Monday, December 19, 2011

Long Run # 5 – or – never run in dirty shorts

Twelve miles was on the menu and I was hungry. I was mentally ready to run at halftime of the Giants game as I was sick of watching grown men play like weak children but, per normal, my stomach had a different plan. I left at 3 o’clock in my transitions and my Merrell Trail Gloves as I couldn’t find my proper sunglasses and had yet to figure out the metatarsal pads in my Vivobarefoot Neos.
I almost bought new running shorts on Saturday but found a better deal online so I waited. I expected to buy new shorts so I didn’t wash the one pair of actual running shorts I own – with the built in chonies. I didn’t want to put on dirty underwear and run in basketball shorts or dirty another pair just for a run so I figured I’d go ahead and dig through the hamper. Didn’t take long as my hamper is full of clean clothes and all my dirty ones are in a pile.
I didn’t think anything of the grossness. Even when I had to stop at mile 6.5 to hit the restroom, my dirty shorts were barely on my mind at all. Then, as I was restarting my runkeeper I saw an old friend from high school running. I waved, she stopped. I intended to maybe pace her for a mile before splitting off and melting back into my reggae playlist (I listen to reggae to keep my running relaxed, and the tempo makes it easy to keep my cadence up), but she was running with another friend of ours from high school so we waited.
I haven’t seen either of these women in at least a couple years, so it took a while to catch up. Standing in the shade in Santa Monica. All I could think of was how terrible I smelled. The only break I got from my own stink was when the breeze kicked up, and surely hit their nostrils. My best hope for reprieve was our proximity to a bathroom and the astoundingly large and pungent homeless population that likes to camp on the Ocean Front park where we were.
I’m sure I seemed a bit rude but I was only trying to minimize the exposure, and it’s not something you can explain politely. “Nice to see you. I’m sorry I cannot talk long as I haven’t showered in two days or washed these shorts in four weeks and fifty miles, but let’s meet up after a shower,” wouldn’t cut it. And then their roommate got there. And then their friend got there. I was surrounded by noses. I had to cut it short. I apologized for interrupting their workout and assured them we’d run into each other again, and let them take off first, as we were going the same direction and a sequel to the stand around stink nightmare would be the stench trail I’d leave to those unfortunate souls following me.
The rest of the run was interesting. I’m getting better at nutrition. I am allowing myself bread/fruit for energy during long runs, so I could have a clif bar on a non-cheat day and feel okay about it. I tried the blueberry almond clif bar this week and discovered that taste played a huge part in nutrition. Half of being full and fueled is thinking you’re full and fueled and have energy, and if you’re suffering through your nutrition, you won’t accept it as nutrition; just as another chore. Granted that is an insanely arbitrary psychological judgment but it’s how I feel, which has to count for something, even if it’s completely wrong.
On the flip side, I had my first stinger waffle at mile 8 and it gave me freaky energy. Even though I felt sore and spent, my legs just kept going. I was almost possessed and had to actively slow down, which only lasted a half mile or so before my testosterone wondered how fast I could get home. My last mile was two minutes and thirty seconds faster than my slowest mile. I averaged a full minute per mile faster on the way home than on the way out. I doubt it’s all the waffle, but it definitely played a huge part, so I’ll be bringing them along for a lot of my future runs, which makes me quite excited for slightly no other reason than food nerdiness.
Speaking of food and nerdiness, it’s data time. I weighed in on Saturday morning and was quite happy with the results.
Weight: 209.2 lbs.
Body Fat: 22.7% (47.49 lbs.)
Total weight lost: 8.6lbs (5.22 lbs.)
                I feel like this is not bad progress considering I have only put in one honest full out week on the slow-carb diet (cheated both Tuesdays for holiday parties). This week will be the last slow carb week of the year as I’m going to Michigan and all diets are off in the snow. It’s a rule. Starting now. Because I just made that rule up.
                Speaking of Michigan, I’ll be visiting from Christmas Eve to New Year’s Eve. I bought tights and cold weather super-insulated socks so I can manage to fulfill the 25 miles my training schedule calls for. In the snow. I’m terrified and I can’t wait. Obviously going to write about it as soon as I get back.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Long Run # 4 or double digits

Sunday was my first double digit run since the SF marathon. I was nervous as hell for more than a few reasons. It was my first distance increase on the new diet and I was nervous how my body would handle the stress on the new fuel. It was the first double digit run since I started running in a barefoot shoe and if I didn’t make it, my ability to run the LA Marathon in March would be called into question – for fear of going too far too soon on the new tires. Along the same lines, I’ve been nursing a nagging toe injury for a couple weeks that also threatened the bulk of my training schedule. This was also my first run on a time constraint since the SF marathon.
I started later than I wanted to. I had a big breakfast because it was my cheat day (I get one day a week where I can eat anything I want) and it was taking a bit of time to settle. Normally in light of a delay pushing me into running in the afternoon sun I’d push the run to the evening to avoid running in the midday sun, but that was out of the question as that evening was my mom’s birthday and I couldn’t run after because I planned on drinking quite a bit and running after getting half-drunk is never a good idea. For me at least. I have a friend who’s quite talented and prolific at drunken distance running.
I usually hate running on a schedule because my stomach and my brain are rarely on the same or similar schedules. So while my plans say run at 11, my stomach says wait until 3 and will hold me hostage. This time was no different and had I nowhere to be I wouldn’t have forced the workout, but it had to be done. I suppose this is good race experience but that’s a terrible thing to say. Unless I’m a pioneer of Bum Gut acclimatization training, in which case, I’m the king.
As luck would have it, by the time I got down to the start/finish (for this run it would be the San Clemente pier), clouds had at least lightly shrouded the sun so my shadow weakened, not all the way, but enough to make me less concerned about the heat. I took off south – heading for Calafia State Park where I’d turn around and head all the way north to Doheny State Beach and then back to the pier. I call this type of run and out and back with a tail because that’s the way it looks in my head. This is roughly the route I ran
The first couple miles went well. No foot pain, no tummy trouble, a little general weakness that comes early in runs, but nothing major and I figured the bagel I had for breakfast and the Gatorade primer drink I had before the run would kick in soon enough so I muscled through it. It was a bit warm, though, so I did consume a lot of water. I figured it would be better to top off early since I knew there wouldn’t be any drinking fountains for the last ¾ of the run. As it turned out, I passed the last drinking fountain thinking there would be one more, and was wrong so I had to make ¼ my hand held work for the next six miles.
I didn’t bring headphones so I had to run without music. This is the longest run I’ve ever done sans music and the boredom would creep in waves but just as it began to get me the scenery would change, or there would be a group of cyclists for me to avoid (yes avoid as they took the liberty of riding three cycles wide on the two-lane pedestrian path, taking up half of my lane forcing me uncomfortably close to the trench plate boundary separating us from vehicle traffic) or a person walking the lonely stretch of road that connects Dana Point and San Clemente for whom I’d get to invent a back story and engage them in what I call Boytosian Dialogues which are essentially imagined trivia contests where I win handily over the always accented stranger ( I understand this may be a symptom of some type of psychosis, and I am ok with that).
The route was exceptionally flat. Packed dirt beach and bike paths for the first four miles and last one mile and asphalt for the rest. The packed dirt was nice on my bum foot, and I was worried about  pounding the pavement for so long as my injury seems to be from impact, but I held up just fine as recent corrections I’ve made to my stride are starting to pay off. I kept my strides light and quick and short and tried my damnedest not to push off and leaned forward and went and 7 miles later I got kicked in the side with a golf spike.
I knew the feeling well. It’s a warning pain. It’s essentially a notification that somewhere in my colon there is a timer. I never know how long the timer has on it, but I knew that I was 5 miles from home and the likelihood of there being that much time was 0, so I went into survival mode. My disease is no secret to me, so I plan most of my long runs to have more than one opportunity to use facilities and this was no exception. The bathroom was 20 yards away. Unfortunately in those 20 yards there were also 3 chain link fences, a railroad track and a moat / drainage area, so I had to keep running to find a way to cross them all.
It was only a matter of time. I had to go up a bunch of stairs and then solve the problem of no seat covers, but aside from that, the bathrooms were not terrible. In fact, for a beach bathroom I was impressed at how non-hepatitis-y it looked – though I do have blood tests scheduled, so we’ll all get a shot to see how well my eyes work as disease identifiers.
When I left the bathroom, it was time for my 2nd nutrition bit and this was the best part of my run, because I’ve found my training partner… Nature Valley almond bars. They’re basically candy bars but as soon as I finished it and drank the last slug of water, I caught a second wind and took off. I ran the next two miles 90 seconds per mile faster than I had been averaging throughout the run and was barely winded. I was insanely sore, though so I dialed it back in order to finish strong.
Then I took off my shoes and socks and knee braces and waded into the pacific for a little ice bath while I texted my girlfriend I was ok (I had run a lot slower than I usually do because of the bathroom break and general slow-itude / weakness so I was 20 minutes behind, right at her worry threshold). It was the best ice bath I’ve ever had and totally worth the surfers giving me the hairy eyeball, which was understandable since I was carrying a lot of stuff and a normal person would have left it on the beach but I didn’t feel normal so I brought it with me.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

San Francisco Marathon 2011 - or - shin splints and shin spits

It was my first marathon.  Eight months before I planned on running a half marathon. I told my best friend who promptly called me a pussy and said he was running the San Francisco Marathon at the end of july. I looked at a calendar, it fit. I had enough time to train. It seemed like a good fit. Me and my best friend of 24 years a week after my birthday in THE city running shoulder to shoulder across the golden gate, our loving girlfriends waiting for us at the finish line with sourdough bread and anchor steam and ghiradeli chocolate.
I took the bus to the start finish line with Patrick. Patrick was from San Diego. It was odd to have met another Southern California resident all the way up in the Bay, even though Patrick was quite stereotypically from Ireland, we bonded. It was 5:45 in the morning. I hadn’t slept a wink or had time to make it to the 24 hour subway because I was trying to squeeze out 30 minutes of sleep, so my stomach was empty. Exceptionally empty as the oily spaghetti with meatballs raced through me.
It was not what I would consider a good morning to be awake, and the fact that I had a marathon to run wasn’t making it any less stressful. The one highlight of the morning was the $7 cash I found between the bus stop and the porta-potty line. My wave was due to start in five minutes and the line was 20 people long and I hadn’t even checked my gear and about a month before my best friend dropped out of the race so I was alone in a huge crowd of strangers.
I ate my first of two clif bars I was planning on eating along the way as part of my practiced, tried and true solid nutrition race plan: ¼ of a Clif every thirty minutes. Of course I needed them both for breakfast or I’d risk bonking almost immediately but I held off on the second one until after starting twenty five minutes late.
When I signed up, I wasn’t really sure how to train or anything so I figured my marathon time would be my 10k time (min/mile) but extended to 26.2 miles. This sounds obviously flawed in logic but I ran a 10k so early in my training that I figured there was no way I could run slower, especially after 12 additional weeks of training. Then I ran a half marathon in 2:02 after straining my Achilles tendon in mile 3, so I figured that it’d be the case and signed up with an estimated time of 3:56 which put me in a wave of 4:00 and under, but as I said: with the bathroom lines and the snooze button and the gear check confusion (which I realize I haven’t written about but it’s fairly self explanatory when you realize this was my first large scale race and I hadn’t a clue how it worked), I started two and a half waves late with the 5:00 and under group.
At this point I still hadn’t been humbled so I was just annoyed that I was running with all these slow people. The way I was dashing to and fro in and out of the crowd, you’d think I was running on a really rocky / rooted out technical trail and not the smooth embarcadero of San Francisco. My goal was to catch the 4:30 group by mile 22 which would put me on track to finish in well under 4:00 with their head start. Those plans went out the window at the first hill. I hit it hard and in three steps realized that I had gone out to fast and slammed on the brakes.
It was my first marathon and halfway up the hill my new goal was not finishing in under 4:00, it was finishing and enjoying the experience. I started to look around and enjoy the city views and the mad throng of idiots punishing their bodies for bragging rights and personal accomplishment. I began alternating between “my grandfather would be so proud if he were still alive. He would never believe this” while fighting tears and “that’s stupid. Your grandfather did not flee Europe so you could run around in San Francisco. If he were here he’d be miffed at your strange goals and marvel at your seeming abundance of free time” while laughing.
This bizarre emotional reaction went from mile 4 until mile 26.21 when I was in the bottle neck waiting for a banana and a medal. I fought it the entire race but I hadn’t the energy to fight it anymore at the end so I let go and as it turns out, I didn’t end up crying. Maybe my body was conserving fluids, I do not know why no tears came out but I dry-sobbed for three or four counts and then when I realized I was crying without crying I started laughing again. At myself. This was bizarre.
I still can’t explain it. I am an extremely level person. I only cry at the end of Rudy and this one movie with Michael Keaton where he has cancer and there’s a circus (haven’t seen it for years). I also get emotional when watching the ironman coverage on NBC. Those stories are so good. Maybe it was a little bit of that grand accomplishment mixed with years of repressed emotion that I used to bury under French fries and soda and beer and cigarettes finally pushing through. I will never know. It also could have been a hormonal reaction as a response to the chemical buildup, excitement and slow release. I wont know until I run my next marathon tear free.
That was my entire race. Because I consumed my intended race foods, I had to take gels which I never had before. I probably over ate and over hydrated to overcompensate which probably had me running heavy and slowed me down but I was doing pretty well until golden gate park. After bobbing and weaving and shucking and jiving across the bridge and back we descended into the park for something like 90 miles of rolling hills.
It couldn’t have come soon enough. Whereas we were all sharing 1 lane in and out on the bridge, we got the whole road to ourselves for the rest of the race. This was pleasing as now I could spit to the side without nailing unsuspecting and undeserving compatriots (first, I am a spitter as I generate a lot of phlegm thanks to an all star set of mucus producing organs (thanks to the ulcerative colitis and permanent seasonal allergies) and second, I apologize to the Frenchman whose shin I spat on. I clearly didn’t see you, sir. It was an honest mistake and I should know better.).
My pace was fine, I suppose. It was consistent until about mile 19 when I started feeling soreness in my shin. I had never felt it before. It was on the lower outer shin in a little dense pack of muscles that hug the bone tightly. I stopped at an aid station to rub it for awhile, the pain went away and I kept going, until mile 21 when the same thing happened. I stopped and rubbed again but it didn’t go away. I tried to stretch it out but didn’t know any stretches for that muscle so I just said “fuck it,” and ran off in pain.
And sure enough in mile 22, climbing a hill in or near Haight Ashbury I felt a twinge like a guitar string snapped in the sore spot. I tried to run through it but couldn’t hang. I pulled off to the side of the road, right in front of the UCSB bull (I have no idea), and took inventory. I was 4.1 miles out. I hurt bad. I couldn’t run on it. I’m done.
Then those dumb emotions swept back in and I was overcome by a will to finish. I may or may not have chanted “Rudy” over and over in my mind. I had more than enough time to walk and still officially finish if it came to that. I limped to the top of the hill and tried a couple strides on the flats up top. No dice. It only hurt when I pushed off so I figured I could get away with landing on my heel and lifting with my hip and knee, neutralizing my ankle – which infuriated whatever was wrong – and allowing me to make respectable time until the adrenaline kicked in and let me run through the pain, which was right about mile 24.
On the way in I passed a group offering beer, which I thought was rude because it’s a diuretic so I ignored them, a group offering vodka which I thought was more rude because they were more off putting than the first group, and a guy in a full length fur lined trenchcoat and top hat standing near a tug that was attached to a giant spiked pinecone. He was just standing there, arms crossed, staring at the runners with his insane piece of art along the side of the road. We made eye contact. I peed a little.
All in all, I finished in 4:32:50 or something very near to that. I’d look but I’m quite lazy. Considering the lack of sleep and a proper breakfast, as well as the over consumption of water, sports drinks and gels, the injury and elevation changes, I have good hope that I’ll be shattering this PR in my next effort. Of course I shouldn’t post that, but if karma is real, then just typing it will be my undoing and deleting it now would be futile, so instead I’ll double down and say I’ll break 4 hours in my next marathon effort. It’s well within my reach and that’s what I’m talkin about.
I still look at my finisher’s medal every day with pride and a sense of profound accomplishment, and as soon as I run my next marathon I’ll even leave it out so it can be used as a coaster. That’s my real goal, anyway: to collect enough marathon medals to fully stock my home with coasters that are stupid expensive all things considered, but worth every penny. 

Monday, December 5, 2011

long run # 3 - or the step down test run

I weighed in on Saturday this week, as the new diet dictates an idiotic amount of calories on Saturday and i was certain it would alter the results. 
212.8 is my new weight (down 3.4 lbs. w2w)
23% is new body fat percentage (down 1% w2w)
That’s 2.9 lbs. of fat lost and 0.5 lbs muscle. 

This is not bad considering i skipped two runs because of my foot problem. I did a leg circuit workout in place of one and was too sore to do anything on Thursday. The long run Sunday - 6 miles was a step back prescribed in hal higdon's novice 2 marathon training schedule and it went incredibly well.

I got new socks, too, at this incredibly cheap adidas warehouse sale at the Santa Monica airport and they held up fine, I just wish i would have washed them first. they're super thin which I like and they slid around a ton because they're new and my feet were dirty and they got hooked onto the tape I put on my insole to affix a metatarsal pad to soften the trauma from my foot while I learned how not to point my toes and shorten my stride further.

The 6 miles went great. I waited all day because my stomach was hurt by all the beer i poured down so i ran at night when it was cold and aside from the dry air burning my sinuses it was optimal. I ran five easy and one hard and everything clicked. When I finished I actually pumped my fist which I know is stupid, but I was moved to do it because I felt that good about the run. Looking back there was nothing remarkable about the run. Maybe i finally got the rumored runner's high (which I’ve never felt before possibly due to the fact that my endorphin receptors are blunted from years of over use?). 

Either way, the diet stays. Slow Carbs have me cutting weight and still let me have my energy and oddly enough are having an intensely and instantly noticeable effect on my ulcerative colitis. This could (and probably is) be a coincidence so don't quote me, but i may be a lifelong convert thanks to this experiment. Or at least a 5 day a week convert. Still want to see how my body reacts to building distance while on the diet - which happily is next Sunday. I can't wait.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Overcompensation - Or - my new diet. for now. probably

Last post I mentioned a new nutrition plan. It’s a simple one but hopefully very effective. A friend of mine bought and read The Four Hour Body and started the slow carb diet that is described in a couple of the chapters. I saw him on day one and then again eight weeks later and noticed a huge difference. He was yoked. He had dropped weight and added muscle in a very noticeable manner, or he was wearing a tiny shirt. I asked him how and he said it was the diet and exercise.  I wanted to try it but I was concerned about two things: my ulcerative colitis and how the restricted food options would affect my running. He couldn’t tell me because he is normal (gastro-intestinally speaking) and a non-runner (thanks to a particularly gnarly motorcycle wreck) though he did admit that the diet would likely strain my training as it eliminates most sources of carbohydrates.
But as I may have mentioned another time, I’m fueled on rage. And a likely unhealthy body dismorphia and a fear of being what I consider fat. And I’m also lazy and in a hurry. The more weight I lose quicker, the faster I’ll be. I have heard that losing 1 pound of fat translates to 3-5 seconds per mile improvement with the same effort. So if I lose 10 pounds of fat I gain at least 30 seconds per mile. That is a huge advantage. The problem is the more I run, the hungrier I get and the more I eat so the calorie burn is neutralized by my enhanced appetite and as I get more fuel efficient I may even gain weight during training!
I read the book and originally was going to modify the diet to accommodate my training and nutritional needs. In the book Tim Ferris even mentions the fact that just making a change at breakfast you can see benefits. This was my plan. Until the thanksgiving gut bombing. Even though I only gained a pound that week, I felt terrible. I was making disgusting choices. I was in “I’m training so diet doesn’t matter” mode which for a recovering compulsive eater is not appropriate. On Sunday night I made the decision: whole hog until Christmas and hit the store to gather my protein and frozen / canned resolve.
It’s the slow carb diet. I won’t explain it because I’m still learning it and it would be a disservice if someone used this blog as a resource. But it is described in detail in the book mentioned above. So far it’s been quite alright stomach-wise. I don’t know why but my stomach handles reduced calorie diets very effectively. Surprisingly effectively considering the damage a diet coke does.
The other question is how it would translate to running energy. I don’t feel low energy throughout the day like when I was on the cookie diet, but as soon as I get on the road my legs felt heavy and taxed almost instantly on the one short run I’ve been on.  I was wearing heavy shoes for this run as well, so I’m not totally certain the diet is to blame but time will tell. I will be able to make all the midweek runs for the next few weeks, as they’re all quite short and I can make do with the energy I get from mostly meat and veggies and beans. The long run on Sundays worries me a lot because they’re extremely difficult run on full nutrition, imagining them on restricted diet is quite unpleasant and may be the diet’s undoing.
I believe it can work because of Saturday. Saturday I have to eat anything I can get my hands on. Literally. It’s a cheat day and the more I cheat the better the rest of the diet works (or so I’m told), so it’s going to be bread and beer and pizza and pasta – or a 24 hour carbo load that should fill my stores enough to happily complete the long one on the next day.
I started this week because it’s a step down week with a relatively light Sunday run that I can use to test the Saturday fuels Sunday principle with little negative effect if it doesn’t pan out. If it doesn’t, I’ll have to modify the diet. If it does, then I’ll get four good weeks in before modifying it and maybe a couple more early in the New Year. It’s exciting to compliment my fitness with a weight loss program and even if this doesn’t end up working out exactly as planned I still am taking away valuable lessons as far as what I can and should be putting in my body and when which is part of my ongoing journey.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Long Run # 2 - Or - toes and assholes (?)

I resumed my old “Almost to the beach and back” route for long run # 2. It was a rather uneventful 9 miler aside from two disturbing trends I decided to start hating. I’m fueled by blind rage so I need something to stew while I’m running and this time it was – aggressive yielding and toe pain. I’ll tackle the toe-pain first since it is short and relatively benign. Since disavowing heavily padded shoes in favor of proper form I have had to relearn how to run. I’m a relatively frugal man, so rather than pay a coach, I figured I’d teach myself and teaching me is rather slow and painful.
The idea behind minimalist shoes is: if you run wrong it will hurt more than running wrong in padded shoes and if you run properly it will hurt less than padded shoes. To be sure: running shoes do not prevent injury. This is a heated topic and though counter-intuitive I have seen more credible evidence from the minimalist side than from the shoe company side. Add this to my personal history and you have made one runner who has passed on the pads. Running still hurts when you push the limits of speed or distance, but it’s a different type of hurt that to me is more of a painful slap on the back than an alarm. But then there’s bone or joint pain, which I am going through now.
The pain creeps up between miles 4 and 5 – sooner when heavy downhill running is occurring – and starts towards the front of the ball of my foot behind the gap between my big and second toes. Every landing makes pain shoot forward along the insides of both toes. If I stop and wiggle the toes for a bit it goes away. Luckily my beach route is rife with traffic lights and cross walks so I get a lot of opportunities to do this but alleviating the symptoms is not my goal. I have to shorten my stride and be lighter and rest. I’m not going to rest. I’m going to run in padded shoes for a week and then go back to the minimalist shoes once I don’t have pain during the day. I’m also laying low on my signature boat shoes as they lead to the forefoot slap that at least exacerbates (if it doesn’t cause or contribute to) the pain which I’ve heard could be either Sesamoiditis or Morton’s neuroma or another M word that I forgot. Is it clear that I’m a recovering hypochondriac? It was never that severe but I tend to get fanatical about health problems ever since the Ulcerative Colitis [mis] diagnosis (which is a story for another time).
Aggressive yielding is scary and annoying. It’s when a car pulls into a crosswalk that you’re in, and stops and waits for you to continue about an inch past them and then hits the gas and goes off to the dickbag convention they’re so obviously late for. It’s so obviously dangerous that I refuse to even argue why. Mitigating factors:  they possibly (usually) are oblivious to the presence of a runner, especially at night and stopping when a runner is in the crosswalk is what the law demands. But if you’re going to sit in your car and wave me on like I’m the asshole who’s holding you up, I want you to consider my position: dodging a two-thousand pound battering ram with a less than attentive pilot at the helm who’s body language suggests a considerable lack of mutual respect.
The worst are the drivers on their phones. I usually smile and laugh off the person who was watching traffic, saw a hole and half-gunned it – I’ve been there. It’s embarrassing and impossible to apologize from a car to a near-victim. I do take it personally, however when a driver is making themselves unfit to operate a vehicle safely. So I tell them. I have never done it nicely, either. Usually I stand where I should be allowed to cross and wait for them to notice me before mouthing “HANG THE FUCK UP” or “GET OFF THE PHONE” and giving them a stink eye. Sometimes, if I’m in a rush I’ll give a decent wrap on the body with my knuckles. I’ve even mis-timed it once and had to dukes of hazard slide across the hood (well the front left quarter of the hood) (they got out and yelled at me, I told them to call the cops, they probably didn’t because they knew they almost killed me). Or if it’s a piece of shit car that looks scary, I’ll just run behind it. Running is dangerous on its own, it should not be compounded. And don’t get me started on cyclists. At least cars pretend to stop at stop signs and don’t drive on the sidewalks. Jesus.
Monday was weigh-in day. As predicted: my complete lack of self-control and Irish / Italian roots caused me to pack in potatoes and pasta and bread and booze and cheesecake and just about all the garbage you can fit on a plate for four days straight including bacon fat popped popcorn and a meal that was replaced wholly by kettle corn and Belgian beer. This of course resulted in a bit of a setback and an overcompensation, which I’m so good at.
At the beginning of week three these were my stats.
Weight: 216.2
Body fat: 24%
Third category: 53.1 (I still am not entirely sure what this is. Could be hydration.)
So I’m up 1 pound and .3% body fat. Which translates to 51.88 total pounds of fat which is an increase of: .88lbs fat (and .12 lbs. muscle!)
So of course now I’ve altered my nutrition drastically, which I will delve into more another time. I do have to say that it is not the cookie diet this time. It’s much more nutritionally sound.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Long Run # 1

After having the Sunday run postponed due to rain and lasagna, I hit the road last night. It felt great for the most part. A couple things got to me.

First, my GPS is hooked into my headphones so it cuts into my music every half mile to update me on total time, distance and pace. It cut in after one mile with a ridiculous split that I knew I wasn't running which means that it had misplaced me and given me bonus distance. Bonus distance is annoying because it makes it difficult to fully appreciate my workout and instead of updating me every half mile, it annoys me but I can't turn it off because it's giving me a total time which I can use later to figure out my actual pace. It probably shouldn't matter but I need constant feedback and validation. So every time the voice updated me, I rolled my eyes and made the ya-right-jerk-off motion (sometimes) in my head. I figured an extra half-mile would undo the damage done to me by my oppressive but free iphone app. It was distracting enough to the point where I lost a lot of confidence and even started phoning the run in - which led to the second problem I had - which I'll get to after I apologize to my GPS and blame myself. The GPS was right, I had remembered the mile markers wrong; the hazard of running too many similar routes of varying distances. So every update was precise and correct and I thought I knew better and I was wrong. First time for everything. However I did run the first mile about ninety-seconds faster than my training pace and didn't notice any extra effort, so it's a tie as far as embarrassment vs self congratulation.

Since I was not-confident in my progress, I didn't take the run as seriously and let my cadence dip which led to an overstride which led to my first sesamoid pain episode. It went on for three miles and would have continued had I not been forced to rest at a stop light - I run in West Los Angeles so every route I run is either loops in parks (yuck) or riddled with stop lights. This pain was terrible, but called attention to some work I need to do on my short runs, so it's not all for naught.

I had my usual run-ins: impatient drivers, general dolts with no foresight and apparently no ability to see a 6'3" 215 lb man in day glow orange running in the spot where they want to aim their missile; dog owners whose animals lunge on a leash that's not quite short enough; dog owners who stand on one side of the sidewalk while their dog stretches the leash all the way across the rest of the sidewalk and most of the parkway so I have to stop and step over or run in the street; pedestrians who don't realize that they need to share the sidewalk with other pedestrians (me) especially 6'3" 215lb men in day glow orange running downhill at them with a lot of angst and passive aggressive rage (i'm not sorry you dumb cunt. maybe if you tried running we'd both fit down the exact middle of the sidewalk); but nothing really story worthy. Maybe I'll dissect these city-running tropes at another time but it'll just be a lot of me typing in all caps and using "cunt" unoriginally, but I wouldn't hold my breath for it.

And yesterday was weigh in day. I'm down 2.7 lbs total, 1.7 lbs (0.5%) of fat, which is exactly my goal. A bit more muscle loss than I anticipated (0.9 lbs) but I'll just add another strength day to counteract. That was 7 days of work without "The Big One," so I'm excited to see how I'll measure up at the beginning of week 3, though my expectations are tempered because week 3 is on the other side of butter/bread/white potato/celebration ale and 4 days of sleeping in.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

First Skipped Workout

I am currently skipping my first workout of the season - more like postponing it until tomorrow night in order to skip Tuesday's workout and get back into cycle on Wednesday. I have many reasons for doing this, but no matter how many sound reasons I have, a skipped workout still gets me. It's how I know that I'm becoming a true runner without actually being one yet. A real runner would run regardless of everything that is causing me to quit without trying. A beginning runner looks for an excuse not to run. I am somewhere in the middle, overwhelmed by guilt because the odds of me running safely and "comfortably" are slim. So I'm either a beginning runner who grew up Catholic or a developing runner who's excuses are enough to warrant postponing the key run in any endurance training schedule: the long and slow Sunday run. Here is my list of excuses; it is quite complex so try and keep up.

1. It's raining. Rain is cold and wet which could lower my immune system and make me sick. Because I have ulcerative colitis, which is an auto-immune disease, I am on medicine that restricts my immune system. Running in the rain will get me sick which will cause me to miss work which will cause more stress and work against my goals of weight loss (i'm a stress eater) and stress also makes my ulcerative colitis flare up which would ruin thanksgiving. One point to not run.

The rain also makes the ground wet and wet ground is slippery ground, especially in the city. I have two pairs of shoes in my running repertoire at the moment. A pair of Merrell Trail gloves with about three hundred miles on them and a brand new pair of Vivobarefoot Neos which have less than fifty. The Merrells were my first pair of barefoot/minimalist shoes so they're exceptionally worn because I learned how to run in them and I am still not the most efficient striker especially when fatigued. Even Vibram rubber is no match for a 220 pounder scraping his feet on the pavement for miles at a time. The Neos are so new that the rubber still has the newness on it and traction is an issue for me, if only just psychologically. Either way, I picture myself coming down one of the long and steep cement downhills that I inevitably have to run, slipping and blowing a knee and ending my season in week 1 which would feel so much worse than moving one workout. Two points not to run.

Even without the rain, my time is limited. I'm caught between times. I only left myself a small window to train today and the rain makes it smaller. I can't run before breakfast because of my stomach, breakfast was late because I slept in, and I made solid plans with the gf and our friends for lunch, so I only had three hours in which I could make an eighty minute run, which would be fine for you normal people, but I can't run with a full tank so to speak. While training for the San Francisco marathon I learned that I couldn't run with a round in the belly chamber so to speak. Without getting too graphic, stopping mid run to use the facilities is all fine and dandy unless there are no facilities, or unless you're soaking wet and out of breath. So without having the time to wait for my stomach to catch up to the will to train, and the only bathroom on my training route being my office or a store which are both out for the reasons above, I have to award another point for not running.

The three reasons to run are much more slight. First: while I'm sitting in my apt looking outside and dreading it, Dean Karnazes just tweeted "rainy, cold, miserable and dark out. Great day for a run!" so my "hey, nobody trains when it's rainy, right?" is clearly being met from the ideal runner with a giant gameshow "BZZZZZZZZ!" Reason number 2 is much more superficial but true nonetheless. I just bought a rain shell for this exact reason. I spent 30 bucks to preempt the excuse of water falling from the sky being an effective excuse for me skipping a run. I could have saved 30 bucks if I wasn't going to run. This excuse just compounds my guilt even more. Number 3 is easy. If it's not raining tonight, I will run. I wont run in the dark and the rain, but I'd run in either if it weren't for the reasons above.

So there it is. Those are my reasons. I'm right, I know I am. I also am a phenominal rationalizer. I know my weak spots and adversity is definitely one of them. I do enough hard things every day to add more to my plate. It's all I can muster to avoid overeating, drinking, and smoking. I can't add running in the [now torrential] rain. I hate me.

Thursday, November 17, 2011


I had originally intended to post after every run in the days/weeks/months leading up to the LA Marathon, but I couldn't think of anything more boring than recounting a very slow 3 mile run through Cheviot Hills, so I instantly abandoned that plan.
Instead, I'm going to just post when it moves me, and other vague writing goals.

I don’t have an official time for a 5k a 10k or a half marathon, though I’ve run all 3. There are two good stories and a warrior dash in here. Instead of a 5k I ran the warrior dash in Lake Elsinore, CA. It is one of those obstacle course type events that isn’t exactly 5k and isn’t exactly a run. It’s killer. I completed it in 36 minutes but could have gone much faster if I had any upper body strength at all and weren’t scared of heights. That last sentence is what I call making honest excuses. I don’t do that often. My point being that usually I blame anything but me for my less than average performance – average being about the best I’m capable of in this self-deprecating thought process I’ve wandered into.
I like the warrior dash, though, and once I am more comfortable with my fitness I plan on doing races like it – there are more and more every year – for fun and as an excuse to cross train almost exclusively without guilt to what it’s doing to my 22k time. That said, it was less of a run and more of an obstacle course which was clear to me up front, but not currently on my list of things to master. I do appreciate these events because they make running, which is inherently an activity I believe suited better to us up-in-our-heads folks, appealing to the masses, which as I see it and science confirms, are getting more unhealthy  day by day. Whatever gets them off the couch, I say, and if it isn’t self-loathing as it was for me, then let it be obstacle courses!
My 10k time is a different story, which is to say it is a story. I dragged my girlfriend into a 10k for her birthday last year. It was in long beach on the cement boardwalk and it was the 2nd annual something that benefitted some charity. We weren’t expecting much and didn’t get much. It was a small event and there were no chip timers so all we had to go on was the gun time. Easy enough, we just edged our way to the front of the pack and waited for the gun. There were markers at the 1st 4 km of the out and back race and an aid station awhile past the 4k marker. I was in the lead pack – like I said, small event – and we all ran past the aid station and onto a street which dead ended about a third of a mile down with a turnabout. It seemed like the perfect turn around so we ran through it and back along the path toward the finish.
Of course the aid station was the 5k turnaround and instead of running 6.1 miles (10k) we ran 6 and ¾ according to Google maps. Waaaaaaaah. An extra 2/3 of a mile is nothing. Unless the race is only a 10k, in which case that’s an extra 10%! We sniffed it out somewhere along the way back to the aid station and the lady at the front let them have it for not saying anything. I don’t remember my total time, all I could think of was how silly it all was. The course wasn’t closed so I’m sure people were running past them all morning and there were volunteers at all the other turns and street corners, so why this last and arguably most important group failed to assist is so far beyond me that I won’t even venture a guess and I’ll just shrug it off and wait for the next 10k to get an official time.
I realize that story has little to do with my girlfriend, even though I mentioned her in the first sentence of it. If I were in an editing mood I would fix that, but since I’m this far down I’ll just chalk it up to bragging that I, of all people, have a girlfriend – let alone one that would be down to wake up stupidly early and run a race on her birthday. She’s a keeper.
I also don’t have an official half marathon time. This one is kind of my fault, but also kind of not. I have Ulcerative Colitis. So sometimes when it’s time to run, I am not ready to run. During training it’s mostly an inconvenience. My morning runs turn into afternoon runs, afternoon runs turn into evening runs and evening runs turn into tomorrow runs. This is why I have given myself the nickname “Forrest Dump.” I am sorry for writing that. I have never had a nickname that I’ve known of which leads me to believe that they’ve all been too mean to call me to my face (remember: I hate me). Once I overheard a group of former friends calling me “Heavy G” which sucked but was one of the many wakeup calls I got in my life (I was well over 300 pounds at the time). I also tried, on my first day of little league, to have my teammates call me “GQ,” because it sounded cool. Thankfully only one of them remembers and I rarely run into him.
So we were late to the race. It was our first race with a packet-pickup (again, my girlfriend was with me) so we were a bit unclear, especially since the instructions were very unclear and didn’t mention that race-day packet pickup would be at the start line, so we turned our one-hour early arrival into a frustrated ten minutes early arrival. And then there was the bus. Ten minutes early for half marathon was 40 minutes early for the 5k. So we got into the back of the line three busses later got to the starting line 40 minutes later. We sped through gear check, I hit the porta-john again and we found the race director who was letting the straggling 5k’ers start and then had to reset the chip readers before letting the half marathon super stragglers start. And we started, and we ran and finished and no official time ever came.
That explains that. Next time I’ll make excuses for my first and only marathon finish.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Los Angeles Marathon Training blog day 1: rest

Today is day 1. I’m probably going to be running the LA marathon in March 2012 and I’m on an 18 week training schedule based off of Hal Higdon’s novice 2 schedule with some adjustments to fit my lifestyle and schedule. In the grand scheme of things another guy running another marathon might not be much but according to me, this is the most important marathon in the world ever. Unless I don’t run it, in which case I won’t care about it aside from wishing my friends well in it and probably snarking about the traffic nightmare on St. Patrick’s dayafter – the course runs directly between me and my coffee bean. I’m not going to do anything amazing. I’m going to keep my head down and train and write about little things -- stupid drivers, cyclists and dog owners mostly – and then I’ll post an unofficial time and update it with an official time, and this experiment will be over.
I started running in November 2007. Before 2007 I had run but I was not a runner. I started in 2007 because my friend asked me to be a groomsman and I didn’t want to be a fat groomsman. I started at 1 mile, worked my way up to 4 and that was the top. I would run 4 miles 5 days a week and in the summer of 2008 I added in some swimming three days a week. I topped out at 4 miles because I smoked 8 packs of cigarettes a week and didn’t know shit about pacing myself. I’d go out hard and die in 4 miles. It was good.
I stopped that routine in the winter of 2008 when I got knocked out by an ulcerative colitis flare up. I have had ulcerative colitis since 2005. It is not a fun disease to have, especially if you have plans on running marathons. It is essentially an auto-immune disease that directly affects your colon, may affect your joints and most of all, your mood. Or my mood. When I get a UC flare I get depressed because I can hardly do anything and it hurts. This is not a UC blog. But UC flares are treated with prednisone which causes weight gain and by thanksgiving 2010 I had put 60lbs that I had lost since college back on thanks to the steroids and resulting depression and inactivity.
Thanksgiving 2010 I was talking with my girlfriend’s brother and he said I could definitely run a half marathon. That was good enough for me and the Monday after thanksgiving I was on the streets in West Los Angeles 4 nights a week running my ass off. During that training cycle my best friend mentioned the San Francisco marathon and I signed up for that. The bug, as they call it, dug its heels into me deeply. My knee hurt really bad. I bought some mega-supportive shoes. My knee hurt worse. Wasted money hurts my sensibilities incredibly but the support means weight making the shoes $135 ugly ankle-weights.
I started reading running blogs, articles, and magazines and talking about running. I started paying attention to things. I started watching people run. All I wanted was to be better. I read an article about foot strength. I went out and bought some barefoot shoes (Merrell Trail Gloves) which I loved. I started to run in them. They gave me the opportunity to fall in love with running all over again. I had to relearn how to do it, but every step is amazing and fluid and connected and natural. I read born to run on a business trip and was convinced and officially converted and here I am. I try and drag my girlfriend – a phenomenal athlete and competitor with me as many races as I can but she does not suffer from my addiction so she only runs races she considers to have impressive views / scenery or unique experiences which usually relegates her to be my one and only and amazing crew member, which I like.
As of today: my stats are as follows
Weight: 217.8 lbs
Body fat: 24.2%
Third category my scale measures: 52.7
5k: n/a
10k: n/a
½ marathon: 2:02:02
Marathon: 4:31:59

My goals are:
Weight: n/a
Body fat: 18%
Third category my scale measures: better? (I just want to know what this is, actually)
½ marathon: 1:50:00
Marathon: 3:55:00

Today is day 1. It is a rest day. I am resting. 

Friday, August 19, 2011

The only History Paper I got an A+ on. Ever.

A day in the life Pravat Kositsawat, June 1st, 1954
Dear Andrew,
                        It has been a long time my friend! I feel like we lost touch after leaving Oxford four years ago. I hope the time has treated you well. I only write to tell you about our friend Benoit. He wrote to me not too long ago when he was stationed nearby with his troops. He turned out to be a paratrooper, just like he always said he wanted to be. He only had time to write me once. He said he was being moved to French Indo-China[i] to reinforce some of his brothers, to spread around the “√©lan vital” he was always bragging about in the dorms.
It was strange to get a letter from him after so long, and such a serious one at that. The paper has been talking a lot about this place called “Dien Bien Phu,” where the French are being overrun by the communists. For the past few months there has been more and more talk of peace over there, especially when the French keep dying. I mean, two months ago today the front page in the Bangkok Post said that 1,350[ii] men were killed. You studied military science, right Andrew? I remember I took that class with you. 1,350 killed probably means twice that many injured, that is if the paper has their story straight.
And then the next day, April 2nd, the paper said that these men were desperately calling for reinforcements, and that the 11,000 men stationed there were up against 40,000 communists![iii] Can you believe that Andrew? When Benoit wrote me, he said he was only with his company.[iv] That is not very many people Andrew. That is two hundred people maximum. What chance does Benoit have? He is so young, just a lieutenant and that place is already so dangerous. I hope he makes it out of there.
The paper also says that the Americans, your countrymen, are helping out the French. It says your airplanes are dropping people like Benoit, paratroopers, into this place. I read that the communists are digging holes all around Dien Bien Phu, and that they are pushing the French so far back that the paratroopers hardly even have a place to land[v]. Have you heard anything about this? You said at graduation that you were going to be in the air force, wouldn’t you be working with things like this?
I hope the U.S. helps out. At this point, the French are losing more and more ground, and even more men. Even when it seems like they are getting closer to battling back, like last month when the weather finally cleared, not very common in monsoon season, and the French gunboats and airplanes bombed and shot the communists all day long[vi], but the next day, the very next day the French commander was talking about surrendering.[vii]
Navarre said that with all the peace talks back home, it is hard to ask the French troops to fight.[viii] Why kill more boys like Benoit when peace is just around the corner? The paper is always talking about this Geneva conference, which is supposed to be a meeting between everyone involved to decide the fate of the whole area to the east of Thailand[ix]. I guess the French are not just getting beat up in Indo-China, but in Cambodia and Laos too. [x]
Yeah, it says here that the communists crossed the Mekong River and are near the place where Cambodia, Laos and Thailand meet. They are fighting the French there, in Laos less than forty miles from where my father was born.[xi] I bet his sisters are scared. They married and stayed in the town to farm with their new husbands, but my father came to Bangkok to work at the University here. Since he died, I have not heard anything from these aunts of mine. They are probably too busy, and they only came once when I was a child. Remember Andrew? You thought it was funny because they spoke Thai, but cold not write or read it, so they could not understand why we had all those books and they would stand there and look at them and hum to themselves.
I am lucky my father moved away from that town. I would have made a very poor farmer. You remember my bad back, don’t you? How some days I could not even roll out of bed in the dorms, and you would have to sneak food out of the cafeteria for me. And Benoit would always tell me to go to the infirmary, even though it was really called the hospital. Benoit always talked like that, he was made for the military. You would always have to translate what he was saying into simple English for me. You always knew how to make his army-baby talk understandable for a city boy like me.
I think if the communists invade, they will kill my aunts. They are not that pretty, and their farms are small, so they will be useless to the communists. I hope the French can hold out until the meeting I was talking about. I read in the paper that the communists are holding the French garrison hostage. The paper says that the communists could have destroyed them a long time ago, but are sparing them to have a bargaining chip at the big meeting.
It has been like this for a long time around here. In America, you are all pretty much the same and safe. In my area, we have almost every big country left over from World War II trying to expand and influence our neighbors. Thailand has never been occupied officially, but one of the things my father moved to the city for was a better opportunity for me and my brothers and sisters. We learned English from the teachers, and even got a chance to study in England or France or America! I am grateful for everything I have received from the west, but mostly for you and Benoit.
Without those chances, I would not have any friends outside of the small school here, and my apartment building. Even when my father died, you two were the only two who sent regards. That was the last time you and I wrote each other. I guess we got busy with our own lives. Are you are in the air force, like you said you wanted to be? I hope you don’t end up like Benoit, parachuting into a huge mess of dead brethren and defeated countrymen, dodging bullets and saying rosaries in your foxhole.
I am not worried for you. I read in the paper that the U.S. wont need to send troops. Joe Martin says that the people here can defend against communism, as long as we get the “materiel and moral support from the people of the free world.”[xii] I am not so sure though. If you look at it from where I am, one of the people here, it is daunting to say the least. I mean, the French are here. They are getting help from America and England, and they are fighting, and still losing. They beat the Germans and the communists are beating them now, what are we going to do?
If the U.S. does not come to help, I think we will all be forced to be communists. I wont be able to write to you anymore, and if Benoit survives, he could not come visit. I mean, without the U.S. people like me will have to fight. That scares me, because of my back, and also because the communists have been fighting for ten years and they know how. Plus, if they get beat, they have China and the Soviets just to the north, less than two days’ train ride away.
Thailand has never been conquered, never been invaded. I cannot imagine what it would be like to have a new group of people running our country. I mean, the only thing close to that happened right before you and I were born, when my father still lived in the east. It was pretty different from an invasion, but some people like me, those Thai who were fortunate enough to get a European education were against what King Prajadhipok was doing. Long story short, he was holding the nation back from advancing towards a more democratic state; holding pay raises for non-royals and placing royal family members in high level, merit-based positions. Most Thai people were indifferent, until the depression, then the lack of money made them join the radicals who had a solution to end the problems that were blamed on the king. There was a coup and a lot of confusion, but the military ended up taking control, and the king abdicated. Leaving power in the hands of the young radicals and the military group, but still young Thai radicals and Thai military, not some communist foreigners who lack any knowledge about how things work here. [xiii]
I am torn Andrew. On one hand, I want us all to be safe; you, Benoit and I. but on the other hand, I want these communists to stay away. Judging by what the papers have been saying, Benoit is probably dead, and I am next because the communists are so close and the U.S. wont get involved. But if the U.S. gets involved, that means you may have to come and fight the communists. That does not make sense to me, to have two of my friends fight and possibly die for my freedom on my soil and me to not help. I wish these communists would lose Andrew. I wish they would all just sneak back into china one night while everyone was sleeping. If not, I wish that peace comes at that meeting the papers have been talking about. I hope Benoit makes it out of Dien Bien Phu. I know he has my address. Do you think he knows how close he is to my home? Do you think he is still alive? I don’t. Be safe Andrew.

[i] “Bangkok Post.” April 8, 1954. “Paratroops Reinforce; VM Nearing Thailand.”
[ii] “Bangkok Post.” April 1, 1954. “3 divisions hit fortress; 1,350 killed.”
[iii] “Bangkok Post.” April 2, 1954. “’Help! Urgent,’ FU Appealing.”
[iv] “Bangkok Post.” April 8, 1954. “Paratroops Reinforce; VM Nearing Thailand.”
[v]  “Bangkok Post.” April 2, 1954. “’Help! Urgent,’ FU Appealing.”
[vi] “Bangkok Post.” April 30, 1954. “Nine Hour Air Raid Hurts VM.”
[vii] “Bangkok Post.” May 1,1954. “Navarre asked to state terms of Armistice.”
[viii] “Bangkok Post.” May 1,1954. “Navarre asked to state terms of Armistice.”
[ix] “Bangkok Post.” May 1,1954. “Navarre asked to state terms of Armistice.”
[x] “Bangkok Post.” April 8, 1954. “Paratroops Reinforce; VM Nearing Thailand.”
[xi] “Bangkok Post.” April 8, 1954. “Paratroops Reinforce; VM Nearing Thailand.”
[xii] “Bangkok Post.” May 4th, 1954. “’U.S. Won’t Need to Send Troops.”
[xiii] Chandler, et al… Modern Southeast Asia. University of Hawai’I Press, Hawaii, 2005.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Sicilian Mafia’s Honor Code: a Moral Umbrella (my thesis for B.A. in history)

When anyone thinks of honor, the mafia is sure to be a major dwelling point. Due to Hollywood movies and over-romanticized tales, people think that the mafia is a group of men obsessed with money, how to obtain it, and how to obtain it honorably. This is not an entirely inaccurate assessment of the mafia. However, it begs the question: how did the mafia view and define honor, and how does that compare with other honor societies in the same area? First I will examine exactly what the mafia was, what it did, how it operated and how one became a member. Primary evidence exists thanks to recent betrayals of the unwritten honor code that has recently been broken more and more as trials of mafiosi: members of the mafia, have become more common and public. Second I will use primary and secondary sources to simply and effectively break down this unwritten code and explain it. The fact is, although unwritten, the honor code of the Sicilian mafia was extensive and held the utmost importance in the eyes of the members of the group. It was a mafiosi’s primary concern to uphold this code of honor. It is through this extreme and self imposed code of honor, that is, an amplified version of normal conduct in the region with increased penalties, that the mafia was able distinguish themselves from common criminals and thus justify their delinquency and rationalize their wrong-doings as acts of honor, and this is how they were different than common criminals in their area, and other groups in the same part of the world.
The Mafiosi saw their honor as the most important thing in their lives. They were more concerned with being honorable men, and distancing themselves from common street thugs who may be misconstrued as being part of their group. The difference was not so much in the crimes that were committed, but how and against whom they were. The mafia is a secret society made up of so-called “men of honor.” To be in this group, also known as the Cosa Nostra, one had to uphold the group’s ideas about what it meant to be honorable, and what it meant to lose that honor, to be shamed. It was because the Cosa Nostra saw itself as a group of honorable men that they took such care in cultivating within their ranks a sense of this honor and its importance, distancing themselves, in their eyes, from common street thugs. Antonino Calderone, a former mafiosi whose story of his Cosa Nostra experience was published by Pino Arlacchi, apologizes for, “the distinction [he] draws between the mafia and common criminals, but it matters…. We are men of honor, and not so much because we have taken an oath, but because we are the elite of the criminal world. We’re vastly superior to common criminals. We’re worse than everybody!”[i] The case in point of his distinction is illustrated perfectly in Calderone’s explanation of prostitution. “It’s an unclean activity,”[ii] moreover, he relates a story in which a man who was the brother of two mafiosi, as well as a son and a nephew of mafiosi and was never admitted, “precisely because it was said that he was a pimp.”[iii] This story shows how fervently the honor of the group was guarded. This man was not officially a pimp, but people had heard something to that effect, and that was enough to keep him out of the Cosa Nostra. Arlacchi gives another example, which also illustrates the prevalence of violence, where the son of a prostitute was, “killed by a group of young men…. The youths had made the child their target in a shooting competition.”[iv] Even the offspring of unclean individuals were not respected.
A code of honor is a complicated and almost unexplainable entity for most groups who are concerned with it. There are a lot of little things that one could only understand by being raised in or around that group, or by intense anthropological study. However, on the surface, the honor codes of the Cosa Nostra of the twentieth century strongly resemble those of other groups from the Mediterranean. The Greek Cypriots, studied by J.G. Peristiany in essay, “Honour and Shame in a Cypriot Highland Village,” which appeared in the book that he edited entitled Honour and Shame [v]were somewhat different than the Cosa Nostra: the men of the village are born there, and so have no choice but to participate in the honor struggle. This is also true for the Greek men described by Gallant[vi] and the Turks described by Eck[vii], they do not enter into their honor societies by choice, they are born into them.
Since there was a specific set of understood behaviors that every mafiosi had to agree to, this is as close to a definition of the honor code as possible. Every mafiosi, according to Calderone, was sworn to an oath, but there was a prelude to the swearing in; an extensive back history needed to occur before one was even considered for membership. During this time, the virtues needed to be a man of honor were studied, and older men of honor would watch the potential members to make sure that they did indeed possess these qualities in high amounts, and only then were the oaths taken.[viii]
The first and most important things according to Calderone were cleverness, ruthlessness and determination,[ix] through exhibiting these in every day events, a young man could definitely defend his position of power and honor in the Cosa Nostra as well as protecting the group from outsiders. If a young man showed enough of these qualities, he would be considered for membership. The older mafiosi would “let [them] do a few things.”[x] Which is to say, they would let him participate at levels closer and closer to those only occupied by men of honor to test them. Arlacchi echoes this sentiment by saying how much power was dependant on one’s, “ability to emerge victorious- through physical strength and through cunning- in any competition for supremacy.”[xi] That is any competition; be it fighting, games, races, anything that awarded the winner respect was essential to win at any or all cost, or the person who did not try hard enough or was not naturally strong or fast enough would simply not be considered as worthy to join the Cosa Nostra. The real life and pretend situations were necessary to prepare the potential member for the life of serious and potentially fatal contests, that was the lifestyle of the mafiosi which weak people simply could not handle. A propensity for violence is often associated with this particular virtue. In the other Mediterranean groups, this pre-screening was not a possibility because, again, the men joining the groups were entering through birth and not through an oath.
Violence was one way to get power, and to be a successful member of the Cosa Nostra, one needed power to back up his honor and defend his wealth. Without this power, both his money and his honor could be taken from him with violence either by common criminals, or by other mafiosi trying to build their own. There were no rules for these violent meetings. According to Arlacchi, honor bound battles were never popular or widespread. He says, “intermediate kinds of institutional regulation such as the duel never became established.”[xii] Therefore, the violence could occur in any way, shape or form. Even though violent meetings lacked any set or understood rules, there was a general tone of honor to all of them. For instance, Arlacchi tells of a fight that ended in a low level mafiosi wounding a mafia chief. The mafia chief recovers and murders the underling, who was a goat herder. While this may seem reprehensible, for the chief lost the initial battle, it was worth noting for Arlacchi that, “The whole town followed the brave goat-herd’s coffin, and his murderer was in the first row.”[xiii] Even though the man murdered the other out of revenge, he was still a man of honor, and therefore joined the funeral procession of the man who was also of honor, because as everyone knows, with honor comes respect, even for your victims. Conversely, Gallant’s explanation of the Greek knife fight, a local example of honor fights followed the same pattern every time. One man would call another man’s honor into question through a number of channels: either by accusing him of being a cuckold, insulting his daughter, or any other number of things that honor depended on, and they would fight. The fights would be witnessed and refereed by the other people surrounding, usually in a wine shop, and once someone was marked with the other man’s blade the fight was stopped by the onlookers. Gallant hardly mentions any fight ending any other way besides the occasional accidental killing.[xiv] The fact that the Greek group had a pattern for their violence and the mafia did not is another difference between the two, another unique facet of the mafia’s code of honor.
Once the potential mafia members demonstrated their cunning ruthlessness, determination, the penchant for violence, or ability to be violent and their ability to keep it a secret, they would be sent for, and meet at an often times secluded location for the swearing in ceremony which made them men of honor, and introduced them officially to what was expected of them as such. Diego Gambetta cites numerous variations on the central theme of this ceremony, but the general idea is this: a man who is deemed worthy by the older members of the Cosa Nostra using the above as guidelines is brought to a secluded location and officially gets initiated. Blood is drawn from a finger with a sharp object such as a knife or a thorn, and this blood is smeared onto the picture of a saint. The soon to be new member holds this picture in his hands and it is set ablaze while he recites the oath. [xv] The oath is as close as I have come to finding a clear-cut definition of what is expected of a man of honor. This oath and the subsequent definition of honor drawn from it is generally unique to Sicily, although certain points are as general as the word honor, their specific ramifications are indeed idiosyncratic to the Cosa Nostra.
Rule number one as described by Calderone in his first hand account of the initiation ritual was with regards to women.[xvi] This rule has many facets. First of all, it was expected of mafiosi that, “As soon as [they] discovered that a man of honor has touched another’s wife, that man must die.”[xvii] This seems cut and dry. It differs from other honor codes from the Mediterranean in that it involves instant death for the perpetrator. In the Turkish honor codes, it is the wife who dies first to protect the honor of the husband who was cuckolded.[xviii] In Greece, men who suggest the infidelity of another’s wife fight the man whose wife she is regardless of whether or not the man suggesting it says he was the one who she cheated with. To be sure, the violence in Greece comes when one man is the messenger, not necessarily the perpetrator.[xix] However, even with the subtle differences, death is still a common punishment for adultery. Arlacchi makes another observation with regards to infidelity: “feminine honor typically symbolized unbroken family honor,”[xx] indeed along the same lines of most honor societies. However, the reasoning for the reaction is different. “If an outside enemy destroyed it, he gained superiority over his victims, proving himself the more powerful… he showed that he could oblige a member of another group to violate the sacred bonds of loyalty in order to satisfy his own desire.” [xxi] These sexual conquests were not normal in that they challenged the woman’s chastity or faithfulness, but in that they challenged her loyalty to the family, not just her husband. Not surprisingly, the “Blood-vendetta was the obligatory recourse.”[xxii] The woman was killed first by her male relative, and then the man who slept with her was killed. This was the only way to save face in this situation, to show that not only would one not tolerate disloyalty, but to demonstrate that your power was indeed supreme.[xxiii] Elsewhere in the region, no authors mention the concept of sex, either pre-marital, rape, or extramarital with regards to power, only with regards to shame.
Another aspect of honor and its relation to women is the forbidding of homosexuality. Partially because Sicily is a predominantly catholic, however it is definitely worth noting that without a woman and a family one was hard pressed to prove his honor. Those that are homosexual may be forbidden from joining because of the social stereotypes concerning gay men and violence, that is, that they do not have the capacity for it. Norman Lewis describes an event in his book In Sicily: essentially, he is speaking with a professor at the University of Palermo who had a student that was a child of a powerful Sicilian Mafia family. This student was not keen on the life of crime that lay ahead, so he pretended to be a homosexual. Since it was frowned upon in the Cosa Nostra, he was free to pursue whichever career he wished. He was not able to be a man of honor because he lacked the age-old quality of traditional masculinity, and so had no females whose chastity he could protect and therefore had no females from which to draw the feature of honor which would have been afforded to him;[xxiv] for as someone who is shamed becomes less of a man in the eyes of the Cosa Nostra, someone who is not manly to begin with can never be honorable, and can never have the power that is derived from honor.
If a wife or daughter is sleeping around, they bring shame to their family, and violence ensues, but when a wife or daughter does everything right according to the code of honor, there actually can be a positive impact on the group. Calderone tells a story that occurred during a family dispute that resulted in a split and a long-standing rivalry between the estranged sides. Calderone’s brother Giuseppe (Pippo) saw a girl that he was attracted to, found out where she lived and knew the owner of the building, as the owner was a man of honor on the other side of the family split. He told this man’s nephew what his intentions were. The two were married and through this marriage, the rift between the families was closed. Calderone muses on the fortitude of this pairing, “[Mafiosi] from all over Sicily had tried to resolve the conflict, and they had come up with nothing. A marriage, however, settled everything.”[xxv] This is a time-honored tradition in the area, dating as far back as the Roman Republic- where marriages were often used to cement alliances. It was undoubtedly auspicious that this marriage solved major problems, but one can see how honor is not merely a thing that you own and are able to lose, but it can be gained; as long as you follow the rules. Certainly if the two people had sex before the marriage, with the feud that was occurring, more blood would have been shed. 
After the first rule of the oath, which is very intricate, there is the second, which is quite simple: essentially, it was do not, under any circumstances go to the press or police. If you do, you will be killed.[xxvi] A secret society’s primary concern is upholding its secrecy, and the mafia is no different. The honor code will mean nothing if everyone can follow it, all the common criminals would, and then the mafia would have no way to set themselves apart from the lowly crooks. This is fairly self-explanatory, but it should also be noted that this appears in a book, which is incredibly ironic as the person who took the oath is most certainly going to the press; it is obvious that Mr. Calderone’s life is in danger. The opposite was true in other locations. In Greece, the men who went through knife fights would often, if not always, stay and wait to be arrested and testify at their own trial. Their way of maintaining honor was to tell the whole story. “This man insulted my wife, we fought with knives, I cut him on the face.” The winner of the fight would once again have the chance to publicly shame the loser, and in so doing gain the group at large’s acknowledgement of his possession of honor.[xxvii]
The third rule is along the same lines as the second: brief and paradoxical; “stealing is forbidden.”[xxviii] It is astounding to learn that this is one of the official decrees of an organized crime society, but Calderone explains a situation where this too was cleared up. A man who was taking the oath with Calderone spoke up when this rule was announced. This man’s profession was a thief. He was told to sit down and wait until it would be explained. The explanation was circular: if you have to steal, steal. If that is how you earn a living, earn your living. Know your victim; do not steal from another member of the Cosa Nostra or his family. “From anyone else, yes.”[xxix]
This is where Calderone and Arlacchi’s accounts seem to differ. The next rule, according to Calderone says fights were to be avoided,[xxx] however I have already discussed the goat-herder’s fight and subsequent murder. Arlacchi describes the goat-herder as a mafiosi, and the mafia chief is most certainly a man of honor. I am inclined to believe Arlacchi more, as his evidence already appears in this essay, or perhaps they both are correct; as the word “avoid” may be taken very literally, and as previously stated, their were no official rules for combat as there were in Greece.
The next two rules are brief and seem like they were tacked on as an afterthought, but are still meant to maintain the secrecy of the Cosa Nostra. “Sober behavior was to be encouraged; boasting and showing off were not condoned.”[xxxi] These rules seem to go hand in hand. As drunkenness usually leads to boasting and showing off, drunkenness was frowned upon. It would definitely be a tragedy if a mafioso had too much wine at a bar and began boasting about how many men he has killed, or who else was in the Cosa Nostra, or even that such a thing existed. These rules are to keep the secrecy of the Cosa Nostra of paramount importance as to acknowledge its existence would make it less appealing to its members. Beyond that, or perhaps before, the first rule alone is a good general guideline as it is certain that a reputation for being a drunkard is never positive, and even among members of the same family, too much drunkenness is embarrassing, and surely men of honor are very far above drinking too much wine.
The last rule is a bit strange: “under no circumstances was one to introduce oneself to other men of honor.”[xxxii] This is because if one believes another man is a part of the Cosa Nostra and introduces oneself as such, and the other man is not, then the first man, the mafiosi has just compromised the secret nature of the organization. Interestingly enough, if there is a third mafiosi in the room who knows that both are men of honor, he may introduce them, and with a special secret code let them both know that the other is a man of honor, without actually saying it.[xxxiii] The secret phrase provides more secrecy, as it is almost a special language; further compounding the elitist clandestine nature of the Cosa Nostra.
The secret and the honor are the two most attractive intangible qualities of the Cosa Nostra and the honor seems to be intensified by the fact that no one outside of the group knows about it. No one outside of the mafia may judge you, because they do not know what qualities are being judged. The honor seems to intensify when you realize that even though there are other men out there with similar qualities, they are not in the exclusive club as you are. This makes the secret part of the exclusivity. A lifestyle is developed around this club, a sense of pride is derived from membership; as Calderone mentioned, “We are the elite of the criminal world.”[xxxiv] They are the most polished and practiced members of a world that is illegal. These men are not common criminals. They are very uncommon. They justify their crimes by using their honor code as a shield, a rationalization, a special case that allows them to look down on people doing the same crimes in the same areas on smaller scales, for the simple fact that they are not as organized.
You may steal, but not from mafiosi. You can only kill another man of honor if he does certain things. Violence is good. Win at all costs. Do not make money off of unclean things. With the conditional rules of honor, it would seem that the rules are only in place to protect the honor of the men within the group. Therefore, if viewed from by an outsider, these men and their actions may appear no different from common criminals. It is only through an understanding of the Cosa Nostra that one may then distinguish the two types of criminals in Sicily: the low class, low moral street thugs with no discernable code of honor, and the criminal elite mafia which are: low class high moral street thugs with an official honor code and organizational structure. They both perform the same crimes, but since the Cosa Nostra has a system in place to commit these crimes, they are better. The fact that rules for war exist does not mean that people still do not die. Similarly the fact that rules for honorable crime exist and are followed closely by the Cosa Nostra does not preclude the fact that they are committing crimes. Honorable or not, crime is crime and to distinguish between two types not only encourages the behavior, but legitimizes the illusion of the Cosa Nostra’s attitude, which seems to allow any behavior as long as it does not hurt the family.

[i] Arlacchi, Pino. Men of Dishonor, p. 20.
[ii] Arlacchi, Dishonor, p. 21.
[iii] Arlacchi, Dishonor, p. 21.
[iv] Arlacchi, Pino. Mafia Business, p. 13.
[v] Peristiany, John George. Honour and Shame, p. 171-191
[vi] Gallant "Honor, Masculinity, and Ritual Knife Fighting in 19th-Century Greece," American Historical Review 105/2 (Ap 2000): 358-82*
[vii] Gallant "Honor, Masculinity, and Ritual Knife Fighting in 19th-Century Greece," American Historical Review 105/2 (Ap 2000): 358-82
[viii] Arlacchi, Dishonor, p. 21.
[ix] Arlacchi, Dishonor, p. 21.
[x] Arlacchi, Dishonor, p. 21.
[xi] Arlacchi, Business, p. 10.
[xii] Arlacchi, Business, p. 12.
[xiii] Arlacchi, Business, p. 12.
[xiv] Gallant "Honor," 358-82
[xv] Gambetta, Mafia, pp. 262-270
[xvi] Arlacchi, Dishonor, pp. 67-71.
[xvii] Arlacchi, Dishonor, p. 67.
[xviii] Eck, Purified By Blood. pp. 9-34.
[xix] Gallant "Honor," 358-82
[xx] Arlacchi, Business, p. 7.
[xxi] Arlacchi, Business, p. 7.
[xxii] Arlacchi, Business, p. 7.
[xxiii] Arlacchi, Business, p. 7.
[xxiv] Norman Lewis, In Sicily, pp. 59-60.
[xxv] Arlacchi, Dishonor, pp. 47-48.
[xxvi] Arlacchi, Dishonor, pp. 67.
[xxvii] Gallant "Honor," 358-82
[xxviii] Arlacchi, Dishonor, pp. 67.
[xxix] Arlacchi, Dishonor, pp. 70.
[xxx] Arlacchi, Dishonor, pp. 67.
[xxxi] Arlacchi, Dishonor, pp. 67.
[xxxii] Arlacchi, Dishonor, pp. 67.
[xxxiii] Arlacchi, Dishonor, pp. 19-20.
[xxxiv] Arlacchi, Dishonor, pp. 19.