Health

15th August
2011
written by Randy

This weekend I met a friend in upstate New York and we ran Warrior Dash together. It was a lot of fun, but it was also much more difficult than I had expected.

I’m doing runs of 3 miles or more several times per week, so knowing that the Warrior Dash course was only 3 miles, I expected it wouldn’t be terribly difficult for me. I was wrong.

I’ve been running in the very flat city of Chicago. In all of that training I’m doing, there is almost no climbing. But New York is not flat. And worse, the Warrior Dash course was designed in such a way that it was more than 2 miles of climb, and maybe 1 mile of (steep) descent. I was pretty gassed right from the start.

I made it, and it was fun, but wow… holy cow was it hard.  And it served to remind me that regardless of how well I’m doing en route to my marathon, I’m still not in particularly great shape, and I’ve still got a long way to go.

8th August
2011
written by Randy

There’s something energizing about reaching the half-way point. This really stood out to me yesterday morning as I decided to challenge myself to 13 miles — 3 more than my previous longest run.

The first two miles were easy, but the next four started to feel like drudgery. It sucks when you’re going and going and you’re not even half-way yet. But then it happened.

I hadn’t yet turned the corner, but I looked at my watch and saw that I had gone 6.32 miles. For all practical purposes, that was half-way. And when I looked up, there was the sign for the street where I would turn.

My body was already tired and in pain, but suddenly I felt energetic again. After that, every step put me closer to home.

And now, with both knees in pain and my achilles tendon inflamed, soreness in places I didn’t know I had muscles, in spite of the fatigue of three months of torturous training, I’m feeling energized again by the realization that I’ve reached half way: yesterday, I ran a half-marathon.

There were no crowds cheering. There was no finish line. I didn’t get any congratulations. But silently and alone, I reached a huge milestone: the half-way point. This thing is no longer the impossible. And from here out, every step gets me closer to home.

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31st July
2011
written by Randy

Last week, I ran a torturous 9 miles. It was miserable and painful and frankly, dangerous. But it was a learning experience

What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, and certainly this week I am stronger. I just completed a 10-mile run, and there was quite a bit that was different this time.

Foremost, I’ve learned the importance of the night before and its effects on a run. Last night I ate well, and I limited myself to two beers, in spite of having been at Three Floyds Brewery. Instead of waking up empty and dehydrated, I woke up comfortable and energetic.

Also important, I drank plenty of water before I left to run, and I planned a route that crossed several fast food locations, where I was able to periodically rinse off in the restroom and sip some water.

Finally, I got out the door early, so that hottest, hallucination-inducing sun would come after I was home and done.

The difference added up. My time this week was 1:59, which is the same as last week, but I ran ten miles this time rather than the nine I ran previously.

Now I’m excited. I’m now getting into half-marathon territory. A half-marathon is 13 miles, and given how I felt, I know that I could have gotten out those last 3 today.

With 12 weeks remaining until the Columbus Marathon, I’m starting to feel pretty confident that I can do this!

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24th July
2011
written by Randy

Every time I go out for a 3- or 4-mile run, I make a little progress, and I feel great about where I am in comparison to where I started. But the progress isn’t enough to get me to where I need to be 12 weeks from now.

I decided I needed a good, long run this weekend to get me over the hump of all these shorter, more comfortable runs I’ve been doing, and yesterday I set out with the intention of going 10 miles.

I had a positive attitude and great expectations, but not much else going for me. This summer’s oppressive heat was staved off only slightly by an overnight rain, and some cloud cover to diffuse the heat of direct sunlight — in other words, I was lucky it was only 84 when I went out. I also hadn’t eaten breakfast, or dinner the night before, when I went out.

I was not prepared.

The first two miles went really well. In fact, I think I set a new best time on my first mile, coming in at under 9 minutes. And I didn’t walk for my first time until the end of the second mile, which is great for me. But by the end of the second mile, my mouth was a mess. I needed water badly, so I ducked into a McDonalds restroom where I wet my face and drank some water.

On the third and fourth miles, I took short walking rests every half-mile — more as a result of waiting for traffic lights than my own fatigue. But I was still really dry and thirsty, and it was starting to get hotter. Unfortunately, I had just entered a part of the city where there are no restaurants to duck into.

At mile five, I began to hallucinate. I felt as if my mind had separated from my body, and I was now operating a video game controller. I felt nothing. This seems like a bad thing, so I slowed my pace a bit, but I was 5 miles from home so there’s no way I could stop.

This out-of-body experience lasted almost half an hour, and I did not like it. When it finally ended, I was at the 6.5 miles and walking, and I realized that I was beyond half-way and every step I took would get me closer to home, so my mood improved again. I ran the next half-mile without much trouble.

That was the last of any significant running. After the seventh mile, the clouds had begun to clear, the sun had gotten stronger, the heat was terrible and my achilles tendon was throbbing. For the last two miles, I ran two blocks then walked two block, ran two blocks then walked two blocks, my ankle steadily getting worse.

Fortunately, my guess at a 10-mile route turned out to be a 9-mile route. The last two miles were torture, so I’m thankful there wasn’t another one.

I have learned that my carefree attitude might be fine for 3- and 4-mile outings, but over serious distances, I’m going to need to eat properly, pay attention to the weather, and bring water with me.

This might mark the last time I can go out on Friday night after work. At least until after the marathon. Hallucination is serious business. I don’t want to experience that again.

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28th June
2011
written by Randy

As you may have noticed, I love raising the stakes.

I recently discovered a bunch of crazy running events that combine distance running with obstacles. Most interesting is Tough Mudder, which is a 10-mile running course littered with 20 obstacles designed by British Special Forces. (It looks really fun, and slightly insane, and I’m most likely going to do it next spring.)

But one of those events looks challenging and fun, and also within the capacities of my training: Warrior Dash. It’s a shorter course (3 miles), and the obstacles are a bit less intense, though still somewhat crazy. And importantly, it looks really fun.

Most marathon training programs I’ve found online, and most of the advice I’ve gotten in person has included the suggestion that before the marathon day arrives, it’s good to participate in a smaller event, just to get accustomed to the difference of running in a group of hundreds, or thousands. So I’m using Warrior Dash as a sort of 5k on steroids.

I’m enrolled for an 8:30am start time on Saturday, August 13, just outside of Albany, New York. It’s no marathon, but I’m looking forward to it.

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23rd June
2011
written by Randy

For the past two months, I’ve been gathering data as I train. Argument can be made for whether or not that data helps me to improve, but no one can deny that the data makes it possible to see the improvement. And that’s important. Seeing your progress helps you to stay motivated.

Unfortunately, the data I was gathering was limited and inaccurate. I was measuring time with the pedometer feature built into my iPod Nano, and after completing a run I would map the route on Google and use their distance estimates. It was enough to track rough improvements — which was more than enough as I was working to transform myself from someone who was terribly out-of-shape into an actual runner.

Now that I’m not so out of shape, that rough data isn’t good enough. It’s hard to see the improvement between two runs of approximately 3.8 miles when only measuring total time. And seeing that fewer “steps” were taken (the only other data a pedometer gathers) just isn’t enough. When running in a city, there are too many variables.

I found the solution in the form of a Garmin Forerunner 405cx. It’s a sports watch that uses GPS to accurately measure distance, pace, split times, and more. It even has an auto-pause feature which stops the timer when I’m not moving, so it will no longer count against me when I get stuck waiting to cross at an intersection.

The watch stores a ton of real-time data and then easily uploads it all to Garmin Connect, where I can see a complete graphical analysis of my run (example), overlaying my route moment onto a map and giving me accurate distance, time, and pace data. It even has a fun “player” feature which allows me to play back the entire run and watch what was happening at every step. There is even an RSS feed!

By using the included heart-rate monitor, the watch gathers additional useful data so I can easily spot find how many walking breaks I’m taking, when I’m taking them, and for how long. It also uses the heart-rate to calculate a fairly accurate estimate of calories being burned during a workout.

I’ve only used it twice so far, but I’m already getting great data. I’ve learned that what I thought was a 2.9 mile course (according to Google Maps estimate) is really only 2.7 on the GPS. I’ve learned that my running heart rate is 183bpm.

I also learned that on my most recent 4-mile run, I burned over 700 calories! That’s enough to cancel out an entire meal. Or, seen differently, if my diet remains unchanged and if we assume 5 such runs each week, that would be 1 pound of fat burned every week.

It’s really exciting to think about all things I can know, now that I have access to all this information!

14th June
2011
written by Randy

When this year began, I could barely run 1 km, and doing so left me exhausted and in pain. This morning, I ran 7 km and I felt like I could have kept going. The last 7 weeks of training have been building up to that, of course.

The goal is to run 40 km, so I’ve still got a long way to go. But I’ve got a solid training technique which seems to be working quite well.

First, an explanation.

The problem is, if you just run until you can’t run any more, you’ll exhaust yourself early, and each new run will be little or no improvement over the previous run, so in order to increase stamina, you need a way to run longer than your maximum. You do this by taking a walking break when you get tired, and then running again after you’ve had a chance to rest.

By running again after you’ve rested, you continue the workout past your maximum. This allows you to keep running, to increase distance and stamina, and to improving your pace.

The secret ingredient for me has been music.

I wear my iPod Nano while I run, and I use the music to keep my pace. If I’m tired, I walk during the slow parts of the music, but I always start running again once the music gets to the refrain. If I can get through a whole song without walking I do, but even if I have to take a walking break I am back to running as soon as the music changes.

This has been working very well for me. Even if I were to give up now and never run that marathon, the improvement I’ve already had in my breathing and energy and daily stamina have been incredible. I’m undoing the damage of 12 years of smoking, and I’m getting into better cardiovascular condition than I think I’ve ever had in my life.

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21st May
2011
written by Randy

I’ve made real, measurable progress, and I’m finally starting to feel less like I’m suffering and more like I’m working toward something cool.

As I said from the start, this was really intimidating to me — perhaps the most intimidating challenge I’ve ever taken on before. So with that in mind, I didn’t want to go out and buy a bunch of expensive running gear, only to give up a few weeks later — especially since running gear will count toward my minimalism challenge.

Now that I have made it through a few weeks of running, and I’ve skipped far fewer runs than I thought I would, I decided it’s time to take this seriously. So this week, I bought a proper pair of running shoes. What a difference!

I had been running in cross-trainers. All my life I thought that cross-trainers were built to do everything (hence the name cross-trainers) so that’s the only kind of athletic shoes I’ve ever bought. As it turns out, I was very wrong.

Cross trainers are built to give your foot side-to-side stability. They’re made for unpredictable movements, to prevent injury. But they are not intended for the long distance repetition of one specific motion. In short, most of my knee pain can probably be blamed on wearing the wrong shoes.

Running shoes don’t bother with the side-to-side support, which allows them to be much lighter. They also have a lot of padding in the heel, since that is the single place where they will get the most use.

Your foot hits the ground completely differently in running shoes than it does in cross-trainers, and it pushes off differently, too. Due to this, my first two days in the new shoes led to terrible calf cramps because I am using muscles I wasn’t previously using. But my legs adjusted quickly.

Now that I’ve got proper running shoes (Adidas Marathon 10, if you must know), not only do my knees not hurt anymore, but I also feel as if I’m using less energy. I don’t get as sore and I recover faster.

Today, I ran 6km (just short of four miles) and did it in approximately 40 minutes. Both the distance and the time are improvements for me, and I can’t help thinking the shoes made the difference.

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8th May
2011
written by Randy

While I still have a long way to go, I’m happy to say that I’m making great progress! It seems like it wasn’t very long ago that I was utterly exhausted after running a pitiful 1km.

Last week, I got up to 3km, but it required several walking breaks, and I finished with an intolerable level of pain, including a terrible jaw pain for which I intended to work out the source.

I am excited to report that this week, I’ve continued to make progress, and I’m now running over 4km, with few short walking breaks. My finishing time for 4km this week is ~35 minutes, which is a huge improvement over the ~40 minute finish time last week for 3km.

More importantly, the pain is much better. I switched to earbuds, rather than in-ear phones, and have since run in different conditions, from moderate to cold and windy, and have not had the same jaw pain. I’m going to presume that the culprit was my Apple noise-reducing in-ear headphones.

As reported last week, I’ve also begun working on my off-days toward goals of 100 push-ups and 200 situps. I’ve lost some strength in the 5 months since quitting my gym. Presently, I’m doing 20 pushups and 40 situps before resting. I can do more after a short rest, but the idea is to get through them without it.

Those numbers are both 20% of the goal, which is better than my running distance, which is only about 12%. But I’m doing well and making progress, so that’s exciting. There’s still a lot of time, so I have no cause for worry.

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2nd May
2011
written by Randy

The term organic has become somewhat of a catch-all label, used by the food industry to attract easy sales (often at a significant markup!) from people who want to eat better, but who just simply don’t know how. These corporate interest throw out terms like organic, and its cousin green, and uninformed treehuggers come running to spend their money.

Like so many of my complaints these days, this organic food trend is huge in the United States, and practically non-existent when I travel. Are we the only responsible country? Actually, no. The truth is, we’re the only country that is so utterly irresponsible that we need to invent a market sector to promote responsibility.

But what is responsible food, then?

First and foremost, it means actually preparing your food using fresh ingredients, rather than opening a package or box or can. It means shopping around the outer edge of the grocery store, and avoiding the things in the aisles.

This is an important change, and it’s an essential first step toward improving your diet and your health. Not only does freezing, canning, dry-packing, and processing foods rob them of nutritional value, but it also requires the addition of preservatives, and chemicals whose sole purpose is to maintain an attractive color, or to prevent mixtures from separating. And that’s before you think about the artificial sweeteners, flavor, and colors.

After making the emphasis on fresh ingredients, the next major concern for me is that it must be healthy. There is a lot of talk about GMOs (genetically modified foods), but on first thought, I actually can’t think of a particular reason why this would necessarily be bad.

For me, it’s much more important that vegetables be free of pesticides, and that meat is free from antibiotics and disease. You can usually count on this being reflected in the term organic, but not always. Where possible, I prefer specific terms like “no pesticides”, “grass fed”, “free range”, etc., though even still, I would rather see even more specific language, such as “no antibiotics.”

And one last issue of extreme importance to me, when it comes to food being responsible, is the effect a food has on the economy and on the environment. They seem like seperate ideas, but I find a high correllation between products that are economically responsible and products that have a low carbon-footprint. Shipping food all over the world not only uses a lot of fossil fuels, but those resources cost money, as does the labor involved in moving the products. Those costs are often not reflected in the cost of goods at the store.

Common sense says that it should be cheaper to bring in food from the farm next door than it is to ship food over on a boat from South America, load it in trains and send it all over the US, then send it on trucks to the stores that will sell it. It doesn’t take a genius to imagine that! So how are those goods available at lower cost than their more responsible counterparts?

The reason bad foods are cheaper is… subsidies. The huge multinational corporations responsible for all that food have a lot of lobbying power and they get enormous tax breaks and government subsidies, which allow them to operate a higher-cost operation while selling their products at a lower-cost, and still earning a profit.

Buying subsidized foods is not economically responsible. Every dollar I give to a company that outsources food production and jobs to another country is the same as a vote: it’s me telling the government and the food industry that I don’t care. But I do care. I care about the economy, I care about jobs, I care about the environment, and I also care about the health standards that growers in America must meet, which aren’t imposed on growers in other countries.

Therefore, when buying food, the most responsible thing you can do is find small, local farms from which to get your vegetables, milk, meat, poultry, etc, or try to do as much shopping as possible in local farmers markets. Failing this, you’ll have to spend a lot of time investigating labels in places like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, but it’s still better for everyone if you do this than it is to keep supporting the corrupt system we have.

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