"There's only one hard and fast rule in running: sometimes you have to run one hard and fast."

Friday, August 11, 2017

3:00 Marathon Plan for 5K Specialists

About half the people who run a 5K find that they're better at it than they are at sports that require short bursts of speed. Of these, about half find that they're even better at 10K and of that half, half are better at the 1/2-marathon. Of those better at 1/2-marathon, half are better at the marathon. It's of these 5% who excel at the marathon distance that champion marathoners come and they set the standards for marathon training. None of their expertise helped me, who excelled at 5K and did worse the longer the race, no matter what I tried. Looking at 3:00 schedules, I'd think "Well, of course if you could do those workouts, you could break 3; those are the workouts I did when I ran 2:45... and I was trying to run 2:30!" I'd think that most people who succeeded with these plans were being too cautious, running only slightly faster than they did in training, while they would think that I was super-talented, racing much faster than the training would predict. Following the plans of others, I'd run at pace for 15-22 miles and then fall apart (how long has it been since you ever heard of someone "hitting the wall?"), struggling to finish; the further I ran at pace, the slower I'd run the final miles, always ending in about the same time. The one time I tried to run negative splits, I ran evenly throughout, finishing a few minutes slower than my best.

Every time I failed, I learned. While the experts could say "I did this and it worked," I was learning why some things work for some people and nothing worked for me. Now I think I have the perfect plan - too late for me to use it.


Most 3:00 marathoners can run a mile under 5:30 (or are very close to that). My plan is for those speed demons who can run a sub-5 mile, yet keep falling just short of breaking 3 in the marathon. [My next post will be a plan for running a sub-5 mile.] The next thing that's required is being able to run long distances frequently at 8 minutes per mile. A good pre-season test is to run, for several weeks, 13 miles at 8 min./mile (or 1/2-marathon in 1:45) five days per week, with two days of complete rest each week. A few runners can go straight from this to breaking 3, but the following schedule is for those who need a lot of specific training to reach the goal. The workouts themselves should look familiar ro most marathoners.


This is a three week cycle, Monday to Sunday.

M1-Th1, Sa1-T2, Th2-S3, T3-F3: easy days of 6 miles at 8 min/mile.
F1: 2.5 hours (19-20 miles) with 2x[5x1mile in 6:24 to 6:30 - 1 minute recovery]
W2: 3 hours (23-24 miles) with 10@8, 6-10@6:51, 4-7 @8
M3: 2.5 hours (18-19 miles) with 2x [4x1200meters in 4:00 to 4:10 - 3 min. recovery]
Sa3: 2.5 hours (20-21 miles) with 1/2 marathon race
S3: 3 hours (20-22 miles) with 8x30 second sprints

This, I believe, is the correct amount of each needed stimulus, at the correct intensity and with the correct recovery, in the correct order. An explanation of each long workout, with how to progress at them is below. Scheduling such long runs on weekdays is a challenge in itself, but I think it leads to the feeling "I can run long any day of the week." Moving a workout a day earlier or later is often necessary - you have a life outside running, after all - but it makes it harder overall.

Friday 1: "Threshold" running

I have issues with the entire concept of threshold running, but it's essentially a pace one can hold for about 90 minutes and 1/2 marathon pace is close to that for a 3:00 marathoner. Five one-mile repeats with one minute rests gives a time for 5 miles that would be comfortable if run continuously. Quickly building to that speed after brief recoveries is challenging, but gives a good "feel" for that pace, which should be just about the "ventilatory threshold," that pace where one's breathing pattern naturally shifts - in my case, from a breath every four steps to every three. The first set of these should be do-able, but the second, after having run for a long time, will be very difficult to complete, so progress is measured in how many repeats are accomplished at pace (if and when your pace falls apart, keep doing the remaining repeats at whatever pace you can manage). If you're able to do this workout before being able to do the others in this schedule, you can progress by lengthening the repetitions and recovery up to 2x [2x2.5 miles with 2.5 min. recovery].

Wednesday 2: Marathon pace running

This incorporates running at race pace near the end of a run of the same duration as the race itself. "Speed" runners would have little trouble running 6-10 miles at marathon pace, but doing it after having already run 10 miles makes it feel like an all-out race (be sure not to run this too hard and make it a race run in training!) When you can no longer hold the pace, or at 20 miles, whichever comes first, drop back to training pace to finish up the three hours. I find these last "recovery" miles to be grueling and often much slower than usual training pace (8 min/mile here), but it's these miles that improve your stamina. Improvement, then, comes not only from increasing how many miles you run at pace, but how fast you run the last miles.

If you get to the point where 10 miles at marathon pace seems easy, instead of running more miles at pace, try alternating miles 15 seconds per mile faster than marathon pace with miles 15 seconds per mile slower than marathon pace.

Monday 3: Maximal Oxygen Uptake Intervals

This, the one true speed workout of the schedule, will look insanely difficult to a pure marathoner, but not to a true 5K specialist. Compare this to the Yasso workout of 10x1/2 mile in 2:40to2:45 with equal recovery and it suggests a 2:45-2:50 marathon finish. The repeats are done at 2 mile to 5K race pace, with recovery less than the time spent running, not allowing the heart rate to recover, so the last repeat should be near maximal heart rate (for some runners, much of the workout will be at or near maximal heart rate). The way I suggest doing this is to start on a long and steep hill and running up at what feels like 5K effort for 4 minutes and then returning to the bottom as quickly as possible (3 minutes may be impossible). Progression comes by doing the workout on lesser slopes - and longer repeats - finishing with 1200m on the track. Finding appropriate hills is difficult, even for those who live in hilly areas; if hills of the right length can't be found, try ro put what slope you can at the end of the repeat.

The second set of repeats, after having run long and hard already, will be extremely taxing. If your next race in the schedule is longer than a half-marathon, do not attempt the second set.

Saturday 3: Race

After doing an all-out race, the last thing you want to do is to turn it into a long run by adding on miles, but running after one's depleted one's glycogen stores improves fatigue resistance. Ideally, one would increase the length of the race each three week cycle, but races of the proper length are more difficult to find now than they used to be. The goals would be: 15K in 57:42, 10 miles in 1:02:20, 20K in 1:19:10, 1/2 mar. in 1:23:58, 25K in 1:41:12, 30K in 2:03:41, mar. in 2:59:59.

Most systems of comparing race times will say that these times are all harder than a 3:00 marathon, especially at the shorter distances. For a 5K specialist, however, the challenge is the length of the race and this progression is reasonable.

Sunday 3: Short speed

I suggest doing this workout on a cross-country course or easy trail, using GPS to measure distance and not paying much attention to actual pace. This is meant to be an easy run, done back-to-back with the race day; the fact that it is the day after a race creates its own difficulty; there are runners who will think "I have a long run tomorrow. I better hold back in my race today," so it's important to think of this as an easy, relaxed run.

Interspersed in this run, include 8 short sprints. They need be only 5 seconds long, which will tap into the creatine phosphate energy system without anaerobic glycolysis and can be separated by 15 to 20 minutes. As one improves, one can progress to a 5 second all-out sprint, followed by a 25 second "float" at about one mile pace and then a 15-20 minute recovery. If one becomes adept at this, one can shorten the recoveries to 4x[2x30 sec. sprint - 30 sec. recovery] and finally 8x30 sec. - 30 sec. recovery, which falls into both the Tabata HIIT and Billat MVO2 training methods... but again, remember this is meant to be an easy run.

Glycogen replenishment

It can take some runners up to 10 days to replenish muscle glycogen stores after a long and hard workout and even longer to recover from races of half-marathon or more. Because of this, I suggest the Western Australia method of glycogen replenishment. In the 2-4 hours after each long run in this schedule, gorge on high glycemic index foods, which "tricks" your body into storing more muscle glycogen. Personally, I drink a gallon of water with 8-10 ounces of corn syrup and a teaspoon of salt in it and add a pasta meal; if possible, I add a cup of coffee (caffeine increases the loading) and a glass of milk (the insulin response to this glucose load also brings amino acids into muscles damaged by exercise). This can be uncomfortable and sickening the first times you try it.

Practice taking in fluid, electrolytes and carbohydrates in the marathon pace runs and in the races, as you'll need to be able to handle that in the marathon. The other long runs can be done on an empty stomach, which may help your body adapt to spare glycogen reserves.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017


People are always surprised to find out I'm a religious man, partly because I don't behave in the way that they expect "religious people" to behave, but mostly because I'm an extremely rigorous scientist. It's the latter that I want to discuss here.

Occam's Razor Is Almost Always Wrong

You've probably heard a variation of the dictum of the Earl of Ockham, something like "The simplest explanation that fits the facts is probably the case." The simplest explanation of how we get energy from food is that chemical bonds in food are broken in a linear sequence of steps and the energy of these bonds is absorbed by the body. In a first biochemistry course, you discover the simple chain of events has a circle in it called the Krebs Cycle, which is certainly not the most direct route. The next course will tell you "what you learned before is close to the truth, but here's what really happens." In fact, every biochemistry course adds more complications to accommodate more facts. And that's the point I want o make: because you never have all the facts, whatever explanation you have is a useful simplification, but it is not real; it is an analogy.

Particles, Waves and a Probabilistic Cat

I am always stunned that some aspects of quantum theory are taught in high schools and that people then speak of the dual nature of electrons as particles and waves or of Schrödinger's cat, as if they understand them. I took several courses in quantum chemistry and statistical mechanics in college and didn't really understand it until several years later. Generally, people get a take-away message - usually incorrect - and, though what they've ben taught makes no sense, feel "people who understand these things and are a lot smarter than me say it's so, so it's true." This is making science into a thing of faith, a religion.

For the record, an electron is not both a particle and a wave, nor is it a particle that moves in a wave, nor a particle with wave-like characteristics. An electron is neither a particle nor a wave; in fact, we don't know what it is, but we have observations of how it behaves in various circumstances. Some of these behaviors we can describe with math developed to describe particles, others require math developed to describe waves, even though these exclude each other and particles are never waves. We have analogies that help us understand electrons, but the analogies contradict each other. It's like the story of the blind men and the elephant [one feels a leg and says it's a tree, another the tail and says it's a rope, another a tusk and says it's a spear]

The most important feature of quantum mechanics for my purposes here is Heisenberg's uncertainty principle. We know the world through our senses, which require bouncing a particle or a wave off a thing to see it. This action to sense it changes the object's energy, so it is no longer exactly the thing you were trying to sense. On the atomic level, you can know where an electron is, or where it's going, but not both. No matter what you do, there is something you cannot know.

Why the world has things that cannot be known leads from physical chemistry to more abstract math.

It Doesn't Add Up

Physics does not describe the world, except through analogy. When the analogy breaks down, different math gets employed. Zeno's paradox that motion is impossible because, for an arrow to reach its target, it must first go half the distance, but before that happens it must o 1/4th the way, and so on in an infinite number of steps, was "solved" by the invention of calculus by Newton and Leibnitz. The paradox still exists, we just have math that can accept an infinite number of steps now.

Similarly, Euclidean geometry works great for describing the arc of a tossed ball, so that's what we use. It doesn't work, however, in the relativistic world described by Einstein, so Riemann's geometry, where parallel lines intersect and infinitely long lines circle back on themselves, is used.

Attempts to combine quantum mechanics and gravity have led to the use of string theory, which is so flexible that it can describe almost anything. Its drawbacks are math so complicated that few can follow it (I can't) and the necessity of ten perhaps even 26) spatial dimensions.

There is, however, a problem with numbers themselves, which you may have sensed as early as you were told that you can't divide by zero. Kurt Gödel proved, mathematically, that any system complicated enough to include the set of integers is internally inconsistent and contradicts itself.

As long as you try to use math and physics to describe the world, you are automatically wrong.

The logical next step is recursive

Let's say you abandon math and try to explain the world logically. Even if you use Bertrand Russell's symbolic logic, there is always that nagging something which cannot be known. The simplest version of this is this version of the Liar's Paradox: "This sentence is false." Logically, if you say that it's true, it's false and if you say it's false, it's true. The important point is: it has no truth value until you assign it one, just as Schrödinger's cat is neither dead nor alive, but has only probabilities of being alive or dead until you look at it. Your interaction with it changes it, just as bouncing particles or waves off objects does.

Metaphysics, free will and other unprovable things that don't matter

1) What if you were only a brain in a vat and everything you think you experience were merely electrical signals being fed into that brain? The world would be exactly the same. Because we experience the world through our senses, which require bouncing particles or waves off of things to be converted into electrical neural pulses, it is exactly the same. Our brains are encased in a skull where there is no light, yet we believe the electrical signals from our optic nerves are sight - it is a matter of faith and of choice. You could choose to believe you are only a brain in a vat, but it is a difficult and unrewarding choice (I've tried it).

2) What if the universe were created 5 minutes ago? Imagine everything came into being at the same time, with all of its characteristics, including you with all of your (imagined) memories. The world would be exactly the same. There is no way to prove that this is not the case and you could choose to believe the world is only 5 minutes old, but again, it's an unfruitful choice. Though I choose to believe the universe was created some 15 billion years ago (or is it 13.5?), it is a matter of faith as much as for fundamentalist Christians who believe Bishop Usher's date of 4004 BC.

3) What if you didn't have free will, but everything you did were predetermined and fated to happen? Again, nothing would change. At first, it would seem that choosing to believe in determinism removes one from responsibility for one's actions, so that any "immoral" act is permissible (I'm not going to get into ethics, though I could - for me it ends in existentialism, situational ethics and moral relativism), but you have to behave the same way whatever you believe. The randomness inherent in quantum mechanics seems at first to decide in the favor of free will, but deeper investigation returns one to a matter of choice that makes no difference.

Faith in science

Why should it be that there are things we cannot know, inherent contradictions in our math and logic and fundamental philosophical questions that cannot be decided? The standard response is: we do not know now, but science will explain it in the future. This is a statement of faith in science as a religion, which I find abhorrent.

The question of God

The final undecidable problem of philosophy is the existence of God and I say that, like the other questions, it does not matter what you choose to believe. It is impossible to either disprove the existence of God or prove the existence of God (a friend of mine, a pastor, was incensed when I picked out a flaw in every "proof" of God's existence collected in "Does God Exist?" by Hans Küng, saying "I think he knows more about this than you do." That there is necessarily a flaw is in fact what allows me to have faith).

If you choose to believe in God, you can believe in God's creating the universe in such a way that His existence cannot be proven, but must be a matter of faith. All the other un-fillable holes in knowledge I've described then become analogous, making for a harmonious whole that I find comforting.

Religion, whichever flavor you choose, is all about metaphor and analogy. Just as physics is not truth, but a useful analogy to the truth, religions are filled with stories whose truth (or falsehood) is immaterial, except in the usefulness to one's own existence. Christianity speaks to me through its influence through art, in the literature, paintings and music of my culture. Do I believe in the Lutheran "Book of Concord's" statement that each part of the Holy Trinity is distinct, yet each contains the entirety of the others? Rarely  about as often as I entertain the idea that the world was created 5 minutes ago.

Then again, it does not matter. I believe what I choose to believe because that choice exists.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The other depression

Many of you know that I've had a Major Depressive Disorder since my first memories. It was last particularly bad in 2014 - emergency rooms were involved - and then got continuously better. I recall thinking, every 6 weeks like clockwork, "this is so much better than 6 weeks ago." Things plateaued after about a year and I thought "so this is how everyone else feels all the time." I had no reference point, never having not been depressed. As it happens, I had clawed my way up to what most people would consider the worst depression they've ever experienced.

Imagine being attacked by a bear. You play dead, hoping it goes away. As you slowly bleed to death, you just might think "This is so much better than a minute ago." That's where I was, except I was dealing with a polar bear, which starts to eat you when you play dead. The standard PHQ-9 scale meant nothing; I was off the chart - this was a different animal. Able to function somewhat, I had been tricked by this most wily of adversaries into thinking it had gone away. This is the depression you don't talk about, the one with its own personality, the one actively trying to do you the most harm possible; if you talk about this one, you get anti-psychotic drugs, which make the bear harder to fight.

I realize that, just as I had no reference for normalcy, no one else has a reference for this type of depression. Decades ago, a well-meaning woman who had some say in what I was doing, had me make a list of things, maybe 10 per day, for which I was grateful and to add to it each day. After a month, she asked to see the list and this is what I had:
1) I'm grateful no one else feels this way.

She refused to believe that I had really tried to find things for which to be grateful. There was a 1500 lb. bear in the room she refused to believe existed.

The bear's back. I'm fighting like hell. I've fought for 50 years and I'm not backing down.

and I'm going to win.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

2017 Afton Trail Run 50K Race Report

[warning: not suitable for reading while dining]

"You haven’t tried hard enough to like it
Haven’t seen enough of this world yet
But it hurts, it hurts, it hurts, it hurts
Well stop your whining, try again" - Car Seat Headrest, "Fill in the Blanks"

I awoke early the morning of Afton, too early, and watched the episode of "The Great British Bake-Off" that I'd skipped to go to bed early and then read 20 pages of "Infinite Jest" to finally reach the half-way mark. It was already 65 degrees, but looked to be one of the best days for weather that Afton has had - in fact, it was still only 71 when I finished and it was cool enough for the women's record to be obliterated. As I drove to the race, 89.3 The Current was playing their library alphabetically, so I had "Daft Punk Is Playing at My House," "Dance Yrself Clean," "Dancehall Domine," "Dancing Choose," "Dancing With Myself" and "Danger! High Voltage" cranked to ear-bleed volume and there may have been some limbering up via car-dancing involved. I reviewed my goals: finish, don't fall, don't get dehydrated, do better than at Chippewa.

As I picked up my number, I did the rounds through the crowd and parking lots, saying hi to people who generally asked where my volunteer assignment was: it was 2009 when I last finished this race, after all. My cousin Keith told me his dad his doing quite well at 99(!) years old, several people made jokes about the number of times I've "retired" from racing and I came to realize that I'm sort of a fixture on the circuit, but unknown to those contending for awards, as I've been graduated from contender to historical figure. Robyn Reed asked if I ever use a heart rate monitor and I showed her that I was wearing one, that it was useful to keep me from going out too hard at the start... in theory. I told Tim Owata and some guy whose name I didn't catch a story about a desperate thing I did at a race once and the guy said "I am going to tell that story to everyone I meet for the rest of my life." I can spin a good yarn. I took off my shirt, feeling it better to be a bit cool at the start, and tied it to the leg of a picnic table.

The gun goes off and I'm headed down the first slope about 3 minutes per mile slower than feels right for the start of a race. People are asking questions about the course as we go past the corner where I've been volunteering for the past decade and which is manned by John Horns, who could've won our age class here, had he not just run the Western States 100 Mile in 23 hours. Then we head up to the prairie and I glance at my heart rate - 155 on flat ground when I know I can handle 147 for 5 hours [I ended up averaging 146 for the race], proving once again that I know what I should do, but don't do it.

We drop down to the "Back 40" loop, which is uneventful, except for some muddy areas that I know will be churned much worse by the second loop. I'm hoping to keep my new shoes relatively dry, without success. Skipping the first two aid stations, I've gained ground on a lot of people.

Back up on the prairie, I start passing gas. Continuously. In unprecedented amounts. And then it becomes not just gas. I need a port-a-potty. I figure I can last until the next aid station, where there should be one - or at least the outhouse by the beach. The aid station is set up to prevent one from crossing, and there's nowhere to go. I refill my water bottle and head off trying to remember where the next latrine is. 100 yards later, it no longer matters; I'm in the bushes, squatting.

Back on the course, I'm hoping to put that embarrassing incident behind me. I start trading places with people I'll be seeing for most of the race, 69 year-old phenom Gene Dykes, Jacob Pittman (though he was more 2nd loop than first) and Brenna Bray (who ran downhills impressively fast). I'm still at too high a heart rate and playing the mind game of "Maybe I had the numbers wrong. Maybe I am in better shape than I thought." Then my bowels make their presence known again. Ar aid station 5, I hear people I know (Al Holtz among them) cheering for me, though I can't see them - something about the white gravel road and the sun behind them makes me blind to everything more than a yard away. I've refilled my water bottle and am heading for the Snowshoe Loop when I realize I should've detoured to the bathrooms at the group campsite. I'm back in the bushes, wondering what I ate that's trying to kill me and hoping I'm empty. My urine's only a small amount, so dark as to look rhabdomyolitic tea brown, though I know that's not the case. I must be dehydrated, but from diarrhea, or maybe it's just that that's where the fluid's going that should be urine. I'm confused - tired confused - so I decide to just run by feel.

The snowshoe loop proves much easier to run than usual for me. When I hear people behind me, I speed up to do the technical bits at leisure and out of sight of those who will wonder how to run them; some things become ingrained when you've raced for 40 years. The hill out of the snowshoe loop - the last hill - is also easier than expected. There's a logjam of runners at the half-way mark, where people have drop bags and I plow through, skipping the aid station again. I hit the half-way mark in 2:31:57, so slowing 2 minutes per mile would still get me a personal best on the course (where I've never done well). I know I've gone out too fast. I intentionally slow way down. Those I dropped at the half-way point catch up to me, Jacob on the first hill, Brenna on the prairie. Brenna and I introduce ourselves, find out we have some people in common... and I see my heart rate has climbed to 166; dehydration can do that, I recall. I let her go and she says I'll catch her in 10 minutes, as I have all day, but I know it's the end of that phase of the race.

Heading back down to the Back 40, my legs are showing the first signs of fatigue. At the aid station, Doug Kleemeier asks if I want anything to eat and I decline; the truth was I was afraid anything I ate would shoot straight through me. I ran straight through the Back 40 mud holes, getting filthy. The next miles were uneventful and then at 21.5 miles... back into the bushes. This time, I'm off the trail seemingly forever. It's no longer a race of any sort, just holding together for a finish. Ann Heaslett catches me and asks how I'm doing; when I reluctantly tell her, she asks if I want anti-diarrheal medication she's carrying. "I AM a doctor, you know." I refuse, expecting I must be empty by now and wondering just how many medications she's carrying, where she keeps them and whether any other physician would be so equipped. It's a nice distraction,actually.

Nevertheless, he persisted.

The last third of the race was a 13 minute per mile slog, rather than the 19 per mile death march of Chippewa and I'm feeling better. My legs are starting to creak at the knees and hips, I start hunching over a bit on climbs, my toes are jamming into the end of my shoes so I'm scrunching them on downhills. Problems snowball, as they are wont to do. I'm getting passed more and more frequently. With 2 miles to go, Sam Carlson catches me and I can hear Shannon Lindgren call my name. Shannon went by on the last hill, looking fresh and unspattered by mud, which had me wonder if she wasn't in the race - Dan LaPlante and Jamie Mariel, for example, were out there running as spectators - and I later heard that her hydration bladder had leaked, which would've washed off the mud! Usually, I try to put on a show and kick at the end, but there was no reason to and I wasn't feeling it.

Andy Sandor finished a few minutes behind me and Mike Scandrett got his 15th (!) finish a few minutes after that. Someone had stolen my shirt. I debated how long I could talk to people before heading back to the port-a-potties and knew I couldn't stay for the picnic, fearing nothing would stay inside. I got in the car, saw Janette Maas, who'd dropped, and Brenna, who'd been done for half an hour and Gene who'd been in for an hour already, and drove home, content to have finished in 5:53:29.

My schedule for training for the Superior 100 Mile had a back-to-back long run planned for Sunday, after all.

One of Shannon's obligatory selfies.

Mud, medal and finish time.

Update: It's the xylitol in the HEED that did me in.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Early Panic Numbers Post

Five days until the Afton 50K trail race... Early this year, I felt 5:00 was likely, though I've never done well there (5:28 I think is my best). Now 6:00 seems likely, which is still an improvement over the Chippewa Moraine 50K debacle of 7:00.

I got to wondering what Afton times signify for the Superior Sawtooth 100 Mile, which I'm doing this year. Most people who ran both in the same year finished Afton between 6:30 and 7:00, which surprised me a bit. There's enough data to find that: finishing Afton in 7:00 gives a slightly better than 50% chance of finishing Superior in 38:00 (the cut-off). 6:00 improves the odds to 6 out of 7. 5:30 gives 14/15 and 5:00 gives 38/39.

That's the chances of not timing out, however. The overall finish rate hovers around 66% at Superior (75% in perfect weather), because most people who drop do not drop because they miss cut-offs.

Finishing Afton does not increase the odds of finishing Superior.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Political Think Piece

Time to talk politics for the first time in 10 years of this blog. There's not a single hard fact in this post.

With the ends of the political spectrum spewing bile at each other, it's difficult to try to see things from the opposite viewpoint to one's own. I'm a liberal; I hadn't even heard of Breitbart, much less read anything there, until 2016, though conservative friends would sometimes ask me about things that they were getting from news sources I ignored - remember "Jade Helm," the military exercise that was supposed to install martial law to take away weapons? [If you're a liberal, you may be asking "WHAT?!" as I did] When it didn't happen, the conservatives congratulated themselves on stopping it, though it wasn't real. In the mean time, sales at gun shops skyrocketed and the temporary ammunition shortages that that caused fueled the crazies who said "See, it's happening!"

It's apparent that most liberals - and certainly Hillary Clinton - have no idea why Trump won the last election, claiming fraud or xenophobic "bag of deplorables." I think I see things clearly now, though I may be wrong. I believe it's simply a matter of a generation seeing that they are not doing as well as their parents and certainly not as well as they hoped and seeing even less hope for their children. The problem is that rural problems are being framed in urban terms.


We in the cities think we know what poverty looks like: we've seen panhandlers. You don't see that in rural areas, because it wouldn't make sense. There you have people forced to sell homes and move into cheaper mobile homes where there are no trailer parks, but there are hook-ups in Wal-Marts. People are walking the aisles in the stores all night to stay warm. People are buying (I hear) heated dog kennels for their children to sleep in when the heat's been cut off. You may see "People of Wal-Mart" and laugh at the people you see, but they're doing the best they can under the circumstances. You're mocking people for being poor (and shame on you). The same goes for the "Fixed It!" posts where someone has jerryrigged things haphazardly with what was available - when you have no money to do it right, you do it somehow. Again, stop mocking the poor.

I've never bought anything at a Wal-Mart because I despised their business model of: moving into an area, selling at below cost to drive out the competition (absorbing the loss among thousands of profitable stores), forcing those who used to run their own businesses to work for them, and then jacking up the prices when they had a monopoly in the area. They then often closed stores, forcing people to go to a different Wal-Mart further away. Not trying to save a dime here and there by shopping at Wal-Mart seemed the way to stop them. The thing is: when you're down to your last dollar, saving that dime becomes very important. You cause a bigger problem down the line because you need to live through this moment before you can think of the future.


There are places where the number of people health insurance went from 10% to almost 90% and these places often overwhelmingly voted for trump. They didn't buy insurance because they couldn't afford it and now have it because they must; though the cost drops from (say) $800 per month to $200, that's $200 they can't save or need for other things. This discount is seen as an unwanted government handout. Add to this that it was declared a tax by the SCOTUS and it's seen even less favorably.

What's worse, people are paying for something they're not using - men are notorious for not going to doctors. If you're rural, the nearest doctor may not be convenient; anything not routine sends one to the one hospital in the county and often to the nearest sizable city. I can see men saying, "I feel fine and I'm told my blood pressure is high, my blood sugar is high and my cholesterol is high. They want me to start taking three medicines I can't afford and are telling me to exercise, change my diet and stop drinking and I don't want someone telling me how to run my life."

Acute problems become chronic problems and when chronic problems again become acute, they become emergencies. After a trip to the emergency room, there's a prescription for opioid. Then starts a new chronic problem.

Substance abuse and suicide

The rates of opioid addiction continue to rise throughout the population, regardless of income, location or age. The rates of suicide and overdose among rural white men is exploding. The rate of death from alcohol-related reasons is skyrocketing among rural white women; they're killing themselves, but more slowly. The despair in rural communities is almost palpable.

Corporate farms and agribusiness

Because of the economy of scale, family farms are dying and replaced with corporate farms. Fewer people are needed to farm, but there are few other jobs in rural areas. It's been shown that a dollar spent in a small town recirculates ten times before leaving the area. Money made by a corporate farm leaves immediately. Money earned by those who work there most likely goes online to Amazon or to chains like Wal-Mart.

Small towns are dying. A good measure of health is the presence of a high school; consolidation removes local identity - and you need young people to keep a town going. Slightly larger towns centered in agribusiness - turkeys in Worthington and vegetables in LeSueur, for example - are growing, but the population increase is from immigrants. There are no longer high-paying unskilled jobs, as was once seen in the automobile industry, but these low-paying jobs are being taken by those for whom it is a step up, rather than a step down. Perhaps what's seen as xenophobia is the belief that, if those taking the low-paying jobs unionized or demanded higher wages, then opportunities would open for others (though I assume the typical isolation by language and culture are involved).

The jobs that are available in cities are skilled. It's cheaper for a business to have people pay to go to school for their training than to train them themselves, so people go into debt to get training for a job they might not get and which will not last and is not transferable. The common alternative is to join the military, which trains one for nothing useful in civilian life and causes one to return to the same condition, only older and less likely to be hired; deaths of former military by handgun are almost epidemic.

Success at the cost of one's soul

There are some towns that have had great success due to tourism. The classic example in Minnesota is Lanesboro, which I loved in 1980 as a sleepy town of quaint buildings by a river. Having whitewater brought tourism, which brought money, which brought businesses catering to tourists and redesign for tourists (the bike paths are excellent now). Rents went up, so older businesses closed. Congestion during summer weekends kept locals from their hangouts. "No Trespassing" signs erupted everywhere. Like gentrification of industrial areas in large cities, these tourist meccas have a boom and a bust. As Yogi Berra said, "Nobody goes there any more. It's too crowded." When the tourists dislike the crowding, they find new places and leave the boom town less able to survive than previously.

God, Guns and The GOP

What do we as "big city liberals" do to change the situation? We have to visit small towns. Many small towns have a yearly festival; last year I went to several that had a race to run and people were interested in why I visited - oddly, none suggested what one should see or do there. Hunting will give reason to visit, something you can't do in the city and a sign that you're not a "take our guns away liberal."

Buy the local newspaper, use it to find out what there is to do there and do it. Find out what the important issues are, what the local angle is, how much right-wing propaganda has filtered into the opinions.

Attend the local church. Conservative churches, especially the charismatic ones, bother me, but it's a good place to be welcomed, usually over cheap coffee. The church tends to reflect and reinforce the local views; going in as a liberal and a Christian, you can gradually nudge messages toward greater mercy, acceptance, tolerance and forgiveness.

Consider what you could bring to the area. One of my favorite stories is of the Californian who opened his Vinegar Museum in Roslyn, SD because of the low costs. An openly gay black Buddhist, he was overwhelmingly welcomed, as he'd been the first to move there and first to open a business in at least a decade. Of course, I know of opposite stories as well, including a lesbian couple whose house was set on fire by their neighbor when they moved to the country.

If nothing else, bring food you love. More than anything else, I find people in rural areas, particularly recent arrivals, seeking a change in fare. It's hard to hate a man with whom you've shared a meal. I often think that circulating metro food trucks through small towns would be genius (if probably highly unprofitable); attending small-town festivals, there's always food trucks selling fry bread and sno cones, but little else. I am always amazed how hard it is to find fresh produce in a farming community.

I'm just old enough to remember Dixiecrats. The rural poor of the Bible-belt south elected Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. The rural poor elected Trump and for the same reason: hope. Winning them back starts with not dismissing them as bigoted rubes, but meeting them and bringing a message of hope.

This Weekend!

There are races to run this weekend in Elko, Henderson, St. Bonifacius, Fairfax, Redwood Falls and Howard Lake. There's something you could run every weekend and the 4th of July is coming, when there are dozens of small town races. Try it!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Coaching errors: The Theorist

It's natural, once one has collected workouts and divided them into groups - as I described in the last two posts - to switch from asking how the workouts differ to asking why they differ, to ask what does this particular workout get me that this other one does not? Once you formulate an answer to that question, several problems arise.

The simplest theory devised is to divide workouts into cardiopulmonary and neuromuscular. One piece of advice from the 1970's that's based on this still holds, namely "Once per week, run so fast that your lungs burn; once per week run so far that your legs burn." The most popular proponent of this theory today is Brad Hudson, whose book "Run Faster from the 5K to the Marathon" takes 250 pages to explain that simple idea. Because both short sprints and long slow runs don't cause one to breathe hard, he folds them both into "neuromuscular," but does anyone believe that those two are equivalent?

The most popular theory today is any variation of the "energy systems" theory, that started by separating workouts into "aerobic" and "anaerobic." The most popular proponent of this theory is Jack Daniels, who in "Daniels' Running Formula" divided workouts into "repetition," "interval," "threshold" and "easy." He then added "strides," then "marathon pace running" and "fast intervals." In the second edition, in table 2.2, he adds a "10K zone" because of another gap in his theory. Every time there's a workout to add that doesn't fit the theory, the theory gets altered; there's nothing special about runs at marathon pace, unless one's training for a marathon, certainly no physiological rationale for it.

When one compares competing versions of the energy systems theory, one sees the flaw in thinking that something you've given a name has a real existence. Take "anaerobic threshold" for example. Daniels defines a "tempo run" - what others call a "threshold run" - as a 20 minute run done at that one precise velocity where the accumulation of lactic acid in the muscles begins to exceed the ability to remove it, at a point called the "lactate turnpoint," which has never been proven to exist. He then admitted that that velocity was subject to change with terrain, weather, general health and so on. Then he decided that going a little further a little slower was also good, coming up with complicated charts of times and paces.

Daniels' protege' Pete Pfitzinger took a more practical approach. Since one cannot measure lactate level when running (I've heard of attempts to do just that), he says that "threshold" is "15K to 1/2 marathon pace." Daniels has said that it's 5K pace plus 24-30 seconds per mile, 83-88% VO2max, about 88-92% maximal heart rate. That's four different ranges in my case. Both refer to it as "comfortably hard."

Brad Hudson says he uses three different threshold paces (so much for Daniels' one specific pace!), the paces one could race for an hour, for 90 minutes and for 2.5 hours. Other coaches have different definitions, all of which conflict. When you've run for a number of years, you get a feel for what they mean, but you should remember that their definitions are not for anything real.

The inductive switch

A complication of the theorist approach comes with experimentation. Once one is convinced that a theory "makes sense," one forces things to fit the theory. Workouts others do that don't fit the theory are declared a useless waste of time and energy or at best inferior to workouts that fit the theory. The coach thinks in the shorthand of the theory and prescribes a "threshold run," whatever he or she happens to believe that is, because it's a requirement of the theory, not because it's in the best interest of the athlete.

When a theory becomes firmly entrenched, one stops learning. One of the reasons I started running ultramarathons was because no theory could explain how to train for them and I was forced to see things from a new perspective. Of course, now there are ultrarunning theories, too.