I have found that I standardly have a pretty bad sense of when a shoe is reaching the end of its life. One day I am out on a pleasant run, and the very next day I start to feel as if all of the cushioning is gone. It’s as if someone, just to spite me, has removed a small section of foam in the shoe and replaced it with a small, jagged rock. This happened for the first time back in February, when a pair of Asics, with only 380 miles on them, decided to give up on me. The result was a continual pain in my right forefoot––a pain whose cause took me forever to locate. At first I thought that it was an overuse injury. I was increasing my mileage for my first marathon and, given the scores of hills in North County San Diego, a sore forefoot wouldn’t at all be surprising. Yet any adjustment I made in my route seemed to help very little. Two weeks later I changed my shoes and the pain was gone shortly thereafter.
It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed.
Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up.
It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death.
It doesn’t matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle…
When the sun comes up, you’d better be running.” —Abe Gubegna, as quoted in Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run.
It is not that I have a problem with the Tough Mudder, per se, but ever since hearing about this “race” I have had a major problem with the proclaimed philosophy. In some cases this irritation filters down to the Tough Mudders, themselves. I know (and have met) a good number of really great people that have participated in this event, and I have also read a good deal of blogs from like-minded individuals. Over the past year I have found that it really comes down to a flip of the coin regarding whether any given race participant will have a balanced perspective of the event or whether he or she will have surrendered to the dogmatism and accepted his or her neophyte role in the new religion.
On the one hand, the Tough Mudder is a pretty incredible event: a 10-12 mile course featuring 20-30 obstacles designed by a former member of the British Special Forces. As the course is focused more on teamwork and camaraderie, there is no official time kept––a fact that originally worried race sponsors. After all, who would show up to a “race” that one couldn’t technically win? Well, the answer came back quickly: tens of thousands. Now running websites are filled with images of individuals jumping over flames, climbing rope walls, swimming across rivers, and running through a field of live wires (some carrying 10,000 volts of electric shock).
The above almost makes it difficult to disparage the event. In my book, anything that gets people off of the couch and out of the house is already doing a great thing. It is even better when this entails 2 or more hours of physical exertion during the event, itself, and, ideally, a good deal of prior training in preparation for the course. So if you were to tell me that you are planning on participating, my honest reaction would be, “More power to you!”
Yet on the other hand, I click through to the Tough Mudder “About” page and find a series of just ridiculous assertions:
Fact #1 - Marathon Running is Boring
And the only thing more boring than doing a marathon is watching a marathon. Road-running may give you a healthy set of lungs, but will leave you with as much upper body strength as Keira Knightley. At Tough Mudder, we want to test your all-around mettle, not just your ability to run in a straight line, on your own, for hours on end, getting bored out of your mind. Our obstacle courses are designed by British Speical Forces to test you in every way and are meant only for truly exceptional all-around people, not for people who have enough time and money to train their knees to run 26 miles.
Now let’s just consider, briefly, that part about training one’s knees to run 26 miles. The Tough Mudder organizers are clearly hinting at the view that running is bad for one’s knees and, thus, demonstrating just how out of touch they are with current running research (as detailed here, here, and here). Granted, this is something you would expect race organizers would know when they, presumably, expect participants in the Tough Mudder to run in-between obstacles. But we’ll chalk this up to wide spread ignorance and say nothing more of it except that it is a popular running myth, usually used as an excuse by people who are comfortable on the couch.
The main problem with this philosophy is that it reveals that the event organizers just don’t understand running. In fact, I think that the whole notion that long distance running is boring is an utterly alien notion to most long distance runners. I, for one, quite enjoy and look forward to the 2.5 hours of solitude every Sunday. And surely I am not alone. For most runners this is a time in which one is able to be left alone to one’s thoughts, to deal with one’s troubles, to plan out one’s weeks, or to simply experience and take in one’s surroundings. In fact, I would wager that those who get bored on a long run are just boring individuals.
And boring for race onlookers? Run a marathon and witness the incredible people that show up to represent their neighborhood by cheering you on, and then talk to me about the boredom experienced when watching such an event. Tell me that the time when all 5 boroughs united to cheer on NYC participants was not one of the most significant moments in sport history. Was watching Patrick Makau cross the finish line in Berlin (2011) boring? I mean, there wasn’t a band playing and he wasn’t greeted with a beer, but he did break the world record––running 26.2 miles at a faster time than the overall times of an overwhelming majority of runners completing a 10–12 mile Tough Mudder.
As a runner, these types of comments make it difficult to take the Tough Mudder seriously. But perhaps that is what is entailed by “Fact #2”. Just as “Mudders do not take themselves too seriously”, so we runners shouldn’t take the Tough Mudder seriously. But it really makes one wonder about the marketing strategy of this company and just who they are targeting. After all, if you start by insulting runners, why would a real runner want to run your “race”?
(Photo Credit: Mr Muddy Suitman)
When two runners approach one another, the increase in their rate of pace is directly proportional to the decrease in distance between them. When the value reaches 0, the decrease in rate of pace is directly proportional to the squared value of the decrease in distance.
Today was my second to last speed session before I start focusing more on my weekly mileage (right now I’m at around 35-40 mi.). The total run ended up being 7.9 miles––1+ mile warm-up, 11 x 400 meter intervals @ 5:40 min/mi pace, and a 1+ mile run back home. When all was said and done and I was nearing that last stretch back to the house, I started thinking, “You know, this has to be the worst part of the run. My legs are completely shot, I’m dehydrated, and I truly feel like just walking back.” But I pushed through and kept my “relaxed” 8:20 pace all the way to the end.
It’s at times like these when I wonder whether it isn’t the cool down that is actually the most important part of the workout. That is the place, at least for me, where the true psychological battle happens; where I feel like cutting a corner, but force myself to stay the course. It is the place where it is easiest to sell myself short, to call a battle “won” when it is still being fought.
When I first returned to running, I found that I really only had, at most, three different paces: “very slow”, “comfortably difficult”, and “very hard”. I seldom made use of my “slow” and “hard” paces, seeing as to how the former was an uncomfortably (or, even, unnaturally) slow speed and the latter was so fast as to be unmaintainable for distances greater than 400 meters. Put them together and they are ideal for a good interval workout, but they remained entirely unhelpful for a basic training regiment. So for all practicable purposes, my training speed was primarily limited to one moderately difficult pace––a pace at which I not only ran every workout, but also, as it happens, served as my first “race pace”.
I have found this experience to be quite common among both beginner and intermediate runners. Every day one heads out the door for, say, a 4 mile run and attempts to either tie or beat one’s previous time. For beginners, this tactic often has immediate results. One notices that one’s times actually do start getting faster and after a few months, a few minutes may have even been shaved off a 5k or 10k time. But what ends up happening is that one suddenly hits a training plateau and one just can’t seem to get any faster.
If you are an athlete and have ever spent any time searching for a protein powder, you will immediately identify with the frustration I have experienced looking for a product with the best protein/ingredient/cost ratio. I’ve found this problem to be even more exacerbated by the fact that I’ve been looking for a plant-based option (though Whey users shouldn’t stop reading(!)). Granted, there are a number of feasible options available, but I have found that the powders with the higher protein content tend to demand a much higher price.
One of best options for a vegan athlete––which I am not, though I often eat like one––comes from Vega Sport, founded by vegan Ironman Brendan Brazier. In fact, their performance protein may even rival a good deal of whey products. I’m already in love with Vega’s Recovery Accelerator and use it after all of my long runs and speed workouts. Yet the price tag on their Performance Protein is usually quite steep. Most often I see it priced for around $60.00, and with only 22 servings per tub, that amounts to $2.72 a serving. By way of contrast, I’ve found the Recovery Accelerator for as low as $20.00 for 20 servings, basically the price of a Gatorade.
Anyway, after looking at a number of other options and even locating a recipe for replicating Vega’s product (here), I finally stumbled across a little company called True Nutrition (formerly known as trueprotein.com). What this company does is provide a very unique service: it allows one to virtually build his or her own protein powder. The types of proteins vary anywhere from Whey, Soy, Hemp, etc., and one also has the ability to add a good deal of other ingredients. For instance, the order I ultimately placed was for 2 lbs. (30 servings) of powder composed of Hemp Protein (20%), Rice Protein (20%), Pea Protein (30%), BCAA’s (15%), and Glutamine (15%)––a combination that produces a virtually identical nutrition profile to Vega’s product when you factor in a comparison of serving sizes. The cost for this creation:…just over 20 dollars.
I placed the order last Friday and the package showed up on Tuesday, allowing me to be able to try it out after Wednesday’s speed session (i.e., 7 miles total with 10 x 400s @ 1,500 meter pace). Overall conclusion: not bad at all! I had some problems with getting one of the ingredients to fully dissolve in the water. The difficulty here is that I have no idea which ingredient it was, so it may be a little difficult factoring this in when I place my next order. Additionally, I will also probably mix it with a little almond milk next time to give it a little of a flavor boost. The company provides a good deal of flavoring options and even gives one the ability to increase how much flavoring is added. I went with the Chocolate Peanut Butter and it wasn’t bad at all. Vega’s powder definitely wins in the taste department, but I would never describe any protein powder as tasting “good”. That goes not only for plant-based products, but also those of the whey variety.
So if you are looking for a viable substitute to your normal powder, perhaps it is worth your time checking the company out.
(photo credit to: las-initially)
(Borrowing a line from the Rolling Stones)
In January 2011, I was signed up for the Camp Pendleton Mud Run, a difficult 10k trail run occasionally interrupted by Marine Corp style obstacles. Notice that I said “I was signed up” rather than “I signed myself up”. While there was a bit of concession––”Alright, alright…I’ll do it”––the impetus for running the race was my girlfriend’s insistence, not some innate desire to go out and run 6.2 miles.
A little bit of background: prior to being signed up for this race, I could have probably counted the number of miles I had run the prior year with my two hands. I went through an occaisional exercise regiment here and there, but was certainly not in very good shape (though “good shape”, of course, is slightly a relative term). I battled with smoking on and off, often losing the battle to that difficult habit. I didn’t pay too much attention to what I ate, though my passion for cooking already kept me from eating poorly. So when the race confirmation hit my inbox, I knew that I was going to have to start making some changes.
I started running the very next week. I’ve always been able to sustain running 3 miles without stopping, so I started with that three times a week. A month later I completely quit smoking, focused more on my diet, and started to increase my mileage. As it turned out, I quite enjoyed running. I ran the 10k in June of that year with an 8:20 mi/pace (factoring out the time spent swimming, crawling, and climbing).
But things didn’t stop there. I kept up with my weekly mileage during the months that followed, decided to run an endurance race, and ultimately completed the LA Marathon in March 2012. Since then I have signed up for a number of races, ranging from 10ks to half-marathons, and plan to run another full marathon this December.
I am a very analytical person and, therefore, tend to think a lot about whatever it is that I am presently involved in. As such, this blog will primarily be a record of things that I am learning, mistakes that I have made, or, simply, observations that I would like to share––Oh(!), and let us not forget “the occasional picture”.