Book Review – Foundryside

Foundryside is the first book in a new fantasy series by Robert Jackson Bennett. The author is best known for his Divine Cities Trilogy (City of Stairs, City of Blades, City of Miracles) which was recently nominated for a Hugo Award for Best Series.

Foundryside RD4 clean flat

In his newest release, Bennett embarks upon an ambitious fantasy series that follows a street smart thief caught up in the schemes of the Merchant Houses in the city of Tevanne. The world in Foundryside features a fantasy setting with a few elements that feel like steampunk, even though the devices are powered by magic rather than steam. Carriages are horseless, lights hover in the streets, and weapons are enchanted to have greater speed or to explode. All of the magic in the story is controlled by scrivings, symbols carved into objects that tell them how to circumvent the laws of nature. These scrivings are writing in the language of the lost civilization of the Hierophants, and the Merchant Houses are always searching for new symbols.

The four Merchant Houses in Tevanne are powerful family-owned miniature cities with their own vast economies. Each house is physically walled off from the rest of the city, where law enforcement is unknown and poverty is widespread. The miraculous devices powered by scrivings are rare outside of the Merchant Houses, but there is always a black market for valuables.

Sancia Grado is a thief from Foundryside, one of the poorest sections of Tevanne. However, she has a unique ability to sense the physical nature of anything she touches. This lets her work as a successful thief, but is also a curse because she has to keep most of her skin covered to avoid being overwhelmed. Sancia’s power comes from a scrived plate in her head, and she dreams of the day that she can afford to have it removed. When she takes a job to steal something from a safe at the waterfront, Sancia never imagines that her plans will go so far awry. She breaks into the safe and takes a sealed box, but inadvertently sets the entire waterfront on fire, attracting the attention of Gregor Dandolo, self-appointed head of the new city watch.

After Sancia escapes the scene, she decides to open the box to find an artifact with unusual powers. She decides to deliver the stolen goods at the prearranged location, but nearly falls into a trap. Whoever set the trap has powers and devices that Sancia’s never seen before, and seems determined to see her dead.

The plot spins into a complicated chase from there, and Sancia tries to figure out who is her enemy and who might be her friend. The tension never slows for very long, and as more details about the stolen artifact emerge, the stakes get higher. Foundryside was an action-filled tale that drew me in with both the characters and the plot. The magic of scriving was unique and fascinating, although I thought that it was used in a few ways that felt far-fetched to me by the ending.

Without giving any spoilers away, I have to say that the ending of the book did a nice job in resolving the current dilemma while opening up a larger story. Even though Foundryside is the first book in a series, you can read it without being left with a cliffhanger at the end.

Disclaimer: I received this book through Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

Race Report – Ironman Lake Placid 2018 (Part 2 – Swim)

This ended up being really long, so I’ve broken it into parts. You can find the rest here (when they’re ready):

The swim at Ironman Lake Placid (IMLP) is supposed to be one of the more friendly of all Ironman distance swims out there. It takes place in Mirror Lake, which offers great swimming all summer. Several training camps and coaches run swims in Mirror Lake leading up to race day.

The course is a 2-loop swim with a short run across the sand between each loop. The large red and yellow inflatable Ironman buoys mark the course – a straight-forward rectangle with long sides and a narrow base. The end of the inbound leg takes swimmers along the end of a dock and into the public swim area before turning in toward the beach.

Pool

Mirror Lake is as calm as this pool along its shore.

This course is popular because it features an underwater cable (see Part 1 of this race report), good visibility, and calm water (i.e. no waves or wakes). I had heard mixed opinions on following the cable for the swim. The advantage of being on the cable was that I wouldn’t need to sight. The most obvious disadvantage was that everyone else would want to be there, so I’d risk more crowding.

The athletes at IMLP are not separated into age groups for the start, and the mass start that was used in the past has also been eliminated in favor of corrals based on estimated pace. The pros still start first, but after that, it is up to each athlete to place themselves in the section for their estimated swim time.

I slept better than I thought I would before the race, only waking up twice during the night. I’m not a morning person, so any activity that makes me wake up before 9 a.m. is difficult. I had all of my clothes and remaining bags ready to go, though, so I was up, dressed, and on my way to transition efficiently in the morning.

Morning Transition

Transition area on race morning.

The transition area is right along the main street through town and gets crowded early on. We had family drive us there, and I followed my sister-in-law to drop off our special needs bags. These areas were very close to transition, so it didn’t take very long. We literally just dropped our bags on the ground or handed them to a volunteer. On the way to the run special needs area, we could also see the path that we would have to run from the lake to transition.

Next up – last minute bike checks and set up. We made our way into transition, and I attached my bike computer, water bottles, and nutrition. We had decided not to bring our own bike pump, and went looking for one. I grabbed one of the ones from Ironman, but it didn’t seem to fit on my valves. After struggling with it for a few minutes, I gave up and we borrowed one from another athlete.

That was it. I was ready to race. We had at least an hour before the start, so we headed to the shore of Mirror Lake to contemplate the day ahead. The weather was forecast to be rainy for a good portion of the morning, but the exact time of the rain had been changing with every forecast. The day started out with a hint of sun before clouds rolled in over the lake.

Rock Sunrise

Race morning sunrise as the clouds arrived.

My cheering section and sherpas arrived and we people-watched and just took it all in. It was finally time to get ready to swim. I donned my wetsuit and handed off my bag. For those athletes who didn’t have anyone to help them, you could drop off a morning clothes bag at a designated location. That same bag would be provided to you at the end of the race if you used this option.

By this time, many swimmers had already assembled behind the barricades in what I had thought were the faster swim time corrals. I extrapolated my goal time from what I had swam in Eagleman last year, so I was hoping for a swim time of 1:40. My sister-in-law was expecting a similar pace, so we stuck together as we tried to find our places in the crowd.

It was quickly apparent that the sections for each pace were too close together, and the athletes outside the barricade couldn’t get to the right areas. Officials weren’t letting anyone over the barricade either, so we had to keep walking back. At the end of the barricade, there were too many athletes to squeeze in, and everyone had the same complaint – that we couldn’t get to the right pace group. I figured that I wasn’t in contention for any records, so wherever I ended up would ultimately be fine. The race is timed individually when you cross the timing mats.

Once the swimmers at the front started to enter the water, the officials let everyone squeeze in along the beach, between the water and the crowd. At this point, we were able to move up to where we wanted to be, so it worked out in the end.

For the start, no one was restricting our entry to the water, so all the athletes kept walking en masse until we were in the lake. I started my watch – a Garmin Forerunner – did a few dolphin dives at the beginning, and then began to swim.

My general strategy going in was to keep it slow and calm at the beginning, avoid a huge mass of other swimmers, and to keep my breathing to just one side since I think my insistence at bilateral breathing was part of why my swim at Quassy 70.3 didn’t go that well.

From the start, I found that I was on the cable. I hadn’t planned it that way, but because I had moved around the crowd to the right, that had me positioned to the right side of the mass of swimmers on a clockwise swim. I figured that I’d stay on the cable to start with and if I started to get beat up too much, I would find a way to move to the outside.

After a few hundred yards, I discovered that I loved swimming along the cable! I was pretty far to the right, essentially right along the buoys. It appeared more crowded a little to the left, but I was able to complete the entire swim without getting punched or kicked. I did try to stay alert to my peripheral vision and tried to avoid anyone who was doing breaststroke kick, moving erratically, or flailing. Additionally, I experienced some major drafting. All of the swimmers had created a current and I felt like I was being whisked along. I was able to occasionally find someone’s toes to follow, but even without drafting a specific person, I was benefiting from everyone else’s efforts.

One hazard that I had not anticipated was that without sighting, I ran into the buoys! The soft Ironman ones weren’t really a problem, but the smaller permanent ones that are held by the cable were hard and more difficult to spot if I did sight ahead. They were connected by a vertical rope to the underwater cable, so looking out for this was the best way to avoid smacking into them.

The first loop of the course went well and I was able to keep my breathing under control. Before I knew it, I was coming up on the dock and the short stretch before the beach. I could see the sand beneath me as the water became more shallow. I took it easy getting my legs under me, afraid that I may cramp, but I had no problem getting on my feet.

The run across the beach was really short. But even so, Ironman had an aid station there. I gulped a glass of water and jumped back in for my second loop.

My time on the first loop had been a few minutes faster than my goal pace, but as I swam out along the buoys again, my right arm started to bother me. I’m right-handed, and therefore stronger with that arm. In training, my LEFT arm had felt strained on a few long swims, but never the RIGHT one. It didn’t seem to be affecting my movement. I tried to ignore it so that my stroke would remain even, and it never grew worse as I finished my swim.

Swim Finish

On the last inbound leg, I knew that I was going to make it. I had never swam the full 2.4-mile distance in my training. I felt tired as I left the water, but not exhausted. I stopped at the wet suit peelers, but when they pulled the legs of my wet suit off, I had to sit on my butt. Even though they had mats down on the beach, sand still went everywhere! I would be brushing sand off for the rest of the day.

The run from the water to transition was easy. I jogged most of it, up a slight incline, then downhill to transition. The road was covered with mats. I ran into transition, grabbed by swim-to-bike bag, and entered the changing tent.

SWIM TIME: 1:41:37

My time was very close to what I had hoped for. No complaints there!

Next: Part 3 – Bike

See all my race reports here.

Race Report – Ironman Lake Placid 2018 (Part 1 – Pre-Race)

This ended up being really long, so I’ve broken it into parts. You can find the rest here (when they’re ready):

Well, I completed my first full distance Ironman triathlon on July 22 in Lake Placid, New York. It’s been a long journey of training leading up to it, and it was certainly a challenge that should never be taken lightly.

Ali and Me

I had been practicing at the shorter lengths of triathlon, first to just try it out, then to see if I could do longer distances. Every time I reached a little further, struggled up a new hill, or pushed my pace a little faster, my body kept growing stronger. My previous injuries essentially vanished other than a few aches in my ankle after long cycling sessions. Finally, I signed up for a full distance Ironman. That’s a 2.4-mile swim, 112-miles on the bike, and then just a little 26.2-mile run. Yep, it ENDS with a marathon after all that swimming and cycling. Who would put a marathon at the end?!?!

How was I going to train for that? I used a training plan provided by a monthly subscription service called Trainer Road. It is mainly a cycling training tool, and is used in conjunction with an indoor trainer. Their training plans give you options to choose between three options for training time per week, and different stages of the training (base, build, specialty). I had to modify the plans quite a bit to fit in with my atypical work schedule, my fencing practices, and planned travel and events.

Training Plan

I rode several cycling events in preparation for Ironman Lake Placid (IMLP). I completed my first century ride (100 miles) on a flat course, followed by the Gran Fondo New York, and the Rev3 Quassy Half. You can read about those in the links. I was a bit worried about IMLP after I raced the Quassy Half. I had trouble with my breathing during the swim and just barely made the cut off at the end. IMLP is a hilly course (like Quassy), and I just didn’t have enough race experience to anticipate my pace for the event other than to know that I’m a solid back-of-the-pack-er.

As race day neared, I had been sick since the end of April and had to cut a lot of training out of my schedule in order to get some rest and be healthy. I finally felt better and stopped coughing about 2 weeks out.

I’m not sure that I appreciated the taper as much as I was supposed to. This is the time in your training when you start to back off on the distance and hours so that your performance (theoretically) peaks on race day. With illness cutting into my training, I had essentially been tapering for weeks already. I tried to resist the urge to cram in a few last extra long sessions. I had heard that it’s better to race 10% undertrained than 1% overtrained. Even during the taper though, you don’t rest. You’re still working out, and my plan called for several workouts during race week, up to a final short run the day before the race.

We drove to Lake Placid, NY on Thursday of race week. I had spent hours making exhaustive packing lists, planning for my transitions, and finally stowing it all in the back of the car. We finally arrived at the venue in the late afternoon, just in time to make athlete check-in.

Bobsled

Lake Placid has a history in sports. This small Adirondack village has hosted two winter Olympics (1932 and 1980), and was the site of the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” hockey game. It still functions as an Olympic Training Center for bobsled, skeleton, luge, freestyle skiing, biathlon, and other sports.

Ironman has held a full-distance triathlon in Lake Placid since 1999, and the race is the second-longest running Ironman in North America. This year’s race marked the 20-year anniversary for IMLP.

You can’t miss the signage for the race when you drive through the downtown area. The transition area and tents were nearly assembled when we arrived, all centered around the Olympic speed-skating oval off Main Street. Athlete check-in was located in the Winter Olympic Museum.

This being only my second Ironman-branded event, and first full distance triathlon, I wasn’t completely sure what to expect. It turned out to be a similar process to the Eagleman 70.3. They verified ID and then handed me a card with my bib number. I had to sign a couple of pages of waivers and verify emergency contact and medical information. Everyone was weighed, and the number was recorded in your waivers. I think this was to help assess dehydration on race day in case medical assistance was required.

Wrist

I received my athlete packet at the next table. This contains your race number stickers (for your bike helmet, bike, gear bags, special needs bags, and your run bib. It also has tickets that you can hand off to friends or family members who can then pick up your bike and equipment bags when you’re done with them on race day. This is where they also clasp a wrist band on you that marks you as an official athlete for the weekend. Get used to wearing it, because you can’t race without it.

After that, I picked up some swag. This bag had a flag, tiny dry bag, a restaurant coupon, and a poster. The last stop was for timing chips. That only took a few seconds as the volunteer assigned a chip to your race number. After that, I marched outside and over to the Ironman merchandise tent to pick up my bag. This was a pretty nice gym bag with straps to convert it to a backpack, although I have heard some complaints about the orientation of the logo. By that point, everything was closing for the day, so I met up with my family and we moved on to check in to our bed-and-breakfast and relax.

The next day brought brilliant sunny weather, low humidity, and only light winds. It would have been a great day for a race. Instead, we traveled to Mirror Lake for a practice swim. First, everything you may have heard about Mirror Lake is true. It is a long and narrow body of water with a public access swimming beach adjacent to downtown Lake Placid. The water is very clear for a northern lake with probably 20 – 30 foot visibility.

Mirror Lake

The Ironman buoys were already in the water to mark the course, but in case they weren’t, other smaller permanent buoys are there for water sports (something with boats). These small buoys are all connected underwater by a cable that stretches all the way across the lake. This is the fabled cable that you can follow during your swim so that you don’t have to sight. It even crosses at the far end where the Ironman course runs, so you can literally follow the cable for the entire race (more on this later).

I swam about 1000 yards for my practice swim, cutting across the course early. It almost felt like a race because there were an awful lot of other swimmers in the lake. I couldn’t quite tell how the end of the swim course was oriented, but I knew that it was two loops with a short run across the beach between them. The water was a pleasant temperature, about 74 degrees F.

We rested after that and then I headed out on my bike for a short spin along the course. Everything seemed to be working on my bike. My husband rode along, and we found a route from the B&B to nearly the start of the bike course. It turned out that scoping out this stretch at the beginning of the bike course was a great idea. The course leaves transition, makes a hard 180-degree turn (which we didn’t see until the following day), and then goes down a pretty steep hill before a left turn. Apparently a fair number of racers crash in this section, so it was good to ride through most of it before the day. The next part of the course leaves town along some rolling hills. We passed the Olympic ski jumps on our right and turned around shortly after that to head back. It wasn’t a bad ride, and I was feeling good about the race.

Ski Jumps

The next day was my last workout before the race. I woke up early (for me) and met my brother for a slow 1-mile run. My training plan had called for 20 minutes with some sprint efforts, but since I had not done that many sprint workouts in training (sick), I cut it short. From there, I only had to pack up my equipment bags and bike and drop those off in transition. For a full-distance Ironman you have the option to change clothes between each leg. Changing tents for both men and women are provided. Instead of your normal transition set-up, each athlete places the swim-to-bike clothes in one bag and then the bike-to-run clothes in another. You grab the bag, take it into the changing tent, and then just run through transition to get your bike. They actually don’t let you store anything else near your bike.

Bike Ready

You’ll also have two special needs bags (bike and run) that are positioned halfway through these sections of the race. You don’t have to drop these off until race morning. Additionally, you’ll have access to your equipment bags and bike on race morning so you can add anything that you forgot. I didn’t place my nutrition/water bottles, bento box, or computer on my bike until race morning.

Once our gear was tucked away, we left town to drive the bike course for a preview. Now my husband had ridden one loop of the bike course that morning, so he was able to narrate our drive with his own experiences from the morning. I’ll save the details of this drive for my section on the bike segment. I felt better about the race after seeing what I was going to be up against. It may have been nice to preview the run course also, but since I was already planning to walk all the hills, it didn’t matter as much to me.

Bike Course

Soon enough it was time to get to bed. I double checked everything I had laid out for the morning, and I think I managed to fall asleep by 10 p.m.

Next: Part 2 – Swim

See all my race reports here.

Book Review – The Fifth Season

The Fifth Season is the first book in N. K. Jemisin’s newest series, The Broken Earth. I have read all of her previous novels, and like her other work, The Fifth Season brings a truly unique world to life. The world-building is fascinating, but for some readers, may be confusing in that the author never dumps any long explanatory passages into the story. This requires the reader to piece the information together while suspending many questions, but everything you need to know is in there. The book also contains a glossary at the back for many of the terms.

Fifth Season Cover

Once the world of The Fifth Season starts to become clear, it is one of the most bizarre and mesmerizing settings I have ever encountered. Civilization flourishes between Fifth Seasons, each one a devastating volcanic winter in a world plagued by frequent seismic and geologic upheaval. During a Season, anarchy reigns, and only those who follow the ancient stonelore and are willing to take extreme measures to defend their homes and supplies survive. The people who live in this land are not quite human, and other non-human denizens, mysterious obelisks, and fragments from lost civilizations lurk across the surface and below.

A few people are born with the ability to sense and manipulate the earth, giving them a sort of geology-magic. Of course, this power comes with a price, and these orogenes are feared because they can freeze and destroy anything or anyone around them if they lose control. If they choose to, they could trigger earthquakes or worse. Set in place to control the orogenes are the Guardians, with their own set of strange powers. The book brings up the question of who is really in control – the orogenes, the Guardians, the Emperor, or someone or something else, and even the characters in play don’t know the answer.

The story is told through three different point-of-view characters. As the plot emerges, it becomes clear that each thread of the story is set at a different time. Essun is an orogene in hiding, having somehow escaped her Guardian. When a massive quake hits, she returns home to discover that her husband has murdered their son and disappeared with their daughter. Essun is determined to track down and kill her husband before he can hurt their daughter.

Damaya is a child who has just exhibited her orogene powers for the first time. In small villages, these children are often killed out of fear, superstition, or prejudice. Fortunately, Damaya’s parents have sent for help, and a Guardian arrives to take charge of her. Damaya trains in the Fulcrum to learn how to control her orogeny, but delves too deeply into its secrets.

Syenite is a trained orogene of the Fulcrum and is sent on a mission with the not-quite-sane Alabaster, a ten-ringed orogene who is supposed to mentor her, as well as father a child with her. Everything in their lives is controlled by the Fulcrum, but Syenite soon learns that Alabaster has been quietly subverting that control whenever he can.

One strange aspect of The Fifth Season is that it lacks an antagonist. While each character encounters physical obstacles or people who may post a danger or serve to slow down their progress, there is never a true enemy. In many ways, the greatest threat to all of them is the volatile earth itself. Even without an antagonist, the plot works well and remains engaging until the end.

The conclusion of the book was abrupt, and I felt like I was left hanging and was a little uncertain about what I was supposed to infer from one character’s revelation. The Fifth Season is only the first book in the series, so I hope that my questions are answered in the next volume.

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