(I've written an explanation elsewhere of why disclaimers of this sort may be necessary.) 

Tuesday, March 31, 2009  

I went to the dentist today -- just a cleaning, but for someone who's as uncomfortable in a dental chair as I am, even that counts as an ordeal. (My hypersensitive gag reflex kicked in embarrassingly at one point.) I was glad to get it over with. The hygienist didn't offer any criticisms, so I assume she found my gums to be in reasonably good shape. Which is good, because inflammation of the gums, like inflammation anywhere else, promotes insulin resistance. Periodontal disease can apparently be a direct cause of Type 2 diabetes. At any rate, anyone who has Type 2 has an extra reason to do whatever it takes to prevent periodontitis.

I did get out for a run today, and it was nice outdoors -- sunny and about 72 degrees. Almost summery. We heard a lot of dogs barking in backyards throughout the neighborhood -- much more so than normal. I wondered if that meant we had an earthquake getting ready to start. (Apparently the restive behavior of animals shortly before earthquakes is a real phenomenon, but no one has figured out what they're sensing or how they are sensing it.) Yesterday there was a magnitude 4.3 earthquake in San Jose, and maybe the dogs were still spooked by that (or were reacting to aftershocks too subtle for me to detect). Or, maybe there's going to be a big seismic event soon and they can feel it coming.

A friend of mine was talking about "earthquake weather" today, but I'm afraid I can't suspend disbelief to quite that extent. The idea that weather and earthquakes are related phenomena seems to be almost aggressively silly. You might as well talk about "tax weather". I know a lot of people believe that earthquakes necessarily occur during times of sunny, dry, unseasonably warm weather, but seismologists say that earthquakes can happen at any time, and in any kind of weather; they result from the motion of deeply buried crustal plates which don't know what the weather is like up on the earth's surface.

I don't have time for further musings -- I need to get up early tomorrow morning to meet by telephone with a project manager in Israel. I'm afraid of oversleeping, so I should probably get to bed. 

Monday, March 30, 2009  

A nice sunny spring day, and me not out there running at lunchtime! Last week, when I didn't take a rest day, I felt weak and worn out by Friday, and ended up wishing that I had taken a rest day. But today, when my two main running buddies at work went out for a run, I didn't feel relieved at not going with them; I felt left out. I seem to be uncomfortable whether I take a rest day or skip it. I guess there's just no pleasing me, is there?

I did go to my yoga class in the evening, which is kind of like exercise, but it doesn't really qualify. My blood pressure is good this evening -- I imagine the yoga helped with that.

So this is what all the trouble's about!

That's what glucose looks like, at least to a chemist. I recently found an article on the subject which clarified a point that had long puzzled me. If glucose is such harmful stuff to have circulating in one's bloodstream (because it causes "glycation", an unwanted and harmful bonding of sugar to proteins), why do humans and other organisms use glucose as a primary fuel? Why not use fructose, say, or something else? Well, there are two good reasons for the body to prefer glucose as a fuel.

One is that, for certain biochemical purposes, the body needs to form sugar-protein bonds, and does so on purpose, using a process which is controlled by enzymes (apparently the word "glycation" is used only for unwanted, accidental sugar-protein bonding -- when the bonding is desirable and deliberately arranged, the reaction is called "glycosylation"). So, the readiness of glucose to bond with proteins is actually useful, at least when it isn't happening in a random and uncontrolled way.

The other reason for the body to use glucose as a primary fuel is that, although glucose does cause unwanted glycation, glucose actually does less of this than fructose and other sugars would. So, although glucose in the bloodstream can cause trouble, the alternative fuels would cause more trouble still. In other words, nature has the same problem in choosing energy sources that modern humans do: all of the possible choices have their drawbacks, so it's necessary to makes some kind of risk/benefit tradeoff. Coal? Oil? Uranium? Hydroelectric? Wind? Not a one of them is perfect. Same with glucose. Nasty stuff, undoubtedly, but the alternatives are worse.

Saturday, March 28, 2009  

Beautiful weather, sunny and in the 70s. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to go trail-running at Annadel State Park, even though yesterday I had been feeling overdue for a break from running. This time I felt more motivated, and more energetic.

The batteries on my GPS were low, and I didn't have time to recharge it, so I ran without it. I knew the trail route I was running to be 8 miles long. It took me an hour and 27 minutes, which is a pace of 10:52/mile -- not fast by any means, but faster than I usually have done on that very hilly route (the first five miles are uphill almost the whole way). I actually enjoyed the steepest parts today, at least to some degree, because I have vivid memories of how hard it used to be for me to climb those same sections of the route. It's a pleasure to realize how much easier it is for me to do the same thing now.

Because the weather was so nice, a lot of other people were out there on the trails -- or so it appeared, in the crowded parking area. Once I actually got into the park, I didn't run into many more people on the trails than usual. I wondered where all those extra people were. Apparently a memorial service was being held in the park today -- perhaps an ash-scattering. The park seems to be getting popular for that sort of thing. I guess the route I chose took me to a different part of the park, because I didn't run into a crowd of mourners along the way. I did see the usual sampling of mountain-bikers, runners, hikers, and equestrians, but no overdressed people tossing ashes around.

I love the park, but I don't want to have my ashes scattered there, especially if it's going to spoil anyone's attempt to enjoy the park the same way I did during my lifetime. I think I'll have my ashes mailed to Geico, in loving memory of the 200 pounds of unsolicited mail I have received from them over the years. But I'll cancel that provision of my will if, sometime before I die, they begin to get the message that I'm not interested in doing business with them, and decide that maybe they should just leave me alone. It's their choice, really; either they want my ashes or they don't.

A friend of mine who is on a very low carb diet told me about a Flax-seed bread from Trader Joe's which has only 15 carb grams per 2 slices (most breads have that much for a single slice), and three of those grams are fiber. So I thought I'd try it. Well, the taste pretty much screams "Low Carb!" -- you wouldn't eat it by itself to satisfy your bread cravings, let's put it that way, but it's acceptable as a platform for constructing a sandwich.

Chana dal is something you can get in Asian markets -- it looks like dried yellow split peas. Actually it's a kind of immature garbanzo, but a lot of people with diabetes like to use it as a substitute for rice and other grains, because it supposedly has a very low glycemic index, and a lot of people say that it doesn't spike their blood sugar in the way that they would expect a food of that type to do. I was a bit skeptical of these claims. But my blood sugar was down to 86 two hours after dinner! (And I had a pretty generous serving of the stuff.)

The big drawback with chana dal is that it requires a lot of preliminary soaking to soften it up before you cook it. (In India it's usually prepared in a pressure cooker, but I'm a bit afraid to try that because of what happened when I tried to cook red lentils that way. I don't want cooking to be a near-death experience.) I let the stuff soak all day. Then, to prepare it for dinner, I cooked it 45 minutes, and it still wasn't quite soft even then, but it was soft enough. I used all the spices the recipe called for (cumin, coriander, turmeric, garlic, etc.) and also added tomatoes and some greens I bought at the farmer's market today. The verdict: not bad for a first try, but I should experiment further to get the proportions right. I recently had the same dish, prepared by an Indian musician I know, and I don't think I got very close to the target.

Is the fast food industry actually trying to kill us? Just a hypothetical question. In effect, that is what they're doing, but I'm interested in the question of whether it is intentional or not...

[Not a real product -- that picture is from a parody article in The Onion.]

I guess the industry doesn't actually want to kill any of its customers -- but it doesn't want not to, either. What it wants to do is make as much money as possible; whether that results in customer deaths or not is of no importance.

I suppose that, in the minds of these people, there is an important moral distinction to be made between wanting people to die and not caring whether people die or not, but I'm not sure I can see it. 

Friday, March 27, 2009  

Today I began to doubt the practicality of going without rest-days from exercise. I seemed to have no energy this morning. I did go running at lunch, but my pace was so slow that I'm ashamed to quote it. Maybe my fatigue today relates to something else (such as the stress associated with my company's downsizing announcement yesterday), but I couldn't help thinking that I've just worn myself down by not having taken a rest day since March 16. Maybe I should go back to my former system of not doing a workout on Mondays. I go to a yoga class on Monday nights, and although I don't see that as a workout, it's something like a workout and it does have some value in strengthening the muscles. When I was doing yoga and nothing else on Mondays, and doing aerobic workouts every other day of the week, I didn't feel as tired as I did today.

I still want to do a fair amount of outdoor exercise this weekend, because the weather is expected to be great and the local landscape is still green (a brief phenomenon in California). But come Monday I think I'm going to take a break.

I went to a yoga "restorative" workshop after work tonight.  This isn't the hard-working kind of yoga, it consists only of resting poses designed to relax you. I was afraid that it wouldn't do me any good under the present circumstances, because I'd be lying quietly on the floor for two hours while my brain was churning frantically about layoffs. It didn't turn out quite that way. My brain was churning as it always does when I'm trying to relax, but it somehow the work situation didn't come into it. I wasn't having worried thoughts, I was having random pointless thoughts. Just as usual! And, just as usual, the resting poses and the quiet made me very sleepy, and ultimately did relax me.

I'm closing in on "normal" weight. Although I lost a lot of weight shortly after my original diagnosis, the weight loss slowed to a crawl once I got under 200 pounds. I was finding it harder to lose weight, and I wasn't under as much pressure to do so at that point, because I was able to keep my blood sugar under control, and my doctor was less concerned about my weight than he had been earlier. My weight slowly drifted downward from there, settling into the high 180s and staying there for a long time. This year I decided that it was ridiculous to let this piece of unfinished business continue; 2009 was the year I was going to get my weight down to "normal". It turns out that there are a lot of different interpretations of what is normal weight, and what is ideal weight.

As near as I can figure, my ideal weight is somewhere between 160 and 165. I ended last year weighing 187 pounds, and after a slow start in January I'm finally making progress. This morning I weighed myself as 173. I expect it will be be higher tomorrow (the 173 was probably the low end of a range of daily fluctuation), but obviously I'm making progress. One of the things I like about the weight loss is that it's made it easier for me to run -- for a long time I was making myself work needlessly hard at it, and it's nice to get rid of that handicap. I hope running will become easier still, as I get closer to my target.

I don't have a specific date in mind by which I want to reach my ideal weight, but I'd like to be there this summer. We'll see!

Thursday, March 26, 2009  

A pretty routine day at work: the company announced that it's planning to lay off 25% of us, but other than that, no big news.

We won't find out who's going and who's staying until at least April. There ought to be a word for these anxious intervals, when everyone is waiting to find out whether or not they are on the list, but we all have to carry on with our jobs, as if we all still have them. And a lot of us do still have them, apparently, but we have no way of knowing whether we do or not. And the business of the company has to continue.

We went running at lunchtime (it would be unthinkable not to seek the relief of exercise on a day like this), and I was curious to see whether more employees than usual would be outside getting some fresh air. Well, there were a few more than usual, but not as many more as I expected. That will change, though. The last time we had a big layoff, I remember the way people's behavior changed as the day approached when we would find out who was on the list. More and more employees were showing up outside at lunchtime, walking aimlessly over the hills surrounding the work site. Even the employees who were going to be firing people rather than getting fired themseles were taking these anxious walks.

Society tells us that the way to deal with stress is to rest; our bodies tell us that this doesn't work unless we are resting from something. Exercise is an indispensable requirement of stress reduction. Not moving is a source of stress all by itself. When the situation is upsetting enough, even the most sedentary people realize that they need to get outside and move around a little.

And the thing is, it was a beautiful spring day, sunny and clear and warm. When you're threatened with financial ruin, it suddenly becomes easier to appreciate everything pleasant in life that is free or at least cheap. You start to remind yourself that you'll still have the late-afternoon sunshine, and the hills, and the oak trees, and (if you work it right) the occasional piece of fresh fruit.

After work I went down to Marin for a concert rehearsal -- the first of a series of rehearsals for concerts by the San Francisco Scottish Fiddlers, which will happen in late April. We're a big group, and our rehearsals tend to be complicated affairs requiring a great deal of concentration. That sort of thing is pretty tiring after a day's work, even on a more ordinary workday than this one has been, and tonight it was absolutely exhausting. On the other hand, the music sounded a lot better than I expected it to at this stage of rehearsal. I think they're going to be good concerts. So I have something besides layoffs to look forward to in April. 

I haven't had a non-exercise day since March 16, but I think I'll want to work out tomorrow anyway. I have a yoga relaxation workshop to go to after work, and I guess I need it, but if I don't exercise earlier in the day I don't think any kind of relaxation program is going to work for me.

Hmmm, my blood pressure is higher today than it was yesterday. Fancy that!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009  

Sunset is now late enough that it's practical to run after work rather than at lunchtime. In the spring and summer I have a regular Wednesday-night trail-running date with one of my running buddies in the local state park (her husband, and other people from work, go mountain-biking on the same trails on Wednesday night, so we usually cross paths somewhere in the middle of the woods with people we know, even though we're alone with the lizards and wild turkeys most of the way). We decided this week that it's not too soon to start the season of Wednesday night trail-runs, especially as the weather was sunny and warm today, so we went after work. It was a comparatively short run, because we wanted to finish before sunset, and sunset isn't yet so late in the evening that we have time for a long run. My slow pace of 12:37/mile was more typical of my trail-running speed than the faster runs I've done lately. When I'm running up and down rough, steep trails, I'm mainly interested in not hurting myself. Speed can wait until I'm in a race. And even then, I'm still interested in not hurting myself!

What I like most about the Wednesday night runs is the opportunity to make a quick transition into a different world. Just a little while ago I was in the office, sending e-mails to far-flung collaborators in Scotland and Israel and fretting about how I'm going to get the Application Programming Interface documented if the guy who's creating it is going to be off visiting customers in Japan next week and won't have time to tell me what he did with it... and now it's just a little later in the evening, and we're running along a trail between a lake and meadow, and the landscape is glowing in the early-evening sunlight, and there's a rabbit running beside us, and we're looking back over our shoulders to make sure it isn't running because a mountain lion is chasing it.

As far as we could tell, the rabbit just wanted to go for a run. And why not? It was a nice evening for it. It did get a little cool and breezy near the end, but nothing we couldn't handle. And the glow from a trail-run is such a great feeling to come home with, especially in the fading light of evening. I don't know why that combination is so appealing to me, but going for a run or a bike ride just before sunset is much more satisfying to me than doing the same thing at any other time.

Very low blood pressure this evening -- I don't often get a result in the vicinity of 111/60. That's the influence of the trail run, I expect.

The trail run may also have helped me with post-prandial glucose: I measured 103 an hour after dinned and 88 two hours after dinner. Excellent results by just about any standard. It wasn't a terribly high-carb dinner, but it did include four small potatoes, and I estimate that they added up to 37 carb grams. That's more than a couple slices of bread. And the nuts in the salad probably added some carbs too. So it wasn't exactly a rigged test.

Certainly I measured higher the other day when I tested after having cereal for breakfast (135 at 1 hour,  93 at 2 hours), but even that result is pretty good for anyone who has been diagnosed with diabetes, and some would call it normal even for someone without diabetes (although it's mighty hard to pin down the experts on the question of what constitutes normal blood sugar).

Tuesday, March 24, 2009  

Just as sunny as yesterday, but in the mid-60s rather than the low 50s, so our lunchtime run was that much nicer. My pace was faster than it was yesterday. It was actually an easier run, though, because the route was not quite so steep.

The golden poppies are starting to bloom, as are some other wildflowers. The evergreens are dumping bucketloads of bright green pollen everywhere. I guess it's spring, all right!

If you ask Americans what is the worst thing that could happen to them (offering them a list of possible misfortunes to choose from), 52% of them choose "developing a chronic illness" rather than, say, getting divorced (13%) or losing their jobs (11%). This according to a survey conducted by the American Diabetes Association and published today. The survey also found that, however much Americans might worry about developing a chronic illness, most of them aren't doing anything about it.

Although nearly all American adults can correctly name at least one factor for diabetes, large numbers of people who consider themselves to be at risk of becoming diabetic are engaged in behaviors which they themselves say will increase that risk. 67% admit to having a poor diet, 62% admit to having an unhealthy weight, and 50% admit to avoiding doctor visits.

That the survey results seem paradoxical probably says more about the survey than it says about anything else. As with most opinion surveys, one could come up with reasons for saying "yes", and also "no", to just about anything a survey would ask. You can imagine the inner monolog of the person taking the survey: Is my weight "unhealthy"? Well, gee, maybe a little -- I'm sure the height and weight chart says I'm above the upper limit of normal -- so I suppose I have to say yes, even though I think my weight only increases my risk a little tiny bit, maybe 1%, so it's nothing to get alarmed about, and I'm not losing any sleep over it, but I guess I'll say yes...

Most people don't really think that their habits are unhealthy, although at the same time they are aware that others could regard their habits as unhealthy. So, in the survey, they confess to unhealthy behaviors -- meaning "behaviors regarded by many so-called experts as unhealthy, even though I know better".

I'm sure that the people in the financial industry who created our current economic disaster would have admitted in an anonymous survey that their business decisions were "risky", but only in the sense that they would be viewed as risky by old-fashioned fuddy-duddies -- they themselves knew in their hearts that they were actually going to get away with it, because they had the golden touch and the rules didn't apply to them.

It seems to be part of human nature to set up this kind of double consciousness -- we are aware of the rules that apply to others, but also aware that the rules don't apply to us personally, because we're special. It's hard to see how you fix a problem that is so deeply ingrained in people. I think we're pretty much stuck with this kind of thinking.

Monday, March 23, 2009  

Again the weather was sunny/clear/breezy/cold. Not a bad day for a run, once I started warming up as I was climbing the first hill. There were some further mountain-lion sightings (not attacks, I said sightings!) on the grounds of my workplace, and we had been urged not to go walking or running alone. This interesting fact motivated me to try to keep up with my faster running buddies, and I suppose that is why my mile-pace was 9:54 this time (instead of 10:19, which I think is about as well as I had ever done before on the "golf-course loop", a route we often run which involves some hills that are not for the faint of heart).

I haven't had a rest day since last Monday, and normally I would have made today a rest day (apart from my Monday evening yoga class). But somehow I didn't feel as if rest was what I needed today. I thought I needed to go for a run, so I did.

Over the years I've become so used to regular exercise that I feel weird about taking a day off. It wasn't that way at first -- for a while I took two days off exercise a week, and I looked forward to both of them as eagerly as an 8-year-old looks forward to Christmas. Then I cut it down to one rest day a week. And now I'm starting to feel as if even that is cheating. I generally schedule my rest day for Monday, when I know I'll be going to yoga class in the evening. I don't think of yoga as exercise exactly, but at least that means I'm doing something physical every day. But last Monday, when someone at work saw me at lunchtime and expressed surprise that I wasn't out running, I started making excuses to him as if he'd caught me doing something shameful. And I felt as if it were shameful. So today I decided to forget about rest, and go running.

The usual recommendation on aerobic exercise is to do it 5 times a week, but there are those who say it should be a daily activity -- that there should be no exercise sabbath. This is a hard sell, to put it mildly. Most people would swoon at the thought of working out 6 days a week, much less 7. I've now reached a point where 6 days a week is easy, and almost seems too easy. Maybe I should just go ahead and make it 7 -- with the excuse held in reserve that it's okay to take the occasional day off when circumstances make it impractical.

Maybe there's something to this low-carb thing. After what seemed like a big dinner at my friend's house last night, I wake up to fasting test of 83, and a new low on the bathroom scale. 

Sunday, March 22, 2009  

My 30-day fasting average is 84, which is great but could be giving me a false sense of security. I promised myself to stop relying so completely on fasting tests, and do post-prandial testing occasionally to make sure I wasn't getting out of control without realizing it. (If you do start to get out of control, your fasting results are probably not going to be the first thing to go, so post-prandial testing makes a better early-warning system.)

I tested after dinner last Sunday (with results in the normal range), but I figured a high-carb breakfast would be a better test, so I did that this morning. The cereal I ate was actually two Kashi cereals combined ("GoLean" and "7 Whole Grain Nuggets"); both are high in fiber, but both provide a lot of carbohydrate and almost no fat, so today's breakfast would be likelier to spike my blood sugar than almost anything else I eat regularly.

My 2-hour result of 93 mg/dl was comfortably within bounds (anything below 140 after 2 hours is usually described as "normal"). So, it looks as if my fasting tests are not misleading me: I really do have things pretty well under control.

It's interesting that, compared to last Sunday's dinner, this morning's breakfast pushed my blood sugar higher at the 1-hour point, but brought it down lower at the 2-hour point. A low-fat, high-carb meal tends to produce both a steeper rise and a steeper fall, because carbs are digested so fast. A meal which contains some fat is going to be digested more slowly, so the resulting glucose "spike" is more of a rolling hill, which doesn't go as high but lasts longer.

It was sunnier today for my run. Unfortunately the sunshine led me to dress a little lighter for the event than I should have. When I got to Spring Lake, it was very windy and in the 40's -- not ideal weather for being outdoors in shorts and a light running shirt. When I got out of the car to run, I started making "Ooh-Ooh-Ooh!" noises that more properly belong on the soundtrack of a Three Stooges two-reeler. I found that I could handle the breathtakingly fresh air so long as I kept running. (Maybe that is why my pace was a little faster today than yesterday.) When I stopped running at the end, the cold hit me like bucketful of icewater, so I jumped into my car without doing even a little bit of post-run stretching. I figured I could do my stretching in the shower at home. No doubt I should be more systematic about these things. Well, "not freezing your butt off" is a system, too.

I visited an old friend today who's a good cook, which could have been a problem, but he's currently on a low-carb diet (because that's the only kind of weight-loss diet that works for him), so the dinner he prepared suited my needs quite well.

He gave me some ketone test strips, which people on low-carb diets evidently use to detect ketosis (an indicator that their bodies are burning a lot of fat for energy, because they aren't taking in enough carbs to satisfy their energy needs). I tested myself with one of the strips, and found that I don't seem to be producing a detectable level of ketones. Most people consider that a good thing, if you're a diabetes patient, but Dr. Atkins would say it indicates you haven't cut your carbs enough to get the fat-burning process going properly.

Ketosis sounds like a disease condition rather than a useful weight-loss tool, and there is much controversy about whether or not it makes sense to adopt a diet which promotes ketosis. Certainly ketosis (the state of having an elevated level of ketones in the blood) is not the same thing as ketoacidosis (the state of having such severe ketosis that blood pH is dangerously reduced), but people with diabetes are usually trained to fear ketoacidosis, and to regard ketosis as an early warning of it, so seeking out ketosis as a desirable thing does not come naturally to most of us.

I don't have a strong conviction one way or the other about low-carb, ketosis-inducing diets. They seem to work for some people, so I don't want to dismiss them. And I might be forced to adopt such a diet myself someday (after all, it may be that I won't always be able to get away with eating cereal for breakfast as well as I did this morning). If I'm honest, the real reason I've been uninterested in the Atkins approach is that it doesn't greatly appeal to me. So far, I've been viewing it largely as a matter of taste, and on that basis I have chosen to ignore it. However, I'm trying to keep an open mind about it, in case what I'm doing now stops working for me at a later stage.

I guess the photograph below (which my sister found and sent to me) is an example of what worked for me at an earlier stage. I'm not sure when it was taken, but I don't seem to have been in a very serious frame of mind at the time. Perhaps I should add a disclaimer saying that I'm not recommending this behavior as diabetes therapy, either.

Saturday, March 21, 2009  

By the time I got my act together and showed up at the state park to start my trail-run, I saw that the skies did not promise well:

There were people outdoors exercising, but not so many as usual, and they had a worried look about them.

I figured I was probably going to get caught in the rain, and was resigned to it. But luck was with me: there was not a drop of rain during my run. And then, about 1 minute after I ended my run and was walking over to get in my car and drive home, the rain started falling. Exactly what happened when I went trail-running last weekend, oddly enough. It seems that mother nature has decided to reward me for running.

In another regard, this weekend's trail run and the one last weekend were much less similar: this was a solo training run, not a race, and my pace was far slower (11:29/mile, versus 9:52/mile during the race). It gives you some idea how much slower I run when I'm not trying to keep up with anyone else. One of the reasons that I like to run with people who are faster than me is that, if I'm left to my own devices, I go too easy on myself.

I hope no one follows my example in trying to use a vindaloo spice mix (normally used on meat) to make a decent vegetable curry. Or, if they try it, I hope they have far greater success with it than I did.

I generally tend to assume that a spicy sauce which goes well with meat will also go well with vegetables, but my results were kind of awful. I forced myself to eat a reasonable amount of it, because I don't like throwing away food (or admitting failure), but I think that's definitely on my list of Things I Won't Try Again. Most types of curry sauce seem to work very well with vegetables. Vindaloo seems to be a different story.

Vindaloo has a rather strange history. It started out as a Portuguese dish (vindalho, a pork stew cooked with wine and garlic), and the Portuguese brought it to the Indian state of Goa, where it morphed into a form of curry. Within India, the dish is little-known outside Goa, but Indian restaurants abroad all serve it. Well, they probably don't serve a vegetable version, if mine was a fair example of how well that works.

I didn't make it to the farmer's market today, which in a way is fortunate, because if I had gone, I might have bought something special and then ruined it with my lame vindaloo sauce. All I ruined was a few ordinary, and not very expensive, store-bought vegetables. I prefer to have my learning experiences come at a relatively low cost.

Friday, March 20, 2009  

I was away for a few days on a business trip to the Santa Clara office, getting acquainted with (and being trained by) some people I'll be collaborating with on my new project, but will seldom see. My theory about working remotely with people is that it often works well if you've actually spent some time in their company -- and often works very badly if you haven't. It's awfully hard to communicate well with someone who is just a voice on the phone (or, ever worse, just a signature line on an e-mail), and you're likely to have misunderstandings which waste a lot of time and energy. These problems are a lot less likely to occur if you've had a chance to spend some time in the same room with people. So, I'm glad I actually got to meet three of the people I'll be working with. The other people I'll be working with are in Europe and Israel, and I'm sure that will be harder.

Santa Clara is about a 3-hour drive from here. Much of the journey parallels the route we will be running in The Relay on May 2nd and 3rd (through Marin to San Francisco, and down the peninsula past Stanford University and Palo Alto). As I drove down there, I tried to make the drive seem short by reminding myself of how much longer it takes to do it on foot. (Last year our team of 12 runners took over 29 hours to get from Calistoga to Santa Cruz, a distance of 199 miles.) But it still seemed like a long drive. I'm glad it was a multi-day trip -- I would have hated to have to drive back that night.

Business travel, which sounds like a lark to anyone who has no experience of it, can be a bit of trial, especially because business travel makes it hard to stick to the health habits you were practicing at home. You're sure to be eating out rather than preparing food, for one thing, and if the people you're visiting want to take you to a restaurant for lunch or dinner, things inevitably drift toward big, high-calorie meals. Also, you usually have limited control over your schedule, and opportunities for exercise may be tough to arrange. These days I'm not too shy about insisting on a chance to work out, and as it happens the Santa Clara office (which is also corporate headquarters) has a high-quality gym, so I was able to fit that in without unduly inconveniencing anybody else. I ended up doing two treadmill-running workouts in a row, which isn't my favorite way to work out, but there's a lack of safe places to run outdoors down there, so I figured using the company gym made sense.

I did eat out, but I think I handled it fairly well. My meals weren't that much higher in carbs and calories than they would have been at home, and my weight and blood sugar stayed under good control. I only care about results, really.

But it was nice to be back home today, and to be able to go out for a run in the fresh air -- especially as it was such a beautiful day here (clear, sunny, and in the 60s). The weather-guessers think it may be a rainy weekend. That's okay, we need rain, but I'm going to try to fit in a trail-run before the rain starts. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2009  

Having being careful to wear a green shirt to work for St. Patrick's day (and also to pack a fiddle into the trunk of my car, so that I could make it on time to an Irish music session after work), I found that I couldn't turn down my coworker who brought in a plate of scones on a shamrock-decorated cloth. 

At least the scone was small, and I went for a run shortly afterward! I seem to be on a roll here (my 30-day fasting average has dropped to 85, my weight is down 9 pounds so far this year, and my blood pressure has been good just lately), so I don't want to blow it now. Business travel is always a great opportunity to blow it, and I'm about to do a little bit of that (business travel, that is -- not blowing it, if I can help it). But it's a pretty short trip, and I think I've been able to build exercise opportunities into my schedule, so I'll probably be okay. And if I'm not, I'll do something to correct the situation afterward.

The weather had been cloudy and dark all morning. When I went for a run, the skies started clearing, and I finished the run in sunshine. That happens to me a lot, and the prosaic explanation is that the low-lying cloud layer that often flows in from the Pacific overnight tends to break up around the time I run each day -- in other words, the odds are good that I will start the run under a gray sky and finish it under a blue one. But every time that happens, I feel as if nature is congratulating me, and rewarding me, for getting out there and doing what needs to be done.

Of course, there is a risk involved in anthropomorphizing nature, and assuming that every change in the weather represents a change in nature's assessment of your worth. Once you start taking it for granted that sunshine equals approval, you then have the problem of deciding what it means when you spend an amazingly dry and sunny winter training for a marathon --and then, when the race finally happens, it rains all day. Does that mean your theory that mother nature approves of you is all wrong? (I've decided to assume it means that mother nature has her bad moods, like anyone else.)

The remarkable thing about my lunchtime running is that, after doing it for several years, I still have two conflicting attitudes towards it. I spend the morning at work faintly dreading the run, and fearing that today I'm not feeling up to it -- it will be a miserable experience! But then the run goes fine, and makes me feel 100% better than I did in the morning. I am two different guys at work: the morning Tom and the afternoon Tom. The morning Tom feels anxious and pessimistic about everything; the afternoon Tom thinks life is pretty much okay, and things will work out somehow or other. I greatly prefer afternoon meetings to morning meetings, because the afternoon Tom can deal so much better with any troublesome issues that might come up.

Even when I'm not at work, my day tends to be divided by exercise into two very distinct "before" and "after" phases, and the "after" phase is the one I like. Some people would assume this means simply that exercise is unpleasant and getting it over with for the day is a huge relief. That's not quite it, though. My anxious, unconfident mood of the morning doesn't disappear after I finish my workout -- it disappears a few minutes after I start my workout. My relief is not over being done with the workout, it's over being done with waiting to begin the workout.

Monday, March 16, 2009  

Despite the 10-mile run yesterday, I was originally planning to run today rather than take my usual Monday break from exercise. The reason was that I have to make a working trip out of town later in the week, and I knew that the hotel I'll be staying at in Santa Clara doesn't have a gym. I thought there was some risk of having at least one enforced non-exercise day later on, so I couldn't afford to take a rest day now. However, one of my running buddies at work pointed out that the hotel we use down there can give me day-passes to a good gym downtown. Problem solved! So, I was able to take a break today. And that was nice, because the weather was cold and gray and drizzly, and I didn't much feel like going out in it.

I sometimes think that "diabetes" is Greek for "inconvenience", because managing the disease requires you to do so much fussing over details which most people don't think about at all. But I guess the issue is larger than diabetes, because pretty much everything I do to keep diabetes at bay would also need to be done anyway, just to stay healthy, even if I had never been diabetic in the first place. (But if I had never become diabetic I would never have started doing those things, so in a sense the diagnosis was a positive development for me.)

Whether it properly comes under the heading of diabetes management or not, it does seem as if I spend an awful lot of time trying to find ways to fit healthy behaviors into the modern way of life, which almost seems designed to force you into adopting unhealthy behaviors. We need to think this through a little more. There is something fundamentally wrong with a society which sets up daily life so that it's convenient for people who do all the wrong things and inconvenient for people who do all the right ones.

Until recently I had no idea there were such things as deep-dish pizza vending machines, but it seems that there are. This and other scary developments came to my attention through that remarkable website, This is Why You're Fat .

Sunday, March 15, 2009  

I generally do fasting tests only, these days, but it's been brought to my attention that you can't count on fasting tests as an early warning sign that things are getting out of whack. If your beta cells are starting to fail you, your post-prandial glucose will start rising before your fasting glucose does. So, I guess I'll start doing post-prandial tests at least occasionally, to be on the lookout for that sort of thing.

Tonight's results after dinner were good. Arguably I didn't challenge myself very much, though. The four little potatoes I ate only added up to an estimated 37 grams of carbs, and the peas and onions in the soup probably didn't push the carb total to dizzying heights. I've been trying to avoid high-carb dinners anyway. Breakfast is the meal that tends to be highest in carbs for me, both because I seem to tolerate carbs better in the morning and because I have such a hard time thinking of a low-carb breakfast that I actually want to eat. I should do some tests after breakfast, inconvenient though that generally is for me, and see if I'm getting away with things like toast and cereal as well as I think I am.

A busy weekend. First, down to San Francisco for some Irish music at the Plough and Stars pub: the great Irish fiddler Martin Hayes, whose fast-moving bow arm turns out to be difficult to photograph without blurring. The accordionist is Andrew MacNamara.

Then, this morning, a hilly 10-mile trail run at Annadel State Park. I'm used to running up there on the weekends, but a race is a different sort of thing, especially when nearly all the people you're racing with belong to the local running club and most of them are a lot faster than you.

It was forecast to rain, but I was lucky -- it didn't rain at all until after the race was over and I was driving home. It was actually a pretty good run for me. I finished ahead of at least a few guys who were younger than me, which was about as much glory as I was hoping for on this occasion. I managed to finish in 1:38:40 (if I remember right). That would put my pace at 9:52/mile, which for me on steep trails is fast. The route for today's race started from an elevation of 250 feet and ascended to cross an 800 foot ridge; my pace on that route is usually something like 11:20/mile. It used to be that that climb seemed like a near-death experience to me even when I did it slowly, so I was pleased to be able to run it at a pace which didn't entirely disgrace me.

At mile 7, I started feeling sore on the left side of my knee, exactly as I did during the marathon earlier this month (though not as bad). That was at the end of a long downhill, which is always hard on the knees, but I was trying to go fast to make up for my slowness on the uphills. It looks like I'd better take it easy on the downhill running for a while. Other than that, no problems.  

Thursday, March 12, 2009  

More beautifual running weather, but for schedule reasons I held my lunchtime run to 4 miles this time. It was the same hilly route as yesterday, but I skipped the extra mile that I tacked onto the route yesterday -- which means I eliminated the steepest uphill, and also the longest downhill. Maybe those two things cancel out -- that is, maybe it's a fair comparison to yesterday's run, and maybe it isn't. But for what it's worth, my pace was a little faster this time!

Anyway, the mountain lion didn't get us, which is always a plus no matter how fast you're running.

I had to come to the office earlier than usual this morning (arriving in the dark) in order to have a couple of phone meetings with people in Europe and Israel. I had been a bit nervous about how these meetings were going to go, but they were fine -- which may be why my blood pressure is so much lower tonight compared to last night.

Robert Bencheley used to say that he did not like daylight saving time, but then, he did not even like time. I guess I'm not a big fan of either of them myself. Time itself, unfortunately, we can't do anything about. But daylight saving time -- why why why?

It seems to me that, if companies want to hold earlier business hours in the summertime, they are free to do it, but this could surely be accomplished without an elaborate conspiracy to pretend, every morning at 8 o'clock, that it's actually 9 o'clock. Falsifying time just seems objectionable to me, and in subtle ways its a bad influence on people. Using standard time might at least help re-connect people to the actual seasons and rhythms of the planet they're living on.

And yet, despite all that, I have to admit that I really like the extra daylight in the evening! I like the idea of people being able to go for walks and bike rides after dinner. 

Not everyone uses the evening daylight as an opportunity to get outside and get active in the fresh air, but a lot of people do -- so for at least some of us, daylight saving time is a good influence rather than a bad one.

It's supposed to be "saving" rather than "savings", by the way. But if you can't remember which it is, you can just pretend you're an engineer and say DST. (I work with engineers, and they like to use what they call TLAs.)

What's a TLA, you ask? Why, it's a Three-Letter Acronym, of course!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009  

We decided to risk going out for a run today, despite yesterday's mountain-lion incident. We stuck to well-traveled roads, however; we didn't take the path up to the hill where the deer-kill occurred yesterday. That path had some yellow crime-scene tape stretched across it, with a notice hanging on it which advised against crossing that line. We're hoping the mountain lion can read.

There's no denying that it was a nice day for a run: the skies were blue, the sunshine was dazzling, and the air was clear and cool. The deer were frolicking in the fields, hopefully drawing the gaze of any predators in the area that might otherwise take an interest in us. The forecast is for more of this sort of weather until at least Saturday.

One of my running buddies is trying to talk me into signing up for a 10-mile race on Sunday -- on the steep trails of Annadel State Park. A local running club is sponsoring the event, and most of the race participants will be members of that club. That right there is pretty discouraging to me. I know those people, and they're fast. I looked at the results from the same race last year, and based on those results and my own typical pace while trail-running, I think I would have come in either second to last among the men or, if I'd been having a bad day, dead last. Most of the women would have beaten me, too. At the moment, I'm not feeling any too eager to sign up for this thing, as I get enough opportunities to humble myself in other areas of life. However, the guy who's trying to convince me to sign up has convinced me to take on harder assignments than this before (including a marathon or two), so it doesn't pay to bet against his ability to talk me into things.

More news from the frontiers of bad science-writing! Diabetes Today reports:

"Breath Test May Screen for Diabetes
A breath test can spot someone whose metabolism is not handling glucose properly, indicating that he or she runs the risk of becoming diabetic, scientists report. 'This novel breath test method may assist in recognition of pre-diabetes or early-stage diabetes in at-risk persons without the need for invasive blood sampling, thus making it an attractive option for large-scale testing of at-risk populations, such as children,' the researchers write in the medical journal Diabetes Care. For the test, the subject drinks a solution of glucose labeled with a short-lived radioisotope, carbon-13. A breath analyzer then measures the amount of exhaled carbon dioxide labeled with carbon-13."

Immediately I wanted to know how you can call a test "non-invasive" if it involves swallowing a radioactive fluid. I mean, if you give me a choice between pricking my finger and drinking anything that is going to be tracked on its journey through my body with a Geiger-counter, I know which of those two scenarios seems more invasive to me. Others can choose for themselves, of course, but to me the choice is clear.

Then I wondered if there might be a reason why the radiation which carbon-13 produces can be regarded as harmless. It turns out that, in a way, there is a reason: carbon-13 doesn't produce any radiation. It's not a radioisotope.

I looked it up: carbon-13 is a stable, naturally-occurring, but not-very-abundant variant of the far more common carbon-12. Only about 1% of the world's carbon is in the carbon-13 form, but what there is of it is stable. It does not decay and release gamma rays or subatomic particles. How, then, could it be used in anything like the way described in the article?

It turns out that a carbon-13 atom, which in terms of chemical reactions is identical to a carbon-12 atom, does not have the same spin properties as a carbon-12 atom. Because of that difference, carbon-13 can be distinguished from carbon-12, using a delicate technology known as NMR spectroscopy. That's why biologists like to use carbon-13 in testing of live subjects. You can feed them sugar or protein that has been "labeled" with carbon-13 atoms (which are, indeed, harmless), and then watch to see where that sugar or protein goes in their bodies, and how fast it gets there.

Anyway, the article goes on to explain that the study involved taking both blood and breath samples from 17 test subjects every 30 minutes, for several hours after they consumed the glucose labeled with carbon-13. Of the subjects, 10 were deemed normal, and 7 had pre-diabetes or early-stage diabetes.

The point of the study was to track the progress of the labeled glucose through the body, by seeing how long it took for the carbon-13 to show up in exhaled carbon dioxide molecules. The better the body was at processing the glucose, and transferring it from the bloodstream to the cells, the sooner the carbon-13 would show up in the breath. On the other hand, the more trouble the body had processing the glucose, the longer it would take for the carbon-13 to show up in the breath.

The result? The breath analysis showed that the amount of carbon-13 in the breath of the diabetic and pre-diabetic subjects was much lower than in the breath of the non-diabetic subjects, during the period of 1 to 3 hours after the labeled glucose was consumed. In other words, analysis of the breath could easily detect the difficulty that some people were having in processing the glucose.

The authors of the study think that breath-testing of this kind could be used as a sensitive screening test, which would detect the earliest stages of diabetes. Maybe so -- but unless there's a way to make NMR spectroscopy a lot cheaper than I suspect it is now, this may be a bit of wishful thinking. The authors suggested that it might be feasible to use "storable breath collection bags" for large-scale diabetes screening. In other words, you breathe into a bag and send it off to the lab, where the expensive spectroscopy equipment is.

Of course, the fact that the researchers think it's still a valid test if you store the breath in a bag, and ship it off someplace for later analysis, is a flagrant contradiction of the earlier statement that carbon-13 is "a short-lived radioisotope". If carbon-13 were as unstable as that, storing and shipping the test samples wouldn't be a valid measure of anything. I mean, would you turn over an hourglass and mail it to Philadelphia, with a note asking someone there to call you when it was done?

What would make this research more exciting to me would be a finding that the breath test could detect problems before they showed up in blood testing, instead of just confirming what blood tests were already showing. (Otherwise, we're just looking at an expensive way to test people without collecting a blood smaple.)

What would make this research more believable to me would be an article about it that was written by someone who knows the difference between a stable isotope and a radioactive one. I hate reading an article which is obviously dead wrong on one crucial point, and having to wonder how much of the rest is wrong, too.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009  

I only ended up having the Cobb salad for lunch because of the mountain lion. But perhaps I'm getting ahead of myself.

Someone at work who runs regularly (but not with my little gang, because her schedule is different and she runs earlier in the day than we do), came to see us and told us not to bother. She had just tried going outside for a run, and a security guard stopped her. There was a mountain lion on the property, and they weren't sure where it was. It had killed a deer on the slopes of a hill which rises steeply just above the main parking lot, but the animal control people who came to check out the situation weren't able to find it. (I looked out the window and spotted them on the hill; I think they were drawing a chalk outline that had antlers on it.) There's an elementary school behind the worksite, and the security guard said that the school was "locked down" for the time being. Anyway, they said no running was to go on today.

So much for my lunch-hour plans. I hadn't brought a lunch, but I was going to do a run that was short enough that I could make it back and grab lunch in the cafeteria before it closed. I knew I wasn't going to be able to exercise after work, because I had to go to a concert rehearsal tonight. So, I decided to go to my health club, which is so close to the work site that there would be time to get there and back. They sell food there (sandwiches and salads), and I'd buy something there when I was done working out, and take it back to my desk.

So, I went out to the parking lot, looking both ways for man-eating wildlife, got in my car, and drove over to the gym. I did 30 minutes on the stair climber, took a shower, and then went to the refrigerator where prepared lunches were for sale. Usually there's a choice -- today, perhaps because other people's lunchtime plans had also been disrupted by the cougar crisis, the only item left unsold was a cobb salad.

A cob salad includes a lot of ingredients (such as turkey and bacon) which are not usually part of my diet, especially lately. I've been trying to stick to plant foods as much as possible, for the sake of weight control. (Others can lose weight, or at least not gain it, when they're eating meat, but I seemingly cannot.) Anyway, it was going to be the cobb salad or nothing, and nothing did not strike me as an attractive option. So, I bought the cobb salad. It wasn't my fault. The mountain lion was entirely to blame for this. (And apparently he wasn't going vegetarian, either.)

Clearly, I need to start bringing my own lunch to work. I have usually been able to get something acceptable for lunch from the cafeteria, but the mountain lion today reminded me that it's not good to be in a situation where I have to depend on being able to eat at the cafeteria. Also, the company has announced that, as a cost-cutting measure, the cafeteria is going to begin offering fewer choices -- and I'm pretty sure the first choices to be eliminated will be the ones I've been counting on. So, I'd better get into the habit of pretending that the cafeteria isn't there. It's going to be hard on me, though: it's going to mean getting up early enough in the morning to prepare a lunch! For me, that's almost as scary a prospect as encountering a mountain-lion during a run.

Monday, March 9, 2009  

Clear and sunny today, but distinctly cooler than on the weekend. When I went outside to run (in shorts and a thin short-sleeved top), it was in the high 40s and breezy -- and at first I made some funny noises, I admit. But the sunshine helped a little, and running helped a lot, so I was comfortable once I got under way.

The reason I usually can report exacty how far I ran is that I usually run with a GPS device on my wrist (a Garmin Forerunner, pictured below). It's like a big ugly wristwatch that keeps telling you you're not going fast enough.

If I'm not running with this gadget on, I'm usually running a route that I've measured with the gadget before.

Of course, the Forerunner doesn't just tell me how far I've gone. It also reports other information, some of which I am a little reluctant to be informed of. As I run, it gives me frequent updates on my pace (which is never fast at the best of times, and can be very slow when hills are involved). Today's report was:

Distance: 4.53 miles
Time: 43:43
Average Pace: 9:39/mile
Calories: 535

That calorie count is just an estimate, and it's probably a low estimate, because I just found out that the gadget has been operating on the assumption that I weigh 150 pounds. A very flattering assumption, to be sure, but not an accurate one. I just changed the weight setting in my user profile; probably my next run will show me burning more calories per hour.

For a real runner, a pace of 9:39/mile is laughably slow, but for me on a hilly route it's not bad. And for the routes I run, the range of difficulty pretty much starts at "hilly" and gets worse from there. Almost all of my running is done either in the neighborhood where I both live and work, or in the nearby state park. These locations offer almost nothing in the way of flat terrain. Occasionally I run on a flat track at the nearby highschool, which I'm sure I should do more often in order to work on improving my speed -- but it's hard for me to make myself go there. The feeling of desperate futility that I experience when I run on a treadmill is almost as bad when I run on a track.

I have conflicting feelings about running and speed. On the one hand, I'm really only running for the health benefits. Running faster might benefit me more, but not a lot more, and it might cause me injuries which would force me to give up running altogether -- and that would be counterproductive to say the least. On the other hand, one of the things that keeps me running is that I am now socially involved in the running culture, and when you run with other people it's embarrassing to be slower than they are. I'm slower than my running buddies, and in fact slower than most people who run on a regular basis.

Having lost about 7 pounds since the first of the year, I find that I'm keeping up with my running buddies better now, so there's been some improvement in speed, and further weight loss will probably bring further improvements. But I doubt that I'll ever be fast. I guess what I'd settle for is achieving a pace which I don't need to be ashamed of, even if it's nothing to brag about either.

I think I probably will run at least one more marathon; the one last Sunday proved that I can do it without feeling terrible at the finish, but I'd like to do another that proves I can do it at a respectable pace.

Sunday, March 8, 2009  

Okay, so where was this fine weather last weekend, when I really needed it?

The rain-soaked marathon last Sunday could certainly have been a much better experience for all concerned, if it had been held this weekend instead. The weather was gorgeous both yesterday and today. Well, that's the sort of ironic outcome you risk when you sign up for an outdoor event months in advance.

Yesterday, after I went to the farmer's market to get some fresh produce, I took advantage of the weather and went for a 7.2 mile trail run in the state park. It wasn't a problem for me -- nothing was hurting; no leftover pains from the marathon resurfaced. I wasn't running fast, but I usually don't try to go fast when I'm trail-running, because when I'm on trails (especially steep, rough trails) I'm a lot more interested in safety than in speed. In years past, I acquired just enough exposure to the consequences of falling down while trail-running to decide that I didn't want to learn anything further about it. Now I watch my step very carefully, and slow down as much as necessary to feel confident that I'm not going to trip and go flying. Extra caution was needed yesterday, because there was a lot of slippery mud on the trails from the recent rains. I was watching the trail so carefully that I hardly got to see the scenery around me at all, but what little of it I dared to look at was nice and green.

After the trail-run I went to a slightly premature St. Patrick's Day celebration at a local catholic school -- some sort of fund-raising event. A family from Ireland lives in my neighborhood, and their two daughters (both of whom are musicians) attend the school; their father organized a program of Irish music and dance for the evening's entertainment, and I was one of the many musicians involved. Here are some of us playing for one of the dances (a haymaker's jig).

After the school event, the family hosted a party, and we played there too -- which was more fun. Playing on stage is okay, but playing at someone's home is better. People who know music only from concerts and recordings have an incomplete understanding of the art. The best music is made in living-rooms.

I was out of town this morning and went to a cafe for breakfast; being extremely hungry, I had a meal which was so big and so carb-heavy (especially for a non-exercise day!) that I decided to count it as both breakfast and lunch, and I refrained from eating anything else until the evening. And the dinner I had consisted almost entirely of vegetables I'd bought at the farmer's market, stir-fried with olive oil and a little curry sauce. I still feel a little guilty about my massive brunch, but at least I tried to counteract it the rest of the day.

One of the things I like about farmer's markets is that they tend to offer varieties of vegetables and fruits which you don't usually see in the grocery stores. Often you have to point to a vegetable and ask the person selling it what, exactly, it is. Occasionally it's something exotic, but more often it turns out to be an uncommon variant of something familiar. I bought some cauliflower and scallions yesterday, for example, both of which were purple. I also bought a kind of Japanese white radish which I liked -- and which was sold with the leaves still attached, because the greens are good in stir-fry dishes. Also, some mushrooms of an unfamiliar breed (a little like golden chanterelles, but darker) and some baby Brussels sprouts (softer and better-tasting than what we usually get).

Most of us are so used to thinking of vegetables as the boring part of the meal that it can be difficult to appreciate them, even when the meal consists of vegetables alone. It's as if vegetable flavors are radio stations to which our palates are not tuned. You have to retune your radio a bit to learn to appreciate vegetables, and this seems to be easier to do when the vegetables are of unfamiliar types. Encountering a vegetable you haven't tried before tends to open your mind and taste buds a bit -- you start paying attention.

When I was a child, I wondered how eggplants came to be called that. The average eggplant was a huge, dark-purple fleshy thing which resembled an egg about as much as a grapefruit resembled a grape. Who could possibly think it looked like anything laid by a hen? Later I found out that eggplants come in many forms, including one variety which is small, egg-shaped, and white. The big purple variety is the one that caught on, but the name stuck anyway. The vegetable world is full of these variants which never became grocery-store staples, but are still being grown by a lot of gardeners and a few farmers. The farmer's market is where you can still find these things. 

Friday, March 6, 2009  

My running buddies at work weren't running today at lunchtime, but the weather was just right for a run (sunny and cool), and I decided to do a run by myself. It was a good run, and I felt good during and after it -- I am entirely recovered from the marathon now.

Already I'm on to the next thing: The Relay, a weekend-long team event which I did last year and enjoyed. Twelve employees of my company will run from Calistoga (the starting point of the marathon last Sunday) all the way down to Santa Cruz, 199 miles to the south. Of course, I will only run a twelfth of that distance, because only one person on the team will be running at any one time. Over the course of the weekend, you run three sections of the route; last year mine were in Calistoga, Marin (near Point Reyes), and Palo Alto (where Stanford University is). Assuming that I get assigned the sections that I requested this year, I will run in Napa and in the Santa Cruz mountains -- in between I will run from Sausalito to San Francisco across the Golden Gate Bridge, in the middle of the night under a full moon. The guy who ran across the bridge for our team last year said it was amazing, and he arrvied in San Francisco in an ecstatic state. I've run across the bridge before, but only in the daytime -- it's closed to pedestrians at night, and the runners are given special permission to cross it. Running it at midnight, with the city skyline twinkling ahead of you and the full moon overhead, would have to be a memorable experience.

The Relay isn't until May, though. Between now and then, I'll content myself with more ordinary kinds of exercise. Tomorrow, assuming the good weather holds up, I'll do a longish trail run (I think I'm feeling up to it now). In the evening I'm going to a party -- a kind of premature St. Patrick's Day party, with a bunch of Irish musicians; I'll be bringing my fiddle and I'll use it, too.

Thursday, March 5, 2009  

My recovery from Sunday's rainy marathon is now very nearly complete. I can walk down a staircase without pain, and with just a little stiffness remaining in the quads -- probably even that will be gone tomorrow. The run I did today at lunchtime was longer, hillier, and faster than yesterday's run, and it felt easier, not harder. In fact, the run made me feel pretty good, even though I was struggling to keep up with my running buddies, who are better runners than I am. It was a nice break in the middle of a gloomy day.

It didn't rain on us, although the sky was threatening to do so at any moment. That was a good thing, because I think I've had enough of running in the rain for now. I think I could go five years without running in the rain again, and not miss it. I didn't used to be all that bothered by it, but you can develop a certain distaste for rainy-day running once you've had a chance to find out just how much abrasion of your skin in sensitive areas can occur when you run for 26 miles in soaking-wet clothes. I will spare you the full details; let's just say that I did my fair share of howling and whimpering during the hot shower after the race.

With all of that still fresh in my mind, I was a bit startled this afternoon when a coworker who was confused about the date of the Napa Marathon sent me an encouraging e-mail, wishing me luck in the race this Sunday, and reassuring me that the forecast calls for sunny weather. I had to reply to her, explaining that the race was last Sunday, not next Sunday, and it rained continuously. Too bad the race wasn't postponed a week, but that's the way it goes.

And why wasn't it postponed, you ask? Because a marathon is a very big deal, and it's not the sort of thing you can reschedule. The organizers have to arrange for road closures, squads of volunteers, and a lot of other things that can't just be thrown together at the last minute. Many of the runners are from out of town, and have to book hotel rooms (and possibly vacation time) long in advance. Also, the runners follow an elaborate training schedule which is designed to build them up to their peak on a particular day -- they wouldn't be at all happy about having that schedule thrown out the window.

So, a marathon is scheduled for a particular day (nearly always a Sunday), and it is held on that day, regardless of what the weather is like. Furthermore, the runners (who signed up for the race months ago, when they didn't know the weather was going to be bad) generally show up and run it anyway. I'm not sure how many people signed up for the Napa Marathon this year, but 1895 of them showed up to run it -- and 1822 of them finished it. Considering how many people were having trouble with long-distance running under those conditions (and were visibly suffering), it's remarkable that over 96% of them stuck with the race to the bitter end.

Diet Pattern Linked to Higher Diabetes Risk, says a headline from Reuters Health; they're reporting on a study that appeared last month in Diabetes Care. "People who eat lots of red meat, low-fiber grains, cheese and certain other foods may have an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, new research hints."

The study suggests that "these foods promote diabetes, in part, by increasing inflammation in the body... there is evidence that people with high levels of certain inflammation-related proteins in their blood have an elevated diabetes risk -- independent of their body weight".

The two proteins that are regarded as markers of system-wide inflammation are fibrogen and plasminogen activator inhibitor-1. The study found that, among 880 middle-aged adults, those who ate large amounts of certain foods -- red meat, cheese, refined grains, tomato products, eggs and fried potatoes -- tended to have higher levels of these proteins. Those people also faced a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes over five years. "Compared with adults who ate the implicated foods least often, those with the highest intake were four times more likely to develop diabetes."

I'm a little surprised that "tomato products" make the list of things that promote inflammation and diabetes; otherwise, the list is not too startling. Maybe I'm on the right track with my current diet. I did eat some cheese tonight, but maybe that's balanced out by my not including any tomatoes in the vegetable stew.

Anyway, I'm sure somebody will publish a study next month which claims to prove that this one is wrong. When it comes to nutrition, you pretty much have to take your best guess at who is right, and what will work for you.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009  

The marathon recovery continues. I was able to walk down staircases more or less normally today, without holding onto the handrail, and without bringing both feet to rest on each step before moving on to the next one. More importantly, I was able to go for a run outdoors at lunchtime. It was difficult for the first half-mile or so -- my quads were complaining at first -- but pretty soon running began to feel okay. I wasn't running fast, but I became more comfortable with it as I went along, which was all I wanted.

My legs certainly felt better at the end of the run than they had at the beginning. Sore muscles can't be healed by putting them in cold storage; you have to use them a bit if you want them to loosen up and start working properly again.

When you run a marathon, they take a lot of pictures of you along the route, with the aim of selling you prints of them later. It's a good business idea (most people who have done something that challenging would like to have a photographic record of it, and are willing to pay for it), but the pictures they take of me are usually so awful that I don't buy them.

This year, though, they had a larger than usual number of photographers on the route, and they actually got some shots that I like. They posted the proofs on line today. I haven't decided which of them to order prints of, but I'm pretty sure I'll order something.

I kind of like the middle one, because that's the only picture in which it looks as if it's raining. The rain isn't captured at all in the other shots, and I'm going to memorialize Sunday's run, I want to make sure that the most memorable aspect of the occasion is not invisible in the picture. When you run 26 miles in constant rain, you don't want the pictures of the event to make it look as if the streets were damp and that was all.

I remember the first time somebody told me about spaghetti squash. I didn't believe a word of it. I was sure that there is no such thing as a squash that breaks up into spaghetti-like strands when you cook it. I still don't believe it, even though I've tried it and found that it works.

Well, how the hell does it work? Why would one variety of squash, and only one, behave this way? It doesn't make any sense to me that nature would design any such feature into a squash.

But if nature was going to do that, why couldn't nature have gone the extra mile, and made it taste like spaghetti? Because, believe me, spaghetti squash is not going to fool anyone into thinking they're eating pasta. It may look like spaghetti, but neither the crunchy texture nor the bland vegetable flavor do anything to preserve the illusion.

Not that a vegetable needs to taste like pasta -- but if it's going to be used as a low-carb replacement for pasta, people are bound to form expectations of it that it cannot satisfy.

Apparently you can use spaghetti squash to make a kind of low-carb version of a potato pancacke -- but I expect that, if I try it, I wont be able to eat those pancakes without thinking "but these things don't taste like potatoes!".

I'm not trying to attack the spaghetti squash, you understand. But I think I need to find a way to use it that makes it seem like a food in its own right, and not an unconvincing imitation of something else.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009  

Today I was still preoccupied with recovering from the marathon on Sunday. Oddly enough, only one part of me hurts -- the part the always hurts after a marathon. The quadriceps muscles! 

Other parts of me certainly became stiff and sore during the later stages of the marathon, and for a few hours after the race. But by dinnertime on Sunday my hips, my left knee, and my right calf were all feeling much better. What continued to hurt, and still hurt today every time I tried to climb into my car, settle into my office chair, or descend a staircase, were my quadriceps muscles.

I think of the quads as the marathon muscles, because they don't get especially sore on shorter runs, but become amazingly sore after you run a distance of more than 20 miles. The first few days after a marathon, your attention is focused intensely on your quads, and you find yourself planning your day so as to minimize the strain on those particular muscles. This morning, for example, someone at work suggested that I attend a meeting which was optional for me but might turn out to be relevant. I demanded to know where the meeting was being held, and ultimately decided to attend it because it was on the same floor I was already on. If attending it had required me to use the stairs, I wouldn't have gone! And at the end of the day, as I was going home, I unluckily crossed paths with a coworker who was also leaving, and had to listen to him laughing at my painful struggle to get down the stairs to the parking lot. I concede that I looked ridiculous (and probably sounded ridiculous too, as I don't think I managed to stifle all of my moaning and whimpering), but why was it so funny? I guess because I let myself in for it -- he wouldn't have laughed if I had polio or something, but knowing that I was in pain because of something I had willingly done made it hilarious to him.

Well, I'm sure I'll be doing better soon. I went to the gym tonight, and did a 30-minute workout on the elliptical trainer. It was a low-impact kind of exercise, but it did get my quads moving, and I think it was therapeutic. I'm betting that I'll be handling the stairs better tomorrow than I did today. There's some possibility that I will actually go for a run at lunchtime -- I think I've done it that early after previous marathons. I won't if I'm not feeling ready to try it, or if it's raining again, but I'm keeping my mind open to the possibility. When a muscle is sore, using it can be the best way to help it recover (and resting it can be the best way to prolong the problem).

Why is my blood pressure so much lower today? Is that just the effect of the marathon? Maybe. But I think it's partly because I've come to feel that a big, challenging problem at work, which was scaring me pretty badly last week, is actually a problem that I can deal with successfully, one way or another.

On the other hand, completing the marathon under difficult conditions may be what caused me to feel more confident that I can solve that problem at work. So, maybe it's the effect of the marathon after all!

Monday, March 2, 2009  

I guess I have a new piece of advice for anyone who is thinking of running a marathon: try to arrange to do it on a day when it isn't raining. Depite California's current drought, it happened to be raining yesterday, and the rain never let up at any point in the race. Not having run that far in the rain before, I assumed that after a while it wouldn't even matter anymore, but it turns out that running in the rain becomes more difficult as the miles pile up. 

A friend took this photo from somewhere near mile 15. I'm still putting up a brave face at this point, but running in heavy wet clothes was already taking its toll.

I realize now that I should have worn lighter clothers, despite the rain (the people behind me in the photo had a better plan). As I was standing in the rain at the start, waiting for the race to begin at 7 AM, I thought I would have been unbearably cold if I had been as lightly dressed as some people were. But once I started running, I warmed up, and it didn't really matter what I was wearing because I was going to be wet anyway. And once my long sleeves and long pants became thoroughly wet, they began clinging to me, and putting up resistance to movement. My legs felt so heavy that I couldn't seem to kick up my heels behind me. Because my running form was being altered by my wet clothes, I started to experience a lot of soreness in unexpected places (for example, along the outer side of the kneee -- not a place where I'd been hurting during the marathon training).

I certainly wasn't the only one having trouble. Many runners at the finish were obviously struggling -- they were limping or hunched over strangely. A few were crying. Most runners I talked to were significantly slower yesterday than they had been in previous marathons (at 4:44:05, I was more than 14 minutes slower than last year!). It wasn't just a clothing issue. No matter how people were dressed, they had trouble with this run. How come?

My theory is that it was partly a psychological thing -- running in the rain just isn't fun, so you don't have the same kind of energy that you would have on a nicer day. Also, I think there's something about being out in the rain that causes us to cringe instinctively -- the result is tenseness and bad posture, both of which can be very hard on the body when you're doing an endurance race.

Looking on the bright side, it wasn't windy (that would have made the run much harder). Also, my plan for avoiding dehydration (drinking from my water bottle every 5 minutes, and having a cup of sports drink at each of the water stations) was successful. In the final miles of the race I didn't become exhausted this time -- I was sore, and that does slow you down, but I wasn't running out of energy. That's a real victory, actually. I finished last year's race feeling so awful (and so close to passing out) that I never wanted to run a marathon again. The main reason I decided to try again was to prove to myself that I didn't have to feel that bad at the end of the race -- that, if I managed my hydration better, I could make a better experience of it. And that turned out to be true. Despite the special problems caused by the rain, and my slower finishing time, I did feel a lot better at the end of the race this time. And I think that shows in this photo of me and my training partners, all wrapped up like baked potatoes: 

We weren't cold during the run, but a few mintues after you stop running the situation becomes very different.

At the brewpub celebration afterwards, Mike (who finished about 46 minutes ahead of me!) is looking fresh as a daisy, and I'm not even looking awake.

As always after a marathon, I'm very sore in the quadriceps muscles (the ones above your kneecaps and below your hips). As a result, some simple activities are ridiculously painful (getting into or out of car, for example, or walking down a flight of stairs). But it's no worse this time than it has been after other marathons, and I assume that (as usual) I'll recover pretty quickly.

I went to work today, mainly to prove that I can (and also to prove that the marathon didn't kill me). I also went to my yoga class tonight, which is scary but (I think) necessary after a marathon. My teacher knew I'd run the marathon, and chose yoga poses for us to do which she figured would help me (and that I would be capable of doing). I managed to do pretty much everything, except that I was too unsteady for the the balancing-on-one-foot activities (I needed to lean on a wall while doing those).

I've always done yoga the day after a marathon, and I've always recovered pretty quickly from the post-marathon trauma symptoms, so I don't want to mess with a winning formula. I will probably be feeling noticeably less sore by tomorrow, and will probably be able to do a light workout at the gym tomorrow night.

Now that the marathon (and the marathon training) are over, I need to be careful not to gain weight by eating as if I were still doing the marathon training. My exercise schedule is going to be a bit lighter now, so my calorie intake should be a bit lighter too.

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