Friday, September 16, 2011

Run Robot, Run!

Folks, we are getting closer to the days when we won’t actually have to run marathons. Behold the creation from the University of Michigan (the leaders and best.) This is MABEL. She’s a sexy running robot.

So now they are building robots with two legs and knees. Knees?! As in “I torn my ACL and will be bedridden for 26 months” knees? I thought the goal of robotic creations was to improve upon the human form to make tasks more efficient, less prone to human injury and fatigue? And so you build a robot with knees? That apparently, as shown in the video, favors the Galloway run/walk system?

I’m told their next generation MABEL will have asthma and adult onset Diabetes. They are going to keep creating new, improved generations until they get to a generation that refuses to get off the couch and prefers to bitch about the weather instead.

I spend half my running time dreaming of robotic wheels to replace my tired legs and these guys are building mechanical knees? I guess it’s still a work in progress though. At 6.8 mph, MABEL won’t qualify for Boston. They don’t have oil flavored Gu there anyhow. Heck, she wouldn’t even age group a local 5k.

There is something to be said for robotic running though. I admit to using a little psychological trick when racing to try to disassociate from my fatigue. I have a half marathon this weekend and I’ll be employing a little Robotic Brain on the course. Inevitably, there comes that point in the race where my breathing accelerates, stride lengthens, and the negative thoughts creep in. I’m at the key spot where the Fight or Flight path will be chosen. In a half marathon, it usually comes around the ten mile mark. I can’t fathom doing another three miles at current pace. I’ve started to become conscious of my own labored breathing. And my arms that once hung loosely by my side are now bunched up, elbows akimbo, swatting at the air with every stride.

When I get to that point, I try to become a cyborg. From the neck up, I’m an emotionless, slave-driving computer. My lungs and legs (and knees!) take direction from the command post. When the body attempts to send signals back to the brain that it’d like to slow up, please, and stop for a Fresca and a scone, the cyborg brain blocks the message and replies with short, authoritative monotone commands:

“Maintain current speed.”
“Relax arms and shoulders.”
“Breathe fuller, easier.”
“Wipe chin spittle. Have some self respect for chrissakes.”

Seriously, it sounds stupid but I really think that way. My body likes to try to quit way sooner than my head. So I’ve become accustomed to simply detaching my thoughts from my feelings. I actually imagine that I’ve stepped out of the tired body and crawled up into my cyborg head. I know my body is fatiguing….but I also know that there is more to give in there somewhere. Maybe a bit more energy in the 4th toe? Check there.

I run the first 10 miles with my body and the last 3 with my head. And I’m living in my head at that point. The body is all rundown and gross and the foundation is leaking. I abandon it like I'm an upside down mortgagee. My head is still crisp, clean and filled with people wearing matching silver jumpsuits and carrying clipboards. In other words, by mile 10, my body is the abandoned home of the average American and my head is filled with bankers walking around holding deeds and blowing their nose on the wads of crumpled cash falling out of their pockets. Stupid bankers.

I’ve been pretty successful at disassociating the pain and fatigue by becoming a cyborg runner. I’ll probably continue with the technique until the day comes when I don’t have to run at all.

Just a few more mph’s on ol’ MABEL and I can get one of them to run the race for me. Have you seen the new movie trailer for Real Steel? It’s like a real life version of Rock ‘Em, Sock ‘Em Robots. Why would robotic athletics be confined to boxing?

Oh, yeah, this is happening. The day will come when I won’t have to run these marathons at all. I’ll wear a headset, sipping a Fresca while sitting on the couch, issuing commands to my own MABEL and she'll herky-jerky step her way through a marathon.

I just hope she doesn’t blow out a knee. I guess.

Happy trails.

I only half-heartedly trained for the Capital City River Run half marathon. I intended to train hard…and then summer days and summer vacations and Oberon got in the way a bit. So, goals, quick and easy:

a) Beat 1:26:37 and PR.
b) Beat 1:27:43 and set a course PR.
c) Beat 1:28.

I'm hoping for the B goal, realistically. I ran my current PR time back in May but this is a longer (measures 13.29 miles compared to 13.15 miles on my PR course) and slightly more challenging course. So, I’d need to be at least one minute faster just to match my PR time. I’m not sure I’m any faster. I may run exactly the same as in May and barely beat 1:28. We’ll see. No worries, though. It should be a beautiful day for a run either way.

Side track note: I overheard my colt’s soccer coach discussing fitness with the team and how they should run or cycle on off days. I even heard him explain the term “fartlek” and how it can be used to build speed. You have no idea how weird it is to hear that term in a non-running environment.


Sun Runner said...

GO BLUE! I see Michigan State didn't come up with this idea. What would they have anyway, a robotic cow?

Good luck at the CCRR on Sunday. I was toying with the idea of late-registering for the 5K, but the allure of sleeping in won out.

Also: the various pumpkin ales from Michigan breweries have been released. Put down the Oberon and pick up an Ichabod.

Morgan said...

Leave it to Sun Runner to get a jab in at MSU straight out the gate!

Good luck this weekend! Spike and I are headed down there too, we'll cheer you in!

Sean and Rain Gowens said...

Funny I think all runners probably do something similar after so many miles. I personally turn to my inner meditative buddha sitting cross legged totally disconnected from my legs. Good luck in your race!

Viper said...

Good luck with the robotics this weekend. Caution: PBR may cause corrosion. Cheers!

David said...

Go Michigan - six years after Honda came up with ASIMO, you guys come up with a tethered, headless, armless robot.

Have a Fresca.

(I'm just kidding - I think Fresca is awesome).

Elizabeth said...

Good luck on your half this weekend!!! I am also running a half this weekend. We're like twins, except I am going to be running juuuuust a tad more slowly than you and hope to finish around the 2 hour mark. Weather's looking good here too! yay!

Beth said...

I hope your half marathon went well. Can't wait to read about it and if your robot approach worked.

Danielle in Iowa in Seattle said...

Aw, now you and the colt can fartlek together! What father-son bonding that will be!