Thursday, December 21, 2006

A Mormon For President?

I'm not sure how, but I somehow found and enjoy reading their decidedly liberal slant on current events and culture as a countpoint to my decidedly conservative leanings. The following quote from the article linked above is an example of why I enjoy the site.
Romney would not be the first member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to run for the nation's highest office. He follows Orrin Hatch (2000); Mo Udall (1976); his father, George Romney (1968); and not least of all Joseph Smith, who ran in 1844 on a platform of "theodemocracy," abolition, and cutting congressional pay. Despite a strong showing in the Nauvoo straw poll, Smith didn't play much better nationally than Hatch did, and had to settle for the Mormon-elected post of King of the Kingdom of Heaven.
I about fell out of my chair when I got to the last line. How many Mormons would be shocked by that statement? How many would realize that it is true? I wouldn't have until I started reading non-church sources.

I continue to cackle whenever the church's apologists claim that Smith didn't gain anything from his role as prophet other than hardship and persecution. You know, other than never having to hold down a real job, being able to command people in the name of God to build him houses and support him, being able to get loans for the church (and not coincidentally himself as leader of the church), having divinely sanctioned marriages to whoever he wanted, a divinely commanded mansion, a riverboat, power, fame, being King of the World, etc. Other than that there was nothing in it for him.

I sincerely hope that Romney is a front-runner for the presidency because it will force the Mormon church to center stage and bring it the journalistic scrutiny that it so deserves.

Here's another great excerpt addressing whether refusing to consider voting for a devout Mormon represent religious bigotry.
Others, myself included, would not, under most imaginable circumstances, vote for a fanatic or fundamentalist—a Hassidic Jew who regards Rabbi Menachem Schneerson as the Messiah, a Christian literalist who thinks that the Earth is less than 7,000 years old, or a Scientologist who thinks it is haunted by the souls of space aliens sent by the evil lord Xenu. Such views are disqualifying because they're dogmatic, irrational, and absurd. By holding them, someone indicates a basic failure to think for himself or see the world as it is.
Here's the author's take on Joseph Smith and people who believe in him.
If you don't know the story, it's worth spending some time with Fawn Brodie's wonderful biography No Man Knows My History. Smith was able to dictate his "translation" of the Book of Mormon first by looking through diamond-encrusted decoder glasses and then by burying his face in a hat with a brown rock at the bottom of it. He was an obvious con man. Romney has every right to believe in con men, but I want to know if he does, and if so, I don't want him running the country.
She didn't get it quite right. No one saw the magic glasses and I've never seen them described as diamond-encrusted. In fact, I've never read anything indicating that anyone saw him using the "interpreters," as the Book of Mormon calls them, to translate the book. Everyone who witnessed the translation described the rock in a hat method that most Mormons know nothing about. If you buy into miracles and revelation then I can forgive believing in the Urim and Thummim. But as soon as I found out he was using his treaure hunting seer stone it was an immediate deal breaker. There's a good reason the church doesn't tell the correct version of the translation in Sunday school or seminary. Only members sufficiently enmeshed in the belief system would be able to swallow that story. I wonder if Romney is as ignorant of the church's real story as most Mormons are. It goes a long way toward explaining why an otherwise knowledgeable man can believe in such an obvious fraud when you realize that the evidence of the fraud has been carefully concealed from him. However, it still leaves the question of whether you'd vote for a man who'd be willing to avoid looking at contradictory evidence because it conflicts with his personal beliefs. That kind of dogmatism would be decidedly bad for the leader of the free world.

Here's a little more.
One may object that all religious beliefs are irrational—what's the difference between Smith's "seer stone" and the virgin birth or the parting of the Red Sea? But Mormonism is different because it is based on such a transparent and recent fraud. It's Scientology plus 125 years. Perhaps Christianity and Judaism are merely more venerable and poetic versions of the same. But a few eons makes a big difference. The world's greater religions have had time to splinter, moderate, and turn their myths into metaphor. The Church of Latter-day Saints is expanding rapidly and liberalizing in various ways, but it remains fundamentally an orthodox creed with no visible reform wing.
A transparent fraud. I couldn't have said it any better. Why is it so easy to see now and was so difficult to consider for most of my life? This is a question that the nation will have to consider because Mitt Romney and many like him are true believers in this transparent fraud.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Men in Tights, Part II

As promised, here I am chugging along at a comfortable pace in my tights at the Decker 20k.

I joke about my thunder thighs, but they are one area of my physique that I'm actually proud of. I have freakishly big legs. When I reached my peak weight of 165 my waist was 36 inches and my thighs were 32 inches. I'd do 3 sets of 8-12 repetitions on the leg press with 700+ pounds and then do leg extensions and leg curls with about 250. And I wasn't really working my legs very hard at the time. Unlike my upper body, my legs respond to weight work very quickly.

One downside to all of this was that I had to wear Levis 560 loose fit jeans and they were snug on my thighs. Lately the 560s have been getting baggy so last week I bought some 550s which are relaxed fit and my legs actually fit into them with a little room to spare. I tried some 501s for laughs and couldn't get them more than halfway up my thighs. So, all of the running has slimmed my legs down some, but I think my legs respond to running all the hills around hear as strength training and so they still stay pretty big.

BTW, I ran 5 easy miles on Sunday and my legs felt pretty good. Tonight I ran 6 miles pretty hard and I felt great. Really great. I can't believe it's only been a little more than a week since Dallas. I looked at my training plan and I only have a couple more really long runs before the 3M Half Marathon and the Austin Marathon. Everything else will be just putting the finishing touches on my conditioning and avoiding injuries. Oh, and losing some more weight. I reset DietPower this morning and it thinks I should be able to get down to 210 by the marathon. At this point, every pound makes a big difference so anything less than my current 225 will be a blessing.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Just Relaxing

It's hard to believe it's only been five days since the marathon because my body feels remarkably good. Mind you, I haven't even tried to run, but I feel pretty good except for a cold and my lower back going out for the umpteenth time. The cold might actually be allergies since cedar fever cedar has started here in Austin. The back is probably because I haven't stretched since before the marathon and all of the tightness has put unwanted stress on my on my defective lumbar region. No big deal really. But all of the muscle soreness has gone and all my little wounds seem to be healing quickly.

Life is pretty boring at the moment. I've only bought one Christmas present for the most important person in my life and still have get stuff for everyone else. Other than that I'm eating, sleeping, and working.

Anyone know how to configure Windows networks and Linux Samba and make them play nicely? My Linux workstation wouldn't print on the Windows printer last night and I proceeded to waste several late hours last night and more this morning to get it working again. No success and the Windows computers don't even seem to be able to talk to each other correctly. I think I've actually made the problem worse now since the Window machines don't seem to even be able to see the Linux shared directories any more either. I hate Microsoft and their cludgy networking. Why can't they just adhere to standards instead of foisting their crappy bandaids on the world?

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Aftermath

Warning: You might find that the following contains too much information. If you continue reading and get grossed out then all I can say is, "You've been warned."

After I crossed the finish line at the marathon I was physically spent. Emotionally I was on cloud nine because I was so happy about how far I'd been able to run at my goal pace but I had no energy left and my body already hurt.

Fairly early in the race, maybe 6 miles in, I felt some chafing in the back of my crotch under my right butt cheek. I think they call that area the gluteal fold. I tried pulling the crotch of my shorts up to make sure that skin wasn't rubbing on skin but it really didn't help. On the downhill to the lake between miles 7 and 10 I started getting blisters on the bottoms of both of my little toes. As the race progressed both of these areas continued to hurt with the toes causing me the most concern. It wasn't a case of lacing my shoes too tight like in the previous race; I'd very carefully laced them this time to avoid that problem. The toes felt quite sore and it felt like I had grape sized blisters in the fold between the toe and the foot. By the end I felt pretty sure that I'd find blood in my socks.

They had a party with a good band in the American Airlines Center along with some food and refreshments for the runners. The stadium is awesome, but all the tables and food were on the stadium floor which meant going down stairs. The steps were shallow, but I was barely able to hobble down. I was walking like a 70 year old man with arthritis in his hips and lower back. My legs had no strength left at all. About all my stomach could handle was a small bowl of pasta salad, a banana, and a frozen orange/banana smoothie. We ate a bit and then we had to get back to the hotel and check out.

When I looked at my face in the bathroom my eyes were surrounded by a mask of salt crystals. As I took off my shorts I was a little dismayed to see the crotch of my underwear red with blood (I warned you). The leg opening of my underwear had worn a series of holes through my skin in several places starting with the middle of my groin around to my buttock. When I got in the shower the salt from the sweat washed into the open sores and burned like pouring salt water into open wounds.

Surprisingly, the toes didn't look too bad. The inside edge of the pads on my little toes had a thin blister along the edge, but no blood and no big blister.

I then put the stopper in the tub and sat down as the tub filled with straight cold water and my wife shuttled back and forth to the hotel ice machine. After several trips with the room's ice bucket hadn't gotten the water cold enough she got an entire waste basket full of ice and dumped that in. I wrapped my shoulders in a towel and shivered as I soaked for 20 or 30 minutes with my legs completely covered in ice water. This is a trick I read about in Runner's World and tried after long runs while training for the marathon last year. Now it has become standard practice for me after any long run. It helps reduce inflammation in the joints and the muscles.

The worst part of the day was the drive home to Austin from Dallas. My hips ached and hurt as I sat there and we had to stop periodically for me to get out and move around. It was a major effort to get in and out of the car and I still had the old man shuffle when walking. I was taking ibuprofen to help with the pain and swelling, but if it was helping it was hard to tell. When I got home I went upstairs and went to bed. Going up the stairs was no fun.

Monday wasn't too bad. The muscle soreness had set in and was getting worse, but none of my joints hurt and my feet felt fine except for a little soreness from the blisters. Sitting down at work didn't hurt but I'd be really stiff when I'd get up from my chair. I could walk somewhat normally except that my hamstrings were incredibly tight and sore and so I had to take really short steps.

I had scheduled an appointment with my massage therapist ahead of time and after work on Monday I headed in for an hour of body work. The massage was more of a flushing massage instead of the usual deep tissue massage that I get. My feet weren't sore at all. My calves were a little sore, but my lower legs felt pretty good. My hamstrings and quads were incredibly tender and my ITBs (bands of ligament tissue that run from the hip to the knee on the outside of the leg) were tight and sore. My hips were unexpectedly fine.

The massage must have worked because Tuesday morning I got out of bed and could walk normally. This is a little unusual because delayed onset muscle soreness usually hits the hardest 2 days after a hard run. My legs are still sore, which I mostly notice on the stairs, but I'm getting around pretty comfortably. The most bothersome things are the sores in my crotch which I have to sit on at work and which get rubbed by my jeans when I walk. I've also discovered some friction burns on the inside of my upper arms from the sleeve of my shirt and a sore on the outside of my left bicep from my MP3 player, but other than that I'm feeling pretty good today. Actually, I'm feeling much better than I expected because I'm only dealing with muscle soreness and not joint or bone pain.

I'll probably go to the gym tomorrow but I don't plan to do any running until next week. After that I'll have to work back into a training routine and get ready for my next race, a 20 miler, on January 7. I don't plan to run that one hard so my last two real races for the season are the 3M Half Maraton on January 28 and the Austin Marathon on February 22. I'll now be shooting for a sub 4:00 time in the marathon and think that I can do it.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Blood, Sweat, and Tears

In order to run a marathon, first you have to forget your last one.
I stood there frozen in pain and disbelief. My left hamstring was locked into a solid cramp from my knee to my buttock. People jogged by and encouraged me to continue. Only one more mile to go. But the cramp wouldn't release. I couldn't walk, much less run. Heck, I couldn't move without the muscle erupting in waves of pain. I couldn't possibly come this far and have to stop. Could I?

The previous month has been a bit of a trial since I pulled my calf at the Motive Bison Stamped half marathon. I've had to limit my running and let the muscle recover, but everything felt good going into the Dallas White Rock Marathon yesterday. I had done a proper taper so my legs were well rested. I'd gone off my diet for the last couple of weeks so I was well fed and nourished. I'd completed a 20k run the previous Sunday with no issues and my marathon pace felt very, very easy so it seemed like I'd been able to maintain my conditioning through the injury. Based on previous race results my predicted marathon pace was about 8:57 so I felt that trying to run 9:10 and finish in just under four hours was reasonable as long as the conditions were good.

Anna and I drove up to Dallas Saturday afternoon because I had to pick up my race packet. I thought that the race Expo was at the American Airlines Center because that is where the race starts, but we got there to see Mavericks fans arriving early for the NBA game. After asking the parking attendant we found out we needed to go to the Dallas Convention Center. After wandering all over we finally found the it, but the place was huge and we had to hunt and ask directions again to find out where in the complex it was located. Then it was off to check into the hotel and go to the pre-race pasta party at the Hyatt. Another bit of drama when we arrived because my packet didn't include the tickets that I had purchased for the dinner. A nice lady had mercy on us and let us in anyway and we got to eat some carbs and listen to some speakers. I was still hungry when it was done and since I wouldn't be eating breakfast the morning of the race I decided to stop at Denny's. For the first time ever at a Denny's we had good service and good food. I laid out my gear for the race and settled down for a good night's sleep.

I had a restless night because I kept waking up worrying that I'd sleep in, but soon it was 6 am and time to head out. I was at a loss for a moment because I couldn't find my PowerAde so I had to rush out and buy some Gatorade at a gas station while Anna finished getting ready. With that problem solved I swallowed a couple of gel packets, a large coffee, and a quart of gatorade and I was ready to go. The weather was perfect a 44 degrees with an overcast sky and light winds. The traffic getting into the AA center was good and we arrived with time to spare. I took my last bathroom break and headed to the huge crowd at the starting line.

I gave Anna one last kiss and hug and slipped into the mass of nervous energy to find my pace group. A couple of fighter jets seemed to be shooting through a canyon of skyscrapers as they roared close overhead overhead and then confetti flew and the horn blew and I started the slow shuffle to the starting mats. The balloons carried by the 4:00 pace group leader moved ahead of me and by the time I crossed the starting line I could barely see them bobbing up ahead.

I settled into a comfortable pace and tried to find my marathon pace rhythm, but it was difficult in the crowd and because the road had a slight upward incline. My heart rate was nearly 170 so I slowed down a little and was a little concerned to see the balloons continue their retreat. I checked my watch and ten minutes had already passed and I hoped that I'd missed the first mile marker. After a couple of minutes I knew I had and started looking for the second mile marker without knowing what pace I was running.

When I saw the second mile marker I realized why I missed the first one. They were pretty blue banners mounted on poles and they rotated with the wind. Depending on the direction of the wind they could be pointing straight toward or away from you making them invisible. Despite my heart rate, my pace was about 9:40 or about 30 seconds per mile too slow. I couldn't even see the balloons now as I corrected my pace and tried to get down to a 9:00 pace. This was difficult because the course had a gentle upward slope for the first seven miles as it climbed first through downtown Dallas and then into upscale suburban estates.

My heart rate stayed around 168 throughout the climb but my legs felt ok. I finally crested the hills and the view opened up onto White Rock Lake. I was now grateful for about three miles of downhill running that let me drop down to about an 8:40 pace and finally see the bobbing balloons of the pace leader again. The next ten miles were flat. Bowling alley flat. Flat as an iron. Flat as a pancake. Carpenter's dream flat road for ten miles.

Now I settled into a 9:00 pace and tried to close with my pace group. At the water stops each mile they got closer and closer. As mile 13 went by I'd almost caught up and just a tenth of a mile later I passed the halfway point at 1:59:00, exactly one minute ahead of pace. Now I was running just a few steps behind the pace leader but my legs were getting uncomfortable. Now I was happy to be running with a group because otherwise I might have slowed down. But every time I'd start to drop off the pace I was able to concentrate on smoothing out and relaxing and I was able to keep going. But it was definitely becoming a struggle. Around mile 15 I remember commenting to a fellow sufferer that my legs hurt.

But what could I do at that point? The heart rate I was sustaining was ridiculous. In February my lactate threshold had tested at 163 in a lab setting and I was well above that. But I didn't have the familiar lactic acid burn of fast running. After 15 miles of running I was just sore and tired and I told myself that I'd be just as sore and tired if I slowed down. I told myself that if I walked then I just tighten up and get more sore and have difficulty running again. I told myself I'd keep going for one more mile. And then another. And another as we turned back toward Dallas and could see the skyline and our final destination with less than ten miles to go. That was encouraging and the last few miles around the lake went quickly even as my discomfort grew.

Just before mile 20 I traded the 4:00 goal for survival. The course climbed 180 feet in the first 7 miles. Now it climbed the same amount in less than a mile and my already struggling legs could no longer stay in contact with the pace group. I know that doesn't sound like a very big hill, but after 20 miles the legs feel the additional effort of even a modest rise and this was a pretty good hill. I didn't even consider trying to stay with the group and shortened my stride and kept running at a reduced pace up the hill while my heart rate climbed above 170. By the top of the hill 21 miles had passed and my legs were burning with lactic acid in addition to their previous soreness and fatigue. So I walked and hoped that the muscles would be able to flush out the lactic acid.

The last five miles were down hill, but with the 4:00 goal now out of reach I settled into a more reasonable pace and my heart rate hovered around 160 as I slowed to around a 10:00 pace. Los Lonely Boys started playing Onda and I closed my eyes and ran with the music for a while at a slightly quicker pace. I played air guitar and must have looked funny, but it got me a few hundred meters further down the road. But when the music was done I needed to walk again and shuffled along for almost five minutes.

I started running again around mile 23. Now I had less than 5 km to go and suddenly I was moving past walkers and slow joggers and the crowd which had thinned out was suddenly thick again. I was confused until I realized that they started the half marathon an hour later than the full marathon and that the courses had merged. I almost collided with half marathoners and my legs protested as I had to swerve and change pace to weave through the maze of bodies. I could now hear the contest white noise of the downtown freeways as I entered the urban canyons of the city and my spirits rose in anticipation of the finish. I passed mile 25 and picked up my pace to finish strong. My legs were tired, but knowing that the finish line was so close I could live with the discomfort and pain and knew that my legs had just enough energy to put on one more burst.

And that is how I wound up with a cramped hamstring that refused to uncramp. I flexed my quadraceps as forcefully as I could and raised my toes but everytime I relaxed the hamstring immediately cramped into a rocky knot of pain. So I held my pose and relaxed and waited and bent a little at the waist to gently stretch the overtaxed muscle. I finally tentatively relaxed a little and this time nothing happened. I took a step. Still good. No pain as I began walking and still no pain as I resumed my jog to the finish. Now I rounded the last corner and the finish line was in sight. I couldn't stop smiling as I ran through the cheering crowds that were gathered to greet the finishers and I was overcome with emotion as I crossed the red timing maps that recorded each finisher with an audible electronic beep. My eyes filled with tears as I was welcomed by volunteers who hung a medal around my neck, wrapped me in a space blanket, and gave me my finishers shirt. I stumbled with fatigue and a concerned worker asked if I need medical assistance. I smiled and said no and headed toward the exit to find my wife waiting for me to guide me into the arena as drizzle began to fall.

I stupidly deleted my mile splits before I could record them, but I was with my pace group up until mile 20 so I know I averaged 9:10 pace for the first 20 miles. The last 6.2 miles were slow and I really don't care. I set a personal record (PR) in the half marathon (1:59:00) and a huge PR in the marathon with a final time of 4:17:34 which is an average pace of 9:50. That is an improvement of 43 minutes over my first marathon 10 months ago. I was 56th out of 184 males in the Clydesdale division (over 200 pounds) and 1790 out of 3507 marathon runners.

I was happy when I finished my first marathon, but I'm really over the moon because I felt like I raced this one and really pushed my personal limits. I was nervous going into the race on a number of different levels. Perhaps my biggest concern was whether I could really reach the potential suggested by previous races, books, and pace calculators. A 9:10 pace would have seemed farfetched 3 months ago. While I didn't finish at that pace, I made it 20 miles and I have a new confidence that I can reasonably aim for a sub four hour time in a couple of months at the Austin Marathon.

This post is already long so I'll post about the aftermath tomorrow. I hope this wasn't too boring for you, but it is a big deal to me and I wanted to capture my feelings before the memories begin to fade.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Men in Tights

Winter has descended out of the great white north and assaulted my peaceful Texas town. On Wednesday it was 82 degrees. The next night it got down to 29 and each night since then has gotten down to the upper 20s or low 30s. Tonight it's supposed to get down to 25.

I had a 20k race this morning and it was a brisk 36 degrees this morning at the beginning of the race and only warmed to 42 by the end. This was accompanied by a pleasant 15 mph wind out of the north that in addition to cutting through all of my clothing also made the hills harder than they already were. I actually had to break out my tights for the first time this year. My spandex shorts might not be anything to look at, but I'm hot in black tights; if they were fashionable I'd wear them all the time. I also had on a long sleeve underarmor (prevents bloody nipples, don't you know), a long sleeve technical shirt, a half-zip light weight pullover, running gloves and a hat.

I'd heard about bloody nipples, but never experienced a problem until last race when I wore just a technical shirt instead of my normal spandex shirt. After 13.1 miles the nice smooth fabric had rubbed my nipples raw. They weren't bleeding yet, but they hurt for a couple of days. Some guys put bandaids on them, others use vaseline, I'll just stick to spandex.

I know at least one reader was worried about my obsessive need to continue to run despite my calf injury. I partially took his advice and didn't run after my test run last Tuesday until today. I actually went in and got a massage on Friday which really helped relax the muscles and work out some knots in my recovering calf.

I used today's race as a training run since I'm signed up for the Dallas marathon next Sunday. I was trying to run a pretty even 10:00 pace and wound up averaging 9:52. I picked it up to 9:00 for a couple of miles in the middle to simulate my planned marathon pace and it felt okay. The calf was completely a non-issue despite the fact that the course was nothing but constant hills. The only real issue was a blister on my little toe caused by lacing my shoe up too tight. I had to stop, untie the shoe, and loosen it up after about 10 miles because it was getting really painful. After that, not a problem. The calf was macanudo; not even sore.

I've been tapering down for the Dallas marathon next week and this week will be really light with just a 5 mile run on Tuesday, 2 miles on Wednesday, 4 on Thursday, and 1 on Saturday. The weather next week is predicted to be clear and low 40s which will be perfect. The course if flat and fast and unless something changes I'll be trying to run about 9:10 pace and break under 4 hours. That would knock a full hour off of my previous time of 5:00.

Anyway, I'm at close to full health and I think with another light week I'll be ready to put in a good run.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Merry Smithmas Everyone

If you've never been to the Salamander Society then I highly recommend it unless you are a believer in which case you are likely to miss the humor and be offended. The title of this post links to their Smithmas page.