Running around

Airstream. Lake Anita State Park, Iowa.

We rolled in to Lake Anita State Park on Friday evening. The weather was nice. 78 degrees and no wind.

So naturally the place is busy with “Weekenders” – streamer_j’s term. There are people who only drink astonishing volumes of alcohol on special occasions, like St. Patrick’s day. It’s exciting for them. “Weekenders” are like that but with camping. They have enormous fires, blaring radios, lots of kids and dogs. Concerningly, the kids are always off leash.

But there is a refuge at Lake Anita though where all of this can be avoided – the primitive camping area. Armed with a full fresh water tank and a quiet generator to top off the battery, here we — Alfred and me — are, with the nearest tent camper about a quarter of a mile away.

After this third cup of coffee we will head off for a run around the lake, which is what we do here. I also tow him around in a dog trailer behind my fold up bike.

Alfred in his trailer. Lake Anita State Park. Anita, Iowa.

He also loves fetch. Loves. Even more exciting is playing fetch from the beach into the lake.

Chuck-it at the beach, Pomona State Park, Kansas

Running around

This post is an unnecessary continuation of a scribble I wrote in September last year.

To start with, a metric. I checked in to the Airstream in late 2013 at 6′ 0″ and 197 lbs. Today I hover around 165 lbs. That is a reduction of about 30 lbs. How was this accomplished? Running around.

Running around is fun. I enjoy it. I think that’s the most important thing. If I enjoyed cycling more I’d probably do that instead.

Data adds to the fun, for me. It may not for you.

Today I am not entirely concerned by distance but more concerned with pace, but to begin with I stretched myself through distance. Can I run 2 miles, 3 miles, 4 miles, 5 miles? That was fun, particularly introducing new locations to the mix. I had lots of fun running while listening to “Zombies Run!” which integrates into a fantastic app. called Runkeeper.

I found this strategy led to me chronically hurting myself. I’d go all out then be barely able to walk for three days.

Then I discovered Runkeeper’s training programs. These are created by professional coaches. Say you want to run a 10K. It automagically creates a training schedule. So I signed up for the 16 week 10K program. Through this I built slowly but consistently and my weekly mileage went up dramatically.

I ran a 5K in Des Moines and won it. That was (a) not an accomplishment and (b) fun mainly because there was a free beer at the end. I’d do more races but not to win. They are fun to participate in.

I hit a battery wall around 8 – 9 miles. Or when it was cold. My iPhone battery can’t survive more than 4 seconds exposed to Iowa. On a good day – at the precise temperature required for the iPhone to work – with the GPS going (for Runkeeper) it would die off at about the 9 mile mark.

For that reason I switched to a Garmin 310XT, which has a battery life of about 20 hours, in Iowa, in winter. I am not selling Garmin here. I would prefer not to have an extra gadget. It was a battery decision. As an aside, I do think Garmin produces far too many redundant bits of hardware and should massively pare down their portfolio and focus on software quality.

To spice things up a bit I have started running in different locations to break up a long and boring series of Iowan trails.

How about a jog around Central Park at Christmas?

Or a 10K around the Washington Monument?

I have other fun locations planned.

Fun with data collection

The data is not just about maps, distance, time, heart rate and calories. Throw in a Wi-Fi enabled scale, blood pressure monitor and a step counter (I use the Garmin Vivofit but it doesn’t matter).

Bam! Now that’s fun. I run. Weight goes down. Fat % goes down. Blood pressure goes down.

In May of 2013 my corporate-sponsored blood pressure was hovering around 138 over 86. Today it’s about 121 over 74.

By the way, I used MyFitnessPal to automatically connect Withings to Garmin and CopyMySports to automatically drop it all in to Runkeeper.

There is a also social aspect. Through Garmin Connect I am part of a few groups and have a bit of friendly steps competition with work colleagues.

Does any of this data matter? Obviously not. If you run (and don’t binge on beer afterwards), you will lose weight. Your blood pressure will come down. You don’t need to measure that for it to occur. And I may not bother measuring it in the future. For now it is fun and motivating to see the results.

So what else? I played around with tracking calories using MyFitnessPal. That was fun. But it’s futile in my opinion. All the other data is collected by sensor. It’s consistent. Food tracking is not. To be accurate really does mean measuring every bite and knowing precisely what’s in it. That’s fun . . . (?)

There is a much better way. You know what’s good for you and what’s not. There really is very little need for the “in moderation” qualifier.

Smoking is bad for you. Don’t do that.

Drinking alcohol is bad for you. Don’t do that (nobody has one glass of red wine – if you do you’re missing the point).

Vegetables are good for you. Eat those.

These decisions are binary. They are yes/no. You don’t need to track them. You can eat as many vegetables as you want! No need to track that. If you choose not to drink nor to eat junk food, there really is no need to track what you eat. Your body will thank you.

This applies to exercise too. Exercise is good. Do that. I only track that because the data is fun for me, so that’s it. Perhaps tracking food is fun for you, if so, do that.

So I could sum up the dietary aspect of all this as follows: give up drinking and go vegan.

Perfect score every day? Absolutely not. But we’re not counting. There is no trending. No unbroken streak. No concept of cheating. Each decision I make is simply binary in the moment. If I had a cream cheese bagel for breakfast that doesn’t impact the right decision of a vegan salad packed with micro-nutrients for lunch.

Funnily enough, when you take out all the tracking, trending, pressure, guilt, whatever around caloric intake and clean eating, and simply make decisions in the moment and forget about them – you tend to make the right decision most of the time.

Good and bad

When I started writing this post I was going to show a map of running around somewhere and call it good. I’ve strayed a bit off course here. So I might as well conclude the thought.

I don’t propose here that there is any intrinsic good or bad in a decision to be a runner, a cyclist, to live in an Airstream, to be thin, fat, a smoker, a drinker, a whatever or nothing at all. You might make an argument about the impact of your decisions on others, say your family. That probably has merit. You might even delve into the spiritual and the obligation you have to your body and the life around you. Or perhaps take a more altruistic perspective and ask whether society has an obligation to support your health decisions through the health system. All interesting points and with merit. I suppose what I’m saying is your lifestyle is not for me to judge unless you’re directly causing harm to others.

But I do propose that there is a good and bad about what you eat. Our method of producing meat in the volume our species feeds on it is disgraceful. It is clearly evil. Please be careful reading this. I am being precise in saying our method of producing meat is evil. There is a great deal of writing on this topic. One well written view is here.

If evil is not of great concern, then it is also indescribably inhumane and crippling to the environment. There just isn’t a single meritorious argument, scientific, moral or spiritual, to support factory farming.

So when it comes to food, I don’t count or track, but I do try to make a good decision with each meal. I think everyone would agree that if we choose to eat meat (including fish and dairy), we have an obligation to support meat that is farmed as humanely as possible.

So that’s it. Now I’m off to run around with Alfred.

– Anthony, Lake Anita State Park, Iowa

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