Sunday, December 5, 2010

Ridiculously Debonair

Last night my friend Jasmyn had her annual Christmas party. The theme was "Semi-Formal with a Winter Twist." I'm on the left in the photo below, and while I'm not sure what my winter twist was, I'm pretty sure my tweed jacket was the shit! My friend Luke on the right is sporting formal attire on the top, and candy cane pajamas on the bottom. Formal + Pajamas = Semi-formal. Get it?

Helpful Tip: If you want to have a fun party, then it's always best to act like children.
This is why, after some grown-up socializing, we decided to engage in obstacle course races.

Race Description:
Sprint around the ottoman 3 times, proceed to the kitchen where you have to eat a cookie and then take a small shooter (Jager, Peach Schnapps, Cranberry juice), run up the stairs where an Otter Pop is waiting for your consumption, chow down the chunk of ice, bust out a freak nasty move on the wooden rail, run back down the stairs, and then lastly guess a mad gab clue to stop the timer.

I didn't win. Apparently my strength is not in chomping through Otter Pops, as my teeth are a bit cold sensitive. Stupid teeth!

In terms of running news, I ran 6 miles this morning. It was a route that I've run a ton of times and always time myself. I ran my slowest time EVER this morning. BUT... my fastest time ever running it with a hangover! Go un-Zen Runner!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Fail? Check.

The reason I started this blog was to track my adventures as I focused on the completion of four goals (posted on the right side of this blog). I only intended on completing the first goal this year, which I failed at accomplishing. But worse than that, as I look at my current state of fitness it's apparent that I've made little progress over the last year. I'm healthy, and I'm a decent runner. But my goals weren't to be a healthy and decent runner. They were to improve my fitness toward a measurable goal...that of being able to run a 7:15 minute mile for 26.2 miles.

Here's what I've learned about myself though. That I think long runs (15+ miles) are boooring!! Good thing I have a plan to trick myself into getting in "Boston" shape...

Step 1: Ultramarathon is off the list. If I'm not going to enjoy training for it, why should I train for it? This is a hobby right?

Step 2: Half Marathons are the new Marathon. I enjoy every run that goes into training for a half. So my number one priority now is to accomplish goal #4. Run a half marathon in less than 1 hour 25 minutes.

Step 3: Is this sounding like that New Kids on the Block song? Step by step... oooh baaaaby...gonna get to you girrrrrl. You DON'T want to hear me sing. :)

Step 4: After accomplishing goal #4 I'll be running a half marathon in a 6:30 minute mile. So at this point I just do about six distance runs between 18-20 miles. Then sign me up for my qualifier!

Step 5: Duhhh, I've already qualified for Boston at this point in the Steps. Why are you still reading?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Marathons are Turning Me Gay

Weird things can happen when you are pushed past reasonable bounds of exertion. I've read about people talking to imaginary people during ultra marathons because they start to hallucinate. I've never gotten that bad, although I did become a bit of a crybaby during this last marathon I ran. And not from pain. From "sentimental value"...

I've been fretting this Santa Barbara marathon for a long time. First is because long ago I had set my sites on this being my qualification for Boston. And second because I hardly trained for it. Ooops.

I knew long before the race that there was no way I was going to qualify for Boston, so the lack of training was more worrisome just because I knew running the marathon was going to REALLY suck!! How little did I train? Well, let's just say that I trained more for my first marathon. And during my first marathon I basically spent the last 8 miles focusing on not puking/passing out.

Surprisingly, the Santa Barbara marathon didn't go as bad as my first one, even though the final 8 miles of Santa Barbara were also spent in hell. So let's get into the interesting part. It was about 4 miles into hell (i.e. mile 22). There was a family of 4 people holding a sign that read "Great job Steve! You are almost done. Finish strong. We love you!!"

I read it, and I was overcome with emotion. It was just such a nice sign! It was a sweet token of love for Steve. His family looked so happy, and they had probably been waiting there awhile for him. And I was in a mental grip of despair. I started to cry. And then quickly realized that I was running a marathon, so I got a hold of myself. But then came the upbeat cheering person.

She was at an intersection at mile 23. It was raining lightly so she was sitting in her car to stay dry. She was screaming at the top of her lungs, "You guys are so awesome, holy crap you have almost run a marathon, you are almost there!! Keep going, I know you can do it!" All that stuff that spectators yell. Except that she was really into it. I started to cry. And then, again, quickly realized I was running a marathon... Not sitting on my couch watching a sad movie. What the hell?? I almost cried twice?? I'm just going to write this off as one of those weird things that happens when you are pushed past reasonable physical levels of exertion. Either that or marathons are turning me gay. Just like Baby Carrots (as Stephen Colbert would say).

Even when I'm not on mile 22 of a marathon I tend to be a sentimental person. Never to the point of crying when I see a "You Can Do It" sign. :) But I like to think about good memories of the past as much as possible. And try to find ways to extend the value of those experiences; whether it be to nurture a relationship with somebody so that more good memories can unfold, or to re-visit places that I remember. Perhaps I'm getting old. Perhaps I'm just human. Or perhaps I should train a little more for my next marathon. Probably YES on the last one. Haha.

Santa Barbara International Marathon
Time - 3:50:01
Pace Overall - 8:50 min/mile
Pace First Half - 7:50 min/mile
Pace Second Half - 9:45 min/mile. Yikes!!
Moral of the Story = Do some distance runs (15-20 miles).

Sunday, October 10, 2010

We are Tough Mudder F#@kers!!

How do you train for an event that requires you to hoist your team over 8 foot walls, crawl on your belly through tubes and under wires, carry a heavy log on your shoulders through the forest, traverse through obstacles in freezing water while your balls are wondering if they'll still be able to have kids, and run up a couple thousand feet of terrain so steep that you sometimes have to put your hands down?

Yeah, I don't know how to train for that either. Which is why I'm fu#@king sore today!

We got a team of 6 together for this event called Tough Mudder. Four Americans, a Brit, and an Aussie. A couple months before the event the British guy became deeply concerned when he saw that the legal waiver had words specifically saying that you could die. I had to explain to him that because of our crazy tort laws in America, that there would definitely be adequate safety measures. I also explained that, if anything, the "death waiver" was a ploy to make you feel tough.

And a ploy it was. All over the course were signs reading "You signed a Death Waiver," including this large banner that we proudly stood under for a picture. I felt pretty damn tough standing under that. :)

The course was 7 miles and 19 obstacles. The race was more of an interval workout than a marathon, due to the many rest periods encountered while performing the obstacles. Some of the obstacles were challenging and fun while others were a joke. In a race that claims to be "the toughest one day endurance race on the planet" I expected a bit more of many of the obstacles.

For example, the photo below shows me climbing out of a tube. From the course description I had imagined this tube being about a football field in length, not a mere 20 yards. I suppose one could argue that it tested the mental grit of those that are claustrophobic. Physically it was something my grandma could do. In fact, I think that's my grandma pulling herself out of the tube to the left...

Aside from the few lame obstacles, the race was a good challenge. There were definitely times during the race when you felt totally beat. Mostly though, it was nice just to get together a team of friends and have a fun day enjoying the dividends of all the workouts we do.

Here's the team. Mike, Andrew, Jason, Dan, me, and Rick. We're all wearing our orange Tough Mudder bandannas that they give all the finishers as a badge of honor.

Before the race, Dan, Rick and me stood for a picture. I thought we were all making tough faces in this picture. They had to show me up with their fancy smiles!

And lastly, an ignited Tough Mudder sign. The flame is a signature piece of the race, since the final obstacle in every Tough Mudder race is to run through flames. In some races they ignite bales of hay, but in this race they had an industrial looking gas powered contraption. We all had to jump over metal grates of lowly lit flames. It pretty much makes you feel like a badass right before you cross the finish line.

My next event is the Santa Barbara International Marathon. Since you can't really fake a marathon, and it's next month, its definitely time to get in some long runs. Until next time.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Wine: The Price/Taste "Correlation"

When it comes to people saying how they feel about a wine, I always feel like people are trying to give the "right answer." Is this supposed to be a good wine? Is it expensive? What does the back of the bottle say? What do experts think of this wine? These are all questions that creep into people's minds as they taste a wine. If the wine is expensive and highly rated by an expert, most people feel like they should have a high opinion of the wine. But what would happen if you had people blindly taste wines that had significantly different prices? Let me tell you...

I've had a number of wine tasting parties where guests each bring one or two bottles of wine from a similar varietal. Sometimes I won't even be picky about the varietals and I'll just tell everyone to bring a red wine. I always make sure that we have wines pricing from $2 to $40. Often we'll have a wine or two over $40.

My main objective is always to provide a fun time for my guests. This means good food, good wine, good music, and especially good people. My secondary objective is to run the thing like a scientific research experiment, and to collect meaningful data from each guest. Give me your data, baby!!

The key to getting objective data is (1) guests cannot know what they are drinking, (2) guests should avoid talking about the wines as they taste them so as to avoid influencing others, and (3) guests must have every wine sample in front of them from the start. This last point is very important. It just won't work if you pour one sample at a time. This is for two reasons. First, the guests get more drunk as they drink, so their tipsy palate won't be the same by the time they get to sample #10. Second reason is because they simply won't remember how sample #1 compares to sample #10 if sample #1 is long gone. They need every wine poured for them from the get-go. This way they can go back and forth tasting each wine multiple times in order to really figure out which ones they like the best and worst. So unless you have 100 wine glasses lying around, I suggest you purchase some throwaway plastic cups if you want to replicate this.

All guests rate the wines on a scale from 1-100. Then after the party is over I crunch the numbers in Excel to determine whether statistically significant correlations exist between price and taste. I have found that no correlation exists. This means that on average guests do not find the more expensive wines to taste better. In fact, I frequently see the cheapest bottles rank in the top 3. Below is a photo of the top 3 wines from a party last December (from left to right). The bottle on the right (Charles Shaw Cabernet) was #3, and is a $2 bottle. Three people from the party actually rated this as their favorite wine. And yes, I gave them shit for it afterward. :) My favorite was the wine in the middle.

To see the statistical results from this party (the Excel spreadsheet), you can access it by clicking here. It will take you to where I uploaded it to Google docs. I created this Excel template and use it for all my parties. Go ahead and use it for yours!

Out of curiosity, I searched the internet one day for similar research. I came across a wine tasting study done in 2008 by a collaboration of researchers from Harvard, Yale, and the Stockholm School of Economics. In a sample of more than 6,000 blind tastings they found that "Individuals who are unaware of the price do not derive more enjoyment from more expensive wine...we find that the correlation between price and overall rating is small and negative, suggesting that individuals on average enjoy more expensive wines slightly less."

No surprise here. This is exactly what what my results were showing, although it's nice to see it validated with a huge sample size.

So here's my advice. Don't listen to what "experts" say about a wine (unless it's coming from ME...haha). And certainly don't be persuaded by some winery charging a high price to make you think their wine tastes good. Everybody has different taste buds. Does everybody like mayonnaise? Does everyone like martinis? Does everyone like seafood? No. Nobody likes the same food. So why should your enjoyment of something be based on the opinion of somebody that probably doesn't even like all the same foods as you? It doesn't matter how many wines somebody has drank from all over the world. Because their taste buds aren't your taste buds. So drink some wine, and if you like it then keep on drinking. Because very few people are going to have the exact same opinion of that wine than you do. And there ain't nothin' wrong with that.

Journal of Wine Economics, Volume 3, Number 1, Spring 2008, Pages 1–9

Friday, August 27, 2010

Portland Scavenger Hunt

I recently got invited to a legendary scavenger hunt in Portland. Teams of four seek for fame by capturing the most points through copious drinking, raucous behavior, and insightful clue solving. The day was not only monumental, but proved to be a great lesson in how to organize an event that can entertain guests for an entire day and night.

The scavenger hunt started off with a short relay race which ended with someone from each team bobbing for beer cans in a kiddie pool. The bottom of each beer can had a type of alcohol written on the bottom of it. When you pull out a beer can, you read the bottom, and that's the alcohol that you're drinking the rest of the day. I was praying that we wouldn't pull out a peppermint schnapps or something awful like that. We ended up getting vodka.

Bobbing for Beers in a Kiddie Pool

The hunt was focused on finding 10 bars from a list of clues that were given out at the start. At each bar your team would order a round of their designated alcohol (from the bobbed beer can). One point was given for each team member that had a drink. Also, at each of the bars there was a list of things you could do there for bonus points. For example, at a bar called Jakes you could get 2 points for getting a stranger to thumb wrestle, 5 points for an arm wrestle, and 10 points for actually wrestling with a stranger. I lost an arm wrestling match to some 50-year old biker dude.

There was also a section for earning bonus points regardless of the location you were at. Points could be earned for asking inappropriate questions to strangers (e.g. where do you like to be touched), giving piggy back rides to strangers, kissing members of other teams, pulling weeds at a strangers house, and more. The entire scavenger hunt lasted six hours, at which point everyone met back together at a karaoke bar to have their scores tallied and to continue the party.

Our team scored somewhere in the middle, which is what we expected given that there were a few veteran teams that had the hunt down to a science. We definitely all had a great time. It was the kind of day that will generate stories among friends for years to come.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Review: Gilroy Garlic Festival

I went to the Gilroy Garlic Festival a few days ago, ready and excited to enjoy the art, and especially the food. I really feel like a total grouch and snob saying this, but the food was total SHIT!! The ambiance…not so impressive either.

Problem #1: no competition for food selection
What I mean is that there was only one place for guacamole, one place for stuffed mushrooms, one place for garlic ice cream, one place for egg rolls, one place for EVERYTHING at the festival. The bottom line is this: If I was able to compete against the Gilroy Boy Scouts for stuffed mushrooms at the festival, then there would be a 15 minute line in front of my stand, and a 0 minute line at theirs. Unfortunately, the stuffed mushroom stand has a lockdown on mushrooms, which means they can sell raw and crunchy mushrooms filled with 90% parmesan, 9% ricotta, and 1% parsley like it was Teddy Ruxpin in 1985. And yes, I figured out your recipe in six bites. And no, this stuffed mushroom won’t chew your ear off while telling you sweet bedtime stories from a cassette tape…

Problem #2: Overhyped media attention
I live in California and do consulting work in the energy industry. So I work with a lot of Texans. All the way out in Texas I have co-worker that saw some show on TV that highlighted the Gilroy Garlic Festival. This Texan had actually considered taking his wife on a vacation to California to experience the garlic festival. Yeah…BIG MISTAKE. Good thing he only THOUGHT of the vacation. My best guess for why a TV program would highlight the garlic festival… Why not? I mean, you have to show something on your network every day. And why not waste some hour talking about a garlic festival in California and over-hyping it so that your TV show sounds like they know of all the awesome food capitals of the world? Sounds like a good plan to me. Another good plan would be to remain skeptical of things that sound too good to be true. I don’t mean to be a downer, so please imagine delicious lasagna for a second and smile…

Problem #3: Arts and crafts lacking
I have to admit that I may have had unrealistic expectations about the arts and crafts. If by unrealistic expectations you mean that everything didn’t look like grandma made it, then yes I did. I really love my grandma, so don’t get me wrong. I prominently display the wine glasses that she made me in my living room. And I hold onto the memories of growing up in her presence very dearly. But at the same time, I don’t want to wear her cooking apron, and I don’t want her embossed toad basketball player figurine (yes, she has one). ‘Nuff said.

Problem #4: Creepy dude on the way out…

This might be the most minimal flaw of the festival. But at the same time this flourish was cinema-like in its ability to cement an experience into my conscience. As I walked up the final hill on the way out there was this fat, sweaty dude with a two-wheeled ice cream cart making grunt noises and rhythmically shaking his bell-laden cart every ten seconds. It was as if he was the candy stand which entices children at the end of a shopping experience (or sometimes entices me). It would have been the perfect lure for people after being exhausted from hanging out for hours at a festival in 100 degree heat and climbing a steep hill for five minutes. Except that it wasn’t. Because he was fu#@in’ creepy. I feel bad for creepy dudes. He was probably a really sweet guy. Sorry bro.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

People That Beat You

Today I ran the San Francisco Half Marathon. Also running was my brother and a couple friends. It was awesome weather for running, and I feel pretty good about my finishing time. But we'll get to that in a minute. After finishing, I walked to a position about 200 yards from the finish line and waited for my brother. To pass the time, I decided to start a collage of people that finished before him. I do want to say that my brother is a total stud for finishing. He's not a runner. He's 6'2" and 240 pounds. His sport is karate (he's a 3rd degree black belt), and I guess since I'm his younger brother and he used to like to beat me up a lot, my sport is running. Running from an ass whooping...

I should also mention that the people below are also studs too. Hell, they are 200 yards from completing a half marathon. But hey, they beat my 33-year old brother. So I'm going to make fun of him for it.

I finished with a time of 1:37:42, which breaks down to a 7:28 average mile pace. Of course I'd like to be faster, but this will do for now. My goal is to break 1:25:00. My brother came in at 2:45:58. Congrats to everyone that finished!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Rain or Shine, Bitches!!

I'm working on a project based in Houston, which means I'm often flying back and forth between California and Texas. For the last three months though I have been fortunate enough to travel to New York every week. NY is a hell of a lot more exciting than Houston. In terms of beauty, Houston doesn't have much going for it. It's a huge sprawl, it's got crappy weather, and there are no mountains, lakes, or really anything of scenic allure. But what Houston has going for it are my friends. And especially my workout crew. Over the last few months we've managed to consistently pull together a group for interval training.

The group dynamic is always so fun when it comes to intervals. There are always a couple guys really pushing to round up a group, then there are the guys that show up for a good workout if a big enough group emerges, and then there are the guys that are peer pressured by everyone else to get their ass to the track! This last set of guys genuinely want to get a good workout, but you first have to refute every argument they come up with for not being able to make it. Once that is out of the way they come out and have a great time.

This evening we somehow rounded up seven guys to head to the track while a storm was hitting. I'm talking streets flooding and lightning. We lost one of the guys due to the "it's raining" excuse. We tried to get him to come around with the argument, "When it isn't raining outside it's 90 degrees with 90% humidity. So you're soaking wet after 10 minutes anyway."

Alas, the argument did not win him over. Oh well...guess who's getting shit from everyone tomorrow? That dude. :)

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Mark: 1 vs. Children: 1

There are a number of success factors that I consider when determining if I am happy with my race performance. One of them being the question "Did any children beat me?"

I don't know what children do these days, but I'm pretty sure they shouldn't be crossing the finish line before me. A few months ago I ran in a 10k with 2800 other male runners. During the run I was a bit surprised when at mile 3 I encountered a child in front of me. I passed him. And then after feeling pretty proud of myself I passed another child at mile 4. As I wondered if the kid was just one of those guys that grew a beard at age 11, he coughed. A very high-pitched cough. Like his voice hadn't changed what happens when you hit puberty.

After the race, a quick search of the results revealed that I got schooled by three children. Two 13-year olds and a 12-year old. The fastest of them beat me by 1 minute 14 seconds. The score at that point in time was Mark: 0 vs. Children: 1.

This last weekend I ran in my first 10k since getting beat by children. And I stand triumphant before you this day as I declare that I kicked their asses. All of them. Mark: 1 vs. Children: 1. Next race I'm pulling ahead. Watch and learn, children.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

5k's and Lots of Scathes

I have two things to report. I ran a 5k. And I have bruises all over my body.

I ran a 20:30 in the 5k (6:36 mile pace). It was a small race with 142 people, and I managed to get 5th place with this time. The whole fifth place thing makes me feel good. But the fact that I was able to run a 5k just as fast six months ago makes me feel bad. In the end, I think it averages out a little on the feeling bad side. I've been running, but apparently not enough to get faster. Boo.

And then the bruises... Those make me feel good. I don't watch football, I don't drive a truck, and I don't have cravings for steak and potatoes. Something has to connect me to my fellow man species, right? So why not bruises all over my body to show how tough I am? If you got 'em, flaunt 'em. That's what I say. So last weekend I took my shirt off and hung out at the hotel pool to show everyone what's up. I know what you're thinking. But I earned them fair and square so shut up.

Anyway, I quickly realized that perhaps people thought I was diseased. The circular wounds did look a bit like ring worm. Holy crap?! People think I have ring worm? I put my shirt back on.

The bruises were caused by a fun filled day of playing paintball. Hence, the circular shape. Me and fourteen other guys had bruises everywhere. One guy went running shirtless on a treadmill afterward. The lady next to him at the gym did a double take at his ring worm looking torso and moved machines. Perhaps paintball wounds are contagious. You can never be too cautious.

This week I'm kicking my running up a notch to 20+ miles per week. I've realized it's due time for me to get more aggressive about reaching my goals. I don't think 20 miles/week is a ton, but at least progress.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Lake Tahoe Relay 2010

The Lake Tahoe Relay is a 7 person, 72 mile relay around Lake Tahoe. This year 150 teams signed up, many of them running clubs from around Northern California. Each team drives around the lake during the event, cheering on their runner and making sure that the next runner is waiting for the hand-off at each transition area. My team was organized by employees of the National Children's Study, and I was kindly offered a spot on their team.

One of the memorable teams was "Man Beef," noted for their blue sleeveless shirts that had their team name written on the back. Another was "Hells Bells," which handed off a tutu and a long pink boa to the next runner. I couldn't help loving Hells Bells. They all had cute outfits with little devil horns and long striped socks. Man Beef though was a different story.

From the look of Man Beef, I honestly couldn't tell if they were referring to their special appendage, or if it was a reference to their extra preparation for the long, cold winter. Regardless, I smelt weakness. And I was determined to take them down. And by "take them down" I mean that they would get last place, and we would get second to last place...

After 12 hours of cheering on each runner in our team, hunger and exhaustion must have diverted us from the any sort of competitive nature. For the last hour I was pretty much dreaming of pizza. And dreaming of all the good pizzas I've ever eaten. I guess that dried apricots and peanut clusters don't tide you over for another 6 hours after you run twelve miles. Lesson learned. Anyhow, as we were celebrating our last runner coming in (and celebrating the realization that we would soon be saved from our peanut clusters), in comes Man Beef. Ohhhh snap!! Man Beef just got schooled by the National Children's Study!

I must say that our team did well, regardless of the place we got. We averaged under an 11-minute mile over the entire course, with almost each leg of the course containing climbs of 300-800 feet. For myself, I ran the 4th leg and tracked my run on my GPS device that also auto-tweets my pace and time every mile. I felt fortunate to run a leg where I recognized many of the sites. My girlfriend's aunt/uncle used to own a cabin in this area. So it was a run down memory lane. I passed the yogurt shop, the hidden entrance to the beach, an awesome restaurant called Garwoods where I spent my first $50+ dinner with my girlfriend (soon after college), and finally past the street that takes you to the cabin. Here are my mile splits:
  • Mile 1 - 7:02
  • Mile 2 - 7:23
  • Mile 3 - 7:14
  • Mile 4 - 7:14
  • Mile 5 - 8:39
  • Mile 6 - 7:22
  • Mile 7 - 7:13
  • Mile 8 - 7:54
  • Mile 9 - 7:42
  • Mile 10 - 8:07
  • Mile 11 - 8:17
  • Mile 12 - 7:54
For those that followed my run on twitter, you may notice that these times may be +/- a few seconds off the posted tweets. This is because the tweets showed my current pace (averaged over the previous 400 yards) at the time the tweet was sent, while the posted times here are my pace as averaged over the previous mile. Each would show the same result of an average pace of 7:40 over the course of the run.

Ok, now for the fun stuff.

Our friend Renee had one of the two toughest legs. She had a continuous 800 foot climb for the last 3 miles of her run. As she was ascending, some guy pulled up next to her, started chatting with her about how he recently had surgery on a collapsed lung, and then proceeded to pull up his shirt and show her a scar going from his abdomen to his back. Right after explaining this to her, he put it into high gear and ditched her up the hill. She pretty much wanted to wring his neck. "Yeah, I'm dying up this hill and some guy with a collapsed lung passes me at like 50 miles per hour," she would later explain. I'm just many people did this guy show his scar to?

I think next year I'm going to put on some of those plastic chicken feet that you can buy for Halloween. And when I pass people I'll say, "Damn, I just had my feet removed to get these new chicken feet." And then I'll ditch their ass. Weird? Yes. As weird as the collapsed lung guy? Hell yeah.

Other highlights...well, Amy got passed by a 70-year old, who I must say was on a team with a bunch of very old, and very awesome runners. But it never feels good to get passed by grandpa. Man Beef, however, got passed by yours truly (that's me). And for the finale, we saw a bear while picking up pizza.

While this bear is half the size of the dumpster, he is only an adolescent. The dumpsters in Tahoe are all bear proof, so the fact that this bear is actually trying to get inside shows that he's a rookie. He was so cute I just wanted to go over and scratch behind his ears. Something tells me he's not as friendly as my old Teddy Ruxpin though.

I'll end with a couple beautiful pictures from our weekend.

View from the back yard of the cabin we rented.

Emerald Bay. View from leg 7.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Death Metal and the Coordinated Head Bang

I first realized that a friend of mine was into death metal when I heard him grumbling what sounded like chants to Satan. In case you're into more wholesome music, I should probably explain that death metal singers grumble and scream. You can't understand a single word that they're saying, which is probably a good thing since they're usually singing about going Freddy Krueger on your ass.

Last week my friend got word that a death metal concert was coming to New York. He invited me and another person, with this poster image displayed in his email invite.

Yes, that is a cloaked figure sacrificing somebody on an alter. And yes, there apparently is a band called "Hate." I hesitatingly accepted the invite, and the other person declined. The other guy is a christian and I think was concerned with his salvation. He asked if he could still go to heaven if he attended. Probably not.

The first band I saw was called Blackguard. Scary as shit. They were all painted up like demons and the two guitarists on each side of the stage had long hair that they would eerily sway around in unison as they head banged. They seriously practice their head bangs. They would do some circular head banging for awhile and then both change to a vertical head bang at the exact same moment. Impressive.

The next two bands were a good time, and appeared to be well known to the crowed. So everyone was really into it. When death metal-ers get "into it" they do a couple things. Let's make a list.
  1. Head Bang: people actually exhibit unique styles when head banging. I could write an entire blog entry about head banging styles. Let's just say it's really annoying when the dude's hair in front of you keeps hitting your face. It's especially annoying when you aren't sure if he'll try to kill you for complaining about it.
  2. Mosh-pit: when death metal-ers get pumped up they like to run around pushing each other really hard. This ends up forming into a congested mass of pushy people. Sometimes the pits can get overly aggressive, but mostly people are just trying to experience what looked like "happy aggression."
  3. Crowd Surf: this became the ultra-cool thing to do about halfway through the concert. It seems like somebody was crowd surfing at almost every moment. Get a couple big dudes to pick you up and the crowd takes care of the rest. They might take care of your wallet and phone too if you're not careful.
  4. Put up devil horns: this is that hand gesture where you extend your pinkey and forefinger so they look like horns. People throw these up instead of clapping their hands. I don't know if this is supposed to be the devil salute or what. But all the cool kids were doing it.
I'm proud to say that I engaged in all four forms of death metal-ness. With a little encouragement from my friend, I broke into the mosh-pit and started pushing people around while trying not to get injured. And then I did it about six more times throughout the evening. What I learned about the pit is that death metal-ers aren't trying to hurt each other. People are pretty physical, but if somebody fell down, they wouldn't start stomping on you with their goth military boots. They would make sure you got up. I know because I tried to stomp on someone after I pushed them over, and people gave me funny looks. Ok, maybe not.

Crowd surfing. Oh yes I did. I had some big dudes pick me up. And next thing I knew I was being carried over the death metal-er's heads toward the stage. Some security guy grabbed me and helped me down near the front of the stage. Then I ran back and tore up the pit again. This is getting fun.

A note about head banging. It's the cool thing to do. Apparently it's also cool to get in a row, put your arms around each other's waists like a bunch of can-can girls, and head bang in unison. I saw this a couple times...head bang bonding.

I'll finish with a photo of me and my friend with his newly purchased poster. See that hand sign that we're doing? Those are the devil horns. Guess that makes me a cool kid.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Native American Healing Clay

My friend from work recently called in sick for three days. The reason...he was ill from eating a teaspoon of dirt. Yeah, that's right, he purposely ate dirt! Well, clay to be exact. You know, the kind of clay that you find in some regions when you are digging a hole in the…uhhhh…dirt. After becoming ill, he called the woman that sold the clay and explained the reaction his body had to the substance. After explaining that he had a high fever and diarrhea, the woman exclaimed, “Isn’t that just wonderful!!”


Don’t worry, he was just as confused. I mean “wonderful” isn’t exactly the word of choice when you are shitting clay every 10 minutes. Apparently the woman believed that the sick feeling was the result of his body emitting toxins. Either that, or this is just what she tells people after they get sick from eating the dirt she sold them.

Now, the whole toxin thing wasn’t exactly a ball way out in left field, since the reason he ate the clay in the first place was to cleanse his body of toxins. What exactly a “toxin” is, and whether the body effectively discharges toxins via the liver and kidney, is another conversation. This conversation is about my experience with eating clay. Yes, I actually ate clay after my friend got sick doing so. No, I’m not too smart.

Photo of the dirt in question

Before eating dirt, the first thing I wanted to know was whether it was safe. My first piece of information was that this clay is called bentonite. This was a good sign, given that many people, including myself, have used bentonite in winemaking. Bentonite attaches to molecules that make a wine undesirably hazy. Once attached, the particles become heavy and sink to the bottom, where they are left behind when siphoning wine to another container.

It turns out that bentonite is believed to work very similarly in your body. The clay expands as it become saturated, and absorbs/attaches to molecules in your intestinal tract. Lastly, your body excretes the bentonite along with the absorbed molecules. But what exactly bentonite absorbs, and whether these materials are toxins that the body is unable to process through the kidney and liver, is something that you won’t find in most of the marketing materials for "healing clay". Why is this?

Unfortunately for alternative medicine, most claims are anecdotal at best and are not based on good scientific principles. Science would describe exactly what was being removed from the body and how. Science would also explain why these removed molecules are bad for your body. And lastly, science would share this research in peer reviewed journals so that others could critique each assumption and conclusion. Alternative medicine takes a different approach. They usually cite ancient cultures that used the substance for hundreds of years, implying that there must be wisdom in the practice. Unfortunately, last time I tried the rain dance it didn’t work…

Jokes aside, there is a bit of science that would suggest health benefits to eating clay. For example, during the early 20th century, soldiers in the German and Austrian armies used a type of clay called kaolin to combat cholera and dysentery1. More recently, Arizona State University professors Shelley Haydel and Lynda Williams have shown that some types of clay are able to kill certain undesirable strains of bacteria that cause skin disease and food poisoning. Their research involves the gathering of clays from around the world, testing each clay’s ability to kill or reduce the growth of harmful bacteria, and determining why some clay is more effective than others2. I’m sure pharmaceutical companies are lying in wait for the day when they isolate the compounds responsible for killing harmful bacteria.

In the meantime, good hygiene would likely be a better solution than eating a dirt sample in a nicely packaged “healing clay” container. Dirt can sometimes contain harmful minerals like arsenic and mercury. That and the fact that alternative medicines are not regulated by the FDA, it’s probably a good idea to go with a bacteria fighting method that requires a little more regulation on the sales and distribution side…like hand soap for example.

Oh, and my experience with eating healing clay every day for two weeks? Tastes like dirt. Gave me an upset stomach. And I used the restroom a few more times than normal. Perhaps I'm now "toxin" free though...

Works Cited
1. Journal of the American Medical Association, Volume64, Issues 18-26, page 1991

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Gay Scoutmasters

Over the last couple weeks I've been trying to pull together a team for what is claimed to be the the toughest one day endurance event on the planet. It's a 7 mile obstacle course where athletes traverse through a number of obstacles meant to test physical strength and mental grit. Obstacles like crawling though underground tunnels, climbing over 12-foot walls, traversing over wires and cargo nets, wading through extremely cold water, crawling through mud and course sand, climbing mud slides while trying to avoid the blast of a water canon, and finally running amongst ignited bales of hay. There is no race clock. You either finish or you don't. It's called Tough Mudder, and I'm excited as hell to give it a try.

My next task is to convince others that it sounds fun. Assuming I can organize a team, I'm now thinking about a team uniform for the event. I'm trying to stick to the theme of Tough Mudder, which is that it is for serious athletes that don't take themselves too seriously. I'd love to hear your ideas as well. Here are a few of mine.
  • The Gay Scoutmasters: this guy pretty much nailed the costume, except we'd switch out those green shorts for some light blue jean cutoff short shorts. I might even mend the shirt to be a crop top. And of course, we'd all get rainbow headbands. Let me be clear here though. This is not to make fun of gay people. It's to make fun of Boy Scouts. We all know they secretly love gays. They'll come around one day. :)

  • Lumber down Under: Lumberjacks are basically bad-asses. Of course, not real lumberjacks. They're fat shapely, drink too much, and smell funny. I'm talking about the fake ones. You know, the ones that are 50 feet tall and have a giant blue ox named Babe. Supposedly it was Mr. Bunyan that chopped off the top of a mountain near my hometown. It's flat and called Table Top Mountain. What a bad-ass!

    The suspenders definitely make the costume here. The second part of this costume would be growing a gnarly beard. I'd probably grow out the beard for a month or so, and then shave it into a completely embarrassing configuration of some sort.

    Oh, and the innuendo in the name definitely refers to our junk. Joking about how big your package is never gets old. Or you can stop joking and just stuff a sock down there. Hence...the next costume.
  • Day at the Country Club: this costume is inspired from one of my friends that dressed up like this for Halloween. The preppy outfit would provide a good contrast with the "tough" event. Take a preppy in white clothes and drag their ass through mud, underground tunnels, and submerge them in dirty water. See how the pretty boy looks when its all over.

    Now, about the sock. My friend tells me that the key to "sock stuffing" is to put just enough sock in there so that it draws attention, but that it's not so big that people will absolutely know that it's fake. So people gawk, their eyes register a surprised reaction, but then they hesitate to say anything because they aren't sure if it's real. Imagine calling someone out for having a fake bulge in their pants, only to find out that the bulge is in fact real. AWWWKWARD!

Let me know if you have any good ideas for the team uniform. At this point, I'll probably discover that convincing people to wear one of these uniforms will be more difficult than getting them to register for the event. More to come...

Monday, April 26, 2010

How to Bridge the Gap

Here's the gap. I ran a 3:39 on my last marathon. And I need to break a 3:10. I've finally realized that I need to scratch my entire workout plan and create a new one, which is good because I never had a workout plan.

Up until a few weeks ago, I was just running twice a week up the trail at a comfortable pace for 10 or 15 miles. Problem is that I wasn't getting any faster. After making some changes over the last few weeks, here is what my schedule is evolving toward:
  1. Not Running Slow: Yep, simple as that. How do you expect to run a 7:15 pace for 26.2 miles if all your 10-15 mile runs are at an 8-minute pace? My goal is to get my distance runs at a 7-minute pace. This means that a 7-minute pace should feel comfortable, not like I'm about to keel over. My last 10-miler was at a 7:35, so I'm on my way.
  2. Intervals: Once per week. I only do these if I can round up a couple friends for 40-minutes of pain. Because intervals suck! We do this workout on a high school track, and start with a mile warm-up. During the warmup, we jog the turns and sprint the straightaways. Then we get into the sprints: two 800s, two 400s, and two 200s. We have a two-minute break in between each interval. I've done this workout four times now.
  3. Hills: Once per week. These are like speed work in disguise. I run 3.5 miles to a hill I discovered, run up it, walk down it, repeat a number of times, then run home. I've done this workout three times now. Next weekend I'll be bamboozling a friend into doing this workout with me.
  4. Tempo Runs: I just read about these in Runner's World, and haven't done one yet. They say this run should be a 15-minute warmup, followed by 20-minutes at the "tempo pace", then finished with a 15-minute cooldown. To figure out my goal for a tempo pace, I checked with the McMillan running calculator. It says that for a 3:10 marathon I should shoot for a tempo pace between 6:36 and 6:53. Holy smokes!! Well, that ain't gonna happen for now, but I'll report back on my progress.
I've also been getting in an extra workout or two throughout the week. So now I'm running 3 or 4 times per week. Hopefully this will slowly bridge the gap for me so I can accomplish my goals.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Work Hard, Be a Slob, Eat Lasagna

Last week was pretty much all about gorging myself with food, not working out, and gorging myself with food. I went to New York last week to attend a series of all-day (and almost all night) workshops which were intended to develop a solution for some work problem thingies. Yes. Thingies. I could say "To obtain sign-off on a solution for ticket management and best available volumes," but that just doesn't sound as interesting.

I was set up in a large meeting room, which twice a day received catered food. I wish I would have taken a picture some of this stuff. Cookie platters sprinkled with rock candy and chocolates. Huge containers of the main course. And enough soda that everybody in the room could drink a 2-liter. Free food in nearly unlimited amounts is never a good thing for someone with a bottomless stomach. When the next bite tastes good I usually take it. I'm pretty sure that my girlfriend's family thinks I double as a some kind of trash receptacle, which actually ends up being mutually beneficial. They don't like to waste, so they pass it over to the human consumption machine for peace of mind.

I've realized that paying for food actually keeps me healthy. If I'm going to buy something, I'll usually make a healthy choice and keep the portions reasonable. But when it's free, it apparently is no holds barred.

On Tuesday the catering organizer came into our meeting room to ask if we had any preferences for the rest of the week. It quickly became one of those weird situations where nobody wants to suggest a food because they don't know if everyone else in the room will like it. So "Mr. I Don't Give a Sh$t" came to the rescue. "Lasagna!!", I impulsively blurted out during the silence. People just started cracking up. Random...I guess. Timely...yes. Because guess what I did. I successfully avoided people being like, "Uhhh, does anybody like sandwiches or pizza or Chinese food or anything like that?" And then people would feel each other out with their suggestions until the group landed on the lowest common denominator...a freakin' veggie platter.

Oh HELL no, it's time for lasagna, bitches!! And guess what, everyone loved it. Who doesn't like lasagna??

Reality check: This weekend it's ass kickin' time. My ass. On the trails. Burning off some 'sagna. Peace out.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

User Guide: How to Party Like a Grown-up

I work in the energy industry and regularly travel to Houston for a project that I'm working on. It is a BIG project, with hundreds of people working on it. As a result, I have a lot of friends in Texas. A lot of them aren't even from Texas though. Like me, they travel in from different cities, even different countries. So we're always looking for a party. And I provide.

It started as dinner parties where I would play chef. I just cooked during the first few parties, but soon introduced other activities like beer making and wine tasting, all the while listening to my eclectic party playlist of old school rap, 80's music, and blues rock. Unfortunately my place in Houston is only big enough to accommodate an invite list of about 15 people. So once I realized that I wanted to party with more people than could fit in my apartment, I decided that we needed to hit the streets. Here's a breakdown of how to party like a grown-up:
  • The Standard Dinner Party: invite over 10-15 friends. Serve two appetizers and a main course. The main course should have a side or two, like salad or veggies. Bump some fresh beats, and have some interactive games out in case people are interested. Or you can introduce other themes, like beer making or wine tasting.
  • The Beer Making Party: find a homebrew store in your area. I forked out a one-time fee of about $120 for the equipment, and then spend about $50-70 per batch of 50 beers. I get money from people that are interested in getting some of the finished product. I try to get $100 per batch from people. So if ten people want in, each pays $10 and gets 5 homemade beers.

Sometimes grown-ups like to pretend they are still in college.
Photo on left shows part of my kitchen after the last beer making party.
Photo on right is the result of bustin' out a roundhouse kick to a bag
of malted grains that we used for making the beer.
  • The Wine Tasting Party: I'm secretly compiling a database of wine ratings done by real people. So far I have been able to statistically illustrate that there is no correlation between price and taste. Some people have asked me, "But how do you know these people know anything about wine?" Well, maybe they don't. But that's exactly the point. I want to know what the average person thinks, not a group solely of pretentious wine snobs like myself! Have everyone bring a bottle of a similar type of wine. You can't expect a fair experiment if somebody is finishing each sample before moving on to the next (...because they are getting more and more drunk with each sample). So you need to pour them ALL at the same time and present them to the tasters. Yes, you'll need a ton of cups, so just go with cheap plastic ones. People love this event! Especially when you start giving people a hard time because they LOVED the $2 bottle. :)
  • The Wine Crawl: Choose four wine bars. Spend 45-60 minutes at each. I plan them out so the least amount of transportation is required. Oh, and grown-ups take taxis when they're drunk. Also, I've learned that having the last wine bar next to a bar with a dance floor is always a hit. I don't know a single person that isn't ready to tear up the dance floor after visiting four wine bars.

Tips on throwing a House Party like a Grown-up:
  • Try to ensure that everybody on your invite list has at least one friend there besides yourself. For those that don't, tell them they can bring a friend to the party.
  • Immediately get people a drink upon their arrival. Offer a drink with hard liquor, like a margarita or mojito. The sooner people get a little sloshed the better.
  • Have music playing. Ensure you have some old school beats on your playlist. Every time I play Rumpshaker by Wreckx-N-Effect it creates a buzz of conversation. People go nuts when they hear a song that they used to love but have forgotten about.
  • Kill your TV (Unless, of course, the theme of your party is to watch a game or some specific TV show).
  • Prep the food so that you spend the least amount of time possible in the kitchen during the party.
  • Have interactive games out in case people want to play them. I don't normally try to gather people for playing them. I leave that for the guests to initiate.
  • If you regularly throw parties, don't be afraid to let people know that they can bring drinks or just contribute to the cooking fund. I always have an inconspicuous "cooking fund" box, and find that many people will throw in some money. I never ask for money, but definitely accept donations.
So there you have it. Now get out there and party like a Grown-up!
Do you have any grown-up tips you'd like to share?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Personal Worst (yay me)!

I knew it was coming. My running buddies and I have been talking about going for our fastest times on this 3-mile loop that we regularly run. I haven't gone all out on a 3-mile run since high school. So I was interested to see how my time would stack up.

Well... it didn't quite stack, unless "stacking" means to nicely place the worst time ever on top of the better times. Yeah, I didn't think so.

I ran the 2.96 miles in 19 minutes, 51 seconds. This represents a 6:42 average mile. I'm not extremely unsatisfied with the time. It just kind of sucks realizing that your 17-year old self could have seriously kicked your ass. After making myself a warm bottle of milk and crying myself to sleep, my next steps are to hit the track for some interval training. I've said it before and I'll say it again... "No punk 17-year old high school version of myself is going to kick MY ass!!"

See below for the run where I achieved "Personal Worst".

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Friday, March 12, 2010

Journey to the Blue Hole

Belize may just be the easiest vacation spot in Central America. It's a relatively short flight from the US, English is the official language, and there are plenty of restaurants and accommodations that can make you feel like you're staying in a well developed country. Or there are the more local spots that can provide you with that sense of adventure.

So now for the blue hole. This is some kind of diver's mecca, and it definitely amounts to the "Best Dive Ever" in my book.

The blue hole is actually a cave that developed during the last ice age. It's a pretty cool looking cave too, with stalactites and stalagmites (don't even ask me which is which). Back in the last ice age the ocean levels were low enough that this cave wasn't even covered in water. But once the earth starting warming, ocean levels rose from melting glaciers, and this cave collapsed under the weight of the water. The collapsed section is in the form of a hole, and now has a beautiful corral reef surrounding it. You have to travel down the collapsed hole about 100 feet to reach the cave. We dove down 130 feet. The hole goes 400 feet deep, but humans can't dive that deep without leaving their bones on the bottom. For this reason, it's important that a diver has control of their buoyancy.

While the entire dive lasted 25 minutes, you can only remain in the depth of the cave for about 10 minutes before developing nitrogen narcosis. While in the cave I saw a few sharks. And sharks are scary! Especially these ones. They are called Caribbean Reef Sharks, and pretty much look like Great Whites, except they are only about the size of a person. Once out of the cave and back to depths of about 20 feet, I saw about 50 reef sharks. I made sure I was surrounded with other people. Kind of like schools of fish that don't want to get stuck on the outside, I feel my chances of being eaten are slim when there are other meals around me. This was also my thought when I swam from Alcatraz last year. Realistically though, sharks don't eat humans. And there is pretty much no chance that these reef sharks will attack you if unprovoked. Sharks are still scary though!

Caribbean Reef Sharks

Running in Belize was also an adventure. I went on three runs. Two on the beach with my girlfriend. And one down a dirt road by myself, through a fence that I opened so I could run with the horses in there, and then holy crap, there's a guard dog coming toward me, reverse, back out the fence, close the fence quickly, and back down the dirt road to home. I think the horses were sad...

The dirt road and sad horses. It took me forever to open the fence. Not so long to re-open it.

I have always wanted to run up to the top of a Mayan or Incan ruin. Something about those long staircases just seem like a challenge. So that's what I did. Xunantunich is the tallest building in all of Belize. That might sound really tall, but there are no skyscrapers in Belize. So at 130 feet tall, Xunantunich is the equivalent of a 12-story building. I sprinted up multiple staircases to reach the top. Some had really big steps and others small. My girlfriend heard two older woman that were watching me exclaim, "Just watching that makes me feel like I'm going to have a heart attack!" Dang, I don't want to get old. I used to think 30 was old though, and here I am thinking I'm young.

After spending a few days on the mainland, we took a ferry to the popular vacation island called Ambergris Caye. There we relaxed on the beach and hit up several restaurants and bars in town, including a place where people place bets on where a chicken is going to take a dump. They take a chicken, make somebody blow on its ass (I guess that makes it want to poop?), and throw it into a roped-off area where it walks on what looks like a checker board with numbers in each square. It soon unloads on some number, and the winner gets $100. I didn't win any money, but did get to see some drunk person brown-nose the chicken as she pulled it too close to her face while trying to blow on its butt. So that was probably worth $100 or so. Good times.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Conoco Phillips Rodeo Run 2010

All I can say is, I've never seen so many 6:30 mile pace runners in my life that ran a 9-minute mile pace. Let me explain...

This race had 13,000 participants, and the crowd at the starting line stretched back as far as I could see, which was several blocks. To organize the crowd, they put up large signs to represent expected mile pace, with the expectation that everyone would organize themselves by speed. They had signs for 5:00, 5:30, 6:00, etc. I lined up in front of the 6:30 sign, which was my pacing goal for this run.

Gun goes off, people start shuffling toward the starting line, then the shuffle becomes a jog as we pass through the starting line. A 6:30 pace jog? Nope. 7:30 pace? Nope. Try 9:00 pace. And I got the feeling that they weren't getting any faster. So I did what any impatient Garmin-watch running fool would do. I literally clawed my way through a wall of about 500 people to reach the runners that were actually running a 6:30 mile pace (yeah...they lined up at the 5:00 sign).

Guess who else I passed? At mile 3 I passed a child!? What the...? How was a child ahead of me for 3 miles? Yay for me...I'm faster than a 10-year old. Then as I was feeling very manly after having asserted my dominance by passing that kid, I saw another kid ahead of me at mile 4. He coughed as I was approaching, and in the high-pitched tone of his cough I could hear that he hadn't even gone through puberty yet. Holy crap! How is some prepubescent kid running a 6:50 mile pace? Total stud.

I finished with a time of 42:45, or a 6:52 mile pace. That's probably like thousandth place or something. Yay for me again. I got thousandth place. I also got the same time as the 10K that I ran last year. This race time shows me that I have some major conditioning required if I want to qualify for Boston. Well that's good, because I'm not letting up anytime soon. So take THAT rodeo run!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Hitting the Trails

I've known for some time now that I live only a couple miles from a number of dirt trails that loop around all the hills here. It's taken an injured knee though to get myself to stray from my routine of hitting up the paved trails that are accessible from just behind my apartment.

I looked at Google maps to understand all my options for accessing the dirt trails, and finally settled on a route 2.7 miles from my apartment. I hopped on my bike, put on my Five Fingered Toes, and took off for the trail head. When I arrived I couldn't believe my eyes. Wide dirt trails, tall green grass, and hills as far as the eye could see. And practically right in my back yard! I parked my bike against a cattle fence and started running.

At the first fork in the trail I turned right, which quickly narrowed into what was merely an indention in the grass. And the grass was two feet tall and soaking wet. After continuing for a quarter mile and seeing the trail slowly disappear from under me, I decided to cut my losses and head back to the fork. So I turned around and chose the other path. Here is what the grass-indented trail looked like where I turned around. Can you see the trail?

Another fork had me choose between two trails, and I soon found myself running through what I'll call "Ankle Twist Alley." The trail was covered with deep rivets everywhere caused by horse hooves. And it ain't easy running through hardened horse hoof indentions. There was really no way around it. And while it didn't feel too good in my shoes that simulate barefoot running, the view was phenomenal (see below).

In all, I ran six miles through the trails before I got back on my bike and headed home. And guess what? My knees didn't hurt a bit. I'm looking forward to getting back out there and becoming one of those weird trail runner dudes.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Please Don't Grow Hooves!

On the day of my first barefoot run, my girlfriend went out to lunch with a friend of hers and mentioned that I went running barefoot that morning. Her friend replied that there were tribes in various places of the world that develop "hooves" as a result of living barefoot. Not actual hooves of course, but just that their feet become so calloused that they resemble hooves.

My girlfriend quickly connected the dots... (1) I can be become obsessive about things, (2) running barefoot might become one of my obsessions, (3) if I start to regularly run barefoot I will grow hooves, (4) there's a good chance I'll grow hooves.

Result: She came home and begged me not to grow hooves.

Confused, I tried to imagine how a foot might be slowly morphed by many barefoot runs to resemble a hoof. Below is my best guess.

On the left is an image of my foot, with a cut on my big toe from accidentally scraping it on the ground during my barefoot run. I'm sure that as the cut heals, the skin that replaces it will grow back tougher and more calloused. After even more abuse from the trails, it will eventually resemble the foot in the middle, and finally make its way to full "hoof-dom" as you see on the right. For all we know, the image on the right could be an actual human foot. And for all we know, that could be my foot in two years.

Out of curiosity I went online and searched for images of the feet of barefoot tribes. I tried all kinds of phrases: "hoof feet", "barefoot tribe", "goblin foot", "calloused feet", and more. In conclusion, I saw that a healthy foot, no matter how calloused, looks just like a normal foot. Except that the dude with the calloused feet is more of a badass.

Seriously though, imagine two guys walking on gravel. One guy is looking like he's walking on hot coals saying "ouch, ouch ouch," and the other guy is standing tall, looking like he's walking on soft grass. We all know who the badass is. The guy with the hooves.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Intervals Suck

Ever since running intervals in high school cross country practice I have never forgotten how much they suck. So much so that I have spent the last two years unsuccessfully trying to will myself onto a track for an interval workout. The solution? Enlisting a few friends for motivation. I wrote down the workout on a piece of paper and handed it to them in the car during our ride over to the track. There were no complaints, so we busted it out and went home feeling fantastic! They joked that they hated me for making them do intervals. But they stanked up my car on the way home. So we're even. Bunch of stank hater lovers.

Here's the workout:
  • 1 mile: sprinting the straightaways, jogging the turns
  • Two 800-meter sprints
  • Two 400-meter sprints
  • Two 200-meter sprints
  • 10 pushups or 20 situps between each sprint
  • 2-minutes rest between each sprint (we may have cheated a little)
I made up this workout with three things in mind. First, make it challenging but not grueling. Second, have lots of variety to keep it interesting, Third, put the most difficult segments at the beginning, so as people finish those difficult segments they are motivated by the idea that everything will be "easier" going forward.

I'm convinced that peer pressure is the only way to run intervals. And what a great workout! Intervals are how you get FASTER, in the same way that heavy weights and few reps gets you buffed in the gym. You can run 10-milers all day long, and while these runs will help you run far, they aren't the most efficient use of your time if you're trying to cut down your average mile pace.

High intensity + shorter duration = huge increases in performance. Try it. There's a reason it hurts so good.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

My Mortal Eccentricity

Running barefoot down a heavily populated bike trail isn't for the faint of heart. Of course, first is the discomfort experienced by the foot after years of being pampered in comfortable shoes. But second, and perhaps the more difficult challenge, is being aware of the fact that you are that freak on the trail that everyone is puzzled by.

An unlikely character made this second challenge a piece of cake.

I've been reading The Dharma Bums. The book is about the Beat generation, and follows the journeys of a man as he seeks nirvana. At one point the protagonist is living with his mother, jobless, his hair long and shaggy, hanging out in the woods meditating every day, and frequently spouting off Buddhist philosophy like "Everything is empty but awake. Things are empty in time and space and mind." Obviously many people in town thought he was a nut job. I kind of think he's a nut job.

Personally though, I have been very impressed with how comfortable he is with being different. And something he said about this really impressed me. He says, "So what did I care what the old tobacco-chewing stickwhittlers at the crossroads store had to say about my mortal eccentricity, we all get to be gum in the graves anyway." Well put.

My experience consisted of a 1.5 mile run to a public pool where I swam a mile, and then a 1.5 mile run back home. It was exhilarating. The ground was cold and slightly wet from yesterday's rain. I filled up a small backpack with a towel, a bottle of water, and my swim card. And then I took off. There is a lot of required concentration on the present moment when you are running barefoot. Foot placement is a big deal since a wrong move can mean that a sharp rock gets jammed up your foot. So I was continually focused on the task of foot placement, and making sure to keep my knees slightly bent so that they could catch my fall if I made a wrong move.

I recently read that one of the tenets of zen running is to spend time concentrating on the moment, not the past or the future. This run really helped me accomplish that, as I was literally forced to focus on the way my feet struck the ground. Looks like I may be on my way to nirvana as well...

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Official High School Version of Myself Ass Kicking Season

Somebody must have convinced me to run a half marathon during my last year of high school, because I did it. And I have no idea why. I never trained for the half marathon, since my runs were always focused on the 5k. You see, my hometown had a single 5-mile stretch of bike trail which at any given time probably had about fifteen people on it. A few runners, a few walkers, but mostly a few high school kids smoking blunts in the bushes. For the more adventurous runner there were always the roads that few cars ventured on. Like the one that went down into the canyon. I ran down the canyon road once and was greeted by a couple passerbys with a smile... and a couple middle fingers. Something about beat up truck driving rednecks and skinny runners didn't mix in that town. With little motivation to run outside of cross country practice, I kept additional running to a minimum. And by minimum I mean pretty much just running like hell from the house I just covered in toilet paper to the getaway car.

I've always wondered what my time was on the half marathon, mostly because I want to beat it. I recently wrote the race organizers (Chico Running Club) to find out and this was their reply:

"Unfortunately when they handed the web site and timing equipment over to me, the earliest results on file were for 2002. Sort of frustrating I know, but with the slowly revolving door of volunteer board members, I think things disappear with each personnel change."

So it looks like I'll never know for sure. A hazy memory of mine remembers that I ran a 6:30 pace (did I mention haaazy). Anyway, multiply 6.5 minutes by 13.1 miles and you get 1 hour 25 minutes. So there you go...that's the time I have to beat. No punk 17-year old high school version of myself is going to kick MY ass!!

So I hereby declare it the "Official High School Version of Myself Ass Kicking Season".

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Shoe Experiments

I have been suspecting for over a month now that my running shoes may be the reason why I have knee pain. Consider this...
  • A week before I ran the Death Valley Borax Marathon on December 5th, I could barely run ten miles in my Saucony's because of knee pain. I wore different shoes (which I call "Old Faithful") during the marathon a week later and had NO knee pain. I suspected I would be walking off the course injured halfway through, but ended up feeling great the whole 26 miles.
  • I bought a pair of New Balance 859's two weeks ago. During my first two runs in these shoes I experienced severe knee pain. A couple days after each of these two runs I wore Old Faithful and experienced NO knee pain.
My hypothesis here is that my Old Faithful shoes are better for my knees, while my other two pairs are hurting me. To test this, I will be doing a few experiments. Below details my first, which I conducted this weekend:

Experiment #1: Run Saturday in Old Faithful and Sunday in my NB 859's. If I only experience knee pain on Sunday, then I will settle on two theories:
  1. My NB 859's are the cause of knee pain. -OR-
  2. My run on Saturday fatigued my legs enough that my Sunday run would have caused knee pain if wearing either shoe.
Unfortunately, wearing Old Faithful on Saturday gave me a case of sore knees, so I couldn't land on either of these theories. The soreness didn't occur so much during my run, but later in the day as my legs cooled down. After this, I felt that Sunday was bound to spell disaster, which it did. At this point it may be impossible to deduce exactly what started this injury about a month ago. The point is that I'm injured and I need to get better. I have noticed that all my recent runs without knee pain have been low mileage and on dirt, so I'm going to immediately implement this training regime until I'm better. This may also mean a switch to swimming on the weekend, when I normally go on long runs. Ah, there's nothing like outdoor swimming in the dead of winter...

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Dangerous Double-Sniff

It's pretty easy to remember the details of a traumatic event. It happened while driving to the supermarket to buy groceries for a party I was hosting. I turned right, switched over a lane, sniffed (I had a runny nose from a cold), and then decided that my lungs would allow a second sniff in the same breath. So I sniffed in a good one. Yeah, I thought, we're gonna put those sniffles to rest for a good 45 seconds with this one! And then upon that second sniff I felt a sharp pain in my left shoulder while my muscles twisted into a giant knot. Let me be clear, it hurt like hell. I couldn't turn my neck.

My first thought was "Are you freakin' serious?!?" I've messed up my neck from sleeping on it funny. But from double-sniffing? You've got to be kidding. Nobody, and let me repeat NOBODY, should mess up their back from double-sniffing. That just ain't cool.

It has to get better from here. Messing up my knee, getting a mild flu, and injuring my shoulder via double-sniff is quite the week. I actually went on two short, slow runs this week and didn't have knee pain. So I'm really hoping I can get in a long one tomorrow....wait for it...that's what she said.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Minor Setback

Kind of sucks starting a blog on Saturday about qualifying for the Boston Marathon, and then the next day hurting your knee so badly that you have to call your girlfriend to pick you up midway through your run, right?

No joke, I am sitting on my couch right now with ice around my right knee, letting the ibuprofen sink in. I had to crawl up two flights of stairs to reach my apartment. I sat down on a stair, pushed my butt up to the next stair with my left foot, then repeated about 20 times. I couldn't even stand on my right leg. Meanwhile my girlfriend is looking at me in worry as I tell her how hilarious the whole situation is and that I am OK.

About two miles into my 10-mile run today I started feeling knee pain in both knees. There isn't anything new about this. I frequently feel minor aches and pains, but none of them have proven to last more than a few weeks. My right knee proved to be the weaker one, and was starting to involuntary buckle after about five miles. At this point I directed a few profanities at my knee, and convinced myself that no stupid knees were going to cut my run short. Besides, I thought, if I can't run ten miles then I might as well give it all up anyway.

At mile 8.5 I had to stop at a major intersection and wait about a minute for the green light. I suppose my body cooled down enough in that minute to bring the pain back. As a runner I've learned that injuries don't feel so bad when you're warmed up. But, ohhh, you'll be paying for it later. When the light turned green I could not only NOT run, but I was limping across the intersection. I stopped at the other side and stretched out, tried to walk it out, and then realized there was no way I could physically walk 1.5 miles home. Defeated, I called my girlfriend to pick me up.

I'm determined to fix this injury and ensure it doesn't happen again. I suspect doing lunges with poor form last week weakened my knees and quadriceps. My knees hurt a little on yesterday's run, but today really brought the pain out. I'm angry about this whole thing. But looking forward to healing and continuing my running.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Declaring my Goals

I decided to kick off my blog today with a 10-mile run. Yesterday I purchased a GPS-enabled running log which I was super-excited to try out. Unfortunately, I messed up by accidentally turning off the GPS signal during the first two miles. And then I got crapped on by a bird. Yes...a bird actually dumped green and white poop on my head.

As gross is poop on your head is, I actually enjoy these kinds of experiences. A few months ago I got attacked by a colony of fire ants in Texas and came away from the experience with a leg that developed a rash looking like acne. My entire leg from below the knee looked like a 13-year old's face. Awesome!

How we retrospectively view our experiences is often determined by our attitude. I could be grumpy and tell people how horrible it was to be attacked by fire ants (it hurt, it was shocking, I got a nasty rash...). And they would say, "Oh that sucks" and feel sorry for me. Or I could smile and talk about how ridiculously funny it was that I got attacked by fire ants, and in return people would laugh and enjoy the experience of me telling them the story.

Ok, so back to the kick off of this blog...

I was recently inspired to finally set a few goals that I've never dared before. They have always been in the back of mind, but for some reason I'd either pushed them to a later date or tried to write them off as too ambitious. Failure is a scary thing, and probably the main culprit in why people set goals too low for themselves. I've fallen prey to this a few times myself. Once I recognized low goal setting with my fitness goals, I said "screw it", and so I hereby declare the following goals for myself:

1. Qualify for the Boston Marathon during this upcoming race season
2. Complete a 50-mile ultramarathon
3. Learn to enjoy running (i.e. make it a Zen experience)

To qualify for Boston I need to run a marathon at a 7:15 mile pace. I'd like to think that the only thing that can come in the way of my goals is to get injured. Nothing else should be acceptable. I guess we'll see what happens...