Tuesday, January 31, 2012

my journey from the couch to the Ironman...

...in 12 short years.

Previously in my writings I had mentioned that I have been active my whole life, except for a large chunk of my 20's. In college I ran for a few months, I lifted for a few months, I skied a lot, I played a lot of racquetball, rode my Mt. Bike to class and on the trails a little.  I ran competitively in junior high and high school, fall, winter and spring.  In the summer and weekends was swim team and driveway basketball and backyard football and summer camp with all manners of running around.  If I think even further back I remember being one of the worst players on one of the best teams in the12 and under children's soccer league...We were good.  We won Championships!  Well, Willy won championships.  Willy and Dicky and Robbie and Robbie's Dad, the coach and Tommy, who was the toughest kid I knew.  But my point is that I rarely went more then a few days without doing something physical, some game or sport or activity that required human movement.

This next part of my story is so common among the "20 something college grad" set that it should have a name, "responsabilititis?".  I no longer had an easy outlet for recreational sports.  I was a little burned out on running and there was no good mt. bike trails where I lived in FL.  I didn't have a gym membership because things were tight and I didn't want to spend on a gym membership.  So I went to work every day and then I would come home and watch "Jeopardy" and I would drink a beer.  The weekends were more of the same.  Home Depot does *not* a workout make.  Then one day I turned 28 and my dog looked me in the eye and said, "Dude, we are fat!  Take me for a walk!  Tonight!"  Actually he said something that sounded more like, "HHHHhhrrrrumph..."but I could read his eyes and that's what they said.  So we walked for 20 minutes that night and 30 minutes the next.  Two weeks later we were walking a full hour nearly every night.  I still ate like normal, some good, some not so good.  Then we, Daisy and I, started running. First for 10 minutes to start the hour, then 20 minutes, etc.  Week after week, month after month as I would slowly build up the miles I also slowly took off the extra 37 lbs.  I would go running every two or three days, I was up to a comfortable 12 -15 miles per week.  Several years had passed in this manner, 2-3 per week and 5-6 per run, and I was getting bored with running again.  I needed a new challenge so I made a decision.  I issued myself a challenge.  In the middle of December in 1999 I resolved to run a marathon in 2000.  By January of 2004 I had finally run my marathon.  It only took me a touch over 4 years (and 3 hours 36 minutes).  Ya see, wha' ha' happ'n wuz...I kept getting hurt.  I would build up my miles too fast and then hurt a knee or a foot or the other knee or back to the first knee again.  Each time I took 2-4 months off and each time I came back I would build up the miles too fast and then get hurt again.  All these injuries led me to do more cross training.  Spin class then riding, yoga, lifting, swimming and running all had an equal place in my weekly schedule.  It also lead me to really think about the body and what it does and how it should move and the potential of it all, which lead me to do two things. By November of 2004 I became a personal trainer, so I can help others with what I have learned.   In September of 2007 I became an Ironman because it is just a frickin' cool thing to be able to say. 

So here I am right now, on the precipice of history(at least my own personal history), standing in the doorway of greatness (in my own mind) and I still need to remind myself of the lesson learned in 2000-2003.  Slow down, don't get too excited about short term gains, keep the long range plan in sight.  BUILD UP SLOWLY!  My plan is to only add 2 miles per week, per month.  So in Jan. I went 4 miles per week, in Feb I'll do 6 miles per week, etc.  I tried to do my first 4 miler over the weekend, I made it 3 1/2 before I had to walk it home, it's all good.  The next day I did a lovely 2 miles at tempo and felt great.  Monday was a rest day, Tuesday I taught spin, and yoga'd, Wednesday I lifted again.  All of this is going to work, it's just going to take a while.  But that's ok, nothing worth doing ever came easy, nothing worth having came with out a price.

3 1/2 miles easy on Saturday, 2 miles at tempo on Sunday.  Both felt as expected, hard but getting a little easier each time.

Friday, January 27, 2012

the ingredients for a perfect trail run

Well my ultimate goal here is to run the JFK 50 miler in minimalist/barefoot running shoes.  That is one long ass trail run. Granted that goal is at the very tail end of an 18 month "grand experiment" I am performing on myself.  I have lots of smaller, more intermediate goals like a 5k in March and some 5 mile trail runs in April.  But, yeah, there it is, one big hairy audacious goal.  Run 50 trail miles in one day.

Legend has it President Kennedy said that a good man, an officer in his army, should be able to cover 50 miles. over rough terrain. by foot. in less then 18 hours.  From that statement was born the JFK 50 one of the nations first Ultra-marathons. So I thought it would be cool, you know, to add that to the t-shirt collection.

Anyway the point of all that is to tell you, my adoring, and growing public, about todays fitness activities.  Today was my first time!   Running from my new work location that is.  I knew there would be some trails nearby since I guessed I was about 1 mile from Rock Creek Park.  So, around 2pm today, I whipped off my clothes down to the short sleeve tee and shorts I was wearing (not like Clark Kent, more like Clark Griswold) and I headed out into the 62 warmth of a January day in DC.  That's right bitches!! 62, sunny, breezy and warm!!! 
side note: all things considered, global warming is not that bad. 
I headed left out the door, down Albermelre, and it wasn't long before I found a trail head.  I dove into the woods and it was bliss.  I felt like I was floating or gliding over the ground like...a gliding-type animal.  This trail had almost all the ingredients of a perfect trail run.  It was sorta dry in places, kinda drying in other places, but mostly it was muddy.  It had trees and roots and rocks and logs felled by storms long ago.  I crossed over a creek, a small tributary to Rock Creek, 3 times.  I got a little lost, not really lost since I was pretty sure I could run in almost any direction for no more then a mile and I'd find a Starbucks, but I had never been to that spot before in my life, and that was pretty cool.  I even felt like I had a small moment of meditation (or at least reflective thoughts).  The only thing it was missing was more miles.  15 minutes on the roads round trip only left me 20 minutes in the woods, which is fine because that little patch of woods might have been played out.  Although there was one more path I didn't take.  Maybe I'll explore it next time.

34-35 minutes. distance: unknown

random questions and observations:
  1. When did high school kids become so brazen as to light a joint while walking down the sidewalk on the way home from school...and not even offer me any.
  2. Brooks Pure Flow are not good in mud!  (Relax Ilisa they ARE great on the road)
  3. I've received 50 page views here, including 4 from Russia and 5 from Ukraine, who the hell do I know from the former Republic?
  4. My form on the trail seemed pretty natural and the soft surface helped a lot.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The joys of running

I happened to head out the door tonight for another easy little 3 miler (like all of them have been) and I run into my neighbor, the triathlete, on the sidewalk as he's wrapping up his bike commute home.  We've been talking for a year about going for a run or a bike ride for a long time, since snowmaggedon I believe.  Unfortunatly, we keep having conflicting schedules, Dave and I do.  He often goes to his Virginia farm house on the weekends and neither of us have been able to run for a while due to one injury or another.  But the mircle of random timing was on our side this time.  So off we went and I soon remembered one of the simple joys of this joyfully simple activity.  We hit a natural but easy stride, he was still running like an artificial runner, heal striking down the trail.  I was feeling very comfortable as I settled into my more natural and stride.  I've come to realize the more I talked about it that the running stride should be like any athletic stance found in every sport around the world.  Up on the balls of your feet a little bit, your weight slightly forward, your gaze about 10 feet ahead.  Our conversation hit a natural but easy stride as well, as we chatted about our life's loves... specifically our bikes and our wives and kids.  Dave told me he wanted a new bike but bought his wife one instead.  I told him that I want a new bike as well but really, I can squeeze another season or two out of Millie (yes I name my bikes, both of them). 

I have only told three people in person about my true long term goal of doing the JFK50, until I started this blog that is.  I told my friend Ben just a few short hours before he accidentially died, I told my wife and I told Dave on our run this evening as the sun was setting and that's it.  I may be a bit daft but at least I can state my reasons for doing these crazy endurence events.  There was a time in my life that I felt like Ironman was something I needed to do.  It was because it is the toughest one day endurence event on the planet, or at least among the toughest.  I did two of them and may do another, maybe not, who knows.  But I now I feel like I need to do an Ultra, and from what I hear, the JFK 50 is the one to do.  I'd love to do it in barefoot shoes as a sort of final exam in this big test I am putting myself thru.  Ben was the first person I told about the barfoot ultra who responded with a smile.  "Respect to you sir! I like the big dreamers attitude and the massive set of beans on ya" is what his smile said, what his eyes said.  So partially in honor of Ben I will do a natural running ultra, naturally.  It was him who inspired me to blog, him and Jordan and Fritz and Monica and hundreds of other friends and aquantinces.  Maybe I'll bring a picture of him with me on my race day.

My body felt really good tonight.  We hit an "easy 10 minute pace" which was easily more like an 8:30 pace.  It was the most relaxed I had been lately.  The stride is getting a lot more comfortable, I didn't really think about it to much tonight, just sort of checked back in as the conversastion ebbed and flowed.  I even forgot to start my watch until about 1/4 to 1/2 mile into it. 

Dave and I agreed to do this again soon but no hard plans were made, we talked about racing some local 5-10k's and maybe some trail races together in a few months.  If you run please join me, I'll be doing the Backyard Burn trail races this spring, I'll do the 5 mile series instead of the 10, I hope I'm still fast enough to bring home some Pub glass age group awards, my wife hopes the pub glasses "fall off the shelf."  Either way check it out and come out and see me.  http://www.ex2adventures.com/

3 miles.  :28 to :30 -ish 

Ah, the joys of running!!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

another running lesson (re)learned

Rule number 7.3(b) If you work at a gym and are there all the time and are sort of responsible for part of it, then don't workout or run at your gym!! Especially during the prime times, evenings and weekends.

I should know better, I've been doing this fitness thing for 30+ years, essentially my whole life, except for most of my 20's, and I have learned a great number of lessons.  Some of the rule's I challenge from time to time, like this natural running/heel strike thing.  Other rule's stand the test of time.  Perseverance and persistence will always get you where you are trying to go (they also are kinda redundant)!  Keep your shoes fresh, always warm-up before and stretch after a good run, trail running is more fun and better for the body then road running and road running is more fun then treadmill running.  Oatmeal is a good pre run breakfast.

But today I forgot the don't run where you work rule I got about a half mile in and a member stopped me to ask about buying some personal training, damn right I hopped off for that.  Then about 3/4 of a mile in one of my trainers had a problem with her pay, damn it I have to stop to talk her off the ledge. Then exactly one mile in and I had to stop again to help someone else decide on PT.  So I bagged it and went home, I'll do it tomorrow.  I think it might be time to try it outside anyway.  Let's see how the ice effects the new stride.

What's the lesson to take home from today's adventure?  Plan your workout time in your day and hold tight to that appointment with yourself.  I keep thinking I can just get it in because I work there, but I actually have a job and can't just walk away to workout (just like everybody else).  I have to plan my time.  A lesson I learned very well in my Ironman training days, and have since forgot.

Side note: if you are a personal trainer and you want to pick up clients, it would be real easy if you just hang out (and let the sales team and managers know you are hanging out) on the fitness floor during the prime times, like shootin' fish in a barrel.

'till the morrow

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Treadmill vs. Outdoors

People ask my advice about running all the time.  Why do my knees hurt? What shoes are good? what should I eat? What is a good race to run? etc.  My answer is almost always, "It depends."  First I have to get to know you and what your goals are, what your fitness and athletic background is, what you enjoy about running and what you don't.  The only question that I am always steadfast on is treadmill vs. outdoors.  I hate the "dreadmill" it is so boring, plus there is the random noise from the spin class next door and the banging weight machines and 58 TV's with 58 different shows on, not to mention all the people walking around not working out.  I'm trying to not let that bother me anymore but seriously...after sitting at your desk reading some damn spreadsheet all day the last thing you need to do is sit on a recumbent bike peddling at 57 rpm reading about if the Bachelor is dating a Kardashian or if the guy who played Batman broke up with the chick who got busted lip syncing the national anthem...but I digress.

In light of my current situation I actually found the treadmill to be ok.  Yes, the big girl was still cruisen' the recumbo, and the hip hop cardio class was comical, and I did get to catch up on the days news and sports scores and an old episode of "Friends", all at the same time, BUT, the treads do offer an advantage over running outdoors.  Perfect running surface.  No cracks in the sidewalk, no curbs dropping off suddenly, no cars and other people trying to kill me or worse throw me off my stride.  Since I am still new to this forefoot striking, barefoot running transition I really need to think about my foot placement and if I was outside I would not be able to spend :30 solid minutes thinking about nothing else.

So here a few things that you should try to remember if converting to natural running.  I am trying to shorten my stride in front of me but lengthen it behind me.  In order to do that I try to have a slightly quicker stride then normal (or what was normal).  Although I feel pretty certain I was landing directly beneath my center of gravity it felt as if I was not even finishing my stride, like I was cutting it a bit short or like I was almost shuffling.  It also felt like my feet were not on the ground very long, defiantly shorter then when I was a heel striker, which makes sense since my stride is shorter (think:quick steps, quick feet).  I also found that I can actually run smoother and find the balance between the amount of weight I put on the ball of my foot vs the amount of weight I put on my heel better when I go a little faster.  10 min miles were ok but a 9 min mile just felt more natural to me.  If any of my 18 followers out there (thanks mom) are trying to convert also please keep in mind that fast is relative.  10 min miles might be haulin' ass for you.

Yes I miss running outdoors, yes I miss the solitude, yes I miss getting so deep in an endorphin fueled daydream that I literally forget I am running and forget where I am, and yes, I admit that I miss passing everybody on the trail (well, 98 out of 100), and yes running outdoors is harder then running on the treadmill and therefore does more to get you in shape.  But is running outdoors always better then running on the treads?  It depends.

3 miles. 27:30

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Natural running vs. Organic running

Today's run was great!! The first of what I hope to be many small breakthru's.  Sunny and cold but very little breeze made the weather perfect for a little 3 mile jaunt down the CCT.  I was able to run the whole thing without stopping.  Meaning I walked the first 200m, stopped to tie one shoe at the top of the first hill and the other one at the bottom.  I did walk at the turnaround but only 3-5 steps, just enought to reverse direction and get moving again.  Don't know the pace or time, it's not important right now but I felt like a 9:45 pace was sustainable.  I find that I need to wear a bit more clothes then I would have if I was moving faster.  I'm def. still getting used to the forefoot strike and would have been much quicker in my old heel strike/mild pronator style.  But I was comfy and relaxed. 

A couple of form notes.  I did much better being consistant with the fore foot strike.  It doesn't feel "natural" yet but it is inching closer.  I have find that it helps get me into the proper form if I bounce in place for a few seconds and do alternate leg butt kicks.  From that movement I just lean my hips forward but keep my body pretty much straight and away we go.  I can feel my body working with every step, trying to adjust from what it is used to into what it will become.  Another trick I try to do is land with about 67% of my body weight on the front ball of the foot and just about 33% on the heel.  Maybe it is more like the old 80/20 rule again.  But that's what it feels like to me.  I also try to land with a bit more flex in the knee so the decelaration from landing on the ground is absorbed in the quads.  The Hammy's and Glutes, the gang responsigle for forward movement, are as strong as they need to be since they have not been complaining yet.  But my lower legs get tight and achey and tired pretty quick.  I have been working on strengthing them at the gym for 3 weeks now and I will continue to do so untill I feel that they are not the limiting factor anymore.  In the gym I usually start or finish each session with  a circuit of bent knee calf raises, straight leg calf raises (step heel drop) and one leg balance stuff on the Bosu.  Although the lower legs were hurting today like always I still had to force myself to hold the run at 3 miles rather then add the viciously steep but short half mile loop at the back of Norwood Park.

I've hear this style of running being refered to as "Barefoot Running," or "Chi-Running" or "POSE Method"  I've also refered to it as "Crazy running" before.  Now I think of it more as Natural running or Organic Running.  This form feels like the way our bodies are supposed to move if we just get out of our own way and let the body do what feels right.

Final thought.  How come when I go running, 3 times out of 5 I have to stop and poop in the woods.  Does a bear do it in the woods?  Can't say for sure.  Does a long distance runner do it in the woods?  Magic 8 ball says,"Absolutly!"

Saturday, January 14, 2012

My journey from a traditional to barefoot runner

Hello world. 

Like a lot of runners I have read the book.  Of course I am talking about, Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, the true story about a tribe of natives in remote mountainous villages in central Mexico that can reportedly run mile upon mile wearing nothing more then thin rubber strips lashed to their feet with some rope.  How can these dudes run 30, 40, 50 miles or more at a time with out heel counters, EVA midsoles, polyurethane arch support or any of the other innovations marketed to us by the well paid engineers at Nike, New Balance, Adidas, etc.?

I suppose now is a good time to mention that I had plenty of time to read this book this past summer because I was laid up for about 6 months with a wicked case of plantar fasciatis.  After have run about 3-5 days per week since 1999 I think my body was about to teach me another lesson.  I did a lot of research on line as well as talking to friends and fellow runners, and I started to think that maybe barefoot running could be the answer.  Maybe Phil Knight, founder of Nike, was wrong!  After all he's not a doctor, not a exercise physiologist, not a human bio-mechanist (does that even exist?).  He was just a runner at the University of Oregon.  Ok, so he was a really fast runner (good enough to run for Oregon, but according to legend he was often injured and rarely placed in even the smallest meets), but does that make him qualified to tell me that millions of years of human evolution is wrong and a wedge of foam rubber glued to a kitchen experiment is better for me as a runner?

So I decided to transition myself to a barefoot runner.  Like the dudes in Mexico I want to run a 50 mile race in "barefoot shoes" (I actually like the oxymoronic vibe of that).  Whenever I coach an athlete, either myself or a friend or a client, I always preach caution.  Build up slowly, build strength first to prepare for the task at hand, rest often.  To that end I decided that as I dip an intrepid toe in the water I will start with what the the well paid engineers call step down shoes.  I will also be so cautious as to only run about 5-6 miles per week and every month add about 2-3 miles per week on average.  I am not even going to introduce totally flat or barefoot shoes until about the 5th month of the plan, and then do so for only about 2 miles per week on average.  Eventually, like around Feb '13, I hope to be back up to 20 miles per week, all of them in some sort of barefoot shoe.  If I can make it there safely I'll start to build up to a Fall marathon (NYC!!! finally) and my final exam of sorts will be to check off the JFK 50 (or maybe some other trail ultra) from the life list in Nov '13

Step down shoes are supposed to be a step down back towards natural evolution, towards the natural running gait our bodies were designed for, which is more of a mid-foot to fore-foot strike.  Traditional running shoes have about 14-16mm of cushioning in the heel, which promotes a solid heel strike.  These step down shoes have about a 4mm rise.  The plan is to slowly get back into running in the Brooks Pure Flow, which by the way are the most hideous florescent green you could imagine, they look like something that would be worn by the Green Hornet or Elton John circa 1977, I think they can be seen from space.  I can now safely run at night. 

The plan here for this blog is to recount my experiences as I train my body to learn to run in the manner it was born to do, as a forefoot striker.  It might hurt, it might work well, it might take a few months, it might take a few years, I might just say screw it and get back on my bike and ride.  If anybody reads this blog and wants to be entertained or enlightened or informed or advised on how to live life keep reading.  I will find it hard to not include personality to my words.

I've been back on the road for about 2 weeks now.  I ran/walked 3 miles on Christmas day, before we ordered Sweet and Sour Chicken and Kung Po Beef. and have done 3 other runs of about 2-3 miles each.  Actually one run was more like half a mile.  Although I love running as a fitness activity and as a mental and emotional regulator I seem to have forgotten how hard it can be, especially when you start engaging different muscles then your body is used to.  I have found that it is a little easier to run barefoot when I pick up the pace a bit.  But since I haven't run a step since Mid-June (DC Tri I believe) running fast is hard, so I usually pepper in some walking breaks. 

I also am now hyper-aware of any little ache and pain in my body, particularly in the lower legs.  As soon as I feel something not right I stop to walk until I can run again.  I am averaging 10 min/miles.  I used to be able to cruise at about a 7:30 pace.  This transition might be hard.  Some of the new sensations I have felt include tightness in the glutes and hammy's, soreness in the calf muscles, and one time I felt like I actually strained a tendon in my big toe (it was fine the next day).

I look forward to the day when I can cruise thru a trail run and let my mind wander as the trees and streams move past me. I miss racing, I miss the trails, I miss running.  But for now I am focused on the perfect foot strike.  Stay tuned for more