Weekend Required Reading

1. Running a two-hour marathon. Strong opening:

“Here’s a quick and convenient way of finding out whether you’re ready to run a two-hour marathon. Head to the track and run six laps (roughly 1.5 miles) at two-hour pace (4:34.6 per mile), then run one more lap as fast as you can. Have a nearby exercise physiologist fit you with a portable oxygen-measuring mask, to measure your energy consumption at that pace. Then crunch the data to see whether your metabolism is settling into a sustainable pattern, or whether it’s spiraling out of control toward a fiery explosion.”

2. A female high schooler ran a 2:31:49 marathon. Leaving my brother disgusted with her parents.

3. Florida man becomes first person with Down syndrome to finish Ironman triathlon. Incredibly impressive, especially at 21 years young.

“Inclusion for all of us with all of you.”

4. The heartbreaking reality — and staggering numbers — of NCAA teams cut during the pandemic. Damn invisible enemy. Meanwhile, this week I was very pleasantly surprised to see an Olympia High School senior sign to play Beach Volleyball at Stanford. Take that SoCal!

5. And because we can’t live on swimming, cycling, and running alone, Mark Bittman’s Master List of Interchangeable Ingredients.

The Path Less Followed

Last Saturday morning, approaching the mother of all hills at the end of West Bay Drive, Dan, Dan, The Transpo Man posed a question. Why did our small group become runners?

I detailed my personal fitness journey in the early days of the humble blog, but I’ve continued to think about the question during recent solo efforts.

I suspect we’re runners because we inherited above average self-discipline from our parents. They modeled it day-in and day-out in myriad ways separate from running. They woke up early. They went to work. They dedicated themselves to their work. They saved their money.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we run at 5:45a.m*. The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. We were fortunate, our parents were Redwoods.

*except Saturdays, when we ease into the day and start at 7:30a.m.

Boxing Day Assorted Links

1. Why Self-Compassion Beats Self-Confidence. From two years ago, but well worth re-reading. Plus, it takes at least that long to make the switch.

2. The ‘Charlie Brown Christmas Special’ Dancers You Most Want To Party With. About time our data scientists turn their attention to weighty matters.

3. Rio de Janeiro is not for the timid.

“Despite tighter gun regulations than the U.S., in the poorer neighborhoods of many Brazilian cities, armed gangs and police trade fire with high-caliber assault rifles, machine guns, pistols, and sometimes even grenades and rocket launchers. Rio averages 24 shootouts per day. Large hours-long gun battles often don’t even make the headlines.”

As if that’s not bad enough:

“Perhaps it is no coincidence that a country with poor arms controls and transparency also happens to have an out of control homicide problem — 51,589 dead in 2018 — and a dismally low rate of solved homicide cases, about 20.7 percent nationwide and an abysmal 11.8 percent in Rio alone.”

4. Best and worst places to live in the U.S. by work commute times. Note: needs editing.

In short, Grand Rapids, Rochester, Buffalo, Oklahoma City and Salt Lake City yes. New York City, San Francisco, Washington D.C.+, Boston, Chicago, Seattle, no.

5. Desserts That Bring the Party. A picture is worth 1,000 calories.

6. On competitive running, exactness, and finding permission to be myself.

Opening paragraph:

“I’ll begin this essay the way I introduce myself to a fellow runner when meeting them for the first time: By telling you that I’ve run two 4:48 miles back-to-back. That I’ve run five miles in 26 minutes, 10 miles in 55. That I’ve qualified for the Boston Marathon five times and ran my fastest marathon — 2:41 — into a headwind there in 2015. I’ll begin the essay this way because I don’t love myself, because when I see another runner seeing me I assume they see me the way I see me: all baby fat and bone stock.”


Kenyan Marathon Mastery

• I’m disappointed I didn’t get the call to help pace Kipchoge in Austria Friday. I could easily maintain 13.1 miles per hour. . . on a mountain bike.

• I’ve always said I’ll never see a sub 2 hour marathon. Now I have to acknowledge I may. Among other miscalculations, I didn’t account for the technological improvement in shoes.

• Kipchoge is a high character guy who may be on nothing more than oatmeal, his pre-race breakfast. On the other hand, Kosgei’s drastic improvement, coupled with the litany of suspended female Kenyan long distances runners, makes me highly suspicious of her performance in Chicago Sunday.  Lots of people assumed Radcliffe, the previous world record holder, was running dirty too.

• Many East African runners grow up poor with limited education making them vulnerable to exploitation by family, friends, national coaches, and managers. The sad underreported story of East African running success is one of sudden unimaginable wealth being squandered in short order. For the sake of his family, I hope Kipchoge can break the cycle of successful Kenyan marathoners mismanaging their money.

Women Pace Marathons Better Than Men

Gretchen Reynolds, a New York Times health blogger, summarizes a study of thousands of marathon runners. Abbreviated version:

• The researchers wound up with information about 91,929 marathon participants, almost 42 percent of them women. The data covered all adult age groups and a wide range of finishing times.

• They compared each runner’s time at the midpoint of his or her race with his or her time at the finish, a simple method of broadly determining pace. As it turned out, men slowed significantly more than women racers did. In aggregate, men covered the second half of the marathon almost 16 percent slower than they ran the first half. Women as a group were about 12 percent slower in the second half. Burrowing deeper into the data, the scientists categorized runners as having slowed markedly if their second-half times were at least 30 percent slower than their first-half splits. Far more men than women fell into the markedly slower category, with about 14 percent of the male finishers qualifying versus 5 percent of the women.

• This disparity in race pacing held true in all age groups and finishing times, the researchers found, even among the fastest runners. The difference, however, was most pronounced at the back of the pack. There, female runners were much more likely than men to steadily maintain the same, less hurried pace throughout.

• Using this data to adjust for marathon experience, the researchers found that men, however many marathons they had completed, were still more likely than equally experienced women to slow during the second half of a race.

• The study was not designed to determine why men more frequently fade during marathons. But the reasons are likely to be physiological and psychological said . . . the senior author of the study. “We know that at any given exercise intensity, men will burn a greater percentage of carbohydrates for fuel than women, and women will use more fat. Our bodies, male and female, contain considerably more fat than stored carbohydrates. So men typically run out of fuel and bonk or hit the wall earlier than women do.”

The study’s senior author also found that men are more prone psychologically to adopt a “risky strategy” in their early pacing. “They start out fast and just hope they can hold on,” she says. She points out that strategy can sometimes pay off in a swifter finishing time. “It’s not necessarily a bad thing to push yourself at the start of a marathon,” she says, “if you have not catastrophically overestimated your capabilities. And Hunter notes, “An evenly paced race is not a well-paced one, if you run slower than you were capable of running.”

Reynolds, the Times blogger concludes, “The message of the study, then, would seem to be that an approach to marathon pacing that borrows something from men and women might be ideal. Maybe go a bit harder than you think you can in training, aiming to calibrate what your actual fastest sustainable pace is. Then stick with it during the event, even if your training partners tear away like rabbits at the start. You’ll reel them in.”

Unless there’s a large percentage of women with “gas in the tank” at the end of marathons, which I highly doubt, this conclusion strikes me as odd. As the study’s authors acknowledge in the larger post, evenly paced marathons are almost always faster than uneven ones; therefore, it’s logical to conclude that women marathoners, on average, are tapping more of their potential on race day relative to men.

And why are men running out of fuel and bonking earlier then women? It doesn’t matter that men “burn a greater percentage of carbohydrates for fuel” when every race provides ample fluid and carbs every few miles. Why don’t men do a better job replacing what they’re burning? Are women more intentional then men about integrating race simulation long runs in their training? Are men more prone to winging pacing and nutrition on race day?

Even if the study wasn’t designed to address why men are more prone to run too fast too early, I have a theory. I used to run with a friend who routinely sped up whenever we came upon a female runner or two on our wooded trails. He wasn’t conscious of this quirk. That experience, plus two decades of watching mostly male marathoners start out way too fast, makes me think male runners’ egos get the best of them.

When passed by older runners, heavy runners, really young runners, or heaven for bid, female runners, the self conscious male runner is prone to pick up his pace, with disastrous results an hour or two later.

Knowing this, I always strive to run my own race based upon the quality of my pre-race training. Consequently, when you pass me at a future race, I will wish you well.

Postscript—during today’s 5.5 miler, I realized my playlist needs some tweaking. Which of these doesn’t fit?

Bonus vid for making it to the finish line.

Living Healthily By Feel

As I wrote recently, modern life requires some dependence upon expert recommendations, but when it comes to our health, we’re too dependent upon scientists; when it comes to our money, we’re too dependent upon financial planners; and when it comes to our spirituality, we’re too dependent upon religious professionals.

A recent Wall Street Journal story described a study of older recreational athletes. The conclusion, past age 50, running more than 15-20 miles a week at faster than 7:30 per mile is associated with higher mortality rates. That makes sense since fast long distance running is a form of stress. So far, I’ve ran about 1,470 miles this year or almost exactly 30 a week. Most of those miles were in the 7:30 neighborhood (well, not the last 8 in Canada). In addition, I’ve swam about 185 miles and rode 5,272—all personal highs thanks to my Ironperson Canada prep.

According to some scientific experts, I’m killing myself in the predawn perpetual light rain, in the sense that I’m shortening my life. If you listen carefully, you can hear couch potatoes everywhere cheering lustily.

So do I dial things back? I accept the studies’ peer-reviewed conclusions, but I’m too skeptical to change my overly active lifestyle as a result of the study. When determining how far and fast to run, swim, and cycle; instead of living purely by science; I choose to live mostly by intuition or feel.

I know myself better than the scientists who conducted the study. Consequently, I’m just arrogant enough to think their study doesn’t apply to me. I’ve slowly built my endurance base over the last twenty years, I eat well, I prioritize sleep, and I’m pretty good about minimizing everyday stress. Regularly going semi-long contributes to the excellent quality of my life. I’m convinced I’m physically, mentally, and even spiritually healthier than I otherwise would be if I cut back based on this study’s recommendations.

I would like to live a long life, but I’m even more interested in maintaining a good quality of life. Late in life I want to remember my past; read The New Yorker; write regularly; and walk without falling down.

I could be wrong. About one of the most important decisions imaginable. The horrors, I may not be special. If some of you are at my funeral in two or twenty years, I give you permission to laugh one last time at me.

Saturday morning, I extended myself for only the second time since Ironperson Canada (the other was the Seattle Half Marathon two weeks ago). I ran 10 miles with my favorite right wing burners, inhaled a large bowl of oatmeal, and then celebrated Hob’s 52nd birthday by swimming 52 100’s. Dear longevity researchers, stick that in your pipe and smoke it.


Iron-Distance Triathlon Training Update

Is it possible to write about triathlon training in ways that aren’t painfully narcissistic? To write about it as a means to more meaningful ends like greater self understanding, greater appreciation for health and nature, for self improvement more generally?

I’m a triathlete and I find most triathlon writing uninteresting. Too many triathlon writers assume others are as interested as them in the details of their training sessions, their equipment choices, what they had for breakfast at 4:30a.m. pre-race, who they happened to run into right before the swim, their frustration that everyone drafted on the bike, and “their amazing support crew.”

Maybe triathlon writing will never be of interest to people who would never think to string a swim, a bike ride, and a run together. I’m diving in based on the theoretical possibility that one can engage the non-triathlete world if the niche sport is a springboard for thinking more deeply about struggle, life purposes, and things social scientific. If this post gets more than average page views I’ll weave in occasional swimming, cycling, and running posts. If not, I won’t.

I’m four weeks into training for Ironperson Canada on August 26th, an athletic event consisting of a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride, and a marathon (26.2 miles, but you knew that already). The four weeks in March called for increasing volume beginning with 51% of max, then 58%, 65%, and 72%. This week, hallelujah, I’m dropping back to 58%. In March I swam 29.6 kilometers; rode 392 miles inside, 150 outside; and ran 167 miles. I’m giving myself an “A-” for the month. I hit the swimming and running targets, maintained some core work, even lifted a bit, but fell a bit short of the cycling targets. I’m blaming La Niña for that. If we have many more colder and wetter than normal weeks, I may snap.

I’m not too worried about being behind on the bike. In May, I’m cycling up and down the Eastern Sierras and then I’m riding up, down, and around Southern and Central Oregon in late July. Eventually, I will return to summer 2011 form. Last weekend the weather broke for 48 hours and I got out for the first long group ride of 2012. I got dusted on the climbs by people I dusted last summer. Of course they hadn’t run 10 miles beforehand, but still, I realize I can’t replicate the intensity of group rides when I’m soft-pedaling indoors while watching Downton Abbey (that’ll intimidate my competition).

On the plus side of the ledger, I’m doing a better job of embracing a process I’ve long resisted. I’ve made peace with my decision to go long. I’ve always considered iron-distance training and racing a form of lunacy. Here’s why it’s taken me so bloody long to dip my toes in the long-distance waters:

1) Long-distance triathlon training and racing confounds one of my more important life goals—to maintain balance between sleep, work, family, friendship, citizenship.

2) Long-distance triathlon has become a big business and participating in it confounds another goal—resisting mindless consumerism. For me, the incessant in-your-face advertising that accompanies the increasing commercialization of the sport takes away from the beautiful settings and the purity of the activity. Go ahead and call me inconsistent, but I acknowledge the benefits of capitalism while simultaneously disliking the conspicuous advertising that is integral to it.

3) Long-distance triathlon is exceedingly expensive and I already play one country club sport—golf. And a person, if they’re a 99-percenter, should only be allowed one country club sport. I’ve benefitted greatly from capitalism, and I don’t begrudge any business legit profits, but I don’t like contributing to the supply that enables the World Triathlon Corporation to charge exorbitant entry prices. More triathletes need to say enough already, I’m seeking out less expensive races, or I’m sitting out the season altogether.

4) Long-distance triathlon is a poignant example of peer pressure something we should grow out of, by say, fifty years-old. I like to think of myself as individualist, but I have to admit I wouldn’t have committed to this race if it wasn’t for my brother and Lance who I will no doubt be cursing at my lowest moments on game day. I’ve never heard anyone of their own volition say, “Next weekend I think I’ll swim for an hour, then cycle for six more, and then run for four or more.” Hey, can I join you? And I have an idea, let’s wait until it’s the hottest day of the year.

5) Admittedly paradoxical, but I suspect long-distance triathlon has detrimental effects on one’ health. Especially for those who make it a lifestyle and repeatedly go long. If one trains seriously and then swims 2.4 miles, rides 112, runs a 10k, and then rests a lot, their body probably benefits. It’s the last 32k of the run where the health tipping point is most likely crossed. Apparently, studies of veteran long-distance triathletes are already showing the health costs of their mania.

Now though, I’m viewing it as a one-off project. And its part and parcel of the interest and identity tweaking I alluded to in the previous post. I told the GalPal, unless I don’t perform to 90% of my (perceived) ability, it’s one and done. If I don’t race smartly and thereby am not able to capitalize on my training, I reserve the right to a do-over in Santa Cruz in fall 2013 or 2014.

Also, in reading a bit about aging, I’m learning it’s important to mix things up on occasion, to break out of one’s normal routines. It’s easy to get in a rut—at work, while working out, in the sack, in one’s relationships. It’s important to travel to new places on occasion, meet new people, experience new things. This is about experiencing a few related things—getting in the best physical shape of my life and discovering my mental and physical limits. And I’m curious about how well I can spread my effort out throughout the day and how long I can force myself to run. Six months of lunacy to learn more about my mind and body.

Correction. Only five more months of long-distance lunacy.

Training the Mind

Regretfully, only now that I am an over the hill marathoner do I realize I have not been intentional enough about training my mind for race day. I suspect there are as many ways to train one’s mind as there are successful endurance athletes, but I’m most in tune with three strategies.

The first, and probably best known and most commonly practiced, is visualization. I dabble with this. Last Saturday, I told Dano at mile 14, “We’re exiting Seward Park (the 14 mile mark in the Seattle Marathon).”

The second entails repeating short positive phrases like “smooth and strong”, “steady strength”, or “fluid motion”. Often though, another tape bleeds into that one, one that sounds like this, “Where the hell’s the mile marker?! Who moved the mile marker?!” “Is this pace sustainable?” And “Is that the hammie about to go?”

The third involves finding inspiration from harder core athletes like Terry Fox, Lynne Cox (Swimming to Antartica), Dave Gordon (still awaiting his book), and Joanie.

If you’re Canadian you know all about Terry Fox. If you’re not, do yourself a huge favor and watch this film.

Lately, Joanie has been in the news. From a recent New York Times profile:

Perhaps running best suited her Yankee upbringing of thrift and individualism in Maine, nothing needed beyond a pair of shoes and an open road. That is how she won the Olympics, running fast and alone.

See for yourself in this four minute clip. Start about 50 seconds in. Her transcendental focus in the 1:20-1:37 segment is mesmerizing. Filing away that image for my run into Memorial Stadium.

As I was circling the Olympia High track in the pitch black one recent morn, I was thinking something similar. The beauty of running is how primitive it is. Especially when compared to cycling. The perfect sport for a minimalist.

Read about Joan’s Chicago Marathon triumph here. Excerpt. “Did I think I was going to be back here running competitively, trying to get an Olympic marathon trials qualifying time 25 years later?” Samuelson asked. “Heck no. But it’s the passion that still burns, the challenge to see how fast I can go.”

The passion still burns. . . and inspires.

Fitness Update

Swimming. I’m not a joiner so I surprised myself when I signed up for the January/early February Masters swim team session. Paying extra to swim with other people? New year/decade kind of thing I guess.

I’ve been getting in about 3-3.5k three times a week. 10k, a regular day in the life of a “swimmer”, a solid week for me. Got some grief for not signing all the way on and buying a team suit before the big meet on February 6th, but I was proud of my excuse, “I’m a triathlete disguised as a swimmer.” Same reason I kick with fins!

That’s a versatile one that I’m ready to use with the cycling team.

Speaking of suits (product pimping alert), the other day I was marveling at how long I’ve been wearing my polyester Speedo Endurance jammers. If I had known about these a decade ago, I wouldn’t be driving a Honda Civic.

Flashblack to the first practice of the New Year. I’m hanging on the wall during a rest interval when all of a sudden, the magic jammers up and quit. A fissure of biblical proportions, just tush and water.

When I got home, my best friend who has a lot of friends on the team demanded I tell her exactly what I did next. So of course I had to embellish it. Truth be told, I timed my locker room dash perfectly and kept my privates out of public view. I had a backup suit and was back in the water with only the coach knowing how close a call everyone had.

It’s important to make a good first impression.

Cycling. See my Christmas present to myself below. Now when the rain or snow is blowing sideways I kick on ESPN and laugh at Mother Nature. Oh, the seven? That’s my Lance Pharmstrong impersonation for Lance. Notice the blurred feet, serious power.

Today’s numbers, off a run, 849calories, 219 watts avg., 28.8k in 1:05. 30m warm up followed by 4 on, 3 off. One benefit of the new bike, I can now be a watts geek.

L, G, and I entered a lottery for an epic ride/race that’s not in Washington State. We entered in that order. I may not know until mid-August if signing up was the result of positive or negative peer pressure.

Running. Taught all day Saturday most of the month so my posse is in more disarray than the Democrats. Missed the Saturday 10-milers. Solid week-day routine though, about 25m/week.

Week that Was—12/21-12/27

12/21 M T W R F SA SU Total
S 2,000

16:31 1k


16:28 1k



C 16 14


R 6 6

mid 4-:29






S: Outdoors in Flo-rida. SCM. Busted a knuckle up pretty good during family relays. It was all worth it though because I smoked 17 during that 50 back/breast race segment. My sissy shared an interesting thought last week, “It’s not all about me.” Oh, I beg to differ. As I pulled away with 14 cheering wildly, it was all about me. Seventeen never should have said “YOUR doing breaststroke?” Although, fourteen and forty seven were victorious, everyone smoked me in the back/butter/breast.

C: W indoors, Su outdoors. Sunday’s ride was done at 10mph with my better half on a hybrid way too small for me. Our mission, find Derek Jeter’s new house. We were unsuccessful. I should have done the research beforehand. We actually saw it near the end of our ride from across the (Tampa) Bay. Once built it will be 30,000 square feet. Seems kinda silly for a single dude. Actually seems kinda silly for a polygamist with double digit children. Had a thought during the ride Lance. If I rode an Ironperson at that pace, I probably could tag on a marathon. 1:05 swim, 11:40 bike, 4:00 run, :14 transitions. Oh wait, they have a cut off after the bike, nevermind.

R: I was running T and the temp was in the high 60’s. Yes, I took my shirt off and yes runners going the opposite direction were shielding their eyes. Call me the Solar Eclipse. A cyclist passed me wearing arm and leg warmers. So nice to run in warm sunlight. Which brings us to Christmas eve service. The offertory? “In the Bleak Mid-Winter”. I’d like to trade mid-winters for just one more week to help the people of TB truly understand the meaning of “bleak.”