Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Inquiry Project: Psychometric Testing

The inquiry project was a tough one for me.  I had difficulty coming up with a topic because I'm in a state of life right now where it would be cool to learn something completely new (like quilting, for example.... I would like to learn to quilt) but if I am going to dedicate 6 hours to a project, right now it better be to contribute to my learning on a project I must complete -- because there are many of them on the go right now.  There were several home improvement projects that fell on that list, but my significant other is fussy.  He loves doing that kind of thing so much, to the point that he wants to be the one that does it all. Hence our conversation by text the first night of class about what I could build for this project.  Sigh......   I love him.  (P.S. I'm a feminist, really, I am).

But in doing my reading for a research project I am currently working, it struck me that I not only could I, with some self-study, replicate some of the tests done on the questionnaire described in the dissertation I was reading, but I could also use it for my project.  And so the psychometrics project was born. 

Learning the statistical procedures turned out to be not that difficult but it did take me most of a work day to put it all together.  The presentation had it's own challenges because it was hard to describe what was going on in each slide in such a way that it would only take 15 seconds to read.  I feel I make a few leaps of understanding in my descriptions but I did the best I could to keep it brief but still make it understandable and interesting. 

Interestingly enough, I have opportunity to use this format again at the Manitoba Cycling AGM, as we were invited to do a presentation on women and cycling but were only given 5 minutes.  No problem!

Below is the script to the video that is imbedded above.  Please enjoy. 

1. Psychometrics are the statistical tests performed on a questionnaire to assess if that questionnaire is performing consistently and measuring what it says it is measuring.

2. Usually when I do research, I hire a statistician. Here is my statistician, Tom Harrigan. Statisticians don’t have time to think about petty things like office cleaning when they are performing mathematics on data so here is Tom on a day that he cleaned his office and we were all amazed

3. The questionnaire I developed was an instrument used to measure Writing Self-Efficacy.  It uses a 4-point Likert scale measuring agreement to disagreement on 10 items related to confidence in writing ability.  The lowest possible score on this questionnaire is 10 and the highest is 40.

4. The inspiration for this project came when I was reading a dissertation describing the psychometrics of a similar scale designed for Adult Basic Education Students.  I felt that I could replicate many of the statistical procedures explained in this dissertation.

5. One of the key psychometric testing procedures is Factor Analysis. I took Biostatistics in 2002 when I was in the masters of nursing program.  I found my old textbook and notes hoping there would be information on Factor Analysis …… but there wasn’t.

6. So I asked statistician Tom what he thought about my project and he told me I needed more than 6 hours to learn Factor Analysis. And given the complexity of the formulas for factor analysis, I could see what he meant.  So I performed some of the other tests described in the dissertation instead.

7. A program like SPSS is much more efficient for statistical analysis but for this project, I had to go with what I had, which was Excel. By using you tube videos, I learned how to draw graphs, perform correlation, and create binned tables.  

8. So, I pooled the data collected from 231 participants over two past studies. I reordered the data so that the total scores from the questionnaire were ranked from lowest total writing self-efficacy to the highest. The lowest score in the sample was 15 and the highest was 40.

9. Many of the statistical tests I performed required analyzing each question by comparing the top 25% to the bottom 25% of the sample. Strong questions would show low writing self-efficacy students disagreeing, and high self-efficacy students agreeing with the statements on the questionnaire.

10. For example: Question 1: “I feel I have the skills to write a scholarly paper” can be considered a successful question, as can be seen in this plot mapping the number of strongly disagree, disagree, agree or strongly agree responses provided by both the low and high writing self-efficacy participants.

11. I also experimented with using an online stats calculator from a QuickCalcs website to calculate mean, standard deviation, and perform T-tests both on each question, comparing the highest and lowest scoring students, as well on the total sample of 231.

12. Using question 10 as an example: The independent group T-test successfully showed that all the individual questions demonstrated statistically different means between the low and high writing self-efficacy group which shows the questionnaire could correctly identify these opposing groups.

13. The dissertation I followed suggested that each individual question should have a mean score between 2 and 3 and a standard deviation between 0.5 and 1, when these tests are performed on the total sample of 231.

14. You’ll see by the arrows that question 3 met the criteria for the mean but did not meet the criteria for Standard deviation “SD” where it scored below .5.  Question 4, however, met the criteria for both mean and standard deviation.

15. Now for the hard part….the gratuitous selfie!  What does this all mean?  And who cares? It required a lot of thinking on my part.

16. Most questions faired like question 8:  The mean fell between 2 and 3, the standard deviation fell between 0.5 and 1 and high self-efficacy students (in blue) were more likely to agree or strongly agree with the question, while low self-efficacy students (in red) were more likely to disagree or strongly disagree.

17. Compare that to question 3 which, as already indicated, had a low standard deviation of .45.  The graph shows that low self-efficacy students (in blue) were just as likely to “agree” with the statement as high self-efficacy students (in red). Suggesting there was not enough variability in the data.

18. A similar observation can be made with question 9 where the mean score was greater than 3. The graph shows that low and high self-efficacy students were both likely to agree with the question presented.  Subjective analysis is then important to suggest why these questions were not as strong as the others.

19. Question 3 may be measuring a general ability to overcome difficulties while question 9 may be measuring a general ability to be on time, rather than measuring these behaviours as specific to writing. Likely both these items need editing or removal from the questionnaire.

20. In conclusion. I gathered some important information about my questionnaire. And it has made me more determined to eventually learn Factor Analysis.  This image shows me brainstorming the possible factor categories for my questionnaire. Thank you.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

The WebQuest

I created a WebQuest a couple of years ago for another CAE course. It is one of a small handful of assignments I have done in this program that I ultimately put to use in my teaching.  The webquest was used to help students understand the CARS checklist in evaluating the quality of website material for academic use.  Unfortunately, because it was part of an online course, I have never received feedback from students on if they found it useful to help them understand the website evaluation process.  I chose this topic for my webquest assignment because I found students had difficulty identifying the different components of websites for an assignment they had in my scholarly writing course.  We called the assignment a "website evaluation" but what we really wanted them to focus on was, not an entire website, but a particular article on the web that was giving health information. We wanted them to choose an article with content that was not a news article, was not from an academic journal, was not an entire webpage, and was preferably not a PDF publication.  I hoped the webquest would help them wade through the different types of content on the web. 

Now my teaching focus has changed and, among other teaching duties as assigned, I primarily teach a course called research and scholarship in nursing.  I am finding students having a similar struggle with the kind of research related documents out there that they can access about topics.  They have difficulty identifying the difference between qualitative and quantitative research, systematic reviews (meta analysis and synthesis), and just articles written for discussion, opinion, theory, or to provide a summary of information about a topic. 

In a search for research related webquests, I found very little.  This webquest focuses on psychological experiments and how to write up a lab report. This webquest looks specifically at the difference between qualitative and quantitative research.

The webquest I would create to help students recognize the different types of peer reviewed research sources would involve providing them with information about the difference between qualitative and quantitative research.  Knowing the different components to each will help with the recognition process. They also need to have a good understanding of the type of peer review required in academic articles.  I would then ensure they had an understanding of the different formats of systematic review. This table from Duke University gives an excellent summary. Other information that students would require in order to complete the task is understanding how to use the RRC library EBSCO host to search for relevant research materials. 

The main portion of the webquest would present students with actual peer reviewed article examples and ask them to identify them as qualitative primary studies, quantitative primary studies, a type of systematic review (and what type), and articles written to be informative.  I could also challenge them by throwing in the occasional non peer reviewed source. 

The Flipped Classroom

Until I started taking this course, I had never heard the term "flipped classroom".  So the obvious place to start was to read the first article on the list that defined it, but upon finishing that article I found myself wanting to learn more because I realized that I had attempted to teach this way in the past but I never felt that I did it well and the second part of the article promised to tell me more about how to do that.  So I ended up clicking the link to the second part of that article to find out how to prepare myself to teach that way better. 

I initially thought a flipped classroom must be having the students teach the material to the class.  I think that CAN be a version of flipped classroom but the key component to a flipped classroom is to create a lesson that requires students to be prepared up front.  I have been a student in this method many times as that is how graduate program seminars, where their might be 10 students in a course,  work.  Unfortunately, I am stuck in a scenario where I teach to large classes of 50+ students.  The larger the classroom, the more likely it is they can hide and not be prepared when they walk in the room. And they operate on that assumption and they don't prepare.  So I lecture. A lot. And I use question and answer. A lot.  I spoon feed.  A lot.

But nearly 5 years ago I floated in, last minute, to be a sessional at the University (the big one) and teach a course in Women and Health. In fact, I wrote a blog on my trepidation related to this employment opportunity. (I do apologize a head of time for the image(s) that will invade your senses if you click on that link..... if you are a heterosexual male you may enjoy it though...... made you look).  The class size was about 30 but the course was set up in such a way that there were no exams so the trick was to motivate the students to show up, because they could do the readings, complete the assignments, and never attend class and still pass. (I felt participation marks just for showing up, was not very adult centered, nor was it women centered and this was a feminist course, so I refused to make that an evaluation component. Really, the students have the right to decide how to structure their lives. Come if you want. Don't come if you don't want.). So I used readings and the discussion of those pre-assigned readings to be the focus of class time. 

For one topic, I think it was on the medicalization of pregnancy and birth but it doesn't really matter because it would have worked for near any of the topics in the course, I set up a debate format.  I randomly divided the class in half and had one half of the class take the stance that the technology and testing rampant in pregnancy and birth these days (and for the last 20 years or more) saved lives and was beneficial to mothers and babies.  The other half of the class took the stance that it was unnecessary and took away from person centered holistic care.  Women giving birth are not numbers on a monitor printout.  I gave them class time to prepare for their debate and then the two sides had a discussion -- I didn't demand debate rules.  But they had to pre-read to have that discussion so it was a flipped classroom before I'd ever heard the term.

It was an interesting exercise because I had people who ended up on the side they agreed with strongly but I had others who disagreed with their assigned sided of the argument and had to stretch their thinking. Never a bad thing.  As I recall, the debate went well.  I didn't have to do much to keep the discussion going (I just had to re-direct, and keep it respectful and peaceful).  There was some prep up front but it wasn't as intensive as preparing a lecture.  There are some topics that just shouldn't be lectured on and I am hoping to recreate this class at RRC so I made to use flipped classroom a lot at some point in the near future.

Portfolios and Student Centered Learning

It's been a couple years since I posted in this blog but a need has arisen to resurrect it temporarily in the form of a class I am taking. So if any old followers come across this..... bear with me, no I am not planning to come back to write more lengthy reflections on bikes, life, love and the pursuit of happiness. 

(PS... I also have no idea how to stay within word requirements and 300 words is not enough. I tend to not be very good a following rules if they don't make sense to my personal reality).

One of my roles in the Nursing Department is quality control of the scholarly writing assignments that instructors create and ask students to complete.  I was drawn to the article about portfolio creation related to student centered learning because I see a huge need to implement something like this in our department.  It is a discussion that our curriculum team is having and my personal bias is to see a component of this possible future nursing portfolio to be an amalgamation of every writing assignment that students completed in their nursing program.  The portfolio type, as described in the reading, would be a growth portfolio, meaning students, in addition to including their writing assignments, will also have to reflect upon how they've grown as academic writers throughout the program and how it has helped them be better quality nursing practitioners.  But first, the academic writing process in our faculty needs some serious revision in terms of quality of assignments, progression of complexity and demands from first year to third year, stronger evaluation in the form of rubrics, and buy-in from students and staff.  I am very fortunate to be working with a very supportive Chair and faculty who consult me on these issues. 

I have made it a mission in my role on faculty to promote writing across our curriculum. I gave a presentation to our faculty last June on how I believed writing should be threaded in assignment format from first year to third year. My plan involves, much to the delight of every CAE instructor I've worked with, the incorporation of principles of Bloom's taxonomy, writing scaffolding, and self-efficacy theory.  I had a conversation with a college staff member who asked me a very interesting question, because it is his job to ask interesting questions:  "What is the evidence that shows the need for more writing in nursing education.  Do employers want this?"  It's beyond the scope of this brief blog for me to discuss my answer to that question but in short the answer is there is some, mostly anecdotal, evidence, and, yes, employers want it, maybe -- at least one former manager told me without hesitation, that nursing employers require good communicators in writing.  The bottom line is we are a Baccalaureate program and we don't just prepare students for the work world (as most of the rest of RRC programs do), we also prepare them for graduate school. But the role of writing in academic programs is to teach students how to communicate evidence in the language of their profession.  I have a hypothesis that writing makes students stronger nursing practitioners. 

Writing is hard sell to students.  It's hard work and it isn't "mickey mouse" as they seem to wish of everything we ask them to do. In nursing, students can't see the connection between writing a paper and starting an IV. And they don't see the connection between scholarly writing and charting which some students feel is the only writing they should ever have to do.  If they can't see the value in academic writing it is only because we are not doing a good enough job to teach the value.  Faculty also struggle with writing assignments for overlapping reasons. Many faculty also have low-self efficacy with their own writing which makes them fear their ability to evaluate students. And there is no arguing that assigning a paper in a course doubles an instructor's workload on many levels.  If students grow in their writing, develop self-efficacy, and are able to recognize and articulate that growth and can then connect that growth with strong nursing critical thinking, as a portfolio should do, we've built a great nurse. 

We don't choose to teach in a higher education environment unless we feel that we were somehow superior students ourselves in some way and have something to share with the younger generations about our experience.  I have every paper I ever wrote in every academic program I have ever participated in (two undergraduate and one masters degree program) coil bound with their feedback from various instructors saved (because I am a geek like that).  Every few years something motivates me (usually related to a teaching experience or a faculty discussion I've had) to go back and flip through this portfolio, of sorts, and remind myself how far I've come as an academic writer.  It allows me to empathize with students', often valid, frustrations with the way they are graded in their writing experiences.  It allows me to empathize with some of the ridiculous things we insert into assignments that are frustrating to address.

We also have to complete a portfolio as a part of the completion of the CAE program (although, as an aside, I'm not sure I have to do one because I began the program before that was a stated requirement and I've heard I may not have to) and I am sure that if I do have to complete the process I will find it valuable.  I have created many projects in this program which I have used, many I have not used because they don't fit my teaching environment, and it has created many reflections.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Actif Epica 2013

I wonder if the racer who dropped their bike there even realized the artistic mark they left in the snow?  Found somewhere on one of the hike-a-bike sections before St. Pierre-Jolie.  View 2013 course map here
I was somewhere on Shapansky rode on the way to the floodway when it happened -- that moment in every long race or ride when you wonder why the hell you are doing this or if it was even worth it. I wondered if I just collapsed, how long it would take for someone to find me? There were runners behind me so I knew I would be found, but I hadn't seen another racer since shortly after St. Adolphe -- about 20 km ago at this point -- in fact the only sign of life I had seen was in the form of a golden retriever which chased me down the road for a while, I think, somewhere on Sood Rd or in the early part of Shapansky (it all blurs after a while) otherwise it was all dead silence, the crunch of my tires on the snow, and the lack of sun which had already set -- I had missed seeing the sunset or it no longer occurred to me to look -- but was still emitting enough glow over the horizon that lights were not yet a necessity.

I was dead tired here. It wasn't taking much to get me out of breath either. I knew my tires were going flat and I knew that was the real reason why biking felt so hard because my biking legs were fine. While I couldn't see my Garmin anymore to know my actual speed, I'm sure I was topping out at only about 8km/hr.

So I stopped, dug out a partially frozen cookie and munched with no care for crumbs, sucked on the hose of my camelback and walked with my bike, relishing the fact that I could use different muscles for a little while on flat mostly snowless roads and not be dragging my bike through deep snow as I had already done for about 10km at this point in earlier parts of the course.  The diagonal portion of Shapansky was 3.2km long. It might as well have been 100km. It was never going to end.  But I had no doubt that I would finish. The city lights were in sight.
Me and the Mani Yeti in 2012 at the Niverville Checkpoint

I had planned on entering Actif Epica a year ago when I spent the race volunteering out at the Niverville checkpoint. I wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to gain that understanding of what it felt like to do something I felt was beyond my capabilities.  I had done many long epic summer rides but nothing in the winter.  I wanted that experience of looking in the other racers eyes and instantly knowing what they were thinking because they were thinking the same as you.  I planned for a year that I would do it, I slowly bought gear, and then ......  I proceed to not train.

According to my riding log my last ride over 100km was on August 14th when I rode to Bird's Hill Park via the floodway path with Phil.  My last ride over 50km was on October 6th when I rode to Beaudry Park to stop in on the Lemming Loop Trail Race and watch Vern and Doris and Reid finish their events. I got a chest cold that turned into pneumonia about 2 weeks after that which killed any and all exertion based activity for about a month -- although, out of pure stubbornness, there were a few false start tries before I gave up and succumbed to my fragile lungs and antibiotics. I had a couple of weeks where I couldn't even walk down the hall or up a flight of stairs without gasping for breath.  I had done two 3-hour rides in December the last being on Boxing Day. I had rode to work -- a 20k round trip -- about a dozen times. I had done 30 minute runs about a dozen times.  The exercise plan had been light to say the least.  I was exercising like a normal person not like one of these crazy enduro racers I admired.

So I hesitated to follow through with my plan and participate but when I asked Phil if I could borrow his fat bike for the race and he didn't hesitate to say yes, I was in.  I really didn't doubt much that I could finish. I just knew I wouldn't be fast.  I knew that the reported sections where I would have to push my bike would be hard. I don't think I was naive enough to underestimate how hard ... I knew it would be fucking hard.

By the time I had my bike fully packed it weighed about 60 lbs. That's just under half my body weight. There was so much I didn't know about doing a race of this nature. I overpacked, I believe now, in retrospect. I carried way too much food.  I know I should eat more during these races but I always have trouble eating.  I would rather just get through the tough parts than stop. There was enough available food at checkpoints anyhow.  I never drink enough. In winter rides it is such a hassle to do anything with your hands.  I started the race with my hands bundled in lobster gloves and windproof covers and surgical gloves (which worked like a charm) but my hands were non functioning.  I couldn't get at my water nozzle or pull on zippers without stopping and removing layers.

Me, ready to go, coming out of Niverville  (Photo by Dave Bell)

I had never ridden a fat bike and now I was on one that was slightly too big for me.  We pushed the seat in as far forward as it could safely go changed out the stem so it was shorter.  It all helped but in my short test rides, I never got to the point of finding out how the bike would feel when I was fatigued and once I was through the first push section just outside St. Malo the reach instantly felt too long.

And tire pressure -- the science eludes me a bit and I have a novice understanding. On a fatbike it is critical.  I wanted to just ride the race and never touch a bike pump.  Impossible. This is roadie thinking where the difference between riding with 100psi and 90psi is not that critical. On a fatty the difference between 12psi and 8psi is noticeable and huge.  It was during the neutral start out of St. Malo that it occurred to me that I never checked the tire pressure on race day. The last time I had pumped them up was on Wednesday morning before my ride to work. I put them at 12psi and thought that would hold. Given what happened later in the race, it likely hadn't.  The lead out pace felt too hard and it shouldn't have. We did no more than 15-17km per hour.  I was too out of breath and we were only a km into the race. I had Dave pump them up to 12 in Niverville and I sailed to St. Adolphe.  Didn't even check them before leaving St. Adolphe and paid for it on Shapansky.  Sometime after the race when I was at home and unable to roll over in bed, it occurred to me that I had been carrying the solution in my bag all along in the form of 2 CO2 cartridges.  But the mind does not work too optimally at that stage of racing. I had a small hand pump too but I had no desire to sit in the middle of nowhere for 15 minutes in the dark to add 2 psi to my tires. My arms and back were too fatigued at this point to even think about using that small pump.  I would get to the floodway and hope Tom had a floor pump.

But that's the boring details.  I was behind almost everyone from the start and it was a good 2 hours of riding and pushing before I caught my first runner (they started an hour ahead of us) just outside St. Pierre-Jolie. I was alone for most of the early part of the ride but I could usually always see someone. I was OK being alone, it was sort of how I visualized myself doing this race. Alone. I very much needed to stick to my conservative plan.  I then caught two more runners before the checkpoint at St. Pierre.  I leapfrogged with Jason on the bike to Niverville.  Jason was riding heavy too and he had this elaborate and self-admittedly fussy routine at each checkpoint of stripping off layers of clothing and some of his gear and reorganizing. Most of the time I wasn't sure what he was doing. I left the early checkpoints before him and he always caught up.  We suffered together through the farmer's fields outside Niverville.  Just before we arrived at the check point my Garmin told me we had completed the last 10k in 79 minutes.  An hour and 20 minutes to do 10km. I probably could have walked it faster. All the runners we had passed earlier, caught up and passed us here. When we finally got to ride again, we faced strong cross winds on Crown Valley riding East into town.
Pretty much.

I seized up pretty good sitting too long in Niverville.  I've never had the patience for long stops in the middle of long rides.  I'd rather just keep moving.  After Niverville, Jason and I had said that we would stick together but our differing race plan styles proved to make that impossible by St. Adolphe.  Jason had near completely undressed himself and I didn't even want to take my gloves off. I just wanted to go.  I sat for about 20 minutes waiting to see if he would be ready to go.  I chatted with Derek, the Swamp Donkey "Mummy", and John and Kurt of the Swamp Donkey crew.  I vaguely remember calling Kurt (who I knew in a past more youthful time in my life), John's "man servant". I think they laughed. I was delirious.

Jason riding no hands on Gauthier Rd just before St. Adolphe.  Much less graceful due to crosswind than how he had done it on Krahn but I didn't have the camera ready then.

Lindsay Gauld was there too just stopping in for a visit, supporting the racers.  I sat at the reception table in the church participating in the conversation.   Derek innocently looks over at Lindsay and says, "Everyone seems to know who you are. What is it you do in cycling?"

I chuckled wondering where this was going to go.

Lindsay says: "Oh I am just a guy who rides bikes."

While I don't know Lindsay well and I've known of him by reputation for a while, I've begun to get to know who he is and what he was about as a person since I showed up to a handful of Saturday morning breakfast rides to Nick's Inn.  Lindsay had answered pretty much how I expected he would so I said,  "OK, he's going to be modest... so I will tell you who this guy is.... "  I picked three key items off the Lindsay Gauld massive CV: Olympia Cycle and Ski, 1972 Olympics, 1, 000, 000 km.  I barely scratched the surface.

I left without Jason shortly after that and told him he would probably catch up. He always did.  He said he doubted it.  So I pressed on and while cruising north with a tail wind down highway 200 outside St. Adolphe at an impressive 15km/hr (sarcasm intended), I was already starting to suspect I had a problem with my tires.

I think the happiest moment of the entire day was coming up that final slope of the floodway and seeing the headlights of Tom's car.  I had pushed my bike for a km at that point because the tires were too flat and it was pretty much unridable terrain anyhow.  It was pitch black and I was guided by the reflective flags through the middle of the floodway.  Jason at that point only turned out to be about 5 minutes behind me.  At some point before I had turned to climb the hills of the floodway I could see a bobbing headlight behind me in the distance. I thought he was the two runners, Sue and Helen who had left St. Adolphe around the same time as me. I figured I had been moving slow enough for them to catch up. I drank Tom's hot apple cider while he pumped my tires. He tweeted about it after I left.  Less than 5 psi in both.  What I recall is 5 or less in the rear and no reading in the front.

Jason and I headed off together for the last stretch before U of M. We had 2 hellish sections to face. The floodway climb was bad enough but the strong south with blowing the razor sharp snow off the snow banks on Seniuk Rd parallel to perimeter highway was worse.  Who would have thought a 60 pound bike (over 100 lbs with the rider on top) could be blown sideways?  Riding close to the snowbank for more shelter was worse as the blowing snow blinded us.  We rode that section in silence which I broke as we approached St. Mary's Rd and tree shelter, "Just when you think the worst of it is done, it gets worse."

More "worse" was yet to come through Maple Grove Rugby Park.  The trail we were supposed to take was trodden by everyone who came before us but at over 100km of ground travelled, at this point the agony was exponential. At times when I misstepped I sunk to a depth that was up to my thigh.  The climb to the perimeter bridge was steep. I'm not sure how I would have done it without Jason.  I pushed Jason up from behind and he climbed down and pushed me up from behind. Alex Mann was there at the end of the bridge to say congrats and smooth sailing home.  And then climbing down to Kilkenny Drive, I dropped a pannier and didn't notice.  But I was in a no-wait mode and I was off peddling and didn't hear Jason calling me back.  He kindly carried my pannier the remaining kms to the university.

At the University I was greeted by a somewhat worried Dave (I was about 2 hours behind schedule at this point) and with a surprise visit by Phil and Carolyn. My back tire was OK but the front was back down to about 5psi again.  Dave pumped it up while I drank a coke.  Jason was in full check point routine and had stripped down to his base layers again.  Coming into the university is when I finally passed Steven and then Craig, the lead runners.  Steven looked like hell and completely dazed. I met Steven orienteering a few times and I'm not sure he recognized me. He dropped out at that point due to trashed feet. Craig came in and out of the university in about 2 minutes.  When I left to do the final leg, I passed him at the start of River Road.  He finished the race only 40 minutes behind me (one hour and 40 minutes in race time).  Runners amaze me. I simply do not have that gift.

On one of the good sections between Otterburne and Niverville. Tires not flat here.  When I finished the race, Phil and Carolyn gave me a card with a print of this picture on it. Love Phil and Carolyn. (Photo by Dwayne Sandall). 

The city was familiar and after 110km of prairie nothingness, weirdly felt safe.  I crossed at the lights from St. Vital Road intended to make a left onto the sidewalk along Dakota but had to wait for the walk light because of a car. The walk signal turned on immediately but the car pulled forward to turn right on red and blocked my access to the side walk.  Ah, yes, this. I am finally home.

I made a few minor navigational errors getting myself onto Churchill Drive. Then I was finally on the river. It was near 10:30 at night and the skaters were out and the young partiers in the warming shacks were laughing and not having a clue who I was or a care about why I was out in the middle of the river riding my bike.

The front tire was going flat again and the bike was pulling heavily to the left.  I can't say I felt much at this point other than relief and this sense of numbness.  When I finished the Calgary 70.3 I had so many self doubts about my abilities at that point in my life that I had choked back sobs at the end.  I knew Actif Epica would be harder but I never had those doubts. So I rode in feeling calm. Maybe a little numb.  Glad to be done.

Sometime just as I made the left turn onto the Assiniboine from the Red the Louis Riel Weekend Fireworks started and burst over my head as I rode into the forks.  Perfect.

Done at 10:33 pm.  14.5 hours of "racing." Still smiling.  To be followed by a celebratory beer.  Didn't much care that I was drinking in a public venue. Security didn't seem to either but the Forks race volunteers wisely tweeted an incognito photo of me and the brew.  (Photo by Dave Bell)

Special thanks to my parents who watched my kids all day and past my predicted deadline.  And to Dave, of course, always, I am grateful.

Garmin Data of Entire race

Monday, March 5, 2012

International Women's Day

On Thursday this week it is international Women's week. My daughter's school, which is a grade 5-8 French immersion school, put on an event today which brought in a variety of women to talk about their careers. The teacher's involved put in a phenomenal amount of work organizing the event. They had over 30 speakers and likely over 300 kids to schedule into time slots to view the speakers of their choice, in a similar fashion to how concurrent sessions are run at conferences.

I volunteered and subsequently was asked to be one of the speakers. I was terrified. I teach adults, not kids and middle school is well known for being the toughest audience possible.  The video above is what I did for my presentation.  I didn't feel they would be terribly interested in hearing much about my job teaching research methods and writing (given my own students are often not terribly interested in hearing about research methods and writing), so I created a presentation to talk about how difficult it can be to figure out what you want to do for the rest of your life.

And the kids were great. I talked about what it is like to try and figure out a career when you decide that what you really want to do with your life simply isn't realistic or viable. This is exactly what I had to do in my early 20's when I figured I could never be a writer.

And what made me most proud was that my own daughter wanted to come and see her mother speak.

If you watch, please enjoy the presentation. To keep it short, there is no voice over so feel free to ask any questions you want.

Friday, March 2, 2012

So, Save Me

So on February 29th, even though I'd likely been ready for weeks, I hit the publish button on my book. The various stories on how this came about can be found here, here, here, and here.  The folk, I guess because February 29th is only a fake day, have seen fit to change my publication date to February 28th.... so be it.

So the book is available for sale at this link. It has been priced at $2.99. That is actually higher than I wanted to price it but it was the lowest I was allowed to price it if I wanted to maintain any shred of worldwide copyright on the thing.

And no, for the time being, (and to be honest, likely forever) it is not available in paperback which thankfully for me means my parents will continue to be unlikely to ever read it.

It should be easily downloadable through on any e-reader device -- All the Kindle readers, iPad (and even iPhone through the Kindle App) and Kobo. I am sure there are others out there. If you are a Kindle Owner's Select member, then the book is also available for free in the Kindle Lending Library.

If you do not have an e-reader device it can still be read from any computer. If you are a Mac user you simply have to go to the Mac App store, search "Kindle" and download the Kindle App. Purchase the book from and it should download directly to your computer.

If you are a PC person, instructions on how to obtain e-books is here.

And one final request..... if you read it and you like it, please write a pleasant review. I'll owe you one.