Monday, October 28, 2013

Goals for Beginner Runners

To be successful at anything, it is important to know what your goal is and where you are starting. So logically, when I am working with runners I start by determining where they are, and where they want to get. 

For an absolute beginner, someone who has been sedentary and wants to start running for health benefits, we start from the absolute beginning. 

We start with brisk walks, with the goal of building up to 30 minutes of continuous brisk walking. Then we gradually introduce running intervals into the walking building up the run to walk ratio gradually and in a safe manner. The goal being 30 minutes of continuous running at an easy pace. 

Along with the running, it is important that the runner is doing some strength training. Strength training is also built up gradually and safely. The goal of the strength work is to strengthen the muscles that are the prime movers of running, as well as muscles involved in stabilizing the hips and core, muscles important to good running form and posture, etc.

This is important to make running easier and to reduce the risk of injury to new runners. 

If you are getting started running and want help, contact me. I have programs at GT Fitness for runners of different experience levels including strength classes, running plans, and training runs so that you can learn the right effort level at which you should be learning. 

Steven O'Nan

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Slow and Steady

I was not the last one put of the water, but I was only----- ahead of the last one out. I knew going into this that the swim was going to be the big challenge for me. I have grown leaps and bounds from the guy who was only willing to swim if his boat sank, but I still have a long way to go. Halfway through the swim I had myself convinced to never do another triathlon longer than sprint distance.

I knew it was going to take a long time, but I had no idea the swim was going to be so humbling and overwhelming. I never did set aside time to swim in open water, so I was spoiled by that thick black line on the bottom of the pool.

After the national anthem and the going over of the rules and course all the triathletes headed down from the transition area to the lake. It was about a quarter of a mile between the two, so we were encouraged to bring a pair of shows to run up the asphalt from the lake to T1. I grabbed my Xero Shoes huaraches and walked down with my wife. When we got there, I looked at her and said, "Did I give you my earplugs?"  I hadn't. My earplugs were gone. For a triathlete who struggled with swimmer's ear all through training this was a bad thing. Visions of nausea danced in my head. I pulled my blue swim cap over my ears and hoped for mercy.

I got in the lake for my first open water swim. The lake was cold enough that the race had been deemed wetsuit legal. I don't have a wetsuit, I never even fathomed that a triathlon in Tennessee in August would be wetsuit legal. Fortunately the pool I had been training in was kept pretty cool. The lake seemed warmer to me.

It was overcast, it had been a rainy summer, the sky was a canopy of grey over a muddy brown lake. It was not a very scenic start to the triathlon. I started wondering if I would get sick from swimmer's ear (it didn't matter, I was going to finish this thing whether I threw up or not). I wondered if I would be able to swim in a straight line from buoy to buoy. (Not even remotely) I wondered if  I would be the slowest swimmer of the day(no, but just barely). I wondered if that feeling was nervousness or if I really did need to find the nearest portapotty.


The first wave started. They swam further and further out while I waited the three minutes for my wave to start.

The second wave started. They swam further and further out while I kept to the pace I needed to keep and frustratingly zigzagged back and forth in the general direction of the next buoy.

The third wave swam past, around, and over me and swam further and further out while I continued frustratingly trying to swim straight.

The two waves of women swam past me. Except for a few other stragglers I was out in the lake alone. We stragglers were spread out enough that there was no chance for camaraderie among the slowpokes.

The constant battle of getting off course, finding the next buoy, getting back on course was hammering my resolve. The very kind kayakers asking every once in a while if I was OK became maddening. "Yes I'm OK, I'm just a lousy swimmer would you leave me alone!" I never actually said that, I wouldn't have really meant it. I was feeling intensely alone as it was.

I wanted to be done with the swim.

I wasn't even halfway through.

I had to do something.

I remembered I had wanted to start focusing on improving my kick. So instead of allowing myself the frustration of thinking about how far I had to go. I started trying to focus on my kicking.

I started looking for that Zen feeling I get when I run. I needed a rhythm, a physical meditation, a mantra of movement.

I needed to accept where I was and do what I could with what I had.
I need to do that every day.

I found a rhythm with my swim stoke and my breathing. Breathe in to the view of the blank, grey sky, breathe out to the murky brown water. In. Out. In.  Out. Find the buoy. Aim for it accept limitations. Start again.

My goal was to do the swim in an hour. I crossed the mat at 1:00:27. That'll do.

Next, I really needed to go poop.

I slipped my feet into my sandals, jogged up the pavement right past the bike racks and straight to the bathroom. Out of the bathroom and to my bike. It was easy to find my bike since there were only 4 or 5 still on the racks.


I sunscreened myself. Yes, I stopped for sunscreen we of Irish descent must be careful. I put on my shirt, glasses, helmet, bike shoes, and race belt with bib and energy gels attached and took off.

I took the first part of the bike ride as a chance to get in about 100 calories of gatorade, then focused on picking people off on the bike ride. I was confident I could do this because I am such a poor swimmer that most people that are just ahead of me on the swim are not as fast on the bike as I am.

It was, however, hard to pick people off on the bike ride when they had such a big head start on me.

Eventually I saw a bike in front of me. The guys shirt had a reflective triangle just below the collar, so I started chasing that triangle. That triangle stayed reliably out of reach, but while chasing the triangle I was able to catch and pass several other people on the bike. I made an effort to say something encouraging to others on the bike route. I like it when people encourage me, so I try to give that which I would like to get. I passed maybe a dozen people on the bike route, but never caught up to that triangle.

Another humbling moment, as I pulled my bike in to the transition area, I was watching people finish the run.


I put the bike on the rack and my helmet down. I squeezed an energy gel into my mouth and took off.

The run course was the prettiest course I've ever run that was not an actual trail race. It was a combination of the road around the lake, the paved bike path through the woods in the park, and a brief stint through the parking lot of the Fall Creek Falls Inn.

The crowd was sparse this far back in the event, but around mile two I briefly talked with then passed another runner. From then on I was able to gradually catch and pass several runners.

A scene I will never forget. After the parking lot the course reconnected onto the bike path, and we ran right alongside the lake. The trees closest to the lake leaned out towards the water, reaching for the reflected sunlight that shines from beneath. They looked as though perhaps they were bowing humbly to the lake, or maybe trying to reach out and catch a fish.

I paced myself carefully, after looking at the results and thinking about it, I think I was too careful. I could have gone harder. I was feeling great on the 10K run. If I'd been racing hard, I would not have felt great.

My wife did not know I was feeling great. She was about a quarter of a mile from the finish line, anxious. She thought my goal was three hours, rather than three hours and thirty minutes. She was thinking about my swimmer's ear and lack of earplugs. She was concerned that I would be throwing up all over the course.

As I climbed the hill. ---Hold that thought. --- Never trust the race course description. "The run features rolling hills--nothing steep." That last 3/4 mile to a mile is steep.

As I climbed the hill on the way to the finish, I saw my wife, taking a video of me coming up. Little did I know she thought I was in agony. She put down the camera, turned around and said, "Come on." She ran with me up the hill. She had no idea the only discomfort I was having was that the swim had left me psychologically shaken and feeling immensely lonely. Running next to my wife had me nearly in tears at that point. She ran hard. I know it was hard for her, because she made me pick up my pace. She knows I like to kick at the end. She said, "Not yet, don't sprint yet, wait until the top of this hill. . . now GO." I kicked as hard as I could. I didn't take much pride in passing the guy who carried his daughter across the line, but I don't run hard at the end for pride, I run hard at the end because I like the way it feels.

Goal time: 3:30:00
Actual time: 3:35:53.9
Should I subtract the bathroom break?

Lessons learned:
Practice sighting on the swim, take time to swim in a lake, practice swimming in a straight line.
Work harder on the bike. I was too fresh at T2.
Remember what 5K effort feels like and make sure the last 5K feel like 5K effort.

My next big goal:
Fall Creek Falls 50K trail race. I'm aiming for my first Ultra Marathon.

Monday, August 19, 2013

70.3 Becomes 71.8 The Big Day

Ready to swim./

We planned the date, planned the route, got Grandma to watch the little one, and went to the pool. Stage one would be 1900 meters of lap swimming at the pool. The pool staff at the Warren County Aquatic Center were great. They made sure we had a lane gave us some words of encouragement and off we went. Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.
Before the adventure.

I had a personal victory in the pool. With my new careful pacing I was able to start swimming continuous freestyle without breaks or switching to backstroke. I swam the 5th and 11th lap backstroke, but managed to swim all the rest freestyle.

Pacing is important.

Transition Zone
AKA our car.


T1 was interesting. we had to get the bikes off the car rack, we grabbed a little snack, and headed out on the road. We stayed together, she swam at my pace, I biked and ran at her pace. Except the first part of our ride was through town back to our house, so traffic did impede our progress quite a bit. I choose to focus on the 95% of polite drivers who made room for us, passed carefully, etc., rather than the few impatient ones who did things like see me get to the left of the land with my left hand out signalling a left turn, then gunning past us on the left. Most drivers that day were very friendly. We biked to the house, stopped for a quick snack and water bottle refill then hit the road again.

After biking across Bowling Green, we biked out to Simpson County, stopped at an old cemetery with Civil War soldiers buried in it, then on to Auburn in Logan County before biking back to the house.

We stopped for a quick lunch at the cemetery. We stopped at a convenience store to buy new gatorade. This self supported stuff requires more planning. It is a good thing we were planning on finishing the distance and not racing the distance. To nail a killer time while self supported would have required carrying a lot more stuff on the bike ride.

Our bike ride turned out about a mile and a half long. We had to reroute part of our ride due to some heavy, unsafe traffic. Basically this means we are a little more awesome than just half Iron distance finishers.


Transition Two was really fun. We grabbed our Gatorade and water bottles out of the refrigerator, then took the dogs out to potty. I bet there are very few triathlons that include dog poo at T2.

We were basically wiped out at this point. We had swum 1900 meters. We had biked 57.5 miles. We were tired. The good news was all we had to do was run a half marathon.

So we ran. We talked about whatever we could think of to distract ourselves from our task. We enjoyed the scenery. Living out in the country is wonderful. Our race route included restored prairies full of yellow coneflowers, chicory, and queen anne's lace. We saw horses, sheep, and cattle. We had rarely cool weather for August in Kentucky.

At about mile 6 we were both feeling pretty sorry for ourselves. We started thinking of people who inspired us. Examples that had been set before us to help us get our perspective back. At times like this, the elites don't inspire me much. It doesn't help me much to think of someone who has coaches, Nike sponsorships, and a lifetime of athletic training behind them. My inspiration was one of my fitness clients who has decided to take charge of her life. She's lost 60 pounds in the first 6 months of this year for a total of 100 pounds of weight loss. When I thought of the mindset, work, and consistency that that required, THAT was my inspiration.

Just before our turnaround point there is a concrete pineapple by the road. So we called this event the Rockfield Pineapple Triathlon.

We turned around and started hobbling home. Our spirits were low. We both wanted to cry. So we started pointing out the beauty of the scenery around us. Usually when we do this on runs we say things like, "Hey, look at that sunset! Aren't those clouds beautiful?" At this point it was, "Clouds. Pretty."

Then I started singing.

We must have looked crazy, sunburnt, messy haired, covered in sweat singing the Rocky Theme, and "Be A Man" from Mulan, and the Superman music while running down the road in the middle of the cornfields and soybeans.

My wife sang with me as much as she could, but we were much higher in her workout zones than we were in mine. So I sang us home. One crazy song at a time. Whether or not I could remember the lyrics. We finished with "Jingle Bells".

We made it home hand in hand.

She won 1st place overall female.
I won 1st place overall male.

What were our times?
They were wonderful times.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Half Iron Training

I still couldn't manage to get the hang of swimming long distances, and this was a problem because I was going to have to swim over a mile. I was still getting out of breath after just 50 yards. Rather than stopping to rest I would roll over and backstroke until I had caught my breath. I was still very frustrated by the swim, and still not enjoying it at all.

Some would say that if I don't like it, and it is that hard for me I should probably just not do triathlons. There are all sorts of other things I could do, marathons, duathlons, ultra marathons. . . Here's the thing though. I like being challenged. I like the facing the feeling of, "I can't do this," and then finding a way to do it. I enjoy finding what seems to be my limit, and then discovering a way to go past that supposed limit. At one point in my life I thought I couldn't run, thought I couldn't swim more than enough to get back to a boat if I fell off it.

I didn't like the swim. I was not very good at the swim. So I kept getting in the pool.

So I trained. I swam, I biked, I ran. I kept adding more distance to my long bike rides and my long runs and trying to add distance to my swims. I kept hitting this obstacle though.

I went out one evening to swim, started feeling queasy, cut the swim short, drove home in misery and threw up in the yard. I kept getting sick whenever I would swim. So I asked for advice from my triathlon friends on Google+. Earplugs fixed the swimming problem, then I  was able to build my swims up in distance as well.

One day I finally figured out why I got so winded swimming, and I felt like an absolute fool. The same thing I kept telling new runners I had to tell myself. "Slow down." By easing off on my stroke a bit, I lost only a little bit of speed but was able to keep swimming without changing to  backstroke or stopping. Over all this saved me time and energy.

So I was able to get my training in. I was ready to get out there with my wife and complete a 70.3 of our own design.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

70.3 Or Rather 71.8

When she told me to smile I got a little mad so I said, "No." I stayed for the picture, because I knew it was important to her, but I was in no mood to smile at all. I had just done the most physically challenging thing I've done yet, and she had too. I don't know how she managed to smile.

That runner's euphoria was not kicking at that time. Although I had felt it a few times in the previous nine and a half hours. I was just finished. Frustrated. Done.
There was no way I was going to smile at that point.

Don't tell me to smile.
We had each finished two sprint triathlons with distances of 400 meter swim, 14 mile bike ride and 3.1 mile run. We made plans to move up and do an olympic distance tri, 1500 meter swim, 28 mile ride, and 6.2 mile run. I started programming our training plans, then my wife for some reason said, "We should just go ahead and do a half ironman this year."

That would be 1900 meters, 56 miles, and 13.1 miles.

So I said, "OK."

We like challenges I guess.

And then the training began.

Stay tuned for more!

Update: Part two is here.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Low Hollow Trail 5K Race

So I've got this long running joke in my family. There is this guy in my age group at races who ALWAYS roasts me and usually wins my age group. There was this one race in which I won my age group simply because he won overall and was no longer in the running for age group prizes. He usually finishes 4 to 5 minutes ahead of me. So when they give out awards, or when we look at online results, I do my best Lex Luthor impression, raise a fist and say his name as if he were my arch nemesis. In fact, with that analogy, I will refer to him as "Superman" for the rest of this post.

I ran a trail 5K last weekend, and when I got near the start line I say him. Superman!! (imagine that in a great Lex Luthor growl). So I ran the race had a great time and at results time when they got to my age group awards they said, "Third place, Superman!" I said, (in my head of course) "Superman!! That means I didn't place at all." Then they said something that sent me into shock. "Second place, Steven O'nan."

Wait, what?!?!?

I beat Superman?!??!

Now I realize there are all sorts of reasons that could be behind this, but the fact remains, the day after riding my bike 45 miles I went to a 5K race and defeated Superman. 

22:29, 13th place overall, 2nd place in my age division.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Craving the Effort

Despite the fact that I barely slept last night, I am looking forward to this run. I am full of excited anticipation. Today is tempo run day. I'll be doing six miles total, with four at a hard pace, not race pace hard, but harder than usual. I am craving the breeze on my face, the sweat on my forehead, the sheer effort of maintaining a harder pace. Sometimes I dread these workouts, but today I want it. It must be that runner's high, that response to high effort that makes us forget how hard it was and only remember how awesome it can feel to push the body. Right now my mind is foggy from lack of sleep, but I still can't fall asleep. I know, deep down in my bones I know that when I am done with this I will be able to sleep again. I know that my mood will improve. I know that my heart, lungs, and muscles will benefit, but mainly I know that I will feel good.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Hit Your Target.

They were looking at me as if I had absolutely lost my mind.

I love it when my kung fu students look at me like that. When they do, I know I have their attention.

I had held up a kicking target and told them that their job was simply to kick the target with any kick they liked. The hard part was I was going to blindfold them, then move off somewhere in the room and hold the target. They would have to hit the target without seeing it.

          This is not fair!! There is no way we can hit that target if      we don't know where it is. What do you think we are? Ninjas? Are we supposed to smell our way to the target? Are we supposed to hear it? What if we accidentally kick each other? What if we kick you? There is no way we can possibly hit that target without being able to see it. 

They were right of course. That was the point. It was not a test of their ability to kick, or to somehow sense where I was and find the target through some extrasensory method. It was a lesson in goal setting. 

The less specific your goal is, the harder it is to hit it. If your goal is to lose x number of pounds, lift x amount of weight, or run x number of miles, you can then plan out a route to get there. After you plan it out, you can start to follow the path. You will have setbacks and frustrations, but at least you know where you are, where you are going, and what it is going to take to get there. 

Your goals probably won't be the same as mine. They will probably change from time to time. 

Set a goal, and work for it.

Do it again.

And again.

As a personal trainer I can help you come up with goals and monitor your progress and map out your course, but the first thing, the important thing, is to figure out your goal. It can be weight loss, or strength gain. It can be running a 5K or 10K or 50K or 50 mile race. It can be reducing pain in your back, being strong enough to carry your kid without pain. It can be looking good, or feeling good. A workout program could help, a trainer could, a smartphone app could, but you must first set the goal.

So what is your goal?

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Runner Vs. Runner's Ego

It was the last mile of the 5K race. It was my first year running, so I still was not really sure how to properly pace myself, so I would compare the way I was breathing with the way people around me were breathing to gauge how I was doing. I was passing another runner, I listened to his breath, ragged and gasping, mine was rapid, but still smooth so I figured I was OK for now. I started catching up with another runner, from several yards back I could hear him breathing and I knew he was really struggling. I could see that he was slowing down.

He turned his head to look over his shoulder. Apparently he heard me coming. When he saw me catching up to him a look of bold determination came into his eyes, he turned his head forward again, tucked his head and shoulders down, took a deep, labored breath and pushed. I maintained my pace. His push didn't last long, he faltered, actually stumbled a bit, then slowed down even more than before and I passed him.

I had a friend who decided he hated running. Whenever he finished with a run his legs were sore, he couldn't catch his breath, and he just felt like garbage. It turned out, he was looking at mile paces his friends were posting on facebook and was basically racing them on every run.

The thing I tell new runner's about this is, "Don't let your ego plan your run."

It is easier said than done. I was faster in my first year of running than I am now. This makes me want to run faster than I should be running on my training runs. So I have had to let go of how fast I ran before, and run the pace I need to run now.

Whether it is a run, a weight training session, a martial arts class, or a zumba class, it is important to get one's own workout and not try to keep up with someone else's workout. Not only does this keep the workout at an appropriate level, it also leads to being more at peace with one's body.

It exercises the body and the mind all at once.

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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Following the Call

I guess I abandoned my college education when I chose a career path. I studied psychology and music in college, and now I work as a personal trainer and a martial arts instructor. This big change wasn't accidental, and it definitely was not to pursue fame and riches.

When I started teaching kung fu, I approached it as if mastering kung fu were the destination. Eventually I realized it was not the destination, but the vehicle used to get to the destination. This change of perspective was a major point in my life. No longer was I teaching so that my students would get the martial art right, but so that the art could help them get themselves right. The goal was no longer to master a martial art, but to master the self through martial arts study.

I realized that I am at my best when I am on a mission. I believe that I am here for a purpose, I believe you are too, and everyone else as well, some of us just don't know it yet.

I started looking at needs and how I could fill them. Sure I could teach someone how to break an attacker's arm, but what about teaching them to never be in a situation in which they would need to break someone's arm? It is like the difference between heart surgery after a heart attack, and teaching fitness and diet so that one may never need the heart surgery.

I came to this thought. The things people need that I can help them practice are different than the obvious things we practice in martial arts. The things I really needed to be teaching were self esteem, self efficacy, physical health and fitness, good eating habits, compassion for others, compassion for the self, and the list could go on and on.

I started  prodding around looking for the right path for me to teach these things, trying to figure out where I fit within this new perspective I had. I decided that through teaching kung fu and fitness, I could reach down to the core lessons that I really think are important.

Start at the center, improve the self, then work outward. By teaching physical fitness, or kung fu, the body is strengthened, and the lessons learned physically can be applied to the mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects of self care. As a person gains ability and confidence, the ripples they make start to spread out to others. They set an example and perhaps others will follow. It extends out to friends and family, then into the community, and outward into the world.

First I lit a candle to light my own way. A few followed me. This was good.

I learned I needed to allow people to use my candle to light their own. More light, more leaders, more people could find a path. This was better.

So light a candle and pass it on.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Are You Strange?

It seems that I forget, since I have a lot of people around me who value and enjoy fitness, I forget that the things I enjoy are considered strange to a lot of people.

Some people express amazement when they find out I just did a 7 mile run. They really don't know what to say when I tell them I've done as much as 14. Fourteen miles as a longest run doesn't even get me ready to run a marathon, but to some it seems otherworldly. They react in disbelief when I tell them I'm training for a Half Ironman triathlon. People are in shock that I can run 11 miles in sandals that are just a piece of rubber with a string attached.

While I am proud of these things, and I was among those in disbelief just a few years ago, I have come to realize that we as a society have set the bar pretty low.

Things that at certain points in history were considered normal activity levels for a day are now unbelievable.
Things that we once had to do to survive are now unthinkable. Things that most of us should be able to do are considered above and beyond human capacity.

So I challenge you now, to start redefining impossible. Realize the power within you, take it step by step and move forward. Challenge yourself, do something you didn't think you could. Get up out of that chair and go for a walk, over time, turn the walk into a jog, then a run. Enter a 5K, a half marathon.

Lift a weight, then a heavier one, work your way up. Explore the power within you, become stronger, fitter, healthier. Get hooked on health, get your high from sweat and hard work. Change your perspective.

You don't have to become a marathoner, you don't have to do what my brother did. He got rid of his car, bought a bike, and lost 130 pounds. He biked to my house recently for a visit, 150 miles in one day, but you don't have to do that, just get up, walk fast enough that you breathe a little harder, do it for 30 minutes, 5 days per week.

Do it for yourself, do it for your loved ones, do it and change the way you see the world. I've run half marathons, that doesn't make me amazing, it just brings me a little closer to the way we were designed to be. We weren't meant to ride around in cars and eat food handed to us from a window.

Get up, move, eat healthy foods. Just get up and decide to be a little strange.

“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they've been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It's an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It's a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”               --Muhammad Ali

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Save Your Sole: Run Barefoot -- Part Four

Barefoot or not, this is important.

Run with your whole body.

Since you run with your whole body, strengthen your whole body.

I'll skip the legs, because it is obvious that running is a leg exercise. I'll work my way up from there.


You've got to have strong hip abductors and adductors. These are the muscles that move your legs away from the midline and towards the midline of the body. While running, as these muscles fatigue, they lose their ability to stabilize the legs. As a result, side to side movement can occur. When the goal is to propel oneself forward, side to side movement is undesirable (obviously).


Weak core muscles can be a real pain in the back. Strong core muscles hold the spine in a neutral position while running, if the spine comes out of position, the jarring motion of running can cause pain and injury to the back.

Upper back

Strong upper back muscles help maintain good running form which is necessary for running economy, speed, and endurance.


Arms drive the running movement, if you doubt this, glue your hands to your side and run. Strengthen your arms so they don't wear out early.


A weak neck causes lots of head bobbing, pain and injury follow, as well as loss of running economy.

Running strengthens and builds endurance more in the prime movers of the running motion. As a result, many runners have imbalances between those muscles and all the other muscles that have supportive roles in running. It is important that we take the time to strengthen the rest of the body as well.

Part Three
Part Two
Part One

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

In the Long Run.

It started as a bit of a lark. People told me I should run a 5K with my wife. I wasn't a runner, but I was rather fit. So I did it. Then I became a runner.

At first I dreaded the longer distances. "How am I going to run four miles, three was hard enough." "Six miles, I'll never make it!" 

Now four miles is an easy day and six is speed work. I'm not running huge distances, 13.1 has been my longest, but lately I crave long run day.

A long run is my  chance to get away from everything else and just go. No headphones for me, no GPS, all I need is a look at a map to decide where I'm turning around and a stop watch to keep me honest about my effort level.

I like to disappear into my effort, to feel the rhythm of my feet and breath counting in 6/8 time. To feel the sun, or rain, or wind on my skin. To struggle up the hills and fly down them. Sometimes time seems to stop while I'm out there on the long run. Some days I don't want to stop, I just want to keep going, and going. . . It feels good.

I'm not sure when I stopped dreading and started craving the long runs, but I am glad I did. They are my chance to clear my mind, or to daydream. They are my chance to process my week or forget about it, or both. Whatever my thoughts are on the run I come back feeling cleansed.

I can't wait for my 11 miler this weekend.

Save Your Sole: Run Barefoot -- Part Three

I have heard people use these phrases when talking about good qualities of running shoes. "It really locks your foot in place." "It keeps the toes from moving around." "Has a nice firm arch. . ."

If you like those qualities, enjoy your shoes, and feel free to disagree with everything I've written in this series. To each his own.

If, on the other hand, if you want to strengthen the whole body including the foot, and you choose to do some of your runs barefoot, be prepared for your arches and your toes to get a workout they don't get in those kinds of shoes.

The human foot is awesome.

Why do we spend so much time eliminating so much of its function?

It flexes, springs, absorbs shock, returns energy to our next stride. It is an engineering marvel. If it has been allowed to atrophy, (like any other muscle) it will need some strengthening to handle the load of running.

So let's pump those piggies.

Use your toes to pick up small things. Pick up pencil erasers and put them in a can/bowl/box. Pick up a hand towel and pass it to the other foot. Clean up your kids Legos or Lincoln Logs with your feet.

Scrunch a towel. Put your feet on the towel and use your toes to pull the other end of the towel towards you. You can add weight by setting something on the end of the towel.

Barefoot strength training. Do your bodyweight squats, one legged squats, and whatever leg exercises you like barefoot.

Tap your big toe as many times as you can in 30 seconds without moving your pinky toe. Then tap your pinky toe without moving the big one.

By strengthening the intrinsic muscles of the foot, you will be helping the foot handle the stresses that running shoes insulate them from. If you want to run barefoot, or nearly barefoot this is a must.

See part one of this series here.
See part two of this series here. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Save Your Sole: Run Barefoot -- Part Two

If you missed part one. It is here.

Now that you've strengthened and lengthened, it is time to run barefoot. So. . .

Take off your shoes and run.

As I have said before, there is no such thing as a barefoot shoe.

All the tips that you will hear about barefoot running, or running in minimal shoes become much more self evident when you get out on a hard surface with bare feet.

Listen to your body: It is much easier to hear the feedback from your feet when there are no shoes to dull their sensation of the ground.

Run slower: If you go out barefoot at top speed you'll pay for it quickly, so slow down, your bare feet will tell you if you are going slow enough.

Don't go too far: If you go out in minimal shoes, you can run for quite a long way with no pain, until the next day when your calf muscles and achilles tendon scream at you. Go barefoot and your feet will tell you when to turn around, don't ignore them, stop when it is time to stop.

Shorten your stride: Stretching your legs out and landing on your heels barefoot will hurt, listen to your body's feedback and shorten your stride accordingly.

Don't heel strike: Stretching your legs out and landing on your heels barefoot will hurt, listen to your body's feedback and shorten your stride accordingly.

Run softly and smoothly: Again listen to your feet, literally this time. Try to avoid a thumping sound or a slapping sound, run quietly, run like a ninja.

Did I mention to listen to your feet?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Save Your Sole: Run Barefoot -- Part One.

Well, at least toughen your sole anyway.

Spring is creeping its way north once again and people are getting outside to exercise. More and more people will go outside and lace up those running shoes and go for their first runs of the year or the their first runs ever. While it appears the "craze" part of the barefoot/nearly barefoot running thing has died down, sooner or later a new runner will be in a race or on a run in the park and see someone running barefoot, in "those toe shoes," sandals, or something that looks like slippers. A brief conversation with these minimalist runners may lead one to question what the guy at the running shoe store told them about over pronation.

There are some things to know before ditching one's shoes though. If a runner is accustomed to old there will be pain, oh yes, there will be pain.
fashioned running shoes (yeah, I said old fashioned) and enthusiastically jumps on the Tarahumara bandwagon without a solid transition,

Over the next few posts here I'll share some things to watch out for if you think you would like to switch to less shoe.

These are close, but still not barefoot.
Today I'm discussing heel - toe differential. If there is a 16mm difference in the heel and toe in your shoe, your heel is 16mm (more than half an inch) higher than your toe when standing in those shoes. If you switch from this to running in a shoe with zero differential, your foot will be in a more natural position, but your muscles haven't been operating this way so there is some adjustment to be done.

If a personal training client came to me complaining of some low back discomfort, told me they had a desk job where they sat in an office chair 8-10 hours per day 5 days per week, I'd already be betting on a particular cause. I would check to see if when standing their pelvis tilted forward. Sitting all day for large portions of life will cause some changes in the muscles. The hip flexors (which pull the knee forward toward the torso will get used to the sitting position, making them shorter and tighter. Meanwhile the hamstrings, getting used to their new position will lengthen and become looser. This is what causes the unnatural position of the pelvis and therefore the lower back pain. Stretches and exercises would have to be done to correct the muscle imbalances.

The same goes for the foot.

Changing the angle the foot with shoes that lift the heel off the ground allow the calf and hamstrings to stretch less, therefore they shorten and tighten. A sudden change in how far those muscles have to stretch could overload the muscles and tendons causing calf pain or injury, hamstring pain or injury, achilles tendon pain or injury. . .

Don't give up though, there is hope.

First of all, thanks to the pendulum swing towards barefoot, and the swing back looking for balance, it is pretty easy these days to find out what the heel-toe differential in your shoe is. If you've been running in a 16mm drop shoe and you want to make a change you don't have to go to zero. Talk to your trusted running shoe person about your goals and they can help you find a shoe with a less high heel.

Another tool in your toolbox is stretching. Find a good stretching routine to lengthen your hamstring and calf muscles. You will here a lot about how stretching doesn't prevent injury and impedes performance, and how you shouldn't stretch before a workout. The purpose of stretching is to improve the range of motion. In this case, a runner needs to improve the range of motion, so after a workout, stretch those calves.

Strengthening. Running requires eccentric contractions of the calf muscles on each footfall. Get those calves ready with some good strengthening exercises. Meanwhile, since we are lengthening the calves with stretching, lets also strengthen the front of the leg with some exercises for the anterior tibialis.

Slow down, and shorten your run. If you switch from a 40 pound weight to a 50 pound weight you would reduce your repetitions. The same applies here, the muscles are working more on each footfall, so give them fewer footfalls at a slower pace.

Use these tips and you can start a transition to a more natural running style. This is only one aspect of the difference between old fashioned running shoes and much older fashioned running on your feet, so stay tuned for more.

Friday, April 19, 2013

No Such Thing As Barefoot Shoes

"Yeah, this dude was totally running the whole race in these toe shoes/sandals/sock looking things/flat little shoes with no support. He must be one of those barefoot runners."

I remember buying my first pair of Vibram Fivefingers. I went to the running store because my wife had said, "If you're going to be running now, you need to go get fitted for running shoes." The shoes that were suggested for me felt like I was running on a mattress. In a way that was a nice feeling, but at the same time something felt. . . wrong. I had a friend that did kettlebells in VFFs so I asked about the weird little toe shoes. I tried them on and they felt right. And so it began, not just my foray into minimalist running, but a long term frustration with the term "barefoot shoes". Before I even checked out, someone asked me if I was into barefoot running. I was wearing shoes, I was buying shoes to wear, and I was asked about barefoot running. Little did I know there was a barefoot running trend rolling up and about to seriously shake up the shoe industry as top brands struggled to define minimalist shoes and barefoot shoes.

There is no such thing as a barefoot shoe. This is more than a question of semantics. I don't need a dictionary to tell you that barefoot means your foot is bare. I'm not just being picky about what the word barefoot really means. I'm not trying to say nearly barefoot shoes are a bad thing. I happen to really enjoy running in mine. The point I am getting to is that running barefoot is different than anything else, no matter how well designed the shoe is, now matter how closely it resembles barefoot, it is not the same as running barefoot. I have begun supplementing my nearly barefoot running with more and more actually barefoot running.

I discovered last winter, that the more shoe I have on, the more sore I get from running. It took me quite a while longer to figure out why. Having never had a running coach, or even time for a running club, the only feedback I've had on my running is my own research and my own running. I've learned a lot from experimentation and I've learned the most from taking my shoes off.

My Xeroshoes huaraches showed me that I had a heel whip. When I sat my foot down in my stride and my heel landed off the sole of the sandal, I knew something was wrong. When I got on the treadmill barefoot, I really started to learn. If you run barefoot, and your foot twists while in contact with the ground. Unless you just ignore the feedback from your foot, you will feel it. If your foot skids forward on landing, you will feel the friction. If you push off with your toes instead of lifting your foot, you will know it.

No matter how minimal the shoe, it is going to mask some of the sensation and limit the feedback you get from your feet.

I don't believe this is always a bad thing. In fact, if I am running for time, I will be running in some sort of shoe. If I want to PR a 5K I am not so much worried that day about authentic barefoot running, I am going to insulate my feet so it will take more than a sliver of glass to stop my race.

I do believe, however that EVERY runner should spend some time barefoot. You will learn a lot from your feet.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Running For Butterflies

Where I live, and probably where you live too, we are blessed to live a pretty safe existence. I can go for a 10 mile run starting at my house early on a Sunday morning and see more bunny rabbits than cars. I might have to  worry about being chased by a dog, or stung by a bee, and I do take precautions to be very visible in case there is a car out on these country roads. Real fear, real terror, however is not on my mind when I go for a run.

What happened in Boston yesterday is tragic and horrible and I don't even have the ability to describe the way it makes me feel. I am grateful to live in a place where this sort of thing is exceedingly rare.

There are others who live with the fear of not being able to walk to school without the threat of being  beaten up, blown up, shot at, or stabbed. There are those out there who here explosions daily. People live lives in which school teachers carry automatic rifles because they just might need them.

These intentional acts of terror and violence are a product of the world we live in. There is a story about this guy who, about 2000 years ago, came around and said, basically, can't you guys just love each other and take care of each other? The popular response was to torture him to death on a cross. I still find myself asking, "Can't we just love each other and take care of each other?"

I feel like I don't do enough for the world around me right now. I feel I should do more.

This is what I'm doing this week though. I'm running for butterflies.

Another unimaginable event. This family had a beautiful little girl. She got sick at age 6. Doctors were unsure what was wrong, then one day, just before her seventh birthday, she was having trouble breathing and her fingers were turning blue. From the emergency room the doctors decided to fly her to a hospital in Louisville. There was not room on the flight for her parents. She died before her parents saw her again.

I am sitting here typing and crying. My daughter, who is currently one year younger than Maddie was when she died is making a leash for our dog from an old tie. I cannot imagine what it would be like to lose her next year.

Maddie's family does all sorts of fund raisers to raise money and awareness about the disease that took their little girl away. Since I started running I've been running in their 5K fundraiser every year. So has my little girl.

This Saturday we run for Maddie.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

How To Choose The Shoe For You

It's that time of year again. The weather is warming up, people are getting outside, getting active, starting running and asking all sorts of questions about how to do it right.

Common question: "What shoes should I wear for running?"

Smart Alec answer: "Whatever shoes are best for you."

Serious answer: "Whatever shoes are best for you."

If you go online and ask what shoes you should wear, a lot of people are going to answer by telling you what kind of shoe they should wear. This information is useless to you unless you are a body snatcher and you plan on taking over there body to go for a run.

So, all you new runners, here is how to pick a shoe.

1. Forget about shoes for a minute, think about your body. Running builds a strong healthy body, but also requires a strong healthy body. Spend two to three days per week strengthening your body. Strengthen your feet, calves, hamstrings, glutes, quadriceps, hip flexors, hips, core, while your at it give the upper body some love too. You'd be amazed how tired your shoulders can get from running.

2. Run barefoot. You don't have to run barefoot everywhere you go, you don't have to run barefoot on concrete, but you will learn so much about running from some barefoot runs.

3. Go to a running specialty store. Not Foot Locker, not Dunham's, somewhere that employs a bunch of runners. If you aren't sure if it is a specialty running store go in and say to the first person you see, "What are you training for?" Their answer will let you know if they are a runner.

4. Tell them what you are looking for, they should watch you run a bit before they recommend a shoe. Try on the shoe they recommend. If it does not feel comfortable, tell them everything you don't like about the shoe. Repeat this process until your feet feel heavenly.

5. Don't forget to run barefoot.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Old, Weathered, and Worn.

It was February, but the weather was incredible. The sky was a bright blue, with small puffs of white racing across it. Despite the brisk wind there were still plenty of people out in shorts and tank tops running on the track at the park where my daughter and I were playing on the playground. After our fun, we headed over to Wal-Mart to  get some groceries. On our way out the door a smiling face caught my attention. The sun was almost spotlighting this guy, he had a joyful look on his weathered face and his shoulders were rounded forward a bit. Looking at that face he seemed healthy and spry, and yes, rather old,weathered, and worn, maybe in his seventies.

 The next thing I noticed is that this guy was dressed in a manner I don't see many guys of his apparent age dressing. He had on a thin t-shirt and track shorts. Then I noticed his vastus lateralis muscle (one of the muscles of the quadriceps). The reason I noticed his vastus lateralis is that this dude's legs were freakin' ripped. Every muscle stood out under his skin like steel cables. He could have posed in an anatomy book to show the musculature of the legs. Every muscle was clearly definable. I've heard people say, "I hope I'm that fit when I'm his age." I hope I'm that fit now.

Then I thought, "I bet this guy runs faster than me."

So thanks, old guy at Wal-Mart, for giving me a goal and inspiration.

Friday, March 22, 2013


Picture this.

Don't just read through, don't skim, engage your imagination.

You walk into the gas station and this woman is handing out scratch off lottery tickets just for the fun of it. She hands you one walks out the door and drives away. You laugh a little then head over to the counter, pull a dime out of your pocket and proceed to scratch away. Several other people are doing the same. The guy next to you scratches, then says, "Dang, I had my hopes up." He looks your way and says, "I lost my wallet yesterday and I just ran out of gas, I was hoping to win enough to fill up so I could get back home."

As you go back to scratching your ticket you realize you have been given a winner. You just won 1,440 dollars.

Would you give that guy $30 for gas?

30 dollars would be 2 percent of what you just won, you would still have 1,410 dollars from your winnings.

Would you do it?

Every morning when you wake up, you have 1,440 minutes before the next morning.

Would you give yourself 2%? Would you spend thirty minutes per day investing in your own health? Get up, go out the door, walk briskly for fifteen minutes, then turn around and come home.

That is all, two percent of your day.

The benefits?
Increased Cardiovascular health.
Improved immune system
Lowered chance of obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer. . .
Improved mood
Improved mental function
The list goes on.


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Again, Study Quantifies the Obvious.

Runner's World also put this one out there, it really relates to the other one.

New Study Quantifies Common Sense

Well of course, I already knew this from personal experience, but now there is a study that puts it out there as being more than just my personal experience.

Basically it says that the harder the surface, the more likely there will be a forefoot strike.

Credit to for finding the article for us.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Half Marathon Report by Dr. Seuss

My wife and I, we like to run.
We run for fun in the hot, hot sun.
We run in the rain, we run to train,
We run in the dark, we run in the park.

We like to run on trails you see,
Today we ran in Tennessee.
Over 13 miles to race,
Would we win? Would we place?

Through the woods, up and down hills,
Lots of curves lots of thrills.
My wife, she asked me, "Do we dare?
Are we in danger of seeing bears?"

I googled the answer to calm her fears,
There haven't been bears in there for years.
So we headed to the race,
To run at an exciting pace.

We ran our race (It was really fun.)
We ran our best 'til it was done.
We didn't place, we didn't win,
But we are sure we'll go again.

Full race report here.

Goal 1:59:59 Did He Make It?

Race morning: 41 degrees F and rainy.

Those were the conditions back home in Bowling Green, the weather at Fall Creek Falls State Park where my trail half marathon was located was much nicer, upper 50's and partly cloudy. I couldn't have asked for better weather to try my second half marathon, one year after my first on the same course. Last year I finished in 2:12:00. 12th place overall out of 62 people. This year I was hoping to finish in under two hours.

St. Patrick's Day Swag.
We did a much better job getting to the start than we did last year. This time we were able to leisurely gather our gear and race packets, then hang around for the start. It was much nicer this way.

Time to start. My plan to meet my sub 2 hour goal was to try to run at about a 9 minute per mile on the trail. I figured I'd be able to keep that pace without getting above my aerobic range, so I kept my effort level right around the top of that effort level. There were checkpoints at 2.25, 9.25, and 12.25 miles (there was also a 50K on the same course). I did a little math in my head and set my goals at 20 minutes, 83 minutes, and 18 minutes for the three aid stations. If I could do that I would still have a three minute cushion to break two hours.

On the first mile, of every race I do, I find myself thinking, "Why am I doing this? I don't enjoy this. This is hard. Who needs to race anyway?" I get over that pretty quickly though. I settled in to a comfortable pace, planning to keep things aerobic for most of the race. I planned on picking up the pace at aid station 3. Due to an injury, I had drastically reduced my mileage last year, and in training for this race 4 miles was the longest I'd held a tempo effort, so I figured I'd hit that effort level for the last four miles.

Aid station one: 19:27. 33 seconds ahead of goal time, but it would be a long haul on some hilly trails before I could check my pace again. I prefer to run without GPS, I wrote more about that here. At about 30 minutes I realized I was working above my aerobic pace, so I slowed down. I ran, along the trails, up the hills, down the hills, across the wooden bridges, over rocks the size of my torso. I met some other runners and talked with them and generally had a blast in the woods. (Will I be able to road race again?)

At one point, I started to wonder if I was near the suspended bridge that swings and shakes as you run across 50 feet or so over a rushing stream 15-20 feet below.

I heard up ahead a thumping of feet on wood and said to the person just ahead of me, "Sounds like another bridge." Then I heard a scream that started off terrified and settled down into a laugh, and said, "It's the suspended bridge."

80 minutes gone, and no sign of aid station 2 (83 minute goal), would I make it there in time?

83 minutes, no aid station.

89 minutes aid station.

So much for my cushion, now I had to make up at least three minutes to reach my sub 2 hour goal. With 4 miles left to go it was time to up the effort level. Unfortunately the trail also ups the difficulty level on the second half of the course, a lot more climbing to do.

I knew before, but verified on this race that I am much better downhill than uphill. On every hill, if there was someone behind me, they would come right on my tail on the uphills, then I would leave them behind on the downhill. If they were in front of me, I'd catch up with them downhill, and get left behind going uphill.

The going was getting tough.

As some of you know, I recently lost my dog. He was a greyhound, pitbull mix. He was awesome, but he was nearly 13 years old. I wish I had been a runner when he was young. He would have been a great running buddy. I'm still miss that boy, his empty dog house haunts my backyard, so do the trails worn into the grass back there. So, when he died, I made this plan to sort of invoke his spirit on this run.

The going was getting tough, so I imagined my dog with me, young, strong, and swift, running with me. When I wanted to slow down, I'd picture him pulling ahead of me and looking back over his shoulder at me as if to say, "Come on Dad let's RUN!" He kept me pushing hard for the last four miles.

Thanks Grendel.

Somewhere along the trail, one of the volunteers, out on the trail with a bicycle said to me, "It's not too terribly far before you're back on the road, then either turn left to finish the half, or go across for the 50K."

"Not too terribly far. . ." What does that mean? Once I hit the road I've got .75 miles to go. Does this mean I'm a mile from the end? 2 miles? 3 miles? I've got 10 more minutes to go until two hours have passed. I'd better keep the effort high in case it is a longer way to go. I can definitely finish the last mile in 10 minutes, but I still don't know when I'll reach the road. 

9 minutes to go, still not on the road. I can finish a mile in 9 minutes though.

8 minutes, still no road. I can do a mile in 8, especially since most of it is on asphalt and downhill.

7 minutes, not out of the woods yet. I can run a seven minute mile, but I'll have to really crank it up. 

Come on Grendel, let's go.

I made it to the road at 2 hours and 1 minute. 


At this point, I can still PR even if I take it easy the rest of the way.

So I slowed down to an easy jog.

Not really, I gave it all I had left.

My right calf cramped up. With every step it would cramp more, so on the lift off I would dorsiflex my toes. I was trying to reel in the two guys ahead of me. The cramp got worse, I stopped and stretched it out, then took off again. I didn't reel them in. 

I was sore. I was tired, but I gave it what I got. 

Official results haven't been posted, but my time was 2:06: something. I think around 2:06:40, maybe a little more or less. 

Even without hitting my major goal, I still got a personal best by over 5 minutes. So I'm happy about that.

There was a much tougher field this year than last. Last year I got second in my age division and 12th overall. This year fifth, and 25th, but as I have said before, given the choice, I'd rather PR than place.

It was a great race, lots of fun, and it helped me let go of my dog, Grendel.

I wonder what I could do on a road half.

My wife and I love this race. It is always well organized, a great spread of food at the end, and the race director listens to feedback from the runners and makes improvements. We plan on continuing to do this race. Maybe, just maybe, should I remain injury free this year, maybe I'll do the 50K next time.

Two happy runners.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Over the River and Through the Woods

Here goes. I've got to make this sound dramatic.

In a day and a half I will be doing my second half marathon. I'll be running the same race as I did one year ago, The Fall Creek Falls Trail Half Marathon. 13.1 miles. Last year I actually ran a little farther than that (report here). I finished in 2:12:00.

This year I do it again. I like races. I enjoy the camaraderie, the spirit of competition, being out on the trail giving it my all. I don't care (much) about beating the other racers, but I sure do enjoy competing with them. What I'm really hoping for (aren't we all?) is a personal best. Honestly, I'd like to break under two hours.

There is rain in the forecast. That might slow me down, the trails could be sloppy and slippy and treacherous. I'll keep on running though.

I seriously considered asking to borrow my stepdaughter's GPS watch to help me keep track of my pace, but then I changed my mind. I want to do this based on effort. I want to control my pace by listening to my body. I want to attempt to run the speed I need to run to meet my goal without constant electronic feedback. I will have time goals for each aid station, but that is all.

I'm not sure why, but I like the primalness of trail running, I like getting closer to nature, I don't want to be interrupted by an electronic guide even if it will help me monitor my pace. That is part of why I wear minimal shoes. I don't want to rely on running shoe technologies like Biomogo or progressive diagonal rollbars. I want my feet and legs, and heart and lungs and mind to run the race. Yes, I'll wear a stopwatch, and I'll be eating some gels, but that is about as advanced as my technology will be. If I could find honey in convenient 100 calorie squeeze tubes I would probably just use honey. If Mandarin "cuties" weren't so bulky I might use those, but for now I'll stick with the gels.

And I will run step by step, breath by breath. I will run through the woods, up and down the trails, along the ridges, through the creeks across suspended bridges until I reach the end.

And 1:59:59 or not I will finish smiling.

Results will be available here.

Are You Laughing at My Shoes?

When I was a kid, I had the audacity to be less financially well off than my peers, and as a result I often wore the wrong brands of clothing to school.

In sixth grade, I had on my newly purchased Trax shoes, and some of the other kids started poking fun at them and by extension me. I had no idea that Trax was an unacceptable brand to wear to school, but apparently there was some unwritten rule that I had not figured out yet about wearing the same brand clothing as everyone else. 
You will be assimilated.
I learned to either get the right brands, or somehow hide the fact that my "Jams" were not "Original Jams", but were in fact made by my mother. I was very sensitive to ridicule. I'm not sure if my sensitivity was a result of being picked on, or if being picked on was a result of my sensitivity.

I'm still not over that sensitivity, but lately I've discovered something about being an adult.

A lot of people never got over that need to make fun of something different from their way of doing things.

Case in point, I like Vibram Five Fingers shoes. It amazes me how many grown adults feel the need to make fun of my shoes. "You've got monkey feet." "Look, he's got webbed toes." "Do you need me to buy you some real shoes?" "Those are too ugly to wear." "I can't believe you've bought in to that barefoot running thing."

The list goes on and on and on. . .

Sure I can make good natured responses. "Actually they are shaped like people feet. I couldn't wear these shoes if I had webbed toes. I'll let you buy me another pair of these, they're pricey. You should see my feet without them. You might not have noticed, but I'm not barefoot." 

I've had plenty of practice shrugging it off, but it is a weakness of mine that I take criticism pretty hard.

So, geez people grow up and stop making fun of my shoes! Are we back in sixth grade or what?

It boils down to this. You can put whatever you want on your feet, you can run in whatever shoe makes it most enjoyable for you, but not everyone is going to do it your way. Let the slow runners be slow, let the VFF wearers wear their toe shoes, let the Brooks Cascadia wearers wear their shoes. Let the guy in the toga tied Xero shoes do his thing too. We are all on this planet together, let's make it pleasant for one another.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Why You Can't Keep Your Heart Rate In Your Range

Lately I've read lots of posts from runners having a panic attack about their inability to run slowly enough to stay in their target heart rate training zone.

Guys, chill, there are lots of reasons that you could be exceeding your target zone.

Reason 1. Your heart rate monitor is wrong.

I've had heart rate monitors tell me my heart rate was in the high 50's during an interval workout. I had one that wouldn't pick up my heart rate if it were below 40 degrees Farenheit. Before you stress, find out how accurate your monitor is.

Reason 2. Your ESTIMATED heart rate zones are wrong. Did you notice the emphasis I put on the word ESTIMATED? In case you didn't let me emphasize it some more. ESTIMATED. How did you decide what your target heart rate is? 220 - age times a percentage? Did you MAF it and go with 180 - age? Did you know that 220- age could be off as much as 30 beats per minute?  For perspective, I turn 38 next month. According to the MAF method my maximum heart rate for aerobic work is 142. 30 bpm error factored in it could be 112. What if I tried to run my long run at 142 when I need to run it at 112? That error could also put me at 172 for my maximum aerobic capacity, at 142 I'd be barely working.

Unless you've had your maximum heart rate tested you really don't know what it is.

Reason 3. You are running too darn fast. Slow down.

So what is a fan of Phil Maffetone to do?

Chill guys, I got this. If you are running down the road and you say out loud, "Oh geez, my heart rate is ten beats higher than 180 minus my age. What am I going to do. I just can't seem to run slowly enough to stay in my heart rate range. This is really embarrassing I don't want anyone to see me running that slowly. Oh well, I guess I either have to embrace the shame or ruin my workout."

If you can say all that out loud, you  haven't exceeded your aerobic zone, you're OK to keep going at that pace.

It's called the talk test. If you can say about a paragraph's worth out loud you are aerobic, if you can't you've crossed the threshold.

Links to other articles on this are below.

Why My Five Year Old Runs 5Ks

My wife started running again when our little girl was still a really little girl. Then I started running before she turned three. So she decided she wanted to run too. She would run about a quarter of a mile at a time. Then at age three she ran her first kids 1/2 mile fun run. It was a fun event, My wife, my stepdaughter and I all ran the 5K, then my little girl ran the fun run. 

She was hooked.

She ran some more 1/2 mile kids' runs and a one miler. Then at age 4 she announced she wanted to run the 5K on Thanksgiving which would be just after her fifth birthday. Her mother and I ran with her. (Slowest 5k I've ever run) Full story here. She ran the first 2 miles and the last .1.

While in the jogging stroller with me and my wife on a 6 mile run she told us she wanted to run, she does that sometimes and usually goes 1/2 mile to a mile. This time we let her out at the turn around point and she ran the whole three miles home.

She let us know that at the Butterflies for Maddie race this year she is not running the 1/2 mile, she wants to run the 5K. Actually she wanted to run both, but we told her she had to choose.

She loves to run and at age 5 is capable of running a 5K. She even rode her bike (training wheels and all) five miles to get ice cream.

The reason she loves to run and bike and exercise is simple. Her family has set the example. Her mother, her big sister, and I all take good care of our bodies, exercise, make healthy food choices. It is what she has grown up knowing and it is what she does.

To really teach something, to really instill something in your children, my advice is to live it for yourself.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

5 Reasons I Hate the Treadmill (and 5 Reasons I Love It)

Every once in a while, the elements outside combine in such a fashion to drive me to run on the dreaded treadmill. Treadmill running is psychologically hard for me because I get so bored, but it also has its benefits.

Five reasons I hate the treadmill

5. Snot rockets. Where in the world can I send my snot rocket?

4. The view. The other day I spent an hour staring at a cobweb.

3. It is too tempting to stop. If I'm on a 10 mile out and back and I feel like quitting halfway through, guess what, I still have to get home. If I feel like quitting on the treadmill, the couch is right over there. Very tempting.

2. No wind. I like the feel of the air moving across my face as I run, I get none of that on the treadmill.

1. Boring. Boring, boring, boring.

Five reasons I love the treadmill.

5. If I am focused on a certain pace that day, I dial up that pace and the treadmill makes sure I keep it.

4. Slick roads. I refuse to do my speed workouts when there is patchy ice, or snow compacted into sheets of ice, the treadmill keeps me safe on those rare icy days in Kentucky.

3. If something happens, I can stop and be at home. No need to search for a bathroom or water fountain, I can hop off the treadmill and meet whatever needs I have.

2. No wind. Yesterday morning there were winds gusting 20-30 miles per hour. No thanks, I'll run on the treadmill.

1. It keeps me honest. I can know exactly what my pace is, if there is a discrepancy in my stride I can't blame it on terrain, with so many variables controlled any errors in my running are MY errors.

How about you? What do you like and hate about the treadmill.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

"Something Would Have To Be Chasing Me. . ."

If you are a runner and you haven't heard this one, keep running you will.

"You ran how far? Why, was something chasing you?"

You don't even have to be logging that many miles, I once heard it in response to a 2 mile run. It is a pretty common comment from non-runners. Actually, you'll get lots of comments from those who choose not to run, and you will find your own way to respond to their well meaning, or sarcastic, or down right snarky comments. You might respond with grace, or return the sarcasm, or just ignore them and move on, but you will find what works for you.

If you want to know some of my favorite responses, I have some good news for you. Here are some comments I've actually heard and the responses I thought up during my next run when it was too late to actually say them.

You know that's bad for your knees don't you?
Actually, no it's not. (I know, dull, but straightforward.)

You're going for a run right now? You're crazy.
One of us will spend 30 minutes today doing running, the other will spend 30 minutes inhaling toxic smoke to indulge their nicotine addiction. Which one of us is crazy?

I get tired driving that far.
In that case you seriously need to go for a run.

RUN FORREST! (usually shouted from a passing car).
Stupid is as stupid does.

You ran how far? Why? Was something chasing you?
Yes, something is chasing me, and it is chasing you too, Obesity, Heart Disease, Type 2 Diabetes, High Cholesterol, OH NO they're coming, they're right behind you!!! 


Run now before it's too late!!

Monday, February 25, 2013

How To Get Faster.

A grey blanket covered the sky and a thin misty rain kept everything soggy. It was one of those days on which it seemed an umbrella would be useless. It felt like the raindrops were just suspended in the air blowing around in every direction. Despite the conditions, I had a goal in mind. 20:00 or less for a 5K. In my first year of running I went from a 26:47 to a 20:30 PR. Today I wanted to do even better. I had 6 months more experience since my last PR, but I had some things working against me too.

Over the winter I had stopped focusing on 5K speed and was adding distance to train for a half marathon trail race. Over that training cycle I had injured myself and was set back a little bit. The half marathon (report here) was an awesome experience but there was only one month between it and this 5K. I took 2 weeks to recuperate, not running for one week, then taking it easy for another week leaving little time for speed training.

At the halfway mark I talked to another runner we both were trying to break our 20:30 PRs so I stuck with her for quite some time. We did a little leap frog for about a mile. Then on the hills in the last mile she left me in the dust. My final time was 20:32.

Here it is one year later and I still haven't beaten that 20:30 PR much less gotten under 20:00.

So on to the question so many runners are asking.

How do I get faster?

There is a system, there are steps you can follow. Which step you start on today really depends on what you've already done.

1. Get more efficient. 
If you are new to running, stop thinking about getting fast, instead get more efficient. Your tendons, ligaments, and muscles need to adapt to the stress of running. So do your heart and lungs. So for now, ban the word faster from your thinking. Gradually increase the duration of your runs, add minutes or miles a little at a time, week after week. Your body will start adapting down to the cellular level. You could spend as much as a year in this phase. Don't worry, you have the rest of your life to run.

Part of getting more efficient is improving your technique. Learn to run correctly, research running form, have someone look at your running form to see if you are doing something that will slow you down or injure you, then fix the problems.

2. Get stronger. 
Don't neglect strength training. Running is the best exercise for running, but doing the same motions over and over works the same muscles in the same movements. Give the other muscles some love so you don't develop imbalances in the body.

3. Don't get hurt.
Don't say footstrike any more. Say landing. Why would you want to strike the ground with your foot? Striking the ground sends energy downward into the ground. Leave foot striking to martial arts training. Run soft and easy, land your foot on the ground and propel yourself forward. Follow the advice I was once given. "If it hurts, don't do it." Believe me, pushing to hard and getting injured will slow you down a lot more than taking it too easy.

4. To learn to run fast, you must run fast.
Once your body is now a runner's body (remember, it could be a year or even more) start running fast.
Once a week, work on intervals, do a warm up, then run hard for three minutes then jog for three, run three, jog three. Gradually build up the number of intervals you do. Look for other interval workouts, this is just a super basic way to get started.

Other than getting a personal trainer and a running coach, that's really the way to go. If any of you were hoping for a magic solution to cut your 5K time by five minutes in four weeks I don't have that for you. If you find out how to do that, let me know.