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6 Training Tips to Steal From Boston Marathoners

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Today marks the 121st Boston Marathon and this morning, thousands of runners will toe the start line of the 26.2-miler, the oldest annual marathon in the world. The race is known for its history but also its challenging course: It starts with several fast downhill miles—so people tend to begin too fast and find themselves tired and with aching quads by the time they hit a series of notoriously tough hills late in the course.

To race Boston takes not only hours and hours of long runs and speed work in prep but also strategic training for strong legs and good pacing. Read on for lessons learned from training for the Boston course—and tips about how you can use them to be a better runner yourself, whether or not you'll ever hoof it up Heartbreak Hill.


Getting wet while you work out sound less than pleasant? Get used to it. "Race day in Boston often presents runners with imperfect weather, like rain and cold," says Michael Meliniotis, a coach at Mile High Run Club in New York City, and an age group runner who has finished 13 marathons (including three in Boston). "To manage those conditions, you need to experience them first." That means if you have a outdoor run planned and it starts raining, don't take your miles to the treadmill; make yourself jog in bad weather now and when you encounter rain or sleet or snow later, it won't seem like such a big deal. To keep from slipping, shorten your stride a bit. And to make it a little more comfortable, make sure to wear a waterproof running jacket and hat, suggests Ali Baldassare, a Precision Running coach at Equinox in Boston. "Staying as dry as possible will reduce your chance of chafing or getting blisters, and it helps keep your core body temperature warm," she says.


Along with occasional showers, Boston runners are also often hit with heavy spring winds. "Depending on how strong and persistent the wind is, it can sometimes feel like you're getting punched in the stomach or slapped in the face over and over again," says Baldassare. It takes a lot more effort to run into the wind than when there's no breeze, so she recommends maintaining a consistent effort level and not paying attention to your pace. And help yourself out a bit by wearing form-fitting clothing, she says: It'll cut down on some of the resistance.

Wind at your back? That can give you an awesome boost, but there's a lesson to learn with a tailwind too, says Meliniotis. Take note that it's helping you run a little faster, and if the breeze stops, don't try to keep up the same pace, he advises—as you could end up raising your effort level too much and zapping your energy too soon.


Competitors in any road race tend to start speedier than they planned to because of adrenaline and the excitement of the starting line—but it's even easier to begin too fast in Boston because the first four miles are a steady descent. Keeping your pace on track is both a science and a feeling. Wear a Garmin or other watch with GPS and check in on your speed every mile or two, then adjust your pace if you need to. However, Baldassare recommends not keeping your eyes glued to your wrist but paying attention to your breath and how your body feels to judge your effort. "During a race, your target pace might feel ‘easy’ because your adrenaline has kicked in and you settle into your groove. The mistake happens when you're feeling good and you think you can do more, or run faster. Don't. Hold back and save it for when you're going to need it the most—the last few miles of your race."


The early downhill section of Boston may seem like a breeze, but it actually gives legs a beating, especially your quads. In addition to practicing running downhill often, doing leg exercises like lunges can prep your quads to better handle the impact. "Strength training is crucial and such an integral part to any good running program, especially when it comes to hill running," says Baldassare. Also, focus on engaging your abs and glutes to take some of the impact off your quads and spare them from some soreness later, suggests Meliniotis. It can also help to take quick, light steps on the downhill and make sure you're not over-striding, he says; to do so, pay attention to where your feet go and try to make sure they're always landing directly under your body.


After the initial decline on the Boston course, runners hit a set of rolling hills. Your approach should vary depending on whether you're heading up or down, says Baldassare. On the uphill, she recommends leaning into the incline from your ankles and to move your arms more. "Pumping your arms parallel to your body revs up your energy," she says. Then when you crest the hill, don't put on the brakes! "Too often I see runners go into recovery mode down a hill," says Meliniotis. "Downhills are not recovery, they're an opportunity. Think about it as a roller coaster and you're gaining momentum." As far as form goes, continue to lean forward slightly so you don't land on your heels, which can hurt your knees.


Probably the most well known feature of the Boston course (besides the pumped-up cheer section in Wellesley) are the Newton Hills, including the infamous, dreaded Heartbreak Hill. They're fairly tough on their own but can feel downright torturous if your quads are already aching from the first two-thirds of the race. The secret of powering up tough terrain late in the game: Run some hill repeats at the end of your workouts. "It'll train your body how to efficiently use energy later on, when you're tired," says Baldassare. “The more your legs become accustomed to the energy demands of your running, the better they’ll be able to adapt and perform.”

A version of this story first ran in 2016.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Here's How to Change Your Name on Facebook
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Whether you want to change your legal name, adopt a new nickname, or simply reinvent your online persona, it's helpful to know the process of resetting your name on Facebook. The social media site isn't a fan of fake accounts, and as a result changing your name is a little more complicated than updating your profile picture or relationship status. Luckily, Daily Dot laid out the steps.

Start by going to the blue bar at the top of the page in desktop view and clicking the down arrow to the far right. From here, go to Settings. This should take you to the General Account Settings page. Find your name as it appears on your profile and click the Edit link to the right of it. Now, you can input your preferred first and last name, and if you’d like, your middle name.

The steps are similar in Facebook mobile. To find Settings, tap the More option in the bottom right corner. Go to Account Settings, then General, then hit your name to change it.

Whatever you type should adhere to Facebook's guidelines, which prohibit symbols, numbers, unusual capitalization, and honorifics like Mr., Ms., and Dr. Before landing on a name, make sure you’re ready to commit to it: Facebook won’t let you update it again for 60 days. If you aren’t happy with these restrictions, adding a secondary name or a name pronunciation might better suit your needs. You can do this by going to the Details About You heading under the About page of your profile.

[h/t Daily Dot]