Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Run #2: Hong Kong

[See previous Run #1]

Run #2 is the climb to the Peak on Hong Kong island. (Run #1 is on the Kowloon side.)

Unlike run #1, this one is very demanding. Steep. Short. Sweet. Best done in the cool hours of early morning.

However, to compensate there are wonderful views of course at the top, and it's quiet, car-free and tree-lined after the initial section.

And you have the satisfaction of not taking the Peak Tramway that carries 4 million tourists each year.

At a bit less than 1.5 miles, it climbs from around 200ft if you start from where I start to nearly 1400ft. Think of it like a demanding short trail run in the mountains except it's on concrete.

My GPS tracklog from the Magellan eXplorist 600 using Google Earth (with 3-D buildings turned on):

It's amusingly sparse. Compare the above with a photo I took:


  1. I begin at the Botannical Gardens in front of the memorial to the Chinese who died in the two world wars. Jog through the gardens, to the Panther enclosure, and out the back. Cross the road at the light onto Old Peak Rd.
  2. Road is very steep and lined with high-rise condos.
  3. Switchbacks are over 20% grade.
  4. The road becomes a one lane road here. Cars and motorcycles are prohibited.
    This is where the nice part begins but are you still running?
  5. Toilets if you need them.
  6. The grade even lets up in places to maybe 5%.
  7. Near the top now. Did you last?
  8. The top of the tramway is in view. Up the stairs.
  9. Turning around, the view back down.

Last, I want to revisit the tracklog on Google Earth again. Here, it's plotted from above:

As you can see, the Magellan struggles here to maintain 3-D coverage. Multipath off the tall buildings? Tree cover?

run #1: Hong Kong

There are some runs that simply take your breath away. For example, I think of Waikiki along the shore to Diamond Head. Nature sets a tough standard that's hard to beat.

Skip to Hong Kong.

There is a very special one mile walkway in Tsim Sha Tsui (Kowloon) from the old (train station) clock tower along Tsim Sha Tsui East to Hung Hom. Run there and back twice and it's a 4 mile run.

What's so special about this one mile of concrete? The view as you run. One of the most celebrated harbor views in the world.

When to run? Early in the morning, as the sun rises, before the tourists jam the walkway rendering it unusable for running and before the summer heat becomes oppressive.

The view? Difficult to describe exactly, but each lap offers a slightly different perspective as the rising sun slowly illuminating the skyscrapers over on Hong Kong island.

But you see a much wider field of view when running. Only a panorama can capture this. This was taken around 7am.

Turn up the music on the iPod, stare at the view and you can even forget you need wings to fly for a moment or two...

Details? I carried a GPS. Here is the route as mapped by Google Earth:

[Unfortunately, I had a lot of trouble with the Magellan eXplorist 600 in Hong Kong. Never got completely clean tracklogs. Too much electronic interference? For a larger image of the route, click here.]

Start here at the clock tower partially occluded by the cultural center:

The path ends here just below the flyover at Hung Hom:

Amazing Hong Kong run #2 to follow...

Saturday, May 19, 2007

A swim milestone

The word milestone is quite apt here.
Yesterday, I swam a mile. First time I've managed this distance.

Let's do the math. 36 laps of the 25 yd pool. 72 lengths. 1800 yds. That's the closest whole number of laps to 1760 yds = 1 mile.

However, I didn't swim the mile continously. I swam it in chunks of 100 yds (2 laps, 4 lengths). Not so impressive if you can swim properly.

However, you have to bear in mind that I am a truly terrible swimmer despite being a reasonably fit person in other aerobic activities. So despite stopping every 100 yds, this is an crowning personal achievement.

Normally, I last about 500 yds or barely 1000 yds if pushed (i.e. swim with someone). So when Harold, the lifeguard on duty at the MIT Alumni pool asked me how many laps I'd done, and I said 33, he said if you swim 3 more, you have a mile. And he helped me count down the last three laps.

A few tidbits:
  • Truth be told, I was inspired to complete the mile by the story of Morris Halle swimming 1 mile each day. And he's 83.
  • Curiously, a "swimmer's mile" is typically defined as 33 laps. Now, if you do the math, that comes out at 1650 yds. A wee bit short. So why is that? Turns out, 1650m is 1804 yds. It must have been based on a pool length of 25m/50m.
  • Previous blog entry on swimming freestyle: here

Truth be told, I have a ways to go before declaring myself truly able to swim a mile.
MIT has a beautiful and huge 50m pool (at the Zesiger Sports and Fitness Center) as well. Uncrowded:
Depth is 7ft to 14ft. I am not yet capable of doing 100m without stopping in this pool. So I recover after each 50m length.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Mt Lemmon: climb to Ski Valley

Sometimes I forget, but there is a world-class road climb right on the edge of town. It's called Catalina Highway and it climbs Mt Lemmon.

Stats? Start at the intersection of Tanque Verde and Catalina Highway (alt: 2550 ft, 778m). It tops out in Ski Valley (alt: 8350 ft, 2546m). A bit over 30 miles long. A (5800 ft, 1768m) climb. Looking to go under the 3 hour mark with moderate fitness, under 2:30 if in real shape.

See the GPS route plotted on Google Earth:

{Click here for a larger image.]

See the GPS waypoints plotted on National Geographic Topo!:

{Click here for a larger image.]

In summer, the temperature in Tucson regularly reaches 40C (over 100F). Climbing Mt Lemmon can make sense in this heat. Start early in the morning, say 7:30am when the temperature is in the 20s (70sF). When the temperature reaches 40C, you will be at the top of the mountain where the temperature is likely to be 23C.

Unfortunately, this year travel and catch-up when home have taken their toll on bike fitness no matter how much I swim and run. But with a major event coming soon in June, I need to see where I am on the fitness curve. So today, I climbed to Ski Valley and had a late breakfast at the Iron Door restaurant.

Here are some of the checkpoints and baseline fitness marks I use. I carried 60oz of water, just enough to not need refilling.

Mile marker
Warm-up 4.5 miles (up to mile marker 0) Straight and relatively flat before entering the Coronado National Forest.
Windy Point Vista mile marker 14 Almost halfway. About 6000ft up.
Baseline Timecheck: 1:50 (hr:mins).
Turn back here if fitness has deserted you.
Summerhaven mile marker 25 Turn right to keep climbing to Ski Valley.
Baseline Timecheck: 2:50 (hr:mins)
Ski Valley mile marker 27 Steepest section of the road to the top. Irondoor restaurant at Ski Valley. Ski lift can take you to 9157ft (2791m).
Baseline Timecheck: 3:00 (hr:mins)


I used a small Magellan eXplorist 600 GPS receiver mounted on the handlebar stem.

The eXplorist has a USB interface which allows the device to appear like a hard drive to the computer. Files can be simply copied off the device for processing.

It records a tracklog, each line of which looks something like:


The Magellan file format has to be converted into KML (Keyhole Markup Language) for Google Earth. GPSBabel+ is free software that can do this automatically.

For National Geographic Topo!, I reformat the lat/long fields slightly (as shown below) and import directly via the Wizard.


Monday, May 7, 2007

Excel and the Nike+ iPod Sport Kit

As I've mentioned in a previous blog entry (On the treadmill), it's possible to extract the run data recorded by the Nike+ iPod Sport Kit and plot it yourself.

One advantage of this is that you don't get the overly smoothed plot from the Nike+ uploads.

Here are the steps. First, I assume the iPod nano has been synced (and the data automatically uploaded to the Nike+ website).
  1. Extract the file.
    The iPod nano must have disk mode enabled. Assuming MacOSX, extract the file:

    /Volumes/iPod name/iPod_Control/Device/Trainer/Workouts/Empeds/ID of footpod/synched/Date Time.xml (where iPod name and ID of footpod are installation-specific).

  2. Identify the part of the file that contains the raw data.
    For example:
    <extendedDataList>%ltextendedData dataType="distance" intervalType="time" intervalUnit="s" intervalValue="10">0.0, 0.0141, 0.0337, 0.0702, 0.0917, 0.1221, 0.1556, 0.1887, 0.2211, 0.2508, 0.2813, 0.3122, 0.3402, 0.3723, 0.4045, 0.4361, 0.4647, 0.4968, 0.5274, 0.5586, 0.5871, 0.6157, 0.6474, 0.6643, 0.6866, 0.7107, 0.7401, 0.7731, 0.8005, 0.8309, 0.8589, 0.8895, 0.9169, 0.9488, 0.9807, 1.0087, 1.0397, 1.0705, 1.1016, 1.1224, 1.1534, 1.1837, 1.2154, 1.2431, 1.2706, 1.3065, 1.3351, 1.3652, 1.3963, 1.4234, 1.4486, 1.4773, 1.5029, 1.5266, 1.5509, 1.5752, 1.6026, 1.6311, 1.656, 1.6835, 1.712, 1.74, 1.7689, 1.7905, 1.8183, 1.8401, 1.8607, 1.8896, 1.9205, 1.949, 1.9751, 2.0041, 2.0334, 2.0634, 2.091, 2.1256, 2.1573, 2.1895, 2.2188, 2.2516</extendedData> </extendedDataList>
    Each of these values represents the distance traveled in 10 seconds. Save the data only as a text file.

  3. Import the comma-separated list of numbers into Excel. The values 0.0 to will appear in a single row (row 1).

  4. Transpose that row. Select row. Copy. Select cell A2. Paste Special. Check Transpose.

  5. Delete original row (row 1) and replace it with a blank row. Enter for A1, A2 and A3: km, time (mins), and speed (mph), and zeros for B2 and B3. See below:

  6. Populate columns B and C.

    Formula for cell B3 is simply the value of the previous cell (B2) + 1/6 of a minute, i.e. ten seconds. Copying this for the whole column gives the time in minutes.

    The speed in mph for cell C3 is simply the distance traveled in 10 seconds (i.e. A3-A2) multipled by 360 (convert to hours) and by 0.621371 (convert km to miles). Copying this for the whole column gives the speed in mph.

  7. Plot the chart.

    Select columns B and C. Insert Chart. Select XY scatter (connected by lines).

    Take the defaults and you have a detailed chart.