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The Road To Sparta” (2016©) — book review
Today’s book review is for “The Road To Sparta” written by Dean Karnazes.  Karnazes may not be the “Dean” of ultramarathon runners, but he is certainly one of the sports most famous names and faces.  Karnazes lives in the San Francisco Bay Area (where I also was raised and currently live), and, from his writing, appears to have totally adopted the ethos of being from Northern California.  Clean air, physical fitness, sometimes single minded pursuit of one’s goals, etc.
The book is another semi-autobiographical book about Karnazes.  His other book (which is reviewed here) is titled: “Ultramarathon Man“, and deals more with his various runs – particularly the Western States One-Hundred.  This book is about his being descended from Greek immigrants and him getting back in touch with his roots in his native country via participation in an ultra-run called “The Spartathlon.”  This run recreates the run which Pheidippides made from Athens to Sparta to ask the Spartans to help the Athenians resist the Persian invasion of Greece at the beach of Marathon.  Not to spoil the story (as it is ancient history), Pheidippides ran about 150 miles to carry the message (request).  He then ran a similar distance to carry the reply (“Yeah, we’ll come, but not for a few days”).  And then, … wait for it… he ran from the battlefield (Marathon) to Athens (about 26 miles) to carry news of the victory.  And then he died.
The race isn’t so spectacular.  Karnazes “only” has to run the initial portion (Athens to Sparta).  Oh, yeah.  You have to run the race in a “similar” time span to that of Pheidippides – 36 hours.
If you are a serious distance runner, much of the book will seem self-affirming as you will probably relate to the action and feelings of a ultra-distance runner.  If you are not a “serious” runner (or athlete), you may still relate, but you’ll probably also find Karnazes’ descriptions of the Greek countryside a bit flowery.  Make that extremely flowery.  Almost (but not quite) off-puttingly so.  Almost…  On the other hand, if you are just an average reader, you may really like all the verbiage.  I was kind of in the middle.  Parts of the book made we want to strap on some shoes and go out for a jog.  Others left me feeling like he had been assigned a set number of words to get the book published and he was going to reach that number with the same determination it takes to run an ultra.
Final recommendation: strong.  I enjoyed the history.  I enjoyed most of the descriptions, particularly when he was talking about the people out in the Greek countryside.  And I enjoyed the re-telling of the actual Spartathlon he ran in.  Ultimately, a good running book should make you want to lace up and hit the pavement.  As mentioned above, this book did that for me.  I picked the book up at Half-Price Books off the $3 rack.  A steal at that price.  I’ve already used a couple of quotes on my blog and I’ve got about another dozen or so hi-lighted for use in the future.
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On This Day In:
2017 Today Is Not Lost
Day 8
2016 Paying Attention
2015 An Awful Ordeal
2014 What Are You Doing?
2013 Lives > 1
2012 Strange To All The World
2011 Unnecessary Stagefright

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Readings
Last Saturday (26 June ’10), I finished “Partners In Command” by Mark Perry (2007©).  The book is a dual biography of Generals George C. Marshall and Dwight Eisenhower.  I purchased the book because I have had a long term interest in Marshall.  Aside from Patton, Marshall has been one of my favorite World War II generals.  The book speaks very favourably of Marshall; almost as highly of Eisenhower; and, rather poorly of everyone else.  In particular, Bradley, Montgomery and Patton suffer by comparison.  The lesson of the book, which the author repeats in almost every chapter: Democracies should only go to war when they are attacked (and therefore “have to fight”), they should only fight when they have allies, and, they should fight for as short a time as is possible to win.
I must admit, I have never “really” been a big fan of Eisenhower.  Partly because I considered him a “community organizer” and not a true general; partly because he was a Republican President – who I felt did little to move the country forward during his eight years in office; and, mostly because he selected an obvious thug – Richard Nixon – to be his Vice President.  I believe had he not done so, it is unlikely Nixon would have ever become President and the country might have been spared the Watergate scandal and its on-going legacy – Carter, Reagan, and both Bush’s.  The last part is probably unlikely, Bush I might still have become President, but I don’t think we would have had to suffer Bush II / Chenny.  Still history is the way it is…
I would still like to read more about Marshall and will be on the lookout for more books about him.  Everything I’ve read about him indicates he was a man of extreme integrity, humility and completely dedicated to his country.
Today (29 June ’10), I finished “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell (2008©).  This is a book about success.  What does it take to be successful.  It appears that it takes a lot of hard, dedicated work (a mythical 10,000 hours) and a great deal of luck.   The luck is not just personal luck, either.  It seems to involve timing (birth date) and cultural setting.  I’m not sure if I agree with all of Gladwell’s examples and extrapolations of “truths” which come from the examples, but he does make an interesting case.
This is the third book I’ve read of Gladwell’s (“The Tipping Point” and “Blink” being the other two), and I can heartily recommend him as a good read and a provider of new insight – what I would have called a “slap on the side of the head” in years gone by.
Celtic Blues
A little over a week ago, the Boston Celtics lost game seven of the NBA championship to the Los Angeles Lakers.  For years, my brother has insisted that all of professional sports are fixed.  I am not usually a “conspiracy” person, although I have seen moments in games when I questioned some referees calls (and non-calls).  This is the first time though, where I honestly believed the game was absolutely fixed and I will never look at an NBA playoff the same way again.  To start off with the commercials were heavily biased towards the Lakers.  As the game went on – particularly in the second half – they were a virtual coronation.  And this was while the game was still very much in doubt and the “greatest” player on the court (Kobe Bryant) was having an atrocious game.  I don’t mean a choke.  I mean a complete stinker – legacy game.  Instead, every time he got the ball in the third and fourth quarter, he would drive and if there was any defense applied, he was given a foul.  Kobe ended up with ten free throws made in the fourth quarter and the Lakers (as a team) had more than twenty extra free throws than Boston.  This, despite the fact that LA had to play tighter defense in order to come from ten points down to win the game.  In the end, the refs let the Celtics bring it back to within three points after letting the Lakers run ahead by eight.
World Cup News
A similar tragedy is happening in the World Cup this year.  Goals are being disallowed which are clearly in and onside and being allowed when they should not be (mostly players being offside).  Anyway, my three hopefuls have all been sent home (USA, England and Mexico).  I’m now hoping for a final of Germany vs. Brazil as I think that will be the most entertaining matchup.
Diet and Health
Not so good.  I’ve put back on about 12 pounds.  I’m back up around 305!  I’ve had a series of little (and not so little) aches and pains which has reduced my running to almost nothing.  I thought I’d really hurt my back, but it now seems as if I’m just having a flare up of kidney stones.  I’ve been pissing out a series of little grains for a couple of weeks now.  At one point, the pain was so bad I was limping and didn’t even want to walk.  Fortunately, that’s somewhat better now.  This last weekend, I tried to drink them away with a couple of gallons of water, but while it may have cleaned up my urine, it hasn’t fixed the stone problems.  The bottom line is that I’ve got to get back out there jogging.
I’ve been going to the pool instead.  So far, five sessions of treading water of about fifty minutes each.  No pain at all.  I’ve also been able to do the elliptical at the gym at work.  I’ve also tried the rowing at the gym, but that does result in a bit of workout pain (lower heaviness).
This weekend was the running of the Western States 100 Endurance Run.  It was interesting to check it out on-line while it was happening.  It seems like a distant and impossible dream now.
Drums
I’m not doing much better on learning to play the drums.  I guess Hil was correct.  “This too shall pass!”  I’m practicing in the car in the morning, but I don’t seem to have the energy (or make the time) to practice on the real drum set Art lent me.
Work
I got the news on my application for the Leadership Development Program at work.  This year, I qualified, but did not make the best qualified list.  My consolation is that’s better than last year when I didn’t even qualify.
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Last Monday, 17 May I finished reading The Book of War, by Dwight Jon Zimmerman (2008©).  It is one of those encyclopedic surveys of wars, battles, generals and technologies which come out every few years.  It was interesting as an exercise (refresher), but I did not feel it offered anything particularly interesting or new.  A few of the battles and leaders were new (to me), but it was not obvious to me why they were included over other leaders which other authors might have chosen instead.
Today, 21 May I finished my second book by Stewart Liff.  This one is titled: Managing Government Employees (2007©).  It was Mr. Liff’s first book, so I’ve actually read them out of sequence.  This book was easily on a par with my last reading (Managing Your Government Career).  In fact, I’d say it was better in some ways because it gave more specific information.  Whereas the earlier reading was really for all government employees, this is more to the needs of folks in supervisory and management positions.  Again, I would highly recommend this work to any and all government leadership.  Between the two works, I am more and more convinced I need to get some time in Labor and Employee Relations and then get a detail out in the field.  There is NO substitute for program time if you want to get ahead in the government.
Speaking of which, the Leadership Development Program has been announced for the next fiscal year.  I have to get my act together and apply again.  This will be my fifth application in eight years.  I’ve been interviewed for four of them and did not make the Best Qualified List (BQL) last year – for the first time.  Anyway, we’ll see how it goes again this year.
Nothing really new on the running front.  I’ve been having a lot of minor problems for about a month and my time has really trailed off.  Mostly, I’m only jogging in the morning now (at work) and that’s not enough to get me ready for the WS100.
I picked up three pairs of “water-sport” shoes and plan to give a review of each when I finally get started back running a bit more seriously.  As “good” as it may sound to be a “natural” barefoot runner.  I doubt if I’ll ever be one.  These shoes may be as close as I ever get.
The diet is not particularly going…  I’m bouncing around at 290 to 297.  I’m still down over 30 lbs, but I should be much further along.
I’ve picked up some drum sticks and am beginning to tap with them every now and then.  Art (my sister’s husband) says he’ll loan me a drum set for the summer (about six weeks).  That should be enough time for me to lose interest or “discover” I really do like playing a musical instrument.
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Last night I went out to run in the school yard across the street.  Hil and I drove back from Mom’s and got a rough estimate of the mileage / distance – a little over 11 miles if I go via Ygnatio Road from Clayton to Walnut Creek.  Hil objected that it was too far to do as a first run and I would have to get out and try some other street runs first.  I countered that I should be able to do it in the 4 hour time limit I’d set in my 5 jogs during January.  She responded it’s not the same when you’re on the street and doing hills.  I said, I know.  That’s why I was allowing 4 hrs to do 3 hours distance.  I believe my school yard jogs are about 3.5 mph, so 4 hours is about 14 miles – more than enough to cover the distance.
Anyway, I ended up going out on the road.  I jogged up to the North Concord BART station and then down to Salvio, up past the main library and then back home along Esperanza.  I was still short of 90 minutes, so I did two laps in the school yard to finish up the 90.  In all, I estimate about a 5 mile jog.
I felt real good afterwards.  I was trying out my new shoes and they were very comfortable.  I got them for 50 bucks.  About half the price of the running store I went to last weekend.  At the moment, I believe the difference between a great running shoe and an ok one is a $3 footpad insert to increase the cushioning under the balls of my feet.  Since I’ve adopted this “new” running style, that’s where most of my pain seems to be.  I also noticed that adding the small hills to my jog last night has made a big difference in my Achilles heal not hurting at the end of my jog (or today).
Saturday, I went out and did two of my favorite things – I bought books and a new pair of running shoes.  I must have gotten about 15 books for under $75.  I got a dozen off the clearance racks, so they were $1, $2 or $3 each.
One of the books is: “Ultimate Fitness” (2003©), by Gina Kolata.  The author was/is a science writer for the New York Times.  The book is a review of the science and history behind the fitness industry.  The book was eye-opening for me because I’ve always assumed the “basics” fo fitness were grounded in solid scientific research.  As it turns out, very little of what I’ve thought was “true” is, in fact, proven.
Fundamentally, there is substantial scientific evidence that going from no exercise to four or five 30 minute sessions of any moderate exercise are enough to move a person to significant health improvement over the complete non-exerciser.  After that, there is little or no evidence of any improved benefits to health or longevity.
The author makes a key point that health is not the same as fitness and one has to do a lot more exercise to become “fit” than one needs to do to gain health.
The author makes the same claims about strength training.  A moderate amount builds you up to your natural base, but after that, you need to do a lot more and a lot more specific training to make substantial gains.
On consideration, these statements just make common sense (as uncommon as that may be).
One very interesting discovery the author relates is to do with why 220 beats per minute is considered the maximum heart rate for humans.  It turns out this was not based on any “vast and thorough” research study.  It appears the two scientists who “discovered” the rate found it by examining 10 papers on maximum heart rates.  The sizes of the individual studies is not provided, but the author states they were small samples.  She goes on to add they were limited in that they were all men, white, under sixty-five and predominantly young.  She implies the studies may have had their own internal biases because the samples were taken at cardiac centers and not from a random sampling of the population.  The stated bias is (at least) the two most likely people going to a cardiac center for testing are cardiac patients (who will not represent the general public) and young athletes, seeking to find out the limits of their fitness training.
Because the two researches were US government employees at the time and were presenting their findings at a symposium, they had the imprimatur of truth/fact.  Over time, the “findings” were repeated enough they gained the status of gospel (“urban legend”).  I think the story is particularly interesting because I’ve seen posters with the 220 number on walls at my gym and at my cardiologist.
Other than establishing that most of what I thought about exercise is marketing and misunderstood science, the author spends most of the time discounting the hype-sters of the fitness movements/fads.  Again, this is pretty much just more common sense…
All in all, a very interesting book and I highly recommend it.
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Another week’s gone by…
My jogging has picked up again this week without all the overtime at work.  I jogged at least 2 miles everyday at the gym in the morning.  I had two of my best times (including a personal best, which I subsequently tied 26min8sec).  The other good time was 2 miles in 27min57sec.  When I finished that run, I felt I’d done really well until I looked up my previous best – which was 27min27sec, set back on 15Feb09.  The thing was, I was 30lbs heavier!!
Anyway, the new PB was set without intervals – I just started out walking for a minute, 3.6 until 5 min, 4.6 until 15 min and then 5 until I hit the 2 mile mark.  The second time was with two 6’s thrown in for 2X220.  I felt my right knee twinge a little when I was decelerating after the 6s.  I think that’s how I must have hurt my knee last year (and again on Monday), by doing intervals at too fast a pace and then cutting the gas too quickly.
I just finished another book about running: “Jog, Run, Race” by Joe Henderson, (1977©).  Basically, it’s a primer on enjoying running as an end in itself.  The author wants you to become and “addict”, just like he is.  The tone is very friendly and conversational.  The book is loaded with tables providing well structured training plans for runners of all ages and stages.  The author has a fairly arbitrary division between milers and marathoners which he says is – from his experience – a natural divide.  Some runners want to go a little ways, fast (milers) and some prefer to go a long ways, slower (marathoners).  I guess if I were younger, I’d be a marathoner.  As it is, I’m an ultra and I want to go extra long and extra slow.
I didn’t do any long jogs last week – my longest was 90 minutes and, in fact, I was only out twice.  That’s why this week felt so much better – I had 5 jogs at work and 4 at home.
On the diet side there is more mixed news.  Last week I gained 2.4lbs.  I reckon it’s with all the OT and no night runs and then all the sugar and salt during the Super Bowl.  Anyway, this week I hope to do better.  I at least want to lose the 2.4lbs I put back on.
I’m thinking about trying to spruce up my image at work.  I may start wearing pants and a tie for a while…!  That should shock everybody.
This week should be good.  Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day and Monday is President’s Day – so I have the day off.  Wednesday I have the dentist and the rest of the day off to kick it around.  That makes it a three day work week.  Next Saturday is my training on Wilson Reading Method.  After that, I may get assigned a student reader of my own.  I’m seeing Megan on Wed afternoon to discuss a potential student.
The last two weeks at work I’ve been in training for 1/2 day each day.  It’s been on IT stuff, so it’s been very interesting even if much of it is refresher stuff.
James may be working for the rest of the school year! Rebecca seems to be settling in to UCLA a lot more.  That’s good.  I want her college experience to be a good memory – and all work would not seem to me to be a “good” memory.  Sarah is off to Sacramento today for another band trip.  Hil is going to pick up Mom (to get her out of her house for a few hours).
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This week’s book was “The Last Pick” by David J. McGillivray (with Linda Glass Fechter) and was published in 2006.  It’s the autobiographical story of Mr. McGillivray who grew up to be the race director of the Boston Marathon.  He was also the “technical director” from 1988-2001.  Basically, he grew up to be short (5ft 3 in) and this profoundly affected his life and his attitude about his life.  Because he was so short, few believed in his athletic ability and hence he was always “the last pick”.
As a young man, he goes on to become an accomplished runner in high school and college and then he becomes one the first hand-full of people to run across the continental U.S. (roughly 3,400 miles).  His story is an interesting one, but I got tired of hearing about his being short.  He seems to have to mention it every 10 pages.  Aside from this (minor) shortcoming (pun intended), the story is a good, heartwarming tale and the author comes across as a very good man.
One thing I found interesting was there was no mention of the WS100.  Considering it’s supposed to be one the oldest and most prestigious ultra runs, I thought it would at least rate a reference.  I guess when you’ve run 3,400 miles in 80 days, 100 in 24 Hrs is no big deal.
I did my own little “ultra” last night – my third 4 hour run.  This one seemed about as hard as the second.  I’m trying my new jogging technique – kind of like the “POSE” method, but not quite.  I was not able to stay on my mid-to-front foot for the whole jog.  I got two in, and then had to alternate between my traditional flat-footed double-time and the new “on your toes” method.  I’m also trying to pay extra attention to my hydration.  I’m trying to force myself to drink ten full swallows of water after each hour.  I’m not sure it it’s making any difference, but I’ll have to drink when I’m out on the WS100, so I’m trying to get used to it.
This was my third 4 hour jog, and I’m estimating I’m going about 14 miles for each so I’ve done the equivalent of one and a half marathons.  When you throw in my other days, it means I’m able to do about one full marathon each week.
The jogging on my toes is really making a big difference in my recovery time.  I feel like I’m hardly hurting at all after the jog or the next day.  I was quite sore after most of my long sessions doing my regular style.  Hopefully, as my calves get stronger, I’ll be able to ween myself off of the old method.
I still haven’t got the “running” part of the new method down yet.  I know, the POSE falling forward / lean method doesn’t work for me, so I’m playing with various things when I’m doing my intervals.
I got an email from Bec saying she’s now on Skype.  I’ve set it up on my own Netbook but I was not able to reach her.  I was able to chat with my brother, Sean.
Work has eased a little this week.  I didn’t feel like I had to work today (Saturday) to keep up.  I was able to get the car serviced and go treat myself to a new pair of running shoes.
The diet is still going – about 110 days now.  I was down to 298 as of last Tuesday.  I’m not on target to get to 270 by my birthday, but I’ll be in the ball park.  The main thing is that I feel great.
No changes on the library front.  I met a guy who seems like an ideal student for me, but they tell me there are others who’ve been in the queue longer and I still need to train on the Wilson Reading method before I would be able to handle someone.  Anyway, the computer lab is still fun and interesting.  We’ll see…
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This weekend I jogged my second four hour jog.  That makes two half marathons in less than seven days.  I estimate I’m doing about 3.5 mph, so, times 4 makes about 14 miles.  This time seemed a bit harder.  I’m not sure why.  Maybe the novelty has worn off now that I know I can last that long.
It does make the WS100 seem a little more possible now!
I finished my second book on running during the week.  This one is titled: “Running Past 50” and is written by Richard Benyo.  It’s an old book.  The copyright is 1998, but it still had some interesting information.  One of them was the name of the Mexican/Indian tribe that does all the long distance running: the Tarahumara of the Copper Canyon region of Mexico.
I looked them up and found they supposedly have a “unique” running style.  I looked that up and read various descriptions of it.  I tried it over the weekend and it seems to be fantastic!  I tried it for about 20 minutes during my 4 hour run on Friday.  I then did a full hour yesterday and again two hours tonight.  To tell the truth, except for a little tenderness in my calves, I don’t feel like I’ve been out jogging at all.  I’m going to keep trying it and see if is the “miracle” it seems to be.  Usually, when I’m done, my feet hurt and the following day, they are very tender to walk on until I get the blood going.  There has been NO foot pain at all – so far.
I’ve started a third book about running.  This one is by a guy who’s run across the US.  So far, he’s not mentioned the WS100, but I guess when you’ve run 3,400 miles in 80 days, 100 miles in 24 hours doesn’t seem like such a big deal.
Not much change at work.  I had overtime again this Saturday.  It’s nice to have some quiet time to get caught up, but it was also nice to have two days off (today is Martin Luther King Jr. holiday).
The diet still seems to be going well.  I weighed in on the scale at work (without a 3lbs clothes allowance) and I was under 300!!  I came in at 299.5.  Hopefully, I’m still there (or less) tomorrow at my “official” weigh-in.
Rebecca came home for a quick weekend visit.  She flew in on Thursday and took off today.  Her return flight was delayed multiple times and she didn’t get back to UCLA until evening.
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As mentioned previously, I just finished reading a book about the Western States 100 Endurance Run (WS100).  Part of the book describes the start of the race to the first checkpoint.  I guess it’s about four miles (as the crow flies) distance.  The book goes on to explain that it’s also about 4,000 thousand feet higher than the starting point and the starting line is over 5,000 feet in elevation.  Basically, you’re starting a mile in the sky and going another mile before you reach the first checkpoint!
Anyway, I was curious what this would feel like – the climbing (not the actual altitude), so today I went to the gym at work and started “climbing”.  At 30 minutes, I had reached about 650 feet.  At the end of 1 hour, I had covered 3 miles distance, but only 1522 feet in elevation.  (Remember, this is without the altitude.)  I was covered in sweat and really puffing – and I’d done only about 1/3 of the elevation, with none of the altitude.  It seems as if this is COMPLETELY insane.  All the more reason to try to do it.
This evening I did another 2 hour jog (really a double-time) – about 7 miles.  My second consecutive day of a two hour jog.  It’s definitely not something I can keep up for consecutive days, but it’s nice to feel strong enough to get thru a couple.  I have a feeling, I’ll be doing more shorter jogs and then one long one a week until I can build up enough strength and stamina to do a couple of long runs a week.
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We took Rebecca to the airport this morning and she’s now safely back at UCLA.  She got an A and two B’s in her first quarter.  Her three weeks here for X-mas seems to have flown by.  She says she may be back in a couple of weeks to give a speech.
Start of the new year back at work tomorrow.  I applied for a detail back in Baltimore which starts on 15 Jan and runs thru 15 May.  I don’t think I’ll get it, but you never know…  It would be a nice break and a great experience.  If I get it, I should hear about it this week.
Today I finished reading Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner by Dean Karnazes.  It’s an autobiography about his life as a runner of extreme races.  I heard about him in Wired magazine and started looking into the Western States 100 Endurance Run.  The run is becoming my not so secret “Visionquest”.  I would like to try to do it by the time I’m 60.  That gives me 5 years to get ready and finish it (if I can).  To tell the truth, it sounds terrifying.  After reading Karnazes’ account it seems impossible for me.  …But I’m still planning on trying.  We’ll see how far I get.  Tonight I jogged for two hours.  The 100 takes 30 hours (max) to complete for a bronze buckle.  If you can do it in under 24 you get a silver buckle.  I will be happy just to finish – but a bronze would be really excellent!
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