Small

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.)

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.

My Life as a Blogger

I’m in Breckenridge, Colorado this weekend, high in the Rocky Mountains. I’m presenting at the Savvy Blogging Summit, which is a gathering of ~65 amazing women bloggers (and Alex, the token man). I’m honored to have been asked to present on Building Community and Effective Monetization. I also gave the keynote talk last night, and though such a thing is far outside my comfort zone, I had fun. Here’s the written version of the talk (which is a bit different than the version I gave).

I started my first blog on 16 August 1997. I didn’t call it a blog — that word hadn’t been invented yet — I called it a web journal. I’d been reading other web journals for about a year, and I’d had a personal web page since 1994. Because I was a young man who wanted to be a writer, and because I was a young man who loved computers, starting a web journal seemed to make perfect sense.

The Olden Days

For two years, I participated in what is now a sort of blogging joke: I wrote about what I ate for lunch. And for dinner. And for breakfast. I used my web journal to track my fitness. Then, as now, I struggled with my weight, and I figured a web journal might provide some accountability. It worked. Even though my web journal only had a handful of readers, they’d e-mail me to comment on my progress. Using this web journal, I lost 40 pounds.

I kept a web journal on and off for the next couple of years. Gradually, I wrote less and less about diet and exercise, and more and more about my daily life. I found that I enjoyed writing for the web, and other people seemed to like what I wrote.

It was tough going, though. In the olden days, we didn’t have blogging tools like WordPress and Moveable Type. If we wanted to keep a web journal, we had to update it by hand. Today, we just type in our text, press “publish”, and we’re golden. But back then, we had to write the HTML to format every page. We had to build our archives by hand, and update them every day. It was a lot of work, and it was a colossal pain in the butt! How many of you would like to hand-update your blogs every time you upload a post?

Fortunately, some folks in San Francisco saw a business opportunity. A company called Pyra came along and created a tool called Blogger, which people could use to automatically update their weblogs. And what were weblogs? Nothing more than web journals!

Blogger was clunky and prone to crashes, but it sure beat updating a web journal by hand. So, on 16 March 2001, I made my first Blogger account and I used the software to start my first weblog.

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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.

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Workaholic

Once upon a time, not so long ago, there was a lazy young man who did a whole lot of nothing. And loved it. He did as little work as possible, and spent his free time doing even less.

Then one day that young man grew up to find that he actually enjoyed doing some kinds of work. So he worked. And then he worked some more. In time he found that he was no longer lazy, but something of a workaholic. In fact, at times he didn’t know how to relax.

That young man is me, of course. After experiencing both ends of the spectrum, I’m pleased to report that after 40+ years of life, I’ve finally come to appreciate balance. That doesn’t help me much right now, though. At the moment, I’m in one of the most intense work periods of my life!

All I can say is that I’m grateful for how understanding Kris has been over the past month. She’s essentially resigned herself to the fact that I eat, breathe, and sleep The Book. I do my best to take a day or two off every week, but even then I’m not really In the Moment. I’m thinking about The Book. And when I’m actually working? Well, I got up at 5:30 this morning, thought about The Book for an hour or so, was at my office writing by 7am, and now it’s 9pm and I’m heading home.

The sad thing is that despite this mad level of productivity, I’m unsatisfied with what I’ve produced. Kris and Michael tell me it’s good, but I’m not convinced. I wish I had a month for each chapter, not a week. I don’t feel it’s possible to produce quality at this pace.

Still, I’m doing the best I can. And my editor is great. I have to put my faith in her, trusting that she won’t steer me wrong.

Mostly, though, I keep reminding myself that this will be all done by New Year. When it’s over, I’ll be able to return to that life of balance once again: walking, reading, writing, and spending time with friends.

Sounds wonderful.

Disposable

This one is for Mackenzie, by request.

Yesterday on Facebook, one of my former roommates shared an anecdote about when we were living together. Bill and I shared an apartment in Haseldorf, Willamette University’s off-campus housing, when I was a sophomore and he was a junior. (He dated Kris during the first semester, and I dated her during the second semester.)

Anyhow, Bill wrote on my Facebook wall:

With this post I finally get to tell my favorite story of rooming with you years ago. A list I once saw of “things to do” that contained the following items: 1. Write paper for lit class 2. Call brother 3. Shave. 4. Be nicer to people. Something about that combo of things has always seemed sublime to me. You were a fun roomy.

This story made me smile. I don’t remember the list myself, but Kris and I agree that this list is a pretty good summation of who I am. A lot of people read my personal finance blog, and they see one side of me there. But this to-do list that Bill shared captures me very well in just a few words — both the good and the bad!

But the reason I’m writing today is to share another story about razors from when we were rooming together.

Shaving hurts my face
Shaving hurts my face. It always has. I have sensitive skin. During my freshman year of college, I had purchased a fancy electric razor on a charge card at Meier & Frank. (This was actually my first foray into debt, the beginning of a 20-year habit.) I thought it would be great. It wasn’t. It still hurt my face.

When I started rooming with Bill, he convinced me that I should try shaving with an actual razor. I walked a mile to Safeway, looked at their selection, and was utterly confused. Rather than sort through the various razor handle and blade combinations, I just bought a bag of disposable razors.

For one thing, I liked the notion of “disposable”. How convenient! When I was finished with one, I could flush it down the toilet. Because that’s what disposable means, right? Right? Okay, it sounds stupid even to me. But I’m the nearly 41-year-old J.D., not the 18-year-old J.D. My younger self truly believed this.

Anyhow, I began to shave with the disposable razors. It was rough going at first. I didn’t really get it. Eventually, though, I learned how to follow the contours of my face, and how to press lightly instead of firmly so that I wasn’t carving off hunks of flesh. (Though I still nicked and cut myself all the time.)

And, of course, when I had used a disposable razor for one shave (!!!), I disposed of it by flushing it down the toilet.

The inevitable occurs
Time passed.

I had a good time that semester. In fact, that semester was one of the highlights of my life. I had many good friends, dated several young women, and felt myself intellectually challenged. It was a great time. And all the while, I was shaving and flushing my disposable razors down the toilet.

Around Thanksgiving, we began to have problems with the toilet. (You saw this coming, right?) It would clog for no apparent reason. We’d plunge and things would be better. But then one day, plunging didn’t work. We called in the maintenance department.

I was home the day the maintenance guys came to fix the toilet. I was there when the guy came out of the bathroom holding a plastic bag filled with (literally) shitty disposable razors. He gave me a look. “Do you know anything about these?” he asked.

“Uh…” I stammered. What could I say? Actually, I don’t remember what I said. I don’t know if I tried to deny responsibility (highly likely) or whether I fessed up (not so likely). But I do know this: I never again flushed a disposable razor down the toilet.

Lessons learned
Nowadays, I don’t use disposable razors. I don’t use an electric razor, either. No, I use a fancy old-fashioned safety razor. (And I’d like to try a straight razor at some point.) One of my favorite luxuries in life is the $35-per-tub shaving cream I buy from London mail-order outfits. I lather it up with a real badger-hair brush. It’s not as close a shave as you could get with a Fusion five-blade razor, but so what? I love the feeling of using my safety razor and my “limes” shave cream.

And best of all? There’s no danger of me clogging the toilet with disposable razors.

Note: Bill’s bio at the UAH philosophy page intrigues me. He has two subjects of interest. The second is “the relationship between subjectivity, freedom, and the consciousness of time”. !!!!! Could anything be more Proustian? I think Bill and I could have some things to chat about if he ever gets back here — or if I ever get to Alabama.

Consumed: The Burden of Writing a Book

“You’re doing it again,” Kris told me last night.

“Doing what?” I asked.

“You haven’t posted a new entry at foldedspace in nearly two weeks,” she said. “You’re in danger of letting it get all musty again.”

Kris is right, of course (as she nearly always is). But she also knows the reason for my silence: The Book. The Book is consuming my life. I’ve always wondered why my friends and colleagues allowed their blogs to lapse as they were working on their books. Now I know. The Book is going to kill me.

I can reveal The Book’s title now, by the way. It’ll be Your Money: The Missing Manual, and it’s scheduled to be published next spring by O’Reilly. O’Reilly is best known for its wide range of well-respected computer books, including the “Missing Manual” series. They’re trying to expand a little, and have recently published Your Body: The Missing Manual, Your Brain: The Missing Manual, and Living Green: The Missing Manual. Mine will be another entry in this series.

But writing a book isn’t like writing a blog. When I sit down to write a blog post — like this one — I can just go with the flow. Sometimes I have a beginning and/or an end in mind, but often I just start telling my story. I trust that after years of doing this I can shape my piece into the form I want.

That’s not how it works with a book. A book is planned meticulously. And even when it’s planned, you have a tendency to go off course, which just makes writing it more difficult.

Also, a blog post is 250 words. Or 750. Or, in extreme cases, 1500 words. I don’t usually pay attention to the word count. I just say what I want to say and leave it at that. But a book has a specific length. I know going into this project that Your Money: The Missing Manual will have 250-300 pages (with a preference toward the high end). I also know that other books in this series have a about 300 words per page. That tells me that I’m going to write 75,000 to 90,000 words, which will be divided into chapters of 5,000 or 6,000 words. These chapters are much longer than a blog post, have to possess continuity, and have to be packed with information.

Some of the chapters require research. I had to spend days surveying the literature on money and happiness, for example. Other chapters will require images or figures, which are easy enough, but which are time-consuming. And if I want to quote extensively from another source, I need to get clearance. (Dave thinks I need to get clearance if I quote at all.)

I guess what I’m trying to say is: Writing a book is work. It’s taking all of my time. And the deadlines are killing me.

A typical schedule for a book is: Write for a year, give the publisher a year to put it on the market. That’s not how this one is working. This one is: Write for three months, give the publisher three months to get it on the market. In other words, I’m doing this in a quarter of the time it takes for most books.

I’m required to turn in one chapter every Monday. That’s a chapter a week. A normal book schedule would require about a chapter every month.

As a result, I live up here in this office, surrounded by my Diet Pepsi bottles and pork rind wrappers. My diet sucks. I have barely any free time. Gone are those recent days of walking and reading. Instead, I come up here, I write (and eat like crap), I go home to have dinner with Kris, we watch an episode of All Creatures Great and Small, and I go to bed.

The good news? This is a finite project. I can see the end of it — even if it’s still more than two months away. I now know that this is not how I want to live. I love to write, but on my own terms and my own schedule. Once the book project is over, I’m going to return to my beloved pastoral lifestyle…

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:


Click to view larger image in new window.

 

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:


Click to view larger image in new window.

 

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…

Through a Glass, Darkly

At book group Sunday, we discussed Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. Though the book is not about comic books, comics provide the background for the action. The entire story is informed by comic-book themes. I’d argue that one of the characters (Joe Kavalier) is intentionally drawn as a sort of comic-book hero, complete with a series of comic-book villains and a comic-book secret lair.

During the discussion, Kris wondered aloud why it is that men — or some men — are obsessed with the things of their childhood, stuff like comic books and videogames. Her question implied several sub-arguments, including:

  • Women are not interested in the trappings of their youth.
  • Comic books and videogames are something that only young people are interested in (or should be interested in).
  • It’s somehow wrong to be interested in the things we liked when we were younger.

The group discussed the first point at length. We talked about reasons men might like the toys and activities of their youth. We even noted that some women do cling to girlhood toys and activities: dolls, Nancy Drew books (of which Kris has a large collection), etc.

But I don’t feel like we explored the second and third topics much at all. Since I disagree with Kris’ premise, I’ve given this some additional thought.

Kris calls this fixation on the things of youth “childish”, and she means it with the negative implications of that word. I don’t agree with her. I think it’s fine to like the things we enjoyed as children.

For one thing, I’m not convinced that comic books and videogames (or dolls or Nancy Drew) are meant only for children. Many people come to these things as kids, it’s true, but many come to them as adults, too. It seems artificial to label these things as childish — especially when the labeler doesn’t have much experience with them.

What’s more, collecting the things from our youth, doing the things we used to do, can provide a heady sense of nostalgia, a visceral connection to the past. It’s a great way to feel connected with our personal histories, with our family and friends.

Hobbies kept from childhood can also help us better understand our selves. I’m able to look at my life-long interest in astronomy, for example, and trace its role in my life. I can do the same with comic books, tracking how my tastes have changed — or stayed the same.

I think it’s foolish to just blindly cast off our childhood interests as “childish” simply because we’re older.

Best. Summer. Ever.

I had lunch with my friend/colleague Mike today. He told me that his income has really taken a nose-dive this year. His family has had to cut back. He told me that despite the lower income, he’s made some changes to his lifestyle in order to emphasize the things that are actually important to him.

“You know what?” he said. “I’m happier. I’m really so much happier.” Mike and his wife have spent a lot of time discussing the Ideal Lifestyle. They’re asking themselves: In a perfect world — if money weren’t an issue — what would their life look like? And they’re trying to make that a reality.

I nodded in agreement as I listened to Mike’s story. I was suddenly able to articulate something I’ve been feeling lately. “Actually,” I said, “I’m happy now, too. This may have been the best summer of my entire life.

“Tell me about it,” Mike said. So I did.

I’m finally getting my workload under control. I love to write. I love maintaining my personal-finance blog. But I did not love the 80 hour weeks. Those have declined this summer, thanks in part to bringing on two staff writers. In fact, my actual obligation at the site has been reduced from about ten posts per week to about two post per week. I’m still doing work that I love, but now I have time for other stuff.

For example, I’m getting regular exercise for the first time since 1998. (That was the summer I rode over 1500 miles on my bike.) My goal is to walk at least five miles every day — and I’m doing it. I’m averaging about 35 miles per week. At least five days a week, I walk on my errands. And as I walk, I read. (I’m very talented, eh?) So, I’m killing three birds with one stone:

  • I’m running my errands.
  • I’m reading for pleasure (for the first time in years).
  • I’m getting exercise.

I’ve also begun to see more of my friends. For the past few years, my life has been Get Rich Slowly. That dedication proved to be financially and professionally rewarding, but I had to sacrifice a lot of other things. Like reading. And friends. This summer, I’ve finally begun to be social again. I’ve even reconnected with a group of high school acquaintances on Facebook. None of us were really close in school, but we’ve begun to see each other at least once per month. I enjoy this immensely. (I’m hosting the group at Rosings Park on Saturday.)

Meanwhile, I’ve been able to focus on a couple of hobbies. I’m very wary of adding new Stuff to our house. But with caution, I’ve begun to collect comic books again. And vinyl record albums. And old books. I’m being very particular about what I acquire. I’m setting a budget, and I’m targeting very specific stuff. And I’m having a hell of a lot of fun. When I was in college, I gave away all of my comic books. Now I’m looking to buy them back for a buck or two a piece. It’s a challenge that will take years, but I’m up to it!

Speaking of Stuff: Kris and I have continued the slow-motion decluttering that we began two years ago. I may be bringing a few new record albums into my soon-to-be-completed Man Room, but I’m ready to purge hundreds more. Yes to a Johnny Cash record and a Miles Davis record. Good-bye, my vast New Wave collection. I’m also purging a lot of books and comics — and clothes.

Finally, I feel like I’m getting physically fit again. After struggling with my weight for years, I bit the bullet and purchased one of those “body bug” monitoring devices. I strap it to my arm and it tracks how many calories I burn. Every night, I tell the software what I ate during the day. This process is keeping me honest, is helping me to lose weight again.

All of these things taken together yield one very happy J.D. I seem like a completely different man than I was last winter. Last winter I was dull and overwhelmed and depressed. Today I am sharp and happy and invigorated.

Yes, this just may be the best summer I’ve ever had.