Monday, April 29, 2013

Game of Drones. What's it got to do with running?

If you're like me, you've probably thought of a drone as a "seek and destroy" kind of small plane that is used to hunt down terrorist activities in foreign countries. 

But, when I recently read that Edward F. Davis, the Police Commissioner of Boston, was considering the use of drones for the 2014 marathon, I had to find out more about them.  And, I learned some really interesting information that could change not only the face of running, but the face of law enforcement as a whole in the US. 

Police Commissioner of Boston, Edward F. Davis
Photo by John Zaremba of the Boston Herald

First, what is a drone?

Its official name is an "unmanned aerial vehicle" (UAV) and they exist to conduct surveillance in areas that might otherwise be too difficult or risky for human-powered aircraft. They can be controlled in multiple ways, but most are through some form of remote control.  Some UAV even can be set on their way and, once aloft, command themselves.  

How are they used? 

Again, primarily a piece of surveillance equipment, some drones are equipped with weaponry that can be deployed at a specific target thousands of feet or even miles away.   By January of this year, the Pentagon operated more than 10,000 drones, including the Reaper and the Predator which weigh about 2,000 pounds (similar to a pick up truck.) Both can stay aloft for more than 24 hours, fly in untracked air space and may soon have the possibility to be remotely refueled.

But, now other drones being designed for domestic use are much, much smaller, including "Backpack" drones that weigh only one to four pounds.  This has given rise to even smaller "Hummingbird" drones that have much less flying time capacity, but weigh only about the size of a AA battery

Equipping domestic UAVs with non-lethal weapons (like tasers and rubber bullets) is also being investigated. 

What does that mean for a large event like a marathon?

A local law enforcement agency could deploy multiple drones that would continually fly over and provide images of what's happening below.  They could even provide thermal imaging similar to what was used in capturing the second bomber of the 2013 marathon, who was hiding in a small boat to avoid detection.  

That means that there would be a birds eye view of everyone on the street, allowing law enforcement to scan the crowd, look for suspicious activity and even use face recognition software to identify known persons of interest.  

Most of the drones--especially the smaller ones--don't even make any noise, so the general attendee wouldn't even notice they were there.  (Especially those of us who huff and puff for air as we run blissfully unaware of our surroundings anyway!)  

How is that different?

Some proponents say this is nothing more than the use of security cameras or large scale numbers of people taking video and still pictures.  And, Google Street View cars have captured all kinds of images as they travel the world!

Google Street View cars on show at the CeBIT
trade fair in Hanover, Germany, in March 2010.
Photograph: Daniel Mihailescu/AFP/Getty Images

Others say that, surveillance on that level is too invasive, since all of our moves could be detected in a larger area.  After all, the department store security camera only catches a bit of us in action (you know...looking for the latest, greatest running skirt--sorry guys--and then showing it to all of our friends as we emerge onto the street.)  A drone on the other hand, would catch us not only showing the running skirt, but the visits we made up and down the street trying to find a cool matching shirt and, yes, even the short stop to readjust a piece of what we're currently wearing. 

Those against wide-spread use of domestic drones believe that we shouldn't be tracked in this manner.  According to a recent report by the ACLU, "Rules must be put in place to ensure that we can enjoy the benefits of this new technology without bringing us closer to a 'surveillance society' in which our every move is monitored, tracked, recorded, and scrutinized by the government.

What do I see from the back of the pack?

A marathon or other running event is only a reflection of society as a whole.  (Although, I'd like to believe it's generally a kinder, gentler depiction of society because runners are such awesome people!)  And, I'm thinking that as long as it doesn't go the way of the airport detection scanners where they can see through my running skirt and cool new shirt, I'm OK with it. 

Having said that, drones can't ensure that another Boston 2013 won't happen. I fully believe that if someone wants to wreak havoc, they'll find a way to do it.  

But, the people who run large scale events like marathons must do something to respond to the tragic events that occur, even if it is just to provide an illusion of security.  Marathon security will change and, unfortunately, most of it will probably inconvenience runners and their support crowds.  For example, the Pittsburgh Marathon (to be run this Sunday, May 5) just announced that runners may only have fuel belts (small waistpacks that carry water and other endurance goodies) and Camelbacks (water backpacks) in the starting corrals. And, of course, all of that will be subject to search upon entering the corrals.  

Even military runners who carry rucksacks must register the contents of their items at the Pittsburgh marathon office.  Ironically, it was some of these runners who were able to help the injured at the Boston marathon bombing, even using the contents of their backpacks (Gatorade, socks, etc.) to help the victims. 

Now, most runners--especially the better runners--don't carry a lot of stuff with them, but the rules have changed.  And, whereas there were rules before, you can bet your bottom dollar that they will now be uniformly enforced.  

So, if a drone can limit runner inconvenience while doing a better job of preventing unlawful activity, including murder or another terrorist attack, isn't it worth it?  

If anything, I like that Police Commissioner Davis said he encourages looking into all the pros and cons, including cost, before making any final decisions.  The other hurdles will include working within emerging state laws on drones and even finding available ones since they can be in short supply. 

What do you think?

I don't know all the answers, so you tell me.  Should surveillance drones be used at events such a big city marathons?  Please comment below as long as you can maintain a civil discussion on the topic!

For further reading:

Saturday, April 27, 2013

It's my birthday--have a drink with me! (Of the H2O variety)

Sing along with me....It's my birthday and I'll cry if I want to. 

All right.  Yes, it is my birthday, but no, I'm not really crying.  (I will be next year, but that's a whole different story!)

I could be, though, because I feel lousy.  Lousy, I tell ya.  And, it's my own doing.  The self-inflicted kind.  But, not from overdoing it with alcohol in celebration of my 49 years on this earth.  No, I went for a run this morning and, even though I know way better than this, I didn't hydrate enough. Plus, I pushed myself for the first three miles because I'm trying to break a 30 minute 5K time. 

Now, I'm downing my third recovery drink....six hours later.  And, I'm finally beginning to feel a little better. 

So, I decided to remind myself why it's important to hydrate for a long run. And, I came across some really interesting statistics about why water is so vital for runners. 

First, I remember looking at a water label a few years ago and seeing this:

I always thought that would make a great trivia question---what has 0 calories, 0 grams of fat, 0 carbohydrates and 0 grams of protein?  Yes, it's good ole H20.  

So, according to our American labeling requirements, water doesn't give us much of anything.  Ah, but therein lies the mistake.  Water is absolutely critical for life.  It is the one thing that humans can't live without for very long.  Our bodies can withstand weeks without food, but not more than a day or so without water.  

Now, we see the first benefit water has to running....providing life.  But, it becomes much more than that, especially for someone who exercises.  

In a Sparkpeople blog, Nancy Howard provides this data:   "...for every 1% drop in body weight from fluid loss, there is a 2% drop in your running performance. This may not sound like a lot of weight, but for a 120-pound runner a weight loss of 3 1/2 pounds can lead to a 6% drop in running performance."

I sweat a lot. (Hi, I'm Linda and I'm a sweat-er.)  It can be 20 degrees outside and I'm still a sweaty mess by the time I finish a run.  It's always been like that.  In high school marching band, all the other girls would take off their hats, give their heads a little toss and emerge with perfect hair. Me?  I'd take off my hat and see the indentation of the hat ringed around my sweaty head. For. The. Rest. Of. The. Day.  (No lingering issues there, right?)  

One of my physical therapists (yes, for running injuries) told me sweating a lot just meant that my body worked efficiently.  And, while that may be true, it's pretty embarrassing to sweat so much.  But, it also means I need to pay attention to my water needs a little more closely. 

I was also reminded that water makes up anywhere from 50-75% of our bodies (depending on who you read.)  That's a lot!   Not drinking enough can cause cramps, dizziness, fatigue and more bad stuff.   Some studies link diseases and disorders like stress, depression, allergies, asthma, hypertension, arthritis, colitis and even some cancers to lack of water.  (Note to self.  You know,...the one who suffers from allergies and exercise-induced asthma--read that last sentence again.)

Drinking water can also help avoid weight gain.  In fact, I've heard a lot of times that Americans thirst mechanism is so weak that we often mistake thirst for hunger and eat a bunch of crappy stuff to make up for it.  So, water can fill us up and it can help us avoid mistaking thirst for hunger. 

How much should we drink, especially when exercising?

According to, "The American Council on Fitness has suggested the following basic water intake guidelines for people doing moderate- to high-intensity exercise:
  • Drink 17 to 20 ounces of water 2 to 3 hours before you start exercising
  • Drink 8 ounces of water 20 to 30 minutes before you start exercising or during your warm-up
  • Drink 7 to 10 ounces of water every 10 to 20 minutes during exercise
  • Drink 8 ounces of water no more than 30 minutes after you exercise."  
 Nope, I didn't do that this morning.  Let's see.  I drank about 18 ounces 30 minutes before exercising, then maybe drank another two during my 10 miles and then maybe another three to four ounces afterwards.  Then, nothing for another few hours. According to these guidelines, I should have had somewhere around 70 ounces.  I had 24.  Maybe 24.  Almost 1/3 of the recommended guidelines.

Oops!  I think I see the problem.  

So, join with me in committing to drinking more water every day, especially when exercising. To start, toast yourself (and my birthday) with a long tall drink of water.  

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Consumerism versus Support? Should we buy that Boston tribute shirt...headband....bracelet?

Just read this article about whether or not it's a good thing to go out and purchase items in support of the tragedy that happened last Monday at the Boston marathon.  And, I--of course--have a few things to say!

In the article, "Angela Eikenberry, assistant professor of public administration at the University of Nebraska Omaha, questioned whether the rush to link buying to giving is the best way to help those in need.

'People are trying to be engaged and trying to figure out how to fit philanthropy in within their busy lifestyles,' Eikenberry said. 'There's a natural need to want this to happen, to wish ourselves citizen-consumers that can solve problems through more buying.

'But there's this disconnect,' she continued. 'There's research that suggests that when people buy these products, where there's a promise of charity involved, then they think, 'I guess I've done my part.' And people tend to think they've done more than they actually have.

'Why didn't they just donate money instead?' Eikenberry said."

In some ways, I'm a typical American, but I'm also "weird" as Dave Ramsey would say because I subscribe to a debt-free lifestyle and really dislike the amount of consumerism prevalent in the US today.  Having said that, there I was--on the Boston Athletic Association (BAA) site Tuesday morning trying to figure out if it was appropriate for a back-of-the-packer like me to purchase an official 2013 Marathon shirt.  After consultation with someone who has "been there," I decided to get one that looked like it could be a general Marathon shirt--not one that an official runner would wear.  (And, I certainly didn't get "the jacket"  because that is kind of the equivalent of golf's green Master's jacket!)  

In corollary to this story, some of you know that I created an image that went viral on the afternoon of Monday, April 15.  This is it:

As of today, it has had more than 13,000 shares on Facebook and beyond.  And, more, it also inspired One More Mile to create a t-shirt as part of a group of shirts designed to show tribute to the victims and survivors.  All proceeds from these and their other shirts would go to One Fund, the foundation created to "help the people most affected by the tragic events that occurred in Boston on April 15, 2013."

Here's the One More Mile t-shirt:   

I can only imagine how difficult it was for companies like One More Mile (OMM) to determine what to do in response to the Boston tragedy.   On one hand, people were clamoring for t-shirts.  When OMM posted a question about the design of this particular shirt, they had hundreds of responses within minutes.  And, that generated more comments and suggestions about tshirts people wanted to buy.  On several other sites, shirts sold out within hours, leaving hundreds if not thousands of people disappointed. (And, yes, I have an order placed for "my" OMM shirt and am anxiously waiting for it to arrive.)

On the other hand, it certainly could be construed as a marketing opportunity. After all, even if they donate all the profits, don't these companies get recognition that could benefit them in the end?  

So, what are they to do?  Talk about the proverbial "being between a rock and a hard place."  In my opinion, these companies acted responsibly and well in response to the demand. Any companies I'm familiar with are donating the proceeds to a charity and I truly believe they created them to be part of "it". 

Plus, people revert to what they know.  The off-duty Boston ER doc went to the emergency room as soon as he heard what happened.  Ordinary citizens lined up to donate blood because that's all they could do at the time.  T-shirt makers?  They thought about what t-shirts they could make.  We all look for ways to do what we can.

Let's get to Professor Eikenberry's question. Yes, any one of us could and may have donated money directly. But, that doesn't make us "one" with what happened.  Rightly or wrongly, we want to be visible in that support.  We want others to know we care.  I don't think it's a matter of the money to support the cause as it is the visible reminder that we, too, were affected in some (albeit small) way. And, we get the added benefit that there is money going to help the victims. 

After all, many runners were listening to the broadcast of the run or at least tracking the runners they knew.  Many of us felt unity with the marathon before the events unfolded that afternoon because most runners I know would love to be able to "Boston Qualify" (whether they will admit it out loud or not.)

And, why else would thousands of runners across the country participate in tribute runs?  Most of them are asking the participating runners to wear Boston blue and gold.  Why else?  To show support.  To show that--even though we can't be there to kick the bomber's ass, we'll continue to run and support each other as runners.  'Cause that's what runners do.  

And, make a purchase to support the cause?  Well, like it or not, that's what Americans do.  

Now, if you'll forgive me, I'm off to buy my Sweaty Band tribute headband as well....

But, you tell me....

Is it OK to purchase Boston tribute wear?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Congratulations, you won! A look at medals for runners.

Last August, I got to participate in the Bird-in-Hand half marathon...the one runners might know as the Lancaster County, PA race featured in Runner's World magazine.  The one you get to run with the Amish (pronounced AH-mish, not AY-mish.)  

It was a particularly hot day and I wasn't well trained, but I wanted to do it anyway. A relatively small race, it runs through a hilly course with beautiful scenery, including Amish families who come out en masse to watch the crazy "English" and their Amish brethren run this foot race.  (Truly is a sight to behold to see the men run in polyester pants, short sleeved button downs and suspenders; the women run in their handmade dresses, aprons and bonnets!  But, I digress....)

Afterwards, my family took advantage of going to the Farmer's Market across the street.  We are suckers for food of any kind and wanted to see what goodies this market might offer. 

You won!

As we paused to look into a case of cheese, the woman behind the counter exclaimed, "OH!  Congratulations!  YOU WON!"   I looked around and realized, yep, she was talking to me. 

Ironically, this was my "reverse PR," my worst time ever, and I was kind of embarrassed about my time.  In fact, I ended up walking the last three miles because of the heat and undertraining.  And, while a part of me wanted to say, "Yes. Yes, I did win," and take in all the accolades,  I couldn't lie.  What if, in fact, the actual winner was at the next stand looking at the pickled eggs?  

So, I said, "No, ma'am.  They give these to every finisher. I most certainly didn't win."  And, she said, "Well, you are a winner in my book for even doing it."  (Aww...cue the good feelings and the need to purchase something from this woman!) 

Me and My Medals

I thought of this story as I went to take a photograph of my medals today.  I wouldn't ordinarily take photos of my medals; I just thought it would make a good photo for the blog and my Facebook cover page. 

I've always had this odd, uncomfortable connection to my medals because--in my mind--there is that part that says, "Only the top three get medals."  And, heck...I'm almost 50 years old.  What the heck am I to do with these things?  It's not like I show up at the Giant Supermarket with them hanging around my neck.  (Although, I have heard stories of those who do!)

When I got my first medal, I hung it on my bedroom mirror since I couldn't figure out what to do with it.  And, that's where the rest have ended order, with pieces of tape on the back marking my times.  As I get older, I know my approximate finish times, but if I want to be sure, they're right there!

So, today, when I went to get out the medals for their photo op, I started thinking more about my medals and medals in general.  As I laid out each one, I had (mostly) fond memories.  Things that were pushed to the back of my mind suddenly jumped out at me.  I remembered my first half and how I went out way too fast (until mile 8, that is!)......I remembered how cold (or hot) it was for this particular race...and how I was feeling on that day.   And, I got all these warm feelings about these 12 halfs, 1 full, 1 relay, 2 10K's and 2 10-milers. 

How many medals are handed out each year?

But, that also got me to thinking about medals in general.  How many freaking medals must be handed out each year?  I couldn't find a statistic on that (I'll keep looking!) but I came across some really interesting other statistics about running that I thought I'd share. 

First, according to an interview on NPR in 2011, the number of people running marathons has QUADRUPLED SINCE 2000.  (Anecdotally, I have heard that many race directors are reporting an increase in race registrations since this year's Boston Marathon, so that number will most likely increase more!)

There are more than 500 marathons worldwide each year and in 2011, more than 518,000 people finished a marathon.  (So, yes, that means if you have finished one, you are still less than 1% of the population!)  

The average finish times are 4:32:08 for men and 5:06:08 for women.  (Note the previous statistics were from Wikipedia. Please don't tell anyone that I teach research paper writing and would freak if any of my students did that!)

And, those are just marathon finishers.  Add in all the halfs, 10-milers, 10K's, 5k's who give medals and, let's just say....that's A LOT of medals.   

In the end....

In the end, they aren't trivial awards like I once thought they were.  They represent the memories...the good times....the struggles....the relationships....and the hard work that goes into being a runner.  And, it's OK to be at the back of the pack and still get one!

For those of you who don't share the same warm feelings towards your medals, you can donate them.  Here's a link to one organization:  (And, note there are no Central PA chapters....hmmmm.....might just have to change that!)

Keep on moving forward!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Running is Good for the Soul

As I look around and study other blogs to learn more about the process, I have come across some great sites.  Here is a great article (written pre April 15, 2013) that shows why running is good for the soul.  Spot on!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

26 Random Acts of Kindess Part 2

A great way to honor the victims of the Boston marathon bombing...26 random acts of kindness (unless you can figure out a way to get the .2 in as well!)

"An event that's far more than an athletic endeavor"

As we have watched the events unfold around the Boston marathon, there have been many commentaries, but I ran (no pun intended!) across this from Mike Huckabee.  Whatever your feelings are towards Mike Huckabee or Fox News, this is a great tribute to the sport.  Governor Huckabee explains what it's like to be a runner, especially a marathon runner.  In fact, he says it's one of the biggest moments of this life next to his marriage and the birth of his children and grandchildren--the thrill of crossing four marathon finish lines!   Runners can wholeheartedly get what he's saying; non-runners can get a glimpse into the spirit of the sport.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Shirts! We got Shirts!

As with most tragedies, people have begun to wonder what they can do to support efforts at bringing aid and comfort to those affected by the Boston marathon bombings.   Interestingly, I saw a debate getting started about whether or not companies should market in times like these. 

But, having been on multiple running social media sites, runners and non-runners alike are clamoring for something to purchase to show their support.  (Isn't that the American way?)

So, for anyone interested, here's a list of available shirts:

Gone for a Run:

Adidas/Official merchant of Boston Marathon:

And, One More Mile:   They have multiple versions available in whatever style you might like. I am, however, posting one that I was involved in.  (I created a post with a version of this saying that went viral and OMM is making a T out of it!)

Happy shopping!  And, remember, while all of these show visible support, you can also make a donation directly to Boston One Fund:

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Welcome to the View from the Back of the Pack!!

Let's play a bit of word association.  When I say, "Runner," what is the image that comes into your mind?  

Probably some gazelle-like, long-limbed, muscular body that gracefully glides from one long stride to the next.  Maybe female runners who look something like this: 

Or, perhaps, you thought about one of those women who started running cross country in high school and has now birthed multiple children, works 62.75 hours a week, manages a household, was recently voted as her neighborhood's Miss Congeniality and still manages to BQ. (Boston Qualify for those of you unfamiliar with running lingo.)  You know, someone who looks like one of these women in pink: 

And, then, there's me.  A proud back of the backer.  Someone who didn't start running until she was 45 years old.  Someone who has never finished higher than in the bottom 40% of the pack.  (Ok...once I finished sixth in my age group.  Yes, there were eight of us!)  

And, as much as I would love to belong to the previous two groups, I know I am not.  And, for the most part, that's OK.  Because I've learned that I love running and I am a runner.  Because running isn't about speed, it isn't about is truly a lifestyle.  And, the view from the back ain't so bad.