Monday, February 26, 2007

Guinness Ice Cream

The previous post reminded me of one reason I love Austin: Amy's Ice Cream. My wife and I went for an ice cream run and they had Guinness ice cream on the board. I had to have a taste and guess what? It almost tastes more yummy in ice cream than it does in a glass. Of course, I still wound up getting dark chocolate, strawberries, and hot fudge, but I was tempted.

Computers Suck!

And it's a good thing or else I'd be out of a job.

God, this has been a frustrating night where nothing on the damn box has worked. I wish computer companies would hire more people like me to find their bugs before they ship their defective products out to consumers.

What prompts this? VMWare prompts me that my vmware tools are out of date. Great, their latest upgrade did that. So, I reinstall the tools. Hmmm. Now it says that they tools are NOT installed. Install them again. Same thing. Hmmm. Look around for the configuration script that they didn't tell me about and run it. OK. Now they are installed and up to date. Open up Firefox. It can't connect to the internet. Check my network interface. It no longer exists. Try to configure it. No dice. Hunt around their web site and find more complete instructions that say, "Hey, when you install the tools we fuck up your network configuration so you're going to have to ....." Ummm. So you know you have a bug. You ship automatic updates (which is why I'm fucked right now anyway) and you bury a tech note on your web site about it and don't bother to fix it?

Imagine the Guiness TV commercial:



Sunday, February 25, 2007

Looking Ahead

I've been kind of floating along on cloud nine this week in the afterglow of completing my marathon season. If you haven't been following along, I started this year's training the first week of August and haven't had a break until this week. The year ended on a tremendous note and no negative feelings after what I thought was a very good performance at the Austin Marathon and I feel so good that I've already started making plans and putting those plans into action.

First, I don't think I'm going to do the Austin Endurance Challenge next year. I originally did it as a motivator; the regular races ensured that I'd always have a short-term goal to keep me actively training. But I found it difficult to work my long runs around the series races and think that they interfered with my training and my performance. Plus, there are several races in the series that I wouldn't otherwise run and several non-series races that I would run except that they conflict.

Instead, I'm going to focus on completing two or three marathons next winter. The big news is that I signed up for the New York City Marathon on November 4. I don't automatically qualify (would need a 3:10 for that), but they have a lottery system. If you don't make it in the lottery for three consecutive years then you automatically qualify the 4th year. So sometime in the next 4 years I'll be running the NYC marathon. I'll also run the Austin Marathon next year and I have to decide if I'll do San Antonio, Dallas, or Houston. I'm also going to enter the 3M Half Marathon.

My stretch goal is to run 3:20 or better and qualify for Boston. Since my current PR is 4:17 that sounds pretty outrageous and normally I'd agree with you, but you haven't heard the rest of the plan which I'll get to below.

I also have a few spring races that I like to run.
  • 3/25: Capitol 10k
  • 4/15: Schlotzsky's Bun Run 5k
  • 5/12: Chuy's Hot to Trot 5k
  • 5/19: Congress Avenue Mile
The Cap10k is a huge local race that attracts 10,000+ runners and I'm running that just for fun since it's too soon after the marathon to seriously train for it. Instead I'm going to train for the Bun Run and the Congress Avenue Mile. The Bun Run has a pretty flat course and I'd like to lower my PR in that race. I'm doing the Mile just because it's a heck of a lot of fun. I talked a friend into training for it with me. It's only a mile and it runs from the steps of the state Capitol building down hill to the river.

I should find out in June whether or not I made it into NYC. If I make it I'll have to start training in June and train hard through the summer. NYC this year will be for fun and not for a PR so even though 4 months in the heat of the summer won't be enough time to peak, it will give me a good progress report for the following marathons. If I don't make it into NY then I can take the summer off and not start marathon training until September. In the mean time I'm going to just run for fun and focus on my weight.

Which brings me to the exciting short term goal that I have. The day after Austin I launched into the really hard goal for this year: losing 25+ pounds of weight. The goal of qualifying for Boston is only attainable if I can get down to about 10% body weight. While years of weight lifting means that I'll still be heavy, I should be able to get to a Boston qualifier time with only slightly better conditioning than I had this year.

Before I started running I weighed 265 pounds and managed to get down to 230 and keep it there. This marathon season I got down to 225. I plan to get to 200 pounds or 10% body fat, which ever comes first. I've done it before so I have an idea of what it will take. I'm honestly not looking forward to the process, but I do plan to relish the results. Plan on upcoming blog posts that comment on how much dieting sucks. I've done reasonably well the first week, but I need to keep it up for about 3 or 4 months.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Running Tips For Beginners

Note: I'm going to link this in the sidebar and may update it periodically. I think it's useful information. I hope you do to.

A couple of people might have been inspired to run or dream of running after reading some of my experiences (probably not the bloody underwear or whole toe blister ones). I hope so. I strongly believe that exercise is a basic human need that must be fulfilled for us to be healthy and happy but modern life doesn't provide us with many natural opportunities to exercise. Instead, it requires a decision and commitment on our part. I encourage you to make a decision to endulge yourself with moderate exercise every day.

I'd like to share some of what I've learned from reading and personal experience. Please note that this is written from the perspective of someone who started running regularly about 4 years ago at age 38 because he was 65 pounds overweight, suffering from moderate high blood pressure and high stress, and feeling bad about the way he looked. I'm still 20+ pounds overweight and a below average runner, but I have learned a few things that might be helpful.
  • Do it regularly. A little bit every day is better than a lot on a few days. Like diet, consistency counts. You should approach it, like diet, as a fundamental lifestyle change, a change that you've chosen and can live with for the rest of your life. Initially I committed to walk/run every day even if it was only for 15 minutes. If I felt bad or tired I just walked. Sometimes that would make me feel better and I'd continue to do more. Other times I just had a nice, brief, relaxing walk.
  • Ease into it. The temptation is to get inspired and go out and do a lot more than you've done in years. The inevitable result is that you wake up the next morning sore and tired which either makes more exercise impossible or discourages you before you really get started. It's a lot easier to make small changes than large ones. Don't do significantly more than you normally do. If you are seriously overweight or in really bad shape then walking for 5 minutes might be a lot for you. Start from wherever you are at right now and go up slowly from there. A good rule of thumb is to limit increases to 10% per week. Another is to take an easy week once a month to let your body recover.
  • Take it easy. Overall, exercise should raise your energy levels, not wear you out. If you get tired or stressed while running then walk. Don't be ashamed if you walk a lot more than run. The health benefit comes from moving. I'm competitive and have a tendency to overdo it so I found that getting a heart rate monitor helped me limit my intensity level. The tendency when you are out of shape is to overdo it. In the long run you'll do much better if you do too little than too much.
  • Get the right shoes. This doesn't necessarily mean expensive shoes, but it probably means not cheap ones either. Go to a running specialty store and not a chain or discount store. Their salespeople should be experienced runners who can get you into the right shoe. You may be surprised that the specialty stores often have very competitive prices.
  • Track your mileage. Try the free web based log at
  • Replace your shoes regularly. Nike's log lets you also keep track of how many miles you run on your shoes. If you're a heavy load like me then their recommendation to replace every 300 miles is a good one. I've dissected a shoe after 300 miles and confirmed that the internal cushioning was broken down even though it looked good on the outside. I recently did the same to my father's old shoe and they looked good, but he is lighter and didn't know how many miles he had run but runs less than I do.
  • Stretch regularly. Running will tighten your muscles up, especially in the legs and hips. If you don't stretch regularly then those tight muscles can lead to all kinds of unnecessary aches and pains. I HATE stretching, but I've learned to do it anyway because sooner or later I know I'll pay for it if I don't.
  • Get a massage. You can find all kinds of good things out about massage, but the bottom line is that it will relax you and help you recover from all the exercise you are doing. Once you get past having a stranger rub your sheet draped, naked body then it's very nice.
  • Get running specific clothing. Other than shoes, the next most important article is your socks. The running community often refers to it as technical clothing. The technical part is the fabrics that the clothes are made of which are designed to wick moisture from your skin and let it evaporate quickly keeping you drier and cooler. Some of them have antimicrobial treatments to reduce odor. Others have treatments to keep you warm in the winter. You want clothing that fits closely but that allows freedom of movement. I wear spandex shorts and shirts a lot because they prevent chafing. I know from running magazines that there are a large assortment of running specific bras which would be critical for many women, although thankfully not for me.
  • Prevent injury. A lot of the advice above like starting slowly, taking it easy, stretching, and getting massages is aimed at preventing you from ever getting an injury. Injuries suck plus they interfere with your exercise and goals.
  • Treat injuries promptly. Exercise is going to cause aches and pains and your task is to learn which are normal and which need medical treatment. I think that most won't require a doctor, but all of them are trying to tell you something. Sore muscles mean you over did it. Stiffness might indicate that you need more stretching or that you need an extended warmup before your run. Shooting pains in the hips, legs and feet might be irritation of your sciatic nerve which goes from your lower back to your foot; stretch your hips, hamstrings, and lower back and sit on a foam cylinder and roll it under your hips and leg. Heel pain may be plantar fasciitis and probably requires a trip to the podiatrist; it can be very serious if not diagnosed and treated. The web is a great resource for figuring out what ails you and what you need to do. I have yet to need medical attention for an injury, but my wife and I ignored her heel pains for a long time and she wound up needing foot surgery. If in doubt, see your doctor.
  • Cross train. Injuries don't have to stop your exercise. During the past two marathon seasons I've had injuries serious enough to prevent or severely restrict my ability to run. But I was able to maintain and even increase my fitness using exercise bikes and elliptical trainers. Even if you aren't injured this is a good way to reduce the pounding that running does to your legs. Last summer I started swimming laps as a non-weight bearing exercise that also allowed me to escape the oppressive Texas summer heat and play with my kids.
  • Enter a race: A goal, such as a race, can give additional meaning and urgency to your daily runs. If your motivation flags then that goal helps get you out the door. I'm fortunate to live in Austin where there is a race almost every weekend. The distances range from 1 mile all the way up to ultra marathons. Probably the most common race distance is the 5k (3.1 miles) which is something that anyone can reasonably aspire to even if they just walk the whole way. Besides being a motivational goal, going to a race links you with the larger running community.
  • Find a training partner: Running can be a very social experience. If you are running or walking at the proper pace then it is easy to carry on a conversation and a daily run can be a great way to spend time with friends and family. My most faithful training partners have been my dogs. Dogs love to run and a good dog can teach you how to live in the moment and enjoy the journey.
  • Mix it up: Make sure to add variety to your exercise. Exercise loses some of its benefit if you do the same thing all of the time. After several weeks your body adapts to the routine and doesn't respond the same as it did originally. So, change routes, change distances, change pace, change the time of day, or change the type of exercise. Variety not only produces better results, it also prevents boredom.
  • Explore: Don't just run in your neighborhood. Go running in the woods or go running in parks. Use running as an opportunity to explore your city or town and you'll discover a world you never knew existed. For example, I've lived in Austin for several years and had heard about the Town Lake hike and bike trail, but I'd never been on it until last year. It is one of the crown jewels of the city and now I know why and I've run through Austin in the sun and in the rain and under the blazing sun and at night. It's a completely different way to experience the world around you which you usually only see through your car windows.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Happiness is Running

Meet my training partners, Hunter on the left and Scout on the right, who completed all of my training runs with me but didn't get the pleasure of actually competing in the races. When our Miniature Schnauzers died I wanted to get larger dogs that I could run with. After looking and thinking about different breeds we purchased a Golden Retriever and a German Shepherd Dog and have never regretted it. As we researched the breeds we learned that not only could they run, they needed regular exercise to avoid behavior problems. So from the time we adopted them into our family we have walked and run with them nearly every day. This could become a chore, except that I soon saw how much they love their exercise and their enthusiasm was contagious. Now they've converted me and helped me complete the Austin Distance Challenge for the second year in a row.

A picture is often worth 1000 words so you can click on the following links to see the marathon map and elevation profile.

Anna and I got up a little late at 5:00 am and didn't get downtown until almost 6:00. The on-street parking was already almost gone and street closures prevented me from reaching the parking garage I'd planned on using. But we got lucky and found an open parking spot on the closed side of a side street just one block from the start/finish area of the race. I got in line to take care of nature's call and by the time I was done it was time to gear up and get ready to go. I waited until 10 minutes before the 7:00 am start to take off my sweats and head to the starting area because of the cold. Unfortunately, the entire Congress Avenue bridge was already packed and overflowing with nervous runners and the pace group leaders were bunched together near the front. I wanted to start close to my pace group and I was able to thread my way along one side and get even with the 4:00 pace group. I just had time to adjust my shoe laces and fireworks started going off and the mass started to move south across the starting line.

The crowd was incredible and completely filled the five lanes of Congress for as far as you could see. People of all abilities enter the races including people that plan to walk the entire marathon. What I can't figure out is why the walkers insist on lining up at the front of the race and then walk side by side blocking all of the faster people behind them. But as I headed out I found myself weaving around people walking and jogging even slower than me.

The first mile goes up a deceptively steep hill and between the crowds and the hill I hit the 1 mile marker right with the 4:00 pace group at leisurely 9:36. Halfway through the next mile the course crested the hill and turned to loop back toward downtown and the pace picked up. It felt a little fast but I was trusting the pace group leader even though he was running ahead of the 3:50 pace group. Sure enough, mile 2 went by in 8:55. The entire next mile was a pretty good downhill and the pace picked up even more. The pace groups were supposed to run at an even pace and the 4:00 group should have been running at 9:12 pace. Even though the first mile was slow, the leaders are supposed to not try to make it all up quickly. But mile 3 raced by in a very quick 8:36.

Now we were crossing the Lamar Boulevard bridge into downtown and I started letting my pace group leader pull away from me because the he was STILL ahead of the 3:50 group and my heart rate was consistently above 160. A cool feature of the course is that it loops back within a block of the start/finish area which allows the fans to see the start and then walk over to see the runners at around the 5 mile mark. It was a real boost to cross the bridge and be met with huge crowds cheering and band music blaring and despite the early pace it really energized me and made the time go by quickly. Mile 5 took 9:01 as I tried to get closer to my target pace, but it was still too fast.

We finished the downtown loop and headed west along scenic Town Lake and the hike and bike trail. We crossed under Lamar and finished mile 6 in 8:52. I was still staying close to the pace group but was wondering what the hell was going on. Everything you read and hear about marathons is the need to not go out too fast and the pace group leaders are supposed to slow the pace and keep people from getting overenthusiastic in the early miles and burning up their legs. Instead, my leader was committing the classic mistake and running at a pace much closer to my 10k pace than my marathon pace. I really wanted to run with a group, but at this point I throttled back and decided to just run my own race because I knew that the hills were coming and there was no way I could survive at this pace.

I hit mile 7 in 9:25 and headed up the first of many hills that rise up from Town Lake. The hill slowed me down to a 9:25 at mile 8 and then the course flattened a little before it turned once and for all away from the lake and up a killer steep hill right before mile 9. This was the start of the worst part of the course but I went through mile 9 in 9:20 and my legs felt strong on the steep hill despite the quick early pace. Despite steadily climbing up hills I finished mile 10 in 9:28 and felt good.

Here the marathon and half marathon courses split. The half marathon runners headed down a hill and were nearing the end of their race as the rest of us turned north on Exposition and a series of brutally steep hills that I knew I had to be taken carefully to avoid burning my legs out. With my pace group long gone I kept an eye on my heart rate monitor and listened to what my legs were telling me as I rolled over the steep, steadily climing hills and through the upscale Tarrytown neighborhood. There were several churches along the road and the congregations had turned out to cheer the runners on. As I was running along I passed a lady standing on a ladder in the middle of the road and was shocked as cold water hit me. Although I was streaming sweat, the air temperature was still in the 40s and it didn't feel good. I found out later that it was a priest blessing the runners and sprinkling them with Holy Water.

The hills slowed me down to 9:56 and 9:50 on miles 11 and 12. The reward for reaching halfway was cresting the worst of the hills and getting a brief downhill that allowed me do mile 13 in 9:27. At this point I knew the worst of the hills were behind me and that I could safely try to get back on pace. Because of the brisk early pace I was still ahead of a 4:00 pace and still hoped to meet my aggressive goal of 4:00 and was pretty sure I could finish ahead of 4:15. Mile 14 was pretty flat and I got back down to 9:19, but the hills weren't really done, they had just flattened out. As the road resumed a gentle incline I slowed down to 10:04 on mile 15, 9:57 on mile 16, and 9:52 on mile 17.

Things were starting to get rough and I remembered my resolve to not break down mentally and turn the closing miles into a death march. So, I started talking to myself. Flow. Glide. You're feeling good. Sure you're uncomfortable, but you've still got a lot of energy. This is a pace you can run all day long. It feels great to just glide along. Your body is telling you to stop, but you know that it can handle it. Coax your body. Soothe it. Calm it. Steady your breathing. Ride the bike. Be smooth. Keep loose.

I was talking out loud to myself and saying all of those things and more and it was working. I'd reached the top of the course and now the steady climbs reversed into steady downhills with a few climbs mixed in. Unfortunately, even though I was running reasonably comfortably, I my legs were feeling the fast early pace and so I couldn't speed up. Mile 18 went by in 10:04 even though I wanted to get down to a 4:15 pace of around 9:45. A lot of people were out as I ran down a gentle slope at a 10:09 pace but a rise at the end of mile 20 slowed me all the way down to 10:41.

I could feel my will power wavering and my legs protesting at the abuse and this is where I'd faltered in my first two marathons. So I gave myself a short break to gather myself, do some more talking, and steel myself to finish strong. I walked for exactly 3 minutes and groaned as I resumed running down toward the finish. The break slowed me down to 11:59 for mile 21, not as bad as I expected, but I vowed to keep my heart rate in the 160s and let the chips fall.

Mile 22 doubled back north and headed up another long moderate hill that slowed me to 10:47. It was tough, but I was staying in the game mentally and was steadily gliding along. Right before mile 22 we crested the hill and turned onto Red River and a nice gentle downward slope that helped me get down to 10:18 for mile 23.

Somewhere during mile 23 the 4:15 pace group finally caught up to me and as the pace leader drew alongside I matched her stride for stride and hung on. They caught me just before heading down a pretty good hill to start mile 24 so that made it pretty easy to increase my leg turnover and stick with the small group. The change of pace actually felt good to my legs even though it was faster. I tried talking to the pace leader and she tried to encourage me by telling me I could hang on with the group as we turned onto 38.5th Street and hit a short, but brutally steep hill. Being in a group helped me battle up to the top even at the faster pace but my heart was racing at 175. I completed mile 24 in 10:04 but I had to let the pace group go because my heart was pounding at over 170 even after the hill and I still had over two miles to go and one more big hill. But unlike my previous marathons I made a conscious decision to throttle back, but I didn't give up.

Mile 25 was all downhill as we ran through the UT campus and past the huge football stadium. A hard rock band took advantage of the acoustics under the stands to entertain the exhausted marathoners with pounding drums, throbbing bass, shredding guitars, and howling vocals. I was really exhausted. It was downhill but my stride was breaking down and I could only manage 10:36 even though my average heart rate was 170. I recognized a girl walking who had dropped from the pace group right after me. I encouraged her to keep going. With my goading she started running with me. Her IT bands on both legs were hurting. I haven't had this common running injury, but I know it can cause agonizing pain in the hips and the outside of the knee and she was clearly in a great deal of pain. I was talking to her, but it was as much for me as it was for her. But it felt more sane to be talking to someone else than to myself.

My only gripe with the course is that most of mile 26 was an extended hill that took us up from the UT campus to the state Capitol building. About halfway up the hill both hamstrings started getting little cramps that had me running with short, stiff, steps, afraid to bend my knees. I don't know how I did it, but I wasn't going to walk. I was reaching back with my hands and kneading the tortured muscles as I hobbled along. It would have probably been faster to walk. I got to the top of the hill, but not really. As I turned south toward the Capitol the driveway still sloped upward. It finally flattened out as we looped around the east wing and the final downhill stretch to the finish line.

My hamstrings finally quit. They didn't lock solid like at Dallas, but they cramped enough that I couldn't move. I'd been looking at the time for the last mile and desparately trying to pick up the pace despite the hill because I still had a chance of beating my personal record of 4:17:34. But I stood at the corner of the Capitol waiting for the spasms to stop. I don't think it was more than 10 seconds but it felt like forever. Fortunately the rest of the race was a straight shot down Congress Avenue. As I headed down the front drive of the Capitol I couldn't remember what street ran in front. I knew the finish was at 4th but I didn't know how many blocks were left and I couldn't see the finish line because of the crowds. I got to the bottom of the drive and saw the sign for 10th street. Only 6 blocks. I trotted along and the downhill gave my hamstrings a break and allowed me to finish smoothly. I didn't have any kick, but I was running. I crossed the finish line and stopped my stopwatch with my heart pounding at 172 and 4:19:03 showing.

I walked a few steps, grabbed a powerade and a space blanket and had to stop before I fell over. I was relieved, happy, proud, and exhausted. No regrets or any misgivings about how the race unfolded or how I performed.

I don't have any blisters. My right foot isn't very sore so maybe I'm not getting a stress fracture. A little chafing, but nothing serious. Very sore hips. Some sore muscles, but not too bad. I won't run for a couple of weeks but I think I prepared well for the race and it paid off.

Mission Accomplished

Yesterday was a beautiful day for a marathon. At 7:00 am fireworks lit up the clear, 38 degree air as nearly 12,000 runners left the Congress Avenue bridge to loop through the hills of Austin, Texas. I had a great run and other than some minor cramps in both hamstrings in the last mile I was able to run a steady race and never really felt like I hit a wall. My goal in this race was to keep my head in the race and not have things degenerate into a death march in the last 6 miles like in my first two marathons and on that basis alone it was a great success.

I'll start off with the raw numbers and I'll follow that up with some commentary later tonight. But as I'm writing this the following day I'll tell you that I feel great. My legs are a little sore and my hips tighten up pretty badly when I stop moving, but other than that I really, really feel good. I'm very satisfied with how it all turned out.

Heart rate zones:
zone 1(under 145): 0:02:52
zone 2(145-158) : 0:14:44
zone 3(0ver 158) : 4:01:32

Mile split HR avg HR end Cumulative
Mile 1: 9:36.5 avg=158 end=164
Mile 2: 8:55.0 avg=163 end=159 0:18:31.5
Mile 3: 8:36.1 avg=165 end=165 0:27:07.6
Mile 4: 8:48.1 avg=165 end=164 0:35:55.8
Mile 5: 9:01.0 avg=166 end=168 0:44:56.7
Mile 6: 8:52.3 avg=163 end=163 0:53:49.1
Mile 7: 9:25.6 avg=162 end=161 1:03:14
Mile 8: 9:25.3 avg=164 end=165 1:12:40
Mile 9: 9:20.0 avg=163 end=165 1:22:00
Mile 10: 9:28.9 avg=165 end=165 1:31:29
Mile 11: 9:56.9 avg=164 end=166 1:41:25
Mile 12: 9:50.3 avg=162 end=164 1:51:16
Mile 13: 9:27.9 avg=162 end=158 2:00:44
Mile 14: 9:19.9 avg=163 end=162 2:10:04
Mile 15: 10:04.9 avg=163 end=163 2:20:08
Mile 16: 9:57.5 avg=162 end=164 2:30:06
Mile 17: 9:52.0 avg=164 end=165 2:39.58
Mile 18: 10:04.9 avg=164 end=164 2:50:03
Mile 19: 10:09.6 avg=164 end=165 3:00:12
Mile 20: 10:41.2 avg=163 end=163 3:10:54
Mile 21: 11:59.6 avg=154 end=164 3:22:53
Mile 22: 10:47.1 avg=165 end=165 3:33.40
Mile 23: 10:18.2 avg=166 end=173 3:43:59
Mile 24: 10:04.9 avg=172 end=169 3:54:04
Mile 25: 10:36.7 avg=170 end=173 4:04:40
Mile 26.2: 14:22.9 avg=168 end=172 4:19:03

The race was won by a Kenyan in 2:14:02. Of the 4555 runners who finished the marathon 39% were female and 61% were male. I finished in 2224th place overall with 2334 runners behind me or about 51st percentile. Among male runners I was 1625 with 1176 behind or 58th percentile. In my age division (40-44) I was 283rd with 162 behind or 63rd percentile. I haven't checked, but this is a pretty huge improvement after last year when I finished in 5:00 on a much easier course. I didn't improve on my time from Dallas, but I'm still really pleased with my performance.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Moment of Truth

Everything is laid out and ready for tomorrow. The alarm clock is set for 4:30 am so we can beat the crush of people converging on downtown Austin for the 7:00 am start of the AT&T Austin Marathon and Half Marathon. The half sold out its 6,000 entries and they are expecting nearly 6,000 more runners to enter the full marathon. I'm planning on lining up with the 4:00 pace group and trying to hang with them for the whole race. I'm really nervous about whether I can do it, but take some consolation that I've trained well and am healthy. Part of me wants to get it on but another part really doesn't want to do it.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Tapered Legs

Machines suck, but our bodies are a wonderful thing.

One of life's frustrations is that stuff constantly breaks. Computers, cars, the house, TVs, DVRs, PDAs, MP3 players, phones, everything. It all breaks down and the more stuff you have the more time and frustration you have to deal with. I think the origins of asceticism can probably be traced to some ancient who just got fed up with fixing stuff.

I raced motorcycles for years and if things break down under normal usage you should see what happens when you push it. Stuff goes bang. Pistons become projectiles. Parts liberate themselves from their intended roles. Any time something broke I always ordered two replacements under the assumption that if it broke once it would break again.

So, I find it wonderful that our bodies, unlike machines are constantly repairing themselves. Not only that, but the harder we use them the stronger they become. It's as if we bought a Smartcar ForTwo, took it down to the track for a few hours of abuse, brought it home, parked it in the garage, and then woke up in the morning to find a Corvette sitting in its place.

For the last 6 months I've been abusing my body worse than I ever have in the past. I repeatedly wear it down and then let it rest and rebuild. I take it to the point of breakdown in the hope that after a little rest it will be stronger than before. On Sunday I'll once again see how successful I've been.

I feel really, really strange right now. I was still recovering from the Houston marathon and had only worked back up to 14 miles when it was time to taper for Sunday's Austin Marathon. This is the last week of a 3 week taper and I feel positively lazy. My legs feel fresh and it almost feels like I've forgotten how to run. I ran 7 miles last Saturday and since then I've only done one really slow 3 mile run. Today I'll do a short 3 miles speed session and then I'm pretty much done until Sunday. My only concern is that I've been working until 3 or 4 in the morning and am on pace for another 60 hour week and I have a scratchy throat which might be the start of a cold or just allergies.

I don't have high expectations for Sunday since it's only been 5 weeks since my last marathon. But if things go well I'll shoot for breaking my current PR of 4:17. Considering I started out with a season goal of breaking 4:00 that should be a pretty relaxed pace.

The weather forecast is for high 30s on Sunday morning which I think will be almost ideal conditions for me as long as it doesn't rain.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Friday, February 02, 2007

Nobody Else Saw the Light?

Oh, come on. Nobody else was swayed by the brilliant article my father sent me (linked at the title of this post). Sorry, I can't leave them alone because I feel like I'd be neglecting an opportunity to educate some future lost soul who ends up here from Google or where ever and doesn't realize that I was being facetious and doesn't understand what was wrong with the article. So, endulge me to make a few brief responses.
A. He will boldly claim that God [has] spoken to him.
I guess that would qualify an almost limitless supply of nut jobs including David Koresh and Oral Roberts and would immediately rule out at least current church president Gordon Hinkley and former president Joseph F. Smith.
B. Any man so claiming would be a dignified man with a dignified message; no table-jumping, no whisperings from the dead, no clairvoyance, but an intelligent statement of truth.
How dignified was it for Joseph Smith to have an affair with a 16 year old maid? Or marry other men's wife? Or libel his opponents? Or destroy the property and reputation of people that disagreed with im? How dignified was he with a background of treasure hunting with a seer stone? Many of his neighbors swore out affidavits that he and his family were of low character.
C. Any man claiming to be a prophet of God would declare his message without any fear and without making any weak concessions to public opinion.
Con men do this all the time. Bill Clinton boldly and fearlessly declared, "I did not have sex with that woman," and never backed down even when impeached. Exactly why is this evidence of divine status as a prophet?
D. If he were speaking for God, he could not make concessions although what he taught would be new and contrary to the accepted teachings of the day. A prophet bears witness to what he has seen and heard and seldom tries to make a case by argument. His message and not himself is important.
Why is failure to be able to justify through argument (meaning reason and evidence) a sign of a prophet? If it is divine truth then scrutiny and argument should be encouraged and even invited. This would also seem to be better evidence of a con.
E. Such a man would speak in the name of the Lord, saying, “Thus saith the Lord,” as did Moses, Joshua, and others.
This is a restatement of A.
F. Such a man would predict future events in the name of the Lord, and they would come to pass, as did Isaiah and Ezekiel.
If you guess enough times or are general enough in the prediction then anyone can get it right. Mormons claim Smith predicted the Civil War, but if you look into the papers of the time you will see that he was just repeating what was the common opinion of the time. However, if you want to go down that path, then all you have to show is that he was wrong once to show he wasn't a true prophet. If this is evidence of a prophet (and I don't think it is) then Smith failed on numerous prophecies.
G. He would have not only an important message for his time but often a message for all future time, such as Daniel, Jeremiah, and others had.
So Gandhi was a prophet? How about Hawking? Why would this be evidence of anything other than a good message from a wise person? Are regular human beings incapable of such things without revelation?
H. He would have courage and faith enough to endure persecution and to give his life, if need be, for the cause he espoused, such as Peter, Paul, and others did.
Hello Muslim suicide bombers everywhere. You've not only earned a place in paradise, according to an apostle you have also shown that you are a prophet. This could show religious fanaticism. In Smith's case, I believe that he had to play it out for good or bad because he didn't really have any other options. And, by the way, he fought to save his life right to the bitter end including shooting at his attackers and calling out for rescue to the masons in the crowd. He didn't willingly go to the slaughter and had every intention of escaping justice like he had done many times before.
I. Such a man would denounce wickedness fearlessly. He would generally be rejected or persecuted by the people of his time, but later generations, the descendants of his persecutors, would build monuments in his honor.
This is not unique to prophets, any particular religion, or even religious people. Smith was widely regarded as a dangerously powerful fraud in his time and continues to be considered a fraud by most educated people today. Nothing has really changed over time, but even if it had it wouldn't be evidence that he is a prophet.
J. He would be able to do superhuman things, things that no man could do without God’s help. The consequence or result of his message and work would be convincing evidence of his prophetic calling. “By their fruits ye shall know them”
And what would those things be? I've heard the Sunday School lessons about healing the sick in Nauvoo. If this really worked, then why did so many people continue to be sick? I watch David Blaine do incomprehensible illusions that seemingly defy any natural explanation. Does that prove magic or just my lack of knowledge and skill at illusion? Take your choice. Joseph's life was a sequence of train wrecks and failures culminating in an early death that left his wife and children debt and abandoned and derided by the church he founded.

The two examples he gives are the "translation" of the Book of Mormon and the organization of the church. If the Book of Mormon had been translated in the manner described by the church, then it would have truly been wondrous. But it wasn't. Read the histories and accounts. You'll realize that the church's version of the story differs markedly from the eye witness accounts by Smith's own followers. Regardless, other churchs' prophets and prophetesses have even more remarkable output, but Mormons don't consider that persuasive.
K. His teachings would be in strict conformity with scripture, and his words and his writings would become scripture. “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost”
Start from square one with a definition of which scriptures we're talking about and then follow up with why we should consider them authoritative. The Bible isn't even internally consistent so I'm not sure how anything else could be consistent with it other than continuing the inconsistencies. For example, the Book of Mormon condemns polygamy except in unique circumstances which were not in existence in the Mormon church. The world is full of books of scripture that Mormons don't accept. Most non-Mormons don't consider Mormon scriptures to be consistent with the Bible.

Summary. This was a complete fluff piece. I was actually hoping, when I first received it, that it would have some actual facts or attempts at reason or some cause for thought. But it doesn't even survive a minimal scrutiny or offer up anything that could be refuted because each of the points is essentially meaningless. Whether or not a person had each of those attributes would prove nothing about his status as a prophet.

This is why rational discussions with my father on the topic are fruitless. He considers such things to be strong evidence. Taken alone or taken separately, they don't prove anything because they could be true whether a person was a prophet or not. It's not only that he can't consider the evidence against the church, he doesn't even seem to have a working understanding of logic and logical fallacies and how people can convince themselves of provably false completely unprovable things.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Why Is Religion Relevant?

My father's recent email with "proof" of Joseph Smith's authenticity along with reading Richard Dawkin's "The God Delusion" has caused a lot of thoughts to run through my head.

I responded to my father's email and clearly articulated how I received it and how it made me feel. His response confirmed that he'd sent it hoping I'd have a Saul on the road to Tarsus moment and be overwhelmed by the obviousness of how wrong I am and how obvious it is that Joseph Smith was God's inspired messenger. He also agreed to leave me alone about the church.
I understand that he feels like I need saving. But why and from what? At a very basic level, what does religion in general and Mormonism specifically have to offer me that I would want and that would make my life better?

Can someone please help me? Why should religion be relevant for me? I could make a list, but they would be easy to dismiss or else would be available to me without having to subscribe to any religious dogma or supernatural assumptions.

So, why? What does Mormonism have to offer that's so important?

Dead Tired

I've been exhausted all week. I got up this morning sore, stiff, and feeling very sleep deprived. Then I walked for a couple of miles instead of running because my ankles didn't stop hurting after a mile of slow jogging. So here's my whiny list of reasons for feeling worn out:

  • Weekly long runs and increasing mileage since August
  • 140+ miles running last month
  • Taught a week long class in San Jose last week
  • Ran a PR half marathon on Sunday
  • Ran one of my last hard workouts yesterday: 8 miles followed by 6x200m @ :59s.
  • Catching up from last week's class by working 60+ hours this week
  • Additional stress of finding out my current contract won't be renewed at the end of the quarter so I need to find a new contract.
  • Having to suffer through AmIdol audition hell while waiting for the real fun to begin.
  • Wishing Heroes would move on a little faster instead of leaving me hanging every week.

I really, really can't wait for the marathon to be behind me so I can go back to exercising just for fun for a while. I remember feeling similarly at the end of last year's marathon season. Being on a long, disciplined schedule has its own satisfactions and rewards, but it can also turn into a grind and take the normal pleasure out of an activity.

Fortunately, I'm now tapering for the marathon which means shorter runs and progressively less mileage. I have a 14 mile run on Sunday, one more tough lactate interval workout next week, and a 10 miler the week before the marathon. The other runs are slow and easy and less than 4 miles each. If it goes like my taper before the Dallas Marathon I should be feeling pretty fresh in a couple of weeks. Or at least I hope so.