Random notes

I’m fighting my way through my second cold in as many months. This latest one has been worse than last month’s. I think I picked it up at the Ravens/Seahawks game a couple of weekends ago. It has featured the worst cough I’ve had in probably several years. In fact, the cough was the initial symptom — I never got a sore throat. Sinus impacts have also been minimal — I had a stuffy nose for maybe 2 or 3 nights. It laid me up for a couple of days with fever, chills, and cold sweats, to where I thought it might be flu, but I think the fever went away too quickly for it to have been flu. Then again, maybe it was flu, but the flu shot I got in September reduced the severity. I do know that it wasn’t COVID, unless the test I took gave me a false negative. The main story has been the cough. In the beginning, it was wheezy and unproductive, but it has become productive in the past day or two, which has me crossing my fingers that it’s finally on its way out.

The other thing this cold has done is to completely sap my energy. After spending last Thursday and Friday lying around doing nothing, I managed to get the swimming pool winterized on Saturday, over the course of the entire day, with frequent breaks. Sunday, I tried running, and struggled to complete 3 miles at 12:30/mile. Monday (yesterday), I ran again, with only slight improvement: I was exhausted after 3 miles, but managed a pace of 11:30. The silver lining was that my form and cadence seemed pretty good both days, which tells me that my running biomechanics are improving, as I’m no longer sacrificing form for less important things like pace.

This morning, I took the new hard-tail mountain bike back out. It was my first time on a bike in a week. While I was slower than usual, and got winded more easily, it was not a bad ride overall. It was more enjoyable than either of this week’s runs, but that’s not saying much. I have to say that I’m really impressed with how well this bike performs on technical climbs. There’s a trail in the PVSP Avalon Area called “Water Bars”, which is a rocky ascent straight up the river bank, with a few wooden erosion barriers along the way (the namesake “water bars”). I’ve struggled for years to get all the way up this trail on my full suspension bike without stopping or putting my foot down, but I have never quite succeeded. Today, I tried it for the first time with the hard tail, and rode right up it. It didn’t even seem very difficult, and this was in spite of my being under the weather. I’ll still take full suspension any day for descents, but the hard-tail is the clear winner when it comes to going uphill. I just need to get back to the point where I can do it without getting winded!

Running Improvement

I did not have high expectations for this morning’s run. I woke up feeling fine, but still feeling some lingering effects from the past week’s cold. I felt about the same two days ago, and did not have a good run at all. I figured today would be more of the same, but it was much better. I went 10K for the first time in a week, at a fairly respectable pace and cadence, and didn’t poop out at the end. So, I think it’s safe to say I am improving, although I suspect I was a little better hydrated today as well.

My right hamstring is not improving as quickly as I would like. I spent a little while foam rolling and stretching it before running today, and that helped. However, it’s still stiff during my runs, particularly when running uphill and/or stepping up with the right leg. I wonder if KT tape would help — I am pretty sure I still have a roll lying around here somewhere.

Run Notes

Really tough run today. I feel like I’m “over the hump” with this week’s cold, which is to say, I felt OK when I woke up this morning. I still have a slight (productive) cough, and some minor clamminess occasionally, but for the most part, I feel fine. For the second Friday in a row, I skipped climbing and went running instead. I actually felt better when I ran Tuesday than today. I ran the same route as Tuesday, but stopped when I hit 5 miles. I was dragging for almost the entire run. My average pace was around 11:10/mile, and cadence was also low, at 179 steps/minutes. On top of that, my right hamstring seemed more stiff than it did during my recent runs. It’s possible that I was mildly dehydrated, and I did not do anything in the way of warming up, foam rolling, or stretching before heading out; but, I think this cold was the main thing slowing me down today, and I just have to let it finish running its course.

Vitality Brazil French Press

This afternoon’s cup:

  • Beans: “Brazil Yellow Bourbon” medium roast
    • Roaster: Vitality Roasting (Minneapolis, MN)
    • Roast date: 9/20/2023
  • 20 grams coffee, 280 260 grams water (1:14 1:13 ratio)
  • French press
  • Gooseneck kettle
  1. Preheat French press
  2. Heat brew water to 99°C
  3. Coarse grind (JX setting 30, or 3 rotations)
  4. Start timer and pour at the same time
  5. 60 second bloom (including pour time)
  6. Stir a few seconds until grounds settle
  7. Steep 6 minutes, plunge, and pour

This was a much better cup than yesterday’s. I kept everything the same, except I started with hotter water, and I remembered to preheat the French press. The result was a more robust, better extracted brew. I feel like it could have been a little bit stronger, so maybe 1:13 will be the sweet spot. The pourovers I’ve been making with these beans have been a little bit lackluster recently, so I may stick with the French press until I use them up.

In totally unrelated news, I was amazed with how quickly I bounced back from the COVID booster I got yesterday afternoon. The only symptoms I had were minor body aches last night and this morning, which disappeared after I took some Ibuprofen. This is in contrast to all of my previous shots, after which I had 24 to 36 hours of flu-like symptoms (aches, chills, shakes, fatigue, slightly elevated temperature). None of that this time around. The big difference: my past shots were all Moderna, and yesterday’s was Pfizer. I guess I must tolerate the Pfizer vaccine better.

10/5: Brewed again. Kept everything the same, except I reduced the water to 260g for a 1:13 ratio. This seemed like a good strength. I have enough beans left to brew about 3 more cups, and may just do all of them like this.

10/9: Used the beans up this afternoon. I had 26g left, so I used 338g of water (1:13). I believe this was the best cup I’ve gotten with them using this method. I didn’t do anything differently, so I wonder if it had something to do with the larger volume of water. I’m also wondering if the speed and/or length of time of stirring makes any difference in the finished product.


Still dealing with some off-and-on nerve pain in the ball of my right foot, which cropped up around the third week of August. It’s close to the same area where I had a neuroma back around 2016-2017, and while I can’t rule that out, the symptoms aren’t quite the same. In 2017, when I saw a podiatrist, I got a cortisone shot in that area, which I don’t think did me any long-term favors. Oddly, it seems to bother me most when I’m sedentary, and in particular, in bed when I wake up in the morning. It’s just a generic kind of aching pain, and the nerve feels kind of “weird” when walking barefoot and when swimming. Running does not bother it at all, but I’ve aggravated it a couple of times while climbing. On Monday, I did a bunch of lead climbing, and I could tell I tweaked it on the first route I climbed. This morning, I climbed 6 routes on top rope, and had no problems. I was really careful with the foot, sticking to mostly overhanging routes with juggy holds, using the bad foot mainly for balance and trying to avoid putting too much weight on it. I also wore a metatarsal pad on the right foot, which I think helped. It definitely helps while walking on the treadmill and with static standing. It looks like I can keep climbing for now, but I’m going to need to baby it like this until the issue clears up. I suspect I’m going to have occasional issues there for the rest of my life, and the key is going to be to manage it to prevent flare-ups. The silver lining here is that the whole experience with the neuroma is what convinced me to start wearing minimalist footwear and “Correct Toes”, which was a long, tough transition from conventional footwear, but absolutely worth it in every way.

Notwithstanding our current September heat wave, pool season will be winding down for us in just a few short weeks. According to Apple Health, I took my 48th swim of the season this afternoon. That’s about 20 fewer than this time last year, but I never intended to match last year’s total. My first swim this year was June 2, so I’ve managed to average about one swim session every other day this season. That average will drop a bit, as I’ll be missing a week this month due to travel, but all in all, I’m pretty happy with how the season went. I’m swimming more strokes per session this year as well (703 strokes for 2023 vs 651 for 2022). One really weird statistic: for the first time in the 22 seasons we’ve owned the pool, this is the first year that nobody outside our immediate family has been in it. Times have definitely changed since the days when we used to throw a massive pool party every summer…

This and that..

On July 6, I noted some recent issues with tightness in my right calf, which has been a recurring issue with me. I’ve suspected that poor kicking form while swimming freestyle and backstroke might contribute to this. I did not swim at all while we were on vacation last week, and had no tightness issues for the entire week. However, I’m noticing that a little bit of tightness is back today, also in the right calf, and I have not yet been in the pool. It just occurred to me that both days I’ve had the issues were right after I took long drives. On July 4, we took a 6-hour day trip to Pennsylvania, and yesterday was a 4-hour(!) drive home from Bethany. My right leg, of course, is the side I use for the accelerator pedal. Could there be a connection here?

While at the shore, I picked up a few half-pound bags of coffee beans, including some light roast (breakfast blend) from Local Coffee Roasting Co. in Roxana, DE. Today was my first foray into brewing anything lighter than medium roast in the AeroPress. I followed the James Hoffmann recipe pretty closely:

  • 11 grams coffee, ground at 42 clicks on the JX (1.5 turns minus 3 clicks)
  • 200 grams water at 99°C (1:18.1)
  • Two paper filters
  1. 20 second pour
  2. Steep 2 minutes
  3. Take off scale and swirl
  4. Wait 30 seconds
  5. Press 30 seconds

The end result was OK, but lacking in flavor, which tells me I’m probably not getting enough extraction from the beans. In his video, Hoffmann recommends adjusting either the grind size or the water temperature to address this, instead of upping the amount of coffee, which you might do with a darker roast. Next time, I may try going a little bit finer with the grind, and possibly heating the kettle water to a full boil and pouring directly off that.

Afternoon notes

Something is definitely up with my right foot and calf, as I’ve been getting some discomfort in the rear of the foot towards the heel while walking on my treadmill desk. My right calf also seems really tight, which is an issue I’ve dealt with a lot over the years. As I wrote yesterday, I suspect that it is an ankle mobility issue. It has gotten a little bit worse since I started swimming backstroke a few days ago, and I do think my kicking technique needs a lot of work. For the time being, I am going to stop doing backstroke and probably cut down a bit on freestyle, focusing more on breaststroke and butterfly, and see if it calms down. I’m also going to focus a little bit more on exercises to improve ankle mobility. I found this page, which seems like a pretty good resource.

I tried making some iced coffee this afternoon. I have a fair amount of pre-ground Wellsley Farms (BJ’s store brand) breakfast blend coffee with a “best by” date of August 2023, so I’m looking for creative ways to use it up. Since it’s ground fine for drip machines, it’s not ideal to use for cold brew, so I decided to try this recipe for iced coffee. I followed the recipe to the letter, using my electric kettle and measuring everything out with a scale. It’s the closest I’ve come to doing pour-over coffee. I don’t (yet) have a pour-over dripper, so I used a strainer and a regular coffee filter, and dripped the coffee into a Pyrex 2 quart measuring cup. Ideally, I need something a little bit deeper for this, as I had to lift the strainer up at the end to keep it out of the brewed coffee. But other than that, it turned out fine, and made about 24 ounces of iced coffee. It wasn’t all that strong, but good for a summer afternoon. I tried mixing some with a little bit of chocolate almond milk, which was tasty, but the almond milk doesn’t mix well with the water, and I had to keep stirring it to keep it from settling. Real dairy milk might fare better. At any rate, I’ll probably try doing this again.

Snow Day Musings

We’re getting our first real snow in these parts in about two years. Looks like 3 or 4 inches fell yesterday, and it’s been snowing off and on for most of today. Not a big snowfall by historic standards (I can still see the grass blades sticking through), but a lot by recent standards. In normal years, this would probably be a snow day, but now that everything is remote, it’s a normal work day for me and school day for the kids. Along the same lines, I used to ride my bike to work in almost every weather condition imaginable, but there’s much less of an incentive to go out and brave the weather when I’m telecommuting. That’s where the under-desk treadmill (which I’m using as I type this) is coming in really handy. Without it, I wouldn’t be getting any exercise on days like this. Of course, one could argue that the treadmill provides an additional disincentive to going out in the snow, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’m happy as long as I can get my exercise in one way or another. I may try to get out on the mountain bike tomorrow or Wednesday morning. It will be a learning experience, as I’ve never ridden in the snow before. I’m sure enough people will have been out by then that the trails will be very well-packed. Should be interesting.

My lower back is still not quite 100% after I tweaked it a week and a half ago, but I think it’s getting to the point where the injury itself is mostly healed, and I’m mainly dealing with residual muscle/fascia tightness and soreness. Activity in general doesn’t bother it, but I find it stiffening up on me after an hour or so on the treadmill. I have a rather large arsenal of home remedies for it: exercise, yoga, ibuprofen, Voltaren gel, CBD oil, foam roller, heating pad, somatic exercises / pandiculation, inversion table, and a few I’m sure I left out. I’m very new to using an inversion table, and thus far, it has been eye-opening. I was lucky to score one for free, as my parents were getting rid of their Teeter. I have some occasional issues with positional vertigo (BPPV), and as such, was worried that inverting would make me dizzy and nauseous. Well, it did, for the first couple of times I tried it. Then, I got used to it, and now I can tilt back to 60º for several minutes at a time with no ill effects. The keys seem to be to avoid doing it immediately after eating, and to tilt gradually to allow time for the inner ears to adapt. I’ve been getting into the habit of hopping on the inversion table right after getting off the treadmill, when my back is a little stiff, and I have to say that after inverting for 5 minutes, my back feels great. The spinal decompression that you get from inversion obviously has some therapeutic benefit. The one thing that I don’t really like about the table is the ankle retention system — I just do not find it all that comfortable, even after adjusting it several different ways. Teeter sells a gravity boot adapter kit for the table, which looks like it may be a good investment if I decide I want to continue using the table long term. It could also just be that my ankles need some extra time to “adapt”. I’ll see what happens in the coming weeks.

Polar H10

I’ve decided to try exercising with a heart rate monitor (HRM) again. I first tried one of these way back in the early 2000s, before I even started this blog. Back then, Polar sold a chest electrode/transmitter strap paired with a LCD wristwatch that received the signal and displayed the heart rate. It was primitive by today’s standards, but worked pretty well. That model had a big design flaw, though — the strap had a non-replaceable battery, and once it died, the strap was worthless. Also, the transmitter was built in to the strap, and activated by moisture. As a result, unless the electrodes were bone dry, the battery would run down. The new design is much better. The model I have is the H10, and the transmitter snaps onto the strap, and has a replaceable battery. The big difference is that it no longer comes with a watch. Instead, it uses bluetooth to connect to your favorite device (phone, watch, gym equipment, etc) where you then run an app of your choice to receive and process the heart rate data. Polar has its own app for this called Polar Beat, but there are many others out there as well.

I mainly had running in mind when I got the H10, but I also plan to use it occasionally while biking. So far, I’ve used it three times: twice while running, and once while using my treadmill desk. The latter was mostly out of curiosity: I wanted to see how high my heart rate got while I walked along at 2 mph. Turns out it tops out at around 80bpm. For running, I’m evaluating 2 different apps: RunKeeper (which I’ve used for many years) and Polar Beat. The jury is still out, but I’m currently leaning towards Polar’s app, as it includes more features without a premium subscription (the premium features are unlocked when you pair a Polar HRM with the app). I’m going to run with it a few more times, and see what I like and dislike about it.

I do kind of miss having a wristwatch, as it’s kind of difficult to get a point-in-time heart rate reading from the phone, particularly this time of year, when I keep it underneath various layers to keep the battery from running down in the cold. It may be less of an issue once the weather warms up. I may go back to using an armband in warm weather. There’s also the Apple Watch, but I’m not sure I’d get enough use out of it to warrant the price. I’m sure I’ll figure something out after I’ve been using the HRM for awhile.

Another year older

My birthday was last Thursday. It was a great day, except for the part where I threw my back out. I was just finishing up a MTB ride, and was riding a familiar section of trail that I almost always pass through on the way home. It’s a slightly technical spot, with a steep descent, followed by a small creek crossing, followed by a brief rocky climb. I usually just power right through it. I’m not even sure what I did this time around, but I could tell right away that my back was unhappy about something. Five days later, it’s still not 100%. The joys of middle age.

In my 20s and 30s, I wasn’t all that easy on my back, but managed to avoid major injuries. I wised up in my 40s, and have been pretty careful to avoid stressing it, but sometimes it just happens. This time around was unusual, because I wasn’t lifting anything. I started out by taking ibuprofen, but the past couple days, I’ve mainly been using Voltaren gel (recently made available OTC in the U.S.), which helps, albeit temporarily. Yoga helps as well, and yesterday, I tried an inversion table for the first time. The jury is still out, but stretching it that way did feel good. I think I have to ease into inversion a little bit more slowly, though, as I felt kind of dizzy and queasy for awhile afterward.

The good news is, the back issue hasn’t kept me from running, road biking, climbing, or walking on my treadmill desk. I was a little apprehensive about climbing at first, but it actually seems to help. I stuck mainly to gently-overhanging terrain, which kind of naturally stretches the back out as you hang and reach for holds. To an extent, gentle movement in general seems to work better than sitting or lying down. I haven’t yet tried mountain biking, but I’ve got to think the injury was a freak occurrence, as I’ve biked through that particular section dozens of times without issue. I suspect I was seated when it happened, so I probably want to make sure I’m out of the saddle the next time, so that my back moves independently of the bike.

Anyhow, I’m hoping that as long as I’m careful about my activities, this will resolve itself before too long. Keeping my fingers crossed.