Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Tragic Photo Restored

Unique Picture

Some background is needed to understand the photo restoration at the bottom of this post.

My paternal grandparents, Barbara and Michael, married on November 27, 1905 at the Saint Stanislaus Church in Minersville, Pennsylvania. Michael was then 24 and Barbara was 18. Between 1906 and 1915 they had 5 children.
Four of Barbara and Michael's children. My Dad is on the left.
Michael spent many years working as a coal miner, although he eventually did other work in his later years.
Minersville scene photographed by my Dad in 1947.
Respiratory problems, no doubt related to years of breathing coal dust, eventually caused Michael's death in February, 1927. He was only 46 then. He left behind his wife, Barbara, suddenly a 40-year old widow with 4 teenage children to raise. I've been told Barbara was so overcome with grief she tore up all pictures of herself and Michael. I'm aware of only one surviving picture with the two of them alone together. This picture was torn almost completely in half. Someone taped the back together and saved it. I repaired the tear in the restoration below, but the unfortunate stain and scratches on Barbara's face could not be fixed.

Look at the tear crossing the middle of the original damaged photo. It is the physical embodiment of my grandmother's grief still remaining so many years after her death. (The image below should change back and forth between the original and the restored. If it does not, please click on the image itself, otherwise you will not see the restoration. I don't understand why the image is sometimes properly animated and other times not.)
Barbara and Michael in 1926. (Click for full size)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Solar Imaging Resumes

First Solar Images of 2012

It's getting warmer! The vernal equinox is near. Flowers bloom, birds sing, and the Sun is now high enough to clear obscuring trees. On March 10th I did my first solar observing session since last November. One major sunspot group was present along with a giant, arc-shaped filament group, a nice prominence, and some smaller sunspots.

The first image shows active region 1429 next to smaller region 1430. In the days before this image was taken active region 1429 emitted flares and coronal mass ejections toward Earth causing geomagnetic disturbances and auroral displays. You may have heard about them on the news during the week of March 5-10.
Active region 1429 with largest sunspot (left). Region 1430 has a smaller spot and white energetic eruptions (right) (Click for full detail.)
Although the sky was completely free of clouds on March 10th, seeing conditions were not very good. Video images danced and wavered. Therefore, these images are not as detailed as I'd like. Small sunspot 1428 looked like this:
Sunspot 1428 (Click for full detail.)
An enormous arc-shaped filament group hovered above small sunspot 1432:
Sunspot 1432 is near the white eruptions in the lower left. (Click for full detail.)
Finally, a nice prominence hung above one place on the Sun's limb:
Nice prominence!
These images were obtained with a Lunt 100 mm hydrogen-alpha solar telescope, a DMK 41AU02.AS camera, a 2X Barlow lens, and image processing with RegiStax 6 and Photoshop Elements. Each image is a stack of 200 separate video frames.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Ultra-marathon Trainwreck

Running to Ruin

I've been a distance runner most of my life. Distance runners eventually wonder: "How far can I go?" My curiosity was sparked by a runner I met during the early 1970's in Glassboro, New Jersey. Not many runners were out on the roads then, so when my running route intersected with Tom Osler's, it was a happy coincidence. I soon discovered Tom had a Ph.D. in mathematics and taught at what was then Glassboro State College (now Rowan University). This young professor was also an accomplished veteran runner and a guru of ultra-marathon running. I got to know him a bit, and read his books on training and ultra-marathoning. (See, for example, Ultra-Marathoning: The Next Challenge by Tom Osler and Ed Dodd, World Publications, 1979.) I watched him cover 114 miles in a 24-hour track run. Osler would do things like run 50 miles across New Jersey from Glassboro to Atlantic City for fun. At least his written description sounded like fun. He made running 50 miles sound like a pleasant way to spend a day. He would mix walking and running with the aim of covering ground, not minimizing time.
Tom Osler
A few years later I had completed two marathons and wondered how much further than 26 miles I could go. When an opportunity arose on November 13, 1981, I foolishly decided to find out. Local endurance ace, Steve Bozeman, organized a 100-mile track run for charity and asked some members of our local running club to participate. Steve, an ex-Marine and Vietnam Vet, had bones and joints made of steel. He eventually completed double ironman triathlons! That means he did 4.8 miles of swimming followed by 224 miles of biking followed by 52.4 miles of running. My credentials were extremely modest in comparison.

Against my better judgment I entered this event because it was run on the local high school track less than 2 miles from my house, because it was well-organized, and because I couldn't resist the opportunity to satisfy my curiosity. My training was nowhere near what it should have been for an event like this. My weekly mileage was only about 41 miles, and I had done only a single long walk/run of 20 miles just one week before. In addition, the event took place on a Friday night after a week of full-time work well into a stressful semester of teaching. There was no chance to rest or sleep before starting.
I look serious before the start.
Four runners started at 5 pm on a rapidly cooling November night. Steve Bozeman and Robert Pankey were seriously trying to cover 100 miles. Ray Lukehart was trying for 50 miles, and I was only trying to see how far I could go. It would be total failure if I couldn't make 30 miles. I thought 50 miles would be a nice round number, and 60 miles might be at the outer range of possibility.
L to R: Ray Lukehart, me, Steve Bozeman, Bob Pankey
The first miles felt terrific! I started by running 10 laps, walking one lap, then running 8 laps and walking one before settling into a run 6 laps, walk one lap pattern. Only the strongest well-trained ultra-marathoners can continuously run every step for 50 miles or more. Mere mortals, like myself, can only hope to pace out long distances by judiciously mixing running with walking. I hoped to continue the run 6, walk one pattern until at least 31 miles where I anticipated encountering what experienced ultra-marathoners called "the valley of shattered dreams". I had already experienced the ordinary marathoner's "wall" at about 18 to 20 miles into a 26-mile marathon. At that point leg muscles run out of sugar and begin to burn fat. In my first marathon, the Penn Relays Marathon on April 22, 1975 in Philadelphia, I hit this "wall" so hard I could no longer run or walk and had to get a ride back to the start. With better training and better nutrition I managed to push the "wall" back far enough to finish two subsequent marathons. But I was curious about the next obstacle, "the valley of shattered dreams".
I approach the wall during the 1975 Penn Relays Marathon.
Early miles passed without incident. I drank apple juice during each walking break even though I didn't feel like it. I ran without a handler giving me drinks or keeping track of time. Ten miles passed in about 95 minutes, purposely much slower than my normal training pace. My goal was to cover distance, not to worry about time. I felt impatient during the early miles because I knew the real effort wouldn't begin until about 20-25 miles. How would I feel then? How tired would I be? Somewhere around 3 hours and 15 minutes I reached the 20 mile point still feeling good. My form was smooth and I was making good progress. There was no hurry, so I stopped and refilled my drink bottle slowly.
Early miles pass easily. L to R: Bob Pankey, me, Ray Lukehart
After passing 20 miles, 80 laps around the track, I began to get excited because I was going further than ever before on a track. Every hour I reversed direction to distribute the strain evenly. Now I concentrated on being smooth and making steady progress. Fatigue began to creep in around 23 miles, but this was easily handled. It merely felt like I had been standing for a long time. I passed the 26-mile marathon distance in about 4 hours 20 minutes. Now I got even more excited because I was beginning to cover more distance than I had ever done before in one continuous attempt. Fatigue, however, was rapidly increasing. After 27 miles cramps began to develop in the upper rear of my right leg. At first, the cramps would hit near the end of the 6 lap running segments, particularly when entering or emerging from a turn on the track. With each new running segment the cramps came sooner and sooner. Then the very top of my legs (in the front near the hip joints) also began to get sore, particularly in my left leg. These problems were ominous.

I was determined to reach 31 miles in the 6-1 run/walk pattern, so I concentrated hard on keeping loose and forced myself to complete 6 running laps each time. During the stretch from 28 to 31 miles I entered "the valley of shattered dreams". The cramps steadily increased and my legs got tighter and tighter. The soreness near my left hip joint became excruciating. Even walking became painful because the hip muscles were needed to lift my left knee outward in order to step forward. My pace got slower and slower.

Just after 31 miles, after 124 laps, C came to the track bringing hot soup and tea. I walked/limped a lap while eating the soup and tried to run again for less than 6 laps. My legs were in a painful vise closing tighter and tighter. The left hip muscle was screaming in pain. Walking didn't help, in fact, it felt worse. Then I realized what "the valley of shattered dreams" is all about: certain goals are absolutely unachievable! The goal becomes crawling only as far as the next even mile, or maybe only as far as the next complete lap.

Finally, I sat down. It felt so good. I ate another cup of soup, drank some hot tea, and had some cookies. It was warm by the kerosene heater. After about a 30-minute break I felt refreshed. Before the break I thought I had reached my limit. I thought I would just walk a little more before quitting. I stretched a bit, walked onto the track, and, to my surprise, spontaneously broke into a run! The gripping pain in my left leg had eased, and running was possible again! I was running smoothly at 8 minutes/mile pace! After running a mile like this I began to have hope of reaching 50 miles. But the next walking segment seemed to tighten my leg up a bit again. There was some pain at the beginning of my next running segment, but I broke through it and ran again at 8 minutes/mile pace. Now the cramping started again. The faster pace seemed to relax certain muscles, but then the cramping would set in and I would be forced to slow down while pain and tightness increased. Such was my passage through "the valley of shattered dreams"

After 36 miles, 144 laps, C went home to bed. It must have been near midnight. I thought I could survive until morning and continue making progress by giving myself rest periods. Soon after C left the cramping and pain got worse, so I stopped and rested again. This time rest was not so effective. Afterwards I ran 4 laps, walked one, ran 3 laps, and walked one. At this point severe pain hit my right ankle. So, at 38 miles, after 152 laps, I could no longer run. As long as my right leg functioned I could swing my damaged left hip forward and make progress. But now there was pain on every step of each leg. This destroyed both my form and my will power. I had to walk. Running was impossible.

I rested for 30 minutes and then painfully walked/limped a mile in about 25 minutes. I managed to alternately walk and rest for another 7 miles in a painful depressing crawl while other competitors managed to keep running. Running, or at least walking at a reasonable pace, is essential. You have to make progress. Crawling in pain at two miles/hour is just too discouraging. I felt progressively worse at the beginning of each walk. At about 5 am I was sitting, shivering, near the heater after completing 45 miles, 180 laps around the track. I wondered how much longer I could walk until C came at 8 am. Completing 50 miles would have been nice. It required only 5 more miles, only 20 more laps, but at that point it was impossibly far. It took all my will power to refrain from asking to be driven home.

I looked up and there was C! What a welcome sight. She had come early! I got up and, together, we walked one last painful mile. My left leg was like a useless stump hanging from my hip. I dragged it along in agony. There was no way I could go much further. My progress was so excruciatingly slow, and, obviously, I was doing damage to my legs. I couldn't ask C to remain for hours more in the cold. At about 5:30 am, after 12 hours 30 minutes, I finished 46 miles, 184 laps. I decided to go home. I told everyone I would be back, but when I got home in bed it was all over. I could barely move my left leg even while lying in bed. I was chilled to the bone and utterly depleted. I had to give up. More than 12 hours later I was still in bad shape.

This event marked the beginning of my decline as a runner. I was never the same afterward. In subsequent years I suffered through a continuous set of injuries and came back slower and more fragile after each one. The other runners fared better. Steve Bozeman did eventually complete 100 miles. Robert Pankey completed 80 miles, and Ray Lukehart completed 52 miles. I competed well against all these guys in shorter races, so I was very disappointed in being unable to reach the 50 mile distance. Maybe my biomechanical structure just isn't good for ultra-marathons. Or, maybe I made too many mistakes in my approach to this event. In hindsight I did make several mistakes:
  1. I should have resisted the invitation to run. I wasn't fresh. I wasn't trained properly. It was too cold. It was the wrong time of day. I should have waited until my work schedule lightened in May. Then I could have rested ahead of time, started in the morning after a good night's sleep, and run in milder temperatures.
  2. I should have arranged for a handler to give me drinks and food.
  3. I should have consumed energy drinks and eaten more, and I should have done this right from the start.
  4. I should have taken rest breaks sooner than I did.
  5. I should have stopped sooner before I destroyed my legs.
During many late night sessions in an astronomical observatory I learned something about my body's biological cycle. If I've been awake and active since morning, I will hit a low point somewhere around 2 am to 4 am on the next day. During this low point I feel sluggish and can barely keep my eyes open. During my ultra-marathon attempt I was approaching the 40-mile point at about the same time my body was shutting down. If I had started running in the morning instead, I would not have encountered this problem.

In running there is a difference between discomfort and pain. When you are exerting maximum effort at the end of a race, when your muscles are almost saturated with lactic acid, when your heart rate and breathing are maxing out, it becomes more and more uncomfortable. This discomfort gets close to what you would call pain, and it is often called pain. Runners speak about breaking through the pain barrier. They learn to overcome this discomfort in order to reach peak performance. But there is a whole different world of hurt, something closer to true pain. I'm thinking of pain from malfunctions like cramps, muscle strains, torn or damaged ligaments, stress fractures, and bone or joint damage. Runners often push through these more dangerous pains because they have trained to push through less dangerous discomfort. Instead of stopping when my leg cramps and muscle strains became obvious, I pushed on for hours doing lasting damage that continued for years. This is one of the major regrets of my life, especially now that yet another injury has me wondering if my running days are over.

People say I'm crazy doing what I'm doing
Well they give me all kinds of warnings to save me from ruin
When I say that I'm o.k. well they look at me kind of strange
Surely you're not happy now you no longer play the game

People say I'm lazy dreaming my life away
Well they give me all kinds of advice designed to enlighten me
When I tell them that I'm doing fine watching shadows on the wall
Don't you miss the big time boy you're no longer on the ball

I'm just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round
I really love to watch them roll
No longer riding on the merry-go-round
I just had to let it go

John Lennon