mad anthony

Rants, politics, and thoughts on politics, technology, life,
and stuff from a generally politically conservative Baltimoron.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Only 360-something days to train for next y...

So Sunday, the day after my less-than-exceptional finish in the Baltimore half-marathon, I was feeling pretty crappy. Especially when walking - I felt pretty sore. But mostly, I was mad at myself. Part of me was mad that I was in such bad shape - I was in the last 25 or so finishers in my age bracket, out of 580 or so. My time was almost 50 minutes higher than the average for my age. And part of me was mad at myself for not taking it seriously, not doing any training or anything.

But mostly, I guess I was sad that I wasn't in as good of shape as I thought I was - I'd convinced myself that I work out and eat reasonably decently, and thus I should be in great shape, and clearly I'm in considerably worse shape than I thought.

But I've moved on from self-pity, and instead am thinking "what concrete steps can I take to not suck so much next year?" Part of it is that I'm not in as awesome shape as I'd like to believe, but part of it is that I'm just not in great shape for running road races, because it's not something I've done or trained for. So I need to change that.

So I've got a few ideas. First of all, right now I do pretty much all my cardio at the gym, on precors and ellipticals. They are great for burning calories, because they are designed to use lots of energy but be gentler on knees and legs. Which is great if your only goal is weight loss, but not so great for getting used to running. So I'm adding a little bit of treadmill time to my daily workouts. So far it's only been about 10 minutes or so, but I hope to build up from there, and I'm trying to do it at the pace I need to average to get the time I'm hoping to run the whole race at next year.

I also need to spend some time actually running/jogging. Some of it can be inside, on the indoor track at my gym, but some of it needs to be outside, so I get used to running outside. Some of it also needs to be in bad weather, so I get used to that.

I also need to spend get back to eating healthy and losing weight - I'm pretty happy with where I am, but I still could stand to lose a few pounds, and if I can drop 5 or 10 pounds, that's 5 or 10 pounds less I need to carry around with me during the race.

I might also look into doing some other races - there are evidently a handful of other 10-miler and half-marathons in the area, and they would be good training and good experiences.

Part of me wonders if this is worth the time - I already work out for about 2 hours a day, and if I want to get competitive I need to increase that, as well as have days where I do 13 miles so I get used to it. But I need to prove to myself that I can actually compete, and time spent working out is probably better spent than time surfing the internet or watching mindless TV.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

So that's what a half-marathon is like...

Well, today I "ran" the Baltimore half-marathon. Well, more like walked it. I finished in 3 hours, 7 minutes. So what does that mean?

Well, from a marathon perspective, it's pretty pathetic - the winning runner finished the course in 1 hour, 15 minutes. Average for a male age 30-34 was 2 hours, 20 minutes. Overall, I came in in 7470th place (out of 8038 finishers). In my age/gender group, there were only about 20 people who took longer than me to finish out of almost 600. (For more fun statistics, the results site is here).

But if you want to ignore the real world and look at it like everyone is special in their own way, I did OK. I pretty much signed up on a whim, didn't do any training beyond my normal daily workouts, and pretty much set out with a goal of finishing. I didn't really know what to expect, so I pretty much powerwalked the whole thing, like an elderly woman mallwalking or someone running slightly late to a moderately important meeting on the other side of the office building. I figured I'd rather save my energy and make sure I finished, but I probably could have pushed myself harder in the last couple miles and shaved some time off.

My other excuse for my lousy performance is the fact that it's still more than I would have been capable of for most of my life. Considering less than 6 years ago I was about 100 pounds heavier than I was now, it's fair to say I wouldn't have been able to finish. Hell, I wouldn't have made it from the parking lot to the starting line (which to be fair, is like a half-mile, or considerably longer if you get completely lost due to their lack of signs and spend an hour wandering around).

It is a pretty interesting experience, though, even - or maybe especially - for someone who isn't a serious runner. I got to see parts of Baltimore I've never gone through before, and see parts I've driven through from a very different perspective. You see all kinds of people cheering, which is pretty cool, and one of a kind things like the eye of the tiger guy, plus people running in everything from suits to kilts to tutus to a giant Dunkin' Donuts coffee cup. It's pretty cool how many people are willing to cheer or volunteer to do this.

I guess part of the reason I did this was I figured it was one of those bucket list, things you should do before you die kind of things. But I guess if I really want to achieve something, I need to do a whole marathon - and I think that would take a huge amount of effort, effort I'm not sure I'd be willing to put in.

But I'm seriously thinking I might do this again next year - now that I have a baseline time, I have something I can work on improving - maybe shoot for 2:45 or so. I also have a better idea of what I would need to do to train - I do mostly elliptical at the gym, and running/walking on actual road, in the outdoors, is a much different experience. I could also use some better sneakers - I wore my normal, fairly new gym shoes - which I generally select by buying whatever looks decent that I find cheap on clearance online. That's fine for the gym, but I would probably do better springing for shoes from one of those specialty running stores that try to match your walking/running style and make sure they fit right. And now that I know I can actually finish, I can work on speed instead of just survival.

But I can't complain too much. I finished, so I met my goal, even if that's a pretty low goal to set.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

I didn't fight the law at the hamfest, because the law would have won..

Today was the CaraFest Hamfest in Howard County. The weather held out, I woke up on time, and I bought a couple things, including an Apple Airport Extreme for $6 (open box, haven't tested yet). I sold a bunch of stuff, and made... well, I can't say, in case the man is reading the blog.

About mid-morning, I saw two middle-aged women having a long conversation with the people accross from me. They looked out of place - besides being women at a hamfest, they had a stack of forms and one had a wheeled briefcase which clearly wasn't designed to wheel over the gravel of the Howard County Fairgrounds. When they talked to the guy next to him, and a paper with a state seal appeared on the back of his Explorer, I realized who they were - the Maryland Department of Revenue, making people collect and submit sales taxes. The next guy refused and packed up his stuff, telling customers that the state had shut him down. Then the women disappeared for a while.

Around noon, they came back. I had planned on leaving around noon, so when I heard them talking to the people next to me, telling them they either had to fill out the form or leave, and they started packing, I decided to follow their lead and pack up as well. I hadn't sold anything in a while, and didn't want to stay too late anyway.

As I was packing up, lots of other people were as well. Most vendors were arguing with the revenue people - hamfest sellers tend to be an independent bunch, many with a libertarian streak - I remember seeing quite a few Ron Paul stickers two summers ago. They tend not to be big fans of big government.

I realize that technically flea market vendors are evidently expected to collect and pay sales taxes. Traditionally, though, things like yard sales have been exempted, and most of the people selling at hamfest are closer to yard salers than storefonts - they are people clearing crap out of their basements, except it's usually oddball electronics and computer stuff that the average yard sale shopper would have no interest in. I probably sell quite a bit more than the average seller, and I often wonder if it's really worth all the effort. From years of shopping at hamfests, and watching and talking the sellers set up near me, I would guess the average seller probably sells less than $100 worth of stuff. It's hard to believe that it was worth the cost of the time of two state employees on Sunday (I wonder if they get overtime) to try to collect the couple dollars worth of sales tax that each vendor should have collected.

One seller mumbled something about "great job driving business out of the state, Maryland", and I tend to agree. I worry that this is going to be the final nail in the coffin of hamfests, which have already been shrinking and in some places disappearing. For the marginal vendor - the guy with a couple old radios/pc's/electronic parts in his basement - it's not worth the hassle of filling out forms and charging taxes to sell a few things when he's already barely making enough to pay for the tailgating space, gas, food, sunscreen (well, ok, not at today's), ect. Fewer vendors means fewer customers, and that means eventually there isn't enough revenue for hamfests. And while they might not be a huge draw, they do bring a number of people in from out of state - people who buy food and gas and other stuff at nearby businesses. They also attract the kind of smart, nerdy, creative people who you want in your state.

Like writing speeding tickets for doing 55 in a 54, enforcing sales tax laws at a hamfest seems like one of the things that, while the government has the right to do it, probably shouldn't be done.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

catching new car fever...

There is a disease that affects most people at some point in their lives, although it tends to affect guys more. It's highly contagious - you notice that the cars on the road, the cars your friends and coworkers drive, are all nicer than yours. You notice that there are things you don't like about your current car - it doesn't do everything you want it to do, it's got some dents on the outside and some wear patches on the interior, and it doesn't have leather/navigation/heated seats/ipod connectivity/ect like the newer cars out there. It's new car fever.

I'm a car guy. I spent lots of my time as a kid playing with matchbox cars and reading my dad's copies of the Consumer Guide auto issue and Motor Trend. As you can imagine, I wasn't a real popular kid. But that also means I'm a little obsessed with cars, and even right after I bought my current one I was thinking about what the next one would be. Now that it's been a few years since I bought my current ride, I'm starting to wonder if it's time to get something newer.

The current ride is a 2006 Ford Ranger xlt crew cab 4x4. It's bright yellow, which seems to attract cops like flowers attract honeybees. It's got about 64,000 miles. It's paid off, and set up well for things like the hamfests I occasionally sell at - it's got a spray-in bedliner and hard tonneau cover over the bed. But it's showing it's age - the interior has patches worn smooth, the exterior has dents from my bad habit of running into things and from using a steel-tipped shovel to clean it out after the previous winter's snowpacalypse. I sometimes wish I had a backseat, heated seats, a cushier ride.

I've toyed with a bunch of ideas - buying a second, sporty or collectible car (for about $20,000 I could get a late-80's Bentley Arnage!), or buying a used luxury SUV. But most likely when the time comes, I'll probably buy a new, nicely equipped, truck-based, non-premium-brand mid-sized SUV. Which probably means a Toyota 4Runner, because almost every other SUV smaller than an Expedition or Tahoe has moved to a car platform (except for the Jeep Grand Cherokee, but after owning a PT Cruiser that had all sorts of electrical gremlins, I've soured on Mopar).

I have two rules for my next car - I'm going to buy it with every option I could possibly want, because I don't want to kick myself a year or two later, like I have with my current truck, where I pretty much bought the cheapest one that had the stuff I couldn't live without. And I'm going to pay cash for it, because as long as I am buying a vehicle because I want it and not because I need it it's stupid to finance it.

And that means that I'm going to have to learn to live with my new car fever for a while, because a fully-loaded 4runner stickers around $42,000 and even after trade my bank account is quite a bit shy of that. I refinanced my house a few months back and threw in some cash at the same time - think of it as a cash-in refi - so I don't have as much cash on hand as I used to.

So now I need to convince myself that instead of buying a new truck, my goal should be to get my current one to hit 100k. Which at my current rate of driving would mean that I'll be suffering from new car fever until about Januar 2013.

shut up and eat your frozen broccoli!

A while back, I was watching Food Inc with a couple friends (as you can tell, we're a wild bunch). At one point, a guy is lamenting that he can get a pound of cheap beef for $1, but not a pound of fresh broccoli. To which I reply, "you can get a pound of frozen broccoli for $1".

That might not be quite accurate - I think the last time I checked, broccoli was $1.19 for a 1-pound frozen package at my local Weis (or as I refer to it, the We Iz).

So I was glad to see that Megan McCardle has a post praising frozen veggies. They seem to be the redheaded stepchild of the food debate - an inexpensive, healthy, easily accessible, easily prepared way for people to eat more veggies without the issues (cost, availability, preparation time, spoilage) that discourage people from eating more fresh vegetables. I personally try to keep a couple bags in the freezer, so I can make sure I add a vegetable to my usual meat/starch meals - it adds a lot of bulk and some useful vitamins and fiber without adding much in the way of calories. And it costs me about 50 cents for half a bag, which is about 2 or 3 servings.

Yes, frozen veggies don't have the snob appeal of fresh, or the romance or ability to say that you are eating local - although if you are one of those people who insist on organic, you can usually find some frozen organic veggies, especially at specialty stores like Trader Joe's. But they are just as healthy, and certainly better than not eating a vegetable. But they don't fit into the meme of big food forcing horribly unhealthy food down your throat, so they get overlooked.

Some will argue that fresh veggies taste better, and I suppose that's true sometimes - but that's letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. For people who don't eat any/enough veggies, frozen is a better alternative than none.

And while we're on the subject (and as many of Megan's commenters point out), can we stop acting like all frozen food is bad/evil/unhealthy? Sure, there is plenty of bad stuff out there, but frozen food has come a long way, and it's possible to buy stuff that's pretty tasty, not all that bad for you, and still easy to prepare. Those of us with lives/hobbies don't have a whole lot of time to cook, so frozen foods are a Godsend. I'm partial to a number of things from Trader Joe's, like their orange chicken. I'm also a fan of things like low fat chicken tenders, precooked grilled chicken breast strips (great on salad), and frozen precooked or uncooked chicken breasts - they are easy, fast, cheaper than takeout, and range between healthy and not awful health-wise.

I typically go to the gym after work, and often don't get home until after 8pm, so the last thing I want to do is cook an involved meal. So I for one salute our frozen-food-creating overlords, and raise a bowl of frozen broccoli to them.