On Running a Marathon.

Ran_my_first_marathon_yesterday__It_took_everything_I_had__but_I_finished._Thanks_to_everyone_who_came_out_to_support_me._One_more_off_the_bucket_list.

I like to do a year in review to try and reflect on the triumphs and missteps of the previous year. This also gives me a time to look forward, and what I’d like to do in the next year. It has almost no value to you, the reader, if there is anyone beside myself reading. I actually missed the previous year (2014-2015). I kept putting it off, and after several fits, starts, and rewrites, I decided to call it when it hit June. Not this year. God no. Never again. I’m going to probably split this up into several posts. A look back and then maybe a look forward.

A Look Back or A Tale of Three Shoes

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The thing that was pretty all consuming was training for my first marathon. Yes, I won’t shut up about it. It’s something that has been on my to do list for the better part of a decade, and it’s so nice to be able to cross something like that off.

Let’s do a quick recap by the numbers (Runs before Runkeeper logs are estimated as 4 times per week at 3 miles/30 minutes in the gym)

Started Training: December 18th, 2014
Ended Marathon Training (Day of Marathon): October 17th, 2015
Miles Ran Training: 889 Miles
Time Spent Running: 426.45 Hours (17.77 Days)
Average Miles Per Week: 20.67 Miles
Average Time Spent Per Week Running: 9.91 Hours
Time Spent Preparing: 9 Months 29 Days
Pairs of Shoes Used: 3
Injuries: 1

There it is, in black and white. I like to throw the numbers up first because it puts a nice bow on everything. It is the microcosm of the goal. However, it is the abridged version of events. It is void of emotion and accounts of struggle. That’s what comes next.

As stated above this has been on my bucket list for along time, one of my white whales (Sorry, Ahab, I have more than one). During school, I never felt I had the time (read: diligence) to spend training. Well, school was over so what was my excuse now? I’m sure I could have come up with one, but I wasn’t getting any younger. So, running it was. If you notice, I started this on a Thursday in mid-December. I have noticed that If I wait to start things until X time I will definitely fail at it. No time like the present!

Winter sucked. I was not weather worn enough to be able to start running outside. If you haven’t experienced an Indiana winter, you are lucky because they are frozen hellscapes not fit for man nor beast. This is what resigned me to starting my trek in the gym. Purdue’s Co-rec is super nice so there are worse places I could have started. I decided to try the track, because I hate the treadmill. If the thought of running around a track over an over sounds rough, staying in one place amplifies this.

It felt different from before though. This was something I was going to do. I think it was coming off the high of finally graduating from college. I had some new found self-confidence and this gave more reality to the goal. When I went to the gym, I had an end goal and every step was one more towards it.

I started to develop a rhythm. Even going in the morning before work on some days (to this day I haven’t been able to do this with any degree of consistency). I started at 3 mile workouts and gradually went to 5 milers. I was making progress and I could feel it.

The next phase would come when the weather started to break and a little warmth would peek through. Realistically, nothing was stopping me from upping my distance at the gym, but 5 miles on the track is 50 laps, and anything more would probably cause me to go insane.

I thing that is not really talked about with distance running is just coming up with good routes for that distance. Ideally, I like going in one loop. End up where I started without repeating my route. Here are a few of the routes I used when I was training.

When I broke out of my 5 miles it was to be a 7 mile. At that point I would just strap on my watch and see when it ticked to 7 miles. Can I just say that smartphones and GPS have made finding routes so much better! Like decidedly better. It’s just great. I’ve tried many apps and have found Runkeeper to be the best. I also use tapiriik to sync my progress to Dropbox and Strava. It’s always nice to have a backup and more analytical tools. Everyone loves statistical analysis!

I would then step up to 10! This was a big accomplishment. I was only a 5k away from half of the goal. If it wasn’t clear before, it was starting to crystalize now. This was achievable. One week I decided, this Saturday (5/9/2015) (Saturdays were my long run days) I was going to do a half-marathon. A half! 13.1 miles! A distance previously thought for others, the elite. So, I did it. I ran it on one hot, humid, rainy day. It was entirely exhausting and painful. Around mile 11 my legs started to give out. I had to really keep myself focused. It was a matter of not letting my lizard brain win. This was repeating mantra time. I don’t remember what I was muttering to myself, but it worked. I finished, showed, and promptly flopped down on the couch.

Alright, half way. Only half to go. Cake, right? Totally not. Classic case of the 80/20 rule. 80% of the goal is easy, the last 20% is what is really a bear.

From then on it was trying to progress pass 13 miles. I’ve found that once I complete a perceived hard goal, It’s much harder to keep going past it to the next goal post.

I didn’t break past my half-marathon goal until 7/25/2015 with a 17 mile run. There were a lot of runs in between there and the eventual next goal. Those are far more important than the actual breaking through the goal. Those are the slogs. Those are the ones that are hard, the ones where you have to get out of bed, slap on the shoes and go, when you would much more like to sit and play some Zelda. I mean this in the best way possible, the majority of the runs on this were of this ilk. Just absolute bears, but I was never upset when I did them, I was upset however when I lost the battle between lethargy and action.

Here is a small snapshot of what it took. I’m glad I actually took all those pictures now.

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My training mainly continued in this fashion for the rest of the long, hot summer. (How I miss you now, summer, in the dregs of winter). As the deadline approached I became a lot less nervous. I had been training, and since I had been tacking I had number to back me up whenever I felt like I was out of my league.

One of the benefits of running, that a lot of other athletic endeavors don’t allow is the exploration of new areas. If you are traveling and you don’t have access to a treadmill, you can just run around. I’ve discovered beautiful places that I would have never, ever seen if I hadn’t of just gone for a run. Those are the times when I knew that post marathon, I’d still be running.

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It seems like I had no real setbacks during training, but that isn’t how it went. I had two, memorable setbacks. One was extremely hard to deal with for me, and that was the inevitable injury. I was running on a sidewalk and a car didn’t stop when I should have. I dodged out of the way and landed wrong, twisting my ankle. It turned about 90 degrees from my leg. I felt that. I walked for a second and tried to run it off. No way. I had really messed it up. I walked back to my apartment and knew I would have to be off it. It was pretty disheartening. I felt like my training was going to be set back too far. I was feeling really terrible about the whole thing. My ankle looked like a softball the next morning. I went and bought a brace because it would send a shooting pain up my leg at the slightest provocation. I was off of it for about two weeks total, probably before I should have started running on it again, but I was antsy.

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The second was about not enough preparation, and perhaps too much hubris. I was running around Lake Geneva in Wisconsin. This is one of those instances I mentioned above that I would in no way would have done this if I wasn’t running. They have a nice little path around the lake where you go through people’s back yards. Most of has nice paths, they are maintained by the home owners. For most of the day it was gorgeous just running around the lake. It was sunny, I was passing people saying, “Hi”. Great. The problems arose from two places. One, I did not bring any water, gu, or money with me. Two was I was misinformed at the distance around the lake, I thought it was 20 miles, well within my distance. It was 26. I really didn’t want to do 26 miles because the marathon was the following week. Was it smart to be running so much distance a week before? Probably not (hell no). Around mile 20 my legs started to lock up. It was because my body was starved. I hadn’t provided it with anything since the night before. I hadn’t had water for hours. I was dehydrated and without nutrition. This was entirely stupid and dangerous. I located a park where I did find a nasty looking drinking fountain. I will say that it was the best tasting water I have ever had, quite honestly. I ended up having to make a call for a ride because my legs were shot, my body was shot. Stupid.

This experience was pretty life changing. It gave me tremendous confidence to know that I am able to do big things, but they require sacrifice, time, and work. I don’t think of myself as naturally talented in many ways. I am lucky to have the genes I have, but I believe myself to be fairly average in most categories. What I don’t think I am average in is grit. I am stubborn about my goals. I am able to stick with something until I finish it. I might take a break from it, but I rarely let it go. In essence, what I lack in natural born talent, I make up for in tenacity.

I think anyone can do this, it’s learned. You have to practice it, it’s will power. I don’t subscribe to the theory that we are good at one thing or we have a set amount of will power. Like anything you want to be good at, it requires effort and study. Practice. Practice. Practice.

Alright, enough aphorisms. I’m not writing a self-help book here. Running a marathon is hard, I’m really glad I did it.

On Being The Very Best Like No One Ever Was.

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When I say I was into Pokémon, I mean I was into Pokémon. I was sucked in the first time I read about it in Nintendo Power. This isn’t specifically about the game, which is/was/will remain fantastic. This is about the trading card game.

I was already wrapped up in the world of Pokémon when I heard about it. I may or may not (totally did) have a Pokémon binder among various other paraphernalia. I’m not totally sure how I caught wind of it, but I heard a couple of my friends were in an after school Pokémon card league on Fridays. Well, I liked Fridays, I liked after school, and I sure as hell like Pokémon. I didn’t know a thing about trading card games, but that wasn’t going to stop me. I convinced/whined and complained to my parents to purchase me a starter deck and promptly signed up for the league.

League was held at the now defunct:
Big-League Baseball Card Supply
527 N. Sheridan St.
Crown Point, IN 46307
663-7537

Luckily, those guys mentored me in the game and the atmosphere was welcome and inviting. For one glorious half-year (10/30/99-04/09/2000) Friday’s meant one thing. League 3-7 PM. It also meant Totino’s party pizzas, but while league is a thing of the past, party pizzas can still, and should happen.

It hard to explain how fun it was, but it was something I greatly looked forward to at the end of each week. It was fiercely competitive, but everyone was surprisingly nice for a group of mostly boys aged 9-12. We just all loved the game and loved playing it.

We kept scores and reported all matches so we had point totals and checked the website religiously to see our rankings. Sadly, due to the card shop closing the website is also a thing of the past. Luckily, the wonderful Way Back Machine archived the site. I have now mirrored the sites, as they were when I saw them, on my own site.

Here are the links:

Season 2
Season 3
Season 4
Season 5

We were intense. The shop owner imported the yet to be released Japanese card packs and sold them to us for a hefty profit. I shutter to think how much money I sank into those cards. Because they were in Japanese we had translation guides found in the once great, SCRYE. We went so far as to have to have blacked out card back protectors when using the Japanese cards because the designs on the back of the Japanese cards were different from the American version and people could cheat if not blocked.

I became a “Gym Leader” in the 4th season of the league. This basically meant I could be a deciding voice in match disputes. I also was in charge of official scoring and mentoring. It was super fun!

We all developed strategies and analyzed weaknesses and spent hours building, tearing apart, and rebuilding decks. This culminated in a tournament held at Southlake Mall in Merrillville, IN.
It was an official Wizards of the Coast tournament, and this was the peak of Pokémania. It was massive with hundreds of kids and some teenagers playing. Because we played all the time against each other we were pretty confident in our abilities. One of my friends was like a savant. I almost never beat him. I managed to walk away with three victories, but lost early on. He made it to the final round. It was actually two Big League players who faced off for the championship. He ultimately lost, but it was clear we were the best players in the area. Which was brag worthy back then, but maybe (definitely) no so much now.

Like all good things that burn too brightly, it was done almost as soon as it started. When 2000 came around we were all started to become angsty teenagers who were more into girls than card games. That meant, sadly, Pokémon league was out the window. And so it went, but I can look back on it fondly as an amazingly fun was to spend a Friday night. I still have my decks, so maybe some Friday night the special, three move, Japanese, Team Rocket Mewtwo will make an appearance.

On Inspirations or Star Wars Fan Films.

Full disclosure, I have spent entirely too much time on these videos. It could be argued that this was a learning experience, and I did learn a lot, but I still poured time I could have been using to better benefit humanity in some way. Alas, ancient Star Wars fan films are what took my attention this go-round.

When I wrote the description of the uploads I said, “I have no strong connection beyond nostalgia to these films, but they are still enjoyable.” Which is what this originally was, a throw-away lark.

The film, PA Wars, is a goofy story about a PA (production assistant) for a video production company. PAs are generally the lowest on the totem pole and are the people fetching lattes and dry cleaning. Being fed up with his station he retaliates against the “emperor”. It’s filled with goofy humor, movie references, and cheesy one-liners. The perfect fan film.

Upon re-watching (and re-watching again thanks to a painful editing process – more on that later) it triggered why I loved it so much when I was a kid, and how it informed my later decisions with video.

The film does a great job capturing the zeitgeist of the late 90s. Any dork, and plenty non-dorks, had Star Wars on the tip of their tongues. A new one was being made! It had been so long since the last one made its indelible mark on pop culture. This was a big deal. I remember impatiently waiting on any information to come out about the movie. There were also countless product tie-ins everywhere. This included the iconic collector cups from Taco Bell and plastic light sabers – who didn’t own three of those (or five depending on if you were me in 1998)?

This smashed directly into the dot-com boom. The internet was totally happening. Guys, the future, it was here. This meant a lot of Star Wars fan sites were popping up (wanna join my web ring?).

I’d like to include another advent taking place at this time. Digital video. Not just DVDs, but the ability to edit your own personal videos on a computer. This was all without costly setups. Even tough the Video Toaster was available for your Commodore Amiga (yeah, I didn’t have one either) home video production was mainstream now. Yeah, people will give me crap, but I largely attribute this to Apple. They were all about the iMac being your “digital hub” and this included video. All you needed was a DV camera, Final Cut Pro or iMovie, and a dream. Before the days of YouTube they were one of the major standards for internet video – Quicktime .mov files with resolutions the size of a postage stamp.

What I’m saying is this all collided with a bevy of Star Wars fan films. People were desperate for new Star Wars so these fan films, including this one, filled a void while waiting for the new film.

I went searching for PA Wars a while back because it popped into my head, and all I could find was the second part of the film. I thought it was just lost in the history of the internet. Well, when I was going through some old VHS tapes to convert to digital I happened upon one that said “Star Wars Fan Films”. Evidently, I found these films so hilarious I recorded them off of my computer onto a VHS tape to show to friends. Those .mov files were too big to transfer on a floppy, so VHS was a natural next step. Here is a picture of the original capture.
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Yeah I didn’t even make it full screen, you can still see the Quicktime player. The important thing is, I had it still! Thanks, young Matt.

It was in pretty poor shape in terms of quality. Clearly, I needed to fix it to the best of my ability. First step was to de-interlaced it. I ended up finding a process outside of Premiere Pro because Premiere is not good at it from my experience. I used a program called VirtualDub. I took the de-interlaced footage, scaled, cropped, color and level corrected then encoded it for YouTube. I tried to mess with the audio only in Premiere and originally thought it was good enough. Then after uploading and encoding (which took hours even with GPU acceleration) it kept bugging me. It had a persistent hum and was really quiet despite me boosting the volume. From experience with Tim and Matt play I picked up some skills for cleaning up audio in Audacity. So, I extracted the audio and removed the noise, normalized, compressed, and then ran it though a low-pass filter because some of the quieter dialog had a loud, high-frequency pop to it. Added it back and re-encoded it and re-uploaded it.

I did a search one more time to see if the original PA wars files were online. I found the special edition ones on Daily Motion. So, I grabbed those, scaled them, put the two parts together and uploaded them to YouTube.

This should be self-evident, but I am a huge dork, and a little bit of a perfectionist.

So, here are the fruits of my labor. Posted for the world.

To end on a bit of a personal note. This film was one of the reasons I wanted to make videos. It seemed so fun (it is by the way). I even kind of stole a scene of there’s and put it in a movie I made in high school. The Stayin’ Alive walk intro. I did it in my Dracula movie for English class.

So, in closing, Matt had a past. This was part of it.