That Time Again

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Hi, Buckaroos.  Marathon training time again.  Gonna try to slide one by once more.

Yes, I got out early this morning.  I hit the pavement at 5:45 AM, to start my 20 miler today.  My plan was to get around seven miles in before our 7:00 AM group run, which is 12.5 miles, roughly, and have a half mile extra to do at the end.  I am training for the Twin Cities Marathon, Minneapolis and Saint Paul, October 1, 2017.

When one starts out that early on a Sunday in late August, the sun has not yet come up, and it is nice and peaceful.  No lawn crews with their gas-powered leaf blowers sending dust up into the air.  Very little traffic.  The houses are silent as the occupants slumber, completely unaware of the runner going by.  Even the locusts have dimmed their din.  A couple of crickets are still at the party.

What does occur is the senses, hearing, smelling and seeing, picking up little things that would ordinarily get missed.  As I stepped out on my front porch, I took a sip from my water bottle, set down my back pack and second running shirt on top, switched on my Garmin, waited for it to register the numerous satellites it follows, and headed out.  For the first mile and a half, things were very quiet.  At about that point, though, the first big olfactory hit came my way, which was the smell of someone starting up a barbecue.  I wasn’t sure where it was coming from, but guessed it must be someone planning to do some serious smoking, maybe beef brisket or a pork loin, and needed to get things going early.  It would be pretty nice to be around when the cooking is done.

I noticed a few birds and squirrels, but not the usual number one sees later in the morning.  Clearly, these were those looking for a competitive advantage.  I wondered if they also were selective favorites for procreation, or did the lazier of their ilk happen upon willing mates while the others were out foraging.  While the early bird gets the worm, the later bird may ultimately contribute more to the gene pool.

I could hear each foot strike on the pavement.  If one focuses too much on that, the monotony becomes mesmerizing, and takes one’s concentration away from important acts, such as looking for potholes in the road, and listening for the occasional car.  Should cops need an opportunity to fill their monthly ticket quota, I suggest they set up very early on Sunday.  While there are few cars on the road, to a one, they were all exceeding the speed limit by a hell of a lot.  I had on my reflective vest, with a blinking red light in the back, but when I heard a car coming from either direction I hopped on the sidewalk, since they invariably came speeding by, ignoring road signs and the double yellow line.  One car I saw this morning was a Corvette, driven by a guy with a reflective vest of his own on, but there our similarities ended.

I saw as I ran down Park Blvd. that the giant trees that had been uprooted by our last major storm, pulling the sidewalk to a 90 degree angle, had finally been removed.  Where they had been was now dirt, awaiting sidewalk repair.  This is a narrow street, with cars parked along the curb, and neat homes from the 1940’s and ’50’s.  Normally, I would need to run on the sidewalk since it is too narrow and busy to run in the street.  But this morning, I made it a full mile before a car approached.  I darted up on to the sidewalk as it passed, then got back into the street.  As one runs farther down the street, the houses get older, into the 1880’s and even earlier.  It is a measure of how the farmland got transformed into housing developments.  This part of the run is through Collingswood, a town named after the Collings family.  Collingswood was their farm.  Being Quakers, the town has always been dry.

Heading into Knight Park, I passed close to the Collings-Knight Homestead, the home of Edward C. Knight, benefactor who donated the land for Knight park.  One week earlier I ran through this park early Sunday morning, when a large dog, saliva dripping from his jaw, ran at me barking and snapping.  I turned and faced him, palms up and facing the dog.  Its owner was nearby, a woman standing with a couple of other dog owners, all of whom let their dogs run leash-less.  She called to the dog to “c’m’ere”, reassuring me that the dog was a friendly dog and would do me no harm.  The dog did stop a few feet from me, then turned and went back to her.  She repeated several times what a friendly dog it was, and how I shouldn’t worry.  So, this was on my mind this morning, and fortunately, I had arisen early enough to beat this woman and her “friendly” dog to the park.  I was certainly relieved.

Reaching the end of the park, I headed to Haddon Avenue, and started to run back towards my starting point.  For anyone not from this area, Haddon is a common name.  Elizabeth Haddon was the daughter of John Haddon a Quaker in London who purchased 500 acres in the area that is now Haddonfield and Haddon Township.  He bought the land to escape religious persecution, but due to ill health, could not make the journey.  He sent his daughter, Elizabeth, instead.  She arrived, a single, young woman, apparently confident, and in 1702 asked John Estaugh, a Quaker minister already in this colony, for his hand in marriage.  Elizabeth Haddon was the founder of the towns of Haddonfield and Haddon Township.

Running up Haddon Avenue, I passed the numerous shops and restaurants in Collingswood.  While a dry town, there is a very vibrant restaurant scene, since one can bring wine or beer to the restaurant.  The restaurants have turned Collingswood from an aging, decaying town, with out of date stores like vacuum cleaner repair and hardware stores, to a busy, hip place, especially on Friday and Saturday night.  I pass the parking spots.  These used to be meters, but now are marked with poles labeled with notices that one must pay at the pay station.  Parking is paid seven days a week.  This morning, there are no cars parked here.  Leaving Collingswood and entering Haddon Township and Westmont, one enters the bar scene.  Capturing the revelers which Collingswood missed, this stretch of Haddon Avenue has numerous bars which are busy usually every night.  Again, in the early morning, they are shuttered and quiet, awaiting the opening gong much later in the day.

I turned back into the neighborhood streets for the last mile or so of my run.  I was again aware of a strong olfactory stimulus, this time, bacon.  The smell of bacon cooking is, first of all, unmistakable.  We have two eyes which can see various colors.  We have two ears to hear a wide range of sound.  But we have about 800 genes in humans each coding for a different olfactory receptor.  Most scents stimulate multiple receptors, which is how we can be so discriminatory identifying different odors.  The smell of bacon also is a strong motivator.  It motivates one to eat bacon, which I was, unfortunately, not able to do at that moment.

By this point, the birds were starting to become active and sing to each other.  To us, it is an entertaining bird concert, with different songs coming from different directions.  To the birds, it is the result of sexual selection at work, a subset of Darwin’s natural selection, establishing the male’s dominance for his territory and mate.

I made it around the last corner back towards my house, the sky now a mix of grays and rosy pinks.  I stopped by my house briefly, to change to a dry shirt which I had left on my front porch, grab my backpack and water bottle, and head out to meet the usual Sunday morning runners at 7:00 for our 12.5 mile loop, with 7 miles in already.

By the finish of the morning run, I got my 20.2 miles in.  One of my good running friends, Kealan, ran the 12.5 miles with me, and even the extra half mile I needed to get to that 20 mile mark.  Our conversation the whole way made the run seem much shorter.

I’ll leave you with a link to the song running through my mind as I was running the dark streets in the early morning of last Sunday:

Frank relaxes at Starbucks with his running friends, 20.2 miles in the training bank.

The Aging Carrot

Process

Process

As I  was digging up our carrots from our garden, having left them to grow the whole summer, I was pleasantly surprised to find the above carrot couplet you see on your left.  Why, it looked like an adoring couple, snuggling together, spooning.  I was quite taken by this natural representation of love, so I set the carrots on our counter in the kitchen.  There they stayed for some time.  When I again discovered them, hiding out behind other stuff that got piled around them, they had changed.  Yes, they were still in that loving, gentle embrace, but they lost their hair.  They became shriveled.  Their bright orange color was gone.  The embrace had lost some vital turgor.  In a matter of a few weeks, they went from being youthful and attractive, to stereotypes of the aged.

I am feeling this way, struck by the evil vicissitudes of my aging body.  It seems to have come on rather suddenly, as if a switch was turned.  I was still able to manage a decent marathon in 2015.  But this past year, my times for various races rose like hot air balloons.  What happened to the speed?  Also, I’m feeling pains I used to only feel the day after the marathon.  Now, when I wake in the morning and head downstairs to make coffee, I find myself relying on the banister, as my thigh muscles put out little protest yelps of pain.

I suspect some of this has come about due to my daily schedule and obligations leaving less time for training.  I know, people say, “you have to make the time.”  “There’s no excuse.”  But long work days and, during the winter months, short daylight hours, make challenges to getting out there and maintaining the fitness.  The other aspect, though, is what to expect as we get older.  Listening to the broadcasts of the Australian Open tennis tournament, the announcers stated over and over how shocking it was that the finalists, men and women, were all older than 30(!), and some over 35 (shocking!).  One can only imagine the losses in strength and ability to recover when one is over 60.  One estimate I read is that one loses about 0.6% of one’s overall strength and fitness for each year over 30.  I think that percentage applies to the previous year’s fitness, so that the 0.6% is subtracted not from the level at 30 each year, but from the last year’s level.

When I was 48 I got a book by Joel Friel, called “Cycling Past 50”.  While published in 1998, I think it has a lot of excellent information and advice which can be used in any sport, and certainly beyond 50.  He starts with some graphs showing how our bodies lose muscle, strength, and aerobic capacity as we grow older.  He also shows, in graph form, what happens if one allows extra body fat to accumulate, and it is not a pretty picture.   V̇O2max drops much more by the age of 70 if the percent body fat is 30% as opposed to 15%.  He addresses “task creep”, which he states refers to accumulating more work and responsibility as one hits the peak of one’s professional years in the 50-65 age group.  Beyond cycling specific information, he addresses recovery, nutrition and injury avoidance, all taking on greater importance as we get older but still wish to train and compete.  I also just ordered “Running Until You’re 100”, by Jeff Galloway.  That’s the way to take the long view….

While I feel like that carrot on the right in the top photo, I believe I can persevere and even get a few good races in, in the coming years.  At the same time, I want to continue to enjoy the benefits of aging, such as more freedom to travel, offspring who have become successful in their own lives, and an appreciation for life in general.  Anyway, see you out on the road.

 

Looking out; Looking Back

Way back in college, one of my professors, in a class in which I was a bit lost, talked about “signifier and signified”.  Hang with me on this, because it gets confusing before it gets clearer.  This professor, who was French and had an accent, said something about signifier and signified which has stuck with me, and seemed important.  He referred to these concepts as someone looking at another image, whether in a mirror, or another person or thing, and that the image changes the originator of the interaction.  That was probably a misinterpretation on my part.

It turns out, these terms, signifier and signified, are concepts in the large field known as “semiotics”.  Also, the signifier is not a person, it is a form that refers to something else, together making a meaningful sign.  An example would be a written word, like tree, referring to the object which we know as a tree.  But these signifiers are not limited to letters, or words.  They can be body language, facial expressions, clothing, grunts, color coding, and so on.

What the professor meant, and what I took from it, are too far removed from today, for me to say whether he knew what he was talking about (I bet he did), or if I just took from it what I wanted.  But I liked the idea that the message, whether a word, an expression, a gasp, a groan, a sneer, is reflected back and alters the sender, which is where I begin.

I look out from my own eyes, and if there is no one watching, I feel a certain way.  Trees, rocks, the road, my environment, will affect the way I feel or act, but they are not actively answering my message that I am either consciously or unconsciously sending out.  Still, the reflection of that message, say a groan when I see a hill coming up, or a sideways glance at a tree just starting to blossom, will reflect back at me and alter my course.  How we feel starting out on a run is almost never how we feel at the end, likely due to these interactions which change us as we run along.

Adding another person running with me is another complexity altogether in this analysis.  Now, I have someone actively receiving my message, interpreting it, and sending back a reflection with that person’s own message included.  I suppose this can happen with an animal as well, say, if one encounters a deer on the run who gets startled by one’s presence.  Or, if one happens upon a snarling dog in the road.  Or, as happened to me on a run in Wyoming, along the road bordering the National Elk Refuge, a ram in a group of big horn sheep standing in the roadway staring me down.  That was a definite direction changer.  Having a person run with me means keeping up, slowing down, talking, looking strong, looking beat, changing posture, and many other changes in direction, attitude, and feeling based on the reflection from the running partner.  This is not to include direct communication, but rather the meaning of the message sent and the reflection received.  We have these interactions with others throughout the day, but in running they take on a certain impact.

One of the most insidious, and dangerous interactions between messages sent and received, is from our own reflection.  As I mentioned earlier, when I am looking out through my own eyes at things around me, I feel a certain way.  But, seeing my own reflection is a message which can really go deep.  As I run, I can feel athletic, strong, tired, wet, dry, sore, fast, slow, or tough.  I can be distracted, angered, calm, happy, gritty or simply wondering at nature.  Almost never am I depressed or lonely, even when running alone.  One glance in a shop window, though, can change my perception immensely.  Almost always, I feel that I look younger  and more athletic than my reflection in the window.  How does one respond to that message, that you are older than you feel.  For me, it’s a great reminder to pull in the abs, straighten the shoulders, head up, and look more like I’m enjoying myself than look like I’m on a forced march.  Then there is the core of feeling, a sense of inner strength but also a minor sense of inner weakness.  These messages confront one’s sense of self, of ability, and of vulnerability.  All that from a simple reflection, one glance which may take less than a tenth of a second.

In sum, these are all messages and reflections over which we have no direct control.  They are ingrained in the way we interact with our surroundings, and we don’t take too much time to think about them or formulate a reaction.  Recognizing them, though, allows us to consider how we think and act on a basic, reflexive level, and use parts of our brain which are in the realm of the subconscious.

Waiting for the Dawn

I’m here.        Are you there?

I’m here.         I’m here.        I’m here.       Are you there?          Are you there?

I’m here.  I’m here.  I hear you.  I’m here.  Are you there?  I’m here.  Are you there?

I’m herAreyouthere?I’mhereAreyouthereI’mhereAreyouthere?I’mhereAreyouI’mhereArethere.

I am an habitual early riser.  I get up before the dawn.  Even in the late spring as we approach the summer solstice I am up when it is still dark, and hearing is very acute.  I can hear a train very far off making it’s way down tracks.  But as the dawn nears, the birds start to sing.  First only a single bird sounds a few chirps, then another starts to answer, and another, and another until there is a cacophony of bird noises filling the early morning air.  This is the best time of the morning.  The air is still cool, the scent of the air coming through the open window is fresh, and I am by myself, able to think about plans for the day, the week, and the coming months.

There is a clarity of thought early in the morning that does not carry through to the end of the day.  As the day progresses, the surrounding noises get louder, people talk over one another, conversations are rapid fire and brief, and one tends to react rather than think things through.  So, it is a real pleasure to have the early morning to pour a bowl of cereal, grind some beans and make coffee, and then sit by myself, listening as the birds sing, and think about my plans.

I like to read the NY Times on my iPad early in the morning.  I’ll go through the headlines, and read the latest from Gail Collins who always makes me laugh as she points out absurdities in politics.  I’m amazed and depressed by all the news of the nightmares some people are living in places like Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Somalia, Eastern Ukraine, and on and on.

I think about my day and try to remember the things I must do, the things I want to do and the things which would be good to do.  It’s especially important to remember the things which didn’t make it to all my various forms of calendars, whether the Outlook calendar for work, or my phone calendar which I’ll often set to remind me a day or a couple of hours ahead of time of something which needs doing.  But things like car repairs, bill paying and other activities don’t make it to the calendar and must be remembered.  I also have several presentations for work to prepare, which I know need doing but for which I don’t have any reminders.

As for running, I have done with my spring races, two half marathons and a ten miler.  I signed up for the Philadelphia marathon November 23, and I plan to start the training process sixteen weeks earlier, Sunday, August 3.  As my friend Tony pointed out, looking at the usual training plans, I’ll have to back off on my running to fit into the plan.  Not that I would do that, of course.  My thoughts at present center on how to remain pain free and get into good condition for the marathon.  I have some nagging pain in my right knee which I have had before but always makes me worried.  It is nice, though, to get a break from the buildup to races, and just enjoy the running now for running’s sake.

For now, I will enjoy the pre-dawn time as the sun begins to light the sky, the birds awake and sing, and my ears have dropped their defenses and can pick up the slightest sounds of the early morning.

Frank

 

Paleofantasy: a book report

Paleofantasy

What Evolution Really Tells Us About Sex, Diet and How We Live

by Marlene Zuk

Published Feb. 2013 by W.W.Norton & Co., 328 pages

paleofantasy

 

 

 

 

 

When I was in high school, first learning about genetics, things seemed fairly simple and straightforward.  Blue eyes, a recessive trait, required two genes, one from each parent, specifying blue eyes.  Otherwise, the eyes would be brown, being from a dominant gene.  Since then, with the explosion of scientific knowledge of molecular biology and the analysis of the entire human genome, the world of genetics and evolution has, well, evolved, to put it in the phrasing of Dr. Zuk, a professor of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior at the University of Minnesota.  But it is as if we have just dipped our toe in a vast and unexplored ocean, which was previously unknown.

I picked up this book at my favorite book shop in the U.S., Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, Vermont, while on a ski trip in February.  The title captured my interest.  There is a huge “Paleo” movement at present, based on the theory that our genes adapted to life of the paleolithic time, that is, from about 2.5 million years ago to about 10,000 years ago.  This covers a lot of time, from when earliest human-like creatures developed, to the development of modern homo sapiens.  A search on Amazon for books with paleo in the title yields 2,719 titles, very few of which have to do with actual paleontology.  They are almost all about eating paleo, living the paleo lifestyle, and there was even a paleo cookbook for your dog.  The concept is that humans evolved before the era of agriculture, caught their meals in bursts of speed chasing down animals, gathered vegetable food from nature, and walked and ran barefoot.  Thus, the argument goes, we are best suited for this type of food, and life, and that our genes are ill equipped to handle crops such as grains, non-meat sources of protein, and running long distances, especially in shoes.  There are also devotes to various concepts of how stone-agers lived in family units, or groups, how they coupled up and reproduced, and whether there was pairing for life versus multiple partner life.  The purpose of devoting oneself to a paleo lifestyle, then, is to be in harmony with ones nature and genes, to be healthier, leaner, fitter, sexier, have less immunological problems, and presumably, to be able to run injury free.

Dr. Zuk starts off with a brief description of human evolution.  She explains some of the complexity of the evolutionary process, that many human ancestor lineages were changing in different ways, that we share an enormous percent of our genome with earlier species right down to bacteria, and that evolutionary change is not always change for the good.  She points out some of the complexity of genes being favorable or unfavorable for survival.  For example, if a trait is unfavorable, and results in loss of that trait, other genes will be lost along with that  trait due to their being linked together.  She gives specific examples. She also documents that there was not just one paleolithic lifestyle; there were many different routes taken along very different paths.

Her second major point is that evolutionary change can happen quickly or slowly, and may occur without any type of survival pressure.  An argument of the paleo adherents is that our genes were fixed back in pre-modern times, and that the last 10,000 years is too short a time to allow for adaption to new foods, and new ways of living.  She rebuts this with specific examples of changes that have occurred in that relatively short period.  Blue eyes, mentioned above, came about in the last 10,000 years.  Lactose intolerance seems to have a lot to do with where and how one’s group survived, and is also very recent.  It has the complex nature of being caused by a lack of a gene to inhibit built in turning off of another gene which inhibits lactase production as one matures, lactase being the enzyme required to digest lactose.  She mainly discusses genetic changes which are changes in gene expression, as opposed to major gene alterations such as occur with mutations.  In other words, she’s not talking about how we got to be human, but rather how our genome is modified over time to adapt to our surroundings.

The following chapters deal with diet, food procuring methods, exercise or physical activity including running, sex, monogamy versus multiple partners, family structure, child raising, susceptibility to diseases, and how we protect ourselves from disease.  Her discussions of these topics are backed up with scientific studies, and she cites the literature from which she makes her arguments.  She also points out where the science does not support the claims made by paleo adherents, thus the “Paleofantasy” of the title.  In many ways, she does not try to say that the “paleo” approach to diet or exercise is harmful, just that it is not based on real scientific reasoning.  As with any devoted scientist, she includes a lengthy bibliography which she used to form her arguments, as well as a notes section and an index.

Her writing style was an interesting, and sometimes to me, annoying mix of sound scientific argument with a conversational tone that seemed unnecessary.  It was like watching a really good Nova TV show on a particular topic, and then having a few lines from the sitcom “Cheers” thrown in.  She uses the word “well” a lot, as I used it above in the first paragraph.  I enjoyed the humorous touches, though, and I think she would make a very entertaining teacher in the classroom.  The title of the book is clearly meant to titillate, listing sex as the first major topic, when it’s really primarily about diet.  She got most of her information regarding the paleo lifestyle from the internet and popular books, which makes sense, since it’s not a scientific discipline, but it does make comparisons of real research with what paleo advocates consider perfectly logical thinking a bit one-sided.  This is not meant to be a book for scholars, but for the lay public, and I think she has accomplished that very well without sacrificing the scientific complexity which makes this topic so interesting.

I learned a lot reading this book, about evolution and current thought about genes and molecular biology.  I think she makes very sound arguments that, while living a paleo lifestyle may not hurt you, you won’t necessarily be any better off for it.  She successfully defends her thesis, that the paleo movement is based on fantasy, not fact.  Reading the comments about her book online, there were obviously many adherents of the paleo life who were not only unconvinced by her arguments, but found her book essentially sacrilegious.  In fact, a number of commentators remarked that they would not read the book. For me, it was an exciting look at topics which are themselves changing rapidly as new research is done in the areas of evolution, genes, reproduction, disease, disease prevention, fitness and longevity.  I think anyone who is interested in these topics will find this book fascinating and a good read, as long as you can, well, ignore some of the style issues.

Vlad Averbukh, 29, a follower of the paleo diet, eats raw meat along the Hudson River in New York in 2010. Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

Vlad Averbukh, 29, a follower of the paleo diet, eats raw meat along the Hudson River in New York in 2010.
Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

There’s Better Days A-comin’

Been through some rough times lately.  Things were going okay, in fact I was looking forward back in April to running Phillie’s famous Broad Street Run on May 5 .  With only a week before the race, I was coming off a week of hospital call.  That always requires some recovery time.  But this week, which ended April 21, was particularly rough.  In a short phrase, there were a lot of sick folk.  The following week, I seemed to be coming down with a virus.  I developed shaking chills, fever, muscle aches, in other words all the typical viral symptoms.  Oddly, though, they also seemed to come and go.  One half of a day I would be in the grip of the ague, then a few hours later, I’d feel back to my normal self.  By the end of that week, it seemed to have passed.

That was just hopeful thinking.  The following week, the virus changed it’s tactics and decided to attack my intestinal tract.  While I no longer had the shakes and chills, I couldn’t eat anything without it seeming to pass through me in two hours, and not stop to get absorbed.  So, I stopped eating, took only tea, and managed to make it through the next few work days without cancelling anything.  At the same time, my trial was about to start.  As a physician, I was being sued by one of my patients for allegedly going outside the standard of care and causing her harm.  This trial had been scheduled originally last September, then October, then November, and then February.  Each time I was told I needed to cancel all my usual clinical duties and be present at the courthouse.  I would need to testify, but also be present to listen to all the other testimony of expert witnesses.  A colleague of mine was also named in the suit and would likewise need to suspend all his activities.  Each time the trial was scheduled it was cancelled for the lawyers’ or judge’s conflicts with other trials.  This time, starting Thursday of the week when I’m in the throws of my GI hullabaloo, I was told it was definitely going ahead, since it was the oldest case on the judge’s docket.  Thursday was jury selection day.  I presented to the courtroom as instructed, and jury selection commenced.  It took a full day, but a jury of eight was chosen.  Meanwhile, I was getting a bit weak, having no real food for two days.  Not wanting to run in and out of the courtroom, I didn’t dare try to eat something that day.  The actual trial was not to start until the following Tuesday.

By Friday, the evil GI virus seemed to have run it’s course.  I was able to take in solid food again, and start to rebuild my strength, which had taken a real dive.  By Saturday, I was still feeling a bit dizzy and washed out.  But the Broad Street 10 miler was coming up Sunday, and I really wanted to run it.  It’s a big event in Philadelphia, with over 40,000 registered.  It’s the largest 10 miler in the country, and a big celebration.  This year, it would also stand as a tribute to the Boston Marathon and the awful events that took place there a few weeks earlier.  So, Saturday morning I went to the expo to pick up my number.  Sunday, I joined my fellow club members at 5:45 AM to carpool to the race.  It is a point to point race starting at North Broad Street, and heading straight down 10 miles to the end of Broad Street at the Philadelphia Naval Yard.  The only turns are around the Philadelphia City Hall, which sits in the middle of Broad Street between the five and six mile points of the race.  It’s known for being a fast course, and many of the speedier, younger runners look for a sub-one hour time.  We parked near the end of the race in the sports arena parking lot, and joined our fellow runners on the Broad Street subway heading north to the start.  It is an interesting site to see several thousand runners cramming the subway trains in their running shorts and singlets, numbers on.  It is not the usual workday subway scene.

The organization of the race was superb.  It went off on time, the corals were well organized, and even the increased police presence was organized and really not intrusive.  I could tell though, that this was not going to be a record setting year for me.  I probably should have listened to my body, as they say, and not run, because of being so ill the week before.  I was never really able to get into gear and push myself, and as I was coming up to mile nine, one of my friends from another club passed me and said I looked like I was “hurtin’.”  I made it across the line in 1’23”, much slower than I predicted.  But it was a nice day for a race, and I joined my club members afterwards on the grounds of the naval yard, to drink water and have a nice, fat Philly pretzel.  Our goody bag after the race also included a couple of Tastykake bars and some Peanut Chews (designed to pull fillings and destroy dental caps), all products of Philadelphia.

Some of our SJAC club members at the Naval Yard after the Broad Street Ten Miler, 5/5/13

Some of our SJAC club members at the Naval Yard after the Broad Street Ten Miler, 5/5/13

The following day, Monday, was not a trial day, so I had cases scheduled all day in the OR.  At the end of the day that day, I noticed my hands and ankles seemed to be swollen.  I woke up the next morning with the swelling even worse, and I seemed to be having a hard time walking.  I went to our usual Tuesday morning conference at the hospital, then headed to the courthouse for the trial to start.  Everything felt tight.  My watch, which usually dangles a bit on my wrist, was stuck in one spot and making an impression on the skin.  My shoes felt tight.  When I made a fist, my skin looked taught over the tendons, and I couldn’t see them clearly as I usually would.  My co-defendant and I sat through the first day of testimony, paying attention to the plaintiff, taking notes, and discussing things with our lawyer.  That afternoon, though, after court adjourned for the day, I headed back to the hospital to make rounds.  I found my own physician on rounds, and told him about my week of GI bug, the race, and now the swelling.  He thought it could be some acute kidney injury, or a post-viral syndrome, and had me get a few blood tests.  I actually carried through with the tests, although as a doc, one must write one’s own prescription for these things.  The following morning I found out that my BUN and creatinine, measures of kidney function, were above normal, and my CPK, a measure of muscle breakdown, was on the high side of normal.  Texting this info to my physician, I was told it looked like I had suffered a bit of acute kidney injury, probably from racing after a week of little or no food, and that with proper hydration and time I would recover.  This is very scary.  I should have known better, and not run the past Sunday.  I was definitely foolish, but had gotten drawn in because of the commitment to run and the nature of the race.  I did as told, stayed well hydrated, and slowly recovered.  By Friday we had heard most of the experts testify, and it was now our turn to take the stand.  My co-defendant went first and did a good job answering sometimes difficult and lengthy, convoluted questions.  I looked forward to being able to give my story.  I hoped the jury would not only believe me, but feel I had done the best for the patient.  This is an anxiety producing position to be in as a surgeon.  I feel perfectly comfortable in the OR, but not in the courtroom.

That weekend was Mother’s day weekend.  My wife and I took a short trip to visit a friend in Mt. Kisco who is leaving for the West Coast, and a new job in Silicon Valley.  It was a very relaxing two days.  I got in a run on Sunday, in the hills near the Hudson River. We visited my younger daughter and son on the way back home, and drank a happy Mother’s day beer.

Kat and Dan at his house in Mt. Kisco.

Kat and Dan at his house in Mt. Kisco.

We were back in court Monday for the last of the expert witnesses.  Tuesday was the day for the attorneys to give their final arguments.  It took the judge about two and a half hours to give the jury their instructions, which were fairly complex.  They had to consider whether they thought my co-defendant and I had deviated from the standard of care, each of us separately.  If so, they would need to decide to what percent her pre-existing conditions contributed, how much her pain and suffering were worth in dollars, to what degree we had contributed to that, and several other issues of reward should we be found at fault.  As it turned out, they took about an hour to decide that both my co-defendant and myself had, in fact, done the right thing, and were not guilty of negligence or failure to perform according to standard of care.  I had already left the court because I needed to get back to the hospital.  When I got the call from my lawyer that we had won, I was elated.  I was not happy because we had beaten the other side.  I was very disappointed the patient felt we had not done well by her and that she needed to sue.  I was happy because we had successfully shown to a lay jury that we had done, at the very least, an acceptable job within the standards of care.  Was this a Pyrrhic victory?  This comes from the Greek King Pyrrhus of Epirus, whose army suffered considerable losses in defeating the Romans in 279 BC.  He felt that if he had to fight another battle, he could not, as the toll extracted would be too great.  For me, taking the two weeks away from my usual work does not really harm me, other than the anxiety it produces.  The patients that depend on me have to wait, a number of surgeries needed to be postponed, and it’s not possible to make up for that lost time.

With a strange virus that took a long time to run it’s course, causing mayhem in the process, to a “touch” of acute kidney injury perhaps brought on by my own foolishness, to having to defend myself in court, it has been a tough few weeks.  I know I’ve learned a lot from the experiences of the last several weeks, I just haven’t figured out what I’ve learned so far.  Now, though, I can return to my usual schedule, get back to work and get things done.  That is, after I return from a trip San Diego to see my oldest daughter graduate from her MBA program.

Frank K.

 

Rudolph’s Red Nose Ale, the tasting

For those of you following my blog, you may be aware I put together a Christmas Ale I named “Rudolph’s Red Nose Ale“.  This was a play on words, since I designed it to be a Christmas spiced ale, but with a red tint and styled after Belgian Christmas ales.  It’s not a typical Belgian Red Ale, in that it is not aged in wood, and so doesn’t have the sour characteristic of that style, but it comes fairly close.  The red color comes from a certain type of “crystal” malt, Caramel 80, which gives the beer a slightly sweet flavor and brick red color.  The Belgian Abbey yeast was used to give it a fruity flavor, not too pronounced, but not requiring the actual addition of fruit.  The hops were meant to be in the background, providing bitterness and a bit of aromatic hop flavor, but this is a malty brew and so not meant to taste hoppy like an IPA.  So starting from this:

IMG_1836a

Partial Mash for Rudolph’s Red Nose Ale

We made it to this:

A Bottle of Rudolph's Red Nose Ale

A Bottle of Rudolph’s Red Nose Ale

The label was cleverly created by my daughter Katie, who seems to have a knack for design.

In the glass:

Glass of Rudolph's Red Nose Ale

Glass of Rudolph’s Red Nose Ale

The pour was very nice, a bit underwhelming for the head, which was thinner than I was expecting.  The final alcohol content was 7.35 % ABV, which is around where I was shooting, and appropriate for a Christmas Ale meant to dull the abrasive edges of family get-togethers.  It has a nice slightly fruity and slightly sweet taste, and the spices are also there but in the background.  Reading further, I could have added spices to the secondary fermentation to make them more pronounced, but alas, didn’t think of this or know I could until after it was already bottled.  It’s part of the learning process.  I like the way the reddish hue comes through.

It got a true test on New Year’s Eve.  A group of about fifteen from my running club went for a late afternoon run, then gathered at my house for a pre-New Year’s Eve celebration.  We had a real fire going in the fireplace, and a warm spinach and feta dip accompanied by thin slices of crusty french bread.  There were clementine oranges and some Manchego cheese.  Many of the gathered runners sampled the Rudolph’s, and reports from this discerning crowd were very favorable.

So now I have a great brew to keep me warm the next couple of months, while I come up with a recipe for a spring beer.

Frank

Resolutions versus Goals

Yes, 2013 has arrived, the ball in Times Square with a crystal remembrance of Dick Clark has dropped, and now what?  Did something change?  Have we arrived in a new time and place?  Not from what I’ve been reading in the press, and yes, I am one of those who still reads a newspaper.  I admit to reading a lot of it online, but still get the old fashioned paper delivered to my house.  Today, that feels like such an anachronism.  So, perhaps that is something that has changed.  From what I have read and listened to on TV, and also read in blogs, the latest message for the new year is that “I don’t make resolutions, I make goals”.  TV personalities have stated this as if they made up the phrase, although it has been everywhere of late.  What is the difference, and can one, or should one, have both?

From reading about the history of resolutions, it appears the first record of this practice was from the Babylonians, who celebrated the start of the new year around the time of the vernal equinox.  They had an eleven day celebration, and promised to return borrowed goods and repay debts.  The Romans moved the celebration of the new year to January 1, which was to honor the god Janus, whose two faces looked backwards and forwards and symbolized remembering the past but looking forward to the future.  Over time, resolutions have taken on religious and personal health themes, betterment of mankind and other noble features, but generally are intended to make things better in the new year, an erasing of the errors of the past.  A resolution starts at the time it is made.  We all know the most common resolutions.  Lose weight, go to the gym regularly, stop smoking, cut back on drinking, have better study habits, be more attentive to others, learn a new language, laugh more, stress less, attend church regularly, and one which is almost always successful, stop making resolutions.

It is well known that resolutions frequently are not kept.  This is  where goals come in to play.  Goals go hand in hand with resolutions.  If your resolution is to lose weight, set simple, attainable goals which can be kept.  For example: ” I resolve to lose weight, and I will lose one pound in two weeks”.  There!  Not too hard, but not insignificant.  Then you can build on your successes as they come.  Didn’t make your goal?  Not to fear, reset it and keep going.  If you made your goal, picture it going forward for twelve more weeks.  At a pound every two weeks, that amounts to six pounds.

But keeping resolutions is so difficult because we like the ruts we fall into.  The comfort of an extra helping of mac and cheese.  The calming effect of the draw on the cigarette.  The buzz from the second beer.  It takes, yes, resolve, to keep a resolution.

While the recidivism rate for new year’s resolutions is spectacularly high, it is definitely worth trying.  Otherwise, we wind up living exactly the same life year after year.  The calendar may as well have only months, no years listed.  How do we increase the chance that we will keep our resolutions?  One way is to inform your family or close friends of your resolution.  Then, you know they will be watching to see if you meant what you said.  This can backfire, though, if you didn’t really mean what you said, it just sounded good, and now your family is harping on you to put down the Xbox controller and go out for a jog.  Another method is to share a resolution with a group.  The group dynamic can work very well since everyone is working towards the same goals.  For something like learning a new language, this might mean joining a group lesson.  Even if you are the worst student in the group, you are going to learn something.

This leads nicely into running, and why it is good to join a running club.  It certainly is easy to go out and run by yourself.  It takes little in the way of equipment, you can set your time to run whenever you wish, and you are not beholden to someone else’s pace, schedule, or tendency to argue politics while running.  But a running club gives much more than it takes.  First, you are able to meet like-minded people with very similar goals in mind.  You will be introduced to activities you may not have thought you could do, such as running a half marathon, or doing a trail run.  Runners in my club are generally quite upbeat individuals with lots of personal goals in mind.  Once you feel part of the group, which really only takes being willing to show up, you will get a lot of encouragement from the other runners who will smile on your successes and share their own stories of setbacks.  You will have access to meetings where training plans are shared and speakers come to talk about coaching, stretching, yoga, racing experiences, avoiding injuries, and other topics.  You may find yourself taking on more challenging goals as you meet the first few easier ones, which will lead to other resolutions being met, such as weight loss, getting fit, and lessening the stress in your life.  You are not likely to learn a foreign language or attend church more regularly, if those are your resolutions, so those will need to be addressed in another forum.

I feel making resolutions is a good thing, and setting goals makes resolutions happen.  If one is not successful at keeping a resolution, here’s a tip:  many cultures around the world celebrate the new year at different times than January 1.  So, there are plenty of opportunities to re-declare resolutions throughout the year.  My personal resolutions I am willing to share with my close friends reading this blog.  I would like to eat more nutritiously, primarily by making meals from scratch rather than buying anything pre-processed, with the exception of Greek yogurt, which I think is pretty healthy.  I already started, by making pasta from scratch with my daughter the week after Christmas.  It was fun, was a bit of hard work, but tasted great.  I also resolve to read the books piling up on my bedside table, most of which I’ve started but not gotten very far into.  And finally, in the tradition of the Babylonians, I’m going to return books I borrowed from a friend about a year ago and are still on my shelf.

Frank

Rudolph’s Red Nose Ale

“To alcohol!  The cause of–and solution to–of all of life’s problems”  Homer Simpson

I did a quick check on Google, asking the question, “Why do runners like beer?”  Not too surprisingly, there are plenty of comments, articles and pseudo-scientific research about how running and beer go together.  There is an entry in a Runner’s World forum asking why runners like Craft (Craft is capitalized in the entry) beers more than the general populace.  This query, posted in March, 2012, got answers ranging from “that’s because runners are snobs” (I’m paraphrasing here), to runners are craft beer fans who like the quality over the Bud/Miller/Coors brews.  There were a few comments on why Michelob Ultra might be marketed to athletes, or at least, to sedentary slugs who see drinking that beer as a first step towards fitness.  Little mention though, at least in the first several pages of hits on Google, on home brewing and running.  So, that’s where I step in.

Last spring I made a beer of my own recipe which I called “Long Run Ale”.  The idea was to make a beer dedicated to my running friends about to run the Boston Marathon.  In order to make it special for runners, I investigated how to make home-made energy gel.  It turned out that two primary ingredients were honey and molasses.  I made the brew as a very hoppy American pale ale, with Cascade and Willamette hops, and honey and molasses as part of the sugar source.  It turned out it was a real hit.  My running friends loved it.

When I wanted to make a Christmas Spiced Ale this winter, I decided to include the “Gu” in the recipe in order to keep it runner oriented.  Not that including honey and molasses makes it sweet.  The yeast convert all the sugar to alcohol and CO2, and the honey and molasses add to the color and impart a bit of flavor.  This is my version of a Christmas or Winter seasonal ale.  It is a partial mash recipe, which means part of the sugar for fermenting comes directly from steeped grains, and partly from malt extract.

Partial Mash:

  • Belgian 2-Row Pale Malt  5 lbs.
  • Caramel 80    0.5 lbs. (for the red color)

Boil 60 minutes

  • Grain extract from partial mash
  • Amber Dry Malt Extract   4 lbs
  • Honey  1 lb
  • Molasses  0.5 lbs
  • Spices:  Nutmeg, Ginger and Clove (I intended to use Allspice, too, but the stores were all out, every one I tried).

Hops:

  • Centennial                0.5 oz. at 60 min.
  • Northern Brewer     0.5 oz. at 30 min.
  • Sterling                      0.5 oz. at 10 min.

Yeast:  Wyeast 1214 Belgian Abbey

The first step in the brewing is the partial mash. The crushed Belgian 2-Row malt and the Crystal malt are put in a nylon bag and suspended in water heated to 154 degrees Fahrenheit. This extracts the sugar from the crushed grain, dissolving it in the water. The grain is then sparged (rinsed) a couple of times with hot water to extract as much sugar as possible. The grains are then discarded, although they can be saved and used as an addition to bread, for animal feed, or as mulch.

Malted crushed barley

Combined and crushed malted barley and caramel 80 grains.

Partial Mash

The crushed grains being steeped in 154º F water for one hour.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The sweet liquid which is left is called the wort, not yet beer, but that is its destiny.  Water is added to bring the volume to about 2.5 gallons, and the wort is brought to a boil.  The additional malt extract, which is sugar extracted from malted grain, just like in the mash, above, but prepared and pre-packaged either in liquid (LME) or dry (DME) form, is added to the boil.  Now, all the wort needs is the hops.  Hops are a wonderful aromatic flower which grows on vines, and add bitterness and aroma to beer.  Hops added early in the boil are the bittering hops, in the middle, flavoring, and those added at the end are the aromatic hops.

Wort on the stove.

The wort is boiled and the hops added according to a time schedule.

Once the boil is finished, the wort must be cooled to approximately 70 degrees F as quickly as possible.  There is equipment for this, but I use a very basic method known as putting the brew pot in the sink and swirling cold water around it.  It takes about 30 minutes to bring the temperature down this way.

Brew pot being cooled with cold water.

At the end of the boil, the wort is chilled as quickly as possible to 70ºF.

After the wort is chilled to room temperature, it is ready to pour in to the fermenter.  This is done fairly vigorously, to aerate the wort in preparation for the yeast.  Water is added to bring the volume up to five gallons, and the mix is again aerated to supply oxygen.  Also, a measurement of the specific gravity of the wort is taken, which will be used later to estimate the percent alcohol in the beer.  For this recipe, the O.G. (original gravity) was 1.066.

Package of yeast

The yeast comes packaged with nutrients, and is activated before adding to the fermenter.

Then comes the almost ceremonial “pitching” of the yeast.  This is truly how the magic happens.  In the days before the microscope, beer was made with barley, water and hops (or other spices before hops were used).  The yeast was there, but no one knew it.  Then, Louis Pasteur discovered what was happening at the microbe level.  Now, we have the remarkable choice of numerous strains of yeast, each with their own behavior, which is how beers get certain fruity, spicy or caramel flavors, achieve higher alcohol levels if provided enough sugar from the malt, and may also contribute undesirable flavors.  I chose this particular yeast because it is often used for Belgian style spiced seasonal ales.  Once the yeast is pitched in, the fermenter carboy is sealed with a lid with an escape airlock.  As the yeast go to work, producing alcohol, carbon dioxide is also created which is released through the airlock.  It takes a day or so for the yeast to start converting the sugar to alcohol, and there is nothing more satisfying at this stage than seeing the bubbles merrily making their way through the air lock.  Ales are fermented between 65 and 75 degrees F.  Lagers are fermented at lower temperatures (45-55 degrees F) for longer times (weeks to months) using yeast which are active at those temperatures.

Fermenter.

The fermenter, with lid on and airlock up and ready.

There’s nothing left to do at this point except wait for those marvelous little yeasts to do their job.  After about a week, the beer is transferred, this time with a siphon to prevent aeration, to a secondary fermenter.  The first week is for the major conversion of sugar to alcohol.  The secondary phase is for conditioning, when the yeast are still active, but taking on more complex sugars and initial byproducts of fermentation.

After another week or two in the secondary fermenter, the beer is ready to be bottled.  Bottling day can be busy.  One needs all the bottles cleaned, sterilized and ready to go.  The bottling equipment, including a bottling carboy, siphon and tubing, bottle filler and tubing, and bottle caps all need sterilizing.  I find the first step in this process is to pour a homebrew from the last batch, and then set about tackling all these steps.

Bottle of beer and glass.

A bottle of my last brew, a German Hefeweizen.

IMG_1895

Nice head, nice color, this should augment the bottling day activities nicely.

Bottling is best done with a helper.  It is possible to do it by yourself, but a whole lot tougher, and it is not easy to keep all those parts I mentioned clean and sterile without an extra pair of hands.

The beer is decanted into the carboy used for bottling, which has a spigot at the bottom, and doesn’t require a lid.  Priming sugar, which has been dissolved in boiling water to sterilize it, then cooled, is added to the mix.  This provides the additional amount of sugar needed to allow carbonation to occur in the bottle.  The yeast are still there, and will convert this small amount of sugar to additional alcohol and carbon dioxide, not enough to change the alcohol content significantly, and just enough to provide carbonation in the sealed bottle.  Many tales of exploding bottles are told by home brewers of their early attempts at getting this right.  The amount of sugar needed is readily available in homebrewing books and online.  A final gravity (F.G.) measurement is taken, with my brew having a F.G. of 1.010, which indicates the yeast did their job.  This should be about 7.3 percent A.B.V.   The spigot is then opened and the bottling begins.

Filling the bottles

Filling the bottles takes a bit of concentration and assistance.

Finally, the bottles need to be capped.  My son and I worked together on this, with him holding the bottles so they wouldn’t tilt, and with me working the capping device.

Bottle capping.

Capping the bottles.

The yield from five gallons of beer is about 50 twelve ounce bottles, plus or minus a bottle.  We eked out forty eight and three quarters.  The beer is now ready to be bottle conditioned, which means storing it in the cellar for about four weeks.

Two cases of beer.

The beer is in the bottles, and they are capped and ready to go to the cellar.

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On the shelf in the basement, they will sit and condition, adding flavor and carbonation over the next several weeks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At this stage I just need to forget they are down in the cellar, and let the weeks roll by.  While I can get an idea of how the finished product will taste, from various whiffs and sips of the dregs, I won’t really know the outcome until it is ready to drink.  We’ll probably uncap a bottle at Christmas time, since the family will be around, but it will be a bit early yet.  Also, higher alcohol beers like this can use a much longer bottle conditioning time before they reach their best flavor, mouth feel and overall presentation.  It is mentioned, the time a homebrew is ready to drink is when you are opening the last remaining bottle from the batch.

Is beer good for runners?  That’s not an easy question to answer.  I do believe in the relaxing and socializing qualities of beer, and nearly all of my running friends like it.  It turns out Ben Franklin was speaking of wine, not beer, in the quote attributed to him about how god loves us and wants us to be happy, but it applies to beer, too.   Pro-temperance zealots have their own reasons for disliking all alcohol, and some trainers will come out strongly against it for their athletes.  On the other hand, there is tremendous support in the running community for beer.  It’s freely distributed at the end of many marathons.  The international group known as the Hash House Harriers is based on the combination of beer and running, and they admit that they are a drinking club with a running problem.  Our neighbor, Philadelphia, has a great group of runners known as the Fishtown Beer Runners, who hold weekly runs which end at the selected pub of the week.  I think the combination of running and beer is here to stay, and I couldn’t be happier.

Frank

Whoa, this wasn’t supposed to happen (Sandy, that is).

Rain from hurricane Sandy

It’s raining, but Hurricane Sandy’s full force has yet to take effect.

One thing I’ve found fascinating, and sometimes discouraging, is the way we sign up for a marathon many months in advance, start the training program about four months before the race, and have no idea what may befall us during that time.  Right now, it’s hurricane Sandy which is disrupting our smooth passage to the Philly marathon, Nov. 18.  It’s also one week before the New York City marathon, and a few of our club members are running that race.  With one week to go for NYC, a forced couple of non-running days may be just what they need to be in top form.

Where I live in South Jersey, minutes from Philadelphia, we are, as the forecasters have noted, in the “cross-hairs” of the hurricane.  As a hunter, that implies intent, as if we are the target.  In fact, it is the joining of weather forces, with a waxing moon and rising tides, that steers this particularly enormous weather system directly towards us and makes it so threatening.  Not very long ago, around 1960, the first successful weather satellites were launched which allowed tracking and predictions of hurricanes’ paths.  Before then, barometers and reports from the Caribbean were harbingers of a storm, with little predictability of which way the storm would go.  Our house was built in 1884.  I imagine at that time, a storm of this nature would be devastating, with no hint of it’s arrival.  It is humorous, though, to see what is going on at Lowe’s and at the grocery store in terms of preparedness.  At Lowe’s, they were completely out of “D” batteries, for powering flashlights, I guess, although other appliances come to mind.  Plenty of AA or AAA, though.  I noted a good number of customers buying a garden hose and a pump.  I’m not sure if the pump was plug-in or manual, but good luck to them who need to pump out the water with that limited device.  We were at Lowe’s for a new washing machine, since ours died.  Not many folks shopping in our side of the store yesterday.  At the local Acme and at Lowe’s, customers were carting away enormous plastic-wrapped bundles of 0.5 L water bottles containing 50-100 bottles per bundle.  I can see a use for this.  If the water level gets very high, one can empty the water bottles, put the caps back on, and create a raft by tying the bundles together.  If one is concerned about the water supply, another, perhaps saner approach, would be to put water from the tap into available containers at home, but that means not contributing to the economy, so never mind.

We did a check of all our outdoor areas, for loose furniture, potted plants and other objects that might take flight in the storm.  Of major concern around here is the possibility of trees coming uprooted as the ground soaks and the winds rise.  We have a few tall trees close to our house, hopefully strong, and also hopefully protected from the full force of the wind by being between houses.  Our tallest tree menaces were taken down in the last few years, having lived to about 100, and starting to drop large branches indiscriminately.

My hospital was closed for all but emergencies today, so no elective procedures.  The trains are not running into Philadelphia.  The bridges are staying open unless sustained winds up to 70 miles per hour hit, then they will close.  At the moment, it is fairly windy, with a steady fine rain blowing sideways, covering areas usually under cover with a wet sheen, and creating large puddles around the leaves raked into the streets.  The township was supposed to do an emergency leaf removal yesterday, but I didn’t see it happening.  The center of the storm is due to hit New Jersey around midnight tonight.  I think our offices will remain closed tomorrow, since this storm has not yet peaked, and is cruising at a very conversational pace, to relate it to running.  By the traffic I see from my window at home, plenty of folks are braving the weather.  I am taking this opportunity to catch up on things I say I will do, but can’t seem to find the time.  Hopefully, by at the latest, Wednesday, we’ll be able to get out there and hit the pavement.

I hope all of our neighbors, i.e. the whole eastern seaboard, remain safe and dry.
Frank

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