Archive for June, 2011

28th June
2011
written by Randy

As you may have noticed, I love raising the stakes.

I recently discovered a bunch of crazy running events that combine distance running with obstacles. Most interesting is Tough Mudder, which is a 10-mile running course littered with 20 obstacles designed by British Special Forces. (It looks really fun, and slightly insane, and I’m most likely going to do it next spring.)

But one of those events looks challenging and fun, and also within the capacities of my training: Warrior Dash. It’s a shorter course (3 miles), and the obstacles are a bit less intense, though still somewhat crazy. And importantly, it looks really fun.

Most marathon training programs I’ve found online, and most of the advice I’ve gotten in person has included the suggestion that before the marathon day arrives, it’s good to participate in a smaller event, just to get accustomed to the difference of running in a group of hundreds, or thousands. So I’m using Warrior Dash as a sort of 5k on steroids.

I’m enrolled for an 8:30am start time on Saturday, August 13, just outside of Albany, New York. It’s no marathon, but I’m looking forward to it.

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23rd June
2011
written by Randy

For the past two months, I’ve been gathering data as I train. Argument can be made for whether or not that data helps me to improve, but no one can deny that the data makes it possible to see the improvement. And that’s important. Seeing your progress helps you to stay motivated.

Unfortunately, the data I was gathering was limited and inaccurate. I was measuring time with the pedometer feature built into my iPod Nano, and after completing a run I would map the route on Google and use their distance estimates. It was enough to track rough improvements — which was more than enough as I was working to transform myself from someone who was terribly out-of-shape into an actual runner.

Now that I’m not so out of shape, that rough data isn’t good enough. It’s hard to see the improvement between two runs of approximately 3.8 miles when only measuring total time. And seeing that fewer “steps” were taken (the only other data a pedometer gathers) just isn’t enough. When running in a city, there are too many variables.

I found the solution in the form of a Garmin Forerunner 405cx. It’s a sports watch that uses GPS to accurately measure distance, pace, split times, and more. It even has an auto-pause feature which stops the timer when I’m not moving, so it will no longer count against me when I get stuck waiting to cross at an intersection.

The watch stores a ton of real-time data and then easily uploads it all to Garmin Connect, where I can see a complete graphical analysis of my run (example), overlaying my route moment onto a map and giving me accurate distance, time, and pace data. It even has a fun “player” feature which allows me to play back the entire run and watch what was happening at every step. There is even an RSS feed!

By using the included heart-rate monitor, the watch gathers additional useful data so I can easily spot find how many walking breaks I’m taking, when I’m taking them, and for how long. It also uses the heart-rate to calculate a fairly accurate estimate of calories being burned during a workout.

I’ve only used it twice so far, but I’m already getting great data. I’ve learned that what I thought was a 2.9 mile course (according to Google Maps estimate) is really only 2.7 on the GPS. I’ve learned that my running heart rate is 183bpm.

I also learned that on my most recent 4-mile run, I burned over 700 calories! That’s enough to cancel out an entire meal. Or, seen differently, if my diet remains unchanged and if we assume 5 such runs each week, that would be 1 pound of fat burned every week.

It’s really exciting to think about all things I can know, now that I have access to all this information!

20th June
2011
written by Randy

I’ve been thinking about Facebook privacy. There’s always such an uproar over Facebook’s privacy settings. But why? Most people on Facebook post things that don’t matter: uninteresting photos of people nobody knows, statuses about what they had for dinner, how boring their day was, etc. And those people I know who actually do share “private” things are sharing those things publicly everywhere, so it’s not a privacy issue.

People are fooling themselves every day. If you watch how sites like Facebook and Twitter are used, you notice that people are great at acting like other people care, but they’re lousy at doing things anyone would actually care about.

And so I think I’ve figured out what the privacy issue is all about: people want their privacy because they don’t want a permanent public record of how boring they really are. It’s okay if they and their boring friends wallow in each other’s boredom together, but none of them want history to reflect the fact that they never really lived.

Well, that’s not good enough for me. I want to live, and I want history to record it. To hell with privacy. I want people to Google me and find all the exciting things I’ve done — and that, of couse, means I need to be doing exciting things!

Watching tv isn’t enough. When people search for me, I want them to see all the places I’ve traveled; I want then to discover how many languages I’ve learned; I want them to see how I conquered long-distance running, how I lived with few possessions, how I learned to live without an alarm clock or a phone, and much more that I haven’t done yet!

And that’s my challenge to you, too. Instead of trying to silence the record of what you haven’t done, get out and do something. Stop fitting in; when you fit in, you just become boring like everyone else.

Forget about Facebook’s privacy. Be someone who others would be interested in discovering. Stand out. Leave Google a reason to know you lived.

17th June
2011
written by Randy

The rise of minimalism is a good thing, I think, because it challenges the identity that has been foisted on us — that of the consumer. Buying less is good. Thinking more about what we own is good. Being more responsible inhabitant of our planet is good.

But there comes a point where minimalism becomes a religion, a mantra, an ideology that trumps practicality. Two weeks ago, I set out to begin defining that limit — at least for myself — by wearing the same clothes every day. I wanted to see just how little I really needed.

It began with my trip to Houston for minimalist weekend, but I decided not to stop at two days (actually three), and instead to try to do a whole month.

I made it two weeks before I had to quit.

At first, it was exciting, and throughout the first week, I mostly felt liberated by the lack of materialism. My life consisted of two outfits: my clothes, and my running outfit. And the only other possessions I interacted with were my iPhone, my MacBook Pro, my toothbrush and my towel.

Surprisingly, the lack of other possessions never bothered me. In spite of the fact that I have very few things left, I’ve realized these last two weeks that I can be happy with even less!

But the limit of one outfit was too much. By day 10, I was uncomfortable, and by day 12 it was making me unhappy. What began as freedom had become a prison.

Knowing that I only had the one outfit, I worried tremendously about how everything would affect my clothes. I didn’t want to do things that would cause me to sweat. I was paranoid any time I was near something that could stain. I was trapped in the smell of clothes damp from the rain. Washing every night and ironing every morning quickly grew tedious.

It’s possible that my lifestyle isn’t a good fit for the one dress protest or the uniform project. Or maybe such things are just better suited to women. I suppose I’m probably not qualified to make any guesses about why it works for other people; what I know is that it doesn’t work for me.

I’ve learned that I have room in my life for even less than I have now, but that there is a lower limit on clothing and having only one outfit is definitely crossing that limit.

14th June
2011
written by Randy

When this year began, I could barely run 1 km, and doing so left me exhausted and in pain. This morning, I ran 7 km and I felt like I could have kept going. The last 7 weeks of training have been building up to that, of course.

The goal is to run 40 km, so I’ve still got a long way to go. But I’ve got a solid training technique which seems to be working quite well.

First, an explanation.

The problem is, if you just run until you can’t run any more, you’ll exhaust yourself early, and each new run will be little or no improvement over the previous run, so in order to increase stamina, you need a way to run longer than your maximum. You do this by taking a walking break when you get tired, and then running again after you’ve had a chance to rest.

By running again after you’ve rested, you continue the workout past your maximum. This allows you to keep running, to increase distance and stamina, and to improving your pace.

The secret ingredient for me has been music.

I wear my iPod Nano while I run, and I use the music to keep my pace. If I’m tired, I walk during the slow parts of the music, but I always start running again once the music gets to the refrain. If I can get through a whole song without walking I do, but even if I have to take a walking break I am back to running as soon as the music changes.

This has been working very well for me. Even if I were to give up now and never run that marathon, the improvement I’ve already had in my breathing and energy and daily stamina have been incredible. I’m undoing the damage of 12 years of smoking, and I’m getting into better cardiovascular condition than I think I’ve ever had in my life.

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6th June
2011
written by Randy

For my minimalist weekend, I decided to try something I’ve wanted to do for quite a while: I traveled out of town without packing any luggage.

In fact, my plan was to take nothing at all, but because my new job requires me to tote a laptop, and because my flight out was directly after work, it turned out that I did have my laptop bag with me, and since I knew that would be the case, I did put my toothbrush and an extra change of underwear and socks into the bag before I left home Friday morning.

So that’s all that was in my possession for three full days: a laptop, a cell phone, a toothbrush, and one change of underwear and socks. And it was extremely liberating!

I made my way through airports in record time. I got onto and off of airplanes with more ease than ever before. And most notably, I never had to do that last-minute inventory before leaving a hotel room or turning in the rental car — you know, the one where you look in all the corners to make sure you didn’t leave something behind. It’s nice to just walk out, knowing you couldn’t have left anything because you had nothing to leave!

At every moment, I felt completely free to do anything I wanted, or to change my plans to whatever sounded fun, because there was never any reason I had to return to any place, except to the airport in time for my flight home.

I think in the future, I will always try to travel this way, bringing little or nothing with me.

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3rd June
2011
written by Randy

Last night this came to my attention. Kristy Powell is wearing just one outfit for an entire year… and to get attention and support, she’s asking others to join her for one month (a year would be a long commitment), starting today.

As you know, minimalist weekend is tomorrow, but my flight to Houston leaves tonight after work so my minimalist weekend actually began today, the moment I walked out the door.

I’m going to be wearing only one outfit for the next three days anyway… so what’s stopping me from doing it for the rest of the month, and joining Kristy in her One Dress Protest?

I can’t guarantee that I’ll make it for the entire 30 days, but I’m going to give it a try. At the very least, it will be an opportunity to learn more about what I really use, what I really need, and exactly how much I can live without, on my way to owning 100 things or less.

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