Carmel Half Marathon 2012

It’s been a while since we’ve posted a race recap!

We participated in the second running of the Carmel Championship Weekend, Christopher the half marathon, and Emily and David ran the 8k together. This was David’s longest race to date.

I stopped by the expo at the Monon Center Friday afternoon to pick up our packets. I entered the eastern building, where the expo was the previous year, just as a big rain storm let loose. Apparently the location had been switched to the west side of the building, which was no problem, except for the face that I had to dart across to the other side through the rain. Oops. The organizers had set out three or four 3‑ring binders, one for each of the 8k, half, and full, with listings of participants and their numbers. With so many participants trying to look up their number, there was a rather irritating backlog. I had to wait in two lines because our family was participating in both the 8k and the half. Many events will email participants with their number, and if they sent one, I missed it. For a medium-sized event like this, it sure would have been nice.

The spring running season officially started for thousands of people the next morning. It was quite a chilly start. Pre-race details seemed well-planned for the most part, including adequate parking and bathrooms near the start. My only gripe was that the corrals for the half and full seemed rather small. There was a lot of room on the street, but the pace groups were all crammed unnecessarily close to the start line. The only way to enter the chute was from the rear, so the chute was clogged with people who were unable to move up to an appropriate starting location. Spacing out the corrals more would be a great improvement for next year. After the chute is full and people are organized into their desired pace groups, then people can start to sardine towards the start. There’s no reason to cram until right before the countdown.

The first mile or two of the route was on a fairly narrow street, further exposing the importance of being able to line up according to pace. Several runners had to use the sidewalks for the first mile to adjust their position in the pack. When faster runners can line up closer to the front, and walkers can be closer to the back, everyone can have a safer and more enjoyable start. Regardless, these things sort themselves out eventually. I’m just sure that walkers don’t appreciate runners darting through and around them any more than runners like to risk injury by weaving around others.

Weaving through side streets and neighborhoods was a pleasant way to start the race. While it was clear that later on in the race, some residents were greatly inconvenienced by having to take an alternate route through their neighborhood, the few folks in the early miles of the race who were actually outside were quite friendly. None offered to share their hot chocolate with us, however.

I really enjoy races that follow stretches of trails. The tree-lined Hagen-Burke trail in Carmel is very nice. It’s built to the same standards as the Monon Trail — wide, and built of smooth asphalt. It meanders more than a rail-trail, lending it additional interest. Inexplicably, the mile markers along this trail were lying flat along the shoulder, just as they were last year. Are there some kind of funny Carmel regulations disallowing these signs from being put up? And speaking of strange Carmel-isms, this trail had a handful of roundabouts, which did not have arrows marking the turns for the race route. Toward the front of the pack, runners were spaced rather far apart, and at two of these roundabouts, I did not have a direct line of sight to the runner in front of me. Fortunately, I guessed correctly at which way to go, but a little more signage, or even just an arrow spray-painted on the asphalt, would have given more assurance.

From the Hagen-Burke trail, the route turned onto the Monon Trail, which is a favorite of mine. Apparently too much so, because I passed right by the right turn onto 136th. Just as I crossed the street, I snapped out of my focus and realized that something didn’t feel right. I looked behind me and realized that I should have turned. Strangely, the volunteers didn’t yell at me, either before or after I passed, that I was being a dummy. Oh well. My GPS watch caught me overshooting the turn as I was heading south on the trail.

And more strangely, 136th, a two-lane road with little shoulder to speak of, was open to traffic in both directions. There were traffic cones down the center of the street, but that only meant that cars had to stay in their lane, making it impossible to overtake and pass runners safely. That had better change next year, or else someone is going to get hurt. There was a car between me and the next runner in front of me, and it was clear that the next runner was very uncomfortable with how closely the car was following. Crabby drivers, two-lane roads, and runners do not mix. Now, I am fully aware that it is difficult to close so many streets in a city of this size, but the race organizers need to make sure this street is closed and direct traffic to alternate routes, or change the race route to avoid this stretch of road. As it was, that route is unsafe, and I won’t participate again next year if it is not changed or closed to traffic.

One other weird thing about Carmel is the creepy statues depicting people out and about on the town. I’ll restrain from further comment on how tasteful they are, but the statue of the police officer directing traffic at the Monon Trail crossing, complete with a fluorescent yellow-green vest that perfectly matched the real police officer directing traffic just 10 feet away, was just weird. I don’t know whether that statue always has the vest, but I can’t imagine who in the world thought that it was a good idea to have a statue, who is just realistic enough to be distracting, help “direct” traffic at such a busy pedestrian crossing.

Fortunately, the rest of the race was uneventful. We passed by a motorcycle class in a school parking lot, something I remembered from the previous year.

After picking up the finishers’ medal and requisite orange cracker and peanut butter package at the end of the chute after the finish line, the Medals for Mettle group was soliciting people to donate their medals. We have a number of medals tucked away in a box at home ready to donate to this worthy cause, and I did not know they would be collecting them at the end of this race, or we would have brought them with us. So they caught me by surprise. Doubly so, because I had already crammed a couple of the aforementioned orange peanut buttery crackers in my mouth. Of course, it’s impossible to chew them after a race without also swigging some water. I was wandering around trying to get my water bottle open when I reached the end of the chute where the Medals for Mettle folks were standing with their collection buckets. They asked if I was willing to donate my medal, but I was unable to say anything at all because my mouth was frozen solid with orange cracker and peanut butter. I tried to say that I’d instead like to give them some other medals we had already reserved to donate, but all I could do was mumble a bit and spray some orange dust all over the place — gross! Embarrassed, I just gave them the medal I had and scurried off with them laughing at me. I didn’t even get to look at the medal, oh well.

I milled around for a few minutes and saw on my phone that Emily and David were nearing the finish of their 8k, so I started up to meet them as they crossed over the last little hill before the finish line. They were doing great, David alternately running full-blast and meandering in circles. He was clearly having a great time, and I was very proud of him for going the whole race and for enjoying it. They crossed the finish line together, and David got to keep the medal that he and his mother earned.

We walked around for a bit afterward, looking at the army ambulance and paying a visit to the Molly’s Great Chicago Fire truck for a breakfast sandwich and a hot dog, and then hoofed it back to the car because we were all really cold.

Even though I had some suggestions for improvements, make no mistake, I enjoyed this race. I love being on trails, and while there were not many people in the neighborhoods who were outside, it was nice to see the friendly faces who were out. The course is flat, with just enough hills to be interesting.

How Far North?

Upon landing at the first leg of a multi-country tour of Asia, a friend boasted:

I’ll send you something better later, but: we got up to 84.5 degrees N today 🙂 By my jetlagged head math, that’s only about 333 miles from Santa Claus.

I would have liked to have been able to respond with the farthest north I’ve been, but I didn’t know. My wife and I flew to Italy several years ago, and somewhere along that flight path contains the farthest north I’ve been. I didn’t have a GPS with me like my friend on his Asia trip, so I’ll have to make a reasonable approximation.

The flight segment that holds my northernmost point would have been along our return route, from Amsterdam to Detroit. Why the return route in particular? Eastbound flights tend to follow the jet stream to take advantage of tailwinds, provided they’re at appropriate latitudes. Westbound flights follow great circle paths, and in the northern hemisphere, that  means they will go farther north on a westbound route.

Armed with the knowledge that straight lines on a polar map are great circles, I made an attempt to dust off my trigonometry. I came up with an answer of xxx degrees north. That equates to xxx miles from the North Pole.

Later in the day I remembered that the rule about polar maps is that the route must cross the center of the map in order to be a great circle. So my answer derived from longhand trig was invalid. I searched around the internet for a way to find the northernmost point on a great circle arc, and did not come up with a method that I could comprehend in a reasonable amount of time. R has a package (geosphere) available, however, that can easily give me exactly the answer I was looking for.

> library(geosphere)
> # World map data
> data(wrld)
> # Detroit
> dtw <- c(-83.353388, 42.212444)
> # Amsterdam
> ams <- c(4.763889, 52.308613)
> # Compute great circle
> gci <- gcIntermediate(dtw, ams)
> # More accurate method for determining point of maximum latitude
> f <- function(lon){gcLat(dtw, ams, lon)}
> opt <- optimize(f, interval=c(-180, 180), maximum=TRUE)
> maxLat <- c(opt$maximum, opt$objective)
> print(maxLat)
[1] -28.99516 57.28472

So, I have been as far north as 57.28 degrees. What does that look like on a map, and how far from the North Pole is that in miles?

> # North Pole. Keep the longitude from the point of maximum latitude
> np <- c(maxLat[1], 90)
> print(np)
[1] -28.99516 90.00000
> npdist <- gcIntermediate(maxLat, np)
> png('gc.png')

> plot(wrld, type = 'l', xlim = c(-150, 50), ylim = c(30, 90))
> grid()
> lines(gci, lwd = 2, col = 'blue')
> points(rbind(dtw, ams), col = 'red', pch = 20, cex = 2)
> points(rbind(np), pch=20, cex=2, col='dark blue')
> lines(npdist, lty=2)

> # distance in meters
> dist <- dist2gc(dtw, ams, np)
> # distance in miles
> print(dist / 1609.344)

So, there we have it. I’ve been to within 2263 miles or so of Santa Claus.


Just for Aunt Lois

Synchromesh Kölsch is here!

Fermented during Indianapolis’ finest time of the year, the Month of May, the newest offering from Barking Spiders Brewery is now pouring. Synchromesh Kölsch is a quenching summertime pleaser named in honor of our newest learning opportunity. Replacing the 5th gear set on the Volkswagen will almost certainly require a not insignificant portion of Synchromesh Kölsch.


Pitahaya. So hot right now. Finally, the New York Times recognizes it. I’ve seen this day coming for almost ten years, amid continued searches on this website for the pitahaya PLU code, which information (4030) has long been gone. After a years-long personal quest, I finally obtained some a year or two back, and it was nothing to write home about. However, it is beautiful to look at.

GPS mowing

Mowing the lawn with a GPS is an easy way to make a big messy blob of a map!

Turkey Trot 2010

In advance repentance for a delicious Thanksgiving dinner prepared by Grandma, we spent the morning participating in Austin’s annual Turkey Trot. Thanks to the generosity of Grandma and Papa’s neighbors, we were able to borrow a jogging stroller so David could come on the 1‑mile walk after his Kids’ K. 

David had been talking up how he was looking forward to his race, so I was also looking forward to running along by his side. Not too much of a surprise, however, he decided part-way through after starting to drag his feet a bit that he’d rather ride on my shoulders. We passed under a train, which he found quite impressive. We turned around at the half-way point, and I warned him that he would soon be his turn again. He ran the last third flat-out, and I had trouble keeping up with him at times. When he decides that he is into it, there is no stopping him. So much so, in fact, that I had some difficulty getting his attention so that he would cross the finish line on the right half of the barricade in order to get his finisher’s wrist band! Papa was toward the side near the finish, and I did not even see him while trying to keep David aimed at the finish line amid all the fun and chaos.

The grownups’ race started shortly afterward. This year featured a new course, presumably to accommodate the record 15,000 participant turnout. The previous course, starting at Waterloo Park and winding around the UT campus area was pretty nice, but I think the new course nicely features some different areas of town. Using the Long Center for the start and finish area offered a lot more room. Due to some sort of last-minute mix-up, the course was a half-mile shorter than the advertised five. I’m not complaining, since I found it to be quite hot and humid compared to Indy’s recent weather. Later that day, keeping the shortened course in mind made resisting that fourth slice of pie a little less difficult!

Indianapolis Half Marathon 2010

The Indianapolis Marathon deserves its reputation as a well-respected race. We found it to be well organized, and several nice touches showed attention to detail on the part of those who ran it.

We had a minor hitch getting to the expo and packet pickup due to construction confusion at the YMCA, but it was smooth after that. We arrived just in time too, since we observed that the parking lot seemed completely full when we left a short time later. The entry area to the expo was lined with mums and heaters, a nice but unnecessary touch, as the weather was mild that day. The expo itself was on the small side. We had no trouble walking right up and getting our packets and t‑shirts from the friendly and helpful volunteers. The relatively small number of other vendors was no problem for us — less to traffic to dodge on the way out!

We owe a big thank you to the Zembrodts for watching David on race morning. We could not have both participated had it not been for their help. I’m glad that David got to play with his friends Jake and Toby on a Saturday morning, too. 

After dropping off David on race morning, we were prepared for heavy traffic on 56th Street. By the time we crossed I‑465, traffic was flowing smoothly. The kids directing traffic in the VA parking lots could have coordinated better and filled more spaces, but we didn’t have a problem. People arriving later might have had some difficulty finding parking spots, however. We stayed in the warm car, and Emily did some grading while we passed some time before braving the cold morning. Perhaps we should have left the car a few minutes sooner so that we could have made one last pit stop before the start. The lines were very long!

As the race started, the temperature was quite cool. No complaints though, as the sun felt glorious between the trees. The quiet environment while running in the state park was enjoyable, just the sound of footsteps and concentration. After a while, the park became more challenging for me. First, the hills were more than I am accustomed to, particularly the one at mile 10.5. Second, the design of the course led to some doubling-back even on the half-marathon course, which tends to sap my motivation. Still, the scenery was undeniably beautiful.

The food in the finishing area was a pleasant surprise. Both Emily and I thought that we had to have bought an additional ticket to enter, but we were wrong. All participants were allowed to have a hamburger or bratwurst lunch. Cool, how nice! And a well-earned brat it was. That’s why we run.

Prius nomogram

After finding a nomogram of how the Prius’s continuously variable transmission (or Power Split Device, in Toyota-speak) works, I thought it would be a fun exercise to use PyNomo to create my own Prius PSD nomogram.

The PSD is a planetary gearset, with the sun gear attached to Motor-Generator 1 (MG1), the planet carrier attached to the Internal Combustion Engine (ICE), and the ring gear attached to Motor-Generator 2 (MG2). MG2 drives the front wheels directly.

In the nomogram, the car is travelling 65 mph. Because this is a continuously variable transmission, there are infinite ways of achieving this road speed. MG2 must turn at about 3850 RPM because it drives the front wheels directly. However, the engine can be running at anywhere between idle speed and flat-out. MG1 will then turn at a corresponding speed according to the relationship shown in the nomogram.

The nomogram also illustrates how the Prius can run in “EV mode,” where the car drives under electric power alone. With the ICE off, MG1 rotates backwards and MG2 rotates forward. As the car speeds up and slows down in EV mode, the isopleth line see-saws up and down the MG1 and MG2 scales, anchored at the ICE’s 0 RPM point.

Part of the elegance of the PSD is that there is no reverse gear. MG2 simply rotates backwards with the engine off. Cool!

There is an interactive Flash-based version on

Watching for nomograms

Cleaning out drawers last weekend, I took a minute to fiddle with two slide rules that I inherited, one from each of my grandfathers. I’ve always found them to be a mysterious link to the past, where clever tricks made all kinds of things possible that we take for granted today. I’d like to be able to make more use of them, but they’re just not that practical any more.

Yesterday I stumbled on a link to a gallery of similarly outdated but intriguing tools called nomograms, which are graphical solutions to equations. Ron Doerfler assembled a calendar for 2010 featuring a number of intricate nomograms. He updates his site infrequently, but I certainly hope he is able to put together a similar calendar for 2011. I will definitely check back later in the year! It will be good for engineer-cred.

As an electrical engineer, I still have nightmares about trying to understand Smith charts in college. The Smith chart is another type of nomogram used for a number of purposes, including matching components, transmission line characteristics, and other high-frequency uses. Again, the chart is fascinating to look at, but it’s really a product of the black arts. Stay away.

Thinking more about where I’ve seen nomograms, I recall on highway maps there used to be a fuel economy calculator. There were two horizontal lines and a diagonal line between them. On one horizontal scale, you would select how many gallons it took to fill the tank, and on the other, you would choose how far you went on that tank. The center scale showed the car’s fuel economy for that tank. For the life of me, I can’t find any examples online, so I tried out PyNomo to create one of my own.

In the example above, I went 650 miles on a tank of fuel, and it took 14.5 gallons to refill the tank. The line between those two points intersects the MPG scale at about 45 MPG.

The PyNomo site has some additional examples that fly way beyond my comprehension, but they are neat to look at.

I also found a nomogram for homebrewers to calculate IBUs, and one illustrating the operation of planetary gear set in a Prius.