Category Archives: Training

The Horror of Outlying Data

A week and a half ago, I set a PR, and it’s caused nothing but anxiety.

Specifically, I ran my typical “short” training run (a 5K), and did it in 25:54. That’s 15 seconds faster than my previous fastest 5K time. Yay?

Then, because I can make anything negative, I started analyzing. The run was phone-timed and -measured, which can certainly be wrong, so my first thought was that the time was wrong this time too. It was also a full minute faster than any 5K run I’d done this year, which is suspicious—I’m still getting into running shape but time improvements have been happening in dribs and drabs rather than big chunks. And my previous best took place in a race rather than training, and I’m normally a lot faster in races. Adrenaline, you know.

But I reviewed the route the phone measured, and it didn’t seem terribly wrong. Moreover, the run felt fast, at least for me.

So I’m willing to accept, at least tentatively, that that’s my 5K time now.

But then the bigger, more fundamental anxiety kicked in. Because I’ve run now 4 times since then, and I haven’t come close to that pace. So now I’m wondering: Is the magic gone forever? Have I peaked, and now I’m just going to have to desperately chase that one pathetic moment of borderline competence forever, even though it continues sliding further and further away?

There may be legitimate excuses. One of the runs was a long one, so I wasn’t pushing the pace. Another took place in 90+ degree heat, and I did it with the interval training feature (AKA chases) of Zombies, Run! on, so it’s not really a pure comparison. Most amusingly, one of the runs featured a bit where I tripped on rough ground and fell, only I almost recovered and it took me about seventeen steps to actually hit the ground. Even before the fall I was pre-exhausted and not trying to push the pace, so I’m OK with that one.

But still… It would be nice to have some supporting data to back up my first-ever sub-26-minute 5K. Or a certificate. Maybe a nice quiche, even. Something to make me feel like this is something I can actually do.

World, get on that.

 

 

 

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Bambi’s Revenge

This tale begins in 2009. That was the year I visited the Grand Canyon, and, in addition to clapping my eyes on some of the most majestic vistas ever created by nature, I also had the pleasure of witnessing possibly the best warning sign ever created.

It instructed all park visitors not to attempt to approach deer they might see because—and these words have stuck with me—”Deer hooves are sharp like swords.”

Angry deer

angry deer?” by w3nkman, licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

I was living in Chicago, where deer were a rare sight, so I have rarely had to apply the information I learned from that sign. But in Ohio, they’re much less so.

I’ve spotted deer three or four times while I’ve been living here. I like seeing deer—they’re pretty animals and all. But every time I’ve seen them, it has been approaching the duck hours and I’ve been on the bike paths.

Now, I’ve waxed rhapsodic about the local bike paths before, and I stand by both the wax and the rhapsody. But there’s one thing I may not have mentioned that has become relevant to the waxody: The paths don’t really occupy much space. They’re a few feet of pavement, with a few feet of grass on either side, and then woods.

So, when there’s a deer on the path, if you want to get past it, you’ve got two options: Either you can approach it or you can wait in a ruminant standoff until the deer scampers off.

Every time this happens, my quasi-rational fear* of samurai deer emerges. I have always chosen the ruminant standoff approach. I’ll attempt to make comforting noises, trying to translate “Hello, Mr. and/or Mrs. Deer, I think you’re a wonderful creature but I need to get to the other side of where you are and I’d appreciate it if you’d step off the path so I could be certain I could do that without being decapitated by your katana hooves, not that you would do that, but I’ve heard that it’s possible” into Cervinae.**

There’s also, of course, the quasi-rational fear that a startled deer might inadvertently—or perhaps advertently—barrel into me, which would hurt a fair amount. But mostly, I’m concerned about the swords.

Is this a concern that I need to have? It’s hard to say.

The internet has reports about moose attacks, killer chickens, vexatious kangaroos, herds of sheep, and Canada geese (which are not a surprise—they’re nasty buggers). Also, this article thinks your bike route is adjacent to a meth lab, because needless fearmongering is a thing our society is good at.

But none of these reports are terribly, how do you say, authoritative, so I’m left wondering about whether Bambi is out there, planning revenge for the money-grubbing Bambi II, and the even worse Bambi on Ice, and for forcing him to make that frankly horrifying turn as Sam Carmichael in the film version of Mamma Mia. And, of course, this:

Some may say, “Be brave.” But I’m a coward. And so, from here on out, whenever I see a deer, I’m going to assume it’s after human blood.


* My quasi-rational fear is rather odd for my new town. Most of the people here are terrified of tornadoes. It kind of makes sense: In 1974, there was a really serious tornado that fairly devastated the town. But what doesn’t make sense is that everything now is a tornado, even if it’s just a light drizzle that is later discovered to be caused by a lawn sprinkler, or a cloud that blocks out the sun for a couple of seconds. I shudder to think how people will feel about the eclipse in August.

** Deer language. Druids can choose it as one of their starting languages, while other classes may learn it by spending twelve months if they have an intelligence of 12 or higher.

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May Goals: What, This Again?

It’s been a while since I’ve set some goals, for reasons that are fairly logical, but now that life is slightly settling it’s time to get back to it. They’re not super-well organized or thought-out, but I’ll use that old “I just moved states and I’m still trying to get everything sorted out” excuse. So with that in mind, here’s my goals for the month:

Weight: 243.428, as a 7-day average. The move, thus far, has been good for this particular metric, due mainly to diet: It takes a bit more of a commitment to eat junk here, and having a traditional office job takes away a fair amount of opportunity. Or maybe, it’s just the novelty of being in a new place that has helped. I hope it’s the former.

Pull-ups: 6. I technically managed this once before—In February, my Chicago gym had a month-long pull-up challenge. I haven’t hit those heights since, but if the weight comes down and I work consistently, I think it’s broadly feasible.

Crow pose: 20 seconds. I haven’t worked on the crow pose consistently in several months, ever since I figured out how to kick-up into a wall handstand. But the crow pose was something that really helped me to do that, so I’m hoping it will also help me to do an unsupported handstand. My previous best was about 15 seconds.

Dips: 8. My new gym does have a quasi-dedicated set of bars for dips. OK, not really; it’s one of those angled things with a foot rest and a cushion for back extensions, but it’s got parallel bars sticking out of it. I’ve only done 4 so far, but it’s early days.

Biking: Bike the county. As I’ve noted, the county that I now live in is criss-crossed by bike paths. Next month, I want to do the whole county: basically, biking to Jamestown, Spring Valley, Fairborn, Yellow Springs, and Cedarville. (And Beavercreek, but as I can’t really get to Fairborn without passing through, we can take that as read.) That may be slightly over-ambitious, as it’s five rides and I’m only in town for three and a half weekends this month. We’ll see.

Running: Two goals here: First off, build up to an 8K long run. I really only started running for the year in April, but I’m doing 5Ks consistently, so I’m ready to build. The second is an 8-minute mile. I have no idea how that will go: I haven’t done a timed mile since about junior high. I have no idea how a mile pace would be different for me from a 5K pace.

Writing: I need to write (outside of my job) daily. I may make an exception for the travel weekend (especially the day when I’ll be driving from Long Island to southwest Ohio) and the other race day I have.

Transition from transitioning to living: Basically, this entails starting to build the connections that humans have when they live in a place. (It’s also been strongly encouraged by my employer, which should help.) I’ve actually started the process of volunteering at a place, although that hasn’t yet gone well; their website has a volunteer application form, but no information about how to turn it in. We shall see how that goes.

 

 

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Picking a New Gym

I’m not exaggerating when I say that my biggest concern for my new job was finding a new gym.

As I’ve stated before, my last gym was really good and really good for me. In addition to having really good trainers there, the group class approach clicked with me. So finding the closest possible replication was my top priority when I moved to Ohio.

It didn’t quite happen like that.

I don’t have a car yet, so I’m limited to a fairly narrow radius. Within that range, there are… well… three options.

One was Snap Fitness, which was never really in contention. Fine for what it is, but it’s the least convenient option. The gym itself was perfectly fine, and there were some classes, but not at times that are terribly practical for me (my work schedule is just unusual enough to make it tricky) and they seemed to be a bit less intense than what I’m ready for.

The real options were between the YMCA and Xenia Elite Fitness—as they’re closer to both where I live and work. Neither one really has classes comparable to what I was looking for—XEF doesn’t seem to have any (although it says some are coming), and the Y’s are not super-compatible with my wonky schedule. (And, again, I’m not sure that they’re quite at the level I’m looking for.)

Fortunately, I’ve been developing my own workouts since moving and, so far, it seems to be working okay. So the lack of classes isn’t quite a dealbreaker, at least not yet.

The Y is bigger and better appointed, although some of that is the extras—things like racquetball courts and a swimming pool that might be nice but that are peripheral to what I’m likely to use. I was also impressed—or at least, intrigued by the potential—of the high-intensity room with a new WOD every day (as the OD implies).

The C in YMCA gave me a bit of pause, although as far as I know, the Y’s implementation of C is relatively close to the founder’s intent, rather than certain modern implementations based more around judgement and hatred of undesirables than making the world a better place. So I could have dealt with that.

But ultimately I went with XEF.

It’s smaller, but it has enough—including a nice selection of free weights, which is the big thing I need. Supporting local business is also a plus. They’re promising a climbing rope soon, which is actually a bit of a selling point, given its OCR usefulness.

And, I guess, it felt right. Any of the three options, I’d likely be building largely on what I’d been doing in Chicago, which in a lot of cases means doing my own thing that isn’t necessarily what the crowd would be doing. (I think my workouts are reasonably intense, but they don’t match either what the musclebros do or the “let’s read while vaguely moving on the elliptical” crowd.*) And it seemed like that would be sort of OK there.

I did consider not joining a gym at all. I worked out in the park for the first couple weeks I was here, and that worked. But I’m not really terribly good at building all-bodyweight workouts that can keep me interested. In short, it’s really valuable to have heavy things to pick up and put down that aren’t quite as heavy as me.

Anyhow, we’ll see how it works out. Thus far, it’s been okay. (In fact, I’ve never been there when there were more than about 4 people in the gym, which is nice. In fact, I’ve even had the place all to myself one of the three or so times I’ve been there.)

XEF


 

*One weird, currently amusing but possibly sinister thing: XEF does have a fairly large collection of magazines to read—all of them clearly targeting women. Slightly odd, especially as the read-on-the-machine crowd seems to be roughly evenly split, gender-wise, but at this point it’s something I’m going to investigate.

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How To Not Be Creepy Working Out at a Playground

Playgrounds shouldn’t be just for kids. They typically* have things like steel bars in various configurations that are good for pull-ups and laches and dips and rows and miscellaneous things that can be tough to replicate at home.

However, that’s not the world in which we live. Playgrounds are for kids, and using them as an adult can raise suspicion, even when that usage is as innocent as a workout. And I get it: We should want to protect kids from people who wish to do them harm. But I’d like to be able to get some monkey bar work in myself.**

So how can you use these public, taxpayer-funded facilities without seeming or feeling like the kind of person who needs a mustache and a corner shrub to peer through at all times? I’ve assembled some suggestions. Use your common sense before applying them and don’t be creepy!

  • Go when kids aren’t there. This is the approach I’ve been using so far in Ohio, and it’s worked well; the playground that’s near to me is both not terribly exciting and not particularly convenient to extensive residential area. (There’s one neighborhood around it, but it’s bounded on one side by a county fairground, across the street by a greenway, and a third side has a school and then fields.) So, while I’ve seen kids using it, there’s never been any potential conflict.
  • Get in/get out. By that I mean: Most of your workout doesn’t involve the bars. So go there, do your bar work quick, and then go elsewhere—like the middle of the field—for the rest of your workout. Also, maybe make sure you’re facing out (rather than toward the rest of the play structure) while you’re working. And wear a shirt. Don’t be this guy:
  • Bring a kid of your own. Or a neighbor’s kid. Or a random one you find on the street. I’m not here to judge that kind of morality. However, this can be tricky, even if you do it totally legal-like: if you bring a kid, you’ll be expected to keep an eye on it, which might get you some appalled looks if you spend too many minutes on your toe-to-bars.
  • Wear a uniform. Certain people in our society are above question. If you dress as a police officer, a firefighter, or a soldier, you will automatically be protected against any accusations of creepiness because you’re a hero. (Maybe our culture ought to have a bit more nuanced relationship with the idea of those professions.)
  • Be a juggler. Jugglers can work pull-ups into their act. Jugglers can work anything into their act. Unfortunately, this might not be enough to make you appear not to be creepy. And if you are deemed acceptable by community standards, you’ll need to develop 30 to 60 minutes of kid-friendly patter in order to keep the show going.
  • Wear a badge. I’m thinking one of those “Hi, my name is,” stickers you can put on your shirt, and then you can write in “Someone who isn’t creepy.” Although if you don’t have any of those stickers available, you could carry a sign, write it in Sharpie on your forehead, or safety-pin a note to your shirt. I’m sure any of those will work okay.

On second thought… maybe just move to a place where they have grown-up playgrounds. I’m not sure how effectively these techniques will keep you out of jail.


* No, not always. When I was in Chicago, there actually seemed to be a movement to rip out playground equipment and replace it with these weird cord-based structures. I have no idea why; they didn’t look like they would be particularly fun or particularly safe.

** I was going to say “innocent monkey bar work in,” but that makes the phrase so much more creepy, no?

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Biking in Ohio

When I was doing my final interview for my new job, one of the things the employer highlighted was the extensive bike paths. Apparently there are more cubic feet per capita than any place in the history of time or something. (That’s not a real statistic, because I don’t remember the exact details.)

I may not know the exact details of Ohio’s bike path network, but I’ve had the chance to ride it a lot (for having been here only five days) and I can say: It’s cool.

It started the day I moved. For some reason it was a hundred bucks cheaper to return the U-Haul to Dayton, rather than Xenia (which is where I now live). It’s only about 10 miles, so I figured it wouldn’t be too tough to bike back (even after doing the ‘hauling heavy shit’ part of the move that day). But, as it turned out, there was a bike path that went almost directly from the U-Haul store to my new place.

I don’t think I’ve ever done a 10-mile ride that quick.

The path is paved and smooth, a lovely ride through woods near a creek, and there were only a handful of roads that it crossed where bikers even had to slow down to check for cars—which there rarely were.

Even better: Xenia is the county seat and located geographically in roughly the center of the county. So there are several of these paths that head to the other cities in the county (and in some cases beyond; I think it’s possible to bike to both Columbus and Cincinnati on them, although don’t hold me to that), and they all intersect here. So, in addition to using the bike to get around for errands and getting the stuff I need post-move (which has also been really easy; the paths have taken me close to where I need to go, and on-street biking in other places has been perfectly fine), I took a bike trip out to Yellow Springs this weekend.

Yellow Springs is a little town with a bit of a hippy vibe and a nice downtown with bunches of cafes and little artistic shops. Also, here’s the view on the way:


OK, that’s not the only view, it’s only one of the views on the way, but still: pretty cool.

One drawback to biking in Ohio: While the bike path game is on point—I’d even say
“on fleek” if I were confident what that means and that it were still a term—the bike rack game is less so. In Chicago, racks are everywhere. In fact, they’re almost a nuisance: marauding packs of feral bike racks roam the streets, jumping out in front of traffic, pooping everywhere, and rebending their pipes to form rude gestures. In Ohio, the concept of attaching a bent steel pipe to the ground where bikes can be securely locked is completely foreign.

OK, I exaggerate for comic effect; there are some bike racks. But I have also been to largish commercial centers—like the strip mall with one of the big supermarkets—that don’t have any, so I’ve had to lock my bike to a fence or a shopping cart corral or a sleeping Weimaraner. And that doesn’t include the rack that I saw that existed (Yay!) but was built so that the rack supported the tire but kept the bike so far from any metal that my U-lock was useless (Boo!). Unless I locked my bike on the side of it rather than in one of the bike slots, which I did.

So the lack of bike racks hasn’t been a real impediment to biking, but it’s a bit of culture shock.

In general, biking feels very different here than in Chicago. Chicago has done right by bikers: There are plenty of bike lanes and other facilities to make biking possible, which is a minor miracle. But like other forms of transportation, biking in Chicago is stressful: There are almost always lots of other bikes, cars, and pedestrians, all of which could move randomly at any time, that you have to worry about. It was still my first choice of transportation, but it was transportation, rather than recreation. Here, it’s much easier to relax and enjoy the ride.

 

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Being My Own Trainer is Hard

The move is done, or at least, all of my stuff has physically been moved from Chicago to Ohio. A good thing about working out a lot: The “hauling heavy shit” portion of the move wasn’t all that bad. Leaving Chicago, it took me longer to pick up the U-Haul then it did to load it, and I lived on a third-floor walk-up. The store where I reserved the truck didn’t have it, but they sent me to another store, which sadly wasn’t the store where the reservation had actually been moved to and was also in the opposite direction. (When I actually picked up the truck, it had been quite thoroughly tagged, thusly:

tagged u-haul

but that didn’t really affect me.) Then it took less than an hour to haul all my stuff into my new place (which is on the ground floor and much easier.)

I still have yonks of unpacking to do, but that’s not terribly interesting or relevant to the subject of this site.

More relevant: For the immediate future, this is my gym:

park

There’s a rather large park adjacent to my apartment—in fact, it goes back well behind that beige building in the background, and there’s a little forest off to the right, and on the other side of that is some soccer fields, and then past those there are some… well, I don’t know exactly, but there’s some tall grass with paths through them. So the park has lots of space in which to do stuff, that’s the point.

I did my first workout today, and, while this isn’t news, being my own trainer is hard. It’s really easy to think, oh, I’m about to die, when you’re not in a group of people who are all clearly not about to die with an expert in front of you to remind you of this fact.

I did 10 stations – an exercise or sequence – and ran between them, for about a 45-minute workout, and I was cursing my own name every second of it. Admittedly, some of that is being tired from moving, and from a lot of biking around to get stuff taken care of this morning, but that doesn’t account for it all.

This move could be a tricky thing.

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