Thursday, June 22, 2017

Bookshelf Zero Update - 13 squared remain

Book Shelf Zero Status Update:
Owned books read in 2017: 11
Books bought in 2017: 0
Borrowed books read in 2017: 1
Total books read in 2017: 12
Books to be read remaining: 169

I finally made it through Lens of the World over the weekend. I bought that ebook a couple of years ago for a dollar. It wasn't a bad book, but it was definitely a book that I probably wouldn't have bothered finishing if it wasn't for these reading goals. The writing was decent enough, but the story just didn't make any sense. It was an experiment. I've found really good books by buying a cheap ebook. That wasn't the case with this one. 

I've fallen off the 30 books this year pace. Committing to The Radicalism of the American Revolution has slowed me down a bit, but playing Breath of the Wild is the true origin of my reduced reading volume. I've spent many hours playing that game rather than reading. I don't regret that choice one bit, at least not right now, but I would like to pick up the reading a bit more. I'm okay sticking with the dry but very interesting history book if i can find a fun book to read on the Kindle app. I'm thinking Seveneves may be the right ebook for me to realize that situation. Undermajordomo Minor may be another good choice. UM may be the winner because it's short, but it feels like the right time to read Seveneves. I'll take a look at each of them tonight. Regardless of which I pick, I need to read a dozen or so pages of The Radicalism to start to regain some momentum with that one.

I only have to read a group of 13 books 13 times and I will achieve Bookshelf Zero. It's taken me about 6 months to read 13 books so far this year. That's only 6.5 years. That doesn't sound so awful...

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Lose Your Gut

The constant refrain on the cover of every men's fitness magazine. Given the generous bellies sported by the vast majority of dudes of all ages at amusement parks (the most abundant place to observe regular people doing living like a huge number of other people), I can understand the marketing potential of such a desirable promise. A gut isn't all about appearance. When you're young and capable, a gut is part of the older guys who look fondly back on their glory days. They're fading. The gut just seems to signify that the best of times are behind us. Fighting against that slowly expanding girth is really a fight against becoming the old guys we mocked when we were young. 

All those lose your gut remedies involve eating the magic diet and sticking with some complicated workout routine. The steps are really just a way to increase self-control and develop better habits. An even better remedy is to live a very simple life focused on feeling rather than feeding. Bloggers of various ilks all seem to believe in minimalism, meditation, and some variation of a vegan/vegetarian diet. Part of this comes from reading each others stuff and part of it comes from not having enough money to have a high-level consumerist lifestyle. That's kind of snarky and jaded of me, I have never talked to one of these guys to really understand their life, but it's a satisfyingly simple explanation for the common elements of the self-improvement self-help internet scribe. 

The simple life is certainly not gut inducing. At least it makes it easier to stick with activities and diets that tend towards a leaner body. If I pursued a simple life (or did not have the means to do things like buy Diamond Club tickets for a Washington Nationals game), my wife and I would be out hiking down by the river or exploring some mountain trail rather than sitting behind the net at Nats Park while a server brings us food and drinks (that are included with the ticket price). We were at the park on Tuesday night. I had two beers, a huge thing of nachos, and a bunch of popcorn. A simple life would me walking around while eating very little. My more complex consumerist life has me sitting around watching elite athletes while I consume all kinds of high calorie goods. The complex consumerist lifestyle is much more fun and pleasurable. 

Staying gut free would be easier if I had programmed myself to abhor consumerism and capitalism when I was younger (or if I had been programmed that way). Viewing pleasurable activities as evil would make them far less appealing. But I had absolutely no shot of being an anti-consumerist radical. I was injected into the respect authority and consuming is fun world. I've never felt the need to turn away from it. I love going to Disney World, the ultimate consumer paradise, and have absolutely no interest in living small. Beers are one of the small pleasures of my life. I've found that I can get by without lots of candy and baked goods, but fatty, salty food is much harder for me to resist. I love meat and enjoy reveling in the abilities that nature has bestowed upon me as a sexually functional male. Fatty stuff fuels that part of my nature. 

The extravagances of the consumer life are not constants. Trips to Disney World or a day at the ballpark are occasional events. The constants that make up the scaffold of these special events are where simple choices are made. Running is a simple thing made all the more complicated by our culture's need to find scarcity and build a market around the desire to have that limited thing. The Boston Qualifier time is the ultimate aim of many runners (I'm way too slow to even consider that at the moment. My fastest 5K ever, which was largely downhill, was run right at the pace I would need for a BQ time. And that only happened because the standard was slightly lower for me once I passed age 40). Equipment of all kinds, from shoes and socks to treadmills and foam rollers, accumulate around the simple act of propelling our bodies forward at a slightly elevated pace. Races are pricey, with those prices only getting bigger as bigger medals and post-run parties are added to enhance the appeal and eventness of contests that have been run for millennia.

Despite all the complexity the market builds into simple things, there are few things simpler than getting up and going for a run. I use a fancy watch that tracks my run and allows me to know just how far I've run and how quickly I've covered that distance at any given time, but there is no product that compels me to get out of bed when it's still dark and head outside to run a few miles right when the birds are just starting to get going. I have a fancy rowing machine in my garage. I may use a TV show as a reason to get out in the garage, but I could choose to just stand on the treadmill to watch the show. I chose to row while I'm watching the show.

As I write these tortured paragraphs, I'm struck by the thought that all of the advocacy of certain lifestyles is really nothing more than one person framing the limit of their consumer opportunities as a desirable state. I'm really doing nothing more than justifying my own choices. The real question is why I feel like I have to justify anything in the first place. My life is my life. Whether I decide to adopt the worldview imposed on me by the conditions of my birth or choose to rail against everything that more rebellious factions of society say is poison and evil is ultimately entirely my decision. It affects me and my family. Whether some hipster in Harlem would make the same choices is irrelevant. 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Book Shelf Zero check in

8 down, 172 to go. 

I'm locked in this challenging cycle of picking books that read very quickly followed by books that just drag and drag. I raced through Freedom and struggled through Jonathan Strange & Dr. Norrell. The Handmaid's Tale was a very zippy book, but it took me a while to get going with A Time of Gifts. Sapiens was quick. The Mysterious Benedict Society #2 (a book I borrowed from my 11 year old) took me a little while to finish. About a Boy was a very quick read. (I've read my Nick Hornby book, I'm not too upset that I can't pick up another one anytime soon, although his books look like they're good for a quick read, that could come in handy from time to time.) 

So I'm in the slog phase of my reading cycle. I started reading Crime and Punishment again. It felt like the right book to read. I was wrong. I was making absolutely no progress. So I set it aside and started reading A Confederacy of Dunces. This is one of those books that I've heard so many people talk about but have never really felt the desire to read myself. I used to work with a guy who raved about it, and he wasn't really much of a regular reader. The guy who checked me out when I bought it sometime in 2015 mentioned how much he loved the book. It's oh so funny. I haven't laughed once, but I do find myself going back to the book pretty willingly. It moves surprisingly fast. I don't feel like I've spent much time reading it but I'm almost a third of the way through it. I'm not sure if I agree with all the praise, but at least it's a fun, easy read.

Assuming I finish Toole's book by the end of the month, I'll be right on pace for 30 books this year. I'll need to read at least 31 to end the year below 150 books on my to be read list, but I should be able to manage long as I don't end up bogged down in this quick/slow cycle for too long.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

My annual A race - the Monument Avenue 10K

We're two days out from my annual physical fitness test, the Monument Avenue 10K. My time in these 6.2 miles becomes my gauge for what I'm capable of as a runner for the rest of the year. I put way too much emphasis and energy into realizing a time goal in this race. Failing to meet my goal or not running as fast as the previous year feels like some kind of personal failing. It really just means I didn't spend enough time training for the race. 

The Monument Avenue 10K helps me understand my evolution and development as a runner. The first time I ran this race I trained almost exclusively on a treadmill. I would go to the gym on my lunch break and get in 45 minutes or so. I would be gone from work for a couple of hours. I rarely ran outside. Rowing was a big part of my training back then too. Now I do almost all of my running outside. I almost abandoned rowing over the last couple of years, but I've picked it back up after my August knee injury. My times don't really vary much over the years. I broke 50 minutes for the first time last year, but my slowest time is only 4 or 5 minutes slower than that. 

I guess it's the consistency of my participation in this race that makes it so meaningful. I'm out there every year. Some years I've been able to train for months, while my training has been less than optimal due to injuries. I'm out there racing my younger self, and every year that passes gives that younger version of me more of an advantage. I have to work harder to keep up with him, and really put in the effort if I want to surpass my younger self. There are plenty of guys my age who run much faster than me. I have room to improve. The question is just how much I want to improve. 

Friday, March 17, 2017

14 day of Mud Madness complete, only 11 to go

My body has adjusted to the extra activity of the rowing challenge. I definitely felt drained after the first 6 days, but I haven't felt particularly fatigued since that first week. I even managed to break 19 minutes in a 5000 m rowing session on Wednesday. That's the first time that I've managed that in years. I'm particularly pleased that I've managed to work these rowing sessions into my established routine rather than replacing running or lifting with rowing. It makes for some active days, but I've been trying to keep the pace easy on days that I'm just not feeling all that primed to push. In previous attempts at this challenge I always felt obligated to keep my pace below 2 minutes/500 meters. I've abandoned that arbitrary pace this time around. I did 5000 m last night while watching basketball. It took me 22 minutes. I took a couple of very quick breaks to mess with my music, but those breaks weren't long enough to have a big impact on my time. I did do a crazy 500 m sprint at the end, but that was just for fun. Consistently getting on the rowing machine makes the difference. The pace of those meters is secondary to getting them done. 

It will be no problem getting in my meters today. This is the first half day Friday of 2017. I'm taking my car to get the oil changed, but I should have a solid hour or two after my car is done to lift and row today's 5000 m. I was in Chicago for some worthless training this time last year. Two years ago was the first time I lifted at Crunch. I spent the rest of that day getting groceries and taking my daughter to Girl Scouts. I'm getting lunch some place with TVs while my car is in the garage. I may even break my beer only on Saturdays rule. Or I may just get iced tea. I'll see how I'm feeling in that moment. I'm giving myself a chance to actually enjoy today. It really sucked to be away from my family last year. The flight back was delayed so I didn't get home until early Saturday morning. Today is a day to celebrate all that is good in my life.

I've been consistent with eating more carefully. I have probably given myself more passes recently than I should, but I've lost almost all of the weight I gained post-August keen injury. I was 218 Tuesday morning. I floated right around 217 before I got hurt. It's nice to see the numbers go down, but I'm more focused on sticking to the process of eating healthy and working out regularly.

Yesterday was not the best day for my eating. I planned on going to Subway for lunch, but there was no place to park (the Subway is in the same shopping center as a Buffalo Wild Wings and a local university was playing in the tournament at that time). I went to Taco Bell instead. I didn't go overboard at Taco Bell, but it was definitely more than a veggie sub and some Doritos. I wasn't sure when I was going to have dinner so I picked up a bag of Doritos and a Kind bar. I ate a few Doritos in the car as I drove back to work. I finished the bag and had my Kind bar as I was driving home. It turns out I left early enough that my wife was able to cook me dinner. So I went home and ate that. I didn't have anything else that night, but it was still more food than I normally eat in a day. This is after having a piece of pizza and some cake after a very filling dinner on Thursday. Today is not going all that well either. I grabbed an egg mcmuffin on my way in, had a donut in a meeting, and then had a cookie and some cake at another meeting. I should seriously consider getting a salad for lunch and skipping the beer. Sure, I was on the treadmill for almost a half hour this morning and I will row later, but that activity is not enough to cancel out all those calories!

After finishing A Time of Gifts, I moved on to Sapiens. It's a very interesting book that reads fast. It's nice to be reading a book that I actually look forward to opening and have a hard time putting down. I've struggled with enough books this year. I'm ready to just read fun stuff for the rest of the year. I won't, Book Shelf Zero doesn't have room for that, but I will be sure to work in some less onerous books between the real drags. To the Lighthouse drags on. I get through a few pages when I can. The mornings have become a less than ideal time to read. These half day Fridays only make it more challenging. I would rather get in to work so I can leave earlier rather than sit around at home and extending the time I have to spend at work. 

Saturday, March 11, 2017

A Time of Gifts - 5 down, 175 to go

There will be plenty of periods like this as I slowly work toward Book Shelf Zero. I've stuck myself with some less than thrilling reads that take a little while to get through. I'm going to go through long periods where nothing gets finished while I slowly chip away at some decent but very slow going book. That is the case for A Time for Gifts. It's not bad. It just gets a little redundant and repetitive about half way through the book. Long descriptions of churches and other buildings are extremely dull. The language is different and interesting, but there is just nothing much to keep me engaged with Fermor's long walk other than a desire to finish the book. He's happy to dawdle. I just wanted to get to the end. I'm happy to have this one behind me. Five down. 175 to go.

The most interesting thing about A Time of Gifts is the way it captures what life was like for an ordinary person in late 1930's Europe. Thinking about what somebody following in Fermor's steps walking from Holland to Constantinople (or Budapest, which is where this book ends, the rest of his journey is in a second book, which I don't own) would experience in 2017 is an interesting exercise. I don't think a dirty 19 your old would be received quite so readily these days (assuming that the memories and stories in the book are accurate). He wouldn't have to worry about losing his diary because each stage of the walk would be captured on social media and I wouldn't have to worry about reading long descriptions of buildings because there would be numerous pictures for every site he visits. There may still be some mountain trails that a person could walk on between villages in the Austria or Germany, but roads and railroads have likely taken much of that ground. The world is very different. Of course, Fermor spends plenty of time thinking about the great historical moments (mostly the ancient Roman historical events) that happened in the different places he passes through. He notes the way cultures and people migrate and move over time. He sees echoes of that ancient time. His book grabs the moment he experienced and holds it for the future.

March 6, 2017

(Only getting around to posting this on March 11. Just wanted to capture these thoughts and put them in their proper place)

This Mud Madness thing is wiping me out. My body just feels worn out and tired. Eating less while doing all this additional exercise probably isn't the best idea. I felt pretty weak lifting weights today. I interpret that as my body just not having all that it needs to keep up with the demands I'm putting on it. I have never had sustained activity like this over an extended period of time. I'm in new territory and need to keep that in mind as I proceed over the next couple of weeks.

Tomorrow is a total rest day. I was already using Tuesday as a rest day before I added in in the extra rowing so it was an easy call to use that as one of my 6 March non-rowing days. I will also be weighing myself tomorrow. That will give me an idea of what's going on weight wise. The scale has been telling me I'm losing weight for the last couple of weeks. I'm right at this moment wearing pants that were too tight when we went on our Disney trip in January. I want that lost weight to be fat and not muscle. Too much weight too fast is not the idea. 

For the record, this is what I've done since the Mud Madness thing started last Wednesday:

Wednesday: Rowed 5000 m; 20 minutes or so of weight lifting; 11,938 steps
Thursday: Ran 4.81 miles, rowed 2600 m in the morning, 2400 m in the evening, 15,993 steps
Friday: Ran 2 treadmill miles, 15 minutes or so of weight lifting, rowed 2500 m at the gym and 2500 m at home in the evening, 15.101 steps
Saturday: Ran 6 miles in the morning, rowed 5000 m in the evening, 16,387 steps
Sunday: Rowed 5000 m, 7522 steps
Monday: Ran 3.5 miles at 8:03 pace, rowed 2500 m before lifting, rowed another 2500 m after dinner, 15,025 steps

The running and rowing days are tough. I felt alright on the rowing machine earlier this afternoon. I'm not looking forward to the second 2500 m segment tonight. I missed my step target yesterday because I was just dragging after dinner. I thought it was better to go to bed and get the rest rather than staying up an extra half hour to hit 10,000 steps. The early bed time was especially important given that my alarm goes off at 5 on Monday morning.

I added a small snack to my lunch this afternoon after feeling so low energy. I had some flavored pecans. They were very tasty. The probably weren't the best choice, but any kind of pecan beats a Taco Bell bean burrito or a bag of Doritos.