2016-07-29

Lies in Politics

Some version or another of this chart has been making the rounds on facebook:


It is a summary from Politifact of the truthfulness of statements made by several prominent US politicians leading into the 2016 presidential election. Each of the politicians has made at least 50 statements rated by Politifact but, to be clear, this chart represents the rating of ALL of each politician's statements, not the ratings of just a cherry picked 50 statements.

This chart isn't perfect. For one thing, its data comes from Politifact, which claims to be independent but is owned by the Tampa Bay Times, which traditionally has a left-leaning bias. However, factcheck.org (an independent non-profit) largely agrees with these ratings and my own digging indicates that they're pretty legitimate.

One striking takeaway is that the current Republican nominee for President is at the top of the list for telling half truths, misrepresentations of information, and outright lies. Can that really be so?

Let's take a look at statements recently made by the Republican nominee and the GOP alleging that the DNC email leak is proof of rampant racism in the DNC. The statements call out three specific emails; let's examine each in turn:

1. ALLEGATION: The DNC refers to its strategy for Latino voters as "Taco Bowl Engagement."
EMAIL: "Attached is a script for a new video we’d like to use to mop up some more taco bowl engagement, and demonstrate the Trump actually isn’t trying."
It is pretty clear that the email is referring to the Republican nominee's own "taco bowl" tweet, not referring to Latino voters as such.

2. ALLEGATION: The DNC mocked a black woman's name (LaQueenia Gibson).
EMAIL: "LaQueenia is a NAME!
I'm sorry, boo. I hope you got a raise with this title."
The first sentence seems to be impressed with the regal name, not to be mocking it, and the second sentence has nothing to do with the name; it is in response to the previous email about frustration with endless meetings and calls to organize an event. Even if it were a racist email, the author doesn't even work at the DNC.

3. ALLEGATION: The DNC made anti-Semitic remarks about Bernie Sanders.
EMAIL: "It might may no difference, but for KY and WVA can we get someone to ask his belief. Does he believe in a God. He had skated on saying he has a Jewish heritage. I think I read he is an atheist. This could make several points difference with my peeps. My Southern Baptist peeps would draw a big difference between a Jew and an atheist. "
I don't see anything anti-Jewish here; the author is pointing out that the religious segment will prefer someone with religion - even if it isn't their religion - to someone who doesn't believe in God at all.

CONCLUSION: While the DNC emails do show some pretty despicable actions to thwart the democratic process, they do not show rampant racism, as the right wing media has claimed.

It is especially worrying that the representation of these quotes has been deliberately provided out of context so as to make them seem racist; I'm sure the vast majority of readers are taking the articles at face value and not reading the original emails themselves.

If facebook is any evidence, today we spend much of our time in echo chambers, surrounded by people and news sources that affirm our already held beliefs. That is why it is more important than ever that we exercise critical thinking, about which I have written before.

It makes sense that the Republican nominee should be hyperbolic and contrarian; he is challenging the status quo so he needs to convince people that the status quo is bad. No one (in my lifetime) did this more masterfully than Bill Clinton, who somehow convinced American voters that it was "Time For a Change" despite George H. W. Bush's record presidential approval ratings, winning the first Persian Gulf War decisively, a healthy economy, etc. Still, the need to be hyperbolic and contrarian is not license to lie to voters.

As I spend more and more of my time debunking fallacious and misleading political claims these days, I will try to include some of the more significant analyses on this blog. As an ardent Independent voter with a 50/50 Republican/Democrat presidential voting record, I don't have a vested interest in hammering any particular party or candidate. After all, the other takeaway from the above chart is that all candidates are lying to us at least somewhat and that is simply disgraceful; America deserves better.

2016-07-10

Four on the Fourth Race Report

Last week I raced my third annual Four on the Fourth 4-mile road race, the first event of the three-event Tour de Carrboro. Because I now have a full half year of training by power (and power data from a previous four-mile road race), I was comfortable running this race by power instead of pace or heart rate.

My PR last year was 27:45 so I was shooting to improve by at least 15 seconds. Back in April I averaged 403W (Watts) over my 4-mile race but, if you exclude the first and last splits (when I was generating extra power due to my hot start and strong finish), I averaged 392W during the main part of the race. Believing myself to be in better running shape now, I decided to target 400W during the main part of this race, hoping that would translate to 4:22/km or better.

The day of the race it turned out to be drizzly - very humid but also cool and overcast, a real blessing in July! I was well nourished from the previous day's 4th of July Eve feast so, after a long warmup, they sounded the gun and we were off!

KM 1: The first KM is a gentle downhill slope so I knew I would be able to keep a good pace at my target power. The first KM took 4:00; I averaged 413W and reached a heart rate of 169 BPM. Good.

KM 2: The second KM is flat-ish but again net downhill. I averaged 410W with an average HR of 171 BPM; it took 4:14. 1/3 of the way through the race my power output was a little high but I was feeling good.

KM 3: Flat. 403W, 173 BPM; 4:20. Right on track.

KM 4: Another net downhill: 388W, 175 BPM; 4:14. Still right on track.

KM 5: This is where you have to pay for all that downhill; this KM is a big uphill. 411W, 177 BPM; 4:32. I was really proud of my consistent power despite the grade change.

KM 6: Another uphill but this time with the end in sight. 421W, 181 BPM; 4:19.

Final .47KM: This finishes up on a quarter mile track. I managed to pass several people here toward the end. 457W, 188 BPM; 1:39 (3:31 pace).

Final time: 27:16 - a 29s improvement over last year! Average power 411W - 407W during the main part of the race. Perhaps most importantly, my greatest improvement over last year was the uphill portion of this race; for that I give credit to the uphill power intervals training I have been doing.

It was a good race, a good PR, and continued validation that that training by power is working. 'Murica!

2016-07-04

Batman vs Superman Ultimate Edition Review

WARNING: THERE BE SPOILERS BELOW

When I first saw Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, I was really disappointed. Now, having seen the "Ultimate Edition," which features 30 minutes of additional footage that had been cut to make the theatrical release more "accessible," I think it's a better movie - still deeply flawed, but better.

My original reaction can be summed up by a Facebook post I made on my brother's wall:

It earned an "E" for "Exceeds Expectations," because expectations were low. It was better than Man of Steel - which doesn't say much. Batfleck was pretty good - although I don't love the gritty, kill-happy Batman. Superman was - to your point - so un-fun, but definitely a badass. In fact, he was so much of a badass that it was more than a little unbelievable that there was even a "vs" to be had - and it required him to turn off his brain out of plot convenience. I didn't love Lex Luthor, but I commend Eisenberg for going all in on the portrayal choice - I just didn't think that choice worked well.

Wonder Woman was nice; I could have used more of her but I get that this wasn't her movie. My biggest beef was how the Justice League stuff was so clumsily shoe-horned in. And I also object to the very last scene; the movie had made a hard choice but then completely backed off of it.

I think there were three different potentially good movies in there: Batman v Superman, what SHOULD Superman be/do, and Dawn of Justice League. It's too bad they had to try to cram them all together, thereby diluting them all. I'm looking forward to the director's cut, though. It has 30 min of extra footage so maybe it will feel more coherent and less mismashed.

Indeed my past self turned out to be quite prescient. The #1 benefit of this new edition is that the plot is much, much, much more coherent. Specifically the opening scene in Africa makes much more sense, the reasons that people blame Superman for the resulting carnage make much more sense, Lex Luthor's role in orchestrating the incident (and others) make much more sense, and Clark's anti-Batman stance makes much more sense. Additionally, Lois actually has a reason to be in this movie other than just being a damsel in distress McGuffin.

Much of my original criticism remains, however: I simply don't like this jaded, cynical Batman or this brooding Superman. Superman is supposed to be a symbol of hope for truth, justice and the American way (Speaking of which, happy American Independence Day to all!) but this representation is totally uninspiring. The plot makes more sense now but it still requires multiple characters to do things that are totally out of character . . . because reasons . . . and relies on goofy deus ex Marthas to get where it's trying to go.

This is a much better version but, at the end of the day, this is still 3 movies cut down and crammed into one - kind of the opposite of Jackson's The Hobbit adaptation! If you hated the theatrical cut, you won't love this version but you'll hate it less. If you loved the theatrical cut, you'll still love this. If you were on this fence about the theatrical cut, this might push you over the edge to liking the movie.

2016-06-06

Book Review: Run With Power

Run With Power: The Complete Guide to Power Meters for Running

This is a really good first effort in the nascent world of running by power. There are three potential audiences for this book:

1. Triathletes who are already accustomed to cycling by power - this book "translates" cycling power principles and training guidelines to the world of running.
2. Runners who are already accustomed to running by heart rate - this book "bridges" the zones and methodology of running by [laggy] heart rate to those of [instantaneous] power.
3. Neophytes who don't yet have experience with power or heart rate training - this book offers a "primer" on power training terms and methodologies.

The book feels a little rushed in its [successful] attempt to be first to market. That said, it ushers the great work of Dr. Andy Coggan and Joe Friel into the world of running by power, which is very valuable. It introduces some new metrics that are particular to running by power and, perhaps most usefully, it includes detailed training plans for runners of varying experience levels to train for races of varying distances.

This field is advancing rapidly and I expect there to be other books on the market soon (and probably a second edition of this one) but, for the time being, this is the definitive work on running by power and is a must-read for anyone looking to incorporate power in training, racing, and injury prevention.

2016-05-30

Weekend in Charlottesville

This weekend Katie and I sneaked off for a brief trip to Charlottesville, Virginia. I hadn't been to Charlottesville since looking at colleges 20 years ago; some things have stayed the same but much has changed as well. Charlottesville is now full of farm-to-table restaurants and posh gastropubs. While much of the city was closed for Memorial Day Weekend or recovering from the chaos of Commencement one week prior, many places were open so we conduced a bit of a culinary tour of Charlottesville.

To balance all our eating, we got some running in. I was very pleased to discover a network of trails circumscribing the city so I spent ample time exploring trails along Charlottesville's creeks, streams, and ridges. There is plenty left to discover so I will have to return!

Saturday we visited Monticello, home of Thomas Jefferson. This too had changed quite a bit since I had seen it as a child. Now the topic of slavery is woven into everything from the house tour to the grounds, painting a more complete picture of life on the plantation than I had seen previously.

The trip was short - less than 48 hours - but it was a welcome, relaxing change of pace and a good excuse to spend time with dear friends from high school.

2016-05-20

Training Results with Power

One of the key metrics when training with power is known as Critical Power (CP) or Functional Threshold Power (FTP). It is analogous to your Lactate Threshold (LT) and, like LT, your training zones are calculated as various percentages of it.

CP is effectively the amount of power you can sustain during an all-out, 1-hour running effort. Because repeatedly testing an all-out, 1-hour running effort is hard (increasing likelihood of sub-maximal performance and/or injury), Stryd has developed a protocol that uses shorter maximal efforts to calculate your CP. On a track you run 2 laps easy, rest, run 3 laps at maximum effort, rest, and then run 6 laps at maximum rest. This creates a power curve that can be used to predict with relatively high accuracy your CP.

Back in February I completed my first CP test. Then I trained for 12 weeks, ran a key race, and completed another CP test.

February CP test:
3 laps: 4:24, 401W, Max HR 185
6 laps: 9:30, 376W, Max HR 187
Calculated CP: 347W

April CP test:
3 laps: 4:16, 436W, Max HR 183
6 laps: 9:18, 409W, Max HR 186
Calculated CP: 370W

My 3-lap power:


My 6-lap power:



A few notes on protocol: these are max effort runs for me, leaving me exhausted. I used 45 minutes between runs (and ingested coconut water) instead of the prescribed 30 to ensure that I could give the 6-lap run the effort it deserved. During each run I tried to run relatively even splits but still gave an all-out sprint at the finish. These were all run on the UNC track, which is soft enough that I can run comfortably barefoot - but I ran these with minimalist footwear anyway since that is what I use for off-track running, where I spend most of training and racing time.

By any metric it seems that I improved. My power numbers for the same effort level were consistently ~9% higher than my power numbers in February. This led to a CP calculation 7% higher than in February and, perhaps most importantly, the increased power translated to faster speed, shaving 8 seconds off the 3-lap and 12 seconds off the 6-lap run. I don't believe that 100% of the performance improvement can be attributed to fitness improvement; as Andy Coggan has noted, experience with the protocol will improve performance slightly even if fitness remains constant. Still, I believe this shows that fitness/performance has indeed improved since February.

Based on this new CP, my new training zones are:
Endurance: 258-295W
Tempo: 295-332W
Threshold: 332-368W
Interval: 368-405W
Repetition: 405-442W

As I look back on my previous training program, I may have been overtraining the longer, sustained runs. My last long slow distance run averaged 296W, which is slightly over my threshold between Endurance and Tempo. Similarly, my Tempo runs were sustaining 360W, which is up in my Threshold zone near CP - that may be OK but I need to clarify if those runs were meant to peak in the Tempo zone or Threshold zone. My track intervals, on the other hand, seem dead on, with my last session averaging 371W; it seems I even have room to push it up a notch there.

Wednesday night was our first track meet of the summer and I set a new mile PR (5:45) by 6 seconds. Considering that I haven't been training for the mile race at all, I have to attribute this performance improvement to the success of my power-based training.

My mile PR power:


2016-05-19

Training With Power

Last year I moved from running just about every day to a lower-volume methodology that had me running just two key training runs a week plus running for fun in between. The results for me were:

* super simple program to administer
* increased race performance
* reduced injury rate
* time and energy for all of the other athletic activities I enjoy
* rediscovered JOY in running

I don't necessarily advocate this approach for others but for me it has been a good fit.

Enter the Stryd. After "getting to know" the device for a few months, I made my first foray into training by power in February. Mike Ricci published a power-based training plan that I adapted to my 2-key-runs-a-week approach. After some base building, this effectively meant alternating one week of a long slow road/trail run and intervals at the track with a week of road/trail tempo and road hill intervals. Other days of the week I would be doing strength training, swimming, playing beach volleyball, hiking, bootcamping, or taking my dog for an easy half hour jog.

Let's take a look at each of these workouts in turn:

Long Slow Distance: Since I'm a short and middle distance runner, my "long" distance may not seem very long to most of you! I started the program with an hour in power zone 1 and worked up by the end of March to 90 minutes in Z2. My goal for these runs was to maintain consistent power and to focus on form throughout.

Track Intervals: These started as a mistake. This was apparently supposed to be a Repetition workout, with Ricci's program specifying 1-minute intervals at Critical Power followed by 3-minute recovery periods. The first time I tried it I mistakenly read 1-km intervals, rather than 1-minute, so it was much more of an Interval workout for me than repetitions. It felt great, though, and I thought it would be helpful in preparing me for my first key race of the year, the 4-miler I posted about yesterday. So I started with 5x1km, averaging 351W and worked my way up to 7x1km, averaging 377W. https://www.stryd.com/powercenter/run/209340019 It was freeing to focus on wattage rather than splits on the track!

Tempo: These began as 15 min Z2, 15 min Z3, 15 min Z2. Over the course of the program I pushed these up to 25-25-25 with 5 minutes of Z1 on either end as a warmup and cooldown.


Hills: These are my favorite by far - which is ironic since, moving to Chapel Hill from flat, flat Houston, these were and still are my weakest point. Still, running up hills is the closest I come to pushing weighted sleds on the football field and it just feels good! Chapel Hill is aptly named and I've got a great, miles-long 6% grade sidewalk right outside my door. Per Ricci's prescription, I started with 6x2 minute Z5 intervals, then slowly increased the reps to 10, and then slowly increased each rep duration to 2:30. Initially I was sustaining ~385W for 6 reps of 2 minutes but by my last session I was sustaining 405W for 10 reps of 2:30.



This was about a 12-week program for me, including the taper before last weekend's race and has been my first attempt at training by power. At the end of the program I conducted a Critical Power test, which I will post about tomorrow, but, spoiler alert, my Critical Power increased substantially over the course of this program.