Friday, February 27, 2009

Again with the Music

What I know about the electro-chemistry of the brain is mostly a pastiche of misinformation gathered from a few hundred hours of sci-fi, a semester of half-understood sensation and perception, and a fleeting understanding of basic biology.

One of the most interesting things to me about how we think is the way we can have multiple opinions about the same thing at the same time.

I was out running today- it was 50 and sunny and unbelievable. At 7:30 am I was toweling off from my shower, cold from the water and wondering how, how would I ever be ready again to swim in a race, how would the water ever be warm again. Silly thoughts, but...

And there I was, four and a half hours later, running in just racing kit, sweating, outside and happy about it. I was about 35 minutes into my run, the wind was blowing steady and hard into my face, and that was when Alanis Morissette came on- 'On the Tequila'.

I like Alanis Morissette. It's part soft spot and part that I can draw quite a bit out of songs like Ironic, which is, oddly enough, a great workout song. However, I have never been sold on 'On The Tequila', especially when working out. The song is a fine song, I'm sure, but it has everything that doesn't work for me in a song. It's light, it's an affirmation of life, and even at it's most perceptive it treats the subjects of that perception with kid gloves- like 'Thought You Should Know' on prozac and without the f word.

When running, this is not a song that helps me. And yet, as I reached back to shuffle on to the next song, I stopped, considered whether or not I should listen to the song again anyway, a part of me convinced I either need to keep giving the song a chance, or even that I need to let music like this into my mindset. This is definitely thinking on the blade of dichotomy.

So I left the song on, I ran fairly well, and I came away thinking the same thing about the song I had before it started. It didn't make me a more mellow, introspective person (good luck with that), but it didn't ruin my run.

Still, when the next song came on- Linkin Park's Bleed it Out- I immediately picked it up, and when I reached the four lane section of route 34 I had to time the crossing of safely against the light, I was running off the hook.

Then some Nickelback came on and everything was good....

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Tuesday Treadmill Workout- The Uphill Grind

Tuesday I wanted a hard treadmill workout and I'm getting ready for a 5K with a psychotic uphill climb in the first mile, so here's what I did on the treadmill Tuesday at lunch after spinning for 45 minutes earlier in the day. With apologies to Coach Troy, who I stole the idea from:

definition of base pace- what pace you run on the treadmill when you are in high A or low B- a run, not a jog. The number in parenthesis is my speed Tuesday (mph)

2 minute warm up at .5 miles an hour above base (8.0) at elevation of 1.5
3 minutes at 30 seconds 1.5 miles an hour above base (9.0), 30 seconds at base (7.5) at elevation of 1.5
2 minutes at base (7.5)

hill repeats
30 seconds at base plus .1 (7.6) at elevation of 5.0
30 seconds at base plus .1 (7.6) at elevation of 5.5
30 seconds at base plus .1 (7.6) at elevation of 5.0
30 seconds at base plus .1 (7.6) at elevation of 5.5
30 seconds at base plus .2 (7.8) at elevation of 4.5
30 seconds at base plus .2 (7.8) at elevation of 5.0
30 seconds at base plus .2 (7.8) at elevation of 5.5
30 seconds at base plus .5 (8.0) at elevation of 6.0
1 minute at base plus 1.5 (9.0) at elevation of 0.0

do the hill repeat 4 times

2 minutes at base (7.5)

3 minutes at 10 seconds hard, base plus .5 (8.0) and elevation of 4.5, 10 seconds easy, base plus .5 (8.0) and elevation of 0.0
(start descending on the 10, start ascending on the 8 of the rest, and go 15 seconds on/off if your treadmill is slow to change elevation)

6 minutes at base plus .1 (7.6), no elevation

I then added 8 minutes of easy spinning on an aerobics bike at high cadence and low tension. This really helped flushed the lactic acid out of my legs.

Probably a silly workout, but sometimes it's fun to just make something up and do it, and anything that releaves treadmill boredom is a plus.

The bonus is that last minute on the repeats you feel like you are roaring downhill.

Actually, can I take those words you put in my mouth about health care out ?

I was driving home and listening to NPR when I heard Senator, Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, say the following: "I think we can all agree that we'd like to see universal access to affordable health care insurance."

Um, no.

Mr. McConnell is a bright man, but I have a feeling he thinks his listeners are not. I'm not going to get into the deeper politics of the issue, or mention how the social security versus private retirement accounts debate made it clear that people are not necessarily of the same mind as conservative republicans regarding private choice. Or how conservative republicans are sticking to their 'no problem can't be solved by the free market' philosophy in this time, when, well, the old invisible hand had guided us to the teetering edge of a fatal fall.

The short of it ? If you are unemployed- and the real number of unemployed is well above 10% now- there's no such thing as affordable health insurance. This is similar to the idea of cutting taxes. If you don't have a job, a ten percent tax cut, at best, is going to have a miniscule affect on your income, and improving the affordability of health care insurance would have a similar effect.

No, what I favor is universal access to health care.

So close, Mr. McConnell. What a difference a word makes.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

On Social Media and Pen Pals

After reading this article from Charles Arthur about a study supposing (and not much more) a link between Twitter and Cancer in which he recounted a fellow Twitterer's comment 'it's a problem of paucity of language - we don't have a word for friends you haven't met and might never meet in person.'

I tweeted him the following: 'people used to have friends they never met. they just sent letters, not tweets. all of this has happened before. just slower'

Leaving aside my obsessive need to misuse the first half of the mantra from BSG, I was of course talking about pen pals. Yeah, that crazy quaint custom of being matched up with some complete stranger in some far away never-never land (like Paris, or Idaho) and exchanging letter. People used to do that- honest. Google it. You don't get anything involving 'prison' until the fifth hit...

The first point here is I read a good piece by a good journalist- whose new articles I find out about via his tweets- and tweeted him back. You know all those times you've read something in a magazine or the paper and swore you were going to write that person and...

How often have you done it ?

And he responded.

Which really isn't the point. The point of the original article was that our lack of closeness and intimacy, that being solitary, leads to a higher cancer rate through some sort of genetic pseudo-link. The point of Charles Arthur's article was to point out that the 'science' basically wasn't in what's normally a peer reviewed journal. Going a step further, there's the question of just what these online interactions really mean. Clearly the journal article's authors see these online interactions as having zero value towards social interconnectedness, and while I think you could argue that, it seems like that would be piling fuzzy science on top. And I'd disagree...

But that comment about paucity of language got me thinking to while I was running. Social media is a really mixed bag and some social media 1.0 tools really did a lot of damage to our language. I'm talking about texting, which I have never really adopted- and you can tell, because when I do text you, it will be with complete words, not l8r brb gtg.

Twitter forces you to be concise, yes. I love to write, and at times I find its 140 character limitation stifling. But I actually see it as a challenge, editing my overlong tweets down, like a word-level version of Scrabble. They are still complete thoughts, compact, but complete, and I find that the people I follow tend to do the same. Well-worded, even euridite, just in that 140 character word space.

I think this also helps Twitter to be more social than that other social media 1.0 flaming ground, the message board. Too many message boards (and no, not just the Hitek running board) turn into the landing ground for people with questionable social skills and a desire to turn the internet into a virtual verbal sort of Fight Club. Except that everyone talks about this fight club. If you find yourself reliving the glory of your past tweets or holding grudges against other tweeters, you probably aren't using Twitter right.

Twitter really is an interesting tool, and I'd argue that it doesn't lead to less social interaction. Or a paucity of language-and to be fair, that's not what the original commenter Charles Arthur mentioned in his article was suggesting. But social media is often mocked for a disturbing dilution of social interaction- 'friends' on Facebook, 'followers' on Twitter. But I disagree. On twitter I've made people laugh, provided emotional support, solved people's technical problems, acted and interacted with the famous, the funny, the president, and most of all, the intelligent. The power of social media is the speed with which you can tap the collective intelligent of a group consciousness for feedback and knowledge.

And it's also how I stay in touch- and feel connected to- one of my close friends, who is across the country and also in IT. Our tweets span topics technical, philosophical, and beerical.

Is it a replacement for real human interaction ? Of course not. Is it an augmentation ? Maybe.

Does it cause cancer ? I doubt it...

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Underworld III

If you've never been in my office, then you might not know that I'm fond of the Underworld movies (why are UK movie posters so much cooler than the US ones ?)

Usually, by the time a movie franchise, especially a multi-hundred million dollar franchise, hits III or 3, or Episode VI, or Last Crusade, or worst of all Revolutions, the combination of excess, greed, and dearth of ideas has all but destroyed the what was originally great about the the whole thing. Not always, but generally by the third movie, if you haven't lowered your expectations, they will be disappointed.

So I headed off to see Underworld III with a co-worker with pretty low expectation. Not as low as they might have been, because the second movie was, in my opinion, pretty solid. Make that really solid. Great effects, lots of dark, rich imagery, plenty of action.

Underworld III is prequel, which usually makes it harder in my opinion, because you're telling a story in a space that no matter how much you half-assed the backstory, is already partially full. And in Underworld, Viktor's daughter dies, and yet, she's a central character in Underworld II. That constraint could have really been hard to work around, however, it seems like just the opposite happened.

Given a closed-end story to tell, the movie does that just. Obviously a story about vampires and werewolves isn't going to be believable, but the story that gets told fits well into the rest of the mythos of the franchise. And a that franchise, which drew almost as heavily on hi-tech lethal gadgets as tight black leather, stays away from equipping the vampires and werewolves of the middle ages with ridiculously out-of-place weapons. Instead, this is actually, well, it's a story about people. And no one plays their part better than Bill Nighy as Viktor.

The bottom line- while I'm pretty sure there aren't any Oscars in this movie's future, for a third installment it's actually a good movie. By the time you read this, of course, it will probably already be out of the theatres...

Monday, February 16, 2009


I just wanted to note that on the 7th anniversary of having been arrested during a long run at lunchtime, on my wife's birthday, I went out and did a hard, 40 minute high tempo run on some of the same roads and managed to come back in one piece and not arrested.

It was in the twenties with a bitter wind, and I was running in bike shorts and a singlet. I learned something on this run (this was back on February 5th).

For years I'd been thinking that I was much tougher when I was a teenager, that I used to run in shorts and a t-shirt. This is back in say, 1982 and I seemed to be invincible to the cold.

And here I was, so far behind schedule that I didn't have time to go to the gym and run on the treadmill and also didn't have proper gear to run outside. And I ran outside anyway.

At first, I was suffering and then the skin on my legs suddenly got this 'I'm going to kind of shut down and leave you to this running thing' and it struck me.

I wasn't tough in 1982. I was poor, and running gear technology was not where it is now. There wasn't the fine selection of tights, gloves and jackets we have today (and I run in). And what there was, I couldn't afford to buy. I'm not saying I didn't own a wool cap and mittens, but that was about all I owned. Tights ? Huh ? Tight ?

I wasn't tough. I was just poor.

I'm glad I can afford good running gear now....

Saturday, February 07, 2009

The Ghost of Me

I went out today to run for two hours. It was my first long run in three weeks, and my first long run since November that was alone. I've been doing my long Saturday runs with a friend who was getting ready for the New Orleans marathon- great job, Michael, by the way- so it's allowed me to go out, keep my base in tact, but still go at a managed pace.

My first long run coming back after a break of time, especially when alone, is always a little bit more of a challenge, and to be honest, every long run by myself is a challenge, not so much to do the distance, but to keep the intensity down to where it's supposed to be. Eric had actually given me a run on my schedule with Michael, not knowing he was out of town. It told me where my intensity should be.

Why ? Well, it's not uncommon for many of us when we do our long runs to struggle a little bit with pacing, and I think most endurance athletes struggle more often to keep he pace down than to keep the pace up.

I call this 'the ghost of me.' The ghost of me is a few years younger, a little bit faster, and a LOT better looking than I am. He's also very quick to remind me, as soon as I start to flag a little, about how I didn't keep up the pace on the second loop in Florida last November and that cost me a sub-ten, or how I walked in Arizona. As Jon Stewart would say, he's kind of a dick.

I'll get out there and I start chasing the ghost. I start thinking I'm not quite pushing hard enough. I'll start to fatigue and instead of moderating I'll push harder because 'in a race you have to push past the fatigue.' The funny thing is, on my good days racing, it's my steady approach more than my modicum of skill that gets me to the finish line in a reasonable amount of time.

And so, I'll run for two hours and run closer to my hour run pace. As I often hear when doing Spinervals, 'you should be going hard enough that you want to slow down, but you don't have to'. And that's what my long run feels like when I'm pushing just a little bit too hard. I can run my hour training run pace for two hours, but it's not comfortable and it's not my goal.

About 90 minutes in, right after my second gel I really started to feel like I wasn't putting out a great effort any more. I'd gone just a little too hard and now, I was having that same thought I have every long run that doesn't go perfectly- 'what if this happens at (fill in the blank with name of next IM race) ?' I was running up a steep hill and maybe berating myself a little bit.

Then I had a little run-in with a pissed off SUV driver that was more concerned about having to drive two miles an hour under the speed limit than the safety of a seventy-year old man. I know this because after I'd run up the hill and turned towards the POYCC the driver reversed direction, came back, and told me I should have told the old man to cross to the correct side of the road so there wouldn't have been two pedestrians in the same spot forcing him to reduce speed.

Long story short- I should never let drivers aggravate me. I should stay inside myself, focus on my workout, not let anyone take any energy away from me.

If you're shaking your head or laughing, it's because you know me.

But you know what- the adrenaline rush made me feel better. I also was no longer thinking about the ghost of me. I ws running well, I was no longer fatigued and- my mind was actually clear. What should have been stressful and irritating actually was calming and liberating.

Whatever works- but don't let the ghost of you affect your workouts. Those old races where you let yourself down ? History. The fact that you are older, and perhaps slower than the ghost ? You certainly are older- every workout you are older/ Slower ? Don't be sure about that- and even if your are there's no shame in that unless you are Benjamin Button.

Which would be curious indeed...

Monday, February 02, 2009

Super Bowl- Great Game, Lousy MVP

What a great game that was yesterday- I want to thank everyone who came over and watched the game with us and brought the food and the fun with them.

We've really been treated to consecutive great Super Bowls. The see-saw ending was a great way to ensure this will be one of the better games, one of the ones that's remembered.

But the MVP choice ? I'm going to give two reasons why I think it was bad and by the time I'm done, probably no one will agree with me, which is fine.

Santonio Holmes ? He wasn't even the best receiver on the field, much less the best player. Here's my top 4, and Holmes isn't on it.

1) Ben Roethlisberger 256 yards passing, 21/30 (70%) 1TD, 1INT. Ben made it happen over and over again. The success that Santonio had was the direct result of Ben's ability to stay alive after the blocking broke down and make plays, and Santonio's big catch was as much about a perfectly throw ball as some spectacular catch.

2) Kurt Warner 31/43 377 yards 3TDs, 1 INT These numbers are even more amazing considering how good the Steelers defence actually is. A phenomenal game in a losing effort

3) Larry Fitzgerald 7 catches, 127 yards 2TDs. The most electrifying play of the game was Fitzgerald's middle of the field catch and carry that lifted the Cardinals back into contention

4) James Harrison's one single play, if you were to award the MVP for a single play, was more electrifying than Holmes' TD catch, as he rumbled through a record-setting record-setting interception return. He had almost as many yards (100) on one play as Holmes did in the entire game (131)

That's one argument. He's the second. Holmes was busted for possession of pot- in his car- and suspended one game by the Steelers during the sseason. Now, as one person at the party reminded me, the MVP is supposed to only be about the game, but... and I know there are lots of people who think pot is no big deal. I don't agree, but that's not the point. Driving stoned is no better than driving drunk, and if you aren't planning on using the pot, why would you have it in the car the way Holmes did?

The sportswriters who voted Holmes MVP were basically rewarding Holmes for being a selfish jerk that could have hurt the team or innocent bystanders with his behaviour. This doesn't quite reach the egregious heights of Ray Lewis going from accessory to murder to MVP, but to me it still sends the wrong message. It wasn't like Holmes had the only good game, like he had 131 yards receiving and the Steelers had 200 total yards offence. There were plenty of great performances- quite frankly better performances, without reaching down into the barrel and rewarding a guy who broke the rules.

It's almost as though the effort here is to create the next Plaxico Burress out of another Pittsburgh receiver...

Any way you roll it, Holmes was not the right MVP choice.