Lovely Lisbon

Melanie – my wife and better half – had a milestone birthday this year. We love to travel, so for her birthday we decided to have her pick a trip that she wanted. She had never been on a cruise of any sort and has been considering it for a few years. So she picked a river cruise up the Douro River in Portugal.

Anyone with access to a map will quickly recognize that the Douro River has nothing to do with Lisbon. However, Viking’s River of Gold starts in Lisbon. I’ll cover this trip in segments to keep these posts manageable in size. So… Lisbon is our starting point.

Lisbon is a decent port of entry for Europe. The airport is modern and customs was pretty easy, if not a little slow. Our trip started off with a couple of airline delays – throwing shade at United Airlines – so we were running about 1.5 days behind on our trip. Viking did great. They met us at the airport, helped with our bags, and delivered us to our hotel in a clean, upscale vehicle. No muss, no fuss.

Avenida da Liberdade

Our hotel was the Tivoli Avenida Liberdade, which is an upscale hotel on the main avenue in Lisbon. The street is very wide with plenty of tile sidewalks under a canopy of sycamore trees. Along the street, we stopped off in a cafe hut and had a snack in an open air cafe. I had been brushing up on my Portuguese in order to get around, but it was unnecessary. Everyone spoke perfect English. The food was great, the cafe was tasty and it was nice to be not moving in and out of airports. The weather was nearly perfect: sunny and 80F (27C). We had a lovely stroll along the wide street, people watching and window shopping.

Enter the Tuk Tuk

Because we were running behind schedule, we missed out on the Viking guided tours. Near our cafe, we saw a series of golf carts lined up. As we strolled past, a lively young lady asked us if we wanted a Tuk tuk tour. These vehicles – some three wheeled, some four – are called tuk tuks (long u) and are a common sight in Lisbon. These tuk tuk drivers navigate the very hilly streets of Lisbon and point out some of the finer points. Our guide, Nadia, was great. She spent an hour and a half showing us Lisbon, sharing its long history and fascinating backstory.

Not Enough Time

In the end, we decided we didn’t get enough time in Lisbon. Less than 24 hours simply did not do it justice. We didn’t get to see the sea or cross either of the long bridges across the Tagus River. Lovely Lisbon left us wanting more. Below are some highlighted photos from our short stay in Lisbon.

I still have a keyboard and I’m still alive

It feels like forever since my last post. Life has been busy. My wife and I took a trip to Portugal, some details of which I’ll offer up as an upcoming post. In the run up to the trip, I was feverishly getting ready to be out of the office for 10 days. In addition, my humble little department is growing, so I’m focused on the hiring process on top of my out-of-office prep and – now recovery – plan. Having said all of that, it is high time to get back to writing. I’ve been catching up on some of the blogs I follow and you’re all putting out such great content. It inspires me to get back to it. So… here we go. Kicking off a fresh season of Quixote Goes!

Running: The Continuing Saga of Returning from Tendonitis

Several weeks ago, I wrote about overtraining my way into Posterior Tibial Tendonitis (PTT) on my way to attempting my first 50k trail ultramarathon. Then, in a bold move of bravery / stupidity, I ran the 50k anyway. As one might imagine, running 50k didn’t exactly help my tendonitis, so I accepted that my spring running season was going to essentially be one of rehab. Mainly, I rested. I rested until it didn’t hurt to walk. I also did a bit of physical therapy with a licensed practitioner, I strengthened and then Rested, Iced, Compressed, and Elevated (RICE for those who have been there), and I’m happy to report that I’m on the mend.

The Keys to Success

Looking back, there are a few things that have been very effective in my recovery from PTT: shoes, speed, and strength.

First, shoes. I invested in some new running shoes and I started wearing old running shoes in lieu of dress shoes for most of the day. While I’m not one to dole out free advertising, I have a couple of go-to brands for my running shoes. For the last couple of years, I’ve funneled the vast majority of my shoe dollars toward On – the Swiss running company that brings us the Cloudflow. Cloudflow has been my weapon of choice for all of my marathons and essentially all of my training runs. In the height of my training, I’ll put 60-70 miles per week (100k+), so my shoes don’t last a long time. I try to retire them after about 400 or 500 miles, although I’m not fantastic at keeping track. However, for my 50k trail run, I opted to try the Hoka One One Speedgoats. These shoes are gaudy. When I was buying them some young lady walked by and exclaimed, “Why is everyone switching to these geriatric, super soled things?!?” I wasn’t offended. I agreed with her. But I was trying to put in some big miles on a bad wheel. And my goodness, did these things work! So much so that I have since bought a pair of Hoka One One Cliftons, more or less the road version of the Speedgoats. These shoes have been an excellent source of comfort as I work my way back into fitness. I will say that I’m now splitting my running time between the Hoka and the On products, but as I slowly ramped up, the Hoka One Ones were very important to my recovery. I also mentioned that I started wearing old running shoes instead of dress shoes. This was also very important. I now routinely wear a pair of my On Cloudflows that have at least 500 miles on them to and from the office, and unless I have any big meetings, I’ll wear them all day. I have no data on this, but in my mind, the shoes help my foot maintain a good shape so that I’m not collapsing the arch on my flattish feet in my fashionable dress shoes. After wearing my old running shoes all day, my feet feel stronger and ready for a workout.

Second, speed. And what I mean by speed is the absence of it. I have to admit that I am inspired by ultra-athletes like Scott Jurek, Killian Jornet, and Rich Roll. I’ve been a bit of a fan boy and read all of their available advice, which says, “do volume first, then work on speed.” After taking 1.5 months off, I worked as if I was starting over. So now I’m a few weeks into building volume again. At this point I am doing 6-8 mile runs 5 or more days a week, all without compromising my pesky tendon, at least until last week. For shorter runs, I’m wearing my beloved Ons. For longer runs, I’m wearing my “geriatric” Hokas. This really isn’t fair to a shoe that has helped me recover. But they are a tad on the obnoxious side. As far as my actual speed goes, I’m comfortably in the 9+ minute/mile range. At the height of my fitness, I was turning in sub-7 minutes/miles. But now is not the time. I’m simply rebuilding my base level of fitness. And it is working very, very well. I’m finding that my heart rate is lowering by 20 beats per minute at the same pace in just a matter of weeks. So, running is getting easier as I plug away slowly. Now, I will admit that I took a speed detour this past week and set myself back. But that was a learning opportunity too. I have been feeling very good, so I opted to work on a bit of speed this past week. On Tuesday, I did 2+ miles of 30/30 in which I ran hard for 30 seconds (5:30 minutes/mile pace) and then rested for 30 seconds. This didn’t hurt my foot at all, so I decided to hit the “go button” on a shorter distance run at pace. I was targeting 5 miles after warming up. I made it 4 miles at 7:14 minutes/mile, but with some discomfort. In the days following, I was in pain. However, my strict regimen of resting and wearing running shoes throughout my day has helped put me back on track. I’m happy to report that I did a slow 7 mile trail run today with no discomfort. So, I’m experimenting and learning. This helps me focus on my recovery time rather than sit idly by and attempt to wait.

Finally, strength. My physical therapist gave me several exercises to do with bands and such to strengthen the muscles in my foot, ankle, and other parts of my legs. I have somewhat dutifully followed the prescription. However, as previously reported, I have also started rock climbing. When rock climbing, I often have to gain a foothold on the smallest of edges; thereby working muscles in the foot and ankle. I have found this to be extremely useful. I’m not one for weight training for the sake of weight training. I much prefer to do something that has the spillover benefit of improving strength. Rock climbing has fit the bill beautifully and I have built strength capacity for my runs while having a great time learning a new skill. I’m still a novice of course, but that’s ok too. Novices see all kinds of gains in new skills as they put in the time.

Summary Recommendations

OK, so here we have it. I hope you never come down with the dreaded PTT. But if you do, I have 4 key recommendations: 1.) Rest until you can walk pain free, 2.) Give your feet a break with a shoe solution, 3.) Take a break from speed training and come back cautiously, and 4.) Find a way to strengthen the muscles in your foot and ankle in a way that works for you. Of course, I’m no doctor. So work with your licensed professional on your specific recovery plan. However, hopefully my path to recovery can be used as you navigate the tricky path of soothing a savage tendon.

Thanks for reading!

Why Not Inner Peace Solely Through Christianity?

Over the past year or so, I have somewhat frequently touched on my mindfulness practice and how I have essentially grown into a Zen Buddhist. In my post, From Middle America to Zen Buddhism, I talked about the seeds that were sown throughout my early life and how my mid-life challenges sealed the deal. But one aspect I haven’t covered is, why not seek inner peace through Christianity? After all, it is the faith of my family and my childhood. So first, let’s get this out of the way. Zen Buddhism is not my religion. Zen can be – and is often the case in Asia – practiced while holding true to another, or multiple other faiths. Among many things in Zen Buddhism, the “and” instead of the “or” appeals to me. But not so fast, let’s break it down.

Focus on the mind

Probably the biggest thing that pulled me into Zen is the focus on the mind. While Zen – which is a subset of Buddhism – offers plenty of instruction on behaviors, it is well more focused on taming the wild mind than Christianity. Christianity offers the hope of redemption in the afterlife for believing and following in Christ in this life. Those are admirable goals. However, in my search for inner peace, I was looking for ways to sort out the messiness of my mind in my life right now. The Bible offers learning through parable and the story of Jesus. Zen offers learning and guidance through the direct experience of right now.

A lot of Westerners think that Zen is all about getting blissed out in a hippie dippie fashion. Not at all true. In fact, Zen practitioners rarely talk about enlightenment. It also isn’t about going all Type B personality with a “whatever” attitude to accept things with resignation. Again, not true. Rather, the idea – in my novice words – is to stop putting ourselves through the weekly, daily, hourly, and even minute-by-minute torment that our minds are seemingly naturally wired to do. I’ll imply this a lot throughout this post, but I can easily see Zen philosophy and Christian faith working in concert in my inner life.

Writings that don’t take themselves too seriously

The next thing that I appreciate about Zen is that practitioners aren’t expected to believe every single word as the absolute no-questions-asked truth with a capital T. I have a cousin who is a Southern Baptist preacher. I love him dearly, and as we grow older in life, we plan to spend more time together. This winter, he asked me to read a book by Tim Keller called Making Sense of God. The book got bogged down into the historicity of the Bible, among other things. This approach does not appeal to me. I think there are just things we humans can’t know for certain, and that some things should be taken on faith without too much wrangling or backing into facts and figures. It feels cheap to me when I hear these kinds of arguments.

In Zen, practitioners have a concept called “fingers pointing at the moon.” In this case, the moon represents the Truth, which in my novice words, is kind of the individual goal in Zen. The fingers represent the writings and other messages from practitioners. Zen recognizes that some writing is parable, some is fable, some is historical, and some is a mix of all. But the idea is that there is something for everyone. If parable gets you closer to your own Truth, great. If picking apart historical facts and figures are your gig – that’s cool too. Use it all to find what works for you. This aspect of Zen actually helps warm my heart to the Bible when I hear people tell me that Creationism is an indisputable fact and Noah had dinosaurs on the Ark. I respect your right to believe that, but I reserve the right to doubt it.

Compatible behaviors

Finally, what I really love about Zen is that the expectations are compatible with world religions. So practicing Zen – which in my humble opinion is pretty much ancient psychology – can be held in the same head and heart as a devout Christian. This was perhaps the bridging notion for me to delve further into Zen from the secular and generalized “mindfulness” practice. Zen is a peaceful, sensible, and effective practice that doesn’t try to extinguish other Truths.

If you’re interested in learning more about Zen Buddhism, here are some really great resources:

Being a Beginner

Several weeks ago, I posted that I am Learning to Climb. This week, I continued learning my new hobby by watching some instructional videos and continuing to apply the lessons at the climbing gym. I learned about static versus dynamic climbing and a few ways to move the body to reach new holds without relying on shear power. I went to the gym this morning eager to apply the lessons, which after about 60 minutes of bouldering, left my wimpy runner’s forearms and hands absolutely shredded. I took a break and while I did, I watched a couple of young teens easily scale the routes that had left my hands and forearms throbbing and nearly useless. Rather than being daunted, I cracked a smile. Just a couple of weeks ago, I wouldn’t have been able to recognize how much better these teenagers were than me. I didn’t know to follow routes or attempt to climb with any technique. That realization prompted a thought: I love being a beginner.

I didn’t always love being a beginner. In fact, I hated it. In my youth, if I wasn’t naturally pretty good at something from the start, I didn’t want anything to do with it. I see this same tendency in our younger children. It is difficult for them to have the confidence to try something and look silly in the process. I’ve read before that this is one reason adult learners have a harder time picking up addtional languages – they have gotten to a point of mastery in their first language and don’t want to make silly mistakes while starting anew. These days I’m quite happy to put on a dunce hat and try something new. To a point. You’ll still never see me strap on a set of dancing shoes and hit the club – that is simply not my scene. However, in many, many other things I am happy to try and fail and try again. So that realization prompted another thought – especially in light of inspiring our kids to try something new: what changed? 

Best I can trace it, I think it all started when I went back to college as an adult learner to pursue another degree. In this case, I was motivated by the potential for advancement in the workplace, and – let’s be honest – the money that comes along with it. I went into a business program at a local liberal arts college to pursue a Bachelor of Arts in Management and Leadership. The experience was life-altering. Up until that point, I had boxed myself into adult life with a wife and kids and kind of thought, “This is it. I’ll go to work, come home, sit on the couch and watch TV, play with the kids and then go to bed.” Rinse and repeat. I assumed development was now in the children’s boat. But my time in college courses exposed me to philosophy and interesting reading; to class room discussions about ethics and professional development. I built confidence through writing papers and giving presentations. I was way better at this stuff than my first go at university. Soon, I was developing in other parts of my life as well. I joined an adult soccer league. I started running to be a better soccer player. I got into much better physical shape, which made me eager to try more new things.

As I consider helping our kids find their passion for becoming beginners, I am a bit flummoxed. My motivation was intrinsic because I wanted to make more money and help the family continue to progress. It was an internal decision that no one asked me to make. The kids don’t have families or anything else depending on them to grow and develop. So I guess that’s the lesson. People develop at their own pace and I don’t know that there is much to do to speed it up. I will just continue to expose the kids to new things and maybe something will click. And… well, maybe it won’t.

What’s your approach to getting out of your comfort zone? Do you have any tips for helping younger learners be confident enough to try new things?

Stop Kicking the Can Down the Road

Hi everyone. My name is Troy and it’s been five weeks since I’ve posted. I’m full of excuses. Busy at work, planning a trip, international travel, illness, different spring breaks for four kids, yada yada… But in reality, there’s a wealth of things on the list to write about and I haven’t made the time for it. If I’m honest, I haven’t had the inspiration. I have sat down multiple times to craft a post, and I haven’t finished one. So this is the marker I’m laying down. Write, or hang up the keyboard.

I have several posts planned. Here’s a quick list of what I’ll post in the coming weeks:

  • Travel:
    • A frequent visitor’s guide to Barcelona
    • Buying property in Catalunya
    • Attending El Clasico as a Barcelona fan in Madrid
  • Fitness:
    • Being a Beginner
    • Learning to Climb Part 2
    • Running – Continuing Return from Injury
  • Mindfulness:
    • Why Not Inner Peace through Christianity?

Learning to Climb

This year, I’ve set some non-running goals for myself. It’s a good thing too. Because of some silly over-training on my part, I’ve come down with posterior tibial tendonitis (PTT). PTT is much less frequently experienced by runners than the dreaded plantar fasciitis, which I’ve also had, but PTT has proven to be just as pesky to get rid of. After 6 weeks of physical therapy, I’m still unable to run any distance pain free. I have learned over the years that in order to maintain my mental stability in a demanding workplace, I need to move. I’ve also learned that I do better when I’m moving outside. Last year in the summer, my cousin, her husband and I hiked to the top of Mount Chocorua and it helped to fuel a whole new fire in my belly.

I have some lofty climbing goals for the year. My cousin’s husband invited me to join his three-person group to summit Mont Blanc later in the year. At 4,810 m (15,781 ft), this isn’t exactly a walk in the park. While my fitness should not (at least before my self-inflicted injury) be an issue, it would be good to get more experienced on trails and in wintery conditions since the top of Mont Blanc is glacial ice year round. So, we have planned a couple of tune-up climbs. This coming weekend, we will – weather permitting – climb Mt. Washington in New Hampshire. While the altitude is not stunning at 1,916 m (6,288 ft), the climb is fairly technical and the weather can get downright treacherous. Some 150 people have died on Mt. Washington since record keeping began in the mid-1800s. As such, I’ve been taking a multi-faceted approach to training.

Getting Vertical

That’s me up in the purple zone. And yes, for you experts, it is an easy course.

Growing up in the foothills of the Appalachians, I’m no stranger to hills. I’ve even done a bit of ill-advised, inexperienced bouldering (rope-free rock climbing) in my youth. But on the whole I have very little experience going vertical. So, I’ve recently been going rock wall climbing at a local gym in town. We are very lucky to live in a metropolitan area with these kinds of options, since the tallest natural peak around me can be measured in the tens of feet. I’m finding that I love climbing. Much like running, it gives me a sense of accomplishment. While I’ll do it when I have to, I sincerely detest machine or free weight training for the sake of weight training. It just does not leave me feeling accomplished. Climbing on the other hand has everything I’m looking for: problem-solving, a great muscle work out, and some elements of cardiovascular exercise as well. I’m sure a seasoned climber would tell you that my technique is terrible, but still, I’m pretty reliably going upward and building in confidence. Even better, my wife agreed to join me on my last trip and it appears that this might be something we can do together. While I don’t intend to do any actual vertical climbing on Mt. Washington or Mont Blanc, getting experience well help me remain confident and sure-footed as we take to steep ascents on higher terrain.

Equipment Test

I learned this year that Mountaineering is chocked full of equipment. Extra stiff mountaineering boots, crampons, trekking poles, lightweight layered clothing, eye protection, and on and on. The acquisition of this long list of surprisingly expensive equipment has turned me into bit of a bargain shopper, as I’ve learned the ins and outs of various websites and specialty stores. Now with a tub full of equipment, I figured it was important to get out and try out some of the gear, as the first time I wear this stuff should not be on the mountain. So, I recently packed up and headed out on my local running trail for a 10k hike while completely over-equipped. I’m sure I was a real sight as I strode around a trail essentially designed for running while dutifully using my trekking poles and carrying a pack replete with ice axe. At least it was a little snowy that day so I didn’t completely look like I was off my meds. Here’s what I learned:

  • Super-stiff mountaineering boots are great for keeping your Posterior Tibial Tendon relaxed. These things are not too dissimilar to a medical immobility boot
  • Super-stiff mountaineering boots are, on the other hand, not great for my outer most toes during long-range hikes on mostly flat ground. Mine were both quite red and quite angry at the end.
  • Trekking poles are surprisingly helpful, especially when precariously balancing on rocks while crossing a stream in sub-freezing temps
  • There are many sharp points on an ice axe that, if not carefully positioned on your backpack, will in fact poke you repeatedly
  • Super-stiff mountaineering boots are also not excellent on ice in spite of what appears to be quite aggressive treads on bottom

Strength Training

I know what I said earlier about strength training, but I’m actually happy to weight train if there is a purpose. As I watched YouTube videos about climbing Mount Washington in the winter, I came realize that I’m in for quite a workout. And since I’m not able to run any sort of distance at the moment, I knew I would need to hit the weights. So, three to four days a week I’ve been working the major muscle groups. Squats, deadlifts, bench press, dips and pull ups have become my friends again along with a bunch of core exercises. For years now, I’ve been running at least an hour a day roughly 6 days a week. It hasn’t left a lot of time for weight training. As one might imagine, I have lost a fair amount of strength and muscle mass. But here’s the other thing I forgot. Weight training makes me ravenous. So now I’m gobbling vast quantities of food that I haven’t needed or wanted and my… ahem… waistline is suffering a bit. I’m resisting pulling the fat pants out of the closet, but I know from experience that I’m getting dangerously close to opening an embarrassing stitch line with one ill-timed stoop to pick something up off the ground. Let’s just hope I can keep my pants in one continuous piece until I can get back to running.

Sense of Purpose… and Impending Death

On the whole, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the shift in focus from running as I learn new mountaineering skills. It has given me a sense of purpose in my free time since I’m unable to log the running miles that I’ve grown accustomed to. I still have so much to learn, from knot-tying to belaying, to not having an ice axe come loose and stab me in the face. Yes, that last little number was a tidbit I picked up from reviewing the manual for my recently acquired ice axe harness. Apparently, mountaineering is a bit of a medieval sport.

This is absolutely part of the instructions that came with my recently acquired ice axe leash