A New Contest For Self-Published Novels

To anybody who has self-published a novel in the last few years, it should come as no surprise that the world of self-publishing has been getting more and more legitimate as it grows. And if you had any doubts about that trend, then a new contest for self-published novels should help convince you.

The Guardian newspaper has become the first major newspaper to recognize the fact that self-publishing is the new frontier of publishing with a new monthly contest.

This contest is a monthly contest open to works of 40,000 words or more. You have to be 18 to submit, and your book has to have been published by you and not some third party publisher, independent or otherwise. There are a bunch of other rules and terms and legal thingies that go along with the contest. Read them here.

Did I mention this is a monthly contest? So if you miss the deadline for this month (and for April I can tell you that you have indeed missed it), no worries. Submit it next month.

So do you have a DIY novel on Amazon? Then what are you waiting for? Get submittin’!

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VBA Geeking: How To Change The Color Of A Task Row In MS Project

Sorry about the two week absence. I was on vacation last week (as much of a vacation cleaning out a garage and painting a bedroom can be–more on that another day), and the week before I was crazy busy at work preparing to be out for a week.

So, to celebrate being back, I thought I post a little something that came up just before I left.

A co-worker asked if I knew a way to change the color of a task row in MS Project when something in the task changes. The first question I asked her was “Does Project have a Task Change event?”. I’m not too familiar with the object model for MS Project, so I didn’t know off the top of my head.

Her answer was “Yes, it does.” Okay, good. The hardest part is done. I didn’t have to worry about creating my own custom event, something at which I’m not terribly strong. All I had to do was to capture the task being changed and change that task’s row’s color.

I started off by recording a macro to see what the VBA looked like when I changed the row color for a task. From there, I set about ripping it apart and re-writing it.

The result is below. The way I approached it was to grab the active cell. That should be the task that’s being altered. The Cell object in Project has the Task as one of it’s properties. So once I grabbed the Cell, I could set another variable to the Task.

From the Task, you can find the Task ID as a property. This is ultimately what I was looking for. Using the Task.ID, you can select an entire row. And once the row is selected, you can change the color.

My own little addition to this clean up was to make the code a function with a boolean argument. If the inbound boolean was True, then fill the cell with a color (I chose yellow, but you can fill in your own preference). If the boolean was False, then blow any highlighting away. Using this argument, a developer could make an evaluation in the Task Change event and decide whether the row should be filled or not.

Here’s the finished code:


Function ChangeTaskColor(FillIt As Boolean)

' Descripion: Change the color of the active task.

' Arguments: FillIt (boolean): True=fill in the task row with a color;

'                               False=clear any color from the row

 

' Constant declarations

Const vNO_FILL As Variant = -16777216

Const vYELLOW As Variant = 62207

 

' Variable declarations.

Dim Cel As Cell

Dim Tsk As Task

' Set the active cell variable first, then

' use it to get the task in which the cell resides.

Set Cel = ActiveCell

Set Tsk = Cel.Task

 

' Using task ID, select the entire row.

SelectRow Row:=Tsk.ID, RowRelative:=False

' Highlight the selected row.

If FillIt Then

Font32Ex CellColor:=vYELLOW

Else

Font32Ex CellColor:=vNO_FILL

End If

End Function

As I said, I’m not all that familiar with VBA in MS Project, so I had to poke around the object model for a bit. This might not be the most optimal way of approaching this. If anyone has a better way of tackling this challenge, please comment below. Always interested in learning better ways of doing things.

How Was Your Weekend?

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Won’t lie, this weekend was a little soul-crushing.

We’ve decided to paint the master bedroom. Well, let’s back up a bit. We’ve decided we need a new bed. The current mattress is eleven years old, and nobody’s back is happy with that. So it’s time to replace it. Plus, the bed frame is the same age, and after eleven years of kids jumping into the bed with us, the frame has hit the “wobbly” stage.

We’ve started looking online at beds, and one of the questions we’ve been asking ourselves is whether it’s time to get a whole bedroom set. We haven’t made a decision on that, but we know the bed itself has got to be replaced.

When we get the new bed, we’re probably going to put it in a different place. Move it to a different wall. It’s good to change things up once in a while. It will actually go back to the way it was set up when we first got the bed, when my daughter was an infant

If we’re going to get a new bed and put it in a new/old spot, then the bookshelves need to come down. These have been up for close to nine years and they are the rail kind of book shelves. They span the upper part of one wall. They have to come down and the wall be repaired, which means that, before the new bed, I need to paint.

All that said, this whole process started this weekend with me taking down books and boxing them up. Some of them I’ll pull back out again, but a lot of them I’ll put into storage until I know what I really want to do with them.

So the soul-crushing task of boxing up books was started this weekend. You can see by the pictures below what a difference it makes with and without the books, and how much space they’re taking up in the hallway. (Right now my kids are enjoying the new “echo” the room has.)

That was my weekend. How was yours?

 

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“Change”: Behind The Scenes

“Change” was written a long time ago, by my writing standards. It’s been over a decade since I wrote it, and nearly that long since I thought about it. Which made posting it yesterday a nice kind of remembrance.

So how do I post a behind the scenes on a piece of writing that goes back a ten years? Especially since I don’t have any notes lying around to reference?

Pretty easily, as it turns out. Certain aspects about this one stick out even many years after the original writing.

What prompted the story is probably what prompts 99% of all fiction: a “what if”. I have a very clear memory of waking up one morning and stretching, hands way up in the air over my head, and I had a sudden visual of what it might be like to wake up with nine fingers. The “what if” filled itself in from there. What if I woke up with nine fingers, but I had gone to bed with ten?

That started the ball rolling. From there it became an exploration of how the main character, Jim, would feel if he woke up with only nine fingers. Would he freak out? Would he notice at all? Would he even care? At this point, the character’s mindset became my own. How would I react if I woke up with only nine fingers, certain that I had gone to bed with ten?

My feeling at the time was that I’d most likely question myself all day. Was my memory of ten fingers true? Had I always had only nine fingers? Was I going crazy? All of these and a ton more would go through my mind, or at least that’s what I told myself.

Early on I realized I wanted to put some more pressure on the character. It was time for the transformation to progress. Now the “what if” morphed from “what if I woke up with only nine fingers” to “what if, every time I woke up, something had changed?” This, then, became the backbone of the story, a character caught in the middle of a metamorphosis he cannot understand and cannot control. If, while reading “Change”, you at some point flashed back to your high school English torture session of having to read Kafka, you wouldn’t be far off from what I was attempting. This was my version of “Metamorphosis”, but not on the scale of Kafka. I didn’t want to transform my character into a bug. I wanted to transform him into another person.

But not just the character of Jim. Not just his body. I wanted his whole world to change. I wanted everything he thought he knew to slowly transform, sometimes before his eyes, until he and his world was completely different from where he had started. That’s how the character of Julie got introduced to the story. So that someone else could be a part of this change, so that we had the sense that this wasn’t happening just in one guy’s mind. It was inevitable that Julie change, and become Heather, and that she would have no concept of any of this happening around her. Only Jim would be able to see it. And in the end, he’d have no memory of it.

One of the tougher parts about “Change” was trying to maintain a balance between making this a fun kind of lightly scary story while trying to avoid becoming too dark. This wasn’t a work of horror, a genre I wrote in for a period of time, and it wasn’t sci-fi, though in a way, it kind of was. It was in a sense magical realism, and maybe borderline existentialism, without being heavy-handed. I wanted to avoid the heavy-handed stuff. I didn’t want my person to transform from a nice guy to a serial killer, and I didn’t want that to be a place where the reader thought it could go. I wanted to give the story a little bit of levity. That’s how the “bris” scene in the shower came about. (I thought it was funny, at any rate.)

Singularly the toughest part of the story was how to end it. This was one of those that started as a great “what if”, and then during the execution, you stop and go “Um, what now?” I was pretty stumped on how to end the story. Once the character changes, he’d have no memory of who he was before. The story is pretty deeply embedded in his point of view, and because of that, it didn’t feel right to take a big step backward and from a more distant point of view end with the equivalent of “They lived happily ever after.” I don’t even know if they lived happily ever after. They might have. But they were living as brand new people with no memory of who they were before, so the ending from their point of view would be bland, would be everyday, would be a non-event.

It was my wife who helped me end the story by suggesting that the main character (who was no longer Jim but had now become Peter) just ask Heather if she were hungry and leave it at that. So I did.

That’s the story behind the story. It was fun to revisit this one. It was suggested to me in the comments of yesterday’s post that this should be the start of something larger. I’m not convinced that’s the case. I’m not sure where I would go with it. Would I focus on how this happens to select people all the time? Would I have Peter have glimpses of remembered pasts of being Jim and have him struggle to unearth the mystery? All of these things feel too much like “The Matrix” to me, without the awesomeness of the martial arts. That, and I have a couple of other writing projects I’m woefully behind on. So for now, My feeling is to let this one go.

What do you think, Good Reader? Knowing now the background of the short story “Change”, should I mine the depths of it to see what more the story might hold, or should I call it a night?

“Change”: A Short Story

It’s been several months since I posted a previously published short story, so I figured now was as good a time as any to add one. This one was published twice, originally by The Nocturnal Lyric (2005), which I’m sad to say folded in 2011, and it was included in the Silverthought Press anthology Ignition (2005). Tomorrow I’ll provide a little “behind-the-scenes” for this one, in the same way I did for “The Dance”.

Change

By Scott Lyerly

© 2004

Jim Shippee awoke one morning to find he was missing a finger.  Not like the finger had been chopped off, but rather like it had never been there.  As he yawned and stretched his fingers to the sky, he realized that one of them was gone.

He looked at his hand in bewilderment.  The coffee had not yet started, and his eyes refused to focus without his glasses.  Lifting them off the bed table and placing them on his face, he stared and counted his fingers.  The left pinky was gone.  He counted again.  One, two three, four.  No five.  No pinky.  He assured himself that he was overlooking something, something a shower and some breakfast would clear up.  He would prepare for the day, and the strange math mistake he had just made would be rectified.

But his morning routine did not return his finger.  He counted once more.  Four fingers on the left hand, five fingers on the right.  Had he always only had four fingers on his left hand?  Could he have been born with only nine fingers?  He did not believe that was something to be easily forgotten, but perhaps…?  As he walked out the door, he tried not to think about it, which was like trying not to think of getting sick when you’re already feeling nauseous.

***

When Jim awoke the next morning, he checked his fingers.  Still nine.  He had hoped that his missing pinky would regenerate overnight or possibly appear magically.  Neither happened, and despite his misgivings, Jim chalked it up to a strange memory lapse.  He would simply learn how to live with nine fingers.  Not too difficult, since it was the pinky.  Losing a thumb would have been much worse.

He rose from his bed and ambled awkwardly into the bathroom, still sleepy.  He stepped on the scale, fairly unhappy with the results.  The mirror revealed his coarse face.  His hand rubbed lazily over his cheek and then stopped.  Something was wrong.  Something in his reflection was not right.  It took him a moment, and then he realized that one of his brown eyes had become blue.  He moved closer to the mirror in slow motion, unable to believe the reflection.  One eye was no longer the deep soft brown that women found compassionate.  It was now a hard icy crystal blue that stood out from his face like a red dress at a funeral.

Jim was scared.  He didn’t know what to think, though he was one hundred percent certain that his eyes had both been brown until today.  His mind suddenly clicked.  His bathrobe fluttered around his ankles as he ran downstairs and lifted his wallet from the foyer table.  He pulled out his driver’s license and there, in full color, stood one eye blue, one eye brown.  His breathing became shallow.  Desperately, he scurried around the living room, picking up pictures from various spots.  He with his parents, he with his sister, he with his girlfriend.  Every picture showed eyes of two different colors.

Back in the bathroom, his reflection stared back at him.  It seemed foreign, amused, almost demonic.  It did not remind Jim of himself.

He went to work because he had to, but he could not concentrate. The oddest part for Jim that day was that no one noticed.  Not one person who knew him said a word.  It was as if he had always had the strange separate colors in his eyes.  The only person unnerved was Jim.

***

Jim spent an uncomfortable night on the couch.  Trying to explain it to another person would make little sense, but his concern was that his bedroom—more specifically, his bed—was causing bits and pieces of his body to transform or disappear altogether.  He did not even use his own pillow, lest it be contaminated by some unknown, flesh-eating, body-changing virus.  He pulled the blanket to his chin and closed his eyes.  He dreamt his reflection came alive and attacked him.

Waking with the sun on his face, he slowly opened his eyes.  He woke with a certain understandable nervousness, since, for the last two days, waking meant finding something had changed.  Rising from the couch, he went to the foyer mirror.  He stood in front of it with his eyes closed, screwing up the nerve to open them.  When he did, he let out the breath he had been holding.  Nothing different, at least not since yesterday.

He scanned his arms and legs and fingers and toes.  He pressed every inch of his face and head and found nothing out of the ordinary.  No change in his features, no new colors in his eyes, no odd lumps on his head.  He shook his head to clear it.  Maybe he had slight amnesia.  Maybe his features had always been as they currently were.

The day was Friday, and after one last day of work, the weekend would be here.  His girl, away for the week on business, was coming home.  They could go to a movie or out to dinner, something to take his mind off the changes.  Should he confide his strange experience to her?  Perhaps, together, they would find the answer.  This was assuming that she, unlike his co-workers, noticed the changes.  How could she not?

He threw off his clothing and stepped into the shower.  Outside the bathroom window, sparrows startled from their perches when Jim shrieked.  He trembled in the shower.  Something had changed overnight.  And this one he was absolutely certain of, unless a phantom rabbi had sneaked into his house last night and performed a midnight bris.

***

Saturday dawned a gray pallor in the overcast sky.  Jim awoke in his bed, having decided that the couch was a far more dangerous place to sleep.  He prepared for the worst, slid out of bed into his slippers, and tried to make his way to the bathroom.  He ran into the wall.

Stepping back, he looked at the wall.  The soft sage green color caused the crisp white trim to pop out.  But it was still just a wall.  Jim stared, wondering what was wrong, until he realized that there used to be a door there.  Now fully awake, he looked around the room and found that the door was now at the other end of the wall, by his bed.

Jim opened the door slowly and peered out.  The hallway was exactly the same as it had always been, except that now Jim’s door opened at the end of the hallway instead of in the middle.  He stepped through the door, not really knowing what to expect.  This was the kind of thing that happened in horror movies.  But the hallway was silent, and Jim, more unsure of himself than ever, entered the bathroom to shower.

After a careful examination, he called his girlfriend.

***

He met up with Julie to see a movie.  Waiting to see her was agonizing.  The nervousness he felt reminded him of the first time he met her.  Butterflies fluttered in his stomach, and he suddenly felt the urge to go to the bathroom when he saw her car pull into the theater parking lot.

Closing the car door, she walked towards him, her blonde locks falling in loose waves to her shoulders.  She ran the last few steps, and the two caught each other in a hug that felt like it lasted forever.  If she’d noticed anything odd about Jim, she had said nothing.  Nothing about his eyes as she looked into them, his hand as she held it.  He felt a small bit of relief.  But when he looked at her again, he noticed that the radiant green that colored her eyes had vanished.  It had been replaced by a brown so deep it was almost black.  He stared for a bit too long, and when she asked what was wrong, he simply shook his head and smiled.  He was quickly becoming terrified.

When it had ended, Jim could not even remember the name of the movie.  He spent the entire time trying to find the best way to ask Julie if her eyes had always been that color.  He ducked into the bathroom to relieve himself of the gigantic soda the theater called “small.”  He zipped up, washed his hands, grabbed some paper towels, and looked into the mirror.  The other eye had now joined the first, and they both shone out of his face in the same icy blue.  The sharp pointed nose he had always used to balance his glasses on was now a small round bulb.  He felt his face gape in horror, but the reflection smiled back wickedly.

Jim felt his breath grow short.  The changes were no longer nightly occurrences.  Like some strange lycanthropic manbeast, he was changing almost before his maniacal icy blue eyes.

Yet Julie noticed nothing.  She had said nothing about the changes.  In fact, she seemed to be changing, herself.

Jim walked out of the bathroom and stopped dead in his tracks.  Across from the entrance waiting for him was Julie.  She stood looking off into the distance at some movie poster, but her hair was brown, though it fell in the same loose waves as it had before.  Jim stared at her for a moment, then forced himself to walk forward.  Sidling up to her, he said in a rather glib manner, “Nice hair.”  The comment escaped Julie.  She thanked him for the compliment, looped her arm through his, and led the way out of the theater.

***

Later in the evening, Jim stalked out of the bedroom in an absolute huff.  Julie hurried after him, both of them draped in sheets.  Jim thundered down the stairs, trying to rid himself of the previous moment.  Julie followed him downstairs, asking what the problem was.

“Well, I don’t know about you, but when my girlfriend says another man’s name during sex, I find it more than a tad disturbing.”

She gave him a puzzled look.  Jim repeated himself, and Julie called him the same name again, asking him what he was talking about.  Jim wanted to believe that she had simply blanked on his name, but that was absurd.  He picked up his wallet off the table in the front hallway.  He opened it and yanked out his license and brandished it under Julie’s nose, proving his name.  She took it, looked at it, smiled weakly, and turned it around for Jim to see.  Staring back at him was his face as it currently was.  The name on the license read Peter Naragett.  Even as he looked at the picture, it changed.  Jim rushed to the mirror and found that his face had changed to match the picture on the license, or perhaps the license had changed to match his face.  He wasn’t sure anymore.

Peter dropped the license on the floor as the room around him swirled with change.  He was caught in a haze of memories, losing old ones, gaining new ones.  He looked back at Julie, who he now had difficulty thinking of as Julie.  For some reason, he desperately wanted to call her Heather, because that was her name, not Julie.  Why had he been calling her Julie?  Who was Julie?  And why was he so upset?  His head began to throb.  He needed some aspirin or maybe something to eat.

“Heather,” Peter asked, “are you hungry?”

VBA Geeking: How To Correct An Error In MS Project Custom Ribbon Callbacks

First off, an apology. In trying to find the best way to post code, I’ve used a couple of different methods in my various posts, and if you’re trying to utilize the code, it can be a bit disjointed. So I apologize for that. I’m still trying to find the best way to post code on WordPress.com, since the “” tags work like dogcrap. I think I finally landed on the best way, which I used in this post. If it works well (and easily), I’ll use it going forward.

That said, here’s an interesting one.

I was playing around with some code in Microsoft Project. I’m in the Project Management Office at work, so I have reason to deal with MS Project on a fairly regular basis.

While I’m no means an expert on MS Project, I did find the need recently to do a bit of a proof of concept with it. Specifically, I was looking to see how easy it would be to add a small amount of code that would be used to save a project plan to a central network location. In essence, a submission of that plan to a centralize place for PMO consumption.

The code to save to project plan was easy. And so to, apparently, was the code to add a new tab and button to the MS Project ribbon.

Below is the code I used, which was lifted largely from the following site: http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/office/ee767705(v=office.14).aspx

Sub AddPMORibbon()
' Description:  Adds a button to submit the project to the PMO.
    
    ' Variable declarations.
    Dim ribbonXml As String
    
    ' Build the ribbon XML string.
    ribbonXml = "<mso:customUI xmlns:mso=""http://schemas.microsoft.com/office/2009/07/customui"">"
    ribbonXml = ribbonXml + "  <mso:ribbon>"
    ribbonXml = ribbonXml + "    <mso:qat/>"
    ribbonXml = ribbonXml + "    <mso:tabs>"
    ribbonXml = ribbonXml + "      <mso:tab id=""pmoTab"" label=""PMO"">"
    ribbonXml = ribbonXml + "        <mso:group id=""pmoGroup"" label=""PMO Actions"" autoScale=""true"">"
    ribbonXml = ribbonXml + "          <mso:button id=""pmoSubmitProjectPlan"" label=""Submit Project Plan"" "
    ribbonXml = ribbonXml + "imageMso=""ImexRunExport"" size=""large"" onAction=""btnSubmitPlanToPMO_Callback""/>"
    ribbonXml = ribbonXml + "        </mso:group>"
    ribbonXml = ribbonXml + "      </mso:tab>"
    ribbonXml = ribbonXml + "    </mso:tabs>"
    ribbonXml = ribbonXml + "  </mso:ribbon>"
    ribbonXml = ribbonXml + "</mso:customUI>"
    
    ' Build the ribbon UI.
    ActiveProject.SetCustomUI (ribbonXml)
    
End Sub

When I started playing with this, the very first thing that jumped out at me was the SetCustomUI property. What on earth was that deliciousness?

This is from the Office Dev Center webpage for MS Project:

Sets the internal XML value for a custom ribbon user interface of the project.

Oh, that is so beautiful. Using a string variable, you can set and customize the ribbon using VBA. Or, let me put it another way: I didn’t have to use the damn CustomUI Editor in order to create a custom ribbon.

Why is this available in MS Project? More to the point, why is this NOT available in Excel? Excel, which has to be the most heavily programmed and customized of the Office products, does not have this feature. Whiskey tango foxtrot?

Before this becomes more of a rant than I intended, let’s stay focused on the point of this post, which is to point out and show how to correct an error in the code. Because if you lift the sample code right from the page from where I pulled it, you may encounter an error.

I say may, because If you copy and paste it directly as it is, it will work. If however, you start to program a little on your own (for example, as I have below), you just might get the error that follows.

Option Explicit
Option Private Module

Sub btnSubmitPlanToPMO_Callback()
    SubmitPlanToPMO
End Sub

Untitled picture

I won’t lie, part of me, the really cynical part, thought “Good. If Excel can’t have it, no one should.” But that’s a lonely way to live, so I started hunting down causes. Turns out that the issue lies in the accessibility of the module housing the callback code. If the module is set to Option Private Module as it is above, you get that error. If you comment it out or remove it, such as below, it works.

Option Explicit
'Option Private Module

Public Sub btnSubmitPlanToPMO_Callback()
    SubmitPlanToPMO
End Sub

The trick, apparently, is not to hide the code from the users. The example on the webpage does not have Option Private Module in the code sample, which is why I say it may work. But that moment you go off and code something and try to secure it from view from the user, you’re hit with the error.

I have no idea way this works the way it does, as I’m not privy to, nor would I understand, the base code of MS Project itself. Quite frankly, I don’t really care why this small change fixes it, as I don’t do nearly enough coding in MS Project for it to make a difference to me. I do find it annoying, but not nearly as annoying as the fact that SetCustomUI is not a native part of Excel.

The Maffetone Method – A Comprehensive 6 Month Review Of My Training

With the end of March, I finished my first six months of using the Maffetone Method as a training program for running. For those of you unfamiliar with the Maffetone Method, you can find more information on Phil Maffetone’s website.

What led me to begin the Maffetone Method? It was two distinct things, really. I talked about both in a previous post, but to recap: I was fighting of a potential foot injury, and I stumbled upon one of Phil Maffetone’s books in the chiropractor’s office.

So began one of the more interesting experiments I’ve done for myself in a long long while.

Like all experiments, I knew I would need data for this one. So I created an Excel workbook. If you haven’t read other parts of this blog, then you don’t know that I’m a pretty sizable Excel geek. I created a workbook and started tracking the data I had available, namely, the date of each run, the number of miles, the pace per mile, the number of calories burned, the average heart rate, and the maximum heart rate.

All of this went into the Excel file, and then I started playing with it, creating statistical formulas with it, and graphing it. The first thing I did was to come up with the average pace per run. Easy enough. It’s just the average pace of all the laps in each individual run. The next thing was to throw out the highest and lowest average pace. My reasoning for this was two-fold: I knew eventually I would start racing (which I did back in January) and so, if I had one race per month (which I knew I wouldn’t, but just in case) then this adjusted average would throw the race pace out. Conversely, anybody can have a crappy training run (I’ve had several, such as this one) and an off day shouldn’t negatively affect your overall numbers. So the high and low pace went. That left the adjusted average pace for the month, and this would become the basis for measuring improvement.

But there’s a whole other piece to the Maffetone Method, and that involves heart rate. In order for the method to work, you’ve got to keep your heart rate at a specific target. Maffetone’s very basic formula is 180 – current age = target heart rate. As you get older, as I am, that drops the target WAY down. Running slow takes some getting used to, although after six months, it’s pretty easy to find a rhythm. But to do this, you need to strap on a heart rate monitor while you run. And this leads to the second major data point I needed to track: heart rate.

Heart rate is a tricky one, I found. I live in the Northeast, where there are hills and hills and more frickin hills. Going up the hill while trying to run at a slow pace means you usually have to drop down to a walk, which I loathe. Even then, the heart rate is going to go up and down. So I’m largely tracking to average heart rate, which is the measure of what your heart did the entire time you were running. Again, I’m throwing out the highest and lowest average for the same reasons I did so with pace: racing and crappy runs.

All this was a nice set up, except for two problems.

The first was a bad heart rate monitor. It was fine for a while, but then it started to do all kinds of weird things, like jump up to 179, then drop to 75, then stabilize around 142. This caused more than a few whiskey tango foxtrot moments for me. In addition to the jumps and drops, it was just not as responsive visually as I needed. Maybe it was recording the data correctly and in real time, but when it would go down as I went up a hill, only to go up at the very end and keep going up as I started down a hill made me realize it was probably shot. (Yes, before you ask, I tried replacing the batteries.) So at the end of March I got a new one (which I like a lot, but that’s for another post).

The second was that I cheated. Not really on purpose, and with the best intentions. I wanted to capture ALL the calories I was burning during a workout, which meant turning on the heart rate monitor even during the warmups and letting it ride during the cool downs. Thus, I was capturing calories burnt better, but I was also influencing the average heart rate by allowing the lower heart rates during warmup and cool down to lower the average. I did this during the first few Maffetone runs in September and all the ones in October, then I stopped. From November on, the heart rate data is cleaner than it was before, which might not be saying much given the quirkiness of the monitor.

Okay, so that’s enough background. What does the data tell me about the last six months? Well let’s take a look at the artwork (note: this is more or less the same artwork I posted in my update on my sixth month running, but today we’ll be focused on a few different things):

running_stats_6month_review

maffetone_avg_month6

The first thing I looked for was improvement. In its simplest terms, am I running faster now than I was six months ago? At first glance the answer appears to be No, I am not. In fact, I lost a few seconds overall in the adjusted average pace. But that’s compared to October. October seems to be an outlier of sorts. What you don’t see in here are the three runs I did at the end of September when I first started following the Maffetone Method. September’s adjust average pace is a good 45 seconds higher than October. And after October, my pace shot back up into the 12 minute range and has been coming down slowly since. (Not for nothing, but this slow improvement is the kind of improvement I would have expected from the Maffetone Method, and not wild swings.)

What’s the story with October? I can’t speak in absolute certainty, but I’m will to hazard a guess. I think it comes back to the “cheating” I explained above. Knowing that a walking warmup and walking cool down would lower my average heart rate, I think I, consciously or unconsciously, allowed my heart rate run higher during the main body of the run. This would naturally lead to a faster pace, as I could go longer with an elevated heart rate and let the cool down bring the average heart rate down. I say “consciously or unconsciously” because I don’t have a specific recollection of thinking of this strategy through and then executing it, but that was six months ago. So it’s possible. And September? With only three runs in that month and a new method to adjust to, the high pace was largely a matter of “getting used to it”.

In tandem with pace, I looked at my average heart rate. As with pace, this represents a number with the high and low thrown out. What did I see when I reviewed it? I found my heart rate was slowly going up. Not a lot. The highest average heart rate we see above is in February at 144. The lowest, excluding October, is 140. In addition, we seem to have a correlation between the rising heart rate and the falling pace. This one alarmed me. Because if my pace was dropping only because my heart rate was climbing, it means that I’m not really making much progress, only running a little faster without having improved my aerobic capability. Which could lead me to conclude that the method failed.

This is not what I wanted to hear.

It turns out that March, despite what a crappy running month it was (see above that I only got outside six times), my heart rate dropped back down to 142, as it was in January, and my pace between January’s adjusted average and March’s adjusted average dropped 9 seconds, from 11:41 to 11:33. This restored some hope I had that I might actually be improving.

So, assuming I am improving and not just running faster while elevating my heart rate, and if we throw out the skewed data from October, we can see that I improved by 48 seconds, from November’s average pace of 12:21 to March’s pace of 11:33. Over a five month time period, that’s a 9.6 second improvement per month.

But does that mean anything? Let’s put it in some perspective.

If I keep up this slow-run method of training, gaining (for the sake of argument, let’s round down) 9 seconds average per month, then in another two and a half years, the equivalent of thirty more months, I could knock 270 seconds off my average pace. That’s a 4 1/2 minute decrease. That would bring my pace down to 7:03 per mile. With a heart rate remaining in the 142 range. That’s frickin enormous!

Now, let’s add some reality to this. I’m not likely to decrease my pace by 9 seconds every month. There will be off months, there will be setbacks, there will be plateaus. I’m fighting with my foot again, which could be hugely problematic later in those two and a half years. In other words, shit happens. But let’s say that, on average, my pace only decrease by 5 seconds per month. That’s 150 second improvement, or 2 1/2 minutes, which would bring my pace down to 9:03 per mile while keeping my heart rate in that target zone. This is big stuff.

That’s my overall data analysis. But I’m not quite done here yet.

Let me take a step back for a moment from all of this data. I think I’ve sprained my math ligament anyway. I need to hobble to a chair to sit down. What I haven’t done yet is talk in the broad sense of how I feel. I’ll cover that now in two areas: injury and fuel.

The first is injury. How this whole Maffetone Method business got started was that I was developing a pain in my heel and went to the chiropractor to seek help, where I discovered Maffetone’s older book on endurance training. Truth be told though, it wasn’t just my heel, it was also one of my knees getting sore and a tugging going down my hip. The heel was just the biggest problem in the way.

I received treatment in the form of chiropractic care, and my legs and feet started to feel better. I also bought a new pair of shoes that are more minimalist running shoes than I had before. I bought those in early December. Here we are four months later. How do I feel?

The answer is qualified. I feel mostly pretty good. For the first three months or so, my foot felt fine. Only now, within the last few weeks, have I begun to feel the dreaded pain in the bottom of my foot. It could be that I need new shoes again. It’s been four months and about 150 miles on them. It might be time to replace them. I’m not ready to make that call just yet, I’m hoping to get more out of the ones I have, but I might not be able to do it. Especially now that winter appears to be over. With the arrival of Spring and the increase in light, I know I’ll want to go out, if not more often, than at least longer when I do go out.

But the rest of my body feels fine. My legs are good, my knees are not sore, I don’t feel any tugging anywhere. So for the injury side of things, slow running has helped keep me running while keeping me from being injured.

The second item is fuel. What I mean by that is how often I’ve “bonked” when running. When I was running last summer, I would always have at least a gel for a 6 or 7 miler along with a small running bottle filled with vitamin water. For longer runs I’d take a full set of the Clif Blocks.

I’ve run up to eight miles twice since using the Maffetone Method, with the average runs increasing to where I’m doing 5 miles for a regular run.

I have not “bonked” once. Not even shaky. For me, this is one of the most telling things about the Maffetone Method. Since I’m not “bonking”, I don’t appear to be relying on whatever glucose I have in my system. I should therefore be burning fat for fuel. (If only I were eating better, I might be losing the winter weight faster…)

So that’s where I am after six months. I’ll keep posting a month by month review of the immediately preceding month, and at the end of September, expect to see my running year in review.