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How Do I Decide Which Fencing Tournaments to Enter?

I have a bit of a break between fencing tournaments, triathlons, and running events for the next few weeks. Instead of a write-up on any particular event, I thought that it might be helpful to figure out why I enter certain tournaments and not others. This post was inspired by two things:

  1. I had to sit down and decide on which fencing tournaments to enter for the next few months.
  2. A discussion on a Veteran Fencing group last week about how everyone decides which tournaments to attend.

For most fencers in the group discussion, it seemed to come down to factors like distance, costs involved, and how many other fencers were going to attend.

December and April NACs

Obviously, I would enter the Veteran NAC events. But some of these tournaments also feature other levels, like Div I, Div II, or Div III. And would I enter both the Vet-40 age group and the Open Vet event? I decided that I’d do both the Vet-40 and Open Vet events at all the NACs. I almost entered Div I in the December NAC, but then decided against it. I didn’t feel like I was physically up to that level. It turned out that I was sick for part of the December NAC, so I would not have had a good day in Div I if I had entered.

I just registered for the upcoming April NAC, and this time I decided to enter both the Vet events and the Div II. I can have a good day in Div II at times. Even though the Div II event didn’t fit in with my initial goals for the season, I found that I’m already looking ahead to next year. I’d like to fence that Div I event next December, so fencing more non-Vet events like the Div II NAC should help me prepare.

Local and Regional Events

As far as local and regional (ROC) events go, I have been entering these when they fit in my schedule. I weigh the distance of the event with the costs of entry, hotel, and travel, and then look at how many fencers have entered. I fenced in a local ROC that had low attendance and a non-ROC event that was nearly as populous as a NAC. Both situations were helpful to me, I think.

I also find that I’ve been more goal-oriented in my training this year. Every day before practice I think about what my goals are for that session. The specific goals are based on how I’m feeling and how soon the next tournament is. Some of my more common goals lately have been:

  • Move well, using small footwork, patience, and don’t lean.
  • Work on the specific actions from a lesson.
  • Fence like it’s a tournament in terms of strategy and actions.
  • Work on my distance when retreating and draw the attack on my terms.

How do you decide which tournaments to enter? Do you have goals for your fencing? Let me know in the comments.

For more fencing articles, look here.

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Book Review – Unbound

Ooooh, look! This is another series where I’m working to catch up. Unbound is book 3 in the Magic Ex Libris series by Jim C. Hines. I listened to the audiobook version of this, narrated by David de Vries.

You can find my review of book 1, Libriomancer, here.

And my mini-review of book 2, Codex Born, is here.

I first started to read this series because I loved the premise behind the magic. Libriomancy allows its users to harness the magic of books. If enough people have read a book, then a libriomancer can reach into the text and pull out items created by the readers’ belief. Now there are some limitations: whatever the libriomancer tries to bring into the world must fit through the pages, and some books deemed too dangerous have been locked.

Seriously, how cool is that?

The first two books in this series (Libriomancer and Codex Born) introduce us to Isaac Vainio, a member of the Porters who works a day job as a librarian. The Porters were formed by Johannes Gutenberg, inventor of the printing press, creator of libriomancy, and immortal overseer of its use. Their goal is to make sure libriomancy is practiced safely and that the rest of the world never discovers the magical world.

By the beginning of this third book, Isaac has been thrown out of the Porters and had his magic stripped away by Gutenberg. At the conclusion of the previous book, his teenaged libriomancer student, Jeneta Aboderin, was kidnapped and possessed by an ancient sorceress, Meridiana. Isaac struggles to track down Jeneta while trying to come to terms with the loss of his magic.

Despite his banishment from the Porters, Isaac still has friends who can help him: dryad Lena Greenwood, and therapist Nidhi Shah. His pet fire spider, Smudge, hasn’t been affected by Isaac’s loss of magic and ignites when danger is near. Through persistence and research, he manages to learn that Meridiana is trying to find a bronze device created by Pope Sylvester II that would allow her to completely enter our world and bring the power of a ghost army under her control.

Isaac resorts to black-market magic from vampires, fellow outcast sorcerer Juan Ponce de Leon, and the students of Bi Sheng (another ancient book-magic group) in his quest to find the bronze artifact.

The action never stops in this entertaining story, with some surprising and darker twists than in the earlier volumes. The presence of the magical world is no longer hidden from the public, and the series feels more expansive as complications arise. While the main plot is wrapped up in this book, not everything is resolved. Book 4, Revisionary, will be up soon in my reading list.

See more of my book reviews here.

Fencing Tournament Report – Capitol Clash 2019

The weekend before last, I traveled to compete in the 2019 Capitol Clash just outside of Washington, D.C. This fencing tournament has been held for ten years and has historically been a youth event. This year, they added a non-regional Veteran’s category, and several fencers in my club (youth and veteran) entered.

Event Schedule and Travel

For the Veteran events, the tournament was simply a local tournament, with no points or qualifications up for grabs. However, for sabre, it ended up being well-attended, with 16 women and 38 men. The youth tournament featured Y-8, Y-10, Y-12, Y-14, and Cadet events, and was designated a SYC, so fencers could win regional points.

With all of the events for age groups, all three weapons, and men’s and women’s divisions, the tournament stretched over 3 days. I woke up very early and drove to the tournament on Saturday morning to arrive by close of check-in for Vet WS at 12:00 p.m. The organizers had communicated minor changes in the check-in time in the weeks prior to the tournament.

Location and Venue

The tournament was held at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center, just south of Washington, D.C. The Gaylord chain of hotels are enormous self-contained resorts, with multiple restaurants, spa and fitness center facilities, pools, and convention spaces. I had actually been to a work conference at this same Gaylord a few years ago, so I knew what to expect.

The hotel offered a discounted rate for fencers, but I didn’t stay there. The parking was discounted for the event, and both self-park and valet options were available. The Gaylord is located within National Harbor, a larger development along the Potomac River featuring shopping, restaurants, and entertainment.

Vendors on-site.

The tournament was held in a large convention hall. It felt like a mini-NAC, having the same types of strips, scoring equipment, raised bout committee area, intercom announcements, and finals strip. Several vendors were on site for equipment needs, although I didn’t pay much attention to them, not needing to purchase anything.

The organizers did insist that all fencing bags were placed in a particular area, in delineated rows on tables and the floor. The strips for the Vet events were off to one side, near an empty part of the hall where no one seemed to mind the bags. I ended up arranging my bag near a column in a vacant area of the hall.

Format and Referees

The tournament was conducted in a standard manner, with one round of pools followed by 100% of fencers advancing to a direct elimination round and no fence-off for third place. For the women’s event, we ended up with two pools of 8. Larger pools mean more bouts of fencing, and I think most fencers prefer that to smaller pools.

We did end up delayed with the start of the event by about an hour. I’m not completely sure what led to the delay. I had warmed up, intending to be ready to start on time, but I didn’t feel that stiff or cold after sitting for an hour. I was sore going into the event, so more warm-up may have actually been detrimental.

Once we finally started, the rest of the event ran smoothly. The referees were consistent with their calls, although I had some trouble hearing one of them (and other fencers did too).

The gold medal bout was held on a raised strip and was delayed a short time because other events were also finishing up. Video replay was available for the gold medal bout.

The Capitol Clash also hosted a competition in Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA). I had never seen this live before and had hoped to watch some. However, the HEMA events had concluded early in the day, so I missed them.

My Fencing

I had a good day! I had been fencing pretty well in practice and had been working on a few new things that had finally started to click. However, this tournament was also practice, with nothing in particular at stake.

I had been out late the night before my early-morning travel, so I wasn’t feeling great, being a bit dehydrated, sore from my triathlon training, and just tired.

Despite all that, my fencing was very consistent and stable all day. I stuck to my plan, took a few risks when needed, and managed to pull off some of the old/new maneuvers I had been practicing (sky hooks, mainly).

One goal of this tournament was to work on my attacks against people I don’t know. I’ve been trying to get faster while still being able to see the distance properly. It sort of worked, but I have more work to do. I also found that I was more patient when pursuing an opponent down the strip, which was something I had failed to do in my last event.

By the end of the day, I found myself in the gold medal bout where I kept my cool and won 10-4. This earned me a shiny new C19! You can watch a video of the final bout below. My bout starts at 1:30. The men’s gold medal bout is at 1:38.

The final results for all the events can be found here.

My teammates in the men’s event had a great day also, with 3rd place, 3rd place, and 7th place finishes.

To see more of my fencing tournament reports, look here.

Book Review – The Obelisk Gate

The Obelisk Gate is the second book in N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth series and won the Hugo award for Best Novel in 2017. You can find my review of the first book, The Fifth Season, here.


The story in this second volume follows two main point-of-view characters, Essun, who we know from the first book, and Nassun, her daughter, who we have only seen through Essun’s memories up until now.

The prose is written in the same unusual style as the earlier book, with sections of second person point-of-view told by an unknown narrator in staggered interlude chapters. (That narrator is revealed toward the end.)

The world-building continues to shine in this book. The geologically active continent has been broken, and a volcanic winter (what the people call the Fifth Season) is imminent. Certain people with the skill to use orogeny can pull the energy of the earth’s heat out to power magical feats. Additional aspects of magic are developed in this second volume, and I did get a little confused about which energy did what and how.

Essun has settled in at Castrima, where her ex-lover and mentor, Alabaster, tries to teach her to harness the power of the obelisks. His time is limited as he slowly turns to stone in the aftermath of breaking the world. As he petrifies, he is devoured by his companion stone eater. Essun’s own stone eater ally, Hoa, continues to protect her, but no one knows why the stone eaters have made their specific alliances or what their endgame may be.

The timeline for Nassun reverts to the first book’s events and begins immediately after her father, Jija, murders her brother for being an orogene. In The Fifth Season, I had wondered why Jija had not gone on to kill Nassun, knowing that she must also be an orogene.

The other main character in the book is Schaffa, Essun’s Fulcrum Guardian. He had been left for dead in the aftermath of the Guardians’ attack at the end of the first book. Schaffa succumbs to a deep and evil power to save himself and emerges with memory loss and a deadly ignorance of his own abilities.

This book was about relationships between individuals as well as classes and races. Much of the plot deals with how Essun and Alabaster learn to work together again, while Nassun deals with the dying relationship with her father as Schaffa replaces him in that role.

The setting of Castrima, an underground geode where orogenes live amongst non-orogene humans, provides a backdrop for conflict between the two peoples. Castrima’s life-preserving mechanisms will not work without an orogene present, but tensions rise and old prejudices drive people to violence.

Essun must control her own power as she becomes a target in this power struggle. She has to learn from Alabaster in a desperate attempt to save all the people and end the seasons forever.

I enjoyed this story a lot, but found the first book to be better. The action in this middle book felt like it stagnated a bit, but it was still fascinating to read about the world that Jemisin has imagined. I’m looking forward to the third book, The Stone Sky.

Find more of my reviews here.

Book Review – Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen

I have been reading Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series for many years, so I don’t know how I didn’t see this book until just recently. I listened to the audiobook version (like I have for the entire series).

So… this is an odd book. Overall, I liked it, but it definitely won’t be for everyone. If you’ve never read any of the Vorkosigan books, this is *not* the one to start with. This review (and the book) will have inevitable spoilers from Cryoburn, so if you haven’t read that one, with its gut punch of an ending, then just go away now.

No, really. Don’t keep reading if you haven’t read Cryoburn. Spoiler right below the cover.

Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen is set on Sergyar three years after the death of Count Aral Vorkosigan and follows two main characters: Vicereine Cordelia Vorkosigan and Admiral Oliver Jole. Miles, the protagonist for the majority of the books, does appear later, but this is not his story.

Cordelia reveals that both herself and Aral had stored their genetic material in case they decided to have more children in the future. After the difficulties encountered with raising Miles, they never followed through with this plan. Cordelia has now decided to fertilize several embryos and make use of the uterine replicators at the new reproduction center on Sergyar so that she can raise the daughters she had always wanted.

Complicating this scheme, Cordelia informs Admiral Jole of her intentions. While I don’t remember if the earlier books ever hinted at this, we learn that Aral was bisexual and had initiated a relationship with Jole decades ago, with Cordelia peripherally involved and accepting of this non-traditional arrangement. Cordelia offers Jole the use of some of Aral’s samples as well and lets him know that the technology could allow him to have his own children.

As Oliver struggles to make decisions about things he had never imagined to be possible, the story turns to the renewed relationship between himself and Cordelia. This entire book is more about the characters’ journey and their decisions for themselves and their families after a lifetime of political intrigue, violence, and duty, rather than any focus on the events of the plot.

Not much happens in terms of action, but for what this book tries to do, that was okay for me. Again, it will not be for everyone. I found that as I neared the end of this book, I dreaded the thought of something tragic happening. After Cryoburn, I half-expected Sergyar’s volcano to erupt and lead to catastrophe.

In retrospect, I think that it’s also great to have a book where well-loved characters can finally be seen to relax and deal with smaller crises. I don’t want to see them suffer any more heartache at this point. I think they deserve to be happy in the end.

The book also deals with the themes of family versus career, aging, and family secrets, so it was interesting to me in that way. Cordelia is in her 70’s, and although Betan people have a long lifespan, her children will be younger than her own grandchildren. Is there anything inherently wrong with this? Much of the story deals with how much is revealed to whom along the way, and how each person deals with those revelations. Will the secrets of the past impact the future?

See more of my book reviews here.

Fencing Tournament Report – Manhattan Fencing Tri-State Vet Sabre Event 2019

This past Sunday, I fenced in another one of the Tri-State Veteran Sabre Cup events. This a series of sabre tournaments in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut for the veteran age group. This event was held at Manhattan Fencing Club, and it was my first time at that venue.

Travel to the Event

I took the train from New Jersey to New York Penn Station and then walked a few blocks to the club. It was easy for me to find.

I was a bit early, so I had plenty of time to orient myself. The club was on the second floor and when I stepped off the elevator, I found a brightly lit and clean space. The entry hall featured some seating for parents and visitors, and a low wall separated the fencing area.

The Venue

One side of the venue with the men warming up.

Locker rooms were available for men and women, and there were two bathrooms – a single large one with a shower, and a standard one with multiple stalls. Fencing bags were supposed to stay in the locker room, so I changed into my whites and went to warm up.

Strips were marked out on the flooring and the reels were suspended overhead. I did slip once during the tournament, but the floor was otherwise fine.

Tournament Format

Seven fencers had arrived for the women’s event and (at a later start time) fourteen for the men. For the women’s event, we fenced one large pool. They decided to double-strip the pool also, so it went very fast.

After that, we went into a standard direct elimination (DE) tableau. I felt that the referees were consistent with their calls. The entire event was very smoothly run and efficient. You can find the full results here.

My Fencing

I fenced fairly well, although I had been tired and a bit injured going in. I had a solid round in the pool with a 6-0 record. In my DE bouts, I had a bye into the round of 4 and finished in 2nd for the day, making some strategic errors in my last bout.

After the fencing, medals and awards were distributed. I went home with a t-shirt and a hefty medal. While the men’s event started, the ladies watched and had wine, cheese, bread, and beef jerky. It was a tasty way to finish up!

See more of my tournament reports here.

How I Organize My Books to Read

We are well into 2019 and as the end of January approaches, hopefully you have started turning resolutions into habits. I’ve been blogging here consistently for the past few months, but I haven’t quite finished reading a book to review for this week, so I wanted to write a bit about how I pick which books to read for the year ahead.

Last year I realized that I am easily distracted by a new author, new release, or new series. I often enjoy the first book in a series, but then never go back to finish the rest.

One example of a shiny new series that I plan to read this year.

In an attempt to get to some of those books that I keep telling myself I want to read, I built a Google doc To-Be-Read (TBR) list. At the same time, I decided to alternate between a physical book and an e-book, with an audiobook going at the same time (a long-standing habit).

At first this was straight-forward, but then 2019 began and I decided join the Goodreads Reading Challenge where each member picks a number goal for books read for the year. I had failed at 50 books in the past. How many books did I truly think I could read?

I thought this through and settled on 36 for the year – one book every two weeks and an additional audiobook every month. That gives me three books a month x 12 months = 36 books! Simple, right?

Next I decided to lay out which books those would be. I used Goodreads and created a new shelf for the purpose. From there, it was easy to place my chosen books on the shelf. I couldn’t help myself and a few new series snuck in there. But for the most part, this plan would have me finishing several series this year, as well as keeping up on some of my favorite authors’ new releases.

I discovered that Goodreads also gives me the option to view my shelf by showing just the book covers. This made a nice graphic and let me see my goals all in one place.

My initial TBR shelf for 2019, using Goodreads.

After a few days, I realized that my list lacked any classics and was light on non-fiction, both genres that I do try to read. It was also heavily slanted toward fantasy, but I do enjoy science fiction also – anything from space opera to hard SF. I have added to this list since its creation and it’s at 45 books now.

Some of the books I’ve chosen will be quick reads, but I expect those to be balanced out by longer ones (notably GRRM’s Fire and Blood and Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon).

I already own several of these books, and I’m not sure if I’ll be able to stick to my alternating physical book and e-book regimen. Only two of the authors on this list (and three of the books) are ones where I typically read the audiobook versions for their books. I may have to adjust my picks because I’m not going to get the audiobook version for any of these if I already own it in another format.

By doing book reviews, I’ll sometimes get specific requests to review a book, and my list also takes that into account. I may also pick up books unexpectedly that will need to be added.

Who knows? Maybe I will hit 50 books for the year! What are your reading goals? Do you use Goodreads? Let me know in the comments section.

See my book reviews here.

Race Report – Lifetime Fitness Indoor Triathlon 2019 (Florham Park)

Lifetime Fitness is a chain of high-end gyms that runs an indoor triathlon series at many of its locations in the winter. I had never participated in this event before, but signed up this year for the Florham Park, New Jersey race.

As the date (1/20/19) neared, a snowstorm loomed, threatening a closure of the gym. I had planned to work all night on 1/19 and then drive straight to the race after work. Watching the weather, the rain-snow line appeared to have shifted, and it turned out that the area received very little snow. What snow we did have had mostly melted by morning with rising temperatures and rain.

Check-In and Packet Pick Up

Leading up to race day, I didn’t have a lot of information from the race organizers. I knew what time to arrive (30 minutes prior to my swim wave). The rest of my knowledge was gleaned from online chats about the event.

Race bib and swim cap.

The roads weren’t bad at all that morning and I arrived very early for the event. I checked in at the front desk and was directed toward the locker rooms. Before I reached those, I found the event table at the end of the hallway on the left. This was a bit like a packet pick-up. I received my bib, a swim cap, and a mug. The organizers seemed to assume that I knew where I was going and what I was doing (I didn’t). I had to ask questions, but at least I was already familiar with triathlons in general.

Event Format and Equipment

With this being an indoor triathlon, the swim would be in the pool, the bike was on spin bikes, and the run was on a treadmill. Rather than holding to set distances, each discipline would be raced for a set time. The distance that each athlete traveled in that time period was recorded.

  • Swim = 10 minutes
  • Bike = 30 minutes
  • Run = 20 minutes

I stowed my bag in a locker and used a second one for my equipment that I would need for the race. This approach was suggested by another woman who was getting ready for her own race. I had decided to wear a swimsuit for the pool and then would change into a tri kit before the bike segment. Some people wore tri kits for the whole thing.

Everyone had 10 minutes for transition between the swim and bike, and 5 minutes for transition between the bike and run. You could go back to your locker during this time, so there was no need to drag a bag to the pool. However, the transition between the bike and run was shorter, so I saw most participants bring their running shoes up to the cycling area.

I didn’t bring anything special for the swim, just my normal goggles. I used the swim cap provided and also had a bottle of water at the edge of the pool. One small detail – Lifetime Fitness provides towel service. I had brought my own towel, but it turns out that I probably didn’t need to.

Someone had suggested that I check out the spin bikes and figure out how to adjust the seat prior to the race start. Since I had some extra time, I did do this and I think it was a good idea. I had never ridden a spin bike before. It did take me a few minutes to figure out how to set it up. Toe cages were available on some bikes, while others just had pedals to clip in.

My bike set up.

The treadmills for the run were across the room from the bikes. For both the bike and run, I had my water bottle, phone, and headphones. I had intended to wear my cycling gloves, but forgot them.

The Swim

I arrived on the pool deck 10 minutes before my start time, as recommended. I had decided to treat the swim as a practice because I hadn’t done any swimming all week and my shoulder had been sore before that. I planned to focus on my form and keep a steady pace.

The water was warm enough (although I would always prefer it to be warmer). I didn’t jump in until a few seconds before the start because I need to get moving to warm up. Nothing untoward happened. I had my own lane and I swam some laps.

SWIM = 18 lengths

The Bike

I took a few minutes to catch my breath when the whistle blew to stop the swim. Knowing that I only had 10 minutes, I clambered out of the water, grabbed my towel and went back to my locker to change.

I felt fine as I arrived in the cycling area. I had thought this would be in a spin studio of some sort, but the bikes were just grouped on one side of the main exercise floor. I picked out a bike with toe cages and adjusted the seat and handlebars.

Data displayed on the bike.

While I waited for transition to be over, I spun lightly and drank water. One of the volunteers instructed us on how to start the clock on the bikes. Soon enough, the 30 minutes began.

I pedaled easy for the first 3 minutes, trying to get a sense of the spin bike. The display contained a power reading and I watched that as I increased the difficulty using a knob rather than gears. After 3 minutes I settled in to a steady pace which I was able to maintain for the duration.

A couple downsides of the cycling arrangement became clear as my time ticked down. First – there were no fans, so my hands became sweaty and slick. I realized that I had forgotten my cycling gloves. The volunteers did bring us hand towels though, so I was able to wipe down the handlebars periodically.

The other problem was that the bike seat was not terribly comfortable. I was happy that my ride was only 30 minutes.

BIKE = 9.0 miles

The Run

Getting ready to run.

When time was up for the bike, the transition to the run was very simple. I had worn my running shoes on the bike, so I had nothing to change in terms of equipment. I refilled my water bottle and made my way to the treadmill.

I walked until it was time to begin. The volunteer made sure that I knew which buttons to push and then we started a short time after that.

I ran easy for the first few minutes and then gradually increased my pace. I felt fine so I increased my pace for the last 3 minutes also.

RUN = 1.96 miles

The display on the treadmill. The distance rolled over to 1.97 miles as the belt slowed.

Finishing Up

There wasn’t much fanfare when it was over. A volunteer came by with a medal and a high-five. I walked down the stairs to the event table and ate an orange slice. They also had chocolate milk.

I was able to find my results in an email later that day. You are scored based on how far you went in each discipline relative to everyone else. For example, if I swam 18 lengths of the pool and five people swam further than me, out of maybe 30 participants, then I would be ranked #6 in the swim.

From there, the #1 person gets points equal to the number of participants, decreasing by one down the list:

  • #1 = 30 points
  • #2 = 29 points
  • #3 = 28 points
  • #4 = 27 points
  • #5 = 26 points
  • #6 = 27 points
  • and so on …

The points for each discipline were added for a total score. I ended up with the following score, and it looks like that put me in 4th place in the women’s Masters division. The full results can be found here.

SWIM = 41 points

BIKE = 32 points

RUN = 37 points

TOTAL = 110 points

I had a nice time, despite a bit of confusion going in. I’d consider signing up for this next year. With a little bit more direction or guidance, it would be a great event for someone new to triathlon.

I’m not sure I got the right medal.

Did you race the same event or one in a different city? Let me know in the comments below!

See all my race reports here.

Book Review – The Book of Life

The Book of Life is the third book in the All Souls trilogy by author and historian Deborah Harkness. This final volume completes the story begun in A Discovery of Witches and Shadow of Night, which I have also reviewed.

This series is set in our modern world, but with a subculture of witches, daemons, and vampires who are secretly struggling to survive as their powers wane and they are plagued by blood rage and madness.

Having finished this book, I’m pleased to say that I’m doing well with finishing up series that I’ve started, and this is going to be one of my main reading goals for 2019. So look out for plenty of book 2’s, 3’s, etc. here.

As this book begins, Diana and Matthew have just returned from Elizabethan England through Diana’s witch abilities as a timewalker. What they had envisioned as a happy reunion with their friends and family in our current time quickly turns tragic when they discover that Emily has died under suspicious circumstances, likely murdered.

All of the problems they had escaped by traveling to the past have returned with their arrival back at Sept Tours. Diana still needs to obtain Ashmole 782, the book which supposedly holds the secrets to the origin of all types of creatures. The Congregation has grown more suspicious of the de Clermont’s affairs, and Diana’s magic is stronger but still a bit beyond her understanding.

In addition, Diana is pregnant with twins, with no idea what her children will be like or how to keep them safe. Matthew’s son, Benjamin, reemerges from obscurity and is driven by blood rage and revenge, threatening both Diana and the babies.

The story takes Diana and Matthew to America first and then back to various parts of Europe. There is renewed focus on Matthew’s research on creature genetics, and additional characters appear to help solve their problems.

I thought that the plot of this final book meandered more than the earlier ones, and for the first half, this lack of focus weakened the tension. It seemed like the characters should have been in greater danger, but they didn’t face any immediate threats until later in the book.

My favorite aspect of this book was how Diana’s magic evolved and grew in response to her actions and changes. I enjoyed seeing her learn to use her strength and to use both her wits and her power to overcome challenges.

The end of the novel finally brought all the story elements together and was satisfying. While all of the main points are wrapped up, it still allows for the possibility of future books in the series. I would have liked more explanation of a few elements, but it’s possible that I read too fast and missed some of the details.

The author has recently released a new book, Time’s Convert. This novel is separate from the All Souls series, but has some overlap. It appears to detail Marcus’ backstory and delves further into his relationship with Phoebe. I’d like to read this novel also, but will not get to it just yet.

Have you read the All Souls trilogy? Let me know in the comments below!

See all my book reviews here.

Race Report – NJ Trail Series (Watchung 10K)

I signed up for this event on a whim. I had never run on trails before, but I thought it sounded fun, and it was also close to home.

Some time later, I remembered that I have always thought trail running sounded like a bad idea. I mean, I like hiking. But the thought of running on those same trails where I would probably roll one of my already busted ankles just sounded awful risky.

This was my ankle several years ago.

Oh well, I’d already signed up. I decided that I’d walk any tricky parts of the trail. The event featured a no frills approach – no medals, no t-shirts (just minimal aid stations and a timing chip). The fee of $30 (for all distances) was used as a donation to Jersey Battered Women’s Service.

The New Jersey Trail series appears to host several informal train runs throughout the year. The Watchung event is an annual ultrarunning race, with distances of 10K, half marathon, marathon, and 50K offered.

I had never run a 10K before this event, although I’ve run a few 5K’s, a 10-miler, a couple of half marathons, and the run portions of sprint, half, and full distance triathlons. The distance of this run didn’t bother me, although it was more than I’d been doing in my recent training (max 3-4 miles lately).

The course for each loop in Watchung Reservation.

The week of the race was a wet one, and rain was also in the forecast for race morning. I had to think about how to handle that. I’ve run in the rain before, but never on trails where I could expect a lot of mud. The temperature was forecast to be in the 40’s – cold enough for me to layer up, but not too uncomfortable once I got moving.

I ended up wearing an old pair of running shoes and bringing a change of shoes and socks for my ride home. I also packed a towel and dry shirts. I didn’t bring any headphones because I decided against listening to music. It just didn’t seem right for a run through the woods.

When I arrived to check in, I was running late. I walked from my car to the start area as the race began. That was fine by me. I was only here for the run, not to work on a PR or anything. I took my time getting my timing chip and then stowing my jacket back in my car.

The beginning of the course took my around the parking area and then on paved trails to start with. The rain began with a light drizzle, but was barely noticeable. Soon enough, the path took me down a steep and narrow trail and into the woods.

The route for the race was well-marked, with orange surveyor’s tape and paint. It would have been hard to get lost. After only a minute on the trail, I encountered the mud. It would have been impossible to avoid it for the whole race, although I did try to stick to the drier patches where possible.

My shoes quickly plunged into the muck and filled with chilly water. Despite being one of those people who is always cold, my feet warmed up and never went numb during the race. The beginning of the course was muddier than the later sections, although it did rain more heavily around miles 3 to 4. I was warm enough to take my gloves off for a while, but put them on again later.

I started to laugh at the mud as I went and realized that I was actually having fun. Running in the woods was a nice break from the monotony of laps around the nearby park or the same familiar routes near my house. Because of my late start, I didn’t see too many other runners, but I was not completely alone out there either. Several people were hiking the trail, despite the weather.

One aid station was located near mile 4 and I stopped for some cookies and water. The trail beyond that point was a lot wider and flatter, with one uphill section at the end. Around mile 5, I was lapped by someone doing multiple loops of the course. He reminded me of an elf because he appeared to be literally bounding through the woods with hardly any effort.

I completed the run in 1:36:25 which made me happy, as I was hoping for something under 2 hours. I was able to run more of the distance than I had thought I could, and the rain and mud hadn’t been as much of a hindrance as I had feared.

The second aid station was at the finish, and I had a few more snacks before heading back to my car. I would definitely consider a future trail run (ideally without the mud and rain)!

Do you do any trail running? Do you have any tips for someone new to trails? Were you out there in Watchung with me? Let me know in the comments below.

See all of my race reports here.

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