Saturday, February 27, 2010

Massage Envy

In virtue of becoming a Level Five Athletic Character, and thereby having completed that grueling twenty minute jog, it was time to get my awesome (but nerve-producing) reward.  After realizing they had me on their schedule, I was ushered back to a lounge.  Here I was told to drink a glass of water and fill out a form.  You check off whatever medical conditions you have, medications you take, and indicate any areas of your body that are off limits.  I bravely checked yes to every category.  There was serene Eastern music playing.

After the paperwork was found acceptable, I was introduced to Shannon.  To be honest, I was glad it wasn't a guy Shannon.  I know it shouldn't matter, but just the same, I was glad.  I confessed that I was an utter dweeb, and she didn't have a problem with that.  She told me what to do and I did it.  Shannon was a very good sport with the pictures and everything.  She took a couple of shots before we got started.  Don't worry folks, I'm not in a morgue, I am normally this pale!

My massage lasted an hour.  She started with the head/neck/chest, then did the right arm and leg, then the left leg and arm.  Then I flipped over and she did the back and the shoulders and the backs of the legs. At one point I told her that she had strong hands.  She said thanks, then after a brief pause her intuition struck: 'strong like good, or strong like take it easier?'.  My reply: 'Yes, both'.  The most painful thing was the sides of my neck, where she said I had some knots.  I'm pretty sure those knots keep my head from flopping laterally, and I'm happy to report that they are still working.  On my left calf, I told her to dig in a little, then I quickly told her to go back to gentle mode.  I escaped the urge to laugh and convulse - even through the soles of my feet - except for one area.  The lower, center part of my back really made me squirm a bit.  When the hour was up, I felt really good - and relived that I had avoided all the things to be fearful about.  I was also instructed to drink a glass of water afterwards.

Here is Shannon and I after the session.  I asked Tami if I could do this on a monthly basis, and she doesn't have a problem with it.  In fact, we may get a couples membership.  So, take that - massage fears!

Sorry for having so many posts today, folks.  But with all the travel, C25K events, and bling for reaching Level Five, I had some catching up to do. 

Week 6 Day 1

This routine goes back to intervals, with jogs of 5, 8, and 5 minutes with 3-minute walks in between them.  And of course, there are  the 5 minute warmup/cooldown walks.  I wiggled at 3.3 mph and jiggled at 4.5 mph.  Everything was done at a 1% incline.  My heart rate at the end of the jogs: 158, 161, 163.  For the last 30 seconds of the last jog, I bumped it up to 4.7 mph.  I could have put it up to 6.0 mph, but I didn't want to show off.  But, seriously, I felt pretty good the whole routine.

For this session I started to go with an ABBA concert, but there was too much documentary footage in there.  So, I went with The Very Best of Sheryl Crow - The Videos (2004).  You can find the link here.  I like the way she can go from girl next door to the girl you shouldn't take home.

I felt very energized after this exercise.  I didn't need to rest, which is good because I had to shower and get going to make it to Massage Envy.

Top Five Reasons to Fear Massage

Number Five: I am a jokester, so I’m concerned that I’d attempt the old tightness-in-the-groin gag, and spend the night in jail.  Sometimes my jokes aren't taken the right way.  For example, my car was hit from behind a few years ago.  An insurance investigator checked out my car.  She sat in the passenger seat, which was too far forward, looking for VIN numbers or whatever they do.  Well, in adjusting the seat, she got it to instantly recline all the way.  I said "Oh, I'm sorry - my car has apparently gone into date mode".  She didn't laugh at all.  I thought it was so funny, I couldn't just give up so I tried it again later.  Nope, still not funny.

Number Four: I am quite ticklish, so I’m afraid that I would laugh and convulsively flop around on the table.  Massage is a serious business, and they're trying to help you.  I sure hope I don't frustrate this person and go coco-puffs.  And to think people wonder why I didn't manage to have kids until the age of 36.

Number Three: I am quite wimpy, so I’m afraid that it will hurt and that I will be crying and begging them to stop.  As I've admitted here, I'm pretty much a geek.  In other words, bodies are primarily there to hold up their glasses. If they start digging into what little muscle and gristle I have, I may have to go from the massage place to the ER.

Number Two: I’m not exactly an Adonis, so I’m concerned that the therapist will refuse service.  I can just hear it now:  "Oh no sir, even from this distance, I can tell that you are in no need of a massage from your excellent gait and balance.  You're one of the lucky ones."

Number One: And of course, the number one concern: what if I actually do have a tightness in the groin? I would simply die.  I still remember sitting there in middle school English class, praying not to be called up to the board.  Let the verb conjugate itself!  Girls have it so easy - it's tough being a guy.

With all these concerns, you would be quite right to wonder why I'm doing it anyway.  And here is the answer.  I feel good about how I'm doing in the C25K program.  I feel like Jim Carrey in Yes Man.  I know lots of other people get good results from massage, and so I think I should give it a try.  I know that mashing my calves has helped my legs get accustomed to jogging.  So, wish me luck understanding that I should probably just go to a shrink instead. :)

Level Five

~ Athletic Character Statistics ~

Age: 44
Weight: 202.5
Cholesterol: Yes
Capability: 15-minute jogs
Speed: 4.5 mph
Gear: Newbie

Given that I've only done a single 20-minute jog, I'm hesitant to state that as my capability.  So I will take the more conservative route.  Also, I've decided that my gear should go back to just 'newbie' - jogging on the beach with a bunch of college kids in fully padded bike shorts is just plain non-optimal.

I plan on doing the vast majority of the C25K program on the treadmill.  I like experimenting with stride, knowing how fast I'm going, controlling the incline and all of that.  So, I probably won't worry about cool clothes for awhile.  Tami decided to be funny, and she bought me ... I don't know what you'd call these ... grown-up under-roos?

Anyhow, for this week's bling I have decided to do something as terrifying as running outdoors with other human beings.  I am going to get a massage.  Shannon, whoever that is, has been assigned this enviable task.  The name of the establishment is called Massage Envy.  I've never had a massage, except some chair massage thing given by a mean, frustrated chiropractor in Saigon, Vietnam.  I'm more nervous about the massage than I am my next workout.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Week 5 Day 3

On Tuesday I flew to Santa Barbara, California.  The forecast was calling for rain on Wednesday, and with the meetings and side meetings going on for work, I eventually came to the conclusion that the least of evils would be to do back-to-back workouts.  The hotel did not have a treadmill, so I took the advice of a co-worker who said this would be a good place to jog.  What do you think?

This was my first outdoor run.  No iPod, no DVD.  The weather was very good, and this moving sculpture thing had me convinced that the wind would be at my back independent of my direction.

Here is a picture of the out-and-back course I ran:

Naturally, I forgot my watch back at the hotel.  So, I jogged with a BlackBerry in one hand and my rental car keys in the other.  Given that I was running in padded bike shorts, this didn't make me feel any dumber.  If you look at the first picture, you might be able to see what I felt - a long, gradual hill.  The run started pretty much level with the water, but a little cliff builds up as you go around.  That must be why my quads were a bit sore Wednesday and Thursday.  Thanks to the calculations I could do with Google Maps, and the clock on my BlackBerry, I know I ran 1.6 miles in 20 minutes which is a 4.8 mph pace.  The funniest thing that happened is I answered a call on my BlackBerry while I was running:

Me: Hello?
Friend: Hey, what did you need?
Me: Oh ... never ... mind ... I'm ... good
Friend: Are you running?!
Me: Uh ... huh
Friend:  Okay, good luck!

I had called him because I wasn't sure if I was allowed to run on the bike trail.  I ended up on a little single-track sort of thing nearby.  I can't tell you what a huge relief it was to go for a whole 20 minutes, and it wasn't easy.  At about 15 minutes in, I slowed down to the point where my body just wanted to walk.  So, I sped up a little.  I can't just cave with only five minutes left!

Here I am unwittingly posing next to some trash cans after the run was over:

Thanks to the work schedule and travel, I'll have three rest days to overcome on Saturday when I start Week 6.  But given the work-out my quads got, I'm okay with that!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Week 5 Day 2

Here I am, cardio belt in hand, about to embark on my running adventure in the safety and privacy of my underground lair.  This is the first week where exercise routines change each time.  Today's recipe calls for two 8-minute jogs surrounded by three 5-minute walks.

(>*.*)>   Yes, eight minute jogs!   <(*.*<)

I used my (now) standard conditions: 1% incline, 3.3 mph wiggles, 4.5 mph jiggles.  I flawlessly programmed the routine into the treadmill.  And since my Blondie DVD was already primed to go, I gave her another shot.  And you know what?  This routine went well and it went quickly.  My heart rate was 163 after the first 8-minute jog, and it was 168 after the second 8-minute jog.  The breathing was fine, and sometimes there was a rythym that seemed to work out.  I also focused occasionally on breathing from the belly.  My legs were fine throughout with one minor tweak which I suppose I will document.  After the second jog, as the treadmill slowed to 3.3 and my walking gait took over, my left knee felt a very mild but sharpish twinge that seemed to be both below the knee and at the very back center of the knee.  Don't think I've ever felt that and after about twenty strides it was gone.  It's been awhile, and stretching didn't expose anything wonky.  So, I suppose it's just a fluke.

The next exercise is supposed to be a straight twenty minute jog with no walks.  As if that weren't enough complication, I'm flying across the country tomorrow into a rainy, albeit beautiful, spot in Southern California right on the coast.  I'm not sure how this is going to work out, folks.  But, for now I will celebrate my 2x8 minutes and cool down with a nice glass of Carbernet Sauvignon.  Some guy named AndrĂ© Karwath provided the Wikipedia photo below - and while granting permission to use the photo, has not specifically endorsed my attempt to get into better shape.

If anyone knows how to use the Creative Commons License as described in the link above more gracefully, I would appreciate some instruction.  Cheers!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Jogger's Counter Weight System

For too long, new athletes have been hampered by their starting weights leading to discouragement and sometimes injury - especially to the joints.  That's why I have designed the system above.  The jogger is to wear special harness pants which hook to an array of shaped wires. This assembly connects to a rope over the jogger's head.  A towel rack is also available.

From there, the rope goes over a pulley.  Note, the pulley needs to be connected to something very sturdy and not just with a nail.  Next, the rope is tied to a garage door spring which dampens any oscillatory motion caused by the running and/or a jumpy counter weight.  After the spring, the second piece of rope goes over a second pulley and down to a basket.  The counter-weight put in the basket depends on your needs.  For example, if you weigh 203 and you would like to get to 168, a 35 pound 5 year old is perfect.  Especially if you needed to keep him occupied while the wife and daughter are out shopping.  In this configuration, both the jogger and the son can enjoy the same television program - iCarly for example.

Given the common components in the Jogger's Counter Weight System, the cost should come in at less than fifty dollars, unless Bart Yasso endorses it, where it will be approximately $299.99.  But think of the possibilities.  Want to experience running on the moon?  Wear a fish bowl on the head and put two kids in the basket.  Want to remain a little stocky?  Start with the one kid, and gradually attach helium balloons to the basket - thereby giving your joints time to adjust.  Yes, the possibilities are endless!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Week 5 Day 1

Shazam!!  Finally, I had an another exercise that I completely nailed.  I had so many reasons to do well this time, that I couldn't imagine having anything other than fun.  First, relative to last week's routine, it was like trading two 3-minute jogs for one 5-minute jog.  That sounded like a good trade.  Secondly, I programmed the routine into the treadmill so I wouldn't even have to push any buttons other than Start.  Thirdly, I had a little DVD player stuck on the front playing some music videos.

This exercise had three 5-minute jogs, with 3-minute walks between them and bookend 5-minute warmup/cooldown walks.  I wiggled at 3.3 mph, jiggled at 4.5 mph, and had a 1% incline throughout.  For the last 30 seconds, I kicked it up to 5 mph.  At the end of the three jogs my heart rate was 158, 163, and 166.  My breathing was always decent and my legs were real troopers.  It's been an hour since I ran, and my legs feel very, very happy.

I listened to Blondie's Video Hits (2005).  My treadmill is quiet enough that I didn't need headphones.  And the little screen was at just the right height and distance.  Deborah Harry was a real hottie, huh?  But I did chuckle a few times during the runs at some of that 80s kitsch.

While I was exercising, Tami and the kids were at Elaine's 8th birthday party decorating bulletin boards at Michael's.  Elaine loves all things horses, so you can imagine how much she liked this cake:

My daughter is the one in the middle wearing glasses - she is her daddy's daughter!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Level Four

 ~ Athletic Character Statistics ~

Age: 44
Weight: 202.5
Cholesterol: Yes
Capability: 5-minute jogs
Speed: 4.5 mph
Gear: Newbie+

Having completed the earth-shattering challenge that is Week 4, my bling is the 'On My Way ...' shirt.  As with many of my other high-quality running shirts, it is fashioned from the finest heavy cotton.  If this can't absorb the two pounds of sweat per workout, I don't know what shirt could.

The Week 4 work-outs required a little grit, and I've thought about whether I should repeat the week or not.  But, I've decided to go ahead and push into Week 5.

As you can see from the stats, I've gained a pound since last week.  Undoubtedly, this is additional calf muscle.  Though there may be skeptics who would attibute this to the steak dinner blowout and the subsequent Valentine's Day Mexican food disaster.  At this point, I'd accept twenty more pounds in exchange for the ability to jog twenty minutes straight - which is called for on the last day of Week 5.  Hmmm, perhaps if I attach some helium balloons around my waist, I could dial in the running weight of my choice.

I'm also now reading a book, loaned by a client and friend, called "My Life on the Run" which chronicles the many running-related adventures of Bart Yasso.  I've just read a little so far, but I understand he's run in a race called the Bare Buns Fun Run in Washington state.  Hopefully he won't give me any ideas, but I have thought about adding another element of danger in my routines by running in silk boxers.  But don't worry folks - there would be no videos or pictures posted!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Week 4 Day 3

Stick a fork in her, folks - Week 4 is done! For today's routine, I added an element of danger: I exercised in my six-year-old New Balance shoes.  These puppies are a little blown out, frayed, and flat.  It was the flat aspect that appealed to me, and since I'm doing either a fore-foot strike or a mid-foot strike I thought it might actually not be too bad of an idea.

I did feel a difference immediately in the warm-up walk.  Being flatter, my calves stretch just a bit more before my trailing foot gets picked up.  But it wasn't really unpleasant.  Before I knew it, the walk was over and it was time to do the jogging.  As I have done all this week, I wiggled at 3.3 mph and jiggled at 4.5 mph.  Actually, I did part of the first run at 5.1 mph by accident.  The shoes didn't feel much different jogging, perhaps not as mushy.

Nothing was too hard for me today, but I wasn't thinking that well.  I found myself evaluating every stinkin' footfall based on how the lower legs felt.  But, every now and then I'd snap out of it and think about the angle between my lower leg and the vertical.  It's funny, I can't do two exercises thinking about the same stuff.  The best part of today's exercise is that wind was never an issue.  My highest heart rate was as high as 165, but breathing felt comfortable.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Target Heart Rate

In this entry, I'm going to document my calculation for a Target Heart Rate which is defined via Wikipedia as follows:

"The Target Heart Rate (THR), or Training Heart Rate, is a desired range of heart rate reached during aerobic exercise which enables one's heart and lungs to receive the most benefit from a workout." link

There is a wide array of sometimes conflicting information given to the beginning-level althlete; and the available formulas rely on variables that are themselves fuzzy.  For example, the most common maximum heart rate formula, attributed to Fox and Haskell, is to subtract your age from 220.  Being 44, this would imply that my maximum heart rate is 176.  This is somewhat disquieting, since I have recorded 185 on the treadmill and hit 180 or 181 probably a half dozen times.  This formula for maximum heart rate is known to have an error of 7 to 11 beats per minute.  But without trying to pin it down exactly, for the moment let's assume my maximum heart rate is between 176 and 185.

Over the past week or so, I've been measuring my resting heart rate and it's pretty much always between 66 and 74.

The Karvonen method for calculating aerobic heart training zones relies on both maximum heart rate and resting heart rate.  It suggests a zone between 50% and 85%.  I'm going to pick a more focused zone between 70% and 80%.  The procedure is to subtract the rest rate from the maximum rate, multiply that result with the zone value, and then add back the resting heart rate.  For example, if my maximum heart rate is 176, my resting heart rate is 74, and the zone value is 70% we would get (176-74)*0.7 + 74 = 145.4.

Allowing for plenty of uncertainty in both maximum heart rate and rest pulse I have constructed the table below:

The high number that works despite the uncertainty is 154.0.
The low number that works despite the uncertainty is 151.7.

This suggests that I can get a good aerobic benefit with a heart rate in the low 150s.  I did this walking at 3.3 mph with a 7% incline on Valentine's Day.  It didn't seem overly tough, and it's my target for future non-running "cardio workouts".

Monday, February 15, 2010

Week 4 Day 2

This routine has jogs of 3, 5, 3, and 5 minutes - with precious little walking in between.  Before the first 5-minute jog was over, I had a go/no-go decision to make.  My decision was to go, so after the first 5-minute jog, I walked briskly to the men's room and I walked briskly back.  Note to self: if you think you can go, you probably should!

Anyhow, I got back on the treadmill with only a minute elapsed of the 2.5 minute walk.  After the second 3-minute jog, I did my walk at 3.0 to get my heart rate as low as possible.  It was down to 138 when I started the 5-minute jog, and at the end it was only 161 instead of Saturday's 171.  Otherwise, all the wiggles were at 3.3 mph and jiggles were at 4.5 mph.  I had legs and wind at the end - which was quite nice.  In fact, I bumped my hands into the bar probably a half dozen times because 4.5 mph is really slow for me.

All-in-all, today went a little better.  My left calf is a tad sore, but massaging seems to be dealing with that just fine.  Given how tough the last workout was, today was something of a relief.  Jogging five minutes, especially the second time, is just long enough to make you wonder if you want to keep going.  And today my answer was in the affirmative.   

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day

What better day than Valentine's Day to do a little cardio workout?  With that thought in mind I scrambled down the stairs to the beloved treadmill, strapped on the heart rate monitor and iPod, and started walking.  I did a five minute warmup walk, and then I experimented around.  I wound up at 3.3 mph at an incline of 7%, which for 12 minutes kept my heart rate at 150 or 151.  I was listening to music and watching the monitor and yes - it was either exactly 150 or exactly 151 for twelve minutes straight.  Then, it crept up a bit to 154 so I reduced the incline to 6%.  Every now and then I'd bump it back to 7%.  I kept my heart rate between 146 and 154 for a total of twenty minutes.  Then I did a cooldown walk and got off of there.  I was on the treadmill for a total of 40 minutes.

According to Wikipedia, Valentine's Day is named after several notable, martyred Christians.  And of course we celebrate this by giving flowers and confectionery to people we'd like to know a "whole lot better". Being as romantic as I am handsome, I took the wife and kids to a Mexican restaurant for lunch.

To see just how incredibly romantic this restaurant is, just view their introductory movie here. And I mean it this time - click the damn link!  Can you imagine anything more romantic???  Okay, well, I hope you guys have more success on your Valentine's Day.  Thanks again to the followers and emailers who are helping my motivation.  Week 4 isn't a cake walk, and your support is much appreciated. 

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Week 4 Day 1

Whew!  On the ascent to jogger-style fitness, the first three weeks represent the foothills and now in Week 4 the climb kicks into some higher elevation.  The routine for this week is the same for all three days:

5-minute warmup walk
3-minute jog; 1.5-minute walk
5-minute jog; 2.5-minute walk
3-minute jog; 1.5-minute walk
5-minute jog; 5-minute cooldown walk

Not counting the bookend walks, it's 16 minutes of jogging versus 5.5 minutes walking.  In Week 3, there was a total of 9 minutes jogging.  Mathematically, I would state this situation as follows:  16 >>> 9.  I kept the incline at 1%, wiggled at 3.3 mph, and jiggled at 4.5 mph.  The video below is at about the halfway point of the first 3-minute jog.

I used the cardio belt to measure heart rate continuously. My heart rate got as high as 171 with about a minute remaining on the second 5-minute jog.  I thought real hard about form, trying to be smooth and relaxed, and by the time the jog was over I had it down to 167.  There was no point that I thought my legs or breathing were failing me, but the last 5-minute jog was non-easy.  Ninety seconds isn't much recovery time, at least for me, and my heart rate had just clicked down to 149 when the podcast guy said "Okay, ready for your final five minute run?!"  I did not answer him.  I just stoically typed in 4.5 mph and gritted it out.

Just look at the joy on my face there!  I'm pretty sure I set a sweat record.  And this time I had it measured:  I lost two pounds of sweat.  If I could just do this workout 15 times in a row, I'd reach my target weight. (And also be a lifeless piece of beef jerky.)  There were several times during the exercise when I told myself:  "Remember to smile."  I don't know if that was altogether helpful, but as tough as this workout was, I think my legs have made it through unscathed.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Being Bad

Folks, I was bad last night.  After the shovel and the snow plow had opened us to the outside world, we loaded up the kids, went to a restaurant, and pigged out like ... pigs.  I ate a rib-eye steak, five shrimp, mushrooms, salad, and even an appetizer.  If the table had a tablecloth, I probably would have eaten that too.  I felt like such a bloated sack when I got home, I decided I would exercise - even though it was an off day.

I thought I'd use my fancy treadmill in new ways and decided to do a cardio program.  So, I attached a belt around my chest right under what I will charitably call my pecs - the same pecs which I have on occasion called man boobs.  And it turned out that the treadmill isn't very good at maintaining my heart rate in a given zone.  It overshoots high and undershoots low, over and over again like it was programmed to avoid the zone which I targeted.  Then I set it to manual. I worked out for an hour total.  Here is what I learned:

1. At a speed of 3.3 mph and an incline of 3%, my pulse is steady at 126; at 4% it hovers around 135.

2. Shin burn is more a function of walking speed rather than inclination angle, at least for me.  It's kind of disappointing to think that I can't even walk fast without shin burn.  I remember walking fast to college classes and having it happen, so this has always been a skill of mine.

3. At the end of a five minute jog at 4.5 mph, my pusle seems stable at 161.  I only did the five minute jog after 55 minutes of warming up, but I shouldn't have run on an off day.

4. I like the wireless heart rate measuring thing - and no, not just because it lifts and separates.

5. Massage works.  I mashed my lower legs vigorously, probably a half dozen times over the next half hour and this morning my calves and shins feel peachy.

I've taken it easy today, and I will most likely do some cardio-level walking on the occasional C25K off-day.  But, it was not a good idea to run on my off day.  I gave my bones a little extra cheese and yogurt, so hopefully they will stay happy.  (Do bones really like cheese and yogurt, or is it just me?)

Until my cardio performance improves, I'm going to jog at the reduced speed of 4.5 mph because I don't need my heart going up to 185 beats per minute.  If at any point, I can't even do 4.5 mph with a reasonable heart rate, I will have to repeat weeks until I can.

Someone tell me when my cardio will get into shape!  I haven't found squat on the web as far as rates of improvement goes.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Level Three

~ Athletic Character Statistics ~

Age: 44
Weight: 201.5
Cholesterol: Yes
Capability: 3-minute jogs
Gear: Newbie+

My Level 3 bling is the VFFs I got earlier in the week.  I will refrain from getting anything else except advice for awhile.

This morning when I got out of bed, both calves were tight and the right one actually hurt, especially on the sides.  I'm not sure what is going on with that thing.  I'm thinking as I walk around more, it will become okay again and that after a couple of days I can try the Week 4 workout.

I've got some snow shoveling in my future today, after the winds die down which is forecasted for mid-day.  No plow came through in the night, so it looks like I'm going to be a home-body again.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Week 3 Day 3

Today's exercise was the same as the last two: two 3-minute jogs and two 90-second jogs mixed in with a bunch of walking.  I went back to the Nike Airs today, because for tender-footed newbies, they don't recommend running in VFFs everytime at the beginning.  Overall, it was a decent workout.  I didn't have that feeling of Hoorah that I sometimes have, but at the same time it wasn't a struggle.

I maintained what have been standard conditions: 1% incline, 3.3 mph wiggles, and 5.1 mph jiggles.  I was hoping to stretch the last 3-minute jog to 5-minutes, and my legs were okay, but I was still pretty winded.  I checked my heart rate at the 3-minute mark and it was 170.  I might have to slow it down a bit in the attempt to accomplish Week 4 work-outs.  My shins feel fine when running, and afterwards, but Tanya Harding is still visiting.  My right upper calf felt a bit tight yesterday and this morning, but all the muscle stuff feels good now.

We got another 8" snow today with a wicked wind and no plow in sight.  We're stuck, but we've got food and power, so I'm thankful for that.

Numbers - Rant #2

The Couch to 5K program specifies both a time and a distance in its definition. To satisfy both the time and the distance, one should run at a 10-minute mile pace. My pace is closer to 12-minute miles. I have not worried about it, nor do I intend to. Every experienced runner I have talked to has said the most important thing is to build up your body – the legs and the breathing – so that you can shuffle along for the desired time. As your leg muscles get activated, there is further development of the capillaries and it allows them to take greater advantage of the oxygen available. At the same time, your heart and lungs get better at providing oxygen. These improvements will naturally lead to a faster pace, and it takes time. I trust these higher-level athletes and that is why I do not worry about it. There are people who do the Couch to 5K program at 6 mph (10-minute mile pace); and there are people who are doing 3.6 mph jogs. But if the dedication is there, reasonable goals are within reach.  And I have no ambition of setting speed records!

Despite my love of numbers, and my philosophical obsession over them, numbers don't do much to motivate me.  The trick to stay motivated is to find something to actually be passionate about. And I am developing a passion for a variety of questions:

1. Why are people capable of running such long distances?
2. Biomechanically, what is the best way to run?
3. Why do so many people run for the fun of it?

I'm pursuing these questions, but I am also interested in your answers. 

Monday, February 8, 2010

Week 3 Day 2

Last night, I almost finished my new book (Born to Run), but ended up polishing it off this morning shortly after sunrise.  Even if you don't much care for running, I would recommend this book.

Tonight I elected to eat dinner before the workout and we had spaghetti plus salad.  I let it settle for half an hour, and then I could wait no longer.  Today's exercise was the same as the last one, with two 3-minute jogs and two 90-second jogs sprinkled within a bunch of walking.  The incline was always 1%, the wiggles were at 3.3 mph, and the jiggles were at 5.1 mph.  The maximum heart rate was 171.  I am twirling the ear buds below because I am silly.

I was almost frustrated when the first 90-second jog was over - I had already fallen into a rhythm that felt right and I wasn't winded yet.  Like last time, I was winded a bit towards the end of the second 3-minute jog, but the outcome was never in doubt, and I actually pushed on another 20 or 30 seconds for no particular reason.  Once again, I was treated to another miracle: my legs were just there.  In fact, if I hit wrong I could tell because some muscle would turn on.  And when I hit right, it was like I wasn't using any muscle at all - like there is a bulls-eye somewhere in the center of the ankle that says "good job, tubby!"  I thought about running tall, and making circles with my ankles like I was riding a unicycle.  I also smiled knowing my secret was working as well as I could have hoped:

Yes, that's right - I am now the proud owner of a new pair of Vibram FiveFingers (VFF)!!  I got the KSO model, mainly because they were out of the Sprint model.  As the afternoon was winding to a close, I got up the nerve to venture out in the snow and ice and get these puppies.  They are just the bomb, aren't they!?  I think I'm going to wear them to bed.  Unlike VA runner, where one is to bow to the heel running only made possible with Nike, Hudson Trail Outfitters has a complete line of both conventional and unconventional running gear.  Erin, the nice young woman who helped me, actually runs in VFFs.  She runs outside in them, so I'll bet she goes a heck of a lot longer than three minutes.  Athletes sometimes are known to bend the rules to keep that edge - that's how I was able to cash in my Week 3 bling two workouts early, but I'll have to watch it so that this won't turn into a shopping blog. :)   

My body may still be that of a Rhino, but I've got the nimble little feet of a Gecko underneath!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Born to Run

Last night I cashed in my Level 2 credit for some bling: Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall.  You can find it here.  Naturally, I got the Kindle edition and can therefore say quite precisely that I am 57% of the way through it.  This has been a phenomenal read thus far.  The characters, the analogies, and the crazy climates these people are running in (not to mention the distances) are completely insane.  I put off snow shoveling for half the day, being so engrossed.

As a chubby guy who can jog slowly for all of three minutes, it might seem that a book about people who can run for a hundred plus miles would be discouraging.  But, instead it is inspriational.  These people don't run because they are trying to fit into their high school duds. They love to duel with nature, both external and internal.

When I did get around to the shoveling, a son and his mother from next door helped me.  I've got wonderful neighbors all around the cul-de-sac.  Tonight we snacked on stuffed mushrooms, cheese sticks, and bacon-wrapped shrimp with jalepenos as the superbowl started.  I ended up being less than interested in the game.  Instead, I will curl up with the rest of this wonderful book.  This book also provides futher reasons to believe that a fore-foot strike with bare feet or minimalist shoes is the most healthy way to run.  If anyone can point me to the benefits of heel-striking in the modern, thick-soled running shoe, I would appreciate it.  I like to read about every side of an argument.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Week 3 Day 1

Wasn't sure about this one, folks.  I had shoveled 17" of snow in the last 20 hours, I didn't sleep that good, and the little nap I attempted was a disaster.  But, when Tami asked if I wanted dinner I told her I needed to do my workout first.  So, I saddled up, put on the thinnest cotton t-shirt in history, and prepared for battle.  This week's routine calls for a brisk warmup walk of 5 minutes, a 90 second jog, a 90 second walk, a 3 minute jog, a 3 minute walk, a 90 second jog, a 90 second walk, a 3 minute jog, and finally a cooldown walk of five minutes.

I utterly crushed this workout!!  In the last workout, I could feel my lower legs acclimate to the stresses.  But, in this workout, they didn't complain in the least:

Mind / Body
Ankles? -  "Ready to go, chief"
Shins? - "No worries, boss"
Breathing? - "Um, let's talk later, k?"

The incline was 1% throughout,  I wiggled at 3.3 mph and jiggled at 5.1 mph (the first short jog was 5.2 mph).  I was thinking the whole time, and I think I improved my arm swing.  Turns out I was "sawing" - keeping the forearms parallel to the floor, instead of maintaining a 90 degree bend.  I did a good job of hitting just behind the outer ball of the foot (behind the 4th and 5th toes).  And I kept the cadence high enough so that my foot landed under my body.  The last minute of the last run was a little tough in terms of breathing.  I breathed like a race horse, with occasional bits of H2O flying out in front of the treadmill like tracer fire.  I did all the stretches, and everything feels very awesome.  See the photo below?  That's attitude, folks - something that athletes are prone to exhibit.

I told Elaine (my seven year old) that I had run nine minutes (I neglected to mention the walking in between).  She looked up from her computer game and said "Big deal, I bet I can do twenty minutes."  So, tomorrow I'm going to put her on the treadmill at 7.5 mph and see how long it takes her to go off the back!!  (Yep, that's a joke - no need to call Child Protective Services.)

The dinner I put off was so worth the wait.  I've told you guys before that my wife is a wonderful cook, but you have no idea: look at the feast below - imagine the coconut milk and curry, the snow peas magically between crunchy and soft, the shrimp and noodles saying 'yum' all the way down!

Thai Coconut Curry Shrimp with Snow Peas

A Snow Storm for the Ages

I shoveled 9" of snow this morning (on top of the 8" from last night), and the first plow arrived up the hill only to get stuck.  The intensity of the snow picked up around eleven and we are now easily beyond the 20" mark.  We may end up with 24" to 30".  The kids played in the snow, and Max got caught in a snow bank so badly, he couldn't move and was calling for help.  It wasn't funny, but I pretty much had to laugh anyway.  Tami was up to her hip wrenching him out of there.

Update: Okay, we ended up with 24 inches of snow stemming from approximately 1.7 inches of precipitation.  Alaskans, aside from having foreign policy experience due to their proximity to Russia, know a lot about snow.  And they also know how to do webpages, so I was able to find a forumla to relate snowfall to pounds per square foot:

This ends up being 5.2 times SWE (Snow Weight Equivalent - which is inches worth of water), which was about 1.7" for us.  This amounts to 8.84 pounds per square foot.  My driveway is at least 800 square feet, so this works out to 7,072 pounds of snow to shovel.  So far, I have shoveled 17" of 24", or 5009 pounds.  Yep, feels like it. :/

Nine inches (plus 8 last night), for a total of 17 at 9AM Saturday.

This poor guy spent at least an hour digging out.

Yours truly, shoveling like a mad man in my wife's big straw hat.

The backyard, where the fort has been given up for dead.

This snow bank, from shoveling, is as high as my shoulders.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Getting Blizzarific

Today, despite the opening rounds of the epic snow storm I went to the Woodbridge location of VA RUNNER.  I was greeted by a nice young man at the door - they weren't doing much business.  I told him that perhaps my Nike Airs weren't the best shoe for me.  The heel is two or three inches tall, and it complicates my ambitions of doing fore-foot strikes, or at least messes up my form.  The nice young man, evidently unaware of millions of years of primate evolution, told me that natural running was a fad and that humans were designed to run with a heel-strike.  He said they didn't carry footwear such as Vibram's FiveFingers and that they were unlikely to do so.  He explained that the store's owner had a great deal of education in stride mechanics, was a phenomenal runner, had coached high-profile running teams and stood by the properness of the heel-strike.  Well, good for them.  At least 25% of runners run fore-foot or mid-foot, so if they want to retard their sales figures, that's fine with me.  (Sarah - please look closely at the previous sentence - I did not use the word retard as a slur.) I left the pimply-faced boy holding a one-pound, over-engineered, foot coffin and headed back into the snow.  Right now, I truly want to hop on the treadmill in my socks and bust out one of my lengendary, three-minute jogs.  But, I'm trying to be good by not running on off days.  Besides, in about an hour I will begin shoveling snow under the street lamp whilst singing Maniac from the 1983 smash hit Flashdance.

~ A Few Hours Later ~

You know, that primal urge to sing 80s hits didn't last very long.  I attacked 8" worth of snow across about perhaps 800 square feet of driveway.  I think I won, but I'm not completely sure.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Level Two

~ Athletic Character Statistics ~

Age: 44
Weight: 203.0
Cholesterol: Yes
Pulse: 160-180 after jogs
Gear: Newbie+

As a level two athletic character, I am once again entitled to more bling.  The problem is that I haven't fully digested the bling from last week, the Chi Running book.  I will be classifying ideas from that book into "Yes, I should try that", "No way will I try that", and "Undecided".  I have been doing a lot of research on the mechanics of running, and so far I have found the ideas swirling around bare or minimalist shoes to be attractive.  If I happen across a store that sells Vibram FiveFingers, I will most likely buy them.  Even if I only wear them around the house or to the occasional meeting at work, they are just that cool.  I am definitely going to concentrate on fore-foot running as my fitness level improves.

Check out the video below.  Is that poetry or what?

Week 2 Day 3

Ker-Pow!  Week 2 is in the books, folks.  As you can see, I went down the stairs as a nose-breather and came back as a mouth-breather.  For today's exercise, the same across Week 2, I wiggled at 3.3 mph and jiggled at 5.1 or 5.2 mph.  My heart rate was 140s after walks and 160s after the first five jogs.  (I was at 120 after the warm-up walk.) For the last run I took the incline to zero and slowed it down to 5.0 mph. Just as the music changed and the podcast dude was saying congratulations for finishing, I ripped the headphones out of the ipod and kept jogging.  My last jog was three minutes.

Why would I do three minutes at the end?  What I have noticed in the C25K forums is that a lot of people get anxious, dare I say melodramatic, at the imposing requirements of a following week's exercise regimen.  Given my melodramatic tendencies, I told myself if I felt good at the end, that I'd keep going to prove I could do three minutes.  I like to think that I took some gloves and whacked them across the face of Week 3.  :)

In terms of stride, I started the first two jogs with heel-striking.  When that felt sufficiently jarring and uncomfortable, I switched to fore-foot striking.  For jogs 3-6, I did exclusively fore-foot striking and I tried to get my heel down before my center of mass was already in front of the foot.  I wasn't overly lucky in that category.  Clearly, to avoid the heel, I'm coming in at a steeper angle than would otherwise be necessary.

There was something fascinating about this exercise.  I could feel my lower legs accommodate their conditions.  At first, I thought things might not end up too comfortable - the ankles and shins were saying "Oh crap, here he goes again."  Then, they leveled off and I didn't hear a peep out of them.

Afterwards, I stretched the gastroc, soleus, piriformis, hamstrings, and quads like a proper soldier.  All muscles are happy and accounted for.  I checked my shin bones before the run, and everything was in order, but now I can feel that Tanya Harding had 'em whacked again when I wasn't looking.  Given my weight, and the fact that each leg gets 2-3 times my body weight per stride, it's only natural that they will flex a bit and search for calcium in the off days.

I also did some of my favorite cross-training today: snow shoveling 4.25 +/- 0.25 inches of snow.  Here's a picture of the kids playing while Daddy was at work.  Currently, they are forecasting 12-24 inches of snow for Friday and Saturday.  Lots of cross-training in my future!  Is it just me, or is that rusty Dodge depressing property values?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Run Naturally? - Rant #1

I have had advice from several people - several athletes - that I should run naturally.  They say that in response to my musings about mechanics and the experimentations I have done on the treadmill.  And, I'm going to have a little rant on that subject.

First, after 44 years of living in the fad-loving, infomercial that is modern culture, the odds that I would have instinctively retained a clue as to what is natural seems farfetched.  Thus, the advice amounts to "run in your habitual manner".  In the last 25 years, I've only run a few times to catch a door before it closes.  So, I don't even have much of a habit to lean on.  What I do remember is two runs - one in middle school, where I did 1.5 miles in 12 minutes with a combination of rear-foot and fore-foot; and one in high school where I did 3.0 miles on a whim (with zero preparation) and my shins just below the knees were x-ray-to-make-sure bad.

Second, evidentally experimentation is natural for me.  And just as I'm experimenting physically on the treadmill, I'm exercising my brain by reading and evaluating research on running.  A recent paper in the journal Nature claims that a barefoot fore-foot striker on concrete experiences less force on the musculoskeletal bits than a shod runner on concrete heel-striking in the modern, thick-soled running shoe.

There is a very loud minority out there that refer to shoes as foot coffins, insisting that shoes turn the feet - each with its 26 bones, 33 joints, 20 muscles, and hundreds of sensory receptors, tendons and ligaments - into insensate, injury-prone, flippers.  This sounds at least plausible to me, so I will keep investigating.  Mechanically, the arch, achilles, and calf muscles function as a spring.  And a spring that has been tailored across millions of years of primate evolution.  I'm inclined to trust that heritage more than a piece of rubber provided by Nike under heel.  Though I must admit, my Nikes look super cool.

On the other hand, look how super cool these babies are:

Monday, February 1, 2010

Week 2 Day 2

Today's routine was the same as W2D1.  I wiggled at 3.3 mph and jiggled at 5.1 mph, except the last jog where I did 6.0.  The incline was always 1%, and at the end of runs my heart rate was always between 160 and 172.  Both ankles got a little fatigued, but thankfully both shins felt pretty good.  I haven't had a complaint from the quads in a while now, so I will score that as progress.  I had a lot of thoughts running through my head about form.  I experimented with lean; concentrated on raising ankles rather than lifting knees; letting my hips go back with my legs so I wouldn't be such a robot; etc.

I'm doing some stretching after runs now.  I need to get a protractor on this one, but my guess is that's a 45-degree angle.  I don't know if that's good or bad, but it was more stretchy than I thought it would be.  I don't have any soreness in any muscle.  The only place I can find soreness is in the center of my shin bones - right on the bone itself, as if Tanya Harding had them whacked a week or two ago in an effort to keep me out of the winter olympics.

This is my piriformis stretch, which twists my leg around so that the foot is higher than the knee.  I don't know exactly what a piriformis is, but I think I stretched it.

I shouldn't have done any "stride work" yesterday on my rest day, but a keen-eyed observer thought that maybe my shoes were contributing to my shin and ankle woes.  So, here is a close up of my shoe.  That's about two inches of heel, folks.  It sticks out a little on the back and curves up very slightly.  One theory is that if I do a heel strike, the shoe propels the front of my foot down so violently, that my shin muscles try to dorsiflex to save the day and get upset in the process.  What do you think?