2020-01-20

Lactate Threshold, Critical Velocity, And Other Stories

Recap:

Some time went by, and I never bothered to elaborate on the training approach I've taken over the last four weeks.

I mentioned that I was going to start doing two fast runs per week (Mondays and Wednesdays), plus a plyometrics day on Fridays. I never circled back to the blog to say that I was also going to incorporate P90X's "three weeks on, one week off" monthly training cycle into my regimen, then change again. Tony Horton bills this as "muscle confusion," but that concept doesn't really apply to running. One doesn't really want to confuse one's running muscles. Still, there's a lot of good evidence in support of taking on a lighter load every fourth week to help reduce fatigue, and that means the fifth week is as good as any other to make another adjustment to the training regimen. Then, on for another three weeks, and yet another lighter week at week #8. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Last week was my fourth week, making it a lighter or "transition" week between what I was doing previously, and what I will be doing now. Interestingly, my overall training load increased last week, rather than decreasing:


Notice that my "relative effort" training load (from Strava) indicates a consistent upward trend for the past four weeks, up to and including last week, which was my "light" week. (The data from Garmin tells a much different story, though, and according to that data, my load did indeed decrease last week.)

As part of my one-month cycle, I did a guided lactate threshold test using my Garmin watch and chest strap HR monitor on Saturday. I will do this again next month in an attempt to chart my training progress using some semblance of cardinal measurements and real data.

Garmin's lactate threshold test produces a lactate threshold heart rate value and a lactate threshold running pace value. My numbers on Saturday turned out to be 167 beats per minute and 6:37 per mile. These results surprised me. I frankly expected a higher lactate threshold, meaning a higher heart rate value and a faster pace time.

Skeptical, I decided to read up a bit more carefully on lactate threshold. The USATF's VO2 max pace chart, as quoted here (p. 2), indicates that 10K race pace corresponds to approximately 92% of VO2 max, and from this value we can calculate various other estimated paces using the percentage values in the USATF table.

My most recent 10K time, taken in early October 2019, was 39:40, or about 6:23 per mile. With the help of some algebra, we can see that lactate threshold pace -- 88% of VO2 max -- corresponds to 6:35 per mile. Thus, assuming I have not lost any fitness between October and today, Garmin's estimate was only 2 seconds off. That's far more robust than I expected! I have gained some faith in Garmin's lactate threshold estimation technology.

Lactate Threshold Training

Having now established a 2020 training benchmark for myself, the next logical question to ask is, "How can I improve my lactate threshold?" The internet is replete with articles on improving lactate threshold, but why read all those articles when it can be summarized in a single sentence? 
The most common recommendation for improving lactate threshold is to run 30-minute sessions at lactate threshold pace
For me, this means something like this: 2-mile warm up, 30 minutes at 6:37/mile pace, 2-mile cool down. Pretty basic stuff. I might try it. 

However, while reading up on lactate threshold improvement, I came across an interesting article here. Read the whole thing. It is highly informative and, if you're a training geek like me, absolutely fascinating. In particular, the article contains a discussion about training above lactate threshold pace. Summarizing the approach used in a York University study, the article states:
The idea that intense workouts are best for boosting LT was even more strongly reinforced in research carried out at York University by Stephen Keith and Ira Jacobs (‘Adaptations to Training at the Individual Anaerobic Threshold,’ Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, vol. 23(4), Supplement, no. 197, 1991). In the York investigations, one group of athletes trained exactly at LT, a very popular way to attempt to heighten LT, for 30 minutes per workout. A second group divided their 30-minute workouts into four intervals, each of which lasted for seven and a-half minutes. Two of the intervals were completed at an intensity above LT, while the other two were carried out below LT. Each group of athletes worked out four times per week for a total of eight weeks.
What happened? (Emphases mine.)
Which strategy was better for boosting LT – working at LT intensity or putting in the time above it? After eight weeks of workouts, both sets of athletes achieved similar increases in VO2max and LT. The actual gains in LT were absolutely tremendous, averaging 14 per cent in both groups! Advances in muscle-cell enzymes were also rather splendid – and nearly identical in the two groups. In an endurance test in which group members exercised for as long as possible at an intensity which corresponded to their pre-training LT, the above-LT trainees seemed to hold an edge, continuing for a total of 71 minutes, while the at-LT subjects could last for only 64 minutes. However, this difference was not statistically significant. 
At first glance, these results seem to suggest that there’s not much advantage to be gained by sweating through above-LT workouts, but wait! If you’ve been following carefully, you probably noticed that the above-LT athletes really logged only 60 minutes of quality work per week (4 x 15 minutes), while the at-LT subjects put in 120 weekly minutes of quality exertion (4 x 30 minutes). To put it another way, the above-LT athletes achieved the same gains in LT and VO2max as the at-LT folks (and perhaps enjoyed a slight advantage in endurance) – with only HALF the total training time. It’s reasonable to assume that had the above-LT athletes stepped up their volume of above-LT work a little bit, they would have outdistanced the mundane at-LT trainees.
So, training above lactate threshold corresponds to greater increases in lactate threshold than simply training at lactate threshold, because training above LT increases LT more efficiently on a per-minute basis.

This all reminded me of so-called "Critical Velocity" training.

Critical Velocity

The article I mentioned above when citing USATF pace percentage values, by Chris Puppione of UC Davis, includes several amusing discussions about how coaches and trainers are always looking for a new magic training elixir that will enable athletes to suddenly and momentously acquire a tremendous advantage over their peers. Here is one such excerpt:
There are no secrets in distance running—no new revelations and no magic bullets. Somewhere, some other coach has already done it. Somewhere, some exercise physiologist has already written about it. Knowing this, however, has not stopped coaches from exploring better ways to train their athletes year to year. Knowing this does not stop us from picking through our copies of Running with Lydiard, Road to the Top, or Daniels’ Running Formula to find that one piece of information that we may have glanced over without giving it the attention it was due.
Puppione is right, of course. There really is nothing new under the sun. He mentions that "Critical Velocity training," which is gaining lots of new press thanks to the quite admirable success of the Tinman Elite racing team, can trace its roots all the way back to the 1960s! That's more than half a century ago. 

Still, Puppione does incorporate CV training into his coaching of athletes at UC Davis, and reports good results in doing so. He explains that the advantages of CV training over LT training are mainly that the athlete can reap many of the benefits of both LT and VO2 max training, simultaneously, and at substantially reduced overtraining risk compared to VO2 max training.

It makes sense, but keep in mind that the difference between LT and CV training is about 2%, or about 7 seconds per mile. To be sure, seven seconds per mile is a substantial increase in pace over the course of a few miles, but the difference is not enormous. Think of it this way: If my lactate threshold pace were to run a 10K against my critical velocity pace, my CV pace would win by about one minute. My race pace would win by two minutes.

Can seven seconds per mile really result in such great training improvements? It's tempting to buy into the hype, but again Puppione offers a voice of reason. He points out that he uses CV training early in his athletes' season to quickly ramp up their lactate threshold. Then, he focuses on VO2 max training during the middle of the season while reducing weekly mileage, to improve his athletes' speed without overtraining them or over-taxing their muscles. Finally, he incorporates a bit more CV training at the end of the season so that he can reduce the athletes' training load even further as they prepare to taper for the final, major competitions of the season.

In other words, CV training is a good tool to have in the tool kit... but it's not the whole kit.

Back to Me

As for me, what can I learn from all of this? How can I apply my newfound knowledge to my own recreational training regimen?

Looking back across the past month, I realize that I probably was overtraining. By the end of my third week, my muscles felt exhausted, and I couldn't really complete the workouts I had scheduled for myself. Well, I could complete them, but I wasn't getting the most out of them. I was essentially training at VO2 max pace twice a week, and adding a quite difficult plyometrics day to the mix. My weekly mileage decreased a bit, and my body started to feel worn down. 

I can improve my training, at least in the near term, by doing more workouts at or above lactate threshold, although not so fast as VO2 max pace.

I had originally planned on making speed the focus of my next three weeks of training. Speed, of course, involves a lot of training at VO2 max. I am less excited about that approach now, however I did happen to notice an interesting aspect of Puppione's recommended training sessions. He structures his CV training workouts as follows:
  1. 5-10 minutes warm up
  2. CV intervals (say, 4 x 2K at CV pace with 2 minutes recovery in between)
  3. 5-10 minutes recovery run
  4. VO2 max intervals (say, 5 x 200m at VO2 max with 200m recovery in between)
  5. 5-10 minutes cool down
You'll notice he adds some VO2 max intervals at the end of the workout to condition athletes to "run faster in a fatigued state." I believe that adding some VO2 max intervals to the end of my threshold runs and/or CV runs will enable me to improve the quality of my training runs.

So, friends, that's what I'll be doing for the next three weeks. Two weekly hard workouts at-or-slightly-above lactate threshold pace, with recovery runs and a weekly long run.

Let's see how it goes!

2020-01-17

Bond. Jamie Bond.

CNN reports -- a year or more after this was ever a social media issue, anyway -- that there will not be a female 007.

Good.

The notion of a female Bond has always struck me as a disingenuous concept. For years, James Bond was the archetypal example of what men shouldn't want to be: violent, womanizing, etc. He's everything feminism purports to stand against. If traveling around the world, shooting or sleeping with people as an "international man of mystery" is an anachronistic display of chauvinism, then surely this should also be true of an "international woman of mystery," too.

Unless, of course, the proponents merely wanted to give men a taste of their own medicine, in which case, yes, the suggestion is disingenuous. After all, chauvinistic behavior should be sexist and wrong, no matter if coming from a male or a female. And if James Bond's behavior isn't objectionable, then there should be no need to turn him into a woman.

It's a bit sad because, in the old days, someone who wanted to know what a female James Bond might be like would have simply undertaken to write a story about a female international spy. Such a writer wouldn't have needed to make her a literal female James Bond. The story would be written in response to the question, "What if James Bond were a woman?" Then, a completely new story would have unfolded, featuring a female spy placed in a universe of James Bond motifs, and through storytelling, the writer and the readers would get to explore how a woman might handle a similar position.

It's also sad because, it's not like there have never been any attempts to do this before. Take, for example, La Femme Nikita. Or, more recently, Salt. Taking a female spin on a classic spy story is certainly a valid storytelling project, and potentially a very interesting one (even if you're not particularly fond of Salt or La Femme Nikita).

But to take a classic lead character, a romantic hero, and turn him into a woman "because diversity" strikes me as a truly stupid form of storytelling. There's no refined thought behind a process like that. The political declaration becomes the story, and frankly, that's not a very interesting political declaration.

More importantly, though, stories should not be stupid, blunt political declarations. They should be stories. Stories can have political messages, of course. They can be persuasive and moving. But to accomplish this, the writer must put forth a little though and a little care into how the story is constructed, told, voiced, etc. There's more to it than simply chopping off James' head and attaching Jamie's instead. 

2020-01-13

An Offhand Thought On Political Reform

In an overview of his five-part series on wealth and wealth taxation, The Hoover Institute's John Cochrane makes a fairly innocuous and casual statement: "Saez and Zucman want to confiscate billionaires' wealth, because they think billionaires have too much political power."

Years ago, I went on a half-vacation to El Salvador, during which I had the opportunity to hear a lot about recent (post-civil-war) Salvadoran history from the guides at several museums and tourist spots. It was said to me that, after the civil war, the Salvadoran government fired the entire police force and every politician in the country, and hired all new people; people whose families had not previously been in the police or the government. It was a fresh start, so to speak. (The Chapultapec Peace Accords.) I am not an expert in this subject, so I cannot say to what extent the "average Jose's" understanding of the Chapultapec Peace Accords aligns with the literal truth. That's not important. What's important was that it struck me as being an incredibly wise idea to bar prior politicians and their families from getting into politics.

It makes sense in El Salvador, because these politicians and policemen were precisely the aggressors who had stoked the flames of the country's terrible, terrible civil war. Surely it's an idea that wouldn't scale well to a relatively stable country like the United States. But that doesn't mean there isn't some wisdom to be gleaned from it.

Suppose, for example, that Saez and Zucman are correct when they note that billionaires have too much political power. One solution might be to eliminate billionaires. A different solution, however, might be this: impose strict limits on the political power of billionaires. If the problem is that too many billionaires influence government, then why not outlaw that kind of influence?

Perhaps there are gains to be made from barring billionaires from holding public offices or lobbying positions. Perhaps we could limit -- or eliminate -- the ability of politicians to invest in companies owned, founded, or run by living billionaires. Perhaps we could outlaw the kind of private meetings had between politicians and billionaires that are otherwise inaccessible to average, non-billionaire citizens. Perhaps we could prohibit the granting of major tax loopholes, credits, or waivers to billionaire-owned companies unless they are extended to all other businesses at the same time.

These limits would not necessarily need to be so strict as to strangulate a billionaire's ability to participate in the political system. Billionaires could still found non-profit organizations or fund academic research. They could still vote like the rest of us. But they would be prohibited from engaging in special audiences and agreements with the government at any level.

These ideas, too, would limit the political power of billionaires. We need not confiscate their money.

It's a somewhat natural impulse for people to believe that, if billionaires corrupt government, then we should simply do away with billionaires. I think it should be at least as natural an impulse to do away, not with the billionaire, but with the influence. Why do these propositions never seek to impose harsher limits and punishments on politicians? Why do we only ever punish one side of a two-sided corruption?

2020-01-06

The Incrementalist's Mannifesto

Last night, I bought a book that I hope to review on this blog sometime soon. It's called Learn Python the Hard Way: A Very Simple Introduction to the Terrifyingly Beautiful World of Computers and Code, and its author is Zed A. Shaw.

I didn't go into the bookstore looking for a book on Python. I went because we found a bunch of gift cards lying around that we wanted to use up before they expired. When I got to the bookstore, I decided that what I wanted was a book that taught me some kind of practical skill. I seldom have time to read these days, and if I'm going to read anything at all, I'd like it to be something useful, rather than just some excuse to pass the time. (I have many other, more interesting ways to pass my time than reading.) Maybe I could learn how to draw, I thought to myself, as I perused the arts section. Maybe I could find a book on classical or flamenco guitar technique, I thought to myself, as I perused the music section. Maybe I could find a cookbook that could teach me to expand my cooking repertoire, I thought, as I perused the food section...

I found no such books in any section, because all of the books that potentially could teach me such things are written all wrong. I don't want to sit and read for two hours, taking notes, studying supplemental information, and committing concepts to memory. If I were going to do all that, I'd just enroll in a class. I don't have time for all of that. What I need is a way to learn a new skill through short, concentrated, daily practice. That's how we learn musical instruments. That's how we learn languages. That's how we train our bodies. New skills should work the same way.

So, I was slightly encouraged when I arrived at the Technology section and found a variety of programming books in which coding is taught through the use of short projects and case studies. That seemed like something I could work with. Python is also heavily utilized in my career industry, so this wouldn't merely be a practical skill, but also a professional one. I was narrowing down my search.

What sold me on Learn Python the Hard Way was looking at the Table of Contents: The book is organized into a series of coding exercises. I browsed the book's Introduction, and was pleased to discover that the book was written using the Direction Instruction teaching method. Direct Instruction is the method we used to teach our daughter how to read, and it's the preferred teaching method in all the best schools. The reason is because it really works. It breaks a subject down into small sequential lessons in which each lesson builds incrementally upon the one preceding it. By the end of a full set of lessons, students tend to absorb material better and retain it for longer than any other teaching method. Direct Instruction can be a little boring, and the first lessons are often the most difficult -- hence the name "...the Hard Way." But if one persists in this kind of instruction, one stands to gain more than any other competing instructional technique.

So here we have small, incremental changes that add up to major successes in the long run. If this sounds familiar to you, it's because I've blogged about it before. In fact, I write about it all the time. The other day, I wrote about how I was using this approach to modify my current running regimen. More to the point, I wrote a blog post six years ago entitled "Incremental Fitness," that quickly laid out the general idea. The truth is, over the years, I've discovered that the absolute best way to improve your fitness is to stick to a fundamentally sound routine while making small changes to it week-by-week or month-by-month. This ensures that the body has enough time to adapt to new exercises and improve upon them, without ever gaining so much efficiency that fitness improvement is sacrificed to mastery of technique.

Then there's music. I've been keen to improve my guitar technique. I'm pretty fast, but I'm not the kind of player I'd like to be. I'm not the kind of player who can take an interesting passage or lick and play it comfortably with tone and feeling as soon as I think it up. I stumble through a lot of what I want to play. I play well enough to impress laypeople, but not enough to impress fellow players. I want to change that. To that end, I picked up a book recommended by Dweezil Zappa (I think), called Guitar Aerobics by Troy Nelson. Again, the idea here is very simple: One lick per day, every day, for 365 consecutive days. The licks increase in difficulty week by week until, by the end of a year's time, one will have hopefully improved his playing dramatically. Best of all, the time commitment to these practice sessions is minimal. I can work my way through each lick a number of times and still have a little time left over to practice or write my own material. All the while, I'm becoming a better player, day by day.

I've applied the incremental approach to personal finance, stowing away daily, weekly, and monthly amounts of money, based on certain criteria, and funnelling that money into a diversified set of savings and investment instruments. I also stopped buying things that I wanted outright, and instead created a dedicated account for my own personal entertainment expenses. This account grows by a miniscule amount, but it grows every day, and within just a few short weeks it was easy to learn the fundamental lesson here: It doesn't take very much money to add up quickly if you save it consistently.

You don't have to clean every room in your house on "chore day." All you really need to do is commit to spending just five minutes cleaning the house each day. That will add up, and if it doesn't solve your clutter problem, add a sixth minute. Big deal. I don't know what the magic number is for you; maybe it's seven, eight, ten, or fifteen minutes. Whatever it is, it's a small and doable number for you to use to incrementally clean your home, rather than relying on a large and unpleasant house-cleaning project.

Again and again, the lesson presents itself in every conceivable context. If you want your life to get a lot better, don't try to work through a major catharsis. Forget about "new year, new you" and all such nonsense. What works better than anything is to simply identify one small thing that can be slightly improved, make a tiny (but permanent) change to that one thing, and then continue on about your day. Changes like this, made consistently over time, will eventually result in your whole life being better.

I call this approach Incrementalism. It's not a revolutionary idea, and I'm not the first person to have thought of it. But it does have the power to revolutionize your life, and if reading about it here gives you an idea to improve your situation in some small way, that's a good thing. 

2019-12-30

Paradoxically, Culture Is Preserved By Impurity

I seldom speak Bangla around other Bangla speakers.

The reason for this is quite simple. I've been exposed to the Bengali language for more than a decade now. I know far more Bangla than people realize, and more importantly, when I choose to use a word, I know I'm using the right word and pronouncing it accurately enough that a reasonable person should be able to understand despite my accent. Despite this, however, every time I use a Bangla word with a Bengali speaker, they make a big production of saying, "Whaaaaat???"

At first, I thought it was my problem. Perhaps I used the wrong word, or pronounced the correct word very badly. As time went on, though, I realized that I was doing just fine. So, I tried a new approach: when people ask me, "Whaaaaat???" I now say nothing and simply wait. Invariably, without my even so much as hinting at what I had just said, my interlocutors suddenly, magically decide they know what I said.

How can I interpret this? One interpretation is that they're just being hard on me in an effort to get me to improve my Bangla. If so, their approach isn't working; rather than improving my Bangla, I'm simply discouraged from speaking. This brings me to a second interpretation: they don't really want me to speak Bangla.

Whatever the true interpretation might be, the fact of the matter is that Bangladesh is a small country, the greater Bengal region is not all that much bigger, and no one outside of Bengalis themselves speak Bangla. As the world's languages consolidate to only a handful, Bangla is becoming an increasingly irrelevant language on the international stage. When the language goes, so too will important Bengali cultural artifacts like poetry, music, and art; to say nothing of Bengali history and philosophy. Language is the doorway to culture. If that doorway remains tightly shut, outsiders will never be able to experience Bengali culture.

This closed-door approach to language might seem protective from an insider's perspective. Bangladeshis did, after all, fight a literal war to protect their language. I can understand how important the language is from a cultural perspective. Thus, I see why Bangla is a language worth saving from extinction.

The only question is: Is this the right way to save a language?

*        *        *

English is, for all intents and purposes, the language of the world. Everyone knows English. Where business is to be conducted, it is conducted in English. Where politics is to be done, it is done in English. Peppering one's speech with English words and phrases is very much a status symbol or a power play in many cultures today. All the best music and movies are English-language music and films. How did English, of all languages, become the de facto language of the world?

While I'm sure the British Empire and the 20th Century rise of the United States as an economic power had a hand in this, it's not sufficient to explain the whole story. There must be a better explanation. Well, here's a theory...

Although English does have rules, everyone breaks those rules and nobody cares. For many, breaking the rules of the English language is expressive of their individual cultures. Every part of the English-speaking world has some unintelligible version of English, and for the most part, English speakers don't care. Nobody gets upset at a Southerner speaking like a Southerner. Nobody cares when a Newfie says Newfie things. Nobody bursts a vein upon hearing Caribbeans speak like Caribbeans. For the most part, we English speakers find such regionalisms charming or quaint.

Likewise, when immigrants speak English poorly, nobody really cares. It's true that some people get mad about the fact that some immigrants don't bother to learn English, but nobody gets mad when an immigrant makes a good, solid effort at speaking the language, no matter how poorly they speak it. I just saw an old European lady make conversation with the cashier in the grocery store yesterday. Was she Russian? Hungarian? I don't know. I couldn't hardly make out what she was saying. But, between the two of them, the cashier and the old lady made themselves understood and had a pleasant exchange. This is emblematic of all such exchanges I've ever encountered.

In short, English-speakers cut each other serious slack when it comes to speaking English. Only a real jerk corrects someone else's speech in the middle of talking to them. The rest of us just let things slide.

The impact of this is that it enables new English-speakers to learn the language in the context of safety. They can screw up, because no one bites their head off for screwing up. It's not like France, where people will stop talking to you if you botch your French. In the English-speaking world, people are allowed to make mistakes with the language. It's fine.

This encourages people to learn and practice English.

Does it come at a cost? Yes. The cost is that English isn't a very pure language. We get our vocabulary from virtually every other language on Earth, we add new slang terms to the dictionary every year, most of us have really noticeably bad grammar, and our best cultural output tends to be pop music and pop film, rather than, you know, LITERATURE.

In short, we give up the purity of our language, but what we get is pervasiveness. English is everywhere precisely because we don't invest a lot of energy gatekeeping people about what's allowed in the language. We overlook people's mistakes and we readily allow outside influence into our mother tongue.

Not so with Bangla.

*        *        *

Interestingly enough, there are aspects of English-speaking culture that are incredibly closed. The two that come most readily to mind are: (1) British aristocracy and (2) American conservative, white, male-centric culture. Is it any surprise that these are the two cultural artifacts of the English-speaking world that are dying off the quickest and most completely in today's world?

Both of these micro-cultures are closed to outsiders. Both fiercely protect their special in-group language. Both have steep barriers to entry. And both are quickly becoming culturally irrelevant.

Now, whether you think this irrelevance is a good thing or a bad thing is a matter of opinion, and quite beside the point. The real point is simply that it is no surprise that the most closed aspects of any culture are the ones that eventually disappear from the face of the Earth. If you want to preserve your culture, you have to open it up to outside influence. This definitely means that your culture will change noticeably; and maybe you don't want that. But what's worse -- a culture that changes over time, but lasts forever; or a culture that remains perfectly pristine, but disappears?

Those who wish for their culture to be preserved should take notice of the fact that only by accepting outside influence can a culture persist. Otherwise, it simply disappears. This is natural, isn't it? Those who want to shut outsiders out of the culture must accept that the culture will only appeal to an increasingly small number of people, all the way to oblivion. You may have wanted the outsiders to stay out, but if you don't let them in, there will be nothing left to  preserve.

Funnily enough, the Hutterites learned this lesson very well. Their numbers and gene pools shrunk so drastically that they were forced to recruit outsiders, famously offering them lucrative land deals in order to join the colonies. As far as I know, that practice is still going on. It has to, otherwise Hutterites, too, will disappear.

Cultures only survive if they indiscriminately accept outsiders.

2019-12-23

Training Changes: Start Small

As I wrote last time, I'm in need of some changes to my exercise regimen.

One thing that has helped me a lot in other aspects of my life is, once having identified a problem, to make small and incremental changes, one by one, until I arrive at a desired result. I find it easier to adjust to new things if I don't have a lot to adjust to. That is, it's much easier to turn your life around one step at a time than it is to become a completely different person overnight. At least, it's easier for me.

With that in mind, I started thinking about what kind of changes I wanted to make to my exercise regimen, and what kind of goals I wanted to pursue. Regarding goals, I arrived at the following:

  • I want to condition my body to run at faster paces. Over the past three months or so, it's become obvious that running under 6:00/mile pace during interval training -- and probably also shorter races -- is not just feasible, but entirely appropriate. I don't know if I'll ever be able to go back to cranking out 400's in 75 seconds maximum again, but doing so in under 90 seconds has not been that big a deal for me lately. So, I should embrace that. And, in time, I should seek to dial it down to as fast as possible. With fitness, it's use-it-or-lose-it, and I'm not ready to accept an average pace of 7:00/mile for the rest of my life. I still have a little speed left in me.
  • I do not want to fixate on long races. Marathons and half marathons are fun, no doubt about it. But they also involve a lot of running-for-the-sake-of-running (during training runs) that starts to feel a little mindless to me after a while. I want all of my workouts to serve a productive purpose, I want to dedicate my concentration to that purpose, and I want to achieve that purpose as I run. Then I want to take a shower and go on about my day. Realistically speaking, it's not hard for me to go out and run 13.1 miles whenever I want to. So I don't really need to train for that.
  • I want enough flexibility in my training that I don't feel FOMO for missing a day of running. As I've started to ramp-up my miles, I've noticed a tendency to feel really bad if I miss a day. Not guilty, just... bad. Bad, as though if I don't do at least 8 miles in a day, then I'm going to lose all of my fitness. That's obviously nonsense, but it's hard not to feel that way when you run 8 miles or more every single day and then have to miss a day or two because you're traveling. I can fix this problem by planning a training regimen that is less tied to daily mileage and more focused on -- as I mentioned about -- purpose.
With these goals in mind, I think I am going to return to a training plan that worked well for me during my last year or so in Ottawa. Lately I've been running two fast days per week (T and Th), a long run (S), and a lot of long, slow miles. Instead of that, I'll run two fast days per week (M and W), plus one plyometric workout per week (F), plus recovery days and a long day if I feel like it.

This arrangement will satisfy my first goal by maintaining my current speed workout regimen, while adding a day dedicated to explosive power, which is also a way to increase footspeed.

I'll satisfy my second goal by giving the long, slow miles a bit of a rest. I anticipate that I'll still be doing a lot of those 8-9 mile recovery runs, but with an added plyometrics day, that will be at least one fewer of these runs, and may require a shorter recovery run on Saturday.

I'll satisfy my third goal by dedicating one day per week to a non-running workout, plus potentially allowing myself to cross-train on the various recovery days. I'd rather run than do something else, but by formally giving myself permission to not run, I'll hopefully avoid the pitfalls of feeling as though my fitness is decreasing if my recovery run is 6 miles instead of 8 or, god forbid, it's a bicycle workout instead of a run.

It's a small change, but one that I think will make a good difference for me as I head into the last two months of winter training. Wish me luck.

2019-12-19

A Year In Training

This past year, I have trained harder as a runner than I have in years. Part of this was because I wanted to try out the training features of my GPS watch, but once I started training as hard as the schedule was asking me to, I found that I wanted to keep up with it. I started hitting sub-6:00/mile pace work, got back to running long-runs in distances exceeding 15 miles, and easily achieved my mileage goal for the year (1,600 miles) with months to spare.

When December rolled around, as I was trying to push my mileage ever-upward and perhaps do a 20-mile long run for the first time in over a decade, I started feeling some aches and pains in my legs and feet that wouldn't go away. So, I made the decision to rest for a full week. No running, minimal anything else. I did do some strength training to manage my blood sugar, but I concentrated solely on my upper body to ensure that my leg muscles were fully rested.

When I got back to running the following week, I still felt good, but my desire to keep driving myself so hard started to wane. Part of this is natural -- it's getting cold out there, and I hate running in very cold weather. But most of it is, I suspect, a challenge associated with training hard. Unless you have a reason (e.g. a professional reason) to train like a college athlete, it's hard to keep yourself motivated to do that kind of training for twelve solid months (or more).

I love to train. I love it more than racing. I like doing challenging interval workouts, I like pushing myself to see how hard I can go. Training is "my jam." Training is also repetitive, difficult, and physically uncomfortable. It's natural that, after a solid year of pushing, one would start to lose some intrinsic motivation to push, push, push.

Usually, this calls for something new. Time to take on another round of P90X? Time to train for a different kind of race? Time to try to do X, Y, or Z? I definitely need to freshen up my fitness routine, but none of the usual options seem very appealing to me right now. I've enjoyed become a lot more of a runner again. I've enjoyed slimming down, doing form exercises and speed work, hitting fast paces, and looking and feeling like my old distance-running self. I've also enjoyed the increased blood sugar control that comes with that.

It's hard to keep pushing toward the same thing, but I also have a low level of interest in the other stuff. I need something new, something interesting, something motivating.

Suggestions welcome.

2019-12-18

Book Review: The Proper Care And Feeding Of Husbands

"Dr. Laura" Schlessinger rose to fame during what one might call a golden age of conservative talk radio, in the 1990s. Compared to today, this was a very different time. Angry talking heads had not yet been completely discredited, and traditional media still ruled the roost. Everyone got all of their information from major, corporate news conglomerates. Conservative radio personalities like Rush Limbaugh represented a sort of "underground," where overtly conservative viewpoints could be discussed. Perhaps best of all, every-day listeners could call in and interact with those ideas in a way that didn't happen on, say, CBS Nightly News.

Dr. Laura, of course, was not a conservative political commentator. She was a practicing marriage and family therapist who ran a call-in radio program to help people sort through their ethical dilemmas. But her traditional approach to organizing the family, coupled with her firm take on human morality, found a ready audience among the listeners of conservative talk radio, who then fueled her fame.

As tends to happen with famous conservatives, mainstream media found plenty of offensive-sounding quotes and private scandals in Dr. Laura's past, and amplified them. There is nothing the liberal media likes more than a conservative hypocrite they can parade around and lampoon. Dr. Laura's core fanbase was able to accept her explanations at face-value and her apologies as genuine, but I definitely have the sense that media attacks prevented Schlessinger from rising quite as high as similar 90s talk icons, like Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Phil.

Published in 2006, The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands hit bookstore shelves at a time when Dr. Laura was still quite popular, before she moved her website to a subscription-based model, and before she moved her radio show to Sirius XM. While I believe it is a successful book (in terms of book sales), it has a terrible reputation for being "anti-feminist propaganda."

To be sure, some women who read the book will end up feeling attacked. These women have probably never heard Dr. Laura's radio program, or if they have, find it to be highly offensive for its non-feminist bent. Also to be sure, there are plenty of passages in the book that directly criticize the prevailing views of feminism circa-2006. Anyone who sympathizes with those feminist views will probably object to the book from start to finish.

I, however, committed to reading the book with an open mind. I'm tolerant of people with so-called "black-and-white" moral views, mostly because I, too, lean toward the belief that there is a mostly objective moral right and a mostly objective moral wrong. I believe that it is right and important to "judge" in the sense that judging human behavior helps clarify one's own moral beliefs. Consequently, reading or listening to someone else's view of concrete right and wrong serves the same purpose for me -- it helps me better understand my own moral philosophy.

What I found from reading The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands is that its ideas -- even the non-feminist ones -- have aged remarkably well.

For one thing, Dr. Laura's view of marriage is founded on the belief that men and women simply think and act differently. This was a stark and unpopular contrast to the 2006 feminist view that sex is a social construct. Even so, subsequent research has proven increasingly clear and robust; there are unambiguous cognitive and psychological differences between the sexes, and those differences are precisely the ones that common sense would suggest. Dr. Laura was right.

For another thing, the central principle that permeates the entirety of the book, if only openly stated a time or two, is that people can derive great and profound meaning in their lives from the act of tirelessly dedicating oneself to one's marriage. That dedication, in Dr. Laura's view, should come first and foremost, ahead of all other things. One's commitment to marriage should come before career; it should come before good times, before girls-only weekends, before fatigue, before one's commitment to one's parents, and sometimes even before the children. Such a commitment is obviously difficult, but Dr. Laura's position is that it is worth it. When one commits to the marriage ahead of all other relationships, then that enables people to better raise their children, draw better boundaries between themselves and their friends and family, and most importantly, find profound joy in the bedrock relationship of our adult lives: our marriage.

This notion of meaning found in living a better life at home certainly presages the ideas of Jordan Peterson, although the target demographic is obviously quite different.

Another aspect of the book that might raise liberal hackles is Dr. Laura's approach to sex. Her belief is that men only really find a meaningful bond with their wives through the act of sex. This idea rings true to me, and anyone who has bothered to listen to Schlessinger's radio program can attest to the vast number of men who have thanked her profusely for saying so. The truth is, Schlessinger has a keen understanding of what physical intimacy means to a man, and she incorporates it into her marriage philosophy. Where others might object is when she advises women to try to please their husbands even if they're "tired" or otherwise not in the mood. While a feminist objector could protest quite loudly at that, it's important to understand it in context. Dr. Laura's advice is for wives who are married to loving husbands; it's for wives who have good lives, but who have let their relationships deteriorate through the inertia of a hectic, modern life. So, when she writes that women can often find themselves in the mood if they just get started with their husbands, she's pointing out that two people who love each other can ultimately have a lot of fun, and grow closer together, if the "tired" wife can simply get herself started, even if grudgingly.

I hasten to add, as Schlessinger herself adds at the outset of the book, that her advice is not intended for women who are genuinely abused. In fact, she refers to what she calls "the three A's" throughout the book: adultery, addiction, and abuse. Any of these three A's are, in her view, grounds for divorce.

What's left is a book full of practical tips for wives in less-than-perfect marriages on how to improve the quality of their marital bond. That is, Dr. Laura wants women to take responsibility for and control of their lives, and argues that in doing so, they will be happier and have more profoundly meaningful lives than they ever imagined. Despite its conservative bent, The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands is a manual for empowering married women.

This brings me to my main point: The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands occupies a very unique space in the world of ideas, because it articulates a philosophy of conservative sex-positive feminism. Conservatives, as you know, are not typically known to be either feminist or sex-positive. The fact that Dr. Laura seems to be all three things highlights the fact that concepts have far more potential for overlap than our polarized world would like to believe.

If today's feminists could manage to do so with an open mind, I believe reading this book would greatly expand their understanding of what feminism could be. Meanwhile, conservatives have their own lessons to learn from this book, lessons about practicing what they preach, lessons about the importance of sex in a committed relationship, and lessons about putting one's spouse ahead of one's meddling extended family.

It's an excellent book, a very short read, and I highly recommend it.

2019-12-03

Finntervals

As I've previously blogged, I follow some pretty awesome runners on Strava, and I try to pay attention to fast people in hopes of learning new tricks and gaining some of their wisdom.

The other day, I noticed an athlete who did a very interesting workout. In it, he ran out to a particular location, ran around the block repeatedly, then ran back to his starting point. When I looked at his pacing information, I noticed that he was doing intervals as he ran around the block. I thought it was really interesting to do a series of short, fast intervals in the middle of an eight-mile run.

So, I thought I'd give it a try. Here's the workout I did, which is a slight modification of the original.

  • Warm up: 3 miles at an easy pace
  • Intervals: 10 repetitions of 1 minute at 5:00/mile pace or so, followed by 1 minute at recovery pace (about 3 miles)
  • Cool down: 3 miles at an easy pace
Here's my pace graph:


It was really interesting to do these shorter intervals after 3 miles of steady running, and then to finish off with another 3 miles. The intervals are short enough that it feels pretty easy to crank through them. (I can run pretty much any pace for just sixty seconds, right??) Ten seems to be just the right number of repetitions, too. By the end, my muscles were full of acid and my pace was starting to suffer -- but only just. It seems that the workout takes an athlete right up to the saturation point.

Give it a try!

2019-11-25

The Old Days Versus These Days

Running in the Icelandic summer weather was almost pure bliss. This summer's exceptionally high humidity and seasonal heat made training in Texas a real struggle. My pace times decreased by a minute per mile, speed work was practically out of the question, and anything longer than a five-mile run was a chore. By the time I hit the roads and walking paths around the suburbs of Reykjavik, I was ready for anything cooler than 95 degrees. The pleasant high-60s, combined with the coastal winds and the cool cloud cover, were like a barrier had been lifted from in front of me. Quite literally overnight, I was running ten or more miles at per-mile paces in the low 6:30s.

In was not particularly surprising, then, that when cooler weather finally found its way to Texas in the Fall, my paces and distances improved accordingly. For example, I went for a 13-mile long run and very nearly set a new personal best half-marathon time. I built my long runs up to 14, 15, 16... even 18 miles. (No 20-mile long runs yet, but it's not a fitness challenge so much as it is a diabetic-logistic challenge.) This was very encouraging.

So encouraging was it that I soon found myself running as much as ten miles during a weekday run and up to eighteen miles on the weekend. That included two speed workouts per week. And recently, I even add form drills to my repertoire. It felt great.

Still, one can only train so hard for so long. I started training for a half marathon in February, and without exception I have been training like a relatively serious runner every week since then, taking time off only for illness or heavily extenuating circumstances. Now heading into December and my tenth consecutive month of hard training, my body is starting to feel the strain, in the form of little aches and pains, whispers of shin splints, muscle shortening, sore feet, and an overall lack of confidence during movements that require balance.

In the old days, I would have simply powered through all this. The pain means the training is doing its job. I would have doubled-down, running perhaps more miles and looking for ways to add even more time to my workouts. That was then, this is now.

Today, I need to figure out how to become a stronger runner without compromising a pretty good running streak. Not only that, I've discovered that no other activity gives me better control of my blood glucose levels than running, which means that whatever time I spend on other activities may ultimately come at the cost of better blood sugar control. Even so, what I'm doing isn't sustainable. My body is getting tired, and I'm starting to detect evidence of muscle imbalances which could cause injuries if they're not corrected.

As much as it disappoints me to have to say so, I might need to replace some of this running with strength training, to rehabilitate my muscle imbalances and allow my running muscles to rest and reset. 

2019-11-19

Are Their Legitimate Responses To "Culture Clash?"

Someone over at the Open Borders Action Group posed a question: Assuming that people who oppose immigration because they fear it will cause "culture clash" are arguing in good faith, what is the best way to respond to their concerns, without calling them racists?

This would be a good question if anyone who fears "culture clash" were arguing in good faith. No such person is. In order to see this, we simply have to attempt to steelman the culture clash argument. If this can be done, then we'll have a guideline for our rebuttals. If it can't be, then we'll know that such arguments are bad-faith arguments.

Let's consider the possibilities:

  1. We can't let "them" into the country because "they" will clash with "our culture."
  2. We can't let anyone into the country because it will disrupt the existing culture here.
  3. We can't let "them" into the country because "their" ways will severely conflict with at least some of the other people who live here.
  4. We can't let anyone into the country because at least some of the newcomers will severely conflict with at least some of the other people who live here.

Xenomisy


"Xenomisy" is my word for "hatred of foreign things and people." Some people call this "xenophobia," but I don't think fear drives this attitude; I think hatred does.

Argument 1, above, is clearly bigoted, for the following reasons: (a) The argument predicts with certainty the behavior of foreign people before they have a chance to demonstrate otherwise; (b) The argument assumes superiority of the natives' own culture; (c) The argument assumes that all clashes between foreigners and natives result in negative outcomes, rather than acknowledging the possibility that foreigners may be a positive influence on locals; (d) The argument refuses to hold natives' clashes to the same standard as those allegedly caused by foreigners.

Argument 2 is bigoted for the following reasons: (a) The argument predicts with certainty the behavior of foreign people before they have a chance to demonstrate otherwise; (b) The argument assumes superiority of the natives' own culture; (c) The argument assumes that all clashes between foreigners and natives result in negative outcomes, rather than acknowledging the possibility that foreigners may be a positive influence on locals.

Argument 3 is bigoted for the following reasons: (a) The argument predicts with certainty the behavior of foreign people before they have a chance to demonstrate otherwise; (d) The argument refuses to hold natives' clashes to the same standard as those allegedly caused by foreigners.

Argument 4 is the weakest of all of these arguments, but possibly the least-bigoted. It argues that foreigners should be barred from immigrating merely because some of them might have a conflict with some of the natives. It implicitly accepts that many, possibly even most, people will not have any conflicts. It relies on the assumption that any conflict, however rare it might be, will be so terrible as to outweigh all of the other benefits of immigration. For that reason, Argument 4 is bigoted because: (c) The argument assumes that all clashes between foreigners and natives result in negative outcomes, rather than acknowledging the possibility that foreigners may be a positive influence on locals.

In summary, the reasoning behind "culture clash" arguments are racist because:

  • (a) The arguments predict with certainty the behavior of foreign people before they have a chance to demonstrate otherwise 
  • (b) The arguments assume superiority of the natives' own culture 
  • (c) The arguments assume that all clashes between foreigners and natives result in negative outcomes, rather than acknowledging the possibility that foreigners may be a positive influence on locals 
  • (d) The arguments refuse to hold natives' clashes to the same standard as those allegedly caused by foreigners.

But People Make These Arguments -- Does That Mean People Are Bigots?

The presumption of good-faith argumentation holds that someone arguing in good faith is willing to consider countervailing evidence and be persuaded by it if it is a strong enough answer to his or her concerns.

In order to address any of the above arguments under the presumption of good faith, we would need to collect evidence demonstrating:

  • (i) That the behavior of immigrants cannot be predicted en masse
  • (ii) That local culture is not inherently superior
  • (iii) That there are empirically demonstrable benefits to immigration
  • (iv) That locals and natives can/should be held to the same standard when evaluating the costs and benefits of immigration in theory
Note that (i) is a description of stereotyping or racial profiling. There are no non-bigoted ways to hold this opinion. It is not a good-faith argument. It is also merely a belief.

Likewise, (ii) is a belief. It is a belief in national chauvinism. It's unlikely that anyone who holds that Italians are the greatest people in the world will ever be "convinced" by "evidence" that other people are just as good. It is merely a belief.

(iii) is something that has been done to death. Oceans of ink have been spilled articulating the many economic of free trade in the labor market. The notion that immigration advocates have failed to do so is simply false. Anyone who maintains this false belief has either never seriously evaluated immigration one way or another, or has chosen to ignore the mountains of evidence in front of them. Since presuming complete ignorance is uncharitable, the only viable explanation for (iii) is that it is an argument of bad faith.

Meanwhile, (iv) is a mere belief.

The reason I've taken the time to point out that (i), (ii), and (iv) are mere beliefs is because beliefs are not subject to empirical evidence and logical persuasion. If someone opposes immigration because he believes that all immigrants are Lizard-People, it simply doesn't matter what blood tests or autopsies you place in front of them. They will not respond to the evidence because there is always a "what-if" on which to hang a further objection. Sure, the Lizard-Man passed the blood test, but what if the blood test was designed the pro-Lizard-Man lobby? Sure, there are a few good immigrants out there, but in general, we can predict their nefarious behavior and contrast it to our saintly locals.

Illusions

One of the more startling things people discover when they begin to evaluate their own beliefs is that good people can believe nasty things. Aunt Nellie might be a perfectly sweet lady, but if she thinks "the Chinese are taking over the neighborhood with their laundromats and their doughnut shops," then she holds a bigoted belief. Aunt Nellie doesn't want to be convinced that her beliefs are bigoted, because that would suggest that she herself is a bigot, i.e. a bad person. She doesn't want to believe that about herself. You also probably do not want to believe that about your Aunt Nellie. But you've heard what she says about the Chinese when she gets going. How else would you describe those beliefs?

Similarly, people draw a conceptual difference in their minds between "hating Chinese people" and "being worried that Chinese immigrant culture will 'clash' with the prevailing local culture." They don't want to believe that they're bad people -- but how else can you describe the presumption that more Chinese = worse local life, if not by calling it "bigotry?"

This refusal to acknowledge our own, personal bad behavior (and bad beliefs) is the driving force behind all culture clash arguments against immigration. The reason immigration advocates cannot overcome these fears is because it would require the bigot to come to terms with her own bigotry through logical argumentation and the presentation of evidence.

People don't want to do that.

Arguments about culture clash are not made in good faith.

2019-10-22

You Don't Need A Reason To Break Up With Someone (So Don't Wait For One)

I answer a lot of questions on Quora. One of the major topics of my answers is romantic relationships. It's not that I'm an expert player or a really great Don Juan, and that's not generally the kind of question people are asking about, anyway. No, people are asking a different sort of relationship question on Quora.

What seems to stump people is what I would describe as "the basics of common decency." In short, how to be nice to your romantic partner. This is apparently a mystery to some people.

A good example is a question I answered yesterday. A woman wanted to know if she should issue an ultimatum to her boyfriend: Include me in your social media life, or I'm dumping you! There are two components to this issue, and both of which are completely incomprehensible.

In the first place, the woman's boyfriend was a real piece of work. They'd been together for three years, and in three years, the man had kept his girlfriend blocked on social media. Blocked. He never posted anything about her on social media, and he kept her blocked, while for three years she begged him to unblock her and to post a photo of her from time to time. In a Quora comment to me, the woman explained why she thought he was doing this. I won't include that information here, because it's not necessary to include her speculation when the facts alone are bizarre enough and incomprehensible enough to tell the story.

People, if you're keeping your significant others blocked on social media for three years, you're headed for a break-up.

But that's just one incomprehensible component to this situation. The other is the woman's response to the situation. She thought it was time to issue an ultimatum. I probably don't need to explain here why ultimatums are a bad way to conduct oneself in interpersonal conflict. They're aggressive, threatening, and manipulative. But, for three years, this woman was blocked from her own partner's social media and her response to this was to ride it out, ride it out, ride it out, and then finally issue an ultimatum! This is wrong.

What I think is going on in the woman's situation is something that seems common in romantic relationships. People don't break up for the right reasons, even when it's right to break up.

The right reasons to break up are: "Your values are incompatible with mine," or "Our relationship does not make me happy," or "Our lives are on two different and incompatible trajectories." Note that there is not much to explain here. If you ask your partner, "Why are you breaking up with me?" and they answer simply, "This relationship does not provide me with the kind of happiness I'm looking for in a relationship" then the conversation is over. You could try to follow up with, "But why??" You won't get a useful answer, though, because there is no useful answer. One partner's life goals aren't aligned with the relationship, that's why.

It doesn't mean that one person in the relationship is "bad" or did something wrong. It doesn't mean that there was a bunch of conflict in the relationship that couldn't be resolved (although there might have been). We don't need any more specific a reason to break up than the simple fact that we have other ideas about what constitutes a satisfactory relationship and other preferences in a relationship. This doesn't have to be "justified" with evidence or a catalog of unacceptable behaviors. We can walk away from a relationship for any reason at all. No one needs to be told what they did wrong; they might not have done anything wrong. It doesn't matter.

In this woman's case, however, the man had indeed done something wrong. It was bizarre, suspicious, and emotionally closed that her boyfriend blocked her on social media. The woman should have walked away from that relationship early on. Somehow, she got it into her head that if she just resolved the social media conflict, the rest of the relationship would have been fine. But that couldn't have been true. In the end, the two of them wanted different things out of a relationship.

And so, the woman didn't need to issue her boyfriend an ultimatum. She didn't need to take to Quora to find out "what to do." She didn't need a specific reason or a final cataclysm to justify her break-up. She just needed to break up with the guy. For all I know, he might be a great guy with a very quirky way of managing his social media. That doesn't matter at all if his girlfriend wants something else out of the relationship. It's no offense, it's just a difference in relationship needs. Au revoir.

Imagine how much time this woman could have saved -- and how many years of fond memories she could have had -- had she simply trained herself to recognize early on that her relationship wasn't giving her what she wanted. Imagine how much happier she could have been if she had simply allowed herself to break up with a man for the simple reason that the relationship wasn't doin' it for her, whatever "it" was. She wouldn't have needed to construct a narrative about his social media habits, and she wouldn't have felt the need to design a break-up rule and rig an ultimatum to illustrate the breaking of the rule, to justify a final break-up.

What a waste of three years.

2019-10-18

More Running Is Safer Running

I've been saying this for years: Running slow, and taking days off in between regular workouts increases your risk of running-related injury. Now no one can argue with me about it anymore, because it has been proven!

Well, not really, but a recent study confirms my theory. Runner's World UK reports:
A study of 784 runners training for a half marathon has concluded that training load, specifically milage [sic] and pace, are dominate [sic] factors in causing running related injuries. 
However, the study called ProjectRun21 concluded that it was those who ran less and slower who were more likely to become injured, stating "runners covering less than 15 km per week, and/or runs slower than 6 min/km, may sustain more RRI than their counterpart runners."
For years, people have been saying to me, "How can you run that far every day? That would destroy my knees!" The answer is quite simple. I can run 6 to 15 miles per day, every day, because I run 6 to 15 miles per day! If you never develop the skills required to do this, you'll never be able to do it, and thus your every attempt will tend to injure you.

One of these required skills is running form, which is a natural byproduct of running speed. The faster you run, the better your form, the safer your running will be.

The bottom line is simple: run fast to run safely; run more often to run safely. Often times, friends and readers react negatively to my insistence that people train as though they're actually trying to run fast. They lament that they'll never be a winner and that they're not interested in the Olympics. Har, har, har. Fine. But this attitude merely makes running-related injuries inevitable.

You don't have to be the greatest runner in the world, but you ought to be the greatest runner you can possibly be. That is, at least if you don't want to get injured.

2019-10-14

A Word Of Caution

Incredibly, it is now 2019. I've been blogging for over a decade, and my life has undergone many changes since I started. I've now reached middle age, and so I suppose there's no shame in blogging about middle-aged things. Perhaps you can benefit from reading this.

For most of my life, my blood pressure has been on the low side of the normal range. Regular readers will understand why that is: I'm an enthusiastic and borderline-obsessive fitness nut and distance runner. Imagine my surprise, then, when a routine medical checkup resulted in a reading of "State 2 hypertension," 140/90. That's high blood pressure.

Well, I thought, it's just one reading. Besides that, my blood sugar was high that day; it stands to reason that my blood pressure may have temporarily spiked. I wrote it off. Then, a couple of weeks back, I was at the pharmacy and got curious, so I strapped myself into one of those blood pressure kiosks and took another test. The result was the same. I took a few deep breaths, relaxed, and tried again. The result was confirmed again.

For a moment I started to worry. When otherwise-healthy people get hypertension, it's usually indicative of very serious health problems. When otherwise-healthy diabetics get hypertension, it usually means kidney failure. I admit it, I was scared.

My mind raced back to events from the past few months. What could cause sudden hypertension? What would have indicated kidney failure? The thing was, I felt perfectly fine. Still, there were some very odd things that had happened recently. The most jarring of those was this: One day my urine was an absolutely bizarre dark brown color. Upon seeing it, I frantically googled every conceivable health and medical website and deemed that I was either severely dehydrated, or indeed, I had kidney failure. I spent the next twenty-four hours drinking as much of every possible fluid as I could. I downed two cans of chicken broth, a pot of coffee, a liter of sparkling water, multiple cups of tea, and who knows -- possibly a gallon of water.

The next time I went to the bathroom, everything had returned to normal. I breathed a deep sigh of relief. I was fine. But, was I? Suddenly, a few weeks later, I had hypertension.

I decided to approach this new situation the same way as the other one. Rather than accept that I had kidney failure, I decided to make incremental changes to see what impact that would have. So I went from drinking about four cups of coffee per day (two with breakfast, and one or two during the workday at the office) to drinking a cup of tea for breakfast, and perhaps another in the evening. Basically, I eliminated caffeine from my diet almost entirely. I also reduced my alcohol intake.

The result of eliminating caffeine was that my blood pressure returned to normal within three days. Three days.

I never would have guessed that a coffee habit -- something that I've been maintaining for twenty years or more -- would cause high blood pressure suddenly. I figured if it ever happened, it would happen gradually if at all. So the first thing I'd like my readers to know is that caffeine can cause high blood pressure "all of a sudden," even if you've been drinking it for years. The second thing I'd like my readers to know is that your blood pressure will become completely normal again if you stop drinking caffeine.

Now a word on withdrawal. I've never been someone who was highly stimulated by caffeine. It never kept me up at night, and never gave me the jitters. I could drink one cup or eight cups and feel pretty much the same in all cases. In light of this, I was not expecting to experience withdrawal symptoms from quitting coffee. I was wrong. While I didn't get the headaches that other people report, I was overwhelmed by fatigue, which lasted about three days. I was falling asleep in the early afternoon while hard at work. I had to take two days off from exercising because my body wouldn't physically move. It was bearable, but unpleasant. I was so tired that I almost felt drunk.

I hate to admit it, but my body feels a lot better now. I do miss the taste of a great cup of coffee, but I'm tolerant of the decaf they give us at the office, and there is no way that I would trade the way I feel now for a cup of coffee. After years of believing that coffee was just a great-tasting way to enhance life, I've suddenly discovered that being uncaffeinated actually feels better. So, I'd like my readers to know that if you ever have the chance to stop drinking coffee, go for it. I think you might discover, like I did, that it feels good to be caffeine free.

I did drink a diet Coke yesterday. It didn't give me jitters, nor did it elevate my blood pressure. I think it's probably okay to drink one caffeinated beverage per day and still enjoy the benefits of being caffeine-free. As for me, I'll try to avoid it from now on.