30 October 2013

cut to the core

i'd like to think that (at least since serving as a camp 'sports director' in my young adult years) i've always been fitness-aware, if not actually fit myself.  from early morning workouts at the university of toronto field house gym to working out at home with weights to rec league volleyball and beyond, i've tried to give myself a decent shot at being in good shape.

now into my 40s and getting semi-serious about running, i can honestly say that i'm in the best shape of my life - probably conditioning-wise and in terms of overall physique.  and as i was chatting with my friend/training partner/pacer trevor a couple of weeks ago, i came to realize that it wasn't just about the miles put onto my legs.  he'd commented that just recently he's been working on increasing stability by focusing on core work and other upper-body exercises.  my other friend/training partner mike has just started the Focus T25 workout with his wife and talked to me last weekend about how challenging it has been so far.

i guess that i just thought that things like pushups, crunches, planks, and other exercises were just fundamental building blocks for any level of fitness.  so they've been part of my lifestyle for a while now.

bodyweight exercises are what i find work best for me.  i remember hearing a story about how herschel walker (have you seen the guy?  and he's into his 50s!) doesn't use any weights aside from bodyweight for his workouts.  there are variations to this story, but the bottom line is that he predominantly focuses on pushups, situps and other calisthenics.  

right then and there i thought "if i can look and perform anything like this guy when i'm 50, i'm going to stick with pushups".

and so i have.

i like to keep it fresh, so i've got a variety of pushups and core exercises that i use as my standard go-tos - and i mix it up depending on the day of the week:
  • pushups - standard, (three-point contact) fingertip, (three-point contact) diamond, (three-point contact) elbows-in, (three-point contact) elbows-out, tricep dips
  • cross-body crunches
  • planks:  knee-reach, spider-man, side leg-lift

here are two of my fav videos for bodyweight workout ideas ... this first one i really dig because (as my kids will attest) i'm the kind of guy you find trying to do exercises on the local playground equipment:

i've yet to really focus on running-specific strength workouts, which could be the next step in the evolution of my running performance.  for now, the pieces that i do have to complement the training distances seem to be helping me get to and stay in a good place.

now what do you think about this:  malcolm gladwell believes that mo farah will be a better marathoner if he loses his biceps.  while core and upper-body exercises are a good complement to running, will they compromise my potential to be the best road racer that i can be?  

maybe i'm setting myself up to be more suited for trail running or being an ultramarathoner.

anyway, i'd love to hear what your training staples are, and why i should consider adding them into the mix!

23 October 2013

keep it natural, keep it real

i continue to chuckle at and about myself when i think of the lifestyle changes that have come about as a result of running.  some friends and i were collectively scratching our heads about where the 'old pat' went to when we were discussing this subject after church this past sunday.  the fast food days are almost non-existent, late night brainless tv is no longer on the radar, and a weekly/monthly/yearly training and racing regime now dominate the calendar.

a couple of days ago i watched two engaging and insightful videos from ultrarunner and fruitarian michael arnstein and among the things that i took away from them was the importance of regular, long, quality sleeps.  i've certainly taken to trying to make my sleep pattern and duration more predictable during training cycles (and found it immensely easier to get up each morning to run - even as the days get shorter), but after listening to michael's recommendation of a sleep mask i decided to give that a shot as well.
shamelessly stolen borrowed from one of my daughters

i will have to see if it ends up that i sleep more soundly with a mask on, or if i will just be providing hours of entertainment to the rest of my family as i lay unconscious.

as i think of some of the other 'natural' adaptations that have contributed to a me v2.0, i can't miss mentioning the role of chiropractic in my life.  for about five years now i've been seeing my friend and chiropractor dr. brad norman.  it was in response to a thoughtful gift card shared by another friend of mine (brian) that i began exploring the chiropractic journey through New Life Chiropractic - not having any back problems, headaches, or nagging pains to speak of.  at the same time i discovered that i was the ideal candidate - as i've always believed, it's better to practice the fire escape before you smell smoke.

you can also watch the progression of spinal degeneration in this video provided by my friends at New Life Chiro:

dr. brad is a practitioner of the gonstead technique, which targets specific adjustments in an effort to restore the flow of communication and energy between the brain and the rest of the body (vis-à-vis the spinal cord).  his mission and approach is all about facilitating what the body is designed to do best - restore itself - rather than mask/medicate/poison the presenting problems. 

one of the reasons that i'm a believer in chiropractic is partly because brad is my friend - but moreso because he and his team share a compelling vision of how God has intended the body to be a beautiful collaboration of science and art.  there are so many medicinal recommendations that want to introduce artificial ingredients to interfere with that.  i've done my best to stay away from all of that - so much so that aside for gravol to deal with my occasional onset of vertigo, i've not taken any other medications in the last several years.

so nutrition, sleep, exercise, chiropractic - some of the key pieces to my current state of health and fitness.  what are yours?

19 October 2013

race report - MEC burlington race five (10k)

i've been using a slightly modified version of the pfitzinger/douglas intra-marathon plan to prep for the hamilton marathon since it will have only been seven weeks since the erie marathon.  integrated into that plan is a 10k race for this week's tempo run, which i ran today in burlington as part of the MEC race series.  the additional incentive to trek all that way was that the event took place in confederation park, the finishing location of the hamilton marathon - so it would give me a chance to feel out and visualize what the home stretch will be like in a couple of weeks.

first off, let me say that the MEC race series is a great community initiative, as it's a non-threatening, value-priced running event that offers everyone from the novice to the experienced athlete an opportunity to compete and enjoy an organized race.  kudos to MEC for encouraging activity at the local level!

i didn't make the jaunt down to burlington to pick up my race kit in advance, so together with my friends trevor and lewis i headed out at 5:30am this morning for a 9:10am start.  it's about 1h40m to drive from barrie to burlington, so we gave ourselves plenty of time to get trevor registered as well as to pick up kits, grab a coffee, and put in a few warm-up kilometres.

the theme of the trip out to burlington was clarity - we were both discussing the importance of clarity of vision in leadership as well as the clarity of my windshield.  it seems that the defogging system on my 1990 mazda 323 doesn't want to work effectively, and so the three of us were peering through smudged/smeared glass as we tried to discern the positioning of our car relative to the painted highway markers as well as to other vehicles.  where was the sham-wow when i could have used one ...?

arriving as early as we did, the race organizers had barely set up their tables to receive registrants.  nonetheless, trevor managed to complete the requisite form to get into the race, and even managed to pick up his bib before lewis and i (who were standing in line one canopy-tent over).  the kit consisted of the bib, ipico timing chip (i'd only seen these used at the us olympic marathon trials, but apparently they were used in the london marathon and were designed especially to overcome challenges in open water swims) and MEC-branded drawstring bag (which i neglected to pick up).

as it was a brisk, overcast morning we decided to risk another quick trip in the mazda over to the local tim horton's to satisfy a coffee fix.  it was a short visit, but enough to help us stay warm and kill some time before the pre-race warm-up.

the race
the 10k course itself (there was a half-marathon run that preceded us by 10min., and a 5k run starting at the same time as the 10k) proved only modestly confusing, as there was a bit of winding within the parking lot before opening up on the park roadway and linking up with the lakeshore paved trail.
there was no bike pacer, and only pylons most of the way to help marshal us and ensure that we stayed to the prescribed route - only the aid station (at the 4k mark) was staffed and they were helpful in checking whether we were 5k or 10k runners.

trevor had convinced me to stick with him from the outset, and i should have known from our conversation in the car ("i always seem to start races fast") that we'd be busting it from the get-go.  the first two kilometres were 3:39 and 3:58 - just about interval paces for me, but comfortable for trevor.  looking ahead of us at that point there were about six runners leading the pack, so we both figured that if we kept to this we'd be pulling in seventh and eighth place.  of course we'd forgotten that there were 5k runners in with us, and it wasn't apparent until the 5k turnaround point that we were actually two of the three frontrunners in the 10k.

it was a reasonably taxing run for me throughout - at moments i felt my breathing accelerate and chest tighten (oh no ... shades of the erie marathon bronchoconstriction breakdown!) so i consciously relaxed my posture and stride a bit over a few steps to settle down.  otherwise, the conditions were near perfect - about 7°C, no wind, intermittent lake spray/drizzle.  all well suited to help me stay close to the pace i'd need to finish up with my goal time of sub-42 min.

as we rounded the bend into the finishing straightaway, trevor encouraged me to give it everything i had left.  i'd visualized this moment over the past couple of days, and intuitively knew that i still had a decent kick left in the bank - so i stretched out my fingers to get into a sprinting arm swing and focused on quick and light leg turnover.  i'm not sure how the pictures will turn out, but in my mind i was doing my very best mo farah:

who knows if it he was giving it his all, but trevor says that he managed to stay on my heels but couldn't catch me for the finish.  so while we crossed the line in 2nd and 3rd place (separated by 0.5s), he would have been a clear second had he run his pace for the entire race.  truly an unselfish runner and generous friend.

i noted after we crossed the timing mat that my garmin indicated we'd run 10.19k, so my 'gps time' differs by about 32 seconds.  the overall splits were:

trevor and i pretty much continued moving beyond the finish line to get in a 2k cool-down jog, and returned just in time to meet our friend lewis who was rounding the home stretch turn.  he'd told us that his goal was to clear 60 min., and when i saw that the clock read 57:51 i started waving my arms wildly to urge him to finish strong.  and he did, in 58:23.

while changing into drier and warmer clothes at the car, trevor and i missed the medal presentations.  it was really quite a minor affair - especially since the organizer responsible for the medals had forgotten them at the local MEC retail store.  so apparently we will receive our spoils 'in the mail'.

all in all, a great road trip with two good friends, an enjoyable race and a confidence-boosting result.  a great way to spend a saturday morning!

15 October 2013

inov-8 bare-x 180 - road review

once again i'm beginning to feel a little shoe-indulgent.  after spending several years working for nike canada, i amassed quite the locker of footwear.  then taking up with tennis canada, i also once again added to that collection ... so much so that the agreement with my wife was that for every pair in one pair had to exit.

that's worked well ... until i took up running and blogging.  and now my shoe collection is starting to bulge once again.

anyway, as i contemplate which pair of shoes is next in line for retirement, let me share my thoughts on the inov-8 bare-x 180s.

these shoes would never have hit my radar if not for my friend/advisor/inspiration stan.  he was wearing them the first time that we met on the roads of the mississauga marathon, and between his review of these shoes and recurring recommendations of them i definitely knew that i wanted to give them a shot.  as of right now, i'm definitely thankful that i finally followed through.

what's great about these shoes?
  • zero-drop - if you didn't already know by now, my preference is to try to run as naturally and minimally as possible while still retaining some protection on the bottom (and top) of my feet.  the bare-x 180s have no differential in height from heel to toe.
  • lightweight - listed at about 6.4 oz for the standard men's size 9, mine are not much more than that at 9.5 (US).  feels even lighter than that because of how comfy a fit they provide.
  • toebox - plenty of width for footsplay when mid-to-forefoot striking, and lengthwise these fit perfectly - even better than my reigning-and-defending champ of running shoes, the merrell road glove (first iteration).
  • groovy colours - chili/mint ... can you dig it, suckaaaaaaaa?!
  • hand - technically this is the term for how a fabric feels between your fingers and thumb, but i think it's applicable here.  these shoes just feel incredibly nice when you don them.  stan chose to use the term "luxurious", and i don't disagree.
  • low stack-height - this is looking like a rundown of all of my favourite qualities that you can find in a shoe.  these shoes measure in at 6mm sole height + 3mm insole for a grand total of 9mm.  running on crushed limestone trails, there was no problem with discomfort from the terrain while still maintaining suitable ground feel.  the odd large pebble here and there i did notice, but not enough to cause any bruising or lasting effects.
  • outsole - with a grand total of 42km (not all in one marathon or anything) put on these, durability is not something that i can yet comment on.  however, i'm happy to say something about traction - initially i was worried that since the outsole does not look particularly rugged that it might prove a bit slippy under certain conditions.  this past sunday i went out for a 29km run in the pouring rain and these shoes were tacky like you wouldn't believe.  never once did i have any concerns about grip, and there was pooling water all over the road pavement.  plus i just have to mention how awesome the wet sole print is:
    i may have to wear these under my hallowe'en costume ...
'nuff said about the good stuff.  as for the drawbacks/downsides to this shoe?   listen in and find out:

all told, i'm glad that stan's comparison of the bare-x 180s to the merrell road gloves has stood up.  as i've said, the RGs have been my favourite running shoes to date, and there are certain qualities to the road gloves that i still love beyond other shoes.  i will have to see after i wear the bare-x 180s for the hamilton marathon whether they are ultimately as comfortable for that distance as the RGs.  all indications are that these shoes are worthy of five (skeletal) footprints out of five.


08 October 2013

what doesn't kill you

since i started this running thing (back in the spring of 2009) i've really not let anything slow me down. from the treadmill to the road, there have been numerous goals that have kept me getting out of bed and lacing up the shoes:
  • run non-stop through the entire album version of paradise by the dashboard light
  • finish a half-marathon
  • run a sub-1:30 half-marathon
  • finish a full marathon
  • run a sub-4:00 marathon
  • run a sub-3:30 marathon
  • qualify for boston (sub-3:15 marathon)
so far i've managed to hit all the marks except for the last one, and i hope to put a strikethrough line across it before the dawn of 2014.

in order to realize those aspirations, there's been some dogged determination injected as everyone gets obstacles thrown into their way.  those challenges can range from the mundane to the serious to the wild and wacky - i've seen most varieties in my own journey.  here are just some of the things that i've dealt with in trying to make sure that i was able to stick to my schedule/training plan:
  • snowstorms that have downed hydro lines and forced major road closures
  • colds
  • flu
  • pneumonia (note:  powering through this probably wasn't the smartest idea)
  • being chased (for several kilometres) by stray dogs in rural romania
    • the strays in romania come in all shapes and sizes
  • getting lost while running through the streets of detroit
  • recurring bouts of benign paroxysmal positional vertigo
  • mysterious knee pain
  • grade 1 quad strains
  • exercise-induced asthma
  • the normal rigmarole of kids' schedules, work projects
  • the abnormal rigmarole of working nine straight 15+ hour workdays helping to oversee the 1000+ volunteers of The Rogers Cup.

certainly in the grand scheme of things my list doesn't even compare to those who have to overcome diseases like cancer, or the demands of caring for dependents who have special needs, or dealing with special physical demands (like the coach i worked with this year, rick ball).

i suppose that the bottom line is that there are always excuses readily available as to why i (and why you) could choose not to run.  and i recognize that there are times that discretion is the better part of valour.  but i'm always inspired by the stories of people who choose the path less travelled, who stare down the forces that oppose them and manage to find a better version of themselves emerging from the struggle.

what wages against you to keep you from running or exercising?  


01 October 2013

which world record are you talking about?

i like wilson kipsang.

by all accounts that i've read and seen he is a genuinely nice guy who is proud of his heritage, his country and who gives back to the running community.

now, he is (deservedly) the new holder of the marathon world record.

gotta respect him for that.

since his record-smashing run this past sunday in berlin, all sorts of interesting things have hit the interweb world.  some of them i believe are worth sharing, like the breakdown of his race into meaningful statistics.  i also like this little comparison chart - "how long could you keep up with the new marathon world record holder?"  sure, these are bits of trivia, but they remind us of just how tremendous is his accomplishment of covering 42.195 km in 2h 03m 23s.

this is also interesting - while not raining on kipsang's parade (unlike the reprehensible idiot who hopped the barricade to cross the line just ahead of wilson) this article wants us not to forget that just a couple of years ago the same distance was traversed over twenty seconds faster that the standing world record.  geoffrey mutai's running of the 115th boston marathon absolutely stunned the marathoning world.  i like geoffrey mutai even a little bit more than wilson kipsang, and so have got to give him his props - even if the powers that be will not recognize his equally astonishing feat.

not to be overshadowed by all of this, as a masters-category runner (of nowhere near competitive quality) i definitely want to acknowledge that this season has been remarkable for at least two other records that have fallen. 

the fact that we are getting faster across the spectrum is giving me hope that i can run faster.