Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

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Crowther as Bateman

July 24, 2012

Joe Creighton has posted his interview of me on the Seattle Running Club blog.

The interview included a photo shoot, which gave me the chance to impersonate Jason Bateman in one of his “bealeaguered straight man” roles.

Me with raised eyebrows

Bateman with raised eyebrows

Me looking skyward

Bateman looking skyward

(1st and 3rd photos by Terry Creighton; 2nd photo from bateman-daily.livejournal.com; 4th photo from 117-hudson.com.)

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The Interrobang Book Club

July 22, 2012

[from the “Bizarro Jerry” episode of Seinfeld]
Elaine, admiringly: “They [Kevin and his friends] read!”
Jerry, defensively: “I read….”
Elaine: “Books, Jerry!”
Jerry: “Oh … big deal!”

Like Jerry, I hardly ever read books. Novels, biographies, self-help manuals…. You name it — I haven’t read it.

Since the joy of books alone isn’t enough to get me to pick one up, I’ve thought that I should join a book club so that the “assignments” would provide extra motivation. But then I’d be reading books chosen mostly by others rather than the books I wish I could get myself to read. The only solution, it seemed, was to form a book club that I would be in charge of.

And that is how the Interrobang Book Club came into existence. It consists of me, my companion LZ, and LZ’s friend TM.

the cover of Moneyball

The IBC’s inaugural meeting focused on Moneyball by Michael Lewis. Moneyball is the true story of how Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane has used novel statistics-based methods of evaluating players to make the A’s a perennial contender despite a very limited budget.

LZ is not especially drawn to the game of baseball per se, so she was most interested in the inefficiencies of the baseball “market” and how Beane has taken advantage of them. But she agreed with me that the vignettes of underappreciated players — such as Scott Hatteberg, Chad Bradford, and Jeremy Brown — were fascinating and moving. These were guys considered defective by most baseball scouts and managers: Hatteberg can’t throw, Bradford pitches underhanded and with poor velocity, and Brown is fat. But Beane identifies them as bargains and gives them a chance to shine, to their initial confusion and eventual delight.

It’s easy to root for these unassuming underdogs. Beane himself is an underdog too — a general manager trying to outsmart teams that literally have three times as much money as the A’s. He shows admirable grit in repudiating deeply entrenched beliefs about how to judge talent. He’s also a bit of a maniac who is prone to temper tantrums. The detailed portrayal of Beane allows us to appreciate his insight and charisma, yet be glad that we don’t work for him.

LZ raised the question of whether a Billy Beane-style team, with its emphasis on efficient production of runs, is less fun to watch than a conventional squad of good-looking stars. Do fans want to see a bunch of unheralded misfits patiently draw lots of walks? The book seems to conclude that, if a team is winning, its fans will embrace it, regardless of the details. Whether the average fan can appreciate the challenges of competing against much richer teams is another matter, but for those who are interested, Moneyball provides a compelling explanation.

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The redemptive power of track intervals

March 12, 2012

One of the few advantages of being woefully out of shape is that progress toward one’s previous level of fitness comes quickly at times.

After a depressing day at the lab, I headed over to the Green Lake track for a session of 5 x 440 yards with 220-yard jogs in between. This is what passes for a “speed workout” these days. But in contrast to a couple of weeks ago, when I did 4 x 440 in an average of 92 seconds, today’s average was 84 seconds. There was no Achilles pain, knock on wood. And I felt better.

Thanks, running — I needed that.

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Minutes of Feb. 9 SRC board meeting

February 29, 2012

Update: As of March 12, the minutes of the February 9th SRC board meeting are now posted to the SRC website, as future minutes will be.

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Evening bike ride

February 11, 2012

Phil [pointing to a sticker on his bike]: “What does that say, Dad?”

Me: “‘Warning!’ Um, I can’t read the rest. [Pulls a light off the bike and points it at the sticker.] OK, here we go…. ‘This bicycle is not designed for competition, stunting, jumping, or off-road use. Bicycling can be hazardous. Always wear a safety helmet. Do not ride at night.'”

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Improvised sports, #2: Bomb-Pong

January 30, 2012

My destruction-loving son and I came up with this — a follow-up to Sock-Drawer Basketball — over the weekend.

Materials needed: 2 paddles or small rackets; 1 balloon to serve as a bomb; 1 net or equivalent barrier.

How to play: The paddles are used to hit the bomb back and forth over the net (one hit per turn). Players try not to let the bomb touch the floor because this causes it to detonate, obliterating the person on that side of the net, who is declared the loser of the game.

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Counterpoint: forget the polar bears — save yourself!

January 27, 2012

Yesterday Phil’s concerns about global warming and polar bears translated into a willingness to ride our trail-a-bike to his preschool in the rain. We got a flat, though, and had to walk the last ten blocks. (I have a patch kit but can’t use it effectively when I’m away from home, stressed out, accompanied by an impatient kid, etc.) Then I took a bus back home and drove to work, arriving about 90 minutes late.

Despite that mishap, Phil wanted to try again this morning, so I put in a new tube and we were off. Before long I had another flat, three more bus rides, and another 90-minute delay in getting to work.

During the day, Recycled Cycles changed the tube and also replaced my old, cracked tires. Then I biked back to Phil’s preschool to pick him up. We didn’t even make it off of the school grounds before: SSSS…. It was my third flat in about 14 miles of biking over two days. We got back on the bus and headed home.

I’m so proud of Phil for applying what he’s learning at school to choices made outside of the classroom. Nevertheless, as I told one of his teachers, this save-the-polar-bears stuff is killing me.

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End-of-year notes

December 30, 2011

1. I’ll be singing at UW’s Mini-Medical School on February 7!

2. Of all the things I meant to blog about this year, one of the most glaring omissions was my non-coverage of the United States men’s first-ever team gold medals at the IAU 100K World Championship in September. The American women took home silver. Belated congrats to all.

3. Below: the year in (selected) tweets.

@grmeyer Yes, it’s true – I am the preeminent science songs scholar among @williamscollege alums. Do they give Bicentennial Medals for that? [Feb. 9]

I’m not in the habit of following hashtags, but #sciencemusicals (Broadway shows retitled to be science-centric) was a lot of fun this week. [Mar. 25]

Saturday Night Hyperthermia #sciencemusicals [Mar. 25]

The Little Ichthyoid-Human Chimera #sciencemusicals [Mar. 25]

Annie Get Your Grant #sciencemusicals [Mar. 27]

Bring Down ‘Da Noise, Bring Up ‘Da Signal #sciencemusicals [Mar. 27]

101 Citations #sciencemusicals [Mar. 27]

Side-splittingly funny video from today’s @nwabr student #bioexpo: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XcpWJhKTQN4 [May 24]

Had to leave a 5-5 #Mariners game in the 8th inning because my 4.5-year-old son was bored. Apparently the bottom of the 8th was exciting. [June 5]

Cool t-shirt worn by Sonrisa customer at U. Village: “Avoid cliches like the plague.” [June 25]

@brianglanz Do people tell you you resemble Anderson Cooper but with much less gray/white hair? Am in Phoenix airport surrounded by CNN… [Aug. 31]

I’m now being followed by a scientist whose handle is “sh*tmyratsays.” LOL! [Oct. 10]

Today I met Stan Wentzel (@WilliamsCollege Class of ’74), who wrote the “Sleep Country USA” jingle — 20 years ago! [Nov. 12]

This AM my son hid my keys just as I was leaving. I hope my calm rxn gave him so little satisfaction that he’ll NEVER EVER DO THAT AGAIN. [Nov. 30]

My son just referred to jumping high with a “poke-poke stick.” Took me a second to realize he was talking about a pogo stick. [Dec. 6]

Now working on a song about HIV transmission — loosely based on Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way.” It’s more tasteful than it sounds. #Heathers [Dec. 18]

You know you’re a dad when you’re at a fantastically close basketball game (#Virginia 83, #Redhawks 77)…
…and all you can think about is how much the announcer reminds you of the guy who voices Skipper in “The Penguins of Madagascar.” [Dec. 21]

Just went kayaking in a SC lagoon populated with alligators. Probably good that my 5-year-old wasn’t with me. [Dec. 24]

Just met a guy who took accordion lessons from Gordon Lightfoot at a camp in upstate NY in the early ’60s. Yes, THE Gordon Lightfoot. [Dec. 26]

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Spinning class

December 26, 2011

Jeff arrived at 8:59 for a 9 AM spinning class, his first ever. The instructor, a slender woman in her 30s, helped him raise his seat and handlebars. Soon he and the others were into an easy 5-minute warmup accompanied by the Eagles’ “Take It Easy.” Then they shifted abruptly into a simulated hill climb, increasing the resistance of the flywheel and standing up on the pedals. “And it burns, burns, burns,” sang Johnny Cash. The hill continued, but participants were told to “get back in the saddle.” Thank goodness, thought Jeff. He never stood up when riding a real bike; even 2 minutes of that was awkward and exhausting.

The music carried them onward. “Who is this by?” asked the woman to Jeff’s left as “Self Esteem” (The Offspring) transitioned into “Hurts So Good.” “John Mellencamp . . . back when he was known as John Cougar,” Jeff said. “I think Cougar might be his middle name.” “It’s a record company name,” said an older man in a gentle Southern twang.

Jeff was dripping onto the floor like light rain on a sidewalk, and the pool of sweat below him started to invade the adjacent stations. “Would it be OK to take my shirt off?” he asked the instructor. She gave a half-smile and shrugged noncommittally. He kept his shirt on.

Another hill climb coincided with a country/folk song about Indiana, “where the tall corn grows.” “I’ll be impressed if you all know this one,” said the instructor. Jeff thought (correctly) that it was Lyle Lovett but was beaten to the answer by the Mellencamp expert.

The instructor diverged further from her protocol to note, “I’m from the small Indiana town where Lyle Lovett married Julia Roberts. But I was in Italy at the time, so I missed it.”

“And by the time you got back, the marriage was over,” cracked the Mellenfan.

In an era when it’s customary to monitor pace, heart rate, elevation change, calories burned, etc., Jeff found his exercise bike oddly primitive. There was no indication of power output; the only variables being reported were the duration of the session and the cadence in revolutions per minute. Apparently spinning was basically noncompetitive and nonquantitative in spirit — more like yoga than weight training. About the only thing the spinners could compare amongst themselves was perspiration production — a contest that Jeff was clearly winning, much to his chagrin.

After some light post-ride stretching during which Jeff mistook “All Summer Long” (Kid Rock) for “Sweet Home Alabama” (Lynyrd Skynyrd), he approached the barely-moist instructor.

“Sorry for sweating all over your floor,” he said.

“No worries,” she said in her accentless, not-necessarily-from-Indiana voice. “Besides, the alternative is even more problematic.”

“What’s the alternative?”

“Hypohidrosis.”

“Right,” he said, unsure of both the word itself and whether he was being teased. “Anyway, thanks for a great class.”

“Anytime.”

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Q&A with “Unbreakable” director JB Benna

December 15, 2011

I was so captivated by JB Benna’s new film “Unbreakable” that I decided to interview Benna via email if possible. He kindly agreed, and the interview is below.

Poster for WS100 film

GJC: You had originally hoped to make a Western States film by racing and filming the entire course in 2009. Why didn’t that work out, and how did your movie evolve into the story of four top contenders at the 2010 race?

JBB: In 2009, after filming at Western States on other film crews in 2006 and 2007, I decided the week prior to the race that I was going to try to make a film. I figured that I had been lucky enough to get in on the lottery and did not know when I was going to have another chance to film the remote areas of the course that no one ever sees. So I hired three other cinematographers and we decided, as in previous Western States films, to try to cover a cross section of the race from front runners, to mid pack, to the back of the pack and I would carry a camera and document my day in a first person perspective. Aside from the fact that this greatly affected my own performance, the footage from the small camera was shaky and not very usable. To compound this, after I watched all of the hours and hours of footage, I realized that I only had 2-3 shots of any given person, one at the start, one in the middle and one at the finish. You simply cannot tell a compelling story of a large group of people with only a few shots of each of them. Furthermore, my crew was so burned out after filming for 48 hours without sleep that I had to literally beg them to come back in 2010 and promise we would be done by midnight. So when the field came together a few weeks before the 2010 race, I immediately knew that in order to tell a story about what it is like to run Western States in a way it had never been seen, we would need to double our cameras and narrow our focus to a small group of runners with similar paces, so that we could get enough shots to tell a story. Furthermore, someone was going to have to run long sections of the trail to capture the action outside of the aid stations. Lucky for me I was literally in the best shape of my life, and had just come off my first ultra win at Angel Island 50k and was ramping up for what would be a 9-hour PR at the Burning River 100 miler. So ultimately I ended up running 34 miles that day with a 10-pound professional camera and mounted shotgun microphone. Some of the shots from 2009 did make it into the film, so it was not a total failure.

GJC: “Unbreakable” is a heroic effort in that you captured a lot of mid-race on-the-trail footage. As you know, the Western States Board of Directors takes their stewardship of the race very seriously! Was it difficult to obtain their permission to film the race in this way? Likewise, did the runners themselves require any persuasion to give you such extensive access to their lives? Geoff Roes looked to me as though he was trying to be helpful but not entirely comfortable with the spotlight.

JBB: The Western States Board does take the stewardship of the race very seriously and it took me years of filming at the race to earn their trust and respect. The first few years that I filmed there we were told that we could not go more than a few hundred yards out of the aid station to film, which is limiting, but understandable. You see, Western States gets a lot of media coverage from outside sources that do not understand the sport, nor respect the environment; for them it is all about getting the shot. In fact in 2009, one of my camera guys caught on film one such outside film crew interfering in the race. It was at No Hands Bridge at the 2009 race as Hal Koerner was just miles away from winning his second title. The camera guy yells at Hal and says “Hey stop right there so we can get this shot.” Hal, looking out of it and stunned, actually stops. The camera guy then asks him to back up and run toward them again. Hal accommodated them and still won the race, but I was flabbergasted and stunned at the film crew’s audacity. I have always made it a point, as a participant in the sport of ultrarunning, to approach every film from a very humble, low-key, and non-intrusive way. I don’t use steady cams, or dollies, or cranes. It’s just me with a camera running or spending time with these guys — no more, no less.

The runners were also very accommodating. I was already really good friends with Hal and had talked to him about wanting to do something on him, so when this opportunity came up he was very helpful. I knew Tony through Hal and some time we spent together at some post race dinners, so he was also very easy to work with. Geoff, I knew a little less, but had made a YouTube video about him and Uli Steidl battling at the 2009 North Face Endurance Challenge 50. So we had talked a bit after he saw this. The first time we met in person was when I did the interview at his campsite, so you can tell he is a little more uncomfortable during that initial interview. However, after the epic race, and seeing me out there, and asking for feedback, and confiding in me throughout the day, we hit it off right away. Geoff was a lot more comfortable and open when I visited him in Alaska a few months later. Geoff and Corlé were so kind and accommodating they made me meals and let me sleep on the floor of their little studio-sized house; they are great. Kilian I did not know at all, but again there was some kind of bond that happened out there that day, when they would see me even more often then their crews and I was out there again this year filming Kilian in his 2011 win, we connected even more and he is a great guy.

GJC: What do you think are the biggest differences between “Unbreakable” and your previous ultrarunning films (on David Horton running the Pacific Crest Trail and Dean Karnazes running 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days)? Did those projects teach you any particular lessons that you applied to “Unbreakable”?

JBB: I have learned so much from my previous projects. As Kilian says in the final scene of “Unbreakable,” “When you win it’s not positive because it’s just perfect, but when you lose you learn a lot.” This could not be more true for the experience I have gained in the making of “The Runner” and “UtraMarathon Man.” “The Runner” was a very simple organic project that took shape after I had already finished filming it. With that project, I mostly just gained the confidence that I could mange such a massive undertaking successfully. I also learned all the necessary steps that were required to produce, filming, writing, sound, original music, music licensing, editing, color correction, design, DVD creation, replication, sales, distribution, marketing, festivals, etc, etc, etc…. The biggest thing I learned with “UltraMarathon Man” was humility and simplicity. I got wrapped up into this project with three days until it kicked off, without knowing Dean or The North Face folks I would be working with. I feel like I did a really good job on the film under the circumstances, but it was a fight from start to finish. Mostly I learned that I spent way too much money and I learned that you have to know when to say enough is enough. So when I started working on “Unbreakable,” my wife Jennifer and I agreed that I would do as much of the work on it that I could by myself and that we would keep the budget as low as possible, we would try to keep it simple and organic and focused on the core of our sport and what we love. The bottom line was that we decided to make the film that we wanted to see.

GJC: Devoted ultrarunners will adore “Unbreakable,” but I have no idea whether the general public will ever hear of it, much less watch it. What kind of market penetration is necessary for you to break even? Do you need to sell 10,000 DVDs?

JBB: Breaking even has always been a relative term for me as these are primarily passion projects. If the definition of breaking even is covering the actual cash that we spent on the film, then these projects break even when we sell about 5000 copies. However, if you look at the amount of time that I personally spend on these projects with no pay, then none of our projects has ever broken even as this would probably be in the 15,000-20,000 unit range. With only four or five thousand ultrarunners, it is a tough market without PBS grants or ABC commercial revenue (makers of the two previous high-quality Western States films). So that being said, until our sport grows, there probably will not be too many high-quality feature-length projects. But I knew that when I started and that is why I wanted to make this film for all of us who love this sport. This is without a doubt my last UltraRunning film that I produce in this self-funded, all-in manner, but I feel like this film will resonate with people even years from now and that is satisfying.

GJC: You’ve spent a lot of time around elite ultramarathoners. Aside from their relatively limited ability to profit financially from their talent, do they as a group seem different from most other elite athletes? If so, how?

JBB: I love ultramarathons because of their friendly competitive nature and I think that “Unbreakable” showcases this as each guy chats before the race and congratulates each other after the race. The sport is so small, most of the competitors know each other and even if they don’t they respect each other. This is evident in that Geoff, Anton, and Kilian had never met before the race and now they all get together socially and train together as the opportunities present themselves.

GJC: Your film covers the 2010 race in remarkable depth. If you had to distill the race down to a single thought or paragraph, what would it be?

JBB: It was an epic showcase of the finest running I have ever seen. The day was a perfect storm, the sport’s four best athletes all competing against each other for the first time, at ultrarunning’s most important event. We could not have known the last-minute drama that would unfold, nor how monumental a day it would be for the sport. Despite this, it was in filming and spending time with each of the athletes in their hometowns that I was truly inspired by their passion, grace, and humility.