Two Quick Rhetoric and Running Updates

The big part of my life that is neither rhetoric nor running has consumed me recently, and is likely to continue to do so for a while, but I have time for a quick update on both the rhetoric and the running.

The Running: The half marathon is now eighteen days away, and though I was pretty settled into fifty mile weeks and feeling great about the whole process, the world (sickness, travel, family, the fragility of life) decided I would be best served by a zero mile week just three weeks out from the race. Could be worse.  I suppose it may still get worse. Regardless, I’m back on the road as of today, and given my time in a 15k trail run a few weeks back, I’m still aiming for a 7:20/mile pace, or about 1:36 for the whole race.

The Rhetoric: I’m scheduled to present at the Rhetoric Society of America conference in May (actually I’m up on June 1, I think), and while I had hoped to get way more done this break (again, sickness, travel…) I’m basically done with my initial research. It looks like I’m going to be able to suggest that Lakoff’s notion of narrative framing isn’t quite correct, and, though I won’t get into it in the presentation, there may be deeper problems with his understanding of liberals and conservatives. In essence, it seems the same differences Lakoff identifies between the left and right exist between factions of the left. In other words, there are liberals who, at least in some areas, have a “conservative” worldview, but still have very liberal policies. Clearly I’m going to need to get my ducks in a row before I go too far with such claims, though. (The only reason I’m willing to write them here is that I know pretty much no one reads this!)

One other rhetoric note. Lots of people are talking about the need for Democrats to develop policies that will help working class voters. I think this may be good governance, but it’s a stupid electoral strategy. First, basically no one picks a party based on it’s policies. Instead, they tend to pick the policies based on  their party. Political affiliation is far more an identity than a rational choice. Second, to the extent that people do care about policies, they don’t so much care if they are getting enough, but rather they care if someone else is getting too much. Anger about “welfare” or corporate tax breaks or immigration isn’t about people wanting some of those goodies for themselves, but rather being angry that someone else is getting something they don’t deserve. It says nothing good about humanity, but it seems we’re happy to suffer ourselves so long as we can make sure everyone else is suffering along with us. So helping the working class will not win a single vote, I predict. Like too many of us, they want to stick it to someone else, not help themselves.


Stay healthy, be active, enjoy friends and family, work to understand everything generally and a few things really well, and try to leave everything a bit better than you found it.



3.09 is Close Enough

I’m calling it a victory! My quest for a sub-20 minute 5k is over.

The Garmin may think 3.09 miles is not 3.1, but it’s not the boss of me.

In my recent race—a rare evening run in the last of the summer heat (90 degrees at start time)—my watch told me I’d crossed the line at 19:29. A bit less than a minute later, as I wobbled around the finish area,  my watch buzzed. Apparently I hadn’t really hit the stop button, and it was happily informing me I’d set a new 5k record—20:10.

Later I put it all together. The watch recorded the race as 3.09 miles, but my fatigued stumbling after the finish gave me that extra .01 miles… and in a mere 40 seconds after my 19:29 finish.

I could have surrendered to the will of the GPS gods, I suppose, but this one was too much—or more accurately, too little. So when I got home I ran the numbers and figured .01 miles represents about 4 seconds at my pace. Then I edited the activity, and, just for good measure, added six seconds (a whopping 50% penalty!), and changed the distance to 3.1 miles. Voila, a new record!

Image of a Garmin display, reading 3.10 miles distance and 19:35 time.

Frankly, I’m pretty thrilled. I figured I could break 20, but to do so on a ninety degree day, and on a course that included some trails and a lot of grass, is better than I expected.

Oh, and I beat my nemesis.

Of course, the question now becomes… What next?

In the short term I’m going to start prepping for the McAllen half marathon in January. Last year I ran a 1:42, but I was absolutely crushed by the wall at mile 10, so there should be plenty of room for improvement. My new goal? 7:30/mile pace, or about 12 sec/mile better than last year, which should put me at 1:38. All the calculators are telling me I’m supposed to run at seven-flat given the 19:35 5k, but all the calculators clearly have no freaking idea what they’re talking about. I am quite aware that the farther races get from 5k, the worse I am. Still, we’ll see how it goes over the next eleven weeks. Running Science surely has some ideas.

And in the medium term… maybe a sub-19 really is possible in 2018. Maybe. Probably not. (But maybe!)

Under 20:00 5k! (Sort of)

Today was the goal race. It was perfectly scheduled (by accident, I’ll admit) on the last day of “my” sixteen week plan. The taper went smoothly. It was a fast course—flat and all on roads. It was big field (though not many at the same pace as me, unfortunately). And the temperature, as if by the hand of fate itself, went from high 70s a week ago to low 50s today.

I was fit. I was healthy. The course was perfect. The conditions were perfect.

In short, it was the perfect setup for a total disaster. Had I blown it, there would have been absolutely nothing to blame but myself.

But, I didn’t blow it.

My final pace was 6:21/mile, which is right what I was aiming for. And my final time was 19:10, which would be truly fantastic for me… if it were real.

The course, unfortunately, was 3.02 miles, or .08 miles short of a full 5k. Assuming I could have held that 6:22 average pace for the missing .08 miles, my real time would have been 19:40. So… success! Sort of. It is a record for me, and I’ll call it a half accomplishment of my 2017 running goal of a 19-something 5k, but my Garmin is unforgiving, and still lists the 20:20 5k from March of this year as my 5k PR. That half of my goal—the electronic acknowledgement—will have to wait.

And just because I care about such things, a couple notes about the race itself.

  • I started deliberately slow, standing several rows back at the line and trying not to dash around the joggers and children who seem always to claim the front for a couple hundred meters before fading. The net effect of this was to bring my initial ¼ mile split to 97 seconds, which is almost exactly on pace. In other words, by forcing myself to go out freakishly slow, I ended up going out just right.
  • My mile splits were 6:30, 6:28, 6:06 (plus five seconds for that spare .02 miles). So very negative splits. Frankly, I’m a bit stunned at that last mile. When I run mile intervals, with six minutes rest in between, I only hit 6:15 or so on my third interval.
  • I felt great all the way through. In fact, I kept expecting to have that moment of agony when I just couldn’t sustain my pace, but it never really came. There was the usual steady pain, of course, but no crushing I-must-slow-down-or-I’ll-die sensation. I think this means I probably could have gone out a little faster. A little. Next time I’ll make a bit more effort to stay at 6:20 pace during miles 1 and 2.

In any case, here is my updated race time graph:

Race Times_October 2017

Oh, and my nemesis beat me. I’ve beaten him two races in a row with considerably worse times, but apparently he and I both had great days today, probably because of the weather. His was a little greater, though. One week from today, a rematch.

But for now, I’m happy that the last sixteen weeks have added up to something. A 21 second PR may not seem like much–it may not BE much–but cross one item off the bucket list. Okay, half an item. Stupid Garmin.


An Easy (!) 40 Mile Week

I just wrapped up week 15 of “my” training plan, and am headed into the final full taper week in anticipation of my two goal races next week and the week after. But this week was a sort of pre-taper: I kept the miles, but cut down the speed work, ending up with only 18% “quality” miles instead of the 25% or so for previous weeks.

So this was my third 40+ mile week in a row. And it was a breeze.

The fact that I can say that says something about how much this plan has changed me as a runner. I may be a bit behind on grading and class design and academic research, but what used to be unthinkable miles and frequency can now be called a “light week.” Nice.

Of course, I have no idea yet if this will translate to a faster 5k. I’m suspicious, frankly. All these long slow runs are awfully far away from the specificity of that particular race. At the very least it’s a nice foundation for the half marathon I’m planning in January, and I think it’s also been good for injuries as my legs feel generally stronger and so are perhaps a bit less fragile. Plus, it’s kind of cool.

Still, I can taste that 20 minute 5k. It’s going to hurt, I know. I can run a dozen 400s at 5:30 mile pace. I can run three one-mile repeats at 6:10–6:15. And I can hit a comfortable tempo run of 7:15 for five or six miles. But does this mean I string together three consecutive miles at 6:25? Nothing in my training says that’ll be anything other than just at the edge of the possible. But I suppose possible is enough. Give me a fast course, enough competitors at my goal pace, and a cool day, and it just might come together.

My first real shot at it will be in one week. Stay tuned.

Lungs and Legs: Two Kinds of Running Pain

Many many years ago, when I was a skinny and comparatively quick high school distance runner, all of us on the track team were doing intervals—200s, I think. These were terrible for me. I was a pretty good distance runner, but I was a pitiful sprinter, and worse yet, the coach had split us into two teams of mixed sprinter and distance runners, and the intervals were a sort of relay race, one team against the other. I was obviously the weak link.

As we came around to on of the last intervals, the guy on the other team—I can’t remember his name, Jerrod, maybe, a decent but unexceptional sprinter—got the baton before me and jumped out to a significant lead. Everyone  knew what would happen. Jerrod may not have been a great sprinter, but I was genuinely bad.

But those 200 meters changed me forever. I was wiped out. Everyone was wiped out. It had been a hard workout and we were at the end of practice and people were bent over gasping between intervals. But I remember that race to this day, decades later. I started out pushing, feeling as usual like I was running through molasses. Panting hard, breathing heavy, and struck with that not-enough-air pain of running we all know. Then, for some reason, I just accepted that pain. I didn’t fight it, or even fight though it. I just accepted it. Absorbed it. Embraced it maybe. The pain was a message, not a statement of my limits, and I could listen to message but not obey it. Then I focused not on my gasping breath, but on my legs. They still had something. I might not be able to breathe, but it was only 200 meters and my legs didn’t need air.

I didn’t quite catch Jerrod, but I almost did, and the coach—everyone, in fact—asked me  what in the world had happened. What came over me? I didn’t know. I still wasn’t a sprinter, but from then on, no matter how much I was gasping for air, I could always find another gear by embracing the pain and switching my focus from my breathing to my legs. It’s my late-race strategy to this day.

Thinking about this, I’ve come to believe running hurts in at least two very different ways. First, there is the lung pain that fills your chest, telling you that you’re not getting enough air. Slow Down, it yells at you. At the same time, though, there is the leg pain that is your muscles hurting from too much—and too long—work. This is the dead leg feeling, the increasing difficulty of lifting each leg with each step.

So maybe one trick to running is to think about the pain that hurts less. Legs dying? Think about how solid and strong your breathing is. Gasping for air? Think about your strong and powerful legs. You pretty much always have more in the tank than your worst pain lets you believe.

I should clarify here: this still hurts. Switching focus to your legs is not a way of minimizing the pain you feel from overtaxing your lungs. At least not for long. It’s more a way of borrowing against that pain in the firm awareness that every moment’s respite will have to be paid back with interest when you cross the line. Sometimes before.

Today, for example, I was doing 1600 repeats, aiming for each to be around 6:15. As I was heading into the last quarter mile of my last repeat, I was wiped. It’s been two hard weeks, it’s still unreasonably hot and humid outside, and I was clearly outrunning my aerobic capacity as my lungs were getting to that burning I’m-going-to-die-soon feeling. So I turned my attention to my legs, and sure enough, there was something there. Stored glycogen? Who knows. I’m no biologist. But there was a strength there—or at least a pain that was less than that in my lungs—and I knew no matter how my lungs felt I could make those legs go a bit faster for at least another ¼ mile.  I knew it because decades ago, I almost beat Jerrod one time.

40 Mile Week!

I just finished my first 40 mile week since I was sixteen years old.

I know this isn’t much for many people, and is around the extreme lower end for marathoners… but it’s pretty cool for an old guy like me. And regardless, I’m training for a fast 5k, not a marathon.

For the next couple weeks I’ll stick to this level, keeping up the five day schedule of “my” plan, slightly modified to include with two speed workouts, one tempo, one long slow run (12 miles most recently), and one medium length slow run (7 miles).

I think I’m getting faster. My four mile tempo run felt solid at just over 7 min/mile, and my last round of 12x400m were all coming in at about 1:25 each with about the same rest in between. Of course, it might just be the fact that it’s slightly cooler these days.

Anyway, three weeks from now I’ll start a two week taper with a 5k race at the end of each.

And one of those races better be the magic sub-20 I’ve been working on for the past months!

A Tiny Update

I’m back to teaching–and more to the point, I’m back to grading papers–so that explains the super light posting schedule.

But, just a few quick running updates:

I’m on week 13 of my plan, which should be my first 40 mile week. The increased distance hasn’t actually been bad, but the time involved is really sucking up my free time (rhetoric research time, blog time, etc.).

The 12×400 interval session, with my current pace being just a shade under 90 sec per, with about the same rest period, is the toughest one by far. I dread those.

I’ve come to think three speed sessions per week is one too many, and that I need to replace one with a long tempo run. I’ve done a couple short tempo sessions at 5k pace + 30 sec/mile or so (2 mile, or 2×2 mile with one slow mile in between) . I think I’ll try a longer slower session. Maybe 6 miles at 10k race pace + 30 sec/mile? But I’m not sure which speed run to bump. I suppose I should rotate, but getting rid of those 400s is awfully tempting. (But no–the fact that they hurt so much likely means they’re precisely what I need.)

I’m not convinced all these long slow miles are really worth it. They add a huge chunk of distance to my totals and make the numbers look a lot better, but are they making me faster? I don’t know. Maybe they’re at least keeping me healthier, as I haven’t had an injury. Then again, maybe that’s a bit of a post-hoc fallacy right there. Hard to know. They do seem to work as recovery, at least.

The weather is finally just beginning to drop away from sweltering. Still some 80 degree/90% humidity mornings, but there are now frequent 70 degree/90% humidity mornings. I’ll take what I can get.

The plan is almost over. I have three hard weeks and a taper week left. Then two races in consecutive weeks to see if the last 16 weeks got me where I needed to be.

After that… I’m not sure. A bit more 5k training, maybe, as the weather cools. Then probably a move to a 1/2 marathon plan for the McAllen half in January. 1:42 is my time to beat. Pretty sure I can without too much trouble, since I slammed into the wall at mile ten last year.

Oh, and the rhetoric research comparing the narrative forms of Bernie & Hillary is looking like it’ll lead to some great results. But a ways to go there yet.