Your Occasional Stoic — Pity the Gossiping Neighbor

Nothing is more wretched than a man who is always out and about, running around in circles. As Pindar says, the poet says, “delving deep in the bowels of the earth” seeking by conjecture what is in the minds of his neighbors, without perceiving that it is sufficient to attend to the divinity within him. Reverence to the divine in himself consists in keeping it pure from passion and thoughtlessness, and dissatisfaction with what comes from gods and men. For the things from the gods merit veneration for their excellence; and the things from men should be dear to us by reason of kinship; and sometimes even, in a manner, they move our pity by reason of men’s ignorance of good and bad; this defect being not less than that which deprives us of the power of distinguishing things that are light and dark.

  • Meditations 2.13

marcus-aurelius

The Greek doesn’t actually name Pindar, it merely says the “poet” but the quopte is from a Pindar Fragment.

There’s a lot going on here – first the now standard cheerleading of Marcus to himself to be not like the gossiping neighbor, judging the motivations of his friends, but more like the stoic sage focused on his own, inner strength (and weaknesses).

Stay away from thoughtlessness, Marcus tells himself, again. Focus on facts. Don’t let you passions control your actions.

Still and also, pity the gossiping neighbor, the harm he does it not just to those he judges, but also to himself, moving farther from knowledge by failing to interrogate his own mind before worrying about the minds of others.

Classical Sources for the Milo Stories

A collection of the classical sources for the Milo stories. More on Milo can be found here. 

On Saving Pythagoras and the Philosophers:

Milo, who was the most renowned of wrestlers, and lived in terms of intimacy with Pythagoras, who abode long in this city[meaning Croton]. They relate that at a banquet of the philosophers, when one of the pillars in the hall gave way, Milo sustained the ceiling while they all escaped, and afterwards saved himself. (Strabo, the Geography, VI, 12 trans. Hamilton)

Statue portending to represent Pythagoras

Critical of Milo for his reliance on brawns over brains:

Nothing can be more truly contemptible than a circumstance which is related concerning the famous Milo of Crotona. This man, when he was become old, observing a set of athletic combatants that were exercising themselves in the public circus: “Alas!” said he, bursting into a flood of tears and stretching forth his arm, “alas! these muscles are now totally relaxed and impotent.” Frivolous old man; it was not so much the debility of thy body as the weakness of thy mind thou hadst reason to lament, as it was by the force of mere animal prowess, and not by those superior excellences which truly ennoble man, that thou hadst rendered thy name famous. (Cicero, Sen. 9.27, trans, Melmouth)

Whoever has a reasonable portion of strength, and exerts it to the best advantage will feel no great need of more. Milo is said to have walked the race course at Olympia, carrying a live bull on his shoulders. Which would you rather have, strength like his, or a genius like that of Pythagora? Employ the boon of bodily vigor well while it remains; when it is gone, do not bewail it, unless indeed, young men should crave boyhood, and the middle-aged should covet youth. (Cicero, Cato the Elder: Or, a Treatise on Old Age 10.33)

Marcus Tullius Cicero

On Milo and the Wolves:

It is likely that, trusting to the same strength, he met his fate as related by some, for whilst making his way through a thick wood, he strayed considerably out of the path, when finding a great log with wedges in it, he thrust both his hands and feet into the fissure, intending to split it completely, but was only able to force it enough to let the wedges fall out, when the gaping log presently closed on him, and he, being taken as in a snare, was devoured by wild beasts. (Strabo, the Geography, VI, 12, trans Hamilton)

Milo and the Wolves

2014: My Physical Year

While 2014 was a great year for my reading, it was less than stellar year for exercise. Being the father of an infant does occasionally allow me to read late into the night, but its has made finding the time to exercise more difficult. In 2013 I spent a fair amount of time rock climbing and doing body weight work (push ups, pull ups, etc.). I all but gave up on these pursuits in 2014. I did not go climbing once and I did a negligible amount of body weight work.

I’ll have more on my goals for body weight work and introducing other athletic pursuits in my 2015 goals post.

So with no climbing, and little body weight work, all that was left was running. With a total of 1,073 miles for the year 2014 wasn’t my worst year (that would be 2009 – when I ran a mere 690) but it was also far off from my best year (2011 1670.5) and even farther from my goal of 2,000 miles.

There’s always next year, right?

Here’s some further slicing and dicing of the numbers done mainly for my own amusement:

  • I ran 1,073 miles in 230 separate sessions for a total of 165:24:35 hours spent running around in circles like a goddamn idiot.
  • That’s an average of 4.67 miles per day at an average pace of about 9:15 per mile.
  • My longest run was a paltry 13.5 miles in 2:07:36 on September 7 across the Williamsburg, Manhattan and Union Street bridges.
  • My shortest run was one mile. I did it repeatedly; running only a single mile a total of 29 times.
  • 97 of my runs and 547.5 of my miles were in Prospect Park, which is significantly more than anywhere else.
  • I ran one half marathon ( Brooklyn Half 1:49:08), a number of 5ks, and I set a PR at the five mile distance at the NYRR Club championships — finishing in a time of 39:24 for a 7:53 pace.

All in all, not a great year. Not my worst, but certainly not my best. As I figure out this whole fatherhood thing, I expect much bigger things for 2015.

2013 Goals – Bodyweight Exercises

In order of priority the three kinds of physical activity I am focusing on are running, body-weight work, and rock climbing.  Being me, there are  of course tons of other types of exercises I dabble in, including cross country skiing, cycling, tennis, swimming, boxing, lifting, the list goes on.  But I’m not taking any of those particularly seriously.  The only activities I’m setting goals for this year are running and body-weight.  I enjoy climbing immensely, and hope to do more of it in the coming year, but I am also realistic enough to know I am never going to be able to give the sport the time needed to get truly good at it.

I’ve already written about my running goals, here are some thoughts on body-weight training.

Body weight training has always appealed to the minimalist in me, I love the simplicity, and I aspire to have the grace and strength to weight ratio of people like Jim Bathhurst from Beast Skills.

How to get there?  I’m taking a four pronged approach – research, strength building, increased flexibility and skills training.

Research

First, I’m researching, thinking, watching and reading.  Soon I’ll be doing a lot more writing.  I’ve been dipping into Overcoming Gravity, the best book I’ve found on body-weight training.  I’m watching tons of youtube videos and I’m pestering Joe at movementmovement for help.  I have a lot more to learn. For now I’m going to focus on building strength at the major body-weight exercises, improving my flexibility, and developing two skills – one upper body and one lower body.

Strength

For strength, I’m going with  four foundational body-weight exercises – push ups, pull ups, dips and squats.  I’ll be doing these every other day with goals of 100 push ups,30 pull ups, 50 dips, and 100 squats in single sets.  I’ll be doing all four exercises in a single session three times a week, tentatively on Tuesdays, Thursday, and Sundays.  Lumping them all together in a single day will likely slow my strength progression, but such are the breaks.  For the push ups I’ll be using the 100 push up challenge program.  For the other exercises I’ll just be slowing inching up the reps.  This program starts tomorrow.  I’m excited.

Flexibility

There is substantial debate about whether increased flexibility is good or bad for endurance athletes.  This is what I know – stretching feels good and the more flexible I am, the better I feel.  When I was coming back from Achilles injury last year, flexibility played a big role in my recovery.  I’m going to keep that up and make a commitment to extensive stretching every evening, with special attention to my hamstrings, hips, ankles, and shoulders.  I’m still toying with this routine.  I’ll post more details at some point.

Skills

Finally, this winter I’ll be working two longer term skills – the free standing handstand and the pistol.  I chose the handstand because its foundational for so much else that I want to do, and it’s a fucking bad-ass move to pull out at picnics.  The pistol is an incredible test of strength, flexibility, and balance.  Plus, it is supposed to help my rock climbing.

For these skills I’ll be using the tutorials Jim has on Beastskills, plus some guidance from my good buddy Joe.  For now, I’ll be working these skills at the start of my body-weight workout sessions.  Once I have some strength, I’ll probably start working the handstand and the balance aspects of the pistol every day.

I know what you’re thinking – “Geesh Sean, that’s a lot. How are you going to fit all this all in ?”  Here’s how I’m thinking it will break down:

It could be I am biting off more than I can chew, I’ve been known to do that.  If I have, I’ll regroup.  But for now, this is the schedule.

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
AM Easy Run AM

Easy Run

AM

“workout” Run

AM

Easy Run

AM

Easy Run

AM

Long Run

AM

Rest

PM

Stretch

PM

Bodyweight/

Stretch

PM

Stretch

PM

Bodyweight/

Stretch

PM

Stretch

PM

Stretch

PM

Climb/ Bodyweight/

Stretch

Although they are boring, and no one reads them, I’ll going to be bringing back to weekly training total posts to track my progress.  Here’s to a year of injury free fun!

Some Thoughts on the Early Days of Strength Training

As I have written before the Milo of Croton story which seems to resonate in the fine arts is the story of Milo’s death wherein Milo attempts to rend a tree in half, but is not strong enough.  He ends up caught within the tree and devoured by wolves.  Not a pretty story, but it has made for some pretty pictures.

The other, more inspiring story of Milo, wherein he trains by lifting a calf onto his shouldersday after day until it becomes a bull is not nearly as well represented in the arts.  In the modern era, this story lives on mainly through the bodybuilding and strong man underground.  Google “milo and the calf” and you’ll soon end up on a message board where dudes are talking about getting swole.  Me, I’m not interested in getting big.  In fact, for my sporting needs it is all about getting small.  But that doesn’t mean I’m not still fascinated by strong man culture, especially in its early incarnations.

The early days of strength training share a lot in common with the early days of modern distance running – athletes with little or no access to scientific studies experimented with their bodies, figuring out what worked, and what didn’t.   Systematizing what it meant to be strong or “well developed” was a very hit of miss endeavor.  Eugene Sandow lead the way at the turn of the century by attempting to model his physique on that of Greek statutes.  Others followed, creating the kettlebell, the barbell and, eventually, modern strength training.

Sandow posing as the Dying Gaul

Some early strong men claimed to be modeling their training directly on that of the ancient Greeks, most notably our man Milo:

Tennessee strong man Robert Edward “H.E.” Mann

This is Robert Edward “H.E.” Mann, a strong man who lived in Tennessee.  According to relatives, he trained for this feat just like Milo, picking up this bull every day since it was a calf.  There are those out there who do not buy this – they think the photo is doctored.  I don’t know, looks real enough to me.  Besides, like the image of Bill Rodgers running in circles around the same pond in a Boston suburb day after day, year after year, the idea of a guy somewhere in Tennessee in the 1950’s picking up a cow everyday just warms my heart.