Friday, July 29, 2016

Running . . . From Zombies

Is this a product review? This might count as a product review. Be warned.

Anyway, in my journey towards more reliable foot-based forward propulsion, I have been using two apps: C25K and 10K, both by ZenLabs. These two apps have served me well and faithfully, giving me helpful instructions in my ear to walk, jog, turn around, and quit for the day. And hey . . . free is good.

These apps believe that you should be running 5km in about thirty minutes. HA. No. So when I say I "finished" the 10K app, I mean that I completed its final 60-minute run. I did not actually traverse anywhere near 10 kilometers of ground. Or treadmill track, in this particular case. I happen to know I was going a steady 3.8 mph, because the over-informative treadmill computer told me so and now I can't un-know it.

Anyway (again), I've decided that for right now, 60 minutes is about as long as I want to keep running at any one go. I would, however, like to get batter at covering more distance during that time window. Not much more distance. Just some. Baaaaaby steps.

My original plan was just to start over at the beginning of these apps and step it up a notch: jog where it said walk, run where it said jog. Reasonable plan. I may still adopt it. But just to shake things up, I decided to test something different: zombies.

Zombies, Run!, by Six to Start, is like a Choose Your Own Adventure audiobook with an added twist of GPS stalking/surveillance state. You run. It tells you a story in your ear to explain why you are running. I'm only one chapter in, but I'm guessing the reason is usually going to be zombies.

I was expecting great things from this app, having encountered many positive reviews and junk. Since the app has an actual storyline with some dialogue and stuff worth paying attention to, I jettisoned my usual audio book (Casebook of Sherlock Holmes; nearly finished with the whole collection!) and turned on Pandora for that muzik stuff I keep hearing so much about. I picked the Murray Gold channel. I figured, dramatic, sci-fi, kinda creepy -- perfect zombie music, right?

And really, it all went pretty well. As I wandered through the neighborhood at sunset, I got informed that my helicopter was shot down (by whom? Floating plot thread) and that I needed to get to Abel Township (which is somewhere in England, judging by the accents), but as long as I was passing the hospital, I should pop in and grab some medical supplies and records (what records? Floating plot thread). I got all this handy background information from Sam, our friendly neighborhood radio guy, who talks when he's nervous. He designated me Runner 5, as the previous Runner 5 (with whom, it's implied, he'd been romantically involved) just got infected, so the jersey was up for grabs I guess.

I've got only two complaints with this app so far. The first is that it didn't give me a halfway point, even a coded in-character one, so my dumb self might have gotten halfway to Pelican Rapids before realizing I had no way home. In future, must set my own timer.

The second complaint is, um, that, well . . . It didn't let me cheat.

Let me explain.

Okay, so I'd stumbled across a CDC file (note: why was there a CDC file in England? Or why are all these British people in the US? Does the UK have a CDC, and if so, do they call it that?) that could be very important. Someone hovering over Sam's shoulder hinted strongly that this file was my ticket into the protection of Abel township. I also knew that if I got caught by zombies, they'd take some of my stuff, as app technology has not yet advanced so far that my phone could actually infect me through my headphones. I had lots of stuff to take--I'd found a food, a water, some medicines, an ax (BOSS!), some bullets (but no gun), some underwear, a pair of pants and a pair of shorts (but no shirt, poor me). But I had no way to know if the zombies would take all that stuff, or take my CDC file. And I wanted that CDC file. I wanted it bad.

Last stretch of land to the safety of the town. Sam's telling me they're sending out an armed patrol to cover me. Just gotta outrun the zombies . . .

I'd already outrun some zombies earlier. I'd kicked into a sprint for about thirty seconds when the app informed me they were on my tail. Yaay. Good for me. Except you know what's really hard? Getting your breath back, at a jog, after a sprint. So I was still at two steps to the breath when I reached this climactic finale, which is faster than I want to be breathing.

And guess who's the lead zombie after me? You guessed it . . . The Late Runner 5.

Okay. So the character whose place I am taking in the narrative is chasing after me, no doubt to steal the file that is my ticket to community acceptance, watched nervously by her grieving lover, while unnecessarily creepy Dalek-related music plays in the background and it is now well after sunset, people. Good storytelling, certainly. But good storytelling doesn't necessarily mean good running, particularly if my huffing puffing self suddenly goes into vivid-imagination-induced fight or flight mode, and I just cannot . . . (gasp) . . . flee (gasp) . . . fast enough.

But dang if I'm going to let her get that file.

So I hit pause.

I slow to a walk. I get my breath back. Then I hit play and take off sprinting again.

There's no Sam on the radio.

There's no alert of how close the zombies are behind me.

There's still creepy soundtrack, but I put that on there, that's my fault.

The clocks are all running, but there's no indication that I got back into the story when I hit play. So after a while I slow to my usual shamble. I run past my building and turn around at the corner, in case I just need to wait longer for something to happen. Nope. I walk a couple laps around the complex to bring my heart rate down and wait for news from Sam. Or zombies. Or anybody. Nothing.

Maybe I was just so slow I just died.

Anyway, I make it home, take a shower, feed the cats, and go poking around the app to figure out what went wrong. I'm still not sure what, but eventually I find a big "RESUME" button that was not there before and hit it. Thankfully (because I didn't fancy running laps around my apartment in a towel) the story resumes just as I make it into the gates of Abel township. I get a "Next Time On . . ." teaser, and the episode is marked complete.

So . . . is the previous Runner 5 still alive? Jeez, I hope so. Shame to waste a good foil. Who shot the helicopter? What's in the file? What's my secret mission in this place? (Oh, yeah, I have a secret mission too . . . the chopper pilot told me so before she died in horrible gruesome wreckage.) What is the CDC doing leaving important documentation all over the United Kingdom? And will I ever find a shirt?

Find out next time . . .

. . . when I will set a halfway-point timer, play something in the background that WON'T send my imagination into overdrive, and try not to cheat again.

Or at least try to try.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Further Thoughts On The Running

I have thoughts to add to my previous thoughts on the self-torture that is The Running.

Since posting that last one, I have:

Finished the 5K trainer app
Actually run (very slowly) an actual 5K
Finished the 10K trainer app
But have not yet run 10K

And over the months, some things have changed. Here are some additional little insights:

--If you are doing hills, firstly, you poor thing. Secondly, don't try to go slow on the downhill. It's actually more work. Just fall, and let your feet keep up with you. It will hurt less, and as an added bonus, you will go faster.

--If you are bringing water with you when you run, I highly recommend tossing a tablespoon of lemon juice in your water bottle. Don't even need sugar: just water and lemon is very nice on a dry throat.

--If your brain tells you these words: "Surely we can get this run in before that storm hits", go inside and stay there, you idiot.

But there's one variable that I had not yet encountered at last posting, and it needs to be addressed at some length. I speak, of course, of HEAT.

Formerly, we spoke of cold. Cold is very unpleasant, and a powerful deterrent to doing The Running. But Heat is a different monster entirely. Heat will probably not send you screaming back indoors--at least not at first. Heat is so pleasant-looking. It's bright and blue and cheerful. And it isn't even a little bit cold! How lovely!

I first encountered Heat at the beginning of April. Following my own wise counsel to never run the same route twice, I decided I would start from my place of employment and run through downtown Moorhead and over the pretty bridge up there into downtown Fargo. It was bright and sunny and cheerful outside. All was well.

Except it wasn't.

The thing about most downtowns is: there are no trees.

This is also a major design flaw of most bridges.

By the time I reached my turnaround point, I was gasping like a dying fish. Not because I was running any faster than I'd run last time, or very much farther--It was just the Heat. Weaseling into my lungs and skin and brain and slowly shutting everything down.

About seven minutes from the end of my run, a luckless friend called me.

"Luckless Friend," I gasped, "Tell me . . . a story!"

"What, right now?" asked Luckless Friend.

"YES! Any . . . story. Just . . . keep . . . talking."

Luckless Friend's phone call was much longer than anticipated as the poor faithful soul recounted to me an entirely improvised tale of discovering a ladder to Hell to keep me distracted from my imminent demise. I could relate, as I dragged my only semi-functional body through the last few minutes of torturous, listless jogging. Then I gave my frantic thanks to Luckless Friend, returned to my place of employment, and sat in the break room for twenty minutes sucking on ice cubes until I was reasonably sure I wouldn't vomit all over the inside of my car.

Because yes, Heat will make you vomit. It will do all kinds of nasty things to you, subtle things that you think you can muscle through and are probably just your imagination. They are not. Cold is unpleasant, yes, but when it comes to the Running, heat is downright dangerous.

So if you engage in the Running in a season or location that is susceptible to Heat, please heed this wise counsel:

--First: Do not play chicken with Heat. Do not convince yourself you are tough enough to beat it. You are not. That sun of ours isn't a very big star, in the grand scheme of things, but it is still much bigger than you and is not intimidated by your posturing. You are flammable. Don't forget it.

--Try altering the time of your Running. Go early in the morning or late in the evening. I've discovered that putting my midpoint right at sunset is very useful and comfortable. If you sleep through your early morning and are busy in your late evening, do NOT try running somewhere in the middle of the day anyway. Don't do it. Not safe.

--Find shade. If you have tree-rich neighborhoods, wild forests, river trails, go for those. Again, this is not you being a sissy: this is you having a teaspoonful of common sense.

--Try migrating indoors. No, not on a running track: those are insanely boring (round and round and round) and are populated by Spandex-wearing runny-people. Go for a treadmill instead. Treadmills are kind of weird. The whole "the floor is moving" thing is pretty disorienting, and will make you fall over if you think about it too hard. And treadmills give you WAY too much information about how far you've run and how fast you're going. But they are a space of sacred isolation: no one will challenge you to a friendly race on a treadmill. You can watch a show or something. Put a piece of paper over all the numbers, turn on the X-Files, and chug along. It's dull, but survivable.

--Accept that even with these precautions, sweat will ooze out of every orifice of your skin and make you disgusting all over, no matter how easy you're taking it on yourself. Drink much water. Do much laundry. Embrace the gross.

--Cut yourself some slack. If Heat causes you to miss some runs or cut runs short, GOOD. You should not be out raising your body temperature in that crap. Keep yourself out of the hospital and you can get back to your mighty Running Schedule of Doom (if you have one) when autumn settles in.

--Sunscreen. Duh.