My marathons run in 2019

This late post about the marathon races I run this year comes instead of the usual reports after the spring and fall marathons in which my brother Javier, myself and friends take part since many years.

As mentioned in another post, this has been again a challenging year that took a toll on both training for road running and posting about it.

The following lines provide a summary of the (bad) training, race results and feelings, since, at the end of the day, a marathon race, finishing it, is always quite an achievement and worth sharing and celebrating with a post!

Krakow Marathon – April 28th

After the good vibes of the previous fall race in Dublin, the preparation for this one started well in late January but I could not keep pace with the training sessions. More work travels than usual and stress and I ended up beginning of April with merely some tens of kilometers run per month. I tried to catch up and build some volume in the weeks ahead of the race, performing a test over 30km just to check that I would finish.

Already in Krakow I met with Javier and family, and also Juan, who would join us one year after Lisbon. On Saturday evening it started to rain and so it went until we left.

The race took place entirely under rain conditions and I started quite conservative over 6’/km. Even at that pace I started to feel difficulties past the km 15 so I lowered it a bit. At half marathon I caught Juan, who was feeling really bad and struggling to just continue. But in fact that turned the race into an exciting no-man-left-behind effort. For the next 16 km or so we kept cheering ourselves with motivational appeals under heavy rain.

At km 38 or 39, Juan took some meters ahead, and got a boost with a new energy gel which I had not, so I fought the last 3 km alone along the river up until the finish line. Still, remembering the many kilometers run together, we celebrated with a picture:

The time, 4h 48′ marked a new personal worst in my 15th participation in the distance…but it would not be the last.

Porto – November 3rd

Even though the result in Krakow had been quite a warning, the situation with training sessions did not improve for the fall race. A couple of travels lasting a week in the month before Porto did not help and the mileage was the lowest ever. With the experience of Krakow I was able to perform another 30km test to check the feasibility of the feat.

With that test, running over 6’30″/km, I was positive to finish but I thought for first time to go over 5h

Arriving at Porto, we also joined our old fellow runner and Airbus colleague Manuel (aka Manvidal), with whom we last run in the 100km of Millau in 2015, and previously in Rotterdam and Rome. The pack of four was ready.

Starting from the coastal neighborhood of Matosinhos, the first 12km took us to its cargo harbour and back, and, even sooner than in Krakow, I already noted that this would be a tough race. I had started even more conservative, with the pace of the 30km test, above 6’30″/km.

Already running along the coast and river Douro to the inner city, I had to lower the pace to reach km 18, and later cross the magnificent Ponte Luis I bridge to the Porto wineries. There I crossed with Juan running back already from the half marathon milestone. I did it some minutes later but never caught him as I did in Krakow.

In fact, back on the bridge, and running along the river to the next Pont do Infante before km30, I had to walk after refreshing in one water station. Apart from Millau, this was the first time I had walked in a long distance race. I recovered during one kilometer and slowly started to “speed up” to around 7’/km

I had just some 10km ahead, and I was already crossing the 4h mark, so a new personal worst was looming. The mental compromise to still keep going was similar to certain moments in Millau. However, the beauty of the city and the sight of the river and the sea really cheered my up. I struggled the last 5km and even sprinted in the last hundreds of meters, clapping at the band and cheerleaders before the finish line. All things considered, I was quite happy to tick my 16th participation in the 42km! 

With a time of 5h 18′, I had set the expected new worst, but I happily joined Javier and Juan to drive back with a taxi to the city center.

Back in our apartment we rejoined with Manuel, and the celebration dinner was one of the best ever:

As final remarks I was about to write similar comments to those I made after the races in 2017 and 2018 on respecting the distance, not playing with the training, that this should change and so on… Maybe so will be case for the next one.  Maybe next year will be not as challenging and I will find the proper stability and incentives to keep a good training plan.

I fear a bit the fact that, even have given up on good training in the last years, I managed to finish some races over 42km. I don´t know how long this will last. I still enjoy the struggle, and of course the leisure program on the weekend of the race with Javier and friends. But I would like this to change for better.

Let´s see how the report will look like for the next one, most probably, in Madrid.

 

 

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Molinos de viento de Consuegra

“Mire vuestra merced -respondió Sancho- que aquellos que allí se parecen no son gigantes, sino molinos de viento, y lo que en ellos parecen brazos son las aspas, que, volteadas del viento, hacen andar la piedra del molino”

La estancia en casa rural que desde hace más de quince años hacemos los compañeros de promoción de la universidad el fin de semana previo a Navidad, tuvo este año una visita destacada.

Alojados en el pueblo castellano manchego de Villanueva de Bogas, la mañana del sábado visitamos el Castillo de Consuegra y los molinos de viento Rucio y Bolero, del conjunto de trece que rodean el castillo.

Molinos desde el Castillo de Consuegra

La visita guiada al molino Rucio nos encantó a todos y estas líneas resumen la misma y lo aprendido con su molinero.

Procediendo el nombre de Castilla La Mancha en parte del topónimo árabe Al-Manshaf , o tierra sin agua, los molinos de viento permiten capturar la energía del mismo para moler el grano de trigo en la obtención de harinas, fundamentales en la elaboración de pan y multitud de recetas a lo largo de los siglos.

En el molino Rucio vimos los elementos mecánicos principales:

  • Palo de gobierno, amarre y borriquillo (el molinero explicaba a los niños que no se trataba del animal…) para la orientación frente al viento del conjunto mecánico y aspas.
  • Aspas, eje y rueda catalina, para la conversión de la energía del viento en movimiento rotatorio.
  • Linterna, engranaje con la rueda catalina en relacion 1:8 (8 dientes la linterna por 64 de la catalina)
  • Mando de alivio, que gobierna la elevación de la piedra volandera sobre la solera y con ello la calidad de la harina.
  • Tolva, para introducir el grano entre las piedras de moler.
  • Piedra volandera, solidaria con el eje de la linterna y ajustable en altura sobre la solera.
  • Piedra solera, piedra fija a la estructura del molino.

Esquema con elementos mecánicos en el interior del molino

Elementos principales del molino

El temporal de viento y lluvia que ese fin de semana azotaba casi todo el país permitió, sin embargo, ver el molino en la magnificencia de su funcionamiento.

Con viento ábrego (viento sur oeste) y con las aspas “sin velas”, el molinero nos explicó que el conjunto puede soportar vientos de hasta casi 100km/h, velocidad que se debe evitar y antes de la cual se debe frenar el conjunto sobre la rueda catalina y bloquear el mecanismo.

Mapa de orientación de viento

Con la piedra volandera de unos 1.200kg, la fuerza de rozamiento a vencer por la misma está en relación con el grano de trigo suministrado por la tolva y la calidad de la harina que se desea obtener. Esa calidad procede de la fricción resultante de acercar mediante el mando de alivio la piedra volandera a la solera para obtener harina más fina para cocinar. De hecho, todo lo fina que permitan los hasta 20CV que permite desarrollar el molino en las condiciones de viento más ventajosas. Las harinas más gruesas, que necesitan menos energía para su producción, valen como alimento para animales.

Sobrecogidos por la fuerza del viento y la sensación de potencia sobre la piedra volandera, las explicaciones del molinero hicieron las delicias de los más pequeños de grupo.

La visita a los molinos tiene el complemento perfecto en el Castillo de Consuegra, con magníficas vistas sobre la región, y es muy recomendable para visitantes de la zona. A este respecto, nos llamó positivamente la atención la cartelería explicativa del molino en varios idiomas, incluidos japonés y chino!

Los datos básicos con horarios, precios y contactos en este link.

 

 

 

 

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My year 2019 in books

This year has been a challenging one in which both the reading and writing frequency dropped to levels way below my own expectations. To the writing, it speaks loud that this is the first post since…exactly one year when I wrote the previous one to the books read in 2018 (link).

To the reading, the amount of books read fell again, to a total of seven, and around 2.000 pages,  compared to eleven books last year. Still, this activity kept providing good moments of reflection, learning and fun. Let´s review them.

· What money can´t buy . (250 pgs) Written by Michael Sandel, professor of governance at Harvard University and awarded 2018 Princess of Asturias in Social Science . This book discusses the effects of economic incentives as they pervade even more aspects of our lives every day. From paying children to read at school, paying to secure a better place at the ticket queue or to resell mortgages based on the expected date of death, with a premium if it comes sooner… Sandel provokes the reader with moral aspects of these activities and erects himself as an odd voice of humanism in today´s America.

· If this is a man. By Primo Levi. I bought the book (400 pgs including follow up “The Truce”) in our visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau camps during the weekend of the Krakow Marathon. A sad but important reading. Beyond the personal tone of Elie Wiesel´s “Night”, which I had read in 2018, Auschwitz survivor Levi analyzes and gives account of the degradation of human values when in the extreme circumstances of a concentration camp.

· The art of the deal. By Tony Schwartz, although presented as a Donald Trump book (380 pgs). In times of trumpism, a reading to “get to know the enemy”. The book starts with a week in the life of  Trump in the 80s, already hinting at the persona we see today in tweets, just with the phone, non-stop communication 24/7. Fun at moments, the chapters review his most important contruction deals along more than two decades. Interesting to see how he persevered to close deals after years of rejections. The narcisist tones already present, the book helps to understand that he is definitely one side to America.

· South. By Ernest Shackleton (276 pgs). After having read Captain Scott´s diaries in 2018, I feared to be bored by another account of endless hours measuring ice floe thickness and weather conditions. The book had its fair share of it but the tone was quite different. The narration of the failed trans-antarctic expedition with the ships Endurance and Aurora, an epic tale about decision making, risk taking and leadership by example. A man of his men, I am still amazed at the writing style of this breed of explorers:

· Impact Science. By Bruno Sánchez-Andrade (125 pgs). Not every day you get to read a book written by a friend or acquaintance. This was the case. Self edited and available in Amazon, in the book impact scientist Bruno tries to answer his trademark question “So What?” when applied to science outcomes. With a review of cases where scientific work did not make the expected difference, and cases where it did, he makes the case for a better communication to general audiences, especially to decision makers. Quick reading for a world ever in need of change through science.

· Factfulness.  By prof. Hans Rosling (356 pgs inc. annexes). Last Christmas gift from sister Beatriz. The editorial success of 2018 and, to me, very much in the optimistic, or rather possibilistic, line of my reading that year of Pinker´s The Better Angels of Our Nature. The book expands on the divulgation of world facts within the project Gapminder of prof. Rosling. It reviews ten mental biases that prevent us from understanding what and where world problems really are, and the progress that has already been made to solve or to alleviate them. This last aspect is quite important in order to reinforce actions taken with renewed forces. In times of pessimism, a good takeaway is his distribution of world population in four levels of development (L1 to L4), not any longer just the divide “poor vs. rich”. A cheerful reading (and quite shorter than Pinker´s!!).

· The Three Body Problem. By Cixin Liu. I just read the volume I of the trilogy in the spanish translation (400 pgs). Recommended by a friend, and quoted as praised by Barack Obama and Facebook´s Mark Zuckerberg, to me is a bit over hyped. With a spoiler alert, it seemed to me as a kind of Contact-meets-Foundation. Entertaining and bold in many passages, I had hard time to follow some oniric passages. Still, I liked the chinese cultural references after my long trip to the country in 2018. With the second and third volumes increasing in pages, I will see when I schedule the reading.

For a 2020 with hopefully more readings!


Credit of opening and closing pictures to resp. Debby Huddson and Susan Yin for unsplash.com

 

 

 

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My year 2018 in books

Following last year´s experience (link here), which I enjoyed very much, in this post I list the books I read along 2018 with a comment or two about them.

Unfortunately, this year I did not manage to read as many books as in 2017, with 11 compared to 14 in 2017, but still the figure is better than two years ago, and almost a book per month.

Here I go with the list:

· Elon Musk (Jan). I started the year borrowing the book from sister Beatriz and I very much enjoyed it. I had written about Elon before (here) and I am a confessed admirer of what he has achieved and the purpose behind his enterprises. The book by Ashlee Vance provides good insight in his life and struggles, and how his companies work, not sparing interesting technical details on the developments of the famed Tesla electric cars and SpaceX rockets. I recommend it both for entrepreneurs and people working for large corporations and organizations. Still, after reading it (and somehow in line with my post about it) my conclusion would be: I would not work for him, but this world definitely needs more Elon Musks.

· Brave New World (Jan). The classic by Aldous Huxley, this book is, along with Orwell´s Nineteen-Eighty-Four, one of the most important dystopias ever written. With a more positive tone than the somber Orwell´s release, it is incredible how, being written in 1931, it could foreseen the advent of mechanistic and consumption societies, the propaganda, and the tensions between freedom and order. Entertaining to read and eye-opener.

· Last Expedition (Feb-Mar). The diary of Captain Scott in his quest for the South Pole between 1911 and 1912. Clearly not a master writer, and quite tedious in large passages, it is strange that this book was one of my highlights of the year. Apart from the controversy on whether Amundsen or Shackelton deserved more credit as explorers, the account day by day of the two years he spent in Antarctica builds up the tension to the final weeks until the death of his last crew and himself. I am still amazed how this person found words and moments to write as their friends were dying around him, keeping the discipline in such an extreme environment, until his very death. I really felt sadness reading those passages. A fantastic final account.

· Foundation Trilogy (Mar). I read the spanish version. Just fantastic. After the sad and mostly monotonous Last Expedition, I relaxed with one of the absolute classics of science fiction, written by Isaac Asimov between 1951 and 1953. The narration of the centuries of humanity evolving as “prescribed” by Hari Seldon´s Psicohistory is a chant to unrestrained fantasy. Fantastic plots and tension across ages, wit, imagination with great characters including the evil The Mule. A thrilling plot and better ending, written in 1953! I finally understood why the series were so famous. Hours and hours of child-like fun and, on the other hand, the principles of psicohistory so describing of the evolution of mankind, which I would sort of confirm with a later reading…

· Capital and the common Good. (April) My yearly study of the work of Georgia Levenson-Keoane, second after Social Entrepreneurship. Almost text book quality with study cases on environmenthealthfinancial inclusion and disaster relief. Important concepts such as risk pooling and sharing, alignment of incentives that can be applied to many aspects in life. The link to my review is at the beginning of this paragraph. I will keep studying and researching in this field.

· The Better Angels of our Nature (May-Sept). By Steven Pinker. Guided by Bill Gate´s literary recommendations, I embarked in the reading of its more than 600 pages. I admit it took longer than expected. Some passages with tons of data made for an arid reading at times. But Bill´s conclusions, in my opinion, were right: monumental work of research to evidence the decline of violence of mankind, written with a clever structure. Mr.Pinker provides the data to support the theories behind the evolution and revolutions in three time scales: millenia, centuries and decades.  Now a reference book for me to discuss on social and human evolution, I may read his other book “Enlightment Now”. Also guided by Mr. Gates comments about it…

· Foundation´s Edge (Sept-Oct). Asimov´s continuation of his Foundation trilogy. I read again the spanish translation during my holiday trip to China. Entertaining and very easy to read, I finished it before even getting to the half of the tour. The development of the psyschohistory continues. However, to me, the surprise effect compared to that of the trilogy is not as strong and the array of characters not as complete. I will continue reading the Foundation series but will give some time before resuming with it.

· The Picture of Dorian Grey (Oct-Nov). By Oscar Wilde. Maybe the most famous of the works of the irish writer. A thought provoking reflection on the limits of morality, with a narration in the edge of science fiction. I found it easy to read, enjoying the brilliant dialogues of the british victorian high society. Apart from the clever trick of the portrait ageing instead of young Mr Grey, I found much more interesting the character of Lord Henry. I discovered a challenger of the status quo, and the match that really fires this journey beyond political correctness.

· Fahrenheit 451 (Nov-Dec). By Ray Bradbury. Written in 1951 Fahrenheit completes, along with Huxley´s Brave New World and Orwell´s 1984 and Animal Farm, the set of most famous dystopias of the mid 20th century. It accompanies the inner troubles of fireman Guy Montag, who is part of a book-burning squad. In my view a bit too symbolic in the first third of the book, the narration soon evolves into a clever discussion of the value of literature and writing as a means to preserve knowledge and a critic eye on our hedonistic “fast-forward” societies. Full of clever dialogues and quotes, it shares with 1984 an imaginary world war in the background, allowing the final third of the book to adopt also an anti-belicist tone. I enjoyed more Brave New World as reader, but found more interesting teachings in this one. And this passage…

The place of Harvard graduates in our future…

· Night (Dec). By Elie Wiesel. Last reading of the year, the mere 117 pages narration of Mr Wiesel´s passage in Auschwitz-Birkenau, Buna, and Buchenwald concentration camps, following deportation from Hungary in the end of World War II. With the stated purpose by the author to preserve the memory of what evil can do, I confronted this book with some fear of what I would read. After reading it I have mixed views. What I expected about the evil, in part a depiction of nazi tormenters, remains mostly absent in the narration. There are very few passages of torture or graphic violence, even if the monstrous Dr Mengele is mentioned in some chapters. The evil takes rather the form of the struggles of Mr Wiesel and the inner battle when compromising his most dear values (in regard with religion and compassion with others) for the sake of survival. Myself preferring visual works, I can think of Schindler´s List movie as a good example of a document with the same purpose of providing a vivid memory of that horror. However, one thing is unsurpassed: that text is autobiographic. The pain on those pages is just inimaginable. Never forget.

And again, for a 2019 with as many readings.


Credit to Jessica Ruscello on unsplash.com for the closing picture.

The opening one, taken by myself in the Trinity College Library during my visit for the Dublin Marathon (similar pictures of Trinity College Library can also be found on unsplash)

 

 

 

 

 

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Dublin Marathon 2018

“Mucha mili…” or in sort of an english translation “it´s the mileage…”. Mileage, experience, you name it…and above all, proper weather conditions.

These were the main elements that contributed to the good sensations finishing the Dublin Marathon 2018 on October 28th. Talking numbers, I clocked officially 4h28’39”, which is good 10min faster than the spring race in Vienna (post here). Still, that is one hour slower than my best time ever, precisely some 10 years ago in my debut in the distance in Munich 2008 (link).

The good sensations came somehow as a surprise because the prospects for the race were not good. Again a bumpy summer with workload peaks interfered in the training with the result of overweight as not seen in many participations before, and with the three week holiday trip to China just before the race.

Preparation

With the recent painful experience of Vienna, I intended to train better through the challenging sevillian summer. I know I would need to fight the high temperatures (above 35ºC at 11PM for entire weeks…) in the training sessions, but that compounded with the increased workload in my job and subsequent depletion of my energy reserves. The result of it: 48km run in August, 118km in September, and mere 58km in October, almost all of them during the holidays in China! I had completed that mileage alone in one month preparing for Lisboa the year before. Not worthy to speak of any series training, or long runs on weekends, none of which I was able to complete due to excesive heat, lack of fountains and a not proper preparation.

I was preparing my mind for a participation similar to that of Paris Marathon in 2012, where after an injury and not having trained in the month ahead of the marathon, I traveled to the city not sure even to run. This time, I had at least the incentive to travel, apart than running along wiht brother Javier, to share time with his family, Luca and kids.

Arrived at Dublin, we were welcomed by low temperatures, consistently below 10ºC. At least we would not suffer from heat as in Vienna.

Runners ahead of the race

The Race

With low expectations and a couple of layers of clothes for the first kilometers, I set a modest pace at around 5’50″/km. Soon I was caught by the 4h10′ pacers, who were speeding up at the beginning and I decided to join them, running comfortably in the range of 5’45” to 6’/km, and reach the half marathon. Then I expected to lose some pace and probably be caught by the 4h20′ pacers.

Dublin marathon course as recorded in the Garmin GPS

That first half, without time pressure has been on of the best (not in terms of speed, of course) I remember, enjoying the cheerful Dublin crowds and the nice scenery of the city. I reminded me the first marathon loop of the Millau 100km.

As expected, right after the half marathon milestone, the pacers left me, a slight increase in pace in a light uphill and I lost them. From km22 and for the next 10km I would be in the range of 6’20” to 6’35″/km, which would put me in the final 10km. A manageable distance, when you have already 13 marathon races behind, even if the famous “Wall” lies ahead. I slowed a bit the pace, made use of the power gels, installed myself in the range of 6’50” to 7’/km, cheering kids, enjoying music and I prepared for a final effort of 4 to 5km.

When I crossed the 40km milestone at 4h10′, I realized that I would make it under 4h30′ even if I needed to dramatically lower the pace due to pain or other crisis. It was not the case, and with a very different mood as in Vienna, I let my feeling of accomplishment out with an expressive face:

Finishing strong

I enjoyed the cheers of the volunteers and race staff and went to the baggage claim where I would meet Javier. He as well had had great sensations, going back under 4h, and improving his performance compared to Vienna.

Happy finishers in Dublin

Final comments

As I said at the beginning, a combination of weather and experience helped to completely turn the sensations of Vienna in the spring. To be fair, the difference was made by the cold temperatures and absence of sun. Having trained less and with a race course clearly more challenging than the austrian capital, the difference in temperature made it all for the better time record. Experience helped to set a modest pace in the first half, and regulate in the second, but this has been a quite clear demonstration of how my performance suffers with heat and sun.

For the next marathon race, I will try to recover the levels of training of previous races and years, but I will know that if cold weather is present, I will probably have the odds on my side to come back under 4h.

Another final comment is that with this race I recovered, last minute and at Javi´s urging, the tradition of tweeting a funny motive ahead of the race. Last original one had been for Millau in 2015, and I reused for Sevilla 2017 the same of 2015. Lisboa and Vienna went without any picture.

 

 

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Patterns – modern chinese buildings

(Re)building a nation creates patterns. This post is an odd one among others in the blog. During my three week trip to China I could witness the result of the construction boom that the ancient nation is experiencing with intensity in the last decades. I always had some fascination for buildings (I selected Architecture as my third preferred option to pursue university studies, I finally picked Aerospace Engineering…) so the trip offered the chance to lay my eyes on the myriads of buildings across the cities I was visiting…and the patterns that they and their elements create.

Barely mimicking the photo-posts of my friend Nacho (blog here) when he reports on a trip, I want to share just some of the pictures that I took of these hidden patterns that caught my attention. Most of them were taken selecting black&white mode in my Nikon D60 SLR camera except the last one, taken with a smartphone on the go, in my long way back from Hangzhou to take the train to Shanghai and then a flight to Europe.

Shanghai World Financial Center with Laoshanxincun town behind, from Shanghai Tower observation deck.

Residential buildings between Aomen and Tianmu West roads, Shanghai

Murray Building, Garden Road, Hong Kong

Murray Building and Three Garden Road, Garden Road, Hong Kong

Lippo Towers, Queensway, Hong Kong

Residential building, Houshi Street, Hangzhou

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Running in China

Clearly improving from the previous two trips (links to 2016 and 2017), the mileage run during this year´s three week holiday trip to China went up to 61,5km, in fact almost three times that of last year in the US and Mexico.

Once again following the say “the running shoes, always in the suitcase“, I managed to run 6 days distances from 7 to 12km. Not only that, additional sport activities included the 70km cycling tour (in 4h30′) from Guilin to Xingpin along the beautiful river Li, and the 10km (also in 4h30′)hike in the Great Wall from Jankou to Mutianyu.

As in the case of last year, a marathon run loomed right after the trip (in Dublin, the week after writing this post to be precise), so there was an incentive to avoid ruining the meager training sessions of the previous weeks.

I will comment on the courses run and other remarkable aspects on each running spot.

Shanghai – Sept 30th to Oct 2nd

In the megacity at the mouth of the Yangtse River, I quickly spotted the riverwalk along The Bund, and beyond, as a candidate for a running course. Even if those days the walk was one of the most crowded spots I have ever seen (it was chinese national holidays), the scenery with the Pudong skyline was inviting. And fortunately I discovered that some 3 kilometers south of the major sightseeing areas the crowds were more scattered. In fact, past the Nanpu Bridge, a fantastic course opened especially for runners, with a lane marked for that purpose, and another one for normal peasants.

Running in the evening the first day was such a good experience that I repeated the following two days. Not only that. The lighting of the riverwalk was fantastic to see at night, revealing the money poured in this infrastructure. But what really struck me was the view of the skyline coming back from Nanpu bridge. Not especially the huge Shanghai Tower (with its astonishing 632m) but the myriad of tall apartment buildings to the south of it, all with different lights. The view, in combination with the lighting of leds in the floor of the riverwalk, was not from this world. It remains in my mind as one of the most impresive scenes ever seen.

As you can imagine, in that spot I was not the only runner. Maybe more isolated in the packed crowds in The Bund, later in the running lanes south of the bridge I met many others, although most of them chinese.

The paces of the three days ranged from 5’55″/km to 6’20″/km, for some 12km each day, totalling 36,4km.

Shanghai running course

And below the view of the Pudong skyline at the entrance of the riverwalk. Again, not the most impressive sight for me. That was the one more or less marked in the map above with a black circle.

Pudong Skyline from The Bund

Beijing – Oct 14th

After Shanghai I had three stops: one night in Shenzhen, a longer stay in Hong Kong, where I did not run, and the excursion to Guilin area, with the bike tour. It was not until Beijing that I run again.

The day after hiking to and along the Great Wall sections of Jankou and Mutianyu, my legs, as expected, were aching. Nevertheless, the Houhai lakes near my hotel offered too good a spot not to run. This was a morning run on a Sunday, where already dozens of chinese tourists groups, hundreds of people, were already crowding the walks by the lakes. The northern part of them, however, were a bit emptier and I enjoyed a beautiful run.

The other runners I met were rather old chinese doing as well morning runs.

The fresh temperature helped to speed up the pace, to 5’46″/km for a total of 7,5km.

Beijing Course

Below a couple of pictures I took, one on the evening before, while drawing the main lake, and the other with the crossroads, marked with the black circle in the picture above.

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Hangzhou – Oct 16/17th

Last stage of the trip was the Silk Road city of Hangzhou. There I stayed at a hostel close to the legendary West Lake, a spot that inspired poets and emperors for centuries if not millenia. The beauty of its shores was inviting and I run on the evening of the 16th and the morning of the 17th before packing and leaving to take my plane back to Spain.

The town around the West Lake being a spot for tourism since long ago, it was not unusual to find runners eager to enjoy the nicely arranged walks. I met many of them both in the evening and in the morning. In fact, this was the spot were I found most of them, and a couple of them quite fast I must say.

The paces were 5’41″/km for 7,6km in the evening, and 5’36″/km for 10km the next morning.

Hangzhou West Lake course

In the evening run I did not take pictures, but the scenery with the pagodas and walkways illuminated were almost beyond words. In the next morning I took the one below, corresponding the the spot marked with the circle in the map above.

West Lake view

I can´t refrain myself from leaving you here an example from internet of the very same spot at night:

Night view of the same spot (credit to China Discovery)

Final comment

I was happy to have covered so many kilometers along the trip, even if they do not account for proper training just a couple of weeks before a marathon run. Anyway, they were way more than the amount expected looking at the precedents. And the spots in which I run, especially in Shanghai and Hangzhou, were magical and impressive. In combination with the bike tour and the Great Wall hike, this rounded possibly my most sportive holiday trip ever. It reinforced the overall overwhelming impression the the country left on me.

Will I be able to repeat the same in next long trip? Who knows, until then, the next step will be to report on how these 62km contributed to the Dublin Marathon preparation.

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Notes and book review: Capital and the Common Good

Not long after the discovery of the book Social Enterpreneurship for the 21st Century by Georgia Levenson-Kehoane, I decided to read more of her research and recently got her latest release Capital and the Common Good. Based on the first one I had written some notes (link here) incorporating much of the internet links to the resources and organizations discussed in the book. And I summarized my understanding of the main teachings.

For this new release I will do a bit differently. Its content is more structured around four main topics than the first one and covers a wider range of the world´s problems (in contrast to the somewhat narrower focus of Social Enterpreneurship…). I will summarize the main chapters with some comments on them.

Underpinning the book is the discussion of the concepts of alignment of incentives, risk and time management, trust building, and how they relate in order to device financial structures that help to solve relevant problems.

This is revealed through the case studies described in each chapter, both of successful and failing initiatives and projects. The four main chapters cover following themes: Environment, Health, Financial Inclusion and Disaster Relief. A final chapter overarches with different examples the situations in the US related to the mentioned topics.

Review of chapters

Environment: The chapter discusses the value of the environment as a public good to be preserved, the negative externalities (i.e. those agents not bearing the costs of polluting/harming it…) and discusses cases of projects to protect it. For example the Pay-for-success approach within the REDD initiative, aimed at reducing the emissions from deforestation, and where norwegian funds managed by local brazilian institutions helped successful conservation projects in the Amazon area.

Further financial mechanisms are discussed in the chapter, in particular the so-called green bonds, where the interest is repaid from revenues generated by environmental projects. Such bonds in theory offer hedging against climate problems.

Cap-and-trade redistribution strategies are also commented, in which externalities are put a price that can be traded by actors in the filed. The examples of fishing industry or building development, where high rise buildings generate tradeable revenue to invest in compensating infrastructures around them.

Health: mechanisms are discussed to help the building of trust, the exchange of information and the sharing and lowering of risks to finance the costs of health needs. Again the pay-for-success scheme is shown, with the case of Global Fund, where the interest is paid out of the avoidance of future health costs.. Other strategies are mentioned such as the use of taxes and levies, for instance, those applied to some operations in a country such as selling of flight tickets, where an fraction of the price is destined to cover health costs.

Further examples are the “sin” taxes imposed on products such as tobacco, in order to alleviate the budgetary burden that they impose on the health system of a country.

Two more axis of actions are presented. The use of Advance Market Commitments is one, as in the case of GAVI initiative for the procurement of vaccines, that helps secure and stabilize future revenues for the manufacturers, thus reducing risk and cost. Other line of action is the management of debt relief for countries that pledge prevention programs. One example would be the case of the IFFIm, or International Financing Facility for Immunization, where upfront and immediate costs to purchase health resources are made available backed by the securitization of the mentioned pledges.

Smaller projects are also mentioned such us MedStartr, for funding of medical projects, Kangu, especialized in birth assistance or Healthfundr, similar to Medstartr but focused on venture capital that provides impact.

Most of the schemes and structures discussed in the chapter revolve around the concepts of pooling risks of individual initiatives, stabilization of revenue streams, and building trust to lower the concerns of mismanagement, corruption, governance of problems of scale.

Financial inclusion: This chapter discusses cases around the world of access to capital and financial services in developing countries and regions. Technology enables there financial services via cell phones, and progressively the provision of insurance which, in such regions is sometimes even more important that the finance itself. The application cases of M-Pesa money transfer system are discussed for Kenya, where it is a success, and Indonesia, where the results are not that satisfactory. Regulation aspects are factored in the discussion.

Beyond the money transfer, the Pay-as-you-go services, also backed by technology and cell phones, has helped to bundle the banking and payment of utilities, the monitoring of usage and follow up of local problematic thanks of a network of local vendors and retailers. In addition to bridging local currencies to international ones, these projects capitalized on the mentioned effect of trust building. This “bundling” effect is quoted by Brian Cox of MFX Solutions, one the operators in the field:

“it´s like shipping cargo: the most efficient way to carry a small load across the ocean is to find a big ship going the same direction”

Comment is made that, even if not all cases and projects work as well as intended, the successful ones serve as demonstrators to attract and unlock international funds into underdeveloped areas.

Disaster Relief: The chapter discusses from natural disasters (rainfall, droughts,…) and the impact at local level to wars and refugee crisis. At local level again the examples of micro-insurance are mentioned (M-Pesa), where the technology-enabled systems helps with the early pay-outs for the recovery as well as the acquisition of on-site data and the measurement of the natural phenomena (floods, etc…).

The disaster relief discussion jumps to the regional and national levels with the cases of the Cat-bonds (for catastrophe bonds) used after the Sandy storm in New York city or the Katrina hurricane in Louisiana in the US. Other example, at transnational level is the African Risk Capacity, which helps by pooling non-correlated risks across different countries, lowering costs and focusing on preparedness and early warning and payments.

Most of the cases discussed around disaster relief again revolve around accurate measuring and data gathering to help with response time and upfront money availability.

The chapter closes with discussion of the blending of development initiatives with humanitarian efforts to help refugees and migrants. That is, man-made disasters such as wars. Mention is made to some solutions to avoid the influence of mafias in the money transfers to refugees, i.e. by means of vouchers. The case of Lebanon is discussed as an example of the blend of development and humanitarian effort and Al-Majmoua micro-finance services as one local operator in that field.

The final chapter is a summary of initiatives and solutions with focus on the United States. The concepts developed along the book (tech enabled solutions, pooling of risks, measurement, trust,…) are reviewed with more examples. These concepts help to deal with problems of discrimination in communities, to develop local based (i.e. housing, education) and people based solutions (i.e. transport, jobs), again with examples, such as The Social Entrepreneurs Fund, or the NYC MTA ticket vouchers just to name a few.

A broader discussion in that chapter is focused on the Social Impact Bonds. A financial mechanism already mentioned in the previous book, now pros and cons are brought up. The main problems of execution and complexity of its set up are described with the example of the Rikers Island Correctional facility, in New York, where the rehabilitation projects financed via SIBs were not successful. The Rikers project tried to replicate another SIB project for correctional institutions in Peterborough, UK, but cultural and demographic differences, the judicial system and a slow set-up and implementation revealed that often there is no one-fits-all solution.

Final comments

I have to say the same as in the previous notes to social innovation in finance, which is that the book is rich in material to be reviewed, including the large notes sections at the end. It has almost text book quality. For my engineering mind, though, I would have liked some more structure among and within the chapters and sections. In fact, these notes are, as many posts in this blog, a personal exercise to structure and better learn what I have read. Also in this sense, some more visuals and graphics would round the book up.

Anyhow, I found another door-opener in Capital and The Common Good. It has helped me a lot to deepen in the understanding and discovery of social finance and innovation, to discover new names and institutions active in every field, and nurtured my interest on the possibilities of financial instruments to help solve the problems of the world. I encourage every reader to go beyond these notes and explore the two books from which they derive.


Photo credits to: Karsten Würth, Petter rudvall, Drew Hays and Jesus in Taiwan on unsplash.com, Times of India and Afritorial.

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The Alamo and San Jacinto

“Remember The Alamo”

Sherman´s men charge against Santa Anna in the battle of San Jacinto, April 21st 1836

Following the visits to NASA sites during my vacation trip to the US in 2017 (link here), which had ended in Houston, I had on the agenda the San Jacinto Battlefield Monument. There Sam Houston had defeated the mexican army of general Santa Anna. I had recently read about the famous US Senator that gives name to the city in John F. Kennedy´s book Profiles in Courage. The stay in Houston would thereby be nicely rounded up.

Monument with the Lone Star on top

The monument site is centered around an impressive obelisque of almost 174m high (570ft) located in the battlefield. The obelisque has an observation deck on the top with great views on city of Houston and the entire bayou, with the unending oil refineries and fields surrounding it. At the basement there is a museum with an outstanding exhibition full of explanations of state history, from the 16th century spanish dominance (including analysis of the colonial social structures at the time!), through the spanish-mexican war to the texan independence war that unfolded after the battle there.

Historical notes engraved in the basement

Far view of Houston´s skyline from the Monument

Reading the banners in the exhibition, and as I was reminded and suggested by a texan couple, San Jacinto had been in fact a revenge from Sam Houston to the mexicans, and the proper chronological visit to be done was the one to The Alamo mission, in the city of San Antonio, a three hours drive from Houston.

The Alamo mission is a true shrine of american history, comparable to Philadelphia, Gettysburg or Appomatox to name some other. In the visit, as many other american sites free of charge, again multiple banners and placards provide extensive historical data and notes:

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To summarize the notes shown above, the site served missionary and military objectives during the spanish rule from 1716, then mexican and finally the texan fighters who rebelled against the regime of General Santa Anna from 1835 to 1836.

The history of The Alamo goes down to the agonic resistance and defeat after 13 days of siege from February 23rd to the morning of March 6th of 1836, where the final charge of Santa Anna broke the lines of the mission and the last post in the church was surrendered.

Famous Gary Zaboldy painting of the battle

And the layout of the mission, with the church and the “long barrack” as main features:

The resistance is associated to the names of its texan commanders, immortal to today´s americans, such as Bonham, Travis and above all Jim Bowie (1) and the legendary Davy Crockett.

East wall of the church, the last post to be surrendered

Even if the result was a defeat, it went down in history as an example of bravery and valor for the texans like no other, as the myriads of books, songs and movies have registered along the decades.

Now, chronologically, it can be understood that San Jacinto was the revenge months later for The Alamo, and it paved the way to the texan annexation and to a series of victories against the mexicans that unfolded in the US-Mexican war from 1846 to 1848 (2). This in turn resulted in the acquisition by the US of California, Arizona, New Mexico and parts of Nevada, Colorado and Utah.

The Long Barrack, one of the most fought spots of the Mission

As explained in the museum of the Long Barrack, these battles and subsequent territorial expansions really gave the US a continental dimension, with its shores in both oceans, and ushered an unprecendented era of growth in many fronts.

Even if the outer limits of the enclave in present day are populated with modern buildings…

Present day “Travis corner”, where the lines were first broken

… the church itself still transmits undeniable gravitas. A true shrine of american history and the origin of a sentence for the ages, as the men of Sam Houston shouted to charge in San Jacinto:

Remember The Alamo!

Front wall of The Alamo Mission Church

 


(1) Today´s The Alamo complex hosts a dedicated exhibition to the figure of Jim Bowie and his famous knives. The exhibition struck me a lot. Bowie was a personal envoy from then senator Sam Houston to The Alamo in order to help hold the post. But the information provided in the museum speaks of a controversial individual, practically an outlaw who had killed commercial rivals with the knife that became famous, and who was known for fraudulent practices with land deals, and used to sell slaves as well. By today´s standards no politician would like to be linked to such a man, but it seems that those were brutal times, and Sam Houston seemed to have found in him “a man for the job”.

(2) My journey on that trip after Houston continued to Mexico, where I had the opportunity to read the mexican side of the history of that war in the museum of Chapultepec Castle, where a similar shrine to their particular resistant fighters, the “Niños Heroes“, is located. I will post in the future about that visit to Mexico.

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Vienna Marathon 2018

Almost same story but with different perspective.

With a finishing netto time of 4h 38’41” , my new second worst time ever after Paris 2012 and surpassing Seville 2017, struggling already in km 11 and a lot of suffering from km 27, this post seemed posed to reproduce the feelings I had after the mentioned Sevilla race. It is not.

In hindsight it was a great experience, after all this was my 13th marathon race since I started with the distance in Munich 2008. And although my statement from Seville saying “don´t ever fool with a marathon race” remains valid, it is not that we fooled with the race. The fact is that the distance always reminds us that it is unforgiving.

On the preparation, based on the good finishing experience of Lisboa I tried to follow the same training/recovery plan of that race. An intensive plan for some 250km spread in 6 weeks including long runs on weekends and speed series on weekdays. Even though I was again not able to balance correctly work and training especially in March, I finally covered more than 90% of the mileage, getting similar good sensations than those for Lisboa.

Also the same psycological incentive of the whatsapp group for training, reporting and peer motivation was used with Javier, and it worked similarly.

Already in Vienna, the weather forecasts (sunny and around 25ºC) prepared us for a battle as we had experienced, for instance, in the “greek inferno” in Athens 2013. As in that race, our particular field included the same three out of the 4 J´s, Juan, my brother Javier and myself.

Javier had managed to book a small but well located room in the city center, close to the finish line and metro station to get to the start, and that allowed us to enjoy tourist walks without effort. However, my sensation is that we did not manage to sleep well in the night before the race and definitely did not have breakfast properly. We had missed the closure time of a nearby supermarket (in order to buy fruit, coffee, …) on Saturday evening and had to go with the products of  hotel reception vending machines.

The morning of the race was pleasant and we arrived with time and well to the start line. The use of the toilets in my case was fruitful and productive…

The race started quite ok and I kept a conservative pace ranging from 5’50″/km to 6’/km, mimicking the strategy of Lisboa.

The heat and the sun started to indicate struggle ahead. The shades of the trees in the Prater Park offered some coverage, and the prospect of future alleviation for the kms 27 to 35 according to the course map. Not bad.

Vienna race course

After getting out of the Prater Park around km 6 to 7, the first streets and avenues showed us the impact of the sun. I had it difficult to manage the heat, and the pace suffered, being consistently over 6’/km.

Suffering under the sun

The road to Schönbrunn Palace started to be painful, a bit uphill and with the heat and sun, in spite of the undoubtful beauty of the viennese streets and avenues. For the occasion the soundtrack was full of classical music works matching the city´s history.

Down from Schönbrunn, and having reached the half marathon, the buildings offered some protection against the sun, but I was suffering already probably from the unproper breakfast, even though I tried to recover with the bananas provided in the water stations. In these, the water was supplied in small hard plastic glasses, less practical that the paper ones or the bottles, and I needed to slow down or stop in order to drink and not spill the content, as I do with the fountains during the training sessions in Seville. That would be then the mental relief: a long typical Sunday run with stops to drink.

Nearby buildings offered some relief

Reaching km 28, back in Prater Park, I was suffering a lot and some 2 km later Javier caught me (he had stopped in some parts of the course for the toilets…) and we decided to run together as we did in Madrid 2015. The next 8 kms would run again under the trees and that helped me a lot in order not to stop. The pace exploded anyway, up to 7’30″/km in some moments.

Javier and I in best spirit

The we left the Park behind and were exposed anew to the sun in the wide avenues of the city center. However, with around 3 kms remanining the last effort could be made. We sped up a bit below 7’/km and crossed the finish line together as we had done in Madrid three years before.

Final strides together before the finish line

After finishing, while we were exchanging clothes and eating the refreshments from the finisher bags, we saw next to us a runner that was being attended from exhaustion or heat by the Red Cross. I had seen similar scenes  throughout the race course in numbers like in no other marathon before that I can remember, which gives an idea of the challenge.

Recovered after finishing

Almost recovered, we shared the feeling about how great this distance of the marathon is, that had almost beaten us, how unforgiving to the slightest failure. Anyhow, we had managed to finish it, what is always an achievement.

My progress of the race is shown in the table below:

Time and pace progress along the course

With Juan, that came to finish a while after us, we almost set us up for the next one in the fall season, most probably Dublin.

One thing is sure, regardless of the training and pre-race conditions that we will try to control better, for sure we will again pay respect to the 42km and will be happy if we finish.

 

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