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Rev 3 Quassy Half – Race Report

Well, this race report for the Quassy Half triathlon has been a bit delayed, but here it is! I raced this event in June 2018. For me, this was a practice race for Ironman Lake Placid, and was my second 70.3 mile distance. My first 70.3 was Eagleman last year (race report here), which was a vastly different type of course, compared to Quassy.

Location

So Rev 3 puts race on all over the country. Quassy is known as the Beast of the Northeast, and is in Middlebury, Connecticut. The race venue is the Quassy Amusement Park, which is an odd little place. Anyone can wander through the park, and access to individual rides is through tickets, much like a traveling carnival or local fair. The park had a separate water park with limited access for members or possibly people who paid for the day. This was full of pools, water slides, and also had beach access to the lake.

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Quassy Amusement Park water slides.

Travel

We drove from New Jersey to Middlebury, and it was an easy 2-hour trip. Our hotel was the Hampton Inn Waterbury and was a few miles from the race venue. When we first arrived in the area, we went straight to the park for packet pick up.

The entrance to the parking lot was a little congested and confusing. Triathletes were arriving in cars, jogging through the area, and getting a last spin in on their bikes, all while the general public was attending the amusement park. Transition was set up in the middle of the parking lot also, adding to the congestion. We were able to park though and managed to find packet pick up. We had to walk through the park and then around and down toward one of the wooden roller coasters.

Once we found the right place, packet pickup was smooth and easy. Swag included a t-shirt, visor, and buff.

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So much stuff to organize and pack.

Like many 70.3 distance races, athletes were supposed to check their bikes into transition on Saturday. I wanted to get a quick spin in, so I headed out along the start of the course for a few miles. This took me right out of the park, down a busy road, past the turn to the run course, and to the first turn of the bike course along a quieter wooded street. I turned back at that point, just feeling a need to move a bit.

I stopped by the athlete briefing which was held near packet pick up. This was touted as mandatory, but I doubt every athlete made it there. They did explain the swim course, and the different turns for the Half versus Olympic distance, which was helpful.

I slapped stickers on my bike and left it in transition before trying to scope out the swim start. The problem with that was that only those people who had access to the Quassy water park were allowed on the beach. Fortunately, the employee watching the gate let us sneak in a short ways to peek at the beach. There wasn’t really much to see anyway – sandy beach! Couldn’t tell exactly how swim exit would be set up yet. The swim buoys were all out already, which was helpful. The Olympic distance swimmers would turn at a yellow buoy and cut across sooner before turning in, so it was good to visualize how far out that would be.

Finally, we decided to drive the bike course before it got too dark. I had been practicing hills more than I ever had in the past, but I wanted to see what I was up against. It’s tough to describe the Quassy bike course until you’ve experienced it, so let’s just say that it certainly looked like I had my work cut out for me.

Finally we headed to the hotel for check in there and then a hearty dinner. The hotel was adequate – nothing special, but fine. Dinner was at D’Amelio’s Italian Eatery in Waterbury.

Race Morning

We woke up bright and early on race morning and checked out of the hotel. I had everything organized and ready to go, and everything went as planned.

Nutrition Plan

My nutrition plan for the day consisted of two bottles of Gatorade Endurance, Clif Blok Mountain Berry blocks, Nutri-Grain bars, Mott’s applesauce packets, and Rice Krispies treats on the bike. I would refill with Gatorade Endurance or water, depending on how I felt. For the run, I would switch to Gu Smores flavor and on-course options (water, Gatorade, cola). This is what I had been using in my training.

Weather

Weather on race morning was cooler than I would have liked. I wore my Coeur two-piece tri kit, but pulled long pants and a sweat shirt on over top. I think I’m getting used to this whole transition thing. I set up my tiny area and felt like I had everything ready to go. Then it was away to the swim start, to wait.

Swim

It seems like more triathlons are switching their start format to a rolling swim start, where athletes group themselves by estimated swim pace. I think I like this approach, although this was my first experience with it (more later). I put myself at the back of the 2:00/100 yard group, figuring that I usually average a tiny bit slower than that.

The water temperature was supposed to be 72 degrees, which I was worried would be too cold for me. However, I had managed to get a couple of open water practice swims in that were in that range, so I should have known that I’d be fine.

The down side of the rolling swim start was that for a slower athlete, I had to stand around for a while. This made me cold – even with my wetsuit on, I was shivering before I ever reached the water. However, when it was time to go, I spashed in, dove under, and started my swim. I realized that the water felt pretty nice!

I started out swimming fine and tried to keep myself calm and slow. I tend to feel dizzy after 300 – 400 yards, so I was waiting to get past that point to really settle in. I felt fine and kept it steady for a while, but then hit that first turn. As soon as I made the right-hand turn, I started to struggle. There must have been a little more wind, or the direction change pushed my out of balance or something. I started getting splashed with more chop, had trouble sighting, and felt lost in the middle of the lake. My heart rate surged and my breathing became more ragged. I had to stop and tread water to sight a few times. Every time that I thought I was headed on course, I felt like I was further from the other swimmers and the track where I should be. I saw a kayak lifeguard on my left, so I knew I wasn’t really alone out there. She told me I was off course, which I knew, but it helped to have her acknowledge that she saw me. I finally found a buoy ahead and decided that I could make it there. My heart rate was still too high, but I found a rhythm and kept going.

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I was not so happy at this point.

I had thought that this buoy was the turn buoy for the inbound leg, but when I got there, I saw that I had one more to go. Looking back at the swim, it seems that there were only two buoys marking the far side of the course. I think it would have helped to have at least two more out there. At this point, I grabbed onto the buoy and let myself rest. I took deep breaths and waited until my heart rate fell to a more tolerable level. I realized that I had been trying to bilateral breathe through choppy section and I should have known to switch to one side sooner. I got myself together, made a plan to breathe only on the left, and swam away from the buoy.

This new plan worked out much better. I still wasn’t happy out there, but I knew I’d be okay and could finish the swim. I reached the turn, headed in toward shore, and just kept going. Of course, it felt like it took forever, but I was less than ten minutes slower than my goal time.

SWIM = 54:52

T1

The swim exit was a little steep, and I had no energy to do more than walk. But now I was at the bike section, which is my favorite of the three parts of triathlon, so it could only get better now! I found my bike, and I think this was the first time I actually remembered where it was in an event. However, this was where I had worried about the temperature. The temperature at the start of the bike was 57 F. I am always cold, so I was afraid that I would be too cold as I pulled off my wetsuit and started cycling. I pulled on arm warmers and a cycling vest, and then topped it with a light cycling jacket. The arm warmers were a bit of a struggle to get on over my wet arms, but I needed them.

T1 = 7:02

Bike

The bike exit was straight-forward, but I struggled a tiny bit to clip in, still dizzy and shaky from the swim. But my cheering section was here and that helped me get going! The first part of the bike course would be easy – I had seen it yesterday. Then I knew that the serious climbing would hit me after that. My goal was to finish with enough time for a 3-hour run.

I had a lot of fun out on the bike course. The hills were certainly challenging, but I kept to my plan. Slow and steady, drop my cadence, and be patient. Steady effort on the flats, then fly down the hills. I knew that the last part of the course had more downhill sections, so it would get a tiny bit easier.

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I love this photo. I actually look like I was having fun at this point.

I stuck with my nutrition plan. Unlike Eagleman, I had decided to stop briefly at each aid station. That way I could make sure that I ate one of my snacks and could refill my water bottles less clumsily. The first aid station was great and everything went according to plan. I held the same approach at the second one – eat more, refill, keep going. Finally the day was warming up and I pulled off my jacket and stuffed it in a pocket at this point. That was part of the plan also, and it worked well. The cycling vest gave me pockets that the tri top didn’t have.

By the third aid station, I told myself that I would stop for a bathroom break. After being so dehydrated at Eagleman last year, I was making a real effort to keep drinking through the ride. In the past year I learned that when I start to feel a little nauseous, that means I need to drink more, NOT stop drinking.

At the third aid station, the bathroom break went as planned. I ate more snacks, refilled my water again, and continued on. It became clear at this point that everyone along the course was in the back of the pack. That is one downside to the rolling swim start. If you place yourself at the back of the swim pack, you will likely remain in a lonelier place through the bike and the run.

Toward the end of the bike course I started to feel a cramp in my leg. I realized then that I had not been taking my salt tablets. I pulled over and found a couple, swallowed those, and then kept on to the end. My leg felt better and I rolled into the bike finish. Overall, I was slower than I would have liked, but with the hills I really had not had much of an idea of what to expect.

BIKE = 4:16:43

T2

Transition went smoothly again. I took off my cycling vest and sleeves and finished the race in my tri kit. I changed into running socks and added a visor. Compared to Eagleman last year, I felt much better.

T2 = 4:30

Run

Even though I had intended to run hills in my training, I had not had time to do enough of them. I had already told myself that I would walk up the hills in this race. Well, everyone else who was still on the course by the time I started the run was also walking the hills. Quassy’s run course was probably hillier than the bike course!

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Forced smile. Why was the photographer on the uphill section?

I kept my pace slow and figured that I could speed up if I felt like it later on. After only a short distance I had to stop to take my shoe off to adjust a place where my sock had bunched up. I figured that it was better to do this early on than to wait until it caused a bigger problem.

The aid stations were spaced out about a mile apart, and the course ran through a wooded area on quiet streets for two loops. I took one bathroom break early on and stopped at every aid station for water or Gatorade. Later on, some of the aid stations had Coke, which tasted heavenly by that point.

I had a few places where I started coughing and had to walk, but overall felt pretty good. Despite walking up the hills, my pace was pretty steady and I finished roughly in my goal time of 3 hours.

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Wheee! Done!

RUN = 3:00:25

Finish area

Rev 3 will allow you to have family members join you to run down the finish chute. I have mixed feelings about this as sometimes that can mess up another finisher’s finish photo. But by the point at which I was done, there was hardly a crowd finishing.

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Okay, so the medals are pretty cool and Cthulhu-like.

When I crossed the finish line, I was promptly given my medal, an ice-water soaked towel for my shoulders, and water. I was able to stay on my feet (unlike Eagleman) and ate a hamburger. It didn’t take me too long to recover enough to get my bike out of transition. My husband went to bring the car closer and we were packed up and on our way home quickly.

TOTAL = 8:23:34

Other than my swim difficulties, I had a good time at this race and would consider doing it again. I would like to get faster on the hills on my bike, but this will take time to train up to. Of course, this was a practice race for Ironman Lake Placid, so I immediately extrapolated my performance to the longer distance. Even assuming that the elevation profile for IMLP was the same as Quassy, if I double my time, I could still finish within the time cutoff for Lake Placid. After some internet searches, the general opinion of triathletes who have done both events seems to be that Lake Placid is easier (distance aside). I’ll let you know soon if that is really the case.

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Race Report – Gran Fondo New York (GFNY) 2018

I’ve been meaning to get this written up because I think it will be helpful to anyone out there who is thinking about signing up for this race. The Campagnolo Gran Fondo New York events are a series of races held around the world in which amateur cyclists are welcome to participate. The one that is actually held in New York (and bits of New Jersey) is designated the GFNY World Championship.

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All you need to do to ride in this event is to sign up, pay some money, and get yourself there. So even though it is designated the World Championship, anyone can show up. I have to say that I was a little intimidated by this race at first. But once I was out on the course, I realized that many cyclists were there to just complete the event, rather than make any speed records. The riders also seemed exceedingly happy and excited.

Packet Pick-Up

Like many long, all-day events, you needed to pick up your race packet ahead of time. GFNY had options for Friday or Saturday packet pick-up for the Sunday event. The pick-up was combined with an Expo in New York City. We took the train in from New Jersey in the middle of the day on Friday and found the building easily (literally across the street from NY Penn Station).

I don’t know if the Friday pick-up was more heavily attended than usual (rain was forecast all day for Saturday), but we had to wait in line for maybe 30 to 40 minutes. Once they let us in, we simply followed the line around the room to acquire everything we needed. You needed your bib number (look it up on the wall) and a photo ID. Then they’ll strap a wrist band on that will give you access to everything else.

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GFNY provides a ton of swag in your packet. The race requires that you wear the official jersey, which is part of that swag. This year, the rest of my haul included a coffee mug, bottle of wine, a water bottle, and a heavy printed guidebook. Other items were available if you wanted them, so I grabbed a key fob and some noise makers. The other critical pieces in your packet are your race bib and timing chip.

Race Hotel

We stayed at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Fort Lee – George Washington Bridge, which was the only New Jersey official hotel for the event. Other options were available in New York City, but the New Jersey option was cheaper and just made more sense for us.

The main problem with the hotel was that it was off an exit ramp from Route 4, which essentially made it impossible to cycle back to. The entire area around it is full of busy roads which are not ideal for riding, so if you intend to make several practice rides out of your hotel, one of the NYC options may be better.

We ate dinner at the hotel restaurant, but the service there was extremely slow. I don’t know if they were short-staffed or something, but we literally waited 30 minutes just to get our check after we finished eating.

Weather, Equipment, and Gears

The weather forecast for race day was iffy all week. It was misty and wet in the morning, with a possibility of thunderstorms in the afternoon. I ride a Giant Avail Advanced that is about five years old, with DI2 shifting. I usually have clip-on tri bars, but had to remove them for this race (not allowed).

I had recently changed out my cassette for a 11-36 so that I had more options for climbing, and I think that was a good decision. I kept my Continental GP 4-Season tires on instead of my race tires because of the predicted wet conditions.

Everyone has to wear the official GFNY jersey, but you are allowed to bring anything else that you want. I wore arm warmers, and if I had owned a vest, would have worn that too. I carried a rain jacket, which was actually a light-weight camping raincoat attached to a race belt, but didn’t end up using it.

The temperature at the start was 66°F. The only time that I felt cold was when we were waiting on the George Washington Bridge to start. It didn’t feel particularly windy (which I had been told could be a problem) there, but I started whole-body shivering. I’m also someone who is always cold, and most of the riders looked comfortable.

Getting to the Start

Everyone was supposed to be on the GWB and ready for a 7 a.m. start. One of the perks of the Fort Lee hotel was that they advertised a 5:15 a.m. police escort to the GWB. We expected to take advantage of this, but when we exited the hotel doors, the escort was already leaving (5 minutes early). We weren’t the only cyclists left looking around for them, but it turns out that it was really easy to find our way to the bridge (just follow everyone in green).

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Once we found our way to the west side of the bridge, we had to cross over the pedestrian/bike access, descend from the bridge, take a lot of turns, ride back up toward the bridge, and then finally reach the start zone. There were a few port-a-potties here as well as some bike mechanical assistance.

So – it turns out that leaving the hotel at 5:15 a.m. just barely got us to the start area in time (6:15 or 6:30 a.m.), so definitely allow more time, if you have any doubts about reaching the start.

The Start!

I had thought that the riders would be grouped into corrals by age group, but when we got onto the bridge, everyone pretty much clumped together. There may have been corrals at the front, but we never saw them. It didn’t really matter – I was certainly in no competition for anything.

Once the race began, it was a mass start. We stood for maybe ten minutes before our section started to move. Be careful and watch out for other cyclists slowing and stopping. Also, a few of the more ambitious riders started to gain speed and zip around those of us who were taking our time.

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The route took us down some major highways that had been closed to traffic, and then down onto Henry Hudson Drive. This was a beautiful section of road, but was also very hazardous at the beginning of the race. Access to it started with a steep turn on wet pavement. In several sections, the road narrowed and cyclists slowed abruptly. Off to the right, boulders marked the edge of the pavement before near-cliffs dropped to the Hudson River.

Several crashes occurred along this section, so be very wary of other cyclists, don’t go to fast, and be aware that wet roads will make your braking less effective. I lost Andrew in this section and thought he had crashed behind me (he hadn’t). I stopped and looked for him, and didn’t find him (but he had actually passed me). If you are trying to stay with a group through here, it may be tough. Have a plan to meet up at an aid station later.

Alpine climb

The first climb on the route was Alpine. All of the official climbs were marked with signs that indicated the elevation and distance. I didn’t think that Alpine was that bad and it was over soon.

After Alpine, the next section was pretty flat with some fast downhills. I skipped the first aid station, still trying to find Andrew, and met him at the second one.

Aid Stations

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I had brought plenty of nutrition with me for this ride, but the aid stations were well-stocked. Even though this was technically a race, a lot of people appeared to take their time at each stop. They offered water and and an electrolyte drink at each station, with cola at the last aid station. Snacks were fairly standard, with bananas, Clif Bars, pretzels, and cake. The last aid station also had pizza, but by the time I got there, it had been picked over.

Bear Mountain

One of the selling points (?) of this race is that you climb up Bear Mountain. This isn’t really that much of a mountain when compared to actual snow-capped ranges, but is one of the tougher climbs in the NY area. Before you reach Bear Mountain, there is a long-ish climb at mile 38 that I’m going to call False Bear Mountain. Think of it as a warm-up.

You’ll know when you reach Bear Mountain, because you make a left turn, start climbing immediately, and will pass through the GFNY signs. The climb is about 1000 feet over 4 miles, with an average grade of 5.1% and a maximum grade of 10%. I didn’t think that it was that bad, except that I was ready for it to be over about halfway up.

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Your reward for reaching the top is the race’s third aid station and some great views. GFNY actually offers a 50-mile race option, so if you selected that one, you’re done! Oh, and for everyone doing the full 100 miles, you get to rest as you fly back down the mountain.

Pinarello and Cheesecote Climbs

From here, the course traveled west along the edge of Harriman State Park. Two more featured climbs came up quickly, and this was the section of the race that I had been warned about.

The first climb was Pinarello (525 feet over 2 miles), followed by Cheesecote (262 feet over 1 mile). I started to bonk on Pinarello and had a rough time on this one. At the top I had to stop and guzzle some liquid nutrition. By the time I reached Cheesecote, I felt better (although the climb was still tough). Cheesecote featured the highest grade on the route, with a very short section of 18%. My rear tire slipped once as I pushed hard to make it up this section.

The Last Flat and Dyckman Hill

After the climbs, the next long section was enjoyable and mostly flat. This gave me a chance to get some more recovery in. The last aid station was along this part, and we stopped there for one final refueling.

Once you near the finish, there are two more notable climbs: Alpine (again) and Dyckman Hill. Alpine looked different from this direction even though this was the part where the inbound course converged with the outbound course. It certainly felt tougher at this point.

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The kicker on this course, and probably the toughest climb when taking exhaustion and mental fatigue into account, was Dyckman Hill. This lovely section spanned 328 feet over 1 mile, which a final section of 10% grade. All this fun started at mile 98.5. You can almost hear the finish line, but it’s at the top of the hill.

The Finish Line and Festivities

You have about a half mile to go once you reach the top of Dyckman Hill, and it’s flat and fast. The finish line is marked by large arches. Once you roll through, you’ll receive a medal, and can finally rest.

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They wanted you to park your bike in a large area off to one side that looks like a triathlon transition zone. At one side of the bike parking, you could pick up your labeled bag that you had dropped off at the start. I had flip-flops in there, and was happy to change out of my cycling shoes.

 

The finish area featured a pasta party, drinks (free water and soda, alcohol for purchase), lounge chairs, medal stage, and some fancy tents (not sure what was over there – massages maybe?). We ate some pasta (penne with meat sauce, yum!) and drank cola, took some photos, and then packed up to head home.

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There were showers available at the adjacent high school, but we didn’t use them. A shuttle to the Fort Lee hotel was picking cyclists up on the other side of the school, but the wait was long. We eventually made it home after a tough day.

Graphic Novel Review – The Walking Dead, Vol. 1 – Days Gone Bye

I picked this book up at New York Comic-Con last year and just had a chance to sit down to read it recently (so much to read, so little time). I had thought I was coming to this fresh, not having watched the show, and only being peripherally aware of it. However, the story at the outset seemed very familiar.

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Rick is a police officer and suffers a gunshot wound in the line of duty. He wakes up from a coma to find himself in a strangely abandoned hospital. After a bit of wandering, he discovers that everyone is either dead or undead. A-ha! This is how the film, 28 Days Later begins, so I thought that must be why the story seemed familiar.

Rick flees from the zombies and escapes the hospital. When he fails to find his family and friends at home, he heads toward nearby Atlanta. He eventually falls in with a group of survivors, and this is when I realized that I had actually watched the first episode of the television show several years ago.

I liked the artwork, and while blood and gore certainly doesn’t bother me, it wasn’t pictured beyond what you need to see to depict undead brain-eating monsters.

Soon enough, the plot continued past what I half-remembered, and the volume ends with a punch that was both surprising, and, in hindsight, followed logically from earlier character actions and conversations. It also ties into the initial premise mentioned in the introduction that was what actually made me purchase this book.

Two excerpts:

Good zombie movies show us how messed up we are, they make us question our station in society… and our society’s station in the world.

And:

With THE WALKING DEAD, I want to explore how people deal with extreme situations and how these events CHANGE them.

This idea echoes the theme of another novel that I enjoyed – Stephen King’s Under the Dome (the book, NOT the television adaptation!), and I hope to watch these characters struggle and change as they try to survive in future volumes. I already have volume 2, so look for my review on that coming soon!

Book Review – Sorcerer to the Crown

I received Sorcerer to the Crown through NetGalley, and while I enjoyed the book, it wasn’t really what I had expected. This story by newcomer Zen Cho is set in Regency London and is a light and fun adventure filled with magic, humor, social commentary, and a little romance. Sorcerer to the Crown is a stand-alone novel that could be followed by more books in this alternate world.

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Zacharias Wythe was seized from his home as a child, sold into slavery, and raised in England by Sir Stephen, England’s Sorcerer Royal. He is freed and raised much like a son to the sorcerer and trained in magic as well. Zacharias inadvertently inherits his mentor’s position as Sorcerer Royal after Sir Stephen dies under mysterious circumstances. This shrouds Zacharias in suspicion, and with his race already making him an outsider amongst the London social elite, the other sorcerers in England plot against him.

The true protagonist of the novel is Prunella, a young lady who teaches at a school for magically gifted girls. However, it is unseemly for women to use magic, so the true purpose of the school is to teach the ladies how to avoid using their powers. Prunella is particularly gifted, but runs into trouble when Zacharias Wythe visits the school. She leaves with the new Sorcerer Royal and hopes to learn more about her powers and her past.

The plot weaves back and forth between these two, with Prunella struggling to master her magic while keeping some dangerous secrets. Zacharias works to discover why England is running out of magic, a problem likely linked to the Faerie realm.

I found the story to be light and engaging and the plot drew me in. Prunella is a fantastic character, and overshadows Zacharias with her audacity and bravery. I don’t read a lot of books set in this time period, but to someone who isn’t overly familiar with Regency novels, the historical aspects worked and nothing seemed out of place.

The mysteries behind Sir Stephen’s death and Prunella’s past are all cleared up in a satisfying way. While the stakes are high, the outcome is logical and happy, as befits the overall tone of the book.

I’ll be looking out for more books from Zen Cho in the future.

Book Review – Twelve Kings in Sharakhai

This book took a long time for me to read, but it was absolutely not the book’s fault at all. When I first started to read Twelve Kings in Sharakhai by Bradley P. Beaulieu, I was sidelined by other obligations and just never had enough time to read more than a few pages of the book at once. I’m sorry, but I would have struggled to stay engaged with even the most suspenseful page-turner at that time.

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I put the book down on purpose once I realized that I really liked it, but my snail’s pace was hampering my enjoyment of the story. Once the rest of my life was organized again (as much as it ever is, really), I went back to give this book the time that I thought it deserved, and was not disappointed.

Twelve Kings in Sharakhai is the first book in a series titled The Song of the Shattered Sands, which is supposed to run to six books total. This fantasy novel is set in the desert city of Sharakhai and has a Middle Eastern or Arabic feel to the names, cultures, and details. The main character is Çeda, a pit fighter and courier for those customers who don’t want their business known. Sharakhai is ruled by twelve seemingly immortal Kings, and Çeda is determined to kill all of them because she blames them for the death of her mother when she was just a child.

It is a tall task for a pit fighter to go up against the mystical rulers of Sharakhai, and Çeda flounders trying to figure out how to avenge her mother. She has been left with only her mother’s book and the skills and knowledge of how to sneak to the fields of the adichara, deadly trees with forbidden blooms that grant the user a hypervigilant state.

The story opens on B’eht Ihman, the night on which the asirim (undead slaves of the Kings) search the city and claim several of its inhabitants. While this is a death sentence, it is also supposedly an honor to be chosen. It is forbidden to be out on the streets, a law which Çeda routinely flaunts. On that night, one of Çeda’s courier jobs goes wrong when her best friend, Emre, is nearly killed. She is also cornered by one of the asirim who wears a crown, whispers mysterious words to her, and plants a kiss upon her forehead.

There is more to the plot that Çeda’s desire for revenge, for the Kings of Sharakhai have numerous enemies, including neighboring states and a more organized ruthless rebel force, the Moonless Host. Their plot threads all begin to intertwine as Çeda is drawn into the secrets surrounding the Kings, solving riddles that are seemingly the keys to their demise.

The book begins by telling its story through mainly Çeda’s point-of-view, alternating the current day with flashbacks showing her time with her mother. These flashback scenes become more sparse once we have learned the necessary information, and other characters add to the narrative, including Emre, Ramahd (an emissary from another state), and even one of the Kings. This structure worked well for me, but as more characters are introduced, it did require some concentration to remember all of the political relationships between them.

I truly enjoyed Çeda’s tale and found her to be an enthralling and realistically drawn protagonist. Some of her secrets and foreshadowed events were obvious early on, but I believe that was an intentional decision by the author, as more of the excitement of the story comes in how she pulls off what she does. But this book also ends as one volume of a series should – with many unanswered questions. One aspect of the plot is wrapped up so there is still some satisfaction to be had, and it doesn’t end on a huge cliffhanger. The next book (With Blood Upon the Sand) is already available, and I plan to pick it up soon.

Upcoming Events and Races

So the triathlon season has come to an end for 2017, fencing has started up again for 2017-2018, and I’ve been planning the upcoming year for both.

Here’s what’s on my plate for anyone who’s interested:

December NAC: I will be fencing the Veteran Open and Vet-40 events in womens’ sabre in Portland, OR.

April NAC: I will be fencing in Richmond, VA. I’m sure I’ll enter the Veteran Open and Vet-40 women’s sabre events, but could also do the Division II event. I haven’t decided yet.

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May: I’m riding in the New York Gran Fondo. This is a 100-mile ride/race that starts on the George Washington Bridge. The route has a ton of climbing and I expect will be my first century ride.

July: This month is a doozy. I should be fencing in Summer Nationals in St. Louis, MO for whatever events I qualify for. Then later in the month, I have Ironman Lake Placid. This will be my first full distance triathlon, and I hope that the NY Gran Fondo will help to prepare me for the climbing on the Lake Placid course.

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St. Louis arch.

That’s it for now, although I expect to add some other local and regional fencing events when my schedule allows it (not easy right now). I’m debating whether I want to sign up for a 70.3 distance triathlon or a half marathon as training for Lake Placid, but I haven’t made a decision yet on these.

Book Review – Artemis by Andy Weir

I had a chance to read an advance copy of Artemis, the new novel by Andy Weir, author of The Martian. Like his earlier book, Artemis is set in the fairly near future and is written with an emphasis on getting the hard science right. Unlike The Martian, Artemis employs a larger cast which gives the protagonist a direct interactions with other characters.

artemis cover

The story follows Jasmine (Jazz) Basheera, a young woman who has lived on the moon base of Artemis for almost her entire life. After an incident with her father and law enforcement, she is on her own, working as a type of courier, transporting goods around the base. Jazz is innovative and smart and has also set up a smuggling operation to help net her some extra cash.

When an eccentric billionaire asks her to destroy important equipment in return for a fortune, Jazz cannot refuse. Of course, her caper does not go as planned and there is more to the billionaire’s plan than she was told. The plot accelerates from there as Jazz is hunted by a vicious enforcer while trying to escape discovery by officials on the moon. Her personal life is also a disaster, and all of these aspects come together in a fast-moving and unpredictable conclusion.

I enjoyed the book quite a bit, and I particularly appreciated the scientific rigor of the moon base and the elements vital to the plot. The opening was slightly slow to set the stage for me, and everything kept going right for Jazz for a bit too long. However, her sarcastic personality kept me reading, and once things go wrong for her, they went massively wrong.

The book is structured with short letters between Jazz and her childhood pen pal interspersed with the rest of the narrative. These weren’t very interesting at first, but became a clever way to explain some of Jazz’s personal history, and eventually became relevant to the plot.

While the ending wrapped up the caper nicely, I think that it was somewhat unbelievable as far as Jazz’s resolution goes. If you’ve read the book, let me know what you think in the comments, as I don’t want to put spoilers up here.

I also had a chance to visit the Museum of the Moon while I was at New York Comic-Con last month. This was a promotion put on by Audible for the audiobook release of Artemis. They had some props from the book on display which I’ll share below. The museum also featured a gigantic realistic moon by artist Juke Jerram.

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Jazz’s EVA suit

 

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Most of the inhabitants of Artemis eat Gunk.

 

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The Moon – created with NASA imagery.

NY Comic-Con 2017 Summary

Oh hey! I never managed to finish up my New York Comic-Con posts! I’ll start with some links to articles I wrote for BSCKids. After that, check out the best of my cosplay photos from the weekend.

  • Kid Brooklyn – a new comic series created and written by a kid from Brooklyn.
  • The Gifted panel – I got into the main stage for this discussion with all of the cast from this new show set in the X-Men universe.
  • The Shannara Chronicles panel – The main players were on hand for this sneak peek at season 2.

Cosplay photos:

 

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Mini Book Reviews – October 2017

I haven’t had as much time as I would like to read and write reviews, so here’s just a quick attempt to summarize some of what I’ve read this past year:

Zero World by Jason M. Hough – part science fiction, part spy thriller, this book was a lot of fun. I particularly liked that I could never truly anticipate where the author was going with the plot. The twists were intriguing and the world set up by this novel holds a lot of potential for more. I can’t even describe it more without giving something away.

The Spirit Ring by Lois McMaster Bujold – a historical fantasy novel by one of my favorite authors. This story is set in Renaissance Italy and follows a young woman’s plight when she witnesses the murder of the local ruler. Using the bits of metal-magic that her father taught her, she has to rid the city of evil. I listened to this as an audiobook and enjoyed it, like most of Bujold’s work. However, it took me two tries to get through it, mostly because I was too busy to listen regularly.

Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It’s So Hard to Think Straight About Animals by Hal Herzog – I took a break from fiction to read this fascinating book about how people relate to animals in modern society. Even though I love the idea of non-fiction books, many are not written in a way that makes them easy to read. However, this book was engaging and allowed me to consider many new perspectives.

The Stand by Stephen King – It seems that this is considered one of King’s best works, but I did not enjoy it as much as some of his other books. I listened to this as an audiobook, and if I had read the physical book, I’m not sure that I would have made it through. I like the opening premise well enough: a deadly strain of flu escapes from a military research facility and kills most of the population. The spread of the flu and each character’s struggles as they deal with their friends and family dying, and the fall of most of civilization was a darkly fun read. However, most of the book then moves on to become a classic struggle of good versus evil with a lot of Christian mythologic overtones, which just isn’t very interesting to me. The antagonist is distant and never felt like enough of a threat, and the day-to-day activities of the characters dragged down the plot.

Codex Born (Magic Ex Libris #2) by Jim C. Hines – I started to read this series because I loved the concept of a class of magicians who could magically pull technology, monsters, swords, etc. from books. I listened to this as an audiobook and it went quickly. I found the narrator a little off-putting at first, but then grew used to him. The narrative sneaks in some backstory for one of the characters in small excerpts through the regular chapters. I couldn’t always follow the numerous rules about the magic, but the plot moved quickly and the characters are unique.

Here is what I’m currently reading:

Twelve Kings in Sharakai (The Song of the Shattered Sands #1) by Bradley P. Beaulieu – the first book in an epic fantasy series, set in a desert land with a well-developed mythos and world. I’m enjoying this one a lot so far, but I had to start from the beginning again when I had been too busy for several months.

Artemis by Andy Weir – I just snagged an ARC of this book by the author of The Martian at New York Comic-Con. It’s really good so far, and is the book I’ve been reaching for first this week.

Tongues of Serpents (Temeraire #6) by Naomi Novik – It’s been quite a while since I read any of this series, basically because there hadn’t been any more out yet at the time. It looks like Novik is up to nine books now, so I’m going to catch up. Dragons fight alongside human soldiers in the Napoleonic Wars. This volume sees our main character and his dragon sent to Australia after committing some treasonous acts in the previous volume.

How about you? Have you read any good books lately?

The Shannara Chronicles Recap – Episodes #1 and 2

So I’ve decided to write up a brief recap or review for season 2 of The Shannara Chronicles because: 1) it’s a fun show, 2) I read the books a long time ago, 3) I like to write things, and 4) I love Game of Thrones, but there are already plenty of sites that write about it (and really, there’s not much to cover for it between now and 2019).

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Photo courtesy of Spike TV.

Season 2 starts off quickly with the episodes Druid (#1) and Wraith (#2). The first episode shows us Eretria in the immediate aftermath of season 1 before jumping ahead to events a year later. We see that Eretria has found a new place in the world and a new lover, Lyria, yet she still wonders why Wil and Amberle never came looking for her.

Wil has also found a new life, training to be a healer with the gnomes. Trouble starts when a stranger comes seeking healing, but turns out to have other reasons for seeking out a Shannara.

By the end of the first episode, the show has already set up two antagonists. General Riga is an elf who believes that magic is too dangerous and wants to rid the world of magic-users. The other enemy is one of pure magic, as Bandon, corrupted by an evil sword, tries to resurrect the Warlock Lord, originally destroyed by Wil’s father in the book, The Sword of Shannara.

The action moves quickly as Eretria and Lyria are kidnapped by rovers, who are then interrupted by a bounty hunter, Garet Jax. Wil is pursued by Mord Wraiths, summoned by Bandon to seek out the Warlock Lord’s skull, necessary to bring him back. Interesting associations start to take shape as more is revealed about the new characters.

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Photo courtesy of Spike TV.

Lyria is revealed to be a princess, daughter of Queen Tamlin, ruler of the human kingdom of Leah, while Wil’s companion is Mareth, who can use some type of illusion magic and claims to be the daughter of Allanon. Where is that pesky druid, anyway? Well he’s been busy running back and forth to everyone trying to keep the world safe. He flees Skull Mountain to meet with King Ander before ending up back in Leah with most of the rest of the cast.

All together, the season is off to an intriguing start. The show is just as beautiful as season 1 was, both in the locales, special effects (I really like the fiery Mord Wraiths), and costumes. And like season 1, The Shannara Chronicles doesn’t shy away from killing off characters we like in season 2 either.

What were your favorites scenes so far? What do you think of the new characters? Let me know in the comments below!

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