next one on November 12!  You can also watch me zoom and/or struggle through my word count using the widget to the right of the screen.

But that's a whole some-number-of-hours away (12:01am on Nov 1! ...during which I'll be sleeping).  Until then, I plan to enjoy Halloween - and I hope you do to!  As you're trying not to eat the candy that's supposed to be for the kids, take a minute to read about the All Hallows Read program started by Neil Gaiman. This is a cool idea, one I might try next year! (when I have more time to scrape the egg off the front of our house)

Happy Halloween, be safe, and have fun!


Pumkin' Thunkin'

Hey there blogfans, time for some fun and festive facts about a fall favorite: pumpkins.

Pumpkin' Chunkin', that fun, family-friendly past-time that involves building huge siege weapons for the sole purpose of launching gourds at Many mph, is growing in popularity.  The first competition was in Delaware in 1986, and twenty-five years later, it's stronger than ever.  Check out Clark's Elioak Farm, which will be trying out its calabaza cannon on the weekend of Nov 6 and 7.

See some cool Chunkin' videos from the Science Channel here, here, and here.

If high-velocity isn't your cup of pumpkin, carving isn't just about Jack'o'lanterns anymore.  As you may have seen on the Food Network and other places, pumpkin sculpting is the new thing. 

The largest pumpkin pie in the world was made in New Brehman, OH, this year.  The pie was 20 feet (6.1m) in diameter, 3,699 pounds (1681.1 kg), and fed 5,000 people.  Pass a fork and the cool whip, please.

Pumpkins have been around for a long time.  The oldest seeds have been found in Mexico, and date from 7000 to 5500 BC.  Today, the US produces an estimated 1.5 billion pounds (680,000,000 kg) in states like Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and California.  There are many varieties of pumpkins.

Check out the history of the pumpkin and the Jack'o'Lantern here.

Enjoying a fall romance?  Don't give him a pumpkin if you want things to work out.  Check out the Ukrainian custom of rejecting suitors with the orange vegetable. (Although, technically, it may be a fruit)

When you're carving a pumpkin this year, don't throw out the seeds: they're packed with nutrition.  And while any variety is edible, some species are better for eating than others.

Finally, this year the Guinness World Records awarded the heaviest pumpkin record to Chris Stevens in Stillwater, MN.  It will not, in fact, be made into a giant pie.  The 1,810.5 pound (821.23 kg) pumpkin will be carved on Oct 30, 2010, by Scott Cully in the New York Botanical Garden in NYC.

Hope you enjoyed these fun facts!  If you have any more tidbits of knowledge about pumpkins or Halloween, leave them in the comments!


IronMan Access: Redux.

Wow.  That's all I can say.  Wow.

The er.. storm that has resulted from the release of the IronMan Access program should be more than enough to quiet anyone who doubts the relevance or impact of social media, blogs, and forums.  Some of the links in the previous post/comments will take you to the fallout.  You can also see a lovely recap of the drama here at Jeff6's blog, TriJeffTri.

This afternoon, after the Access program 'filled', World Triathlon Corporation/Ironman announced it was rescinding the program.  You can view the video here.

Basically, Ben Fertic, President/CEO of WTC, states the rationale for the Access program: because athletes are uncertain which Ironman they will get into, they sign up for multiple events; when they get into the event of their choice, they do not participate in the others, leading to a wastage of spots.

I do have a few minor quibble(s) with this rationale.

1)  If this is a significant problem, WTC/IM needs to re-evaluate their refund policy and/or institute penalizations for No-Shows. 

2)  If refunds are not the issue, WTC is still getting its money for those unfilled spots.

3)  If the events fill up so quickly, why do they have trouble filling up the spots later?  Of course, it takes a lot of time, planning, and training to optimize performance in an Ironman.  But offer those spots to a waiting list, where people know there's a chance they might get in, and you're bound to get takers.  Or increase the number of relays.  Or discount the spot.  Anything to bring someone in to fill the spot,a and generate revenue for sponsors and area businesses (since that's part of the money-making equation anyway).

I do give them credit for responding as quickly as they did to the backlash in the triathlete community.  They could have stuck the course for weeks and weeks.  

Whether or not the program would have damaged WTC/IM in the long run is a matter of debate.  The general trend for this sort of thing is lots of loud complaining at the outset, followed by quiet, grumbling acceptance; however, triathletes are a determined, stubborn lot.  I imagine they are more likely to follow through than other groups.  Maybe WTC was banking on that, too.

Either way, Fertic's message was this: "If you say we're wrong, we're wrong."

If only more people would say that to me.

Interesting 24 hours, all said and done.  Do you think they did the right thing?  Do you think the reactions were justified?

A trend toward prohibitive expense in triathlons?

Thanks to a tweet from Jeff 6, I learned that IronMan announced their IronMan Access Program yesterday.  Through Ironman Access, athletes can pay a $1000 subscription fee and gain priority registration to one or more IronMan events worldwide, and a second chance for the IronMan World Championships in Hawaii (oh, and other bennies... 2 VIP event tix, a Kona DVD, a magazine scrip, etc.).  

They also get a membership card.  Don't forget about the membership card.

This $1000 does not go toward registration for the actual IronMan distance events.  In 2011, the Florida IronMan General entry fee is $575.  IronMan Foundation charity spots go for twice that.  Of course, this does not include airfare, bike transport, meals, or lodgings.

So how valuable is early registration?  IronMan events do sell out, some more quickly than others.  For example, Ironman Louisville (KY) is still open; however, IronMan Florida has a history of closing out quickly*. The fact that some races sell out and others do not suggests that the IronMan access won't necessarily keep those unable to afford the program out of the sport; however, they may not be able to race at the location of their choosing.

The comments at the Triathlete Magazine forum and others seem to reflect a some of these views (or at least, they did at the time of this writing).  One poster argues that the new fee is one step toward locking the middle class out of the sport.  Others question the program's potential success.  However, triathlon is many things.  Among them, triathlons are expensive.  

I'm sure triathlons are expensive to put on.  But given the limited number of Access spots, unless this is to offset costs for everyone else, I don't see how the Access program would do more than generate more profit.

I am the example of a budget athlete: I compete against the clock, not at an elite level.  Triathlons are fun for me.  I don't require a high end bike. (I'll wait for those of you who train with me to stop laughing...)  If you gave me Zipp wheels or aerobars, I'd probably have no idea what to do with them.  But there are plenty of toys out there for people who do.

J6 pointed me in the direction of a New York times article that breaks down the average spending of a triathlete.  It repeated numbers I've heard before, from Danny Serpico and others - the average income of a triathlete is approximately $175,000**.  The average yearly expense of the sport? $22,000.

I wanted to compare the costs of a budget athlete with something that must be closer to the average... but then I found that someone had generated something like it for me.  Check out the SquawkFox article here.  Even the budget athlete can expect to spend a considerable amount. 

(Sidebar: I'd love to have the budget that their 'budget athlete' does.  Feel free to donate to the SwimWriteRun Massage Program. Kthx!)

Incidentally, the TriTalk podcast broke down the benefits in seconds-gained for some of those accessories.  He focused on olympic-distance, but the exercise was a cool one.  Check out that podcast, and others, here.

So... what's the big deal about another fee?

I think it's hard to say right now.  I'm curious what the response will be after this program has been in place for a while - Ironman Florida opens on Nov 1, so it may not be dramatically impacted by this new program.  

I do wonder if this will begin a trend toward increasing fees and generating perks for those who can afford it.  USA swimming saw a technological 'arms race' in bathing suits in recent past: lots of people were shelling out money for hydrodynamic suits, which led to the charge that speed was becoming something an athlete could buy.  I don't know that this holds much water (heehee... sorry..), since records have been broken since the institution of the ban. But it's a disturbing idea for those who truly love a sport and the essence of human competition... the idea that speed can be purchased, rather than trained.

Consider the spirit of IronMan: if the event is to highlight what is humanly possible, shouldn't the events be accessible to people even if they can't afford the perks program?

To be fair, high entry costs are not exclusive to IronMan events.  Recently, another runner told me about a 50-miler race that was set up on the same day as the JFK-50, by people who were tired of the high fee and the unpredictable lottery entry. (I didn't get the race info, but when I do, I'll post it up) Putting the two events side by side, I (the budget athelete) am likely to pick the rebel-race.  At least, most years.

Back to the questions... 

is the financial commitment to training and entering an event like Ironman already so great that it's silly to argue about another fee?  

Or is part of being an IronMan 'making it work' - by spending more efficiently so that you have every opportunity to get to the starting line?

Do you think that moves like this will give a bump to local/grass-roots/non-brand name events (like the example of the JFK50?)  

*Of course, I believe that Ironman Event volunteers have an opportunity to register ahead of the general public. So, if you have someone who can afford to travel to Florida and stay to volunteer for the event, is this so different than the extra $1000?  I wonder if IM will get less volunteers now...

**I do have a whole host of questions about this figure - are these people triathletes because they can afford it, or do are they successful people that naturally gravitate toward IronMan triathlons as a means to workout/compete. Just as there are many Type-A CEOs, I'm sure there are many Type-A athletes.  But that's another topic.

Have an opinion? Question?  Argument?  Leave it below.


Canine Epilepsy...

...really sucks.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying epilepsy is all fun and games for people.  However, canine epilepsy presents some serious challenges.  It is impossible to explain to a dog what is going on; similarly, the dog can't tell you how it's feeling, so it can be hard to recognize the signs pre-seizure.

A number of years ago, MeatHead, the bulldog, was diagnosed with hypothyroid, and then seizures.  
Most beautiful bully ever...
When Meathead was diagnosed, I learned that epilepsy is somewhat common.  The estimate is 4-5%, but anecdotally, many dog owners I know either had or knew someone who had a dog with grand-mal seizures.  There may be breeds predisposed to the disease, but that doesn't yet seem clear.

Epilepsy may be inherited (primary or idiopathic) or acquired (secondary or symptomatic). Seizures resulting from tumor, stroke, metabolic imbalance (think blood sugar, electrolytes) and hypothyroidism would all be considered secondary, because the seizures are the symptom of an underlying disease.  Inherited epilepsy has its own origin, probably genetic, and research is ongoing to try and tease apart the mechanisms of the disease.

What is a seizure, besides scary?  Basically, a seizure is a neurological event.  Think of a normal brain (human or dog) as a net - it's composed of many nerves (segments of rope) that respond to a stimulus (like... a tennis ball hitting the net).  The stimulus is transmitted through the neural network, and is translated into information.  

"Ow, that was hot." or.. "Hey look, a wall."

In a seizure, many different portions of the brain respond improperly to a stimulus.  So instead of a single tennis ball hitting the net, imagine a dozen rapid-fire volleying machines firing at will.  The result is a seizure, either of the grand-mal variety (stiffness, loss of body function, drooling, disorientation, etc) or the focal variety (this may or may not be noticeable, as it involves a smaller portion of the brain).  One seizure event pre-disposes the organism to subsequent seizures.  

Seizures of both types can be preceded by a 'prodrome' stage, and by a 'post-ictal' stage in which the dog lies still or may have trouble getting his bearings.

For a more thorough description of types and stages, go here.  

At the moment, treatment of epilepsy is all about controlling the seizures.  

Because Meatie also has hypothyroid, and hypothyroidism can cause seizures, both conditions must be carefully managed.  The thyroid medication has not resolved the symptoms alone, so he's also been on Potassium Bromide (KBr) for some time.  In the last day, we began supplementing his medication with phenobarbitol (PB).  Both of these drugs decrease the excitability of neurons in the brain.  

Interestingly, PB is not commonly prescribed for humans in developed countries.  Instead, benzodiazepime derivatives like Valium are preferred.  As a barbiturate, dependence, depression, and behavioral changes can result from PB use; however, in developing countries it is still given to humans.  

For dogs, KBr and PB are often given in combination with Diazepam (aka, Valium), one such benzodiazepime derivative.  Diazepam binds to a unique site in a receptor called a GABA receptor, which controls a Chloride 'ion pump' and normally inhibits nerve activity.  This binding makes the GABA receptor more likely to activate (increases the frequency), decreasing excitability.  

Barbiturates like PB bind the GABA receptor as well, but it acts in a different way: binding of PB increases the amount of time the receptor is active (increases efficacy).  PB also binds a receptor called AMPA which typically excites nerves, as well as other receptors in a non-specific manner.  

Side effects of both these drugs include confusion and sedation, which we've seen in our mutt.  PB can cause liver damage over time and requires regular blood testing.

Potassium bromide is a salt, like table salt, but with different elements.  KBr is the only one of these three drugs not approved for use in humans in the USA, because it's difficult to establish an effective dose without causing toxicity (called Bromism).  Bromism can cause changes in appetite, sensory perception, and behavior, aggressiveness, psychoses, and even more seizures.  

Determining a balance of each of these drugs is often necessary to manage canine epilepsy.

What else is a concerned owner to do?  First, we log each of MeatHead's seizures, and talk to the vet when we have concerns.  Like recommendations for people, we keep the area clear.  If he's on the couch or the bed, we move him to the floor.  When he's finished the seizure, we block off the area so he won't tumble down the steps and hurt himself.

There are several alternative therapies out there, but alternative drugs are very expensive because they're typically used in humans (who have insurance).  Administering supplements could make things worse if they cause side effects that haven't been documented by studies.  One thing we do is apply an ice pack to his back when he does have the seizures.  I'm not sure this helps, but at least keeping him cool won't hurt.

Our dog has been on KBr for years, with Diazepam as needed.  Recently, we decided to had PB, since the frequency of seizures has not really decreased to an acceptable level.  Since he's started the PB, Meathead has been disoriented.  The vet said it would take a few days for things to normalize, and I hope it does soon.  It's very hard to watch a loved one (and yes, dogs count) suffer, and it's even harder to be unable to explain it to them.
Mo and MeatHead
For more information, check out the links above.  If you have a story about dogs, canine epilepsy, or anything else, please share in the comments.


About SwimWriteRun

I'm a graduate of the University of Maryland, College Park, where I studied biology.  I also had a brief stint in Club Swimming, played Club Rugby, worked in the residence halls, studied martial arts, and TA'd a few classes.  There, I met a fabulous man who's willing to do things like run around in the mud with me.  In 2004, I began a PhD program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, and an official project in 2006.  Since then, I've helped write two reviews, authored some abstracts and a funded grant, and won some awards.  Hopefully the end is in sight.

There are a ton of things that keep me busy these days, since I try to balance my research with outlets to keep me sane.  I'm a writer, both of fiction and nonfiction, and I write a column for Columbia Patch that focuses on exercise and fitness.  I have a great writers' group that constantly supplies education and encouragement, and I like to shake things up with Spark Project and NaNoWriMo.  My bed-side book stack is eclectic: literary, mainstream, fantasy, scifi, etc.  The Kindle has re-kindled (sorry...) my love for classics as well.  I like to cook, sail (when I can), try new restaurants, fish, and camp (I call it camping).  I help organize events for a Columbia/Ellicott City Socials group and a Metro Area Beer, Wine, and Spirits group.  

Though I'm a slacker at times (I keep a healthy balance), I love to run and swim. Those are my two major forms of exercise, though I throw in yoga, spin classes, and other activities.  Still working on the cycling thing.  I've done the IronGirl Sprint Tri in Columbia, and the Columbia Triathlon (Olympic distance).  I completed my first marathon in October 2010, and it was a fabulous experience - I can't wait for the next one.  I swam across the bay in June, and will hopefully top that with a 5-mile swim at the Swim For Life in 2011.  We're raising money in 2011 for the Wounded Warrior Project through the Tough Mudder Mid-Atlantic Event in Virginia.  Follow our progress (and our sometimes-humorous take on training) by clicking on the TeamSFM tab, where you can also make a donation.

That's me - thanks for following my blog!  Leave a blurb about yourself in the comments.

This blog will be about...

After a somewhat negative-themed first post (not on purpose), I spent a few days thinking about what this blog WILL be about.  I did this for a very important reason: I've had blogs before, and all but one pretty much failed (aka, I lost interest).  So what did the one success have that the others didn't?

That successful blog had:
A clear contribution schedule
A defined time limit 
Personal significance
A uniting theme

I can probably hit two out of three, since I plan to maintain MoWrites longer than the other one.

So, what do I expect to write here?
  • Personal things.  No, not TMI.  You probably won't hear about my morning coffee (unless it was really good), my relationships, or the smile-before-backstabbing politics that occasionally happen at work.  But I will write about my family (some of them, including the dogs, actually have their own blog - check the side bar), my friends, and the things we do.  
  • Training.  This is an important part of my life (even on days when I sleep in).  Many more training posts will appear at the TeamSFM blog, but I'll also post here.  I may also post content I don't write about for MoMentum.
  • Science.  The coolest thing about my job is that I get to learn about many, many different discoveries and fields.  The frustrating thing about my job is that I'm just supposed to focus on mine.  I'll share things that I find interesting here.
  • Writing. I spend a lot of time writing.  Even when I'm doing other things, I'm usually thinking of my characters or my current Work-in-Progress (er.. I mean... I'm listening attentively to you).  And I still have a lot to learn about the process, about publishing, etc.  I'll work through some of that here.  In addition, November is NaNoWriMo, which will probably start to consume my soul around November 20th. Expect word count updates as I struggle to maintain my sanity.  There are some great blogs by authors in my side bar.
  • Local Adventures.  I love where I live.  There are lots of fun things to do, cool places to go, interesting people to meet.  If we have a great happy hour, I'll post it here.  Favorite spot?  Same thing... although there are several Local Blogs that do it better.  There are also blogs that cover local opinionsissues, and politics.  See the sidebar for a list, or check the links I'll include in my posts.
Do you have a blog that isn't mentioned here?  Let me know and I'll add it to the blog roll.

Finally, if there's something you want me to talk about (or talk more about) comment or send me an email and let me know. Hear about an event?  Tell me!  Want to guest blog?  The more the merrier!

Look for posts three days a week: Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday.  

Thoughts?  Suggestions?  Tweet them or leave a comment below.


Why this blog can't be a food blog...

A tornado has descended upon our house.  Really.

Apparently, it stopped by a vineyard and a chicken fat factory en route.  And it drowned out the sound of the timer on the toaster oven.

Good news: the house is still standing.

Yet, this is what happens when I cook.

Don't get me wrong, I love cooking.  After a rough day, it's actually relaxing to come home and create something out of a pile of ingredients.  Fall is the time for soup, one of my favorite things to make for sentimental reasons (and its forgiving nature).  I turn on the radio, snack on baby carrots, and dance around the kitchen while I chop, saute, simmer, roast, etc.

I do get distracted from time to time, though.  Even carried away.

This evening was a great example.  The goal: make Asian Coq au Vin for book club tomorrow, 16 or 17 people.  The recipe prepares enough chicken for 4 people.  Some quick math was in order.

I decided to buy some bulk chicken thighs from BJs (cheap and tasty), up the number to 20, double the vegetables, and adjust the liquid as required.  There was no math to this (home =/= lab).  I just took my biggest pot and tried to make it work.

Ladies and gentlemen, it was a little messy.  Browning the chicken in batches, without getting raw chicken juice all over the kitchen, was no joke.  The pot was too heavy to lift and drain the grease, so I spooned it.  Splash.  I was unable to find fermented black beans, so I substituted black bean sauce, which threatened to char on the bottom of the dutch oven.  Fortunately I simmered the aromatics in a few splashes of wine, preventing the scramble to get the rest of the ingredients in the pot.

When I finally returned the chicken to the pot, added the herbs, and covered it all with wine, I was proud of myself.  I also realized it was going to take about ten years to simmer on the stovetop.  So I improvised.  A few months ago I made braised beef ribs, which simmered in the oven for hours to become a rich, succulent mass of awesome.  So I cranked the oven and heaved the pot, covered, inside.  It's bubbling away as I type, and smelling awesome.

But Mo, I hear you thinking.  This sounds awfully like a food blog,  Aren't you making the case otherwise?  

Well, good reader...

Feeling pleased with myself, and rather hungry, I moved on to actual dinner: pita pizza (aka, Pita + handfuls of cheese + turkey pepperoni.  No sauce.  It was all the way down stairs).  I piled the toppings on the pita, popped it in the toaster oven, set the oven to 350', and sat down to blog.

Formatting with this custom template is really easy.  (EDIT: ...not so easy)

I got carried away. And then I wondered what that smell was.

For the record, twenty minutes was actually the perfect time to cook the pizza.

However, this attention to culinary detail - or lack of it - shows me I can't do a food blog.  I admire the people who can, and I love to follow their blogs.  But taking pictures of my cooking (and trying not to drop my phone into the pot while I do so) isn't really fun for me.  Once the food is ready, I want to enjoy it and move on.  And unless I'm baking, I often stray so far from the recipe that I can't recall what I did or why the next day.

So while I may talk about food, and cooking, I will do so because they're things I love to do.  MoWrites, however, will have to find a different blog genre (blogre?).

Though the Coq au Vin really does smell amazing.