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Cannot Get Your Ship Out April Foolishness

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Posted (edited)

Let's get this started with the article I know everyone has been waiting for: an in-depth tactica on vegetable gardening!

So there comes a time when you need to let your plastic spaceships rest at port until the next game and direct your energies elsewhere. Perhaps something... peaceful.

Yes, we can use the same gif in two different articles.

I'm here to talk to you about gardening. Specifically, vegetable gardening. When I get dirty digging around in the dirt and worrying over plant life, I want something to eat when it's all said and done. Nothing wrong with those who enjoy gardening for its more aesthetic properties (flower gardening or perhaps a more generalized landscaping/outdoor decor kind of thing), but that doesn't give me good food to eat.

So why gardening?
Well, vegetable gardening has become something of a side hobby for me since my wife and I bought our house about 2 years ago. Her father does a lot of gardening (both flower gardening and vegetable gardening) and my mom was one of 8 siblings raised on a farm, so growing stuff to eat has always seemed appealing to me, I just never really had the space to do it. And then I did. It's been really nice and it's not too tough to do.

There are three main benefits to growing your own food as opposed to buying it at the grocery store:

  1. Cost. You're putting the labor into making your own food, so it's not surprising it's cheaper to grow it yourself. This is especially true of plants that keep producing fruit rather than those that are harvested in their entirety once they're ripe.
    • That said, once you factor in the costs of incidentals (water, fertilizer, mulch), required start-up materials (planter boxes, tools, trellises, stakes, etc.) and the value of your own labor (which depends a lot on how much spare time you have and how much you enjoy gardening), the cost difference may not be as much as you expected. Especially with the start-up costs, it gets more cost effective the longer you do it, basically.
  2. Taste/freshness. Produce that is raised for sale in grocery stores is basically valued for being large first and tasty second. If you're unsure of this, consider how most grocery store tomatoes are huge but their taste is watery. The same is sadly true of the tragically-misnamed Golden Delicious apple. There's also the fact that to handle transport and time spent on shelves, a lot of produce is sprayed with sealants (the waxy coating on apples you need to wash off) and can get bruised or damaged or start to wilt by the time you're buying it regardless. It's not uncommon for farms to harvest produce before it's ripe so it will ripen while it makes its way to grocery stores, but produce that ripens this way simply doesn't taste as good as produce that is allowed to ripen on the plant. 
    • Vegetables harvested right from your garden avoid a lot of these issues because you can pick them right off the plant and eat them the same day, in some cases moments later. I personally was amazed at the huge difference in taste between store-bought tomatoes and my garden tomatoes, which have a very strong flavor. The food you make with these vegetables often has a better fresher taste. When we hit late summer and I can make most of a hearty vegetable soup just from my own garden, it's a nice treat for me and my friends and family.
  3. Options. You can grow all kinds of varieties of produce you might not be able to find easily at a grocery store and getting access to them is cheap, because shipping seeds is not expensive at all. For example, last year I had a purple bell pepper plant amongst my peppers and while the flavor was just a bit different, the color was very striking:

Okay, how do I get started? 

Identifying a location
The first thing you need to identify is where exactly you intend to grow your plants. If you've got a house with a decent-sized yard, great. If you've got an apartment with a balcony, that can work too (with potted plants). Most plants will want as much sun as they can get (there are some exceptions - lettuce, for example, likes a bit of shade), so you'll want somewhere out in the open, preferably without too much interference from trees or your house itself. Keep in mind where the sun will be from spring through autumn. For example, I live in Chicagoland. The sun will always be to the south of me, so if I plant crops hugging the north side of my house, they will be in shadow all the time and would need to be pretty far away from the house to get much light. On the east or west side of my house, plants would get morning or afternoon sun, but for the most part they'll be deprived of direct light most of the day. If I wanted, I could plant crops right up against the southern side of my house and they'd still get a decent amount of sun. Obviously it's better to have your plants reasonably far away from your house if possible to minimize the shade problem altogether, but keep what I said above in mind for trees on your property as well as other buildings nearby (neighbors' houses, if they're close to you and/or tall, neighbors' trees, small buildings on your property like tool sheds or whatnot).

Basic tools
At minimum you'll want a gardening spade, gardening fork, gardening clippers, basket to collect vegetables later on, and gardening gloves. A watering can is mandatory if you can't reach some of your plants with a hose. If you've got a plot that needs tilling on a large scale (like my garden), a hoe is mandatory (but wouldn't be for a small balcony garden, for example). I'd also recommend a nice hat if you'll be out in the sun a lot, and some kind of pad to kneel on will save your knees a lot of pain.

Setting up your plant fortresses
Once you've identified your location(s), you'll need to delineate the area. This can be as simple as a big pot or a preconstructed planter box if you're going smaller-scale or laying down large planks with some method of securing them to the ground to block out a garden plot if you're going larger-scale. I've got the big planks for my garden plots:

Also note some rose bushes but it's mostly vegetables. Yum.

...but I also have several smaller planters and pots too:

This is what a pretty young pumpkin plant looks like, FYI.

so whatever works for your available space is fine.

You can just dig up your yard and drop plants right in without any of the work of setting up a plant fortress but providing them an area with raised edges helps manage erosion from rain - you run the risk of water rushing across your garden washing away your topsoil if you're not careful and by keeping rain from running into and out of your garden too much, you minimize the trouble you get from erosion. On a related note, it's important to make sure that whatever system(s) you're using has some kind of drainage - if you get an awful lot of water, you don't want a lot of standing water drowning your plants, basically. With smaller planter boxes and barrels and such, some holes in the bottom of the container will let water out when your soil gets saturated. With the planks, it helps to have them on a bit of a decline so the water will naturally run down and some minor gaps on the low side between the planks will allow for the water to run off.

Dirt and mixing stuff into dirt
Once you have your "containers" established, you'll need to fill them with dirt. If you're starting from scratch, just buy gardening/potting soil and put it in when you plant (go to the next step). If you've set down planks, you'll want to top the gardening plot area inside them off a bit but there should be plenty of soil underneath them you can rotate in with the right tools as well so I'd recommend doing that if you can so you don't have loose new soil on top of hard old ground/grass. If you've already got your containers set up with soil from the previous year, you'll want to wait for a dry period once it's warm enough to rotate the soil and add in any fertilizer, compost, peat, etc. that you may want/need for the upcoming year (I won't go into it too much in this article, it depends on a lot of things but short version is fertilizer is good just don't go nuts, most places sell easy to use fertilizer for vegetable gardens so just follow their instructions). It's important to wait until the temperature has been above freezing long enough that the ground is no longer frozen and to ensure that the soil is dry enough to make tilling it easy. Trying to do this when it's wet means you're trying to move heavy mud around and it's miserable and doesn't work well, so wait until it's dry. It can take a while sometimes before you get a period where the soil is both warm and dry enough. That's okay.

Once your soil is ready, you may need to wait a while until your evening temperatures are reliably above freezing. You don't want seedlings to sprout only for them to freeze to death shortly thereafter. If you turned your preexisting soil earlier, this may involve waiting for a few weeks before actually planting anything. That's fine. For me, this means usually planting in late April. Some plants have their growing season later, so read the packaging (on seeds) before planting everything. It's fine to leave some garden space open for future plants.

If you plant and then a sudden unseasonal frost comes through, it's okay! You can insulate plants against frost with any kind of substantial sheeting (so for example old bedsheets, curtains, tarps, etc.) by draping it over them for the evening, ensuring the draped material reaches the ground (you're trying to create a little warmth pocket that freezing water vapor won't get into, basically), and then removing it once the temperature goes above freezing again. Thin plastic is not sufficient on its own for insulation. You can usually find decent insulation materials at gardening/hardware stores for cheap if you don't have any old sheeting of your own.

We've got a lot of stuff to discuss when it comes to planting, so buckle up!

Seeds versus seedlings
Many stores sell packets of seeds as well as seedlings (young plants that have already grown from a seed and need to be transplanted into your garden). Let's talk about the pros of each:


  • By far the most cost-effective, a single packet of seeds can last you for years (depending) and costs very little.
  • Variety of plants for seeds is much higher because they simply take up much less space in the store so they can stock a lot of different options.


  • Are easiest to plot out in your garden, as you already know where your plants will be growing.
  • Gets a head-start on producing fruits as they're a few weeks ahead of the seeds, basically.

There's really no right or wrong answer and different gardeners will favor different types and may use seedlings for one type of plant and seeds for another, depending. Seedlings are more beginner-friendly but they definitely cost more. If you've got the space in your basement and can get the setup for them, you have the option of growing seeds in a tray so that they're seedlings by the time late spring rolls around and get the best of both worlds, it just requires more specialized tools and inside space than I'm willing to dedicate just yet.

A piece of advice for either type is read the instructions for how much space your seeds or seedlings will need and obey it. Plants that are too close together will compete for sun and water with one another and this will at best cause them to grow smaller and weaker than they would otherwise and at worst will result in one or both of those plants dying. Plants prioritize devoting their resources to staying alive over producing fruit for the most part, so if you want tasty things to eat from your plants, you want them as big and healthy as possible.

When it comes to seeds, you will need to plant more seeds than plants you want because not all seeds will successfully sprout. This means planting extra seeds and then thinning your plants once they reach a certain size (the packaging will tell you when to do this and how far apart the survivors should be from one another). To be clear, thinning your plants means selectively removing/murdering plants you don't want to keep so the remaining plants have room to grow, so get comfortable with vegetable infanticide and make sure to pull up the whole plant, including the roots. There are two ways to do this, really: you can sow all the seeds in a row and then thin them down so the remaining plants are the right distance apart or you can put several seeds into holes set the right distance apart from one another from the get-go and then thin them down to one plant per hole when the time comes. The second method is generally easier in my experience but you need to be vigilant about thinning because multiple plants growing in the same location can cause big problems for all of them if you let them go for too long.

When it comes to seedlings, it's much easier and you get to avoid the entire thinning process but be attentive to your new transplants, as they tend to get stressed by the process. The first few days will generally be them acclimating to the new garden, so try to make it easy on them by ensuring they've got enough water and sunlight and that the soil near their transplant site isn't hard, so their roots can expand. Sometimes if you're growing seeds you'll find that for whatever reason some do not grow in a particular part of a row and you may need to take sprouted seedlings you were going to throw away while thinning and instead transplant them into the desired location. Just be careful to baby them, as they're still very young and the transplanting process is stressful to them.

Some plants zerg rush your garden
Generally, plants will let you know on their packaging if they expand like crazy but if you're unsure, just do a quick Google search. Plants like mint can start off very small but rapidly colonize everything around them. Mint is delicious and being able to add fresh mint to your tea (or other food and drink) is nice, so the easy way to manage the zerg rush problem is to make sure your zerg rush plants are grown in their own separate little planters so they run out of space and are easier to manage rather than needing to constantly fight them back from taking over an entire garden plot on their own.

Don't water it, you idiot! It'll think you want it to be there!

Some plants need extra hardware
Make sure to familiarize yourself with any special needs your plants may have. For example, tomatoes really grow best in tomato cages, which help support their limbs and keep them off the ground so they grow larger. Pepper plants like the support of being tied to a nearby stake so they don't get damaged in storms and it's less work to hold the heavy peppers before you harvest them. Cucumbers (and some kinds of beans and grapes, etc.) want a trellis to grow up. You don't necessarily need the special hardware the moment you plant that type of plant, but once it starts growing, you'll want it pretty quickly so prepare for that. The good news is most of the hardware is reusable and inexpensive, so its cost over time is negligible.

Tomatoes in a tomato cage
A jalapeno pepper plant tied to a supporting stake
Cucumber with a large trellis (it will grow enough to cover this entire thing, trust me)
Snap peas in a planter box growing up their own small trellises. Snap peas are great outdoor snacks while grilling!

Bags of mulch are cheap individually but if you have a decent-sized garden the costs can add up as you will need many bags to get good coverage (about 1-2 inches deep). That said, I'm a big fan of mulch and recommend using it when it's safe for your garden. Sprouts can push their way through light mulch but can struggle to penetrate heavier mulch so it's best to not take chances and instead wait to mulch an area until after all the plants there have sprouted and are at least 3 or 4 inches tall so they're not troubled too much by an inch or two of mulch. I usually do this in May or June.

Mulch helps you because it makes it difficult for weed seeds to get to the soil through the mulch and if they do, they can struggle to penetrate the mulch layer (as your seedlings would have earlier) and so mulch cuts down on weeds substantially, saving you a lot of time and hassle. Mulch also shields the soil from sunlight, which helps retain moisture in the ground, meaning you won't need to water your plants as frequently as you would otherwise. That said, that layer of damp mulch close to the soil is a very appealing habitat for slugs and earwigs (and other pests that like environments like that), so I generally find I need to apply pesticide (usually slug killer) about once or twice a year to keep them under control. It's a price I'm happy to pay, as mulch makes my gardening life much easier.

Care and maintenance


It will be a while before most of your plants bear any fruit, and that's fine. Keep an eye on them and check on them every few days.

If the soil is dry on top (through the mulch later on), water it (unless rain is on the way very soon). Generally, it's better for plants to get a deep watering once or twice a week than a shallow watering more regularly. Deep waterings encourage a plant's roots to dig deeper into the soil to access more moisture, which makes them sturdier and resistant to disease and pests that go after roots spread thin across the surface. Depending on your garden and free time, it might be better to simply set up a sprinkler and let it go nuts for an hour or two than to hold a hose for a long time.

Generally you should be feeding your plants additional liquid fertilizer (or pellets, or whatever you're using) once every month or two. If their leaves are starting to get yellowed, that usually means the plant needs more nutrition (unless that plant has already lived out its cycle and is dying naturally, of course).

Sometimes plants grow in very weird ways, often by deciding one particular shoot or branch should grow extremely tall/long. You need to convince that plant to stop growing stupidly by murdering the things you don't like about it. You're a big garden bully, embrace it. If you don't, you'll get an unmanageable garden of plants sending their weird outgrowths in one another's way instead of growing more evenly.

Sometimes they gotta be Left Plant before they can be Right Plant.

Diseases and pests
Generally so long as you're good about getting your plants enough sun and water, they'll stay pretty healthy, but sometimes bad things happen to good plants. In general, if you're seeing discoloration or decay of leaves and it's not yellowing due to poor fertilization, it means you've got a disease (usually fungal). Simply googling the type of plant and the symptom you're observing will tell you what to do about it.

If you're seeing holes/chunks missing in leaves or fruit, then that usually means you've got a pest that's eating your plants. In that case, put on your gardening gloves and start looking over the plant carefully to see if you can catch any troublemakers red-handed. If that's unsuccessful, dig in the mulch near the stem to see if you can find anything hiding down below. Once you've identified the type of pest, you can google what to do. If you can't (either you don't recognize it or you can't find it), basic garden pesticide will probably do the trick. Most pest-killers are applied to the base of the plant where it meets the ground/mulch and will kill pests when they try to climb the plant to eat the leaves or fruit. Make sure to read the pesticide instructions, including what you should do before eating that plant - usually you will need to be careful to clean that plant thoroughly for a period of time after applying pesticide.

The day will finally come when your plants are ready to be harvested. If they're a fruit-bearing plant like a tomato, green bean, or cucumber that keeps producing fruit until they die, this will mean harvesting the fruits. If the plant itself is the produce, such as root vegetables like onions or carrots or a leafy plant like lettuce, this means pulling out the entire plant. A few points about this topic in general:

  • Bring your basket and garden shears with you. I tend to find there's more than I expected every time I go out to harvest. For that matter, put something soft (like a towel) in your basket to minimize any bruising to the vegetables.
  • Harvest when you're supposed to. When in doubt, harvest early rather than leaving it sit there longer. Most seed packages will tell you when is right, but you can always double-check online if you're unsure. Many vegetables suffer from being left out too long, for example:
    • Cucumbers turn yellow and get bitter.
    • Herbs and lettuce 'bolt' (flower) and become bitter shortly afterwards as the plant focuses its nutrition on reproduction. Even trimming the flowers off won't reverse this.
    • Green beans get hard and their seeds get dry.
    • Tomatoes get too large and split their skins, attracting insects and rotting quickly.
  • Some vegetables can be pulled off the plant by hand (usually tomatoes and green beans) and some are best snipped off with shears (like cucumbers). When in doubt, snip. You don't want to accidentally yank pieces of your plant off as well as your prize.
  • If you're uprooting entire plants, have a plan for what to plant in their place. Rotating through different crops can work very well, and some plants can be replanted pretty much all growing season without much trouble.
    • On a related note, plan ahead. If you plant an entire row of lettuce and it all gets ripe at the same time, you probably can't eat 12 heads of lettuce in a week or two. If you plant half the row one week and then plant the other half 1-2 weeks later, you'll stagger your harvest.
  • Remember that if you're harvesting the entire plant, remove everything. Not all of the plant will be edible, of course, but leaving roots in the ground to cause you future problems doesn't help. If you've got a composter, that's a great place to put the useless parts.
  • You can harvest herbs pretty much indefinitely in bits and pieces (usually taking a few leaves here and there) until they bolt, at which point you need to harvest everything before they turn bitter and then start to die. 
    • If this leaves you with more herbs than you know what to do with, you have two options:
      1. Freeze them. Cut them up and put them into a ziploc bag, squeeze all the air out, label the bag, then put it in your freezer. You can cut off bits of the frozen herb block and drop them straight into your cooking.
      2. Dry them out. Hang them upside down (from a rafter or any kind of line or pole or hook) someplace dry and wait for them to dry up. Then you can chop them up and keep them in small bottles or baggies pretty much just like the herbs you buy at the grocery store.

Eventually all your plants will die (or at least go inert for the winter while their above-ground portions die). This will either be due to just running out their life cycle or because of an autumn frost. You can temporarily save your plants from an autumn frost (sometimes buying you a few more weeks of life as an early frost passes over) using the method I described earlier if you wish, but otherwise if you know a frost is coming you need to go harvest everything you can that's left before it hits. After that, tear out whatever plants are left that won't come back next year (so most of them, basically; I just don't want anyone tearing up their strawberries) and dispose of them and wait it out until spring returns next year.

Some plant recommendations
Generally I prefer plants that flower and produce fruits and then keep producing for some time as it's a space-efficient use of the garden and a cost-effective use of the plants. That said, the following recommendations are my garden MVPs and all fairly easy for a new gardener to get the hang of:

Give them the space they need and fertilizer and make sure they have tomato cages. They can produce like crazy, giving you lots of options for snacks, salads, soups, salsas, and pasta sauces. Different tomatoes are good for different things, so if you primarily want to make soups and sauces from them, get tomatoes that are good for that. The packaging will usually tell you what they're good for. Tomatoes keep on producing up until they die of frost.

These are my tomatoes and they're just waiting to get ripe and turn red to be eaten.

Green beans:
Bush beans grow into tiny little bushes and pole beans like to grow up poles or trellises to really perform at their fullest. Either is fine, just know what you're getting and prepare accordingly. Green beans also produce like crazy, especially for their size, and are pretty low-maintenance. Make sure to not let the bean pods themselves get too big or else they get hard and unappetizing. Green beans are great as an appetizer, especially if tossed in olive oil and spices and cooked in the oven, or as a component in casseroles and soups. Green beans keep producing until they are killed by frost.

A bunch of bush beans.

Cucumbers require trellises and sometimes need a bit of "leading" to grow well, so check on them now and again and help their vines "find" links in the trellis to hold onto to grow. They're very easy to harvest because the vegetables are heavy and hang down under the trellis. I love turning them into my own custom-made pickles but others use them in a variety of salads and as a side. Cucumber plants generally live a bit over 2 months and then their leaves turn yellow and they get wiry and die. When you see them starting to shrivel up, harvest whatever cucumbers are left.

Zucchini plants grow into large snaking bushes that can produce some gigantic fruits that are good in pasta sauces and soups as they suck up the flavors of liquids they're in while keeping a bit of their own intrinsic flavor. Zucchini plants tend to die in the early- to mid-autumn but can produce a lot of zucchini vegetables in that time. Zucchini can be planted in rows or "hills." A hill is basically a mound of soil with 2-3 plants put into it in a triangular or opposite formation where the plants will then grow out from the central hill. Make sure to give zucchini all the space they ask for as they can get very large and their leaves can overshadow neighboring plants once they're full-grown.

You can see the little baby zucchinis growing from flowers by the leaf stems near the core of the plant.

There's a lot of  variety here and I generally recommend growing these in smaller planters that can be kept closer to your home where it's easy to zip out, harvest a few leaves, then head back inside to continue work on a meal. Which herbs you prefer will largely come down to the type of cuisines you like to cook.

Stupid garden statue:
Listen, every garden needs something dumb to make it your own. Embrace it.

Meet Gnome Chompski!

Otherwise, there are a lot of good options and I've grown at this point I'd say 20-30 different plants, so it comes down to what you'd like to try and what grows well in your climate. With a bit of work and a willingness to learn, you can by this summer have a bounty of very delicious vegetables grown where you live!

Edited by Snipafist

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, Baltanok said:

Where did you get the Godzilla?  My mother-in-law has a garden gnome fixation, and that would make her very happy.


Although we specifically got it as a gift from one of my wife's friends, it looks like the same thing. I call dibs on naming him Gnome Chompski, though.

2 hours ago, Touston said:

Needs more Star Wars references and bad puns :)

There's not a lot you can really do with vegetable gardening, I'm afraid, but I expect @geek19 will have something at least a little bit more your speed coming up later today.

For reals, though, I put way too much actual effort into this April Fool's Day update about vegetable gardening. 😜 Thankfully I wrote it up before Worlds because there's no way current me would have this ready in time.

Edited by Snipafist

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Bad puns and Star Wars references, you say?


Cannot Get Your Shoes Out! Special Running Episode!

Yup, it's ONE of those days.


They see me rollin'...

I'm not going to pretend I know anywhere near as much about running as Eric does about gardening, but I'll give a few bits and pieces about it, why I do it, anything I can offer about getting started, etc.  It's April now, and that means winter is.... handwavey over.  Time to get outside, get that beach bod, or at least get closer to one.


I'm gonna miss the pizza too, buddy.

I like doing it through running.  I just sorta fell into it back in college because of my stubborn, stupid nature.  How hard can running 3 miles be? Answer: rilly, rilly, hard if you're not prepared for it.  Let's stop the introductory jokes and all and actually get to this.


Why Running?

So, for those of you who've met me, I don't generally look like a runner.  I am not a stick, nor am I 6 feet tall so I can move faster during it and all.  I.... look vaguely like that Rancor Keeper up there.  Maybe more hair, haha.  Pizza is delicious, as is ice cream and chocolate.  Running lets me eat badly 2-3 days a week (should be less) while taking care of myself 5-4 of them (SHOULD be 5, pushing towards 6.  Welcome to April, so it's time to get back into health, John!).  I've been running for at least 13-14 years solidly, so I'd consider myself a very fancy beginner.  I've run 4 marathons (3 Chicago, 1 Madison WI) with my 5th scheduled for this fall.  It's an activity that is nothing BUT you.  Cardio is nothing but your ability to go forward, pushing those last miles.  When I start talking running below, a lot of the below can apply for biking or swimming or whatever, or using the elliptical, but it's really a matter of what works best for you.  Running lets me get out of my own head for a bit while simultaneously getting healthier while doing it.

And now in a bit of a special guest star, I'm going to turn things over to Eric's Wife, who is going to

offer her opinion on anything she wants.  Considering she got Eric and me to get off our butts and

actually START this blog 2 years ago, she gets free rein.  She's a runner as well, but as a woman she

can offer a unique perspective that I as a guy don't have (She'll talk sports bras, LADIES).  Anything

she says will be in green. We like green, right? It’s one of those soothing, nonjudgmental colors.

Which hey, on that note. . .


(we have known since 1999 that **** don't make a woman)


As a boob-haver myself, I am happy to advise other boob-havers, but do wish to acknowledge that all boob-havers do not identify as women and that all women do not have breasts! But more on mammaries later. Back to you, John. 


Benefits of it?

I am not a doctor, but hey, losing weight lets you be sexier to your significant other/local singles in your area.  I hear they're into you!  It's also better for your health and will keep you alive longer, and again, I've been able to justify eating what I want and enjoy my life while doing so.  I will also say that it's one of the easiest ways I've found to lose weight.  Consistent running and eating well (so 6 of one, half dozen of the other?) allowed me to drop 20 pounds a few years back.  It... may have come BACK, of course, but I've got some motivations to drop this weight.  But that's a later story.


For me, the impetus to start doing it was just being tired of being so chubby in college.  Freshmen Fifteen will wreck you, especially as pasta is like the only appetizing looking thing some days.  So I grabbed a pair of gym shoes and just went out there with a Walkman.  Yes, a Walkman.  Music was on CDs back in those days of... 2003-2007.  Shut up, I know I'm a luddite.  From there it's literally been a nearly 15 year cycle of "move somewhere new, increase running distance as present distance doesn't feel like enough."  Three miles at U of C, 4 at Purdue, 5 at Kalamazoo, 6 in Cleveland, and then 7 when I moved back to Chicago.  Yeah, I run 6-7 miles twice a week (again, it should really be three times, but I'm busy, guys!) and while tiring, it feels exhilarating when I do it.  Just knowing that I CAN is great.  But you don't have to be me to start! You can be you, and that's fine!

Honestly, it’s probably better that you’re you, rather than being John. One of him is enough.


It's a long-RUNNING joke, wokka wokka!

How to Start?

The lazy and incredibly unhelpful answer is you just go out and DO it.  Running as an exercise is something we as a species have been doing for ages.  Something something chasing down jaguars and punching tapirs and stuff.  We fought and killed Tyrannosaurs (Ed: No we didn't) after running up to them!


But the MORE helpful answer is: get a good pair of shoes.  Your local running store (local the more gentrified your neighborhood is) should be able to sell you several pairs of running shoes.  HOKA, Brooks, Mizuno, these are all good brands (I personally swear by Brooks).  These are running shoes made by running companies for runners.  Notice I did not say Nike or Adidas or any of that.  Major companies make shoes for "the average foot" and that may or may not be you.  I don't pronate normally, so I use Brooks.  That sentence is the fancy runner way of saying "I land on the outsides of my feet, so I pick a shoe that helps me correct that so I don't eff up my feet more than I already do."


Told ya.  And it's really hard getting the cloven hooves in there as well

Your FANCIER running stores will even have special treadmills that tell you how you stand and walk/run so the right shoe for you is X or Y (this is called gait analysis, as it... analyzes your gait).


It may be literally this simple as a camera behind you on a treadmill.  It WORKS though, I swear.

For a more in-depth bit of this, I'm going to link to a longer description of it.  Feel free to go down the rabbit hole there when you get interested.


But here's the thing about running shoes.  Your Nikes or Adidas will do fine for a bit.  If you're getting started in the hobby, don't go drop $100 on a pair of shoes until you're sure you want to do this a bunch more.  WHEN you decide you want to do more running and all, then yeah, spring for the shoes.  Don't bankrupt yourself into a new hobby unless you're sure of it.  I DO it, and I replace my shoes every 6 months, as they wear the heck out.  But I get WORK out of them until they die.  Considering I don't spend much else on running as a hobby, that breaks down to roughly $15-$20 a month in shoe cost, which isn't bad when you look at it like that.  Find the shoe that's comfortable for you.  That's your best running shoe.




And of COURSE you need the fancy lululemon pants and zipzop shorts and and and NOPE.  I LIKE the running shorts I have at times, but my usual running pants are a pair of basketball shorts that my mom got out of Target one weekend.  I also have a pair of generic black sport shorts that cost like $4.  Cargo shorts are probably right out, and jorts only belong at Tool concerts.  You can go to a sporting goods store and get a pair or two of these for relatively cheap; I wouldn't recommend going and getting compression shirts and fancy runners shorts and blah blah blah until you're (again) super into the hobby like us dinguses.  The one benefit of light shorts though is its less to carry as you run.  That'll help you later.  The compression shirts and all that are fine, but whatever T-shirt you have lying around that you don't mind getting covered in sweat and/or possibly ruined are fine for a start.  Aim for lighter clothing so you're not carrying extra weight for you.


It's like Finn didn't even listen to us.  But Rey has the right idea!

If you're reading this much later in winter or starting in October, the previous paragraph applies but for basic loaf sweatpants.  With regards to winter wear and what to dress for, the prevailing wisdom I once heard is dress for about 20 degrees warmer.  So if it's 30 out, it'll feel like it's 50 when you're running.  If it's 0, it'll feel 20.  Practically tanning weather!  This is a good way of both making sure you don't get frostbite AND ensuring you don't die of heat stroke.


When you get the inclination to start getting more clothing, a few of those fancy running shirts are helpful, as they wick sweat and let the air flow and most importantly don't chafe my nipples.  WAIT COME BACK!  Yeah, nipple chafe happens and it SUCKS when you're bleeding from them, but a good shirt will help reduce that.


They also make "stickers" you can put over your nipples when you're running a marathon.  No shame, I have used them.

A few pairs of shorts/a few shirts can really go a long way towards letting you run better and more easily.  Wash them as often as you can though.  Running in pre-sweated clothes often sounds like a good way to get bacteria, so, uh, don't?  Helpful, I know.  That being said, I understand that sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do, and it's winter and you only own one pair of running tights.  I get it, just try not to make a habit of it.


Run enough marathons and you can outfit your shirt needs all on your own!


Fun bonus fact with regards to workout clothes: they are easy birthday/Christmas gifts your family can use to support your running habit!  And now, back to Eric’s Wife to talk sports bras!



Not only am I going to talk sports bras, I’m gonna make this extra sexy. That’s right! John foreshadowed it with the nip-nops up there, but we’re going to discuss chafing.



Look upon your new god, my thicc brethren!

Two things are your enemy when it comes to running comfortably for any length of time - chafe, and jiggle. Repeated over and over again, either one of these usually-only-mildly-annoying phenomena quickly pass the threshold of discomfort into actual pain and, eventually, injury. There are so many places the human body can develop blisters! Places one does not even ponder in an average shower! Oh, what a piece of work is man!


Without getting too grisly, suffice to say that a bad case of friction burn can set your training schedule back a ways, and over-jiggled parts can get mighty sore. So in addition to using anti-chafe stick just about anywhere you need (anywhere. this is a safe place. we will not judge), I can recommend the following:

  1. Invest in a base layer that can wick moisture fairly well. This keeps your temperature more stable when you’re bundled up, and it keeps you drier and cooler in the heat. Fun fact - only horses and higher-order primates sweat to keep cool, and our smooth weird skin makes us really good at it! Don’t waste all of evolution’s hard work because you don’t want to shell out for a basic technical-fabric tee shirt.
  1. Socks. I did not see the above mentioned, but my main recommendation for ALL runners in addition to well-fitted shoes is good socks. Any runner can probably spin you horror stories like the classic What Is That Red Stain On The Mesh Toe Of My Sneaker. While that cannot always be prevented, a quality sock cuts down on the likelihood of that happening to you by a good amount.  This is also why I have Eric's Wife here, to remind me of the obvious things that I forgot.  100% get good socks for your shoes.
  1. Fancy compression garments are not necessary, UNLESS there is a jiggle-minimizing comfort aspect. The most famous example of this is the sports bra, which also is far more moisture-wicking (see #1) than a standard bra. This can also apply to tighter-fit running leggings or shorts, or even compression tops. At any distance over a mile you’ll probably start to get an inkling that you might feel better with this kind of garment.
  1. This deserves its own bullet point - some people need two sports bras. That’s okay. Some people need to shop around for a bra that is not too low-cut. Yes it is possible to hit yourself in the face with your own boob. Don’t let this happen to you. If possible, buy your first few bras at a physical retail location and try them on.

The last thing I'll mention that I use is a good hat.  Hat, sweatband, baseball cap, whatever.  I sweat a lot when I run, and it comes out in my hair.  If I don't have a hat or sweatband there, I end up dripping all over my face which is really aggravating when I'm trying to think of how much mileage I have left.  Get an old baseball cap you don't mind ruining and work with that for a start.  Again, you can get you a fancy headband and all, but baseball cap is easier and lazier.

Before You Start: THE PREQUEL


Now that we’ve engaged in some motivation-building window-shopping and gear-fantasizing (because hey, who does not get psyched about all the fun, neon-vomit-colored accessories that their awesome new hobby is going to involve), let’s put a disclaimer out there. Are we ready for Captain No-Fun of the Nag Brigade? Yeah?


Get thee to your annual physical.


For reals. A lot of insurances will pay for an annual physical for an average healthy adult, and if it’s more than a physical, you probably should’ve been in to the doctor’s before now. Especially if you have any difficulty walking around a block at a brisk clip or doing two flights of stairs, talk a running regimen over with your doctor before you go all in on it.


Music/Books/Mind Wandering

So you got shoes and clothes, time to just go running for an hour, right? Hoo boy, no.  You want to be in your own head with nothing but your own thoughts and the chorus to "One Week" for an hour? No, get some music or something, bud.  Eric's Wife (hello!) loves the Zombies Run app, which attaches a story to your runs and lets you get supplies for your civilization after society collapsed after the zombies arrived.  It's pretty fun and gives you motivation every few songs to pick it up, and it interfaces pretty easily with whatever music you have on your phone/iPod/Zune/etc.


All done with lovely British voiceovers!

But the important part there is music.  I know people who do podcasts or listen to books on tape, but for me, motivation comes in the form of music.  Grab something that makes YOU feel good, and go from there.  You're going to be listening to this for a while, so make sure you like it.  I've had to punt several songs from my music that I THOUGHT were good but just became absolute slogs while running.  I've recently added cartoon theme songs, some metal, a little bit of Phil Collins, there's all sorts of stuff on my playlist.  I've written several dumb articles on here about music choices, and I'd be happy to talk suggestions and genres and all with you, just ask me.


The other thing that happens is my mind wanders often during running, and I've built some of my most interesting and sometimes even successful lists during it.  You'd be surprised how fast miles fly by as you add up point costs of squadrons or ships and upgrades.  It HAS become a self-fufilling cycle, though, as I'm not as up on MC75 costs as I should be.  BUT! New season, new lists, new John.  I will also fully admit the last 2.8 miles at Madison last year became a struggle in points costs as I just pushed on.  2.8  became 28 points, so that 10th of a mile became "what's the best 28 points right now I can use?" (Hera, obviously).  Then 2.7 left became 27 points, etc.  There was the Shara/Tycho double tap at 1.7 and 1.6, the Mauler Mithel 1.5, the Lando 0.4 left, the Yelling Hat Man final 0.1, etc... Whatever pushes you through, man.


Madison is a lovely city full of great food, beer, and so many hills that I will never run a marathon there again


But the thing I find the most important is having a motivation for running.  Sometimes it's as simple as "I don't want to be fat no more" (yo) or "I want to get faster" (also yo) or "Revenge!" (once a yo).  Revenge/anger IF focused is good for you.  If the reason you're getting out there is to show that ex-girlfriend you're not just a fat oaf, then yeah, use that.  If you're using it to show that guy from high school that you're better than him and his stupid face, go ahead.  Don't make it literally the only reason you run, but every once in a while "Ugggh, I don't want to run.  But if I do, I can think about how much better I am than CHAD." Then get your Chad-hatred on, man.  If it's to set a good example for your kids, or to prep for a marathon, those are all great, too.  I've got a personal reason for running this year.... but that's another story.


As for motivation, start small and keep improving.  I started 4 years ago with "I want to run the Chicago marathon" and it was a lot of improvements to get there.  I didn't wake up and run 26 miles, there was a fair amount of training and long runs before that.  Similarly, if you're just starting out, train to RUN an entire 5K.  There's couch to 5K programs you can use to get there, and those are great starts.  We'll get to 5K's in a bit.  Fun fact: the first race I ever ran was a 5K 5 years ago.  The second race was the Chicago marathon.  I didn't do baby steps much, hahah! But my motivation wasn't about racing and getting the best times and all (then....) but just being able to finish the marathon.  And I did!  ....And then did about 3 others.


All about that fancy medal life.  And the tee shirts, but those were posted above


For some people, structure is also very helpful in maintaining the drive to continue training! The standard wisdom is that training from nothing to a 5K (3.1 miles for us AMURRICANS) takes at least 8 weeks, which is a long time to devote to anything, let alone something that is probably physically uncomfortable! Having a training regimen planned out, on paper, that you can keep notes on and see your progress can be tremendously motivating in the fourth week stretch of UUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUGH MOM I DUN WANNA.


When you get out there, if it's REALLY cold or REALLY hot, that first mile is MISERABLE.  You feel like garbage and your body isn't loosened up yet, even if you DID stretch really well.  Power through that first one and you're good.  The first mile always sucks.  You can do it!  I believe in you!


Believe in the me who... well, I've done this joke enough.


Run watches, cross body harnesses for water, bags to carry energy gels, these are all cool and fancy things.  If you're really into caring about your time and all, then get you a fancy watch.  Eric's wife has a belt that carries 2 little thermoses of water to carry with on her run, and my cousin just got me a harness thing for my own use with this.  You can add these all as desired, but these tend towards more "Cool to have, not necessarily needed immediately" in my opinion.


These can be helpful if you are prone to dehydrating, but are also good if you find that thirst starts limiting your performance due to it making runs above a certain mileage flat-out uncomfortable. There are also handheld water bottle holders, which some of my friends enjoy using. Whatever makes the run easier for you.



What is necessary though, you’re following our advice so far, is headphones and something to carry your music player! You can put your phone/ipod/etc in a pocket, though those can get sweaty, so many people like armbands or running belts. Wireless and wired both have upsides and downsides, and I can tell you from my own experience that I enjoy “wireless” (wired together, but bluetooth) headphones, with a backup wired pair for those “derp I had to CHARGE that battery?” days. I like the kind with ear hooks because they stay in place better, but it’s all a matter of personal preference, fit, and style. Try to make it something easy to clean with a wet-wipe, though. Summer is coming.


Where to Run At?

So this is one of the other reasons I asked Eric's wife to join me on this.  I'm a hetero white guy.  Where CAN'T I run? The world is my oyster and nothing bad can happen to me in the suburb I run at that so conveniently is right next door to a CPD station and has like every 3rd house occupied by an officer, detective, or beat cop.  SO WEIRD HOW SAFE IT IS!


But the general answer is that you can do trail runs or street or treadmill.  I personally love street running, as I can see where I'm going and how far I've gone.  It's relatively easy to count miles just based on streets and all, which helps me log the numbers.  Trail runs are much more hilly and bumpy, and you'll use a lot more energy but get a better workout doing it.  Street paths offer more hills that are easier on your legs, but it may involve planning your route out some.  I also like street routes because I can pretend to parkour as needed or pretend I'm running a punt back for a touchdown.  Some people may not like spinning and dodging imaginary tackles; some people are boring, haha.


Haha, you thought you escaped Captain No-Fun?


-well ok. The article is almost over. You very nearly have. But not until I get to be the jerk who reminds us all that we’re still not John, and we can’t all run anywhere, any time and feel totally safe in doing so. I’m in a pretty privileged position myself - white woman in the burbs, hi there - so I know that this still isn’t going to be a perfect disclaimer to all situations and will likely miss a lot of stuff. But for safety’s sake, here’s my rundown (HAW) of safest running practices:

  1. If there absolutely is not a safe outdoor area for you to run in - be that due to inclement weather, human factors, or zombie uprising - a treadmill or running track is your best bet. When it’s icy out around Chicago, I use an indoor track as much as possible.
  1. Easiest thing is just to have a running buddy, if you can find one.  Safety in numbers is real.
  1. For outdoor runs, I like to run any loop a few times in the daytime before I use it at night or the dark hours of the morning. It means I’m familiar with the terrain, which is helpful when visibility is poor, and translates to confident body language that hopefully minimizes likelihood of inviting unwelcome attention. It also lets me scout for streetlights, iffy-looking areas, and my favorite, Angry Dog That Will Bodyslam The Fence While Barking Furiously. Oh Angry Dog, never change! What would my 10 pm run be without me nearly peeing myself!
  1. Not necessary, but running at night in areas with uneven footing, a headlamp can be super helpful. Pepper spray is classic (disclaimer: check legality in your area), and keeping an earbud out at all times keeps you more aware of your surroundings.


And I CANNOT stress this enough, watch out for demons if you happen to run past a crossroads.


So you've started running, you're out there moseying up and down the streets, you're doing it!  But how do you stick with it?


Run Groups!

The thing I like about running is that while it's a purely personal hobby, you can also meet groups of people who like doing it as well.  Again, gentrified neighborhoods help here, but most local running stores have a bunch of people who will be out there as well on some night every week.  I've been at the Monday night run at my local consistently ever since I moved here, and I've made some great friends there.  It's the gym buddy principle in action; if I have someone else counting on me to attend, I HAVE to show up.  I know everyone is going to be there Monday night, so I gotta be there too.  It's also a great place to meet experienced runners who know a lot more than "the Star Wars blog I read about running."  Those runners can offer diet tips and thoughts about shoes or races or any of that.  If running is more of a "you doing introvert time" thing, more power to you.  I remain an extrovert, and I like talking to other people.  Doesn't mean that I still don't listbuild like crazy on my own Wednesday nighters.


Try to make new friends while you run!

Races - 5Ks

Speaking of races, one of the easiest ways to get started running and get out there is by signing up for a race.  Setting a time frame of "I need to be able to run X distance by Y date" will subconsciously force you into motivation.  Even just a regular 5K and saying "I want to run the entire thing" is a GREAT goal, and something you should be proud of.  The main thing for me with running is that it's about the goals YOU SET FOR YOURSELF.  I don't generally time myself while running (this may be why I became a CHONK) because running for me has always been about just enjoying myself and having fun.


And there's some very fun 5Ks out there, especially for you city dwellers.  In the last 3-4 years, I've signed up for the Stan's Donuts 5K (I got free donuts!), the Bunny Rock 5K (I got bunny ears!), a Color Run (they throw colored paint at you and ruin your shirt, haha), and the girlfriend and I just signed up for the Italian Beef 5K (they give you an Italian Beef sandwich for finishing! FREE ITALIAN BEEF!!) and she may be coercing me into doing a 5K race to Wrigley Field when her parents come to town.  They have Ditka Dashes in the winter, where everyone dresses up like Mike Ditka (Chicago legend), and Santa Runs and alla that.  5Ks are great easy races that let you either run at a comfortable pace and enjoy the scenery, or you can sprint like a madman and time yourself.  But you get great swag from them (a medal and a compression shirt, usually) and you're usually supporting a charity as well.  The charity aspect makes doing them a lot more fun, especially if you can sign someone up with you, but the free shirt DEFINITELY helps, haha.  I definitely stopped BUYING fancy runner shirts after getting like 4-5 different ones from different races and all.  It's like I'm practically saving money!


Disney has races every year from 5K to marathons, and you can do them in costume if you want!

Races - Marathons

Then there's the nutjobs like me and Eric's Wife who sign up to run 26.2 miles.  Because it's THERE, man!  I can honestly say that I've never been more motivated than while running the Chicago marathon.  It feels like the entire city is out there cheering for you.  The first year I did the marathon, I was literally just doing it to finish.  Then I did it in 4 hours and 2 minutes.  Awww dangit, I can beat that! And that's how I signed up for my SECOND marathon.  It snuck up on me without me even noticing, right?  Marathons may not be for you, and that's fine.  But if you're curious about it, there's a bunch of online plans for them, and we have both done them.  I jumped from 6 miles twice a week into eventually running a 26 mile course, and it was AMAZING.  Tough as HECK, but amazing.  I did beat my goal that second year of running it, and my goal this year is to try to hit a sub-4:00 again.  That's a **** of a goal, but I'm determined to DO (remember, do or do not; there is no try)!  You can also run marathons for charity, which is a really noble goal and you can pick whatever charity motivates you the most.  There's some great ones out there....



Hahahahaha go to a real running blog.  After all this talk, I'm going for a run, myself.  And feel free to ask us any questions you have about running!


*Try. Be kind to yourself. Walk if you have to. Find the value in things you do, even imperfectly. Don’t get an injury. Don’t get obsessed with the numbers. And most importantly: Don’t Try To Be John, We Already Have One Of Those.


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This post was a great way to start my Monday. I like how well thought it was, compared to the usual April Fools joke. I might try and put this advice to use this summer...

Also, thanks Geek19 for the exercise advice and Star Wars jokes.

As always, quality content!

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6 hours ago, geek19 said:


In which John asks for help. Because of the nature of what I'm asking, I decided to not just copy paste it onto the forums.

You make it sound so sketchy.

He's humbly asking people to donate to the charity he's running the Chicago Marathon for, he's not asking for a volunteer to run drugs for him.

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Well yes, but I know straight up asking for money is frowned upon in the trade thread. Rather than do that straight up here and wonder about the sketchy legality of that, of course, I outsourced it to the blog.

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Posted (edited)


My Worlds AAR. It's a bit long, so I wasn't sure about copy-pasting it here. Settle in, it's about my fleet and roughly 8 games at Adepticon.


Come for the Worlds discussion, stay to the end for the toddler playing with a cat gif.

Edited by Snipafist

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8 hours ago, BillHimclaw said:

Boy, would I like to know more of Norm's fleet!  That speed 0 trick seems neat!  Is that the speed zero maneuver that gives your blog its motto? 

Norm's fleet was neat for that trick, I'm just not sure it would be as effective a second time around once the trick is known. That said, it's not as though it would do poorly, just less surprise value. It also requires a good sense as to exactly how long that ISD can stay at speed zero before it becomes a serious problem. Longer than I would have thought from guesstimating, but not forever for sure.

And yep, the whole title is "Cannot Get Your Ship Out: the Speed Zero Maneuver" although the actual origin of the title comes from Empire Strikes Back:


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From my memory, no. They're THERE, but not terrible. That underside is NOICE, too. And I say that as a Rebel player. It's a VERY sweet looking ship, and I can't wait to see it across from me (also because holy crap Ackbar will be BACK, BABY!)

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3 hours ago, Darth Sanguis said:

In person were the build seams as noticeable as they seem in this picture? (sometimes pictures make these things easier to see but this seems glaring). 


When you're up close and deliberately looking for them, you'll notice them. That said, that's true of pretty much all Armada ships when you get right down to it (and most minis, period). I don't consider it a big deal and the ship was very impressive in person.

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