Sunday, December 16, 2012

It never ends.

If I'm going to keep blogging at this pace I am going to have to expand my subject range from endurance sports and into other interests of mine (of which there actually are some).

As may be obvious I do a lot of reading and honestly I'm not very discriminating about what I read. I read everything that comes to hand and sometimes that's not very literary. But I am always reading. I really don't know what I would do without being in the middle of a book. When one ends I start another. Chain reading I guess.

Lately though it has come to my attention that other folks have different attitudes and habits about reading. A few of these strike me as particularly odd.

One friend of mine is saving some of one particular author “for later” because he doesn't want to run out. It is true that this particular author is unlikely to write any more (he's dead) and has been an inspiration to many, but the behavior still seems bizarre. The way I see it there are new books coming out every day. Some of those are going to be of interest to you. Some of those are going to be good. And some will even be great. I understand that there will never be another author X, but that doesn't prevent someone from being just as good in a different sort of way. I know I will never again read Tolkien's The Silmarillion for the first time. That's okay I have found a lot of other books and authors that are just as good in their own way. Nor am I particularly off put by having the ending “spoiled”. The journey is just as important as the destination (this of coming from someone who saw the ending of The Usual Suspects before seeing the rest.)

Another person I know only reads two authors. He reads them over and over, but only those two. He has found what he likes I guess. This is equally, no, even more bizarre. Granted the two authors he reads are pretty darn good, but it seems so limiting. I wonder how many other authors he read before he came to the conclusion that those were the authors for him. Again I'll use the example of Tolkien. I read The Silmarillion perhaps 12 times in one year. I was a little obsessed back then (I still am just about different things), but I read other things. I read essays about Tolkien, his writing, published notes, and even studied his created languages (no, I can't really speak elvish, just a few phrases). But I got over it, within a year or so I was reading Dostoevsky, then Pirsig, and so on. I did re-read The Silmarillion and The Hobbit a few months ago and quite enjoyed it.

Now comes the most surprising and probably most common weirdness of all. Apparently some people, when they come close to the end of a book actually slow down and read it slower. Only reading a few lines at a time. Spreading it out and savoring it. Not wanting the book to end. This is completely unfathomable to me. If anything when I come to the end of a book I forget everything else and dive in completely. I read to all hours of the night throwing caution, meals, and sleep to the wind. It's not so much that I want the book to end, but I am so eager to see what comes next, how it plays out. Besides, I know that as soon as I am finished there will be another book waiting for me.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

It's not a principle thing.

I've lived a car-free life for a while now. Actually I've never had a car (though at times I have had pretty much free access to them). It's not so bad for the most part. I bike or walk pretty much everywhere which is great in town. Out of town it's not so great. Within about 15 miles it's no big deal, but if I want to go further I pretty much have to plan my day around it.

The past couple of months though it's been a little more inconvenient. In October there was a bike race and a run I had planned on going to but couldn't because of transportation. This weekend I had considered going north to find snow, but didn't in part because no one else seemed to want to play my game (ie. give me a ride).

Granted, here are ways of getting around without owning a car and I've used most of them, but most are beyond inconvenient. Anyone who has tried to use the intercity bus system here in the US knows that. Car rental is okay, but expensive, especially when you don't have auto insurance and have to purchase that as well. Finding someone who is going the same place as you works pretty well, but can be a hassle to arrange and sometimes feels a little cheap or “dirtbag,” plus you're at the mercy of their schedule.

So lately I've been thinking about whether or not it makes sense for me to buy a car. The initial cost doesn't bother me. I can drop the cash on a reliable vehicle. The things that get me are the costs associated with car ownership: insurance, gas, maintenance, parking that quickly add up to more than the cost of the car itself. And then there are the costs that might not be so obvious, but come along (at least for me) with car ownership: race entry fees, fast food, hotel/campground fees.

I worry as well that if I were to get a car it would be too easy for me to drive where I once biked or walked. I don't care to be car dependent (though it might be said that I already am).

Then there's the identity problem. Who am I if I have a car? I already went through that when I got a phone. It gets tiring quickly when everyone seems to comment, “whoa, you got an X.” Yes, I did. Like everyone else.

Right now circumstances are still in favor of no car for me. I just don't have the desire to put that much money towards something I'll use once or twice a month. So I doubt I'll be getting a car any time soon, but the day may (and probably will) come.

Friday, December 14, 2012

A theory of action in endurance sport.

NB: nothing which follows should be construed as metaphysical truth.

Lately I have started working more on technique in my training. It's something that I have been neglecting and gotten away with for a long time. Similarly, I used to ignore training at all! I would just go about my usual day to day activities and gut it out on race days. Surprisingly it worked okay and I got away with it for a long time. I ran my first marathon with zero training. I managed 3rd place in my first 24 hour mountain bike race with only two mountain bike rides under me...ever.

Attempting to ski Arrowhead though taught me that I can only expect to get so far on natural talent. I had to start training on a regular basis. Just putting in the time has gotten me a long way (literally). I managed to ski and walk Arrowhead and run the Superior 100, but I have pretty much reached the limit without changing something in the way I run/bike/ski.

That something I am now changing is technique. I am starting to study more closely, listen to my body, and try new things. It is easy to say “keep your hips forward” and another to find out what that means. To that end I am reading and trying out some methods from books and taking yoga classes. I would like to learn from a teacher, especially when it comes to skiing, but that doesn't seem to be a possibility at present. The one person nearby whose skill I respect is not willing to teach and all classes are prohibitively far away.

As it is I think I have made some minor breakthroughs in running and skiing, mostly involving posture and lean.

It is tough to back off on the physical training though and focus on technique. It is hard not to go all out and believe that soreness is the only indicator of progress, but I know better. The way I see it there are three aspects to endurance sports, and maybe life in general: Body, Mind, and Spirit. (Now don't freak out, spirit isn't something supernatural in this case. It's just a way of talking about something which we all understand.)

  • Body is the physical part. It is muscular strength. It is what is trained by lifting or running (I have no intention of going into the strength vs. conditioning argument here. Suffice to say both are covered by “body”).
  • Mind is technique and planning. It is what we think about. It is consciously paying attention to what we are doing and how we are feeling and making changes to it.
  • Spirit is willpower and determination. It is not stopping when things get tough. It is our attitude.

Now of course we need all three to do anything, but we all have our strengths and weaknesses. And we can compensate for a lack in one by strength in the others. My forte to begin with was spirit (if I do say so myself). I could keep going even with terrible pain, blisters, etc.. By incorporating some training of the body I managed to improve, a lot, but I am not an incredible physical specimen and likely never will be. I continue to improve here, but gains are likely to be gradual. My weakest third is the mind.

I have rarely paid attention to how I am doing what I am doing. Instead of listening to my body when it tells me it isn't working I fall back on spirit and ignore the pain. Nor do I do a good job of planning either in training or in racing. Not a good long term strategy even if it has gotten me a long way. Now, hopefully, with some mindful training I will be able to improve yet again.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Enemy of the good

Snow was forecast for last weekend and while we did get a dusting it didn't last through the day. Not enough for skiing in any case. The upside is that it did finally get cold. Down to 13f (-10C) or so when I rode in to work this morning.

I did manage to drag myself and my roller-skis out to Ada Hayden park last night. I did about 9 miles (15k) in ferocious wind. I was hoping for a technique workout, but it ended up being an adversity workout. I guess I need those too. The wind was blowing my poles out to the side in the crosswinds and I had to do some flying (dying) herringbone into it. Not even on the uphills, just to get along on the flats. I suppose I could have done some V1 but I didn't feel like doing that for ¼ mile straight into the that wind. Good practice in any case.

It always takes a few days to get back into colder weather. Remembering how to dress, dealing with numb fingers, and seeing how far I can push it. For instance riding the bike out to ski was torture and my hands and legs were hurting, but once I started skiing I was fine, maybe even a little warm.

There was some concern that the mornings snow would make for an icy path, but I didn't need to be worried. The path was mostly clear and the ice, where there was any, was visible. I did slip once, but didn't go down. In fact the path improved as I skied. I think the wind and dry conditions helped to clear it.

Sorry, I don't have any pictures to prove that I did it, but it was dark, that's what I get for sitting around all day wasting daylight.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Lessons in applied procrastination

November was a bit of a bust. I tried to take on too much and ended up doing nothing. Well, not nothing but a lot less than I would or could have.  

Thing number one that I did was continue my daily training. After work I go out for a run or roller-ski or bike. I had a pretty good Monday through Friday routine going. Weekends were still a little weak, but weekdays were solid. Weekends are always a bit of a challenge.  I think I've mentioned that it's hard for me to drag myself out of bed. 

Thing number two was start taking a yoga class. The class took/takes the place of one of my weekday runs, but in spite of a slow start is now quite challenging. I was hoping for a little more in terms of balance exercises, but it's good as it is. I think a lot of the other folks in the class are annoyed about it being so challenging. I don't know what they were expecting.

Thing number three was an attempt at NaNoWriMo. NaNo is a challenge to write a novel in one month. Novel here being defined as a work of fiction of at least 50,000 words. I managed about 8,500 words in a few short bursts at the keyboard. To call it a work of fiction is a little strong as it was just a collection of 8,500 more or less random words. I think I could have managed to punch out the quota, had I spent more time in the chair, but it would have gone immediately into the fire. I would have built a fire for the express purpose of doing so. I will likely try again, but I will have an outline to guide me.

Instead of spending my time concentrating on NaNoWriMo and my daily workouts (I have managed to make it to the weekly yoga classes though I'm not spending much time on it outside of class) I spent a lot of time reading. It's an old habit of mine that stretches back at least to high school and probably further. When there is something I should do, but am not doing I read. I got a lot of reading done during college.

I am slowly climbing back on the wagon with respect to my training and signing up for Tuscobia has reignited my desire. Of course as I write I can look outside and see that what I should really be doing is roller-skiing and rather than drinking coffee and browsing the internet. 

 Books read in November