May 29, 2013


You might think that spending eight hours a day embedded in rather esoteric language would rob me of any motivation to write; and while that may yet become true, it certainly hasn't been the case thus far. If anything, I've come home with more desire to do things - a lot of things, really.

I have my training to do, of course, which is rather thoughtless at this point. It requires no more motivation that breathing. I should say, on that front, that I'm pleased with how things are going. Still, I don't want this blog to become a workout log, so I don't expect I'll document the specifics too closely here. In general: Sustainable volume, hills, flat tempo work, and a lot of strength/core stuff. If this sounds more or less like what every other semi-ambitious runner is doing, that's because it is. There is no secret sauce. (Except good mustard.).

Still, you can only exercise so much. That still leaves several hours a day to do... stuff.

I've flirted with the idea of grabbing on to a new hobby or two, just to further expand my horizons. Notably, I can't play any musical instruments, and there are specific areas of the brain that are primarily activated by doing just that. In short, I'm compromising optimal neural function by not playing something; so it stands to reason that I might want to fix that. What would I play? No idea. Guitar is what everyone does, and as a fan of aggressive music that makes loud use of said instrument, that's an obvious choice. But it's just so fucking cliche, I'm embarrassed at the mere idea.

Other ideas:

  • I could actually learn to cook. But... meh. I'd really rather not. 
  • I've always sort of wanted to learn how to skateboard, and there is a park a couple blocks from my house. But I'm 25, and everyone there is 12. I'd look like a creeper. I'd also die, probably, given my (total lack of) coordination. Best case scenario, I break a leg, and miss months of running. So, nope.
  • I could play video games for the first time in several years, or get TV again. But I'd really rather do something active, rather than passive, especially considering my job will have me sitting plenty.
And... that's about the extent of my ideas. All of this is to say, whatever extra energy I find is probably going to be channeled here, rather that towards a novel pursuit. (He says, preceding an unplanned week's hiatus from writing. Just wait.)

May 28, 2013

Day One

Day one, in the books. All went well. I wore khakis and my legs seemed ok with it. Black jeans will probably still happen.

Tomorrow: Robin's egg blue khakis. I don't know that I have anything that really matches, but whatever, I'm going for it. Make it work, right Mr. Gunn?

May 27, 2013

Eve of the Era of Khakis

I am starting my new job tomorrow, and enough people are asking me if I am either excited or nervous that I feel as if I'm letting them and their wholly reasonable expectations down somewhat when I say no, not either, and not at all.

Excitement is an emotion that rarely visits me, usually saved for spare moments during races when things are really clicking. This isn't to say I live the rest of my days mired in some sort of semi-depressed lethargy, just that the thrill of racing well is a heightened experience not likely to be duplicated in everyday life. What I'm saying, basically, is that the racer's high kicks the shit out of the supposed runner's high. Once you've tasted that chemical cocktail, not much else gives you the same rise.

As for nervousness, I suppose I'm just arrogant. I assume I got the job because I deserve it, that their faith in me is well placed, and that I'll perform well. Furthermore, I'm aware that expectations always start low, and that I'll have days of training before really being asked to do anything taxing. When those challenges do come, again, I think I'll handle them. In business, as life, confidence does more for you than humility; the latter is lauded but never really rewarded.

I am, mostly, thinking about where I will go to get coffee over my lunch hour. Priorities.

May 25, 2013

Running Goals for the Year

100 miles is a spectacularly stupid distance to cover on foot, which is precisely the appeal. It's ludicrous to the point of disbelief; most people I talk to literally don't believe me that such races exist. But the races do exist. I know, because I've seen them. And people finish them. I know, because I've volunteered to help them, even pacing one guy for about 30 miles last year.

Of course, none of this means that these race should exist, or that people should do them. Running is a healthy habit, promoting all sorts of beneficial things. But like all good things, the benefits taper to a point; and that point can hurt you. Even a hard marathon can leave your body in catabolic hell for a few days after completion; imagine what quadrupling that would do? And that is to say nothing of the agony one must surely endure in the race itself.

Of course, that's also the point. Not masochism, per se. The goal is not to hurt for its own sake; the goal is to finish and succeed despite that hurt. The goal is to finish, to hell with everything else.

I say all of this like I know, but the truth is, I'm only guessing. I've raced as far as 50 miles, but never beyond that. And that beyond, I'm told, is pretty fucking gnarly. But here's the thing: Truth be told, I don't really want to race that far - certainly not now, perhaps not ever. There is a sense in which I feel like I have to, like running 100 miles is some sort of necessary validation of trail runner credentials.

But, well, no. Fuck that.

The truth is that I have a long, long way to go before I'd feel comfortable racing a 100 miler. And until I do feel that strong, fit, and experienced, I'm staying away. Progress matters to me more right now than checking anything off the proverbial bucket list.

This is not to say that I'm hiding from races this year. Quite the contrary, I'll be challenge myself plenty, across a wide spectrum of distances and disciplines. And I'll probably run at least a marathon or two, lest you think I'm totally backing off the distance stuff. Maybe, one will even be on the road, so I can try to post a respectable time (sub-3 would be lovely), and give myself an answer when people ask me how fast I run a marathon (it happens pretty frequently, and trail times invariably suck).

But the race goals are somewhat arbitrary. All I really want is to leave this year feeling more fit than I entered it. Of course, some fast times and good placing at races would help in that endeavor. Anyway, we'll see. That's an awful lot of words about a race I'm not doing.

May 22, 2013

Misplaced Dislike

A great deal of the criticism directed at specialty coffee seems predicated on the size of the community, and the aesthetic of its members. That is, for most people, plain coffee is good enough coffee, origin be damned. Those who feel otherwise, whose pallets are either more attuned or tricked by some false notion of superior taste, are a vocal minority. The criticisms also feel the need to note how the baristas look, rattling off a few tropes that roughly conform to "skinny hipster" stereotypes. I've joked about many of these before, since I knowingly embody many of them; I have floppy bangs and a substantial arsenal of both skinny black jeans and black shirts.

It should go without saying, but this is spectacularly stupid. Like, really, really fucking stupid.

This is not to say that us coffee dorks are necessarily right, simply because we exist. An argument or opinion is not inherently self justifying; it's mere existence does not prove that it should exist. But the inverse is equally true; our existence does not disprove our argument.

My solution: Like good coffee or don't; but try it on its own terms, without judgement rendered based on the kind of person you imagine drinks the stuff. If you like it, cool. Wear whatever pants you like. No need for moccasins or Chuck Taylor's either. If you don't like it, cool. But don't be a dick about it, then turn around and criticize the perceived dickishness of those who do. That is, I repeat, really fucking stupid. Don't be really fucking stupid.

May 17, 2013

Hasta Luego

I've alluded to it previously, but here it is, straight away: I'm taking a job as a non-barista.

Specifically, I'm going to go work for a publishing company, editing academic journals. To some, this may sound quite dry, but I'm actually very excited about the prospect. I adore language, and the chance to work with it in a real and tangible way sounds rewarding to me. But academic journals? Wouldn't I rather edit something more vibrant and interesting? Well, no. As it turns out, academic writing is fascinating to me. It's a chance to pour over and aggregate a nearly endless sea of knowledge and theory at the bleeding edge of contemporary thought.

And the pay? It's better. Because of course it is. There is a health care package too, which is nice, just in case.

I say all of this, and it feels almost like I'm apologizing. Like I'm uprooting my previous identity and trading it in for an expanded arsenal of polo shirts and khakis, like I'm succumbing to "The Man", man. And I don't know, maybe. Maybe I have to trade in my black jeans when I buy the khakis; maybe I have to start listening to the twee acoustic garbage that passes as alternative rock these days, rich urban kids in suspenders playing twangy pseudo folk. (If you like the sort of music I'm describing, sorry, and know that you probably hate what I like, and that's ok as well.)

As I write this, the clock is ticking past midnight, which means I'm now 25. I'm another year older, taking - and I loathe this term - a "real job" which - and fuck this too - "uses my degree". I'll dress differently when I go to work; and the work itself will be very different. I will have a goddamn cubicle.

But fuck, I am excited about this. This is neither an apology nor a contradiction of some notion of who and what I am. I will not stop listening to scary and violent sounding music because I - ahem - "sold out". I will not gradually let myself slip into some malaise of mediocre fitness, of just working out to keep my heart beating with tolerable efficiency. I will run more and run faster; and that will be as true at 35 and 45 as it is now.

That's the future.

As for the past, there's a lot there, but I don't have the words for it quite yet. I feel like there's a 5,000 word post to be written on the subject, or perhaps just 5. I need a little bit of perspective to know for sure, because right now, all I can say is that I've loved this work, and that I'll miss it.

As for this blog, I plan on continuing it, in some fashion. Obviously, there will no longer be a focus on "baristing", since I no longer will be doing that myself. If that means you're checking out, cool, and thanks for reading. If you stick around for whatever comes next, I hope it's worth your while. I've been flattered that this small slice of the internet has gained the traction it has, and that I've been able to share some words with some people - all anyone who writes really wants.

So thanks, Coffee Business. I'll see you around.

May 12, 2013

Lake Perry Half Marathon

Every journalism class I ever took instilled in me the notion that you do not begin a piece with a question. So this, then, is a token statement, before I flaunt that rule. 

For your consideration: How do you win a race, despite being the fifth person across the finish line?

See? That really is quite the tease, isn't it? Well, I'll answer that question in time. But first, here's a picture of me making a stupid huffy face at the race's beginning.
As you can see, the race begins on a gravel road - only a couple hundred yards or so - with a slight downhill grade, after which the runners are turned on to the singletrack. I used that stretch to make stupid faces, flex like a bro in the gym, and open a sizeable lead on everyone else. 

Succeeding on all three counts, I began the task of extending that lead. No one really seemed inclined to chase, and the last I'd see of other runners was a brief glimpse after a mile of running when the trail switched back on itself.  

Unaccustomed to running at the front, and filled with the adrenaline that came with, I kept the throttle high. I focused keeping my turnover high in general, and especially on the descents. Downhills are free speed, if you use them correctly. There is a tendency to overstride, but that only serves you beat up your quads and knees unnecessarily. If, however, you keep your feet spinning underneath you, it's like effortless sprinting

This was a focus for me this race, and I'm happy with the results. Writing the day after, there's not a spot on me that's even remotely sore. After 15 miles of hard running, that's a nice feeling. But wait, aren't half marathons only 13 miles? You're a clever one, reader, but just wait. I'm getting to that.

Unfortunately, running alone is a little less interesting than actively racing people. It's also more difficult to maintain a high level of effort. I mean, there's no one there. Why not slow down? Why not stop and drink a little? I told myself I would take a sip of something at the manned aid station, located at roughly the halfway point.

I did that, but probably would have been wiser to take down more liquid and calories. The second half of the race, my legs began to feel the fatiguing effect of the rolling hills. And although it was only a little over 60 degrees, this was the first race of the year where I've actually sweated. As such, my mouth was quite dry towards the end, and my blood sugar was noticeably low. 

Still, there was no one in sight, and I didn't feel as if I was slowing too badly. One benefit of the (relatively) high mileage diet I've been on lately is getting a lot of practice running on dead legs with low energy. Or is that two benefits? Whatever. At this point, I was only focusing on two things: Rocks and signage. I figured the only way I could get caught was by missing a turn, or taking a bad fall. 

I think you see where this is going.

I popped out of the trail, at the bottom of the road the race began on. There was now an aid station there, acting as the halfway point for those running the 50K that day. Those runners had to do an extra two mile loop, then do the whole thing again, putting them around 31 miles for the day. 

"We were just talking about you," said a guy in a fake mustache and beret. 

"How far is this?" was what I asked, as it's all I really wanted to know. 

"13 miles," he said. "There's a two mile loop right there," he said, pointing. 

I considered this, and nearly said something. Should have said something. I was the first runner they'd seen that day, and thus they probably didn't know which bib colors went with each race. Assuming I was doing the 50K, they pointed me in what they thought was the right direction.

Other than being bonked as shit, I'm still not sure why I didn't say something, or simply go finish up the hill. You could nearly see the finish line from there; it could hardly have been closer. Instead, I dutifully trotted the extra two miles, before being informed of the mistake when I returned to the aid station.

I was told that I was in fifth now, and that the (new) first half marathoner had finished about 5 minutes ago. I would love to say that my reaction was calm and classy, but for the sake of honesty, I can't really say that. Instead of saying that it was ok, that these things happen (they do), and that it was largely my fault for not correcting them in the first place (it was), I simply said: Shit. Not my proudest moment, and if I have any regrets about how this all played out, this is the biggest one.

As I trotted up the hill to finish, the pseudo mustachioed aid station volunteer called out that he had informed the race director of what had happened, and how large my lead had been. I wasn't really thinking about how the RD would respond, however. I was just embarrassed: Embarrassed that I had missed a turn when all I had been thinking about for the last hour was not missing a turn; Embarrassed that I had reacted so petulantly; Embarrassed at what the other half marathoners gathered around the finish would think, seeing this guy they never caught - much less passed - finishing several minutes behind them. 

At the finish, the RD apologized, told me that I ran well anyway, and gave me a trophy that said "1st place Male, Half Marathon" on it. Which brings me back to the opening question: How do you win a race, despite being the fifth person across the finish line? Like that, it would seem.

Although, I have to say that I don't feel like I won. I feel like I ran well, sure, and like I was the fastest person in the race on that day. But the winner? Not quite. One of the central pillars and most beautiful aspects of racing is the simplicity and finality of it: The winner is the one who finishes first, and I didn't, never mind the circumstances. Even the chip timed results bear this out; in them, I'm listed fifth. 

So I find myself in an interesting situation: Satisfied with how I ran, but not at all satisfied with the result. But races have a funny way of doing that. I ran every bit as well in my last two half marathons, and was soundly beaten in both. Winning is more a function of who shows up than a comment on your fitness; all you can do is run like hell, and see what happens. 

Then, you go eat (too much), and resume training for future races, victories that may never occur outside of your imagination. You never catch the carrot, and that's entirely the point. 

May 9, 2013

Barista Diet Callback

Although I rarely act on the information, I do tend to track my page hits, including what sites send the most people here. Oddly, the last several days, I've received a fair bit of traffic from a rather vague diet website. I can't find any link to my page, nor can I surmise any reason why such a site would send people my way.

However, if, for whatever reason, you've stumbled upon this page from that site, let me offer you my own pithy diet advice: Drink a shit ton of coffee.

Here's an article that deals with the subject, in a little more detail:

If you're interested in my treatment, check out the BARISTA DIET©.

In short: You eat like a bird, and drink coffee like water. Run 70 miles a week if you want, but I don't recommend that, unless you're capable of paying a stupid high grocery bill.

May 6, 2013

Running on An Empty Head

Some people don't like the word "tapering", thinking it suggests a slothful week leading up to your target race. These people tend to prefer "peaking", and the connotation that goes along with it.

This is a debate I have no stake in. Nor do I really bother with the act itself, whatever it's called.

I'm running a half marathon this weekend - yes, another. I seem to keep getting second, which is perhaps the most motivating of all places. You were this close to winning. Or, in the most recent case, I was this close to being this close to not getting totally destroyed. But whatever. Semantics.

So it goes without saying that I'd like to win this one. Because of course I would. And so, probably, would several other relatively fast people I'll run against. It's called a race for a reason.

And yet, one week out, I'm not doing the sorts of things I probably should, in order to prepare. Or rather, I am doing things I probably shouldn't be. The program I'm following - although "following" tends to suggest a stronger adherence than I've had - had me listed for a - ahem - "long run" of 10 miles this weekend; but, you know, I did 12 instead. And then 12 the next day. Also, I did 12 the Wednesday before.

Today's sky and air conditions were just too too inviting though, too well suited for ambulatory bipedal pursuits. So I did 14 today.

Tomorrow, there are hill repeats to hammer out, which I'm really supposed to skip, but won't. Hills are my favorite thing; I'd never run another level step in my life if I weren't racing in Kansas. In other words, I'd sooner skip dinner than Tuesday, AKA Hill Day.

Thursday is tempo day - look it up, it's pretty much a rule - which, this week, will be used to knock out a couple more miles at race effort, just to habituate my legs to that rhythm.

Friday, I'll do some random crap, lift a stupid amount of weights, and drink a ton of veggie juice before bed. Because, science. Then I'll wake up, guzzle more veggie juice - this time beet juice, specifically - something like 4 shots of espresso, then go self immolate on the trails.

That's the, uh, plan?

May 5, 2013

Today's Lesson

When pouring latte art for a table of two, make sure to evenly distribute the quality. If one person gets a single, and the other a triple, you look like a dick.


May 4, 2013

Practice Works

Try to run 3 miles, with a lack of aerobic fitness, and the result will be unpleasant. But it's not just because of the underpowered aerobic system, or even a lack of significant muscle or tendon strength.

Try to tamp with your off hand, and see how that goes. Let's make it easier. Try drinking your coffee with your off hand. Notice how unsure you are, how odd this all feels. Perhaps you even need to keep your eyes focused on the mug, lest you miss your mouth altogether.

This is not a lack of strength, but coordination. Your muscles could do the task, if only your mind could get them working in a coordinated manner. You need practice, nothing more.

This is the specificity of skill acquisition, too often overlooked in favor of frivolous bullshit. Ancillary things are nice, in their place. But whatever it is you want to improve, you need to do. A lot. Their are neural pathways that need cleared of dense brush, so get your machete out, and hack away.

May 2, 2013

May Day

Hold a portafilter in your hand for a while, and it feels an extension of you. You toss it around, twist and tamp and tap and whatever, and think nothing of any of it. You don't think kung fu; you feel it. I think I heard that somewhere once, and I'm going to apply it here, since I can't kick above my waist anyway.

Change the portafilter, and it's wrong. You drop it and flail about like a complete beginner; it's just all wrong. You may as well have a new set of hands.

I'm typing this on a new keyboard, which is part of a whole new computer. Not new, strictly speaking, but new to me. My venerable laptop is dead, and so now I've got this, which is placed right, and everything is right about it, and yet I'm punching the wrong key like an enraged drunk commenting on a youtube video.

This makes writing hard. Still, I'm doing it. See? You're reading the results right now. It's like we're having a dialogue and everything. How organic.

However, out of respect for that relationship, I feel like I need to tell you something: I might be doing a non-barista job soon. There is some anxiety about that possibility within me; ok, there is quite a lot. A local race director calls me Mr. Barista at the finish of ever race; I'm not even remotely confident that he knows my real name. And it's all the same anyway. This. Is. Who. I. Am.

Or maybe, soon, who I was.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. I've not been offered the job, and certainly not accepted it. But there are parts in motion, things that I have set that cannot be undone. My eyes have wandered, and you can't ever really go home, right?

We'll see.

There is a sense in which this post is a couple weeks early. For the last two years, I've written birthday posts, basically summing up my life, such as it is, was, and will be. I splattered my youthful hipster angst on these pages, and it felt pretty good.

On May 17, I'll turn 25.

I'll have, if nothing else, a new age group to compete in at races.

And maybe actual career prospects.


I'm not looking for well wishes or luck, assurances that everything will be fine and expressions of confidence in my abilities and judgment. Maybe things will work out; maybe they won't. Pretending we know life's trajectory is just false comfort, a curtain over the great uncertainty of it all.

But I'm looking past that, just a bit, peeking around in to what could be. It's pretty cool, I think, and that's what this is. It's not angst. It's not a midway to mid-life crisis either. It's a state of the union, maybe, or just self-indulgent drivel.

It's words, at least. Of that I'm sure. And I like words, even if typing them is presently a bitch.