A Jim of All Trades

Sprint Triathlon Race Report

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My first triathlon of 2018 is in the books. It was a mixed bag of good and bad; here’s how it went…

all setup in transition before the start of the race

Leading Up
I already did a big long post about my training, so I won’t go over all that again. In short, I was excited to race and felt optimistic headed into this one. Last week I actually missed two workouts, but I don’t think it really impacted me any; I didn’t feel too tired or flat. I have this nagging injury and was a little worried how that would be, especially because it’s worse first thing in the morning, but I woke up feeling very good and loose, so that was great.

The biggest bummer heading into this was that it was cold and windy. Just yesterday the weather was much milder with only a bit of a breeze, but the temperatures dropped over night and the wind really picked up.

temp before the race, though it felt much colder with the wind

I was just planning on wearing a light jersey, arm warmer’s and gloves, but overheard a lot of people in transition talking about all the clothes they were wearing, so actually ran home quick and got a windproof long sleeve jersey and thick socks. This was way more than I usually put on for a tri and I hadn’t practiced using them in transition. More on that later…

The Swim
The swim was an indoor (thank goodness!) 300 meter pool swim. As I mentioned in my last post, I have been working on my swimming and was hoping for a good time. My official time was 6:22, but that included a run to the timing mat. I stopped my watch right when I finished swimming, and it recorded it as a 6:01. My goal was 6:00, so I’m very happy with that. That even includes getting stuck behind two slower swimmers and passing them, which isn’t easy in a pool with two way traffic. I’m still not fast, but am happy to be making progress.

[Official] Time: 6:22
Last year: 6:46

Transition 1 went horrible. It took a while to get my long sleeve jersey and gloves on, and I sat down to put on my socks and shoes instead of doing the normal barefoot running mount I usually do. The socks are super thick and warm, which was perfect for the weather, but they’re also very tight. One got stuck and a hole ripped open over my heal, and the other just took forever. I lost a lot of time.

Time: 2:17 (the year before was about a minute less)

The Bike
The bike course was 16 miles of moderate rolling hills – nothing too difficult, but definitely not flat. I was glad I had the jersey, socks and gloves because I’m a wimp in the cold and it was indeed cold. The wind was the worse part and was blowing some of the cyclists around. I did well though, kept my effort up, and passed a ton of people. I ended up with the 10th fastest bike split overall, which isn’t bad, but still was about a minute and 20 seconds slower than last year. I suspect it was because of the wind; I randomly checked a number of the faster guys’ results from this year versus last, and nearly all were slower this year, so that makes sense. I didn’t wear my heart rate monitor this year so can’t use it as a reference for whether I was working as hard or not, but I think I gave it a good effort. So, disappointing to be slower, but probably not a sign of doing worse… just tougher conditions.

Time: 47:48
Last year: 46:30

Transition 2 went smoothly…

Time: 0:36

The Run
The run was 3 miles on mostly flat roads (my watch measured it as 3.07 miles). There are some really mild changes in elevation, but no true hills. I felt comfortable on the run and just kept trying to push myself. The goal was to average a 7 minute per mile pace and I ended up with 7:07, so it’s close enough that I’m not disappointed. The wind/cold did make it tough, and my pace slipped a few times, but I think I managed it well. Maybe I could have squeaked out a few more seconds had I dug deeper, but I’m pleased with how I did on this day. I was 17th overall out of 113 people, so not bad, but still too many people ahead of me – I’d like to be in the top 10 in both running and cycling.

Time: 21:51
Last year: 22:28

I’ve done this race a number of times as a duathlon and a triathlon and think, save for my very first time, I have always placed in my age group. Not today! I finished 7 out of 22 in my age group and 16 out of 113 overall. T1 cost me a lot of valuable time and there were 2 guys in my age group that finished less than a minute ahead that I definitely would have beat had I not had the bad T1, and possibly another guy had things just went perfect. I still wouldn’t have placed though, there were just too many fast guys. Bummer, but oh well.

What’s Next
At the moment I’m not signed up for any more races this year. I definitely will sign up for more, I just haven’t done it yet. I’m planning to do one more sprint this summer, and am still considering doing a half, but can’t quite pull the trigger yet.

As for the immediate future, I’m going to take the next couple days off, and this week extremely easy to hopefully let my injuries heal. My wife and I are taking a long weekend away this coming weekend and after that I’ll dive back into training.

Thanks a lot for reading and following along.
Happy racing!


Written by Jim

April 29, 2018 at 10:00 pm

Pre-Race Report

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You wouldn’t know it from the weather, but spring is here and my first triathlon of the year is less than a week away. This is a write up of how my training has been going and my thoughts leading into the race…

The weather here – Southern Central Pennsylvania – has been crazy this year. It’s been unseasonably cold, we’ve had snow much later than normal, and winter has just lingered on. It’s made training outside quite challenging, especially for wimps like me that don’t like being outside when it’s less than 40 degrees. Thankfully it’s finally starting to warm up and looks like some nicer weather is here to stay.

I’ve still been training pretty consistently, mostly in doors, averaging about 8 to 9 hours a week. I usually swim, bike and run three times per week each. I’d like to be putting in more time, but it’s been hard with other things I have going on, and my motivation to train inside is pretty low at this point. Just in the last couple weeks I have finally been able to start running outside a bit more consistently, and I’ve gotten some outdoor bike rides in too, so things are looking up.

This upcoming race is the sprint tri hosted by my gym and I’ve done it each of the last two years (last year, 2 years ago), as well as when there was a duathlon option in years prior (1, 2). I really enjoy this race since it’s so close to home, I’m very familiar with the course, other people from my tri club do it or come out to support, and it’s just fun and well put together in general. My high-level goal is to be faster in each area than I was last year, and I think I should be able to do that…

For swimming, I’ve seen some small improvements over the winter following the Swim Smooth program, but am still a slow swimmer. The race has only a 300m pool swim, so my overall results shouldn’t be ruined by the swim. This evening I actually just swam the fastest 300m set of my life, so I’m hopeful I’m able to duplicate that.

For biking, I’ve been doing a lot of trainer time on account of the weather/cold. At first I felt like I was improving, but as winter rolled on I started to feel burnt out and like progress wasn’t happening. On my few outside rides it does seem like I’ve gotten a bit quicker, though my hill climbing ability isn’t where I’d like. I rode the tri bike course at a high effort on Sunday and nearly matched my race time from last year. That’s very promising since I had to slow down for intersections and wait for traffic on Sunday, whereas during the race I will be going full-on all the time. I’ll also be wearing my more aero tri kit and will have the bike setup for racing, so I should be able to improve on last year’s time. Provided, of course, the weather is good, it’s not too windy, and I feel fresh.

For running, I’m definitely slower than when I was at the end of last summer. Last year I was fast as I’ve ever been running and, though I’ve continued to train over the winter, I’ve lost some speed. My training time has been cut back a bit, and I don’t think I get the same quality of workouts on a treadmill, so I think those are the main reasons I’m slower. I’ve had some solid runs outside recently, and still think I can at least match what I did a year ago, I just don’t feel as in good shape as I would like to be.

Finally, I’ve been dealing with some small injuries. My piriformis muscle (a muscle in the butt/hip) on my right side has been aggravated and causing some soreness and stiffness. As a result, my lower back and right hamstring are also often tight and sore. My right calf also has some pain and stiffness, though I think that might be unrelated to the piriformis. All this stuff actually bothers me more when I’m inactive… the first few minutes of an activity are usually a bit rough, but after I warm up and the muscles loosen it doesn’t seem to slow me down. When sitting down or being sedentary for too long though, everything gets quite stiff and painful. I’ve been dealing with this for over a month now. My doctor prescribed me an anti-inflammatory medicine, and I’ve been doing a number of stretches and exercises. It’s improved, but I think I need some actual rest to let things heal. After the race I plan on doing very little for the next week and hopefully my body will recover. I have still been able to train well and don’t think I could blame these injuries if I have a bad race, but they’re still worth mentioning.

Okay, that’s more than enough to share about my training. I’m really looking forward to the race and hope it goes well. Wish me luck and happy training!

Written by Jim

April 24, 2018 at 9:07 pm

Another Diddley Bow

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This is my latest project, another Diddley Bow (one stringed cigar box guitar). Construction wise, this is basically the same as the last one I made.

The story behind this one is, that my mother has a friend, who has a son, who collects cigar boxes; apparently he has hundreds of them. My mom’s friend took one of the boxes without him knowing and asked my mother if I would make a guitar for him, thinking it would be a neat thing to add to his collection, though to the best of my knowledge he doesn’t play guitar at all or know about cigar box guitars. So, this was made as a gift for him. The thing is though, that I was given the box like two years ago and just made the guitar now. Oops. I lost motivation to make these for a while, and just generally have been busy, so I just kept putting it off until recently. Seeing the box sitting on my work bench for all this time finally wore me down I guess.

The box is a cheap cardboard one, which I usually wouldn’t make a guitar out of. For a decoration it works just fine though.

I do really like the label and design. Owls are cool. The little ones perched on cigars around the outside edge are a neat touch. The inside is neat too. Cigar boxes typically have really cool labels on the inside. I think it’s because they would be sitting open in a cigar store to display the cigars so it made for a better presentation, but that’s just a guess and I’ve never researched it to find out for sure.

It says “Invincible White Owl” on the inside” but only “White Owl” on the outside. If it’s really invincible, I’d think that’s a good selling point and it should be plastered all over the box!

Quality wise, my workmanship here isn’t that great. The piece of wood I used wasn’t the best and I didn’t pay as close attention to detail as I should have when making it. I didn’t install frets; considering it’ll likely never be played it wasn’t worth the effort, but I did still notch the neck so the reference points are there and it looks better. Overall I do think it looks okay, but it isn’t as nice as it should be.

It does play, and sounds so-so. I didn’t record a video and my mom has already picked it up so I won’t have a chance to any more. I do hope the recipient likes it and feel bad for taking so long to do it. This is the last guitar that I’ve promised to someone and I don’t intend to take on any more requests unless something really special comes up. I do have anther guitar that’s roughly half done under work (started that one a couple years ago, too) and have some fresh ideas for other new ones, so I think I’ll keep building while my motivation’s up. Stay tuned…

Thanks a lot for reading and happy pick’n!

Written by Jim

March 12, 2018 at 1:07 pm

Big Moon

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In case you haven’t heard (or seen), January 31st was a Super Blue Blood Moon. Summarizing from the link, this means:

  1. The Moon was closer to earth in its orbit (looks bigger) and brighter than normal; a “Super Moon”
  2. It was the second full Moon in the month, making it a “Blue Moon”
  3. Due to a lunar eclipse, the Moon had a reddish tint while in Earth’s shadow, hence “Blood Moon”

With all this happening, I wanted to try to photograph it, but unfortunately was busy on that night and didn’t get a chance to get out, then the next night it was very cloudy and I couldn’t even see the moon. Friday night, the sky finally cleared up and I got to see it. Of course it was no longer full, and the eclipse had already happened so there was no reddish tint, but the Moon was still closer than normal and looked big in the sky.

I set up my camera with my new lens on a tripod and took some shots… It took a lot of experimenting until I got the settings right, but in the end I was pleased with the results.

This was zoomed all the way to 300, and I didn’t photoshop it aside from cropping it down, making it smaller for posting, and adding back a bit of lost sharpness from re-sizing. For what it is, I think the lens did well, and I’m feeling good about my decision to get it. Also, the moon is cool! (well, cool looking from earth, anyway… I don’t think I’d actually want to go there)

Thanks a lot for looking and happy shooting!

Written by Jim

February 4, 2018 at 1:27 pm

Triathlon Training Report

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It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything triathlon or fitness related… Last year it’s pretty much all I wrote about, so I’m going to try to maintain some variety in topics, but “exercise” is my biggest hobby, and it’ll still receive a fair amount of attention here.

I’ve been training consistently since my last triathlon with the goal of maintaining, or even growing, my fitness and speed for this year. I also did some running races in the fall: a 10k, two 5k’s, and a 5-mile race…

Last Fall’s Races
The 10k was a bit disappointing; I didn’t manage my pace well and the course was a lot hillier than I’m accustomed to. I finished with about a 7:45/mi pace, which was slower than I wanted, but really it went okay and I ran it with some family, which was fun. I had just hoped to be a bit faster. Like always.

The two 5k’s went pretty well. I started too fast in one and my pace consistently dropped throughout as a result, but I managed the other better. In both I averaged around a 6:50/mi pace, which is pretty fast for me; not quite PRs, but right on the verge. I also biked to one of them (about 17 miles), and a bit of that race course was in grass, so I am pleased with my time considering the extra effort and fatigue from biking. Riding home wasn’t fun. The 5-mile race also went well. I don’t remember my exact time/pace, but it was in the low 7:00/mile range, which I was pretty pleased with.

For training, I’ve been swimming, biking, and running consistently. Nearly all running and bike work has been done inside, but I have managed to do a few workouts outside when the weather has allowed. On average I’m putting in about 9 hours per week between the three disciplines, which is only a little below what I’d normally average during the summer. I’ve even been getting a little weight lifting in, though that’s pretty inconsistent.

For swimming, I’m following the Swim Smooth program and usually get 3 or 4 sessions in per week. My swimming is still slow and I’ve been putting extra focus on improving it this off season. At times it seems like I’m not making progress, but then I’ll have little breakthroughs that help with my motivation and keep me going. I’ve accepted that I’ll never be a front of the pack swimmer, but if I can shave some time off my swims I’ll be happy.

For biking and running I’m not following a program. In the past years I did follow training schedules, but I’m trying not to be as strict about it. I try to get three bike sessions and three runs in a week, and vary them based on how I’m feeling, but do aim to get one “intensity day” in where I do harder speed or hill work, and one longer day where I put in extra time/miles, usually working a specific intensity or heart rate zone. The freedom to adjust what I’m doing and the variety of the sessions helps keep things fresh. I’m not sure that I’ve gained much speed to be honest (I really should do some tests from time to time!) but also don’t think I’ve regressed. My goal is to enter the race season with good base fitness and be primed to build on it.

2018 Plans
I’m planning on three races this year. The first will be in late April, it’s the sprint triathlon put on by my gym each year (Previous reports: 1 and 2). It’s close, convenient, I really enjoy doing it, and it serves as a good measure of where my fitness is at. The next is a sprint triathlon in July that I haven’t done before. Well, I did the duathlon there a number of years ago so am familiar with the course, but this will be my first time doing the tri. It’s also fairly close and usually has a strong field of participants, so I’m looking forward to trying it.

The last race is a bit more up in the air. I’m contemplating doing a half distance race and have one picked out that’s in September to try (i.e. Half Iron distance, but not the IRONMAN brand). If I don’t sign up for it, I’ll probably do an Olympic instead, and there are a few late season races around here to choose from. I have mixed feelings about the half race; I really enjoy doing the shorter races and going long hasn’t really appealed to me. However, the new challenge of doing the half distance does interest me, and I think I’d like to try it at least once in my life. If I do it I’d want to be at least somewhat competitive in my age group, not just complete it slowly, so whether I think I’ll be able to get enough training in while still balancing life will be the determining factor.

For training, for the next couple months I’m going to keep doing what I have been doing, but will gradually add more intensity and speed work as I build up to my first race. In late spring to early summer I’ll reassess based on how I’ve been feeling and what late season race I decide to do, likely changing to a structured program for that longer race.

I don’t envision posting about training again before my first race unless something really exciting happens. Thanks for reading and best wishes on your training and racing in 2018!

Written by Jim

February 1, 2018 at 9:21 pm

A New Camera Lens

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About two weeks ago I picked up a new camera lens and, though I haven’t had a lot of opportunity to use it, I wanted to post about it.

The lens is a Tamron AF 28-300mm F3.5-6.3 LD Aspherical IF Marco.

To simplify that a bit, it’s an auto focus zoom lens that has a fairly broad zoom range, meaning it can be used for taking pictures of things both fairly close and far away. This is an older film lens that’s still compatible with digital Pentax SLRs, the model was introduced around 1999 but I don’t know how old this specific one is. The longest zoom lens I had before is a 70-210mm so, though it’s very good lens, it doesn’t quite have the reach for shooting things further away, nor is it good for closer work. Aside from that I only have the standard 18-55mm kit lens (again, a decent lens, but no zoom at all really) and some prime (non-zoom) manual focus lenses, so I was wanting something auto focus that had more reach to it.  

I haven’t had much time to use it yet but here are some pics from just walking around testing it out one day. The only editing I’ve done to these is re-sizing them and sharpening them a bit to add back detail from the sizing, otherwise I haven’t made any corrections, or changed color, contrast, etc. These are all hand held shots as well, and it was very cold and windy when I was out (temperature in the 20’s (-4 Celsius, roughly) with 20 mph wind gusts!) so I’m sure there was a fair amount of shaking going on … not my finest work. My impressions of it and final thoughts are at the very end.

My thoughts so far:
I like it, but do have some mixed feelings as well… I love the versatility the range provides and think this will be an excellent lens for walking around with, but it is not incredibly sharp (I really like a sharp lens!) and the more you zoom, the worse the quality gets. That’s a trade off with zoom lenses, I know, but some are better than others. Also, zoomed the whole way out, and shooting into high contrast situations, you can find purple fringing (a purple outline) on dark lines in the photos, like on the pole holding the bird feeder with the snow as a backdrop, the black hook with the white spouting behind, or on the top edge of the building with the bright sky behind. I will learn what settings yield the best results in time to minimize this, and there’s always photoshop, but it is a weakness. It also simply isn’t that sharp at the long end. Another negative: it is basically worthless in low light; it has a terrible time focusing in doors and I had trouble getting anything usable.

That said, when pulled in just a bit from full zoom, the purple fringing basically disappears, and I was able to get a few “good” long range shots. For medium range shots, where I think it will see most of its use, I was able to get some shots I was really quite please with. For instance, the trash on the road and water cap above are reasonably sharp and true to color. The very last picture gave me a lot of hope, too; it was taken at full zoom, is reasonably sharp, and there is a fair amount of detail/sharpness with little to no fringing at all.

Overall I think it will make for a good all purpose walk around lens (how I do most of my shooting anymore), I didn’t pay much for it so feel like I’m getting my money’s worth, and it’s not like I’m a professional photographer and need the highest quality gear. Given more practice I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to get fairly consistent good shots with it, especially zoomed at the long end. I’ve also ordered a lens hood for it (a metal screw on hood from China for just $0.99 from eBay!), so that should help with the image quality and sharpness some, too. I really want to do more photo shooting this year so it should be put to a lot of use.

Thanks a lot for reading and happy shooting!

Written by Jim

January 15, 2018 at 8:06 pm

A Diddley Bow & Bottle Neck Slide

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For Christmas this year I made a diddley bow as a gift for my sister, her husband, and their four boys. A diddley bow is a single stringed instrument, typically played like a guitar, or a slide guitar that you would lay across your lap. You can make them as fancy or as basic as you like. Do a google search and you’ll find all kinds; some including electric pickups and intricate decoration, others as simple as a string stretched over a board.

I had never made one before and decided to do this rather last minute to give them as a gift. It took about a week to do, working a bit in the evenings, which is pretty quick for me. I figured, having only one string, it’d be easy enough for even the least musically inclined among them to be able to get some sort of tune out of. As you can see, it doesn’t have frets, so it’s best played with a slide (see further below), though you can still get notes out of it by holding the string down with your fingers. They all seemed to like it and my sister has since told me it gets picked up and played with a lot, so I’m really pleased that they enjoy it.

Here are some pics:

I think the bridge is a key for winding clocks. I found it in a bin at an antiques store a year ago.

The fret markers; I only marked the odd and 12th frets.

So they’d have a slide to use with it, I made [well, sort of] one of those too. I’ve seen bottle neck slides online and at festivals and have always wanted to try making one. I have some old wine bottles collecting dust in my basement, so gave it a go. It took me three of four tries until I was able to do it without cracking the neck, but finally got it right.

It’s a cool process, first you etch a line around the neck, then hold the neck up to the etched line in boiling water for a few minutes, then immediately move it to ice water, and, when done right, the glass cracks through along the etch line. Finally, just polish off the broken edge (I used a Dremel) and you have a slide. There are many good videos on YouTube if you’re curious enough to look.

No video of this guitar, I half forgot, half didn’t have time to do one, but it isn’t anything special, just a single stringed CBG really.

Thanks a lot for reading, happy playing!

Written by Jim

January 13, 2018 at 8:28 pm