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Middles and Endings.

27 March 2018

I signed up for my first ultramarathon. It will be a 50 km (31 mile) trail race near Bellevue, WA, in a park called the Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland. We’ll run over and around both Cougar Mountain and Squak Mountain. There will be a vertical gain of some 7500 feet. Nearly a mile and a half. I’m already excited an nervous. And yet there’s six months between now and then. Plenty of time to get fit and ready. And I feel confident that I can do it. It’ll be hard and painful.

My new office mate taught me about type 1 fun and type 2 fun. Type 1 is when you’re having fun during a thing, like a rollercoaster, or a fine dinner, or whatever. Type 2 fun is when you the thing itself is challenging and difficult, but afterwards you feel gratified and happy. That’s endurance running. And I think it’ll be a lot of type 2 fun.

One reason I wanted so badly to sign up for this today was to do something life affirming. My father has been moved to hospice from the ICU. He’s dying. How fast, no one knows. But sooner rather than later. I don’t have the emotional energy to write about it. Suffice to say I owe both my sisters an enormous debt of gratitude for being there for him, over and over again, in his life when I wouldn’t or couldn’t.

I am in the middle of my life. Realistically very close to the middle indeed. And my father is dying. Far away. If I hadn’t just begun a new job, I would go there. I’d just go there and wait and be there when he died. Instead, he will die without me. And that’s ok. It will have to be. That’s the way life is, and the way life ends. We don’t get to make choices all the time. In the end, we don’t get to make any.

But  I get to choose how I will live. I get to go run. Over mountains and through valleys and through mud and streams and among the tall trees of these forests. I will throw myself against the mountains with whatever I can muster in myself. And maybe that will help me connect to the part of me that finally, after all these years, has become a man.

Finally Some Real Progress.

26 March 2018

This weekend was a very good weekend for running. Both in terms of the weather, and the actual runs themselves. Saturday we did eight miles on the path from Wallingford to Ballard, at about 9am after my Saturday morning AA meeting down on Lake Union. We ran eight miles at a 10:07 pace, which is longer and faster than any of our recent runs. I was incredibly pleased.

Then, Sunday, we got up early early early and went out to Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland, which used to be a coal mine. Because of the risk of collapse, it’s not safe to build on, so it’s just a huge hill, covering several thousand acres, right near Bellevue, WA. We did a six mile trail run, with 1000′ of elevation gain. Trail runs with large elevation gains are often half hikes, and that’s what this one was. When you climb 750′ in less than two miles, it’s a tough half hour.

But the run leveled out some after that, and we ran for a total of 90 minutes to get six miles in. No mountain top views, but lovely forest the whole time, and a definitely inviting place to train for longer trail races. There are at least 15 miles of trails, and probably many more. There’s a bunch of trail races there over the summer and into the fall. I’m eager to try a few.

Today, my legs feel great, my core feels great, and I’m feeling very capable and fit. I’m looking forward to a couple of good weeks of training before my first race of the year.

Data Don’t Lie.

22 March 2018

I’ve been generally disappointed with my current fitness level as I attempt to return to good condition. It’s hard. Strength and stamina have both suffered. I’ve gained weight. I’ve lost definition. But an advantage I have over similar periods in the past when I rested for a bit and lost fitness is that I now have data about it. My Garmin keeps track in simple, intuitively visualized ways how much work I’ve been getting in each week.

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“Intensity minutes” are a weird stat where moderate exercise counts singly and vigorous exercise counts doubly. But I’m not sure where the threshold between the two is. It’s some calculation of my heart rate. But you can see the problem. From late November to early February I did effectively nothing. The low value at the very start of the graph is the lull post-half-Ironman.

So it’s no wonder that my condition dropped off. I’m making some changes to the way I’m exercising at the gym too: heavier wieghts. More upper body. I’m working toward the capability to do a 8-10 mile obstacle course race like a Spartan or Tough Mudder. To do that, I need to be able to climb a rope and swing hand over hand from rings. Those things are REALLY hard.

But I am coming along. My long run is up over 7 miles. I did some hard hill training on Tuesday that felt really good. Tonight I’m going to do an easy run of about five miles. This weekend we’ll be up to our usual tricks. Long run, maybe a trail run, maybe the gym. We’ll see. But I’m improving again, and I’m excited for the next step.

The Opioid Epidemic.

19 March 2018

I never abused opioids, and I almost never took any. Not even when I had a legal and appropriate prescription for them in my 30s, during my drinking period. I took a couple of pills of tylenol+codeine when I had my wisdom teeth out and I didn’t like it. I was given IM and then IV demoral when I broke my arm, and I did like it. I liked it a lot. But other than those times, opioids have not been a part of my story.

So I may be unqualified to talk about them.

But I am qualified to talk about addiction. I am an alcoholic, and and a former smoker. I remain addicted to both alcohol and nicotine. That means there is no safe amount I can use. Because of the addictions I have, I also abstain from any other addictive and mind-altering substances. I don’t use any drugs, and I will refuse narcotics or opioids for pain unless I am under the direct, immediate care of a physician.

The opioid epidemic is tragic and vexing. Most of us feel like we understand how it started now: as new classes of pain medicines became available, initially optimistic ideas about their addictive properties gradually faded into venal calculations about profitability. Patients love being pain-free. Humans love being altered. And the drugs themselves turned out to be incredibly addictive.

The question is what to do now. The instant anyone proposes restrictions to prescribing, the outrage brigades arrive shrieking that “people deserve pain management”. How dare anyone suggest that someone doesn’t need oxycontin to address their chronic back pain. How would YOU like to live in constant, soul-shredding agony!? It’s tiresome and disingenuous.

I usually wonder if these people are outraged on behalf of others (righteous indignation!) or if they are personally defensive about their use (or abuse) of painkillers. I suspect its the latter as much as the former. We react with fury against any threat to our own comfort and access to the “medicines” we “need” to “control” our “pain”. Usually that kind of defensiveness is reserved for protecting access to a drug we want to support our addiction.

The sad truth is, there’s not a lot of hope, at the population level, for the current (or any) generation of addicts. Addiction is common. Recovery is rare. Most of us die. Medicalized addiction treatment is generally ineffective, and in my experience simply trades the hell of addiction for a fresh one of withdrawal and relapse. Beyond primary detox, there’s little or no role for physicians and scientists in treating addiction. They make it worse, not better.

Only pain changes us. We need to come to the place where our pain in addiction is less tolerable that the pain we imagine the drugs are treating (but which often departed long ago). Most people never come to that point.

The solution to the opioid epidemic is not to save the addicts. That, largely, can’t be done. The solution is to stop making new ones. Stop prescribing opioids for outpatients. Stop giving people these medicines for all but the most severe pain. Never chronically. Stop making new addicts. The ones we’ve made already will either find their way to recovery, or die.

Settling In.

16 March 2018

I have finally settled in to my new job. I’m actually working, as opposed to merely getting oriented. It will take time to get the project off the ground, but the team I have is brilliant and motivated, which is nice. I’m excited by the opportunity and figure I can meet the challenges expected of me.

There was a crazy hiccough though. My first paycheck was $14,069.97 heavy. When I negotiated to come out here, I was given a $20,000 travel allowance. That’s about what it costs to have a home and car professionally moved coast to coast. But the way it was supposed to work is that MWCMC was going to pay the movers directly. I was not supposed to see the money. There are major tax advantages to me to doing it that way.

But what did happen was that MWCMC paid the movers AND they paid me the $20,000. After taxes and withholding, that made my first paycheck awfully big. I kind of panicked. I admit there was a part of me that thought I could keep it if I just kept my mouth shut, because their left hand would likely not know what their right hand was doing, and no one would notice.

Whether or not that’s true, the better angels of my nature won out and I contacted both my institution and the moving company to put the situation right. I don’t want to have anything like that hanging over me, and it would surely be a firing offense if discovered. So, in the spirit of sobriety I decided to pay the money back instead of buying a helicopter full of cocaine, or whatever.

I mean a nice oriental rug. That’s what I meant.

Sobriety requires that we do our best to maintain strict honesty. I’m not always perfect at that, but my “cash register” honesty has always been pretty good, even while I lied and lied and lied about other things. Life is treating me very well. I don’t need to try to swindle my employer.

A Glorious Weekend.

12 March 2018

The weather in Seattle this weekend was PERFECT. High 50s, low 60s, clear, sunny, crisp. Basically, what the weather is like all summer, but way early. The mountains were gorgeous, and the air was clean and dry. I’d forgotten just how wonderful the air is after 25 years in the miasmic sewers of the Midwest and East Coast. There is simply no weather in the world as nice as the Pacific Northwest.

Soon, it will be light from 5am until 10pm, and for the most part won’t get above 80 degrees. The average high in July and August is 76 degF. Whereas in Philly it’s 87, and in St. Louis it’s 90. Additionally, there’s no humidity in Seattle during the summer. And in the spring and fall, the temperature is low enough that even when it’s humid, it’s not soupy. That’s why I’m fond of saying Seattle has a “dry dampness”.

But this weekend was beyond fabulous. So BB and I went hiking. We climbed up to Kamikaze Falls on Mt. Teneriffe. We couldn’t quite summit, because there ended up being melting snow pack that was very slippery, and we didn’t have any micro spikes. Something to buy. But the views were unbelievable.

We hiked about 6 miles with 1400′ of elevation gain. Next weekend we’re going to search out actual trail running instead of hiking.

Sunday, we went on a 15.4 mile bike ride. The first time I’ve taken the X wing out since my half-Ironman. We rode from home to BB’s work, then over to my work, and back home. We somehow managed to find a place almost perfectly halfway between our workplaces as measured by length of bike commute on protected paths, despite that not really being the criterion we tried to optimize.

Add in a good hard trip to the gym on Sunday morning, and it was a good weekend, fitness-wise. I’m excited about being here. I’m happy.

Painful Progress.

9 March 2018

I am slowly ramping my fitness back up. As a man now essentially in my mid-40s, my body doesn’t quite respond to effort the way it did seven or so years ago when I first decided to get into shape. But it’s not awful. Since arriving in Seattle, I’ve been running or going to the gym 5 or 6 days a week, and that’s critical to my physical and mental health.

Yesterday was my longest run since November. I ran from my house to Greenlake and then around it twice, then back home for 7.2 miles. I did walk for two tenths of a mile after hitting 10km. I did it at a good clip too. Including the walk, I averaged 10:12 minutes per mile. So when running, about 9:44. Getting back below 10 minute miles for an hour feels important. I know it doesn’t actually mean anything to a totally recreational runner like me, but there’s a mental aspect to being faster than that.

My time for the 10km split yesterday was 1:00:32. I’d have loved to hit 59:59, but it wasn’t to be. But I have to remember: when I first set the goal of running a sub-1 hr 10km, it took me about three years to get there. Now, having been all the way back at 12+ minute miles only a month ago, I’m able to brush up against that goal pace again already. Only about 5 seconds per mile. If I hadn’t done 4 miles of hill training the day before, I might have gotten there.

I also really want to get my strength up for another Spartan (or other obstacle) race. I’ve been doing a lot of upper body strength work at the gym, including my new favorite exercise: tying 100+ pounds of weights to the end of a long rope and pulling them hand-over-hand across the room. Great arm and core work. Hopefully one day I’ll be able to climb a rope. As of now? I can hang from one for about ten seconds.

But it’s ok to be bad at things. I’m working at being better and I’m excited about the prospect of improving.