Over-training is when you have worked your body hard, consistently, and it struggles to recover from each subsequent workout. The most telltale sign of over-training is an overall feeling of sluggishness when you work out. Your muscles burn and you feel tired, even if – or especially considering that – you aren’t doing anything particularly challenging, by the standards of your recent activities. You may experience other minor symptoms – aches and pains, sore muscles or joints that don’t seem to ever fully recover, headaches, sleep disruptions, and so on. But the major sign of over-training is that weird and otherwise-inexplicable sluggishness.

Over-training does not mean that your training level is “too high.” It does not mean that you over-extended yourself or did too much, too soon. Over-training does not happen as a result of doing something wrong or failing to do something right. All it really is is a situation in which your body can’t or won’t recover from whatever it is you’ve been doing. A person can be over-trained with even light levels of activity. Taking adequate-enough and frequent-enough rest days can definitely help prevent over-training, but at the same time it’s important to remember that failing to positively increment your workouts – i.e., doing the same thing over and over again – can also produce over-training.

In short, training is a complex series of steps designed to produce a particular outcome. Like diabetes management, it requires constant attention to detail. Things can fall off your radar and undermine your training goals. You might spend one too many nights staying up a little too late. 15 minutes here, 30 minutes there, and then after a couple of weeks you discover that you aren’t adequately rested. You might be attempting to increase your weekly mileage, and fail to pay attention to the rest your muscles need. You might eat too much of one thing or not enough of another, and tip the macronutrient balance out of your favor. Or you could get slightly off track on multiple factors, where no one thing would be enough to push you off, but the combination tips the scales.

Many casual fitness enthusiasts don’t appreciate this enough. An Olympic athlete can sometimes have his or her training regimen worked out for years into the future, including workouts, meals, rest days, and everything else. To achieve that level of fitness requires not only the foresight to be able to plan it out and the physicality to be able to deliver, but also enough luck that nothing unpredictable interferes with the best-laid plans. Even small divergences from a years-long training regimen can result in over-training. These are the fourth- and fifth-place finishers, athletes who are good enough to have won on any other day, but on that particular day a multiplicity of factors conspired against them.

The point is, if you feel over-trained, it’s not necessarily your fault.

How you choose to respond, however, is definitely within your control. Over-training means you need rest, and plenty of it. You need good food and lots of water. You need a regular pattern of sleep and lower-than-usual levels of emotional stress. Take the time to let your body recover. Remember, you’re not injured and all is not lost. You just need a short spell of time to let your body get back to doing what it does best.

As you might imagine, this blog post was inspired by… me. After three months of dedicated, fast, hard training, my muscles don’t want to work anymore. I can’t increase my weekly mileage, because my legs won’t move any further. I can’t even maintain my mileage from two or three weeks ago because each day it’s a struggle. I haven’t lost any speed or strength, but I simply don’t feel right. When that happens, injury often follows unless I take the time to give my body rest.

So, for the next two weeks, I’m taking a much-needed break from exercise. I’ll be eating good, nutritious food, drinking lots of water, eschewing alcohol and soda, and just generally trying to do my body right. I expect to come back feeling stronger at the end of the two weeks, and at that point, I might be ready to train for something fun, like a half-marathon or something. We’ll see.


There Are Two Kinds Of Runners

Sometimes it seems as though there are two kinds of runners in the world.

I read a lot of articles about “advice for running.” Judging by the sheer quantity of such articles, it appears that a large segment of the population wants to “start running,” but doesn’t know where to begin. I’ve written my own unique take on this, through various posts over the years. Before I get to the “two kinds of runners” I’ve been thinking about, let’s quickly review my core advice to new runners:

Advice To New Runners

Run Instead Of Jogging

One look at the definition of “jogging” on Wikipedia should make clear why I advise people against jogging. Jogging is like running, only at slower speeds and with worse form. You might not be ready to run fast, but bad form is sure to produce chronic running-related injury.

Instead of jogging, you should practice running from the very first moment you pick up the sport. Don’t adopt the silly postures of a jogger, just put your shoes on and go. You probably won’t have perfect form when you start out, but at least you’ll be on a path toward better form. Jogging, by contrast, forces you to condition yourself to bad form. Don’t do it.

Don’t Walk/Run; Run Until You Can’t Run Anymore, Then Walk

Also, don’t run/walk. Walk/running was invented to help people cross a finish line when it was unlikely that they had the physical conditioning to finish the race the ordinary way. That in and of itself should raise a red flag in your mind: If you’re not in good enough physical shape to complete a test of running ability, then you shouldn’t take that test in the first place!

The reason why walk/running doesn’t work is because it teaches you how to stop when you’re tired, instead of continuing on. If you want to run a mile, but you get tired and have to stop running every other block, why would it make sense to develop a training strategy in which you stop every other block? No, the key to running the full distance is gradually increasing the distance over which you can run without stopping.

So, instead of walk/running, I recommend simply starting with something easy and do-able, like 3 minutes of running, and then spending the rest of your workout walking. The next day, do 4 minutes of running, and then walk the rest of the way. Then 5 minutes of running, then 6, and so on. In as little as 30 days, you’ll go from nothing to being able to run a full 30-minute workout. Much better.

Accept The Fact That Running Is About Overcoming Adversity

I can’t tell you how often people have said to me, “I wish I could run, but I just can’t. It hurts.” If pain avoidance is of great importance to you, then running should fall low on the list of things you attempt. You may as well hang up your sneakers right now and go to the beach. Running involves overcoming the urge to stop – the same urge that many call “pain.”

If you’ve never done much cardiovascular conditioning before, then your lungs are going to burn when you first start running. As you improve, the burning will go away right up to the point where you start running faster, and then it will come back. Breathing hard and pushing yourself makes your lungs burn. That’s just what it does. Your heart will pound in your chest. This is not always a pleasant sensation. Sometimes it, too, hurts. As you become a better runner, the pounding will lessen for the same level of activity, but as you push yourself harder, so, too, will your heart beat harder. This is the nature of cardiovascular exercise. Accept it.

But running also works out several muscle groups, and if you haven’t worked those muscle groups out recently, then your muscles are going to be sore later on. That’s because working out your muscles involves literally tearing them down and causing your body to rebuild them in a better way. Tearing your muscles down hurts. It just does. It burns initially, as your legs are filled with acid, and then it aches later on as your muscles try to recover. But this is exercise – it comes with the territory. Drink a big glass of water and put your big-kid pants on.

And finally, in some rare cases, some people just haven’t figured out how to put one foot in front of the other without a jarring impact with each foot’s landing. This is a form problem, caused by that person’s erroneously engaging in jogging as opposed to running. See above.

Two Kinds Of Runners

Now that we’ve been through a brief recap of my philosophy toward taking on the sport of running, I’d like to discuss a pattern I seem to have noticed among people who run.

Some runners enjoy the process of throwing themselves into a new running challenge. For example, on one of my running routes, I get to run over a big, long, steep downhill portion. This is a lot of fun because I get to run very fast with minimal effort. If I run the same route in reverse, I’ll have to run up that same hill, which is obviously much more difficult. Some of us look at a challenge like that and think, “That’s going to be really, really hard… THAT’S AWESOME!” Another group of us would refuse to even consider running up a big hill unless they absolutely had to, and they’d hate doing it every step of the way.

When I was a young runner, my friends and I used to like to challenge each other to seemingly ridiculous running-related tasks. We’d take our most-hated workout and encourage each other to do it twice in a row. We’d carry each other up staircases while running. We’d make a joke of extending our workouts 50%, 75%, 100%. When some of us would cut through corners when turning  on city streets, the others would shout, “You’re only cheating yourselves!” In short, anything that made running more difficult, and more painful, and more of a workout was something that we took on eagerly, with a laugh.

It shouldn’t surprise you to learn that we who did this ended up being the faster runners; nor should it surprise you to learn that those of us who approached running this way are still running a lot in our thirties and haven’t put on a lot of excess weight. Those who spent their time mainly avoiding hard work and socializing-while-jogging have ultimately not stuck with running in the long term, and were never really good at it to begin with. One has to wonder whether they ever even enjoyed it.

It’s tempting to say that only one of these two groups is “the group of real runners,” but that isn’t true. Anyone who runs is a runner. The reason I choose to delineate between the two groups is because their disposition toward running is wildly different. When you read HuffPo articles about walk/jogging, you’re reading an article that is intended for people who have to plead and bargain with themselves in order to run. They’re articles for people who have a low tolerance for pain and adversity (at least as far as running goes), and who are not innately driven to challenge themselves on their own.

Such HuffPo articles might be a great benefit to that group of people, but it’s important to remember that there is another group of runners out there. That other group is comprised of the people who enjoy making their runs extra-long, or extra-difficult, or extra-painful simply because the challenge appeals to them. They’re the ones who always talk about endorphins, and about how much they love running.

So, if you’re a member of the “easy does it” group, and you’re imagining that one day you’ll morph into the other kind of person, then my advice to you is to adopt the strategies and proclivities of that group. If you find you enjoy it, you’ll stick with it. But it’s equally likely that you won’t end up being one of those crazy-runner-types, and if so, you may as well admit that to yourself. It’ll make you happier.


Some Links

  • I may have lost the battle, but it looks like I won the war. (Less cryptically: Adam Gurri is now arguing for exactly the same position I outline in these 1, 2, 3, 4 posts which he previously argued against.)
  • David Henderson made me aware of this wonderful piece by Justin Raimondo, at Antiwar.com.
  • Speaking of David Henderson, here he is arguing against what I can only describe as Scott Sumner's unique take on politics. Scott Sumner says additional stuff I disagree with in the comments.
  • And to sort of highlight Henderson's point, here's an example of how keeping pressure on bad politicians leads to the kind of outcomes that incentivize them against future bad behavior.


We Are All Data Analysts Now

Here’s a quote from a recent op-ed about Peter Theil and the US presidential election:
My guess, based on zero data, is that, had I mentioned Peter Thiel one year ago, only a handful of readers would have recognized his name. And, had I told you that he was one of the founders of Paypal and the first investor in Facebook (he’s even portrayed briefly in The Social Network), my guess, again based on zero data, is that your opinion of him would have instantly improved. “Tell us more about this Thiel,” you would say.
Forget about Peter Thiel and Donald Trump for a moment, and just pay attention to the phrasing in that passage. The author uses the phrase “based on zero data” not once, but twice. Of course, substantiating the author’s “guess” with empirical research is a pretty silly concept. It’s not relevant to the thrust of the article. I choose to highlight it here, however, because it reveals something about our modern perspectives. In a bygone era, an author might have chosen to say “I suspect,” or “I’d wager,” or “I’d venture to guess…” but today, this author – along with many people out there – choose to stipulate that they are saying so in spite of not having analyzed the matter empirically.

The implication here is that analyzing the data is the conceptual default. Welcome to the modern age. We are all data analysts now. The question from here is how we can expect this fact to color our perspectives.

Recently, someone on my Facebook feed made a jibe at a certain kind of person for believing a certain kind of thing about the Cold War. The jibe was that sociologists should study why that certain kind of person had reached a certain kind of conclusion, followed by a very ideologically charged epithet for the Soviet Union. Because I happen to know people were alive during the Cold War who grew up in countries that benefitted from Soviet foreign policy, and because I happen to believe that Westerners do not have the total story regarding Soviet foreign policy, I added a comment on Facebook suggesting that the hypothetical sociologist should include the perspectives of residents of the Third World.

This comment resulted in immediate demands for which people, which country, which events, I was thinking of. Naturally, I avoided naming specifics – not because I couldn’t give them, but because I didn’t want a debate about the merits of a particular Cold War policy to distract from my real point, which is that one’s perspective on the Cold War is invariably shaped by which narrative one most identifies with. In the US, we’re accustomed to thinking of the USSR as an “Evil Empire.” In the Third World, the question really comes down to which major world superpower had the biggest impact on one’s country – and was that impact positive or negative? This is why Nelson Mandela famously chose to work with the USSR despite Western objections, because the Soviet Union had helped Mandela’s cause when no one else would. You could argue that Mandela was a communist and the Soviet Union helped him only for that reason, but again this really only distracts from my point. My point is that the USSR wasn’t a villain to everyone. Anyone interested in a complete history of the Cold War ought to do a proper accounting of everything.

But my point fell on deaf ears because all anyone could do was demand which country, which events – empirics, empirics, empirics. Let’s see the data and analyze it. Hand it over. This speaks to the core cognitive problem we face today: we approach everything as though we are data analysts. That makes us very good at solving problems that can be solved by data analysis; it makes us horrible at solving other kinds of problems.

Similarly, I came across a recent Facebook post (a public one, so feel free to hunt it down if you’re so inclined) by Less Wrong religious leader Eliezer Yudkowsky, arguing that everyone should vote for Hillary Clinton because the downside risk of a Donald Trump presidency is World War 3. That’s not an exaggeration – that really and truly is what Yudkowsky said. Of course, the reality is that World War 3 may happen – or not – regardless of which candidate wins the election. The only reason Yudkowsky counts this as a risk of a Trump presidency, and not a Clinton presidency, is because Yudkowsky is biased. This should be perfectly clear because, as I just said, World War 3 can happen under any set of assumptions; Yudkowsky only includes that set of assumptions in his estimation of a Trump presidency.

But, remember, this is how Bayesian reasoning works. Yudkowsky is willing to bet on WW3 + Trump, and unwilling to bet on WW3 + Clinton; ergo, it is more probable until he decides to “update his priors.” He thinks it, therefore it is. Now we can finally see that Bayesian reasoning, when done incorrectly, is basically magical thinking.

Bayesian reasoning done correctly, however, can be a powerful way to solve statistical and machine-learning problems. In other words, it’s good at solving data analysis problems, but bad at solving foreign policy problems. As you can see, the problem runs deep.

It gets worse: A common trope among the libertarian crowd is that voting is ineffectual on the margin, thus it doesn’t matter whether or not you vote. But, if everyone acted on this information simultaneously, then no one would vote and the thesis would invalidate itself. So this notion is actually a paradox: completely meaningless, utter nonsense. Voting is marginally ineffectual because voting itself is effectual. Similarly, profits are maximized when the marginal profit of the next unit is zero. It would be stupid to say that “producing gallons of milk is a waste of time” just because we’ve reached the point of diminishing marginal benefit. But when we’re stuck analyzing problems from a data analysis mindset, we undermine our ability to solve problems through other means.

And that’s just politics. Think about all the other areas of our lives that are surely suffering due to the fact that we’re stuck in a data analysis paradigm.


Defensive Posturing

Image courtesy Wikipedia.org

People have a tendency to adopt whatever posture will present themselves in the best possible light. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it is inauthentic, and hence disingenuous. Confident authenticity, by contrast, would involve presenting oneself in an unassuming way, with no particular pre-determined posture, and allowing the situation to dictate how one needs to communicate to make oneself understood.

Usually, defensive posturing is forgivable. Why not make a good first impression? When meeting new people or dealing with strangers, it’s typically a good thing to smile, speak with kind, open language, be polite, and so on, so that other people can feel comfortable interacting with you. It helps build trust and ease social interaction for everyone involved. True, one might not be a ray of sunlight all the time, friendly and polite in every circumstance, and so adopting a friendly posture sometimes might be a little disingenuous in that it doesn’t accurately reflect one’s disposition at all times. But, as I said, this is forgivable since it’s done for a good purpose that everyone can appreciate. Frankly, it would be a little odd to present the full spectrum of your personality to all people in all situations.

Note, however, that these kinds of exceptions tend to involve new people, new situations, and casual interaction. In these instances, people don’t demand much from each other in the way of philosophical consistency or intellectual honesty. There aren’t many dishonest answers to questions like, “How’s this weather treating you?” As the intellectual demands of a situation rise, however, presenting oneself as authentically as possible becomes ever-more important. This is one of the reasons why formal speeches often being with an “ice-breaker,” a funny quip or engaging story that reveals the social personality of the speaker before many social graces must be set aside for an exploration of the speech’s true subject matter.

Here’s where things get interesting.

A conversation about politics, for example, requires a great deal more than social grace; it requires some knowledge of current events, relevant history, political philosophy, civics, economics, and so on. Having some knowledge in any one of these areas – let alone all of them – is enough to push the conversation into less chit-chatty territory. Politics is notoriously difficult to talk about in social circumstances precisely for this reason. One’s friends might find it inconvenient to know, for example, that minimum wage laws cause unemployment. This is a bald, empirical fact that may rub some people the wrong way, depending on their political leanings. It’s tricky to mention this fact in a way that keeps friends receptive to the point you’re making.

I know a few people who like to talk about politics, but whose dedication to social graces is strong that they can’t bring themselves to pronounce an “offending” remark such as the minimum wage statement I just mentioned. Some might goad another friend into making the statement instead, and this is a real problem, in my opinion. Instead of taking the risk of offending someone upon themselves, they out-source the job to a friend whose role in the situation is to be the patsy, the one who must offend others because the first person is too cowardly to speak his mind. It’s fair enough to think better than to speak your mind, but to make a third party bear the risk of offending solely because you yourself don’t have the guts, well, that’s pretty unseemly.

There is another, more abstract, level to this. Sometimes people will construct elaborate intellectual frameworks that look like coherent philosophy on first brush, but which later reveal themselves to be little more than claptrap designed to justify a contentious belief. Suppose, for example, that I was only able to acknowledge that minimum wages cause unemployment if I went the extra step to suggest that keeping those wages high ensures that enough tax revenue can be generated to pay social welfare to the job losers. Of course, economic theory has a response to that, as well, but then the discussion has already become more complicated. The more complicated the discussion, the easier it is to find small points of contention that provide some plausible deniability to the person who needs it.

In this way, people are able to maintain many silly, wrong, or dangerous beliefs by invoking a posture. This posture is “defensive” in that its real function is to defend the psyche against change. But it might not appear to be defensive to others. In fact, it works best when it doesn’t look defensive. People will say it looks smart, or moderate, or balanced, or well-meaning, or curious. All the while, the posturer is really just engaged in a crafty subconscious defense.


How Many Deaths Equals One Rape?

I’m compelled to write this post, even though it doesn’t represent much of a contribution to the existing material out there, including posts previously published on this website.

For me, the story of the election is how much mental gymnastics people are willing to do in order to justify voting for Hillary Clinton.

There is no question in my mind that Donald Trump is a bad man who would make a very bad president. But this fact implies nothing about Hillary Clinton’s comparative standing in that regard. Moreover, we have a mountain of historical records and evidence that suggest that Hillary, too, is a bad woman who would make a very bad president. (Nor does this fact imply anything about the quality of Donald Trump as a potential president.)

When I say “mental gymnastics,” what I’m talking about is this: We know that Hillary Clinton’s policies have led to war, destruction, and death across the globe. Her husband’s policies, too, were once derided at “globo-cop” policies that did more harm than good. The Clintons have a lot of international blood on their hands; they’ve dropped a lot of bombs. A lot of bombs.

Let’s take it for granted that Donald Trump is a racist, sexist pig who is possibly guilty of sexual assault. Here’s an ethical question I pose to my readers: How many bombs do I have to drop on innocent people before my behavior is deemed not only morally reprehensible, but as morally reprehensible as the behavior of a rapist? Think about it, I beg of you. How many people are you allowed to kill with flying robots before the nation decides that the death on your hands is on par with a hideous racist ideology or a single alleged sexual assault? Do I get to kill ten people before I’m as bad as a racist? Twenty people? Five hundred? How many thousands of deaths equal one sexual assault, from a moral standpoint?

As I just mentioned two paragraphs ago, making a case against the death-mongering policies of Hillary Clinton should not be misconstrued as an argument in favor of a Donald Trump presidency. My question is only how many atrocities politicians like Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, et al have to commit before you as a human being start seeing them as the monsters that they are. A man who loudly proclaims his bigotry and brags about sexual misconduct is certainly a villain. Why do so many suppose that the others are not villains? Why do so many more suppose that dropping bombs on thousands is less morally reprehensible than a public declaration of bigotry?

Odd, isn’t it?

It is particularly odd in light of the many, many allegations of sexual misconduct – and even a few credible accusations of rape – against Bill Clinton and the fact that Hillary Clinton must naturally know how credible those accusations against her husband are; accusations despite which she chose to stay with her husband for reasons most Americans have assumed for decades purely reflect a professional ambition to rule over us.

Of course – of course – it’s difficult to know who to vote for in an election of monsters. Do you risk one monster, or the other? Do you risk voting for a third party candidate? Do you risk not voting at all? I don’t fault anyone in this election cycle for making any particular choice of candidates.

But I do fault people for handing in their principles to justify their choice. Hillary Clinton is a warmonger, a liar, and a panderer. You can certainly conclude that she is still preferable to other candidates, but you’re not (ethically) allowed to pretend that she is no longer any of those things, just because you view the other candidates less favorably. You are not (ethically) allowed to say one candidate is unequivocally worse than the other on moral grounds unless you are prepared to do the utility calculus and state in no uncertain terms that boasting of rape and racism is morally worse than killing thousands and covering up a rape.

At least, not according to my ethics.