Training Tuesday: Royal Parks Half Marathon race report

I very much enjoy running in new places, and I love destination races. With that in mind, it’s not surprising that I was excited to find out that there’s a giant half-marathon in London, the Royal Parks Foundation Half Marathon. It’s a fundraiser for the foundation that maintains London’s 8 Royal Parks (including Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, and so on); in the 10 years of its existence, it raised more than £36 million for the upkeep of the parks and for other charities. Because the race is run by a nonprofit, seemingly every charity in the UK (and many global ones as well) have fundraising efforts and charity teams for the race. The race course cuts through four of the eight parks, and is almost completely flat. Runners start in Hyde Park, run east through St James’s Park (and past Buckingham Palace!), up the Strand and then back again, with detours through Trafalgar Square and down to Downing Street, then through Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. The photos on the race web site show an abundance of fall colors and sunshine… which is not exactly what happened.

I’d registered for the race lottery and didn’t get in, so the Royal Parks folks kept my entry fee and sent me a nice hoodie to cushion my disappointment. It didn’t, given that the hoodie arrived in July, which is not usually hoodie weather in Alabama. Quadrotech decided to sponsor a corporate team, so I got in through that route. I later learned that most runners get into the race through charity registrations, and in future my plan is to raise funds for London’s Air Ambulance (which is a charity!) so I can get one of these exceptionally cool running shirts:

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I got to London Thursday morning before the race and worked in our London office Thursday and Friday, running 5 miles Thursday. Both days were cool and gloomy, and there was lots of discussion about Sunday’s forecast of temperatures in the low 50s and rain. Saturday turned out glorious— I ran 8 miles along the Regents’ Canal in lovely sunshine, with temperatures in the high 60s. The scenery was pretty grand…

The Regents Canal

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After my run, I went out for pizza and watched First Man (pretty good; maybe wait for Netflix though.) A good night’s sleep and I awoke to… exactly the promised weather. Lot 50s, steady wind, and rain. I donned the rain gear I’d brought and headed out to the Moorgate Tube station. Once I hit Piccadilly, the Tube was completely jammed with runners and spectators making their way to Hyde Park. That’s one thing I hadn’t considered: even in a city the size of London, a race with 16,000 runners means that there are a ton of people packed into a relatively small area.

Now, a brief sidebar on race organization. The race organizers will mail race packets ahead of time, for free, if you ask them to, which I did; however, because we’d re-registered me as a team member, my packet went to our office instead, so when I got to the race site, I had to meet my teammates to get my bib so I would know what corral I was in, then drop off my post-race clothes at the baggage drop, then make my traditional pre-race pilgrimage to the portapotties, then go to the start.

f you’ve never run a large race, you may not realize this, but most large endurance races group runners by pace and then send them into corrals so runners of similar speed start together. This race had… 3 corrals total. That’s not a lot for 16,000 runners. There were long lines at baggage drop and for the toilets, and I got increasingly nervous as we got closer and closer to the 9am race start time. I needn’t have worried though— it turns out that even with those two long waits, I got into the line for my corral at 915am and actually crossed the start line at 927am. This was fine because the race is chip timed, so the time doesn’t start until you actually cross the timing mat. Here’s what the corral looked like before I started:

The corral

Once I crossed the start line, I was in a crowd until I finished. That’s a major difference from the races I normally run, especially triathlons— since you’re running after swimming and biking, differences in individual speed means people tend to be pretty spread out on the race course. Here’s an example from the leg through Hyde Park late in the race:

IMG 0167One of the best things about the race was the spectator presence. There were people pretty much lining the course whenever it was along a road, and for maybe 80% of the course length through parks. Lots of signs, and at least three or four bands (three drum corps I can recall). Several of the corporate and charity sponsors had big cheering stations set up, which was fun. Overall the race had a remarkable energy to it, the more so considering that the weather wasn’t great.

And then there was the race course scenery…

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Did not see any members of the Royal Family

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This cracked me up. I’m quite surprised it was deemed necessary

A word about race gear: I ran in a pair of On Cloudflows that I bought a week or so before the race, a pair of generic shorts, and my Rocket City Marathon race shirt. I started the race with a light rain jacket and a hat, but shed both of those mid-race— but I was glad to have them when it started raining just after I crossed the finish. The Cloudflows really felt good during the race, but I have since discovered that as I build volume, they aren’t cushioned enough so they’ve gone back to the store. I also bought a pair of Trekz Titanium bone-conduction earphones using some accumulated Amazon gift cards, figuring they might be worth a try. They sound good but feel a bit odd, and I’m not convinced that they’re better than the Plantronics BackBeat Fits I had been using. The Trekz would be great for cycling though, so I may keep them just for that.

I also ran with my Apple Watch paired to my Stryd footpod. This has been my normal daily running setup since April or so, and it’s worked very well, but for some reason on this race, the pod kept disconnecting— my final run showed up as only 10.2 miles. Best guess is that the pod doesn’t gracefully handle the case where my phone and watch are both connected to it. I only take my phone running when I want to take pictures… and I’ll absolutely want to take pictures at the Marine Corps Marathon. In many ways, this race was a dry run for MCM: I tried to use the same gear, nutrition, etc that I plan to use there, thus the test of the new shoes. This particular race prides itself on sustainability, so the race medals are made of reclaimed wood; the shirts are ring-spun bamboo; and so on. there’s nothing available on the course except water (no bananas, gels, sports drink, etc). I ran with a Fitletic bottle belt with 2 extra bottles; the one problem with this belt is that with all 4 bottles on it, the weight of the bottles stretches the belt enough for it to gradually work its way down towards my knees. The solution is to drink from the back bottles first (or just fill them halfway); I’ve already got the length adjusted to its shortest extent. That’s really good to know, since I don’t want to spend 26.2 miles in DC hitching my belt back up where it belongs.

I haven’t said anything really about the run itself so far. It was great. I held a much faster pace than I expected to be able to and ran my second-fastest half marathon time ever: 2:03:14. I took time to take pictures on the course, so that might have shaved another 2 min off my time, but I wasn’t running this for a PR, and I wasn’t wrecked after the race. In fact, I had a great run the next morning before leaving to go to the airport.

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See, I even look happy here despite standing in the rain for an inordinate amount of time.

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The Quadrofam!

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My reward for a good run: a Sunday roast (not shown: the incredible dessert brownie they brought after I cleaned my plate)

Overall, it was a fantastic experience— I loved the crowd energy and can’t wait to carry forward what I learned to the Marine Corps Marathon! I will absolutely be entering the lottery for the 2019 Royal Parks event, too.

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Office 365 Exposed, episode 12:

As per tradition, Tony Redmond and I got together at Microsoft Ignite 2018 in Orlando to record a new episode of “Office 365 Exposed” podcast. The Ignite organizers make studios available for this purpose, which is most appreciated. We were joined by special guest and noted humorist Greg Taylor, recently-appointed Microsoft Director of Marketing for Exchange and Exchange Online, to discuss the conference, some announcements made at the event, what Exchange 2019 means for on-premises customers, and what’s happening with Microsoft 365. It’s an easy 45-minute listen.

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Training Tuesday: riding the Cote d’Azur

Recently I had the opportunity to do something remarkable: go for a bike ride in Provence! I had to be in the UK for business one week and in Nice the following week, so I was debating what I should do with a free weekend in Europe. Once I learned that there were bike-tour operators near Nice, I quickly decided to find one that could get me out on the road for some portion of the weekend.

Thanks to a recommendation from my local triathlete friend Kate, I found Azur Cycle Tours,  whose guided-rides option sounded perfect. There are a fair number of other tour operators that do longer multi-day tours, too, but Azur was the first I found that could set me up for a one-day ride, including use of a rental bike. I made all the arrangements via email with Justin, the owner, who was prompt and communicative in our exchanges.

I planned to arrive at the Nice airport Friday evening, spend Saturday poking around the area, and then ride on Sunday. Justin agreed to supply a road bike, and I planned to bring my PowerTap pedal power meter, a bike computer, and clothes and shoes. I booked a room at the Azur Cycle Tours apartment for two nights, packed my bags, and arrived there shortly after midnight– a good four hours later than originally planned. Justin was kind enough not to snap at me and gave me a quick tour of the apartment, which was exactly as promised on the web site: modern, comfortable, and well situated near shopping, restaurants, the beach, and the Beaulieu-sur-mer train station.

The next morning I woke up to this glorious view…

Balcony view from the apartment

Justin, as promised, had prepared a hearty breakfast of oatmeal, fresh berries, and bread from the boulangerie up the road. We had a pleasant chat about the local area, then he left to go lead rides and I donned a 10kg weight vest and went for a walk around town. I strolled down along the beach (named “La Petite Afrique” for some reason) and then walked along the Basse Corniche up over a hill for a ways. This treated me to some splendid views of the water and the dozens of large seagoing yachts anchored at various spots.

After I walked back to the apartment and dropped off my weight vest, I decided to walk into Beaulieu and find lunch. As I passed the train station, I had a better idea: why not go have lunch in Monaco? I bought a train ticket and headed off, and in 20 minutes or so I was disembarking at the Monaco station. It became clear pretty quickly where I was when I saw this:

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I walked down to the Casino, where I was surprised and delighted to find a classic-car rally in progress. For a “modest” donation to the Prince’s favorite charity (something to do with heart disease, as I recall), you could rent any of a number of privately owned classic cars and drive them around. Here are a few of the stunners on display.

My favorite was the Aventador, though; without a doubt it is the most beautiful manufactured object I’ve ever seen in person. Sadly this photo doesn’t do it justice.

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The casino itself isn’t too shabby either.

I walked around the casino area for a while, taking pictures as the mood struck me. It’s a delightful area for people-watching, of course, and there was plenty of that on offer. I saw and heard tourists from all over the place. Then I took the train back to Beaulieu, where Justin suggested to me that I try dinner at Les Vents des Anges in town. The highlight was this salad, consisting of warmed rounds of goat cheese on toasted local bread with fresh greens and peppers. It was, hands down, the best salad I’ve ever eaten, and the wine and entree (saltimbocca, in this case) were equally good. A short walk back home, and then it was bedtime.

The next morning dawned sunny and clear. Justin and I had planned to meet for breakfast at 730 then roll out shortly thereafter. It took 20 min or so to mount my pedals, bike computer, and camera on the bike, get it adjusted, and so on, then we rolled out. Check out this route….

Relive ‘Do Epic Shit: Beaulieu to Tourrette and back’

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We were able to leave Beaulieu and head west into Nice, starting with a short climb into Villefranche and then riding along Nice’s excellent cycle path that parallels the famous Promenade des Anglais. Then the ride started in earnest. Our first stop was in La Colle-sur-Loup for a snack, which in this case was a marvelous berry tart and a cup of poisonously strong coffee. The whole town square, and most of the surrounding streets, were filled with… a PTA fundraiser for the village school. Yep. You read that right. Change the language on the signs, bring in some box-mix cupcakes, and turn all the volunteering moms into non-smokers and the whole event could have been plucked right from suburban America.

Best. dessert. ever,

Then back on the road! The toughest part of the ride was just ahead: the long climb into Tourrette-sur-Loup, which interestingly enough is part of the Ironman Nice course. This offered remarkable scenery in all directions, including up and down.

We stopped in Tourrette-sur-Loup for a splendid lunch: another great salad and a marvelous lasagna. (Italian food is pretty common in this part of France, perhaps unsurprising given how close Italy is). We also filled our bike bottles at the municipal fountain. Nearly every village has one, and the water at each of the ones we sampled was clear, cold, and delightfully fresh.

After lunch, we rolled back into Nice along a slightly different route– no steep descents, but a very pleasant series of switchbacks and hairpins. It took me nearly this long to understand why the bike Justin rented me seemed so smooth and quiet compared to my Cervelo P2: I have race wheels with a racheting freehub, so when I coast, they make that super-cool clicking noise. This bike didn’t have that, plus the drivetrain was adjusted to approximately the precision level of the Space Shuttle, so it was a delightfully smooth and quiet ride.

Along the way, I was able to pause to take a couple of photos of scenic spots. Also along the way, we made one final stop for ice cream, which I sadly forgot to take a picture of.

A note about the roads: even in this rural area, the roads we rode on were marvelously smooth and well-maintained, with good markings and signage. About 99% of the drivers we encountered gave us a wide passing margin, and I never felt unsafe or threatened. We saw a few dozen other cyclists along the route and everyone was friendly.

Back at the apartment post-ride, I used the provided laundry machines to wash my kit while I drank a beer and looked out at the water, then, reluctantly, I packed my stuff and departed for my next leg of the trip.

Overall, I could not be more pleased with the Azur Cycle Tours experience. Justin was an excellent host, with encyclopedic knowledge of the local area and route. He kept up an informative and interesting commentary about what we were seeing as we rode; he chose a route that was appropriate for my skill level but still challenging, and he made me feel like a welcome guest instead of the tour du jour. I am looking forward to returning and riding a more challenging route in the future!

[ed. note: I wrote this using a Windows machine and I refuse to deal with its stupidity when it comes to entering accented characters– please be reassured that my French spelling is better than shown here.] 

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Training Tuesday: riding bike courses with Rouvy

I got a smart trainer (a Wahoo KICKR SNAP) last November but didn’t really start trying to use it until a couple of months ago. Since then, I’ve had a few different experiences getting it to work with various accessories and features. I now have it working reliably with three different programming sources:

  • I can manually control the trainer using the Wahoo ELEMNT bike computer. This lets me set the trainer to hold a particular effort level so I can just steadily pedal, or to load interval workouts that I’ve created or been assigned in TrainingPeaks.
  • I can drive the trainer using the Zwift app. This allows me to ride through a video-game-looking world with other virtual riders; there are courses that cover London and Richmond, along with a mythical island kingdom known as Watopia.
  • I can ride Sufferfest videos, which I love doing, and the app can control the resistance of the trainer according to whatever workout I’m supposed to be doing.

However, there’s one programming source I hadn’t tried yet– I wanted to experiment with riding a real-world route. Specifically, I wanted to ride the IRONMAN 70.3 Chattanooga bike course on the trainer, so that I could see the course and get used to the hills, but the weather was bad on the course-preview-ride day and the logistics didn’t work out for me to get there another time. I figured I’d try doing it in software.

First I downloaded Bkool, because a friend of mine had recommended it. After signing up for the free trial, I found that the app would crash immediately after sign-in 100% of the time on my iPad. Thank goodness for free trials.

Then I went to poke around the DC Rainmaker site and found this typically thorough guide to trainer apps. After reading it, I downloaded 2 more apps: FulGaz and Rouvy. Like Bkool, they both have free trials.

I tried FulGaz first and was really impressed with how pretty it was– but it didn’t have the Chattanooga course, so that was that.

Next I tried Rouvy. Signup went flawlessly and I found the Chattanooga course, loaded it, and started riding.

What I didn’t notice is that it was the Chattanooga 70.3 World Championship course. I couldn’t figure out why it was so damn hilly and tough. Eventually I did figure it out. But that’s another story.

Below are a few screen shots from a ride I did the other day along the route for stage 1 of the 2017 Tour de France. Rouvy shows three or four views, depending on how the course is set up. The first view is the default, showing you a Google Maps-based view of the area, with a data pane on the left showing pace, power, etc. You can see that I’m at the very beginning of the stage, which started in Dusseldorf. You’ll see this view any time there’s no video associated with the course.

The course view shows you what you’d see if you were actually riding on the course. You can see power, pace, and so on in the left pane, and there’s a helpful horizontal scale that shows you the current incline (0.7% in this case) along with the upcoming incline. The video is synchronized to your pace, so the faster you pedal, the faster you appear to be riding. Different routes have different video quality, depending on what kind of camera the rider used, whether it was stabilized, and so on.

Rolling through Dusseldorf

The next view is all data. I don’t really want to look at this view when riding, but it’s there if you like it.



The fourth view, shown above, shows you a real-time strip-chart-style view of your 3 key metrics: heart rate, pedal cadence, and power output. You also get the profile view along the bottom to show you the terrain you’re riding over.

Everything I did with Rouvy worked flawlessly: when I finished my rides, they were automatically uploaded to Strava and TrainingPeaks, the auto-pause and auto-resume features worked well mid-ride, and I didn’t have any problems with video dropouts or freezes, application crashes, or other ill behavior.

I need a few more rides with it to make sure, but I love the idea of being able to ride a real course, with video when I want to see it. Typically if I’m doing an interval workout I’ll use a Sufferfest video and stream it to the projector; if I’m doing an endurance ride I’ll put on Zwift (so I get some variety in the route and terrain) and leave it on the iPad while I watch Netflix or something on the projector. The ability to ride a real route, with high quality video on the projector, might be enough to get me to change that habit.

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Azure Portal search: a tale in 4 pictures

Sorry that my first blog post in a while is a complaint, but, hey, at least you’re not paying a subscription fee for it.

We ran into an odd problem with our work Microsoft Teams environment. (I’ll blog more about the details once I confirm that it’s fixed; we’re still troubleshooting it.) Thanks to valiant efforts by Tony Redmond and the Teams engineering team, the root cause was tentatively identified as one of the Teams microservices being disabled. I needed to re-enable it.

First stop, the “Enterprise Applications” blade of the Azure portal. Note the list below is the default view, and it’s all you get– a naive user might assume that the list shows all applications in the AAD tenant because the filters are set to “application status any” and “application visibility any,” and the list appears to go from A through W.

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But noooooo. Notice that there’s no entry for “Microsoft Teams,” which I know perfectly well is enabled. OK then, let’s try setting the “Show” pulldown to “Microsoft applications.” Set that filter, click “Apply,” and check out the results.

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Huh. Still no entry for Teams. This time I notice the text in the search field: “First 20 shown, to search all your applications, enter a display name or the application ID.” All right, fine, I’ll try searching for “Teams”. Type that in, hit return, and…

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Well, that seems wrong. Let me try “Microsoft”. That produced a good-sized list of results, very few of which showed up in any of the preceding screenshots.. but only one entry showed up with a name of “Microsoft Teams.”

Finally, Vasil Michev took pity on me and told me to search for “Microsoft Teams.” Et voilà…

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There’s the problem child. A couple of clicks later, the service was enabled as intended.

Now, sure, in the grand scheme of things this is a minor issue. There’s so much stuff in the Azure portal, and so many great Azure services, that I can understand that maybe search in this one little corner of the portal isn’t a priority.

Having said that: this is an embarrassing thing to get wrong, and it’s emblematic of similar problems across other Microsoft properties (let’s not even talk about how bad content search is in the Teams client, or why I can’t search Exchange Online archive mailboxes on the Mac Outlook client).

Seriously– fix it, Microsoft.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Office 365 Exposed, episode 11: Spectre, Meltdown, and the O365 Admin

This episode was recorded at the Continental Hotel in Budapest, where Tony and I were joined by Office 365 MVPs Alan Byrne and Vasil Michev. We explore the wonders of the Spectre/Meltdown vulnerability and learn how it affects– or doesn’t affect– Exchange and Office 365 administrators– and we finally have a name for our “point/counterpoint” segment. Tune in to find out what it is.

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RIP Bob Thompson

I was very sorry to learn today that my friend Robert Bruce Thompson passed away last night after a short illness. Bob and I worked together on a number of book proposals, none of which ever made the cut. We both had the same agent and wrote books for O’Reilly and Associates during their heyday, so we had many long conversations about writing and life. Bob’s probably best known for his books on PC hardware troubleshooting, but he wrote on a wide variety of other technical topics.

Bob was a very early adopter of blogging and maintained a regular daily blog for many years. For the last few years, his site contained a wealth of information about food storage and prepping, with a practical and fact-based vent often absent from prepper sites.

Bob had impeccable personal integrity and a strong sense of right and wrong. While we disagreed on more than a few things, I appreciated his willingness to learn new things and consider different viewpoints.

Bob’s survived by his wife, Barbara, and his faithful border collies.

I will miss you, Bob.

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