Thursday, January 27, 2011

My least favorite four letter word, and how to use it

I hate the word diet. Can't stand it. It's a word people use when they hate themselves for getting fat to describe the next gimmick to help themselves feel better. It's a word that describes a temporary set of wacky rules and restrictions. It's about eating a bunch of special cookies, or eating nothing but steak, or spending big bucks on mail-order food. It's a word that evokes failure, both the failure to keep healthy (else why would you need one) and failure to get healthy when you're not (else why do we need so many variations).

Compare that usage with how we use the word diet in connection with animals. We use the word diet to describe what animals do eat; we use diet to describe what we don't.

The major reason I started running back in early 2009 was to help with weight loss. I had ballooned up to about 250 prior to that. Most of my friends wouldn't have guessed me that heavy, but my knees sure knew it. I started off with very little knowledge about nutrition, but I spent a lot of time studying, reading books, searching the interwebs, and educated myself about how my body works. In that way, running and eating are much the same to me; they are both about learning my body and how it works.

Once I'd lost my weight, I was looking at diet not as something I did to lose the weight but as a description of what I eat (or at least should eat). Diet at that point was a set of guiding permanent principles of how I should best eat to be healthy all the time, not a method for getting pseudo-healthy by getting thin.

Over the last few months, I have lost sight of those nutritional principles. I can blame the holidays, and vacation, and travel, and a host of other things, but in the end it doesn't matter. I've put on a few pounds - this last marathon was my heaviest - and it's time for them to go. But not by going on a diet, the four letter word. By returning to my diet - my nutritional principles.

The way I actually control my weight is by calorie tracking. And that's easy enough. More calories out than in and I lose weight. Simple math. But that has nothing to do with my diet - the description of what I eat.

I could lose weight by eating nothing but Twinkies, so long as the calorie math works. And I'd be thin. But I wouldn't be healthy.

I've spent the last two years reading everything I can get my hands on about diet and running (my wife jokes that I practice law and have a family on the side). I'm not claiming to be an expert or that what I do works for everybody (that's the "see your doctor" disclaimer), but these are the nutritional principles that guide my heating habits:
  1. Refined sugars are bad. Except when exercising.
  2. Whole grain carbs are better than not whole grain carbs.
  3. Fat is good, if you get it from the right place, but should be low otherwise.
  4. Highly processed foods have a bunch of gunk in them; natural foods are better.
  5. Optimal balance is about 60% carbs, 15% fat, 15% protein.
That's about it. My daily calorie intake is carefully monitored (I'm aware of the imprecise nature of this, and trust to the law of averages to keep me in check) and my nutrition as well. The end result is that I eat a lot of things like oatmeal, whole wheat pasta, fruit and vegetables. I try to limit my meat intake to once a day (I generally think we eat way too much meat) but I am fine with most sources as long as they are relatively low fat. Buffalo, chicken, lean beef and salmon are my favorites. I don't eat anything with refined sugar (table sugar, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, sucrose) at all, except for Gatorade-type sports drinks and gels when I'm doing longer runs or races. I also don't do any artificial sweeteners like aspartame or sucralose. Or caffeine, except when I race (when I take it abundantly).

I should make sure that these are the general principles I live by. They're not the things I do no matter what. I do eat guacamole and chips, or maybe a bacon cheeseburger, or indulge in a cheese plate, but only occasionally. And as a result, when I do, I make sure it's tasty. No way I'm doing a hamburger from McDonald's - it'll be Five Guys or similar.

I have a lot of reasons for this philosophy that I might detail later. Much of it is related to evolutionary nutrition and the diet of our ancestors. It certainly works well for me (when I'm true to the principles) and I always feel great.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Gear Review: Saucony Kinvara

One of the major problems that I've had in my quest to switch up my stride to a midfoot strike is shoes. To this point, I've run in nearly every sort of traditional running shoes you can think of. I've run in Saucony, Nike and Asics shoes. I've run in neutral, stability and (thanks to the faulty diagnosis of a well-meaning running store employee) even motion control shoes. Up until recently, I've never had the same make and model of shoe twice (the exception being the Nike LunarGlide, and only if you count the LunarGlide and the LunarGlide 2 as the same shoe - more on that particular shoe at a later time).

I've come to the conclusion that very few shoes are made for a midfoot strike. Except maybe Newton, and their shoes cost a ton. Heck, Runblogger has a series of posts and links that lead me to believe that modern shoes aren't really made for heel striking either. And while I love my VFF Bikilas, they aren't exactly the sort of thing I see myself doing any sort of long mileage on any time soon - and certainly not racing.

Enter the Saucony Kinvara. When it comes to "minimalist" shoes that are supposed to encourage barefoot-like running, only the Nike Free line and the Saucony Kinvara are widely known or used to my knowledge (although I should note that all major brands are reportedly bringing a minimalist model to market this year). And while Nike absolutely destroys Saucony when it comes to marketing (NSFWish):

a lot of people (including a couple of close friends of mine) have complained about the fit. And since the Saucony Kinvara won "Best Debut" from Runner's World last year, I decided to pick up a pair. The box from Running Warehouse (an excellent online retailer located at arrived at my office today, and this is my initial review.

First impression before I even open the package: these things are light. I actually weighed one shoe when I got home and it was 8.7 oz (size 11.5). That's compared to 14.4 oz for one of my older Asics Gel Landreth 6s (size 12).

Here's a picture of them right out of the box:

The entire upper is a thin nylon mesh over a mesh with larger holes, and that's about it. Look for a second at the orange mesh in the picture above. If you look closely, you'll see that there are four "ribs" of material running down from the laces at different angles. Ribs run down the other side as well in the same way. Those ribs are the entire structure, such as it is, of the upper. That's it. A couple of pieces of plastic or vinyl here or there, maybe, but nothing else.

Here's a shot of the bottom:

All the white spaces are actually just the EVA midsole. The black/orange is the actual outsole - it doesn't cover the entire shoe by any stretch. I think they have a design flaw here, btw (as do many others): they need to have the outsole bits on the very outer edges of the midfoot, as that's where a lot of midfoot strikers (including me) strike.

The biggest deal (and one of the major reasons I bought them) is the heel to toe difference in height. There's only a 4mm difference, which makes midfoot striking easier. My Landreths, which have a 10mm difference, have been difficult to midfoot strike in. This isn't the best picture, but you can see the difference if you really try:

Look especially at the drop from the heel to the forefoot. It's very small in comparison, as you can see. The only other shoe that I've run with that has a comparable lack of drop is the LunarGlide (which is why I'm getting another pair).

The fit is stellar on these too. Great arch feel (which is a common complaint I've heard about the competing Nike Free line). The heel, despite not being very structured at all, fits snuggly. The inside feels soft enough that I'd almost try wearing them without socks. The toe box is, of course, pretty open and free.

I took them on a short (1 mile) but fast (5k pace) run after I got home from work. There's definitely plenty of cushioning there and it's not like running in my VFFs at all. But it's much, much, MUCH easier to midfoot strike. And it's amazing how much lighter my stride feels. Taking corners at speed with that little support up top is something I'll have to get used to, but it's just a different feel. It's premature to say that I love these shoes...but I love these shoes.

More to come later as I rack up some miles.

By the way, I highly recommend Runblogger's entire blog for people interested in stride, form, shoe fit, biomechanics, etc.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

My calves hurt today

I think there is going to be a muscle building phase with this new stride. Should be good for my 4 miles tomorrow.

In other news, changing my stride isn't the only thing that I'm planning on doing before my next marathon in June. I ran this last one at 210, and its the last one I'm going to do as a Clydesdale. I'm down to 197 now, and I'm going to get down to 175 or better (depends on what my body fat analysis tells me) before I'm done. I'm carefully tracking calories, nutrients, carb/fat/protein percentage, etc., as it's a dangerous and difficult thing to lose weight and train at the same time.

I'm also doing a bunch of strength training on my core and legs to try to improve my muscles (this is related to form).

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Kids, and why I hate them

My daughter had a basketball game this afternoon. We were running a little bit behind schedule so as soon as we pulled into the parking lot of the YMCA, I told her to hurry in without waiting for the other two kids and me. So off she ran.

With beautiful, picture-perfect form. In basketball shoes, no less. I was more than a little bit envious.

She was running naturally, without thinking about it, and her feet fell the right way, her arms swung well, her stride looked nice - all of it. At 9, she can do what I at 33 only wish I could do.

And with that as my gripe of the day, here's some of the myriad problems I saw in the videos posted previously:

- I hunch my shoulders
- I heel strike in a major way
- I swing my arms laterally
- I don't bend my knees
- I sit back in my stride
- I have this funky side to side hip action like I'm a boxer trying to duck and weave

On the bright side, I'm not as bad of an overstrider as I used to be, so at least that part of my supposedly "improved" stride is better.

Now that I've seen the video, I have a better idea of what I'm trying to do. Most of the problems above are a result of my posture as much as anything. I've actually implemented a brand-new stride over the last two runs. I stand up taller, straighter, with a slight forward lean. I land on the middle of my foot, concentrating on picking up the trail foot and bringing it through. I do run with my hands more in the style of Ryan Hall (as opposed to Meb - look at them side by side and you'll see the difference) and I don't move my arms at all; I let the movement of my legs make my arms move.

The new stride is much faster - running at a 6:30 pace feels smooth, which was never the case before - but it's going to take some work. I still need to engage my core/elevate my hips a bit more, and I have to get my hip abductors/adductors stronger. I've started doing some ab workouts and weightlifting to help. And my calves are on fire with muscle soreness today. It's almost like starting from scratch, so I have to be careful. My wife is planning on taping it soon so I can take a real video look at how I look and if I have other things I need to tweak, but based on my shadows on the ground when the sun was at my back today, I'm much smoother and better. And it feels silent.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Nothin' Quite Like A Swingin' Gait!

When I was a kid, I stayed with my grandma for a weekend while my parents were out of town on vacation or having a baby or some such thing. I wasn't very old - maybe about 8 - but I remember this particular visit vividly. I remember it because my grandmother insisted that my brother and I come into her room and on her bed and - wait for it - watch a PBS documentary about Carnival down in Rio. This being the 80s and educational programming, they didn't exactly censor the thing. Now, my parents being of a puritanical sort at the time, had filtered a lot of the stuff that I was able to see, so the utter shock of sitting with my also puritanical (so I thought) grandmother and watching bouncing vibrant street-party boobies without so much of a hint of embarrassment or move to change the channel cause a big giant flashing neon "does not compute" sign to pop into my head.

I mention this because it is the the nearest comparison I have to my reaction when I saw the video from my latest marathon (Walt Disney World, btw, and it was awesome). Check out this video at the finish, and look for the guy in the custom tank on the left who crosses at about 3:59:57:

I don't know about you, but I can pick out about 10 things wrong with that running form without thinking. Bad posture, bad foot strike, too much lateral movement - dude looks like an out of place power walker more than an endurance runner. And he will be a power walker soon if he keeps up that stride.

That video is at the finish line, though, so maybe it's just fatigue. After all, who has great form at mile 26.2? That's a nice thought - let's check out the same guy, but this time at mile 11. Form shouldn't be an issue that early, right? Look for the guy just after Tinkerbell appears.

Well, I'll say this: at least the form is consistent. Consistently bad.

I'd poke a little bit more fun at that poor sap - maybe speculate this was his first time, maybe ask if he found his entry form in a box of cracker jacks, maybe muse that he got lost on the way home from a Latin dance class - except for one teeny tiny little detail.

That runner is me.

DOES NOT COMPUTE is flashing through my head. I've had some solid advice on form, I've tried to implement that advice, I've doled out some advice of my own, and I certainly know what good form is and looks like. How in the world can I look so bad?!?!?

Needless to say, if I want to continue to do this long term, I've got some fixing to do. I've done a bunch of research and have a specific plan - which I'll post (along with a more technical description of the problems I'm seeing) later. I'll chronicle the progress and experience here.

Hmm, so it's been over a year

since I last put anything here. Truth be told, I got busy, injured my IT, doubted I'd ever finish my first marathon, and forgot about this place for a time.

Since then, I've run not one but three marathons (two of them in under four hours), a host of smaller races, tried out a hundred different running products, and otherwise generally made myself into a real runner instead of some random guy with expensive shoes.

So it's time to claim this place back. I don't know how many people are interested, but I'm generally going to use this place to record training thoughts, gear reviews, links to articles and sites, etc. I have to redesign the place too, so be patient.