Do You Have The Same Problem I Have?

When I woke up this morning, all my muscles were burning as though I'd just finished a fast run. I got ready for work as usual, but a part of me worried that my blood sugar was just incredibly high. (My muscles often burn if I wake up with high blood sugar.) When I checked it before breakfast, though, it wasn't.

Throughout the morning, my muscles were stiff and sore. I spent a little time stretching them, but the simple fact of the matter is that they just felt tired and sluggish. When I finally set out for my run today - in which I intended to run a moderate seven miles, with a 6:45-per-mile pace target - my muscles felt stiff. Oddly enough, though, I felt like my running cadence was about what it should have been.

Two miles into my run, I checked my watch and noted that my pace was a fair bit slower than my target pace. My legs had loosened-up a little bit, but they were still struggling. By the third mile split, I had to come clean with myself: I was tired.

At this point, I had a choice. Option A was to slow down a bit and use the remainder of my run as a recovery run, to save myself for tomorrow's speed workout. Option B was to somehow power through. I wanted to choose Option B, so I gave myself a little burst of speed to see if I could shock myself into running a little faster. That's when I noticed what the problem was.

I don't know how to put it into words, exactly, but I'll try.

Sometimes, when I am consciously trying to run a little faster, I have a tendency to "bound" a little bit with my stride. I'll take big, long, leaping strides. It certainly is a bit faster, but it comes at a high cost: It's an extremely inefficient running form.

Of course, in the heat of the moment, I don't realize what I'm doing. I think I'm just "striding out" to run a little faster. I don't realize that what I really need, especially when I'm tired, is to shorten my stride and quicken my cadence. I need to make efficiency gains so that I can run a little faster at the same level of energy expenditure. I need to improve my running economy.

Once I noticed my problem, I quickly corrected it and, as you can see from the Strava widget adjacent to this blog post, I came in a few seconds per mile under my target pace. But it took some effort, it required that I correctly diagnose my problem and apply the right fix.

Naturally, the more a runner does this sort of thing, the better he or she gets at running in the future. As I continue to run faster over the ensuing weeks, I'll certainly find myself in many more situations in which my legs feel tired, but mostly because of bad form. In those situations, I'll need to apply a fix like I did today.

Maybe some of this resonates with you, too. So the next time you get out there and your legs are tired, try to find any obvious inefficiencies in your form. It just might save your workout.


Don't Follow My Way

With all the great musicians we’ve lost over the last couple of years, you may have noticed that I haven’t been among those music bloggers who feel inclined to write eulogies or to mourn the loss of our heroes.

One reason for this is because I don’t feel that I have much to say on that level. I did not know any of these great artists personally, so in many ways I feel that a eulogy coming from me would be inappropriate and disingenuous; selfish, even. Let their loved ones write the moving tributes, and let the rest of us consume those tributes as we consumed the music – as spectators and onlookers and fans, not as participants.

Still, there is another reason I don’t like to write about this stuff.

I am an amateur musician. As such, I have the opportunity to play in music clubs regularly. I see the fans, I see the club owners, the promoters, the producers, the other musicians. I’m in touch with the community of people we call musicians. When one of these tragedies occurs, I can’t help but take a step back and examine the community. Many of these people, despite their enormous talent and big hearts, cannot make lives for themselves outside of music. They can’t hold down a regular job, they get deeply mixed up in drugs, they struggle with mental illnesses. They’re a mess. They often can’t pull it together for themselves. Even when some of them do, they often end up selling all their instruments and swearing off music entirely. There’s something pathological, sick, and obsessive about their relationship to music. I can’t always tell whether it’s music that sucks them into a hole or if they were only ever going to end up in a hole in the first place, and music was just part of the process.

It’s startling to me. For me, music and art are wonderful supplements to life. They enhance our experiences and offer us a kind of experiential motif to try on for a while. In my mind, however, it’s always a temporary thing. There is suspension of disbelief involved.

I can belt out the lyrics to “Black Hole Sun” in my car on the way to work as a sort of musical story about the end of the world, not as a true reflection of my own thoughts. I can tear up to the lyrics of the saddest songs in my music collection because they tell sad tales, not because I identify with those lyrics. Music is my TV, my movies, my books. Music is the place I go to experience life for another angle – but just as long as the song is playing. After that, I go back to my own life, a happy life where things have gone right more often than they’ve gone wrong.

When I write music, it’s about exploring what my mind is capable of. Perhaps one could argue that I’m insufficiently passionate about the music I write. Maybe that’s a problem. Even so, the fun and the beauty of music when I write it is about being able to imagine something that doesn’t yet exist, and then bring it into the world exactly as I want it to be. I like to get lost in that moment, in that ability to craft a sonic landscape that reflects my imagination.

But it doesn’t reflect my pain, my struggles, my misery. I am not on my way down, I am not headed toward the bottom of a hole. In music, I have found a way to stimulate my imagination, and explore a set of wonderful motifs.

As a result, it’s sad for me to think of all that positivity and then compare it to the lives and struggles of people who never tapped into that. Instead, they were too troubled to tap into anything so transient and temporary. They made music that reflected their lives, and even if they achieved great success, their mental world has often been dark and troublesome.

I will miss the joy that these many great people could have brought into my life, had they only lived a little longer, but I will not miss their pain. I hope that in their final moments they were able to find peace.


Call Out Your Pace

If you follow me on Strava (and why wouldn’t you?), then you may have already noticed that lately I have been including my target pace along with my activity description. For example, today, I ran about seven miles, trying to target a 6:50-per-mile running pace. In actuality, I ran a bit faster than that, averaging 6:41 per mile. This isn’t totally unusual for me, since I tend to look at target paces as being “about that fast, but no slower.”

But never mind that. The question of the day is, Why am I suddenly announcing my target pace? What does that do for me, as a runner? There are a couple of reasons.

First, some of my followers on Strava have asked me questions about how I train. By explicitly announcing what my target pace was for the run, those followers can take a look at my performance, compare it to my intended performance, and gain some insight into how I train. Adding this information should be beneficial to them, or at least I hope it is.

Second, inspired by some of those same Strava followers (check out this guy, a true inspiration), I’ve been making a concerted effort to train more like a runner lately, and less like a schmo who goes running every day. Having recently been running as slow as 7:15 per mile – virtually unheard of in my history as a runner – I’ve reached a point where I’d like to speed my pace up a bit, feel more like a runner, act more like a runner, be faster, be fitter. This means I need to start running more mindfully. If I go into a workout knowing that, although it is merely a recovery run, my target pace is 6:50 per mile, I’m less inclined to slack off. It also enables me to make marginal improvements on my pace. Last week, I targeted a recovery pace of 6:52 per mile; this week, I’m down to 6:50. Over time, I’d like my “on” days to be under 6:00 per mile, and my “off” days to be… well, perhaps in the neighborhood of 6:30. (I hesitate to put hard numbers here because I’m not really sure how fast I can expect to run anymore. It’s been many years since I attempted to be a fast runner.)

Anyway, keep watching my target pace. Hopefully it, and my actual running pace, will start to come down over time. Who knows? I might even start to run fast again.


I Take The Stairs

When I arrive at work every day, I park on an upper level of the parking garage and I take the stairs down to the door of my office building. I think walk to the stairwell and take the staircase up several stories to my employer’s office and sit at my desk. My employer occupies multiple floors of the same building, and when I need to talk to someone on another floor, I use the stairs to get there. When I’m finished, I walk back to my desk the same way I came. At lunch, I walk down the stairs to the garage entrance, then up the stairs and back to my car, which I drive to the gym. This process repeats itself as I return to work in the afternoon and through to the end of the work day.

I take the stairs. I could use the elevator, but I don’t.

When people see me walking to the stairwell, they ask if I’m going to take the stairs. I smile and say yes. They take the elevator. We part ways and meet up on the other floor. We tend to arrive at about the same time.

People often extend kudos to me for taking the stairs. “Good job, Ryan!” “Do you take the stairs when you get in to work every morning? You do? That’s awesome!” “It’s great that you take the stairs every day, Ryan.”

Sometimes, people even say, “I should take the stairs!” But they seldom do, and when they do, it’s only to join me just that one time. Others don’t make a habit of taking the stairs, even when they seem to express a willingness and desire to do so. As they walk up the stairs, they lean heavily on the hand rail or press down hard on their thighs with each step. After walking up a flight or two of stairs, they pant for air and say, “Woo!” in a tired declaration of their efforts.

I am not a special person for taking the stairs. I hardly think about it anymore. Granted, when I started taking the stairs every day, it was a bit harder than it is now. My leg muscles burned a bit and I, too, would breathe heavily when finished. But that didn’t last long. After a while, it was just a force of habit. Walking up and down several flights of stairs is no more taxing to me than walking anywhere else. It's just a staircase to me. I don’t use the staircase to be special or because it’s a physical challenge or because I am Hercules.

Why did I choose to make taking the stairs a habit? Well, the added daily steps seem to work well for my blood sugar, but that effect has long since passed now that taking the stairs is just a several-times-daily occurrence for me. I’m not a particularly environmentally conscious person, but if using the stairs costs me little time or effort, I don’t necessarily understand why I should use a big energy-consuming machine. And not needing to rely on that machine appeals to my sense of asceticism.

But it’s no big deal, anyway. It’s just the stairs. I don’t understand why more people don’t take the stairs. I don’t understand why more people don’t take a walk. I don’t understand why more people don’t ride their bikes places instead of taking cars.

I take the stairs. You might want to try it, too. But if not, no biggie. It’s just the stairs.


Editor Wanted

For reasons known only to them, a subset of authors from Sweet Talk Conversation have elected to start a new blog - which almost looks like a publication - called Liberal Currents. Whether it is mere coincidence that the color scheme of that new blog is identical to the color scheme of Canada's NDP or indicative of their new found land... er, policy preferences... I can't really say.

What I can say is that the site desperately needs an editor.

It's not unusual for casual bloggers to make spelling mistakes, to misuse words, to make wild claims unsupported by formal citation or evidentiary reasoning, but many of the people involved in the Liberal Currents project write things for a living, and as I said above, the website looks like it is trying to be some sort of online publication. If they intend for this blog to be worth anything, though, they need an editor, and badly.

In the site's most recent article, Ashish George - whose byline claims that he is a writer, so I can only assume he means a writer by profession or at least a writer who wishes to be taken seriously as a writer - writes a number of startling things that any good editor could have prevented.

Near the beginning of the article, George writes, "But the managerial approach to policy in vogue with the upper echelons of the Democratic Party is ill-suited to thinking in terms of systematic change." How does he know that the "upper echelons of the Democratic Party" favor a "managerial approach to policy?" Who are the people who make up those upper echelons, and what specifically about their views suggests that they favor such an approach? And for what specific reasons are their views "ill-suited to" systematic change or that other approaches are superior? George never says.

Now, to be clear, I'm not claiming that George is making incorrect claims, I'm claiming that we have no way of knowing whether his claims are incorrect because he hasn't bothered to cite reasons for saying what he says. He simply puts it out there.

Similarly, George claims that
[T]he homogeneity of libertarians permits them to take for granted many assumptions about how the world works that emerge out of a lack of testimonial evidence from people of different backgrounds and an overconfidence in the ability of raw intelligence by itself to surmount all challenges.
How does he know - or why should his readers believe - that it is homogeneity specifically (I think he means demographic homogeneity, ie. white and male) that causes libertarians to take their assumptions for granted or to be over-confident in raw intelligence? Again, George never bothers to say.

Moreover, on the topic of basic editing, how does "taking an assumption for granted" differ from "taking something on assumption?" What does it even meant to take an assumption for granted? What else does one do with an assumption?

Later, George claims that "The politically powerful—Bill Clinton, Donald Trump, Betsy DeVos, Tom Price—have advocated or implemented policies without internalizing the experiences of the disabled."How does he know this, or why would he make this claim? What ex ante reason do I have to believe that George knows what Bill Clinton has or has not internalized? What an incredibly odd claim to make about the thoughts of people George does not know personally.

Some of George's other claims are just plain lazy rhetoric. For example, he writes, "In order to fully integrate disabled people into American life, libertarians need to jettison their ideal..." It is not clear - nor anywhere justified in the article - why disabled people's integration into American life is reliant on 11% of the American population "jettisoning" their ideals. It isn't clear to me, nor is it presented in the article, why the 11% of Americans who describe themselves as libertarians are so powerful that their ideals alone are preventing disabled people from fully "integrating" into American life. This claim might be true, for all I know, but from whence does the author make it?

More likely, though, the author just didn't spend adequate time writing that paragraph. What he likely means is that, to whatever extent libertarians uphold an able-bodied, independent person as an ideal, their vision for an American policy landscape is unreflective of the differently abled. As you can see, though, that's a far less spunky statement. It acknowledges that George's perception of what a libertarian idealizes might not be accurate of all libertarians, and it weakens his stance from being that people with disabilities aren't integrated into American life to being merely that they're not involved in an able-bodied person's mere fantasy about that.

And this, of course, strikes at the problem with George's principle complaint, which is not that the disabled are victims of a real, tangible, physical injustice, but merely that they suffer a psychic harm from not being at the top of everyone else's mind. I think we all know what kind of person feels harmed by not being forefront in other people's thoughts, but I won't go there right now.

The reason I won't go there is because it's hard to criticize a person's ideas when they can't even use words correctly. Toward the end of the article, George writes, "Kerala’s communists and Washington’s libertarians won’t agree on much, but they are both complicit in hermeneutical injustice..." He probably doesn't mean that these two groups are complicit. More likely, he means only that both groups have contributed in some way to the supposed "hermeneutical" injustice faced by the disabled population.

Still, if he did mean complicit, then that would require some sort of citation of evidence. In fact, this would be big news!

It is understandable that someone very passionate about an issue close to them would get a bit carried away when writing an article about that issue. The author has clearly invested a lot of time and effort in writing this piece. A more serious round of editing would not only prevent the obvious mistakes from reaching the readers of Liberal Currents, but would also do justice to the author's own work and point of view by taking it more seriously.

Now, look, I know Stationary Waves isn't a bastion of great editing and thorough citations. But on the other hand, I've never promoted myself as a professional writer, a serious thinker, or anyone other than just some guy who started a blog. On the few occasions I have written for formal publications, my writing has been subjected to multiple rounds of thorough editing, and my work was much the better for it.