Thursday, February 16, 2017

Small victories

Things are really starting to move. 

I finished The Handmaid's Tale. Fantastic book. That gets me down to 177 books to be read. I'm rapidly approaching the end of Boy's Life. There is too much going on in that book, but I've gotten to a point where the story is finally starting to move a bit. The lack of competing reading demands has also made it easy to commit to that book rather than jumping back to Jonathan Strange. Now that I think about it, the massive gravity of Jonathan Strange was probably my biggest challenge with Boy's Life.

I read a few pages of To the Lighthouse on Monday. I read a column on Medium about a DIY MFA and To the Lighthouse was mentioned in the context of reading hard books. I wanted to gauge that difficulty for myself. I actually like the writing style and didn't find the first 10 pages overly ponderous. The perspective shifts from one character to the next with no warning, but I'm kind of nonlinear in my thinking style so that discontinuity makes sense to me. I'm due to read another Modern Library 100 book so that might be the next book that I focus on after I finish Boy's Life later this week.

My weight is finally going down. I spent a bunch of time at work last week reading a short stack of papers about energy expenditure. Those papers suggested that diet was much more critical to weight control than exercise. My discovery of these papers neatly coincided with the release of a book about the role of the brain in eating and obesity. I used an Audible credit to get it the day it came out (Hamilton can wait until next month). The book, it's called The Hungry Brain, is engrossing, informative, and simply astounding. It's gets pretty technical in places concerning neuroanatomy and chemical pathways, but as a scientist I very much appreciate this aspect of the book. 

The Hungry Brain just reinforced everything I learned from reading the energy expenditure papers. I will never lose weight until I eat right. My workouts burn calories, but any deficit those workouts create is usually nullified by excessive eating. A few snacks here, a couple of treats there, throw in a few beers, and I've basically given back all the calories I burned working out. I avoided those behaviors last week and dropped a couple of pounds. We'll see if this trend continues. Sticking to my workout routine is hopefully contributing as well. I've managed to maintain the Wednesday rowing session and Friday morning short run. My body felt pretty tired while I was rowing this morning and during my lifting workout over lunch, but I can't tell if that's workout fatigue of lack of sleep. Getting more sleep is another piece of this weight control puzzle. That's definitely the hardest behavior for me to modify.

I successfully registered my wife and I for the Disney World Half Marathon yesterday. I jumped on the site minutes after registration opened to ensure that we could do the race. This is my best chance to do one of these races for the next couple of years. I don't want to miss it. I am more excited for this race than any race that I've run since I started running races consistently. I don't have to worry about training for this as I will be a couple of months past my full marathon and we're not running it for time. This is about the experience. I can't wait. Only 321 days to go!

Saturday, February 11, 2017

My running plan for 2017 (and a few days into 2018)

I've been slowly working on a post about the races I'm planning on running this year. I have a nice progression from 10K in April to a half marathon in August to a full marathon in November. There will be some other races thrown in there as well, but the 10K, half, full will be the main focuses of my training for most of this year. They won't be the main focus of my running energy though. I'm poised to realize a running goal that I've had for two years. I am planning on running the half marathon at Disney World in January.

The excitement that I get just writing that sentence is unreasonably intense. I have no idea why I find the idea of this half so exciting, but I've been stoked from the moment my wife said we should do the half. I've been wanting to run a runDisney event since I was reading about the Dopey Challenge while we were in Disney World two years ago. I find the Dopey Challenge totally crazy and really have no desire to try that (just the entry fee alone is totally insane), but I'm very happy to be doing the half-marathon. A half feels like an event but it's not so long that I'll be totally fried for the rest of the weekend. The half is also on Saturday so we can spend Sunday doing the parks before heading home on Monday.

I've already booked our room for the weekend, and have started looking at flights. There is a flight that leaves nice and early, 5:30 am, and gets to Orlando at 12:30. We need to get there early enough that we can make it to the expo to get our numbers and still have some time to check out at least one park. The races start ridiculously early so we'll have two very early wake up calls back to back, but that's a small price to pay for getting to do the race and having some kid free time at Disney World. (Yet another reason not to do the Dopey Challenge, four days in a row of ridiculously early wake up calls.)

My first marathon will be a huge focus of my running effort this year, but the Disney Half is the race that I am most looking forward to over the next year. I'm preparing myself to see my Monument Avenue 10K time slip from what I did last year (I was running so much faster on my weekly runs this time last year, I just don't see how I'm running at that level by April 1), and I'm uneasy about what I can do in the Patrick Henry Half after how much I struggled with my training last year (and had no chance to actually see how I could run after messing up my knee a few weeks before the race). I may run a few smaller races throughout the year. There's a 12K that I've run the last couple of years on Memorial Day (although I think we may be in DC for a baseball game this year), and we always do the cul-de-sac 5Ks in July. I would really like to run one of those all out this year. I like to run a 10K on Thanksgiving morning (I really want to run a course PR this year, I should be in pretty good shape coming off of the marathon a few weeks prior), and the Surf and Santa 5 miler has emerged as an annual must run event for the entire family (well, we walk it anyway). All of those races are much lower priorities than the Monument Avenue 10K, the Patrick Henry Half Marathon, and the Richmond Marathon. And those are not nearly as exciting as the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend Half Marathon.

2 down, Book Shelf Zero is 178 books away

One book closer to Bookshelf Zero. My long slog with Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell has been completed. I complained about the pace of this book when I was mired in its early sections. The pace of the book picked up tremendously as the story progressed. It was a very good book, but there is something about it that just doesn't sit right with me. I appreciate its originality and well crafted narrative, but it lacks some vital spark that I just can't quite express. It left me wanting, but what I'm left wanting isn't clear. Regardless of my reservations about where this book fits in my personal liking scale, it's been read. Two books down, 178 remain. 

I'm tearing through The Handmaid's Tale. Whatever Jonathan Strange lacked, this book overflows with it. Atwood's novel is emotionally intense, but I feel compelled to just keep reading. I think about how I would feel to be forcefully separated from my wife and kids. That's emotional devastation on an epic scale. But amid all this horror and tragedy, Atwood weaves in these poetic and beautiful images. The irony that a woman is writing this book about a culture in which women are not allowed to read or write has its own poetic irony. I'm curious if I would have responded so strongly to this novel if I had read it a few years ago. I've read a few books over the last few years that have catalyzed some changes I was struggling to make in my personal life. This book marks another step in that process. I read to experience books like this.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell took me a month (to the day). The Handmaid's Tale will take me less than a week. I haven't touched Boy's Life since I was in Disney World. I've promised my son that I will read a book from a series that he enjoys next. The first one was not the most exciting read but it wasn't terrible either. It will not demand my attention like The Handmaid's Tale so I will likely slip back over to Boy's Life now and then just to mix things up a bit to keep chipping away at a book that I never should have bought in the first place. Sure, Boy's Life was on a dollar, but it's taking a long time to read. It's not so bad that I want to abandon it. I just want to read something else. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Reading/Audible update

We're into February and I only have one book in my books read list for 2017. This is why I never get around to reading big fat books like Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. It just takes so long! JS & Mr. N is even longer than its 850 pages suggests. The book is full of footnotes that use a much smaller font than the main text. If all of these were expanded to the main text font, they would probably take up another 50 or so pages. And it's not like they can be skipped. Key descriptions and details about the story are in the notes. I've read 80% of the book, footnotes and all. I will likely finish it next week. Then it will be on to the Handmaiden's Tale. That book looks so small and insignificant next to Jonathan Strange. Hopefully that one won't take me a month to read.

I am very, very close to finishing my current audiobook. Originals. I read one of Adam Grant's other books, Give and Take, a few years ago and found it suitably useful and interesting to give Originals a chance. I've grown tired of the business book sub-genre that cobbles together stories of successful (and usually famous) people with findings from various academic research papers to tell a story of why certain behaviors win in the marketplace. Maybe I've just never tried to fully internalize and apply the lessons from those books, but I've found that I get much more from reading literature. Originals is a strong offering in this sub-genre. Grant's academic background gives him much more authority when discussing academic research papers than a journalist or some other productivity or entrepreneurship writer. The book still feels kind of worthless in the end. I'm happy to have it nearly complete. I'm ready to get back to the fun of sci fi and fantasy books. I will also be able to add another book to my Goodreads list. I don't include audiobooks in my annual list, but it will contribute to my read list (542 and counting).

The desire to buy books is very low at the moment.  The audiobook escape valve is definitely helpful in keeping my acquisitiveness under control. I have an Audible credit waiting to be used. I want to finish Originals before I use it for the lame reason that my unread audiobook tally will remain constant rather than going up when I use the credit. I'm planning to use it on Chernow's Hamilton bio. I've been tempted to get that book in the past, and listening to the Hamilton cast album has pushed that book into the I want to read it pile (as opposed to the that might be kind of interesting pile). The audiobook is over 30 hours. I've been listening at the 1.25 playback speed so it will be more like 25 hours assuming I keep it at that speed. A big unknown with audiobooks is the quality of the narration. I have listened to Hamilton's narrator before so I know that the narration will be solid. 

I could make a big dent in whatever audiobook I choose to listen to next while I'm driving around tomorrow. (Even if I use my credit on Hamilton right now, I'm not going to listen to that one next. Originals was a recent purchase. It's time to go back and listen to something I've had for awhile.) My wife is running an ultra tomorrow. I will be spending tons of time in the car as I get her to the race, pick up my kids, drive back home to drop one of my kids off for a birthday party, and head back up to the race (which is about an hour from my house) to cheer her on as she finishes her run. Well, assuming my daughter stays with my mom while I'm dropping off her brother. I could have a couple hours of solo driving time. I'm thinking of going with Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson as my next audiobook. I've had it for awhile and it feels like the right time for another Sanderson book. I absolutely love his Stormlight Archives books. I have listened to the first two volumes. I'm considered going back through them in preparation for the release of book 3 later this year. That is a very substantial time commitment as each book is something like 40 hours long. I don't expect Warbreaker to come close to either of those books, nothing I've read by Sanderson has come close to the Stormlight Archives, but his books are reliably entertaining. Now if I could bring myself to read the third book of the Mistborn trilogy.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Dip

I'm in the middle of a very dreary dip. Work has become a treadmill. I go in, do my thing, and nothing really seems to happen. Organizational upheaval has prevented some changes that may have given my relationship with my job a jolt, but it's hard to say how long that shock would have kept me engaged with the work. It will be nice to get my bonus, but I'm just not excited about my work these days. I'm bored. I'm tired of dealing with the same old things over and over again. I went for change last year and was jilted in both of my attempts. I can keep treading water for a little while longer, but it's getting harder and harder to show up and appear engaged. 

My reading life is in a dip too. I am persevering with Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. I'm not quite two thirds of the way through the book. It's not boring and hard to get through anymore, but it's not a particularly fast read. I made bad decision when I went with Boy's Life on my phone. I wisely paired long physical books with short ebooks last year. That successful strategy left me with few easy read ebooks remaining in my library (which was why I was hoping to see the Bond books go on sale towards the end of last year). Boy's Life is a mediocre read. I'm very close to giving up on it. I just can't get all that excited about reading it. I'm only about a third of the way through it. Maybe I will make more progress on it once I'm finished with the massive JS & Mr N. Starting a new book with that one unfinished just doesn't sound appealing. I'll probably keep at it. I have to read it eventually anyway. 

Aside from missing my step target yesterday, I achieved every one of my weekly fitness goals last week. Three trips to the gym to lift, two rowing sessions (Wednesday morning and Sunday), three runs (I cut my Saturday run short to save my body, I don't want to ramp up my mileage too fast), ab work five days of the week, and at least 10,000 daily steps. My success in this area is impacting my reading pace. The additional Tuesday and Friday workouts take a big bite out of my reading time. I was expecting this, but it's still kind of hard for me to see that reading time slip by. I will see my reading time shrink again if I can get myself to bed earlier. That's the last piece of getting my fitness plan fully activated. I'm not getting to bed early enough. I'm also not sleeping well. I wake up and have trouble getting back to sleep. This is a new problem for me. I think I know what may be causing it and how I can make it better. We'll see if anything changes once I start addressing the possible origin of my disturbed sleep cycle. 

I've decided to weigh myself on Tuesdays. I was 224.4 last Tuesday. We'll see what the increased workouts did to my weight tomorrow morning. My appetite was crazy last week. I managed to control myself pretty well during the week, but may have been a little too free during the weekend. The scale will tell the tale soon enough. (Why Tuesday? It's my off day.)

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Vacation over - back to real life

I'm doing it all wrong. If all those productivity bloggers on the internet are right, I should be spending more time meditating, reading Marcus Aurelius, and eating a vegan (or at least vegetarian) diet. I should have taken my family to some foreign country (while packing as few items as possible and staying in Airbnbs rather than some corporate hotel) instead of spending a week strolling through the various Disney World Parks. The fact that all those bloggers are just reading each other and attempting to build a brand and business around their own variation of the secret sauce for living a productive and happy life (which almost invariably include meditation, minimalism, and not eating meat) detracts a bit from the power of their interrelated and inbred ideas. It's not that their ideas are necessarily bad, they're just redundant and boring. Except for their promotion of reading. Reading is a great way to improve your life. I can always get behind people reading more books. 

Reading was not a big part of my life last week. My mini-bacchanal of eating whatever I wanted and generally just enjoying myself did not really include a significant amount of reading. I just didn't feel like it. I read a little, but I made no significant progress in either Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell or A Boy's Life. I really have no problem with that. I thought I might feel bad about not reading more, but I was content to just slip into the alternate reality of life in a Disney Resort. I was largely disconnected from my day to day reality. It was family and fun. I paid no attention to politics and gave passing notice to the sports world. I played lots of Mario Run (and now that I've completed all the most salient tasks in the game, I suspect that my desire to play will diminish). 

I was very successful in ignoring the reality of my diet while in WDW. I didn't really worry about the caloric content or health consequences of anything that I ate. I figured this would be my last big chance to really enjoy my food for a little while. Eating tons of deserts and other junky foods for a week does a good job of satisfying cravings for that kind of food. It's easier to focus on eating right after spending so much time not worrying about it. I think I can make it to my summer vacation before I'll feel the need to really splurge. Hopefully I will drop a few pounds before I'm at the beach for a week towards the end of July. I was surprised to see that I didn't gain any weight last week when I summoned up the courage to step on the scale this morning. I guess walking around pretty much all day (I average over 23,000 steps) is a good counter to the less than stellar vacation diet. 

Spending so much time in the close company of really obese people is also a good prod to take better care of myself. I have plenty of extra flesh around my mid-section, but my shirt hangs straight down from my chest. So many people in the park (men, women, and, most disturbingly of all, kids) have these huge guts. My big observation was that lots of fat makes men look like women and women look like men. There were so many people on motorized carts. It was depressing. I felt the same motivation that I had when I left the park last time to get my own diet and activity levels up so I can stay active and be in better shape the next time I visit the park. I have no desire to be limited in what I can do because my body prevents me from getting and having fun and enjoying myself.

I was definitely in better running shape this time than I was on our last visit. I was in the final stages of recovery from some calf issues that pretty much destroyed my running in 2014 during out last trip to WDW in January 2015. I managed to get in a couple of miles around the Animal Kingdom parking lot on that trip. I got in two runs this time. I did a 5K our first morning in the resort. We stayed in the Boardwalk Villas so there were some good running trails right outside the hotel. I didn't have to use the parking lot this time. I wasn't trying to kill myself, but I managed to run a negative split for each of the three miles. By the time Thursday rolled around I thought there was no way I would get in a decent run. My legs were so tired from being on my feet for pretty much the entire week. The fatigue was definitely present, but I managed to run 3.5 miles at a reasonable pace. That energy was gone by Saturday. I think it was more the emotional toll of being at the end of vacation as much as the physical effect of having walked around so much the previous seven days, but I just couldn't get myself out of bed to workout on Saturday morning. 

My reentry into normal life has been as smooth as I could hope. I got out and ran Monday morning. My pace was the fastest it's been in awhile. I'm getting back to where I was pre-injury, at least on the 3.5 mile loops around my neighborhood. I need to start adding some distance to my runs on the weekend. I also made it to the gym despite having a meeting compressing my available workout time and tons of rain making the trip into the gym from the car less than ideal. It was a short workout but seeing that it was my first in over a week, I was fine with easing my way back in to the weights. I'm waiting to see if I get sore. I'm not really feeling anything as of now, but it usually takes a good 24 hours for the DOMS to really get going. 

I successfully piloted two additional workouts in the week before we went on vacation. I squeezed in an extra 5000 m of rowing on Wednesday and two miles of running on Friday. Tomorrow will be my first attempt at the rowing without the benefit of my kids not needing to catch the bus. I would like to row before my kids get up, but it's much more likely that I will row after they are on the bus. We'll see how it goes tomorrow morning. 


Saturday, January 14, 2017

Post from a train

I'm somewhere in southern North Carolina. We'll be in South Carolina fairly soon. Hopefully I'll be asleep by then. I can just start reading Jonathan Syrange & Mr. Norrell if I have much trouble getting to sleep. All the years of avoiding this book were well spent. I keep waiting for something to happen. It just keeps dragging on. I can make myself get in 30 pages or so but it's a struggle to read much past that. I'm fearing a Fellowship of the Rings situation brewing. Just because loads of other people love a certain book is no guarantee that it will be something I enjoy with the same fervor. It's not a bad book. I will keep reading it, but it's so long.

Maybe I will have a repeat of my latest audiobook experience. I nearly bailed on Asimov's Amongst the Gods, but I stuck with it. The middle section was a huge drag. It had a fun ending that made the tedium of the section worth the slog through multiple sections switching between three different characters. The third section really saved the book. It tied everything together and was brisk and engaging. It wasn't exactly my kind of book, but I can recognize excellent work when it doesn't resonate with my taste. I'm hoping Jonathan Strange will reward my effort in a similar fashion. Dickens books always take forever to build and end in a flourish that makes the previous hundreds of pages worth the effort. Jonathan Steange has Dickensian aspirations. Perhaps those aspirations will be realized in the end.