Sunday, January 19, 2014

More on the Altra Zero Drop shoe

In one of my first entries on this blog, I noted how a shoe commercial played a big role in my decision to change the way I run, to turn back to Eastern philosophy as a source for both inspiration and from. That commercial was for Altra Zero Drop shoes: I talked a little about the shoes, but it's a subject worth revisiting in depth.

As big a deal as changing my running form has been, making the change to the Altra shoes, has been--and still is--even bigger in some ways. Because the change in from really has to come first. I can't just switch over to the Altras as if they were just another pair of running shoes, because they most certainly are not. Let's take a closer look at them and see why that is. My particular choice in the Altra famile is the Altra Instinct 1.5, mostly because it provides a small amount of support and I was not prepared to "go ll the way" to shoes with almost no support. Here it is:

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Breathing during a run: find your center and run from within

It was a glorious morning for a run today. Slightly cloudy with the temperature in the high fifties and just a slight breeze, the day beckoned for me to just run, freely and without any distractions. So I did.

In keeping with my recent epiphany, I once again eschewed any music in the run. Starting off from my house, I followed my usual route down some side streets to the local park, which has a lovely path past some athletic fields, a canal, and tennis courts. It was early, so there were only a few fellow runners and walkers on the path. But there was a large crowd forming on one field for the day's youth soccer games. As my run progressed, this proved to be a fun sidelight, as I enjoyed hearing the shouts of encouragement from parents to their children as the games began.

As to my run, I purposefully approached it with a gameplan of sorts (something I always do): I would run the first mile or so as a warm-up, then pick up my pace a little and run consistently for the next several miles, at which point I would just let loose and run wide open (this does not mean sprinting) until I tired or I needed to return home.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Review: Quest protein bars

From time to time, I'm going to talk about specific products, from running gear to other equipment to foods and supplements. When I do, the title of the piece will always be "Review: [product name]." Just so there are no misunderstandings, I'll also link to a place to purchase the product, if I think it worthwhile (and this is usually going to be the case, I'm not planning on reviewing things I don't use and don't like).

One of my goals when I started running was most definitely weight loss. But really, that concern was always secondary to the goal of just getting in shape, of improving my stamina and cardio-vascular system. As I noted previously, I have never been what might be termed fat or overweight. That said, there was plenty of room for improvement (there still is), when it came to body fat. And ditto for muscle mass. I could (and still can) use some more of the latter and less of the former, which is why I did the P90X program and still do some lifting.

Needless to say, the issue of my diet was something I had to address. I increased my consumption of vegetables and fruit, while decreasing my junk food intake. Also, I have tried to eat less red meat and more turkey and fish. Still, snacking has remained a problem. Plus, I wanted to give my body plenty of good protein to maximize my exercise results. So like many people these days, I've turned to protein bars as a means to address these issues.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Focusing on the moment, setting aside distractions

This is Coral Reef  Park, where I run.
It was a brisk morning today in South Florida, with temperatures in the mid-50's (yes, I know how warm that is, compared to other places). So for today's run, I decided to change things up a little bit, to get rid of something that is sort of a crutch: my iPhone. Or more specfically, the music from my iPhone.

When I run, I use the Nike+ app on my iPhone to record time, pace, and location. It's a handy thing. But the app also links up with my iTunes playlists on the phone. Also very handy. However, listening to music--while it may not be a bad thing--is not necessarily a good thing. In keeping with my desire to change the way I run, to find a greater level of harmony in the moment, I decided to put the music away for the day, to see how things go without it.

Let the force be with you, Part II

In my previous piece, I talked about one of the two forces we--as runners--must contend with: gravity. And rather than fighting against gravity, it makes sense to use it to our advantage, which we can do by running with a slight forward lean (though still maintaining a proper posture). The second force to contend with is that of the ground, the constant impact of our feet against it.

Landing is a critical issue for runners. Indeed, poor technique in this regard is one of the major sources of injury, from shin splints, to blisters, to joint damage. Prior to my exposure to a new way of running, I tended to land on my heel first, laying down the rest of my foot, then pushing off the ground with my toes. There's something to be said for such a technique, in terms of power, but I now think the costs far outweigh the benefits. at least for me. In keeping with the Altra/Chi Running approach, I'm in the process of shifting to a midfoot (or forefoot) strike, as a opposed to a heel strike.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Let the force be with you, not against you

Stiff and unbending is the principle of death.
Gentle and yielding is the principle of life.
Thus an Army without flexibility never wins a battle.
A tree that is unbending is easily broken.
The hard and strong will fall.
The soft and weak will overcome.
--Lao-Tzu, Tào Té Chīng, Chapter 76, 6th century BCE
The "Chi" in T'ai Chi can be roughly translated as "ultimate," while the "T'ai" means "great." Originally, the practice of T'ai chi ch'uan developed strictly as a martial art, wherein "ch'uan" meant "fist," giving the art the full name of Great Ultimate Fist. But even as a martial art, T'ai chi ch'uan was a product of Taoist thought, having been developed (supposedly) by a Taoist monk in China--one Zhang Sanfeng--during the Song Dynasty, circa 960 to 1279 CE.

As such, it was--as a system--firmly grounded in Taoist principles: mastery proceeded necessarily from a calmness of spirit, mind, and body, and from constant practice as goal to be relentlessly pursued. And the application of force was always minimized, the goal was to absorb and use the force of others, either of things in the environment or of the opponent when in combat.

Equipment does matter

A repost from my other blog.

One of the great trite thoughts of all time: the right tool for the right job (and no, this isn't going to be about politicians). It's been said so often in that form and many others that people must operate on that principle by and large. Mustn't they? And yet a simple look around one's own home or an honest evaluation of one's recent behavior will--I am quite certain--put a lie to the idea.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Delight in the simplicity of running

Were I to have the least bit of knowledge, in walking on a Great Road,
it's only going astray that I would fear.
The Great Way is very level;
But people greatly delight in tortuous paths.

--Lao-Tzu, Tào Té Chīng, Chapter 53, 6th century BCE
Lao-Tzu (also Laozi) was a Chinese philosopher who authored the now-famous Tao Te Ching, a collection of versus intended to impart wisdom to the reader. It is the principle foundation of Taoism, which--as both a religion and a philosophy--stresses living in harmony with the Tao. In Chinese philosophy, or more correctly spiritualism, the Tao (which loosely translates as "the way") is the principle driving force of the universe. It is at once both obscure and mundane, for while it defies being encapsulated in a simple definition, is in fact unknowable, it can be observed in the daily course of life. Thus, it establishes--to the observant, the one "in tune" with themselves and the world around them--principles for how to live.

Many of these principles are about morality, about understanding how to act towards others, towards nature itself; they reflect learning to not just live, but to live well. However, the path to understanding--or to enlightenment, if you will--includes an understanding of the purely physical, as well, insofar as there must be harmony within the individual who seeks such understanding. The question is, can one achieve such harmony in a given activity? If so, how?

Monday, January 13, 2014

The first shoe drops and I turn to the East

As I noted in my previous piece, I credit a commercial with being the impetus for change, with regard to my running and quite possibly my life, a commercial I saw near the end of 2013. Without further ado, here it is:

Yes, it's just a shoe commercial. But it intrigued me. I've run with a variety of shoes, Brooks, Nike, New Balance, Adidas, and ASICS, some of which were very good for me and others which seemed to only cause me problems or just didn't last. Currently, I'm running with a pair of New Balance 860v3's. I'm at about 250 miles into them (the better shoes tend to last me about 350 miles) and they've been great, really great.

The backstory to a new direction in running and life

I have been running consistently now for about four years, minus a nine month lapse (for personal reasons) after the first year and a half and minus the periodic lapse brought on by minor injury. There was also the summer  and early fall of 2013, which I mostly missed because of a fractured wrist suffered in a bicycle accident (darn you Tour de France, darn you to heck!). I was never much of a runner when I was younger, though I did the occasional jog around the neighborhood, pushed the baby stroller at a brisk pace after kids came along, and tried (and failed) the treadmill game at a local gym.

But after my third child was born in 2007, after she began to run around in the backyard and at the park, I came to a realization: I was pitifully out of shape. I was over forty and I couldn't keep up with a three year-old. I knew that if I wanted to experience her childhood the same way I had experienced the childhood of my older two children (who are seven and ten years farther down the road, respectively), I had to make some serious changes, starting with improving my heart and my general condition.