Relentless Forward Progress

I’ve been running lately. I’ve run a bunch of 5k races in the past, but usually right off the couch…no training. I’d been floating around without a goal, so I figured that training for a 10k would be a good one. I used a training program on to get ready, and it worked great. It ended up that I couldn’t run the race I’d registered for, but that was okay. I’d been running plenty of 10k’s all by myself.

Anyway, after training for the 10k I needed a new goal. That’s pretty easy to figure out, since it’d just be the next distance up from a 10k which is a half-marathon (13.1 miles). It doesn’t take a genius to see that it’s just one distance after the next. The thing is, I don’t really have any interest in running a road marathon (26.2 miles). I do, however, have an interest in running on mountain trails. So I started looking into trail running which led me to learn about ultramarathon running, which usually happens on trails. So here’s my secret: I’m kind of interested in running an ultra.

So, in the course of looking around and trying to find more info, I ran into The proprietor, Bryon, recently wrote a book about training for ultras called, Relentless Forward Progress. My copy arrived about a week ago, and I’ve been devouring it. It’s been an easy read, but full of great information from a wide range of runners. The book has several essays from elite ultrarunners, along with some super practical advice on training, nutrition, and equipment. It’s been a completely worthwhile purchase, and definitely a book I’ll be referring back to frequently.

I wasn’t sure how this post would factor into the simplicity focus of this blog but, as it happens, ultra running tends to be at the forefront of the minimalist movement in terms of footwear and gear. Guys like Tony Krupicka really epitomize minimalism and ultra running. Tony in particular tends to barely attend to hydration and nutrition on his long training runs. I’m definitely not quite there, but I understand what he’s doing in terms of trying to acclimate his body to being able to function under extreme hardship. Highly commendable.

I wouldn’t classify myself as a minimalist runner, but I’m testing out whether shoes with a lower “drop” have any value to me. In the past I’ve always run in standard running shoes which had a heel significantly higher than the toe. This differential between the ball of the foot and the heel of the foot can be as much as 12mm. I’m currently running in a pair of Inov-8 Road-X 255‘s. As I write this, I’ve got about 80 miles on them. They’ve been a fine shoe, and though I’ve got no complaints, I’m also not the most sophisticated evaluator of running shoes. I’ve been intentionally conscious about my running form, and trying plant my foot under my hips rather than land on my heel as I run. I think I’ve been doing okay with this, but it’s kind of hard to coach and evaluate myself!

I’ve got several friends who run in Vibram Five Fingers, which I personally find aesthetically abhorrent. I’m sure it’s a fine shoe, it just looks ridiculous to me. Which of course has no bearing on whether a shoe is a good performer on the road or trails. The big benefit to the VFF shoe is the ‘zero drop,’ or the lack of differential between the heel and the forefoot. This lack of drop is not unique to the VFF, as there are several shoes on the market with the same quality. I’m guessing that Vibram is marketing the independent movement of toes as a differentiating factor among its offering. Whatever. If the VFF shoes work for you, and your dignity can absorb the blow, more power to you. I’ll find other options.

Neckties are for heathens

I don’t wear neckties. Haven’t for years. The last time I wore a tie was probably 8 years ago. One of my previous bosses died, and I had a ton of respect for her, so I suited up and went to the funeral. Haven’t worn one since.

Fortunately I work in an office where nobody really blinks if I come to work in a hoody. Even for me, though, a hoody is a bit lowbrow for work. And I’m careful to look at least marginally reputable if I’ve got visitors scheduled. But no neckties.

Heres’t the deal. I loved neckties back in the day. A nice tie made me feel like I was going to work, man. Reputable and responsible, and all grown up. A man to be reckoned with, even if I did drive a VW bus. Jiminy, I was such a tool. Anyway, neckties. After a while I started having a hard time spending $50 on new ties (I know…). And close on the heels of that revelation came comfort. I could not believe that the IT guys didn’t have to wear a tie to work! Even the marketing guys were squeaking by without ties, on Friday at least. So I took a bite of that forbidden fruit and I liked it. It had everything to do with comfort and nothing to do with theology. Who said anything about theology, you ask? Hold onto your hat, we’re getting there…

There is a whole Quaker theology about “plain dress.” I think it’s weird, and I’m a Quaker. What I find most odd is that there are some people who are so serious about this that it becomes their “idol.” Which kinda seems to defeat the purpose. My guess is that those folks are in the minority, though, which is why they stand out. Anyway, I think there’s something worthwhile about dressing plainly as a statement of faith and solidarity with those who are unable to dress any other way. Scott Holmes wrote a great essay about his own experience as a lawyer and Quaker and refusing to wear a tie in court. He makes many good points, but I resonate most deeply with his comments about the ways a necktie can become a class barrier between people. Guys with ties can easily be perceived as being in a different (read: better) class of people than those without.

For me, what started out as a comfort rebellion many years ago, has since aged into a pretty clear sense that by wearing a necktie I’m erecting a barrier between myself and others. Christ calls us to live among people, not apart from them, and it’s my sense that for me alone, neckties as daily work apparel get in the way of my ability to serve those to whom I’m called. There is a balance, though. People expect me to have some degree of expertise in my field and, like it or not, what I wear can help ease anxiety. If I look and act like a “professional,” I’ll have an easier time working with those who seek my assistance. If I look like I just got back from the skatepark it’ll be more difficult to quickly gain trust.

Image credit: Touzeen Hussain

Just Moms

“Just Moms” is out now! Amy’s got an essay in it, and it’s the first thing she’s ever had published. I’m super stoked for her, and can’t wait to read the whole book. It’s a bunch of essays written by moms on topics like non-violence, simplicity, and contentment. It’s got an unabashed Christian bias, though not all the essays are explicitly Christian. Also, the cover was designed by my skate buddy Darryl Brown!

Looking forward to reading it…

A New Reading

I love to read, and I’ve been moving more and more of my reading from paper to mobile devices since my first Palm whatever-it-was. I read a lot on my iPhone these days, and I’ve got my schtick down pat. Basically, in terms of categorizing content, you’ve got: books and articles. The articles are further broken into short form and long form. Short form can be considered blog posts, Twitter, Facebook updates, etc. Long form articles are what you’d be familiar with in a serious magazine or journal.

I’m not going to list out all the different ways you can read stuff on your particular digital setup. I just want to point out some good tools that I’m currently using. For books, I use the Kindle and Nook apps. Both are free, and both allow you to lend/borrow books from other users (someone’s gotta buy the book first, of course).

I acquire my short form articles via RSS, and I use Google Reader as the clearinghouse for storing my subscriptions. I use the native Google Reader web interface on my computer, and I use the Reeder app on my iPhone. Everything is sync’d up nicely. I have a lot of subscriptions, and I’m not particularly fastidious about reading every update that comes through every subscription every day. I’m totally comfortable “marking all as read” and just moving on. I’m confident that if I initially miss something that’s interesting/important, I’ll eventually see it.

Finally, the really great trick is with the longer form articles. I’ll run across stuff that I’m interested in reading, but just don’t have the time to read. I used to mark these with a star in Google Reader and revisit them from time to time. That didn’t work terribly well for me. These days I use an app called Instapaper. The app lives on my iPhone, but I also frequent the web site. Instapaper provides a bookmarklet that I click when I’m on a page with a longer article that I’d like to read later. It simply saves the article, with advertisements stripped out, for later viewing on mobile device or computer. It’s genius, and I use it all the time to read stuff during those previously wasted minutes standing in lines or waiting for others. It’s great. Instapaper is iPhone only, but Android users can achieve the same thing with Read It Later (also available on iPhone and other platforms). Instapaper and Read It Later work so well that there are now aggregators of long form articles that might be of interest. Check out Best of the Moment, The Essayist, Give Me Something To Read, and Longform. There is occasionally overlap with the offerings, but it’s worth the annoyance.

On top of all this, there are apps like Evernote which allow you to store your digital detrius, some of which might be important documents to which you may need quick access. I view these kinds of apps as more of a backup/storage solution for certain types of information, and not a primary location for general reading. Still, it has it’s place.

What’s your reading workflow?

Griftopia review

I’m reading Griftopia by Matt Taibbi right now. It’s like an edgier and more recent version of Liar’s Poker. Taibbi is a journalist with Rolling Stone, and his writing style is pretty fast paced, a bit profane, well researched and definitely from his particular viewpoint. This book is an expanded version of this essay.

Liar’s Poker was a good story because of it’s first-person perspective. Lewis was personally involved in much of the book, and where he wasn’t, it was also well researched. Taibbi was “there” in the same sense that all Americans were “there” and his writing easily matches Lewis’ for depth and readability. Taibbi pulls no punches as he tirelessly walks the reader through the events leading up to the various financial crises of 2008. He devotes a whole chapter to Alan Greenspan, and utterly skewers him and the whole nutty Randian Objectivist movement. That chapter definitely made me think differently about Greenspan. While Greenspan was heading up the Federal Reserve, his economic analysis never quite seemed to add up, and now I’ve got a much better insight into why that may have been the case.

Taibbi walks you through the gas spike that happened during the Obama/McCain circus. That whole spike didn’t make sense to me back then, though I always figured it had something to do with instability due to peak oil. Turns out it was a direct result of some newly opened loopholes for commodities speculation, which were essentially closed to normal investors like you and me, but available to investment banks like Goldman Sachs.

And speaking of Goldman Sachs. Geez. He unloads on them (justifiably) throughout the book. Hilariously, he included a blurb from Lloyd Blankfein (CEO of Goldman) on the back of the book. Anyway, it’s a good read, though I’d be surprised if it didn’t make you more cynical about big business and government.

West of Jesus

Just finished reading a great book called West of Jesus by Steven Kotler. I’m not going to do the full-on book review because this one already covers it perfectly. I will say, however, that I loved this book. It’s a quick and enjoyable read. I busted through half of it the day it came in the mail, and spread the other half over several evenings of bed-reading.

I enjoyed the read because it delved deeply into surfing, spirituality and science. Kotler isn’t a Christian, at least he never presents himself as such in the book (which has autobiographical elements), and I never quite got why Jesus is in the title (probably passed by me during one of those sleepy bed-reading sessions). So if you’re drawn to the book because of the title, you might reconsider.

I was sucked into the book because Kotler hinges much of what he writes about, as well as his recovery from Lyme disease, on the spiritual aspects of surfing. These aspects are near and dear to me–when I’ve skipped church on Sunday in favor of surfing, I’m more likely than not to call it “alterna-church.” The cleansing and renewing elements of surfing are difficult to describe, though they aren’t always there. Sometimes surfing is just a chore, other times it’s closer to a nightmare. But frequently it’s a watery communion with the Creator, and I cherish those times. Kotler’s descriptions of the spirituality of surfing rang very true to me.

A fair portion of the book is dedicated to Kotler’s quest to track down the source of a myth he heard while surfing. The basic gist of the myth is that there’s a Conductor who controls the waves and the weather, using a magical human bone. The stories he tells about chasing down the source of the myth are fun reading, with some good descriptions of surf sessions thrown in.

Along the way, Kotler delves into some serious scientific inquiry about the reasons for “flow” states and why they might occur while surfing (or rock climbing, or coding, etc). He’s got a knack for making hard science a bit more accessible (at least to my soft brain).

Anyway, it’s a great book. I’ll be passing on my copy to my surfing buddy Pete, and pimping the book to my surfing friends (and even those who used to surf *cough* Brandon *cough*)