Saturday, December 18, 2010


It's hard to find good things to say about a year in which the chief memory is having major surgery. But all in all it was a relatively smooth year and if you subtract the hip replacement and the end of my running days, it wasn't bad. Though for some reason 47 seems much older than 46, much more on the verge of 50.

I did a decent birthday ride this year, about 80 miles up through Camp Pendleton and back with my friend Cathy. We got rained on riding through the community of Vista, which was actually kind of fun (especially since it eventually stopped). It's nice to ride through Pendleton, but they limit the roads you can ride on to just what you need to get through the base to parts north. When i drove on the base prior to the Hard Corps marathon in 2009, i saw much more of the base and i wish i could ride through it.

It was a pretty leisurely ride and we did a lot of chatting. Although i'm not in very good shape by the standards of some previous years, i'm in decent bike shape, since i've done more mileage this year than any in recent memory. So I had expected to ride 100+ miles, but we realized we were going to run out of daylight so we stopped in Rancho Santa Fe at the golf shop run by Cathy's significant other Tom.

Running was the unifying force in my life. I planned my days around it, and to some extent my year. It helped me sleep and eat better and helped me de-stress. I'm still trying to figure out what to replace that with. Biking, swimming, tai chi are options, but none of those have quite the same qualities of convenience and simplicity. I hope that by 48 i will have at least figured out this one aspect of my life.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

My Hip At Six Months

Tomorrow is 6 months since my hip replacement surgery. I'd love to say that i am completely normal and good as new, but for the last month or so i've had some pain in the front or side of my hip that i hope is tendinitis. I can bear weight on my hip, i can ride my bike without pain, and i can swim without pain; but lifting my leg straight up as one would do in kicking outward or lifting your leg into a high seat (e.g., my truck) is painful. It seems to be getting slowly better, so i'm hopeful that all of my spare parts are still in place. Still, i wished to be essentially back to normal by this point, so i have to admit to some disappointment.

When i last visited my orthopedic surgeon, he said that i could "bike my brains out". He probably did not understand the license that gave me to overdo it. I now regularly ride 50+ miles at a time on the weekends, and i favor hills and other challenges. I also do regular tai chi and i've been testing my leg on kung fu forms. I suspect this is inappropriate behavior for a hip-replacement patient, but i'm not inclined to take it easy until forced to do so. At this point in my life this is what i have to live for, so i'm clinging to it with all the strength i can muster.

There are things of which I may not speak;    
There are dreams that cannot die;
There are thoughts that make the strong heart weak,
And bring a pallor into the cheek,
And a mist before the eye.
And the words of that fatal song
Come over me like a chill:
A boy's will is the wind's will,
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Elephant Maintenance, Part I

Some images from my adventures in home improvement.

These are three nests that i removed from a bush near my garage that had grown out of control. Don't worry, they were long-since abandoned. I've been putting the debris from this bush in the greenery recycling for the last 3 weeks, but i still have about half of it left.

A couple of weeks ago, i put in a temporary section of PVC to patch an irrigation problem. Unfortunately, it didn't hold; but it did make this interesting looking inverse-crater thingy. Sadly, laying PVC for irrigation is one of the things that i'm good at. Imagine how badly the things that i'm bad at turn out.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

The White Elephant Project

The origin of the term white elephant comes from southeast Asia, where receiving a white elephant as a gift often turned out to be a curse. They are expensive to keep but, because they are sacred, could not be used for labor or given away. So the expression means any thing that you can't get rid of, but you are obligated to take care of even at great expense.

That's a pretty good description of my house. It's a decent house in a good neighborhood, but in retrospect buying it seemed like a better idea at the time. We searched for a long time for a house that had a number of specific features. First, we wanted a fourth bedroom because we thought that our families would visit more often if we had a spare room. As it turned out, that extra room has been occupied maybe 20 nights during the 8+ years we've been here. Second, we (mostly i) wanted more lot space. I grew up on a farm, so our 1 acre lot is a compromise between rural and suburban. Third, we wanted an older neighborhood, or at least one that was not a completely uniform development where the choices were between beige stucco and gray stucco.

We found a place with those features at a fairly sane price by southern California standards. We knew it was a bit of a fixer-upper, but we had reasonable expectations of increasing equity and disposable income. In fact, those expectations were met until the economic meltdown of 2008. We made some minor home improvements, replaced the heating/air conditioning and the roof, renovated the pool, did a little landscaping and painting, etc. I put in grass on the back part of our lot (over 7000 sq. ft.), which was a blindly stupid thing to do in a place with no rain.

Any house requires more maintenance than you expect. A house that's almost 40 years old requires more. A 40 year-old house where the previous owner was an ambitious but unskilled DIY-er, where there are parts of the property you don't set foot on for months, where the trees grow faster than you can cut them down is a bloody, freakin' nightmare. It is a white elephant.

Technically, there is nothing sacred about this particular white elephant. My reluctance to sell it stems partially from the fact that my kids like this community, and partially from the reality that it's definitely not a seller's market. However, since i simply can't let it fall apart for the next five years while my sons finish up school, i've started to make some incremental fixes. In the cluttered bazaar that is my psyche, i call this the White Elephant Project.

The project is complicated by the fact that i have no money, so it is primarily a sweat equity sort of thing. The only real difference between me and the previous owner is that i am fully aware that i have no skill. I will probably limit my activity to cleaning, cutting, and the minor repairs that i've mastered over 25 years of home ownership. I am somewhat fortunate that my property can be improved significantly simply by removing things.

My first steps have involved trimming some of the runaway flora, and fixing some of the irrigation (there must be a mile of unused PVC under my ground). I got a pro to remove the more troublesome trees. This summer i hope to take down a rotting shed, fix some of the outdoor plumbing and electrical, and get some of the windows fixed. Probably the biggest challenge is figuring out what to do with all of the extra space. I'd really like to open it up to a sort of community garden thing, but i'm fairly sure my litigious neighbors would go apeshit.

I feel guilty at times that i have a sort of reverse American dream, by which i mean that traditionally the dream is to own one's home while mine is to unload the thing at the first opportunity. In a sense this place should seem sacred, since it is where my kids grew up; and fixing it should be a labor of love. Instead, it feels like a huge, festering symbol of every bad choice i've ever made.

Anyway, i will probably do periodic updates on the project as it proceeds.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Paleolithic Fitness

In my quest to find something to replace running as my primary fitness activity, i've come across material on the idea of paleolithic (and its cousin primal) fitness. The idea here is roughly that our early ancestors were (we assume) pretty fit even though they did not exercise in any methodical way. Rather, fitness was the consequence of needing to hunt for sustenance, being limited to only natural (often raw) food, and having little in the way of sedentary pastimes. It seems the case for this approach is often made on evolutionary grounds-- that the best exercise and food mimic the patterns of the earliest humans because those are the patterns that allowed us to survive when conditions were the most harsh for our species. I get the impression though that there's a bit of the Noble Savage mixed in too.

Most of the gurus eschew long-duration cardio exercise in favor of interval-like training, presumably to simulate chasing after prey (or being chased after by predators). That's a little strange to me, since it's fairly well established now that humans have evolved lungs and hearts that are remarkably good systems for endurance, but we didn't end up with a structure that's all that good for speed. On the other hand, i do believe in the benefits of interval training. When i was running, i found intervals to be the best way to get faster. There seems to be a lot of similarity between the paleo/primal approach and the functional fitness movement. Not much equipment, simplicity of exercises, more focus on full motion and less isolation. Strength training is mixed with endurance training and flexibility, and they avoid strict schedules and prescribed exercises. I think that's probably a great approach for general, base fitness; but i also suspect that it's insufficient for any specific sport.

Another aspect of the paleo approach is a tendency toward more protein and less carbs (that is to say, meat). At least one program i found completely eliminates grains, and discourages legumes (beans and stuff). That might explain why they don't care for endurance sports. I honestly don't know if cavemen really had meat-rich diets; or if that's a bias formed from things like the Lascaux cave paintings and the Flintstones. I suspect cavemen ate whatever did not kill them and they could digest. Again, i think this dietary approach works backwards from an idea of fitness that prefers to build muscle, get lean, and not do too much endurance exercise. I think it would probably be disastrous for Michael Phelps or the average Kenyan marathoner. Plus, to be honest, i'd rather have spaghetti than six-pack abs.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

My Hip At Three Months

Today is three months since my hip replacement. I am probably a bit further in my recovery than average, but i'm not where i wish i were. I've been biking for a few weeks now without any pain, and i've been doing tai chi for the last two weeks. In general, regular motions are not too bad, but any sort of eccentric motion is both difficult and sometimes painful (twists, lateral steps). My left leg is still very weak compared to my right, and i find that i sometimes use my quads and calves to compensate for weak glutes and hip flexors, which puts pressure on my knee.

After a year of physical deterioration, i feel very impatient to get back into some sort of shape. I'm about 20 pounds heavier than i was when i was running regularly, and since i still have limited mobility i feel... old. I tried to come to terms with the things that i would not be able to do after the surgery, but i'm not quite over the psychological impact of going from being somebody who was in abnormally good shape to somebody who pretty much meets people's expectation of a 46 year-old man.

The only goal i have set at this point is to ride the Tour de Poway Century ride in early October. However, i also hope to get back to my normal weight by the end of summer, and get the strength back in my left leg. I'm trying to do Tabata-style training to compensate for the lack of hard cardio , but i find i'm not quite fit enough at the moment to get through the full sets for exercises like push-ups and pull-ups. I can do squats, however, i'm not sure that i'm working both legs equally.

At this point i'm still stubbornly convinced that i can get back to some physical level that will make both me and other people forget that i am an invalid. As i approach 50 i realize that most people's expectations will be lower, but i've spent the the last decade among people who were 50, 60, or 70 and still pushing the envelope. There will probably be a day when playing golf or taking walks will seem adequate, but i hope that day does not come soon.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010


I've been re-reading a lot of old books, in part to save money and in part because i've begun to realize how poorly i can recall books that i remember liking the first time. It's a strange feeling to read a book that you read twenty years earlier and to find how little of the plot seems familiar. For example, i've been re-reading Saul Bellow's novel Humboldt's Gift. I remember most of the characters, even the names, but the plot is completely fresh. I'm about half way through and i honestly don't know how it's going to unfold (ironically, memory was a common theme in Bellow's later works).

What's even stranger is that i have a vivid memory of the circumstances surrounding my purchase of this book. While still in college my wife (then girlfriend) and i made a trip to Chicago while visiting my family in Indiana. We went to Stuart Brent's bookstore on Michigan Avenue and i picked up a pamphlet that listed 100 books that Brent considered essential. One was Humboldt's Gift. I had not even heard of Bellow at that point, but there was something about the title that appealed to me. I ended up buying it in mass-market paperback form at a chain bookstore in the mall in Fort Wayne, near where my parents lived.

I know that i liked the book and i ended up reading most of Bellow's novels at various points through my life. On re-reading it, it seems much more appropriate for someone my current age. The main character, Charlie Citrine, is a 50-something author in the middle of a nasty divorce and with a couple of young daughters. He is clinging to illusions of youth, what's left of his money and fame, and what dreams a middle-aged man can have. To my 20-ish self he must have seemed almost foreign; but now i see a character who, although he has had more success than most, has problems familiar to most middle-aged men.

That, i guess, is the benefit of re-reading. It's a bit like sampling a case of wine as it ages in that it's a different experience each time, but you're never sure until you're done with it which point was the best.

Friday, April 23, 2010

What To Expect After Total Hip Replacement

I see a lot of articles and forum posts that either try to set expectations for after THR surgery, or ask questions about what to expect. There are no correct answers, so i hope to provide one more data point. My facts:
  • I had my surgery at the age of 46.
  • I was very active until about a year prior to my surgery (marathon runner, black belt)
  • Mine was a left total hip replacement necessitated by osteoarthritis.
  • I had a posterior surgical procedure. My procedure was also "cement-less".
  • My new hip is a Stryker model with ceramic surfaces.
  • My surgery was on Monday afternoon, and i went home on Tuesday evening.
  • My first time standing was the morning after my surgery. I walked three times with a walker on that day.
  • I used a walker for the first week and a half after my surgery, and then i switched to a cane.
  • I had at-home physical therapy for the first two weeks.
  • I had to self-inject blood thinners for three weeks after my surgery. This sucks.
  • I started driving about 2 weeks after the surgery.
  • I returned to work after 2 weeks at home.
  • At 4 weeks i could walk without a cane.
  • I had outpatient physical therapy from 2-6 weeks (twice a week).
  • At 6 weeks i started riding my bike trainer.
  • At 10 weeks i started doing tai chi again. My left leg is still weak at this point, but not painful.
I'm at about 11 weeks now. For the last two weekends i've ridden my bike on the road, for almost 2 hours the last time. I can walk for about an hour, but i get some pain around my incision near the end of that.

Should you come across this via search engine or something, don't hesitate to ask questions.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Beat

Went to see The English Beat yesterday at a place called the Canyon Club in Agora Hills, north of LA. It was primarily a party for my sister-in-law's 40th birthday, and to a lesser extent, my son's 16th birthday.

The English Beat (originally The Beat) is (are?) one of my favorite bands from my college years. Maybe a half-dozen of their songs are classics, and Save It For Later is one of my favorite songs (they also did a few General Public songs). The band still sounds great, and they are awesome live. They don't really have new material, so their show is a recap of their catalog from the 80s for the most part.

It was an all-ages show, so my kids and a few others were there, but most of the crowd was the band's original fans, which is to say, middle aged white people. I'm sure most of them were having fun, but as is my nature, i found the depressing essence at the core of it. For example, i learned that there is a uniform for middle-aged guys, which consists of "relaxed" jeans and a collared shirt worn un-tucked (except for the requisite dumb-ass wannabe hipsters with the soul-patches and black jackets). This outfit delivers the message "I am still cool, but i am also 25 pounds overweight". Sadly, i fit in a bit too well.

My wife hit the dance floor to hang with her sister, so i spent my time primarily keeping an eye on the kids, particularly Henry who was going back and forth into the crowd, and my older son's girlfriend Erin, for whom i felt particular responsibility among a crowd of hundreds of drunk adults. The club was a bit warm and i had too many layers on, so i spent much of the last hour of the set outside with the smokers. I got to look around the strip mall in which the club sits, and its odd juxtaposition of nightclubs and antique shops. Although, i guess it's not really that strange of a contrast in this case, since the band is effectively an antique.

It was a good show, but nostalgia is not my thing. Being reminded of a time when i was young and hopeful and had all my original parts doesn't appeal to me that much (it's probably significant also that on my own 40th birthday i did a two-day solo bike ride). If i had to repeat something, i'd much rather go see the Aquabats with my son and his friends again.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Asymmetry of Trust

Trust is asymmetric in many ways. For example, to trust is not to be trusted. Also it takes many examples of demonstrated reliability to develop trust, but only one instance of unreliability to break it. There's another more subtle form of asymmetry though.

Suppose that someone takes your lunch at work. If you approach a person you trust and you ask "Did you take my lunch", you have an expectation that the person will tell the truth. Whether they say yes or no, you believe their answer (although "yes" might piss you off or make you trust them less). On the other hand, if you approach someone you don't trust, while you might have an expectation that they will lie to you, you would probably accept a "yes" answer as truthful. In other words, while you have a low expectation of a "yes" answer in both cases, you are about as likely to believe this answer from either a trusted or untrusted party, whereas a "no" answer would only seem trustworthy from the trusted party.

I'm not sure if this is already a well-understood phenomenon in decision theory or game theory. It would probably be expressible in terms of prior and posterior probabilities in a Bayesian sense. The prior probability favors a true answer for the trusted party and a false answer for the untrusted party (there's a probability p of a "true" answer and a probability 1-p of a "false" answer). Given a "yes" answer the posterior probability changes in favor of true for the untrusted party, but not for the trusted party.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

10 Most Influential Books

There's a meme floating around about listing the 10 most influential books on a personal level (rather than in a historical sense). Nobody asked me to, but i made my list anyway.

Lord of the Rings - J.R.R. Tolkien

Kind of a cliche, but like many people i found LotR very comforting during my high school years when i felt like a bit of a freak. I even had a "I'd rather be a hobbit" t-shirt.

Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoevsky

I read this the first time when i was 18 and i was spending the summer with my grandparents in Tucson. There's nowhere in the world less like St. Petersburg than the Sonoran desert, but for some reason the oppressive heat in my grandparent's double-wide mobile home seemed appropriate to the story. I read it again in college while studying Russian literature, after i had learned some Russian and i had visited St. Petersburg (Leningrad). I'm not sure i would have done either of those things had i not read the book.

The Making of the Atomic Bomb -Richard Rhodes

I probably could not name my favorite work of fiction, but this is easily my favorite work of non-fiction. It's an amazing story, amazingly told, of events that profoundly affected the course of events during my lifetime and history in general. This book had an interesting effect on my personal politics. On one hand there's an inspiring story of science and engineering and how the virtually impossible can be accomplished with will and money; and on the other hand is a great cautionary tale about how Pandora's box can be pried open with enough will and money.

The Moviegoer - Walker Percy

I read this book originally as part of a college English class. I don't think there is any other book that i have spent so much time thinking about. I still think occasionally in terms that i learned from the book (like "vertical search" vs. "horizontal search"). This book made me seek out (and become a fan of) The Third Man because of the "kitten and the carbine" section.

The Book of Laughter and Forgetting - Milan Kundera

I also read this in college. Blew my freakin' mind. Completely changed my idea of what fiction can be. It's hard to say "this book is about such and such" since it's not just some thinly-veiled political allegory. It's not even really a narrative so much as a sort of exploration, like many impressions of the same place and time that build to a single effect.

1984 - George Orwell

I read this in high school and it quite literally scared me. At that time, people of my age and culture would equate Big Brother with the totalitarian Soviet Union. My thinking about that has grown more sophisticated over the years (i presume), but after visiting the Soviet Union, i still had that in the back of my mind. No book has had more influence on my political beliefs, or at least my attitude about privacy and personal freedom. I once read a criticism of 1984 by Isaac Asimov in which he stated that it was overrated because Orwell had so badly predicted the mileu of future times (in other words, it was bad science fiction). On the contrary, what scares me about this book is its plausibility. Today, 25 years after Orwell's setting, it feels more possible than ever.

The Republic - Plato

I think these lists are supposed to be filled with profound works of philosophy that change lives and minds. This is clearly one of the great works of history and it did definitely make me think differently about certain things. But the notable thing about this book is how readable it is, even in translation. With a few exceptions, the topics still seem relevant and it's possible to imagine having a serious conversation about them with a few smart friends. This book really drew me to read other classics and look for similar connections between my time and ancient times.

The Bible

This might seem odd here if you know my personal beliefs, but again this is about the books that had the most influence on my life. When i was growing up we'd go to church and there would be "Bible readings", passages from the Old and New Testament that would often form the basis of the day's sermon. Similarly, in my Lutheran school we'd have "devotions" built around a few verses. One summer I said to myself "you know, i should really read this thing", so i sat down with the revised standard version that my grandmother gave me for confirmation and i began to read from beginning to end. Soon i realized why we never did that in church and school. Wow. If you read the Bible in it's entirety, and you really absorb what it's saying, there are really only two possible outcomes: zealot or atheist. Still not quite sure which i'll become.

The Snow Leopard - Peter Matthiessen

I read Matthiessen's Wildlife In America not long before this (it would be 11 on this list), and it was so eye-opening that i read everything Matthiessen has published. The Snow Leopard is ostensibly a recapitulation of Matthiessen and George Schaller looking for snow leopards in the Himalayas. So it may seem strange for me to say that this is the best book i've ever read about Eastern philosophy. I don't know that a book can be spiritually enlightening in the way that personal experience is, but this about as close as any has come for me.

History of Western Philosophy - Bertrand Russel

It might sound glib to say that this is one of the funniest books i've ever read. I still remember laughing at Russel's description of Spinoza:
Spinoza (1634–77) is the noblest and most lovable of the great philosophers. Intellectually, some have surpassed him, but ethically he is supreme. As a natural consequence, he was considered, during his lifetime and for a century after his death, a man of appalling wickedness
Opinions vary radically on how good of a book this really is, but it made me seek out the full works of these philosophers, so it served a great purpose.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Rocky Votolato

My latest musical obsession is the singer-songwriter Rocky Votolato. My favorite song of his so far is Maker's, which i believe refers to Maker's Mark, a brand of bourbon. Here's a youtube video with the audio of the song:

His songs inhabit that happy land between melancholy and desperation, which for some reason appeals to me. Makers has one of the best choruses ever, both lyrically and musically:
The bones inside your mind where all broken
The keys that opened any answers were all stolen
Filling and refilling up the glass with makers
We both agreed
The Final Moment!
The sweetest remedy to ever be delivered!
Heaven or heavenless we're all headed for the same sweet darkness

Friday, March 26, 2010

Hip Hip Hooray

Sorry, i'm running out of hip puns for these titles.

It's been almost 7 weeks now. I can walk pretty well-- most people would not know that i am still rehabing from surgery. I've done a couple of 15-minute sessions on my road bike trainer without any discomfort. I still have trouble with stairs and i can't really do any motion that puts much torque on my hip, but most signs are encouraging. This is the first time in almost a year that i've been able to walk without a limp.

I finished my outpatient physical therapy this week. I'll still have to do various exercises for the foreseeable future, but it's nice to be past the regular hospital visits. I'm eager to get back to some sort of routine-- maybe at least start doing tai chi in the next few weeks. My biggest frustration at the moment is that there is very little information on what i can or should do once i'm relatively well recovered. Obviously, there are pain and flexibility thresholds that you have to deal with, but information on what's possible otherwise is vague or unavailable. Generally anyone with a normal THR, regardless of the joint type, is warned against "high-impact" activities, but beyond running and basketball the guidance is limited. I gather that most doctors are conservative about post-THR activities, both because they don't really know how the latest generation of technology will last and because most of their patients are so old that they get no objections.

I don't regret the surgery, because whatever limitations i have now are less constrictive than the constant and unavoidable pain i had before. But i do feel a bit like a guinea pig in the sense that i will probably have to constantly experiment with what i can and can't do, and i won't know the consequences until i either do some damage or reach an age where i am necessarily sedentary anyway. Whatever. I guess i was on that path before, finding the barriers and the limits to what i could endure.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

My First Marathon

The following is something i wrote about my first marathon several years ago. I thought i'd put it here for posterity (and since i don't have much to write about running anymore). This is from 2003.

Personal stories about marathons are both abundant and fairly boring. Still, i couldn't resist, if only because there were a couple of odd twists in my case.

In spring i started running regularly again for the first time in several years (correlating closely to the age of Henry). I'd also been doing long bike rides, including my first organized century ride in February in Palm Springs. Employing a sublimely irrational leap of logic peculiar to people in their 40th year of life, i combined these two facts to conclude that i could run a marathon. At first, i just tried to increase my mileage, but eventually i started following a prescribed 18 week training plan. Working forward from my training start date, i chose the Santa Clarita Marathon in Santa Clarita, CA. The training went well, at least until the last few weeks, and by the middle of October i was pretty anxious to run the race.

Then on the Sunday prior to the marathon (Oct. 25), California started on fire. Since the major fires were almost literally in my back yard, the marathon was not foremost in my mind. It was late Monday before i realized that Simi Valley, site of one of the larger fires near LA, was due west of Santa Clarita. At first it appeared that the fire would not affect the marathon, but on Tuesday the winds changed direction and the fire started burning eastward. At noon on Wednesday, the marathon was canceled.

This is where things started to get strange. For some reason, the idea of not running the marathon was inconceivable to me. Since marathon training focuses on a particular race, i also couldn't figure out how i could delay until a convenient race came along. So i started looking for other marathons that i could run on the same weekend. There were three: the New York marathon, for which registration had long been closed; another in Kansas City, MO; and the third in Boise, Idaho. After a few hours of thought, i decided to try the last, so i registered for the race and bought airline tickets to Boise.

Yes, that's correct: Boise. Boise, Idaho. The place with the potatoes. Let me recap, just in case this isn't registering. I decided to fly voluntarily to Boise, Idaho at my own expense on my own time to run 26.2 miles. I'll never be able to explain this, even to people who understand the compulsion to run any marathon. I don't really understand it myself. Obviously, it's partially because i didn't want to waste the training. I think it's also because i am about to turn 40 and i subconsciously wanted to complete the race before that birthday. Also, at some point during my training i decided that i was going to run the race in honor of my childhood friend, Todd Bair, who was killed by a car bomb in Saudi Arabia in May. I don't know what i expected to accomplish by this, since even my best effort would a meager memorial, but the idea had motivated me while training. Because of this, not running would have seemed a double defeat.

So on Saturday, Nov. 1, i flew to Boise and got a room at the Owyhee Plaza Hotel, which was the start/finish point for the race. I spent most of Saturday trying to figure out what i'd wear, because it was cold. I'd brought gloves, a hat, and several layers of clothing; but i'd forgotten how cold 20 degrees really is. The next morning, the temperature was about 22 degrees at start time. I had a base layer, a long-sleeved shirt, and a singlet that i wore to hang my number on. I wore shorts, mostly because i don't own any running tights. There were only about 300 starters for the marathon, so we were able to go straight from the hotel lobby to the start area, and we waited in the cold for only a few minutes before the gun went off.

Near the end of my training plan i developed a case of what's called iliotibial band friction syndrome, which means that the long tendon that runs from your hip to below your knee gets really tight and rubs against the bottom of your femur when you run. After the first mile, my knee started to hurt but not enough to affect my stride. Like all rookies i went out too fast. I'd planned to run about 8 minute miles, with the goal of finishing in about 3hrs, 30 minutes. I did the first two miles in 14:28, but i felt like i was just jogging. My knee got gradually worse up to about mile 6, but it still didn't seem to change my gait.

Up until about the half way point i tried to find people who were running a similar pace and i ran along with them. One of these people was an older man whose shirt said that he had finished marathons in all 50 states. Twice. I figured he must know what he was doing, so i hung with him for a couple of miles. Amazingly, after about mile 11 my knee started to feel better. I was warm enough, my legs felt good, and i wasn't straining at all. I reached the halfway point in about 1:40, or about a 7:40 pace. I probably should have known this wasn't a good sign.

For the next two miles i ran very comfortably, but then at mile 15 i started to feel pain in my left quadriceps. I hoped this was just some temporary tightness that i could run through, but it didn't go away. I started focusing on getting water and Powerade at the aid stations, but i could sense that i was slowing down. Between miles 15 and 20 i focused on passing half-marathoners who had started about 10 minutes before i hit the second half of the marathon. I reached 20 miles at 2:38, still a bit below 8 minute pace.

Mile 21 featured the only major uphill on the course. Compared to San Diego hills this wasn't much, a big-ring sort of hill for a biker, but at the time it hurt plenty. Just after the 22 mile aid station, my legs rebelled. I had to stop and walk for about 200 yards. Then i slowly eased back into running, but i was probably going slower than 9 minute pace. For the next two miles, every time a spectator yelled out "You're looking good", or "You're almost there", i wanted to stop and beat them with a large stick. Good thing i couldn't lift my arms.

At around mile 24 we went down a hill, which made my knee start hurting again. Fortunately, the next mile and a half were straight, flat, and picturesque. For me, the end of the marathon was like a cruel manifestation of Zeno's paradox. Even when i turned the final corner and saw the finish banner in the distance, i could not convince myself that the end was any nearer. The banner seemed to float backward and i felt like i was chasing it. Finally i did cross the line, but i was virtually insensible. I couldn't speak or even acknowledge the volunteers, and it took me several seconds to remember to stop my watch. My watch said 3:38.40, although my chip time would later be listed as 3:39.10. Slower than i'd hoped, but all things considered i was happy. I beat P. Diddy, and George Bush's PR :-)

Some people have an intense emotional release at the end of hard runs like this. I did not. I felt pain and depletion, but little else. I stood in the finishing area for about 10 minutes, wrapped in mylar, drinking orange Powerade. It was still only about 30 degrees but i wasn't cold. After 3 and half hours of running it's almost difficult to walk. The ground seemed a little too far away, kind of like when you're stepping off a curb in the dark. Some clever sadist decided to put the post-race food and race t-shirts up two flights of stairs. I had to walk up sideways to avoid putting too much pressure on my knees. I had two arcs of salt on either side of my face from the sweat, and depressions in my forehead from the hat i'd been wearing. I must have looked frightening, not in an intimidating way since i was so decrepit, but sort of like those transients that you see on street corners arguing with nobody in particular.

All in all, i'm glad i made the trip. Boise is a nice little city, very pretty and clean, and the course was good for a first-timer. Finishing a marathon gives you a tremendous feeling of accomplishment, although in my case it took some time to sink in. Like many worthwhile things, i think what makes the marathon special is that it's just hard enough to make you uncertain that you can do it. For most human beings there seems to be some sort of limit reached between 20 and 25 miles, so by definition you have to exceed that limit to finish the marathon in the time you hoped for. It's a controlled environment in which you can push yourself beyond what you were designed to do, which in principle gives you confidence that you could push yourself in a less controlled environment. I heard Oprah say that the marathon is a "metaphor for life", but i think that's only true in the sense that life's a bitch and then you die. Life is messy and complicated, marathons are not. To me, the appeal of organized marathons is that they remove all of the complications, so that all you have to do is show up and subject yourself to some degree of suffering for some number of hours. There's something very liberating and joyful about lining up with a bunch of other lunatics dressed in similar goofy clothes to run the exact same course, but in the end only really caring about how you did relative to your own expectations.

Saturday, March 06, 2010


Like many families in our community, mine was deeply affected by the Chelsea King case. Only my older son knew her personally, because he participates in two of the same activities that she did at their high school (cross country and orchestra). But it still feels like losing someone for whom we were responsible. I guess i also felt a personal connection because she was killed while running along trails that i've run dozens of times. There is a special kinship among runners whether you are acquainted or not. I was frustrated that i could not help in the search on these trails, since at the time i could still only walk for short distances with a cane. I'm also sad that i can't go out and run there again, to reclaim them in some sense.

I feel the same way as most people about the murderer in this case (whose name i won't dignify by writing). I want him to die. Not after some protracted legal process during which he gets more and more publicity until he transforms from scumbag loser into "notorious". I want to put a bullet in his brain, dump him in the landfill, and forget about him. This case might end up changing the laws regarding sex offenders, but that should be credited to the inspiration of Chelsea and not the evil of the criminal.

As a non-religious person the concept of evil is sometimes difficult for me. For the religious, the existence of an agent of evil is a necessity to reconcile the preponderance of evil behavior with the presence of an omnipotent and benevolent God ("hell must exist for heaven to have any value", to crib from a favorite author). I do not know if this culprit was in control of his impulses and chose to be evil, or was compelled to do evil things. I don't know if he was abused as a child, or if he lacks some crucial part of his brain that endows most of us with empathy. I also do not care. The point at which sympathy for him could be useful has long since passed. The damage that he has done to the world is out of proportion to any abstract notion i or anyone else might have about the sanctity of life. This is evil, simple as that. Whether you believe that this human being is a demon who needs to be sent back to hell, or a deeply dysfunctional machine that needs to be switched off, there should be no debate that he should be removed from our midst.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Update on My Borg Implants

It's been three weeks since my surgery now. I've been walking with a cane for the last week and a half, and i can take small steps unassisted. There are still certain things i can't do, like bend past 90 degrees at the waist or cross my legs, but things are slowly approaching normalcy (i can't say "returning" since this is my new normal). I've returned to work, and i can drive (one of the benefits of having a left hip surgery).

I'm eager to get back to some level of physical activity since i feel like a large bucket of Kentucky fried chicken at the moment. I have managed to do some low-key weight lifting, and i have a set of rehab exercises i go through for my hip, but i really need something that will make me sweat. It'll probably be 6-8 weeks still before i can do anything too strenuous, but i'm hoping i might be able to start some swimming before then (i assume you sweat when you swim even if you can't tell).

I haven't quite come to grips with the idea that i am partially artificial yet. Since i'm still swollen and weakened from the surgery, i can't say that i notice a difference between the real hip and the replacement hip, but i have this image in my head of a gap in my body filled with machine parts or makeshift framing. Or like a patch of bondo on the fender of a 1960s Chevy. Although i no longer have the hip pain that bothered me before the surgery, i can't shake the feeling of "otherness". I'm hoping that when the hip strengthens and i can walk normally that i will eventually just forget that it's not "stock".

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Home Alone

Last night, for a period of several hours, i was at home alone. This ostensibly unremarkable occurrence was in fact so rare that i cannot remember the last time it happened. Of course, i have been alone at night on road trips, and i have been at home alone during the day (as i was recently after my surgery). But i honestly can't remember the last time that i was alone during the evening hours in my own house. (Note: I am callously discounting the presence of our chihuahua in my definition of alone)

This situation required an unlikely alignment of the planets. First, my younger son had a sleep-over for a friend's birthday party. My older son was at his girlfriend's parents' house (not unusual), and my wife was out with friends. I suspect that such situations will occur more frequently, especially when my younger son gets to high school.

Lest this sound pathetic, i must aver that i am quite good at being alone. I had complete control over the television, so I watched Inglorious Basterds on-demand, without having to filter out any of the extraneous background conversations that are typical of a house with teenagers and proto-teens. I did not have to share the computer, and i could turn the sound up and listen to fragments of songs on without piano or cello or violin or Iron Chef America in the mix. i could even read a book in my living room. It probably would have been more enjoyable were i able to open a bottle of wine (doesn't mix with my blood-thinners), and if i could move from place to place without my cane, but i'll take what i can get.

In my current job, i work almost entirely with people in their 20s, and i am often struck by the radical differences in our lives, of which they of course have no knowledge. Probably 80% of the interesting things in my life, both good and bad, occurred after 30. Many of my coworkers, i would guess, spend evenings alone on occasion and they probably either take it for granted or desperately try to avoid it. I suppose "wisdom" is the label we give to the difference between our expectations at 25 and our reality at 50. I wonder if there is the same dichotomy between 50 and 75.

Monday, February 15, 2010

My First Week as a Cyborg

Today is one week since my hip replacement surgery. At this point i can walk fairly well with a walker and my pain is minimal. I actually managed to get up (and down) my driveway this afternoon with my physical therapist. That was encouraging because going up and down inclines prior to my surgery was very painful. My leg is still pretty swollen and the area around my incision is so stiff that it feels kind of like i have a 2x4 taped to my thigh.

The surgery last Monday went fairly well, although it started later than it was supposed to. Surgery is sort of a 5-phase process. There's pre-op where they get you into an embarrassing gown and nifty socks, set you up with an IV, take your vitals, shave appropriate areas etc. Pre-op has this monitor with all of the on-going surgeries, like flight departures at the airport except it doesn't update to show you delays.

After pre-op is another staging area, where multiple people come around and ask about your medical history, and they mark the area for surgery so that there's general agreement about what's being done. This is also where you consult with the anesthesiologist. In my case, she recommended a spinal, which basically means that your lower half is completely turned off, so they give you an extra sedative to keep you in a medium sleep.

Next they take you to the actual operating room. Here they administer the initial anesthetic (spinals feel really strange), transfer you to the operating table, and knock you out. If you're lucky (as i was) that's the last thing you'll remember. I don't really remember much about the operating room. It was larger than i expected, almost like a classroom. My x-rays were on one wall. There were several people there when i was rolled in, but not the surgeon.

After the surgery, there's a post-op area (although that's not what they call it). I'm not really sure how long i was there. I woke up there, and was still pleasantly morphined. I can remember being in the room, with other patients and a few nurses, but i'm vague on what they actually did in this room.

Finally, they take you to a regular hospital room. I was catheterized and had a blood drain connected to my incision, but i didn't feel too terrible. I think it was around 2 in the afternoon at this point, but i'm only sure that there was still daylight. I was happy to find that i had no post-operative nausea, but i kept expecting it, even after i ate dinner.

I made it through the first night, and at 10am on Tuesday the physical therapist arrived to help me stand and walk for the first time with a walker. It was fairly hard, but i still had some morphine in my system so that helped. I managed a full lap around the hospital floor, which is apparently unusual. I did another lap later in the day with an occupational therapist, and finally made another excursion in the afternoon.

I was originally expected to go home on Wednesday, but because i had shown good progress they arranged for me to go home Tuesday night. The first couple of days at home were a bit tough (on me and my family). All of the biomechanical processes of standing, sitting, lying down, etc. are pretty tough. It hard to get from place to place with a walker, and you can't really carry anything with you.

So far, i've been really lucky. I never had any post-op nausea, and i haven't had any bad reactions to the Vicodin i take for pain, or the blood thinners i have to inject myself with every day. I've had a decent appetite, and i haven't had any problem with infections or fevers. My physical progress is encouraging and i get a bit more mobile every day. I'm hoping that this week will show as much progress.

Friday, February 05, 2010


I'm trying to get away from the litany of woe that this blog has become, but i can't think of a way to put a cheerful spin on my impending surgery. I am about 2 days away from the event now. I look forward to an end to the irritating pain that has accompanied my every move for the last year, but it's difficult to accept that i will never run another marathon, never spend another Sunday afternoon running down some trail, never fight another sparring match, never play another pick-up game at some random basketball court.

I'm trying to focus more on what i can do. I'm thinking that i will try swimming. There's a good master's program in the community in which i live, and i've started to identify events that i can train for in the future (the Alcatraz swim is intriguing). I probably won't be able to spar in the style that i've become accustomed to, but i think this might be an opportunity to work on boxing. I hope to be able to revive my interest in backpacking, since at least the long walks will get me into the same territory where i would previously have run.

The remainder of this month is probably going to suck. I'll be in the hospital for a few days, followed by physical therapy and daily nurse visits for a while. I have to take blood thinners for 3 weeks after surgery. I've never had a general anesthetic and i don't really know what the aftermath will be like. I cling to the idea that in a month i will be essentially normal, except that i will have entered a new phase of life in which certain activities are no longer an option.

Probably the worst part of these weeks leading up to the surgery has been the sense of isolation. I've always had relatively few people in my life that i could have meaningful conversations with about things that are important to me. There are not that many people who have both an intellectual side and also understand the compulsion to run long distances, or the desire to fight, or even the general notion of taking on physical challenges. There are even fewer people with those qualities who have had to accept giving up all or some of it. Strangely, my current workplace is the first where there are several people who run or do other endurance events. When i hear people talking about doing a half-marathon or running a trail, i get this indescribable sense of being outside of their world, looking in. I imagine that it's like being a ghost.

The nurse at my orthopedic surgeon's office said that i might be the healthiest person for whom they've ever done a hip replacement. I take some comfort in this. A doctor acquaintance once told me "we know how to fix joints, but we don't know how to fix hearts". He meant that people should be more concerned about the damage done by lack of exercise than potential wear and tear to joints (though the inability to fix broken hearts applies in the more poetic sense as well). So, while i'm bummed about the limitations imposed by having an artificial hip, i'm also well aware that far worse things can happen.

Saturday, January 16, 2010


My last remaining grandparent, Wilma Stone Wetter, passed away last Saturday at the age of 99. For quite a while she had been alive only in the most technical sense, in that her heart beat and her lungs filled of their own accord. Her death was as merciful as death can be.

Of my five grandparents (i include my mother's stepfather), she was the one with whom i was the closest. My parents bought the farm that she and my grandfather had owned since the 1940s, and the two of them lived across the driveway from us for years before they retired and moved to Arizona. I also spent summers with them during my college years in Tucson, at their home in the Tortolita mountains.

Grandma was inscrutable. She could be bitter and caustic, possibly the remnants of her divorce from my mother's real father in the 1930s. She was deeply religious and apparently sincere about her Christianity, but she also alienated many people, including her oldest daughter (ie, my mom). On the other hand, she was always exceptionally kind and generous to me and had an influence on my life.

She was smart and had a long career teaching English. Although teaching was one of those "acceptable" jobs for women of her era, it was still fairly rare to work until retirement. She grew up in Milan, Ohio (birthplace of Edison) in a family of pedagogues. She went to Bowling Green University and (i have heard) was something of an athlete. I imagine her early life as carefree and probably more interesting than most girls of her time.

I don't know exactly when she met my grandfather. He (Herbert) was an interesting and often charming man, so I can see that she would have been attracted to him. Unfortunately, he also had many problems, the extent of which i don't really know (skeleton in closet). He left when my mom was about 6 months old. I've never heard the story of this stage in my grandmother's and mother's lives, but i assume it was not easy (it was not something either talked about). My mom's step-father (Orville) was a good man, but he was in such stark contrast to Herb that one can only assume that she chose him more as a reaction to her previous experience than out of sheer affection.

My grandmother lived during a time of incredible change. Her lifetime encompassed both world wars, the arrival of most of our modern conveniences, the great depression, the battles for civil rights for women and minorities, 9/11. Really, the world that she was born into was a different planet. True, she observed the majority of this change from north-eastern Indiana, which is a bit like being in Tatooine during the reign of the empire. I give her credit though for dealing with the world as well as she did. Life disappointed her early, and it would have been easy to be nihilistic or self-destructive. She did things that i could never understand, like spending most of her retirement years doing crossword puzzles or arguing with people at fast food restaurants over the discounts provided by coupons. But she also had a double knee replacement in her 70s, which seems to me a sign of hope.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Not So Hip

I've been fortunate in my life that, except in a few rare cases, reality has been better than my expectations. So when i went to an orthopedic specialist on Tuesday, even though my expectations were that i had some structural damage and might need surgery, i was mildly stunned to hear that i have degenerative osteoarthritis and my only real option at this point is hip replacement surgery.

From the x-ray it was pretty clear that the cartilage is gone from my left hip and i have bone against bone. The bone has been in contact long enough that cysts and spurs have begun to form. There doesn't seem to be any ameliorative therapy for this.

Most significantly for me personally, this essentially ends my marathon career, and certainly ends my quest for a sub 3-hour time. At this point i am not sure that i will be able to run at all, and I don't know how much if any of my martial arts i will be able to continue.

Needless to say i'm a bit depressed about this-- being the crazy runner guy has been my identity for the last several years. The brochures on hip replacement talk about how you'll be able to return to activities like bowling, golf, or shuffleboard; which makes me want to scream and throw things. I could do those things with one good leg. Still, given my nature i expect that i will find some new activity (biking, swimming, etc.) that i can pursue to ridiculous degrees.