August 14, 2014

A damned dozen

I wrote, post stress fracture(s), that my ferritin level was low.

It is, as of yesterday, 12. Which is pretty awful still. Not any better, in fact, than what it was.

This is frustrating for the obvious reasons that it would be. But it's oddly encouraging to think I've managed some not embarrassing fitness while essentially taking reverse EPO.

"Optimal" is a viscous concept in both fitness and nutrition, so of course it's even more vague where they intersect, as here. Some suggest levels should be at least 50, others 75. I've seen some recommend as high as 135. Which, I dunno. But not 12. Nobody thinks that's optimal for basic healthy functioning, much less distance training and racing. The reference range of my particular blood test bottoms out at 30, so I need to more than double it to simply reach that - still "deficient" - range.

The answer, of course, is a pill. I'd love to say I'd simply fix it "naturally", with diet, but then I'm no purist on such matters. I want what works. Give me the pills, not fucks.

In the meantime, I'll imagine a hidden well of fitness, just waiting to be oxygenated.

August 12, 2014


I don't own a camera but if I did I'd post a picture of the levee in north Lawrence. It's my favorite running destination. Not for the scenery, because there basically isn't any. Not for the terrain, because it's a flat gravel path

But actually, yeah, for those things. For those things, or rather, for the absence of them. It's my favorite place to run because that's all it is. You go, and there is no auto traffic, and thus no stop signs or lights. There are very few other runners, walkers, and cyclists as well.

It's about 4.75 miles from the start to the railroad, at which point I'll turn around, sometimes after sitting for a bit to watch a train go by. I look at the graffiti and goods and wonder what stories are there, think on the intersections of industry and culture.

I could run the other direction - towards Topeka instead of KC - but I don't. I like the repetition.

It's a little crunchy but basically silent. There are things to see but nothing to look at. So you run, and while running, you are running, and you are thinking about running, about your cadence, arm carriage, pace, etc. Sometimes you think about nothing and the wind narrates your actions, punctuated by rhythmic footfalls.

If I could change it I would add some rolling hills, but then it would be a road, not a levee, and I'd have to share with trucks. So no. It's fine as is.

I ran there yesterday, sharing it with a few members of KU's cross country team. A steady day for them, conversational, fluid, symmetrical, and of course, faster than me. I was more aware than usual of my short legs, slight inward ankle roll, floppy hair, mediocre pace, sub 10 but not sub 5% body fat, etc. Self conscious but I said hi, they said hi, and I went along, thinking that yes they should run here, it's a good spot, probably the best spot in town and the only one that allows you to miss hills, if you want to really cruise.

And so I did, and so I'll do today, with other people or not, because it's not my lawn, and even if it was, I wouldn't tell any damn kids to get off it.

Also, one of the dogs - you can never tell which - ripped my heart rate monitor strap to bits. So - as usual anyway - "cruise" is gonna be my only pace metric for a bit.

Edit: A picture has been provided in the comments. I'm to technologically illiterate to post it, however.

August 9, 2014

5K for 5K

Baldwin City is about a twenty minute drive from Lawrence, headed South. A few thousand residents. It's one of the options I could give when asked where I'm from, given that I attended junior high and high school there. (Born in Portland, ME, but never lived there. Childhood in Abilene, KS. Adolescence in Baldwin. College to present in Lawrence.) It is also a running town - though I didn't start until I'd been gone for a few years - owing mostly to the fact that the boys have 11 state titles in the last 20 years, while the girls have 8. (Same coach.) This has raised the sport's profile in the town considerably. At least when I was there, the runners were very much celebrated athletes, and it was considered the cool thing to do. (Somehow my 3rd place in state debate didn't have the same result.)

So, there are 5Ks for many occasions, one every few months, never lacking for participation. Today's was a benefit for a junior high school English/History teacher who has recently been diagnosed with ALS. I had her, and so did my younger brother. She's been there over 20 years, so it goes without saying that many other students did as well.

As the purpose was simply to raise money, there were no bibs, chips, timekeepers, awards, etc. A start line and a donation jar. That was enough to draw over 100 starters and 5500 dollars, on rather short notice.

It is just running, yeah, and too often, I probably care too much about it. But I don't think there's anything else that could've attracted such interest in Baldwin. People wanted to get out, run/walk, then hang out. Small thing, yeah. But something.

The atmosphere was a difficult thing to describe. Serious and solemn at times, but never altogether unhappy. Post-race was borderline celebratory. The mingling you'd expect, with fruit, water, burritos, and ice buckets dousing random people.

The race itself went well. The course is hilly, and the grass is allowed to grow a bit, so it doesn't run like green pavement. A good turnout, with a few faster folks, including a couple high schools runners. I held off the faster of the two by a couple seconds. Those kids can kick, though.

Felt like this at the start.

Felt like this at the end.

Ran nine more back in Lawrence. Difficult day to get my head around.

August 8, 2014

Narrative and Context

There's a sentiment expressed (ironically, yes) on running blogs and message boards, when discussions get overly technical or argumentative, that we should all just shutup and go for a run. Chill, and stop thinking so hard, basically. I'd like to put aside the irony of someone taking the time to comment that others shouldn't take the time to comment for a moment, and say that this sentiment isn't one I share.

Not to say that it isn't valid. Plenty of people enjoy running for the act, and that is, of course, perfect. It's a very simple thing, running. One foot at a time, and away you go. There's a local guy who races plenty, with whom I've spoken, who just runs 30 minutes a day. He doesn't consider pace, or distance - though he goes plenty hard, from what I've seen. He knows nothing at all about the biochemistry that informs his fitness, nor does he care. He runs, races well - but only ever on a whim - and enjoys it.

But there are - while perhaps fewer - a not insignificant number of neurotic headcases like myself who sometimes enjoy the ideas more than the acts. Again, I do realize the inherent potential for minor blasphemy here. That I spend more time every day reading about running than actually hammering out miles (though most would say I run plenty) speaks to a certain pencil necked sensibility, a bookishness I've always been happy to embrace.

I don't, however, think these are contradictory notions. Reading about mitochondrial adaptations gives meaning and purpose to runs that would otherwise be mere movement. That movement is of course pleasant in its own right, but like words, needs context to demonstrate its true poetry. And those adaptations - like so much of biology - goes beyond imagination, truly a case of reality outpacing fiction. We are, in this case, protagonists of our own narratives, and the authors too. We can shape ourselves by our actions, exert control in a world that so often deprives us of any semblance of autonomy. And we can do so knowingly, eyes perpetually wide in amazement.

This was - and remains - the central appeal of running, to me. It began with questions. Could I run a lot? What would happen if I did? Could I finish a half marathon? A full? An ultra? How would I do those things? How would I then optimize performance? (That last question will never be answered with total satisfaction, acting instead as a perpetual rabbit.) These questions give context to the act, purpose to an hour or two every day, makes letters, words, and narrative out of otherwise incomprehensible shapes.

(Please note that, in all of this, I'm speaking only for myself. And that I'm a happy dork.)

August 7, 2014

Rambling, Geeking

I like fantasy novels. Always have, and at this point, it's probably safe to assume that isn't changing. I was, as it happens, greatly amused that there's a "Goblin's Forest" on Longs Peak, which itself looked menacing, while shrouded in cloud and fog. I consider myself likely the only person to have won a 50 mile race and played several games of Magic: The Gathering in the same calendar year. I'm very proud of that - imagined - fact.

So, I'm excited that my favorite current fantasy author has a new book. It's his first that's categorized as.... young.... adult, however, and I don't consider myself one of those. But I did buy it, because the reviews are good, and categories are often no help at all.

This can be even more true in music, where one man's atmospheric black metal is another's progressive shoegaze with elements of blackened death. And both insist the other's taste is garbage. Still, I was excited for Wolves in the Throne Room's latest album, although I heard rumblings it was something of a departure from their usual, which I'll call American atmospheric black metal. You can listen below, and decide for yourself what you'd call it. Probably, you'll think it's disgusting, which is fine. I've listened to this album nearly every day for about two years now, so I'd obviously disagree. (I'm listening to it right now, actually. Second time today. Brilliant as ever.)

These different notions are fine. It's also fine when a band or artist decides they want to do something very different from their typical work. This in no way invalidates previous offerings, though some fans act otherwise. But for me, life goes on. Crash Love didn't ruin Open Your Eyes and Shut Your Mouth. Same band. Different sounds. One I vastly prefer, but so it goes.

With that preface, I really want to emphasize that WITTR's latest record doesn't color my opinion of the band's previous catalog, nor does it diminish my interest in what they'll do next. But I'd also like to say that I hate the album, after one listen. It's entirely ambient noise. Spacey, vibey, synth stuff. Which yes, is a thing. A valid thing. But not my thing. I'll listen again tomorrow. And then on, perhaps, when I'm playing chess.

Which I do like. Though I'm really awful. A better runner, I guess, and better than I thought I'd be at this moment. My Colorado efforts were good - if errant - and I completed 12 @ 7 flat in 94-degree heat this afternoon, able to pass the talk test the entire time. My fitness, such as it ever was, seems to have returned quickly.

Still, I'm not terribly motivated to do anything with it, other than enjoy not having a broken leg bone. Call it a base phase, if you want.

Related, Running Times posted an interesting article by Greg McMillan today, concerning the oft-debated merits of speedwork (VO2max, in their parlance) during the base phase. McMillan, being a Lydiard guy, is against it, though he advocates for a more Canova model of periodization in the article. Not to say he's wrong (for what it's worth - nothing - I actually agree with him, fundamentally), but his arguments are not really empirically proven. If there is any research on muscle pH and mitochondrial degradation - related to training intensity - I've never seen it, and he certainly never cites it. But then, he - like Lydiard - is a coach more than a scientist. And even the "science guys", like Magness, advocate a basically identical model. Train the opposites, work towards race pace specificity. It does make sense, but given that reading academic journals is my job, perhaps, I really like to see them used when science sounding terms are used somewhat haphazardly to build a case.

Not to say I received zero running related articles today. I did work on an article concerning blisters in ultrarunners for a podiatry journal. It was, to my mind, fascinating. The short version: Injiji was the only sock that seemed to help. No tapes, powders, creams, etc., did. The best predictors of blister freedom, however, were ultra experience and training volume. Something to that, probably.

By the way, yes, I realize this is basically four posts in one, and if you read this whole thing, I offer you either congratulations or my sympathy. It just so happens that the primary things about which I geek (fantasy lit, people screaming loudly with backing guitars/drums, and running) offered inspiration today. So a near perfect day, yes, but probably also a hint as to why I haven't had a date in a while. Somehow, a profound interest in hobbits, scary music, and blisters accomplishes this.

August 5, 2014


Whether we evolved as running creatures is an interesting debate largely because it is both of those things - interesting, and a debate. That we're evolved as bipedal apes, capable of covering prolific distances on our two feet, is not so contested. So perhaps "Born to Run" is presumptuous. Born to sprint/jog/walk, or simply Born to Move, though less catchy, would perhaps be more accurate.

(Traipsing about is a term that's fallen out of favor that I think does the topic justice, and which I'd like to see come back. Announcing my lunch break - which is really my "going for a walk break", I do try, but my quirks aside, I doubt it catches on.)

In any case, humans have moved about on two feet for as long as we've been humans, probably before, though that's a chicken/egg situation, to some extent. For likely about as long, we've contested races over some time and distance, if not for money, then perhaps for a shiny rock, a nicer cave bunk, or whatever. "Just because" has always been good enough too. Animals play in order to "practice" skills, and instill practical fitness. Human should hardly be different.

This is to say, moving about on two feet is an inherent part of the human narrative. People that run, that hike, that walk about, know this, on some level, even if they don't seek words for it. Plenty have, however, from Nietzsche, to Rousseau, Thoreau, Dickens, Snyder, ad infinitum. Some, like Japan's "Marathon Monks", give the act religious significance. (Not unlike the countless pilgrimages of history, and for that matter, present day.) Some, like today's neo-Beat soul runners, merely seem to imbue the act with such heft.

All of "this" is, I think, part of the appeal of running. It is, to some extent, a celebration of the self, but also a celebration of place, community, movement, and history. This can be Hardrock, the quintessential American mountain epic, or Six Days in the Dome, a callback to 19th century pedestrianism. (About which there's a very good new book, which I'd recommend to the historically interested.) It can be a local 5K, won in 19 minutes, or an Olympic finals. It's all just running, which is really just a brief moment of airtime away from walking. Which is, again, a very basic, fundamental thing. Perhaps the most basic and fundamental thing. Which is perhaps something, perhaps nothing.

Does that mean it matters? That it's important? I would say for me, yes. And for others as well, obviously. I've seen too much proof to say otherwise. But I don't know that I can declare anything like that unequivocally, universally. Certainly there are greater triumphs and tragedies everyday. We're reminded of these things, and when faced with the latter, anything but outright nihilism seems unjustifiably optimistic. Maybe humanity is just fucked. Maybe nothing matters.

What matters, if anything, speaking in the most broad sense, is a question for philosophers, who were and are, as has been established, themselves bipedal ramblers. Whether their solutions have ever been satisfactory, or whether there ever could be such a thing, I'd argue that, at the very least, their methods were sound, that traipsing about is a key to finding answers, if not The Answer. Capable and free movement of the body is not a strictly necessary condition for similarly capable and free movement of the mind, but history and present day both suggest it probably does help.

August 2, 2014


Back home. I missed the dogs. They were all excited to see me, and the old one slipped on a misplaced running shoe in her haste. She's ok though, and I am too. Hi, Lawrence.