On Being A #Unicorn

I am a parent involved in education reform. I am on twitter (@artlaflamme), and I participate in education chats on twitter, in which I am often the only parent / non-teacher. I’ve been to two edcamps (), and at each one there was one other parent / non-teacher (although one was the head of a PTA.)

People ask me what the hell am I doing, wandering into all of this. I tell them to treat me like they would a unicorn at a buffet: assume the unicorn knows what it’s doing, and go back to your own business. Because it’s true. I might be uncommon, but obviously I’m not in distress or in need of being saved. I’m at least uncommon, at best ahead of my time.

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The Report on the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program

Mr. Holland, er, I mean, SEN Diane Feinstein and the Democrats of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence have completed their opus, The Senate Intelligence Committee’s Report on the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program. It’s worth looking at how the mainstream American media is covering it () before reading my thoughts on the release of the report.

Here are things worth saying about the report.

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Professional Development: Books that matter

The New York Times has its list out now, and the list includes three books on education. I read a lot, though it’s often online and often things like the BBC, Reuters and al-Jazeera wire service feeds directly. But I do try to find balance in the books that I read, between books that I want to read and books that I should read. These three books are ones that I should read.

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A Call to Arms: Mentors & Coaches

With @MrsStevensonSS
With @MrsStevensonSS

This is Erin Stevenson (@MrsStevensonSS). I am suppose to say that she is a fairly typical 2nd year high school social studies teacher, only she’s not. She came to teaching later in life, after trials and tribulations, and finding herself. And I am also suppose to say that she is fairly typical, in that after having had an assigned “mentor” for her first year of teaching, she’s now going it alone during this, her second year in front of students. I would venture to guess that, in this fall semester, she’s focused on not drowning, getting her lesson plans done, and not screwing anything up so badly that she loses her job. I’m guessing that, even after her first year and the benefits of that great “mentor” she had for a year, she’s still barely hanging on and not thinking any farther than the end of this week. I am suppose to say that she is a fairly typical 2nd year teacher.

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Professional Learning Networks: 300 vs 3000

If you’re not on twitter, or never played on twitter, this post won’t do much for you. I’d recommend you skip it. Really. I’m writing it with the assumption that you know how twitter works, as a user.

The ridiculously funny Justin (@SchleiderJustin), the always thought provoking Rusul (@RusulAlrubail) and I were talking about managing our Twitter feeds, and it has exploded as Justin kicked off his week-long #slowchatPE discussion involving many other people. He asked, “How do you keep your PLN small enough to have personal contact but large enough to learn?”

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Parents & edcamps

I acknowledge that I am something of an anomaly. I am a parent who hangs out online with teachers. I am on Twitter, I am in their chat sessions, I read and engage their blogs, I am even with them on Voxer.

I am a parent operating in their comfort zone. I am that wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Last Saturday, I infiltrated the edcamp (http://edcamp.org/ for more on #edcamps, or this TEDx talk http://youtu.be/vVDUIoMavLM) for Portland (#edcampPDX), and this Saturday I did the same in New Jersey for #edcampNJ. In Portland, I think I was the only parent, and in NJ, I was joined by NJ by local parent and PTA leader Gwen Pescatore (@gpescatore25). She and I, though, are only somewhat related; she’s very involved in her school district through her role as the President of @KnappElementary and @PenndaleMS Home and School Association, while I am, well, just a parent.

People ask me regularly why I am online and involved with teachers, on issues related to teaching and education. The answer is simple and it’s easy: education is wildly important, and education reform is critical. I also see great similarities between the teaching profession and that of the military.

But as a parent, well, I am often the odd one out, no matter how interested I am, how will I am to inject. Because when you get right down to it, teachers (and principals and superintendents) gather together to talk about, you know, teacher stuff. They do talk about education topics, but they spend a lot of time talking about the finer points of actually being a teacher. I know nothing about shortcuts for writing lesson plans; I don’t even wish I did. But I am a great outside resource for whom people can ask questions – Hey, does this sound crazy, or, If your kid was in my class and we implemented this…. – but for the most part there’s a truck-ton peer to peer stuff about executing teaching tasks in classrooms.

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The other day on twitter, I joked that humor was one of the 5 pillars of our marriage. Erin Stevenson asked about the other 4. So, I named & explained them. I think it’s a decent read, worth preserving.

@MrsStevensonSS OK, so here is the #unionchat – the 5 pillars of happiness in our 25 years together. Should work for all unions, lawsBdamned

@MrsStevensonSS If it’s OK, I’ll use P1, P2 etc for the pillars, since, you know, thats what we use anyway. and the #unionchat is untaken

@MrsStevensonSS P1: Humor. Together, we laugh about everything. Our humor is boundless. I want to share all of the funnies with her. Truly.

@MrsStevensonSS P1 cont. I don’t think there’s anything that we won’t later gather to find humor in. Birth, death, war, grief. #unionchat

@MrsStevensonSS P1 In part because, deep down, we’re both still like 6 y/o. It keeps us positive. Joyous. #unionchat

@MrsStevensonSS P2 is beer / chocolate. It’s in part because we’re still hunters/gatherers, but also because life is sweet. #unionchat

@MrsStevensonSS P2 And both aren’t easy to stumble onto. we make neither. We rely on others. There’s good, bad beer & chocolate. #unionchat

@MrsStevensonSS P2 But the quest for fair to good to great beer, choc makes our travels together wonderful. Hunt, gather in fun #unionchat

@MrsStevensonSS P2 And with great rewards. Find something, I think first of her as the one with whom i want to share. #unionchat

@MrsStevensonSS P3 is travel & adventure. For us, the world is so small. The river broad, deep, swift. We aren’t stagnant. #unionchat

@MrsStevensonSS P3 travel & adventures have helped keep us close, bonded for all these years, through shared experiences. #unionchat

@MrsStevensonSS P3 Those experiences that have grown to include, in some diff ways, our kids. Not the same ways tho. #unionchat

@MrsStevensonSS P3 The greater number of unique experiences she & I share, the closer we’re tied as humans, unique from others. #unionchat

@MrsStevensonSS P3 No one has, could go, see, do what we have. Our experiences are unparalleled. These makes us, us. #unionchat

@MrsStevensonSS P4 is have your own thing. Or things. #unionchat

@MrsStevensonSS P4 Mine started with work, after our union. I had to leave it at work – you know, laws and stuff. #unionchat

@MrsStevensonSS P4 But she quilts. I later took to running. we each have things that are ours. #unionchat

@MrsStevensonSS P4 This has allowed growth, together, but alone. I love, admire, hear about what she is doing, love. She, same. #unionchat

@MrsStevensonSS If I had nothing of my own, no room to grow, I would be smothered. #unionchat

@MrsStevensonSS P4 But through these little things, we grow together. #unionchat

@MrsStevensonSS P4 And I want to tell her all about what I am doing of course. She rolls her eyes, naturally. #unionchat

@MrsStevensonSS P5 is learning to cook together. There is something wholly different about preparing food together. #unionchat

@MrsStevensonSS P5 Some say that Americans are losing the art of making food. Maybe. But this grows on the hunt/gather theme. #unionchat

@MrsStevensonSS Warm fire, different seasonings, spices gathered during travels & adventures – to make great from what little…#unionchat

@MrsStevensonSS P5 you had when you started. Learning to cook exotic vegetables, meats, beans, rices. #unionchat

@MrsStevensonSS P5 and learning to make things you both like, but moreso, the things she likes. Because I want to. #unionchat

@MrsStevensonSS P5 Two cooking in a tiny kitchen is either like close quarters combat, or snuggling on a bear skin rug. #unionchat

@MrsStevensonSS There you have them. Five pillars of our successful union. My wife is amazing, our love grows with every rain. #unionchat

Schools, weather, science

One secret wish of mine is that every elementary, middle and high school would have the hardware necessary to run its own weather station.

I don’t mean the little $30 kind of weather station that you find on the shelf at the discount store, with a temperature sensor you put outside under an overhang. I mean a full blown package, complete with the tools necessary to measure current conditions and predict hyperlocal weather conditions at the school, in real time.

I realize this is a very nerdy this. But hear me out.

Teachers have decisions to be make that involve the weather. Sometimes it broad, applicable to all of the kids, but sometimes its specified, tied to the individual requirements of just one kids. Heat and cold, as I’ve learned in my lovely Army career, involves a lot more than just the stagnant temperature in Fahrenheit or Celsius. Humidity, wind, UV index – there are other factors that go into a decision “Is it too hot…” or “Is it too cold…” More information, in a usable manner, can lead to better decision making – that’s actually been the basis of my Army career. But up and running, and integrated with other stations in the region through, say, the website to aggregate data, it’ll be unstoppable.

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Rebuilding iTunes

I have had a lifelong love/hate relationship with iTunes. I would like to tell you that it dates to when I was in the womb, but it’s not that tragic of a tale.

My music tastes aren’t simple. I have no one “thing” that I am into, really. My brother, in his brilliance, exposed me to the classics of the sixties and the seventies, and instilled in me a great love for all things classic rock, from the Who to Led Zep.

On my own, I found punk and fell hard for it; I still worship at the altar of the only band that matters, the Clash, and could get lost in the sounds of my high school and college days, with bands as diverse as the Squeeze and Jam and Cure, and as far flung as KLF and Bow Wow Wow and the one hit wonders of Modern English.

And over a dozen years ago, thanks to a small sidebar article about freelance Hellraiser and a little ditty called A Stroke of Genie-us, I found and embraced mash-ups, which can either be considered a genre of their own or prove that today, music defies genres.

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Hiking Shenandoah: Jones Mountain Cabin

Summary: Hidden away along the eastern edge of the middle section of the park, the Staunton River Trail hike to Jones Mountain Cabin is one of the hidden treasures of the Shenandoah National Park. In 1500 feet, the trail ascends along a nice, well maintained route along the picturesque babbling brook before heading up the ridge to the cabin.

The Good: At 7 miles, and as a not very strenuous hike, most folks should be able to make it out to the cabin and back in 4 hours or under. It’s walking — no scrambling over rocks, no trying to pick a path through some challenge, this is just a nice walk. And this trail features shade, shade and more shade in the afternoon, which will be nice on a hot afternoon. And if you’re up for the adventure, the cabin is operated by the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, through whom you can arrange to stay there. The area is quiet, and lesser traveled than other parts of the national park — an ideal place to get away and enjoy the quiet peace of the forest.

Jones Mountain Cabin 003

The Bad: In the winter, that same shade can come back to bite you in the ass. On a cold, cold day, that shade will be a game changer, though the hike would be no less enjoyable for those who are prepared. Oh, and there’s little to no cell phone coverage in the area.

The Ugly: No, there’s not really anything ugly about this hike.

Jones Mountain Cabin 084

Type of route: Meandering path.
Good to hike in the rain? Absolutely.

Length: 7 miles each way.

Jones Mountain Cabin 009

Options for the route: Instead of turning left to follow Staunton River Trail, keep going straight (North) along the Rapidan River for another 1.5 miles, to Rapidan Road. There are two other options farther up Staunton River Trail — keep following the river and skip the cabin, which will take you to The Sag (great name); or start to head to the cabin, but turn to follow the ridge up to Bear Church Rock. Going to The Sag is about a 5.5 mile hike, one way; Bear Church Rock, likewise, is about a 3.75 mile hike each way. it is very possible to hike to The Sag, and then come back down via Bear Church Rock as well.

Elevation change: 1500 feet.
Water used: 2 liters.

Jones Mountain Cabin 036

Where to start: At the end of State Route 622. The trailhead is at the end of the circle there.
Where to park: Same.
Point your car’s GPS towards: If your GPS can handle it, point it to State Route 622. Or 38°26’13.74″N 78°22’1.57″W. Most realisticly, you’ll need to point it to Rapidan Ranch, Madison, VA 22727.

My Google Earth file: here
My Garmin file: here

Jones Mountain Cabin 049

Water? Pull from Staunton River anywhere you want; you’ll want to purify as you go.
Toilets? At the cabin, there’s an outhouse. Nothing at the trailhead.
Medical care? No.
Ranger / park folks? No.
Picnic areas? At the cabin only.
A place to change afterwards? No.

Jones Mountain Cabin 075

Rewards in the area: Not much. There’s either something like Culpeper and Luigi’s or Baby Jim’s, or you’re hitting El Agave in Ruckersville. None of these are bad choices, but none of these are near the trailhead.

You’ll hike this route when…. Skyline Drive is closed, or it’s going to be a zoo. Or when you’re worried about biting off more than you can chew, and you’d rather start with a climb instead of a descent.

Jones Mountain Cabin 073

My rating: 7

Music: Mash-Up Your Bootz Party – Best Of 2009 Mix (mixed into a single track by DJ Morgoth)

Jones Mountain Cabin 038

Weather / Trail warnings / Permits: Shenandoah National Park

More reading: here and here and here. Park Info: here

Tripler Ridge to Haʻikū Stairs

The view from the top of Haʻikū Stairs, with Kāneʻohe Bay in the background

What’s not to love about a mid-week hike up a Hawaiian mountain ridge, across treacherous and perilous cliff faces, to a WWII era communications site and the almost-4000 rickety stairs that take you down a seriously steep cliff to the valley below? My good fortune this week was to do just such a hike, and I loved every minute of it.

My life after Iraq

It’s actually a little weird to write that. I never thought I would have one. I guess I just assumed that Iraq would always be in my life.

But here I am.

Being with Iraq has been, I suppose, a lot like being trapped in a loveless marriage. I’ve known her strengths and weaknesses, what makes her happy and sad. There had been things that I could do to calm her down, to sooth her nerves and make her day better. But there had also been things that I could do that would rile her up, piss her off enough to where I knew she’d threaten to make war with me. Love, hate — we’d been together for so long that we’d long ago stopped talking about such things. We’d start our days together, and sometimes end them that way, too — we were together yesterday, we’re together today, so surely will still be together tomorrow.

Only now we aren’t.

I don’t miss her, but I remember her. The way she smelled. Her dust, so fine that it could feel like silk one second and a cancerous grit the next. The gentle sounds she’d make in the morning, long before anyone stirred or even the first call to prayer.

In the end, there was no fight, no explosive end or outburst. No, it just ended, unremarkably.

I could not go back to Iraq, and that’d be just fine with me. I don’t long for my kids to have the chance to visit, to see the sights and hear the sounds, to soak up her people and culture and unique magic. I’d prefer they have the chance to go to Disneyland.

And so, here I am, normal again. Like everyone else. I have my tribe, my people, my place. We have our ways, and our words, and our things, and I’m no longer caught between my world and Iraq. And that’s OK. I am at peace with this.

Iraq, the US, an American Vice President, and the Need to Keep Calm and Carry On

American Vice President Joe Biden has an interesting piece in the New York Times, here. His article starts off with all of the usual fluff, about how the US has stood by Iraq and her people and her government, how Iraq has made such progress, how things are going so well, and yes, how the Obama administration has kept its promises about drawing down the number of forces in Iraq.

But the most telling section was this one, the 9th paragraph and one near the end of the article.

Nevertheless, Iraq’s security forces are not yet ready to operate fully on their own, and we must continue to support them. We must also help Iraq’s leaders with a range of challenges that lie ahead: conducting a census; further integrating Kurdish security forces into the Iraqi security forces; maintaining commitments to the Sons of Iraq, the Sunni groups that banded together against insurgents; resolving disputed internal boundaries and the future of the northern city of Kirkuk, which is claimed by both Arabs and Kurds; passing a hydrocarbon law that would distribute oil revenues and maximize the benefit to all Iraqis; stabilizing the economy through foreign investment, private sector development and new sources of revenue beyond oil; passing a fiscally responsible budget; and bringing to a close its post-Gulf war obligations to the United Nations.

I’ve not read a more sad piece by an American Vice President since, well, I don’t even know when. Iraq does need our help, and will need our help. But she won’t need US troops on the ground in Iraq, not after 2011. And she won’t ask for US troops to stay beyond 2011.

Yes, I do understand that this must sound odd — who the hell am I to argue that our American VP is wrong? He was, after all, a long-time member of the US Senate, and a long-time member (and later Chair) of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He obviously knows enough to know what Iraq needs, right?

Don’t fall for this logical fallacy of an appeal to authority. You know that even Einstein’s wife wasn’t afraid to tell him he was wrong.

1a. Iraq’s security forces aren’t just ready to operate fully on their own, they are operating fully on their own. The rank-and-file Iraqi Iraqi Army units are out there, every day, conducting operations on their own, even as you read this. Ditto for the police, ditty for the National Police, ditto for the security forces on the Iraqi border. Iraq has a military that has, almost exclusively, been oriented towards internal security threats, the one time when it was otherwise was during the 80’s when it was balanced between internal threats and the war with Iran. Yes, we must continue to support them, but no, that doesn’t mean US forces on the ground, or a change to how things use to be (embedded US forces as ride-along advisers and door-kickers), and it certainly doesn’t mean that we need to talk them into buying American-made weapons systems like the hard-to-maintain M1 tank or the harder-to-maintain M16 of M4. The Iraqi military isn’t some Mini-Me of the US Army; they have their ways of doing things, from door-kicking to intelligence gathering to targeting bad guys. We need to help them, but in ways in which they want and need to be helped, not in a role we really, really want us to play.

1b. Actually, I suspect that the VP is talking about commandos and counter-terrorism forces. Guys who go out into the night and capture / kill the worst of the worst. My $3 bet says that the Iraqis would be willing to give this a go themselves, but would welcome our guys tagging along, so long as our guys brought they gadgets and toys and neat things that Iraq can’t buy on the open market. In all honesty, I’d rather we partner with the Iraqis to work with them on the stuff that’s in FM 3-24 (also here), our counter-insurgency doctrine field manual. I guess I’m old school, wanting to end the fighting instead of getting the high score for the most bad guys captured / killed.

2. The Iraqis do not need our help in conducting a census. My goodness, I think everyone understands how to do that. If not, there’s this thing called the Google that they can consult. I know what you’re thinking — why in the world would the American VP even include this in his laundry list of issues, much less include it as #2 in the list? The census actually reflects three things — the Iraqi government actually deciding to do it, and then what the results are (and with that, just how much corruption is involved), and lastly, how the census data is used. The ground truth is this: there will be no Iraqi census, not any time soon at least. There could be one in, say, 20 years. But I doubt it’d be in any time less than that. No one in Iraq gains from Iraq actually having a census; the census would then bring to a head a number of ugly, ugly issues — like the future of the Kurds. Like the distribution of oil revenues. Iraq is a land where isn’t not the facts that matter, but the deal that can be made. An actual census would be counter-productive, and I’d venture to say, an un-Iraqi thing as well.

3. There will be no further integrating Kurdish security forces into the Iraqi security forces. Can I say that any more clearly? The leaders of the Kurdish tribes, and yes, I do mean Barzani (President of the Kurdish Regional Government and head of the KDP) and Talabani (President of Iraq, and head of the PUK) might call their militia forces “Peshmerga“, but really, they are tribal militias local to their tribes. There is no unity in Kurdish forces, and there never will be. When the Kurdish tribe calls, their fighters answer. The Kurds would like for the Iraqi Government to pay for the Kurdish fighters, from salaries to new weapons, so that the Kurdish regional Government or, really, the Kurdish tribes don’t have to, but there will not be a day when a Peshmerga unit is reflagged as an Iraqi Army unit and sent to Basra. Kurdish security forces, from the Peshmerga to their security and intelligence forces, are loyal first to their patrons, then to the Kurds, and then to Iraq. Integration is a pipe dream.

4. Iraq’s problems with maintaining its commitments to the Sons of Iraq isn’t an issue of willingness, and it’s a problem with the agreement itself. To be blunt, it’s a no-win situation. Yes, some 205 to 25% of the Sons of Iraq were integrated into the Iraqi Security Forces — into the Army or police or similar. But for a group of militiamen who took up runs with their tribe, to provide localized security in their tribal areas, I’d be willing to bet good money that most if not all of them would want or maybe even expected to be transitioned into Army or police jobs in their same neighborhoods. After fighting Al Qaeda in Anbar for 5 years, who wants to go to Basra to train as an electrician to then work for a local school? Who wants to lose the prestige of providing security to their own tribe, or to leave their own area? Yes, Iraq has a long history of the central government being the main employer of Iraqi people (OK, men), but the coffers are empty, the price of oil is in the toilet, and oil production is lower than the optimistic Iraqis projected. The Iraqi government can’t just put these guys on the payroll and leave them where they are, but the Sons of Iraq don’t want to go to where the jobs actually are.

5. Don’t believe this stuff about the need to resolve the disputed internal boundaries and somehow settle the future of the northern city of Kirkuk. American isn’t helping on this one. The Kurds would like to be Kurds, with a Kurdish land under Kurdish rule. Call it the Kurdish Regional Government, or call it the dreaded K word — Kurdistan. Whatever you call it, it is an issue for the Iraqi people to resolve themselves. It is not possible to have both a strong Iraqi government and an independent Kurdish land in Iraq. Iraq will end up with either a weak central government that tolerates the Kurds having their Kurdish Regional Government so long as they behave, or Iraq will have a strong central government which will bring the Kurds back under more direct control. It’d be easy to look at the new government and say, “Wow, that’s a weak government, so I guess the Kurds are going to have it good for a while.” But all Iraq needs is a single strong leader with control of the use of force, and he can crush any renewed dreams of a Kingdom of Kurdistan. This isn’t about boundaries or about Kirkuk; it’s about Iraq as a state and a nation, versus ethnic and sectarian divides between Kurds and their Sunni and Shia Arab brothers.

6. And a lot of the same things can be said about VP Biden’s call for an American role in helping the Iraqis pass a hydrocarbon law that would “distribute oil revenues and maximize the benefit to all Iraqis.” This is about Iraqs internal struggle over having a strong central government, or having a separate states within Iraq. The Kurds would like to control their own oil production and oil sales, and to keep their own oil profits, but the Shia of Southern Iraq raise those same issues from time to time, too. With the bulk of the oil outside of Baghdad, it’s not hard to see why many Iraqis question why the profits flow to Baghdad. But keep these things in mind. Oil production and sales in Iraq is a nationalized industry; it is the central government of Iraq who does it. And oil is the basis of the national economy, almost exclusively; there would be no power for the national government if it did not control the oil revenues. Those same funds, though, drive the nepotism that is such a key part of the Iraqi way of life. Both corruption and the distribution of wealth, I think, will be tolerated so long as they work.

7. And seriously, I have no idea what VP Biden means by suggesting a US role in stabilizing the economy through foreign investment, private sector development and new sources of revenue beyond oil. Sure, I understand that American companies would like the US Government to help them in securing oil contracts in Iraq, but beyond that, well, there isn’t much. Exporting dates or pomegranates won’t come close to exporting oil any time soon. Iraq isn’t going to start making exotic cars, or fine watches. I suspect American businesses on the whole would have issues with how business is done in Iraq, and the rules (official or otherwise) they’d be expected to follow there. I mean, really — what American firm would pay the jizya, and what American stockholder would accept that it needed to be paid? If you’re not thinking of investing in oil, I don’t know what you’re thinking.

8. I wonder what the Iraqis would say, about VP Biden’s comment on the need for Americans to help the Iraqis in passing a fiscally responsible budget. The Iraqis, after all, do read CNN and the NY Times, and they are aware of what has been going on in the American economy and budget. Hell, all they need to do it watch videos on YouTube and they’d probably turn down our offer to provide financial advice.

9. And lastly, Iraq can bring to a close its post-Gulf war obligations to the United Nations all on its own. In fact, I am kind of surprised to see VP Biden raise this issue. After all, Germany took 92 years to pay of its war reparations from World War I. So, it’s not like Iraq us up against the clock on this one. Germany has been and remains one of Americas closest allies, and if it takes the US 92 years of helping for Germany to bring her war obligations to a close, well, Iraq may not want or need our help on this one.

I’m not saying I understand Iraq better than VP Biden. I’m just saying that Iraq isn’t America, that Iraqi ways aren’t American ways, and that Iraqi problems and interests aren’t American problems and interests. America can be a good friend by starting every day by asking the Iraqis, “So, how can we help you today” and patiently waiting to hear how Iraq answers. Some days, there will be pointed requests, but on other days, I suspect Iraq will say, “You know, I’m good today. Thanks for asking, though.”

Retiring another pair of shoes

Back in April, I retired a pair of Nike Pegasus running shoes (here). I had put over 1,000 miles on them. Yes, one thousand. 1,012, actually. Good shoes, they lasted pretty well, and it was splits in the fabric along the sides that eventually did them in.

I was pretty pleased with that pair. 1,000 miles – that seems like a good amount for a pair of shoes, all the more so when I thought about how Nike and the shoe businesses would like me to replace my running shoes every 300 miles. Sure, I wasn’t running barefoot, but I was running on shoes that were well past the point of offering a lot of cushion or spring. I ran and ran and ran on that pair, in Iraq and Oregon and Lake Arrowhead and all across Oahu. I’d run in the desert, in the mountains, through snow and creeks and streams, on roads and sidewalks and trails.

So, with their retirement, I broke out the reserves — another pair of Nike Pegasus running shoes that I had purchased at the same time as the previous pair (if you find something that works, my dad use to say, buy multiples). They worked just fine. No blisters, no bumps, no bruises, no shin splints, no stress fractures — they worked. And after a little bit, I beat them flat and pounded the cushion and spring out of them, too. I ran them hard — from the Honolulu Triathlon, to my 300-mile month in July. But by July, they were starting to quit on me. Same deal — the fabric on the sides started to split, this time after a hair under 700 miles. By the end of July, and the end of my 300 mile month, I was writing a letter to my Nikes (here), telling them that maybe it was time for us to start seeing other people. What I wanted from our relationship (1,000 miles of no-questions-asked running) seemed to be more than they were able to give.

I even went so far as to do some social networking, to see if another shoe company would throw some free shoes my way. I wanted — I really, really wanted — to find some shoes that would love me unconditionally,ones that would be in it for the long haul and not long enough to amuse me until a new model came out and I could be convinced to buy a new pair.

Well, that failed. In the meantime, I went back into my kit bag and pulled out the last of my reserves — one more pair of Nike Pegasus running shoes. Maybe, I told myself, it’ll be different this time. Maybe, if we start spending time together again, it’ll be different this time. Maybe they’ve changed. After all, Nike has been talking a lot about running recently. Maybe they meant it.

They didn’t.

I threw them in the trash today. 535 miles of running killed them. 535 miles. I was just warming up to them. they were just starting to look right, with that mix of Hawaiian red and all-around mud. Their stink wasn’t yet to the point of warding off attacking bulls. As you can see, this time, the whole face exploded.

So, that’s it. I’m done with Nike. They’ve lost me. I was a good and faithful customer, someone who bought them out of hope and faith and dreams and fond memories. Gone are their days of making good shoes; from the looks of it, they appear far more focused on elite, specialty shoes (here). Which is fine — or would be fine, if the world was filled with elite and specialty runners. Racers, really.

I’m no racer. I’m a runner. It is not possible for me to care less about split times, or personal records for all the various distances. I don’t do fartleks, and I don’t limit my diet to only left-handed salmon that swim in the northern Pacific and favor jazz music.

I am a runner. Not a hobbyist, and not an olympic athlete. I run. You wouldn’t commute to work in an exotic and expensive to maintain Italian exotic sports car, and I’m not going to run in shoes that last exactly 3.5 months.

Here you go, Asics. Here’s your chance. Don’t let me down.

Running in 2010: How I got here

I spent 2009 in Iraq. I ran some during the first part of the year, but not enough, and certainly not many long runs. As the mid point of the year approached, and as I got ready to return home to my family in Hawaii, I decided that I’d crank up my miles to the point where I’d be able to run a half-marathon without dying. My R&R arrived, I flew to Hawaii, and while there, I did some running.

But after my R&R, I returned to Iraq and a new, very stressful job. Long hours, crazy hours. So, I kept running. I realized that the long runs were helping with the stress, helping to keep some sense of balance in my life. Sure, I was running in the dark of night, and sure, I was spraining my ankle from time to time, but it was working for me.

So, I set my sights on the Honolulu marathon, in December 2009. I dusted off my Excel spreadsheet for the Hal Higdon mileage plan for training for a full marathon, and I started to put in the miles. December came, I ran the marathon, and life was great. I closed out 2009 by resting; it had been a hell of a year.

2010 started with no great design. I was home from Iraq, work was OK but not crazy. I still had the same job, it was still stressful, but at nowhere near the levels it had been in Iraq. I was going to exercise with my unit in the morning, and I quickly discovered that, one most weekdays, I’d have about 50 minutes to run.

Hmm. 50 minutes, five days a week. I could easily run 5 miles in those 50 minutes. I’m in decent shape, I thought — I could probably do that 5 days a week. 25 miles a week — that’d be neat to do. I could totally do that.

But what if I snuck out one morning each weekend, and went to run some different parts of the island? 25 miles per week with the unit is a respectable amount of miles, but really — it’s kinda boring. It’s a lot of streets in the neighborhoods, lots of trips around parade fields and between tanks. There’s no jungle canopy, no dirt trails along a cliff. There’s no exploring that way. I asked the wife, and got the go-ahead to add in a weekend run.

Hmm. 25 miles during the week, and, say, a half-marathon or so on the weekend. Geez, I’m up to almost 40 miles per week. That’s kinda cool. I wonder if I could do that all year. And if I did do that all year, well, 40*52 is over 2000. Wouldn’t that be something, to run 2010 miles in 2010. I wonder if I could do it.

And that’s what set the tone for the year. I started to read books and look online for places to go run here on Oʻahu – and ended up starting my own separate blog to write about my adventures running (and to make the website I wish I could have found when I decided to start exploring this island on foot). I found Na Ala Hele, and it changed my life — so many good trails to run and explore, so little time. My plan became to run 25 miles during the week, pick up some more miles on the weekend, hope to average 40 miles per week, and maybe — just maybe — put in 2010 miles in 2010.

But things change. In June, I ended up in Iraq again, for a short visit. Did it alter my plans? Only slights — 5 runs for 66 miles over the two or so weeks I was off-island, and it actually included an 18 mile, middle-of-the-night trek, too. 5 runs for 66 miles — that’s averaging a half-marathon every time I ran, with the shortest of those runs being just 10 miles (and that was the night I landed in Iraq — I landed, dropped my bags, ate a light meal, and then ran 10 miles).

As July started, I joked with some of my soldiers — I could probably run 10 miles every day, for a month. Thus was born the Sparta Challenge — 300 miles, in 30 days. I’m still not really sure how that came to be, but it was really neat to do — and left me feeling fantastic about my fitness and conditioning levels. 300 miles in 30 days? Wow – I am indeed a runner.

That left just three things.

1. There are two state trails that require special permits in order to access them; I’ve now run one of them, and am working on plans to run the second one at the end of this month.

2. My unit had an exercise set for most of September. That would eat into my running time. Instead of my usual 160+ miles per month, I managed just 138. It was off by a bit, but I don’t see this as derailing my efforts to run 2010 in 2010. I was worried, though.

3. I’d never run an ultra. I’ve run two marathons in my day, a couple of ~20 mile runs, and gobs in the 13.1+ mile range — but never anything father than 26.2 miles. Ever since Luxembourg, I’ve had “Run an ultra” on my bucket list. Well, i did that Thursday night. I ran from my house, half-way across the island to Schofield Barracks, where I took the long loop (11.25) around post and up Kolekole Pass, before running back home. 5+ hours, 31 miles — I think 50km is considered the baby of ultra-marathons, but it counts.

I never thought I’d run 40 miles per week. I never thought I’d run 300 miles in 30 days. I never thought I’d take off one night and run 50 km (especially since I’d run 10km that morning at PT).

Today, I am 83 days out from the end of the year, and I need to run just 382 more miles to reach my goal of running 2010 miles in 2010. Granted, during those 83 days, I also need to close up shop here in Hawaii and move back to Iraq for another year — but I can work with that. 382 miles in 83 days — that’s an average of just 4.6 miles per day, and only 32 miles per week. In July, I averaged 10 miles per day, and this week I ran almost 80 miles — I think I can do this.

For not having a plan when the year started, it sure seems to have come together nicely since then.

The Sparta Challenge

I suppose I’ve always been known for having some crazy ideas. This, though, is probably pretty high up on the list of craziest things I’ve done.

Over 30 calendar days, I just ran 300 miles. I didn’t run 300 miles in 30 days — I actually did it in just 26 days. But we’ll get to that.

I’m not really sure where this idea came from. Last month, I was in Baghdad for a 10 day visit, and while there I ran about 66 miles on 5 runs. That seemed like a lot of running to me — my shortest run was 10 miles, but my longest was 18. I had been able to get off of the airplane, after flying half way around the world, and I’d needed only a short stop at the chow hall before I’d knocked out a 10 mile run. In Baghdad, in the summer.

When I got back, I was feeling strong. I was feeling fit. I was realizing that I was a stronger runner than I thought.

Which, by the way, is a very odd realization to make.

When I got back to the office, after the 4th of July weekend, I was talking with one of my sections about the trip and the holiday weekend. 5 runs in Baghdad, for 66 miles. And the long 4 day weekend? I’d done three runs for a hair over 40 miles. I bet, I said, I could sustain 10 miles per day.

Now, I won’t tell you exactly what they said — Soldiers can sometimes use, um, colorful language — but suffice it to say, this section (hereafter referred to as The Zombies) disagreed. Nope, you can’t do it, they said.

Fine, I said. I’ll prove you wrong. In fact, I bet I can do it for a month.

Wait, one better — I bet I can average 10 miles per day, for a month.

Oh, wait — better still. I’ll race you to 300 miles. I’ll do it in 30 days, and I bet you I can do the 300 miles faster than you can.

Did I mention that The Zombies number about 15? Yeah — big section of Soldiers. Me, vs. more than a dozen Soldiers, running to see if:

1. I could average 10 miles per day for 30 days;
2. I could run 300 miles in 30 days;
3. I could run 300 miles before all of them, combined.

300 miles. Sparta!

Yeah. Not really sure what I was thinking. On the surface, that seems like an insanely dumb challenge to issue. I hope it’s no surprise that they agreed. They eagerly agreed. Of course, I had also run 10+ miles that morning, meaning that in the first 5 days of July, I’d run 50+ miles. One Zombie had run about 10 miles over the weekend (their so-called ringer).

I was winning.

So, how does one run 300 miles over 30 days? Well, carefully and with a lot of planning. I’m quite sure my wife thought I’d gone mad when i told her I was doing this. Not that I was trying, but that I was going to actually do it. I run at a pace that is often between 9 and 10 minutes per mile — that’s 100 minutes of running per day. Do you have an extra 100 minutes every day for running, and extra time for a very good shower and a change of clothes? I didn’t. Certainly not every day.

I had to make it in the morning. On weekdays, my units meets at 0630 for accountability. Most days, we then exercise for an hour, but I often do not have to be in the office until 0900. Done right, I could run for some time before the 0630 formation, and then I could run for maybe 90 minutes more before I’d need to be rushing into the shower and on to the office.

On Schofield Barracks, I put together a few runs of the right lengths. A 3 mile run up a hill. A 6 mile loop. An 8 mile loop. A 9.25 mile loop. I found that, if I was parked and suited up, I could start running at 0530 for the 6 mile loop, and would finish in time for my 0630 formation. If I was parked and suited up, I could start running at 0500 for the 8.25 mile loop, and be finished in time for the 0530 formation. I could do another 6 or 8 miles (or even 9.25 if I pushed it) and still make it to the office.

But being parked and suited up at 0530 means leaving the house by 0500, or maybe 0510 by the latest. Which means getting up at 0430, to finalize my gear (which I’d pack the night before), have a bowl of Cheerio’s, and to use the facilities (a very serious part of the day).

Ugh. 0430. That’s early. To get 7 and a half hours of sleep, that means being asleep at 2100 / 9 pm. Not in bed, but asleep.

How important is running to you? Would you be asleep at 9 pm most every night, just to be able to have a lot of rally great runs?

And yes, that hour got earlier and earlier, based on just how early I was trying to get up. I had days when I started running at 0500, which meant I was up at 0400. The earliest was this morning; I was up at 0330, running at 0430, and had done almost a half marathon before I even said hello to the Army or my Soldiers at 0630.

Oh, and yes — Cheerios. Every morning, if I can, I have a big bowl of Cheerios. Not big, like Seinfeld, but a good sized bowl of Cheerios, preferably with 1% milk. I have no special eating plan, no special diet. I start my day with Cheerios because I like them and because they seem to work well with running.

Those who known me best also know that while I am not a serious runner, I am very serious about my running. It’s a big, big part of my life. But not something that dominates my life.

I don’t live on Alaskan salmon and brown rice grown on the eastern slopes of the Andes. I don’t eat mega-protein bars, or take special gels. I haven’t sworn off ice cream or alcohol — I mean really, doing that would ruin everything.

No, I try to eat right, but I also eat whatever the hell I want, or whatever the hell my body tells me it needs. Swedish fish? Yeah, sometimes. Peanut M&M’s? There are those days. Sticky rice and mixed vegetables? Sometimes that’s what just seems right. I don’t load up on things, to prepare me for running, and I don’t act differently after runs, to recover / grow muscle / lose weight / etc. I eat, I run, I sleep some.

Have I lost weight? Not really. I had lost some, more for sure, in the prior year. Mid 2009, I weighed maybe 212 lbs. By this summer, I was down at or below 200. Sometimes below, sometimes above. I didn’t / don’t care. But I certainly do feel fit these days.

And my weight certainly does wiggle some. In a week, I could go from as low as 195 to as high as 207. A lot of that is water and food and everything else. It all tends to even out around 200, but it does wiggle. Weird, huh?

Anyway, that’s sleep and food. Now, about those miles.

As you can see, it’s a slow and steady climb to get to 300. Nothing big, nothing brash, nothing fancy. A lot of run. 26 out of 30 days.

But look at that pie chart. Now, I’ve known for a long time at the 10 mile to half-marathon distance was my sweet spot, the length of run with which I am happiest. 5 out of the 26 runs were less than 10 miles, with the shortest being just 3 miles. But that 3 mile day came right after I had a 21.75 mile day, one of just 3 days when I ran 15 or more miles. I wonder how many times one of the Zombies ran 3 miles.

But look at that big wedge — 18 of the 26 runs were 10 or more miles, and less than 15 miles. While I averaged 10 miles per day for the 30 days of this challenge, I actually averaged 11.54 miles per run, for the 26 days I did run during this 30 day period.

That just seems like a lot. A lot in that range, and a lot to average.

But, I did have 4 days when I did not run. One was the 4th of July, and as I mentioned, I had done 40+ miles during the 1-3 July window. There were two days when I had duty, and was unable to run in the morning. And one day I had a meeting at 0600, and could not run. I knew there’d be those days, and I did my best to plan for them and to adjust for them. Obviously, with some success.

I’d like to add, though, that this wasn’t some mad dash for mileage. On the weekends, especially, I’d often take to the hills to continue my adventures in running and seeing Oahu. Some of those runs turned out to be less than 10 miles, sure, but they were insanely beautiful, and included some places that have long been on my list of places to go run.

And it’s been anything but flat. My 6 mile loop goes from about 950 feet of elevation, up to about 1150 feet of elevation. The 9.25 mile loop goes further, up to about 1250 feet. But I did runs that went from the beach to a mountain pass at 1150 feet, and even from the beach up the side of a mountain, to about 2300 feet of elevation. I’d run where I wanted to run, not where I’d easily be able to get my miles. I’d have preferred to have not made the 300 mile mark, than to have missed those runs.

Three more things, and then I’ll wrap this up.

1. It’s hard to run these kinds of miles while in the Army, and not draw attention. Showing up to the first formation of the day literally dripping with sweat after 6 or 8 or more miles, well, it kind of sticks out. Showing up wearing a Camelbak, too, is a bit out of place. Towards the end, I’ve had people asking me how far I’d run that day, how I was doing on reaching 300 etc. It’s been an unusual project, even by Army standards.

2. My shoes are near death. They are a pair of Nike Pegasus, one of two pairs I bought this year back when I had maybe 600 or 700 miles on my last pair (which were ultimately good for 1000+ miles of running). This pair, though, started to split on the sides after 300 or 400 miles. I’ve been hoping they’d last through this adventure, and they barely have. I’ll do one more victory run on them in the morning, before I hide them in the yard next door (they really, really stink, too — happy birthday, Chandra!).

3. Somewhere in the middle of all this, I tried out for the 10-Miler team for my Division. I actually made it as an alternate, not because I’d fast, but because I don’t quit. While running the race, and at other times, people would ask me why I run so much (especially for an old guy). I tell them I train as I fight — this is my zombie plan. When the going gets tough, I’m going to grab my shoes and my camelbak and I’m going to outrun the zombies.

Which, by the way, I did. I did my 300 mile before The Zombies did. I won.

Dear Nike

Dear Nike,

I think it’s time we started to see others. Things just aren’t working out.

Now, I know you’re expecting me to next say that it’s not you, it’s me. But I’m not going to.

It’s you.

When we met, I told you that I was interested in a long distance relationship. My life, I said, had me always on the run. But I was serious about seeing you, about us being together. I’m active, and love the outdoors — and these were things that you said you loved, too. I know that some of your friends tell you that I only want to be with you because you’re white, but that’s just not true — I’m totally down with the brown.

We sounded like a good match. Early on, I found myself missing you so very much. When we were apart, you were all I thought about — when I’d see you next, how we’d spend our time together, what great adventures life would bring us.

But it didn’t take long for me to begin to feel that being with you was slowly eating away at my very sole. I’d long for us to be together, but when we were reunited, I’d start to wonder what I ever saw in you. Days with you often left me feeling as if you’d ripped a chunk of flesh out of me. And you’re abrasive — being with you often feels like I’ve been spending time with a cheese grater.

And I’ll be the first to admit — life can be hard. But even after all the blood and sweat and tears, when the paths we choose in life turn out to be harder than expected, I need someone who will be able to hold it all together, not someone who will come apart at the seams.

At our points in life, relationships should be about adventure and exploration and enjoying the better things in life, not pain and misery and some dreaded sense of being slowed down. It should be about chasing adventure, not sitting this one out.

I need someone who will go the distance with me. And that’s not you. Maybe you should try dating a walker.

— Art

PS — You stink. Seriously — you smell really, really bad.

They might last 700 miles