Lightning connector and lint

Recently, I’ve had TONS of trouble with my iPhone 7 lightning port. The cable kept falling out, and was loose and wiggly. This meant that I would sometimes find my phone completely uncharged because something in the connection wasn’t working right. I was getting really frustrated, and was thinking I would need to bring my 1 year old phone in for a repair.

I had been told that sometimes lint can get in there and cause issues, but every time I fished around with a toothpick or paperclip I wouldn’t see anything or get any results. Then today I decided to do one more Google search. I found a commenter who said to check to see if the lightning cord plug fits flush against the body of the phone. If it doesn’t, then you actually have lint CAKED against the back of the port. Sure enough when I checked, my lightning cord stuck out from the phone body 1-2mm. Even though it felt somewhat secure, it wasn’t actually seating correctly.

I grabbed a cubicle wall stick pin and started poking against the back wall of the port. To my surprise, there was a TON of caked on lint at the back of the port. When I had looked into the phone before it looked just like the back wall of the port, but it was actually a layer of solidified lint. I scrapped the port out completely, and the picture below is how much stuff I got out. I was shocked at how much crap was in there.

A couple notes of caution! ALWAYS make sure your phone is off when doing this. Also, if you’re using a metal tool be VERY careful to not scrape the top/bottom of the port with the sharp end of the tool. That’s where the connectors are. If you have a plastic toothpick, that’s even better.

It’s like I’ve got a new phone. The cord locks in to place securely, and no matter what, I can’t wiggle it out of place. I’m beyond relieved that this was a simple fix. Happy charging!

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Pokémon Go revisited

Back in 2016 I jumped on the craze that is Pokémon Go. I played for a while, and then eventually put it way. However, recently, many of my friends have gotten back in to the game, and so I’ve started playing again, and I’ve found it to be way more fun than when I tried it originally.

One of the biggest components that was added recently was the ability to create a friends list. Once someone is your friend, you can send them gifts that you collect when you visit various Pokéstops. This adds a whole new dimension to the game, because it’s creates more of a social community around playing. It’s fun to open the gifts that I get each morning, because they are tagged with a picture of where the Pokéstop was. A few weeks ago I was visiting a college where a friend of mine had attended, so I specifically collected a few gifts from there and sent them to him over the course of a few days. It was a fun way to bridge the gap between reality and a video game.

Niantic (the game developers) have also spent a lot of time improving the various mechanisms in the game to add more depth and playability. Battling in raids and gyms is a fun way to meet new people, and do more than just catch random ‘Mons. The addition of Community Days brings people together at parks all over the place to look for special spawns, and to take down legendary bosses. Overall, every thing just feels cleaner and more refined than when it first started. It also helps that many technical glitches have been taken care of.

I still wish there were a few things that they would change. One of those is more transparency. It’s incredibly difficult to optimize your playing when there is so little official information on how things work behind the scenes. Unlike traditional Pokémon games, you’re often left guessing, or relying on random internet sites, to tell you how good or bad a specific Pokémon would be in a given situation. I understand the desire to not tell everyone all the secrets, but a bit more data would be useful.

Overall I’m having a great time, and my friends and I are enjoying our Poké-time together when we’re out biking and enjoying beer. I’m sure I won’t play constantly forever, but I can see myself being more regular now that they’ve made some solid improvements to a great game.

 

Stronger at Afton

When I first started trail running I didn’t make it out to Afton that much. I only made it out there on occasion for the first year or so, and usually had no idea where I was going. In 2016 I finally signed up for the Afton 25K race, and had a great time, and since, we’ve made Afton a pretty regular weekend stop during the summer.

My first year that I ran the race I put in a solid 3:40 effort. The second year I ran the 25K I was going a lot slower, and things weren’t quite where I wanted them to be running-wise. That year I only managed a 3:52. Still sub-4, which is where I wanted to be, but I felt like I could do a lot better. However, I had to take some time to get myself back to where I needed to be in my running game.

I knew I wouldn’t be running Afton this year, as I’ve been spending a lot more time volunteering with races. I was totally fine with that, as I know the Afton course by heart, and frankly, can go run it any time I want to. With my body feeling stronger this year I decided to try and test myself a bit. During a fatass this year I was running with my friend Mike B. As we approached the final section of the course, I looked at my watch and realized that I was on PR pace. I told Mike, “Sorry buddy, but we’re going to run this one in hard.” I managed a 3:34, shaving off some solid minutes from my effort.

Today I decided to give it another shot. I chose to run alone, and just focus myself on doing whatever I felt like I could handle. Maybe it would be a PR day, or maybe it would be a four hour slog. I wasn’t sure, but I knew that if I just focused on running my comfortable pace, I would come out happy on the other side no matter what.

As I made my way around the course I tried to ignore any pace beeps from my watch. I knew that if I tried to do math I’d just end up disappointing myself. I kept my watch on it’s “distance-only” screen, and stuck to the old familiar strategy of walk-the-hills, run-the-downs-and-flats. I committed to running the river trail as always, and as I approached Meatgrinder, I allowed myself to check my time. To my surprise, I was a full 10 minutes ahead of where I was in my last PR attempt, and I was mostly feeling great.

It would be a lie to say that I blew through the rest of the course feeling awesome. Meatgrinder bonked me really hard. I ate some food and drank a bunch of water, and hiked as best as I could. Thankfully, there was a cool breeze and I wasn’t suffering from any heat-related issues. I gave myself permission to recover a bit at the top, and sure enough by the time I hit where Aid Station 5 normally sits in the race, I was getting a second (or maybe third or fourth) wind. I quickly texted my wife that I was entering Snowshoe loop and I would be done soon. Then I put my head down and did whatever I could to get it done.

After the big climb in the middle of Snowshoe I flipped my watch over to a setting that displays time, distance, and pace. I was starting to feel like 3:15 could be a possibility, and if not that, then 3:20. I barreled my way through the downhill section of Snowshoe as best as I could, and cursed every hill that stood in my way. The final climb out of Snowshoe is brutal. It’s a short hill, and only 100 feet, but the grade is double digits, and after 15 miles on your legs, it feels like a slap in the face.

I broke through the top and arrived on the final stretch along the prairie. I looked at my watch and knew it would be close. I used whatever I had left to try and put as many minutes between me and my previous PR as I could. At one point my watch had me cruising at a 8:30 pace as I sprinted for the imaginary finish line. As I pressed stop on my watch and saw my final time… 3:16:08, I was ecstatic. Not only had I made a new PR, I had crushed my old time. Once any standing around time was parsed out, Strava put my actual time at 3:16:19, but either way, that was a massive improvement.

I made my way to the car, exhausted. My wife saw me and asked me if I was OK, because usually I’m not this gassed at the end of a training run. I told her I was fine, but that I needed something more than water. I went into the visitor center and played with the vending machine until it gave me some Powerade. I was wiped out, but I was joyous.

As I reflect back tonight on the run I can’t help but feel good about my running life right now. I’ve committed to running for myself, and it’s paying in dividends beyond just a happier demeanor. I’m spending more time with my wife, despite needing to run a slower pace with her, and that’s helping me put down some really solid performances when it matters to me. I’m not worrying about ensuring I’m following my training plan to the letter, but I’m using it as a guide to allow me to still live life, and do what I want to do, but make progress.

Who knows if I’ll actually ever run this fast on the Afton course again, but at least now I can see what I’m capable of. That’s a great feeling, and a great place to be.

Doing some race directing

A couple of years ago I started hearing about winter ultramarathons. These are long winter events that are steeped in the survivalist culture of Alaskan events such as Iditarod. The idea is that you go a long distance in the middle of winter, with only your gear, and your wits, to help you survive.

Modern winter ultramarathons are still survivalist events, but in a slightly more structured environment. Participants traverse a set distance by foot, fat bike, or ski, within a prescribed timeline, carrying all their gear with them as they go. There are no lush aid stations, and you can’t accept help from anyone who’s not involved in the race. The biggest ones in the upper Midwest are the Arrowhead 135 and the Tuscobia 80/160. As the names imply, these are huge distances (135, 80, and 160 miles respectively), and for beginners, they feel out of reach.

I started having conversations with folks about shorter distance versions of these races, and discovered that none really exist anywhere near me. So, I did the next most logical thing for someone who thinks like I do. I created my own.

On Monday we announced our first ever race, the St. Croix 40 Winter Ultra, which will be held on January 12-13th at St. Croix State Park, near Hinckley, MN. This short-course event will give people a chance to see if they have what it takes to even attempt the longer distances. Participants will also need to prove that they can use their gear, such as their bivy-sack and stove. These are key elements for surviving a harsh Minnesota winter night, while traveling 40 miles alone.

I’m no stranger to running things, I do it for my career. I’ve also run multiple aid stations at some of the biggest trail ultras in the Midwest. Of course, none of that is going to make us any less anxious and nervous about stepping up to the big leagues and fully directing a race. However, I’m incredibly excited about this idea, and I can’t wait to show people how amazing winter in Minnesota can be. I want to give people a chance to experience these amazing events in a safe and constructive way, and help them build confidence for the future. I also want to help them learn to respect the history and tradition of these events, and how to give honor to those who are doing even more amazing things than this.

Today begins a new adventure. I’m stoked to see where it all leads.

Review: Into The Furnace

I had recently been introduced to Cory Reese’s books through Nowhere Near First: Ultramarathon Adventures From The Back Of The PackThis book was a fun, quick read, and compiled a bunch of stories of how Cory became an accomplished ultrarunner. I decided to pick up his latest book about the Badwater 135 race, Into The Furnace: How a 135 mile run across Death Valley set my soul on fire

I managed to get through the book during my camping weekend, and overall I enjoyed it, but I had a few reservations. Before we delve in to the good/bad, a brief overview of the Badwater 135. Dubbed the world’s toughest footrace, the Badwater 135 takes participants from the lowest point in America, to the highest point in the continental United States. The magic of geography means that these two points are less than 150 miles apart. This book is the story of not just Cory’s adventure preparing and doing this race, but the story of the history of Death Valley, and the first man to ever complete the run, Al Arnold.

What was great about this book

One of the best parts of this book is the way that the stories of Al Arnold and William Manly are woven through the book. Manly was the pioneer who helped guide the first settlers across Death Valley during the California Gold Rush. The inclusion of the story of these early settlers, along with Arnold’s first modern journey, helps to build a wonderful picture of what Death Valley is, and means, to many people. These chapters in the book were some of my favorite, and I loved whenever we got to come back to them and learn more about these pieces of a richer history and tale.

I also appreciated how Cory doesn’t assume the reader knows or understands ultramarthoning. He explains things that might seem foreign to non-running friends, such as aid station frequency, and how the Badwater race turns this on it’s head. His style is conversational and approachable. This means that pretty much anyone can pick up this book and be wowed by the amazing spectacle that is Badwater.

Some critiques

Despite overall enjoying this book, I feel like it was lacking in area of craft. One of the things that I enjoyed about Cory’s first book, Nowhere Near First, was the “blog-esque” nature of how it flowed. It felt like I was reading a bunch of fun stories that just happened to be put together in a single volume with an overarching theme. However, in Into The Furnace, there is a greater narrative that spans the entire book.

The blog-y nature of the author’s writing style detracted from this overarching narrative. Many thoughts and comments were repeated multiple times throughout the narrative, and after a while it started to feel like padding for the sake of word count. The inclusion of the side stories of Arnold and Manly felt more cohesive, and drove the narrative in a way that sometimes overshadowed the story of Cory’s training and racing.

The other aspect that I didn’t care for was the over-abundance of hyperbolic humor. I felt like the author really stepped it up in this book, compared to Nowhere Near First. I enjoyed the humor in the first book, but that’s mostly because it felt the right amount for the stories that were being told. In Into The Furnace I found myself feeling overwhelmed by it. I recall on one occasion there was a joke that went on for what seemed like an entire paragraph, and it simply got old.

Verdict

Despite these issues with craft, I still enjoyed the book, and would recommend it to people who want to learn more about the Badwater 135. Cory’s a fun writer to read, and I feel that with some additional editing, this book could have been even better. He successfully tells the tale of an amazing accomplishment, one that I’ll never even come close to considering. I can’t emphasize enough that completing this race requires an amazing commitment. By including the tale of William Manly, alongside the modern race, we get a true sense of just how special, and difficult, Death Valley can be. It’s not a place for the weak, and everyone who toes the line at Badwater 135 is a special and amazing human being.