Running Tempo

If for some reason you’re looking to give your lactic acid thresholds a really nice workout, then there is nothing like a quick five km run with a metronome in your hand.

Apparently nearly all elite runners, whether they run 5ks or marathons, run at a cadence of around 180 steps per minute.   The variance in speed tends to be a function of stride length, rather than rate.  So, I grabbed my metronome from a music stand and went out on a quick 5k loop.

It was an intense experience.  There’s no hiding from the metronome, it’s like having a drill instructor yell at you continuously as you run.  The moment my stride faltered I felt myself missing the rhythm, and I had to scurry to get back on track.   Running slowly didn’t help me escape it, as I still had to work to maintain the fast turnover.

So, not a relaxing evening jog, but I think a productive exercise that I will repeat from time to time.

Note: an alternative to carrying a metronome in your hand is to download a fixed-tempo mix from podrunner, a site that carries a whole bunch of hour-long mixes set at anything from 140 to 180 BPM.

Sixty Thousand Steps

A few weeks ago I tried to run a half marathon.  That didn’t go so well. So, now would be a good time to regroup and think carefully about setting appropriate goals for myself, taking into account my fitness levels, my time, my propensity towards knee pains and so on.

I’ve done that, and I’ve come up with a new goal for next year.

I’m going to run an ultramarathon.

Specifically, I want to target a 50k race next year.  Now, this might sound a little crazy given that I’ve never gone beyond 21k, but there actually is method to my madness.  I figure that I’m at a point in my training where I can go one of two ways.  I can carry on running, take time off every time legs complain, and maybe do the odd 5k or 10k race.

Or I set myself what they call in the business world a Big Hairy Audacious Goal.

The thing is, at the moment I can’t possibly run that kind of distance, for some very specific reasons.  My gait isn’t right, and I have very tight hip and thigh muscles, specifically my ITB and TFL.   These aren’t big problems when I’m only running 5k, but are serious limiters when I go out long.  If I stick to shorter runs, then I’ll never have to address these underlying limiters, and I could probably even train out to half marathon reasonably well.

But if I want to go really long, then I can’t fake it.  I have to rebuild my gait properly, and I have to put in the hard work with stretching and foam rollers to work out my problem muscles.  Indeed, I expect I’ll probably spend more time doing this kind of rehab over the winter than actually running.

So, if you live in the neighborhood and see a crazy guy running barefoot on gravel trails, it’s me re-teaching my ankles and calves to run lightly and fluidly.  And my long-suffering family will have to put up with me grunting through hours of foam roller work.

But I’m going to make this work.  I’m fed up with having my legs give up when I still have fuel in the tank.

And if anyone is looking for a training partner willing to put in some serious mileage, give me a shout.


Wither Bitcoin?

Bitcoin is possibly the most interesting and game-changing technology to have been created in the last 10 years.  I think that there is a real possibility that it will succeed where other alternative currencies have failed.

What’s interesting me at the moment is what the path of adoption will be.  Until recently I assumed that the early adopters would all be geeks: people wanting to buy and sell virtual goods, World of Warcraft weaponry, or technical services such as programming and graphical design.

Now that I’m more familiar with the various bitcoin exchanges I wonder whether the currency is more likely to find early use as a Forex tool.  It’s very easy to transfer money from a source currency to bitcoin to a target currency, and transferring bitcoins around the world doesn’t require middlemen, fees, or regulation.

We’re obviously a long way from being able to buy a coffee at Tim Hortons with a cryptocurrency, but I think that eventually a healthy market may well emerge, with a large number of goods and services being traded for bitcoin.  I shall be following developments with interest.

Church 2 – Painswick United

A challenge every church has to face is building a service that engages the entire age range of the congregation.  How can we create a worship environment that has space for 6 year olds and 60 year olds?

Painswick United church is doing a better job answering that question than almost any church I’ve visited.

The church has a small but diverse congregation, and is currently meeting at the plaza on Hurst Drive.  The focus of today’s service was prayer, based on Matthew chapter 7.

Although we frequently refer to the church as a ‘family’, it seems that in most churches our corporate acts of worship are segregated; kids in one place, adults in another.  Kids and adults have different leaders, different activities, and different lessons.

I know from experience how hard it is to craft an environment where children and adults can learn and participate together, so I was very impressed that I witnessed that this morning.  A space was created at the front of the church for the children to gather, and they were led through a short and engaging lesson about understanding prayer as an opportunity to connect and commune with God.  Then the kids got to sit at the craft table at the back of the building while the adults were led through pretty much the same lesson.

Prayer is a transformative process.  We encounter God’s presence when we pray.  God is concerned with more than our immediate happiness: he wants a relationship with us and wants us to grow and mature into people that love and bless the world around us.  Prayer is not the thoughtless repetition of phrases, but an active engagement with God that can change us as much as the world around us.

Important words for children and adults alike.

I think after only visiting two churches I’m already beginning to see some common strands.  Believers who want to be connected to one another, and see the churches of Barrie bless the city.  I hope I continue to see this as I continue my journey.



Question 3 – What is Meant by ‘Job Creation’

So, another day, another election.  Today the Ontario Provincial election campaign begins, and despite my pleading for assessing each person standing on their individual merits I can’t name any of my local candidates.  But I’m sure that over the next few weeks we’ll be hearing a lot about the leaders of the parties, and especially about their election promises.

One thing they’ve already started talking about is ‘job creation’.  This phrase is frequently used in political discussion, but it’s rarely clearly defined.  A little story may illustrate the problem.

Once upon a time there was a politician called James.  James had a son, let’s call him Jim, around 12 or 13 years old.  Jim was a particularly active boy, and one day while playing in the back yard managed to throw a rock through the kitchen window.  His dad sighed, and picked up the phone to the local window company to come and fix it. 

Later that evening, thinking about the large bill he had just paid, and the hours of work that it had taken the two man crew to clean up his kitchen, James came to a realization.  He should be proud of his son, not mad, because he’d just stimulated the local economy!  The glaziers had had work for the afternoon, and their company revenue had increased.

So James immediately rushed into the back yard and picked up as many rocks as he could carry.  Then he headed out on his mission, and didn’t stop until he had thrown a brick through the window of every house on his street.  Then he went back home, pleased with his job creation efforts and looking forward to the praise that he would undoubtedly receive.

This story is known as ‘the Parable of the Broken Window’, and shows that it’s not simply more work that we want created.

But as it happens, we can create jobs without offending our neighbors.  I will do so now.

I will pay the first reader of this blog who responds one dollar a year to clean my house, mow my lawn, shovel my driveway, and perform any other maintenance  tasks I can think of.

Somehow, I think I’m not going to get any takers, despite the fact that technically I just created another job opening.  Clearly that’s not what we mean by ‘Job Creation.’

So what is it that we want?  A slave is not content because she has a ‘job’, even though she has the privilege of working 12 hours a day.  And, indeed, I suspect a huge percentage of Ontarians are deeply dissatisfied with their current jobs.

So when candidates start talking about ‘job creation’, perhaps we should ask them exactly what they mean.  And maybe we shouldn’t elect them until we’re satisfied with their answers.

Church 1 – Redwood Park

Redwood Park Church meets on Sunday mornings  at Emma King School.  Check it out if you live in Letitia heights – the people are friendly, coffee is served before, during and after the service, and the snacks they serve with it are to die for!

This is a small, informal group, there were more kids than adults when I attended, and I got a friendly welcome from nearly everyone in the building.   Before the service had even started I’d had a long chat with one member about the church’s mission, and with the pastor about youth ministry, the role of liturgy in worship, and the links between the emergent movement and Anglicanism.  I love a good theological discussion, so this was a good start.

The service itself I’ll call ‘classic school gymnasium church-plant’.  This style has its ups and downs regardless of the specific church.  School gyms are not built with acoustics in mind, and no matter how talented the musical leadership is, any sound system in an echoing gym will easily drown out unamplified voices.  From where I was sitting at the back, I couldn’t hear a single voice that wasn’t part of the music team.  I worry that we tend to see worship as something that we observe, rather than something that we do.  There is a big challenge for our churches to figure out how to create spaces that progressively draw people into active encounters with the divine.

The questions I’m asking as I undertake this journey are “why are you here” and “what is God doing?”

Redwood Park exists, I was told, for a couple of reasons:  To provide a space for those that would otherwise not be able to find a church home, both ‘outsiders’ and those ‘heading out’.  It also wants to serve the less privileged areas around Anne St/Letitia Heights.

As to what God is doing in the city in general: answers I heard include churches in Barrie becoming less insular, and more outwardly focused, with a greater emphasis on serving the local community.

So, one down, seventy-two or so to go.

Seventy Three Churches and Counting

The city of Barrie has, as far as I can tell, 73 churches.

This year I intend to visit them all.

Now, you might ask yourself why I would voluntarily choose to sit through 73 sermons, when I could be catching up on sleep, or sitting in Second Cup, or organizing my filing cabinet.

As someone who’s avoided church as much as he could for the last year, and finds it almost impossible to sit through a sermon without either walking out or writing copious notes on each point that I disagree with, I’m even a little surprised myself that I’d choose to do this, but I do have some specific reasons.

I may be a harsh critic of the church, but deep down I do still believe that Christ loves her.  We followers of Christ may be fragmented, we may be argumentative, we may frequently get things wrong, but I believe that Christ sees beyond our denominational boundaries, our weaknesses and our failings, and cares for us and wants to work redemptively through us.

I also have some specific questions that I want to ask to the entire Christian community in Barrie:

  1. May I come in?  What is really meant by that ‘All Welcome’ sign hanging outside?
  2. What is God doing in the city?  I am curious to see whether I will get one answer to this question, or 73.  Will the Ukrainian Orthodox give me the same answer as the Pentecostals?
  3. Why is your church here?  Again, I’m intrigued to see how broad a response I will get.  Will the pastor tell me the same thing as the guy sitting next to me in the pew?

I suspect other questions will arise as I begin my visits – what would you ask the churches of your city if you had the chance?

Question 2 – What is Acceptable Use of Political Violence?

image courtesy of

Another tricky one today.  One time when I entered Canada I was asked whether I had ‘ever been affiliated with an organization that used violence to achieve political goals.’

I was very tempted to say ‘yes, I’m a British Citizen.’

I doubt that an immigration desk is the right place to have a detailed philosophical discussion about if and when it is acceptable to use violence to further political aims.  A border agent probably isn’t that interested in debating Just War theory, or pacifism, or the culpability of the citizen for the actions of the state, or Weber’s idea’s of the Monopoly on Violence.

However, this blog is exactly the right place to have that discussion.

So, when is it justifiable for one group to kill people for political reasons?  Karl van Clausewitz said that “War is the continuation of policy by other means”, and then spent 10 (surprisingly readable) volumes discussing the best ways of conducting war.  But he only considered the actions of nation-states.  In today’s world we have national armies, but also private security outfits, militant groups, and indeed lone individuals, all of whom have both political goals and the ability and motivation to harm others in order to achieve them.

Even categorizing these groups presents difficulties.  In Iraq, anti-government forces tend to be known as ‘insurgents.’  In Libya, anti-government forces are referred to as ‘rebels.’  Members of the African National Congress, such as Nelson Mandela, were referred to variously as revolutionaries, militants, freedom fighters and terrorists.  Even the language that we use carries a heavy weight of implied judgement, making it hard to objectively consider when and where violence may be justifiable.

So, is it acceptable for one nation to invade another to acquire resources, or perhaps in pre-emptive defence?  Is it OK to bomb or shoot a corrupt dictator?  If so, must the killer be part of an organized national army, or a distinct political group, or does the rightness of the cause permit a lone actor to take matters into their own hands?  What about the use of violence against citizens, or ideological groups, or criminals?

And if we can answer these questions, can we then mold them into a cohesive theory that applies both to the actions of the state but also to the responsibilities of the individual?

Today I will go to work, and some of the tax I pay on my income will be directed towards the Canadian armed forces.  As a direct result of my labors, bombs have been built, guns have been loaded, and ultimately, on the other side of the world, people I’ve never met have been killed.

How do we respond to this?  Is it possible, as a society, to agree on the place and limitations of political aggression?   And can we do so in a way that acknowledges and cherishes the fundamental value of each human life?


Learning to Ask Questions

It’s been suggested to me that it would be a good idea to get in the habit of asking questions, as well as trying to answer them.  So in that spirit, I’ll be doing a series of posts about questions that I have on my mind.  Hopefully these will become themes that I explore in greater depth over the next few months, but for now we’ll focus on just outlining some areas of inquiry that intrigue me…

Question 1 – is GDP a good measure of a country’s health?

image courtesy of

GDP, or Gross Domestic Product, is a measure of the economic output of a country.  It seems to be an unspoken assumption by nearly all economic commentators that more GDP is better than less.  If the GDP of a country declines, then we call that a recession.  If it grows, we call that a ‘healthy’ economy.  Indeed, we seem to use all sorts of anthropomorphic adjectives to describe the world of financial transactions.  Think about it:

The economy is struggling.  The economy is recovering.  The economy needs to be stimulated.  The economy is crippled. The economy is healthy.  The economy is at risk.  The economy is growing.

In fact, if we didn’t know what the word meant, we might hazard a guess that ‘The Economy’ is the name of a friend’s slightly wayward toddler.

Which brings me to my question.  A toddler, of course, should be growing – physically, emotionally, and intellectually.  But not all growth is good.  We are told that it is good for a country to experience continuous economic growth of a few percent every year.  But unrestrained, exponential growth of living cells is know by a different name.

We call it cancer.

If our industrial output grows at, lets say a nice conservative rate of 2 percent a year, then after 10 years we will be producing 21 percent more goods and services than when we started.

After a hundred years we will be producing seven times as much.

After a thousand years, we will be producing just shy of 400 million times as much.

Seriously.  Try the math.  Enter 1.02 to the power of 1000 in your calculator.  The answer is 398,264,651.

400 million times as many cars.  400 million times as many cell phones.  And filling 400 million times as many landfills.

Does your city have space for 400 million landfills?

And if not, then how should we measure the health of a country?