Archive for: March, 2014

A day in the race life

Mar 15 2014 Published by under Uncategorized

Third race down! Today was the DC Rock and Roll Half (and full, and 5K). It was a beautiful morning for a run and DC was out to support! The free beer offers from the all male houses (which...were not frat boy houses? I don't think we ran through GW...) were amusing. I saw one guy take them up on. Bet he puked later.

Considering I couldn't train really at ALL for this race (I've been sick pretty much continuously through February), this went much better than expected. Ran slow, but felt very good, in fact so good I could have kept running at the end! A very good sign.

Today, though, as I recover on the sofa with my feet up, I thought I'd give you the anatomy of a race day. Training days are just normal days. Get home from work, go for a run. Make time on the weekends, go for a run. Or do weights, or cross training, or hills. But race day has a ritual to it. Ideally, the ritual is so you will have the best race day with minimal discomfort. We'll see how well that actually works:

Race Day:

1:00AM: ACK, is that my alarm? Is it time?

2:30AM: ACK, is that my alarm? Is it time?

3:00AM: ACK, is that my alarm? Is it time?

4:30AM: ACK, is that my alarm? Is it time?

5:30AM: alarm goes off. Brew coffee. Only one cup allowed.

All items for race day have been laid out so I won't forget anything:

race day stuff

Here you can see: the race number, shoe tag and pins (left), the amphipod hand water bottle with zipper pouch (haven't switched over to belt yet, they always ride up on me), Gu in desired flavor that I know will go down well mid-race (salted caramel), ipod holder, clif bar (that's breakfast), metro card, ID, keys, and $20 (in case).

All of that will go in me (the clif bar) or on me. I don't gear check.

5:38AM: I start trying to force down the clif bar and coffee. My body takes this time to remind me, with forceful reminders from my intestine, that I have a really stupid hobby. Bathroom.

5:50AM: Dressed. Again attempt the food. Force it down, I will need this before the race is over and I know I will fall over if I don't have it.

5:55AM: Stomach again reminds me forcefully that I have a stupid hobby. I am not inclined to disagree at this time.

6:05AM: Gulp the last of the coffee. Tell the stomach that it's coming with me whether it likes it or not. Leave the house.

6:15AM: Heading to the metro. Getting nervous. When I lived in Philly, for local races, you would ALWAYS see other people walking toward the race start. Here, I see no one until I get to the metro station itself. Ah! Other runners! I'm probably not too late!

6:17AM: Get on the train. Soon joined by a nervous looking young man carrying a half bagel in a plastic bag and a very long suffering guy who's clearly headed to the train station or something. He doesn't know what to make of increasing numbers of nervous, chattering runners.

Why DO we get nervous? I know for most of us, certainly for me, it's not my first time. I know my body can do this. It's done it before, barring accident it will do it again. At this point it's not even a particularly difficult experience! But somehow, I'm always a nervous wreck. Clearly everyone else is, too.

6:50AM: Arrive at the race start. Took a good 10 min just to get out of the metro. For the first time in one of these huge, 5 digit registered corral is toward the front! I CAN SEE THE START LINE! Like really see it! And hear the announcements from the stage and not re broadcast along the line. Go me! I pause to enjoy the sight.

6:55AM: Sigh. Better go pee. Don't want to lose time during the race. Shortly find a truly awesome looking outdoor bathroom setup with an orderly line and attendants! I stand in line for 5 min before I am told that this is the VIP bathroom and I am not VIP. WTF. I ask irritably where the plebs pee. I am pointed to a bank of port o potties. Of course.

7:00AM: I can't help but notice these bathroom lines are SHOCKINGLY long. Not nearly enough port o potties. I resign myself.

7:25AM: What do you MEAN I am still only halfway to the toilet?!?


But we start in waves. And surely they'll take 2 minutes between each wave start,

7:40AM: There goes my wave. I'm not in it. I could have just run off but at this point I DO need to pee. And you don't want to lose time once your chip starts...

7:45AM: Get to the front of the line. Look at port o potty and am very, VERY grateful that I got good at squats this winter. Runners, seriously. Are we not civilized?!

7:46AM: Jogging off to the race start. Start 7 corrals behind my assigned one. And I'm OFF. Dodging people who are 7 corrals slower than me for the first 6 miles and feeling really guilty about it. I finally catch up to my assigned corral. I'm kind of glad I wasn't in my own corral. I would have been with the guy who was dribbling two basketballs the whole race.*

Favorite race sights:

1. The policeman helping close off the road who was cheering enthusiastically. Normally they just stand there. I'm so happy they are there to help us out and I hope they are getting paid (I assume?), but it was esp nice to see a guy who cared.

2. Little kids giving out high fives as you run by. Always a favorite. Also the people who bring their dogs out.

3. The guy who was handing out water at the water stop like Oprah: "YOU GET A WATER! YOU GET A WATER! EVERYBODY GETS A WATER!"

4. The all female drum line at mile 8. Awesome!

By 10:00AM I am done, through the race chute, gotten some gatorade and gotten over my shock that there are no bananas. A long metro ride and I am home to shower, and then pass out for a few hours.

It's nice to see all the people running together, finishing together, hugging at the end. I usually run the race by myself and the end feels odd. It's better when there's a friendly support crew at the end to give me a sweatshirt and Gatorade and stuff. But I know waiting at the end of a's a really charitable thing to do. It's crowded, it's loud and this can't possibly be entertaining.

Tomorrow: we start training again! Next up, April race in NC.


*These people make me grit my teeth. Yes. I'm very impressed that you have become so bored with racing that you can run a marathon backward at a 9 minute pace while juggling. Very impressed. But really? Do you have to? Are you not aware that for many, many of the people running today, this is the HARDEST THING they have ever done?! And you're going to breeze by them backward while juggling. Because you can.

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Don't tell me how to be inspired

Mar 12 2014 Published by under Academia, Activism, Synaptic Misfires

This is a rant. It's a rant because, sometimes, you've heard something just one too many times. And sometimes, things link together in my head.

I had a conversation with a friend the other day. He was shaking his head over a girl he was seeing. She called herself a fantasy fan...but she had never read Joseph Campbell! HOW?!

I am a huge fantasy fan. I've never read Joseph Campell. And I lost my temper.

Because I have been told, over and over again, that my education is incomplete unless I've read X. I'm not a TRUE fan of a genre unless I've read Y, and I'm just not a nerd at all unless I've been blown away by Z.

My friend stated that Joseph Campbell is important because he felt that for any aspiring fan or writer, "A Hero's Journey" would be required reading. The "methods section" of the fantasy genre, like how you have introduction to certain texts as a history major which introduce you to all the main concepts.

I disagree. Last I heard Joseph Campbell was an author (Edited to add: he was also an academic and mythologian who introduced really important concepts and tropes, like the hero's journey, which are used to this day). He did a lot of really interesting work, but he is not a required gestalt for the enjoyment of fantasy. And I think it's very possible to be an expert in something without having read the "must read" list of things that mostly old white guys have developed for us to be educated by. Does a person with a PhD and many publications in ancient Chinese history really need to read the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire to be considered an educated individual? If you answer that with a "yes," I'd really love to know your reasoning.

He may think that if you haven't read Joseph Campbell you are an ill-educated fantasy reader. I might think that if you haven't read Mary Stewart and Marion Zimmer Bradley you are just as ill-educated.

Who is right? NEITHER OF US.

You don't get to determine what inspires someone else or even what someone else considers good literature.
The "classics" do not define education in most subjects. I understood the concept of evolution long before I read Darwin, because I had read other books on the subject. After I read Darwin, I cannot say that I understood it any better. Darwin had the original concept, yes. He was really thorough about it, yes. But it is very possible to understand evolution without ever having read Darwin. It is possible to LOVE fantasy without ever having read the Silmarillion (heck, I have read it and I think it lessened my love of the genre slightly. Sorry, Tolkien).

Read what you like. Be inspired by what inspires you. Do not feel pressure to be inspired on someone else's terms.

I was reminded of this argument again yesterday as I tweeted that I had watched the first episode of Neil DeGrasse Tyson's Cosmos. It was ok.

It was my first exposure to Cosmos. I have never seen the Carl Sagan version. I was too young for it, and was raised primarily on Bill Nye, Ranger Rick and the Magic School Bus (the "inside the body" book and episode sticks in my head today. INSPIRING AS ANYTHING). My parents are not scientists, and I'm not sure they've ever seen Cosmos either. I never even HEARD of it until, like Ed, I heard about it on twitter a few years ago, looked it up, and saw what it was.

But of course, on twitter, every time I reveal I haven't seen the original Cosmos, I get a lot of "WHUT?!" "NO!" "HOW?!" I have even been told at times that I'm not a true science communicator because I haven't seen it and been inspired by it.


And I lost my temper again. At a poor tweep who didn't know what they stepped in. Sorry @KeesEngels. It's not you! It's my past history of not having read Joseph Campbell!

It is completely possible to be inspired in science without having seen Carl Sagan. Heck, it is completely possible to have seen Carl Sagan, go "meh," and be inspired by something else! Carl Sagan is probably (to this date, still haven't seen it) great TV. Probably very inspirational to lots of people. I by no means want to knock good Sci Comm. But it won't be inspirational to everyone. And that's ok! Matthew Francis put it best.



People who require you to read or watch or be inspired by certain things are people who want to believe there is one TRUE path to science, fantasy, etc. The path they took, the true one, the best one.

Those people need to get over themselves.

Do not expect or require everyone to be inspired by the same things you are inspired by. Accept that what inspired you may NOT inspire someone else. Let's all be inspired in our own way. After all, the point is the inspiration, not where it comes from.



*Footnote: My friend who was talking about Joseph Campbell recanted in the face of my arguments. Because he's a cool guy. Also, I throw elbows when I argue.

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Life chafes, sometimes.

Mar 10 2014 Published by under Harebrained ideas

I know that The Goddess Isis sometimes refers to things "chapping her ass." I never really was able to picture this.

...until my last half marathon. I have never suffering chafing before, but HOLY CHAFING BATMAN. I'm not sure what went wrong. It was a beautiful day, warm, I was wearing my lucky running skirt that I have worn through more races than I can count. Yet suddenly, somewhere before the Gu but after the big hills, I was very conscious of my thighs and how they rub together. A lot.

Normally this doesn't bother me. I don't strive for thigh gap. I strive for muscle. But muscle is large, and rubs together. I tried to adjust stuff. No dice. More rubbing. By mile 10 I was forcing each stride through gritted teeth.  I refused to stop, and it was an out and back. By mile 10, the fastest way to stop to keep running til you get there.

By the time I toddled through the finish, I was running bowlegged and little seeps of blood were starting on the inside of my thighs.

What happened? Who knows?

But it did make me think about runners and shame. And kindness.

After a race, I found out how little shame I had. There I am, waddling out of the corral, and a couple stops and anxiously asks me if I'm OK. My normal response is to smile politely, but I've just run a very painful 13.1 miles. I've got no filters. "Oh I'm ok, I just have been chafing like HELL," I ranted. "I swear there's blood running down my thighs!"

The woman in the couple (who didn't run) got wide eyes and backed away slowly. The man, who had just finished the race himself, looked sympathetic and nodded. He didn't back away. He knew how it was to have no shame.

In the bathroom, changing after the race (no showers, and home was 4-5 hours away), I braced myself. I had to put SOMETHING between me and my jeans. Or my jeans would have some very interesting new blood stains by the time I was through. All I had was deodorant. I didn't own Body Glide then, I'd never chafed before!

And here's where the kindness comes in. A woman stopped and offered me her Body Glide. Only a fellow athlete would do that, offer a stick of something for another woman to rub on her sweaty, slightly bloody inner thighs (if I were her I would have thrown it out after, that can't be sanitary...). I could have cried with gratitude. She didn't even blink. It's what runners do for each other.

The first thing I did the next day was pick up some Body Glide.

The next race is this weekend. I think chafing will ensue. Worse, I've been sick almost continuously since my last race. I couldn't force myself to run when every swallow felt like I was gulping knives. I'd hoped to do well in DC, but it looks like this race may involve far more pain than chafing.



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#scio14 Wrapup: Read the Comments!

Mar 09 2014 Published by under Academia, Activism, Synaptic Misfires, Uncategorized

It's now been a week since ScienceOnline Together 2014 (and I don't know about you guys, but I'm still down with the hideous #scioplague. I'm really ready to be done with feeling like I am swallowing a sword all the time). It was, despite some difficulties that I hope we all move forward together to solve, a fantastic opportunity to meet new people, chat with old friends, and engage in some really interesting and important discussions on how to communicate science in an online world. This year there was a little more focus on visual forms of communication, ways to get science out there that don't always involve writing lengthy explainers. While I'm a lover of a well written explainer, I am very, very glad that these different methods, using infographics, video, virtual games and other methods are getting some play. There is far more than one way to communicate science, and I want to see them all done well.

This  year I was very pleased to lead a session, proposed by the brilliant and notorious Ivan Oransky, on commenting. The following writeup is based on the GREAT notes by Kristin Harper, who was nice enough to be the note taker. It is sometimes out of order and highly biased. If you were at the session, please do write up your own summary and help me out! Or, even....put your opinions in the comments. 🙂

Everyone knows you shouldn't read the comments. Comments with a nasty tone can bring your article down. Comments are full of trolls who tell you about your comma problems and call you an "unbridled" man-hater. The idea that you shouldn't read the comments is so pervasive that there's a twitter feed for it. Due to research showing that negative comments bring down the opinion of a piece, PopSci banned comments altogether.

Why do we want comments at all? I personally like comments because often...they tell me I am wrong. I'd rather be told I am wrong, get the science right, and improve my understanding and the understanding of my readers, than let incorrect statements persist. In addition, I find my commenters are often funny, smart, and can add a lot to knowledge of a topic. Other session members said that comments added multiple answers to a single question, giving different perspectives.

But as our discussion at #scio14 showed, not all comments are bad. David Shiffman of Southern Fried Science noted that because his group blog is very focused on marine science, the commenters tend to me more knowledgeable than they might be on sites that are more general. On the other hand, Ivan Oransky pointed out that on Retraction Watch, some comments might be knowledgeable, but they can also skirt very close to being libelous, and Victoria from PLoS blogs agreed that accusations of fraud and libel cannot be left in the comments section. Tara Haelle noted that when she writes about vaccines, for example, she welcomes discussion, but doesn't want links to harmful sites to slip past, and that it is sometimes very difficult to tell the difference between a concerned parent and a troll who is "just asking a question." We discussed how some bloggers prefer pre-moderations (all comments are held for approval), or post-moderation (if something harmful appears it can be taken down). Comment moderators noted that, on high traffic sites, sorting through the comments about three times a day could do the trick to separate the wheat from the chaff.

When it comes to comment moderation, there were several different options. Bug Girl said that she uses a yellow card/red card system. My own comment policy asks people to avoid ad hominem attacks and other logical fallacies. I employ a three strike method, and should you attempt to be a jerk, I'll tell you how you are violating the comment policy, and give you a chance to re write your comment. In most of the situations, I have found volunteers gladly rewrite their comments. They'd rather make the point than insult. Others at the session recommended systems that allow you to downvote comments that are bad (enough downvotes will hide the comment altogether), and those which allow a flagged reporting system that sends an email to the administrator. Still others recommended disemvoweling a terrible comment (just taking out all the vowels) or rewriting it in haiku form. Moderation AND a form of therapy. Others, like Ivan, note that he will edit comments that are libelous or severely problematic, and often includes a note saying how he edited the comment.

I myself prefer not to edit comments. I don't want to silence voices of dissent, or those who might be unable to speak up in any other forum. Ad hominem attacks, however, cross the line.

But of course, before you can have negative comments or positive comments or even off topic comments, you have to get comments at all. We noted that a lot of comments have moved, and conversations often take place on Facebook or Twitter rather than in the comments of posts. Likes and RTs are the "nice post!" of 2014. To gather these comments into one place, Victoria Costello of PLoS Blogs recommended storify, and noted that PLoS has developed a media curation tool for its site. There are also widgets that connect Facebook comments to article comments.

But it also helps if you don't require a potential commenter to create an account, or use an interface like Discus, where one account makes it easy to log in on many platforms. Several people in the session said that for those truly desperate for comments, ask a question, even give away items for the best answer.

What came out of all of this? Ivan (who proposed the session in the first place and who I consulted for advice) both agreed that we wanted the session to be productive, to come out with something useful. We decided to crowdsource ideas for best practices in commenting. Not everyone chooses to have comments, and that's ok! But I say that comments are like sex. Not everyone will choose to have it, people may choose to have it in different ways and with different people, but if you want to have comments, it's generally a good idea to use a condom. Have a set of best practices and a comment moderation policy that you can refer to.

Below are the best practices that we came up with over an hour of discussion. These are obviously not comprehensive, and we'd love to get more feedback and ideas!

  1. Have a clear written comment policy. (But expect that people probably won't read it and you'll need to remind them.)
  2. Provide positive feedback for good comments wherever possible. For example, you can link to a comment in a follow up story, make something a featured comment, or reply to a comment with a note about how great it is.
  3. Reserve the right to edit comments or delete comments. Don't be afraid to enforce your policy.
  4. Define name calling. "This person is a fraud" is just as much name calling as "This person is a stinky carnivorous hippo."
  5. Limit the number of links. WordPress often defaults to sending comments to moderation if there are two links in them or more. This helps keep spam down. Let people know that when they complain to you about their well researched comment with many links. Keep an eye out for those comments. They aren't all spam!
  6. Most importantly: Join the conversation! A good commentariat is the result of good interaction between the bloggers and their commenters.

So, how did we do? What do you think of our best practices? Let us the comments.

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