Month: July 2015

Categorizing Fun: An Overview of My First Ragnar

“You know what Type 2 fun is, right?”

I was at M&K’s house talking about a then-upcoming Ragnar event, and how I was really, really tired of running. I was asking if it was worth it, as M&K have done some Ragnars, and I had heretofore done none. (I was also borrowing a sleeping bag based on the pack list M had given me.)

I replied that I did not know there were types of fun.

“Type One fun is that you’re having fun while you’re doing it. This is what everyone easily recognizes as fun. Type Two fun is you have fun when you talk about it later and reflect on the overall experience. Type Three fun is never fun.”

Fair enough.

As of that discussion I was certain Ragnar was Type Two fun and possibly Type Three. There are a variety of training guides to follow for Ragnar, including the one on their site; some folks I ran with basically added up their total mileage for the roughly 36-hour period and trained as though they needed to be able to run all of that in one block. I followed the training guide on the Ragnar site, more or less. It meant running 5 times per week, with alternating distances and speeds, and as we got closer to the event and before tapering started, the increased mileage meant increased time investment. My running playlists were well worn and I was finding it irritating that I’d “have” to run on a given day instead of being able to bike or swim or row or what have you. All but 2 of my training runs were outdoors, with some variation of hills for the most part. The most awkward part of this experience is of the 12 people in 2 vans, I had only met one.

For me, Ragnar started when two of those people (the one I knew (Tristan) and one of the ones I didn’t (Sonya)) headed up north to the starting point. We met up with Van 1 (we were Van 2) and drove to our first major exchange, Exchange 6. Ragnar starts the slower-paced teams earlier than the faster-paced ones, so everyone ends at roughly the same time. Our team started at 6:45am on Friday, with Van 2 starting at roughly 11:30am. At the major exchanges, it’s a festival of painted vans and themed running wear; we had vans named things like “Team Div/0” and “Will Run for Beer” and “Start Slow then Taper” and so forth. Some teams were dressed as superheroes, some teams were dressed in tutus or hula skirts, some teams dressed like Cirque members. Our team’s name was “Running Better than Congress” and for the most part we did that: showed up, talked with one another, kinda wore red, white, or blue, and one of our Vans was painted. We ran better than Congress only marginally.

I was Runner 10, but we had lost two runners at the last minute to injury, so we were shuffling extra runs among the remaining 10 of us. My first run was essentially a 5k, mostly flat, but at about 2pm in the sun, with no shade.  If you’ve spent 99% of your training runs running in tree-shaded areas or in the mid-60 degree early mornings, running in 85 degree heat is punishment. I did not enjoy my first run at all and was glad to hand the baton (a slap-wrist bracelet) to Chuck, our group organizer and the unfortunate benefactor of 2 of the extra 6 legs floating around thanks to drop-outs.

If you had asked me after Run 1 if I would ever do this again, I would have said definitely not.

Our group ran the remaining 2 legs and headed to the next major exchange, a high school with tents set up to catch some sleep. Unfortunately it was 5pm and there’s no way I can sleep at that time, so I pretended to and then gave up. We did get nice showers (there was heat!!) and headed into LaConner to get dinner. At 9pm we piled into the Van for our 2nd runs. That’s when I got tired.

My run was at 12:30am and was only 2 miles, but it was all hill. Still, the cool of night took away some of the unpleasantness from the earlier heat of the day, and while running with a headlamp took some getting used to, I managed to get done at my expected pace (given the fall in Beijing and the loss of 5 training weeks, plus my knee, I used my 10k pace of 10:30 — I know it’s slow, but I’d rather not run to injury, thanks).  Run 2 ended for me and I handed off to the next runner in our van, Joe.

If you had asked me after Run 2 if I would ever do this again, I would have said probably not.

While Joe and then Sonya ran, I tried to get some sleep — I think I managed an hour each, sitting in the front seat of our van (actually a Suburban). I have a messed up back and that wasn’t ideal, but I managed to brace it with a rolled up jacket. At 4am we finished and headed to our next stopping point on Whidbey Island, where we were told to park in a field. As it was light enough out, I could see where I put M&K’s borrowed sleeping bag to make sure there was no poo (long story) and racked out for two solid hours.

That’s right. Two hours. At 7am my eyes snapped open because of habit. I had 2 more hours before I had to get back in the van and I could not, for the life of me, sleep. No coffee needed (which was good, because there was none to be found), I headed off to shower, and change, and prepare myself for my last run: 6 miles, all up and down hills.

I should explain that I had the 2nd shortest distance of the 12 runners. This was by design as most of the people I was running with measured their experience in IronMans and Marathons (not half Marathons, those do not count), and all but 2 of us had done Ragnar at least once before. I was 3rd slowest pace (but hey, at least I was consistently pacing) and, I found out later, the oldest person in our group. That doesn’t mean anything though as there were groups consisted of people at least 10 years my senior, and possibly 15, and they were kicking butt.

As we piled into the van Chuck asked me if I could take leg 32 instead of 34, which was the same distance but instead of up and down little hills, it was up one big hill and down it.  I figured it was the same distance and I had trained for hills, so, sure. I took it.

Slapping the baton on and running along the trail, I had to stop twice in the first mile: my shoe was untied, and then at about the 3-quarter-mile mark I recalled I hadn’t kicked off my running program (that tells me how far I’ve run). Shit. I turned it on, turned a corner, and looked at a big hill. Shit.

I turned my volume up, stared about five feet at the pavement in front of me, and kicked in. Time to get this definitely Type Two fun run done. My van passed me and yelled out to cheer me on, only it wasn’t my van — it was someone else’s van cheering everyone on. They hadn’t done it in the middle of the night to respect the residents of the streets we were running, but everyone had done that, I reflected, the day before up in Bellingham.

And then another van passed and did the same. And then my van. And then a runner passed me (some call this “kills” — and that’s fine, you’re welcome to run by me as long as you’re not a jerk about it) and told me I was doing good work on the hill. He was easily 10 years my junior and his muscles were so defined you could have written in the creases with a sharpie and he would have looked like one of those comic-book super heroes.

The hill was about 2.5 miles of hill, and the “flat” at the top was a series of mini rolling hills. About halfway into the flat I took some Gu and water and started to get into a rhythm. And I started to enjoy myself. I picked up the pace a little — up the hill my pace had suffered and I wanted to come in at 10:30 again — and kept at it. Type 1 Fun had just been achieved.

This run had some shade breaks here and there — 10 foot patches of tree shade separated by 100-or-more foot patches of sun. It was 85 degrees on Whidbey. I finished the “flat” of the top and started descending the hill, first in a very gradual slope and then (in the last mile) at a super steep one. I rounded a corner, and looked down about a quarter of a mile to see the checkpoint. It then hit me that I was almost done, and I sped up. Slapping the bracelet on to the next runner (Chris), I pulled off and realized my knee hurt, my ankle hurt, I had acquired a sunburn in spite of sunscreen, I smelled like a yak, and I was happy.

If you had asked me after this run if I would ever do this again, I would say maybe.

We raced up to the next exchange point, but as we did so we saw a runner fall — and it looked like heat stroke (2 other runners had already been ambulanced off). We pulled over to the side and got him water, Gatorade, salt pills, etc.  — not heat stroke but definitely he was pushing too hard. He said he felt better and insisted on finishing his mile, so we made it a point to look for him at the next checkpoint (we did see him). As Chris came in and handed off to Chuck, we realized that we were almost done. After Chuck it was May, and it was Sonya who ran leg 36. We met up with her in the last turn to run in with her.

Hot, tired, sore, and smelly, we acquired our finisher medals (that double as bottle openers, apparently), our stickers, our T-shirts, our group pictures, etc. We congratulated each other, shook hands and did that hugging thing you do, and then Sonya, Tristan and I piled into the Suburban and took off for the ferries. We had a Dairy Queen craving that we exercised in the wait line for the ferry, we regretted it nearly instantly, and got home.

When my husband asked me after this if I would ever do this again, I said definitely.

Ragnar isn’t, actually, about running. If you think about it, you spend maybe 4 hours of the 36 (or, in our case, 32) hours actually running. The rest of the time you are talking with your van mates — and we had a good group — cheering your team (and others’) on, marveling at the creativity of names and costumes, attempting to navigate to the next exchange (because you sometimes can’t drive the course), eating snacks (lots of snacks spread over that time == only one real meal (dinner) eaten), drinking water and Gatorade, and looking to see who’s slapped what magnets on your car (tagging of vehicles is popular in Ragnar and now that they use magnets instead of stickers, it’s easier to clean up after). Pretty much anyone who knows me knows that I have to keep busy and in fear of 20-odd hours of “nothing to do” I brought my knitting and a book. I didn’t touch either except to move them out of the way as I looked for my solar charger, or Gu, or reflective vest, or ponytail holders. Naturally, I have a much better idea of what I will pack for next year.

Failing All The Way

This is a coda to my last post, as new events have happened here in Washington state with our legislature and most specifically with respect to how we treat our educational system.

In short:

  1. The requirement for high school students to pass a biology exam to graduate (approximately 2,000 high school students were in danger of not graduating because they did not pass the exam) was taken off the table for two years.
  2. The voter-approved classroom reduction initiative has been “delayed” for four years.
  3. Our legislators, who had to go into three special sessions (for which they could claim $120 in per diem *each*) to actually agree on a budget, finally get to go home.

Fan-fricking-tastic.

Everyone loses here, except our dearly elected officials.

  1. The reason those 2,000 students couldn’t pass the biology exam is the same reason everyone hates Common Core: it’s not the Common Core itself (the idea that education should be standardized so if I’m a 10th grader in Phoenix and I move to Seattle midyear my experience won’t be one of educational catch-up), it’s the implementation of Common Core.  Instead of a phased approach — say, this year we do K-1 and then next year it’s 2-3, etc., so kids have a consistent educational background to support the curriculum they are getting each year — it was lumped on all grades all at once.  Seniors in high school got dumped into a Common Core Curriculum without the K-11 curriculum to support it.  The fact that 2,000 kids couldn’t pass a biology exam speaks to our educational system BEFORE the Core, and our implementation of the Core. The solution however shouldn’t be to let them graduate without the knowledge set: it should have been to use this year to teach them what they need to know. Teach to the test? Maybe.  So either bench the test until the kids have been taught what is in it (and don’t have them take the test and fail it — twice — as if to reinforce that their inability to magically instill the knowledge required, on their own time, is somehow their fault).  (For those pointing out that 2,000 students NOT passing means some 30k students DID pass, and so that’s 93%, so this is no big deal: it is to the kid who couldn’t afford tutoring or has to work outside of school to help her family out or for whom English is a second language and needs extra time to study. Let’s not punish people for having already difficult life circumstances).
  2. Voters approved this class size reduction and in the wake of the McCleary contempt finding, you think that our legislature would be all over the implementation of something like this. Instead they’ve delayed it for 4 years. With House members turning over (or potentially turning over) every 2 years, and Senate every 6, they’ve just kicked the can down the road to a different legislature in the future. Whether or not that legislature decides to fund it or not then is yet to be determined. The parents of middle and high school students in Washington state will not get to see the benefits of this initiative, because by the time 4 years rolls around, and another for implementation, your 7th grader will be in college. Just remember that our voted officials decided that our votes don’t count when they don’t agree with how we’ve voted. Don’t worry, I’ll be strenuously reminding everyone of that come November.
  3. Our legislators make roughly $42k (it’s a little more if you’re speaker, or minority/majority leader, but let’s get conservative).  In short, 1 House of Rep for WA State = 1 teacher with an MBA.  However, legislators are expected to work 70% of a full time schedule, and they get that per diem for every day they are in session (to cover meals/gas).  This doesn’t include their healthcare and retirement. There are 94 days in a session (unless special sessions are called). Let’s do some math: 94×120=$11,280. We’ve gone from $42k to $53k, not including healthcare, retirement, and special session. Each special session is 30 days. We had 3 this year, and we’ve had special sessions each year since the recession started. 90×120=$10,800. Now we are at $64k. This doesn’t include donor money, lobbyist perks, etc. In short, they have every incentive to keep that legislative session, in session.

Things are not going to change until our legislature does, and the best way to effect that change is to vote.

Freedom

It’s that time of year again, where kids are out of school and we all forget about the responsibilities and management associated with education. School’s out for the summer!

Here in Washington State our legislators have come up with a budget (after two special sessions, for which, may I remind you dear voter, our congresspersons get paid). It got signed in, but doesn’t include the funding for the recent education bill that got passed, which totals slightly over $2 billion. Out of $38 billion, that means we’re missing about 5% or so of our budget. As much as I want to look at that and still give us an “A”, I’m a pretty harsh grader.

This little rounding error is for reduced class sizes, voted in by the constituency. The reason why there’s no funding for it is the measure didn’t include a funding resource, which is like saying “Do you want to have free groceries?” as a voting item. Of course you want free groceries, or reduced class sizes. When we don’t address how it’s going to get paid for, however, we end up with extended sessions and bickering and our very own elected officials trying to delay a measure we elected to have.  A funding measure wasn’t included, though, because as soon as you mention the possibility of raising taxes — of any sort: real estate, business, sales, or (eek!) instantiating an income tax — people lose their collective shit.

Here’s the thing: we can get mobilized around *some* social progress. We have gay marriage and subsidized healthcare and it only took Donald Trump one speech to ignite and unify the Latino vote (hi, I’m one of ’em, Donald) and get NBC, Macy’s, etc. to drop him like a hot potato. We are a country moving towards better social freedoms, recognition of our needs as a society, and intolerance of intolerance.

“We” (and by “we” I mean our dear, elected officials) do this because of one very simple reason: those movements represent votes. They get the Latino vote. Or the gay vote. Or the elderly vote. Or the African-American vote. Or the women’s vote. They love those voters! Those voters will help them *win*. It will be great.

As long as those voters aren’t educated.

We live in a country that is 14th in the world for education — and a state that is 20th in the US. Those figures are dropping with each year.  You don’t have to be smart to vote, and when you have your Legislative Branch playing games with numbers to “pass a budget” that doesn’t include all of the things that it is required to pay for, it’s better if the voters aren’t smart.

I live in a good school district. Our kids get issued laptops.  One of the more common rejoinders to this is: if the school district can furnish laptops, why can’t it pay its teachers (or reduce class sizes)? Great question.

Local school districts augment federal and state money (because it’s not enough) by levies and bonds. Here in our county it’s not uncommon to see an education bond measure every two years — for this district or the one down the road — to cover a given thing. Technology levies are separate from operating levies are separate from capital bonds (the latter used for building new schools). So if the tech levy passes but the operating levy doesn’t, you get computers but no one to administrate them.

Let’s take a look, then, at the operational cost of a teacher — that’s really what it comes down to, right? The teacher is who your child interacts with on a daily basis, they’re the ones that “take all summer off” and “Only work like 6 hours a day and get multiple in-service days and spring break and such”. Let’s look at a “Schedule C” teacher, who has either a BA and 90 credits or a Master’s Degree. We will take one who is 5 years in. That teacher makes $43,607/year. (Note to those who go look up those hourly rates — those are based on in-class hours. They are not based on hours worked).

Let’s further say the teacher doesn’t work at all during the 10 weeks of summer (they actually go in a week early, but it makes the math easy), or spring break (1 week), winter break (2 weeks), and holidays (Veteran’s day, Day after Thanksgiving, Presidents Day, Mid-winter break adds up to a week). I exclude Thanksgiving and Memorial day because they are typically off for everyone.

OK so 52 weeks/year, minus 10 for summer, 3 for regular breaks, and another for miscellaneous days == 52-14=38 weeks. That translates to $1147/week, before taxes, or an hourly rate of $28.67. Woo hoo! Riches behold!

Well, wait. Do they really work 40 hours?

My son’s school starts at 7:4oam and gets out at 2:10pm. Teachers are expected on-campus by 7:10am. So let’s assume they hightail it out of there with the kids and do not stay late to cover detentions (they do), test retakes (ditto), clubs (which they do and it’s usually on their own time, but it’s a choice so we will ignore that). That’s 7 hours. Oh, they get lunch, for 40 minutes. That means 1 hour, 40 minutes short of an 8 hour workday.

Except there is no room in there for lesson planning, grading, etc. Six classes at 30 kids/class is 180 kids worth of papers to grade, tests to grade, and lesson plans. Fine. Let’s be super-generous and say that is used up with that 1 hour and 40 minutes. (Note: my kid averaged 3 hours of homework per night in 6th grade. Each class had one graded item per night, roughly, not including major projects and papers. Translation: go through roughly 180 pieces of math homework and check the answers and they showed their work correctly. At one minute per paper you have used up all of your 100 minutes and then some).

Great! We’re done.

No, we’re not. These days, your dear teachers are expected to answer email from students and parents. This averages 30-50 per day (I am not exaggerating, I asked a bunch of different teachers — and I know I contributed to that count more than a few times). Call it 30 per day at 1 minute to read and 1 minute to respond– that’s another hour. Then add in IEP meetings (teachers with a student in their class in an IEP attend one or two of these a year — and there’s about 2 per class, so 12 per teacher) and those add up to another 15 minutes a week. Then add in staff meetings, call it another 15 minutes per week.

With me? Your 40-hour per week teacher is now at roughly 48 hours/week. Let’s go back and do that math again: $24/hour. Looks great! Except remember we removed all those weeks off the teacher gets — we assumed s/he didn’t get paid for that period.

Now lets look at how much “life” costs.

  • Take off 20% for taxes.
  • The cheapest 2 bedroom apartment I could find within a 20 minute drive (because there is a gas/transportation trade off here) is $1200 ($14,400/year).
  • $300/mo for food
  • $100/mo for transportation — bus and/or gas money/insurance
  •  $150/mo electric/gas
  • 10% for retirement

That’s $2294-(20%*2294)-1200-300-100-150-(10%*2294)=2294-458-1200-300-100-150-229=and guess what we’re in negative numbers. Because after I take out electricity/gas we have only $86, and that’s what the teacher can put to retirement.

As long as they don’t have kids. Or pets. Or hobbies. Or unforeseen medical expenses. Or mandatory union dues. Or chipping in for the kid who can’t afford school supplies. Or student loans, because our higher education system is horrifically messed up, too.

Today we celebrate our independence from a government that wanted to give us taxation without representation. We need to look at our government today and understand our responsibilities, and theirs. We pay the taxes. We may need to pay more. In turn, we need our legislators to represent: not just because they “let” us have the freedoms we were already granted (my 12 year old was shocked to find out gay people couldn’t get married already) in our constitution, but because we put the legislators where they are today.

If they don’t represent what we need, then we need to put others in there who do. That is the ultimate freedom we have as Americans, and we need to remember it, and use it.