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Not So Fast

The primary goal for the race last week was to see if I could do it without aggravating my achilles tendons. As it turns out, I had to wait several days before I knew that answer – they felt lousy on Monday and Tuesday, to the point where I modified my normal running schedule to give them another day off. The whole thing was a big bizarre to me because…I ran so slow. So, 5 K, 3.1 miles, or about 40 seconds longer than 3 miles at 6:00 pace. I ran 19:01 for fourth and my tendons felt awful afterwards. Meanwhile, my fastest 3 miles on the treadmill was 17:40 and my tendons feel fine after that – this confused me. 19:00 was my absolute outside number on the slow end. I thought I would run at least 30 seconds faster. But more importantly, I had every reason to believe that that if I did run that kind of time, my tendons would be no worse for the wear. This was a bit discouraging.

I did have a feeling I haven’t had for a long while. It was a few moments before the race; I was walking to join the other runners at the line for the start. A flashback to 10 or 12 or 15 or 18 years ago…

I had picked out the top 5 or 8 runners during the warm up. Runners know their own, and even after 10 years of not competing, I knew who the decent ones were by eye. I had no idea of names or times, but if you know what you’re looking for, you can see the ones who are there for some reason other than to see if they can survive the distance. I knew that none of them were extremely fast (though it turns out that the eventual winner is national caliber in his age group, at 50 year old). I walked toward the line and felt a sort of wistful sadness. I felt the beginnings of a feeling I would also get in small races like these – the feeling that it didn’t matter what the other runners thought about how the race was going to go. The feeling that I was going to go out, do what I wanted, and, in so doing, grind them to dust.

Since I’ve been a more normal person, I’ve learned that when most people go to run a road race, they are not actually doing it to race. Most aren’t even racing against a clock or against themselves, let alone racing against the other runners. Most are going to participate, to be a part of communal exertion for a cause, to encourage friends, to be social while being fit and healthy. If I think about it, it is a noble pursuit. I am an elitist to even consider this a lesser form of existing; if I received a participation medal rather than one that I earned, I would throw it out. This is not what normal people do.

But as I walked toward the line, I felt what I used to feel. My purpose was to cover the distance faster than anyone else. My purpose was to control some aspect of my life, to validate my hours and hours of training, to prove myself in some way, to earn my own approval. I rarely did, incidentally. I was reading through some old race descriptions – I document all of these. It spoke of showing up at a smallish race like this one in Mt Airy back in 2006. There, I flagged another runner in my general category. Normally, you run 400-800 meters in a 100-200 person race, and the pretenders fade away, leaving you to battle your own demons by yourself. This was the week before the last time I ran Damien’s Run. I was in peak form, immediately before my fall, and this other runner was a few ticks above the normal chaff, though a tick or two below me (I’d later learn that his half marathon PR was faster than mine, which wasn’t surprising – I was lousy beyond 10 miles). Anyway, I went out in 4:58 for the first mile, the other guy went with me. The other guy commented that he thought the pace was a bit quick – speaking in a race is a classic tell of weakness. I commented in my description that I disagreed, and proceeded to run the 2nd mile in 5:02, breaking him before struggling home myself.

That is what I wanted to do last week, but alas, I knew full well that was no where near that. I had no delusions. Instead, I went out with the top group, assessed who was who, passed the guys I should have passed, got in line, and ran by myself in 4th for the last two miles. I didn’t give much ground to the people in front, but didn’t gain either.

Anyway, my achilles feels OK now. My next training segment goes until our vacation mid-July. It will nominally consist of:
Saturday alternating between long-ish run (up to 10 miles), 5-ish mile tempo run on weekends when my wife works and I have less time, and track interval workouts before the rest of my family wakes up
Sunday 6-7 easy miles
Tuesday 4 hard-ish miles on the treadmill, until it’s under 24:00, then re-evaluate
Thursday 3-4 easy miles (when possible)

This would peak me at 25 mpw with some intensity. I’ll try to find a low key race in early August (not too many that time of year), then re-evaluate, possibly converting the easy Thursday evening run into a longer Thursday lunch run (as I lose daylight), boosting the other runs in intensity, and getting more serious about the exercise bike in the evenings. It would be nice to show up at a race like the one last week, assess the field, smirk inside, and win. That remains unlikely. But it would be nice.

Eleven years ago, I ran a 5K called Damien’s Run. Let me back up a bit. For the entire first hald of 2006, my running career was teetering on a razor’s edge, held hostage by my slowly declining achilles tendons. I was receiving regular massage and stim, I was doing tons of auxiliary treatment, and this was keeping them just barely serviceable. I was running 80-90 mile weeks nonetheless. A month before Damien’s Run, I ran one of the best races of my life – 52:45 for 10 miles in Broad Street Run. A month or so before that I ran 15:23 in Shamrock in Baltimore. I was likely in near to the best shape of my post-collegiate period.

But four days before the race in question, I was running an easy-ish 12 miles after work with a running buddy of mine and I badly sprained my ankle on a tree root. I know the spot to this day. It was nearly 5 miles from the parking lot when this happened. I managed to hobble back, but I knew it was bad. I had already spent $30 on a pre-registration for the race. And one of my principle rivals, Carlos, was going to be running it. Never learning the lessons of sunk costs, I took off a day or two and ran the race anyway. I never could establish a good rhythm, finishing 6th in 16:01. The winner was way out of my league, 14:30 something – I should have run around 15:40. It was some podunk 5K, like all the races I ran on my minor league circuit. It wasn’t worth it.

That ankle sprain destabilized the entire joint. My achilles went from whimpering to screaming. I took time off, then tried to ratchet back up the miles in preparation for my seeded entry into the Chicago Marathon that fall, even getting to 90+ mile weeks a few times by mid summer. Then one day tried to run at marathon pace around a dirt track on the Eastern Shore…and could not. It felt like my foot was going to rip off my calf. While I did have a meaningful two or three months of high level racing in the spring of 2007, Damien’s Run was the beginning of the end of my running career.

After that, I went from boot to self-injected acupuncture to boot to shockwave therapy back to boot to debridement to boot to sort of moving on with my life by around 2009. In the spring of 2010 I stumbled upon decent shape (we’ll call it 17:00 5K shape), but never raced; the tendons flared back up and I shut it down for weeks. In the fall of 2012 I was able to run consistently for a couple of months and actually raced – a 4 mile in 23:20, not so bad. But then things tightened back up, and I had a kid a few months later.

I am now in the best shape that I’ve been in since summer/fall 2012. It is only because of consistency, I’ve been running regularly since the fall. After all these months, my mileage remains at around 15 miles per week on 3 runs a week. Nothing. But my body is accepting it greedily. My pace is steadily improving. I feel faster than I have in a while. Some days, I actually feel fast…I have decided to run a race so that I can put a line in the sand for the future…just in case. I looked at the calendar, and low and behold, there’s Damien’s Run, now held in my favorite place in Maryland (Patapsco State Park) and at a time when my girls will be up and ready to watch it. I decided to give it a shot. It happens next Sunday.

And so, a couple of weeks ago I transitioned from running haphazardly to training. I am still doing 15 mpw; I don’t want to risk it just yet. I have, for months now, been running faster on a treadmill at the YMCA every Tuesday night; low impact stuff. I cranked the pace down further, most recently running 3 miles in 17:40. But the treadmill isn’t real running (no wind resistance for one), so last weekend, I went to the track. It was a horror. I did 2×3200 with full (8 minute) recovery. Both splits were slower than 12:00, I’m embarrassed to even say them. To put it in perspective, I came through 20 miles of my first marathon faster than 6:00 pace. That Broad Street Run was 5:16 pace for 10 miles in a row. Not being able to run 2 miles in 12:00 was very humbling.

This weekend was a little better – 3×1600 all around 5:42 though still with 6:00 rest (aka, full recovery). Not as bad. But the times aren’t that important now. More important is re-acclimating my psyche to an intentional subjection to pain. Not having enough air in my lungs. Various places in my body going number. The voices in my head telling me to stop, telling me it’s not worth it, telling me I’m weak, telling me there is no point, telling me I’ll put forth all this effort and nonetheless look like a fool. Well, fine, I am weak. But I’m still finishing the intervals. These voices were there in every race I’ve ever run; hell, they’re there whenever I do something hard. I never listen to them. I needed those workouts not because they would improve my fitness substantially in three weeks, but because I could not expect to tolerate that pain in the race if I had zero exposure to it in five years, 10 if you’re talking about the real stuff. The whole trick to being a runner is convincing your body to hurt worse than it wants to for longer than it can. That’s what all that training is for.

The course is generally flat. I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I am trying to decide if I should wear racing flats or stay with more supportive shoes (the achilles heel remains my Achilles heel after all). Either way, I will get a bump of adrenaline during the race. Something old, some old magic, will awaken. Though the race itself is greatly diminished in the last few years (the winners barely crack 17:00 these days), I nonetheless have no chance of winning. I do not expect a miracle. I don’t expect to not sniff 5:20 pace for 10 years, only to magically be able to string together 3 of them in a row to come away with the win. It’s not going to happen. But I’ll probably run around 18:30 give or take. 17:45 is probably the absolute fastest. 19:00 is the absolute slowest.

These days, I come home from a run and my two year old gets all perky and asks, “Good run, Daddy?” They may never know me as I really am, having amputated all four of my existential limbs from my body – Cross Country, Indoor Track, Outdoor Track, and Road Racing – long before they were born. And they may never see me powerfully striding away from all opponents, dominating the hobby joggers and elderly while out-dueling the handful of semi-pros for a victory in any sort of real race. My tendons may fall apart again in a week. But please God, just one race for old time’s sake. I just need to make it until the 4th – my 36th birthday by the way.

(And, if that works, I’ll add another few miles on Thursdays, start alternating Saturday between an interval workout and a long run, and then target an early August race, 30-60 seconds faster than this time. But it never works. But it might. Then there’s another day, 30 mpw, and a crack at something respectable in October. Then train through the winter and see what happens in Shamrock in March. You know, I’m only a few years away from being in the Masters division. Yes, I always chain together this many low probably events into completely unrealistic scenarios.)

Podcast Power Ratings

You should subscribe to exactly what I listen to, and then we can talk about them all the time. Though I tend to not remember the specifics of what I hear for more than 5 minutes after I hear them.

Top Tier: I listen to every episode of these podcasts, flushing other ones to make time as needed.
Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History: At the top of the list because when he drops a 5 hour episode, I stop listening to everything else until it’s done. Yes, he’s over the top. Yes, he focuses on gore and yes, he can get repetitive. Yes, it takes an hour for you to figure out what the topic is, then the next two hours feels like introduction, then you’re done. But it’s still high quality, well presented, good production value, always informative.
Revolutions: From the creator of my old favorite “History of Rome” podcast, Michael Duncan does a great job summarizing (with some impressive depth) events surrounding some of the world’s great revolutions. There was a time when this was the only podcast I listened to at 1.0x speed, just because I didn’t want to miss details.
Reply All: Always intriguing. Light, funny, well done.
Radiolab: Interesting, balanced, amusing.
Crimetown: Interesting stories, told well.
S-Town: A one time event; heart rending, a spiritual successor to season 1 of Serial.
The Fall of Rome Podcast: Patrick Wyman is a real historian, and this history goes into greater depth than the other two above. The production value is lower and he can be a little dry, but the content is heady as Wyman focuses on the forces behind the key historical figures and events.
Common Sense with Dan Carlin: Carlin’s libertarian political/society podcast, but aptly named. Lots of well thought out ideas. And anti-Trump.

Safe for Now: Listen to most, pleased to see new episodes.
The Bill Simmons Podcast: Light and easy, sometimes funny, often about the NBA, good for listening to while doing labor intensive tasks they may force you to miss a few minutes at a time.
Serial: Absence makes you forget. Season 1 was a force of nature. Season 2 wasn’t. Not sure if there will be a season 3.
PTI: Sometimes funny, informative for keeping up on the day-to-day of the sports’ world. Repetitve after 15 or so years, but still decent. Light listening.
This American Life: Thought provoking, but often depressing and highly slanted. Slanted toward things that I happen to agree with mostly, but you can’t really make believe that they select a full spectrum of stories to represent “this american life.”
Pod Save America: Funny, liberal political show. You listen to it and wonder how the Trump people can exist.
99% Invisible: Generally interesting. A little dry in presentation. Subject matter is tangentially related to stuff that I’m interested in. Listening to it at the behest of a friend.
Transforming Grace Podcast: I’ll be honest, I skip the ones not done by Glenn Parkinson, pastor at my old church. He’s just so excellent. But I am like 3 months behind always.
History Matters Podcast: Legit PhD historians talking about history, though perhaps overlaughing at things that aren’t particularly funny. Some interesting parallels, and occasionally you’ll hear a point that seems so ironclad that you have a hard time seeing why it can’t be policy.

The Cut Line: Things I’m going to delete now that I’m done with this list.
The Ringer NBA Show: I want to like the Ringer’s NBA show. I just don’t like that guy that much. Much preferred Zach Lowe. Maybe I’ll see if he’s still around.
With Friends Like These: Reportedly about some liberals getting the opinions of conservatives, then hashing out the differences and coming to some mutual understanding of their positions. But not really about this. And the liberals come off as preaching and condescending in the end. A good example of what people dislike about the left without also being funny, clever, or particularly informed (like Pod Save America).

TBD
The Liturgists Podcast: Recently subscribed after Gungor concert. Will see if I like it.

Weight

Weight, past 11 years, closest to today’s date (+/- 4 days):
2007: 167.6 (first year I couldn’t run)
2008: 161.8 (training)
2009: 161.4
2010: 166.0 (first year I permanently was not in racing shape)
2011: 166.4
2012: 165.4
2013: 167.4
2014: 167.4
2015: 167.6
2016: 167.2
2017: 168.6

If anyone wants $15, I will pay that to get all thousand or so datapoints entered into Excel. This requires a plot. I wonder how closely it mirrors global temperatures.

Automata

Some jobs don’t require humans. In the last 300 years, the number of humanless jobs have increased exponentially. This increase has led to an increase in the overall quality of life of mankind. Without first beasts, then machinery, humanity could not support the billions of people on the planet as we currently do – few would say that agricultural automation has been bad for mankind.

At the time, they did. At the time, machines that would spin cloth were thought to be disruptive to the economy. But we would not have drawers full of clothes without them. Automation has, without question, improved quality of life. More goods, and higher quality goods, at less cost.

But in every age, there is a subset of the population resistant to these enhancements. Don’t automate Wendy’s ordering, for instance, because that will put 18 year olds without a GED out of a job. They need some way to make money. Don’t automate manufacturing jobs, because where else will those people work? But time and again, more automation has led to cheaper, higher quality goods. Do we intentionally hamstring society to provide busywork for the uneducated?

But what about those people who lose their jobs to automation? In theory, we should start working less hours, while the machines generate the wealth (in the form of inexpensive cars or clothes or hamburgers) on our behalf. In theory, there should be less of us – birth rates always decline as a function of societal wealth. But in practice, there will be millions left in the lurch until society adjusts to the new norm. Millions that would prefer their well-being over the “greater good”. And rightfully so. Millions didn’t get an education for one reason or another (some would say it was their fault for not working hard – I wouldn’t always agree with him), 50 of whom can be replaced by a single machine. So do we “make work” to keep them busy? If we had a different sort of government, we might find ourselves with a new WPA, where the state flushes the economy with jobs for the greater good – while bankrupting itself. If we had a different sort of government, we might have a guaranteed minimum income; enough for those left in transition to survive, but still too little to disincentivize some from wanting to earn more through more education and hard work. But nanny states are expensive.

I don’t know the solution. But to me the solution is never willful ignorance. One way or another, time and technology marches on.

By the way, side note…the only way to curb inequality is through cataclysm. Perhaps we’re on the right track after all.

Preaching to the Choir

I haven’t heard anything back from the Honorable Senator from Montana. Many representatives do not care at all what non-constituents think, even those representatives who sit on committees that impact the entire nation. No matter. I’ll write to our Maryland representatives, even though they already are opposed to our current executive and his feckless policies. Anyway, here’s what I just sent to my representative. It’s some words and then my feelings on gerrymandering. I don’t expect he would have read that far – tl/dr, but what’s the harm. I’m effectively sending blog posts to congressmen.

Representative Cummings,
I wish to offer you encouragement in this difficult time. Without a majority in either the House or Senate, and with a President seemingly unfettered by the bonds of civil decorum or basic human dignity, the majority of Americans can do nothing to affect policy. From the so called Muslim Ban to a multitude of measures meant to enrich his fellow billionaires, most disturbingly those at the expense of the natural beauty of this great nation, there is little to be encouraged about from this legislature and our executive branch.

But even in this time, the seeds of change have been sown. The people have embraced their civic duty and risen united against the perceived tyranny. Our President’s approval rating is at an historic low. At this stage, though you may have few political options, you do hold something more dear: the moral high ground. I encourage you and your fellow Democrats to shine a light of dignity and respect that stands in stark contrast to the darkness that otherwise surrounds us. Embrace your colleagues across the aisle who also operate with integrity in opposition to unamerican orders. Right now, the best thing that we can do is to show kindness and restraint in the face of bluster and blunder. The contrast will be clear come Fall of 2018, when the people will ensure that their voices are again heard in the voting booths.

I would like to take this moment to also encourage you to take a stand against what I believe is the central political evil that brought our country to this current situation: gerrymandering. I know that you did not draw our 7th Congressional District, but its tentacles and holes are illustrative of the problem.

When congressional candidates run for office in a “secure” district, they must embrace more polarized views in order to make it out of the primary. We are left with a legislature that does not represent our national centrist tendencies. Instead, we have a House full of extremists, who answer to the most vocal minorities on the far left and right at the peril of being flushed in the next primary. With no room to compromise with those in the middle, the legislative branch deadlocks. Presidents from both parties rule by fiat via executive orders to fill the void left by an ineffectual legislature.

Because of this, I believe that independent redistricting is the only way to elect candidates that properly represent the rank and file citizens of the Unites States. Please consider supporting all measures that would free our country from its comically intertwined districts and allow the majority of the people to have a say in our government.

Thank you for your time, I appreciate your service, and God Bless America,

Eric Furst

Spacious Skies

My letter to Montana Senator Steve Daines, chairman of the subcommittee on National Parks:

Senator Daines,
Several years ago, my brother and I spent six nights in the backcountry of Glacier National Park. Though I’ve been on many trips before and since, my visit to your great state and its jewel of a park sticks with me. We saw more wildlife in that week than in any other trip before or since; moose by the dozen, grizzlies, black bears, bighorn sheep, foxes, trout (on my plate), and the biggest owl I’ve ever seen. We spent four nights on the same itinerary as an Army Ranger and his wife – his pack was more than 70 lbs, I swear they brought a cast iron skillet or something. We met a man who hikes hundreds of miles a summer in the park in Crocs and a Jansen book bag. We picked up tips on how to eat like normal humans on the trail, we swam next to a glacier in a mountain lake at Stoney Indian pass, and we celebrated our trip with a huge pizza and a couple of delicious beers.

Why am I telling you this? I don’t have a specific agenda. I want to offer you encouragement. There may come a time when someone who doesn’t know anything about the wild places of our national heritage wants to make decisions that imperil those places. Those of us who love the wild look to folks like you to protect it – fellow backpackers who understand that these places are national treasures. Please look out for our national parks and our state parks. In 20 years I want my daughters to see the same big skies, the same cascading waterfalls, the same stark rock faces, and the same grizzlies (whether the glaciers will be there is a different topic). I want them to toil for 20 miles under a heavy pack to earn vistas only seen by those who seek with determination and struggle.

While I have your ear, I encourage you to support our National Park Service workers. I’ve never met an NPS employee that I didn’t respect and admire. They share in our love for the outdoors. That they are also idealistic and politically active makes them true Americans, even if not everyone agrees with their opinions. I am proud to live in a country where we can safely voice our views, where we practice the refined art of checks and balances both via our governmental structure and directly through the voices of our people, and where the protectors of our sovereign lands would also stand up as protectors of our ideals. Please look past the political inconvenience of their acts to the heart behind them.

Thank you for your time, thank you for your great state, and thank you for your beautiful public lands. I hope to visit again soon.

Eric Furst

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