Open-Ended And Closed-Ended Statements, And Miscommunication

Some statements are closed ends. They are what they are, and there is nothing more to them. "That is my dog." "I like your pants." "You smell like ham." There is nowhere else for these statements to go. They come, they declare, they die, and life goes on.

Other statements are much more open-ended, and I'd argue that these are more fun. They invite participation from others by their very existence. "Something about that barn door doesn't look right." "I'm getting a very peculiar déjà vu right now." "Your eyes are sparkling just as they did on our honeymoon." One glimpse of a statement like these and we instantly want to know more, to ask a question, to share a feeling, or to reminisce. Hearing one of these open-ended statements gives one the impression that there is a little piece of life just around the corner of them.

Unfortunately, open-ended statements can also be negative and make someone feel unpleasant. "Have you always been such an insufferable fool?" is the kind of statement that, being open-ended, somehow manages to hurt so much more than the closed-ended version of it, "You are an insufferable fool." "Why do you smell like ham?" is a more embarrassing statement than its closed-ended sibling. In addition to the hurt caused by the raw accusation of being a fool or smelling like ham, the open-ended versions of these statements cause hurt through that "little piece of life just around the corner." It's bad enough to smell like ham; but how many good reasons to smell like ham are there? Now you must feel embarrassed not only for your current state, but also for the circumstances that brought you here.

If we could have our choice, we'd probably prefer that all negative statements sent our way were closed-ended, while all positive statements were open-ended. We'd much rather elaborate on the positive than the negative, while if we do have to tackle the negative, we'd prefer to keep it short and easy to contend with.

You can easily verify this by considering the conversations you have in real life.

One of the best things that can happen on a first date, for example, is that you say a lot of things that make your date want to either say a lot of things in return, or encourage you to keep talking. One of the worst things that can happen on a first date is for you and your date to have basically nothing to say in response to each other's statements. We want first dates to be pleasant, and that means we want the things we say to our date to be open-ended, inviting, and to generate curiosity.

By contrast, during a heated quarrel, the last thing we want to do is give the other person an opportunity to go on an extended tirade. If we're smart, we'll keep our statements short and closed-ended, so that the other person has little reason or opportunity to go off on a new tangent, or worse yet, to strengthen the case for their own point of view by citing clear examples and strong reasoning. The less they say, the less chance they have to get the better of us, and the sooner they stop attacking, the sooner we can wrap things up and set our sights on more pleasant circumstances.

You can have a miscommunication with someone if you fail to understand what they're saying, or if you completely misunderstand it. But you can also have a miscommunication with someone by mistaking a closed-ended statement for an open-ended one, or vice-versa.

Suppose, on your first date, you meet at a restaurant and your date says suddenly, "Your eyes are brown." One way to  interpret this statement is as a plain, closed-ended statement of fact. This is likely to cause you some discomfort since, first of all, you already know what color your own eyes are; and second of all, as a closed-ended statement, there isn't much for you to say in return, other than, "Yep." You're expected an open-ended statement from your date, but what you got was a closed-ended one. That's not good, or so you think.

On the other hand, this communication can also go wrong if you mistakenly believe that "Your eyes are brown" is an open-ended statement. If you're darkly complected, you might think your date is making a comment about your race. Or you might jump to the conclusion that your date wishes you had some other color of eyes. In short, you might fill in a non-existent gap with an uncharitable explanation. That wouldn't be good, either.

In either of these cases, the solution to the potential miscommunication is simple and obvious: be as charitable toward your interlocutor as the situation warrants, and ask forthright questions about anything you'd like to clear up. There's no reason to hypothesize about your date's potential ill will when you can simply ascertain the truth of the matter with a smile and a follow-up question. There may be some artistry involved in learning how to ask direct questions without offending someone, but once acquired, it's an invaluable skill. Besides, even a fumbled question that confirms no ill will with another person is better than stewing in your own silent doubts.

It is much more difficult to be on the other side of the table. Imagine making what you believe to be a concise and simple observation, a closed-ended statement like "My brother has the very same shirt as yours," and having it be misconstrued as something with a deep and open-ended "context." If you're lucky, your interlocutor will clear up any misgivings with a direct response, something like, "Ha ha, is that a good thing or a bad thing?"

If you're unlucky, though, the other person may simply take offense and bear it in silence, remembering you as the person who "made a comment" about their shirt. How do you overcome this later? You don't.

Or suppose you want to make conversation, and so you start by making what you believe to be an open-ended statement, "Django Unchained was pretty good, but for me, the best western movie will always be Silverado." Some might think you're pushing your opinion onto other people. Others might believe that you think ill of those who prefer Django Unchained. And who knows what other incorrect conclusions other people might draw? The strength of your open-ended statement is in other people's being able to understand that it is open-ended, and respond accordingly. If they fail to understand, and they don't seek to clarify their burgeoning negative opinion, there is little you can do to turn the situation around.

And, of course, after a few such situations, the social group may start to turn against you.

It's important to recognize that other people's thoughts are not yours to control with perfectly crafted statements. If someone's having a bad day, or a bad year, there might be no level of perfection on your part that would prevent their thoughts from turning negative; and that's not your fault, nor is it your responsibility.

Still, the mere fact that you're not responsible for other people's thoughts is scant compensation for situations in which one or more people consistently misjudge your statements and persistently assume ill will or bad faith on your part, where none exists. And so we try to build up good communication skills in hopes that we might mitigate against other people's biases and uncharitable readings.

To that end, you may find the above discussion useful in your pursuit of better conversation.


Happiness Is So Much Easier Than People Realize

This morning, as I boarded the elevator up to my office, a spotted another man headed over to the elevator car. I held the door for him and we both got in.

Spotting the large, black object I was carrying under my arm, the man asked me, "What is that thing?"

"It's a battery for an electric bike," I told him with a smile.

He interestedly perked up. "Oh yeah? That's cool."

"I carry it in with me, since these things are kind of expensive," I said. Then, realizing that we still had lots of time before our elevator stopped, and not wanting to be rude, I continued on, "It's a great way to zoom into work without getting sweaty."

"Oh, yeah! I bet!" he said. Then he asked me, "Do you live downtown?" I told him that I didn't, and then I described the neighborhood in which I live. His eyes went wide. "You mean up there, up the freeway?!" I smiled and nodded, and he started chuckling to himself. He said was impressed, and he thought it was really neat that I biked to work from there. Then, our elevator stopped at my floor, I wished him a good day, and off I went.

This is not an uncommon conversation for me to have. Sometimes it's the bicycle battery that initiates the conversation, sometimes it's my bike helmet, sometimes it's the fact that somebody saw me ride in. Whatever instigates things, these conversations never cease to impress me because of how fond people feel toward my bike commute; and the fact that I commute on an electric bicycle only seems to sweeten the deal.

I don't think they're impressed at the physicality of it. After all, riding an electric bicycle is not particularly physically exerting. The sense I have of what they tell me is that they just think it's cool to ride a bike to work, and that it's cool to ride an electric bicycle. They think it seems like a fun thing to do, and they appear to wish they could do it themselves. Their reaction toward me is a lot like the reaction you'd get from someone if you told them you just rode a really cool rollercoaster or something. It's appreciative excitement.

Needless to say, I happen to agree: I think biking to work is fun, and cool, and exciting, and I feel fortunate that I can do it. It brings a smile to my face; it's so much more fun than driving. It's a big increase in my quality of life.

Imagine how much fun the man I met in the elevator this morning could be having if he, too, owned an electric bicycle and used it to commute to work. It would no longer be an impressive thing to talk to me about; it would be something that other people would talk to him about. He could be the one feeling the wind on his face as he zips through the side-streets, the back routes, and the bike paths. He could be the one telling his colleagues how much fun it is to ride a beautiful machine like that to work every day. He could be the one saving gas money and wear and tear. He could be the one showing up to work with a big smile on his face.

All he has to do is buy a bike.

*        *        *

Memorial Day weekend was surprisingly great for me, too.

Saturday morning, we had to renew my daughter's passport in person at the passport office. That would typically be a real drag, and it was still pretty frustrating by the end of it. But we managed to spend some good, quality family time together. My daughter and I walked to the coffee shop and ordered coffee together. The passport office is located inside of the old Post Office, a large and historic building, built in 1933, right next to the train station. It's the kind of old building that has large stone columns, gargoyles, marble floors, and so on. It's truly a site to behold, and even gets pretty good ratings on Trip Advisor. If you have to be stuck in some government office somewhere, doing something annoying, I suppose a beautiful specimen of historic 20th Century architecture is the best place to do it. In the afternoon, we did typical weekend things: running, playing together, having dinner outside, watching a movie, and so on.

Sunday, we went to the pool. I had suggested it on Saturday, and my daughter was so excited about it that it was the first thing she asked to do when she woke up. The water was a little cold, because the sun was behind the clouds for most of the morning, but we nonetheless had a great time. In the afternoon, we split up; I went for a long run, while everyone else went to a backyard pool party/barbecue.

Then, on Monday, we joined our extended family at the lake for another barbecue. I went for a little trail run. We chatted and ate and had a great hang with our family and friends, then we came home, did the grocery shopping, and had another great evening of playing together, having a nice Sunday dinner together, and watching another movie.

That old post office is visible from one of the major freeways in the city, which means that hundreds of thousands of people drive past it every single day without stopping and snapping a few photos. There are coffee shops all over the place, but I seldom see fathers and daughters walking there hand-in-hand to spend some time together. My neighborhood has two different community swimming pools, with accompanying grills and tables and chaise lounge chairs, and mostly it's just a handful of families who use them. The lake we went to was enormous, with hundreds of picnic tables and charcoal grills, and although it was crowded, there were still plenty of tables to spare.

But the thing is, getting out in the sunshine and the trees, enjoying the scenic places, laughing and running around outside as a family, and making use of public amenities is so incredibly rewarding. And it's so simple. And practically free. Consider all the people who stayed indoors this weekend, or who mostly watched TV and went shopping, or all the people who wished they could have done more with their time. The fun my family and I had was simple, low-cost, easily obtained fun. It's not hard to come by, it's put right there for the taking. The really remarkable thing is how few people avail themselves of the opportunities.

*        *        *

By chance, I happened to have a conversation with a young friend of mine recently. She's been given an important opportunity to receive a lucrative scholarship and to earn an advanced degree. It's the kind of opportunity you get if you're a good, hard-working student who has a good relationship with your professors and who happens to be in the right place at the right time. Good for her!

This opportunity, however, is in another city, a few hours away. When I was speaking to her about her opportunity, that was the first thing she mentioned, that unfortunately it was in that city. But it's a good opportunity, and I wanted her to know that I was happy for her and that I wanted to encourage her, so I said, "That's a really cool city!" Yes, she said, she agreed, but she didn't have many friends there. "Oh, that's okay," I said, "sometimes it's good to strike out on your own in a new place like that!"  She reassured me that she wanted to take advantage of the opportunity, but she was "just saying" that she didn't want to move away from her friends.

I understand, of course. However, when someone tells me their good news, I am not in the habit of focusing on the negative side of it. So most of what I was saying was positive because I wanted to be happy with her about her great opportunity. I was surprised by the fact that most of what she seemed to want to talk about was the unpleasant fact that she'd have to move to a new city where she didn't have many friends. I agree that this can be unpleasant, but so long as I'm sharing good news with people, I prefer to focus on the positive.

Imagine how much happier she'd feel if she focused on the positive, rather than the prospect of being lonely.

*        *        *

Some people will react to all of this by thinking to themselves, "I'm glad you like your bike, Ryan, and your park, and your neighborhood pool, and your positive attitude. But that's not what everyone wants to do." I agree with this… to a point.

If you don't like riding a bike or going to a pool, that's not a big deal. But the more simple things you "just don't like to do," the more skeptical I am of your claim that you're doing the things that make you happy. If getting outside and doing stuff just doesn't do it for you, then you seriously ought to reconsider what it is that makes you happy, and if, indeed, you are happy at all.

The reason I say this is because I know so many people who waste their time doing things that honestly don't make them happy. I know lots of guys, for example, whose idea of a perfect weekend involves sitting in front of a television and drinking beer all day. One day like that every once in a while might be fun, but the truth is that drinking a lot of beer and sitting around all day - especially if you do it frequently - makes a person feel physically unpleasant, and there's only so much of that physical discomfort a person can feel before it affects their mental comfort as well. Similarly, a person might prefer to binge-watch the latest TV series or surf the internet all day, or play video games all day. A person might choose from any array of passive, mentally disengaging, indoor activities and/or high-calorie food and drink, and alcohol. On their own, there's nothing wrong with these activities. But when they become the majority of what you do with yourself in your free time, that's going to start wearing you down.

In the long term, though, these things don't nourish the soul. They're fine to do from time to time, but they shouldn't be most of what you do with your life. And I'm not saying that in a moral sense, I'm simply pointing out that getting outside and doing interesting things - whatever you like to do, as long as it is outside and interesting - will make you feel better than you do right now, no matter how good you already feel. Communion with nature is scientifically proven to improve mental health. We already know that outdoor activity is good for physical health. What a lot of people fail to realize is that it's also incredibly fun. And fun is a good thing for people to have. Fun makes us happy.

People are not particularly good at pursuing things that make them happy. People will play the what do you want to eat / I don't know what do you want to eat / I don't know what do you want to eat game until it crushes their very soul. And they'll do it night after night without realizing that the simple solution is to grab a rotisserie chicken and a veggie platter from the grocery store on the way to the park and have a picnic. It's simple. If nobody cares what they want to eat, then go do that! Come home an hour later with some fresh air in your lungs and a smile on your face.

Happiness is not a difficult thing to obtain. The little things you do in your free time show you how easy and low-cost it is to really enjoy yourself. They should also give you a little insight into what kinds of experiences you're leaving on the table. Get a bike, put on some running shoes, go for a picnic, go find a park or a community swimming pool. These are the things that will make you happy.


Is It Okay For Princes To Save Princesses?

I haven't seen the movie, and so I shouldn't overreact; but early reports indicate that the new live-action remake of Disney's Aladdin features a new-and-"improved" Princess Jasmine. This new Princess Jasmine is interested in becoming the sultan herself. She's strong, and capable, and empowered. She can do it!

For the moment, let's set aside the fact that the original early-90s Princess Jasmine was not exactly a swooning damsel in distress; she played an important role in defeating Jafar and was quite headstrong throughout the movie, even going so far as to run away from home rather than be forced to marry a man she didn't choose herself. (Thus, why is making her even more empowered even necessary?)

I have a question for society in general: Is it okay to tell a story about a boy or a man who saves a princess?

I mean, is that okay, or is that problematic? Can boys save princesses, fictitiously speaking? Or does that reinforce the patriarchy?

Is it morally and socially acceptable to tell a young boy a story in which the male protagonist saves a woman who is in trouble, and falls in love with her, and marries her? Or, does that set the boy up to believe that this one story will define his every future interaction with the female sex? If a girl happens to be told the same story, will she be able to suspend disbelief and appreciate its value as a mere work of fiction, or will she, too, be warped by it and conditioned into believing that she is weak, needs saving, and that she must wait specifically for a boy to be the one to save her? Will this one story define her every future interaction with the male sex?

Notice what I am not asking. I am not asking whether every story we ever tell should be constructed this way. I am not asking that we eschew stories about strong girls who solve their own problems. I am not asking that we refuse to tell any stories that shake up the gender roles a little bit and reflect modern values. I am not asking any of those questions because I live in a world and a mindset in which it is possible to tell many different kinds of stories without having to replace one kind of story with another.

I'm just asking, is it okay to tell a story about a boy named Aladdin, who saves a princess named Jasmine? Is it okay to tell a story just about a boy named Aladdin, without having to have some parallel plot arc featuring a prominent girl character? Is it okay if the main girl character in just one story is in trouble, and needs saving, and gets saved by a boy?

Is Super Mario Bros. problematic?

Here's a separate but related question: Suppose it's not okay to tell boys stories about princes who save princesses. Then, what do we suppose boys are going to pretend they're doing when they play make-believe?


Should Have Known Better

Last night, I finished watching the Netflix series The Ted Bundy Tapes. This is a documentary, obviously about notorious serial killer Ted Bundy, which draws much of its content from the 100+ hours of audio recordings collected via interview by two journalists who wrote a book about him. The series also includes a vast amount of file footage from newscasts, showing Bundy's actual courtroom appearances, interviews from jail, interviews outside the courtroom, and so on.

Because this is a documentary series, and because its subject matter is already well-known and widely discussed, I don't mind including information here that might be considered "spoilers" in other contexts. The documentary provides no new insight into Bundy or the murders he committed, it's just a comprehensive collection of archival audio and video footage, combined with some new interviews (mostly of journalists covering the story), in a retelling of a very well-documented story.

So, here comes the spoiler. The series ends with an excerpt from one of Bundy's audio recordings; I think it was supposed to be "creepy," or perhaps "prescient" or insightful in some other way. Bundy muses that anyone looking for answers or explanations for the murders is bound to be disappointed, because such murders could be committed by "anyone." Bundy's supposed last, great insight was that you never know who's going to go on a serial killing spree; after all, look at him, he's a perfectly normal guy, and he did it.

The program closes on that note.

There's just one problem with that.

Ted Bundy was not a perfectly normal guy. Having watched the series and reacquainted myself with the case and with Bundy's statements and behaviors, I was struck by the profound impression that, not only was Ted Bundy an criminally insane narcissist, but he was transparently so. Thus, the shocking thing to me is not that "a normal guy did terrible things," but exactly the opposite: That an obviously sick and disturbed individual could do what he did, and that people in general would consider him witty, charming, intelligent, and "normal." I found it profoundly disappointing that the people who knew Ted Bundy for the most part failed to recognize his illness while he wore it on his sleeve.

The fact that people can encounter extremely unhealthy behavior and come away believing that it's praiseworthy is, for me, one of the great unexplained mysteries of my life. Ted's constant self-promotion and self-absorption should have been off-putting to the people he met. He talked too much, and too much about himself, he smiled too much, his eyes darted around too much, there were too many uncomfortable pauses in conversations, followed by too many left-turn segues on Bundy's part. He talked a lot, but not in a gregarious way, only in a way meant to evade detection or promote belief in his mask. That's not wit or charisma, it's manipulation. And yet people heard it and were charmed.

While watching the program, I thought back to the time I read How to Win Friends and Influence People, that great old handbook on manipulation. In it, Carnegie says that people want to feel important, so if you want to influence them, just make them feel important, then they'll do whatever you want. I've never encountered a more thoroughly sociopathic thesis statement in all my life, and yet anyone else who reads this book considers it to be wonderful, insightful, life-changing. This, too, is another example of someone presenting an idea that should raise cold hackles on one's spine, but when people hear it, they are instead charmed.

There are two possibilities here. One is that the majority of human beings possess a certain understanding of what it means to be charming and charismatic, that they respond favorably when they see it, that manipulative individuals know how to present themselves accordingly in order to take advantage of other people, and that my broken brain is somehow incapable of processing the meta-information. My deficiency thus makes me immune to psychopathic manipulation, but also makes me incredulous about genuinely charming behavior. The other possibility is that there is a tendency among human beings in general to see behavior that they should consider to be disturbing, but to make excuses for it, to redefine it as charisma in an effort to maintain a positive impression of someone who they don't want to believe is bad, and that my broken brain is somehow unwilling to extend that kindness to people even when they deserve it.

I'll let the reader decide for himself which is the more likely possibility. As for me, I find it so surprising and sad that people can encounter so much transparent sickness and come away believing it to be health.


The End, Plus Epilogue

As I mentioned last time, I've come down with another cold, and that makes three colds in five months. Because I have diabetes, it takes me a little extra time to get over these things, and they tax my body a little more heavily than they might tax yours. My half marathon being two and a half weeks away, one week of which will be a taper week to rest my muscles for the main event, this effectively ends my training schedule here and now.

I'll still run the race, of course, but I won't push for my goal time. I'll run relaxed and just try to have some fun. I am disappointed that my months of training fell far short of my expectations, of course; first because I sunk two months into an ineffective heart-rate based training regimen, and second because I managed to avoid injury only to fall victim to virus after virus. I wanted to get my body back into some serious running shape after a long time, and I had some good early indicators that it was working. But that's bad luck for you. Some years, you get lots of colds; other years, you don't get any. It was my turn to draw the short straw, and my bad luck that I drew it while attempting to train for a race.

Any undertaking like this, no matter how unsuccessful, is bound to teach you something, and indeed I learned. Let's review a few important things I learned this year so far.

First, I learned that using heart rate as the primary driver of training is not a good idea. I think it's okay to reference heart rate as one data point among many while you train. But to force yourself into a particular pace - especially a slower pace - merely to adhere to heart rate guidelines is, I think, very foolish. The result of this kind of thing can only ever be slower pace times.

Second, I learned the value of making hard days hard and easy days easy. In part, I stumbled upon this accidentally. My training schedule, like many I've used throughout the years, made interval and fartlek days "two-a-days." That is, I had to go for an easy run in the morning on those days, and a faster/harder workout in the afternoons. That was okay, but I think in the future I'll modify my training so that I run two-a-days on easy days. That way, I'll get the benefit of higher mileage without taxing my muscles overmuch; and meanwhile, I'll be able to dedicate all of the day's energy to my speed workout on a proper speed day. (If you look at the space between workouts as a span of hours, rather than a span of days, this isn't even that large of a change. It just amounts to a little extra recovery time prior to the more difficult workout, which is precisely what I'd want.)

Third, I learned how to run very long runs again. My training schedule required me to go for runs up to two hours long. That's a long time, and I haven't gone running like that really since my diabetes diagnosis. This year, I finally worked up the fitness level and the guts to give it a try, and I discovered that if I take glucose tablets at the right intervals, and also take them when I start to experience certain physical sensations, I can usually last the whole duration of the long run. This is a huge victory and it actually opens up the possibility that maybe, perhaps, some day, I'll be able to run a full marathon. For me, that's huge.

Fourth, I rediscovered that running ten miles at a time, and more than ten miles in a given day, is relatively easy for me. This is another one of those things that was true prior to my diabetes diagnosis, but which I hadn't really tested since then. I like running ten miles at a time. Ten miles is more than just a nice, round number. It's a distance that feels good to me, one that I've always had an affinity for, at least as long as I've been capable of running ten miles at a time.

Fifth, I learned something about my body composition. Going into this training program, I had been doing a lot of P90X, and I eventually ditched that because I wanted to shed some pounds so that I could run faster. I successfully shed those pounds, and I think losing that weight really did help me run faster. But it was a few pounds of muscle mass, not a few pounds of fat, so it did come at the cost of some "all-around fitness." I am not so interested in proclaiming which kind of fitness is "better" here. In the past, I've spent a lot of time discussing the fact that people who never get in amazing shape have no idea what their bodies are supposed to really look like, much less how they're actually supposed to feel. Even among those who have been in great shape, most of them only know the difference between being in shape and being out of shape. Not very many people know what it feels like to be in different kinds of being in shape. What is it like to be in great shape for distance-running? What is it like being in shape with more muscle mass? How does your body respond to the various tasks of physical exercise under different "shape conditions?" This is invaluable insight into my own body.

Sixth, I learned the variety of cross-training. I haven't done much of that lately, and I miss it. I miss the refreshing fun of going out for a bike ride instead of a run; it might not be as good for the body as a running workout, but it's great for the mind, and that's actually worth something, too. I think people also feel a little better when they train with the objective of having lots of fun at the possible expense of a superior workout. I don't mean that people should switch out hard or annoying workouts in favor of having lots of fun, of course. I just mean that, especially as we age, it becomes more important to foster an all-around, always-exercising, joy-of-motion mentality - what I have called "fostering a culture of activity" - than it is to ensure that each workout inches you closer to a personal record. Put another way, if you always have something to look forward to in working out, you'll work out a lot more effectively than you would if you just mindlessly cranked through a schedule of workouts.

Seventh, speaking of a schedule of workouts, I learned the benefit of actually scheduling workouts, rather than flying by the seat of your pants. Perhaps somewhat counterintuitively, this doesn't actually work against the previous point. It's nice to know what's coming. It's nice to know what you're doing, not just today or tomorrow, but next Thursday. It helps you plan activities around your workouts; it helps you keep your diet and your bedtime on track. It also helps you add more variety to your training. Humans are creatures of habit and if we don't make a deliberate attempt to break out of our ruts, we will tend to stay within them. Planning on breaking your rut is a great way to succeed in breaking it.

Well, I probably learned a bit more than all of this, too, but I think the list is long enough for one day. Looking back over it, I am feeling pretty good about my year thus far, even if I'm not necessarily in a position to improve my half marathon PR. I feel well prepared for my fitness future, whether or not that includes a great race next month. In the end, I'm quite happy about it.


The Best Way To Spend My Time

Yesterday evening, after feeling dizzy and unwell all day, my body finally succumbed to fever. I lay down on my bed, closed my eyes, and calmly enjoyed the spinning in my head. I say "enjoyed," because what else can a person do, other than let a mild fever run its course? I could moan, groan, cry, and lament my bad luck, or I could embrace my circumstances for what they are and at least try to endure them with a smile on my face.

It wasn't so bad, really. My body was tingly and sensitive, as bodies tend to be when they have a fever. That, combined with the light vertigo and the bodily fatigue added up to an experience that I ordinarily experience favorably, under the right conditions. For example, I sometimes feel similarly after a long run or bike ride and a nice, hot bath. It's nice to drink some cool water, lie down, and spend a few minutes drifting along to the subtle physical sensations. If I have to be sick, the least I could do is try to enjoy what aspects of my situation there are to enjoy.

A little while later, something else that I was able to enjoy happened. My wife and daughter came home, and my little four year old girl tiptoed into my bedroom. She wanted to see if I was asleep. I gave her a big smile and asked how her day went. After some chitchat, she was ready to go play, but without my asking, she paused to close the door behind her so that I wouldn't be disturbed. It would be a thoughtful gesture coming from anyone, but coming from a four-year-old, I thought it was very kind. The door had been open when she came in, so closing it was entirely her own idea. She was thoughtful of me. I'm raising a kind girl.

I thought back to some recent business trips that my wife had taken. She goes out of town fairly regularly, without my daughter and me. That leaves me home alone to take care of all the parental responsibilities. When there are a lot of things to do - school requirements, ballet rehearsals, grocery shopping, all the cooking and cleaning, and of course carving out part of every day to sit down and play with my daughter so that she has some quality home-time with her father - it can be understandably exhausting. Still, there's nothing else I'd rather be doing.

Oh, don't get me wrong. I'd love to have more time to write music, practice my guitar, exercise, have some fun, or just plain relax. The truth is, I easily could do more of those things than I do when my wife is out of town. The reason I don't do them is because I'd rather be a father. I enjoy singing songs with my girl and reading her books. I enjoy playing with her toys or doing a puzzle with her. I enjoy cooking dinner for her and I love it when she invariably "has an idea" and suggests that we bake cookies together or something. And I do it all; I do it because it's incredibly fun. I love spending that time with her, just the two of us. I love what we talk about, and how we play, I love watching movies together and taking her outside to play with a ball or a pair of roller skates. It's great fun, why wouldn't I love it?

Some of my friends and acquaintances find themselves in a similar position from time to time, as most of us do. I never hear them talk about how much fun they're having. I never hear them tell stories about what they did with their children. Mostly, I hear them complain about how much work it is and how much they'd rather be doing something else.

But I don't understand that. Fatherhood is a blast. I wouldn't rather be doing anything else.


An Aesthetic Signal

There's a theory out there, presented variously throughout history, but most recently by Robin Hanson, that all or most human behavior is an attempt to achieve "status" through "signaling." So, for example, if get interested in photography, my main objective is to become a good photographer, which people will then perceive and thus award me social status. I only play guitar for the chicks, basically.

Of course, this is a perfectly plausible - perhaps even likely - perhaps even true - explanation of the behavior of some individuals. Because this theory is certainly true for some people and some actions and some situations, folks have a tendency to go all in on it. The problem with the theory is that it is unnecessarily reductive. Just because some of what I do aims at social status doesn't mean all of what I do is. Just because a lot of what I do aims at social status doesn't mean it is the best explanation for human behavior writ large.

There are many specific problems with this view of human behavior, and I couldn't possibly list them all here. But I got to thinking about one particular weakness of the theory over the weekend. That problem is: human social groups play a weaker role in our lives today than at any prior point in human history. Thanks to the highly individualizing social changes instigated by the internet, rampant marketing segmentation, and Western individualism, people are now less likely to engage in close social interaction. There is no big Saturday night party in today's world, as there was for previous generations. Many young people stay home, while many others prefer to spend their time with a small group of close friends, rather than the larger kind of in-group that would dole out social status.

Indeed, to achieve any significant kind of social status in today's world, one practically has to already possess it. No one is interested in artists or musicians who are not already famous, which is why so much of art marketing is designed to convince the public that a new artist is already a star. You probably couldn't mention any rising stars in the athletics world, either, unless you are already deeply invested in that athlete's team. The only businesspeople you could probably mention by name are those who are famous billionaires right at this minute, or those with whom you had the opportunity to work directly. Ethicists, academics, doctors? Forget it. You simply don't know these people by face or by name.

And that's the point: we might all be motivated to pursue social status, but in this day and age, none of us actually gets it. So, it's a poor explanation for human behavior.

What I have noticed that people do is choose, not an in-group, but an aesthetic. I tried to describe this in a recent post. If you consider yourself a "rocker," then you will generally adopt the "rock aesthetic," and likewise if you consider yourself a fitness buff or a bookish person or a scientist.

Many people who choose an aesthetic in this way often express opinions, but only when they are consistent with their chosen aesthetic. For example, you're more likely to hear about the importance of following the heart from someone who has chosen an artistic aesthetic than you are from someone with a rocker aesthetic, even though they both might believe it. You're more likely to hear about the importance of saving for retirement from someone with a "savvy business guy" aesthetic than you are from someone with a "rural farmer" aesthetic, even though they both live accordingly. These opinions are not so much about how people choose to live as they are memes that people express, especially on social media, to curate a chosen aesthetic.

Today, a lot of people are making impassioned statements about abortion. There is a group of people out there who are very invested in this debate, but the vast majority of people you see who express strong opinions on the abortion debate are not so heavily invested in the debate. Instead, they're presenting memes in support of their chosen aesthetic. A very religious person will post a pro-life meme, effectively informing others of their views on religion, not actually abortion. A person heavily invested in presenting themselves as a "liberal" will send out pro-choice memes for the same reason they send out climate change memes or memes about the homeless. It's not about the issues at all, it's about the aesthetic.

Separating the two concepts in their own minds is often quite impossible. Ask the average person if what they're saying is about the issues or about their general vibe, and he will most often say that of course it's about the issue; even if it's not. So, I don't recommend that you out people when they're engaged in aesthetic curation. I also don't recommend that you spend too much time debating the issues with them. After all, they're not interested in the facts. They're interested in what their memes tell others about their aesthetic. In other words, they're interested in presenting their identity, not their thoughts.

It's a lot easier to question someone's thoughts than it is to question their identity. Don't get confused; if someone is sharing their identity with you, it's not an invitation to debate.


Every Number But The One That Counts

I mentioned a few posts back that I had lost patience with heart rate zone training and was moving back to training "my way." Of course, it's still far too early to decide whether this is a good training decision or a bad one, but I'm already seeing changes in the data my various apps are presenting to me.

The most notable of such data comes from Garmin's "Training Status" report. (I blogged about what "Training Status" is, and how to interpret it, here.) My first day of doing things "my way" was this past Monday, May 6th. From April 26th through May 5th, my Training Status had been shown as "Unproductive." I was working out plenty, but it was apparently not doing my body any good. I felt that way, too. My runs felt sluggish, mostly because I was forcing myself to run slow in order to keep my heart rate down. The moment I decided to train "my way," my Training Status immediately switched back over to "Productive" and stayed there. My VO2 max estimate went back up to 61, from 59. I take these numbers with a grain of salt, but I do believe them in the sense that I think they offer some kind of "directional read."

By contrast, my Fitness graph at Strava has flattened-out at about 90 points. The trend is either flat or even possibly in a slight downward direction there since I switched back to training "my way." So, by Strava's algorithmic estimation, I am perhaps losing a bit of my physical fitness by training my way, versus training according to Garmin's HR zone training schedule.

All of these statistics, however, are generated by running heart rate, speed, and distance data into various "impulses," i.e. mathematical models designed to estimate fitness. So, these apps give me VO2 max estimates, estimates of training load and fitness, of my "status," and so on. That's every number a person could ever possibly want to know about their running.

Every number, that is, except one; arguably, the only one that counts: Average pace.

Relative to my previous week of running, my average pace has increased twelve seconds per mile. That's even after a particularly bad workout on Tuesday afternoon and despite the fact that my heart rate has not increased all that much. The main thing is that I simply haven't deliberately slowed myself down.

Pace is really the only number that counts. If you're capable of running at a particular pace, then you should. If you can't, then you should try to get yourself there. All this heart rate zone training and various "easy runs" versus other kinds of runs are all in service of increasing your average pace. If you're not increasing your average pace - or, if you're an older guy, maintaining a strong average pace - then your training isn't doing much for you at all.

For all the lovely metrics modern running apps offer you, don't forget the one that matters most.


Twists & Turns

I spent the morning wondering what I should blog about. I wanted to write, but the words wouldn't come.

One reason for that is I found out that an old family friend of ours is dying. Not only that, she's dying in a way that there are lessons to learn from. I could have written about that, and about those lessons, but my heart just wasn't in it. I'm sad that it came to this, I'm sad for her and her family, and for my family, as well. I keep thinking about her situation, and about my childhood, and then naturally about my own child.

It's strange to watch someone go from being an ordinary child to being an adult, to being an adult with problems. One can't help but wonder when a person's life went from being about getting good grades and fitting in with childhood peer groups to being about heavy adult struggles and the inability to cope.

When I was a certain age, pretty much the most important thing in the whole world was basketball. Any chance I could get to play basketball, I would. I'd call friends over, and we'd play for hours. We'd play at school. We'd play in athletic leagues. We'd play basketball. What ended all this was junior high team tryouts. Some of us made the team, and some of us didn't. Those who did stopped playing with those who didn't so that they could play with the school team. It's kind of a shame that such a thing would separate us, but I suppose it's only fair. With our basketball-playing group thus dismantled, no further getting together was quite as fun. Eventually the whole thing tapered off. We went our separate ways and got involved in other aspects of our lives.

This sort of thing played out in my own childhood many different times. In the early days, we all ran around together. Later, I got heavily involved in competitive running and spent that time by myself instead. Some of us used to get together and listen to music and jam on our guitars. Then some of us formed a band and the larger group dissolved. Those who weren't in the band stopped playing music and went back to what they were doing before - in this case, Dungeons & Dragons - while the bandmates experimented briefly with being cool. (Don't worry, it was short-lived.)

It's rare to experience a lifelong friendship. I don't have any close friends from when I was a little boy. I keep in touch with some people via social media, but we don't regularly interact. The progressive, lifelong process of becoming more specialized has a tendency to limit our interaction with a broader group. A diverse set of friends can come together, but by adulthood they usually need a common excuse to do it: a book club, a work group, a hobby, etc.

So, it's not that friends ever become less important, it's just that the natural progression of existence is to go from being surrounded by a community of friends to being surrounded mostly by your own family. I'm not at all sure that this is a bad thing.

But every now and then news comes in of an old friend passing away or a former neighbor getting into legal or other trouble, and from our own internal perspective, it's jarring. We weren't there to experience the transition, and so for us it comes out of nowhere. The girl who once had a crush on you passed away in a car accident. The neighbor down the street developed a drug problem. The student-body officer had financial trouble, and then a mental breakdown. The city league teammate you had developed cancer.

Thankfully, it sometimes works the other way, too. The cranky loner with a scowl on his face overcame his depression and raised a happy family. The aloof snob discovered her alternative lifestyle after high school and became open and welcoming of all people. The poor kid started his own business and got rich. The shy wallflower became a social worker and helped hundreds of people have better lives.

Well, that's life. We all play one of these roles. A major part of my blog's purpose has been to comment on the various paths that lead to ruin, and how to avoid them. Maintain a long-range cognitive time-horizon; leverage principles of individuality in the face of strong negative influence; learn effective communication strategies; don't willingly maintain any serious illusions about your life or your world; always learn, always grow, always feed your sense of self-improvement. We can make the world a better place by being better people.

Nita Strauss And Hard Questions About Sexism

Blabbermouth.net is an online tabloid that covers heavy metal and hard rock music, musicians, and their attendant muckraking. It is essentially a clickbait platform that uses out-of-context quotations and sensational headlines to drive ad revenue though clicks and other such dirty tricks. It has a negative reputation, but despite that fact can be entertaining thanks to the heavy metal community itself, which is comprised of many people who like to joke around.

The typical Blabbermouth news cycle goes something like this: First, some legitimate news outlet reports on something happening in the music world. Second, Blabbermouth re-blogs it on its own spammy website. Third, music fans on social media exchange funny and/or belligerent comments with each other under Blabbermouth's comments threads.

Recently, Blabbermouth reported on guitarist Nita Strauss' latest project, which is called "Body Shred." Although the promotional video (see below) doesn't explain how to "win" the challenge, based on what I can infer from the website, it appears to be somewhat of a cross between DietBet, PledgeMusic, and a private Nita Strauss social media fanclub.

I have nothing against Nita Strauss or this projects, and I wish her all the success she deserves.

Predictably, the Blabbermouth commentariat focused in on Nita Strauss' physical appearance, and not necessarily in a way that emphasized physical fitness, if you know what I mean. Many of the ensuing comments were vague or not-vague sexual references, approving comments on Strauss' worth as eye candy, suggestions that the promotional video looked like the opening scene of a pornographic sequence, and so on.

One can easily imagine that Nita Strauss, being an attractive woman in the music industry, has dealt with her fair share of objectification and harassment, but if these comments are any indication, she has had to deal with even more than I would have expected. Every time I start to gain the impression that society has for the  most part moved on from overt sexism, something like this proves me wrong.

Thus, my first impression of Nita Strauss' Body Shred was sympathy. I felt bad that she would go through the work of putting together what looks like an interesting and worthy project with her partners and sponsors, only to have to try to overcome a dark cloud of sexist mockery. She'll need to overcome that mockery in order for her project to be successful, because no heavy metal fan is going to sign up for "Nita Strauss' Body Shred" if all their friends are winking and nudging each other and making sexist jibes about the whole thing.

That was my first impression, but then I started thinking about it a little more carefully.

As you can see from the photo gallery on Nita Strauss' website, Ms. Strauss dresses pretty modestly compared to some women in the world of rock. She's also an excellent guitar player and performer. The point is, it would be incredibly wrong to suggest that Ms. Strauss has relied on her looks to establish herself and her career.

On the other hand, it would be downright foolish to assert that her looks have played no role in making her famous; after all, she is a beautiful woman in addition to being a good guitar player. Like it or not, "great guitar player who is also beautiful" is a much more marketable entertainment product than "just a great guitar player" is. Furthermore, a simple web search reveals that there are plenty of promotional photos of Nita Strauss that emphasize her physical appearance more than her guitar-playing. I don't fault her for this, and I would certainly do the same if I were in her position. Who knows, maybe I'd even go further. And maybe the fact that she hasn't gone further is one of the reasons she's had as successful a career as she's had. I don't know; I'm no expert here.

The fact remains, however, that Strauss' looks have played an important role in her music career. There's just no use denying it. The release of an exercise program, or fitness challenge, or whatever Body Shred actually is, certainly plays into that aspect of the Nita Strauss business entity. "Ugly Chick Fitness Challenge" would not be a particularly successful business venture; but I think "Nita Strauss' Body Shred" will be. That's an important attribute of the whole endeavor.

So, in light of all that, how do we grapple with this? What is the right way to conceive of a project that ought not become an excuse to objectify someone, and yet which relies on a certain level of objectification in order to be interesting in the first place?

By the way, this question is not unique to this particular fitness challenge. We can go all the way back to the Jane Fonda Workout program, if we want to. Heck, I'm told that my great-grandmother on my mother's side had a big crush on Jack LaLanne. Fitness programs offer us a chance to make ourselves look, not just healthy, but sexy. Fitness videos very often cast professional fitness models, people whose sole livelihood is working out and looking as sexy as possible. Part of the audience they're selling to is the kind of people who watch the jumping jacks in slow motion. If there weren't so many of those kinds of people, the fitness industry would be a lot smaller and less profitable than it is today.

To some extent, fitness is always about looks. But is that good, bad, or neutral? Is it shallow to be motivated by the prospect of looking sexy? Is it wrong to be motivated to get fit just so that you can gain access to videos of Nita Strauss doing jumping jacks in a sports bra? If that's your motivation, but you end up getting fit, winning the contest, meeting Nita Strauss, and being perfectly nice and polite to her, is what you've done still "problematic?" Is it wrong to want to work out at the gym just because a lot of the other gym patrons are good-looking?

All these questions should be relatively easy to answer. The reason they're not is because whenever people like Nita Strauss release fitness videos, people like the Blabbermouth readership post insane and hurtfully sexist comments. I don’t think it's morally wrong to have private, racy thoughts about famous people, and I'm not even sure that it's morally wrong to be motivated by such thoughts (even if it is odd). But there is a line we shouldn't cross. It's obvious when people cross it, but it's virtually impossible to explain in advance of crossing it. And if we only ever approach the line in our imagination, what does morality say then?

Or is everything fair game in the imagination?


Garmin Connect Update

After the latest round of Garmin updates, my Forerunner 645 watch can no longer sync with the Garmin Connect calendar automatically. This means that if I want to schedule a workout and have my watch automatically walk me through it, I need to connect my watch to a personal computer and use the old "Garmin Express" desktop application to manage the file transfer.

Needless to say, this is highly inconvenient. As inconvenient as it is, it's worth keeping things in perspective. Just a few years ago, this was the only way to do it, anyway. It is only Garmin's technological advancement that ever enabled us to move beyond hard-wired file transfers for workouts on running watches. We've been spoiled by modernity. Still, no one likes moving backwards. This was a functionality that I was enjoying from my watch; it's no fun to see it disappear.

From what I can tell, the newer Garmin watches, including their newest offerings just recently released, do not have this problem. They synchronize automatically without issue. My suspicion is that these new watches use a different bit of software code to handle the transfer, and Garmin decided that it didn't want to support the older platform anymore. I work in tech and have some familiarity with this kind of decision-making. From a consumer's standpoint, it can be frustrating, but ultimately it is an economic decision. Every technology company eventually reaches a point where it has to decide how many of its resources it can afford to spend on the support of older products and applications. The world of apps and smart watches moves particularly fast, and unlike Samsung and Apple, Garmin must support devices on multiple smartphone platforms. It is not always as simple as maintaining the old code and adding new code. Imagine supporting every watch on every version of Android and every version of iOS. It's a lot of work, and it's not the only thing that Garmin does as a company. They also develop and manufacture hardware, improve the state of GPS tracking technology, and so on. Their latest app, along with their latest watches even track menstrual cycles and can predict if you're coming down with a cold. With all this new technology being released, I can forgive them for requiring me to simply plug my watch into my computer from time to time to sync my training schedule. It's a minor thing.

But I wanted to write about it here on the blog, since I spend a lot of time blogging about smart watches and reporting on their various technological issues. For those of you shopping for a new smart watch and interested in guided workouts that sync to your watch from your app, you'll want to choose a new Garmin watch, rather than one of the older ones.

Coincidentally, this is probably the most convenient time for me to experience this deprecation of features. As I recently wrote, I'm not following the Garmin HR-based training schedule anymore and had been modifying my workouts to involve pace targets instead. That meant that all the future workouts that had been synced to my watch were the old HR-based ones that I had been disregarding while I attempted to re-configure all the workouts on my calendar. For me, it all works out fine in the end. For the next day or two, I can complete my workouts "the old-fashioned way," by simply using my watch as a stopwatch that tracks my GPS data. No big deal. Then I'll finish editing my workouts and upload them to my watch manually. Problem solved.


Applied Assertiveness

A number of years ago, I invested in some assertiveness training from a professional counselor. It was money very well-spent, and I would recommend it if you've ever considered it; maybe even if you haven't.

I was thinking about it this morning because I overheard a couple of conversations that jogged my memory. The conversations were both very similar. In both cases, women were happily engaged in outdoor activities when they were joined by uninvited men. In both cases, the women immediately set to work dropping hints get the men to leave; hints that the men either ignored or failed to recognize. In each case, the understandably frustrated women stated that they hated men who did this sort of thing, and said that they were offended that men would see women outside in public and automatically assume that they need to be chaperoned and kept company.

Naturally, this caused me to think about my assertiveness training, because the solution offered by assertiveness experts to both of these unwanted situations is for the women to assertively state, firmly but politely, that they do not want the uninvited company. The men must then move on without the women. It's true that the men in these situations might have felt angry or offended at being dismissed, but in the assertiveness paradigm, that's beyond the women's control. The women get to control what they say and with whom they associate; they do not get to control anyone else's feelings. The men must bear responsibility for their own feelings here. Such is the risk of attempting to join a stranger without having been invited to do so.

But notice the pattern here. First the women were confronted by a situation they did not want to participate in. Next, they decided to communicate passively to the men, rather than assertively. After passive communication failed to elicit the desired response, the women chose to speculate - negatively - about the men's motives.

We can all think of a handful of likely reasons why men would approach women in public and attempt to join up with them. Not all of those reasons are negative. Absent any direct evidence that the men genuinely thought that the women needed to be chaperoned, I think it would be unfair to claim that this is what the men truly thought. (Of course, the scenario with the highest likelihood was simply that the men wanted to meet women and explore the possibility of romantic chemistry. Mere friendship is also a very likely possible motive here.)

No matter how good the men's motives might have been, however, the women are of course under no obligation to accept their kindness. We all have a right to be left alone; none of us are obligated to become friends with a stranger, no matter how good his motives might be. So, in this case, the solution really does appear to be assertiveness: The women should have simply insisted that the men move along. That way, everyone would have been within their rights and no one's day would have been spoiled by a protracted, unwanted, awkward social interaction.

I'm highlighting these situations to illustrate something that wasn't completely obvious to me when I had my assertiveness training: There is a natural connection between passive communication and negative assumptions about other people's motives. With passive communication, we wait for everyone else to get the hint. If they don't, we become frustrated. That frustration often turns into resentment, and that resentment is often misplaced. Just because you couldn't communicate assertively doesn't mean someone else is a jerk for not reading your mind. And when that resentment grows into a full-scale assumption about the other person's private thoughts and motivations, it goes from being understandable frustration to downright silly fantasy. The world is not made up of angels who catch your hints and devils who do not.

If you want something from someone, tell them. Skip the part where you tell yourself stories about what they might be thinking. You don't know what other people are thinking unless they tell you. And even then, it requires assertive communication.

So stop assuming you know what someone's thoughts are and start communicating assertively.


When You're Just Not Feeling It

I'm now eleven weeks through with a 16-week half marathon training schedule, and I feel slower, more lethargic, and more mentally drained than I did at the outset of the program. I have about four more weeks to train for my half marathon and, for the most part, I won't be following the Garmin schedule anymore. I'll be doing my own thing.

Let me acknowledge a few clear positives about this training schedule. First of all, the initial four weeks of training were interesting because they seem to be geared toward building up the runner's endurance base. I didn't expect this, because the schedule's materials indicated that the schedule was for experienced runners who are already used to interval training. In my experience, that has most often meant that one should only use that training schedule if one is already in shape; but in this case, I think what they meant was that this schedule is appropriate for anyone who runs and who has done speed work in the past. At any rate, the first four weeks are definitely intended to build endurance, and in my view, they succeed in accomplishing this. I had worked my way up to running 60 miles per week, which is something I hadn't done for a decade or longer prior to this plan.

A second positive note is that I did not get injured on this plan, so it appears to be quite safe for most runners. I know, I know… that's only one data point, but I have a pretty good feel for these things. I sometimes felt as though I was putting in lots of miles and getting tired, but I never felt that I was at risk of running-related injury. That's worth something.

Another positive - maybe - is the way the plan is constructed. I've never trained under a philosophy quite like it before. The general idea seems to be that the plan starts with workouts that are all between 10 kilometers and 10 miles in length, plus a weekly long run. Each subsequent week, more of the time spent running those 6-10 miles is dedicated to running in HR Zone 4, the aerobic threshold. So, one starts the plan running mainly in Zone 2, and slowly the plan phases in more and more Zone 4 running. I think the idea is that, by the end of the plan, the runner should be able to run in Zone 4 very easily for extended periods of time, and thus the final half marathon will be a breeze.

For people who have never spent much time running at their aerobic threshold, this might be a good approach to take. For runners who have never run competitively and need to get used to pushing themselves harder and harder, I can see how this might get them used to it. So the plan is not all bad. I can envision a kind of runner who would succeed on such a plan.

For me, however, the plan is a terrible fit. So many of the scheduled workouts are assigned to Zone 2 that my "base rate" of running actually declined. I got used to running slower, and that's not beneficial at all. If a runner doesn't spend adequate time running fast, he loses his speed. I don't see any benefit to slowing down in order to achieve a particular heart rate. There doesn't seem to be any underlying purpose to that. If someone already spends the bulk of his time in Zone 2, then fine, Z2 running is just a proxy for "go for an easy run." But for someone who spends a lot of time running fast in order to run fast, this it's counterproductive to slow down on purpose.

Meanwhile, I found that Zone 4 running wasn't hard enough, either. In some cases it is, such as tempo runs and fartlek interval training. But this schedule pretty much maxed out at Zone 4 for all speed work. So I never spent time training to increase my foot speed. Usually, we use track workouts or other kinds of sprint intervals to build that speed, but there were no such workouts in this training schedule. All intervals were to be performed at Zone 4. There were also no tempo runs whatsoever.

Finally, a lot of the workouts were structured in a way that I found unorthodox and not to my liking. A good example of this is the way long runs are structured in this plan. Yesterday's workout, for example, was supposed to be a one-hour-and-twenty-minute easy run (Zone 2 again), followed by 40 minutes at race pace. How on Earth is a runner supposed to run 40 minutes at race pace after a long, slow slog? The schedule essentially asked me to completely tire my muscles out, and then try to run at race pace. That's obviously never going to work.

A better way to do long runs is to either do the entire thing at a moderate pace - say, Zone 3 if you're going by HR zones, or just a comfortable pace otherwise - except for perhaps 10 kilometers in the middle of the long run, done at race pace.

A similarly flawed structure permeated the "threshold runs." The schedule would call for a 10-15 minute warm-up followed by 10-15 minutes at threshold pace; then, without pausing for a brief recovery, the schedule would immediately call for 4-6 intervals at threshold pace again; then, another 10-15 minute threshold interval. In other words, the first "interval" would be 15 minutes at threshold pace, plus the addition of a shorter interval, all together, with no recovery in between. The result of this was that my legs would be completely spent by the end of the first shorter interval, and my remaining intervals would be done at a much slower pace.

That's not productive! What would be better? Well, if I needed to do two "long" intervals and six "short" intervals, then I might organize them like this: 3 x 1 km at a hard pace, with 1:30 recovery in between, followed by 1 x 3 km at hard pace with 3:00 recovery. I'd do that twice, with a warm-up and cool-down, and that would be alright. It might be a tough workout, but it wouldn't expend all my energy on the first two intervals and leaving me too tired to benefit from the later intervals.

So, what's next? Next I spend four weeks training my way. You can get a feel for what that is by checking out my marathon training plan in the blog's header links, but basically I'll be doing standard, comfortable runs on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays; I'll do a speed/interval workout on Tuesdays and a fartlek or tempo run on Thursdays. Saturdays will be long runs, again done my way, and Sundays will be rest days. As for two-a-days, I will likely do morning runs on Tuesdays and Thursdays to try to remain consistent with what I've been doing up to now.

I expect this more traditional training approach will work better for me than the training plan that I've become disillusioned with, but we shall see. That's the great thing about training: the proof of the pudding is in the tasting and the numbers don't lie. So let's see how it goes.