mad anthony

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

Sunday, September 25, 2011

What am I running for, or from?

I did my 3rd road race today - the Race for Our Kids 10k. (For the metrically impaired, that's a little over 6 miles). I had seen it advertised a few times in emails from the Baltimore Running Festival and was debating signing up. A coworker of mine was fielding a team, so it gave me the final nudge to sign up. (btw, if you want to donate the donations page is here - but don't feel obligated.

It was a nice race. As I mentioned, this is the third road race I've done - I did the Baltimore Half-Marathon last year and the Baltimore 10-miler earlier this summer. I was a little apprehensive about doing a short race - my theory has been that I'm slow, but steady, so I figured a shorter race where speed mattered more than endurance would put me at an even bigger disadvantage than normal.

It actually was a really good race - the shorter distance was nice, because I could run more of it (instead of walking) knowing i didn't have as far to go. They also did a really good job with the race - because you are running with a few hundred people instead of a few thousand, there wasn't the the normal frantic push for port-a-potties or parking spaces, and the post-race party was actually catered with good food (including cookies and diet coke!) instead of the normal gatorade and a rotten banana you get at other races.

As far as how I did, that depends how you look at it. My chip time was 1:13:04 - which works out to 11:51 a mile. That's considerably better than my previous races - 13/mile for the 10-miler and 14:38/mile for the half marathon. Of course, it's a shorter race, so my time/mile should be shorter - I was less tired/fatigued, and also didn't have to worry as much about saving myself so I'd have the energy to finish.

Still, overall, that puts me square at the end of the pack - last place in my age and gender bracket (14 out of 14 among males 30-34) and 211 out of 241 overall. Results page is here.

Running is, in a way, an odd sport, for two reasons. First of all, it's one of the only sports where anyone, for the cost of a pair of fancy sneakers and a race entry, can compete against people who are essentially professional athletes, or at least close to the level of them. Secondly, thought, it's a sport where you aren't just competing against the field you are running against, but against yourself, against your own times. And in that sense, the first chance I'll really have to see if I'm making any progress will be in a few weeks, when i do the Baltimore Half for the second time - I'll actually have something to compare to an identical race.

But I also don't have a good reason to expect to do better - besides having a couple additional races under my belt (err, elastic waist shorts) and a few short runs on my basement treadmill, I haven't done any serious additional training beyond my normal daily cardio. OTOH, my normal daily cardio is 90 minutes, so I feel like I can't do a whole lot more without cutting into other activities I enjoy, or at least am obligated to do, like sleeping or going to work.

When i mention my results and the fact that I'm not thrilled with them, people usually say something like "all that matters is that you finished". But while finishing was a suitable goal a year ago, when I had no way of knowing if it was something I could do, it isn't anymore - to succeed in life, you need to set newer, higher goals, not just achieve a previous one over again. So I'm hoping to shave some time off my times, and to continue to run races and train a little more. I'd also like to do some more 10k's like today - probably not this fall, as I will be busy in October and by November it will be too cold - but hopefully in the spring. It's a good chance to get some road-race experience, without the frantic hassle of a big race, and often to throw a few bucks to charities in the process.

The idea of being a better runner appeals to me for a couple reasons, but I think the biggest is because it's something I've never been very good at. I was the last picked in gym class, and for a good reason. Six years ago, I was 25 years old, 5'5", and 250 pounds. Getting from that point to where I am now - 100 pounds lighter and able to finish a race - is at least somewhat of an achievement. There is something appealing about getting good at something I've always been really bad at - just like some of my geeky friends enjoy "hacking" - modifying things to do stuff they were never intended to do - it's interesting to push the limits of what the human body can do.

The question is, am I willing to put in the time to push hard enough? And should I, or would I be better off working on something I'm actually good at - if there actually is anything I'm good at?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Are singles the last group you can be prejudiced against?

Are singles the last group you can be prejudiced against? That's the claim made by a psych prof quoted in this NY Times blog post about the plight of singles in America.

As a chronically single person, I understand the point. I work for a very family friendly organization, whose benefits includes free college tuition for the spouse and kids I don't have and lots of family leave. But it also includes other things, like that our annual employee picnics have become family picnics, with employees encouraged to bring spouses and children. If you are someone who doesn't have either, it's kind of awkward - a reminder that you are a loser who doesn't have the relationships that other people do. And there may be organizations out there where it's more serious than the awkward family-themed picnic, where managers would rather promote someone with a spouse and a few kids than a single guy because the latter needs the money more for their family.

Of course, there are two kinds of singles out there - people who are single by choice, who are happy to be single because it keeps them unconstrained, and then there are people like me, who would rather not be single but just haven't found someone. For the former, it's an annoyance, because at some point they have made the choice that they don't want those things, but for people like me it's like rubbing salt in a wound - a constant reminder of something that you are unhappy about.

But organizations and society should probably have larger concerns than hurting people's feelings when setting policies. But the other problem with workplace family-friendly policies is that they have a cost, and that cost sometimes ends up falling on single people - the person who ends up having to work harder or postpone their own time off because they need to make up for the work done by their non-single coworkers while they are out because of birth or a sick kid or a honeymoon or whatever.

But beyond the workplace, there is the awkwardness of trying to have a social life when you are single and most of your friends aren't - you either end up spending your nights alone or become a third wheel. You watch the people you grew up with post pictures of their spouse and kids on facebook, but the best you can do is pictures of your cat. You pay higher car insurance rates because unmarried deviants like you can't be trusted to be as careful as those responsible married types.

But do these add up to prejudice? That seems to be stretching the term - I do think singles get treated worse, that policies in both government and the workplace are often tailored to and give advantage to married people, and that single people are often looked down on. But it's not on the level of groups that can have a legit claim on prejudice - as much as I hate being single, it beats being, say, a slave .

Monday, September 05, 2011

Another wasted summer..

(note - post title is from an obscure Mighty Mighty Bosstones album cut).

So every summer, as certain as warmer, longer days and women in shorter shorts and halter tops, is the emergence of ants in my kitchen. I'm not sure where they come from, but they come in moving lines, with their eyes on my Lucky Charms and whatever else they can grab with their little black arms. This year was different, though - at the first sign of ant invasion, I Swiffered the shit out of my kitchen floor and loaded every cat-inaccessible crevice with Tarro ant bait, a mix of sweet corn syrup and deadly, deadly borax. That kept the ants at bay - at least until today. Which is ironic, since today is Labor Day, traditionally viewed as the end of the summer season. Especially by people like me, who work in higher ed and tend to mark time by semester rather than month or year - this was the weekend that 3800 or so college students descend on our campus, looking to fill their heads with knowledge and their stomaches with popular-priced domestic beer.

Every summer starts off optimistically - when you work on a college campus, it's an easier time, where you don't have to fight for parking spots with the mix of expensive SUV's and battered subcompacts driven by students. As someone who isn't a big fan of cold, it's a time I don't have to worry about chapped skin, or scraping ice off my windshield, or putting on layers of fleece before leaving the gym.

And because of the warm, sunny optimism that warm, sunny days inspire, I always have high hopes for the summer. Every summer I start with big dreams - I'm going to find love, lose weight, build muscle, make piles of money in my side business on ebay and at flea markets, tackle a stack of home improvement project, help out the parents, take a vacation, advance my career, write the great novel, and achieve world peace.

And every summer ends with disappointment, and not just because I haven't cranked out the next Great Gatsby. I didn't spend a whole lot of time with the family. I didn't get rich selling on eBay - I had a few awesome finds, but also a few major losses from poor decisions and a lot of times I came back empty handed from auctions or yard sales - or with mostly full truck bed after not selling as much as i hoped at an electronics swap meet. I could not bring myself to invest the time or money in taking a vacation, or into fencing my yard or the other things I hoped to do. I pretty much look and weigh the same as I did 4 months ago, and I still go to bed alone every night wondering if there is someone out there for me.

Part of this is that I set my expectations too high - there is no way I can do all the things I want to do in a summer, especially when many of those things conflict with each other - I can't save money, spend it on a vacation, and spend it on home improvements. I can't advance my career if I'm on vacation or taking days off to go on inventory buying trips for the side biz.

When it comes to what things get done, I think part of it relates to what Tyler Cowan has saidabout how errands are often what we get done on our to do list. From a daily household management perspective, I'm not sure it's as bad as he makes it seem - often we do need to do errands, and often we accomplish them because they have hard deadlines we need to meet- if I want to buy something at Target, I need to do it before they close at 10pm. If I want to get in a 2 hour workout at the gym on a summer Saturday, I need to get there by 1:45 so I'm done with enough time to change into a dry shirt before they lock the doors at 4pm. So going to the gym is something I kept up with pretty well (even if I got there later than I would have liked a lot of days) , but doing the things that don't have hard deadlines - cleaning the basement or calling a fencing contractor - get put off indefinitely, because there is no time limit when they need to be done.

And some of the things I tend to associate with summer are for no real reason, or for a desire for things I have no control of to fit my schedule. I'm always more optimistic about dating in the summer - maybe because every women looks better in a sundress, or maybe because I'm convinced I look better when I'm not wearing a bubblegoose. In reality, dating sites typically have fewer members in the summer and more in the cold days around that of St. Valentine (or as I like to think of it, single awareness week). It's easier for me to duck out for a few hours to go to an auction in the summer, when work is slower, and parking easier - but it's typically bankruptcy court judges, not the weather, that determines when many of the auctions I attend are scheduled.

And in reality, it wasn't a totally wasted summer - I've got more money in the bank than I did in May, some of my work projects have gone well, I've had a couple decent day trips, eaten a lot of ice cream, and still fit into my pants. And I may not have become an internet Romeo or champion marathoner, but at least I kept the ants out of my cereal.

And I'm also realizing I probably need to stop putting summer on a pedestal, to realize that there are more positives to fall and winter than the temporary reappearance of pumpkin spice lattes and peppermint mochas at Starbucks, and that there may be opportunities for love and profit even when it's cold out.

There just won't be parking spaces at work. Or ants in my kitchen.