One-Mile Time Trial

When Kris and I were in Venice in late September, I had the best run of my life. On the morning we left, I woke early to run through the dark and empty cobblestone streets, over bridges and through narrow alleys. It was awesome. That run also rekindled my love for the activity.

Running is one of those things that I usually hate. But I only hate running because it’s tough to do when I’m overweight. When I’m heavy, running is difficult — and often leads to injury. I’ve learned that when I’m lighter, running can actually be a lot of fun, and it’s a very efficient way to burn calories.


Since returning from Europe, I’ve been running again, gradually increasing my weekly distance with advice from Pam. Currently:

  • I do hill repeats on Tuesday. These are short, quick runs up steep hills.
  • I do 400 meter intervals on Thursday. These are quick runs on flat ground (or a treadmill at a 1-degree incline).
  • I do a long, slow run on Sunday. This run is at pace between 10 and 12 minutes per mile.

I had a tough time running last week because of the rain and then the cold. I psyched myself out. After doing hill repeats in the rain (with Paul J) on Tuesday, I skipped Thursday’s scheduled interval training completely. So, on Sunday, I decided to mix speedwork with my long, slow run. I ran 2.75 miles to the Rex Putnam High School track, walked a quarter mile, did a one-mile time trial, walked a quarter mile, then ran home.

My total run was 7.00 miles in 1:10:12.96, for an average pace of 10:02 per mile. That’s right at the fast edge of what I’ll allow myself for the Sunday slow run. (My average heart rate for the run was 160bpm, which is lower than my heart rate was for the 12-14 mile runs at 13-minute pace in 2008 and 2009.)

The highlight of the day was my one-mile time trial. This was a chance for me to run all out, to see how fast I can really go — a chance to see if my training over the past two months has paid off.

November Time Trial

This is my second time trial of the year. On 16 November 2010, I ventured up to the track at Duniway Park, where I ran one mile as fast as I could. Six weeks ago, I ran four laps in 6:47.12. My splits were:

  • Lap #1: 1:34.97
  • Lap #2: 1:43.20 (3:18.17)
  • Lap #3: 1:48.13 (5:06.30)
  • Lap #4: 1:40.82 (6:47.12)

My average heart rate for this run was 187bpm and my max was 197bpm.

January Time Trial

I did Sunday’s time trial at the Rex Putnam track, dodging soccer balls (I had to hop over balls three times during the run!) from a practicing group. It was pretty damn cold, and I’d run almost three miles to get to the track, so when it came time to actually run my mile, everything felt off. I felt slow. In fact, the last two laps felt slug-like, as if I were only jogging. But in the end, the stopwatch showed me at 6:24.24.

Note: Normally when I run, I obsess over my GPS watch. I check it constantly to see my pace, my overall distance, and so on. But when I do these time trials, I intentionally ignore both it and my stopwatch. I refuse to look at them. Every time I complete a lap, I press the lap button on the stopwatch, but otherwise I don’t look at my time until I’m finished.

My splits were:

  • Lap #1: 1:30.12
  • Lap #2: 1:35.91 (3:06.03)
  • Lap #3: 1:39.95 (4:45.98)
  • Lap #4: 1:38.26 (6:24.24)

I was shocked to see that I finished nearly 23 seconds faster than in November. My average heart rate at was slightly lower at 185bpm, and my max heart rate was 192bpm.

Though my splits are still uneven (Pam says that I should be striving to get those as close to each other as possible), I’m pleased that my training seems to be paying off. I am getting faster.

I’ll do my next time trial the day before we leave for Africa. And in about two weeks, I’ll do my interval training at a track so that I can time a fast 400 meters.

Ah, J.D. has to love any sport that produces copious stats to track…

Junk Food: A Character Flaw

I have no self-control.

This is the fundamental reason that for so long I was fat, in debt, and unable to do anything productive. Instead of doing what I ought to do, I always chose what I wanted to do. These rarely overlapped.

When I decided it was time for me to get out of debt, I had to find ways to short-circuit my lack of self-control. That meant setting up automatic payments and deposits, whenever possible. That meant finding ways to make frugality fun. That meant removing temptation when I could.

For example, I cut up my personal credit card. Without the ability to spend charge my purchases, I was less inclined to buy on credit. (I still found ways, but they took work.) And one of the best methods I found to stop spending on stupid stuff was to steer clear of the stores where I was most likely to do so. For a long time, I wouldn’t go into a comic shop, for instance, because I knew that doing so was dangerous.

Another example: I have no self-control when it comes to videogames. If they’re installed on my computer, I will play World of Warcraft or Starcraft II to the exclusion of all else. In fact, I wasted much of this past August playing Starcraft II for 6+ hours each day. How do I stop? I have to uninstall the games. Lately, I’ve been playing iPad games 1-2 hours per day. To short-circuit this lack of self control, I’m taking my iPad to the office and leaving it there.

The same problem holds true with food. I have no self-control when it comes to sweets. If there are cookies or candies in the house, I will eat them — sooner rather than later. And I have a tendency to indulge every craving my body has. Hungry for donuts? Boom! Have three! Want some cookies? Bam! Here’s a package of Oreos.

I’ve lost forty pounds this year. That’s great, but the truth is, I could have lost fifty with ease. How? Exercising self-control.

Last week, Kris bought two packages of Oreos to re-purpose for Christmas truffles. (She makes an Oreo truffle that everyone loves.) I found these cookies, and I couldn’t help myself. I had nine Oreos and a glass of milk. Thirty minutes later, I had another nine Oreos and a glass of milk. Before the end of the day, I had another nine Oreos and a glass of milk.

This isn’t healthy, but it’s how I operate. And I know it.

Because I know my self-control is weak, I’ve taken steps to thwart myself. Since I can’t be disciplined on a micro level, I try to be disciplined on a macro level. Translation: Since I know I’ll eat the Oreos if they’re in the house, I try not to have Oreos in the house. Or breakfast cereal. Or ice cream. Since starting my diet in April, I’ve done my best to keep the house junk-food-free.

That doesn’t mean I don’t have junk food. I do. I just don’t have as much.

I often think of the conversation I had with Sally Parrott Ashbrook when she came to town in 2007. (She and her husband were the first GRS readers that Kris and I ever met.) She had recently begun her regimen of “self-care”, and as part of that, she was trying to give up junk food, too.

“I try to tell myself that I don’t need this cookie or ice cream,” she told me. “If I really want ice cream, I remind myself that I can have any ice cream in Atlanta.” What she meant by this was (I think): Instead of keeping store-bought junk food in the house, she gave herself permission to occasionally go out and buy some good junk food. So, instead of having always-on-hand ice cream, once in a while she could go get the best ice cream in town. Or the best cookies. Or the best cake. The key was to ditch the everyday temptation.

That’s what I’ve tried to do this year. For the most part, it’s worked.

Mind Games

Here’s one way I’ve made this work: Whenever I have the urge to eat junk food, I try to tell myself that I can eat anything I want. If I’m driving home from Crossfit and I crave donuts (which happens often), I consciously think to myself, “J.D., you don’t have to eat that shit. You can stop now and buy any food you want, as long as it’s healthy.” So I do.

My definition of “healthy” is broad in this instance, but it rules out breakfast cereal, cookies, cakes, donuts, chips, and soda. It includes fruits, vegetables, cheeses, and meats. As a result, instead of donuts for breakfast, I’ll often eat a $15 filet mignon. No joke. Yes, it’s expensive, but I’m okay with that.

The point is, I’m trying to train myself to forget about the shitty food and eat stuff that’s better for me. When I remember to do this, it works like a charm. (But I’ve been forgetting recently.)

Why this rant about self-control? Because my friends and family have unknowingly sabotaged me this Christmas. They’ve kindly given me Life Savers and jelly beans and candy bars and cookies and, best of all, a giant Godiva brownie containing over 5,000 calories. I’m grateful for these gifts, but I have no defense against them.

I see the jumbo bin of jelly beans, and I grab a handful. I eat them mindlessly. By the end of the day, I’ve had three or four handfuls, for about about 500 calories of pure sugar. And so on.

As I say, I have no self-control.

A part of me wants to keep this food around the house because my family and friends have given it to me. To show my appreciation, I want to eat it. But I can’t. I have to draw a line. I sent some of it to work with Kris on Tuesday. She took the big barrel of jelly beans today. All that’s left in the house is the gigantic brownie — and soon that will be gone, too. (But that’s because it’ll all be in my belly, not because I’ve magically developed self-control.)

Maybe someday I will have enough discipline to not eat the junk food in the house. But that day isn’t today. And it won’t be tomorrow, or anytime soon. It’ll probably take years. I’m okay with that. For now, I’ll continue to exercise self-control on a macro level since I don’t have it on a micro level. We won’t have junk food within easy reach. When I crave junk food, I’ll give myself permission to have anything healthy that I want. And if I absolutely have to have it, I’ll let myself go buy the best ice cream (or candy or cookies) that I can find in Portland.

For now, though, I’m going to go pour myself a glass of milk. There’s one last brownie to be eaten.

Olga Kotelko and Aging Well

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times:

  • Yesterday at the gym, I was able to back squat my body weight, 175 pounds. That’s 40 pounds more than my previous best. Plus, I did 195 sit-ups and 198 box jumps, nearly keeping pace with Dan and Dana. It was a good day.
  • Today at the gym, we spent twenty minutes alternating between: run 400 meters, do as many pull-ups as possible. When we last did this in early September, I managed to do seven rounds with 24 pull-ups. I did seven rounds again today, but I only managed 11 pull-ups. It was a bad day.

Sometimes, days like today can get me down. Two weeks ago, I let a bad day put me in a deep, dark place and had to take a break from the gym. Lately, though, I’ve been trying to remind myself why I’m doing this.

Why am I doing this? Why am I getting fit? Since returning from France, I’ve taken the long-term view. I’m doing this because I want to be healthy for the rest of my life, not because I want to do 25 pull-ups on the 21st of December 2010. I want to be an athlete when I’m eighty. And seventy. And sixty. And fifty.

A few weeks ago, The New York Times magazine (which I still wish I could receive separate from the paper) published a story about Olga Kotelko, “the incredible flying nonagenarian“. Kotelko is a 91-year-old Canadian who is still competing in track-and-field events. Well, “still competes” is misleading. She didn’t start competing until she was 77. Now, “she is considered one of the world’s greatest athletes, holding 23 world records, 17 in her current age category, 90 to 95.”

If that’s not inspiring, I don’t know what is. Reading about her accomplishments, I realized something. Although I was never an athlete when I was in high school, or college, or a young man, or even now — maybe I could become an athlete in middle age, and on into my sixties, seventies, and eighties. I’m not joking. I love physical activity, and I love competition. Where is it written that I can’t say, “To hell with the past, I’m going to live for the future.”?

So, that’s what I aim to do. Sure, I wish I’d done more than eleven pull-ups today, but I’m not going to let that faster. In February or March when we do this workout again, I’m going to do 25 pull-ups. Or more. And when I’m an old man? I hope to be setting — and meeting — similar physical goals.


Before Kris and I left for the jungles of Belize last February, we made a trip to REI to buy travel clothes. This was a big step for me. For the past decade (or two), I’ve purchased most of my clothes from Costco and Goodwill. As you all know well, I’m not one for fashion. I want my clothes cheap.

But something has happened over the past year: I’ve discovered I actually like the clothes from REI — and I like the idea they sell. (Yes, I’m admitting that I’m happily swayed by the image that REI portrays. I want to be the outdoors-y/travel-y type.) So, before we left for Belize, Kris and I bought some new clothes from REI.

I knew I wanted a new pair of zip-off pants, for example. Five or six years ago, I picked up a pair of pants for $6 at an REI “used gear sale”. These light-weight pants had lots of pockets and the legs zipped off so the pants could convert to shorts. I’ve worn those zip-off pants nearly every day for the past five or six summers. But I couldn’t wear them to Belize. Though they were size large, they were too small.

In February, I was near my peak weight. I had topped the scale at 213 pounds on January 1st, and I still weighed nearly 210 when we made our trip to REI. As I tried them on, I was dismayed to find that I didn’t fit in any of the large zip-off pants. And I barely fit in the extra large. I bought a pair anyhow, and I spent a week in the jungle wearing zip-off pants that pinched around the waist.

Six months later
Today, I weight about 180 pounds, and my weight is dropping. My waist has shrunk from 42.5 inches on January 1st to 35 inches on September 1st. The clothes I wore at the start of the year — including my extra-large zip-off pants from REI — no longer fit. This is a Good Thing.

Throughout the summer, I’ve been buying new clothes, but only one piece at a time. I know I’m dropping weight, and I plan to have shed it forever. So, I’m not about to continually replace my wardrobe. Instead, I buy a new shirt or pair of pants now and then, and wear each piece of clothing constantly.

For example, I bought a pair of size 32 jeans at Costco in early August. Yes, I could have kept wearing my size 36 and size 38 jeans, but they looked ridiculous cinched so tight. Plus, my belts are now getting too small, also. So, I bought a pair of size 32 — my first size 32 in about a decade. At first, they fit just right. Today, they’re a little loose.

Note: It cracks me up that sizes for American men’s clothes are no longer accurate — at least not the stuff I buy. A size 32 pair of jeans fits me when I have a 36-inch waist, just as when my waist was 42-1/2 inches, I could wear a size 38 (though it was tight). That’s a full four inches of slop!

Kris and I are now preparing for our upcoming trip to France and Italy. Once again, we made a trip to REI (to take advantage of their Labor Day sale). And once again, I shopped for a pair of zip-off pants. This time, I was surprised to find that the medium pants were loose in the waist. It didn’t make sense to buy them, especially since I plant to keep losing weight. So, I did something I’ve only rarely done in my life: I tried on the small pants.

It turns out that the small zip-off pants are tight. There’s no question. They’re wearable, but tight. But I bought them anyhow. And I bought a pair of size 30 shorts that were also just a bit tight.

Extra small
While shopping for my small pants, I also tried on some shirts and sweaters. “That sweater is way too tight,” Kris said when I showed her a size small that I liked. “You’re not that small.” She was right. (Kris Gates is always right.)

Although my gut is shrinking, my upper body has only shrunk a little because I’ve also been building muscle. I’m no longer a large (or extra large) for shirts and sweaters, but I’m definitely a medium.

It’s edifying and exciting to realize that I can now wear size small for men’s pants and shorts. I can squeeze into size 30, too. Will I ever make it down to size 28? I don’t know. It’s not really a goal, but it may happen. I’m perfectly content with size 30, to be honest (or even size 32), but I also know that I have about 16 or 17 pounds left to drop, and that probably means another three inches off my waist. And using standard sizing, when I have a 32-inch waist, I’ll be able to fit into size 28 pants.

Now, that’s small!

(P.S. If you know somebody who would like a pair of plum-colored extra-large zip-off pants, please let me know. They have a 30″ inseam.)

Jumping Rope: How to Do Double-Unders

This probably of little interest to anyone other than me (and perhaps Paul Jolstead), but I wanted to bookmark this video for future reference:

This video describes how to “double-unders”, which is a jump-roping technique common in Crossfit. Instead of jumping and letting the rope pass under your feet just once, you spin the rope so fast it passes under your feet twice per jump.

I can’t do this.

I’ve been trying for months, and I can’t get the method down. I’ve landed a few double-unders, but can never successfully transition to the next jump. But one of my goals for the next few weeks is to learn how to do this. I’ve already done my first pull-up (and almost strung two together), and have finally learned how to kick up to a handstand (which I can hold for 45 seconds), but I can’t do a double-under, and I want to.

And that concludes today’s edition of J.D.’s Crossfit Journal.

Stuck in a Moment

I’ve been stuck in a strange mental place for the past month, and I can’t seem to get out of it. During the second weekend of July, I traveled to Breckenridge, Colorado to be a speaker at a blogging conference. I had a great time and I learned a lot, but was relieved when the conference was over — it was the last large commitment looming on the horizon.

The following weekend, I met a life-long goal: I biked 100 miles in a day. I was a little short on training before the ride (having logged only 500 miles), but I felt fit. My weight loss was on-track, and I was exercising nearly every day, sometimes for hours at a time.

The first half of the century ride was, theoretically, the most difficult; it had all of the elevation gain. But I loved it. When I stopped for lunch at the 54-mile mark, I felt great. I felt like I could ride forever. Ha!

Unfortunately, the next 46 miles weren’t as easy as I thought they’d be. Sure the terrain was flat-ish, but I hadn’t counted on the wind. (As most bikers will tell you, we’d much rather bike uphill against a visible enemy than to bike into the wind against an invisible enemy.) Plus, the sun came out from behind the clouds and beat down on me with what seemed like searing coals of rage. Plus, whereas there were water stops ever ten miles in the first half of the course, there were only two water stops on the second half, with a gap of 28 miles between lunch and the first stop. Ugh.

I finished my 100-mile ride, but I did so a broken man. I was exhausted. I was sunburned. I was in pain. I was mentally shattered, and to such an extent that I still haven’t really recovered.

I’m not kidding.

In the month since that ride, I’ve biked a total of 73 miles, including a 53-mile ride from home to the box factory and back. (That ride included a nasty hill climb into the back side of Oregon City, which just made me even more resistant to get on a bike.)

Worse, my diet has been terrible since the century ride. Well, that’s not true. Mostly, my diet is fine. I’m eating lean protein and fruit and vegetables about 75% of the time. But it’s the other 25% of the time that’s frustrating me.

Take today, for example. I was exhausted, so I slept late, which meant I missed my Crossfit workout for the second time this week. When I woke, I craved donuts. I mean I craved donuts: It’s almost an ache for an apple fritter. Several days over the past month, I’ve caved; I’ve driven to get donuts. (Come on, at least I could walk or bike!) I’ve also eaten ice cream sundaes and other junk. Again, not a lot of it, but enough.

As a result, my weight has stayed very stead for the past thirty days. I’m not gaining weight because I’m still doing Crossfit four or five times a week. But I’m not losing weight, either, and my body composition has stayed roughly the same (25% fat, 35% muscle). This would be fine if I’d reached my target weight and body, but I haven’t. I still have a ways to go.

And another thing: Along with my physical stagnation has come a sort of mental stagnation. For the past month, I’ve been worthless at the office. I find it difficult to write about anything. I stare at the screen for hours, surfing aimlessly. It’s as if I’ve checked out of life. I don’t like it.

Again, this all goes back to Cycle Oregon Weekend and the 100-mile ride. It all started then. (I can even trace it to a particular stretch of road where I just sort of snapped. I was biking into the wind on a long never-ending straight-away and the sun was beating down and I was thirsty and I knew I had 30 more miles to ride before I was finished.)

So, what’s the point of all this? I’m not sure. I feel like I just need to get this out there so that other people know I’m stuck. Paul Jolstead saw it early on — within days of the ride — so he walked to lunch with me one day and we chatted. Kris is very aware of it, but doesn’t really know what to do about it. I don’t know either.

I’m trying to make slow progress by regimenting my life. I’m making lists of things that need to be done, and I’m trying to use my calendar extensively. This is working…sort of. I’m also doing my best to clean everything around me. I’ve heard that an ordered environment fosters and ordered mind, and in my case, I’ve found that’s true. So, I’m trying to keep things tidy.

But the real key is for me to start doing the right thing. When I crave donuts, I need to eat something else. In April, I adopted a policy that if I craved something bad for me, I could give my permission to eat anything in the world that I wanted that was healthy. So, instead of donuts for breakfast, I’d have a filet mignon for breakfast. Expensive, yes, but much better for me, and strangely satisfying. And I need to attack my to-do list with vigor.

What about today? I woke late and missed Crossfit, and I’ve had a palpable urge to eat two or three donuts. Well, I think I’ve found a solution. I still haven’t eaten breakfast (it’s 10:11 am), but as soon as I finish writing this, I’m going into the kitchen and I’m serving myself some roast chicken and watermelon. No, it’s not donuts, but I’ll be happy once my belly’s full. And then, at 11am, I’m going to get on my stupid bike and I’m going to ride to Lake Oswego for the noon class at Crossfit.

This won’t bring me any closer to getting my other tasks done, of course, but it will be a mental victory. And right now, that’s what I need. I need a bunch of mental victories so that I can get out of this funk I’ve been stewing in for the past thirty days.

Update: It’s been nearly an ideal past four hours since I posted this. I ate a breakfast of grilled chicken and salsa, with some cherries on the side. Then I got on my bike and pedaled ten miles to the gym, taking the cemetery route for the first time in two weeks (That means a 1.5-mile steep hill.) I did the Crossfit workout: back squats, hand stands, and some very clumsy L-sits/tucks. Then I biked ten miles home. Now I’m eating an apple and some ham. I’m at the office now, and I stink — I can barely stand to be in the same room with myself! — but I’m a lot happier than I was this morning.

Why I Love Crossfit (part 3)

All my life, I’ve been the proverbial 98-pound weakling. I’m still no great shakes (something like a 185-pound weakling, I guess), but Crossfit has made me stronger than I’ve ever been in my life.

Just now, as I was outside mowing the lawn, I decided to do some push-ups. Usually when I try to do push-ups, I can do three. Tonight I busted out twenty good push-ups in a row, stood up, and walked to the mower without breaking a sweat.

I love Crossfit because it’s making me a stronger man than I ever thought I could be.

Yes, I know. Twenty push-ups is nothing to some of you. That’s fine. As I say, to me, twenty push-ups is amazing. And to do twenty without stopping? Unbelievable. I know a lot of people don’t like Crossfit because they think it’s too hard-core, etc. I don’t care. To me, it’s an amazing regimen that is helping me build strength and confidence.

Three months ago, I couldn’t do a pull-up. I could only do thee push-ups at a time. I weighed 203+. Today, I can almost do a pull-up (I need the blue band to assist me). I can do twenty push-ups at a time. And I weigh 185. (Actually, I weighed in at 183.2 this morning, but I think that was an anomaly.)

Have I turned into a Crossfit evangelist? If so, it’s only because it works. After I finish mowing the lawn, I’m going to jump rope — just for fun.

Six Months of Fitness

On January 1st, I set just one goal for 2010. (I don’t do resolutions.) I vowed to lose 50 pounds by the end of the year. To that end, I dubbed 2010 The Year of Fitness.

Losing fifty pounds in 52 weeks is ambitious but doable. Nutrition and fitness experts suggest that losing a pound a week is a sustainable weight-loss goal. (Some even say that two pounds a week can work.)

In 1997, I dropped from 200 pounds on May 6th to 160 pounds on Halloween, so I know I have the mental toughness to do this. And make no mistake — losing weight like this takes a lot of hard work, yes, but it’s mostly about psychological strength. It’s about dedication.

I’m now six months into The Year of Fitness. How has it gone? Let’s review.

Continue reading

Wrist, Keys, and Whine

You know what? I think I have the old foldedspace groove back. All week long, I’ve been wanting to write stuff here for all my friends and family. Cool, huh?

First up, I want to complain about how old and fat and clumsy I am. As I’ve already written, I conked myself on the head at the beginning of February. I eventually went to the doctor, and he told me I was fine.

Well, a few days later, I crashed while riding my bike. I was riding with Bernie on a fine Sunday morning, and we’d just passed underneath the tram at the base of the hill. We came to a streetcar platform, and Bernie went right. I went left. I knew right away it was a mistake: The tires of my bike slotted into the groove of the rails. I shouted an obscenity and took a tumble, bashing my right knee and right wrist into the pavement.

“Are you okay?” Bernie asked.

“I’m fine,” I said, but I wasn’t. My head hurt (remember, this was just days after I’d seen the doctor about my head injury) and I was nauseated. I sat down for a few minutes. Then we rode on.

My wrist and knee hurt all week, but I didn’t think much of it. I suspected it was just bruising. But all week in Belize, the wrist ached more. It hurt all the time (though just a little bit), and if I bumped it the wrong way, the pain was intense.

“Go see a doctor when we get home,” Kris said. So I did. This morning, I drove to Gabriel Park, where Dr. Petering took some x-rays.

“Well, we’re not really sure what’s wrong,” he told me. (Sigh. This is what doctors always say, which is why I tend to not want to go to them.) “It may be broken, but the x-ray doesn’t show it. More likely, you’ve just damaged some soft tissue. In any case, I want you to wear a splint for two or three weeks, and then come see me if it doesn’t improve.”

“I’m a writer,” I said. “Will this cause problems?”

“Hm,” he said. “You’ll still be able to type, but it may be a little clumsy.” Yes. Yes, it is. Very clumsy, indeed, especially if I need the backspace…

Dropping keys
In other news, I was browsing through Chris’s site today when I stumbled upon a month-old entry, which contains the following from the Sufi poet Hafez:

The small man builds cages for everyone he knows,
While the sage, who has to duck his head when the moon is low,
Keeps dropping keys all night long for the

Oh. My. God. This bit of poetry is so awesome, perfectly encapsulating my current world view. I’m so sick of small men (and small women) who build cages for others; I’m drawn to those tall sages who move through life, dropping keys to help set others free.

Do you build cages for the people you know? How can you stop this? How can you start dropping keys instead? The answer for each of us is different, yes? For me, I drop keys at Get Rich Slowly. You might drop keys in other ways. But whatever you do, set people free, don’t cage them in.

Powerful, powerful stuff.

Note: This might be a good time to mention one of my favorite Japanese proverbs: “Fall down seven times, stand up eight.” This is another of my personal mottos. No matter how many times I fail at something, I get up and try again.

A final complaint
One of the benefits about blogging here regularly again is that I can whine in all the little ways I like to do. For example, have I mentioned that I rented an office? It’s a small space (about the size of a spare bedroom) just up the street from the house. It’s fantastic: I come up here and I know it’s time to work.

Anyhow, I like my neighbors in the office building, but there’s one thing that drives me nuts about the office next door. It’s home to a massage thereapist, and she’s very nice. But she’s also chatty with her customers. As Kris could tell you, I need silence (or music) to work; I don’t deal well with conversation. (Which is one reason I hate NPR — noise pollution radio — because I can’t think when it’s on.) So, when Jeannie has a client in and they’re chatting away, it’s almost impossible for me to work!

Fortunately, there’s an easy solution: I just turn on the classic country tunes and I can no longer hear the gossip.

Ah, it feels good to whine in public again!

2009 Portland Marathon Race Report

I walked the Portland Marathon today, though the last few miles almost killed me. Pam asked for a race report, so I’m going to write one, even though this was far from a “race”. (Pam is an ultramarathoner and just completed a hundred-mile run, so a marathon is nothing to her. She would have finished second.)

In 2008 and 2009, I’ve spent my April through June training to run the marathon, but I keep getting hurt. My injury this year healed at the end of August, and it occurred to me that although it was too late to train to run the course, maybe I could walk it. Since I’ve been trying to walk 5-10 miles every day this summer, I decided to give it a go. I registered.

Last week, I put out a call for volunteers to walk with me and got three offers to help. So this morning, promptly at 7 am, I lined up to walk the marathon. (As I was waiting to start, I realized I had forgotten to eat breakfast. How stupid is that? Answer: Pretty damn stupid — but it didn’t seem to matter.)

My companions today included:

  • The redoubtable Chris Guillebeau, who writes one of the best damn blogs on the internet. Chris walked with me from the start to mile nine. He also carried my pack for me and paced me to roughly 15:15 miles, which was awesome.
  • Chris left me at mile nine to run home (literally) to his wife, Jolie, and Paul and Tiffany stepped in to take his place for five miles. They left me just after mile 14.
  • Mackenzie Smith, the master of getting fit slowly, joined me at mile 18 and stuck with me to the very end, putting up with my whining in an admirably stoic fashion. I couldn’t have finished the race without him.

How did I do? Well, when I walk through my neighborhood — reading books as I go — I average a 17-minute mile. That seemed like a reasonable target, so my goal was a seven hour, 26 minute marathon. I actually finished in 6:54:07.

My chip time was actually 7:01:25. Because there can be a 15-minute delay between when the first runner and the last walker cross the starting line, every marathon participant wears a microchip. At various intervals on the course, there are mats to record your progress. This chip time is your official time. But chip time doesn’t account for bathroom breaks, stopping to change socks, etc. My GPS watch automatically pauses when I stop to do any of these things, so that’s the time I use. It really doesn’t matter, though. Whether my time is 6:54:07 or 7:01:25, I’m proud of finishing.


Here are my official results:

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Look at that! I finished 13th from bottom for my age and gender. You know what? I don’t give a damn. Here’s the data directly from my GPS watch:

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You’ll note that my GPS watch clocks a distance of 26.54 miles, which is longer than the 26.2 miles in a marathon. There are several reasons for this:

  • My watch (a Garmin Forerunner 305) consistently overreports distance.
  • I’m sure I didn’t follow the optimal “line” through the course.
  • I left the course from time-to-time to use the portapotties and to swap foot gear.
  • I forgot to turn off the watch after I crossed the finish line. I spent a couple of minutes wandering the finishers’ area before I realized my mistake.

For my purposes, I choose to go with the 6:54:07 finish time, but use a 26.2 mile distance. Strange? Perhaps, but that’s fine.

How did the race go? It was the best of time, it was the worst of times.

Chris Guillebeau walked with me for the first nine miles. He spurred me ahead while we talked about blogging and world travel. I had a great time. The first mile wandered through downtown, up Salmon to Broadway to Davis. After a mile, we turned south on Front. We walked south on Front for about two miles, including a modest incline. At about 3.5 miles, we turned and headed back north on Front. This entire time, we aimed for a 15:15 pace, which was well ahead of the 17-minute pace I was aiming for.

The ninth mile looks a little slow, but that’s because it includes a portapotty break.

At mile nine, the course doubled back on itself, heading back down Front. Chris left to run home, and I was joined by Paul and Tiffany. Their fresh legs pushed me to some solid times. We walked briskly and chatted about life. They invited me to dinner tonight, but I declined. I told them that if I finished, I was going to eat chicken wings with Mac. They left me after five miles, just past the 14-mile marker.

By this time, my feet were sore. Very sore. I’d brought two pairs of socks, and had already tried all possible permutations with them, but there was no doubt that I had terrible blisters on both heels and on my right pinky toe. I pushed on, trying to ignore the pain.

From mile 14 to mile 18, I walked alone. To distract myself, I posted to Twitter and Facebook (yes, really) and listened to high-intensity dance tunes. Though my mental stamina was flagging, I kept at it. I marched up the appraoch to the St. John’s Bridge (mile 16), passing tons of walkers. I was having a good time. On the way down the bridge, I even jogged a little.

But by mile 18, my mental and physical reserves were beginning to flag. My feet were killiing me. How could I last another 8.2 miles?

How? With the support of Mackenzie Smith. Mac joined me at about mile 18, and he kicked my ass. As I whined about my ailments — “oh my feet”, “oh my shins”, “do you have any ibuprofen? any hydrocodone?” — he just kept on walking. At first, he let me set the pace. But when I started to flag — and boy did I start to flag — he walked slightly ahead of me, tacitly goading me to keep up.

Mac and I were fortunate to have two long downhill sections, and we jogged down both of them. Because I was wearing street clothes (yes, really), I looked foolish jogging, but I didn’t reall care. The change of pace felt like heaven on my feet. (You can’t really see our first jog because it’s absorbed in miles 21 and 22. But you can see the second jog in mile 23. I did a 13:27 mile! That’s about what I would have aimed for if I’d run the marathon.)

During the last couple of miles, I was in dark black place. If Mac hadn’t been there, I would not have finished. My feet hurt like hell. But Mac was there, and I did finish.

After the race, I took off my shoes and socks. I had gigantic blisters on both heels, as well as various other blisters around my feet. (Some are actually double blisters.) As Mac watched me put my shoes on, he stopped me.

“Wait a minute,” he said. “How tight do you have those tied?”

“Pretty tight,” I said. I showed him.

Mac laughed. “Dude, you need to loosen the laces. No wonder you’re in such pain.” I loosened the laces. The pain wasn’t gone, but my feet felt much better. I realized he was right. No wonder I was in such agony.

According to my “body bug” fitness monitor, I burned just under 3500 calories during the marathon. Some of you will understand that 3500 calories is roughly a pound of body weight. By walking a marathon, I only lost a pound. Good grief.

I always say that I take about 2000 steps per mile. I walked 26.54 miles today. According to my pedometer, I took 53,208 steps. That’s about 2005 steps per mile. Eerie, huh?


As I write this at 6pm, I’ve burned 4844 calories. I’ll end up having burned about 5500 calories for the day. Cool, huh? That makes up for the chicken wings I had with Mac, and the pork rinds and alcohol I consumed since returning home. But you know what? It’s nothing compared to the contestants on The Bigger Loser. The women aim to burn 6000 calories per day, and the men aim for 8000. Yes, they’re much larger than I am, but still…

Anyhow, I’m proud to have finished this race, but I’m glad I can cross this off my life goals list. I’d still like to run a marathon sometime, but it won’t be next year. Maybe in 2011?

Footnote: Call me crazy, but hours after finishing the race, I’m still wearing the finishers’ medal around the house, even though I’m all by myself this weekend. I think I’ll even wear it to bed. (I plan to go to sleep early.) Update: Did wear it to bed. Still wearing it the next morning…