Thursday, March 23, 2017

Training Log -- Week 3 (part 1?)

It's totally possible that I'm more or less done working out for the week, because Thursday was crazy busy as the students leave for spring break, then Friday we'll be getting ready to travel and then travelling, Saturday we'll be spending a day at Kenyon (and travelling to and from). It's getting busy, I've gotten in 3 days of work and we'll see where it goes from here.

Monday, I got into the weight room and hit "the usual": leg press, bench press, squats, and lat pull-down. I pushed the leg press hard and got more reps in my two minutes than I've gotten before, and the same on bench. Pretty solid effort, all in all. Go me.

Oh, and I also worked in some speed work after that. Nothing too big, just four sprints, each about 120 yards (or whatever the length of our indoor track is).

Tuesday I went for a run, and it was just nice enough to draw me outside, but not nice enough for me not to hate it. Recently, I've only run inside in nice flat, controlled conditions. Outside sucks. For those who know my school, I "like" (I use the term loosely) a loop of about a mile from the fitness center down to the lake past the flag poles, along the lake to go around the crew building, then up parallel to the road to the football field, then between the football field and the lacrosse practice field, across the parade field, up the steep little hill by the health center, then angled up that hill in front of the chapel back to the starting point.

Before I'd even gotten started good, this seemed like a terrible idea. The ground was still saturated from recent rains and a good deal of the loop is on grass. So my shoes (granted, they're Vibrams, so there isn't much to them) were totally soaked pretty much as soon as I started. And then when I made the turn to cross that big field from the crew building up to the football field (which seemed way far away), I was running into the wind and--I would swear--at least slightly uphill. Every step was like running through something that's hard to run through. Something that's so hard to run through, it saps the mind's ability to form similes. That's how bad it was.

And then, as I come around to finish each loop, I have to go up a steep (albeit short) hill and then a long gradual slope. So that by the time I finish a loop I really want to just quit. My plan, congruent with what I said in the last post, was to run about 40 minutes, which I supposed would be 40 minutes. I was ready to quit before I finished the first mile loop as well as at the end of each loop, not to mention in the midst of several of them. I slowed to a walk just a couple times, to pull out twigs that had lodged between my toes, but basically I ran the whole 40 minutes, so I guess that's a win. Definitely slower than 10-minute miles by the time it was done, but I wasn't really timing my splits.

Wednesday, I once again had post-40-minute-run sore legs, but I also once again pressed forward with a workout in the weight room: 2 minutes of 135# deadlifts, 2 minutes of shoulder presses, and 2 minutes of seated rows. It's amazing how challenging six minutes of actual work can be, but there it was. And, just like last week, I felt like it was not only challenging, but also a great recovery workout, as the legs felt just a bit fresher when I was done.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Training Log - week 2

If you read about my first week, you'll soon notice that the second week wasn't actually that much different. At some point, I should, you know, shift more toward actually running, but as I think I made clear in the first post, running isn't really my thing, so I plan on putting it off as long as I can.

And I will justify my decision to do so under the aegis of "minimum effective dose." If you're not familiar with the term, it comes from the pharmaceutical world, where they ask the question about how much of a particular drug is needed to get an effect (perhaps not completely irrelevant to the current discussion, they also sometimes look at the dosage at which half the subjects die). But anyway, whether it's a drug or whether we're talking about running (which I like to call the opium of the middle class, so also a drug), it should be obvious that too little will not be effective. But on the other hand, more isn't always better, so I'm kind of wondering where that sweet spot is (in other words, how little can I run and still managed to get through a half marathon in less than 2 months?). I mean, the thing is, if I get injured, I'm not going to be able to run much so, you know, better safe than sorry.

With that lengthy preamble out of the way, here's what I did last week.

Monday: nothing. Too busy adulting, couldn't find the time.

So on Tuesday , I did my leg press, bench press, squats, and lat pull-downs routine, and on Thursday I did my dead lift, shoulder press, pull-down routine. Sandwiched in between, I did actually do some running (see? I really might be training for a half marathon!).

I "discovered" running much the way I discovered a lot of things: in a bookstore. May of 1998, killing time in the Kenyon College bookstore as either graduation or reunion weekend approached, I found a book on running. The recommendation there was to block out 40 minutes, and depending on your level of fitness, you might start by just walking the whole 40 minutes, then you might go to four blocks of 1 minute running, 9 minutes walking, then you'd keep working your way up until you were running for the whole 40 minutes. I think I jumped right into running 4, walking 6, because my ego told me to. But anyway, that was my template, and before too long I was running 40 minutes at a chunk. As a result, I kind of internalized 40 minutes as the right amount of time to spend on such an activity, however far that would take me.

So Wednesday, that's what I did. It was cold, so I ran inside on this rather odd track we have at our school. It's a big catwalk around one of our gyms, with a wood floor. Kind of like a basketball gym floor, except it's suspended in the air up above actual basketball courts.

I started running, aiming for 40 minutes, and then I kept going until the song I was on finished, 43 minutes total. I didn't stop to walk at all, though I also wasn't setting any land speed records. If I had to guess, I'd say I ran 10-minute miles, but honestly I have no idea. I'd like to think I ran faster than that, but I'd also like to think I am a physical specimen in the prime of my life, not some dude who's almost 40 and looks more ancient than that to his high school students. Anyway, I will absolutely concede the possibility that I was slower than that. For now, I wasn't too worried about my pace, I just wanted to keep running the whole time and I did.

And wow! I was pretty tired after that. The kind of muscular fatigue where you can't get to sleep because your legs are achy and restless (which, I have to say, is not very good design: I mean, if my legs are that tired, clearly I need a good night's sleep to recover--someone should work on fixing that design flaw in our dna).

Here's the thing though. If you were following the sequence earlier, I ran on Wednesday and then lifted again on Thursday. My legs were still tired on Thursday, but I went ahead and did the workout I'd planned, because that's what you do. And you know what? My legs actually felt better afterward than before. Kind of weird, no? Go to the gym with sore, tired legs, move heavy plates of metal with my legs, they feel better. My hypothesis is that the short, intense workout didn't tire my legs the same way a 40-minute run did, but it did help to move the lactic acid out. Whatever. All I know is they felt better.

Friday, I did a little more running. Once again inside on the wooden track, I ran one mile, and this time I actually inflicted a stopwatch on my mile (9:48, so I think my estimate of my Wednesday pace was reasonable), then I walked for a minute or so, then I ran another mile, which was also sub-ten-minutes, though not as rigorously timed (i.e. I know what time I started, and it was 9+ minutes later on the clock when I stopped). And that was it. Just two miles with a short walk in between. I was crunched for time and wanted to get at least a little running in.

Perhaps because they were still stinging from their treatment on Wednesday, I found my calves particularly sore. Particularly when I stopped and started again. Because of my embrace some years ago of "minimalist" running shoes (which goes nicely with my approach of minimal running), I've transitioned to striking first with the balls of my feet rather than the heels, and one consequence is that my calves do a lot more work. Combine that fact with the fact that my calves do not do nearly as much work when I squat or deadlift (i.e. all the times I've exercised in the last several years), and that's probably all the explanation needed.

Anyway, it's a decent week of training in the books. I'll take it (as if I have a choice!).

Tuesday: Leg Press (2 min), Bench Press (2 min), Squats (3 or 4 sets), Lat Pull-Downs (2 min)
Wednesday: ran 43 minutes
Thursday: Dead lift (2 min), Shoulder Press (2 min), Box jumps (1 set, c. 36"), Lat Pull-downs (2 min)
Friday: ran 2 miles, slight break between them
Saturday and Sunday: rest

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Training Log - week 1

As I announced recently on Facebook, I've committed myself to running a half-marathon in just under two months. On the surface, this might seem like a crazy idea: I mean, I haven't run farther than 6 miles at a time in my entire life and when I say "I'm going to go work out," I most pretty much never ever mean "I'm going to go for a run." But if you dig deeper, it actually is a crazy idea.

I mean, I don't have any business running a half marathon. Seriously. I did track for exactly two years of my life--seventh and eighth grade--and I was not only terrible, I also hated pretty much everything about track except for walking from the junior high to the high school with my friends and eating sugary crap on the way at the gas station.

But, okay, actually, I have at various times in my life taken somewhat to running. But not all that recently. So why a half-marathon? Well, in part because one of my co-workers asked me to. Not just me, pretty much everyone in the whole school, and it was totally an option to run a 5k instead of a half. But the thing is, even though I know I'm in pretty terrible cardiovascular shape, I'm still pretty confident that I could go out and complete a 5k right now. Maybe not very quickly, but I could do it. But 13.1 miles? I don't know. It's the challenge, I guess. See if I can do it.

So let's talk training. For most of the winter, I have decidedly not been training for a half. My training this winter has been almost exclusively weight training, shaped by some time I spent hanging out with the Marines in San Diego in late January. While there, we took the Marine Combat Fitness Test, which included this thing where we lifted a 30-lb ammo can overhead as many times as we could in 2 minutes. Now, 30 pounds isn't that much, but I found that trying to do it continuously for 2 minutes got really, really hard.

So I thought "Huh, I thought I was fairly strong, but apparently I don't have a whole lot of endurance." Which makes sense since for the past few years I've mostly been lifting in the 1-5 rep range. So, with that seed planted, this winter I've still been focusing on the "big lifts," but I've structured my training around a 2-minute max effort. It took a while to find the right weights and, for that matter, all the right exercises, because it turns out that it's really hard to do back squats continuously for two minutes while maintaining good form (so I've been doing 2 minutes of leg press and adding in some heavier squats later in the workout). Besides that, I've been doing bench press, lat pull-downs, dead lifts, and shoulder press. It's been pretty enjoyable overall: I feel like I'm getting a pretty intense workout, but it's very efficient. Even with warm-ups and time to recover between exercises, I get in and out pretty quickly.

Last week, before I signed up for this half marathon, but with the possibility in the back of my mind, I went for one run in addition to my weight lifting workouts. And I have to say, it wasn't exactly the kind of workout that screamed "Hey, you should sign up for a half marathon!" Because I ran like 25 minutes and stopped several times along the way. So maybe a half-5k...? Is that a thing?

But I had an abiding faith that it would get better this week and--SPOILER ALERT--it did. But more on that in my next post. I figure I'll use this half-marathon thing not only to motivate me to train in a different way but also to blog more frequently. And just like it would be a bad idea to go out the first time and try to run 13 miles, it would also be a bad idea to write much more than I already have. So I won't, except to recap my training last week:

Day 1: Leg press, Bench, Squats, Lat Pull-downs
Day 2: Dead lifts, Shoulder Press, Lat Pull-downs
Day 3: a very, very sad little run

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Instant Pot Corn Spoon Bread

I fell in love with Don Pablo's in college and then I fell in love all over again the first time I had their spoor bread. Good. Lord. I've made copycat recipes a few times in the past, but they always seemed like a lot of work, with a long bake time and ingredients I didn't necessarily have on hand.

Tonight, with the help of my trusty Instant Pot, all that changed.

Because the Instant Pot is a pressure cooker, it both cooks faster than the other recipes and doesn't need an extra pan of water to keep the spoon bread moist. Win-win.


1/3 c. corn meal
1/2 c. softened butter
1/4 c. water

1 can corn
1/4 c. heavy cream

1/4 c. corn meal
1/3 c. sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder

some avocado oil

In a food processor, process the first 1/3 c. corn meal to make a fine corn flour. Add the softened butter and cream together. Add 1/4 c. water and blend. It's a good idea at one or more points in this process to scrape the sides. Add one drained can of corn and the heavy cream, process some more.

In a separate bowl, combine the remaining corn meal, sugar, salt, and baking powder. Add to the food processor and process to mix.

Turn on the instant pot to saute, add a bit of oil (I like avocado oil). It doesn't need to get really hot, just enough so that it flows nicely over the bottom of your Instant Pot. Scrape the spoon bread mixture into the Instant Pot. Put on the lid and use the manual setting for 25 minutes.

After 25 minutes, it should be good to go, but your mileage may vary. I've only made this once, but I'm pretty sure that will change before too long.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

By Candlelight

I'm don't think there are many things more beautiful than sharing candlelight in a dark church and singing "Silent Night" together. That's how our school's annual Vespers service ends (well, sort of: except for the recessional hymn. And the ten minutes of carols played by the combined instrumental ensembles), and it's how Christmas Eve services always ended when I was growing up. It just works on so many levels.

In the first place, it's visually beautiful. All of these human faces, each illuminated by a single candle, which combine to give a gentle glow to the whole sanctuary. Gorgeous. In the second place, it sounds wonderful, especially on the last verse when the organ drops out and it's just human voices singing together.

But it's also a wonderful metaphor for so many things. One candle's flame is shared with another candle, and then another and another, and where there was darkness, gradually there is light. It's the light of knowledge, whether that's the knowledge of a Savior born two thousand years ago or the knowledge of how the world works, illuminated through evolution or physics or psychology or literature. For the light of that knowledge to grow, it has to be shared in that painstaking process from one person to another (and sometimes, you get burnt a little for your troubles). It's the light of love, of compassion, of human connection, passed from one person to the next to the next, until it lights up a family, a neighborhood, a community, a nation, a world.

At least, that's the hope.

Thursday, December 8, 2016


Although it's part of my almost-daily routine, the scent of coffee still has power, sometimes, to take me back in time. Today though, it was a word: thermos.

My father was a truck driver, which I suppose almost by default meant that he was a big coffee drinker. When I think of my dad, it's the scent of coffee. And it's two big stainless steel thermoses with lids that screwed in, capped off by another lid that doubled as a plastic coffee mug. They were big, they were sturdy, they were Dad. 

I remember Dad and Grandma drinking coffee after most meals, at least when out and about. I don't remember it at home so much, but if we went to a restaurant or a church potluck, they were both sure to have a cup of coffee after the meal, with dessert. 

Despite that, coffee didn't hold a big appeal for me. When I wanted caffeine, I turned to Pepsi or Coke, but mostly that wasn't until college when I would accompany an all-nighter with a ridiculously large Coke from the campus Pub--no ice, please, I need as much Coke as you can fit in there. 

In high school, coffee did take on another association, though: working at McDonald's for a couple of years, there were periods--particularly in the summers--when I opened to store on a regular basis (there were also periods when I closed: I guess that's part of being a high schooler, none of the adults managing the schedule give a damn about your sleep schedule). The first thing we did each morning when opening the store, before a single egg was cracked, muffin toasted, or hash brown fried, was to make a pot of regular and a pot of decaf. And even though I wasn't a coffee drinker, it was like the coffee maker there pumped the caffeine right into the air, because it was invigorating. Sure, it was 4:30 in the morning, but once the coffee pot was going, I was ready to go too. 

I first became something of a social coffee drinker at my first job, a small boarding school in western Pennsylvania. One of the traditions there was that all the faculty members--after we'd been to the day's required dinner with students--were invited to the Headmaster's house for coffee and maybe some sweets. It was a good time to grow closer with your colleagues, and if the old man was in attendance, you could hear some wild stories of the way things used to be, back in the days when teachers smokes cigars in the classroom (using the chalk trays as ash trays) and could more or less strike students at will. You know, the good old days of concussions in history class and lung cancer in English. 

I would have felt out of place there not drinking coffee, so I did what any sensible sugar addict would do: I loaded my cup with the cute and oh-so-sophisticated sugar cubes provided as well as cream, so that I had a sugary-milky substance with a dash of coffee for color. 

But what can I say, I suppose it was a gateway for later coffee explorations. I think I became an inveterate drinker of coffee when I started playing around with low-carb diets, because incredibly fat-filled coffees are kind of a staple of those dietary communities. I tried "Bulletproof" coffee, which is basically coffee blended with coconut oil and butter--it's decent, but after a brief flirtation I've felt no calling to make it my regular joe. I drank coffee with coconut milk--fine, but it seems to end up a little watery (but then, I could probably fix that if I just didn't insist on using everything that comes in the can). My favorite though, the one I come back to day in and day out, is coffee with heavy whipping cream. 

My god. 

It's just so rich and amazing. I never put any sweetener in my coffee, just loads of cream, and it's wonderful. If I'm out and about, I'll often go for the Starbucks flat white with heavy whipping cream--basically it's just espresso and heated and frothed HWC, and it's perhaps a thousand calories of fat, but what a thousand calories they are. Not something to drink every day, unless it's basically the only thing you consume  every day. Which, now that I think about it, doesn't sound half bad. 

And that's my coffee story: it's a long way from my father's relationship with coffee, but still, that whiff of brewed or brewing coffee just sometimes takes me back to being six years old and hugging my dad as he said goodbye to go off and drive a semi to the next state, putting bread on our table and coffee in our thermoses. 

Monday, December 5, 2016

St. Nicholas Eve

When I was growing up, we only celebrated St. Nick in one way: as Santa Claus, on Christmas. When I was in college, though, I discovered the celebration of Saint Nicholas Eve.

One of my friends with whom I shared an apartment senior year was a local boy--his father was a professor in the English department and his mother was a locally-famous caterer who, along with her catering partner, held a beloved "Friday Afternoon Luncheon Cafe" at the local Parish House every week. Their family had a tradition, presumably coming from their Czech ancestors, of celebrating the Feast of St. Nicholas Eve, and senior year I was invited to the celebration. There were a number of our college friends there as well as adult friends of the family. It was a really nice gathering, and I felt very adult just being there, especially when the Scotch was served. I hated Scotch, but I loved being served Scotch.

At the same time, I suppose it was one of my last chances to be a kid.

The bulk of the meal traditionally is pork chops and Czech dumplings, which--like all the food served at their house, regardless of who is cooking--is absolutely fantastic. For dessert, my friend's mother brings out a cake in the shape of St. Nicholas, at which point, as my friend describes it,
Pa then starts berating her for not making enough dessert for all the guests (some years this has led to female guests attempting to kick my father under the table), then she invites someone to check a silver platter we have. No dessert, but inside the platter is a note, which tells the story of St. Nick, and says maybe he stopped by the house to leave sweets and presents. Ma then suggests that if he did the sweets and presents will be on the front porch.  The kids run to check the front porch, no sweets, of course.  So then the back porch and voila a plate with chocolate apples and marzipan and oranges and nuts, and presents (almost always books).
When I was there, my friend got to do the berating act, which is largely for the benefit of the new guest. There always seems to be at least one new guest each year, and that year it was me, which also meant I got to check the platter.

We did, of course, all run dutifully run to the porch, even though as wise old college seniors, we could smell a set-up a mile away. We could also smell the rewards of playing along, I suppose! I received the book Snow Falling on Cedars, and the marzipan was amazing.

There were just so many wonderful things about that evening, far beyond the gift and the food. It was the good company--not only other students who I liked very well, but adults as well, which is a nice social change at that age. Even more that that, though, there are just so many things to like about the ritual celebration. First, there's the simple fact that most people don't celebrate this holiday; whereas Christmas ends up being almost strictly a family event for most people, this can more easily include friends. I also love the inclusive nature of the celebration, the way that it draws in new people each year, a new group, continually including "fresh blood." The danger in a ritual, of course, is that it can become the same old same old very easily, but the ritual berating act really only works if there's someone new who isn't "in" on the joke. And that yearly re-mixing, I'm sure, brings a new energy each year as well.

I always thought that when I was older, I should like to carry on this tradition myself--my own memory of my singular celebration of the event made such an impression on me that it makes me want to perpetuate it. Isn't that where ritual celebrations really (or really should!) come from? From doing something over and over again because doing so seems meaningful and worthwhile to you? Well, we've got three children now, and I even bought a cake mold shaped like Santa Claus, but so far I haven't made the inadequate cake and we haven't invited people over for the celebration. My wife has at least driven the celebration by having the girls write letters to Santa and having them wake up to a little gift in the morning, so this whole Saint Nicholas celebration is a thing, just not the thing that I'd like it to be.

Maybe next year.