Monday, February 17, 2014

Running in Utah Part 1: Inversions

As promised last week, today's post is about Utah's most notorious challenge for runners (and lots of other people): inversions. In short, inversions happen when high pressure weather systems effectively create a lid over the Salt Lake valley, and that lid traps pollution in the valley. This phenomenon has always happened, but man-made pollution makes it much worse. During inversions, air quality ranges from yellow to orange to red, each with guidelines about activities that should be reduced by all residents (such as using wood-burning fireplaces or stoves), industry (smelting, for instance), and vulnerable populations (elderly, children, and anyone with chronic bronchial problems, who should all stay indoors).

The severity of the air quality problems during inversions leads to an interesting public conversation, and actions that are both surprising and encouraging given Utah's general political culture. For instance, something like 99% of Utahns say they are willing to change their behavior to improve air quality. That's incredible. Salt Lake City has the largest transit system in the US given its population size. Residents of the Salt Lake Valley have embraced the idea of center-based growth, whereby growth is encouraged to happen in nodes that will increase overall density, thus reducing both pollution and water use. Those conversations are inspiring things to be part of. There's a pretty cute video about the inversions here.

To show you an example, I took a picture from the same intersection at about the same time on a day with poor air quality and on a day with good (green) air quality. Look at the difference in visability. That is pollution.
On a bad air quality day. They call this "hazy". I call it gross.  

Notice how you can see the contours of the mountains, the ridge line straight ahead, and much better definition of the road straight ahead. (Yes Mom, I was at a complete stop when I took this picture--there was no one behind me)

So what does orange and red air quality mean for runners? Mostly it means making sure you get those runs in early in the morning. The air quality is dramatically better in the very early morning than after the sun comes up. As much as I hate the inversion, I can live with this. I run very early anyway. Occasionally, either because you can't do an early morning or, on its worst day, the air quality is questionable even then, the treadmill becomes necessary. I only had to head indoors once this winter due to air quality.

The inversion also means that biking for XT is a less ideal option. A bike commute would require biking home later in the day, and the errands I usually run by bike generally aren't things I can do before 7am. Consequently, my bike has been tethered since December.

There you have it, the scoop on inversions. Up next: altitude. Stay tuned!

Monday, February 10, 2014

What is life like in Utah?

As many of you know, my family and I moved from STL to SLC this past July. While deciding whether to make the move, and even in our relocation decisions on prior moves, I spent a pretty embarrassing amount of time online trying to figure out what life would be like in our potential new city. What are the neighborhoods like? How are public schools seen? What cultural amenities are there? Is it walkable, bikeable, runable? Are people active? Educated? Conservative or liberal? How's traffic? Public transportation? Those questions and a hundred more dominated my attention and try as I might, I could not find coherent narratives about the places. Yes, of course you could blame this obsession on my chosen line of work, but that's a whole other discussion.

Since I'm still seeing this place with fresh eyes, I thought I'd take the opportunity to describe life in Salt Lake, and especially how the distinguishing features of this place impact my life as a runner. Hopefully this will be helpful to people considering visiting or moving here. There are a lot of misconceptions about this place!

After this initial post on this topic, I plan to expand on some of the points below, and some other running-specific issues of this place. To get the ball rolling, let's start with some common misconceptions about Utah:
  1. All the beer is 3.2% alcohol by volume. 
    This is the myth I am most frequently asked to corroborate by my friends elsewhere. This popular myth is only partially correct. It IS true that all beer sold on tap in Utah is 3.2%, and all beer period sold in grocery stores is under 4%. However, it is also true that you can purchase bottled beer in restaurants at normal alcohol levels, and you can buy the good stuff at state liquor stores. Also, there are some really good local beers. 
  2. You can't buy coffee in Utah. 
    Yes, I've been asked this. Not true. Not even a little bit. There are coffee shops on practically every corner surrounding my neighborhood, downtown, and near my work. 
  3. The Mormons will evangelize you relentlessly
    Patently false. I actually have not been evangelized even one time by Mormons since moving here. There is some information given at the end of the tour of the Temple downtown, but, um, you chose you visit the HQ/temple of an evangelical church. Of course they are going to share some information with you. To be completely honest, the Mormons I've met, both here and in the Midwest, have been incredibly gracious people. 
  4. Mormons practice polygamy and it is rampant in Utah
    Mostly false. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS), which is the main Mormon church nationally, has not endorsed polygamy in over a century. Yes, it's best-known historical leader (Brigham Young) did have multiple wives, but it is not part of the modern church. There is at least one off-shoot of the LDS church that still practices polygamy. However, I have only twice even suspected that I was looking at a polygamist family. Partly, my exposure is limited by living in the urban heart of the state, where the religious affiliations of residents are more diverse than they are statewide. But mostly, this idea of rampant polygamy is a myth. 
  5. Gender equality is a big problem in Utah
    Sadly, this is not a myth. At all. 
  6. Winter is one big cluster of a sh*tstorm of snow
    How was that polar vortex? It didn't happen here. Yes, we get a lot of snow, but it's somehow not a big deal. Roads get plowed. Life goes on. People ski. The dangerous thing here is the avalanche risk. Two people died in avalanches here this weekend. It's a real thing if you're in the backcountry up in the mountains. 
  7. Something called an inversion happens
    This is true. Both inversions and altitude affect running here. This will be covered in my next post, so stay tuned! Both are actually kind of mind boggling. 
  8. Everyone is pregnant all the time
    Well, sort of. Truth: Utah has the highest fertility rate in the country. Also true: the fertility rate among native born whites in Utah is higher than it is elsewhere in the US, but is still barely above replacement level. Utah is growing through international migration and natural growth (births minus deaths), but largely because of the fertility rate of immigrants. 
  9. You can't go anywhere or do anything on Sundays
    True: many businesses are closed on Sundays, probably because the LDS church discourages its members from engaging in work or commerce on those days. Also true: a lot of things are still open, and that means calmer grocery shopping here than anywhere else in America on a Sunday. 
  10. Everyone drives a Subaru
As I said, stay tuned. Up next: running in the Midwest v. West, Part 1.

Monday, February 3, 2014

January Recap

The first month of the new year has come to a close. How'd it shape up for you? Here's a look back at my January 2014.

# Miles Ran: 51.8. This was higher than my November or December mileage, so I'll take it!

# other workouts: 4 yoga classes. I LOVE my yoga class. I can only go once a week, and I look forward to that every week.

Race updates: This was the month for race updates. I signed up for 2 half-marathons, joined a running group, and made my training schedule for now through September. And it all begins February 10!!

I joined a running group!!! Yes, I know I already said it, but I thought it deserved its own headline. It's been 3.5 years since I moved away from my wonderful little training group in Illinois. I want that back.

Other fitness goal updates: I've been holding steady at a weight I can live with. I'd still like to lose the last 5 pounds of baby weight though. He's turning 2 in April. I mean, honestly, it's time. Food journaling is the answer.

January's running highlight: One day last week as I headed out, well before sunrise, the neighborhood quiet, and it was just me running under the street light. I felt like I owned the city. It was mine--mine to bring into the morning. I was free.

Things I'm looking forward to in February: 
1. Kicking off the 2014 training season!
2. Running in increasing daylight in the early mornings
3. Hopefully the end of inversions! Yuck! I have a whole post coming soon on this topic.
4. Getting to know the other people in my running group each week.
5. Finally, finally getting my mp3 player in working order so I can take it to the gym on those dreadmill days

House projects completed: I haven't posted about it because it's kind of personal, but we've undertaken some home renovation. In the fall, we gutted our kids' bathroom and the laundry area. That was finished just before Christmas. In early January we gutted on the master bath....aaand this happened (see below). What's worse is that it was there for almost a week before I noticed it, which is unlike me. Oh my! 

2 potties and a dumpster. Keeping it classy.

Meanwhile, I've been learning to sew. My parents stayed with us for a while over Christmas, and during that time my Mom and I made draperies for our living room. Just in case you should ever need to know this: draperies take forever to make. Or, at least they took me forever to make. But they look great and we saved a ton of money. After they left, I completed my first Roman shade, for my older son's room. I'm really proud of it! I have plans to make more for the other windows in his room.

And that was the month. How was your January!