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Thursday, November 4, 2010

2011 Endurance Event Plan

Late February, early March, Stanford Treeathlon (Sprint distance)

April 16, Tierra Bella Tour, either 100 mile or 200 km

May 15, Morgan Hill Sprint Triathlon, 3/4 mile swim, 16 mile bike, 5 mile run

June 26, Golden Gate Triathlon, 0.9 mile swim, 26.82 mile bike, 5.94 mile run

No event in July unless my job changes so that my quarterly reporting duties diminish

Aug 4(?), Santa Cruz Sandman Triathlon, 1200 m swim, 13 mile bike, 4.2 mile beach run

Aug 21, San Francisco Triathlon at Alcatraz, 1900 m swim, 40.2 km bike, 11.3 km run

Sep 25 (?), Santa Cruz Triathlon, 1500 m swim, 40 km bike, 10 km run

October 15, PCTR Redwood Park, probably the 25 km

Saturday after Thanksgiving (if not at Disneyland) Quad Dipsea, 28.7 miles, 18000 feet of elevation change

December 18 (if no Quad Dipsea,) PCTR Rodeo Beach, 50 km

I will probably do one or two of the Catfish Crawl swims, too.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Fitness Recap for 2010

This year I made a major lifestyle change. I got into shape. I was definitely sporting the middle aged office worker physique when the year started. I've trimmed down quite a bit in ten months.

Honestly, it wasn't vanity that caused me to start exercising. Well, not vanity of my physical appearance, at least. There were really three motivating factors. Last December, I was talking to one of my coworkers from Massachusetts who was an officer in the USMC. Him being a veteran of the wrong military branch notwithstanding, I respect and like this guy a lot. We were talking and he mentioned how he couldn't keep up with his old buddies though he still enjoyed visiting them and trying. It dawned on me that my own self-image was totally out of sync with reality. I view myself as a physically robust person who doesn't shy away from exertion. While I don't think I've ever really avoided physical exertion, my lifestyle had evolved into one almost devoid of it. I decided that 2010 would be the year I made my own self-view correspond closely to reality. I suppose I could have just changed my self-view, but I guess I'm just too vain to accept myself as your typical out of shape and overweight American.

Next, I'm not descended from people of great longevity. My ancestors have tended to die either at or younger than the average life expectancy. In my extended family, there are a number of chronic diseases that are heavily correlated with lifestyle choices. I have been diagnosed with one of those diseases. I'd already changed my diet pretty significantly to deemphasize meat and I've dived headfirst into the California mode of emphasizing fresh fruits and vegetables. I knew that becoming physically fit would improve my health and most likely increase my life span. I've got a good life going and I want it to last a long time. I don't believe in any kind of afterlife. Either I get it done in this lifetime or it doesn't happen. Sloth is just another word for decadence.

Finally, I've got two kids who are quite young. I am a very introspective, analytical person so I've noticed that I tend to follow the same micro-patterns my parents did. We ate a lot of fast food growing up and when I'm under stress I crave a hamburger and onion rings. I tend to gravitate towards sedentary leisure activities as my parents did. Consequently, I'm very conscious of the examples I'm setting for my kids. I want them to think it normal that people get out and physically exert themselves. I also want them to think it's normal that people set goals for themselves and then through disciplined effort over time, achieve those goals. As parents, we model "the normal way to live" with how we live. Your kids will pick up on what is important by watching what you actually spend time on. You can talk all you want, but seriously, you got to live it. Therefore, I consider showing my kids that fitness is important by making time for it and sticking to it to be an example of good parenting. I take nothing more seriously than my role as a father.

That's why I started exercising this year. I picked triathlons largely because it seemed cool and I like the idea of balanced fitness. I decided to enter events to anchor my fitness routine. I am a busy person. If I don't have actual events on my schedule the temptation to deprioritize exercise is very great. But, if I have a race I'm training for, the prospect of not finishing or performing poorly is a great disciplining agent. It injects accountability into my fitness regimen. It also makes for an easy, though flawed way to evaluate how much you exercised in a given period.

So, here's my event log for 2010, with a quick blurb on each:

  • June: Silicon Valley Sprint Triathlon in San Jose-- this was my first tri and my worst experience. I endured some minor injuries in training for this and was extra cautious in my training because of that. Still, I finished. Looking back it seems like such an easy event, but that first one was a bit intimidating. I may do this one again in 2011 just as a gauge on how much I've improved, but probably not. The course is very easy. 500 m swim, 10 mile bike (probably overstated actually) and 5k run
  • August 1: Sandman Triathlon in Aptos -- After the SVST I really increased my training intensity because of the difficulty built into this course. It's a 1200m ocean swim, 13 mile bike and 7 km beach run. I had a blast on this one. The scenery is beautiful, especially for the bike ride. I was very slow, but I finished strongly. The mechanics of my racing improved though I screwed up the nutrition horribly. My wife and kids were waiting for me at the finish. Finishing with them there was one of the most awesome things I've ever experienced.
  • Mid-August: Catfish Crawl -- a 1 mile swim. I missed a buoy and had to swim another 300 m at least. My time was disappointing and I ripped my wetsuit. Still, I swam a mile+ in open water. My performance was disappointing, but I still set new baselines in confidence and performance. Just finishing doesn't feel like an accomplishment any more.
  • Early September: Woodside Trail Run (10 Km) -- The organizers screwed this one up horribly as all the 10K runners got lost. Still, it was a good time. The scenery is very nice and at several points I got into a good running groove where I just enjoyed myself. I ran quite a bit further than 10K and climbed a lot more than I was supposed to.
  • Early October: Skyline Ridge 14K -- This was just a wonderful event. The marine layer cooperated beautifully and it would have been worth it to lug a tripod for photos. The beauty of the trail runs is that they're so steep at parts that you have to walk. So you quit worrying about your time. At least I do. Also, I was training for a half marathon at this point, so I was careful to not push too hard.
  • October 31: Silicon Valley Half Marathon. This is actually a pretty hard course for a road race. The finish is 500 feet higher than the start and the climb is pretty steady from about 5 km on. I had a plan to start kicking 5 km from the finish and I was doing just that, dropping people left and right. Then at 18 km my knee went and it became very painful to put any weight on my right leg. If I was younger with fewer responsibilities, I would have just grit my teeth, kept up my pace and risked injury. But if I'm incapacitated, I can't maintain my responsibilities to my family. So I slowed down and got across the finish largely intact. It probably cost me 7-8 minutes, but that's not important really. Overall, I really enjoyed the event. There was great scenery and until 18 km, I felt good.
All that adds up to six events this year. You'll perhaps notice that my last event, a straight run, was basically the same length as my first, a multi-sport event. That kind of puts things in perspective. I'm slow and I'm trying to be okay with that. The point of this is not to win, but to stay physically robust and set a lifestyle example for my kids. It's also to have fun, which I am.

I know there are two months left in 2010, but while I will train, this is the offseason for me. Frankly, my body needs to heal some. Next year, I'll up the distances and maybe do eight or nine events total. The only event I'm definite about repeating is Sandman. It really is that nice.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

A couple of notes on education reform

This fact is not getting a lot of attention in the press, but President Obama is openly taking on the teachers' unions. I don't believe he's going at them head-on, but make no mistake, he is standing up to them. And he's doing it in such a way that, if this issue ever gets more attention, it will make the opposition of the teachers' unions reflect very badly on the unions.

I personally think President Bush's heart was in the right place on this topic. NCLB was full of good intentions. But, he and his administration were such poor managers and executives that, at least in the short term, NCLB likely did more harm than good. Managerial incompetence is that administration's most enduring trait, but that's another post for another time.

Obama is taking the goals of NCLB and designing programs that encourage innovation at the local and state level. His script with the teacher's unions is basically: "We have the shared goal of improving education in this country, especially for the less fortunate. I know you guys can't do it all and too often you're not being provided adequate tools to do your job. But, too many of you just flat-out aren't doing your jobs and some of that is because we largely don't bother to look and see if you're doing your jobs. This must and will change." Then he throws out the carrot of potentially better pay and better working environments.

Me, personally, I think teacher pay is appropriate for the teacher population we currently have. There was a time, maybe 20 years ago, when teachers were underpaid. That time has gone. However, teachers are not currently paid enough to change the overall talent level of the people entering the profession. Simply put, we need to make it harder to become a teacher and also make the profession more attractive to more talented people. I believe Teach for America's success is explained, at least partially, by the fact that they are recruiting from a better talent pool. Simply put, we need to improve the talent level of our teacher corps, and that will undoubtedly require better pay. However, you can't just increase the talent level quickly. We are likely going to have to pay new teachers better than market rates for probably a decade. We can mitigate some of this waste by doing away with tenure, but the fact is, at a basic level, we have to "throw money" at this. Eventually, with higher pay, market pressures should improve overall teacher talent.

I personally know a few teachers and I have no doubt that they are highly effective. They also teach in districts where parents are very involved and, sometimes crassly, create an environment of teacher accountability. These places, in general, are not the problem. In my own school district, I know parents will organize very quickly to run off an ineffective teacher. This is not the best mechanism, but it works.

Conservatives will basically tell you that in communities where schools are failing, it's the fault of the communities. The parents are not involved enough and/or they subject their kids to such noisy lives that it's no wonder the schools are bad. Blah, blah, blah.

To that I say, "Do you really want to live in a society where your opportunity is determined primarily by the circumstances of your birth?" I'm personally interested in creating a society where individuals rise and fall by their own practiced virtue and where everyone has a reasonable chance to practice virtue. Of course, this is predicated on my own view that virtue is dependent on certain level of peace and quiet in the environment plus institutions that effectively impart the capability to live virtuously. But, that is a whole 'nother discussion.